How To: Become A Television Writer (An Interview With A Pro!)
So you want to become a television writer? There's nowhere better to get advice than from someone who's already done it successfully. That's why we decided to mix things up a little with this week's How To and interview Céline Geiger, a television writer based in LA.
Céline most recently wrote for the ABC Family show, The Lying Game— which, unfortunately, was just canceled– and she's also worked on Being Human and written her own short film. Céline filled me in on how she got her start in television writing, what writing for a TV show is really like, and why you need to move to LA, like, right now.
1. Move To Los Angeles
Céline herself moved to Los Angeles eight years ago after graduating from Hamilton College in upstate New York. She's always loved writing and the fact that as a kid she was fine spending her summers taking writing classes proves it. Céline had “always known she wanted to do something with writing” and when she graduated as an English major, she was planning on looking for work in publishing. A decision to move to LA with a friend instead changed everything. Céline thought TV writing would be cool, and knew LA would be a great place to do it, but just didn't know how to get in to it.
2. Make The Right Connections
Once in LA, Céline worked as an assistant to various television industry people for six years until her big break of sorts came when she was assisting an executive producer on the SyFy Network show, Being Human. The producer asked her to submit a script for the show and it was a success. After this, she was able to get hired on the writing staff of The Lying Game through her agent.
3. Get An Agent
“It's inevitable that you need an agent. It's just the way the system works,” says Céline, who met her own agent five years ago. A producer she knew sent some of her work she to an agent, they liked it, took her out for dinner, and the relationship was formed. Fast forward a few years and this same agent got Céline her job with The Lying Game. According to Céline, there are other ways to get an agent like enrolling in a writing program where, at the end, students are able to meet with agents and have their work reviewed.
Céline's favorite thing about writing for TV is the moment when you see your work come to life. “It's satisfying when you have an idea of how something looks and see it executed to be equal or greater than you imagined.”
The writing staff of The Lying Game consisted of five people, including Céline, and three assistants– a “little family” as she puts it. I think a lot of people picture writers' rooms being like the one on 30 Rock or like the stories we've heard about Saturday Night Live, so I asked Céline what she thought about these depictions. “There's a wipe off board, note cards tacked everywhere with ideas. So, it's not that far off.” Céline and her fellow writers really enjoyed the beginning of a season which they refer to as “blue skies” because it's a time of no restraints with a lot of creativity flowing.
Working on a TV show, the most important thing is hitting your deadlines which can vary depending on the episode. Céline told me that sometimes there's an episode that gets through the network execs, studio, and actors just fine with few notes, but other times the writers can get scripts back with a ton of edits and they have to do a rewrite. Of course, the episodes all effect each other so at times there can be overlaps with what your working on. As Céline describes it, things can get “topsy turvy.”
Céline's also written a short film, Objects in the Rearview, which came out earlier this year. “It's always fun to work on your own thing,” says Céline. She enjoyed getting to work with an editor and learn about all the different departments involved in making a film with “no one to answer to but yourself” rather than the “happy medium” you're always searching for between the writers and studio executives on a show. For right now, Céline's focused on her TV writing, but eventually would like to do something like this again.
Céline's best advice for anyone out there that wants to be a television writer is that “you have to be in Los Angeles. There are people that create careers in other places, but 99.9 percent of the time, you have to be in LA.” She went on to say that just living in LA can be an “educational experience” because when you aren't at work you're always meeting people and having conversations about television and film.
She added, “don't be afraid to get your hands dirty” because “it can be a long climb, but a rewarding climb.”
Obviously, Céline's own climb has been pretty rewarding and her decision to move to LA has worked out really well for her. We'd like to give a big Thank You to Céline Geiger for chatting with us and a big good Luck to any future television writers out there!