Now a highly sought-after author, teacher, consultant and lecturer, Jen has helped a staggering number of clients break in to the biz. We caught up with her to see how she got to where she is today, what the future holds, and how all of us writers can benefit from the Grisanti edge.
by Jim Cirile
Jim Cirile (Jim C): Thanks for taking the time, Jen! Tell us, where are you from, and where did you go to school?
Jennifer Grisanti (Jen G): Southern California, I’m a local girl. And I went to USC. I majored in Communications (with) a minor in Cinema. I knew I wanted to go into entertainment. I just wasn’t sure exactly what the path would be. My first year out of college, I did a few entertainment internships, like at Stephen J. Cannell Company and Lorimar Casting. And then I went to the Friedman (Personnel) Agency, (who) placed me with Martin Ransohoff Productions and then with Aaron Spelling.
Jim C: Was that your first exposure to script development and coverage?
Jen G: Yeah, in both places.
Jim C. Did working with Spelling help define your path in the biz?
Jen G: At the time I got in the Spelling office, I was still a little unsure. I knew I didn’t want casting, and then it was, do I want to produce? Do I want to be an agent or a manager? Do I want to write? What do I want to do? Being in his office was an excellent training ground for opportunity. My parents had gone through a divorce after 27 years of marriage, and the irony is my mom gave us Tony Robbins tape sets to help us get over the divorce. Tony is all about “focus on what you want and make it happen.” Those influenced me a great deal, because when I was in the Spelling office, I suddenly recognized that there was no one in his inner office reading scripts. And so I quickly saw the opportunity, because he would often call out to us and have to make so many calls to get the answers that he wanted. So I thought, what if I were to read the scripts every night? Then I would be able to help with some of that. And I started working until 9:30 at night, reading scripts until 11:30 at night, and then working with Aaron Spelling the next day.
Jim C: So you basically gave up your life for this incredible opportunity.
Jen G: Oh, yeah. I was there for 12 years, and it was a lot of work. It was a tremendous experience. He set the foundation for everything that I do. He was an incredible mentor. But you can’t lose sight of the fact that it was a tremendous amount of work and a huge commitment.
Jim C: I’m assuming that meant making some sacrifices, such as having a life.
|Jen Grisanti with Aaron Spelling|
Jen G: I was married and divorced during that time. How do you keep your life in balance while working these incredible hours? You have to really (look at) ambition versus personal life. I definitely went through a lot in finding my answers of what I really wanted during that time.
Jim C: We’re all human, and our experiences shape and hopefully empower us.
Jen G: I definitely believe that what happens in our life forms our voice and gives us something to say. I’m definitely a believer that when you come from your truth -- and of course, that came from my two pivotal life moments of a long relationship that ended in a short marriage and a job that ended after 15 years with two sister companies (Spelling and CBS/Paramount). When you go through that kind of trauma and upheaval and loss, you really have to figure out what is it you want. And I think truth was the biggest thing that came through me during my journey of healing through those pivotal life moments. And it is those moments that sold my book “Storyline: Finding Gold in Your Life’s Story” and “Change Your Story, Change Your Life -- a Path to Success.” That is why my brand is (about) understanding your emotional truth, because that’s what connects you to your audience.
Jim C: So how did you get the gig at CBS/Paramount?
Jen G: I look at my whole career trajectory as far as -- when I was at Spelling, I thought, “Well, this is the best your life is ever going to be, so really be in this moment.” And then I remember being at CBS/Paramount, you know -- when I first went to the Paramount lot, and getting my corner office, I thought, “Okay, now this is as good as life is going to get, so be in this moment.” CBS/Paramount happened when I was at Spelling, and it was beginning to downsize. I had heard about the job at CBS/Paramount, and they were a sister company. I told my president about the job, and he said he’d put me up for it. He had to get Aaron to agree, and of course that was a big ordeal. He got his blessing, and two weeks before I was supposed to leave, Aaron said, “Jen’s not leaving the building, is she?” It really hit him then, and we had a beautiful, emotional conversation. He instilled in me, “You give the best development notes of anyone I’ve ever worked with,” and he taught me how to give those notes.
It was a big difference at CBS/Paramount. At Spelling, there was really only one layer between me and Aaron Spelling, and so you got your answers a lot quicker, and he knew about everything that was going on. So it was really like going from a mom and pop company to a big, corporate world where you had many layers between you and getting an answer.
Jim C: What exactly is Current Programming?
Jen G: The department that takes over once a show has been picked up to be a series. My job was to help staff writers and directors and to work with the executive producers from story concept to outline to script to screen. It was a tremendous exposure to the creative process, because you got to see your notes made on up to five shows every week. You got to see what worked and what didn’t work with the development of story. So that was incredible -- I worked with Glenn Gordon Caron (“Moonlighting”) and Don Bellisario (“NCIS”) and Ira Behr (“The 4400”), some really incredible showrunners -- you are exposed to people who have a gift, and you got to learn from them.
Jim C: So what led to the opening of Jen Grisanti Consultancy?
Jen G: I thought I was going to be running a studio at some point. And then I lost my job. I had five shows coming back… (but) the gentleman who had hired me had lost his job a year before. And so the writing was on the wall. And then on the heels of a conversation with the wrong person on the wrong day, in a moment, everything was gone. And this was about a year and a half after Aaron Spelling had passed away. It was a real eye-opener as far as going into the idea of “Who am I, if not Jen Grisanti the studio executive, that I’ve been identifying with for 15 years?” So I had to really go through the process of redefining my path, and that led to my opening Jen Grisanti Consultancy.
Jim C: How did you decide to do that? It’s brilliant, but perhaps not intuitive.
Jen G: When I lost my job, I was 40 years old. So you had to look at ageism in the environment. At that time, I was the oldest in my department. I had thought about getting another corporate job, but then I’m still going to have to think about what’s next within the next five to ten years. And so I thought, why don’t I think about what’s next right now, because as crazy as it sounds -- even though it was traumatic for me in the moment -- losing my job at a time when nobody expected it to happen led to a lot of support from the community. I had staffed over 15 primetime shows. It segued into the perfect time for me to open my own company.
Jim C: Sounds like a huge leap of faith. Were you scared?
Jen G: It was terrifying. It was 2008. I lost my job in May 2007. For 17 years I had worked. Suddenly waking up and not having anywhere to go was a whole new life experience for me. I really took that time to heal and to focus and to design my company. In January 2008, I only had two months’ salary left in the bank. Oddly enough, the writer’s strike worked for my company because people weren’t working, and they wanted to invest time in themselves. The day that I launched, I sent it out to 900 people from my Rolodex. I got 175 e-mails back the first day and 20 meetings booked the first week.
Jim C: Nice. Tell us a little about Writers on the Verge, for which you are the writing instructor.
Jen G: Writers on the Verge is the diversity program at NBC. We accept submissions from the beginning of May ‘til the end of May. Every year we end up with about 2,000 submissions. They select, and then I teach the eight or nine writers, depending on if we have a writing team, over a 12-week period. During that time, the writers write a brand-new TV spec and a brand-new TV pilot. We’ve had a tremendous success rate. Between that and my company, I’ve probably worked with over 800 writers in the last eight years, and I’ve had 40 sold pilots, and I’ve had five go to series. And staffing-wise, I think it’s somewhere around 75 right now.
Jim C: Incredible. So how can writers interface with you?
Jen G: I have all different levels, since writers are at different levels financially. The Premium Story Subscription is where it all starts, and that’s $22.95/mo. The value of that is about $350 if they are active. They can turn in 3-5 loglines/month, and a 1-2-page pitch document for my review every month. On top of that, they get story tips from all the events that I do and scripts that I cover. As for working with me one on one, one of the most popular consults is a package of five meetings. One pilot consult meeting is $725, for one read and one meeting. If you do five coaching consults, it comes out to $550/meeting, and we could cover up to three scripts in five meetings, as well as pitching skills and meeting skills. And of course I have one read and one meeting, two reads and two meetings, starting in the concept phase and going through the script phase, and the same thing with feature scripts and novels. It’s for anyone who is interested in writing and structuring story and understanding how to elevate it from an emotional perspective. Plus I have a ton of free content on YouTube and on my website, and 65 podcasts with some of the top writers in the business. It’s the good, the bad and the ugly of what it is to be a working writer.
Jim C: And you have some seminars coming up as well?
Jen G: I have a master class that I am teaching. I’m doing one in Los Angeles with the International Screenwriters Association, a full day class on writing a pilot. That’s on June 11. The second master class I’m doing is with Screenwriters World and The Writers Store in New York, and that’s a 2-day story event that includes a panel of top writers in the TV world and also a master class on writing the TV pilot. I’m also going to be part of the London Film Festival at the beginning of September.
Jim C: Thanks so much for all you do for writers, Jen. Continued success!
Jen G: Thank you!
A great way to get to know Jen Grisanti is through her books The TV Writing Tool Kit, Change Your Story, Change Your Life and Storyline. Check them out right here.