Gennifer Hutchison – Writer: Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, The Strain
When did you realize you wanted to work in television?
I realized I was interested in working in movies when I was in high school but wasn’t ready to make the commitment to go to film school. I pursued a communications degree at a liberal arts college and realized more and more I was interested in film. After college, I managed to get a job working on a TV show. A year later, I moved to LA and got a job in The X-Files writers’ office as a PA. I was exposed to so many wonderful writers and got to see the process up close. I realized just how much TV is a writers’ world and started thinking seriously that TV was the best way to go for me. I kept pursuing writers’ assistant jobs and learning and writing as I went along.
What advice do you have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?
Getting your foot in the door is tricky, so research what it is you want to do specifically and what the best entry-level jobs are for that path. If you’re still unsure, internships and PA jobs in various departments can help you focus your goals and also teach you a lot about the business — knowledge you’ll use no matter what area you end up in. Network with your fellow students and, once you have your foot in the door, your fellow PAs and interns and assistants. These are your best contacts for jobs down the line. I came up with a lot of great people who are now successful writers and producers. We all helped each other along the way. Once you get that first job, be enthusiastic and good at it. Performing well in your current job is the best way to show people you have the potential to move up and perform well. I’ve known PAs who think if they are too good at being a PA, they won’t be seen as being anything else. So they do a crappy job as a PA and pester everyone to read their scripts or watch their shorts. This just shows everyone you’re not great at your job, so don’t do it. It’s good to let people know what your ultimate goals are, but you should never walk in Day One of a job and try to give a showrunner your script. You have to earn that kind of access. Do your job well, get to know people, prove your worth in general, and people will be more receptive to giving you opportunities down the line.
What was your first job in the industry? What did you learn from it?
I was a production office PA on the show Nash Bridges. I learned a lot. My boss made sure all of us PAs understood what every piece of production paperwork meant. I learned how the various departments on a TV show interact. I learned what everyone does. It’s knowledge that I take with me every day as a writer and producer. Being comfortable with and knowledgeable about all the departments on a show is very important.
Something you wish someone had told you about the industry?
This is a tricky one. There’s no one thing. And so much about the industry has to be learned on the job. I guess the big thing would be that in order to get opportunities, you have to advocate for yourself. Again, it’s not about being pushy or inappropriate, but people really do need to know what it is you want to be doing if they’re going to think to offer you opportunities. I think for women, in particular, it can be really difficult to ask for things.
What is your writing process like?
For Better Call Saul, we break all the stories together, writing all the beats on 3×5 index cards. The writer takes those cards and writes an outline, then a script from that. Then we get notes from Peter and Vince, make our revisions, and send it out to production.
As for my personal process for writing a script, I tend to write my first draft chronologically without stopping to revise. The tried and true “vomit draft”. I’m best when I’m revising, so I try to get something down on the page as quickly as possible. This means sometimes the scenes have placeholder dialogue — it’s super on-the-nose and is really just there to give me something to work with and refine. I write in bursts, so I’ll write for 20-30 minutes, then take a 10-20 minute break. Then another 30 minutes. Those times vary depending on how well/not well the writing is flowing, but that’s the general pattern. Once I have my vomit draft, I go through it in order, shaping each scene. I tend to go through the script as a whole several times, refining more and more as I go along until I feel “done”. I give it a final proofreading pass and send it out.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever written? (From Breaking Bad, The Strain or Better Call Saul)
I’m lucky in what I’ve gotten to write! It’s really hard to pick just one thing. I’ll stick to one highlight from each show! Some of my favorites would be the Walt, Jesse, and Skyler dinner scene in “Buyout.” I got to write some really emotional character scenes for Natalie Brown in Season One of The Strain, which were a pleasure to get to do with her. I also loved writing the Bob Odenkirk/Peter Diseth hallway scene in my latest episode of Better Call Saul, “Sunk Costs”. And I love basically any Jimmy/Kim scene I get to write.
What shows made you fall in love with television? What shows are you currently loving?
From my youth: Quantum Leap, Northern Exposure, The X-Files, Star Trek: TNG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, My So-Called Life…
I’m currently watching The Leftovers (season 3), which is so weird and full of amazing character work. I’m watching The Handmaid’s Tale, which is really well done. I’m excited to see the rest of the season. I love Brooklyn 99. In the world of reality TV, I just finished the last season of Face Off, which is probably my favorite reality show. I have a number of shows on the DVR that I have to catch up on! There’s so so much amazing TV out there!