Anne Cofell Saunders– Writer/ Co-Executive Producer: Timeless
When did you realize, you wanted to work in television?
Basically, I was a playwright in New York eating peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day. I loved it; don’t get me wrong, but after a while I realized I’d be facing a life of peanut butter and jelly if I didn’t get a day job or find a new way to write all day. I thought maybe feature writing, went to the Austin Film Festival and met a television writer, who was a speaker there. He told me TV would be a better fit for my skill set. Said I already seemed like a TV writer. Kind of talked me into it. He didn’t give me a job or anything, but he steered me in the right direction at the right time. I just took his word for it. I didn’t know the first thing about TV. Almost 20 years later, I go back to the Festival and speak when I can. Cause I owe them. And they rock.
What advice do you have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?
There are many ways. Here’s a couple: Write something with your friends — Start writing. Keep writing. Welcome feedback. Just do it and don’t wait for anyone to GIVE you an opportunity. Don’t wait, just DO. Start making mistakes. You’ll make a few but… Maybe shoot something, post it online — it could go viral — then maybe an agent sees it, suggests you take it out as a pitch and you sell it! That’s when you’re breaking in as a ‘show creator’ in TV. You could have a book, an idea, a blog — whatever your passionate about can become a show!
You can also break in working as a writers’ assistant on a TV show. How to get that job? Move to LA. Start meeting people. Get a job as an assistant at an agency or production company. Start learning the business. Check the trades (aka Variety). See what pilots got picked up. Cold call the studio or network and ask for the production office for that show. Then call, ask for the APOC (Assistant Production Coordinator) — say that you’d like a PA job or an assistant job and you’ll work really hard and you’re willing to do anything. It’s about getting access. Basically, with this approach, the rule is… work for the person you want to be.
What was your first job in the industry? What did you learn from it?
I was the showrunner’s assistant on 24. I worked really hard, and they gave me my first freelance episode. A huge first break. Television is one of those fields that’s pretty specific. The writer’s room runs like a train. Being an assistant or PA on a show is like running alongside it before you can jump on. Proving you can keep up. Proving you can operate at that pace and intensity. It’s not just about writing — it’s also about learning the culture. I’d say being on 24 was like my graduate degree in TV.
What is your writing process like?
I come at everything from character. Ask — what does the character want? What is their worst fear? What are they hiding? Who do they love? (that’s what makes them vulnerable). What is their dream? And then I kill the dream. Death of the Dream. Ask anybody I’ve worked with, I’m like a broken record with the “Death of a Dream” thing.
How has your time been so far working on Timeless? How is it different from previous projects you’ve worked on in the past?
I love it. It’s been amazing. Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke are the bomb. They’re both so experienced and such a good team, it’s an absolute pleasure — to go with the earlier metaphor, their bullet train is whiplash fast and runs on time. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve worked with Eric for a while now. Work becomes such a pleasure when you get to work with friends.
So many people are rallying for a second season of Timeless. How has it been working on a show that so many people want to see move forward?
I love our fans. Love them. I want to marry them. All of them. I’ve been so touched and inspired by the fan support — we all have. We’re listening and we care. We read your tweets. Your enthusiasm lifts us all up. It’s one of the best things about TV — you get audience feedback in the middle of the process.
What shows are you currently loving?
Watching The OA right now, The Magicians, and The Crown. Love them all.
I love how in television you can fall in love with a character, and then follow that character for years, like a friend. And when you’re writing for TV, it’s your life, your blood, sweat, heartbreak… it’s all up there for the world to see. You evolve with the characters. They become a window into your soul. The characters teach you things as you write about your own life — they become in a way real. Take on a life of their own. That’s why I enjoy Timeless so much, every couple of weeks I’m breaking story in a whole new time period. It’s like the writer’s room gets to go on that journey with Lucy and Wyatt and Rufus, every day.