…The movement of KINDNESS to one another. If we decide to be a little kinder — on the road, to someone in the street, to our co-workers, family… it makes a profound difference — not just for our own personal happiness but for the little part of the world under our influence.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luisa Leschin. She has participated in almost every aspect of the entertainment industry; as an actress, voice artist and television writer. She’s written for seminal shows such as George Lopez, Everybody Hates Chris, Eastlos High, Just Add Magic and currently on Mr. Iglesias.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Working as a young Latina actress in Hollywood, I was very successful. I was working all the time! But I got very depressed about the stereotypical roles I was getting cast in; hookers, drug mules, feisty gang- girls and pregnant cholas. I knew there was so much more to me than that. But I also knew that it had to change from the top down — I couldn’t complain about the one-dimensional characters from the sound stage. It had to change from the page — the writing. So that’s why I decided to become a writer. My goal was to see more Latinos on TV in non-stereotypical roles. And if we look at the television landscape today — look at all the wonderful Latinx stars and talent — we can see that much progress has been made!
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
To continue the story from my first answer… I had to ask myself… how am I going to become a writer? Well, three other disgruntled actor friends and myself decided to write some sketches! Our mandate to ourselves was to write about our individual experiences living as Latinos in the US. Latins Anonymous was born and written from my living. We wrote about body image, angry busboys, macho men, and we skewered all the stereotypes that were out there. We each pooled 50 dollars and rented a small theater. From the response, we instantly knew that we had something — we were hitting a universal nerve that applied to everyone who was ‘other’. Latins Anonymous went on to be a huge hit — running sold out at Los Angeles Theater Center, then at San Diego Repertory for another long run. Latins Anonymous was picked up by two producers with a deal at Imagine and we all were able to write a pilot, join the Writer’s Guild, and get an agent. So the message to all of us is — put in the work and anything is possible!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As a baby writer — I sold a movie to Universal Family on a pitch. It was my first big job! As I pitched, I said the story could take place in any integrated big city; L.A., Chicago, New York or Miami. I had lived in the first three cities but had never been to Miami. Of course, the executives said, “Let’s shoot in Miami!” And that changed everything! Because Latinos in Miami are Cuban — not Mexican or Central American — and socially and politically — they have a completely different life experience and POV. I had to do a ton of research on the Cuban culture for weeks before I could even start writing — and it changed a lot of my story. So the lesson is — don’t volunteer to set a story in a place you know nothing about! That was a rookie mistake and I paid for it with having to do a lot of extra work!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have several TV comedy shows I am developing currently. I am also very excited to be returning to work as a Co-EP for Mr. Iglesias’ second season.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I think not being a perfectionist leads to good writing! It’s hard to fight that little voice in your head, telling you that what you’re putting on the page isn’t ‘good enough’. The best advice I heard early on was ‘just write a first vomit pass’. Get something on the page. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be something, anything. Because great writing is re-writing. And that’s where the piece grows and deepens. Love the rewriting process! Also, give yourself a day or so off when you’re on a project. That way you can come back to it with fresh eyes and you can easily see all the improvements/changes that can be made.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a television writer? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
When I decided to become a television writer — I had a lot of things going against me; I was a woman, Latina and not a spring chicken! Most writers my age in Hollywood were finished just as I was starting! You overcome whatever obstacles might face you by, #1: Being great on the page. Your sample scripts can’t just be good — they have to stand-out. Always challenge yourself to have a stand-out story that the reader will remember. #2: Own your story — don’t apologize for it. Own it. For example, I was in my 40’s when I started to want to staff. Instead of feeling bad about that — I owned my story. I would talk about all the other things I’d been doing prior to writing and how all that life experience was going to be so valuable in a room!
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
The French writer Collette has been one of my biggest inspirations — not just with her superb writing and storytelling but also her early personal life is amazing. She was married at eighteen and her husband would lock her in a room and make her write! That’s how the Claudine series of books were written.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
Working mostly in comedy — I am very proud that I’ve worked on shows that make people laugh and feel good and maybe shed a little light on the common human experience. In these times — we all need to laugh and understand each other more and I think good comedy entertainment accomplishes that.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a television writer like you?
Write, write, write as many scripts as you can. Study writing. Try to get into one of the wonderful training programs that are out there (easier said than done). Develop a network of other writers and mentors. Your first job will always come from someone you know and have a relationship with. Make yourself an expert in the new platforms and take advantage of all the ways you can get your work shot and shown (sizzle reels, YouTube, student films, etc.) Identify clearly all the unique strengths you bring to the table.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
#1. “There’s no one out there like you.” I wish I had heard that and believed it! We are all the sum of our particular experiences; I grew up in Guatemala, my mother was a concert pianist, I lived in Europe…. All those life experiences have given me a unique perspective that others might not have.
#2. “Your social game is as important as your writing”. Be someone who is pleasant and fun so showrunners can see themselves spending 10 hours a day in a room with you. Just being nice might get you hired over someone else.
#3. “Life is full of ups and downs — that’s a guarantee.” If you are in a ‘down’ period — take it to the bank that you will also enjoy an ‘up’ period. Nothing is forever — be it good or bad.
#4. “You never know where or how your break will come from.” When you’re just starting out, say “Yes” to as much as you can; you never know who you will meet, what you will learn. But there is a caveat to this: at a certain point, you have to decide what might lead to something or just be a time suck.
#5. “Value yourself.” Which is what #1 says as well. When we walk into meetings, oftentimes, we are so aware of all the things that aren’t ‘just right’ or that we’re lacking. Fight to leave those insecurities at the door.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement of KINDNESS to one another. If we decide to be a little kinder — on the road, to someone in the street, to our co-workers, family… it makes a profound difference — not just for our own personal happiness but for the little part of the world under our influence.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!