Tuesday, December 1, 2020

In My View: Being Visible in Hollywood by Lisa R. Stewart

I’m a writer. I’ve been writing since high school with my own column in the school newspaper “Ask Lisa.”  All of my life, I’ve had a passion for the law and federal law enforcement from  the complexities of the criminal justice system and its ever reaching arm into society to policy change and reform. My passions have led me on very interesting and unusual journeys. One journey was as an intern in two prisons using research and analytical methods by conducting interviews with prisoners.  Another journey had me assisting in an autopsy on a murder victim which lead to what I thought was the last leg of my journey, admission into the FBI Academy to become a behavior profiler. I attended Boston University and received my Master’s in Criminal Justice and wrote a white paper about the body part trade scandal at UCLA. You’d think that’d be enough to get me a staff writer job on any procedural television show in Hollywood. Nope. Not yet. Not quite. First, they have to see me.

How I started…

I started in entertainment as a celebrity personal assistant. One day I went to Hermes to pick up my boss’ dress for the Oscars. I got to the store and the saleswoman refused to give me her dress. She didn’t believe I worked for the celebrity. She told me to get out of the store. I left, found a pay phone, and called the celebrity. Not five minutes later, the store manager came out and asked me to come back in. He profusely apologized, handed me the dress, and then had the salesperson apologize to me.. He then told the salesperson to gather her things and she was fired on the spot. The manager came back to me and told me to select one item from the store. The whole ordeal was enough so my head wasn’t into shopping at that moment, so I asked for a Hermes garment bag. I still have that bag to this day.

Meeting with a showrunner

I recently had an informational video meeting with a showrunner of a major network television show. In an informational meeting you hope that the showrunner will like you and consider hiring you for a staffing writing job on their show. When I got the opportunity to meet with the showrunner, I was excited and never thought the meeting would result in questioning my skills and how I thought about myself.   

During our thirty minute call, the show runner was so impressed with me that by the end of our conversation he apologized. “For what?,” I thought to myself. He apologized because he had literally just hired two writers for his show. And if he hadn’t hired them, there would have been room for me. In his after meeting email to me he wrote, “With all these credits and your impressive background, how you haven’t been scooped up on a show by now is insane.” If he would have known about me a week ago, I could have had the opportunity. He would have hired me based on my experiences alone. This conversation reminded me to continue to believe in and fight for myself. I’ve had a few informational meetings but haven’t been staffed yet. Nonetheless, I continue to forge ahead. I’ve written 4 pilots and am working on a fifth.

Being visible…

Why did I share this? I don’t know. I guess I wanted you to know about the lack of visibility for black writers in Hollywood. Being visible is a major wall—one that I’ve been trying to climb or break through for the past 12 years. When do I give up? Will the dream ever become a reality?

Lisa Stewart
Lisa R. Stewart is a TV writer who has a Master's degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University and a Bachelor's of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Arizona State University. She's completed 4 pilots and is working on her fifth. A Chicago native, she currently resides in Los Angeles.

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