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MENTORING MATTERS - Think Before You Hit Send: Some Key Advice Heads Off Any Future Problems

Posted By Ken Kristensen, Thursday, April 4, 2019

I’m a TV and feature writer/producer. For the past three years, my fall/winter has been spent at the Marvel Television offices working on shows featuring the characters who shaped my childhood. Come spring/summer I will write Happy!, the relentlessly obscene action comedy on SyFy. And in between I pitch my own material or chase after open writing assignments.

The PGA mentoring program was on my radar. I applied for it in past years when I had a development deal at FX, but I wasn’t selected. Last year, when I sold a new project to a premium cable network, I decided to take another shot at getting a PGA mentor. What I wanted was one who is a writer/producer—more specifically, one who had successfully navigated complex development at this particular network, which is known for its rigorous and often lengthy development process. This time I got my wish.

The PGA gave me the name: Kirk Ellis. Wanting to get to know him as a writer/producer and as a person, I read interviews with Kirk before I reached out to him. When I eventually contacted him, by sheer coincidence we both happened to be spending a week in Palm Springs. We met for breakfast. My prep for this meeting was really coming up with a litany of my hopes and fears. After listening to my story, Kirk was very forthcoming about his own experiences, positive and negative. Perhaps more importantly, he was extremely supportive of my point of view—reassuring me that my instincts were dead right.

Cut to: months later. I had doubts that my vision for this project would be achievable because of some issues I was already running into. That’s when a voice popped into my head.

“When in doubt, call your mentor.”

A call with Kirk and several follow-up emails over the next couple months helped me run through the gauntlet of frustration and keep my cool. I’m sure everyone has written emails they later regret sending. I drafted several but waited to talk to Kirk before I sent them. If it weren’t for his advice on how to react to certain individuals, I might have blown it.

Cut to: now. The project is currently alive and well, and there’s a very real chance we will be shooting the pilot this summer. Until then, it’s winter, so I’m having fun in the Marvel Universe.

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