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3 Things To Remember When You’re Trying To Break Into TV

3 Things To Remember When You're Trying To Break Into TV

I remember the
first character I ever related to: Gordie from “Stand By Me.” He was a quiet
kid, and something about him just didn’t fit his family. He was a stranger in
the world he lived in. He coped with these feelings inside his head, and to me
as an eight-year-old, he was free. I’m still drawn to Gordie today.

My road to
writing, producing and directing part of a half-hour single cam office comedy
was a bumpy one. This is what I learned.

1. Remember Why This Chose You

Funny thing,
no one cares about what school you went to when you graduate, so your best bet
are entry level jobs. Traditionally, these don’t pay well, or at all.

When I first
graduated, I worked a night job for $500/week. After taxes, this ends up being
enough to pay rent and eat cheap sandwiches. And forget about your student
loan. It will laugh at you, seriously. You have to either starve or get another
job.

I worked three
jobs. I love Math and English, so I was a tutor at two different companies. I
don’t know how many hours I worked in a week. 60? I just remember I worked all
the time. There were a lot of times when I wanted to quit. There were a lot of
times since then when I wish I had. Even to this day, I wish I loved something
else, wish I could do something else. I know that would be a lie. I love
writing. I love creating things. So when you’ve graduated and things are hard,
and you’re lying on your floor because you feel that low: Remember why this
chose you. Remember one victory you had, and hold onto it.

When I first
graduated, for me, that victory was when I got accepted to the MFA
Screenwriting program at USC. My teachers and colleagues at the time didn’t
think I could get accepted there. I didn’t even think I could get accepted
there. I heard “it’s too competitive” a lot. I remember when I opened
that acceptance envelope and read two words, “We’re excited…” I
cried. I just sat down on my couch and cried for 20 minutes. I cried for the
yes. I cried for every no.

Whenever I
want to leave LA, I think about that moment and I stay.

2. Have Confidence

This took me
30 years to learn. When I graduated from film school, I was shy and insecure. I’m
still that way, only I hide and channel it through comedy.

Being a woman
trying to break into TV, and this industry in general, for me feels like I have
to yell to be heard. 

I remember
when I was interviewing for a Writer’s Assistant job, and had to pitch my
thesis, a sci-fi about a world where love is outlawed, and the consequence is
death in a roaring arena in front of a crowd of bloodthirsty citizens. I
stumbled over a few sentences because I was so afraid that this person sitting
in front of me would see that I am not as talented as I was pretending to be. And
then, it happened, as it will happen to a pitch gone wrong, you see the hint of
disinterest in the eyes and know this person is not listening anymore. This
person is thinking about what he/she wants to eat for lunch, but you’re still
talking. I wanted to run. What I should have done is found another in. What
I’ve learned is that communicating is an art, and how you do so with every
person you come in contact with is different.

I didn’t have
the confidence to change tactics. I didn’t believe in my talent or my writing. In
that 20 seconds it took this person to tune out, I gave up.

Being
confident is not bragging. It’s not bossy. It’s you saying you have a voice and
place in this world. Also, I don’t hear the “y” on bossy anymore. I
just hear boss.

3. Create

This also took
30 years to learn. It’s scary when you graduate film school because you’re
wondering if you made the right choice. All you ask yourself throughout film
school: How do I get an agent? The answer: Get your script read. Yet, you can’t
get someone to read your script unless you have an agent, and you can’t get an
agent unless someone reads your script. You go in circles for the first few
years after graduation, and of course, you hear one word a lot: no. Each time
you hear it, it doesn’t hurt any less than the first time. It actually hurts
more.

So create. Find
what makes you a whole person.

What helped
me? Comedy. I say comedy because I learned how to be comfortable in my own skin
by honing my comedy skills when I first started working in a production office
full of men and women that I had to talk to so I could get my job done. It was
difficult for me at first, but I remember the first time I made someone laugh
because I said what I was thinking. I work at a reality TV production company,
and at my job I help to get final payment after shows have aired. I remember
working to close out a show with a colleague, and said what I was thinking: “Show
me the money.” Sure, I was mimicking a line from “Jerry Maguire,” but it
was the first time I made someone I didn’t know laugh. I was really surprised
about how good it felt to make another person laugh, and shocked to see how
making someone laugh puts that person at ease. You’re not a stranger anymore. You’re
funny. You’re okay.

That’s how I
found my voice, the place where I can truly be who I am. I’m funny. It was me,
a shy girl transformed into a woman because she used the office floor as a
stage, getting laughs (and sometimes not getting laughs).  

And now? Well,
there’s a lot of articles out there that talk about why there aren’t enough
women writers in TV. And what do I think about that? I honestly think there
aren’t enough women writers in TV because we’re learning we need to build the
doors ourselves, and open them. That’s why during a weekend in late August, I
chose to direct a 1/2 hour pilot I wrote and produced. After no, after no,
after no, I finally decided that I was done waiting for a yes, and I would make
that yes myself.

I’ve worked in
reality for about five years now, and “Post” is set in that world. It’s
a pleasure to share this with you.

Also, I’m
trying to finish and distribute “Post” independently. If you would like to
help, you can donate here.

Wallaine Sarao
has a BA in English from SDSU, and a MFA in Screenwriting from USC. In 2009,
she won the Cynosure Grand Prize for a feature she wrote based on her life
called “Past Due.” In 2010, she optioned an hour-long pilot with Fox through a
program called Fox Writers Initiative. She currently works as a Post Manager at
a reality TV production company, and is a part of the PGA. She also can pat her
head and rub her belly at the same time.

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