Writer’s Corner is a place to get to know outstanding writers, talk about the craft of writing, career advice, share horror stories and find out more about compelling films, television shows, plays, etc. There’s so much great content out there being made by female creators, we should all be keeping an eye on these women.
Today we are featuring Lynelle White
Lynelle White is originally from Freeport, New York and was that weird girl who brought an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK lunch box to school back when it wasn’t exactly cool for a girl to be into that sort of stuff. Before pursuing a second career as a television writer, she was an active duty pilot in the United States Air Force. Lynelle acquired over 2200 flying hours conducting air refueling and VIP transport missions in support of operations such as Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. She was previously a staff writer on the Lifetime television drama ARMY WIVES and was more recently a staff writer on SyFy network’s zombie apocalypse series, Z NATION. Her most recent directorial effort, a short film she also wrote entitled AN UBER TALE, screened at the Silverlake Picture Show, the Alameda International Film Festival and the Short and Sweet Film Festival in Hollywood. Lynelle earned her M.F.A in Screenwriting from the University of California, Los Angeles in June 2017 and was shortly thereafter named a fellow in Film Independent’s Episodic Lab for television. She is the recipient of the 2016 NAACP/NBC Universal Television Fellowship and the 2017 Women in Film Eleanor Perry Writing Award. Lynelle’s original television pilot script, BATTLE BUDDIES, the story of two female Army soldiers returning home from war with mental and physical injuries, won the 2018 TalNexus Screenplay Competition for Best TV Series.
You have such a fascinating life story of going from real life pilot to screenwriter. Tell me about how that transition happened? Are there military skills that also apply to writing? How was writing on a show about the military after having lived it?
My last duty station in the Air Force was near St. Louis, Missouri. I knew that I wanted to move into a more creative field for the next chapter of my life so during my last two years on active duty, I began taking filmmaking and screenwriting classes in St. Louis. The courses gave me sufficient confidence to write and direct a handful of short films. The films were pretty awful but at least they helped me realize that working in film or television was what I wanted in the next chapter of my life.
Two military traits that apply to screenwriting are self-discipline and time-management. Much of being a professional screenwriter involves working independently to meet your own personal deadlines or those set by a studio/producer so I find those two traits to be really beneficial. Additionally, it’s engrained in me to always be on time for things which people in Hollywood also appreciate.
Writing on ARMY WIVES taught me that sometimes the details related to the military have to take a back seat to creating a compelling narrative. Our wonderful showrunner, Jeff Melvoin, always strove for accuracy in terms of the military aspects of the show but at the end of the day, we’re doing dramatic television and not a documentary.
You’ve written for a quite a few television shows, how did you get your first staff writer job?
I wrote and directed a few short films while living in St. Louis, MO. Around this time, a TV writer named Ken Lazebnik, who was originally from Missouri, came back to his hometown and held a two-week summer film institute strictly for women. I attended that program and in the years that followed, I kept in contact with Ken. I’m pretty sure Ken was the first person to ever look me in the eye and say, “You can do this. You can work in the film industry.” Ken later wrote an episode of ARMY WIVES during the show’s sixth season and for season seven, he forwarded my writing samples to the showrunner. Luckily, the showrunner was looking for someone with a military background to add to the room.
What advice would you give someone trying to staff on a show for the first time?
I would focus less on finding an agent/manager and concentrate more on connecting with other writers who get you. Focus on finding your tribe. None of my TV jobs came along because of an agent or manager. They came along because someone I knew recommended me for the job. Also, instead of spending time chasing down reps, put that same energy into making your script an authentic representation of your voice. Take classes and join writing groups.
Tells us about being in the different writers’ rooms. I hear a lot from women, specially women of color, that they were usually the only female in the room, and also usually the only person of color. Was that your experience? How did that affect the writing?
Being the “only one” in a space is something that I’m accustomed to since I came out of military aviation, which is dominated by white males. I’ve been fortunate that I was never the only woman or person of color in any of the TV writer rooms I’ve been in so far. And yes, I have had a showrunner make unfortunate sexist comments that I wanted to push back on. What hampered me was not so much my gender or race but being a lower-level writer on the show. You simply don’t have as much authority to object. You have to figure out a way to voice your objections respectfully and then let it go. I’ve never allowed anything negative that happened in the room to impact my script. I delivered the best script that I could based upon the agreed upon outline.
What makes someone a good staff writer? What skills does a writer need to thrive in a writers’ room?
Glen Mazzara, the former showrunner of THE WALKING DEAD and THE OMEN, once told me “that the fundamental job of the staff writer is to support the showrunner’s vision”. I thought this was a great piece of advice that I’ve kept with me. Mind you, the showrunner’s vision might change from day to day but the job of a staff writer is to constantly adjust and generate ideas to support. A good staff writer needs to be able to pivot quickly and not get stuck on one particular plot or character because everything is subject to change. And TV moves very fast. You also can’t take it personally if your story pitches are shot down. Let it go, move on and generate more ideas.
So much of our business is rejection and failure, tell us about how you deal with that difficult aspect of being a writer. Any good stories about failure that inspired you to create something new, or to make life changes or anything like that?
I keep a folder in my email inbox that is specifically for rejection notices. When a rejection comes in via email, I just move the letter into the “Rejection” box. The intent being to move the rejection out of my inbox as quickly as possible so I can mentally press on to the next thing. Onward and upward. One day in the future, I’ll go back and read the emails in the “Rejection” box and hopefully have a good laugh.
Failure and rejection have led me to adopt a meditation practice to fortify my mind. The goal is to have a clear mind that can deal with whatever challenges get thrown at it. That way the highs of the business never get too high and the lows never get too low.
Do you have a favorite project you’ve written that hasn’t been produced yet? What’s that dream project/passion project you’re hoping will get made soon?
I have two passion projects about female veterans since we are woefully underrepresented onscreen in film and television. Neither project has been produced yet but I remain optimistic. The first is a more procedural TV pilot called BATTLE BUDDIES about two young female Army soldiers who are injured in the Afghanistan war and decide to reinvent themselves as private investigators upon return home. The other is a historical fiction TV pilot called FLY GIRLS about the real-life Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) who flew military aircraft during World War II.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently a staff writer on the CW series BLACK LIGHTNING.
Where can we support you? (See your shows, buy your stuff?)
Tune in to BLACK LIGHTNING on the CW… not sure what time or date yet. You can also watch ARMY WIVES and Z NATION on Netflix.
What’s your social media handles and website?
You can find me on twitter @lynellewhite.