ConQnA: Jo Roark

ConQnA kicks off with my first guest is Jo-Dean Roark who recently moved to LA to pursue TV writing!
Jo went to NYU at the same time I did and I got to help out a little on the set of her webseries Dorm Therapy. She’s developing another (awesome-sounding) webseries about a girl who can see the future when she applies make-up. Follow the show accounts on Facebook and Twitter, plus Jo’s own Twitter — It’ll premiere this spring! Jo has been a real big supporter of me, because that’s just the kind of person she is, and I’m really proud of her gumption to just get the work done. Here is her writing journey so far!

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Jo Roark Max Compact Table Read

Introduce yourself a little

My name is Jo-Dean. People call me Jo. I’m a picky TV watcher, except I do have a high tolerance for anime. I really like anime. And I have plans to go to Japan with my husband in 2018 because Hayao Miyazaki is building a theme park in Okinawa and I think about it all the time.

Why do you want to be a TV writer?

Growing up, I always noticed the influence television had on people. I like TV better than any other form of entertainment because you can sit with characters for years at a time and watch them grow and change and develop. I love the influential power of TV. It can dictate how we speak to each other and how we see the world. It’s an important industry to be in.

What show inspired you to be a TV writer?

I think it was definitely The Office. Freshman year of college, someone recommended that I watch it. It was the funniest and best thing I had ever seen. And I found myself coming up with all sorts of stories/situations the characters could find themselves in. Wanting to be an actress and wanting to be a TV writer aren’t too far apart. Both jobs involve big imaginations and creating something. I think my dream to act came from a deeper dream to write. I just never knew that it was a real job until the end of college.

Is there a particular episode of television that inspired you most of all?

The Office, Season 5, “Stress Relief”.

What resources do you look to when learning about craft?

  • TV Writing Workbook by Ellen Sandler.
  • Small Screen, Big Picture by Chad Gervich.
  • Writing classes out here in LA (I recommend Writing Pad and UCLA extension courses).
  • The Writer’s Guild Library, where there are a bunch of scripts and I met one of my closest friends out here.
  • TV writing panels.
  • TV writing podcasts (The Nerdist Podcast, Children of Tendu).
  • Google searching “how to be a good tv comedy writer.”

What resources do you look to when coming up with ideas?

My personal life. I think everyone writes what they know to some extent. I love looking at things I’ve experienced/observed, and then asking: “What if …?”

Favorite TV series of all time:

The Office and I Love Lucy.

Favorite episode of television ever: 

The Office, Season 5, “Stress Relief”.

Favorite TV series right now:

Superstore. I really like it and look forward to watching it when new episodes come out.

Favorite TV writer(s):

Mindy Kaling, Shonda Rhimes, Lennon Parham.

Fellowships or writing programs you’ve applied to, gotten into, are aspiring to apply to:

All of them!!!

What genres are you looking to write? What draws you to those choices?

Comedy everything. My goal/plan is to start with digital web series, super short-form (1-4 min episodes), then television comedy, then a movie that is comedy/fantasy/like Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazi but live action and starring Yara Shahidi (from black-ish) in her early twenties. Haha, that’s the plan.

Here might be a place you talk about diversity or any other industry issues that are important to you.

I’ve been on 10+ interviews since recently moving to LA, and I very RARELY see a person of color, and I have yet to see a black woman who looks like myself at any of the agency, management, and production offices I’ve been to. I find that when I’m interviewing, people are looking to see a young version of themselves–which is usually a white person. And that’s not me. And I get the logic of it. If I actually saw a young version of me applying for an assistant job ten years from now, I would be compelled to hire her, and I would give her favor over anyone else because I want to see “me” succeed. I want to help “me.” And that’s a part of the problem in Hollywood.
Another HUGE problem I’m going to rant about is how some, if not many, people in authority behave. Directors on set or managers/agents/executives feel powerful and it goes to their heads. This isn’t the case for everyone, but, I’ve had a 1st Assistant Director snatch my backpack away from me to use in a scene and then throw it across the floor when he was done with it. MY PHONE WAS IN THERE! But, he didn’t care about me as a human being. And later that same day, I saw this same 1st AD getting yelled at by his boss for something he did wrong. He was being treated in a very publicly disrespectful/unhelpful way and it all made sense to me.
You see, the disrespect often starts from the top and shuffles down to those of us at the bottom. Humility seems like a hard thing to achieve and keep hold of. But, we have to keep trying. If you find yourself successful in the entertainment industry, it’s not because you’re so great or so wonderful or especially talented. Keep yourself grounded. Help the background actors on set. Do things that are “beneath” you. That’s what life is about. And chasing status makes you a poor leader. There, I said it. Because I believe that’s true. I don’t want to be lead by someone who is only looking out for themselves and trying to make themselves look good. So, hopefully I don’t become that type of leader one day–because it could happen to any of us. Pride is such a sneaky thing. But, I believe in being a servant-leader or a leader that serves and I’m 100% sure that this concept could exist in Hollywood.

Here might be a place you eloquently fuss over how hard it is to be a writer. Because IT’S SO HARD GUYS. Share your feels here:

Writing takes a lot of self-discipline, which is why it’s hard. However, it feels good to have written. And I chase that feeling.

Any advice for aspiring screenwriters?

1. Force yourself to start writing and don’t listen to the voice that says you can’t. Because you can and there will ALWAYS be reasons not to write as long as you live.
2. Use the proper motivation for yourself. Personally, I have to adhere to deadlines to get a script done. So, I apply to contests and I even decided to write a pilot for my husband for his Christmas gift. Yes, I was still writing on December 23rd, but it got done because it had to get done and now he has a charming comedy about what our lives would be like if we had an arranged wedding and met at the altar. So, do whatever it takes to force yourself to finish the script.
3. Treat it like it’s your job. Wake up in the morning, do what it takes to get some peace of mind, and then start accomplishing writing goals for the day. Always move forward. Take what you do have and be grateful for it. Use it. Don’t focus on what others have or what you don’t have because that doesn’t lead to a fruitful writing career.
4. Create your own work. I just wrote a web series, Max Compact (shameless plug: like us on Facebook!), and we just had a table read, and we got a great producer attached, and now we’re looking for funding/sponsorships.
5. Ask and you shall receive. Had to get all Biblical on you because this is true and good way to live life. You never know what might happen if you ask for what you need! I found the producer’s email and asked if she’d be interested in working on my project and she decided to come to the table read. Now, I’m going to ask companies if they’d be interested in sponsoring said project and we’ll see where that goes. Use what you do have — which might just be a cell phone, a working computer, internet, and a lot of free time (like me!) — to get what you need and to fulfill the desires of your heart.
6. Have a great, supportive community. Especially if you just moved to LA, you need to get out there and go to EVERY networking event and meet people, not just because you want an industry job, but because you want friends who won’t let you give up on your dreams.

Thanks, Jo! Hope you enjoyed her inspiring words as much as I did. Remember, if you’d like to be featured in the series, email [email protected]!