Monica Breen – Writer/ Producer: Alias/ Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. / Brothers & Sisters/ Charmed/ Fringe/ Midnight, Texas
When did you realize you wanted to work in television?
Since as far back as I can remember I loved television. As a kid, it was on constantly in my house. News for my dad. Looney Tunes and Sid and Marty Krofft shows for me and my siblings. My mom loved watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. It was such a vital part of our household that if we were sick on Sundays, we’d watch Mass on TV. Not only did I love TV, but I also learned English by watching it. (Spanish was my first language.) So, obviously, TV was an important part of my life. But as far as working in TV — it seemed more like a fantasy job more than a real possibility. I also loved writing. But it seemed too competitive and too hard to make a living as a writer. So, I pursued other careers. I dabbled in Music Video Production. I went back to grad school to get a PhD in Communications, with the intention of teaching and writing (academic, not creative) about Television and Film. But as I was trying to finish my dissertation, a friend of mine suggested we try and write scripts together just for fun. Writing scripts was so much more fun than a dissertation. And living in California, I realized there were legitimate jobs in TV writing. So, it’s then that I realized that writing for TV would be my bliss and it would be worth trying to make a living at it.
What advice do you have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?
This is advice specifically for those who want to be writers. Take your time in college to learn a lot of shit. Learn about different countries, people, and histories. Take psychology classes and get some insight into human beings and why they do what they do. Read literature and trash fiction. Learn about our culture. Science, anatomy, physics and criminology. If you want to be a TV writer you need to be able to write about different topics, you need to generate story and lots of them. To have a breadth of knowledge can really help you as a TV writer. It’s why there are a lot of doctors and lawyers who become TV writers.
What was your first job in the industry? What did you learn from it?
I was an intern on a low budget movie — a romantic comedy shot in NYC called “Romeo and Julia.” Because it was so low budget, I got to do casting, scheduling, interviewing, PAing, all of it. I was there through the whole pre-production through to production. I was on set for the entire shoot. I’d never worked that hard. It was exhausting and grueling. 15 hour days. I was an intern so I wasn’t earning any money. And it was the most fun I’d ever had.
Something you wish someone had told you about the industry?
You’ll get fired. More than once. I always thought if I worked hard and applied myself, I’d succeed at my job. This isn’t always true in the entertainment industry. This business is subjective and very personality driven. Not all working environment click for all people. Your voice as a writer won’t click with every show or with every showrunner. It’s just a fact of the business.
What is your writing process like?
It really varies for me. Sometimes a scene just comes to me. I’ll just sit at my laptop and the dialogue just comes out and it’s almost instinctual. It’s rare, but when it happens it’s awesome. Usually, I write and rewrite a lot. I start with what I call “a vomit draft.” Just getting out the words and the moves in the scene. And then I refine and rework. That can mean working on a scene for days and then tossing it if it doesn’t work. I try not to get too precious with lines I may love or scenes I love. If it doesn’t work for the story, it needs to go. And when I can’t crack a scene or dialogue — I take a walk or a long bath. That can get the creative energy flowing.
Sometimes drinking. (Kidding. Sort of….)
How has your time been so far on Midnight, Texas?
It’s been a dream. Midnight, Texas is based on a book series by Charlaine Harris, so it’s a lot of my favorite things. Supernatural, action, romance, humor. The characters in the books are complicated and have fascinating back stories. So writing for them is amazing.
Midnight, Texas is the first show I’ve ever developed on my own. The only show I’ve run on my own. It’s challenging and exhausting but I’m working with amazing people. And I am lucky enough to have a network, studio, and producers who are letting me run with Charlaine’s wild and crazy world. With their support, my writers and I are getting to tell these wild and surprising episodes of TV. And so as a writer and a showrunner — Midnight, Texas has been a career highlight.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever written? (From either Alias, Brothers & Sisters, Fringe, Charmed, or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D)
It’s like picking which of my kids I like best.
“The Plateau” and “Marionette” on Fringe.
I love writing genre that tells a really human story. Both those episodes did so, and the actors and production executed them beautifully. I feel the same way about the episodes I wrote for Midnight, Texas.
What shows made you fall in love with television? What shows are you currently loving?
As a kid, it was: I Love Lucy, Looney Tunes cartoons. Little House on the Prairie.
When I got older, I loved and was hugely influenced by Twin Peaks, 30something. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I’m currently loving Legion. Its style is so original and unique.
And honestly, I need to laugh these days. So I adore Last Man on Earth and Bob’s Burgers. Adventure Time on Cartoon Network is a thing of beauty. I couldn’t love that show more. It’s funny, and peculiar and has some of the best characters on TV. It has cracked me up and made me weep. I’m in awe of the writing on that show.