Television Writing Alumni Share Their Stories
June 30, 2016
Earlier this week, James Macak’s Seminar in Television Writing summer class had three fantastic guests to talk about their careers after graduating from Dodge College.
Morgan Steele (BA/Screenwriting ’06), Jeremy Svenson (BFA/Film Production ’06), and Leon Langford (MFA/Screenwriting ’15), all at varied stages of their career, have had interesting paths to where they are now.
“I graduated 10 years ago with two ambitions; writing and getting my life settled,” said Steele. At this point in his life, he has paid off all of his student loans and is currently working as the script coordinator for the new animated series Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh on Netflix. But it did take him some time to get there.
“I started off by doing temp work for a temp agency for months,” he said. He laughed when he explained to the class about how he was fired from working at Disney after about 3 hours.
“I didn’t know how to use their phones, so they asked me to leave!” he joked. After that, he worked at Warner Bros. for some time, and then went over to Dreamworks. Eventually, he landed in the technology division, where he helped the animation division build the hardware and software for their making their films.
“I managed their technological needs for the animated films, and did it for seven years,” Steele said. After that, he wanted to get back into the creative side of things, and transferred over to the Television division on the production management track. He started as a production coordinator, but worked his way up to script coordinator. In his role, he is managing 12 episodes all at once, since each one is in development for a year before they are completed.
In addition to his coordination role, he has also recently took on writing some episodes for the series as a freelance writer, adding even more onto his plate.
“There was a ton of pressure at first, working and writing for the show, but to see it payoff is absolutely worth it,” he said. The first episodes he worked on will actually begin airing in July 2016, while the one he wrote will be in season two.
In addition, he also created, wrote, and directed 3 seasons of the web comedy series Golden California, which just had its final episodes premiere in April 2016 at the Hollyweb Fest. The series follows the misadventures of TV host Herb Hendricks as he travels California looking for whatever makes the state golden.
“I write all the time, to keep my creativity going strong,” Steele said.
Svenson, who also graduated at the same time as Steele, just wrote his first script as a co-writer on the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles, where he is a writer’s assistant. The episode was shot in April and is set to air in July.
While at Dodge, he took Macak’s class three times, because his ambition was always TV Writing.
“I always preferred TV over features, because there is no entry level position for feature writers,” he said. “Whereas for TV, if you work as a writer’s assistant, they know you eventually want to write.”
After he graduated, he worked on the hit TV show King of Queens as a writer’s PA during its final season, after a successful internship the year before. He would get the writer’s copies of scripts and also their lunches. In the morning, he would usually make muffins for the cast and crew.
“My job was basically to put things in the writer’s mouths,” he joked.
When the show ended, he was hired on to work in development for Kevin James’ Hey Eddie Productions, where he stayed for six years. He kept getting title bumps and raises.
“Looking back, I would tell my younger self to stay maybe only three years, and not get too comfortable. It was a great job, but I was being creatively challenged here,” Svenson said.
Thankfully, his boss was very supportive of him looking for other opportunities, and kept him on as long as he wanted to stay.
“I think I would up giving them a one day notice before I left, which I felt bad about, but they were very proud of me,” he said.
The job he left for was as a showrunner’s assistant job on TNT’s King & Maxwell, but the series was canceled after one season. He was unemployed for a while, but found work as a substitute teacher and as a freelance writer’s assistant. He also went back and did some temp work for Hey Eddie. Eventually, he landed his current gig at Rizzoli & Isles.
“Getting coffees and lunches again was humbling after almost 10 years in the biz,” Svenson said. “But it was a show that had legs and a showrunner with a track record of giving writing opportunities to support staff, so I went for it.” After a few months Jeremy was promoted to writers’ assistant. This is now his second season in that position, but will also be his last, as the series is ending its seven year run this summer.
Langford, who graduated much recently, had a very different story to tell, having landed an agent and a manager just two months out of college.
Even though he did unsolicited queries for his thesis script while still in school, he didn’t get any bites.
“I was sending out long emails with all this information about myself. By the time I graduated, I got smart, and decided to just send something short; 4-5 sentences and that’s it,” he said.
It worked, because two weeks later, after sending out queries for his new script, Backlash, he got a response back, and met for coffee with a manager from XLRator Media. He was sent a few notes, and after making the changes, he was signed on.
The script, which has been described as Zero Dark Thirty meets The Raid, is about five CIA agents who meet in a safe house after a terrorist event, and one of them is responsible. According to the Tracking Board, the script was one of the hottest specs to hit the market in recent weeks.
From there, he met an agent, from UTA and Energy Entertainment, which signed him on. Since then, he’s had a lot of interest in his other work, including a horror script he wrote with his writing partner, and a live action pilot as well.
“I’m working on a project for Sony now and I have two other scripts being looked at by production companies,” he said.
After they told their stories, the students in the class asked a lot of question to help get their careers on track, and the alumni gladly answered.
We at Dodge College are thankful for our wonderful alumni who are gracious with their time and willing to come back to talk to our current students.