I first heard Erin Cardillo speak on a creators panel NYTVF held here in Los Angeles in February of 2016. I was immediately struck by her confidence, poise, and the ease with which she talked about writing. As someone who had barely begun screenwriting at the time, I soaked up her every word and added her to my mental list of Showrunners I hope to work with someday.
Two and a half years later, I’ve seen Erin speak on other panels and observed her from the periphery as her show Life Sentence, starring Lucy Hale and Elliot Knight, was shot and aired on the CW. Erin still impresses the hell out of me, and I was recently lucky enough to sit down and ask her about the journey she has taken to get here.
Hi Erin! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. You’re currently known for being a showrunner, but you started out as an actor and it looks (from IMDb) like you were pretty successful at it. Could you talk about your goals early on in your career and how they shifted to bring you where you are today?
I wanted to be an actor from the time I was three, but writing was always a big part of my creativity. When I was little, I used to write my own puppet shows and songs and because I was an only child, I always had an audience. I loved performing, but I loved creating the performances even more. In college, the same was true. I went to Northwestern for theater and was focused on acting, but I quickly became fascinated with the performance studies program and creating my own work.
Oh, that sounds really interesting! Performance studies?
That program was all about adapting novels, short stories, and poems, into theater pieces – the experimental nature of it was so appealing. After college, I went to New York and worked in the experimental theater scene, but I soon realized that I also needed to pay my bills, so I started acting in TV and I kind of got seduced by it. It led me out to LA where I pursued acting as a career (and I had one, some years), but writing was what filled the time in between auditions and jobs and I was so grateful to have that creative outlet.
I can understand that. That is a lot of why I started writing, as well.
Then I had an idea for a movie, which was the first time I considered writing as a profession. It took me a while to learn structure and find mentors, but a couple of years later I had my first spec and I got a lot of great feedback. At the time, it was even better feedback than I was getting as an actress.
That’s great! I can totally relate to that. So, you had written a piece that was getting some attention. What happened then?
Bigger agencies were suddenly interested. I was meeting executives at high levels and it seemed like I was being guided to focus my energy there. By the time Richard Keith and I started writing together in 2012, I had lit agents and was getting some traction in the feature world on my own. But our TV partnership took off quickly after we wrote our first spec, and TV writing kind of took over. Since 2013, we’ve sold 4 network pilots, gotten 2 on the air to series (Significant Mother and Life Sentence at CW) and did a season as Co-EPs on Fuller House for Netflix. And I’m still writing features on my own a bit (check out Isn’t It Romantic? coming to theaters Valentine’s Day 2019!)
That’s fantastic! So many successes as a writer. Is acting still a part of your career?
I guess I never really quit acting… I just got too busy to do it. But I do hope to come back to it at some point!
Very cool. Now, how did your writing partnership with Rich come about? What are the advantages/disadvantages to working that way?
That partnership started when Rich (who I’d met in acting class years prior) had an idea for a pilot and asked me to write it with him. I loved the idea, so I did, and it led to meetings and work and things snowballed from there. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Having another person to bounce ideas around with, break story with, run a show with… it’s such a blessing because it’s an incredible amount of work and pressure to handle on your own. Also, having a partner means you can’t get too precious about your ideas or get too militant about what you think is right. It becomes all about the collaboration, the best idea wins, and that sets you up to succeed when something gets made, because you’re used to working in a collaborative spirit when suddenly you have a million people weighing in on everything. Disadvantages for me have only been financial since we split a paycheck, but Rich and I like to think we’ll eventually achieve three times as much together than we might on our own. I’ve so enjoyed our partnership in TV and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
That’s such a nice sentiment! In general – what kinds of stories are you drawn to/do you feel compelled to get out into the world?
I mainly subscribe to the idea of “write what you know,” so most of what I’ve felt compelled to explore is my experience of being a woman with high aspirations who puts a lot of pressure on herself to succeed (for better and for worse).
That must be why I relate to a lot of your writing haha.
For a while I was focused on how that related to love, because I was single and dating and wondering why life was not a perfect rom-com, but over the years my focus has shifting to telling stories about how that notion relates to marriage, partnership, motherhood… though I like to find an interesting world or larger concept to lay on top of it.
What advice do you have for actors who want to transition to writing for TV?
Write. And LIVE A LIFE! And then write about the life you’re living. You cannot be good at this job if you don’t interface with your own humanity and the humanity around you. Actors are generally good at this because so much of their job is to study humanity, to find the voices of different characters, etc. Keep exploring your creativity in whatever form strikes you. You don’t have to give up acting to become a writer. Do it all and see how things unfold. One informs the other.
Oh my gosh, I love that. Awesome advice.
Erin had so many other incredible things to say about writing for TV, so this interview will continue next month with Part 2, where we discuss motherhood, the current political climate, and what she’s focusing on next. Be sure to check out Erin’s Twitter, Instagram, and IMDb pages to glean more insights from this creative and inspiring woman!