Career Curves

Writing Your Own Career Story with Jamie Pachino

March 04, 2021 Host, Beth Davies Season 3 Episode 3
Career Curves
Writing Your Own Career Story with Jamie Pachino
Chapters
Career Curves
Writing Your Own Career Story with Jamie Pachino
Mar 04, 2021 Season 3 Episode 3
Host, Beth Davies

Jamie Pachino is currently the Co-Executive Producer on The Right Stuff for Disney+. She always thought that she’d be an actor for her career, but she fell in love with writing plays and scripts along the way. Her work has been produced in four countries, honored with numerous awards, and she’s written for major studios like DreamWorks, Disney, Lionsgate and more. Jamie shares how she did it and the lessons she learned along the way. It’s an inspiring story of someone who followed her passion into a career of her dreams, and the script on that career is not even close to finished!

Meet the Guest
Jamie Pachino
is an award winning playwright, screenwriter and TV writer. Her plays have been seen in four countries, published and named the winner of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays production grant, the Laurie Foundation Theatre Visionary Award, Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work, and the Francesca Primus Prize by the American Theatre Critics Association, among many others. Jamie’s plays have been produced, developed and read at Steppenwolf, Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, LCT3 (Lincoln Center), American Conservatory Theatre, Roundabout, Geva, San Jose Rep, Pasadena Playhouse, Northlight, Florida Stage, A Contemporary Theatre, and the Women’s Playwright Conference in Athens, Greece, among many others. 

Jamie has written on the staffs of TV series for Amazon (SNEAKY PETE, CHARLOTTE WALSH LIKES TO WIN), AMC (HALT AND CATCH FIRE), NBC (CHICAGO PD, THE BRAVE), TNT  (FRANKLIN & BASH) and USA (FAIRLY LEGAL). She has written features for DreamWorks, Disney, Lionsgate, Walden Media, Vanguard Films and others, and teleplays for Amazon, the Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lifetime, Up, and the Hallmark Channel. She is currently writing on the staff of THE RIGHT STUFF for Disney+, a pilot for Bad Robot Productions, and her screenplay MASTERPIECE has been optioned. 

Jamie has served on the faculties of Northwestern University (her alma mater), University of California Irvine, National Louis University, Columbia College and The Chicago Academy of the Arts. She is a proud member of the WGA, The Playwrights Center, and the International Center for Women Playwrights, and is represented by Kaplan Stahler Agency, APA (theatre), Harden Curtis (London), and Cartel Entertainment. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband Lindsay Jones and their two children.

Links
More at www.jamiepachino.com.

Show Notes Transcript

Jamie Pachino is currently the Co-Executive Producer on The Right Stuff for Disney+. She always thought that she’d be an actor for her career, but she fell in love with writing plays and scripts along the way. Her work has been produced in four countries, honored with numerous awards, and she’s written for major studios like DreamWorks, Disney, Lionsgate and more. Jamie shares how she did it and the lessons she learned along the way. It’s an inspiring story of someone who followed her passion into a career of her dreams, and the script on that career is not even close to finished!

Meet the Guest
Jamie Pachino
is an award winning playwright, screenwriter and TV writer. Her plays have been seen in four countries, published and named the winner of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays production grant, the Laurie Foundation Theatre Visionary Award, Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work, and the Francesca Primus Prize by the American Theatre Critics Association, among many others. Jamie’s plays have been produced, developed and read at Steppenwolf, Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, LCT3 (Lincoln Center), American Conservatory Theatre, Roundabout, Geva, San Jose Rep, Pasadena Playhouse, Northlight, Florida Stage, A Contemporary Theatre, and the Women’s Playwright Conference in Athens, Greece, among many others. 

Jamie has written on the staffs of TV series for Amazon (SNEAKY PETE, CHARLOTTE WALSH LIKES TO WIN), AMC (HALT AND CATCH FIRE), NBC (CHICAGO PD, THE BRAVE), TNT  (FRANKLIN & BASH) and USA (FAIRLY LEGAL). She has written features for DreamWorks, Disney, Lionsgate, Walden Media, Vanguard Films and others, and teleplays for Amazon, the Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lifetime, Up, and the Hallmark Channel. She is currently writing on the staff of THE RIGHT STUFF for Disney+, a pilot for Bad Robot Productions, and her screenplay MASTERPIECE has been optioned. 

Jamie has served on the faculties of Northwestern University (her alma mater), University of California Irvine, National Louis University, Columbia College and The Chicago Academy of the Arts. She is a proud member of the WGA, The Playwrights Center, and the International Center for Women Playwrights, and is represented by Kaplan Stahler Agency, APA (theatre), Harden Curtis (London), and Cartel Entertainment. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband Lindsay Jones and their two children.

Links
More at www.jamiepachino.com.

Beth Davies, host: If I told you that someone had 14 jobs in 13 years, you might assume they're unreliable or unfocused or some other adjective that implies they aren't driven and successful. The truth is that in some industries and fields, you need to work many jobs, often simultaneously, to be successful. 

Our guest on this episode, award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and television writer, Jamie Pachino works in one of these industries: entertainment. 

Welcome to Career Curves, where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are today. I'm your host, Beth Davies, and I'm thrilled to have Jamie as our latest guest. 

Currently, Jamie is working in television as co-executive producer on The Right Stuff for Disney+. Previously, she's been a co-executive producer and writer on programs, including Sneaky Pete, Halt and Catch Fire, Chicago PD, and a few beloved Christmas movies for Hallmark.

Her career extends beyond TV. As a playwright, Jamie's work has been produced in four countries and honored with numerous awards and nominations. And as a screenwriter, she's written features for DreamWorks, Disney, Lionsgate and more. Her career has also included stints as an actress, choreographer, teacher, and legal secretary.

It's commonly said that Hollywood is a tough business to break into and I'm thrilled to have Jamie here to share with us how she did it. 

So welcome, Jamie. 

Jamie Pachino, guest: Thank you so much for having me. 

Beth: I'd like to get started with what you're doing now. You're co-executive producer for The Right Stuff for Disney+. I have no experience with the whole entertainment world and don't even really understand the job title of co-executive producer. So, can you give us a sense of what does that mean and what are you doing as the co-executive producer for The Right Stuff? 

Jamie: Absolutely. "Producer" is a title that you get on TV when you've been writing for a while. So, when you first start out as a young writer, you're a staff writer, or you're a story editor. As you move up the food chain, you get a new title and it has producer tacked onto the end of it. So it's Consulting Producer, Supervising Producer... all those little names you see scrolling at the end of a show. 

A co-executive producer is sort of the last stop on the food chain before you become the executive producer or the showrunner. So you're kind of the #2 or the #3 in the Writing Room. 

What it means is you're writing and you're creating the episodes, but you're also producing the episodes. And that can mean anything from helping with casting, looking at wardrobe, being on set. And so, you get a lot of hats, basically, is what it means. You get more hats, the more you go, and the further up you get. 

Beth: Is part of this based on the idea that as a writer for the show, you have a vision for how it should be, and therefore, these additional roles are helping you fulfill that vision? 

Jamie: So in television series, specifically, the job of writer is a really unique one because what you're doing is you're writing in the voice of the showrunner and creator. So, let's say... Pick a show out of the air. Breaking Bad, which every writer loves and sort of worships. Vince Gilligan is the showrunner and creator of that show. Everybody who writes on that show is writing to his vision. And so when you're on set as a writer on a show that you haven't created and doesn't belong to you, you are there to execute that vision and make sure that you're in charge of it as a whole.

And what's really fascinating about being a writer in television is the director jobs-in, but the writers stays. So the writer is responsible for the tone and the content of the show in a way a director isn't on television, but is in the movies. 

Beth: Oh, it's fascinating. I just had no idea how all of this works.

So, I have another question for you about a show like The Right Stuff. It is a historical show based on NASA. How much of a history buff do you have to be, or even an expert in this area before you can get onto a show like The Right Stuff? 

Jamie: Okay, so the good news is you don't have to be an expert at all. It helps if you love history, or if you love this particular period, or you read about it like crazy when you were growing up, but it's not necessary. 

I was on a show called Halt and Catch Fire, which was on AMC, and it was a show about computers in Dallas, in the 80s. Again, something I knew nothing about that. But they have these marvelous things in Hollywood called Technical Consultants. So when I worked on Chicago PD, we had a cop who had been working on the job for 26 years, who would be there as an advisor, look at the scripts, help you on set. Same thing with The Right Stuff. The same thing with Halt and Catch Fire.

Some shows have researchers attached to them. Sometimes the writers’ assistants become researchers, but it's not a prerequisite. It's helpful, but it's not a prerequisite. 

Beth: Another mystery for those of us, like me, who aren't in this industry is how you get paid. And so this feels like a little bit of an awkward question, but I don't want to know how much you get paid, but how does that work? We'll hear about shows being created, but then they don't get picked up or then they don't happen, and yet there are people who've been working on it for a long time. Are you basically taking the gamble and if it doesn't get picked up, sorry, you didn't get paid or are you an employee of Disney+ and getting paid in the meantime? Again, help me understand this mystery. 

Jamie: Okay, so it goes like this. I'll give you an example from something I did previous to this, which was. There was a book called Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by a fabulous author named Joe Piazza. That book was optioned by an independent producer.

The independent producer sold the book and the option to WIIP, which is a production arm of CAA. WIIP took it to Amazon and Amazon said, "That sounds great. Let's do that." Now, WIIP takes all the financial responsibility until the show is picked up by Amazon. So, I am paid by WIIP until Amazon picks up the show.

So it's WIIP's risk, in this case. That's the game, which is there's a lot of reward, but there's a lot of risk. And I would say it's more risk than I deal with as a writer, because I wouldn't go on a show where I wasn't getting paid in a series situation. There's other things that I have taken risks on. Writing for series isn't one of them. 

Beth: Now if a series does get picked up, is there a difference in how you get paid then? Like if it hits the air as a writer, is that a bigger payday for you at that point? 

Jamie: So it depends a lot on what network or platform you're on. So if I'm writing for Chicago PD and I'm on NBC, when it airs, I get paid. I've been paid to write it and I've been paid to be on staff, but when it airs, I get paid and I get paid every time it airs on network or basic cable. That's the way that works. 

If I'm on Netflix or Amazon, if I'm on a streaming platform, I get paid under a completely different model in a completely different way.

I also write TV movies, and every time they air, I get what's called a residual. So I get a little bit of money every time it airs. 

Beth: Thank you for sharing that. It's part of what we're trying to do with this podcast which is to say to people, "Hey, let's expose for you how an industry works. Let's suppose that your parents work in a factory or your parents are attorneys, and you want to be doing what Jamie Pachino is doing. You want to be a script writer. You just have no idea how the industry works." And so, thank you. It's a big part of what we're trying to do. 

It also seems that it's pretty common in Hollywood and entertainment to be working on multiple projects simultaneously. Is that true for you right now as well? Or are you a hundred percent about The Right Stuff? 

Jamie: It is completely true and completely true for me right now. Just before we started this podcast, I finished a rewrite on a Hallmark Christmas movie that theoretically is shooting this quarter for this coming Christmas. I have a pilot at another company that we're hoping to go out and sell. And then you have what you have perpetually in this business, what's called "development," which is I'm trying to sell a pitch or I'm developing a pilot with a company that hasn't sold it to a network yet. Or we got a pilot picked up and we're hoping to get a series pick up.

There's just this endless loop of having to constantly be on the sales train, because you never know when the show that you're on is going to get canceled, or if it's going to get picked up and three things get picked up at the same time. There's just so many unknowns in this business that you constantly have to be generating material.

Beth: So you just mentioned being on the sales train. My belief is that writers have agents just like actors have agents. How much does an agent play a role in finding you these different types of jobs and being on that sales train for you?

Jamie: I have been incredibly lucky. I have a manager who started as my agent that I have been with since the '90s and an agent that I had been with almost as long. And these two women are the best teammates I've ever had in my life. 

I've said to young writers often when you're looking for representation, what you want is someone who likes what you do, understands what you do, can connect you to people who produce what you do, and has power enough to get you to those places. Those are really the fundamentals of it. And these two women have been not just partners in all of this, but champions. 

And so what an agent does is she recognizes opportunities for you in the marketplace, so that if there's a show that's about to open up a Writer's Room and she thinks that you're perfect for it, she gets your material to the showrunner or the producer that's working on the project and says, "You must meet Jamie. You must read her and you must meet her." 

If I generate the material, she's like, "I know exactly the right producers that we should take that to and see if they want to take it out with you." "Take it out" means to take it to the marketplace and try and sell it to one of the major studios or networks. 

And when there's downtime, when you're not working on a show and you don't have anything going on, they start to create meetings for you. So they're like, "You know who you should meet?" So that you start to build these relationships so when they have a show or they have a movie or they have what they call an open writing assignment, they go, "You know who would be right for this. Jamie would," and it's because your agent has been out there saying, "You know who he should meet, or you know who you should read, or you know what you should do? You should have Jamie."

And I happen to have the two best people in the world with my back on that. 

Beth: So you just mentioned that these are people that have been working with you, or at least one of them, since the nineties, which was a much earlier stage in your career -- and of course, we're going to spend a lot of time talking about those earlier stages -- but when you're advising people now, I think one of the questions would be, "When is it the right time for me to get an agent? I'm junior in my career. I'm just getting started." Is that the time to get an agent or is it once you have enough experience and enough of a reputation? What's that sweet spot for when this should be happening?

Jamie: It's a great question. If you are focused and dedicated and writing, and by "writing" I mean you haven't just written one screenplay and been like, "I'm a screenwriter. I should be produced in Hollywood tomorrow," but you have written. And you've done all the research. And you understand the industry. And you feel like you are ready to take a step. That's when you need partners. You could be 22 and be that person. You could be 40 and be that person. 

An agent has a sense... a good agent... has a sense of, "I can sell this person. This person is ready to be out having meetings, getting jobs." It's such a complicated industry, because you're getting notes all the time. It feels personal all the time. You have to know that somebody is ready to be able to go out there and say, "Here's this wonderful baby that I wrote that I'm so proud of," and somebody to look at it and be like, "I don't like the middle part." I think an agent has to know that you're ready for all of the pieces of the career and not just, "Oh, look, you have talent," but there's more to it than that. 

Beth: So now let's go back to the younger you and find out how you got to that point, where it was time for you to get an agent.

Let's go all the way back in time to your childhood. Tell me about your childhood and where you grew up. 

Jamie: I grew up in suburban Baltimore in a wonderful family with two older brothers. I was a giant show off and I needed to be on stage. So my mother went here to go to ballet class and that worked for a while.

And then I had dance teachers who said, "You know what, if you took an acting class, it would really expand your dancing ability," and I fell in love with acting the minute I went to class. I was probably about 11 or 12 when that started, but I always wanted to be on stage. I was a big ham.

Beth: So, what led you from stage to the writing side, which is really behind the scenes instead?

Jamie: I always wrote. I wrote short stories. I wrote on the literary magazine in high school. I never really took it seriously. I thought this is just this thing that I have some skill at, but I was never really serious. I was like, "I'm going to be an actress. I'm going to be a big star on Broadway. Look out world." 

It was my first job out of school, when I was working in as a legal secretary to pay the bills, that the head of the mail room and I became friends. And he said, "I bet you can't write a play." He bet me. And I was like, "I bet I could." 

We randomly picked a word out of the dictionary, like you fly through it and then you stop and you point at a word. The word was Mandrake, which was a wonderful word to write a play about. And I wrote my first play, and it got produced, and it went fine. 

So all of my actor friends were like, "Write us one." And I was like, "Okay," and I did. And little by little... 

I was an acting ensemble member at a Chicago theater company called Straw Dog, and they were like, "You're now our playwright in residence." So suddenly I not only had actors who wanted to work with me and develop plays, I had a theater where I could do it. And that was really the beginning.

Beth: We sort of took a jump in time, and so I want to...

Jamie: Yeah, sorry.

Beth: No, no, it's perfect. I love the stories, but I want to make sure that we pick up on some of these. So, here you were. You're a teenager you're interested in being an actress and you went to college. You went to Northwestern, right? 

Jamie: Yep. 

Beth: And majored in theater?

Jamie: That's right. I have an acting degree. 

Beth: And prior to talking to this guy in the mail room, what kind of a plan had you put in place for yourself? 

Jamie: I left Northwestern, moved into the city of Chicago, got a part-time, flexible job so that I could audition. That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on stage. And I was lucky. I worked a lot as an actor in Chicago in non-union theater. So not equity. Equity is the actors’ union. I was never a union actor, but there's a ton of non-union work in Chicago and it is the greatest training ground ever. I learned so much. 

And one of the other things that happened was I got to work on a lot of new plays. When you're an actor working on a new play, you're present for the writer when they're building it, when they're rewriting it, when they're changing it, when you suddenly have costumes and sets and lights and everything comes together. And so I was present a lot for new plays. And I think that kind of sunk in, but I was determined to be an actor until that bet, honest to God. 

Beth: With that bet, did you consciously make the decision to no longer be an actor?

Jamie: No, I acted and wrote for a while at the same time. I wrote plays and acted in plays simultaneously. And when I stopped acting, I was in my late twenties, I said, "I'm just going to take a break." So every now and then, I threaten that I'm going to go back to the stage. I always call myself a dormant actress, that someday I might erupt again, but I never quite left behind the idea that who knows? 

Also, it should be said, that on every single show I've ever written on, when the showrunner finds out that I was an actor, they're like, "Oh, we're going to put you in something."

And I'm like, "All I want is to have the 'do you want fries with that?' line in some episode, sometime." 

And they all say, "Oh, sure, absolutely. We're totally doing that," and they never do. And I'm still waiting. 

Beth: Okay, I'm going to look for you saying, " I want fries with that." 

Do you ever feel that you're having the actor's hat makes you a stronger and better writer?

Jamie: A million percent, yes. For so many reasons. One is I describe writing as "extended improv on paper where I get to be everybody." In the same way that you take a role, and you go through the emotional beats of it, and you understand it from a character point of view, my strength as a writer for TV has always been character and dialogue. That's where I come at it first, and I think that has a direct relationship to my acting training. 

It's also really helpful because you'll be on set and an actor will say, "I don't understand what I'm doing here," and you can speak in their language and you can help in a completely different way. So it's so, so useful. 

Beth: Once you made the switch in your late twenties to doing the writing, did you ever have that voice inside of yourself, maybe coming from a point of doubt, that said, "You know, this isn't what I studied. Maybe I need to go back to school and get a degree in writing, or maybe I need to get my master's in writing." Was that ever something that you considered? 

Jamie: I never thought about getting a writing degree and it should be said, and this is probably bad, but I've never taken a writing class. Like that's bad. 

Beth: I don't think it's bad at all. I think it's fabulous. 

Jamie: It should also be said that I'm married to a man who has an acting degree from the North Carolina School of the Arts, and he is now a Tony nominated sound designer and composer. So we have similar paths. We were both acting in Chicago when we met and he wound up getting tracked into sound design and composition. So, it's not unusual. 

And in fact, I did have doubts. I did wonder if I was doing the right thing. I had spent a lot of time and all of my training was an acting, but acting wasn't satisfying me anymore. I felt like I had reached, for lack of a better word, a glass ceiling as an actor where I didn't feel like I was going to get the roles that I wanted or that I was ready for. 

On the flip side, the writing was going so well, and it was so motivating, and it really did make me happy, and it really did fulfill me. And I thought, I got to chase the thing that is giving me back, that's feeding me, and not the thing that's not. And maybe that'll change. Who knows? But at that moment I was like, I just can't go backwards to the thing that's hurting my feelings. 

Beth: In these early days, you mentioned that you were working with a lot of different theater companies, non-equity, as you mentioned. So I'm going to guess, and you can please correct me, but I'm going to guess that means that they weren't paying the big bucks. 

Jamie: I mean, no theater pays the big bucks, but non-union theater pays the non-big bucks. I mean, if I got paid - because some of them I did do for free - I got paid very little.

Beth: So how do you support yourself? If this is your passion, this is what's fueling you. You see this is where you want to go, but you also have to eat and put a roof over your head. How did you manage that when you were early in your career? 

Jamie: Of the many things that I did, I type very fast -- which is helpful in writing too -- but I type very fast, so I did some secretarial work. I was a legal secretary for a while. I catered. I waited tables. I wrote. I taught. I coached. I choreographed. I did whatever somebody would pay me to do, frankly. And I did it all in a part-time way, because I knew if I got a full-time job, I wouldn't be able to pursue the things that I wanted to pursue in the way that I wanted. So I cobbled together a bunch of jobs so that I could eat and keep the lights on, but I never -- except for my very first job which is right out of college because I knew I wasn't going to get work right away -- but from then on, it was just about how can I piece this thing together so I can continue to do the thing I want to do.

Beth: Were others in your life, your parents or any other adults that mattered to you, encouraging of this cobbling together and practically unstable life? Or were others telling you, "This being an actor and being in theater has always been a good idea, but it's time that you got a real job"? 

Jamie: By the time I was 30, I was already sort of making a living in the arts. It was definitely my twenties that this escapade was all about. I have incredibly supportive parents. My dad unfortunately passed away when I was in my mid-twenties, but they were incredibly supportive. They never said, "What are you doing?" They never said, "Is this a good idea?" What my dad said right before I graduated college was, "Are you sure?"

And, I was. I was absolutely, 100% sure, and so he kind of left me alone about it to see me make my way. I supported myself. This was all of my doing. The apartments in Chicago that I lived in. Making sure that my car had gas in it. All of the things, but they were so emotionally supportive and it can't be overstated how much I credit the idea that nobody stood in my way and was like, "You're terrible. Don't do this."

Beth: Let's go back to that agent conversation. So again, you're in Chicago. You've discovered writing. You're starting to get some traction. You have a play produced. At what point did you figure out now is the time for me to get an agent? And what for you were the signs that the time was right? 

Jamie: So, I had acting agents who weren't great. Let's just put it that way. And so I had the experience of having a bad agent. And... 

Beth: Can I ask you a kind of a strange question? So you didn't continue down acting. It wasn't fueling you. Is it possible that your agents weren't great because they kind of knew that you weren't going to be really making it big time as an actor? 

Jamie: You know, it's possible. They were mostly agents for industrial, commercial, kind of work. They also ran away with all of their clients' money. So when I say they were bad agents... 

Beth: Oh, they were unethical. 

Jamie: They were legally bad. 

Beth: Got it. Okay. Got it. 

Jamie: But they also didn't see me in the way that I wanted to be seen. So that means I didn't have the right partners. It could also mean that I wasn't good enough, certainly, but I didn't have the right partners. 

So back to the original question, I had written probably five or six plays. They were all, thankfully, very well reviewed. Mostly they had been produced in Chicago.

I was just starting to get produced widely, meaning around the country in different theaters. And one of my plays wound up winning a lot of awards. The play made its way to a friend of mine who lives in Los Angeles and is a very successful TV and screenwriter. And he said, "I think this should be a movie."

And I thought, what does that look like? And it was right around the time I was thinking, "Am I moving to LA? Am I moving to New York? Like, what's happening?" We worked together on creating the pitch for it and we wound up selling it, and at that moment, he said, "You need to meet my agent," and that's how that happened.

When I found the agent that he had, it was Writers and Artists, an agency that doesn't exist anymore; now it's Paradigm. They had offices for theater in New York and film and TV in LA. He introduced me to his film and television agent, who I fell in love with, and this is the woman that I've been with a hundred years.

And she said, "I'd like to take you on," and I said, "I've never written anything for film and TV." And she just looked me right in the face and said, "You will," and she just had that much faith in me based on what she had read. 

And so, they put me in the New York office, and I worked with the playwriting agents while I developed my voice for TV and film.

Beth: Is this when you picked up and left Chicago or are we still much earlier in your career? 

Jamie: When I got my agent, I was in my late, late twenties. I had just taken the break from acting and had really started to focus on playwriting in particular, but the beginnings of a film and TV career. I didn't leave Chicago until I was 35.

I left Chicago pregnant with my son, my first child, and we moved on the strength of a blind script deal that I had with DreamWorks. So that the building period for me to, "I can support myself strictly as a writer," was sort of between those two poles: getting an agent and moving to LA.

I spent a lot of years traveling back and forth from Chicago to Los Angeles, and Chicago to New York. I took full advantage of my agents by going to those places and sitting down for a week. They would send me out to all of these meetings, so that I suddenly had a way to build relationships with the people that would be hiring when I was ready for that big leap.

And I got small jobs out of it. I got relationships out of it. I got into the Writer's Guild with the first job, and that was in 2002, which is also when I moved to Los Angeles. 

I'll give you the best example. While I was in Chicago, I got connected to an executive at DreamWorks who had a project that was with a producer that I had met. One of these relationships that I had built and introduced to. And it was this A- mazing project. I was desperate to work on it. I loved it. 

And we did this thing that doesn't happen that often, but we created a pitch for it. And we slowly built it and it slowly went up the food chain over at DreamWorks. It got to the top, to the heads of production, and they were like, "We love this, but part of this story is connected to the rights of something that's over at Paramount, so we have to collaborate with them." So now we got to go over there and pitch Paramount. We went over there and Paramount was like, "We love it, but we're not going to do it," and the whole thing fell apart. 

That was 10 months of my life. Building this thing, and creating these relationships, and wanting to see it happen, and desperate to do it, and thinking it'd be the best thing I ever worked on. It just fell apart like SNAP! And that's what happens in Los Angeles a lot; you just have to be prepared for it. 

The fallout from it was the executive at DreamWorks and the people that I had met and worked with over there liked working with me enough that they were like, "Hey, let's give you a blind script deal," and that's one of the ways that I made my way out to California. 

Beth: And what is a blind script deal?

Jamie: A blind deal is basically a studio or a network saying to you, "We want you to write something for us. So we're going to guarantee that we will pay you X amount of money and there will be a script at the end of it." There's no guarantee they'll make the script. There's no guarantee they'll like the script, but it's promising. That's the best way to describe it. 

And it's also money. So, when I was pregnant, and I was moving out here, and I was starting over again in a new city, to have the guarantee, to have somebody like DreamWorks say they're going to take this leap on you? And they, at that moment, were the studio of American Beauty and Road to Perdition. So this is a fantastic time to be in at the ground floor at DreamWorks, and they hadn't given out many blind deals, so I felt like, "Okay, somebody beyond my agents, beyond my parents, have some faith that I can do this." 

Beth: And at that point, does that make you an employee of them or does it just mean that you're under a single contract with them? 

Jamie: It's a single contract. 

Beth: So it's so interesting to hear, Jamie, everything that you're talking about because when I hear that somebody is a writer, I figure that the skills that they need to have are to be a good writer. Clearly, that's a piece of it. 

But what I'm also hearing in what you're talking about is this whole other set of skills, as well as personal attributes. Skills like relationship building, sales, the ability to present yourself, belief in yourself, confidence, resilience, industriousness.

So I think my question here is if you were advising people who are younger and interested in writing, what kinds of things would you say to them are essential in addition to being a good writer to actually be able to make it in this business? 

Jamie: What you say is completely true. It's really important to understand, first of all, you need to be a good writer. I mean, that is the fundamental thing. There are a lot of people who are great at showmanship and salesmanship and industrious and all of these things that you mentioned, and they can't put it on a page. You can't hire them. They can be great to hang around with, and have drinks with, and they can sell things and sell things. They never get made. 

The thing that I would say is every relationship is important. Every time you present yourself, it's an opportunity for something. Every story that you want to tell matters because it's connecting you to someone else that tells stories for a living. That's the job. And to really think about it this way, which is, when I walk into a room to pitch a television show, they're not just looking at me as a writer. I have to manage multi millions of dollars. If I'm a showrunner, I'm in charge of hiring every single person, of every head of department. I'm in charge of the vision of it. I'm in charge of communicating with all those people. And I have a budget. And I got to put those scripts in on time. They have to be good and they have to be on budget. So they are trusting you. 

Somebody said that this may be other day, which is, "It's the only job in the world where you walk in without a job and you walk out being in charge of multi-millions of dollars for a network or a studio." It's just insane. And to say that a writer is just a lonely writer typing in their garret as you picture them, is that it's a long road to figure out how to be that person.

And so, building relationships. Understanding what every job is particularly on a television show. How they all work together. How do you work on a deadline? Like that's huge. You have to be able to work on a deadline. You have to be able to take notes and not take them personally. There are so many pieces of being a writer that don't have to do with typing.

I wouldn't want a young writer in this particular business to think of it as being somehow Machiavellian about it, like you got to learn all these things so that you can rule the world. You have to learn them because you can't do the job otherwise. You can't be confident and good at it and lead. Ultimately, if you're a showrunner, you're a leader and for better or for worse, you've got to be good at it.

Beth: I think another piece goes probably to ego management, because you're describing all of these things that you have to do behind the scenes on a show. And then I think, as a watcher of the show, as a TV viewer, I only really see the actors. And then when I'm watching the Emmys or watching any kind of award shows, the big thing is the actors.

I mean, yeah, there's the other awards. How do you manage that? Where you're pouring your heart and soul into these projects and the glory is falling on somebody else? 

Jamie: The glory piece of it, I don't think is anything that I ever really think about. But the ego thing I think is really important. What you said was, "when you're pouring all of your passion into it." You just have to remember, so is everybody else. The actors are, but so is the costumers, so is the props person, so is the head of transportation. Right? All of these people have poured their personal passion. The head of wardrobe is a genius who has been working as hard as you have for as long as you have to be running the wardrobe on a show.

And so, in terms of the ego and the glory, it's everybody. If an actor goes up to get an award that means the show did something right. And so it really is about managing everybody's personal passion and everybody's vision. The showrunner job in that case is about aligning all of those people's visions so you're all telling one story well, in which case, the actor can go up and get an award. 

Beth: Go ahead and be that representative of the team. 

Jamie: Hell yeah. 

Beth: We were all in this. 

As we've talked about your career, we've talked about a lot of the things that really worked out well and went right for you. Does that mean that your path has been free of setbacks? 

Jamie: Does anybody answer that question with a yes?

Beth: I just thought I'd ask it that way. Can you tell us about something in particular that was really a big experience and a learning experience for you? 

Jamie: There have been many jobs that I have been up for that I haven't gotten. Writing jobs, acting jobs. And, it's part of the business. 

The first thing that came to mind was something that they said, it's your job. It was what they call an open writing assignment, which means they have a book or a true story or something, and they want a writer to fill it. And this studio came to me and they said, "We think it's you. We think it's you. Come in and pitch it. Come in and meet the people." Multiple meetings, multiple meetings, multiple meetings. Right before the last meeting, I was told they're talking to somebody else.

And I was like, "Wait, what? I thought this was mine." And they said, "Yeah, they just want to talk to one other person," and that guy got the job. And I was heartbroken. I think I'm still a little heartbroken. 

But the one that really sticks out from more recently, there was, again, very much, "These people want to talk to you. They're starting on Monday." Three giant female stars, based on a true story about three giant women, for a very high-end cable network that I hadn't worked at yet. And I was like, "Sign me up, sign me up." 

I got on a Zoom, because it was Zooming, with all of the people who were hiring. We had a spectacular meeting, like just amazing meeting, and at that point they said there is no one else. They're not talking to anybody else. They were like, "We're going to call you tomorrow." Tomorrow is Saturday. I was like, "Okay," and they're like, "We'll call you over the weekend. We're going to make sure we get this all sewn up."

And I didn't hear from them Saturday. And then I didn't hear from them Sunday. And I thought it's just the weekend. And then I didn't hear from them by mid-day Monday. And I called my agent. I was like, "This isn't happening, is it?" 

She's like, "I don't know what's going on, but this isn't good."

And by the end of the day, by like 4:30 on that Monday, she said, "They went another direction. But they loved you and they want to work with you in the future. And it shouldn't reflect badly on you," and like the whole... 

Beth: It's not you, it's us. 

Jamie: Right. And I was heartbroken. Like, I was just heartbroken. And the thing that you take away from it is, having been in a position to hire people before, all the cliches? They're true. Often. Which is it just didn't work out this time and it's not you. It's not that you're not talented. It's not that you weren't delightful in the meeting. It's not any of those things. It just simply isn't the right fit at this moment. 

The other thing that I have learned from it, and this is something I learned way, way, way, way back when I was auditioning as an actress: there's no such thing as a bad good audition. If you go in and you knock their socks off, whether as a writer or an actor, if you're great, even if they don't hire you for that role, they're going to recommend you for something else or they're going to bring you in for something else... 

Beth: You'll have left an impression. 

Jamie: Or they feel bad. They're like, "Oh, we wish we could have hired Jamie. Let's hire her on the next one." And so there's no such thing as bad goodwill. 

Beth: If somebody is getting into writing today, in today's world, which is a very different world than when you were getting started. Right? When we think about everything from cable and all of these different networks and all of these different companies, what is some top advice that you would give to somebody who's looking now to break into script writing whether for television or for movies? What's the advice that you would give them. 

Jamie: It's a great question because as William Goldman, the great screenwriter said about Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." 

Right now is a great time to be a writer out here because there's so much content. There are so many feeders of content. Not only do you have the major networks, the basic cables, the premium cables, the streaming services, there's YouTube, there's millions and millions of ways to find work. People need writers. That's the good news. 

You can also create your own material. You can shoot it on your iPhone. You can edit it on software on your computer. You can create a calling card for yourself of your own material. You can hire, like I did, my actor friends to do a show and you can do it now. You can even do it in quarantine. I've seen that people have created things. So there's no end to possibility is the good news.

The hard part is there's no real straight line anymore. It used to be, you get hired as a staff writer and you moved up the food chain. Or you got hired on a screenplay and if it did well, you got another screenplay. It just doesn't work like that anymore. 

So the answer is there's a million ways in. You could write a book. If the book is popular, you get optioned. You can write an article. You could be a journalist. 

Unfortunately I don't have the straight-line answer. The answer is the good news is there's lots of jobs. The trickier news is there are a million ways to come at it. 

Beth: I think that's good news though, because I think there's so many people who think, "I have to make the right next move," as opposed to there are so many different moves you could make, make a move. Just do something and then stay open to the fact that that's going to then lead to something else.

Jamie: It's an excellent point. Think about, particularly in comedy, think about all the comedians and writers who have gotten noticed on YouTube, on different platforms like that. And they have shows. They're finding people in so many different ways. 

I know a relative and friend of mine runs scripted for Snapchat, and they're interested in finding five- to six-minute script writers for content that's vertical and not horizontal like you look at your TV. 

Beth: Oh, so totally different form factor. 

Jamie: You can't have two people in a scene together in the same way. 

Beth: Oh, interesting. 

Jamie: I'm not the person who should be writing for Snapchat, but there's a 20-year-old out there that has exactly the right idea for what that should be.

Beth: I love it. 

Do you feel at this point like you've made it? 

Jamie: It's a great question. I definitely regard what I'm able to do as something that not everybody gets a chance to do. And so, I'm so grateful for it every single day. The thing about me is I'm restless. I'm just a restless person, so there are still more frontiers for me.

I have made it far. I will say it that way. I have made it very far and I still have horizons that I want to get to. 

Beth: What else do you have in your sights that you'd like to get to? 

Jamie: I'd like to run a show. I would. I'd like to create and run my own show, and I'm closer than I've ever been. I'm very lucky to have two pilots in two different production companies and a lot of opportunities just right ahead of me. 

And I've been really fortunate. I'm part of this thing the Writer's Guild does called the Showrunner Training Program, which is they bring in about 25 writers every year to talk to all of the great showrunners in town. And so, it's this 6-week program where once a week the greatest showrunners of all time are sitting in front of you telling you everything you want to know about showrunning, and it's phenomenal.

So I feel like I'm getting closer and closer every day, but it's a really weird world out here and you never know how it's going to go. 

Beth: I have just a couple of questions to wrap up our conversation. What would you say is the smartest career move you made, whether intentionally or accidentally?

Jamie: I think writing a play on a bet. 

Beth: Okay, and by the way, what is a mandrake? 

Jamie: Oh, a mandrake is a root that you pull out of the ground and when you do lore has it that it screams. That it takes human form and it screams. 

Beth: Oh, that's a perfect thing to write about because it could be anything from there.

Jamie: And it has a curse on it. I wrote a story about a mandrake tree, which doesn't exist, that was in the middle of this town and this family that had a curse on it. That was my first play. 

Beth: If you could have one do-over what would it be and why? 

Jamie: I wish that I had figured out I was a writer sooner.

Beth: That's funny though, because like we were saying, the fact that you have the actor background makes you stronger as a writer. 

Jamie: It's true. What's funny is because I sort of wrote all the time anyway, just without an end goal for it, I had an acting teacher in college and my father who both said, "You're a writer." And I was like, "No, I'm an actress," and that they both wound up being right is funny to me. So the signs were there. 

And also, this is actually amazing, the first job that I had out of college was as a receptionist at a law firm. And when you joined the firm, they gave you a questionnaire that they would put in their Friday newsletters. And the last two questions were, "Where do you see yourself in five years? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" 

I found the questionnaire many years later, probably 10 years later, I was in my 30s I guess by that point, and I looked at it. Where do you see yourself in five years? I had answered: produced playwright. And where do you see yourself in 10 years? I had answered: produced screenwriter. I had just graduated with an acting degree. 

Beth: Interesting. The signs were there. 

Jamie: The signs were there. 

Beth: If you could go back to your younger self and give one piece of career advice, what career advice would you give to the young Jamie?

Jamie: I would say every job matters. And I mean that sort of in two ways. One is that even when you are a legal secretary, even when you're a caterer, even when you're a choreographer, even when you're ... Every job teaches you something. And you have to act as if every job is the most important one so that you can get the most out of it.

Every job matters now, for me, because that's my reputation. That's my work ethic. And I've taken some jobs where it's just like, "I need to pay the rent. I'm going to pick up this thing because I'm able to." Every job matters. Because you never know where it's going to lead or what it's going to teach you. 

As a young person, every job matters because you're going to get so much out of everything. But every job matters as you continue on in your career, because it's the old thing of what they say which is, "How you do one thing is how you do everything." And that's true, especially in this business because as big as it feels like it might be in Hollywood, it's a tiny little town.

Beth: That's great. It's great advice. 

And my last question for you, how do you define success? 

Jamie: This one's actually easy. From the very, very beginning, even when I was an actor, all I wanted was to make a living doing something I loved. That was it. And so that I have been able to do that for such a long time now, and I continue to love it, I feel like that's the success part of it. 

Beth: Well, Jamie, thank you so much for sharing this very fascinating story that frankly is just a story in progress. And, I wish you great success on the rest of the journey. 

And again, just thank you so much for joining me today. 

Jamie: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Beth: A quick epilogue… in mid-February, an article came out listing the Top 50 Lifetime Movies of all time and one of Jamie’s projects, Not Like Everyone Else, made the list. Congratulations Jamie!

To learn more about Jamie’s work, visit her website, JamiePachino.com. We’ve put a link on our website, careercurves.com. While there, check out some of our past episodes. We’ve built up quite the collection since launching in 2019. 

Finally, please tell others about Career Curves and, if you like what we’re doing, leave a review on Apple Podcasts.

That’s it for this episode. As always, thanks for listening.