Welcome to CHAT & CHOW: a Q&A series highlighting a different writer each week. My one request for a writer who agrees to participate — the person has to either a) meet me at a food truck or b) have boba with me.
Today’s guest, Sheila Lawrence.
Check out her IMDB page here.
Sheila and I first met working as writers’ assistants on a very successful television show. We bonded over sushi lunches, working late nights and the unfairness of having mothers skinnier than us (is there a size smaller than zero?).
Then one day — over lunch, naturally — Sheila mentioned that after years of being an assistant, she was determined to get staffed writing on a show. Within a week, she quit her job. Within two months, she was writing on a prime time network comedy.
She’s been working ever since.
In fact, Sheila recently finished the final season of Desperate Housewives and is now on the ABC Family series, “Bunheads,” premiering Monday, June 11th.
THE Q & A
1. When do you like to write?
Pre-kids: 9 pm – 1 am
2. When do you actually get to write?
Post-kids: Mostly just at work (must… change… that… soon).
3. Not including the show/project you’re on now, name a series you would love to write/have written for:
Mary Tyler Moore (just met Treva Silverman so it’s on the brain), Northern Exposure, My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Sex and the City, Modern Family, Parenthood, Episodes… wait, was I just supposed to name one?
4. Having worked in sitcoms, then dramas, what did you not expect the first time you worked on an hour-long show?
I was shocked that we actually got off at 7:00 on a consistent basis. There was, of course, always more work we could have done, but the showrunner would simply say, “We’ll pick up tomorrow.” After years of all-night rewrites, it took me two full seasons before I could finally trust the hours enough to make dinner plans!
5. Every person has a unique breaking in story. Can you single out a sliding doors moment you feel would’ve taken your career in a different direction had it happened the other way?
I was working as a writers’ assistant on a Nickelodeon sketch show called “Roundhouse,” and one Sunday during the season, I found out I got a scholarship to do graduate study in Scotland. The next day at work, I finally summoned the courage to pitch a sketch to the showrunner. He liked it and told me to write it up; he put it in the script that night. For weeks after that, whenever I talked to anyone, the story I’d excitedly relate to them was that I got a sketch in the show; the afterthought was the scholarship. A month before I was supposed to leave for Glasgow, I was offered a staff writer position. I still haven’t been to Scotland – nor do I have an advanced degree – but the career thing seems to be working out okay so far.
6. When reading someone’s script, what’s the main thing that’s turns you off or keeps you from finishing it?
Bad dialogue is a major turn-off for me (in writing and in life!). If you’re on a show, you’re most likely going to have help with story and structure, but the dialogue is largely up to you, so you’d better be able to write it well. If the characters’ voices feel inauthentic, I have a hard time staying interested in the story.
7. What’s the biggest DON’T you would tell a new writer working in a room?
Don’t feel that you need to talk all the time to be seen as smart. In most rooms, there are a lot of people competing for airspace. As a new writer, I think you’re better off choosing your spots wisely and making sure you have something good to contribute, rather than just speaking up because you haven’t heard your voice in a while.
8. Your advice to writers in 3 words.
Live your life
9. Multiple Choice Question: Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, or Scooby Doo?
Who needs sushi when you have boba?