1 Secret All Actors Should Know About the Writers’ Room

Article Image
Photo Source: Ibra Ake

Keep an eye on Stefani Robinson. The 24-year-old is enjoying a breakout year behind the scenes as a writer for FX’s lauded “Atlanta” with Donald Glover and FXX’s “Man Seeking Woman” Season 3.

So how is it that at age 24, you became a writer for “Atlanta”?
I had written a pilot in October 2015, just as a sample to help me get on shows. My manager had actually sent it out to FX just as a general, and it happened at the time that Donald [Glover] was looking for a young female writer to come on staff on “Atlanta.” The cool thing was that I’m from Atlanta. It really just felt like the stars were aligning. So that’s how I got onto “Atlanta.” I was forced to basically quit my job out of nowhere—I left my little agency [assistant] job and I started in the writers’ room.

READ: How to Get a Show on FX

That sounds like a great case of being in the right place at the right time.
What I’m learning about Hollywood in general is that you just have to be prepared for the moment. You have to be constantly working on your craft behind the scenes because you never know when a perfect opportunity will present itself.

What’s your relationship with actors like?
On “Man Seeking Woman,” we were very open with having actors come into the writers’ room and help pitch. Jay Baruchel actually came in for a day. It’s great to hear what actors are responding to and what they think is funny. At the end of the day, Jay has to perform this stuff, so when we pitch story ideas, it’s helpful for us to see what gets him excited.

Are there any misconceptions about the writers’ room you’d like to clear up?
It’s helpful to know that we care just as much about the characters and their story and their feelings and their backstories as the actors do. As actors bring characters to life, I think that writers do, too. And as an actor lives with the character for a long time and prepares to perform and becomes close with the character, writers do as well.

That’s important to remember, especially if an actor feels slighted by a script. Ultimately, you’re working for the greater good of the story.
Exactly, and that’s something we’ve run into in both writers’ rooms. At the end of the day, our job is to service the story, and that’s why we’re hired and that’s what we’re good at. We are tasked with making those decisions, and sometimes those decisions are hard. When we realize that an actor isn’t as prevalent in one season as they were last time or we start noticing this character doesn’t show up for a while—we just really have to think about what’s necessary for the story.

How does writing for “Atlanta” differ from “Man Seeking Woman”?
Donald, who runs the writers’ room [on “Atlanta”], is obviously the lead of the show, so that added an interesting element in the way that we’re writing. We interact with him every day; we get to learn his voice, we get to understand how he talks. It was helpful for me, at least, in the writing process to be so close to him and to get inside his thoughts and just know his brain. I think that “Atlanta” is more of a series where the structure is just different. We meet in Donald’s house; it’s more intimate; it’s less structured in terms of feeling like “work,” I guess, whereas “Man Seeking Woman” is pretty much the opposite. But not in a negative way at all. We come together in an office, we have set hours, and it’s very structured in the way that we talk about the story and the way that we talk about the characters. I think flexing both those muscles—where I’m coming from a place of more abstract storytelling and then more of a defined, rigid way of storytelling—is great, to sort of dabble in both of those methods.

“Man Seeking Woman” was a show that I loved. I watched the show religiously before I even knew that it was possible for me to get on the third season. That was super helpful for me, too, coming into the writers’ room. I had watched the characters so much and I felt like I had such a good handle on the actors that it was actually easier for me, I think, than “Atlanta,” where it’s a brand-new show [and] we’re exploring the characters for the first time.

Would you ever get in front of the camera as a writer-actor?
I wanted to be an actor. That’s what I wanted to come to L.A. to do, but I don’t think I had it in me to go all the way the way that I did for writing. I didn’t want to invest as much time and energy in it, in terms of headshots or constantly auditioning or taking classes and that kind of thing. But I did feel I was willing to put that into writing. For me, at the time, it was just the most fulfilling thing, and still is. But I definitely would love to be in front of a camera at some point if it feels right.

Want to star on an FX series? Check out our TV audition listings!