A few weeks ago, I got the pleasure of being in a Q&A with a real-life TV writer. During a 50-minute lecture, I often tend to start to get bored, and I repeatedly check my watch to see when I will be able to leave. An hour and half past, and it never occurred to me to check the time. I could sit and listen to this guy talk all day long. “This guy” is Stephen Falk, currently working on You’re the Worst, which debuted as an FX original comedy series in July 2014. He is the show’s Creator, Executive Producer, and Showrunner. Additionally, he has worked on shows like Orange is the New Black and Weeds.
During the Q&A he said some things that really stuck with me. One of my favorite things he said was, “Always move on to the next thing–even before you find out how the last thing turned out.” He said in regards to always moving on to new writing projects, specifically, because there is always going to be a “no.” Even if there is a “yes”, there is a “no”, because in the TV Industry are a lot of steps to getting shows into actual production, and then being aired, and then being renewed for more seasons. We all recognize this from watching TV. Every fall a slew of shows are advertised, some might last a few episodes, some might last the year, and very few make it on to run for multiple seasons. But what we don’t see is all of the shows that are written or even recorded that never make it. So, if you are always working on the next thing, you don’t have to be as disappointed, because you are already making something new. He also applied this more broadly, saying you could even think about things like essays that way. Always be thinking about the next thing, because at the end of the day grade (or whatever it may be) doesn’t matter as much as you think it does at the time.
That isn’t to say that we don’t feel it when things don’t work out. He told a hilarious story about when he worked on a show that he created a few years ago. It was about what happened when he got the call that the network was pulling the plug, while he was recording an episode in New York. They had just finished a cut when he got the call, and said he would be right back and then walked out of the building, because he no longer had a job there. This night involved some choice beverages to cope with bad news, he ended up stealing a guitar, and he sat in the dark, because it was around the time of Sandy and the power went out. “It was a dark time, you guys,” he quipped. He also later found out there was a police investigation being opened about the guitar, which turned out to be worth $10,000 and on loan from Gibson. So that happened.
No one is perfect. No one has it all. No one can be sure that what they have will be there tomorrow. Or the day after that. That’s why you always have to move onto the next thing.
Another thing he said that I liked was to always stick with what you believe in. He said, “If you fail, at least you have something that you are proud of. Because if you compromise, and it fails, then you don’t even have that.” There are going to be times when people want you to do something their way, but if it doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t compromise your integrity.
He also talked about some of the shows he has worked on, and which shows he thinks have great pilot episodes. People asked questions about how to get where he is today, and he shared his knowledge and advice from the industry. He told us to start building up “a body of evidence.” You need to get stuff out there and get your name out there. One thing I thought was interesting was that people even get recognized based on their Twitter. When looking for comedy writers, someone’s Twitter might give an indication of how creative and funny they are. And last but not least, he said that you need to learn the rules, but keep what makes you weird. It is what will make you stand out.
No matter what I end up doing in life, the lessons I learned from Stephen Falk will still be valuable. He was funny and outspoken in the best way. I like to imagine that one day I will be giving a similar Q&A, referencing the time that I first heard a TV writer speak. I’ll tell the story about the autumn afternoon that I never wanted to end, and pass along his wisdom. Or maybe this will be the basis of the first TV show I write. Either way, it is safe to say it was time well spent.