Keep F*cking Going

Keep F*cking Going

It is July 26th, 2020, and I watch myself in a grid of other faces on Zoom, only half of which I’ve met virtually once before in another, albeit must less high-stakes video call where the finalists for Script Pipeline’s TV Writing competition gathered on our own, ahead of today’s awards ceremony.

My face looks greasy, I think to myself, as I tug at my black t-shirt to free the fabric from the sweaty creases of my stomach. Fat kid habit.

In a few seconds, Script Pipeline will announce my pilot X as the Grand Prize Winner, and I will laugh-cry in front of mostly strangers, before hopping off of Zoom to scream-sob into the phone with my friends. A year ago life was very different. However, in these moments just before my name is called. I am—as disgustingly trite as it might sound—grateful just to be here. My fellow finalists are immensely talented and kind and funny and any of them would be deserving of the win. A wild thought pinches at my chest, and suddenly I am very aware of the fact that the muscles in my face hurt from fighting any expression that might betray it: maybe, in the craziest version of life, maybe they pick me. Maybe they say this very queer, very Latinx story is good and that my writing is good too, and that this insane pipe dream of being a TV writer might actually be possible for a kid from South-Central Phoenix, and so, as my name appears next to the word “winner,” my expression is somewhere between terrified and hopeful ...

... my expression is somewhere between terrified and hopeful as I lean back in the leather couch that occupies much of the corner of my showrunners’ office.

It is five months earlierFebruary 20th—and he holds my pilot X in his hands. A blue-inked pen perches eager in my grip, ready to transcribe what is sure to be a lengthy, critical, yet thoroughly asked-for dissection of my script when, instead, he offers a blur of praise. Stunned, I fidget with the amber-colored cushion, unaccustomed to holding such complimentary approval (read: I grew up in a Latino household), and I realize I haven’t said anything. Voice finds my mouth again, and I gush gratitude at him for his effusive feedback. We are weeks away from wrapping production on Season 2 of “L.A.’s Finest” and its creators, The Brandons, had generously offered to read samples from the assistants. At best, I hoped for notes that would improve my telling of such a deeply personal story. I will, instead, leave this office with my pilot sent to their reps and a major studio. I will sign with that manager a month from now. For so long, what seemed to exist only as a cruel, ever-distant mirage of being a writer with legitimate representation would, at long last, be reached. The blue-inked pen tucked cheerfully behind my ear, I exit the threshold of his office and make for my desk situated outside of the Writers’ Room ...

... I make for my desk, sweat beads at my forehead, a blue-inked pen trapped between my clenched teeth.

It is three months earlierOctober 11th and I thunderously plop the last of the crafty run onto the dark oak desktop now barely visible under cases of La CroixGrapefruit, Apricot, Mangoand mounds of single-serving chipsBaked, Classic, those alt flavors I’m not sure who’s eatingand revisions packets that need to be collated. I huff my hair out of my eyes and wipe my brow. Muffled laughs escape from under the shut door of the writers’ room. I peer at it, desperate to be on the other side. How, I wonder, do I get them to see me as more than my Writers’ PA title? Will they ever see me as a writer, too? Should the day ever presents itself, I want to be ready. So, I will spend the next three months quietly rewriting a very queer, very Latinx pilot while employing the techniques I glean from my brief time on the other side of that door. My phone rings, buried somewhere beneath the snacks, and I am reminded of the immediate techniques I need to employ: restock, collate, trash, wipe, water, repeat ...

... “Restock, collate, trash, wipe, water, repeat—these are roughly the duties,” explains the showrunners’ assistant.

It's my first day, July 29, 2019, and I am drowning in credit card debt after being unemployed for the better part of a year. See, I left my steady job, determined to give writing TV dramas my all and fairly (read: naively) confident that after years in Los Angeles, I could use my previous experience to get my foot in the door. To my horror, after years in Los Angeles, my previous experience had branded me as “overqualified,” whatever that means. Broke and broken-hearted, I nearly moved back to Arizona. Standing outside of the soundstages, I have no idea about the future milestones aheadthe manager, the room experience, the Script Pipeline winand so right now, I am somewhere between terrified and hopeful. It’s not the starting over that’s daunting. It isn’t even starting at the bottom. The hardest part is the fear and doubt that it might just never happen for me.

And it's the present day.

I write these words from the same desk I sat at when X was named a winner. So much has changed. So much is still the same. For one, I am notably less greasy, having tossed out that new moisturizer a skinfluencer on TikTok convinced me I needed. For another, I am still looking for my first staffing opportunity. They call it a “big break,” but it is, in truth, more the culmination of a million tiny cracks that finally give way.

The real honest truth that no panelist or how-to listicle will admit, regardless of how hard they might pretend to know otherwise:

There is no easy answer to the question, “How do you break in as a TV writer?”

What worked for one writer to break through won’t necessarily for another. Like sure, there is the evergreen truth to writing and reading and rewriting. You already know that. But “I have no fuckin’ clue” doesn’t have quite the same ring.

The only sure way to never break in is to quit. And so, therefore, the only real lesson I can share is this: do not give up. I am here, pounding away in the hopes that the next swing will be the one. And if not that one, the next.

Just keep fucking going. Whatever that looks like for you. And when your big break comesand it willremember to shatter a few fucking ceilings for the ones coming after and let those shards glitter as they cascade around you in chase of your dreams.

*Feature Photo: Estevan / photo by Mister Andrus

Estevan is a queer/Latinx TV drama writer-director residing in Los Angeles. He most recently wrote on the upcoming drama Long Slow Exhale (Spectrum) and is Script Pipeline’s 2020 TV Writing Winner.
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