As a champion of diverse voices and own voices, Kaia Alexander knows representation matters. She is bi and queer writer and would love to see more LGBTQ stories told and made. She's on a mission to help more writers who have been kept out of the industry get their stories out there.
When did you first start writing?
Kaia explains, she was always writing. As a child, she took comfort and solace in it. She started writing books at 7-years-old. She was the first writer in the family at that time, but then everyone in her family followed her lead. Her Mom and Step-Dad started writing when she was in her 20's. A cousin is now a children's book author and an Aunt is writing essays about southern living. She found out a Great Grandmother was an editor for a newspaper she owned and ran, at the turn of the century. That side of the family were alcoholics, so Great Grandma did what she had to and took over the paper to keep things running. After that, her Grandmother studied journalism and writing was passed down through generations.
When did you start writing screenplays?
Apparently screenplays came before she wrote novels. When she started writing them, there wasn't even software for writing screenplays. Because it was such an early part of her writing career, an early reader didn't give her the best praise and it scared her off writing completely. She even says, this reader should have been more kind and given her guidance and at least seen her talent in her writing. Something like, "yes you're green, but keep going". Luckily, she kept going even without that. At the time when she started writing, she only saw men writing TV, so she felt she didn't belong in that medium. Growing up in LA, if she would tell someone she was a writer, people would say, "Oh you mean an actor". So that made it hard for her to take her writing seriously.
Writing her first novel
As luck would have it, she met author Tom Robbins, author of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, which was later turned into a movie with Uma Thurman. After meeting in Hawaii, he started mentoring her. When she told him she wanted to write a novel when she was in her early 20's, he told her to write it long-hand in pen, said it would actually force her to finish it. He told her, "start with a title and write yourself into corners and it will force you to write yourself out of the corners". So with that advice, she starting writing what would become her novels in journals. Sadly, one was stolen from a coffee shop. Luckily, her mom Xeroxed it. Yay mom! But then it was time to transcribe the whole thing into her computer. At this point, she didn't even know how to type. So she had to teach herself how to type while she was transcribing. It wasn't pretty! In fact, she still has a weird typing style that she admits is very wrong. She says people who see her type are very confused.
Is it up to the writer to make things happen?
Kaia tells me that her first novel was published by Harper Collins. She did that deal herself, without a rep. She brought a rep into that deal because she networked and met the Senior VP of Harper Collins, and read her novel and she said, we want your book. There's nothing more powerful than the subject line of your email you're sending to say, "deal in hand" as you go to get a rep. There's a lot you can do if you have an Entertainment Attorney who is willing to help you, because they can go through unsolicited. They can help you if you don't have a rep.
Do managers work for you or themselves?
Most managers will have possibly hundreds of clients because they're making a percentage off of each client. They need a lot of sales to keep their lights on. They're constantly like, "squirrel" by each project. They have to be opportunistic by what the buyers want. They have to look at what the buyer's want in their network and think what do they want?
Went she back to writing screenplays
She found herself back in Los Angeles and astrologers kept telling her she had a destiny in film and TV. But she had no interest. She was interested in yoga and writing books! That was the life she planned for herself. But then in one of her yoga classes, she became friends with the owner of a production company. When he found out she was a committed novelist, he told her, "I need a Development Executive, come work for me". He explained her job would be to read scripts and help find stories. So apparently the astrologists were right!
Being a Development Exec
The first script she read and gave notes on was Just Friends which was cast with Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris and Amy Smart. This was when Anna Faris' career was launched, so she really enjoyed seeing this film put to life, and she got to see Anna's career born. Then after this film, she worked on The Good Night with Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Devito, Simon Pegg, Penelope Cruz and Martin Freeman. Kaia calls it the greatest movie you never heard of. Her boss even put $1 million of his own money into this movie, he believed in it so much. After this, she worked on Peaceful Warrior. She had read the book in high school, so when her boss asked what should we do, she told him, "we should do Peaceful Warrior". So he told her to find out who had the rights to the book, which turned out was Nick Nolte. Her boss said, "I want to work with Nick Nolte"! That's why this movie got made.
What's the difference between a Development Exec and Producer
For those of you wondering, a Development Exec is in-house in a studio, a Network, or a Production Company. They get paid a salary. Kaia did this job for a production company. The Development Exec is the buyer. They're looking at the attachments, saying, oh this script has Ryan Reynolds, we read it, it's high concept, we love it, New Line has put in X amount of money, and we'll bring in finishing funds. They bring in the financing, the attachments, like actor or director, and then they decide with their slate, does this align with our brand? Does it fill a slot on our slate that we want to do? And will it ultimately grow our brand? Will this movie be a hit and make us more successful? Kaia said she probably read 1000 to 2000 scripts. When you read this many scripts, even with big movie stars attached, you read stuff where you say, this is terrible. She would read scripts and her creative mind would come alive, thinking, you could do this or that to this script. So her job was to give notes as Development Exec to help the project succeed.
That's when she had ideas for scripts
The first script she wrote got lost with a computer crash. The next movie she wrote was called Small Talk. She got a producer attached to that one. Now has three scripts written. But then as projects happen, Small Talk lost its producer, because he quit the industry. But she kept going, kept having ideas. Now she has what she calls a boneyard. That's because every time she writes ideas, she keeps them in the boneyard. It's a keeper of awesome things that she can always go back to. She may use parts of them in other projects. If she overhears dialogue she likes, she puts them in her boneyard; she will write it down and have it as a resource for later.
She has a pilot out now with an A-list actress. She has an adaptation of her favorite memoir and is buttoning up the option now. She's also written a couple features she needs to get into the right hands. The Enchantment of Cary Grant she feels is the closest. She writes mostly comedy, or dramedy.
How Garry Shandling came into her life
Her friend Frank owned a shop called, Natural High, all bamboo and hemp clothing, on Main Street in Santa Monica and he needed someone to help. She loved retail, loved getting an eye on the world, she figured why not! So she worked a few Sundays. One day, she was folding shirts and sees a guy trying on a shirt and she can see him from behind and she sees an Enso tattoo. She blurts out, "you have an Enso tattoo on your neck"! So Garry whips around and looks at her, and says, "I've had this tattoo for years and no one knows what this is". He asks, "Who are you? Do you work here? What are you doing?" Her first thoughts are, did I do something wrong? Because he was intense.
How their friendship grew
Garry ends up hanging around the store and buying a few things. Then he invites her out to dinner with a friend, and gives her his number. But she feels a real connection to him. Even watching him on TV she felt he was talking to her. So seeing him in real life it felt like he was already her friend, and now here he is in person, and it still feels that way. It just really flowed for her. He tells her, "call me, come up to the house and teach me yoga". But she didn't think he really meant it. She put his card on her desk, and her roommate at the time was a bit crazy and coked out and the roommate throws the card away. So she figured, oh well, guess she won't call him. A week or so later, Garry calls her and he's like, "Kaia why haven't you called me? I need yoga! Can you come today?" That's how the friendship formed. She was so enthralled by everything between them that she kept notes while she was hanging out with him,hanging out all the time. Even Kevin Nealon said about Garry Shandling in the documentary, "He really changed my fabric" and Kaia couldn't agree more. She was seeing the world differently with him. She starts understanding the entertainment industry in a different way because he was really opening up to her about his experiences and letting himself be vulnerable.
Garry on manifestation
At the time they became friends, the book, The Secret was very big. So she asked him his thoughts on the book. If any of you know anything about Garry, you know he was a Buddhist and very zen, and big on manifestation. Kaia reads me an email from Garry, about that very thing. "Keep the mind empty, know your intention. Integrate it into every cell of your body and commit. And you can do anything. Remain unresult oriented but live moment by moment in process and what you are in this goalless unspeakable focused path will result in what you want. Thinking about what you want, and then acting like you're committed to getting it, to the degree of already getting it, is just a confusing way of twisting people around. Quantum mechanics and the field of energy that exists transmits on a frequency far deeper than thought. Sure thoughts will create reactions. Empty mind, pure heart, will result in being right where you're supposed to be. The Secret will get people to think about consciousness on a simple slightly distorted way but at least thinking about it. It's not a secret you can be whatever you want and make your life what you want. But it comes from a still place. Not the mind, thought, acting out place. Clear the mind and get out of your own way and be. You will automatically find natural action and discipline in which to find peace. Create the life and people you want around "forcing" is not the secret. One must be quiet and grateful for where they are before forward movement happens and then it will happen organically." Wow, some very wise words from a deeply spiritual man. Make of it what you want, but we all know Garry was a very successful man, so if you don't believe in manifestation, explain why he did and was so successful.
Living in LA
Kaia believes all these experiences happened for her because she lived in LA. She believes if you want to be in the industry and you live in the area where the industry happens, it helps to live and sleep in that area. Because you run into it everywhere in an area that you won't.
Does she believe you need to move to LA?
She knows writers who have gotten reps and don't live in Los Angeles. Yes you can write features and other things and not live in LA. Things have changed and people can succeed outside of LA. But once you get in, the industry stays hard. Your competition is the people you see on TV. So to stay top of mind, get those meetings because the hustle never stops. You also have to love the hustle. Kaia loves to make things happen. She is only an hour away from LA. She can get to LA quickly. She does have one TV sample so if it gets made she'd have to move to LA. And she would. But she's also not relying on the entertainment business to pay for all her bills. She also has her own business, to pay for the bills. But if she was relying on the entertainment business to pay her bills as a writer, she wouldn't take that risk by not living in LA. If you look at the stats of the Writers Guild she says a third of the writers are unemployed at a given time. So whatever you can do to improve your odds, do it. A writer friend of hers who is a showrunner with four shows, met her manager at the WGA office. She would go there to work in their space and met him there. Just being in the world of LA, being out, going to Margaret Herrick Library or the DGA, and being able to be immersed in it if you're committing to making this your career.
How Garry got his rep
He wrote a spec script for a show called Sampson and Son. He writes it and has a friend whose uncle is running the show, so he asks his friend if he can give it to him. The guy liked it, says this is pretty funny, and gave him notes. Garry integrates the notes, turns it back in on time, and he says we're going to use it, and buys it from Garry. So Garry is now in the writer's room, which is across the hallway from Welcome Back Kotter. So the lead of Welcome Back Kotter sees him and goes, who are you? Garry says, I'm writing for this show. They say, we need another writer. You write comedy? Suddenly, he's writing for two of the biggest comedy shows on TV at this time. His friend tells him, you should probably get an agent. He tells Garry, I'll introduce you to one and tell him what you're working on. Garry calls the agent and says where he's working. But the agent misunderstands him and thinks he says, he wants to write on those shows. Garry says, no I'm already writing on these shows. So the agent hangs up on him because he thinks he's lying. So the agent does some research and finds out he is working on those shows. The agent calls back 15 minutes later, and has 30 meetings set up for Garry all over town. He tells Garry, you're my next client, you're the next big thing, and he helps his career take off. That's what Kaia calls possibility thinking. Somebody needs you. You just have to figure out who that is.
Find your wolfpack
This is something Kaia talk about often in her Entertainment Business School. You have to find your Wolfpack. You have to link elbows. When she does her podcast, Entertainment Business Wisdom, she asks guests like, Mike Medavoy, Scott Gardenhour, and Debbie Liebling, "who's your Wolfpack?" they instantly say, "It's my wife" "it's my agent" "It's my manager". They know who is in their wolfpack. Who circles them and helps them and who they lean on. If you loan wolf, you will starve in this industry. You won't make it.
What is the Entertainment Business School?
Kaia realized she was meeting so many talented and amazing creatives. But they were having trouble with their deals, they didn't know if they needed to start their own company, and what to do with to do with their taxes. These are all things that make up the business of entertainment. But writers and creatives don't know the business side, or negotiating, so then they find they were trusting blindly people on their team, hoping their team was doing things right. That's a very unempowered place to be stuck and Kaia wanted to do something about it. She even saw it happen to Garry Shandling, who got screwed horribly by his manager Brad Gray. Even Garry said, he didn't know what Brad was doing because he was his manager, and trusted him, and it hurt him. That blind trust became a massive lawsuit. These are things that inspired Kaia to form the Entertainment Business School.
Things you'll learn in Entertainment Business School
Kaia even teaches if your manager or rep is good for you, or if they're a sociopath or narcissist. Are you dealing with someone who has a personality disorder and can hide it? Kaia explains, there are plenty of sharks in the industry and you have to double-check everything. You have to read a contract and also understand it. It's the biggest mistake creatives make. They lose money because they walk away from deals or won't negotiate deals or they won't encourage reps to negotiate deals. In her first cohort of students she taught them how to negotiate. They ended up with so much more money. They realized there was more money than they thought. This is something every creative should know how to do.
How long is the Entertainment Business School
There's the main flagship school which is 12 weeks that has live coaching with Kaia. It's 4 hours a week. Monday night mixer. Tuesday night teaching with slides. Wednesday sometimes guest speakers. Thursday is group coaching, hotseats to work on your career, your bio, emails you need to compose. This for all creatives, women and men, all stages of their career. Some students may have just graduated with MFAs and others will have had 5 movies produced. But all got something out of it. There will also be an evergreen course for a mastery that is a paired down version of the business. Whatever works for your lifestyle and budget, it's there. To find out more and sign up, visit https://entertainmentbusinessleague.com/ She also has scholarship spots in each cohort.
Does your yoga help your writing?
She's been practicing yoga for 25 years but 5 years ago she traded her yoga mat for her surfboard. So that's where she gets her mental health. That's her new church and religion. She still meditates and stretches but no longer does her daily yoga like she used to. She teaches inner guide meditation and uses it, and feels meditation is very meaningful. But she feels like our western culture that's always on the go, is hard for people to all of a sudden sit still. But she's a big proponent on spending time in nature. Whether it's a park, or morning walk, or a beach, it heals the soul and she recommends time in nature even over meditation.
What's one thing you would tell new writers interested in writing screenplays?
Pick subjects and genres to write about that you're madly in love with. Because to get a great script done, we're all in love with a first draft. But we have to marry that script and be in multiple drafts and notes. Will you love this five years from now? Your love and passion is where to put your attention. If you love horror, or romcoms, then throw yourself into what you love the most. Don't write a genre you don't love. Also work backwards. Ask yourself what kind of stories you want to tell, and that's your brand. When you focus on what you love it becomes organic. Look at Shonda Rhimes, of someone who focused on what she loves, and does it so well. We all identify her and know who she is. It helps your career if you focus on what you love.
So that's Kaia Alexander. Be sure to look up her business school if you're ready to move forward in your career https://entertainmentbusinessleague.com/