Have you ever wanted to work in entertainment? Perhaps you’ve considered writing for television. Or maybe you’re just curious about how you’re favorite shows get made! Look no further. In today’s A Peek Into, I’m thrilled to be chatting with Rachel Borders. Rachel has written on shows like Rogue and Proven Innocent, and today, she’s sharing a bit about how she broke in and the valuable lessons she’s learned along the way. So keep reading as Rachel gives us A Peek Into a writer’s room!
Rachel! So excited to be chatting with you. Give us a little bit of background. Where did you go to school and what was your major?
I’m originally from Chicago, IL. Go White Sox. I attended Brown University where I double majored in Psychology and Literary Arts. I did my honors thesis in comedic screenwriting, but I pray no one ever gets their hands on the TV scripts I wrote. I may never work again. Though, they may just be proof that you can become a better writer. I moved to LA right after graduation and have been working in entertainment ever since.
Tell us about your journey to getting staffed and writing for television! What was your path like?
I got my first staffing job by working my way up within one show’s writers’ room. I was a literary manager’s assistant for a year before being hired as the Showrunner’s Assistant on Audience Network’s Rogue.
Rogue was a serialized crime thriller. I always assumed I’d write comedy, but a job to work on a TV show came, and I jumped at it. The writers’ room had just moved from Canada to LA for the shows third season, so almost everyone was new. I found out about the gig through a friend who worked at eOne, the show’s studio.
Funnily enough, I learned (after I was staffed) that I was originally the second choice for the job. That dude from WME who passed on the gig honestly gave me my break, so thanks whomever you are. Midway through breaking season three, the Showrunner moved to Canada for production. I originally thought I’d be out of a job when he left the country, but instead, he promoted me to Writers’ Assistant.
During my time as Writers’ Assistant, I really pushed myself to pitch plotlines, and whenever there was a scene the needed to be written overnight, I always offered to do it. By the end of twenty episodes, I’d made a few fans in the writers’ room. When the show got renewed for its final season, those writers encouraged the Showrunner to bump me up to Staff Writer, and he agreed.
A lot of people took chances on me, and I’m eternally grateful. In my experience, this method is the most tried and true way to get staffed. You work on a show and prove you deserve a spot at the (writers’) table. However, since this show, I haven’t been on a show that’s lasted more than one season, so… there are a million ways to get staffed; try them all.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about being part of a writers’ room?
A show is a ship. The Showrunner is the captain. Your job is just to row in the direction they tell you to. When you’re on staff, no one expects you to “fix” the show or have all the ideas. Your job is to help the Showrunner create theirshow. It may not always be the show you’d create, but the Showrunner is the leader and you need to follow their vision. Everyone from the PA to the Executive Producer is just trying to find where they can help and do that to the best of their ability. Also, writers’ rooms are sometimes together for over eight hours a day, five days a week, in one small room. Remember to be nice and be someone you’d want to be stuck in a room with (even when you’re hangry because lunch is late.)
When you start working on a new project, what is the first thing you do?
Ask my writers’ group if it’s actually a good idea… Then: Outline. Outline. Outline. I’m a huge structure nerd. I love developing characters voices as I write dialogue, so without a road map, I can quickly get off course.
Remember to be nice and be someone you’d want to be stuck in a room with (even when you’re hangry because lunch is late.)
What do you think makes a script stand out? What is the best way to get your writing noticed?
What makes a script stand out to me and what makes a script stand out in this industry are two very different questions. So, I’ll talk more about what the industry likes. Besides good writing, telling an authentic, unique story definitely catches eyes. I can’t tell you how many scripts I’ve read about a struggling actor/standup/writer trying to make it. Please don’t make me read another one! Most executives read thousands of scripts a year, so tell the story only you can tell. What story haven’t you seen on TV that’s personal to you? Write that. Don’t just pick a zeitgeisty topic and write about it. If you’re not passionate or knowledgeable about the material, it’ll show. Also, most executives don’t read past the first five pages, so don’t save the good stuff until the end.
What is your biggest challenge as a writer, and how do you overcome it?
Learning to write for myself. When I started working in drama TV, I spent many years writing what I thought people wanted from me. I was working on these crime dramas and getting promoted, so I thought this must be what I’m supposed to write. The scripts that came out of this mindset were solid, but they weren’t me. It was really scary to push aside the genre that was employing me and go back to writing for myself. Within the last few years, I have started writing comedy again, and it’s made writing fun again. In this business, it’s really hard to divert from the path that’s paying you. I still sometimes find myself slipping back into what’s safe, so I’m not all the way there yet. But I’m getting there.
Besides good writing, telling an authentic, unique story definitely catches eyes. Most executives read thousands of scripts a year, so tell the story only you can tell.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Actually write. It’s the only way you can get better. Plus, you never know when you’ll meet the person who will give you your break. You’ve gotta have scripts ready when that moment comes. No one shoots their first draft. Don’t let your first draft discourage you. Keep rewriting until you could actually see it being shot.
What are you currently watching?
I love Grace and Frankie. If a show’s key-demo is women over the age of 60, I’m obsessed. Also, I just finished Cheer. I’m trying to bring the terms “hit” and “making the mat” into everyday conversation, but it hasn’t caught on yet.
What inspires you?
People who dedicate their lives to public service, specifically toward our climate crisis. Lately, I can’t handle the news and find myself hiding from it. I’m so inspired by people who face the world’s issues head on.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
It’s actually from my mom. “You can be friends with anyone if you know what to expect from them.” Basically, if someone disappoints you once, don’t expect them to change. You just need to live with that part of their personality and then not put yourself in a situation to be disappointed by them again. It’s useful in life, but particularly in entertainment.
In a writers’ room, you’re required to spend a lot of time with people you might not otherwise hang out with. I’ve been lucky to primarily work with people I really love, but this advice has helped me through some tricky situations. This industry is all about connections, and if you can learn to look past people’s flaws, you’ll have a much better time. (However, there are obviously certain lines no one should ever cross, and if someone does, I’ve got no time for their friendship.)
Actually write. It’s the only way you can get better.