By Dayna Wilkinson
In the #HWire blog's "Where Are They Now?" series, we check in with Harvardwood program alums to find out what they've been up to and to showcase their accomplishments since participating with Harvardwood!
Jamie Mayer AB ’90 won the Harvardwood Writers Competition for her TV pilot Tomorrowland. She was one of eight television writers recently selected for the Women In Film/Black List Episodic Lab, and a short film she directed based on her feature script Crowbar Smile will be released this year by Conde Nast Entertainment. Her debut YA novel Painless will be published on February 14th.
“Always be writing. Make things, even on a small scale, because it keeps you agile and can lead to unexpected things.”
Q. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A. I grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, and that stuck pretty much until halfway through Harvard when I realized “hey, if I don’t take Organic Chemistry now, it’ll be too late!” So I decided I should probably major in the things I was really being drawn to, which were photography and film.
I wrote and directed several short films and left Harvard with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. I was inspired growing up by writer/directors like Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers—filmmakers who generate their own material and have a voice.
Q. How did you get started in the business?
A. I was the assistant to several producers and a director, where I got development and production experience. I finally saved up enough so I could stop working and write for six months. The result was my first feature script, Painless, which got me my first agent and into the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs. Since then I’ve sold and optioned features to studios and independent producers, and have written original and adapted scripts on assignment.
Q. How did participating in Harvardwood impact your career?
A. I had been writing feature scripts for a while, and had relationships with feature executives, representatives and so on. But the industry had shifted and like a lot of feature writers, I decided I wanted to write for television, which involves a different group of relationships. It meant starting over in a sense, but it’s also been energizing. Winning the Harvardwood Writers Competition helped with that transition, opening some doors on the television side and got me my first television agent.
Q. How do you feel about TV versus features?
A. I like both. I’m adapting a book into a feature right now, and was supervising producer and co-head writer for the first season of an A&E/Lifetime episodic digital project last year. Once you’re plugged into a project like that, you get the satisfaction of seeing it get made. That’s one thing that’s wonderful about television as opposed to features, where you can write and sell things with no certainty that they’ll be made.
Q. Going forward, what kinds of shows would you like to write?
A. Dramatic narratives are in my wheelhouse—shows like Westworld, Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black and American Crime. I'm also loving this new bunch of drama/comedy half hours like Better Things, Atlanta, I Love Dick—and of course Transparent.
Q. What’s in the works for 2017?
A. My YA novel (Painless, based on that very first feature script!) will be published and my short film (Crowbar Smile) will be released. I’m just wrapping up the first Women In Film/Black List Episodic Lab, am currently adapting a true survival story into a feature and hope to be directing the feature version of Crowbar Smile later this year. Stay tuned!
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers & directors?
A. Always be writing. And if you direct, make things, even on a small scale, because it keeps you agile and can lead to unexpected things.
A lot of writers are introverts and feature writers don’t naturally meet people as often as television and production people do. I’m terrible at this, but make yourself go to parties, make connections and network. Push yourself even if it’s not your nature.