Greg White’s first job out of college was as a page for the Late Show with David Letterman, but he soon found more rewarding work. As a screenwriter, he earned an Emmy nomination for his work on the animated comedy series Mad, based on the magazine, has written for Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans, about a New York City where humans are the minority, and episodes of the animated The Adventures of Puss in Boots, starring the cat from Shrek. He also created pilots for MTV and FX.
White (CGS’04, COM’06) is tonight’s guest presenter at the BU Cinemathèque series, a College of Communication program that brings accomplished filmmakers to campus to show and discuss their work. He’ll screen episodes of Wander Over Yonder, which stars Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) as the voice of Wander and aired on the Disney Channel, TripTank, Comedy Central’s dark satire series, and Ugly Americans.
“I tried to show things that I was very proud of, but I tried to work in some things for adults and some things for kids,” says White. “I wanted to demonstrate the range of things you can do in your career.”
Bostonia asked White what advice he would give people trying to make it as a writer in Hollywood. This is what he said:
1. Trust your career instincts
“I pretty much knew early on that I wanted to write in some way,” says White, who was on an improv team in high school. “We had a late-night show on BUTV10. I didn’t look at it like I was getting career training. I knew I just liked to write.”
2. Podcasts can provide a (free) education
3. Watch critically
Listen to the commentary tracks on the shows you like, and watch the same episode of a TV show repeatedly. “First time, I would just watch an episode of Arrested Development,” he says. “Second time, I would pause the DVD and write down what that scene was, as if I was outlining it myself, and say, ‘OK, this is how you begin to establish this B story, and here’s a technical trick, or here they have heavy voice-over doing the heavy lifting.’ Ask why you like something or don’t like it. Begin to develop your own thinking towards writing.”
4. Write a ton
After graduating, White interned for Letterman and wrote as often as he could—he aimed for a pilot every month. “Whether I’m on a show, or on a hiatus between shows, I’m always writing,” he says. “My manager once said, ‘Take your staff jobs, you have to pay your rent. Hopefully, you like them, but you’re an artist, so your job is to create your own stuff.’”
5. Use alumni connections
White says using contacts from the BU directory was “one of the best things I did in my career early on.
“I was obsessed. Every day, I had a quota where I had to send 10 emails, minimum. I would type in ‘producer,’ ‘Los Angeles,’ ‘Fox,’ ‘CBS,’ ‘NBC,’ and find contacts’ email addresses. I would say, ‘Hi, my name is Greg White, I just finished college, can I buy you a coffee and ask you about your career?’ I would never ask for a job. People were great. Superhelpful. The advice I kept getting was: ‘Move to LA.’”
When one of the women he met through a BU contact submitted his name to a Comedy Central showrunner, the connection led to his first writing job: Ugly Americans.
6. Minimize the distractions
“Let your agent and manager (when you get those) think about the things that aren’t writing,” he says, “and just focus on writing.”
7. Help your goals evolve
Now 11 years out of college, White says his goals have changed. “Before, it was about growing my career, but now, it’s more about what’s interesting, what’s satisfying, what would grow my career?” he says. “I ran a writer’s room, but could I run a whole show?”
8. Save your money
“When you are making money, you can make a good amount of it, but you can get tricked into thinking that you’ll make that amount of money forever. I always try to save. I try to be selective about how I spend my time. I don’t want to take a job where I’ll be miserable because I need the money.”
9. Write for yourself
You should be proud of anything you’re doing, he says. “I try to look at whatever I’m writing—adult show or kid show—like I’m writing for myself. In your career, no matter what you are doing, you are developing a voice and just applying it to different things.”
“One day, you are not a professional writer,” says White, “but the next day, you’re hired and then you are a professional writer. There’s no guarantee that if you come out here to Los Angeles and give it a shot, you are going to succeed, but I can guarantee if you don’t try, you definitely won’t succeed. You don’t have to be the best early on; you just have to be the most persistent. It’s about hustling and not giving up.”
Greg White speaks and screens episodes of his shows tonight, Friday, October 13, at 7 p.m., at the College of Communication, Room 101, 640 Commonwealth Ave. The event, part of the BU Cinemathèque series, is free and open to the public.