4 Writers on the Scripts That Helped Them Quit Their Day Jobs

8:00 AM 11/13/2017

by Michael O'Connell

Cinderella stories still happen in Hollywood, as these young scribes reveal.

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This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Shay Hatten

    'Ballerina'

    Courtesy of CAA

    An internship with Robert and Susan Downey's Team Downey near the end of his Loyola Marymount tenure led to a writers assistant gig for Hatten — not that he kept it long. In July, at just 23, he sold the action script Ballerina to Lionsgate. The feature is being pitched as part of the "universe" of John Wick, the studio's R-rated sleeper hit franchise that already has grossed $260 million worldwide. "The thing I've missed most since leaving to write full time is the amazing beverage selection in their kitchen," jokes Hatten, who signed at CAA earlier in 2017 after his black comedy script Maximum King! landed high on the 2016 Black List. (He penned that script, a surrealist flick about the making of Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive, at just 22.) "I'm drinking a lot less coconut water these days, and I'm very sad about that."

     
  • Charlie Kesslering

    'Turned On'

    Courtesy of CAA

    Answering calls and managing schedules for the better part of the past decade, Kesslering was nearly making a career out of taking care of others — and, sometimes, their dogs. "I was coming up on two years as James Corden's assistant," says Kesslering, 28, who also covered desks at CAA. "I'd been an assistant in various capacities since 2011." That changed overnight when he sold the comedy feature Turned On in November 2016. The hot project, about an engineer who accidentally creates artificial intelligence while slacking off on the job, lured Bridesmaids director Paul Feig as a producer. "The most drastic change, lifestyle-wise, is no longer being able to park for free at CBS when I go next door to the Grove," he says. "I tried recently, and security confiscated my old ID badge. It felt like a chapter had finally been closed."

     
  • Stefani Robinson

    A pilot spec

    Courtesy of FX

    Robinson was pulling an odd double duty while working at Gersh straight out of college. Yes, she was an assistant, paying her dues in the below-the-line department, but TV lit agent (and fellow Emerson alum) Sean Barclay took an interest in her spec pilot and was quietly repping her on the side. It served her well. Robinson scored a coveted slot in the writers room of Donald Glover's Atlanta. "They were looking for a female writer, and I'm actually from Atlanta, so it was this strange aligning of the stars," says Robinson, now 25. But Atlanta was just the start. She moved to the FX comedy Man Seeking Woman, signed an overall deal with the network and sold the feminist fairy tale feature pitch Princeless — which Sony is eyeing as a franchise. "I went straight from a desk, getting people coffee and tracking clients' paychecks, to working in a writers room," says Robinson. "It's pretty nuts."

     
  • Evan Romansky

    'Ratched'

    Courtesy of CAA

    Barely out of film school at Loyola Marymount, Romansky was admittedly struggling to find assistant work when his spec (a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest prequel, focused on notorious pop-culture tyrant Nurse Ratched) nabbed him a manager at a pitch fest. Within a month, original film producer Michael Douglas was on board, and Romansky had signed with CAA, which brought client Ryan Murphy into the fold. Ratched got a lead in Murphy muse Sarah Paulson, and Netflix (competing with Apple and Hulu) gave it a two-season straight-to-series order. It was enough to give even the most seasoned scribe whiplash. "I still don't think I've fully returned to my body," says Romansky, who turns 27 on Nov. 19. "Everyone knows the most difficult part of trying to make it as a writer in this industry is breaking in … so it's all smooth sailing from here on out, right?"

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