Judalina Neira is a Staff Writer on VH1's Hit the Floor, which premeries its seecond season this Monday, May 26 @ 9/8c.
On Twitter, she's @TheJudalina.
1. How did you get your job on Hit the Floor?
Y'know how they always say that right when you stop looking for something, that's when you find it? (Yeah, I hate that saying, too. I should really stop looking for my lost keys for them to magically appear in my hands?)
Well, I guess "they" are right, because that's exactly what happened. I'd been so excited to be hired as a writer's assistant on Do No Harm in 2012 and to be in NBC's Writers on the Verge program in 2013. But even still, I was getting close but no cigar on the staffing circuit. It was last summer, after the traditional network staffing season had already finished, I was freelancing while working on my tan, when my agents told me I had a meeting for Hit the Floor.
A marathon session of the show, and a few in-person and over-the-phone interviews later, and I got a call saying I had the job. I think I played it pretty cool when my manager called with the news. Immediately after, though, I turned to my roomie and started to cry: "I'm getting into the union. I'm going to get health insurance." (I swear, the WGA did not pay or otherwise endorse this statement!)
2. What was writing your first episode like?
Like a lot of serial dramas, we break story as a room and the first couple episodes were assigned early on (so I knew within a month that I'd be writing episode 6). We had a loose idea of what big serialized story points we wanted to cover and then, as a room, pitched other more stand-alone stories to fill in any gaps.
One of the best pieces of advice I got on writing TV was while visiting Josh Friedman in The Finder's writers room during the NHMC writing program. Josh said study your showrunner's writing style. Down to the punctuation. Do they use -- or - ? Are they more poetic or prosaic? Are there words they're partial to? I'd keep a copy of my showrunner's outline or script on my desk and consult it to match character tone/voice.
All that said, you are going to be rewritten. Hopefully, though, you're turning in something where your boss feels like the rewriting is minimal and not like, "Oh god. There goes my weekend."
Notes are your scary-looking but actually really awesome friend. A chance to test out if what you're intending to do on the page is coming across. If something's not clicking with the network or producers, it's definitely not going to click for the audience.
3. Some people say that staff writers need to shut up and listen, while others say that you need to speak up enough and contribute enough ideas to earn your keep -- how have you approached that/what is your participation in the room like?
I'm a mouthy, Puerto-Rican gal, so my gut is always to speak up. That being said, the only real answer to this question is: It depends on your room.
Being in a writer's room is like striking up a conversation with a girl sitting alone at a bar. You've gotta be sensitive and really read the temperature. We're a small room so there's space to pipe up. But just like chatting with the hot girl at the bar, it's important to remember to listen, take cues, be respectful and most importantly, do your general best not to say stupid stuff.
4. How did you get your agent and/or manager?
Most of the reps I've worked with so far I've met at various mixers/social functions. I love to drink and chat to strangers. That's just me. If that's not you, reader, fear not. Referrals from repped friends or producers/execs, etc are the most common way, I believe. But if you, too, are partial to drinking and schmoozing, the above rules about chatting with the hot girl at the bar also apply to chatting up industry folks at events.
5. What's something you've learned about writing or the industry from your job?
There is no one single way to tell a story. This lesson makes me so happy, because sometimes when I'm working alone, I think - "Crap. This is terrible. This is WRONG. This is never going to work."
Then I remember every time I've seen a writer pitch a story or write a scene that was an approach I would have never considered that totally works. Then I go home and remind myself in my own writing: "Alright, girl. It's okay. You're not wrong, you just haven't figured out the Tim Gunn of it yet." With the Tim Gunn being only the best creative advice given ever: "Make it work."