Today’s guest is Meghan Pleticha. A very talented comedy writer, she started as both writer’s assistant and script coordinator on a freshman show (season 1 of FX’s Married). Meghan is currently working in the same capacity on another cable series, this one in its second year: HBO’s Silicon Valley.
First things first: why the television calling?
I love TV more than most other things in the world. I was really into poetry in college. Yeah, I was “that girl”. I remember that writing my first script felt a lot like writing a sonnet. I loved how structural it was. I’ve never been a film person but I’ve watched probably more television than is healthy.
Pursuing television as a career is now a no-brainer. The writer is in charge. I like how fast it is. I like constant deadlines. I like the visual medium. I like making people laugh quickly. I like that you’re generating something constantly, versus a film which can take years. I want to be forced to generate as much material as I can. It might not be all amazing, but percentage-wise, you end up with a larger “good” chunk. It’s a numbers game.
Three words to describe what you write.
Sweet dick jokes. Like dick jokes with heart, not like “Dude, sweet dick joke!”
Three words to describe how you write.
The ideal way would be: Early. A game-changer in my life was getting up and writing before I go to work. Often. That’s the only way I can write and keep doing it. If you stop you’ll never start again. And to steal a phrase from Parks & Rec—“full-assedly”. You can’t half-ass it. You have to try, fully. Sometimes I do write crap but when my writing is good, I did not bullshit it.
On a bad writing day, I’m writing: Rushed. Never. And only transcribing whatever I wrote in an outline or something. “Hi. Hi! How are you? I’m good, you? I’m fine.”
—the television series that has influenced you the most:
It’s got to be something before I was aware of television writing as a career. Everything I’ve watched since then is tainted by the “how would I do this” question. It would probably have to be something I grew up with.
I think it has to be The Simpsons. It started airing when I was a kid, and watched it all the way through adolescence. It’s funny looking back, because I’m not sure how I understood it as a child. There are so many levels. There were things I remember about it that really connected with me. Maybe I wanted to be Lisa Simpson and maybe wanted to play the saxophone—which I did for like two months. And it was the first time I saw a television show that was very funny, but about things that applied to the real world we lived in.
It’s probably that or Full House. I can vaguely tell you some plotlines but I know I watched it constantly, so it must have influenced me. Pete & Pete was another big one I watched. Or Hey Dude. I’m just giving you a list at this point. [laughs] It’s hard to say just the one thing influenced you. Whatever was on SNICK. Clarissa Explains It All. What a role model. She used computers in the 90s. Ahead of her time!
—the one episode of television that defines you:
Off the cuff, the one episode of television that defines me is probably Triangle, from X-Files. It’s just an episode I remember very well. It defines me because it was very fun with interesting storytelling methods. It also has playfulness.
That was around the time people started complaining on the Internet. People bitched that it wasn’t a “real” X-Files episode. I remember reading those reviews and being confused because I enjoyed it. So I was like: “Am I dumb?” [laughs]
—the television episode that impressed you the most:
It has to be the Archer pilot. It genuinely surprised me, which can be hard for a TV show to do once you start trying to write for the medium. It’s especially impressive with a comedy because part of what makes it good is the surprise. Good storytelling involves a believable surprise. Pilots are so hard to write. Archer is very well done in terms of establishing relationship and character while telling a story that I couldn’t see where it was going.
The moment that impressed me the most was when Archer got a boner. I didn’t see it coming—but even better, I didn’t see his mother’s reaction to it! Everything about it was amazing.
—the show you wish was still on the air:
I was recently disappointed that Surviving Jack and Enlisted got cancelled. Sometimes it’s better than things do end. This is horrible for jobs but if it goes too long—I didn’t enjoy for example the last season of The X-Files. Season 8 was a clear resolution in terms of the existence of that story.
—the show you would never publicly admit to watching, except right now:
I’m trying to think of what I watch on Hulu. Sometimes you go down holes… The other day, I accidentally got sucked into some Korean reality show. It auto-played after something so I dove right in. I was curious at first, and then wanted to see how the rest of the episode played out. I have no idea what it’s called. There were these girls in schoolgirl outfits—it felt very pervy. I think they were some sort of pop group. Weirdly, they also had to go through these challenges—like photoshoots, pretending they were paparazzi. So are they pop singers? It was just very confusing.
—the show you wish you had worked on:
Buffy. But more because everyone who worked on it says how great it was to be on it. By the way, one of my favorite things in interviews is when people talk to writers who worked with Joss Whedon, asking them: “what’s it like working with him?” And the answer is always just: “Oh, it’s great.” It’s the funniest thing. In general, when something is really good, you can’t always describe why it is.
Parks & Rec would also be an amazing show. It had a good combination of things I’m interested in. Bureaucracy, feminism, being nice to people. [laughs]
What has been, so far, your journey in the television industry?
In high-school, I thought I’d be a theater actress. In college, I studied English while doing Shakespearean performances. I also got involved in student sketch comedy. Towards the end of school, I thought I would end up writing for magazines. I knew I was a “writer” but not necessarily a novelist, and since magazines are shorter than novels it seemed more doable. [laughs] I moved out to New York to pursue that. When I graduated, my dad [who is not in the industry] told me he’d hire me as a PA, but I rebuffed him. “I don’t want to work in entertainment. Dad, that’s dumb!”
Since print is a dying industry, that path didn’t exactly work out. Then the recession hit. I also reached a point in my freelance career where I wouldn’t meet the editors in person. They would just e-mail me. I had this moment where I asked myself: “Why am I living in New York to e-mail people?” I could literally do that anywhere with Internet access. One of my friends suggested I take a writing class to meet other writers, and reconnect with New York.
I ended up taking a television writing class. The very first one, the teacher said to move to Los Angeles if we really meant to write for TV. I ended up coming back to LA. After that, I tried to get assistant gigs but no interviews. Months of unemployment later, I eventually took an internship at a boutique talent agency. You do so much free work when you first get to LA—but it usually leads to paid work if people aren’t assholes. So I did free work, then temp work, then got a full time office gig at BAFTA LA. Bounced around a little bit.
Eventually, someone offered a job to a friend working as script coordinator. She couldn’t take it, so she recommended me. And it worked out. Ultimately, I’d only say I’ve worked in TV (production) for six months. So uh, take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt.
How did you get hired as a writer’s assistant?
Being a writer’s assistant is something I actually did not believe was going part of my path in the industry. When I started out, I was trying to get low-level jobs on shows to work my way up. But I wasn’t even getting those interviews. Looking back, I’m sure I could have done things differently, but I’m not sure what. Working at BAFTA, I figured I’d just have the day job and could write my scripts.
For both writer’s assistant gigs, someone recommended me. In this industry, you need people to vouch for you but you need to earn that. And the thing with being hired at the assistant level is that it’s the last thing they’re figuring out. It’s really a roll of the dice, numbers-game. You know someone who knows someone who at that exact moment needs someone.
Can you talk about your experience being in the room?
That’s probably the best part of being a writer’s assistant. Getting that experience without having the same pressure of being in the room as a writer. You learn a lot about how to pitch things. Just seeing how people do it is really useful. Seeing how people interact. The etiquette. There is a hierarchy in the room that’s very helpful. Obviously the showrunner is calling the shots. When they say they like an idea, follow that train. It’s exciting seeing people pitch on the path that’s being created.
It’s also interesting because people have this idea that a writer’s assistant position is going to be their ticket in. “You’re going to get a script” or “you’re going to get bumped to staff”. There’s no guarantee of that, and it’s not even appropriate to expect it. I’m learning so much about production, being in the room, how different writers work. But it’s not the golden ticket people believe it is. It’s a job.
What is your day-to-day like?
I get to the office about an hour before the writers and make sure to take care of anything needed then. It also helps if you can organize on the go. Most of the day is taking notes on what the writers are saying. You might also be asked to pull videos—whatever is being referenced (casting videos, etc.). My computer is usually directly connected to the TV. We’re not in production yet, which should be a little more hectic. Since I also work as a script coordinator, it’ll be different then. More about making sure script stuff is there. Putting out pages and revisions as required, proofreading, making sure everything makes sense.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer’s assistant?
For me personally, it’s not panicking every day that I’ve screwed up my career forever. Which is also a general thing I worry about in my life. I used to not care about the jobs that I had. But now the day job has such weight—as if it could matter to your career.
The main challenge to being a writer’s assistant though is staying focused. Even when you’re tired. Even when someone’s pitching something you’ve heard a bunch. You need to make sure to capture any nuances to it.
The same can be said for being a script coordinator. The hardest thing is that the scripts you receive needed to go out ten minutes ago. Whatever changes are happening, they need to go out ASAP, while being perfect. Keeping your wits about you is the hardest thing.
What is the easiest thing about being a writer’s assistant?
Eating. [laughs] Lunch just arrives for me since the writers production assistant gets it. I don’t have to make lunch in the morning. Which is a lifesaver. You’re not rolling in the dough as an assistant, so being fed is a huge money-saver. That’s probably the biggest change between working a random day job and this one.
Who do you look up to in the television industry?
I am impressed by anyone in Hollywood who seems normal. “You’re a nice, normal human being and you’ve lived in LA for 30 years?!” [laughs] That’s impressive because I feel like I’ve only become crazier since moving to Los Angeles.
What is the ideal job you would like to ultimately have?
Showrunner. But not for a long time. My ideal career would be me working as a staff writer and up. Preferably on multiple hit shows and pleasant working situations. Renewed with long terms, so when I leave I know I’ll come back to a job. [laughs] Ultimately, I’d like to a run show. Mostly because I like being in charge of things.
When people from outside the industry ask what you do, what do you tell them?
I tell them I’m a writer’s assistant because no one outside the industry knows what a script coordinator is. I then usually explain that most television shows are written by a group of writers sitting in a room together. And it’s my job to write down everything they say and take notes.
What is your best professional advice to someone who wants to do what you do?
A big thing about being a writer’s assistant: practice your typing. Transcribe episodes of TV that you like. Most people in my generation are pretty good typists because of IM so it’s not something to freak out about. But you can always be better.
If you’re trying to get a job in Los Angeles, take the meeting even if it’s not exactly what you want. You never know who you’re going to meet there. Especially when you’re starting out with no contacts. It’s a lot of baby steps.
If it’s not the right position, be okay with walking away if you can avoid burning bridges.
Work for free. Again, only as long as it benefits you. You’re definitely benefiting them more than you. I got opportunities off of doing a few gigs. You then have something on your resume and know some people who can vouch for you.
Be clear about what you do want. Even for random assistant interviews I used to go to, unrelated to writing for television, I’d still say I wanted to write for TV. That said, I would also be clear, “I’d love to work here for XYZ valid reasons.”
Also, don’t be a dick. Most of life is don’t be a dick. Although in comedy rooms you can kind of be a dick if it’s funny. I think. I’m still learning that one.
What is your best personal advice to someone who wants to do what you do?
Maintaining friendships in Los Angeles is harder than other places. Maintaining relationships in Los Angeles is harder than other places. Relationships and friendships are the things that are going to last, regardless of where you work or what you’re doing. It’s really important, especially if you’re working on a show or a place with non-regular hours, that you make the effort to see your friends and loved ones. Eventually, the show will be over, and no one will have heard from you in four months. They’re not going to invite you to anything. It’s such an effort, but your real friends will understand that you don’t want to go to the movies but they can come over on your couch (watching TV with a bottle of wine).
This is a marathon. You can’t get too down on yourself if things aren’t going the way you’d expect or you didn’t get the recommendation you wanted.
Writing, relationships, work, sleep. You can only pick two. Maybe three of those. Choose wisely.
What is your next step?
It’s very similar to when I was working an office job. I’m very grateful and happy to be a writer’s assistant and script coordinator. These positions have been amazing opportunities, but they could be stepping stones just as they could not. There’s no guarantee. There are always unseen obstacles and ones you don’t even know about. TV is so hard to make that getting that first writing gig is such a crazy random thing.
That all said, my immediate next step is to finish the pilot that I’m so close to finishing—hopefully tomorrow. It just needs a punch-up! [laughs] The next creative step is probably working on a web-series I’ve been talking about with a few friends. It’s nice to have a finished product. It feels like you’ve accomplished something.
After that, probably another pilot. Everyone wants pilots. Although my theory is that within the next few years, the transition that happened between spec scripts to pilots, is going to happen with pilots to web-series. It’s an easy way for people to see someone’s voice. They don’t have to read anything. Five years from now, we can talk and find out if I was right.
Any last words?
There’s always more opportunities. I’ve definitely missed out on many jobs. Maybe some agent read my stuff and didn’t like it. There’s always going to be more people. You grow up being taught you only have so many chances in life, but that’s not true. Hollywood has the shortest memory of any city I know. I’ve messed up interviews, typos on my resume– You fuck up sometimes, but just keep at it, don’t fall over.
Just stand up. Look at what you did wrong, figure out why it happened, figure out why it’ll never happen again. And then when it happens again, have a mild heart-attack, drink a bottle of wine, and get up again—this time with a hangover. Drink some coffee. It’s going to be fine.
Many thanks to the amazingly talented (and awesome) Meghan Pleticha!
You can follow her on Twitter.
Season 2 of Silicon Valley airs Sundays at 10PM on HBO.