So. Where were we?
Right. It was September 2018 and I landed a literary agent and tv writing agent in the same week. It was surreal. I’d also gotten close to landing a Leadership Residency with NTS that felt like a sure thing which slipped through my fingers. I was disappointed but had a feeling that 2019 would be busy enough without having to fly back and forth to Montreal and Banff. I was right.
In my meeting with the tv agent (let’s just call him Agent Awesome) he said that he’d looked me up online and that, while I had a respectable reputation as a playwright, he only represented screenwriters. Then he said the two words that may, or may not, terrify a new writer:
And that’s when laying face down recovering from eye surgery for three weeks rewarded me. Competing with the din at the Ryerson Balzac’s I pitched three television ideas. I knew what the format would be, genre, how many episodes, the characters, and whether they could run for five seasons. I had been thinking about this possible conversation for several months and I was prepared.
In June, I had arranged a meeting with Floyd Kane (Diggstown) after reading an interview with him in the Toronto Star where he lamented the lack of experienced black female screenwriters. I wanted to know what I needed to do in order to get to the point where I could be hired for a writer’s room. I wasn’t expecting a job from the meeting. I just wanted to know his journey, favourite writing software, and pilots I could watch to glean voice/style. We met at a Starbucks in the East End and had a 2 hour conversation about writing, his journey, ashy skin, and being black in an industry where you rarely see yourself represented onscreen. It was a great talk and I was grateful for the generosity of his time.
As I went home, I gave myself a deadline to have a pilot completed in five months: October 2018.
By October Friday October 11 I had written a first draft of The Chaste Effect.
I had written a first draft of Cassidy Must Die by December 2, 2018 and I wanted to write another pilot by the end of January 2019.
Eric Haywood’s advice to screenwriters is ‘once you finish writing that pilot, write another, and then another.’ I took that advice seriously and aimed to understand different genres. The Chaste Effect is a drama and Cassidy Must Die is supernatural. The next pilot I was going to write was supposed to be located in the world of espionage, but then I was asked to slow down.
Agent Awesome felt that I should consider turning my drama into a comedy because it was so funny.
I balked. I’m not a comedy writer, I explained calmly. ‘I’m serious. I’m David Simon. I’m Suzi Lori-Parks. David Milch. My writing is SAYING SOMETHING about the political rot that is infecting our society. I’m not Chuck Lorre or Norman Lear (brilliant, funny geniuses, of course). ‘ Don’t @ me. I know Norman Lear is all about social commentary; I’ve seen All in the Family!
Agent Awesome smiled. I was on the treadmill and he was finished his workout. “Just think about it. And when I say comedy, I mean cable, not network.” I put out a call to my FB friends to ask what funny Netflix/Amazon/HBO shows I should be consuming.
I really don’t think of myself as funny. I see the world through a dark, tilted lens. Everyone dies at the end. And the death is usually very unpleasant and absurd. I adore the work of the Coen Brothers, ya know? I felt stuck.
Proving that writers are doomed to always be unhappy and dissatisfied I had no reason to feel stuck. Jeremy Webb at Neptune Theatre and Kelly Thornton at Nightwood Theatre had told me that they wanted to produce my plays. I was about to achieve my goal of having plays produced on mainstages in Canada. Huzzah! But…that wasn’t what I wanted NOW.
Writers can be pathetic little babies who are never satisfied. The self loathing crept up my oesophagus. Now what?
An intervention from a screenwriting London homie, now living in LA, re-focused me, and set me on the right path. Tune in next week to find out how his very simple advice changed the trajectory of my writing career.