The Hero Writes Itself: Interview with Katie Torpey

The Hero Writes Itself: Interview with Katie Torpey

Jake: I am here today with Katie Torpey, our newest teacher. She is teaching our TV Drama Classes, Write Your Screenplay I, Write Your Screenplay II, Write Your Screenplay III, and The Writing Lab.

Welcome, nice to have you. 

Katie: Thanks for having me, I am very excited.

Jake: I would love to start off by talking a little bit about your background as a screenwriter.

Katie: Perfect, so the first job I got out of college was at America’s Most Wanted TV Show. I was doing stories for them, and that is when I fell for storytelling in that genre.

And then I left for LA, I lived on the East Coast; I went to LA and started working as a PA and stuff like that. But, I started taking some classes at UCLA Extension and I won some awards. I won The Diane Thomas award, I was a finalist in the Chesterfield. That got me going, and then I got into UCLA Film School and got my Masters in Screenwriting.

And then from there, I sold a script out of film school, and I went started working with Power Rangers and wrote for them. Then I sold another script that got made called The Perfect Man with Hilary Duff and Heather Locklear and Chris Noth.

I wrote and directed a movie that I shot in Ireland, starring Stana Katic who was on Castle, and that was awesome because I got to direct.

“Truth About Kerry” – the independent film Katie wrote and directed, shot in Ireland.

From there I sold a TV show that got made on Hulu. It was one of Hulu’s first TV shows. It was interesting because we were like, “Online? We’re going to do a TV show online?” And now it is so huge online TV.

And I teach obviously, I love teaching. My first teacher as a screenwriter was Valerie West and she was so inspiring. She helped me learn about storytelling, and I swore if I ever got to a place that I could teach and help someone and have them feel that way I would do it. And that is what got me into teaching.

Jake: I had a mentor like that too. I had Peter Parnell, who at the time was a playwright, and Peter taught me what it meant to be an artist, which is something that often I think gets left out of screenwriting training.

Katie: Absolutely, it tends to get so formulaic that it is like a math equation,  and that isn’t what it is supposed to be.

Jake: When you’re approaching a script, how do you help a student, or how do you help yourself find that balance between the art and the craft?

Katie: Well, I spent so much time learning the craft in many different ways. I throw it out now, because it is really kind of ingrained in me. So I don’t even really think about it. For me when you know the character so well like you really make them rich, they write themselves, it is almost like you’re channeling.

Jake: So if you’re a new writer, and maybe you’ve been taught a lot of like formula, you’ve been taught Save The Cat, or The Hero’s Journey, or three act structure, and now you’re looking to kind of get underneath and get to your authentic voice as a writer, like how do you do that?

Katie: I would start with journaling. Just start to write, just vomit it out and see what comes out. And then you’ll see like some beautiful stuff.

Jake: You have a really cool installment of The Writing Lab that you’re going to do with us called The Hero Writes Itself, and you were talking about how you actually use archetypes in that class to connect through a series of writing exercises, is that right?

Katie: Yeah, I have people go into their life and the people who they’ve met in their life, and things they like, they dislike, who they are, moments from their life, to really pull out experiences and stories, and a story they might want to tell. It is just a wild experience because it is all psychological.

Because, if you know all the elements of a human being, why they do what they want and the motivation behind everything… for example, if you understand someone has a hard time in relationships because the parents got divorced and the mom cheated on the dad…

If you know these kind of details, you will understand why this main character has a hard time at love, and it is almost like a river that starts and it just goes.

And the character becomes fabulous, because you’re creating something so original and it is just talking for you, it is like you aren’t even writing it anymore.

Jake: You’ve worked in so many different worlds, and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you approach feature films versus how you approach TV writing, how are they similar and how are they different?

Katie: Well, in features there’s an end to the story. So I really think about “where’s this character going?”and “who are supporting characters in the world with them?” and “how do they all connect?”I am like a little more like, “hmm, what’s going on here?” and “how am I going to end it at some point?”

And then with a TV show, it is endless, so I think, “what could happen at 100th episode?” “where can these characters go?” “where can the stories go?” It’s almost more freeing to write TV and it’s a lot of fun. Because in TV you can let these characters run and play.

Look at Breaking Bad, it is a great example. It was almost like a long movie, six seasons, because he changed and the characters changed, and the stories changed.

 

Katie will be teaching TV Drama Workshop, starting on July 25th, 2018

 

 

Jake: You know we have so many students who are working to break into television, and some who’ve successfully done it, which is really exciting. When you were working as a Head Writer, what would you look for in a new writer?

Katie: It is all about, “Can they tell a story?  Am I engaged?”

And engagement doesn’t mean you open up with a murder or something. Engagement is all about, “Do I want to read the next page, because the character is just insanely brilliant?” Or, there is a story element makes you say, “wow!” and you just want to keep on reading and reading.

That is my goal when I am telling a story; I want to be real and authentic with it. You can feel it when it is manufactured, when it is trying to be something it isn’t. So, I love being authentic with it. I want you to keep on watching the TV, or not walk out of the movie theatre.

Jake: So, one of the things that I always talk about with my students is that there are different phases of writing.

You have your Me Draft first , “hey, I am just going to look at what it might be, I am going to let it write itself.”

Then you have your Audience Draft where you are like, “Okay now I have to find a way to serve this up in a way that the audience can go on as cool of a journey as I have, so I am going to have some structure.”

You have the Producer Draft where you are going to turn up the volume on the hook, so that a producer can realize, “Oh I can sell this!” or an actor can realize, “Oh I want to be in this!”

And then you have the Reader Draft where you really clean up formatting.

I am curious, when you are working on a TV show, it is such a collaborative environment, and like you were saying, there is like this element of, “I want to just allow the story to tell itself”, and then there is this other element of, “I want the audience to keep turning these pages…”

Katie: Absolutely. So, when you are in a writers room, it is a lot of fun because you do the season arc, so you need to know where the journeys are, where the characters are going, what are the story lines.

It is a lot of fun to play with that and bounce ideas. We always had a big board and we would just lay it out like, “Where are the stories going?”

But they would change sometimes. We needed the structure so we knew where we were going, but sometimes the episode would change, so we would be like, “Oh wait we have got to change this because the character authentically didn’t want to go there.”

So, we played that way, and people would balance and it was a lot of fun.

Jake: I think that that is such an exciting thing to think about, because a lot of newer writers get really hung up on their outlines. Or there is this idea that when you get to a TV show, you must do an outline and then everyone must play by those rules.

What we have really seen with our students who have gone on to TV shows, and having wonderful teachers like you and Jerry teaching how to write for TV, what we have seen is there is an outline but that outline is constantly in flux. And just when you think you know what your story is, someone changes episode 42 and your story changes.

How do you develop those skills with an emerging writer so that when they have worked so darn hard to craft that piece, and suddenly the showrunner changes everything, or the network changes everything, or the showrunner and network both want to change something, they have enough plasticity in their writing to adapt?

Katie: I think for any writer, you need to be able to be flexible, because it is an art. It is a storytelling art. It isn’t finance! And so you have to go with the characters and the story. And you never know why a story is going to change. There could be an actor that gets fired and all of a sudden it is like, “Okay this story is going over here.” Or there is no chemistry between a couple on a TV show and they are like, “Okay we’ve got to break them up”.

So, you are always moving and shifting. But it is fun! It is actually fun to move and shift. It is like you are hanging out in the writers room and somebody is like “hey we’ve got a new plan, what are we going to do, let’s figure it out?” Then everyone bounces ideas together, and then we land in the story.

Jake: So you actually enjoy rewriting?

Katie: I do, I absolutely do. I find usually then it usually gets to the best level at that point.

Jake: How do you make rewriting fun for yourself, because I know so many of my students they dread rewriting. “Oh no God please let me be finished!”

One of Katie’s first jobs out of grad school was writing for the hit show, Power Rangers. Katie incorporates her vast experience working in TV writers’ rooms into her TV Drama class.

Katie: Many people get hung up on rewriting and feel like they could rewrite for the rest of their lives. They are trying for perfection and that is never going to happen; there is a point when it is actually done.

And I think, for me, I like getting it to the best level it can be. I never want to turn anything into the network or to a pitch or whatever until I feel like it is ready.

So, I kind of enjoy getting it ready. For me it is kind of fun. And I know what works and doesn’t. And once you set it aside, you set a script aside for two weeks, and you pick it back up, and you just know, you are like, “Oh, my God, that’s going!”

Jake: I remember Roger Spottiswoode directed a film of mine, The Matthew Shepard Story. And Roger is a brilliant, brilliant director. He had done And the Band Played On…he is a really strong director.

And every time I sent him a rewrite I would be like, “So, what do you think?” And he would say, “I am giving it the smell test” And I asked, “What is the smell test?” and he responded, “Well the smell test is you read it, and you are either going to like it or not, and then you don’t worry about that. You stick it under your pillow and you wait for two or three days and you see if it stinks!”

And that was a wonderful lesson for me, which was that oftentimes we aren’t really good judges of our own writing. And without some distance, you can get so far down that rabbit hole.

Katie: Absolutely, and then a lot of times I tell people, if you are on like a fifth or sixth rewrite, just have someone look at it. Otherwise you can rewrite it and go backward, you don’t realize that you are making it worse.

And you need people you trust, you need some people that you really trust with story and writing who will read and tell you the truth. Who aren’t giving you notes to give you notes. They are actually just sharing the experience and are helping you get it to the next level.

Jake: Yes, yeah and a note on that, not a coverage reader.

Katie: No, no.

Jake: I started as a coverage reader, so it isn’t that there is something wrong with coverage readers. It is just when I was a coverage reader I didn’t know what I was doing either! And I have seen so many writers get their scripts damaged by taking notes from somebody who is reading scripts for $50 a script.

Katie: Absolutely one of my first scripts, literally it was the first script I wrote, and a guy who was a coverage reader read it and he destroyed it. It devastated me. I was like, “I am not a good writer.” And I almost walked away. And that would have changed the course of my life.

Jake: I was lucky. I had had great mentorship earlier in my career, and I was thinking, if I had been a young guy who didn’t have one of those great mentors, if I hadn’t had that experience, I might have stopped, and never actually had my career based on this one person’s taste.

Katie: I tell young writers all the time, don’t let anyone have you go down that rabbit hole. Get another opinion, test something out. It isn’t about other people’s opinions really, it is about what you feel, and if you are a writer, you are a writer, don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t.

Jake: Yeah it is so important to own that. Fo tell somebody you are a writer. And if you feel like a fraud, well then go write something and then tell them about that.

It is such a courageous thing to actually put those words on the page. If you wrote at all today, then you did more than most people who call themselves writers do, including professional writers! Because professional writers procrastinate just like you do!

Katie: Funny story, I have an older sister who is lovely, and I moved to LA and I was doing PA work and stuff and I would tell people, “I am a writer, I am a writer, I am a screenwriter,” and my sister and I were on the phone and she was like, “Katie, you haven’t written anything! You are telling everyone you are a writer and you haven’t written a word.” And I was like, “Oh, you are right!” So I started writing. But I thought that was funny, I told everyone I was a writer and I hadn’t written a word.

Jake: Yeah, but what we tell ourselves about ourselves is formative. If you keep telling yourself you are a writer, eventually you are going to have to do it. And if you keep telling people you are a writer, eventually someone is either going to say like, “What have you written, or what are you working on?”

So, sometimes you have to throw yourself into the water before you are ready, and own that this is something that matters to you.

Katie: That is a great point.

Jake: I often say in my Write Your Screenplay Class, you probably would agree,if you want to learn to write a great script, you need to learn to live a great life. And similarly, if you don’t know how to live a great life, well, you can start by writing a really great script. Because your characters can make those choices you are afraid to make.

And I think that is what life is about. It is about making those choices. And sometimes we are reactive. We are reactive in our writing and we are reactive in our lives. We let the story of our lives drive us rather than us driving the story.

And it is interesting because the same problem people have in life is the one they have with their characters, right? The most common problem in a script is the main character isn’t driving the action.

So, I think that is something to think about: how is your character going to drive the action of their script?

A couple of years ago I had a teacher audition to teach for me, who I didn’t hire, and he said, “Oh writing is easy, you chase your character up a tree, you throw rocks at them, you chase them down the tree.”

And I was like, “I definitely can’t hire you.”

Because, for me, if you build your character as a victim, if you just spend your whole movie throwing rocks at your character, it is hard to actually care about that character, to actually root for them.

And I think the same thing is true in your own life. If you see yourself as a victim– and people are victimized all the time in truly horrific ways– but if you are defining yourself as a victim, then you are letting the perpetrators move your life.

Katie: Absolutely. And the problem is, sometimes people look at a situation and they don’t see their part in it. So they just point. Once you see your own part in it, you aren’t a victim anymore.

“And then with a TV show, it is endless, so I think, ‘what could happen at 100th episode?’ ‘where can these characters go?’ ‘where can the stories go?’ It’s almost more freeing to write TV and it’s a lot of fun. Because in TV you can let these characters run and play.” Breaking Bad – one of the best examples in television of character development.

Jake:  Switching gears for a moment, can you talk a little bit about why creating abundant worlds is so important in television?

Katie: If you look at Breaking Bad, I love Breaking Bad, obviously, Game of Thrones, Grey’s Anatomy, they are all very different shows, they are all very different worlds.

When you have worlds like that, you have so much potential to just write beautiful stories and keep on going for hundreds of episodes.

But the world has to be rich. Like, Game of Thrones, I mean obviously it was a book first, but those worlds are unbelievable– and you are in it! When you look at Star Trek, same thing, it is a great world, but in those worlds you have amazing characters. Grey’s Anatomy is a hospital show that could be so stupid; it is brilliant because of the characters, and the stories… and you care.

Jake: I am thinking, if I was a student at home, I might be thinking like, “Okay hold on a second, I want to write the next Game of Thrones, how do I pull that out of my life? I didn’t grow up with a giant wolf, I have never seen a White Walker…”

If you want to write in a world that isn’t our world, how do you pull that out of your life?

Katie: First thing I always tell people is don’t chase the market. Don’t write the next Breaking Bad, because they already wrote it.

When you want to pull out a special world, I have people brainstorm. What is a world, a special, fantasy, interesting world that you are drawn to?

So, you don’t want to make Game of Thrones. You want to make your Game of Thrones, which is you tapping into storytelling of what you like, what shows you like, what pulls you in.

So it is really almost like a subconscious like “mind dump”

Jake: So I want to write Game of Thrones, or I want to write a fantasy adventure, how do I, as a person who grew up in suburban New Jersey and wanted to make the football team, how do I translate my experiences into a fantasy world so that I can write the fantasy that only I could write?

Katie: First I have people look at the fantasy worlds they like, in the sense of like I love The Matrix, and so maybe a little sci-fi, I love Game of Thrones, if you throw a little sci-fi and a little Game of Thrones what would that look like?

And then Star Trek, that is kind of interesting, and I pull a little bit of that out, and I really like dogs and I like furry things, is there something there? So I just start seeing what I like and what I am drawn to.

Jake: So, it doesn’t just have to be what you experience.  It can be, these are the things that I like, these are the shows that I have watched 500 times, these are the kinds of worlds that I know intimately or the kind of genres that I know intimately.

Katie: Yeah, yeah, you can tap into it. What you want to write is what you like. I wouldn’t have anyone who hates science fiction write a science fiction movie. No, that isn’t a good idea.

Jake: Yeah, I have always also felt like sci-fi and fantasy and horror, these really strong genre pieces, the best ones, are always metaphors for something that is going on in us.

I just did a podcast on A Quiet Place. And A Quiet Place isn’t about the monster. A Quiet Place is about silence between families and the way that silence, the way that not speaking our feelings, actually tears families apart or puts families in danger. And everything else is like a metaphor for that.

Even Breaking Bad is a piece about entrepreneurship. He happens to be building a crystal meth empire. But Vince Gilligan treats it as just another step of building a startup. “Alright let’s build a team, I have got a guy who is not really reliable but kind of knows a little something about drugs… We are going to have competition in the first season like a street hustler and the next season we are going to get a little bigger and we are going to be competing with the cartel and then it is going to get bigger, we are going to be competing with multinational corporations…”

“We’ve got science, okay I am fascinated with science, and entrepreneurship.” I don’t know how much of Vince Gilligan knew about the drug trade, but you could do that with research.

But the, “What do I know?” is like, I know how it is like to try to build a business and feel so much competition, or I have that obsession with science and how do I dig down there?

Katie: I like building from metaphor, because the metaphor is going to keep people watching it.

So the metaphor, the theme, that is so important. And you can have a similar theme in 100 different shows. We are going to follow the theme if we feel a connection to it. So if you feel a connection to a certain theme, put that in the show! Make it part of the show.

Jake: Yeah, there is a great story about the creation of Deadwood.

Deadwood was originally pitched as Rome, and he brought it to HBO as Rome because he was interested in the idea of how societies were built.

And so he thought of Rome as a place because the way they conquered and created a new society was an example of like how societies actually grow, how our cultural mores and our rules and our structures grow.

So he brought it to HBO and HBO said, “Oh this is great but we have already got something like this… we have Rome.” And Rome wasn’t even out yet; he didn’t even know that they had this series in development.

And they said, “Could it be set somewhere else?” So he went home and he realized, “Of course it could, how about the Wild West?” And then they bought Deadwood.

“Deadwood” was originally pitched to be set in ancient Rome.

And so I think it is just such a great example of what you were talking abou. What is the world I know? Or, what is the world I am curious about? I am curious about how society’s rules get put in place, and how they get built.

Okay, awesome, well what are the worlds where I can explore that? I could explore that in Rome, I could explore that in the Wild West, I could explore that on the moon, I could explore that in Atlantis, underwater, I could explore that in Iraq.

And so when you start to connect to the themes that matter to you, then everything else is just a metaphor for that theme. Iraq becomes a metaphor for the theme; the Wild West becomes a metaphor for the theme.

Katie: I also like to have people with settings: What settings do you know? Where have you travelled? What places have you spent time? What do you know that you love? You can take a movie or a TV show and just throw it in there.

It is so different if it is in Italy than if it is in West Virginia. It could still be almost the same story, but the setting becomes a character.

Jake: If you take Call me By Your Name out of Italy it is a completely different movie.

Katie: Completely different.

Jake: And probably doesn’t do so well.

Katie: Yes, I am sure, I agree.

Jake: So what if you think of yourself as boring? What if you are like, “You know, I came from a nice family, I grew up in the suburbs, I went to the right school, I became an accountant…” (my accountant is actually very interesting, she wrote a great script in my class!)  But what if you don’t feel interesting?

“If you take ‘Call Me By Your Name’ out of Italy, it is a completely different movie.”

Katie: What I would say is start to pay attention to the world around you and the people in your life, in your past, anyone. You can pull from anything and anyone. If you don’t want to pull from yourself, that’s completely cool, but I don’t think anyone is ever boring.

I do know that people think they are boring. But you just start to pay attention… that is one of my biggest notes for young writers. A lot of us are just living in the world, and we are like not awake fully, and we miss stuff all the time.

So, I am like, “Wake up, look around, sit on the subway, see a woman, make up a story about that woman just from what she is wearing. Create a character, create a world.” And all of a sudden you are seeing worlds and people.

Listen to conversations, because you wouldn’t believe what you can get from someone else’s conversation. Get great dialogue and then you can also get a story, an unbelievable story just sitting on the subway listening to two people talk.

Jake: I am really glad you said that, because I think so much of being a writer is really about learning to look, listen and feel. And those are all the things that we don’t actually do. Our heads are buried in our iPhones and we are constantly distracting ourselves, and we don’t want to feel too strongly because people get upset with us, we want to behave appropriately.

And so much of being a great writer is really about going, “Okay, I am just going to look more closely at myself, more closely at the world, more closely at the people around me.”

Katie: Be alive! When you are alive and you are present– I love that word because a lot of people aren’t present– but when you are present, you see so much and you see people and you actually can feel people and have empathy or see what they have been through and be able to pull something from that into a story.

Jake: That’s right. I mean, think of Walter White from Breaking Bad. If somebody told you, “Yeah I know this guy, he used to be a science teacher and then he kind of preyed upon his own worst student’s addiction in order to manipulate him into a drug business,” you would be like, “I don’t want to meet this guy, I don’t want to spend time with this person; this person sounds awful.”

But then you have a writer like Vince Gilligan who comes at that character with empathy and helps you see from Walter White’s point of view, like Walter White is the good guy.

And I think that is such a powerful part of writing, is learning to actually see the beauty even in the worst characters.

Katie: Oh, absolutely. Whenever I talk to students about writing villains, a lot of times they just make them a villain, they are just mean or they are the bad guy.

You can’t do that. Even if someone is, let’s say, a serial killer, they still had a childhood. They still had moments in their life. Obviously something happened that caused this. You can’t have them just be a killer.

Jake: Yeah, and we’ve seen on TV in the Versace series the way that they really look at that character.

I actually hate the word antagonist because I always feel like the word antagonist obstructs us from the life that we actually know. Because in my life, I don’t have an antagonist.

Sometimes I have people who I almost feel like they are an antagonist…

But the truth is, that’s the victim thing we were talking about earlier.

As soon as you have an antagonist, then your protagonist becomes a victim because you have this character who exists just to torture your character.

And that is how you end up with these moustache twirling villains. As opposed to like, Darth Vader… who thinks he is the good guy!

Darth Vader is like, “Dude, my wife took my kids away, there is radical apostle of some crazy religion corrupting them against me, he didn’t even tell them I was their father, freaking Obi-Wan Kenobi, and all I am trying to do is bring some order to the galaxy! Do you know how much work it takes to build a Death Star? That was my whole life’s work trying to build that Death Star and now this asshole used my own son to blow it up!”

So from Darth Vader’s point of view, he isn’t the antagonist. He is the good dad who loves his son and wants to rule the galaxy with him.

Katie: And that goes back to the character writing itself. It is going deep in there, knowing that a villain isn’t really a villain. They are just being who they are; they are much more well-rounded and complex.

Jake: You teach so many classes for us now, I would like to kind of talk quickly about each of your classes and how it works.

So, in the Write Your Screenplay Class, most people who know me are aware of it, I teach it, you teach it, Dan Gunderman teaches it, but we all kind of have our own unique spin on teaching beginning screenwriting.

So, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your spin.

Katie: My spin, a little bit like yours, is getting them to tap into who they are as a writer, what they might want to write about, or a story they might want to write, to get into fleshing out characters and ideas and teaching them some of the fundamentals of how to unfold a story– to really dive into beginning storytelling.

Jake: So you are really teaching the way in…

Katie: Yes, the way in. And it is going to be fun, because you don’t have to have written a word in your life. That isn’t what this is about. This is about getting you to tap into yourself as a writer, your voice, and what you want to say.

“So from Darth Vader’s point of view, he isn’t the antagonist. He is the good dad who loves his son and wants to rule the galaxy with him.”

Jake: Beautiful, and the way you teach the TV Drama Workshop is really exciting.  in that we actually run those classes just like real writers rooms. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that? What does it mean to be in a class that is also a writers room?

Katie: Writers rooms are so much fun. You have all these different personalities with all these different styles and voices as writers and ideas, and you throw them all together, and we teach them all how to get along, because it isn’t much fun if you are in a writers room and no one gets along.

So what we do is we really get you guys to know each other, know your stories, know what you want to write, know yourselves as writers and your voices, and then we start working on different people’s ideas, and we all bounce ideas together and we help each other out. It is collaborative, it is a blast, and we move everyone’s story along.

Jake: One of the things I love about that is that the great pilots that you see on television aren’t developed in a vacuum; they are developed by a team. And everybody on the team brings something of themselves to it, and that is different than what somebody else would bring.

I think it is just such an exciting way of teaching, where you have the benefit of someone who has been there before, who is going to play the role of showrunner for you, and then you have this wonderful collection of students, and maybe somebody is really good at structure, and maybe somebody else is really great at dialogue, and maybe somebody else always has that one awesome line, all those talents kind of come together to help fertilize your script.

And then, the class also includes a one-on-one with Katie, so that once that script is written you can get that direct feedback on your writing.

Katie: Yeah and it is exciting to teach a class like this and watch all these stories unfold and grow and become this special beautiful piece of art. And the fact that, like you said, all the people add different things to it. What I love most is that we see everyone grow, because you are working together and everyone has a different talent, so you get to see this growth of writers.

Jake: Yeah, I also talk about this idea that whenever you are teaching you are actually serving three different gods.

You are serving the one that everyone is aware of:  you are serving the project, which is actually the least important one.  Because as writers you really need to develop a library and oftentimes it is not the script that you think is going to sell that actually launches your career, or it is a script that never sells…

Pamela Cederquist is one of our wonderful students, she started as a beginning writer with us, and she is now writing for Mindhunter with David Fincher, but the thing that got her that job was a script that didn’t sell. But when they needed somebody she was the person who got the call.  And so the project is always the least important thing.

The second thing you are serving is the career of the writer. And particularly in television, it doesn’t matter what a great writer you are, if people don’t want to spend 12 hours a day with you in a room, you aren’t going to survive.

And if you don’t know how to conduct yourself in the room, when to fight, when to not fight, when to speak up, when to let it go, when to be flexible, if you don’t know how to do that, you might sell your pilot or you might get staffed, but you aren’t going to last.

So everyone is aware of the project and they want to serve the project, and everyone is aware of the career and they want to serve the career, but the most important god we are serving is serve the writer, to serve the artist, because you never know how long it is going to take for your career to take off.

So much of this is about personal development of the writer and growing that writer’s voice, and growing that writer’s skill set, so that it doesn’t matter what project it is, whenever that door opens, they have the skills to kind of go through it.

Katie: And like you said, as a writer, you have to know how to adapt to different personalities and work with people. People in Hollywood hire people they want to work with. That is why Robert Downey Jr., everyone loves him in Hollywood, they would hire him for anything because he is cool, he is adaptable, he is talented.

And so in a writers  room I really want people to find their personalities and learn how to get along with everyone, and learn how to share and use their voices.

Jake: Yes, I guess the last piece is I’d love to talk about is ProTrack, our one-on-one mentorship program where we pair you with a professional writer, and we mentor you one-on-one through every phase of writing your project.

And so what is different about working one-on-one with a student versus working with a student in a group?

Katie: I love working one-on-one, because I feel like we are teammates. You have a project and I am just helping to guide you and share any knowledge I have from my experience to help you raise that project up and find the voice, find the story you want to tell, or how to tell it. I get to help you grow as a writer with your characters and get it to the end where you have something you are really proud of, and you can go out and run with it.

Jake: Well, is there anything else, one last little piece you would like to leave our listeners with?

Katie: If you are drawn to writing, come write. What we do here is have artists, writers become deep, real, functioning, working writers. And I think a lot of times people are afraid because they are like, “I don’t really know how to write,” or, “I am afraid I am going to look stupid,” I get that a lot.

I had a judge come up to me at a party and he was like, “I want to write a screenplay but I don’t know how to write. I don’t really know a story.” I was like, “You are a judge, what are you talking about?”

So, it is about not worrying about competence, just come and write and then it will all take off on its own.

Jake: And that is one of the things that makes me proud of what we do here. As a writer, you don’t have to be the expert because we have experts here who can help you. You need to be the person who comes in open to looking at yourself and looking at your characters and getting your truth on the page. And then we are lucky to have wonderful people like Katie to help bring the craft to it.

Katie: Thank you.

Jake: So thank you so much your time Katie.

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