By Jackson miles Evans
A screening followed by a conversation with co-executive producer Willie Reale and show writer Wes Jones.
SVA theater was packed with students, professors, and fans looking to catch not only a taste of the magic behind this new hit show, but also some wisdom regarding what it takes to get involved in compelling mainstream television. Although both Wes Jones and Willie Reale have found their way into the writer’s room, Mr. Reale opened the panel by acknowledging the fact that, “there’s no set way to go about it. Everybody has his or her own path.”
Having dabbled in the arts his entire life, moving through a variety of circles and testing a number of art forms, Mr. Reale didn’t expect to end up in TV. “I started as an actor and I was clawing my way to the middle,” Mr. Reale recalled. “And then, I couldn’t sleep one night and a friend of mine had encouraged me to write because he found me amusing. And he said ‘write me a role,’ and I [ended up writing] this 20-page play.”
This one moment, at the time trivial and playful, in retrospect was a major stepping stone in Mr. Reale’s path to the writer’s room. The play was picked up by Circle Rep Theater, an off-Broadway venue now defunct, and played for a period of time. Three months later, he got a random call from an agent who had happened to see the play, who started the conversation with an exciting agenda: “I want to talk to you about the rest of your career.”
Similarly, Wes Jones also trudged an indirect path into the world of writing. Describing his early trajectory, Mr. Jones offered several early stepping stones of his own. “I went from Mayor’s list PA, to [filming] weddings, to writing at night.” A script he wrote in 2009 called College Republicans, inspired by a PBS Frontline documentary about Lee Atwater and re-envisioning Carl Rove’s political career as a buddy comedy about the two, was passed along to the ten people he knew with connections in the industry.
As Mr. Jones described,
“it just touched a nerve in some way… everybody who read that script loved it. All of a sudden, I was saying all the exact same [ideas] I’d [had] before, which hadn’t work, [but suddenly] everybody loved them.”
This anecdote underscored a difficult but truly necessary skill when it comes to hunting for a career in creative production: don’t respond to rejection with bitterness or envy and never give up. It’s in the nature of the business that at one moment, very few, or none will pursue, value, or even consider your ideas. In the next instant, some relatively small detail will change, your work will be framed in the context of one piece that gets a bit of traction or buzz, and suddenly those same ideas will take on a new meaning and suddenly matter. Patience, humility, and dedication will ultimately prevail. Holding a grudge will simply hold you back.
The underlying theme seemed to evoke that all it takes is one good piece to get your name out there. The question then becomes; how do you identify your best work? Mr. Jones acknowledged that it can be difficult and he cautioned against throwing too many eggs in one basket. He stressed that when it comes to that one script you’ve decided to throw all your weight behind, “you want to make sure it represents the best you, and not just [right] now, but the best you that you’re going to be.” As far as identifying that one script, especially for young or new writers, Mr. Jones advocated for a conservative approach that emphasizes practice and dedication to the craft before self-promotion. “If you have your one script, and that’s your masterpiece, put it aside and write the next one, because it will only be better.”
Mr. Reale agreed wholeheartedly, but added the obvious, “If you want to write [for] TV or film, you gotta write. If you’re a waiter and all you do is wait tables then you’re a waiter. But, if you get up every morning and write, and you’re a waiter, then you’re a writer who happens to have to wait [tables].”
Many “writers” fall into the trap of being a writer only in conversation, meaning they’re happy to call themselves a writer while schmoozing or flirting, but when it comes to the potentially painful, embarrassing, terrifying process of sitting down to write at a terribly early or late hour, most often choose to sleep.
Mr. Reale, acknowledged how real the struggle is:
“All the time, [writing] requires discipline. I get up super early. I get up SO EARLY because that’s when I’m able to focus. And I would prefer to be asleep. But if I sleep then I don’t get anything done. It’s so simple. If you want to make a living expressing yourself then you have to continually explore that and express yourself.”
Bottom line: write a lot, even when you’d rather be sleeping. And if I could add anything myself, I’d encourage you, dear reader, aspiring writer, to have fun. School turns writing into work, a career turns it into sustenance, but at its core, writing is creative, exploratory, and fun. Don’t let the noise of the world take that fun away. The best writers are so good because they love the craft, and when we hear their words on the screen or read them in a book, we can tell they cherish what they do, and treat the act of writing like something sacred. Write for yourself and love it; not because you want a job, but because it’s how you want to live your life.