***Every Friday, we will feature a young, up and coming woman working in film and television who is fearlessly blazing her own path in television and film while proving to the world that anything is possible. This week, we sat down with a recent graduate of the NBC Writer’s on the Verge Program, Alisha Cowan, as she shares her career journey as a writer and her experiences in the program. Enjoy!
I started my journey in television by working as a Coordinator in the publicity department at NBCUniversal. During my time working in publicity, I had access to comedy scripts since my boss handled the publicity for all of the comedy shows at NBC. I have always been obsessed with television, and constantly watched every single episode from shows that I loved multiple times. I paired my love for television with my newfound exposure to comedy scripts, and my passion for comedy writing was instantly ignited. At that moment, I realized I wanted to pursue a career in entertainment as a writer.
Once I realized I wanted to be a writer, I met with the head of the Writer’s on the Verge Program (my current boss) for an informational interview while I was still working as a coordinator in the publicity department. At the time, we barely knew each other; however, my conversation with her was a major wakeup call. I shared with her my story of how I wanted to be a writer, and she asked me to show her something that I had written. That was such a great opportunity for me; however, I sat on her couch unable to show her any samples of my work because at the time, I hadn’t written anything at all. She suggested that I take a writing class, and I took her advice. I took a few UCLA writers extension courses to learn technique and writing structure, and most importantly, I kept writing. I quickly learned the importance of honing my skills, and I started writing around the clock.
Eventually, I had the opportunity to meet with the head of the NBC Writer’s on the Verge Program a second time (I was still working in publicity). In preparation for our meeting, I sent her a pilot that I had written. It was terrible, and she didn’t hesitate to tell me the truth about my work. I was still clueless, and clearly, needed to learn that the hard way; however, I still kept writing. I was determined to find my voice and was determined to get into this program.
After 3 or 4 years of consistently applying to the program, I was finally admitted. I worked for years at honing my craft after making the decision to pursue a writing career, and the years of practice coupled with honest advice from mentors and peers about how good (and mostly bad) my scripts were, finally prepared me for admissions. I spent years improving my skill set, and was finally prepared to digest all of the information that the program would offer.
Be persistent. This career starts with you. If you’re serious, you can do it. If you’re not, just like with anything else, you might not succeed.
This program revealed my strengths, weaknesses, and everything else. It wasn’t just about writing, it was about learning how to work in a room with other writers, how to effectively communicate your views to others, how to meet strict writing deadlines, etc. I was also able to find my voice and learned what it represented for me. As a writer, your voice is everything. If your voice doesn’t jump off the page in your material, you still have work to do.
It takes honing your talent, but more than anything, you have to believe that you are a writer. In Writers on the Verge, we were taught to stop saying, “when I’m a writer,” or “I want to be a writer.” It should be, “I am a writer.” When you can openly and honestly say that out loud to yourself and to others, the possibilities are limitless.
If you are serious, and not just “saying” you are/want to be a writer, write ALL the time. Seriously, you have to write 24/7, and have those better than you, or on your same level as you, read your material. You can’t possibly grow without having legit critiques or notes on your material. If your friends are not writers, and don’t understand writing, DO NOT have them read your work because they will only tell you how great it is, in actuality, it probably isn’t great at all. Be truthful with yourself, and if you want honest feedback, go to your toughest critics who are either staffed writers on shows, or on the path to being staffed.
I recently completed a pilot that I am using for staffing purposes, and I am working on a new pilot as we speak. Whenever there is a down moment, I am writing. The writing literally never stops. I am also in the process of wrapping up a short film that I wrote titled The Big Chop. I’m a natural hair gal, and did my very own big chop about 6 years ago. My story is like a lot of other natural hair women. To go from long permed hair to very, very short natural hair with an entirely different texture is quite the experience. I wanted to write about it, and delve even deeper into why natural hair is a discussion. So, I put my comedic take on the experience.
Passion is my motivation, and I cannot see myself doing anything else. If so many others can be successful at this, why am I any different? I should be able to rise to the top while starting from the bottom just like everyone else. I’m a big believer in the cliché, “go for your dreams.” To me, I don’t see any other way of life. I want to be happy in my career, and this is the career that will make me happy, so why wouldn’t I put everything that I can into it? I don’t question life most times. I’m here to do what I want, and this is it.
For even more insight on getting into TV Writing Programs – Check out the upcoming panel: A Guide to TV Writing Programs
The trailer/promo video for The Big Chop is below!
The film deals with a young ten year old girl Kris on “her natural hair journey to self-love and acceptance”. Though proud of her huge afro, after pressure from her mother and tired by being continually taunted by her peers, Kris makes the radical decision to straighten her hair. But unhappy with the decision, she decides to “fix” the problem which leads to even more problems until she come to a reckoning about her self-esteem and the need to confirm to society.