Ep 11 | Asha Michelle Wilson - Writer: American Horror Story, Archer, Scream Queens

Credit: FX


Asha Michelle Wilson: I remember the first time I’m seeing something on set that I have written. That’s a wild, wild moment, I think, because I feel like the idea of magic is creating something from nothing. And that’s essentially what writing is, you’re coming up with an idea, you write it and then someone thinks it’s good enough to make something out of and they build sets for it. And people memorize your lines when you walk in. And the thing that was just in your mind is all of a sudden there and I think that’s such a surreal experience the first few times that happens it’s still surreal for me, honestly.

Mike Battle: Hello, and welcome to Red Carpet Rookies. My name is Mike Battle, a film production Junior working for Studios in London. Each episode I bring you advice and stories from film, TV and content professionals to help demystify and democratize the industries for juniors and fans alike. Thanks for joining me. Let’s get started. Today’s guest is writer Asha Michelle Wilson. With beginnings as a script and show running assistant Asha’s work caught the eye of the Ryan Murphy TV world, which led to successful stints in a team of projects like Scream Queens, and American Horror Story. Now a fully-fledged writer, Asha has recently worked on much love hits, such as FX’s Asha, and some top secret upcoming Netflix shows. Welcome Asha. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show.

Asha: I am so happy to be here. What an intro by the way, I’m honored.

Mike: Thank you very much. I’m excited about today to have you on the show. Because as a young writer, you can give a perspective that some of my other guests can’t quite give. And I think a lot of our listeners will be really, really benefit from digging into how you got started and what it’s like.

I’d like to begin though by asking what did your parents do? And did that have any effect on your career?

Asha: So growing up, both my parents worked in computers that was kind of like the thing of the 80s and 90s. But my mom was always very creative, very into writing. And both my parents were lovers hardcore. And so I think that really helped grow my love of TV and film. And I think a lot of my friends always joke that my brain is a little bit broken, I can watch a show and I will never forget what happened in that show. If a friend is like what was the episode where this happened on New Girl, I’m like season three, Episode 12. I think I’ve been like that since I was a kid. And both my parents always say that I’ve been writing since I was six years old writing in journals and telling stories and kind of living in that headspace. And so, I definitely think they were very, very supportive of what I wanted to do. And it’s showing me new content, which I always appreciated. Although I wasn’t allowed to watch TV during the week, which I will never let my parents forget. Because I was so obsessed with TV. I think my mom was like you need to focus on homework and reading and that sort of thing. And now I’m like, “Well, I’m writing TV. So maybe you should let me have a TV in my room.” But they were still very supportive despite having careers in different industries.

Mike: That’s fantastic. Well, were you a Hollywood kid, a lot of people I speak to were kind of born and raised in Hollywood. Are you from far away from there?

Asha: No, I’m from southern Florida, a place where old people go to die. So not exactly. There is a Hollywood, Florida. But a very different version of Hollywood there. No I’ve been out here about eight years now. But I did study film and TV for a long time before coming out here. But no, I’m not an LA native at all.

Mike: So how’s your experience? When was it the whole pack your bags Off you go arrive in LA, don’t sleep on someone’s sofa, what happened?

Asha: That was essentially what happened. Now You make it sound a lot more glamorous in that way kind of the like, I’m just going and it’s my dream. I was very lucky in the sense that the school that I went to Ilan University and so there were a lot of graduate who had come out to LA before me. So there was a nice kind of safety net in the sense that I knew I would have people I could hang out with. I knew I could have people to go out for coffee with and that sort of thing. And I had two friends that were moving, well, multiple friends but two friends specifically that were moving out to LA at the same time as me, so we were able to get an apartment together. And so I only had to sleep on a friend’s couch for about a week. And I already had a friend before I even came out who I Facebook message and was like, “Can I crash on your couch” and she ended up being my roommate A few years later. So I was very lucky in that regard that I think the people who sort of don’t know anyone and just come out with $10 in a dream. I’m like super respect to you for doing that because that’s not an easy thing to do. And so I did move out about a month after I graduated college, but I definitely have a big support network and coming out here.

Mike: Did that support network help you in getting your first industry job?

Asha: Oh, what a segue. Have you done this before?

Mike: Yes.

Asha: Yeah, I was out here and just kind of Looking for any kind of assistant work, I knew I wanted to write scripted television, but that’s not the easiest thing to come out and be like, “My first job was a staff writer.” Anyone who does that, I’m like, mad props to you. But a friend of mine from my university had a friend who was an assistant and was getting promoted and her job. And so she was like, “I need someone to take over my job. Do you know anyone looking for assistant work,” and my friend was like, “I do.” sent her my resume? And that was in reality TV. So that was not what I wanted to do. But I did want to pay my bills. So who else is that?

Mike: What’s reality TV like? We’ve all got our ideas.

Asha: I think, well, there’s lots of different types of reality. And in my PA days, I worked in a couple different realms of that, that job was more of the kind of animal planet style reality, it was a show called finding Bigfoot, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Mike: Did they find him?

Asha: I don’t think they have and, but if they have someone correct me on that, if they have found him, I might be wrong, but at the time that I worked there, they did not. And I kind of did a lot of office PA stuff I got snacks. And I answered phones and scheduled meetings. And I was not, it was my first non-internship job. Like I had been in LA for a couple summers prior and worked as a writer’s assistant intern, or as an office PA intern. And this was my first paid office job. And it I, I want to say that I was great at it, and I knocked it out of the park. I didn’t I was fine. And I think it’s always tricky, that first job because your boss can really make or break the job. And I think nothing against my bosses at the time. I think there are good people, I think we just didn’t mesh well together. I think my style and their style, it was more creative, kind of theirs 30 rock joke where she’s like, executives are like, ‘bruh’ and I’m more like, ‘wao, wao.’ And I think I was like, “wao, wao” and they were like, “We want someone bit more like us.” But I worked there for about nine months. And then I left, I quit, and ended up kind of doing a lot of general jobs. You know, that was, but I’m really grateful for that job. And a lot of ways because it taught me sort of the hierarchy and offices that taught me the kind of baseline of stuff to do when it comes to getting snacks for the office and making sure you don’t mess up your boss’s schedule and that sort of thing.

Mike: So when you talk about then becoming a script assistant, would you be able to explain a little bit about how that works?

Because I’m in the industry and I don’t quite understand sometimes how the script department works, particularly because maybe I’m from England. I know the American system is slightly different. And when you’re on a lot of online forums of screenwriters and stuff, they’re often trying to understand the staff writer and the writer system, because when you say writing assistant, arguably that sounds like a PA to the assistant. Do you mean that? Or is that more generalized role?

Asha: It can honestly be both. I know the system, obviously in the UK is usually one person writing the entire show, so you don’t have a room. So the first job where I wrote I was like, kind of a writer’s assistant script coordinator was on this animated show for Nickelodeon. And I worked my way up from showrunners assistant, which was what you were saying it was the assistant to the showrunner. But I made it very clear that I wanted to work my way up. And I was willing to help. And I think kind of a small tip is if you’re trying to break in and learn a lot, I think kids’ animation can actually be a really, really great place. Because the hours are very good. Most of the people who work there have kids themselves, and they want to be home by six o’clock, but also kind of everybody knows everyone in that world. And so and its kind of a one person can carry three jobs. I worked there for a year and a half. And I was the showrunner’s assistant, writer’s assistant, office PA and script coordinator. And so to answer your question directly, I think generally when people talk about writers’ PA, that’s usually like an office PA, it’s usually someone who gets coffee and snacks for the office, they pick up lunch, they sort of make sure the office supplies are all handled. It’s the baseline. And then writer’s assistant is usually sometimes it can be like a showrunner’s assistant to one person. But usually they’re talking about the person who takes the notes for the room. So in a writer’s room, minimum, you’ll have three people Max, you can have 12 to 15 people in a room. And so you need someone to take notes on what everybody is saying and compile them into some kind of readable form. That’s not just like, and then John said this, and the writer’s assistant is in charge of that, which is a great job, but it can be hard because if you miss one thing one person said, “They’re kind of like, what was that thing that David said” and then if you missed it,

Mike: They missed the big line. 'You can’t handle the truth' the guy forgot to write down!

Asha: Could you imagine and so I think that’s definitely a very, very, I think, important job and underestimated job because it really does help build the show. And then again, a script coordinator sort of makes the script work. It puts all the pieces together some room. I’ve been in some rooms and some jobs, where it’s called room writing, where certain people take certain scenes, it’s not one person writing a whole episode, what’s the WGA frowns on. So I will not say which shows they were. But the script coordinator would then compile all those scenes together. So that’s also really important job because it makes the script readable. And so by the time that in kids’ animation, I was able to do all of those jobs. And I think those, again, are very underestimated, but vital roles and making sure that everyone is getting the script and the way that the writers want them to get the script.

Mike: The show you’re talking about there is fresh beat band of spies?

Asha: That is the show.

Mike: And one of the questions I wrote down I wanted to ask about was, what’s it like on a children’s show where you’ve got a bunch of adults trying to get into the headspace of writing for children??

Asha: Yeah, that’s interesting. So I’m the kind of executive producers of that show, Scott and co who are amazing people, they’ve worked in kids’ television for ages, and that show fresh with Phantom spies was a spin-off of a live action show called Fresh Beat Band. And so we were able to use those same characters and their head spaces to kind of put into the show. But I think what ends up working really well is they all have kids, and they’ve all had kids and kind of seen what kids are interested in. And I think the thing that I found most interesting about that, in terms of headspace is, they always said, especially with kids’ shows that had a musical element to it, “You had to have a show that would keep the kids engaged, but not make the parents want to change the channel.” That was always the rule. Because if an adult find something too annoying, while they’re working in the background, or cooking, or whatever, they’re going to change the channel to something less annoying. And so that balance was something that I always found really interesting. And so I think a big part of it is just getting to that silly part of your mind. That is sort of the rhyming part of your mind and the part of colorful. And people who are good at dad jokes come into play. There were a lot of puns on that show, and a lot of just like silly noises. And we had Tom Kenny voice our animal character, and he’s the voice of SpongeBob. So I think when you have actors like that, there’s able to like get in that headspace that really helps elevate it a lot. But yeah, I think it’s just like you said the colorful, silly headspace helps a lot.

Mike: Was it from that you went into the Ryan Murphy ecosphere?

Asha: So that show, we only had one season. And so I was kind of we were hoping for another one. So after we got canceled, I was sort of free floating. I was doing a lot of freelance PA works at PA work. I worked on a reality cooking show. I babysat for a while. And funnily enough, I think I’ve told the story before. Someone I was babysitting for was also a writer. And she was like, “I just want to make clear, I’m not looking for a nanny. I’m looking for a part time babysitter, my kids already 12 years old.” And I was like, “Great! I don’t want to be a full time nanny. I’m just looking to make some money right now.” And she’s like, ‘Perfect!’ And she asked what I normally did. I told her I was writer and she asked to read one of my scripts, which was very generous of her. And she liked it enough that when she heard about a writer’s PA job opening up on screen, Queens, she called me and asked me if I was interested, I was like, “Absolutely, please sign me up.” And I remember this. So clearly, she called me on a Wednesday, and was like, send me your resume. If you’re interested. I sent it to her immediately from my phone. That is a tip I will give to anyone out there looking for work, keep a copy of your resume handy and ready to email to anybody. If you’re out and about. And she texted me back on Friday, and it was like, “Oh my gosh, I totally forgot to send your resume. I’ll send it right now.” And I was like, “Well, that’s done. There’s no way that two days later, I’ll be able to get it.” And they called me the following Tuesday while I was in a target dressing room trying on click sweaters.

Mike: The glamour!

Asha: Exactly the Hollywood glamour of it all. And they asked if I could come in for an interview that week, I was working a PA job. And I asked my boss I was like, “This is like a dream for me. I really want to be in a writer’s kind of situation. Can I please just have like, a couple hours” and they’re like, “Go do it. It’s fine.” And so I think I was again, very lucky to have people around me who were willing to send my resume. Who were willing to let me take some time off work. We’re willing to, help me in that way. And so I went in and I remember it’s my first time on the Fox Lot and I was like, “This is everything. This is it.” And as I was walking up, I was like, “There’s no way that I’m gonna get this job. This is such a fair shot for me that I’m just gonna be myself and who gives a shit? Who can I swear on this sorry. And I was like, I’ll just go for it.” And so I went in. And I had a really great chat with two people who ended up being my bosses and then coworkers and colleagues. And I remember at towards the end of the interview, one of them was like, like halfway through the interview, he opened his laptop and started like emailing something. And it was nothing to do with me. It was like something for work. And I was like, “Oh, I definitely don’t have this job, if I’m boring him so much that he’s doing work in the middle of the interview.” But then he at the end of the interview was like, “I just have to say, I love you. I think you’re fantastic. Amazing.” And so, I think a few days later, I got the email that I got the job. And then I was kind of in that world for the next four years.

Mike: What’s a Ryan Murphy writers room like, I can imagine it’s pretty fun.

Asha: Someone very similar, someone very different. I think something that is, I’ve always really admired about Ryan is that he really does want to be involved in each show. He really, it’s not like, he just puts a show on the air. And then he never looks at it again, he reads all the scripts, he wants to be involved, despite having a dozen happening at once. But he’s not in the room every day, because who could have the time to do that. And so he puts people obviously that he trusts in charge of running the rooms. And I think so for Scream Queens, there was much smaller writers room, it was three, four writers. And they had all worked together on Glee. So they kind of had a shorthand with each other, it was kind of like Ryan would say something, and they would say something, and they would say something, and then they’d go off to write and it was kind of very to the point, they knew each other styles very well. Versus something like American Horror Story, which I ended up writing on for two seasons, has a much bigger writers room that was eight to 10 of us at any time. And so there was a lot more of a Ryan kind of saying his general idea for the season or for the episode, and then us kind of fleshing it out. And a lot of that back and forth of sort of working together to bring that idea to life kind of. And I think that show is Ryan’s baby in a way that, it’s been on for 10 years. Now, it’s -I think- very important to him. And so he wanted to be very involved in that. So, you know, there would be times where he would kind of give us an idea, and we’d sort of run with it and go it go in a certain direction with it. And then he’d read it and be like, “Oh, no, this isn’t what I want.” And then we’d have to kind of rework it. Or he’d come in one day and kind of be like, “Okay, I came up with an idea for Episode Six, we’re gonna flash forward 10 years,” we’re like, “Oh, okay!” And so we kind of go with that. And so I think that show is very good at coming up with ideas, you know, and doing the craziest thing we could think of, and then doing the thing even crazier than that. And I think if you watch it, you could definitely see that on screen. There’s a lot of ideas that have things that you’ve not seen in anything else before, things that might be inspired by something, but sort of, are given new life in the context of the show. And there was also a lot of scary stuff, which I am a total wimp when it comes to scary stuff, which everyone laughs at because it worked out American Horror Story. But it would just be like, “Okay, what’s the creepy way that he could murder somebody?” And it’s like, “Throat slashing?” ‘No,’ “okay, maybe he takes a nail gun.” And one by one, they put nail guns in his head. And it’s like, that’s the one and it’s like, “Okay’ writing now.” So that definitely have a lot going on in that respect. And then there were shows like 911, which I worked on, and I was actually going to write on before going on American Horror Story. And that show because it’s more of a procedural drama. And a lot of the cases are based on real life incidents. That was a lot of research, which is a bit of a different vibe, you want to research real 911 cases that have happened, you want to research, what would happen if this medical case came up? How would someone handle it? And so, that kind of took on a different life in that way. Because it would be people coming into the room with like, here are my five ideas of potential cases we could do, and then building an episode around that.

Mike: So you mentioned the scariness of all the things in American Horror Story that did you have like a big wall of throat slash thing, and then various people come up with ideas during the day? It’s quite depraved really to think about that all day.

Asha: So, I will say for the last season I was on which was 1984 season nine. We definitely because the horror movies of the 80s were such an obvious inspiration for 1984. We had a wall of things we had seen in movies and ways we’d seen people getting killed, and then we’d have another whiteboard if like ways we would want to do it. So we would watch something like I’m pretty sure this either happened in one of the Friday the 13th sequels are in Sleepaway Camp, I can’t remember where somebody, it’s an awful, awful death or someone in a wheelchair, it gets like pushed down the stairs, and they keep the shot on it forever. It is horrible, horrible, horrible. But that was, of course, on the board of like, “Is this something we want to do?” We did not do, thankfully. But it would be things like that, where we watched a lot of movies. So I guess there was a bit of research in that we kind of wanted to get into the tone of that. But there were a lot of ideas of deaths on the wall that we didn’t end up using there was one of, because the 80s had those movies had so much um, if you do drugs, you’ll die. If you have sex, you’ll die. We had one we never got to use which was like, somebody like the killer puts glass in somebody is cocaine and they snort the cocaine and die like that was [unclear 21:09] we had one with like firecrackers up someone. That was why we didn’t end up doing so there were plenty of ideas on the board for sure. Which looking back, if somebody just walked into that room, it would have been like what is happening right now. But yeah!

Mike: Did you ever get to set to see any of your creations?

Asha: Yeah, that I remember the first time I’m seeing something on set that I have written. That’s a wild, wild moment, I think. Because I talk a lot about magic when it comes to Hollywood. I think everybody does, because it can feel very magical sometimes. But I feel like the idea of magic is creating something from nothing. And that’s essentially what writing is, you’re coming up with an idea, you write it, and then someone thinks it’s good enough to make something out of and they build sets for it. And people memorize your lines when you walk in. And this thing that was just in your mind is all of a sudden there. And I think that’s such a surreal experience the first few times that happens, it’s still surreal for me, honestly. But I remember, the first time I was on set, and you hear people saying your lines, and they’re coming to you being like, “Is that the way that you wanted it to happen?” And it’s like, “Yeah, [unclear 23:04]” And so yeah, that’s it was really cool. That was season eight was the first season that I was a staff writer on and that was the witchy season, which was very fun for me, because I love witchy stuff. And so I was kind of the person in the room that was like, “Okay, what’s the witchy thing they could be learning in class,” and I was like, “They’re turning flower petals into butterflies.” And they’re like, ‘Great!’ Going on set to like, see them sort of make that and the CGI magic they ended up doing was very, very cool.

Mike: When you’re that new kid on the block in the room, is it, well how I guess it’s obviously difficult? How do you assert yourself, you know, as a new person, particularly if, for example, a lot of them know each other from Glee and things like that? Any other example you mentioned, is that difficult? How do you navigate that?

Asha: That’s a great question. I think the advice I always given to people in situations like that is don’t try and fill a space that’s already filled. People already have a shorthand. I was lucky when I got promoted on American Horror Story because I’d worked as a writer’s assistant in the room. So all the writers knew me and we all kind of, they at least trusted me. And it wasn’t kind of like who’s this new person. But I think when you’re starting out, I think a really important thing is to find a space that you can fill well, that’s needed. So for example, when I first started as a writer’s PA, everyone at in the Ryan Murphy world known each other for some people know each other for a decade, plus and you can’t compete with that, why would you even try and so, instead what I focused on was the kitchen. I was like, “This kitchen is a mess. I’m gonna organize it.” So I ordered like hermetically sealed jars, I reorganized all of the cabinets. I went to the grocery store every day and made sure everything was stacked. I kind of did it all. And of course, they noticed they were like, “Who did this kitchen” and it was like, “Asha did.”. And I think because of that, they sort weirdly, they sort of trusted me. And were like, “Oh, you’re actually a smart person, you can do things.” And so I think that’s sort of my first piece of advice for people starting in a new environment where everybody knows each other as to see what needs to be done, even if it’s something small, because if it makes people’s lives easier, they’ll notice and kind of want to help with that. I think the other thing too, is to make it very, very clear what you want to do. I think, on my lunch break, sometimes I would go to the other writers who were in their office and just kind of be like, “Hey, if you ever have a free moment, I’d love to just like talk with you about your experience here.” Because people love talking about themselves, if they didn’t, podcast wouldn’t exist. And so that was always really helpful. And it made people get to know me as a person to me get to know them. So then you’re developing your own back and forth with them. And I think that can help because you can’t compete with working on a very successful show for a decade. So you got to kind of make your own path.

Mike: So I know that recently to change tack a little bit. You’ve worked on Archer, what’s the difference between working on a live action show like American Horror Story, as opposed to writing the animation? Is there much difference in how you have to write it?

Asha: Yes, and no, I think I’ve kind of been working, after I left horror story, I sold a couple shows, and then I, one of them is in the animated space. And so that kind of allowed a foray into some more animated content. And I think there are some shows that are what’s called board driven shows which I believe I have a friend who will correct me immediately if I’m wrong on this, but I believe it’s that the storyboards for the show kind of get made first, and then you kind of write the script off of those storyboards. But most of the animated shows I’ve worked on are script driven, which makes it more similar to live action, you’re writing the script, the actors read it, it gets animated, not in that order. But something like that. I think the biggest difference is right at taking advantage of the action lines in a way. Because in live action, the actors are going to put their own spin on it, and their facial expressions and the way they move in everything, but an animation, you have to give a little bit more, you have to give a bit more of how people are responding to things, specifically, the item that they’re picking up. And I think with something like Archer, it’s a lot more action driven, there’s action scenes that are, you don’t have to write very specifically, but you do have to sort of think about the way things are moving because it’s not like, there’s necessarily, I mean, the animators will obviously do their own choreography with it. But you should give some kind of direction, which is true for live action as well. So maybe it’s not that different. Maybe, I think there are definitely, I think they’re more similar than different in my experience with it. But I think something that’s been told to me in that world is to take advantage of the animation to sort of you can have someone do something totally ridiculous, and then get up a second later, and they’re fine. Or I have a pilot that I wrote, where I had a character, like reach into someone’s chest and pull out their heart and that you know what I mean, and then kind of laugh about it. And so I feel like if you can take advantage of the genre, the medium, then I think that’s something that definitely can change a little bit. But in terms of actual dialogue and stuff, I feel like Archer was something that was very similar to the way that I wrote anyway, which is a very quick back and forth dialogue. And so in that regard, it wasn’t that different but I think you do want to take advantage of the medium.

Mike: Obviously, a show like that has been on for many seasons now. Is it daunting to one step into the shoes of writing those much love characters and two, I’d be interested to know how does it kind of work do you get given like a Bible of this is the character because are you expected to have watched every single episode before you know...

Asha: You’re not expected to luckily I already did. I had I dressed as Lana like six years ago for Halloween. So luckily, I had some personal history with that, but no, I think I’m generally speaking when you’re going into like freelance writing an episode or going into a show that’s been on, they don’t expect you to watch all of it. I think they hope that you’ll at least watch the most recent season or maybe watch the first season to sort of understand it. But the Archer guys were very, very gracious with giving me like show Bibles and scripts and character outlines that sort of thing to get me in the headspace of it. And I, of course, just re watched episodes on episodes of episodes to sort of myself in the headspace as well. I think with a show like that, that the first 10 seasons were basically all written by Adam Reed. One person, which is much more similar to the UK style of writing, I think, makes it a different kind of, I don’t want to say challenge, but a different kind of experience, because it’s someone’s direct voice that you’re essentially trying to mimic, but also put your own spin on at the same time. And so, I think from that, what’s great about it is that you have so much of a backlog to go to, to sort of look at, I remember, slight tangent when I was writing a spec script for Broad City years ago, which is the one that I, actually sent to the woman I was babysitting for that she liked it got me screenplays, I watched just probably a dozen episodes of Broad City over and over and over again, to get into the headspace. And I would take notes on like, “Okay, this is how long the teaser last. Here’s how they separate their A story and B story, here’s how they do their act structure, do they always end on a cliffhanger on their act structure?” And I think that stuff can ruin a show for you. But it can also help with writing because it really gets you in that mind space. And so I think, luckily, like I said, the people that Archer were very, very helpful in terms of giving me a lot of that information up front. And sort of talking through the outline with me and working with me on what the best story structure for it was. And there’s some shows that I’ve either worked on or interviewed for or whatever, where things don’t expect you to watch any of it. And they’re like we’re doing a new thing this season. What’s interesting about horror stories to go back to that is, we were an anthology series. And so every season was different. And even though a lot of the writers carry it over from season to season, there wasn’t as much of a sort of, “Okay, well, what happened at the finale that we have to bring back, we could kind of start from scratch.” And so it’s not, I don’t think it’s as hard as it might seem to sort of get into that mindset. As long as, if you’re a fan of the show, it always makes it easier. But yeah, it’s definitely a specific skill set to sort of work on.

Mike: That’s a fantastic answer. And to get back to something you said, you very subtly dropped in a little phrase a little while back, which is in between, I sold a couple shows, would you be able to talk a bit about that process, because that’s something that we never really hear about. And I’ve worked in production for quite a few years now. But I’m very much in the production, and you never really see that element of it. And I know it’s something people are very much interested in, how does one the pitching process work? And two, how do you then sell a show? How does it work? And that’s a big question.

Asha: Yeah, Well, the pitching process is sort of a beast in an app itself, I think you’ll find like workshops and books and you know, talk backs and panels just about pitching in and of itself. Because you’re not just pitching the show, you’re pitching yourself at the same time, which is a little tricky sometimes. But I think, yeah, pitching is kind of its own thing. And they’re sort of different ways to go about it. There’s a version where you want to attach people to it, where you’ll pitch to certain actors or production companies, or directors or producers, to get them on board. Because ultimately, when you go in to pitch, let’s say, to a studio or network, you really just want them to be like, “Okay, I trust you, or I trust this team enough to make this happen.” If you’re what people call green, if you’re green, which means you’re new, or you haven’t sold anything before, you haven’t really worked too much. People are less likely to trust you because they’re like, “Okay, if we put millions of dollars into this idea, how do we know you’re going to deliver on it?” And so that’s why it can be helpful to attach, Jennifer Lawrence, or whoever it’s your show, because then they’re like, “Okay, we know that this will work because a big name is attached to it.” In my experience, with a couple of shows that I sold, one of them, we attached a production company, like two producers to it prior to pitching to the network. And the other one was just me. And so those were different experiences in a way. And then I have a couple shows that I’m pitching next month, that are going a different way as well. And so, I think that’s sort of like pre pitching part, where you’re sort of attaching people is deciding, I’m just going with myself, and that sort of a decision in and of itself. And then I think the actual pitch, it’s changed a lot this year, because they’re all via Zoom. And so that, again, is a different skill. Usually, if you’re in a room, you know, they make you wait for about 15 to 20 minutes, and then they come in and I know some people have done presentations, where they set up slideshows, some people do pamphlets or sort of visual decks that they hand out. And so that’s one way to go about it. I’m a talker and so I just tend to talk through the story and the characters and all of that. And so I think there is such an energy when you’re in the room because you can feed off of them. They laugh at your jokes or they kind of respond in certain ways and that sort of lends itself to its own experience, I think, Zoom, everyone else is muted, and they’re kind of looking at you. And if they laugh, but sort of like, like, they you don’t see them laughing. So it’s, um, it can be a little nerve wracking in a different way. But the thing that I’ve liked about the Zoom pitches this year is that everyone’s very comfortable in the setting, it’s not like you’re coming off of being on the freeway, and then you had to park and fight, you’re in your home, and they’re all in their home, I’ve been in pitches where the executives like in bed with their headphones on. And so it’s a bit of a different vibe, a different energy, but I think it can be beneficial in some ways. But in terms of like, the structure of the pitch, and all of that, I think that’s very singular to the person. The way I tend to do it is sort of start by talking about myself and why and my connection to whatever the story is, and why, you kind of want to convince them why you’re the person to tell the story. And after that, it’s just about the characters and the plot and the tone and the pilot and that sort of thing. And sometimes, you’ll sell a show based on a pilot that’s already been written, and sometimes you sell it just based off the pitch and idea. So those are kind of different when it comes to the contracts and whether they read you or not, and all of that. So, that’s kind of a loose, loose overview of the pitch process, because you could pitch to 10 places you could pitch to one place. And I think a lot of people tend to practice pitch a lot, you know, they ask friends to hear them, and they practice in the mirror and that sort of thing. And I should do that more. I like kind of just talking off the cuff because I have used pitches as just a conversation, I think of it. Like if you were able to like go to someone and just tell them about your favorite show. How would you talk about it? You want to be excited about it, you want to tell them you know who your favorite character is what your favorite episode is you and I think that’s how people should view pitches is like, it’s your favorite show but it’s your show that you get to talk about. And in that regard. It’s just a conversation and should be a fun conversation. And my favorite part of pitches is the question and answer part because you want them to have questions, you don’t want to give them an hour’s worth of information. And then they have nothing to ask, want to give them like 20 minutes of information. And then they’re like, “You mentioned something about the friendship dynamic. Talk more about that,” that’s my favorite part. Because then, they’re interested in something and you want to have that back and forth with them. And I think that’s the more fun part of picture for me.

Mike: I think that’s really great advice. And one final question before we do my little quick fire at the end.

The big question that everybody always asks, in screenwriting communities online, and I’d love to hear your opinion as a fully-fledged writer, is the whole question about getting noticed initially, anyway. I know this might be slightly difficult for you, because you came up through the quite Hollywood centric jobs market. But for someone who is somewhere in America, or indeed you know, any country, what would be your advice in the whole getting your scripts out there, the face of agents, etc.?

Asha: Yeah, that is often a question that I get asked to, that’s tricky, because, um, I think agents in a lot of ways are so incredibly helpful at getting your scripts, your ideas to people getting you meetings, getting you generals, and that sort of thing. But it’s very hard to even get a meeting with an agent if you don’t already have work. Like, I got my agent after I’d already been promoted on horror story. So, I’d already gotten my first job. And so they were like, “Yeah, of course, we’ll take you on, you’re already working.” And its kind of that chicken in the egg thing a little bit. I think, in my opinion, the best thing you can do when you’re kind of waiting to get noticed is to practice writing, I always talk about getting shitty writing done because by the time that I’ve gotten promoted, I had written probably five spec scripts, three original pilots, sketches upon sketches and so. And I look back at them, and none of them are great but they’re all I can see myself getting better. And I think by the time I actually got the opportunity to be in a room, I was by no means great or perfect, but I was better than I was at 19, or 20, or 21, or 22. And so I think, that is like, my minimum advice is like, keep writing you have to write every day. You don’t have to schedule time every day to write but keep coming up with ideas, keep workshopping things, have table reads with your friends. I think that stuff is really important. And then I think, when you’re putting that energy out there when you’re making very clear that like, this is what I want to do. I think from there, that’s when you can start reaching out to people. I think people would be surprised how many writers are willing to talk to people through like Instagram and stuff. Like, writers who have 500 to 800 Instagram followers are not necessarily on our high horse being like, of course, I won’t take you out for coffee like [unclear 40:07] usually, we’re happy to because people like talking about themselves. And I think most writers remember what it’s like being an assistant, they remember what it’s like being unemployed, and they want to at least help by giving advice and I think that is a step that a lot of people forget. I think a lot of people are like, I want to get to an agent, I want to talk to an agent at CAA. And it’s like, we’ll talk to other writers, first, talk to producers, talk to directors, listen to podcasts, do that sort of legwork to show that you’re putting in the time to learn this craft and learn the thing you want to be doing. And I think from that, people, in my experience, I know that there are some not great people in the industry who want to close the doors and not let anybody in. But in my experience, I think if you’re genuinely going to someone asking for help, and just advice, people want to help, I think when I was unemployed, I went out for countless coffee dates with people genuinely just to be like, tell me about your experience, at the end of almost every single one that they would say, “Send me a resume. And if I hear if anything, I’ll let you know. Or I know somebody who works in sitcoms that would love to talk to you.” I think people like doing that they want to help usually. And so, I think don’t discount that approach to things because that can help you get in a room to work your way up. And I think off of that, I do want to say when you’re sending those emails, or those Instagram messages, don’t attach your script or your resume to them. I think it’s incredibly presumptuous. And so, I think if you’re genuinely going to just learn, people want to help. And then from there, of course, you can work your way up. In terms of agents themselves, if you’re really like, I just want to talk to them, I think, try talking to junior agents, talk to agents’ assistants, join those assistant groups go to once lockdown lifts in the pandemic is maybe not as pandemic. There’s always a lot of mixers and that sort of thing. I think those things, even if you don’t get anything from them, I’m using air quotes there. I think you can always meet people, and you can learn a lot from that. And the assistance of today or the bosses of tomorrow. And so I think that can often be a smarter approach.

Mike: I think it’s very valuable. And on that note, I’m going to move on to my last little bit, which is a quick fire question round. And it’s my own themed one in the style of in the actor studio. So just say whatever comes into your head. Are you ready, Asha?

Asha: I am ready.

Red Carpet Rookies Quickfire

Mike: Number one, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Asha: Be good, and people will want to give you good in return.

Mike: Do you have a favorite film or TV show?

Asha: Favorite film, got to be a tie between the Princess Bride and Clueless, favorite TV show is Peep Show.

Mike: An excellent choice. And the second part of that question I would like to ask is if our listeners were to watch something that you’ve worked on tonight, what should they watch?

Asha: If they’re stoners they should watch Fresh Beat Band of Spies. They’re not. I would say, Oh, gosh. I think 1984 is a fun season of American Horror Story. It’s anyone who likes 80s Horror stuff will have fun with that.

Mike: As I think, number three, what gives you a reason to get out of bed every day and write?

Asha: That in the hope that there’s some little girl or boy or non-binary child out there who wants to watch TV in the hope that I can write something that they would watch and it would be their favorite show.

Mike: Great answer. Number four, which job in the industry would you do if you weren’t doing yours?

Asha: In the industry? I’m probably acting, I think I tend to write myself into a lot of things. So that would be.

Mike: This is the big question. If you could work with one person living or dead who would it be?

Asha: Takeaway? Oh, living or dead? Living, Taika Waititi. I think he’s such a genius, dead, Madeline Kahn. I love her.

Mike: Number six. What is a book that everyone should read?

Asha: Can I do three?

Mike: Go for it.

Asha: Okay, the Phantom Tollbooth. I love that book. It’s my favorite book of all time. How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb from Peep Show. I think it’s a brilliantly written memoir. And in the TV world, sort of Kristin Newman’s book, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, is just a really funny, insightful memoir that talks a little bit about TV writing, but also just talks about balancing career and love and travel in a way that is hilarious and sexy and fun.

Mike: And finally, if you want an Oscar, who would you thank?

Asha: My mom.

Mike: Great answer. And on that note, thank you so much to Asha, for joining us today. Amazing advice and a really interesting perspective, for our podcast. We’ll see you next time. Thank you so much.

Asha: Thank you. It was fun.