Michael Jamin sits down with good friend Chandra Thomas who was also one of the writers for the TV show series Mom. Learn about her experience working in Hollywood and on the show.
Chandra Thomas IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1817889/
Chandra Thomas Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chandrathomas/?hl=en
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Michael Jamin (00:00):
Is the hustle never ends. It
Chandra Thomas (00:02):
Never, it never ends. Right. That’s why I’m so not into the, the phrase break in, because I think sometimes people think like, once you break in, right? It’s like glass. You break in the glass, no long, the glass no longer exists. You’re in the space, it’s over. But like, it’s not <laugh>. You have to carve is how I say. You have to carve in. Like there’s constantly more material in front of you that you have to sort of, you know, make your way through.
Michael Jamin (00:30):
You’re listening to Screenwriters Need to Hear this with Michael Jamin.
Hey everyone, it’s Michael Jamin. Welcome back to Screenwriters. Need to hear the, I don’t even know the name of the podcast. I screwed it up. Screenwriters need to hear this. It’s, I’m gonna roll with it. And I got a great guest today. This is, this is Chandra Thomas and she’s the, she was a writer for two Seasons on Mom before the show, before the show got canceled. It’s not her fault though. Don’t blame her. And then, and then I met her last year on, on Tacoma FD and she’s amazingly talented. She’s wonderful. And and she was also an actress. And you, if you, you should be wa everyone should watch this cuz you look at, oh yeah, she’s beautiful. She’s an actress. You could, you could see why she’d be an actress and, and, but she’s gonna talk about her journey. Chandra, thank you so much for joining me on the show
Chandra Thomas (01:21):
Chairman, on the ones, thank you for having me,
Michael Jamin (01:26):
Chandra. You don’t know this, but if we were, because last year we were on Zoom, so all the writers were on Zoom, but if we were in person, I would’ve probably made you sit next to me. Every, every <laugh>
Chandra Thomas (01:37):
Michael Jamin (01:38):
I’d be like, Chandra, what’s going on over that guy? Or that, you know, we would be whisper like passing notes to each other.
Chandra Thomas (01:43):
I love that. It would’ve been like high school all over again. <Laugh>. It would’ve been great <laugh>
Michael Jamin (01:49):
Ass. It couldn’t do it. And I,
Chandra Thomas (01:50):
So one thing I just do wanna clarify, I was on the final season of Mom, so just one season, unfortunately on that show. But I absolutely love
Michael Jamin (01:57):
Two season, so you definitely, yeah. So you was def definitely your fault then in this show? Oh,
Chandra Thomas (02:01):
So not my fault. I would’ve had that show run for another 300 seasons.
Michael Jamin (02:05):
You wanna keep that gravy train rolling. But I wanna talk about, I got so many questions for you.
Chandra Thomas (02:10):
Michael Jamin (02:10):
And I know some of the answers, but most of ’em, I don’t know. Cause I know, okay, I remember, I know you went, you graduated Vanderberg College. Was there always your ambition to be a writer or actor even in college?
Chandra Thomas (02:20):
So when I started at Vanderbilt university in Nashville, Tennessee I was like, not sure what I wanted to do, but probably law because I am a first gen, my parents are immigrants and like, if there’s anything in immigrant parents gonna tell you is you gotta do law medicine, own a business or being engineer. And I didn’t, I did not like the idea of like, somebody could die on my watch. So I was like, not a doctor <laugh>, like, definitely not that. Engineer physics was a little rough for me, so I was like, no, thank you. And maybe would own a business at some point, but it sort of ended up being law was where I was sort of drawn to. And
Michael Jamin (03:03):
Then what did you, who did you major in?
Chandra Thomas (03:05):
So then in my first year, in my first semester at Vanderbilt, I I was into theater just like mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. I had done theater in high school and in middle school, and my parents had taken me see a ton of plays. I’m from New York, so we, you know, go to Broadway and see plays. And I just had this like, sort of like Thanksgiving revelatory moment where I was like, oh no, I, I wanna like be in theater. I wanna just be on stage and write stage and make plays happen. And so I came home and had to tell my immigrant parents that like, I was gonna do this theater thing, which they were like, what <laugh> what does that even mean? That’s not why we came to this country. You know, at first, now they’re like literally the co-chairs of my fan club. They are incredible.
But so then I decided to double major in theater and sociology. So I got two bachelor degrees from Vanderbilt. And then when it was time to graduate, everybody was like, cool, let’s go get jobs and do stuff like that. And I was like I know how to go to school, I’m gonna keep doing that. So I went to Columbia university in New York and got my M F A in acting. And so started working as an actor pretty immediately and very consistently. But at the same time was always writing, was always producing, especially in theater. Transitioned pretty quickly to sketch and improv was at the U C B A ton and then transitioned into indie film, indie short form content, digital shorts, and just really was like about storytelling. Most people sort of in immediately sort of knew me in front of the camera, but I was sort of always working on the other side as well. And so
Michael Jamin (04:41):
Were you writing for yourself in
Chandra Thomas (04:43):
Michael Jamin (04:43):
Were you writing, say again? Were you writing for yourself when you were acting or were you just doing other people’s work?
Chandra Thomas (04:48):
At first I was writing for myself, and then I think as like most theater practitioners do, I was like, I need to start writing for other people too. <Laugh>. Yeah. So I wrote a whole bunch of solo shows. I have a, like, ton of solo shows that I was doing all over the
Michael Jamin (05:02):
Place. And who were you staging these
Chandra Thomas (05:05):
Different places? Sometimes in somebody’s living room, sometimes in the theater, you know, a lot of New York off Broadway, off off Broadway spaces,
Michael Jamin (05:13):
But So were they, were they one man show or like one woman show? Or is it, or you
Chandra Thomas (05:18):
Know Yeah, solo a ton of, I did several solo shows. Yeah. I have one that’s called A Rhyme for the Underground, which is, I play 17 and a quarter characters and it’s set in the subway, the New York City subway system. So yeah, I was doing solo shows. Yeah, yeah,
Michael Jamin (05:31):
It’s interesting. But then, okay, so then when you’re even theater, were you booking because people miss this part? Like were you booking the, the theaters yourselves or were you pitching it to theaters? Like how, how did you put ’em up?
Chandra Thomas (05:44):
I, a mix of things like, so once I got sort of plugged into the sort of indie theater producer circle, we were putting up each other’s work. I was putting up the work, I was submitting it to theater companies that were putting it up in some who’s
Michael Jamin (05:57):
Putting up the money for
Chandra Thomas (05:59):
Michael Jamin (05:59):
Who’s putting up the money?
Chandra Thomas (06:01):
We, you figure <laugh> you figure it out. <Laugh>, you’re not, you figure it out. I mean, and who’s putting, you know, sometimes for some of the who’s, who’s
Michael Jamin (06:11):
Putting, who’s putting all the butts and seats, who’s selling, who’s getting people to show up,
Chandra Thomas (06:17):
That becomes the artist’s job. That’s the big thing. Right? So in some theaters we’d be able to do like port, like proceeds from the ticket sales, right. You know, sort of split the box office is essentially sort of like the way people sort of shorthand it. And so that would be one way in terms of getting bus in the seats though, that would always fall on the artist. So you know, this is before sort of social media was as like readily hot as it is now to like, sort of share those kinds of things. So it became postcards and flyers and putting up posters in storefronts and Absolutely. Emailing friends and texting people to come. And so yeah, it was like a lot of literally gorilla marketing in the most purest form.
Michael Jamin (06:58):
How many seats are you talking about in these theaters? How big are they?
Chandra Thomas (07:01):
So most of these theaters are 99 and under, which is part of the
Michael Jamin (07:06):
Right equity waiver.
Chandra Thomas (07:07):
Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, well, different in LA they call ’em waivers in New York, they’re just theaters. Okay. so you can work under an equity contract. I know in LA these sort of like wave, like working under the union. That’s not how we do things in New York. So it would be a special showcase contract is what it’s called. And so you’d be able to sort of like, you know, like folks most, again, it was, most of us were like in each other’s shows, so we would just sort of do the showcase code and, and and do the show. Yeah. And we’d do it under union rules, you know, as a showcase code
Michael Jamin (07:41):
Production. What do mean, what, what does that mean under union rules?
Chandra Thomas (07:44):
Under equity actors equity
Michael Jamin (07:46):
Rules? Yeah. Well, what kinda rules are we talking about?
Chandra Thomas (07:48):
Oh, like, just making sure that like, there’s a place for you to change your clothes <laugh>, like, you know, put on makeup, essentially a green room or, and like <laugh>, I’ll come back in a second. And, you know like if you’re being asked to do something that’s way above sort of like the standard expectations of an actor that you would be under that’s either under a different agreement or you’d be compensated appropriately for those things that we don’t, you don’t get paid necessarily at the minimum rate. Like, you may get paid in hugs or you may get paid in like, you know, a few dollars. So, you know, it’s a, it’s just sort of like very basic, just treat, you know, treat them like human beings, you know, treat us like human beings. Something. And the thing I was gonna say to come back to is like, for example, the like having a space to change our clothes. Like sometimes those were basements, like literally basements, just dank places. There are people now who are in, who are literally a lists on a lists for production, for studio features and like, people names that people would know that like me and them were doing basement theater. Like we’re in between. During the intermission we had to go plunge the toilet cuz it was flooding in the middle of our shows.
Michael Jamin (09:04):
This is so important that people hear this because like, this is what, this is what breaking in looks like, you know, doing, starting from the bottom. People wanna start at the top. People was like, how do I
Chandra Thomas (09:13):
Literally, the bottom art at
Michael Jamin (09:15):
Chandra Thomas (09:16):
<Laugh> literal bottom.
Michael Jamin (09:17):
So like, so for one show, let’s say you put up a show, how many nights would you, would you have put it up for? Or just once?
Chandra Thomas (09:24):
If I were putting it up, it depends on what the show was. And depends on under what umbrella, because I was producing independently, but I was also producing because I had co-founded a nonprofit with teen girls who wrote and created their own productions, ro own shows speak from their authentic voices. And so if I was producing their work, we would usually have maybe or two to four night performance. Right. If I was producing sort of other work, the showcase code allows for 16 up to 16 performances. Okay. and so sometimes they’d be one-offs and other times, you know, they would have like a little bit of longer run. And if they were outside of the showcase code, if they were like the next tier up then, you know, you, we’d run for maybe four weeks,
Michael Jamin (10:13):
Four weeks. And then how many, there must have been times where you put up a show where, okay, you got a full house and then you only have a couple people sitting in the theater. Is that that, did that happen?
Chandra Thomas (10:23):
Absolutely. Very often as an actor, you know, whether it was something I was producing or somebody else was producing and I was an actor in one of those little tiny, tiny theaters. And often Friday nights were often rough nights to get people in. Because I guess like, sort of the, the, the thought is people are like not ready. Like, you know, they’re, they like wanna unwind. They’re not ready to be like outta play necessarily, or small theater play. Saturday nights were often our strongest nights. And there were definitely times where there were more people on the stage than there were in the audience. There’s no <laugh> that’s like question.
Michael Jamin (11:07):
But that’s great that you’re saying all this. So how does this, this very humbling beginning, like how did, how did it help you? Because a lot of people would think, I’m not doing this. So how did it actually help you?
Chandra Thomas (11:17):
I am incredibly grateful for that time and mm-hmm. <Affirmative> used so many of those skills now that I didn’t even realize I was developing at that point. First of all, being able to work outside of, of a, a corporate structure to let people know what the ideas, what the message is, what the story is, is something that I like, I use all the time. Having to engage people, just even as simple as like getting a shop owner to hang a poster in their, in their storefront Right. Requires a, a sales pitch, a way to engage them that is a skill that I use now multihyphenate, which, you know, I sort of, I really proudly embraced is something that I learned and built then. And like, you know, still capitalize on those things now as an actor, being able to pivot in the moment and then taking that kind of skill into a writer’s room. Like hearing things, being able to see what’s the direction that everybody’s got, you know, mo helping to move that train forward. Those were all things that like the, the, at least the groundwork for that was so laid during that time period.
Michael Jamin (12:23):
Right. So none of this is wasted experience. All of it was good. No,
Chandra Thomas (12:26):
None of it. One of one of my favorite mentors, she says none of it is wasted. It’s all story. And so yes, it is like, like if nothing else, it’s story for sure. Right,
Michael Jamin (12:36):
Right. And then, and then you said you had people you work with o other people in your circle and you’re at bottom of this, the people, the bottom of the basement in your circle who went on to much better things, right? Oh,
Chandra Thomas (12:47):
Absolutely. Yeah. People who are serious regulars now, folks who are in, you know, movies that we’re going to see in the movie theaters, in the Marvels, in the dcs and the all. Yeah, absolutely. No question.
Michael Jamin (12:59):
See, it’s so interesting cuz people say to me, you know, on social media, they reach out and they, they think the goal, they think maybe you know, it, who’s asked, can I kiss who, how do I get my hands, my script and Steven Spielberg’s, you know, you know, a mailbox or whatever. And I’m like, the, that’s not, that’s not how you, that’s not how you do it. You, you make a circle of friends, you make a community at the, at your level A and then you gr and then you work your way up. Everyone climbs up together. It’s like a, you know. Absolutely. So interesting. It’s, especially for theater now. How did, okay, so at this point you’re writing, you’re acting and then, and this is all in the New York. And then what, what brought you to la What, like, what was that like that jump and why did I kept saying
Chandra Thomas (13:41):
Michael Jamin (13:42):
How many, how many years were you doing this, by the way? In New York?
Chandra Thomas (13:46):
<Laugh>. I don’t, I will not give years cuz that will reveal age <laugh>
Michael Jamin (13:50):
Or how many months?
Chandra Thomas (13:52):
Many more years than frankly anyone wants to admit.
Michael Jamin (13:55):
Okay. But it was,
Chandra Thomas (13:56):
It was a lot also, you know, was working in obviously bigger productions in New York. Right. you know, sort of major off Broadway houses was working regionally a ton working internationally as well. And then, you know, also was working in, in, in television, I, my first job on tv, I got a co-star on a law and order criminal intent. Right. I was a reporter, yes. Was so it was freezing cold, couldn’t have been happier. And so, you know, I was working in studio features and daytime soap and primetime episodic, like the whole gambit. In terms of la I kept saying, something’s gonna have to bring me to la Like, I, I just, I, it’s no secret. I’m not the biggest fan of Los Angeles. And so I just kept sort of pushing it off saying that something was going to have to bring me to LA and then I sort of had one of these moments where like li it was Caic everything.
Everybody was like, you need to go to la like just randomly on the street I would see like things that, and people just telling me it, you have to go to la And I like, I had been fighting it for so long, but finally was like, this is a little too much to not pay attention to. And so I started by doing the bicultural in New York, but like being in LA a good amount. And then sort of realized I needed to be in LA more because I realized I wanted to be creating for television. And especially in comedy, which there’s not that many opportunities to do that in New York. So I moved my base to LA in June of 2018. So I’ve been here what’s that going on five years? Yeah. Now,
Michael Jamin (15:46):
But you didn’t, did okay, but you were starting over when you moved to LA you had no network, right?
Chandra Thomas (15:51):
Not the total opposite <laugh>. I came to like a huge net. Because I’d been working in theater and television and film for so long. I knew a ton of people here. I’d come to LA a good amount. So I’d built, you know, a, you know, a community here. And especially coming from the theater. So many playwrights that I know are in TV rooms, like so many. Yeah. So I came here like literally walked into a community in a way that I think most people sort of say, oh my gosh, that’s not how you know LA works. But I was very fortunate to walk right into a very supportive society, if you will.
Michael Jamin (16:32):
But then what was that like then? Because I mean, you, you didn’t walk into the LA theater scene. Like what, what, like what, what were you trying to do? What, what, you know, what was the fir what were those first months like then?
Chandra Thomas (16:44):
So, oh my goodness. What were those first months? First of all, I landed in my buddy’s couch. Well, not couch. She had a whole second bedroom for me. So I had a very lush <laugh> room situation. I found a place of my own within two weeks. Right. I started to when I look back on it, I realize this is what I was doing. I was sort of rebranding myself as a writer first.
Michael Jamin (17:10):
Chandra Thomas (17:11):
So I showed up in every single solitary writer’s space that I could find everything if, like, I would be at every writer’s groups. At one point I was in like seven writers groups, like e every day of the week I was essentially in someone in the writer’s
Michael Jamin (17:25):
Group. Who are these? Like where are these writers groups? Like who, who are these people and how do you, like, where are they?
Chandra Thomas (17:30):
So I found most of them through like socials, like either through, like there’s a group called L A T V Writers I’m sure folks are familiar with. So find some there. There would be others that someone who recommended to me mm-hmm. <Affirmative> you know, sort of like if you fall in, you sort of keep falling into the more was sort of my experience.
Michael Jamin (17:54):
People are probably some are. Yeah. Cuz you’re, you’re meeting other people now. You’re building. Exactly. And, and how often do they meet? And like what, what were they like these groups?
Chandra Thomas (18:01):
It depends. It was a range. I’m still in a couple now. It, it ranged some were weekly Uhhuh, <affirmative> for sure. Those were usually the most frequent ones were the weekly. Some were biweekly, others were monthly. There was one group that I was in for a little bit that was quarterly and I was like, this makes no sense. <Laugh>. Yeah. At all. Like, you know, for three months those, oh that’s just, that’s crazy. Some were bimonthly for sure. It just really ranged, it depended on the writers, the people who were running it. These were mostly like Zoom even then, you know, like they were not No, that’s not true. They’re, most of them were on were in person. And then all of them sort of quickly transitioned to Zoom once the
Michael Jamin (18:44):
World went. You pay for to be in these groups. I who, someone’s gotta,
Chandra Thomas (18:47):
It depends on the group. So in the groups where they rent theaters, we, you know, you chip in right. To help cover the, the cost of the theater or the space, you know, whatever the, the, the space was. If it was like a rental situation, some space, some of them would meet in people’s homes. You know, like everybody gather around the di the dining room table or the living room or what have you. Others, there was one guy who had like a creative space that was part of his business. So you know, he would just sort open the doors that way. And then obviously like online it would be just a, whether somebody has like a Zoom account or what have you is there would either be free or you know, just
Michael Jamin (19:23):
A couple. Is there a leader or a teacher or someone? Or is everybody equal
Chandra Thomas (19:28):
Usually a leader? Just who coordinates it? Not necessarily somebody who’s the ones that work best in my opinion, are where somebody’s just sort of helping to handle the admin. Yeah. But everyone has sort of an equal voice in terms of notes and bringing in content.
Michael Jamin (19:43):
See, this is, so see this is, you’re saying everything perfectly because you really are, cuz this is kind, I yell at people often. If people are like, do I have to move to Alec? You don’t have to do a damn thing. You don’t have to do a damn thing. But this is where the people are who want what you want and you should round yourself with other people who want. And then you all help each other and you know, this is where the people come. And so you got, I
Chandra Thomas (20:05):
Got that question all the time, Michael, like, of people saying like, do I have to move to LA as somebody who literally fought moving to la, if I say it’s helpful and very, very helpful, then I really mean that. Like it’s just as you pointed out, like this is where the, the, the mecca is in a certain way. And so it you, even if somebody gets into a room and they’re outside of, of LA maybe New York okay, that’s one thing. But how do you stay in the room? How do you stay in conversation? How do you have those chance meetings with people? How do you get information on a ground level that’s not gonna be in a, you know, televised panel conversation? How do you have that one-on-one connection with the person next to you to be able to get that referral, to be able to make that referral. And I think, I think that’s impossible to do on any kind of substantive level outside of New York if somebody’s interested in working in television.
Michael Jamin (21:03):
Right, right. Well, not even in New View. Cuz you couldn’t even do it in New York. Right. I mean,
Chandra Thomas (21:08):
Especially as a comedy writer, I think some drama writers are able to sort of make it kind of happen in New York, but you know, the opportunities are are are more limited. There’s no question about it. Right. Even shows that, shoot New York, a lot of them still write in la
Michael Jamin (21:23):
They write here. Right. And then, because you, it’s so funny you say cuz you were so reluctant, but it sounds like the minute you got here, like you were shot out of a cannon, like you just did what ev you pulled yourself out there. E every no opportunity was too small. I mean, really
Chandra Thomas (21:37):
Correct or too big. I would show up at things and like, I might not get in, but I’m going to go <laugh> showing up anyway. Yeah.
Michael Jamin (21:44):
Like what do you mean by like, what kind of opportunities were those
Chandra Thomas (21:47):
Just like events or, or conversations or panels are, you know, whatever the thing is. Like, just as long as I figured out that there were gonna be people there who were writers who were gonna talk about writing in some way, I was gonna show up. So
Michael Jamin (22:00):
You went to a be I’m guessing a bunch of writers Guilded events too, right? Panels?
Chandra Thomas (22:03):
Yes, I did. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> Writers Found Writers Guild Foundation especially. Yeah.
Michael Jamin (22:07):
And they’re, those are open to the public and mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, I, what are, I don’t what they cost 10, 15 bucks. They’re not terribly expensive. Right.
Chandra Thomas (22:14):
Michael Jamin (22:15):
Sometimes free. Yeah. Yeah. And, and why are we not, why are we not you taking advantage of this? Right. <laugh>. And so then how did you, what was the, okay, so you’re doing all this. You’re now, you’re writing, you got a writing group, you’re you’re not putting on any shows for yourself here, right?
Chandra Thomas (22:30):
Michael Jamin (22:32):
<Affirmative>. Alright. You’re kind of done with the theater, but then how did
Chandra Thomas (22:34):
You am I retired as a theater actor? Let’s say it that way. Well, I still write for theater.
Michael Jamin (22:40):
And do you put up, but do you put up your shows?
Chandra Thomas (22:43):
No, I, no, I send them, I put them to other people for them to produce. I have retired from the self-producing theater.
Michael Jamin (22:51):
But are they going, are they, are they being produced in LA or, or back in New York?
Chandra Thomas (22:55):
We haven’t gotten anybody on board yet, but when we do <laugh> it’ll be on the east coast. <Laugh>.
Michael Jamin (23:01):
Interesting. But then, okay, so then how did you, at this point, I should point out, you don’t have an agent. You don’t have a manager, right?
Chandra Thomas (23:07):
Not in writing mm-hmm. Not literary
Michael Jamin (23:09):
For acting. You had, you had,
Chandra Thomas (23:10):
Michael Jamin (23:11):
Right. Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you’re not helping with writing. So then how did you, how did you, what was your first break then for writing?
Chandra Thomas (23:17):
So I deci I had kind of quasi applied to the fellowships. I, I thought I was going to get into my first room because one of my playwright buddies was gonna like, give my script to their showrunner. And their showrunner was gonna fall in love with me through the page <laugh> and hire me. That’s how I thought that I was gonna end up in a room. And the, a couple of opportunities like that presented themselves. I didn’t didn’t, you know, meet on any of those shows. But like that, that’s how I thought. Like that’s where the momentum was. So I thought that’s where it was gonna happen. Right. In 2019. So remember I got here June, 2018 and 2019. I was like, I am going to apply to all of the fellowships. Prior to that I had applied to some in stops and starts. I hadn’t really been strategic about it. I hadn’t really prepared. Like, I just sort of was like, oh, this seems interesting. But 2019 I should’ve was like, I’m gonna, it’s by a little Spike Lee by any means necessary. So I was doing everything like, you know, obviously.
Michael Jamin (24:20):
What, what are the fellowships? I don’t mean interrupt, but what, what fellowships are you talking? Like, which ones? I don’t even know the names of.
Chandra Thomas (24:24):
Yeah, let me, I’m gonna, I’m gonna circle into that. So I was trying, I was going to, I was blanketing everything. Like, I was just like, I’m gonna try everything I can to try to just get something moving now that I’m here and I’ve got myself acclimated and I’ve been in these spaces and what have you. So one of those strategies was to apply to all of the fellowships. And so the fellowships are essentially run by studios, networks and sometimes organizations that are creating opportunities for writers to help them sort of just, you know, get sort of carved in <laugh> into the, into the, the world into this industry. And so I applied to everyone that I could find even some that, again, some that were like, you’re not exactly the right person for this <laugh>. But I still applied just like I showed up to every writer’s event. If nothing else, they provi they forced me to write on deadline. So even if I wasn’t gonna get in and knew that I wasn’t gonna get in, like at least I had a hard deadline to get my writing done. And so what were you hitting the
Michael Jamin (25:32):
Spec scripts or original movie? Like what were your, what were your submissions?
Chandra Thomas (25:37):
Depends on the fellowship. Most of them now require at least one original pilot. Some also look for specs. So I had a spec. I had two specs. One that I had written previous, like in an earlier year. And so I like retooled it and to use it. So I had two specs that I was using. And then I had two original pilots. So something I should mention that I didn’t mention. So when I realized I was gonna move to from New York to la I had, when I like was like, I’m gonna go write for tv, I’m gonna leave, I’m going to la, all these things. I had never written a pilot before. Right? When I said <laugh>, I was going to now pick up my like, very comfortable existence in New York and moved to like, had to write for television, had never written a pilot, had written everything else, never a pilot.
And so I was like, I do not wanna be one of those jerks who’s in LA talking about like, I wanna be a writer, I’m gonna be a TV writer. I had never written a pilot. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So I wrote two pilots in two weeks. And like obviously first drafts that got revised, but like that was cuz I was like, I do not wanna be that person. And I those two pilots, well one of those pilots has served me extraordinarily well and one of my still go-to pilots to this day. Wow. so it’s a comedy. I had, say again,
Michael Jamin (27:10):
It was a comedy.
Chandra Thomas (27:12):
Oh yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. Only, only comedies. Yeah, only comedies. So one of those pilots is what I was using as my original. And then I had the two specs.
Michael Jamin (27:25):
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Michael Jamin (27:49):
You are such a go-getter cuz there’s so many. First of all, there’s so many people. I wanna be a writer. I want to, okay, well have you written anything? Have you finished anything? Like you gotta finish something, you gotta you gotta finish it and you gotta put it out there. Yeah. And then, okay, so then that’s
Chandra Thomas (28:04):
Michael Jamin (28:05):
Do so what you accepted to one or many of these fellowships or what?
Chandra Thomas (28:11):
I don’t ever win things Jamin. I like, I’m the person who like works hard and gets the thing. And so I didn’t really think the fellowship, like I said, I didn’t really think the fellowships were gonna work out. And I, you know, in my sparse applying before, I had never gotten into any of them. And so I didn’t think that that was gonna be different. I thought I was gonna have to apply. I don’t know. You know, you hear stories, peoples applying for six, seven years and like not getting it, what have you. I got into, I got into one single solitary <laugh> Okay. Fellowship one.
Michael Jamin (28:41):
Chandra Thomas (28:42):
And I, that was c b s.
Michael Jamin (28:43):
Chandra Thomas (28:44):
Now called Paramount Global.
Michael Jamin (28:47):
Oh, they changed the name of the fellowship. Is that right or no?
Chandra Thomas (28:50):
Michael Jamin (28:50):
Really? How many people were in it in your, was there, is there like
Chandra Thomas (28:54):
A class? There were, so there’s a cohort. Yeah, a class essentially. There were, by their reporting 1600 applications, they accepted six of us. Wow. And I was the only comedy writer in my cohort.
Michael Jamin (29:08):
And this, do you, how often did you meet?
Chandra Thomas (29:12):
So the way the c b s program works is it starts sort of roughly September, October. And you’re assigned a mentor who’s somebody sort of in the studio or network and the, the mentor or two mentors sort of help you guide you, give you notes to writing a, a new pilot. You know, so you have a fresh script coming outta the program and then starting in that goes till Mm, probably like mid ish to late April. Uhhuh <affirmative>. You have weekly, at least weekly meetings that have different focus that have a different focus each time. So one night might be like alumni night where other alums come and in writers’ rooms and answer questions from a very, like, hands-on practical perspective. Another session will be to meet with managers another with agents. There are times with execs at the studio there’s you know, like different, you know, sort of like each day, each day is like at their front adventure kind of thing. Thing. And so so I,
Michael Jamin (30:22):
This is with your cohort. So you, you got at this point you got to know your cohort, the, you know, the other five or six people in the
Chandra Thomas (30:28):
Absolutely. So my, me and the other five people Yes. The other five drama writers. We, yeah, absolutely. And I sort of was like, we’re gonna meet outside of here too cuz you know, you wanna get to, I really wanted us to like, you know, have our own thing even going into the sessions for sure.
Michael Jamin (30:46):
See, this is interesting cuz that’s another misconception that people think, I think they think, well it’s very competitive. How do I compete against these people? But that wasn’t your attitude. You’re, their attitude is, no, this is my community. I’m not competing against you. The these are my, we’re all in this together. Even if someone succeeds faster than you do, it’s still your people.
Chandra Thomas (31:05):
Absolutely. And you know, I look at the time especially as you know, an actor in the sort of, especially in the theater space mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and there’s like a sort of an expectation of somebody calls me and is like, Hey, I have this job for you, for you. Can you do it? And it’s like, I can’t do it for whatever reason. It’s not schedule or pay or whatever. Like, you know, you’re not able to do it. My first response is, can I make recommendations to you? Like, that was, that was sort of what we did. And so there was not ever an idea of like the other actors who are like me ish, cuz nobody’s exactly like me, obviously, but like who we may be in the same sort of category on a call sheet,
Michael Jamin (31:46):
Honestly. You’re like, you’re like a, you’re like an inspirational speaker because <laugh> you really are because there’s like, there’s not an excuse. You don’t have any excuses. You’re, you’re just a go-getter. You’re just like, you make opportunities for yourself.
Chandra Thomas (31:58):
That’s really kind of you to say. I feel like I am like a, like overwork your B <laugh> is what I feel like most of the time. But I, I like get super excited when I like look back and say like, you know what? Look at what has what I’ve been able to do just even in the last few years. You know? So I do get excited about that, but it’s, I’m always thinking about like, what’s the next thing I need to accomplish? What do I need to do next? That’s that immigrant parent thing.
Michael Jamin (32:24):
I was gonna say. I was gonna say, because you know, immigrants, like, they’re not comfortable. That’s why they leave because they want more. And it’s like, they’re not like lazy. They’re leaving their home. Like, what are you talking about? They’re leaving their home before. Like that’s the opposite. Lazy.
Chandra Thomas (32:39):
Michael Jamin (32:40):
Exactly. Okay. So then how do you get, how did Mom come about?
Chandra Thomas (32:44):
So coming out of the program it, it can be sometimes a little complicated to, to staff comedy out of the program sometimes. Not all the time. And so I had said coming into the program that I mom was like one of my favorite shows. And so, you know, that’s where I was hoping I would, you know, if there was an opportunity staff there and it wasn’t entirely clear if that was gonna be a possibility. One of the execs who I had met during the time, I had told her about how much I love Mom <laugh>, like literally had watched every episode up to that point, had gone to a taping even before I was in the program. Cause I just love the show. Like genuinely loved the show had, at that point, I think there were 132 episodes, had seen all of them at least once.
Like, just was super a fan of the show. And so that exec remembered that. And so when they were looking for a staff writer she mentioned like, Hey, would you be interested in taking a look at, you know, Chandra’s scripts? And they did and really responded to it and brought me in and it was the shortest meeting in history. And I was like, okay, well I blew that, but I’m so proud <laugh> that I like showed up and did my thing. And then, you know, found out a few days later that they were offering me a a spot in, in the room.
Michael Jamin (34:05):
And was that with Chuck Laurie that meeting?
Chandra Thomas (34:08):
No, that room, that meeting was with the eps who are like the hands on EPS on the show. So the two showrunners and then a third ep. Wait,
Michael Jamin (34:16):
Was Chuck not, did he not run mom or was it just under his umbrella?
Chandra Thomas (34:20):
It’s under his umbrella at this point. He was more hands on earlier.
Michael Jamin (34:23):
So who was the showrunner then of, of mom?
Chandra Thomas (34:27):
So the, there were two showrunners at that point. So Gemma Baker, who is one of the creators of the show and then Nick mackay was the other
Michael Jamin (34:36):
You know, what was that like for you? Because you’re jumping in not, not only like the new, not only the new girl, but like brand new to the, like, anytime you have a new writer, it’s difficult because you, you know, everyone else is establishing you’re the new face, but also this is your first staff job. So what was that like for you?
Chandra Thomas (34:55):
It was incredible and intense at the same, same, same time. You know, it’s like I said was one thing. One of the things that was most helpful is that I genuinely love the show. And so I came in with like that passion, knew the characters, knew what characters had, you know, character types. We that had been on the show before. Like, I came in with like an institutional knowledge, obviously didn’t know the behind the scenes right. But, but interest, institutional knowledge about the show itself and the stories that it told. So that was really, really helpful throughout. And I sort of became you know, at that point I joined in season eight. And so by that point folks, you know, had forgotten what they did in season two because it was six years ago. Right. And I was able to, I actually had created a spreadsheet of all the episodes with all of the guest actors who are the series regulars who were in it.
What’s the story synopsis for the episode? Title up the episode. You know, so like I sort of not only was keeping a lot of that knowledge in my head, but also had like a searchable document that I could go back to and say like, you know, if somebody pitched a story like, oh, that kind of sounds like something that happened maybe in season three or, you know, that kind of thing. I was able to sort of like help, you know, support that that piece. So so, you know, found my, found ways to be helpful in that respect. But to your point, like it’s, it’s a very intense experience when, like you pointed out not only the new girl in this room, a new girl to TV writing and everyone in that room, just a, with the exception of the other staff writer and a mid-level writer who also joined around the time that I was joining the room, everyone else were upper level writers. Yeah. most of them had been with the show since, if not season three. Season one. Right. and even the staff writer who was joining who was staffed when I was staffed had been with the show in a support staff capacity for two or three cuns. So I was like the new new new new girl <laugh> in like a lot, a lot of ways.
Michael Jamin (37:03):
Did you have an, at this point, did you have an agent
Chandra Thomas (37:05):
At this point? I did. So I did have an agent by this point. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> I did. And not an agent. I had a manager. I had a manager at this point in Lit.
Michael Jamin (37:15):
And then how did you get, and then after that I was, was it, did you have any time off between that and to Tacoma FD was there, like, how much time lapsed between that?
Chandra Thomas (37:25):
So we’re missing a little, we had a little gap in there. So when I wrapped on Mom, I actually jumped on the show that Christie and you talked about the Amazon animated show. <Laugh>,
Michael Jamin (37:34):
What, what show was that? Right? What was
Chandra Thomas (37:36):
That? So it was called The Flats. It was adult animated comedy at Amazon. So that’s what I jumped onto shortly after I wrapped on Mom.
Michael Jamin (37:46):
And how many episodes was that? I forgot. I totally forgot. Put that, that correct.
Chandra Thomas (37:49):
We did, we wrote eight episodes,
Michael Jamin (37:52):
Right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and, and did it and did, did it even air? Sometimes they do, right? Some didn’t even air. Sometimes that happens, man, you write, you
Chandra Thomas (37:59):
Didn’t even air. But we wrote a great show.
Michael Jamin (38:02):
Yeah. And then okay, so then came to com fd.
Chandra Thomas (38:05):
Yes. Then shortly after I wrap on that, then I was on Tacoma.
Michael Jamin (38:09):
Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Interesting. Cause you went from multi-camera to animation to single camera.
Chandra Thomas (38:12):
Michael Jamin (38:13):
Right. And what was that transition like for you? You can’t even get your feet you wet yet. I mean, you know, you’re ready getting your feet wet and already you’re learning a different format.
Chandra Thomas (38:21):
I loved it. I mean, I love, I love Multicam. I love animation and I love single cam, like love. I’ve loved what you can do in each of those formats. Is, you know, a little bit different in each Right. Obviously at the, at the end of the day there needs to be story, character and jokes. But you can sort of, you know, there’s just different things you can do in the animated show. You know, in three lines I wrote about a bear doing like a dance through the back of a car window like <laugh> that would, that would require, you know, $2 million on <laugh> on a live action show. But like, you can do that in animation. So it has its own, you know, sort of perks there and multi obviously like, you know, having the close, having the, the, the limited number of sets and setups. Like just, there’s just a specialness that can happen there. And obviously the the the kinetic energy of a live audience. Yeah. And then a single cam, like, you know, there’s just certain storytelling you can do there. Yeah. And certain things you can do there. So I love all of it, to be quite honest. I thought came in thinking I was gonna be just like super, almost exclusively into single cam. But I’ve loved all of the, I really have loved all of
Michael Jamin (39:28):
‘Em. And then I know af I know after that, I know you started getting getting more into development. So what has that ride been like?
Chandra Thomas (39:37):
So actually I got my first development deal when I was on the, the Amazon show. So that’s when I got my first deal. I was actually on deal when I was on Tacoma. So that is super, it’s such an interesting development. Is is is extremely interesting and extremely frustrating. <Laugh> at the same time.
Michael Jamin (40:00):
We, we used to call it development hell, I don’t, people don’t, I’m not sure if people call it anymore cause they’re just grateful for the, for the money. <Laugh>
Chandra Thomas (40:06):
<Laugh>, it’s, there’s, there’s so many moving parts and I think the part that’s most frustrating about development is you can create an amazing show. Incredible show. Everybody loves it and it can still not get sold or, you know, get sold to network or get, you know, or air or get a pilot put, you know, like, it, there’s, there’s so many steps before a show will even vaguely make it to a television screen and it, the show could be incredible and still incredible <laugh>, everybody loves it and still not make it. Yeah,
Michael Jamin (40:40):
That’s exactly right. What we, my, my partner Steve and I siever, we like, well the victory for us is the minute the check hits our hands. Oh good. Okay. We got, we got the check. But after that, yeah. There’s so many other things. And even before then, there’s so many things about why sh pitch won’t even sell. It could be a great pitch. People could love it. Absolutely. And the exec, we’re outta money where we don’t want it. There’s some, somebody else is doing something vaguely similar or, you know, or something failed that was vaguely similar, we won’t do it. It’s like,
Chandra Thomas (41:09):
Or your studio execs get laid off <laugh>
Michael Jamin (41:12):
That that happens easily. Yeah, yeah. Right. So the minute, if you have an exec that shepherding the project and then they get fired or for whatever reason leave
Chandra Thomas (41:19):
Or they leave or Yep.
Michael Jamin (41:20):
Yeah. They can leave for promotion mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, they’re go your project’s dead, because no one else is gonna wanna take it up and no one else that’s like picking up someone’s scraps off the floor. Even if it’s a great idea, it’s someone else’s scraps. Mm-Hmm. And it doesn’t count. A victory doesn’t count towards you. You don’t get the, don’t get the victory.
Chandra Thomas (41:36):
There’s, there’s so there are so many places it doesn’t, it, even if it’s incredible, there’s so many places where it falls apart. So that’s definitely the frustrating part. But there’s something invigorating about like, imagining what a show could be like. I think there’s something really exciting about that. Especially, you know, I’m really interested in stories that we haven’t seen or heard a ton, you know, so like getting to, even if it’s, we’re just gonna get to pitch it, but at least like being able to craft and and shape stories that I think are interesting and, and funny obviously have heart. You know, it’s like at least I got the opportunity <laugh> like put some, put some shape around something that could be incredible. Are you, and
Michael Jamin (42:17):
Oh, go ahead. Go ahead. I didn’t mean to cut you off.
Chandra Thomas (42:19):
No, you’re good. And what I was further gonna say is what I’ve seen now from other creatives is a show like I look at, for example, Lena, wait, she has a show called Twenties that has been, I think it’s run for maybe three seasons, two or three seasons at this point. She originally wrote that, that was like one of the first pilots she wrote. She wrote it a, a long time ago. Let’s, you know, the earlier days of her career and the show, she couldn’t get anybody to buy it. And then she was able to sell it once sort of, people were excited to just, you know, work with her. And so I think there’s something also to be said about, okay, cool, something doesn’t sell now I’ll put it in the file drawer as I’ll, as my mom likes, say, put it in your purse and then, you know, it might be something you can pull out at some other point. So I always keep that in mind too of that, you know, a project may not be, some projects are dead for sure, but a project may just be in taking a nap. We’ll
Michael Jamin (43:17):
Say, see, but see, the thing is the hustle never ends. It
Chandra Thomas (43:20):
Never ends. It never ends. Right. That’s why I’m so not into the, the phrase break in because I think sometimes people think like once you break in, right, it’s like glass, you break in. The glass is no long, the glass no longer exists, you’re in the space, it’s over. But like, it’s <laugh> you have to carve is how I say you have to carve in. Like, there’s constantly more material in front of you that you have to sort of, you know, make your way through.
Michael Jamin (43:48):
Right. Right. That’s, it’s, it’s, you’re exactly right. Now are, is your entire focus now on like commercial projects? Are you doing anything on the side that’s just interesting for you? You know,
Chandra Thomas (44:00):
I mean, I’m still writing for theater as I mentioned, and so that does not feel commercial at all. <Laugh> that feels in several of my plays have won awards recently. And so there definitely is you know, there’s that sort of creative space. Most of what I write now, particularly for TV and for film, is not necessarily that I’m gonna sell it tomorrow, but I’m like banking it so that I have something, you know, I have it for when I may be looking to sell something like this or so now, unless it’s theater I’m thinking in some way commercially, but let me explain what I mean by commercially. It’s not to say that I’m going to write something that I think people want me to write or I think is gonna sell. I’m writing what I think is interesting and funny and compelling and then see if there’s a market for that thing that I think is interesting, funny and compelling. Right.
Michael Jamin (44:57):
See, that’s another thing people often say to me, like on social media, they’ll say, you know, does art is dark comedy selling now? What’s selling now? It’s like, don’t ask me what do you wanna write? What do you wanna write? <Laugh>?
Chandra Thomas (45:08):
It’s always gonna be hard to sell stuff.
Michael Jamin (45:10):
Chandra Thomas (45:11):
Period. <laugh>. So, you know, even if the folks aren’t ready for it now, they may be ready for it in six months, eight months, a year, two years. But, you know, I like to have the thing in my purse, but
Michael Jamin (45:21):
I’m surprised you’re not doing more for yourself to star an acton, you know?
Chandra Thomas (45:26):
Oh yeah, no, I’m definitely, I’ve definitely keep that in mind, Jamin don’t worry. Don’t
Michael Jamin (45:31):
I am worried about that. I wanna make sure you’re on camera because Yeah. Because who else can play you better than you and who else can write you better than you? You know,
Chandra Thomas (45:39):
There’s no question about that. That is always on my mind. Let me s lemme put it that way. I don’t ever want to put myself in a situation where people think I’m gonna hold up a project Right. Because of my actor side. So that’s that. I don’t, you know, I’m, no, I don’t lead from that place. But I, it’s always, it’s always somewhere in my, in the folds of my mind.
Michael Jamin (46:06):
And do you feel then I’ll, I’ll wrap it up with this, but do you feel you’re writing your, you know, your writing has now informed your acting. Do you feel like, or, or vice versa, you’ve become a better actor because of your writing and, and better writer because you’ve been a, you know, you’re acting
Chandra Thomas (46:22):
I think interestingly enough. So I’ve been doing more, a little bit more performance well acting in here recently because I have a little bit more flexibility in my schedule including guest art on the season premiere of Tacoma. Which I had a blast doing. Yeah. and it’s interesting because there, like I know that me as an actor, like I’m, it comes from a very physical space and being a writer, at least for me is not a physical experience. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And so I find I have to sort of get myself back on the actor horse in a way that is, that I did not necessarily anticipate or expect. So it feels like I have to warm up a little bit more to feel like I’m performing at the level that I am cus I’m accustomed to be performing at. But the other way around, the actor informing the writer always, and I’m so grateful.
A buddy of mine who was just a showrun on a show, she started as an actor as well and now is primarily a writer. And she often says one of the best things she ever did for her writing career was start as an actor, was start as a performer. And that always informs my writing. Like, you know, hearing voice is, is something that is so clear to me coming from an acting background understanding sort of like character moves, character motivations being able to encapsulate new action in, in addition to dial Like there, all of that is an actor informing writer for sure.
Michael Jamin (47:56):
Wow. This is the, I honestly, you, I think you’re like, I don’t know, am I gonna be any, you’ve been a fascinating interview. You’ve been a fascinating, because I feel like you’re incredibly inspiring. You’re so driven, like no one’s gonna stop you. No. Who’s gonna stop you from doing whatever <laugh>, whatever the hell you want. N I don’t think anybody’s gonna be able to stop you. Yeah, I
Chandra Thomas (48:18):
Appreciate that. I appreciate that. You know, the ultimate goal is to you know, do be a writer, actor, creator in a series like Quinta Brunson, like Mindy Kaling, like a Tina Fey. And so that’s our North Star. And so we’re just gonna keep marching in that direction. <Laugh>.
Michael Jamin (48:33):
Yeah, I would, yeah. I wouldn’t bet against you. That’s what I’ll say.
Chandra Thomas (48:36):
Michael Jamin (48:37):
I think you’re wonderful, Chandra. Thank you. So thanks, Cameron. Should Sure. How can people fo follow you? Do you wanna promote anything, any social media or anything you wanna, you tell people about?
Chandra Thomas (48:46):
Sure. So I am on Twitter and TikTok at @chandra7thomas, and I’m on Instagram at @chandrathomas. Chandra, c h a n d r a, Thomas with an H.
Michael Jamin (49:01):
Thank you so much. Thank you again. Thank you.
Chandra Thomas (49:04):
Thanks for having me. What a fun time.
Michael Jamin (49:06):
No, you’re, you’re a wonderful guest. You’re wonderful. All right. I’m gonna, I’m gonna sign off. I’ll say goodbye to my, to my podcast. Thank you all so much for listening. Until next time, we got more great guests coming your way. And keep following the @MichaelJaminWriter.
Phil Hudson (49:20):
This has been an episode of Screenwriters Need to Hear This with Michael Jamin. If you’d like to support this podcast, please consider subscribing, leaving your review and sharing this podcast with someone who needs to hear today’s subject. For free daily screenwriting tips, follow Michael on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok at @MichaelJaminWriter. You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok at @ PhilAHudson. This episode was produced by Phil Hudson and edited by Dallas Crane. Until next time, keep writing.