One of the more coveted ways to break into television writing is the Warner Brothers Writers’ Workshop – a fellowship program whose alumni include Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry and My Name is Earl creator Greg Garcia, as well as fellow blogger Margaux Froley of the TV writing blog “This is Your Pilot Speaking.” A 2008 Fellow, Margaux went on to be staffed on the first season of the CW’s Privileged. Last week, Margaux was generous enough to sit down with the Bitter Script Reader for a chat about her writing history, the experience of being in the program, and her time on staff.
I saw in your bio that you were at USC. Is that where you decided you wanted to be in writing?
I wanted to be a writer since I saw Pulp Fiction, so since my freshman year in high school. Pulp Fiction was the movie that I went “Oh! Somebody wrote that!” So I was on the feature track since I was 13. When I was at USC, I did the film theory/critical studies track over there, which I think made me a better writer because it was like “How do you tell stories? How do you move your audience?”
Yeah, you need to have that basic foundation.
And I never would have studied that stuff on my own… and I really feel like that was the best thing I could have done. Knowing inside and out how Hitchcock scares you is way more helpful than making bad student films.
I did both. I had a professor who had a major Hitchcock fetish and the second half of one of our film courses was entirely made up of Hitchcock films.
That sounds like a summer school class I took that was all of Scorsese and Spielberg in six weeks too. It was awesome…. I had a real reckoning because in film school you study it and I was real snob at the time and only loved indies and auteurs and all that. Then USA Films was my first job out of college and I was in development and acquisitions. I got burnt out on reading scripts really quickly and I don’t have a good solution for how to fight the burnout.
There isn’t one.
And then Acquisitions I was watching really bad independent film all the time. At 21, 22, I was so jaded and over it that I went the completely opposite direction and went on a big action movie binge and went “I just need bullshit entertainment because I don’t want to think about it anymore.”
I had kind of the same thing when I was reading for someone at one company – which made mostly mainstream stuff – and she liked a lot of this indie bullshit. And she would get this scripts that had recognizable actors attached to play modern day men who dressed up as courtesans. [Basically, men dressed up as female Renaissance prostitutes.] And two pages in you know “Even if this is great, everyone above you in development is not going to want to make this film.” So why am I reading this?
USA Films was an interesting voice at the time. It was right after Traffic, and we made Eternal Sunshine while I was there, so there was a real different take on movies so it wasn’t all schlocky and indie, but all of it attracted there so you’ve still gotta weed through everyone who thinks that their garage band is a good story. And that was pre-internet. I don’t envy development execs now having to scour YouTube for it. That sounds like the same amount of drivel.
Well, it sounds like more drivel. They just have greater access to you. I had done a TV show in college a couple years before YouTube hit and before everyone was shooting digitally, and I’ve always said, “Wouldn’t it have been great to have this then? We’d have had distribution on campus!” But I’m sure everyone is doing that now so… bigger pond.
Even SC was funny. I was desperate to get into the film school and I got accepted undeclared. I spent that summer working on my first independent film and then I heard that the film school didn’t actually want people with film experience… and ten years ago that shit was a lot harder to come by and find rather than everyone just picking up a camera and making their own admissions video.
It seems like we were probably in college during a weird shift as digital technology and prosumer cameras made filmmaking more accessible. Because I got most of my education on editing with 16mm.
I was the last class at SC to use Super 8 and I love it. I wouldn’t change that for anything. Literally cutting my film and having it glued to my table to slice my film.
I did that for about two years and the last two years we were using a little more digital editing for things we were shooting on video, obviously. Of course all that film editing experience is almost useless now.
Well it’s still how you tell stories. Avid changes how you do it [but] the art is still there.
So was USA Films an internship that you got through USC?
SC didn’t help with any of that. I interned during college at Working Title Films. I finished high school in England, so I sort of spent college trying to figure out how to get back there, so Working Title was the perfect place to be. Then during my senior year I interned at USA and then a friend who got a job had to go back and finish his senior year just as I was graduating so I got his assistant job. And we’re still friends. He was like my intern buddy and still my best industry contact and he’s the only one I trust with my shitty writing and his taste has always been impeccable. Those first friendships, man.
I’ve said many times on the blog that a guy I met on my first internship has gotten me at least two jobs over the years.
I haven’t used a resume for a job for a good five years. UTA list? Pfft! Doesn’t matter.
So I assume that alumni connections haven’t played a big part in your career?
No, I didn’t make that many friends at SC… what’s funny is that I’ve made more SC friends, post-SC. We seem to have that in common [but] I don’t know that it’s gotten me jobs. I’m a bad alum. I don’t give money, I don’t go to events, so I’m sure it works both ways.
Just curious, because you always hear that the great benefit of USC is that you’re surrounded by all these people…
I don’t discount that. I haven’t personally experienced that but I will say that my friends [from USC] that I’ve met since are all really impressive people. We don’t all do the same things in the business… we’re not in positions to help each other out but I know if that ever came up they’d have my back.
There was an interview with you on the Warner Brothers Television Workshop website that said you got interested in TV writing after working as a show-runner’s assistant. What show was that on?
I worked for Shana Goldberg-Meehan. She’s a Friends alum. I worked with her on one and a half pilots. The writers’ strike was in there so that was a strange year. I was there for her development season. I was there for a pilot called The Hill. That was my first job in TV. I was excited because I thought “She’s in development. She works from home a lot. I’ll just sit in the office and work on my feature.” And then I was filing her old scripts and her Friends scripts and figured, “Well, since I’m here I might as well attempt a TV script.” So I just pulled a 30 Rock out of my butt and was like, “Throw it against the wall and see what happens,” and that was what got me into the Fellowship.
How many feature scripts had you written before that?
Three or four. Something like that. I think it takes at least three features to hit some intelligence and think about what you’re bringing to the page.
You need that many to figure out what you’re really doing.
Yeah, and I think everyone clings to that Diablo Cody thing of “Well she did it on her first one.” But she was a copy writer for a while.
And she wrote books.
She was already somebody who was already a very adept writer in her own right before she even bothered with a screenplay.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the experience of being in the Fellowship.
Part II - The Warner Brothers Television Fellowship and working on the staff of Privileged.
Part III - Staffing season, getting representation and spec pilots