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 Natasha Tash Gray
Born and raised in the tumultuous streets of South Central LA, Tash says she barely resisted the urge to become a gangsta rapper. Instead, she pursued her education, BA (UCLA) and MA (SDSU) in Film/TV. Immediately following, Tash worked as an educational consultant and grant writer. After joining her first writing staff, Tash transitioned into a full-time writer. She’s also an accomplished director and has a TV movie, Daddy’s Home, streaming on UMCtv. Some of her comedy writing credits include, The Comedy Get Down starring George Lopez, Cedric the Entertainer, D.L.Hughley. Some of her drama writing credits include, Executive Producer, John Singleton’s Rebel, the much anticipated true crime saga Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. and most recently as Writer/Producer on P. Valley, set to premiere in Fall 2019, and season 3 of Snowfall on FX. As well as, Tash has two shows in development at Sony and Warner Horizon respectively. Ultimately, Tash says her goal is to prove that both her melanin and ovaries have super powers, so, her #blackgirlmagic is real.
Tash, did you always know you wanted to be a writer? How did you discover your love for writing?
I did not always love writing. In fact, one of my first life altering pieces of writing was the result of a punishment. After getting into a fight, mostly self-defense because I didn’t intentionally steal that girl’s boyfriend, I was sent to the dean of students. Instead of being suspended, I was told to write about what happened. It was an incredible challenge. I knew I had to tell a dynamic story. A story that would minimize the consequences. An hour later, the dean was praising my writing, enrolling in honors courses and no one called my mother. Writing saved me from an ass-whipping for fighting in school. I was curious as to how else it was relevant in “real life” and not just “school stuff.” From there on writing became both a “labor of love and act of defiance.”
Tash, you’re one of the few writers I know who has staffed as both a comedy and a drama writer. We often get told to pick a lane, pick a genre, define what specific type of stories you can tell. Since you have defied that by working in both formats, can you talk about the differences and similarities? Are there specific challenges that only exist in comedy or drama? Has it helped you get more jobs?
When I first began my professional pursuit of writing I wanted to write both comedy and drama. And you are absolutely correct I was told I had to choose one. I ignored the notion of picking a lane. One, I am simply rebellious, my biggest motivation is opposition. And two, my style of writing innately encompasses both. Even if I wanted to, I just didn’t have a choice. My drama writing has levity and my comedy is derived from darkness. Regardless, drama or comedy, my foundation is and will always be to tell a good authentic story. As a result, fundamentally the process is the same for writing both comedy and drama.
The only real differences worth mentioning are page count and word choices. Most are aware that comedy scripts are much shorter. But what’s often overlooked is that the same amount of story must still be accomplished. So, you work very economically. That has made me a concise writer. My drama peers often commend my ability to turn in scripts under page count. That is a direct result of having to tell a story and also be funny with less real estate. Then there are the words. Of course, words are important. However, a skill developed that’s specific to comedy is finding a word that serves multiple purposes. As writers we have to evoke emotion with the assembly of words. And sometimes the right combination is one word. Comedy lends itself to drama in that regard. When writing comedy script, I will often choose the “funny” sounding word. The same is now true for me when I write a drama script. Instead of writing a few sentences. I might just use a few words that relay the meaning while their sound seems to also convey the same message.
Do you prefer writing comedy or drama? How about television versus film? Do you find it easy to navigate these different genres and formats?
I enjoy whatever I am writing at the time the least. Never fails, if I am working on a comedy, I miss drama so much. I am not as prolific in film. I’ve recently embarked on more screenwriting journeys, but they are very different and require a different set of skills to navigate. Not necessarily the writing process, but the business of film and TV are not the same. On this new film writing assignment, there are things I miss, such as, the collaboration. In TV, when you are sent off to write your script, you are never alone. At any given time, you can go back to the room and present anything you are working through on the page. From a scene to an entire storyline, you can ask other smart people to assist you in the problem-solving process. TV writing makes you a super genius. That’s not true for film. There are the producers who are more than willing to discuss story. However, they are not a part of the writing process as in depth as other writers are in TV rooms. So, really in film you are only receiving random opinions. Most of the time, a bunch of opinions of what you should do is more confusing than helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I like both for different reasons. I just recognize the collective power of writing in TV that doesn’t really exist in film.
Have you had mentors in your career? Can you talk about what kind of impact a mentor can have in someone’s career?
One of my mentors was the late legendary John Singleton. His sudden passing forced me to reconcile our mentor/mentee relationship. What I realize is his mentorship emboldened me as a creative force. John called me his “secret weapon.” He doted on my abilities and talents. He made me believe I could conquer more than I had even imagined. Since I idolized his work, respected his creative vision, and admired his humanity, having John as a mentor fortified me. I was more confident because of his belief in me that rivaled and surpassed my own. I took bigger and bolder steps in my career because of his support. Having a mentor that had already defied the industry, as the youngest and first in many categories, I moved unafraid and knowing the impossible was possible.
Ultimately, a mentor chooses you. And when you are chosen, I recommend taking their guidance and using it as if it is a safety net you need to leap as high as you’d imagine. Mentors pave the road and then travel back to make sure you use the road.
Can you talk about the different writers’ room experiences you have? No need to name shows if you don’t want to, but what’s the good and the bad about being staffed on a show?
Every staffing job has been a unique experience. There are so many determining factors. How many writers are on the staff. How often and how long does the staff meet. What’s the lunch and snack situation, the nature and subject matter of the show. Important and little things all matter when it comes to the writers’ room experience. It’s like making a cake. Every cake needs the same basic ingredients. Flour. Butter. Eggs. Sugar. Baking powder. Combine and mix the correct ratios and you’ll have a cake. But what kind of cake? Add chocolate – that’s a different cake. Substitute butter with coconut oil, and you also a different cake. Best metaphor ever! I say all of that to illustrate the point that rooms are so different. After being in both large and small rooms, I have determined that I like smaller rooms. I know I like egalitarian rooms where the best ideas can come from anyone and titles are about pay scale and not room hierarchy. I like rooms that aren’t too strict but are structured. There are so many options, I have an idea of the best writers’ room but I am still open to variations.
Speaking of staffing, can you talk about climbing the ladder in the TV world? What’s the process of going from newbie staff writer to producer level?
A good friend and fellow writer once told me that in order to be a Showrunner, I would have to think like a SR from the start of my career. So, as a staff writer, I would pretend to be the showrunner in my head. This meant if there was a challenge, I approached it seeking solutions. If I didn’t know, I made it my mission to seek out the information or resource. As a problem solver, I was always proactive and useful. Too often, lower levels wait for direction or only do what they’re told. Unfortunately, that makes them and their work dispensable. The advice to be a Showrunner in training kept me active, always solving problems and contributing to the show. So, as my title changes, and my level of experience grows, I am always continuously finding new ways to be an asset. For those writers that don’t want to be a Showrunner, simply switch it to Co-Executive Producer. Either way, as a Co-EP or Showrunner in training you are making invaluable contributions without someone holding your hands. *Disclaimer* You are a Showrunner and Co EP in your mind only. Don’t take it too far and then say Tash told you to behave delusionally. LOL!
You are also a director. How did you get into directing? Can you talk about the differences and similarities between directing TV and Film? How did you writing background influence your approach to directing?
Initially, directing was my ultimate goal and writing was the means to get me to direct. So, when I began, I was simply writing to direct. Some years back, my day job was consulting and writing non-profit grants, and at night, I wrote, produced and then directed whatever I wrote. After being featured and awarded throughout the festival circuit, I was hopeful to receive representation. After not getting an agent or even a PA gig, I decided to shadow directors with aspirations of learning and networking at the same time. It was while I was shadowing the amazing Debbie Allen that I learned the most significant difference between TV and film directing. Film is a director’s medium and TV is a writer’s medium. In other words, the director is not the final word in television. Instead, the writer carries the vision of the story from concept to completion. In film, the director’s vision is “the” vision. Understanding that dynamic then also lends to realizing other pertinent variations that exists when directing film versus TV. That is the key difference to navigating in both words as a writer/director.
What’s the best and the worst advice you have ever received about the film and TV industry?
The best advice I have received was to endure the cycles to establish longevity. What she actually said was, “Do not get out of line, Tash. Your time is coming. And after that ends, don’t worry, it’ll come back again.” The pursuit of a writing career is a marathon. I had to prepare myself to be in it for the long haul, pressing forward through the ups and downs, living fully in my accomplishments and disappointments. There are no timelines in entertainment business. It doesn’t serve you or I to set goals based on a timeline and expect Hollywood to bend to timeframe. Instead, set realistic goals, consistently work on the craft, and be surrounded by motivational and supportive people who believed in the dream just as much, if not more. And that is where I realized I was in line to collect all the blessings that were mine. And as long as I didn’t “get out of line,” they were mine for the taking.
With that being said, the line is like the ones at amusement parks. The line wraps around at least three times. In other words, there are three cycles in this business. The first turn is where no one knows who the hell you are! “Tash who?” The second turn takes you to the front of the line where a few people know and possibly respect you. “Oh, Tash, yes I have heard great things about her.” And then after that last turn you move through to the front of the line where the right people know your name, your work and value you both without any hesitation. “Tash is amazing, I would love for her to work on this project. In fact, get me TASH!” That’s the place we all strive to get to and exist happily. But as I said, this is a line like the ones at amusement parks. Once you get on the ride, you ride the attraction and then you have to go to the end of the line and wait all over again to enjoy it. Best advice ever! As long as you are here and doing good work, you will continue to achieve your goals and then set new ones. Over and over again. Stay in the line and enjoy the adventure of your life.
What are you working on now?
I just wrapped the third season of Snowfall, on FX. I am in development with two studios to create and run my own show. And I am punching up a screenplay.
Where can we support you? Watch your shows, movies etc?
Watch as much TV and Film with beautiful diverse images as possible. I am either working on them or supporting friends that are working on them. My goal is to make this industry as inclusive are possible. So, you are supporting my vision and the legacy I plan to leave by supporting me and my colleagues.
What’s your website and social media handles?