The Writers Room

By Anne Burke
Photo by Jon Rou

Melissa Blake ’95 says she chose to attend LMU partly because of its screenwriting program, and she completed the program partly with financial help from a relative. Today, she and her husband, Roberto Orci, fund scholarships in the School of Film and Television screenwriting program that benefit two undergraduate students. SFTV grants undergraduate and graduate degrees in screenwriting for film and television. In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter named the school one of the top 10 film schools in the United States.

About the Author

Anne Burke is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, UCLA Magazine, VIA Magazine and other publications.

If Melissa Blake ’95 has learned anything from many years of long, caffeine-fueled sessions in the TV writers’ room, it’s this: “If you can’t play ball, if you can’t play nice with others, you’re not going to make it.”

Blake should know. The veteran writer-producer has penned episodes for a number of hit shows, among them “Heroes,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “Criminal Minds” and, most recently, “Sleepy Hollow.”

While Blake’s career has taken her to different networks and studios around Hollywood, the one constant has been her workplace setting: the TV writers’ room. That’s where writers gather around a conference table to bat around ideas and critique each other’s work.

It takes a certain kind of person to earn a seat at the table, Blake says. Writers who are thin-skinned or in constant need of ego stroking are probably in the wrong place. Writing a TV episode “is a long process,” she explains. “Your first draft isn’t necessarily going to be an award-winning script.”

Then there are those who speak without benefit of a tact filter. Ideally, the writers’ room is a safe space to toss out ideas, no matter how weird or off the wall. Hurt feelings rarely help achieve the common goal: a really terrific script.

“It’s all about collaboration, and all hands on deck,” Blake says.

Blake first learned the importance of collaboration in the TV writers’ room during an LMU course on writing for sit-coms. She found the process exhilarating. “Sharing my ideas, and giving and getting feedback — it was just something that I was really geared for,” she says.

The collaborative spirit imbues one of Blake’s latest endeavors. In addition to funding scholarships for LMU students, she and her husband, film and TV producer Roberto Orci, lead a graduate-level screenwriting course. As teachers, she and her husband get much more than they give, Blake says.

“Connecting with students and hearing their ideas — it truly reinvigorates us,” Blake says. “I could be working with some of these people in the future, and that would be great.”

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