Case #1: Jasmine Love

Interview by Spadada from Ramblings of a TV Whore

Jasmine Love has been in the Writers’ Guild for ten years. You don’t know her name or her face and she isn’t the money hungry already rich writer that the AMPTP wants to blame for this strike, but she is one of many people affected by it. Over the years she’s climbed her way up from writers’ assistant to working writer and she loves TV as much as you and I do. She’s written episodes of Moesha, The Division, and The District and was about to start work on a freelance script when the strike began.

I met Jasmine on the picket line a few weeks ago and told her about the “Adopt a Writer” concept Liz from Glowy Box was working on with other TV bloggers. She thought it was a great idea and agreed not only to tell us her story, but to help connect the ‘Foster Blogs’ with TV writers. We thought that was pretty awesome and we figured the best way to show our thanks would be to make her our first adoption case.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to JASMINE LOVE…

Jasmine Love at Westland Elementary Moesha
6.21: “Graduation Day”
The Division
3.8: “The Cost of Freedom” (story by)
3.17: “Castaways”
The District
3.18: “Bloodlines”
3.21: “Ella Mae”
4.8: “Acceptable Losses” (nominated for a Prism Award)
4.22: “Something Borrowed, Something Bruised”

What made you decide to become a TV writer?
I have always loved to write. I came out here to be near the ocean. I had no intention of writing, but my cousin was in the industry and was producing and the first time I was on a set I loved it. The first time I tried to write a script it was easy for me, like breathing. I read no [How to…] books. I am more of an intuitive writer and it worked.

My first job in the Industry was as an office manager of a talent agency. It was a commercial talent agency and it was crazy busy. I learned the business and that is where I wrote my first spec, a Friends script. Then I realized I wanted to do drama and wrote a West Wing episode. This spec got me my first agent.

When were you first in a writers’ room/on a set? What was that like?
My first writers’ room experience was as a writers’ assistant for The Jamie Foxx Show. Then I was a writers’ assistant on Moesha, then a writers’ trainee on Moesha, then a staff writer on Moesha. I love the process of being in the writers’ room. I love the community, the food, the energy, and the process of creating characters with others.

How did your life change when you moved from assistant to writer?
My life changed because I stopped getting coffee and food for the writers. I stopped kissing everybody’s ass and I started living a creative life. Plus my salary jumped exponentially and I bought a house, which changed my life. But mainly, being paid to write and living every day with the characters on the shows I wrote for and working with the fabulous actors, writers and crews I worked with was amazing. I have lifelong friends from that and will again.

Then you moved to The Division and The District. How was that different?
Moving from The Jamie Foxx Show and Moesha to The Division and The District fortunately or unfortunately gave me more credibility: black shows have not historically been as respected as “Caucasian” television. Some people assumed that I could write a wider range of characters because I made that leap. Then I jumped from cable to network television and got another bump in respect, even though in some ways writing for network television was more restrictive in terms of network notes.

The Division was very different because the writers’ room was in the showrunner’s house in Malibu and the set was in Sun Valley. Low-level writers were kept very far away from all the action. On The District the writers’ room was smack in the middle of the action and every writer had full opportunities to see their scripts shot and edited. We were able to attend sweetening sessions and other things that most writers don’t get to do unless they are executive producers so that was excellent learning. Plus, on The District, having so much freedom to learn the process of television production gave me the skills to grow as a writer and I think that kind of freedom is rare in this industry.

When you are staffed on a show you are a studio employee, right?
Most writers, myself included, are independent contractors to the network they are employed by. Most of us incorporate, so the network itself has a deal with our corporation. Everyone saves money this way. So, for instance, my company had a contract with CBS for two seasons on The District and I received I-9’s for Independent Contractors at the end of the year and checks were made out to my corporation which I ran through my business. This is what most writers do. You will find a few who work just as themselves.

What have you been doing since then, as a writer and to make ends meet? What were you working on when the WGA went on strike?
I never consider myself “making ends meet” because I have a wonderful and supportive life partner. There are very few writers who can be successful without someone grounded in their lives who allows them to be the creative, free-flowing freaks that many of us can be. I have many skills and talents and will always be working, but I am also always working on a script of some kind, freelancing, networking, and I am very involved with the Writers Guild. You have to understand that because of the way this industry is set up, you can never comfortably settle into a writing life. Very few television writers have this luxury because our particular industry is so mercurial. So I use my counseling degree, my teaching experience, my experience working with people with disabilities, and I am always employed and I am always writing. I think the thing that most new writers don’t understand is that this is not a career to settle into and take a deep sigh of relief and say “there, I made it” because most people don’t get that. And if you settle into that, the rug can be pulled out at any time, so it is better to have something you can do, like teaching, or art, something solid that you love, and then when the writing jobs come, embrace them knowing that they will be as fleeting as a rainstorm in the San Fernando Valley.

What is something you think people might be surprised by in terms of your lifestyle here in Hollywood and your life as a working writer?
Most writers don’t make a lot of money. Most writers live in the future, hoping, praying, wanting, needing to be working in production. But it is a rare thing, a rare writer that makes a lot of money. Most of us are working folks, living off of a couple of hundred dollars of residuals every so often and making less than $30,000 a year, and most of us wouldn’t trade it for the world because it is an amazing thing to see your script produced and be a part of that process. People might be surprised by the numbers of jobs we hold so that we can keep writing.

I have been an office manager at a talent agency. I’ve worked as a counselor in a domestic violence shelter. I’ve done overnight shifts at domestic violence shelters and drug rehab clinics (great time for writing). I’ve been a physical therapy aid, an occupational therapy aid, a speech therapy aid, all at a brain injury rehab clinic. I’ve been a receptionist at so many places I can’t count (great for having a script minimized on your computer). I’ve been a music clearance assistant at Warner Bros. I’ve been an advocate for adults with development disabilities. Most recently I am teaching 4th grade at a progressive elementary school, Westland Elementary, which was started by blacklisted writers in 1949, during the McCarthy era. I teach an after school screenwriting class and I have twenty members of the junior WGA who have already written great scripts. Some of them have also been picketing on the line with their parents, some of whom are writers.

I think people have this idea of writers sitting around and pining to be on a show, when there really is a freedom to freelancing, and though I make about $30,000/year teaching right now, I don’t know that I would give it up to be on a writing staff again. There is a real sense of losing your identity and having no time for a life when you are on staff. It wreaks havoc on relationships and health. So I am not actually one of those writers jumping at the chance to hop back on a writing staff, though for the right show…. Teaching 4th grade is an amazing thing and my day ends at 3:30 pm instead of 3:30 am which is also an amazing thing. Not to mention summer vacations!

Because of the strike you haven’t been able to sell anything for almost three months. What has that meant for you financially?
For me not being able to sell anything means not being able to earn points towards my health insurance. The leadership of the Guild mistakenly told us before we voted on the strike that our [coverage would not be interrupted], that our health insurance points would be frozen. Well, they were wrong and many of us, myself included, are now slated to lose our insurance. I was poised to sell a script in October and [because of the strike] I could not make that deal. Luckily they are waiting for me, but that won’t help me with my insurance unless the Guild steps up and pressures the Writers Guild Industry Health Fund to understand that we have not had the ability to earn points towards our insurance.

How has the strike affected you emotionally? You go to work every day and then head to the picket lines. That can’t be easy. What gets your spirits up?
Emotionally it can get exhausting because I am a Strike Captain and I field questions, comments, and disgruntlements (I don’t know if that is a word but I like it) constantly. Right now the main problem is the health insurance and having to reverse what I told them (which was told to me) and that’s hard. The other stuff, the picketing, going to strike headquarters, etc, I find that energizing. I love networking with other writers and I love that we have so much solidarity. I love meeting the fans. So that part is not hard for me. My 4th grade class is in total support of the strike so they like to hear stories from the picket lines.

As a strike captain you talk to a lot of people and hear a lot of people’s stories. Have you personally been surprised/inspired by anything you’ve heard?
I have been inspired by the numbers of people willing to show up for their 12 -20 hours a week, especially those with day jobs and children. I have been inspired by the solidarity and the sense of community. Those of us not on staffs live with a certain amount of isolation and it has been wonderful for me to be around other writers. I hate this term “non-working writers” because I think all writers are working and writing all the time. I hate that it is the writers on the current shows that get all the accolades and focus and that was uncomfortable for me when I was on a show. Everyone wants to cozy up to you and give you their script when you’re on a show, when you actually have more time and more clarity to read and give better notes when you are not on a show. But that is the cult of celebrity in this town. I am inspired by the writers who have to write, like I do, and have stories to tell. I also find writers to be keen observers of humankind and it is fun to be around them and observe together. We are all such characters.

You and I talked when we first met about how every writer is a fan. What shows are you a fan of, past and present?
My favorite show, above and beyond all, was Six Feet Under. I love the characters: I identified with all of them as if they were parts of me. I also loved Extras and I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. Of the reality shows I enjoy The Amazing Race and The Biggest Loser. I love stories about people, real people, funny people, ordinary people in ordinary situations. I like The L-Word, but I am a little wary about shows that are airing new episodes, wondering about stockpiling, but it could just be the timing of their season. It is wonderful to see a show about lesbians, full of diversity and drama and sexy as hell. Though I do mostly enjoy the ordinary story, I would love to see more stories about lesbians that are like the lesbians I know and love. I just love television and the way one can get any story out there if it is packaged in the right way. I love love LOVE Weeds, can’t believe I didn’t say this first. I loved Dead Like Me. I like Cold Case but am not into much having to do with violence, fictional or otherwise, but the writing is so fabulous. I get a kick out of Grey’s Anatomy sometimes, just sometimes. I watch Medium occasionally. Oh, and Boston Legal. What a hoot.

Anything else you want to talk about that I missed?
The fans. I love the fans. I love hearing why and how and where and when people watch television. I love the medium of television. I love creating characters that people can relate to and I love telling stories that make people think and cry. I love having viewing parties and watching people laugh and cry over a story I have to tell. I think in another life, perhaps a Native American lifetime or an African lifetime, I was a storyteller who acted out my stories every night around a fire and used costumes and the children and the wisdom of the elders. I think television and now the Internet is our fire as a culture and we all have stories to tell. I love bringing people together and television does that. I will leave teaching to have my own show on the air. I have been fortunate to pitch to a lot of networks and studios and one day one of my shows will stick. That’s probably when I’ll get back into it. For now I am enjoying life and reading a lot of books, and of course, picketing :-)