Lisa McQuillan

Lisa McQuillan- Writer: Black-ish

When did you realize you wanted to work in television?

My first TV writing class in college initially sparked my interest, but it wasn’t until years later that I finally decided to pursue a career in screenwriting.  I was working in a completely different industry, but I was ready to take the leap, damn it… I chose the slow, expensive route, applied to grad school, and ended up in L.A.

What advice do you have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?

Make sure to get enough cardio.  I can’t stress this enough.  Cardio, cardio, cardio.  Next, I would say that it’s important to write.  This may sound obvious, but sometimes a new writer thinks “I’m about to write (insert idea)” is the same as “Here’s what I wrote.”  A wise person once said, “Writers write.”  I’m not sure who said it originally, but I know for certain that I just typed it 4 seconds ago.  I would also advise someone pursuing a career in writing to keep creating, even when they don’t have to.  I realized how important this was when my friend, Amy Aniobi, and I started our web series, “Lisa and Amy Are Black.”  We’re able to keep the creative juices flowing on our own terms and are accountable only to ourselves.  This makes seeing things through to completion especially satisfying.  I hope that doesn’t sound sexual.

What is something you wish someone would have told you about writing for television?

I wish someone would have told me to stop organizing my socks and finish my script.  Seriously, I wish I’d spent less time worrying about being bad (which didn’t prevent me from being bad) and more time just grinding it out and accepting there was room for improvement and that beginners are often bad at stuff.

First job in the industry?  What you learned from it?

My very first industry job was as an an intern for a feature/television writer who had an over-all deal with a studio.  It was great because he had his hands in a lot of projects and I was exposed to the development process for television and film.  I did a ton of reading (scripts, books, other source material) and provided coverage, which is always a great way for an aspiring writer to learn.

What is your writing process like?

It’s ugly.  Really ugly.  Mood swings, snacks, cleaning, catching up with long-lost friends, YouTube spirals, online symptom checkers…  Once that’s out of the way, I do a lot of really unorganized brainstorming.  I then weed through the ideas and try to mold them into a more organized shape – some might call this an outline. Finally, I write the stupid thing and pass it along to my writing group for perspective and critique and snacks and wine.  They’re pretty brilliant and provide invaluable feedback which helps get my script to a place where it’s ready for a deadline/submission/read.

How has your time been on “Black-ish?”

My experience on “Black-ish” has been a dream come true.  That may sound cheesy, but I’m sorry – I refuse to apologize.  I get to sit in a room all day with a bunch of hilarious people who know how to make really good TV.  Kenya Barris, who created “Black-ish,” hired me as a writer and has been one of the biggest sources of support throughout my journey.  He’s one of those people who’s always helping newer writers, and I’m lucky enough to be one of them.  I’ve worked as writers’ assistant/script coordinator on other shows leading up to this, but it’s unbelievably surreal that my first staff writing job is on such a funny show that people really love.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve written that has made it into an episode?

This wasn’t central to the episode, but I recently told a story in the room about my mom and her luddite tendencies.  I won’t get into the specifics since the episode hasn’t aired, but it’s a solid example of someone who is technologically-challenged.  Hopefully the bit stays in the episode when it airs and Mom isn’t too offended.  Fingers crossed, she won’t figure out how to DVR it successfully.

What show made you fall in love with television?  What show are you currently loving?

There are so many shows I’ve loved, but I have a definite emotional attachment to “30 Rock.”  It was one of the first shows I ever spec’d as a writing sample, and I had so much fun with its absurdity.  I was working in the music industry at the time and our offices were in Rockefeller Center in NYC.  I already knew I wanted to leave music and attempt a career in TV writing, and my daily motivation was getting off the subway for work at the 30 Rockefeller Center station.

A couple of my favorite shows right now (aside from the aforementioned obvious), are “Veep” and “Key & Peele” (RIP).


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