Growing up, I used to watch my favorite TV shows and wondered who came up with the storylines that kept me glued to my screen each week. I knew that there was a staff of writers who came up with the hot characters, addictive plots, and hooks that kept you coming back for more. But that was basically all I knew about Hollywood TV writers. Then I moved to LA, and started meeting these real life people. One of which is the very talented writer, Jenny Klein. I had a chance to chat with her about her writing endeavors, getting started in Hollywood, and being a staff writer for the ridiculously popular CW show, ‘Supernatural.’
Jenny! Thanks so much for taking the time to do the interview as I know you’re super busy. So, tell us a bit about your background and how you came to LA.
I’m from Skokie, IL and came to LA to major in screenwriting at USC. I was so excited to get into the filmic writing program, I couldn’t believe that the bulk of my assignments were going to be writing TV and movie scripts and I’d never have to take math ever again. I didn’t even bring a calculator to college. It was awesome.
When did you decide to pursue your dream of writing for TV? What shows influenced you growing up?
Shows that influenced me most growing up were The Twilight Zone, where every episode was a mind-bending experience, Seinfeld– one of the best examples of interwoven storylines and characters playing off each other– The Honeymooners, South Park, ER, and WB (now the CW) shows like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy. As a teen, those shows were like enhanced mirrors to the high school experience. I wasn’t dating but could get really into Dawson & Joey. I wasn’t fighting but could watch Buffy kick ass and then go to class. Pure wish fulfillment.
Pursuing screenwriting felt like a natural and exciting transition from writing stories, which I’d been doing since first grade as little story books out of cut-up pieces of paper I stapled together. Movies and TV were such a huge part of my family life, so when I was wrapping up high school and found out there was a program at USC where I could be taught how to write television and movies by professors who were also working screenwriters, I knew I had to apply. It was writing + TV… writing + movies… I couldn’t think of a more fun combination, and the idea that I could build a career out of it sounded almost too good to be true.
It’s awesome that you knew what you wanted to do from an early age. So, tell us…what was your first job in the business? Any horror stories you’d like to share and what you learned from them?
My first job in the business was as an intern for a great movie producer, Edward Saxon. In a way, I was spoiled by that experience because Ed is hilarious, smart and boundlessly kind, which I can’t say the same for everyone. But over my year at that internship, I learned how to do script coverage, hustle on errands, I learned about the development process, and one of the most important lessons of all– to be detail-oriented as an assistant. Sometimes things may seem small, like coffee orders or the copier getting jammed, but when messing those things up starts to add up, it reflects poorly on you as a worker. I started as the writers’ PA in Season 3 of Supernatural– a job that is overwhelmingly detail-oriented– and if I hadn’t learned early on to complete every task with equal responsibility, timeliness and effort, I doubt I’d have been promoted to writers’ assistant and gotten the chance to write my first episode in Season 7. I know not all writers make good assistants, but in my case, being a good assistant ultimately helped me land the opportunity to write.
I should probably also mention because it might be helpful– when I started interning for Ed, I also started interning for another Bigtime Producer Who Shall Not Be Named. I was one of four interns in a small office, the producer was mostly never there/was always traveling, and all the interns shared one old computer in one little cubicle. And the other three guys were all Ivy League. The whole thing was ridiculously idle and useless, I wasn’t learning anything, not to mention not being paid. I wasn’t being paid for Ed either, but I felt useful at Ed’s office, I was always busy there, I was learning, and getting something out of it– real experience. So after a month at Unnamed Bigtime Producer’s, I quit and started working full-time that summer as Ed’s main intern. I guess my advice from that is to not be afraid to walk away from a gig that really isn’t worth your time, then you can put more energy into something that is.
You just recently became a staff writer on CW’s ‘Supernatural (Congrats!) where you write about Sam and Dean fighting demons and monsters, etc… Do you ever get freaked out when you’re doing research on urban legends or supernatural beings?
Thanks, Kat! Yes sometimes I do get freaked out when I’m doing research, but that’s how I know I’m onto something good. When I’m brainstorming episode ideas, if I start to get scared or freaked out, I know I should write that one down because if it was enough to creep me out, hopefully it’s enough to creep out a TV audience.
Very true. It’s a pretty impressive achievement to get staffed on a flagship show like CW’s ‘Supernatural.’ What advice to you have to any aspiring tv writers out there who want to venture out to Hollywood? Any words of wisdom?
Work hard. Keep writing. Don’t give up. I’d also advise not hanging your hat on a single writing sample, even if it’s awesome and everybody loves it– always be writing something new, but never stop after just one draft of a script– hone it and hone it to get it from good to great. Rewrite and rewrite. Sometimes a script is just not right until draft 5 or 6. Don’t be afraid to make huge, page-one-rewrite changes to make a story you really believe in shine the way it deserves. Give your scripts to people whose opinions you respect and really address notes. Read your own work without preciousness, as if it were someone else’s– how would YOU note it? The best thing you can do for yourself is to be your own harshest critic. And if you write a script, don’t get too upset or down if nothing happens with it. Take it as learning experience to make your next script even better.
(Rocking the red boots on the ‘Supernatural’ set)
You also have a background in sketch comedy and you’ve performed all around LA as well as making some funny shorts. Do you see yourself going back to comedy? Do you think this background helps you in your current position at ‘Supernatural?’
I think my comedy background has helped a ton to make me a more well-rounded writer. I came out to California with the intent to write drama, then in college I fell in love with writing and performing sketch comedy, so I found myself writing a very earnest Holocaust movie and one-hour pilots while performing dick jokes around L.A. Knowing I am equally comfortable writing comedy and drama has made me feel equipped to tackle any writing challenge, especially on a show like Supernatural, where there are downright funny episodes as well as heart-wrenchingly sad episodes, often a mix of both.
Writing and producing over 40 sketch videos also gave me a big understanding and appreciation of the hard work that goes into production– I’d recommend all writers make at least a couple shorts themselves because physically knowing where to put the camera and how shots will cut together when you get in the editing bay can really inform the way a script is put together. Getting up on stage was super intimidating to me at first, but performing live comedy when I always strongly identified much more as a writer than performer has definitely made me a stronger pitcher than I’d otherwise be, and my experience writing sketches inclines me toward writing tighter scenes. Comedy is about the build from set-up to joke-punchline, and dramatic scenes build to an emotionally resonant dramatic “punchline,” but still– it’s a punch. As for returning to comedy, I’m so thrilled about being a one-hour TV writer and finding a place for myself in the genre world, but I wouldn’t eliminate comedy from my future. It’s fun, I love it, and who knows what’s ahead?
Very cool. So, when does your first episode of ‘Supernatural’ air? And why do you think the show is still going strong after 9 years?
It airs Tuesday, November 26 at 9/8c. And I think ‘Supernatural’ is still going strong after so many years because of the core relationship between Sam and Dean. Their bond has been tested season after season as they battle all sorts of crazy entities, earth-shattering circumstances and emotional struggles, but at the end of the day, the show is about two brothers and how they rely on each other.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Livin’ it up in the Hills?
In five years, I hope to still be writing TV. If that is the case, I will be so, so happy.
Some fun questions…
Last meal on earth?
Grilled cheese on challah bread with like 5 different kinds of stinky cheeses on it and a big bowl of creamy tomato soup to dip it in.
Go to drink?
Cherry Coke Zero!
Any advice you’d give to your 21 year old self?
Write what you want to write because that’s the time you can do it. You’re 21 and have that freedom and that applies to everything written on spec at present too. Also, don’t eat the KFC Popcorn Chicken because it is going to give you horrible food poisoning and will be seriously not worth it. And then two months later, don’t convince yourself that lightning doesn’t strike twice and go ahead and eat KFC Popcorn Chicken again, because lightning will strike twice, and it tastes like vomit.
For more on Jenny, follow Jenny on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out her episode airing Tuesday, November 26th at 9/8c.