Though I didn't come to the realization that I was meant to be a writer until several years after, my mother would tell you she had a feeling when she caught me making up my own story, acting it out in the back of our family's old pickup in the backyard over summer vacation when I was six years old.
The path from that improvised backyard stage to a future in television writing seemed pretty long and treacherous back then, and proved to have more twists and turns than I could have imagined. First there was a pit stop to study acting, a fabulous experience that only reinforced my love of storytelling. And then came the realization that a solid education was going to be the best foundation for the future I wanted. So I worked my way through community college, then through the undergrad Creative Writing major at USC, and then, full of determination to get it all done before I ran out of steam, a Master of Professional Writing, also from USC.
But once the degrees were done and I had learned all about formatting and strong dialogue and building interesting characters, there was the harsh reality that opportunities in the entertainment business don't grow on trees. Though I was very fortunate to meet a great friend who had already been a successful writer for years and who mentored me and kept pushing me to write, write, and write some more, for every close call... making the finals at the Disney Fellowship, a manager, a few reads by some big agencies... there were a dozen steps backwards. Momentum seemed to come and go and though I knew I was continuing to grow as a writer with each new piece of material, life kept marching on, and the rejections started to pile up. And that fear that maybe the dream would never be reality started to creep in.
In the spring of 2010, I had reached a major burnout stage when it came to applying to the various writing fellowships and competitions that are out there. But after a particularly long and difficult week, I woke up filled with the sense that I had to give it one more try even if it was the last time I ever applied.
"Just one more time," I told myself. And with two days to spare, I mailed off my application to the CBS Writers Mentoring Program.
In August, an e-mail came alerting me that I had made it to the interview stage. I was on the phone with my mother when I opened it, and had to quickly explain that no life-threatening accident had just taken place after I shouted "Oh, my God!" at the top of my lungs. But once I'd calmed down, it was time to take a deep breath and get ready for the next step.
The interview process was two-fold, a meeting with Carole Kirschner and then a sit-down with my prospective mentors, Stacey Silverman and Stacey Adams. And then the wait for that last phone call...
The one where "yes" came from the other side.
Since that "yes" I've learned more about what it means to truly work in television than I can probably describe here. The CBS program preps you for how to take a meeting with execs and showrunners, gives you a chance to see what a writers room even looks like and how it can run, and helps you start to build the always growing network of fellow writers and friends you'll need to get through the ups and downs ahead. It also did wonders for my confidence, not just because of that elusive "yes" that said I hadn't been fooling myself about what I was capable of but because the work I turned out with my mentors was good enough to get me noticed outside the program.
Though I was lucky enough to interview last year during staffing, I ended up not getting a gig that first year out. But because I'd learned my lesson, I applied to the other writing programs and was lucky enough to be chosen at NBC's Writers on the Verge, where I picked up a whole new set of skills to round out my portfolio. After finishing, I recently signed with The Brant Rose Agency, and it is now onward into staffing season, this year with a sense of having the material, the skills, and the confidence all put together to go out and get that first job.
But I don't exaggerate when I tell people that the CBS Program and Carole Kirschner and Jeanne Mau literally breathed life back into my dreams with that "yes." Because you can be the most determined, stubborn, self-assured person in the world and fight constantly to get where you want to be in this life, but sometimes you really need to hear that someone else who knows what they're talking about thinks you're on the right path... and that endorsement of me and my work pried the door to my future wide open. I can't wait to see where it leads.
The Gift of the Writers Mentoring Program by Niceole R. Levy
Wednesday March 14, 2012 PM