Lena Waithe and Jay Fingers

Meeting Lena Waithe was Pretty Damn Awesome #JF2LA

Events Life Writing

Sometimes I think to myself, Was moving to Los Angeles a mistake? And then shit happens like last night and I say, Nah — you are exactly where you need to be.

On Wednesday I attended an “Inside the Writers Room” panel discussion with Lena Waithe and the writers of her hit Showtime series The Chi, including Cathy Kisayke, Marcus Gardley, and Justin Hillian, at the Writers Guild of America West. For the better part of two hours, these talented scribes spoke about how they crafted Season 1’s episodes, their inspirations and past struggles, and how exactly the show’s writers’ room works.

Writers Guild of America West

Lots of nuggets of wisdom were dropped, such as when Lena admitted that, even after the notoriety of winning an historic Emmy (for her work on Aziz Ansari‘s Netflix comedy Master of None), “No one has less power on their own show than a first-time creator.” She repeated that several times to hammer home the point. But given The Chi‘s success — “Ratings kept rising each week,” Lena said — and the fact that new showrunner Ayanna Floyd Davis is coming in for Season 2, it was kind of implied that there may be a redistribution of power.

After the discussion and Q&A, I had a chance to speak with each of the writers, and lemme tell you, I learned a hell of a lot.

Cathy Kisayke, a former script coordinator, advised that one should get out there, get as close to a production as possible, get whatever job you can get, and let everyone know what your goal is. Why? Because jobs such as script coordinator “aren’t advertised like that,” she said.

I really loved talking to Marcus Gardley and Justin Hillian, as both gentlemen had upbringings similar to mine: Lots of reading, and lots of writing to express and amuse themselves. When I admitted having a slight fear that I may be a late bloomer in the game, Marcus assured me, “You’re not. You’re at the right age. When you take those meetings, most people you’ll encounter will be your age, if not much older.”

Plus, he added, “you’ve got life experience that most of these young writers don’t have. That alone will make your writing better.”

wipes brow

And yes, I did speak with Lena herself. I told her how much of an inspiration she is and how much I dig her work, and then we spoke about Ready Player One. After telling her how much I loved her character Aitch, I asked if there was more acting on the level in her future.

“You never know,” Lena told me. “If Steven [Spielberg] contacts me, I’m contractually obligated [to do a sequel].”

Well, whatever the future holds, I know damn well Lena and her folks are going to kill it. Here’s hoping I follow in their footsteps.

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