An Interview with Screenwriter Heather Marion

Heather Marion is originally from Superior, Nebraska, where she lived and worked in her family’s funeral home. She graduated from Concordia University–Nebraska, majoring in biochemistry, with the intent to dominate the mortuary empire. During a New York City exchange program, Heather became involved in theater, both writing and acting. She completed improvisational, stand-up, and sketch comedy training at the Upright Citizens Brigade, Comedy Cellar, and Magnet Theater before ditching her embalming tools and moving to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting.

After working as a development intern for Laura Ziskin, Heather became Executive Assistant to Jill Soloway, showrunner of Diablo Cody’s United States of Tara (Showtime) and co-showrunner of How to Make it in America (HBO). Heather then worked as Executive and Writer’s Assistant to Jeff Garlin during his work as Executive Producer/Co-star of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) and star of The Goldbergs (ABC). Heather became Garlin’s producing partner in 2012, earning the title of Associate Producer of his second feature film, Dealin’ with Idiots (IFC/Killer Films).

Meanwhile, Heather wrote and performed in weekly sketch shows at Straitjacket Society and the Upright Citizens Brigade, and attended graduate school full-time, receiving her MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA in June 2013. She worked as the Writers’ Assistant on Season One of the Vince Gilligan/Peter Gould Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul (AMC), while continuing to write and produce with Garlin. She took on a dual Writers’ Assistant/Script Coordinator role for Season Two of Better Call Saul, while co‐writing the finale with Gilligan, a script for which she was nominated for a 2017 WGA Award in both Episodic Drama and Outstanding Drama Series categories. She is currently staffed on the third season of the series. With one of her original pilot scripts, Bury Me, Heather was included as a writer in Sundance’s inaugural Episodic Story Lab. She is represented by William Morris Endeavor and Management 360.

Mitch Wieland conducted this interview by email between December 3, 2016 and January 24, 2017. On March 2-4 of this year, Heather will visit Boise State’s TV Narrative Initiative, a four-sequence class that focuses on long-form television: The Writers’ Room, Pre-production, Production, and Post-production. During this sequence of classes, MFA fiction students and selected undergrads from Creative Writing, Theater Arts, and Film Production will write and produce a pilot and two episodes of an original television show.

Wieland: You’ve recently finished writing your first solo script for Season Three of Better Call Saul. Could you tell us about that experience? We heard you went camping to do the actual writing.

Marion: Writing my first solo script was both exciting and terrifying. I wanted to do as well as I did with the finale of Season Two, so I put quite a bit of undue pressure on myself (what writer doesn’t?). I took a big binder full of our daily room notes, approximately 400 pages, and went camping in Northern California. No internet, no cell phones. I take a dictionary, a thesaurus (yes, old-school paper copies), and my iPod. I’ve written most of my scripts at least partially in another location: Santa Barbara, San Diego, Long Beach, San Francisco, and even Nebraska. If I tried to write in my apartment, I’d probably just end up daily reorganizing my bookshelves.

Each writer has his or her own process—I break down and slug scenes using the cards we’ve pinned on the board in our writers’ room. Then, I go through that big binder of room notes page by page to look for tent-pole plot points and general dialogue that I will work into my draft. After that super time-consuming process, the first order of business is my outline, a document approximately twelve to seventeen pages long. This is essentially my script in short story form. The outline takes me much longer than the script. Once I have my outline ready, I temp the scenes in my Final Draft file.

At that point, I get more detailed with any research necessary to complete my scenes in the script. I do all I can in research libraries on my own, and if I need extra help, I find it. For example, I called my cousin for information while I was writing the Season Two finale, because Tricia’s an ER nurse and we had a lot of medical tech in the episode. I also called my brother-in-law for the gun stuff (Yay Nebraska!). For my Season Three script, I reached out to my brother Rhys, who is in law school in Nebraska. Any outstanding questions, I will direct to our writers’ assistant or writers’ PA. Once my research is finished, I dive into the script and am off to the races.

Some writers get a rough draft out first and go back through for the rewrite; I tend to linger on a scene until I’m satisfied with it (as much as I can be satisfied with my own writing), and then I move on. If I get stuck, I write the scenes out of order. When I’ve got all the scenes written, it goes to the Script Coordinator.

Wieland: Could you talk more about the art of breaking down an episode in the writers’ room? Do you map out everything with the scene cards first, then discuss the individual scenes in more depth? Take us inside the writers’ room.

Marion: The first couple days of each episode is what we call “blue sky” discussion—”big picture” questions such as where we are in Jimmy’s journey, what Mike’s thinking coming off of the previous episode, etc. We talk about each of the characters, what they’re facing, and where they may be headed. After a couple big-picture days, we discuss potential scenes of the episode. Not in great detail, but with the major beats in place. When we are happy with those beats, we’ll put “temp cards” on the corkboard. These are general action and the emotional beats of the scenes.

When we’ve got a more solid shape forming, we go “brick by brick,” discussing each scene in depth. This sometimes includes movement/blocking and dialogue, first images and scene buttons. The cards are guideposts for the writers, not to be taken word for word. When we’ve got the scene in-depth, we turn the temp cards into meticulously worded “black cards” and move on.

The time it takes us to break each episode varies. Some break more quickly than others and the order and pace are unique for each episode. We do not move on when we’ve got it “good enough.” We take the time to make all the pieces fit and to make sure that each character’s actions are honest for him/her. When we look at the scenes individually and feel an organic honesty from the character that motivates forward momentum, we are ready to move on.

Each day of discussion is recorded by the Writers’ Assistant, who is the only person in the room with a computer of any kind. As the WA, I would simultaneously listen to the discussion and translate pitches into an easy-to-understand outline, which I would send to each of the writers at the end of the day. Depending on the day, we could have anywhere from ten to twenty pages of room notes. These notes compile throughout the breaking of the episode and are given to the writer in a binder once the episode is broken.

Wieland: What goes into getting ready to shoot an episode you’ve written? What’s the prepping stage like?

Marion: On our show, prep is just as important as writing and production. Our White Production Drafts are issued to the cast and crew. Our first meeting is casting concept, in which we have a conference call or in-person meeting with Sharon, Sherry, and Russell from Bialy Thomas, our LA casting office, and with Kiira, our head of “local” (ABQ and surrounding areas) casting. The writer and showrunners talk about types we envision for new roles, and our Writers’ Assistant, Script Coordinator, and Writers’ PA team up to create sides for the roles—these are the audition scenes the actors use. Many shows use the actual scene for casting. Our scripts are private, so the actors get a fake scene similar to the one we’ll shoot that encompasses the character traits we’re seeking.

After casting, we have a concept meeting with all the department heads to discuss major new locations, vehicles, and anything else the departments need a jump-start to acquire. Then scouting begins. Usually, the director is present for these, but the writer is still in Burbank. We have many teleconference meetings with Albuquerque since our writing/post and production offices are in different locations.

The writer flies to Albuquerque for his or her episode a few days before production begins. We go on a tech scout, revisiting the locations we’ve chosen along with department heads to discuss equipment placement and shots on the day. We have a final prop show-and-tell so the writer and showrunner are on the same page as the production design and props department and can make any adjustments needed.

Next are the production and tone meetings. The production meeting includes all department heads and is a page-by-page turning of the script to make sure all production details are in place. Finally, a tone meeting includes the writer, director, post producer, line producer, and showrunner. We talk through the beats of the scenes, important character moments, and the work needed from the director to make sure their plans match the feel of the show.

Often after the tone meeting, colored pages with revisions are made by the writer to include any necessary adjustments discussed in aforementioned meetings. The changes are cleared by the showrunners and distributed by our lovely Script Coordinator, Kathleen Foshee. Meanwhile, the First AD creates a one-line schedule and day out of days. Then, we’re ready to shoot!

Wieland: You co-wrote the Season Two finale with Vince Gilligan, which was nominated for a Writers Guild Award. What was it like to work on your first episode with one of the show’s creators?

Marion: I’ll say it again—it was both the most exciting and most terrifying assignment I’ve ever had! I’ll never forget the moment Vince and Peter casually asked me if I wanted to co-write the episode with Vince. Unreal!

Vince and Peter treat everyone in the room as an equal, so I was expected to speak up, take ownership of the script, and pitch in the room. That part took me a while to get used to, as I had spent the previous eight years as an assistant. Once the episode was broken in the room, Vince and I split the script 50/50. I took the Teaser, Act One, and Act Two. Vince wrote Act Three and Act Four. I did a lot of research, talked to a lot of experts, and clawed my way through my half. When we were finished with our halves, we swapped to read the other. I had major concerns that it would come out like a Frankenscript—Vince is such an amazing writer I thought there’d be no way I could make my half look like his.

By the time we were finished writing, we were already in Albuquerque for Vince’s director prep and it was time to issue the production draft. Vince gave me some verbal notes in his kitchen in Albuquerque. I took a day to make the changes, and we issued our production draft.

The rest went by in a blur, but Vince was extremely collaborative and I felt valuable and useful on set. It was the best experience of my life. The other writers—Peter, Tom, Genny, Gordon, Jonathan, and Ann were/are so supportive and encouraging. I’m very lucky to be in a room like that. We have incredible support in our office, with the Script Coordinator (Kathleen Foshee), Writers’ Assistant (Ariel Levine), Vince’s assistant and Co-Producer (Jenn Carroll), and Peter’s assistant (Desa Larkin-Boutte in the current season, and Joey Liew in Season Two); they’re always on point with research and with any supporting information we need to work on our drafts. They also take great care in generating all of the prop documents you see on-screen. I wish Jenn Carroll could be here to explain all she does, because my imagination doesn’t even stretch that far.

It was incredible to co-write an episode with one of the show’s creators and one of my personal heroes. I’m at a loss for words. I’m just as amazed by the folks behind the scenes, the producers, the cast, the crew, the studio—everyone who brought those words to life even more magically than I’d hoped.

Wieland: When you came back from hiatus after Season Two, did you and the other writers discuss the whole arc of Season Three at first, or does your group tend to work more organically, discovering the plot as you move forward with each episode? Did you have any major turning points in mind before you focused on writing the individual episodes? How does the Better Call Saul writers’ room start to break a brand-new season?

Marion: We are fortunate to have a bit of time at the beginning of the season of our writers’ room to discuss “big picture” or “blue sky” ideas. We talk about character beats we might see in the season. We review last season’s story and look carefully at the current emotional and physical state of each character. We talk about things we might owe the audience and things we’d like to hold a bit longer.

We have two corkboards in the room dedicated to the overall season, and we hang cards with the beats we discuss as placeholders. When it comes to breaking the actual episode, we work very organically, working beat by beat and step by step. We do not adhere strictly to the beats we discussed at the beginning of the season. This gives us the freedom to unwrap the story in a natural way.

Sometimes we end up using the early ideas, but in a different episode than we imagined, sometimes the beats change completely, and sometimes we don’t use them at all. But all of the discussion at the beginning is valuable for the journey of each character.

Wieland: Kim Wexler is a wonderfully complex character with a rich and nuanced inner life. Could you talk about how you and the writers approach character development on the show? How much do you investigate a character’s emotional and psychological life in the writers’ room? Their inner conflicts and needs and desires?

Marion: This investigation (I like how you put it, and am totally gonna use that phrase henceforth) is the most important component of story exploration in our writers’ room. I love that the audience sees Kim as a complex, independent character. I hope they see all the characters this way. We do not discuss characters in service of another character. We don’t start an episode by asking, “What do we need Kim to do for Jimmy to serve his arc?”

Rather than talking about arc or the dependence of one character on another, we look at what the character would truly be feeling and what his or her goals are, both independently and in their interactions with the other characters. Kim is hardworking, career-driven, logical, strong-willed—I could go on and on. I really admire her and I’m proud that she’s in our show. What’s more, Rhea Seehorn is kind and thoughtful and incredibly talented and we’re very fortunate to have her bringing Kim to life.

Wieland: In Tobias Wolff’s short story, “The Rich Brother,” two estranged brothers in their forties take a road trip together. During the car ride, the reader quickly intuits how a host of past grievances and rivalries and jealousies—and their mother’s sustained preference of one son over the other—are informing the present action. Could you talk about the Chuck and Saul storyline? One of the show’s many strengths is its exploration of the often difficult relationship between grown siblings.

Marion: I know which short story I’m reading next! I’m unfamiliar with that one, but it seems pretty relevant to the relationship between Chuck and Jimmy, doesn’t it? Their past and their grievances certainly inform their present action.

As is the case with most siblings, rivalry and contention usually isn’t attributed to just one circumstance. We’ve explored the relationship, past and present, between Chuck and Jimmy and have tried to be honest about their feelings—from both sides.

We see the story unfold primarily through Jimmy’s eyes, but when we think about Chuck’s POV, it’s important for us to consider not just Chuck’s sins, not just Chuck’s jealousy of or bitterness about Jimmy, but to consider Jimmy’s transgressions against his brother as well.

In Season One and parts of Season Two, we saw Jimmy make many of his career and personal decisions because of Chuck. Although the two are rife with disdain for one another, there have been times—such as when Jimmy was arrested in Illinois, or when Jimmy found the Sandpiper Case—in which the two present a united front. To me, their relationship is authentic and beautifully complicated. It can be difficult to come at the story without taking sides, but it’s important when trying to convey such a twisted brotherhood.

I’d be amiss to not give proper (endless) credit to Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean for their masterful, gripping performances, for all the work they do ahead of time to prepare for scenes, and for their ability to make my words sound better than I can imagine.

Wieland: How about Chuck and his unusual condition? In terms of an inner past wounding, Chuck carries with him the secret of knowing their mother called out Jimmy’s name right before her death. On a subconscious level, could Chuck’s condition be his way of coping with Jimmy’s chaotic return to his ordered life?

Marion: Chuck’s condition is certainly unusual. But in the writers’ room, we don’t treat it that way. Because the condition is real to Chuck, it’s real to us. It’s real to Jimmy. It’s real to everyone at HHM and everyone with whom Chuck interacts. To Chuck, it’s as real as a severe allergy to peanuts or bee stings or penicillin.

The secret Chuck keeps from Jimmy about their mother must weigh on him. Chuck is so scrupulous; his own morality is his strictest code and his structure for conduct. To Chuck, Jimmy has no business being a lawyer, because the law is sacred and becomes marred in Jimmy’s hands. Chuck got Jimmy his job in the mailroom, but it could be that Chuck wanted to keep Jimmy there. It could be that Jimmy’s chaotic way of handling the law and his clients exacerbates Chuck’s condition.

But as with any addiction or illness, there is rarely one single component that if removed would nullify the condition. It could be argued that Chuck’s condition would remain unchanged if Jimmy were in Chicago selling cars or scamming hotel guests. We haven’t seen nearly all of Chuck’s wounded past, but we can safely assume that his current psychosomatic condition has had physical ramifications that are affected by Jimmy’s previous and current choices.

Wieland: Your teacher at UCLA, the legendary Hal Ackerman, visited our MFA program last year, packing thirty-five years of screenwriting lectures into a fantastic three-hour class for our fiction writers. What was it like to study with Hal?

Marion: Hal Ackerman! Where do I even start? The man is brilliant. And kind. Smart and honest and insanely talented. Captivating and organized and magnetic. I’m beyond honored to have worked with him so closely and to have learned so much from him along the way.

There is a UCLA MFA professor from my hometown, Lew Hunter, who has been a mentor for me since high school. He encouraged me to make the move to LA and spoke often of Hal and of the Professional Program in Screenwriting, which was led by Hal at the time. I eventually moved to LA and enrolled in the program. Hal’s weekly lectures were invaluable. It was a large lecture class (we had smaller classes like you do for workshopping our actual scripts), so Hal became a celebrity to me.

When I applied to the MFA program in 2011, I was shocked to hear that I got an interview. When I learned it would be Hal doing the interviewing, I got so nervous! I practiced what I planned to say for hours in front of a mirror (none of it was actually what we talked about), and I got to my interview almost an hour early. The interview went well, and I was thrilled to hear that I got in.

I took a 434 with Hal my second year. I had an idea for a fantasy feature I’d always wanted to write, but I wanted to get better at writing before I tried it. I wrote it in a small-group 434 with Hal, and I did an independent study with him the following semester to make it even better. Your fiction writers are fortunate to have had a lecture with him, and I’m fortunate to have him in my life! The skills I learned in my UCLA MFA program are a large part of my journey and have given me the tools to get to where I am now.

Wieland: During his talk at Boise State, Hal focused on the construction of a scene, discussing how characters are often given opposing goals within a scene, how their individual desires and needs—both immediate and long-term—are set in opposition. Do you have any writers’ room examples of this concept from a scene in Better Call Saul?

Marion: There are a lot of great scenes in BCS that illustrate opposing goals, desires, and needs for the characters involved. We don’t often go into a scene to set the characters in opposition. They do that hard work for us by being honest and real and layered.

We could start at the very beginning of Better Call Saul. Gene by himself in Omaha, nostalgically watching the showmanship of Saul Goodman that he can no longer access. We see Jimmy in court, wanting to be paid for three defendants instead of one. We see the skate twins, who want money from an elderly woman they assume to be Mrs. Kettleman, and we see Tuco Salamanca respond unkindly to their goals.

From the simplicity of Jimmy drinking cucumber water in the nail salon that Mrs. Nguyen doesn’t want him to have, to the complexity of Jimmy obtaining Temporary Emergency Guardianship to order hospital tests Chuck adamantly refuses, to the hilarity of Pryce admitting to a false pie fetish to get his baseball cards back from Nacho, I’m proud that our show finds a way to mesh and contrast the natural inclinations of our characters.

Wieland: At Boise State, we often use the techniques of screenwriting—especially those of plot and structure—in our fiction writing classes. We like how good screenwriting regularly combines strong storytelling with character depth and complexity. What elements of screenwriting do you think would most benefit a writer of fiction?

Marion: Learning plot and structure first is elemental. It’s the foundation of every good story in every form and is crucial for every writer to understand. Once the rules are learned, they can be shaped in various ways—elongating seemingly commonplace moments for tension, holding seemingly important information from the audience for a more effective reveal, etc.

In this climate of tone-blending and the affluence of content, we have more freedom as writers to explore the conventionally accepted structure of drama. “Tone” is a word on which I try not to fixate while I’m writing. If the reader is confused about tone, it’s usually because the characters are not being completely honest to themselves, that I as a writer do not yet fully know them. Or that I am not fully letting go and allowing the story to unfold on its own.

For me, reading is the secret weapon of writing. I find the authors I adore and read everything they’ve done. I find scripts for almost every film I see, whether I loved it or hated it. I can learn as much from a “bad” movie as I can from a “good” one. Each show’s script looks and reads differently—from act breaks to act-outs to the number of acts, whether a teaser or cold open is used, whether a tag is necessary. Never stop reading. Never stop observing the people around you, without expectation or judgment. Your conflict and plot will find you.

Wieland: Could you talk about the special challenges of writing new, compelling story arcs while working to avoid inconsistencies with such established characters? How does the writers’ room keep track of events, actions, and details that took place over the five seasons of Breaking Bad while breaking new episodes of Better Call Saul?

Marion: The struggle is real. Better Call Saul is a unique show, because it’s technically an interquel—it takes place both before and after Breaking Bad. I had the unique perspective in Season One of being only one of two people in the writers’ office who didn’t work on Breaking Bad. I read all the Breaking Bad scripts and watched the series multiple times, but still didn’t have nearly the depth of understanding of the show as the other writers did. It’s been both fun and challenging to explore characters from Breaking Bad in more detail.

For technical consistencies, we rely on a master calendar that I started building Season One as the Writers’ Assistant. Whereas Breaking Bad took place over only about a year, Better Call Saul spans many years. We have a calendar that shows every story beat of Better Call Saul. If asked, we know on which date a particular event happened. We don’t adhere to it maniacally, but the day count is important for every department in production. Makeup needs to know how long it’s been since Mike got in a fight with Tuco, for example. We need to know how long it’s been since Jimmy started the Sandpiper Case, how long it’s been since we’ve seen particular characters together, etc.

It can be quite a challenge maintaining consistencies both with the calendar and with Breaking Bad, but we keep each other in check in the room, and our awesome assistants have added Breaking Bad events to our master calendar. Our department heads (and the whole crew, actually) are so stellar that they help us maintain consistency as well. Our Script Coordinator Kathleen makes sure the scripts read accurately and consistently.

The writer’s job on set is to protect the integrity and continuity of his or her script, but we have amazing producers on set as well. Melissa Bernstein, Robin Sweet, and Nina Jack are instrumental powerhouses on the ground in Albuquerque.

Wieland: You recently were in Albuquerque for the shooting of your episode. What was that experience like? What role does the writer play on set?

Marion: I was just in Albuquerque for the production of Season Three, Episode Eight. Episode 210 was directed by Vince, so this was the first time I’ve worked as the writer on set with a director outside of our writers’ room. Shadowing Vince, studying his storyboards, and listening to his problem-solving and actor direction was a truly transcendent experience. This time, I was honored and delighted to work with the incomparable Adam Bernstein. He is one of the most prepared, efficient, quickest-thinking, kindest directors I’ve known. Because of his vast and thorough prep, we got our coverage and made our days, with the crew on its toes to keep up with him.

The writer on set acts as a producer of the episode. As I mentioned earlier, we have amazing producers on the ground in ABQ, a rock star production office, and a professional family of a crew. The writer is our tie to the room in Burbank, and is an expert on not only this script, but also of the season’s story going forward. We know why the scene was broken the way it was, what each of the characters may be thinking, what potential questions the talent or department heads may have, details ranging from the time on characters’ watches to the motivation behind their words.

Adam is a veteran director of our show (and of Breaking Bad), so he was perpetually on point. If I had a note for the actor, I would give it to Adam at our monitor between takes, and he would relay the note to the actors. I also work with our wonderful Script Supervisor, Helen Caldwell, to maintain scripted dialogue and to make tweaks if necessary after rehearsals.

The writers fly to Albuquerque a couple days prior to shooting, in time for the tech scout and the tone meeting. Colored pages may be issued in prep or during production, so we have our script at the ready to make changes if needed. Our typical episode shoots in eight days. When we’re finished shooting, the writer flies back to LA, and is ready to jump into the editing bay once the Director’s Cut is finished.

Wieland: In addition to Better Call Saul, what are some of your favorite long-form television shows? Which ones have influenced you the most as a writer?

Marion: Here’s where you learn that I’m embarrassingly short-versed in cinephilia. I grew up in a town with no stoplights, with a movie theater that showed one PG or PG-13 movie on Fridays and Saturdays twice a month, and nobody had cable. I’m slowly building my library—so much to watch!

I loved The X-Files, Columbo, and Quantum Leap when I was younger. I love crime shows and am a sucker for Criminal Minds, 60 Minutes, Lock-Up Raw, etc. Maybe because I grew up in a funeral home? I dunno, but I tend to lean in to the dark shit. I loved working on Curb Your Enthusiasm and found it delightfully funny and brilliantly woven. The Sopranos, The Wire, and Damages have all informed my drama writing. So have my friends’ scripts! There are countless pilots I’ve read that haven’t been made that have made me better.

Recent favorites? Black Mirror, Broadchurch, Goliath, Fargo, The Night Of. Comedy is trickier for me. I really liked Baskets, Eastbound and Down, Fleabag, and The Last Man on Earth. I worked on United States of Tara, How to Make It in America, Curb, and The Goldbergs and like watching episodes of those from time to time. I write better when it’s not silent, so I often write to Arrested Development, The Simpsons, and Reno 911.

This question makes me want to spend my entire hiatus watching TV!

Wieland: What advice do you have for a student of the narrative arts?

Marion: If you have a back-up plan, do that. If you think, “Hey, I could always take over my dad’s bugle shop if this writing thing doesn’t work out,” go brush up on your rhythm, blues, and accounting skills. If you’re not sure what you want to do and you studied Pre-Med, go take your MCAT and apply to med school. It’s a shorter, more direct route for you to be a surgeon than a screenwriter. If you really, really want to write, let go of your safety nets. If you’re going to go, you gotta go all the way, because it’s hard as hell to do what you’re trying to do (apologies to my family in Nebraska for the cuss).

Find the writer, producer, actor, director, person, you most want to be like or whose work you admire the most. Try to get near them. For me, that first meant an unpaid internship with Laura Ziskin. Then, I found Jill Soloway and was her assistant for a year and a half. Then I targeted Jeff Garlin and was with him for almost five years. When I was ready, I applied to UCLA and the Sundance Writers’ Lab. Then, again when I was ready, I set my sights on the writers’ room I wanted to join. Be ready to work harder than you ever have, for more hours than you ever have. Be ready to do boring and/or seemingly pointless assistant work, even if there are days when you’re convinced a fourth grader could do what you paid tens of thousands of dollars to learn so that you wouldn’t have to do the day job you’re doing to make money. Do that work well, and with humility.

When you do find yourself in the company of someone you admire, listen more than you talk. When you land yourself a job, no matter what it is or no matter who works above or below you, always ask them what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. Your job as an assistant will be to be a damn good assistant, the best assistant your boss has ever had, not to ask your boss to read your scripts. Be the first one to work, the last to leave, and the kindest and most proactive person you can be while you’re there . . . without getting in your boss’s way.

There will be hard times. You’ll think that what you’re doing is pointless, that you’ll never make it beyond where you are, that everyone else around you is getting “lucky breaks.” It’s important to remember that someone else’s success does not equal your failure. Your voice is your own, and it is unique. Work hard, pay attention, and be kind: you will be asked to share your voice with the world at the right time, and you will be ready.

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