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Writers from NCIS: New Orleans, 4400, Mech Cadet, and WarnerMedia Share Their Journeys to the Writers’ Room During RespectAbility’s 2021 Summer Lab

Six people on a Zoom call together. Text: Focus on WritingLos Angeles, July 8 – RespectAbility’s 2021 Summer Lab Fellows recently chatted all things TV writing with a panel of esteemed writers and writers’ assistants including Katherine Beattie, NCIS: New Orleans; Diana Romero, 4400 (2020 Lab alumna); Ashley Eakin, Mech Cadet (2020 Lab alumna); and Maddy Ullman, WarnerMedia. The panelists shared their individual journeys to the writers’ room, and answered questions from current Lab Fellows about topics ranging from the nitty gritty details of what exactly a writers’ assistant does, to more nuanced questions like when and how to ask for accommodations in the room. By the end of the hour, the main takeaway from the conversation was clear: There is no “right” way to get into the room, and once you’re there, no writers’ room experience will be the same for everyone. The panelists emphasized staying true to your own vision and goals, asking for help whenever you need it, and most importantly, keep writing!

Especially at the assistant level, each of the panelists emphasized the fact that at the end of the day, your experience will ultimately depend on the showrunner you are working for. Some assistants may spend the majority of their time in the production office, while others’ might spend more time on set or in the writers’ room. Beattie had some key words of advice for assistants looking to get started on the path to TV writer or showrunner, “If you get on a show that allows assistants to go to set, definitely take advantage of that opportunity. The more time you spend on set before you actually get there as a writer, the better off you’re gonna be.”

Eakin also stressed the importance of honing in on your own career goals, and then talking with your employer and pushing to get that experience as much as possible when you can, “If you do want to be on set, tell them that. They might be able to make it happen or bring you along.”

Each of the panelists acknowledged that while the traditional route to the writers’ room of working your way up from Production Assistant to Writers’ Assistant, and continuing up the ladder to TV writer and beyond still remains one of the most common routes, there are a number of other ways to break in, including Fellowships, training programs, and more often than not, simply knowing the right person at the right time. Romero recommended trying multiple routes at once, until you eventually find the one that works for you. “There is no one single way…Meet as many people as you can, get in as many programs as you can. Don’t give up writing, hustle, and try every path you can take.”

Ullman stressed the importance of bringing the best version of yourself to every job no matter what, as this is what people will ultimately remember, and is what will likely end up getting you your next job. “No matter what room [you’re in] show who you are, and bring yourself, because that’s ultimately what’s going to get you a job.”

RespectAbility’s third annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities brings authentic and diverse portrayals of people with disabilities to the screen by creating a pipeline of diverse professionals with disabilities behind the camera. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities ranging in age from people in their 20’s through their 50’s. Lab alumni from 2019 and 2020 currently work for a variety of studio partners including Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and The Walt Disney Company, as well as in writers’ rooms for Netflix’s Mech Cadet, CW’s 4400 and Showtime’s Dexter, among others. Others have had films featured at festivals such as SXSW and participated in additional career track programs including with Film Independent and Sundance Institute.

Meet the Author

Lesley Hennen

Lesley Hennen (she/her) is the Entertainment and News Media Associate at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to fight stigmas and advance opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Hennen brings a professional background in Communications and PR, as well as expertise in script consulting and independent film production to the team at RespectAbility, where she works with key players in the Entertainment and News Media industries to promote more authentic representations of people with disabilities on-screen, as well as more inclusive working environments for people with disabilities behind the camera.

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