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The real story of my business: part six [finale!]

Today is the finale of The Scandalous Truth – a shocking, dramatic mini-series about how I created my dual-career as a Marketing/Business Strategist and Hollywood Screenwriter.

Twists and turns. Costly mistakes. Criminal clients. Cynics and doubters.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know…

Starting from day one.

If you’ve been following along – thank you! I hope even a small piece of my business journey helped you feel not so alone in your own.

If you missed the first five installments, start with Part One HERE and binge away. 🙂

When you’re finished, here is Part Six – The Final Chapter…

After our RV road trip adventure, my husband and I planted roots in Napa for a bit. Napa is beautiful, if a bit isolated. San Francisco takes about 90 minutes to get to (on a good day). Needless to say, I spent a lot of time chilling in the vines.

So, to entertain myself, I started popping into the local Starbucks, ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte (sugar + caffeine + whipped cream + cinnamon = HEAVEN) and I started writing an erotic novel. It was about a man who can see the future and predicts the death of a notorious politician’s wife. While he’s not supposed to intervene, he does, and this spirals into dangerous liaisons and incredibly high stakes. I never intended to share this book publicly—it was just a passion project, purely for my own amusement. I’d write scenes and send them to my friends and clients who would squeal with delight! “More, more!!!”

One day, while visiting LA for a speaking engagement, I picked up a book called The Coffee Break Screenwriter. It’s a book that teaches you how to write a screenplay in little mini bursts, in about 10 minutes a day.

“Huh, maybe my novel could be made into a TV show?” I wondered. I mean, I’ve always been a huge TV fanatic, so learning how to put together a screenplay might be really fun! Why not try?

I bought the book and immediately went to work. A few months later, I had a draft of a pilot episode. But I had no idea if it was any good. I contacted the author of the book and fortunately, she offered a service where she could read your script and give you some feedback. After our first convo, she asked me how long I’d been a screenwriter. I laughed and said I wasn’t—this was more of a hobby, just for fun. She was shocked and said my writing was really great—just as good as some professional screenwriters who’ve been working in Hollywood for years.

Now, I try to avoid getting overly caught up in other people’s opinions, but her comments definitely boosted my confidence. I started thinking to myself, “Maybe this is something I could pursue seriously, not just as a hobby…”

I mean, why not?

I revised my pilot script based on this woman’s feedback. Then I started poking around my community—friends, clients, customers, colleagues, Internet buddies. I asked everyone I could think of, “Do you know anybody who works in the TV industry? Or do you have a family member who does? Or a friend? Annnybody?” Turns out, plenty of people did! I worked my connections, called in some favors, and pretty soon I lined up coffee dates with showrunners, directors, producers, writers, tons of amazing people who generously shared their time with me, and gave me a rundown of the industry.

Of course, a few of those people gave me some well-intentioned—but very discouraging—advice. Several people told me:

“Don’t bother trying to break into the screenwriting biz. Ugh. It’s so competitive. It’s nearly impossible to get noticed.”

Others told me:

“Sure, you can become a professional screenwriter. But you’ll need to start out as an unpaid intern, then become someone’s assistant, and gradually work your way up the ladder. It will be at least 7 years before anyone even *looks* at a script you’ve written.”

And a few people said to me:

“You can’t enter this biz in your late 30s. Are you crazy? Stick with your current profession. It’s too late to dive into something totally new like this.”

My head started spinning. Were they right? Was this a totally idiotic pipe dream? I felt pretty bummed out for a few weeks.

But then, as luck would have it, I had one more meeting with a guy I really respected—a longtime TV industry veteran who’d worked on tons of great shows. We met at Starbucks, chatted and gossiped, laughed, and hit it off instantly. I told him some of the advice I’d been given, and asked for his thoughts. He shook his head dismissively, and then told me:

“Ignore all those people. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Just keep writing. Write, write, write. Write a script that’s REALLY good. Because good work always gets found.”

I left that meeting feeling ablaze with excitement. Yes! Good work always gets found! It’s so true. Whether you’re running a cupcake bakery or a life coaching biz or writing screenplays, if your work is seriously GOOD, then sooner or later, people will notice, and people will talk about you, and word-of-mouth buzz will spread.

I decided to adopt “Good Work Always Gets Found” as my personal motto. I threw myself into screenwriting with my whole heart. I wrote, wrote, and wrote. I stopped taking private clients so I could devote all my time to teaching my OBSESSED students and screenwriting. I’d write in the morning. At night. On the weekends. I’d schedule work-cations where I could write even more. Any possible moment—I’d squeeze in another page of dialogue, another revision, anything I could do.

I submitted my writing for competitions and grants. I wrote pitch emails to dozens of TV industry decision-makers. I lined up meetings and pitched my ideas in person. I went into every meeting with an upbeat “Who cares what happens!” attitude. I wasn’t pushy or desperate. I mean, I already had a successful career doing Marketing/Business Strategy—this whole TV thing was mainly just for fun! If someone eventually wanted to buy one of my scripts, OMG HOORAY! But if not, whatevs. I’d be fine either way.

One conversation led to another. My scripts got passed around. I got tons of rejections. But also, a little smattering of interest. In less than a year, I got offered my first real TV writing gig—writing an original movie for the Lifetime Network.

OMG.

It was really happening!!!

To backtrack a sec, I should mention that I got my gig with Lifetime because I wrote an entire sample movie script—for free—so I could show them what I was capable of creating. My writing was good enough to then land me that paid job. Just like my mentor promised: “Good work always gets found.”

After getting that first gig with Lifetime, lots of things happened in rapid succession. One of my mentors introduced me to a literary manager and we started working together. With his help, I eventually sold an original TV series called ADDICTED, loosely based on my scandalous, dark, twisted experiences in pharmaceuticals. (Remember that? From Part One of this series? Yup. Sometimes, everything comes full circle.)

My first movie, Girl Followed, premiered in April 2017 on Lifetime. I almost cried when I saw my name on screen for the first time. My friends flipped out, too. They took photos of their TV screens and screenshots on their computers—Screenplay by Melissa Cassera—and texted me, gushing, “You did it!!!!!!!!”

And that brings us to… today.

These days, a typical workweek looks like…

: Checking with my OBSESSED students, reviewing their assignments, and managing the lively online discussion group.

: Dashing off to meetings with producers and development executives, and of course… writing. Tons of writing. I’m currently writing the entire first season of ADDICTED, which is insanely fun.

: Taking spin TRX classes, enjoying all the coffee, snuggling with my Shih Tzu princess, Lily… and binge-watching shows like Glow and Game of Thrones or vintage episodes of Gossip Girl, or whatever my obsession of the moment might be.

So that’s my story, so far! It’s not a conventional career, but it’s exactly right for me, and I love it. After 11 years, things are finally starting to feel juuuust right. <3