It was the end of our first week in the writer’s room for a Sony International show called "Overnight" when I finally worked up the courage to pitch something—the kind of weird beat for a character that maybe only a few people would find funny or interesting—and the person laughing the hardest, sitting across the table from me, was Meredith Glynn.
Throughout the weeks we speed-wrote an entire season of a series for Polish TV in English (don’t ask), she and I would keep catching each other’s eyes, sharing jokes and side conversations.
"Overnight" was the first TV writing job for both of us, and after a month together in Warsaw that cemented our friendship, but mainly had us waiting for Sony to officially pull the plug on production, we both ended up back in L.A., wondering what to do next. Over many evenings at Taix in Echo Park (RIP), a location selected for its cheap happy-hour food, drink specials, and utter lack of pretense, we planned next moves.
Write more; that was a given. But write another original pilot or two. . . and then what? What would I do with it? Who would I give it to? I didn’t have a manager, an agent, or any real understanding of how the industry worked.
After years in L.A., Meredith knew the answers to those questions, and I did have a vague idea that connections in the industry were a large part of anyone’s success. It was my chance meeting of a friend-of-a-friend that led to the opportunity on "Overnight". But that was really just dumb luck, meeting someone who liked one idea I had and wanting to see more. I hadn’t spent the better part of the decade, like Meredith had, building a foundation in screenwriting and a network of industry connections who could advise her and put those new writing samples in front of the eyes that needed to see them.
Since then, Meredith has worked as a staff writer on MTV’s "Eye Candy" and "Scream," was promoted to co-executive producer while writing on the final four seasons of Supernatural, and is now an executive producer-level writer on Amazon’s "The Boys," whose (pandemic-necessitated Zoom) room recently finished writing the show’s third season. Meanwhile, I’m still plugging away with nibbles and close calls on writing jobs and book deals (I had more of a background in fiction writing), but not much else.
When I was assigned this profile, at first it felt like a simple way to feed career advice into aspiring writers’ brains—Meredith has a lot of wisdom to dispense and she does it in a no-nonsense way. But listening back to and transcribing our call, it almost seemed like Meredith’s path through the industry not only illustrated one way that a lot of writers break in, but it also pointed out mistakes or missed opportunities in my own career.
It’s a slow climb from new-in-town to working writer, and Meredith started hers in 2004 after graduating from Florida State University with an undergraduate degree in film. She says she wasn’t sure of her path in the industry at that point, not working toward a writing career specifically, and she didn’t have many illusions that she had anything to say or that she could say it well.
“Screenwriting is its own language that needs to be learned like anything else,” she says, referencing Malcolm Gladwell and the idea you need 10,000 hours to master anything. “I just didn’t trust my writer’s voice,” in those early years. “It was like an inhalation period. I was more interested in reading books and watching films.”
She worked temp jobs to stay afloat, and a connection from a family friend scored her a full-time PA job. Having this on her resume led to a string of other work in the industry: assistant jobs at a literary agency, working for a manager, and for producer Michael Shamberg at Double Feature Films. After two years at Double Feature, she left for Johnny Depp's Infinitim Nihil before making the move to Radical Studios, where she was on the lowest rung of the totem pole as an executive, reading scripts and presenting them to her bosses.
Being an assistant taught her the language of screenwriting, but being an executive gave her the opportunity to eventually work with writers. “I got to sit in the room with them and listen to the way they spoke about story,” which was pivotal. “I sort of had this moment where I realized ... I was just really jealous of the writers and wanted to be a writer.”
Our stories are somewhat similar up to this point—college degrees in relevant subjects (hers in film, mine in English), a move to L.A. with only a vague idea of wanting to be there and do something creative in the industry, and an “inhalation period” where we both read anything we could get our hands on, while also creating what we now see was truly terrible writing. But unlike me, Meredith also had those years of temp gigs, assistant work, and work as an executive building a network of people who could not only give advice but could advance her career.
“When I was on the phone with somebody else’s assistant, I was cracking jokes and saying ‘let’s get a drink’ or ‘let’s get coffee.’” By the time she was ready to write, she had a list of people to call on for help, and those former assistants are, in her words, “really fucking fancy now.”
“I had this idea for a pilot. I talked to one of my friends, and he was like, ‘you need to write that.’ With his push, I took a week off to visit my grandmother in Florida, and I was like, I'm going to write this fucking pilot in the six days I have.” This was a working vacation that was partly spent at her grandmother’s nursing home, but she managed to write about 40 pages of an hourlong, 60-page pilot. She knew she needed honest feedback and had a friend who was a literary manager who could offer it. That friend told her to keep going. Meredith finished the pilot, the friend became her manager, and that pilot led to the staffing on "Overnight."
It’s those early connections that tend to make or break a writer. If you have writing samples proving your talent, they don’t do you much good if they don’t get in front of the proper eyes.
When Meredith returned to work after Poland, she quickly learned there’s “get a manager” good and “impress a showrunner” good. Younger reps who are looking to build their client lists are looking for writers with potential. “Showrunners want to see that you can do your job if they hire you. People who are putting rooms together need writers who can deliver on the page.”
She wrote another original pilot, which got her an agent and a slew of meetings, and realized she needed an even stronger sample to prove she was ready for a staffing gig. Her next pilot got her there.
“I do have this sort of philosophy in TV writing that every original pilot you write can only do one thing for you. It can either get you out of the job you’re in and maybe a new job, or get you an agent, or get you staffed on something, but rarely does it do all of those things.” You’re writing towards a goal, and you want to get representation, and “your reps, they’re the ones who will help you build your relationships—which you should have been cultivating the whole time you were in L.A., by the way.”
It was at the end of the call that I asked for any final words of wisdom, and she pointed out the catch-22 nature of the industry. The people that tend to be attracted to writing are generally introverts, referencing a tweet she saw about TV writing being a group project. “Do one extroverted thing a day that scares you,” she said, and it’s at this point during the recording of our call I could hear my pained, awkward laugh, and the way I tried to joke the subject away with, “Well, that seems like it was a deal-breaker for me!”
I’d instantly recognized that a) she was right, and b) I hadn’t done some of the scary things I needed to do to advance my career. I’d done the writing part of the assignment, but talking to people? Like, in person? No, thank you. And while it would be easy to claim that the game was rigged, that I didn’t have a film degree or network of contacts from school, and I didn’t have a family connection to get me into an assistant job, I did have that first lucky break. The one that introduced me to Meredith, the five other writers in that room, its producers, and then their friends who they introduced me to.
Like Meredith in those days after "Overnight," my samples weren’t ready either. I needed to keep working. And I did, but I mainly did the thing that was easier, that I preferred to do: sit alone, in front of my computer.
(The three pilots in a row I wrote that seemed accidentally clairvoyant, with concepts that I’d see in development a few months later, also probably didn’t help.)
There are a lot of woulda/shoulda/coulda in a comparison like this, a lot of variables, and a general alchemy and timing that needs to be just right, so there’s no way to know whether accepting that one invite to drinks, or if I’d reached out to someone I didn’t know very well, would have helped me in any concrete way, but it probably wouldn’t have hurt.
“There’s something to say for when you make your debut in this business, make sure it’s your best foot. Make sure it’s the strongest work that you can generate.”
Meredith said this in a general sense about how strong a writer’s samples need to be to get them that first high-profile job, but that “best foot” applies to every aspect of a writing career, even the parts that don’t come naturally to you—you have to work at them all, especially the ones the scare you.
*Feature Photo: Merridith Glynn and Magdalena Michalowicz