Today’s piece is written by Kalinda Vazquez, Staff Writer on “Prison Break.”
My father named me after a Star Trek character. Kalinda appeared in only one episode of the Original Series, in which my namesake, a member of an alien posse, attempted to overtake the Enterprise and her crew. Needless to say my intimate relationship with television was damn near a birthright. I remember watching Star Trek as a child — in awe of the fictional universe that so inspired my father, he was compelled to name his first born after one of it’s characters. (That’s one hell of an influential fictional universe.)
My father’s love for TV and film – and good story telling in general — was either contagious, genetic or both. I loved these mediums for their entertainment value – but I also loved them because they made me think about things I might not have thought about before. The really good bits –say the ending of Close Encounters of a Third Kind or a particularly salient argument between Archie and Meathead on All in the Family— even challenged the way I looked at the world. It didn’t take long for me to realize the more stories I consumed, the more my imagination grew, and the more I wanted to create some stories of my own.
I came out to Hollywood six years ago without knowing a soul. I didn’t have a degree from a film school or much of a resume to speak of. Leaving my family and friends behind was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been faced with, but in moments of doubt and homesickness I propelled myself forward with the knowledge that I wanted to tell stories and share them with others. I started working on feature screenplays and then a couple years ago decided to try my hand at the television format. After getting the opportunity to work as a writer’s assistant on Prison Break I was promoted to staff writer in April of ’07. I could barely believe it was a reality. Everything I had worked for had finally paid off.
I’ve been keeping up with the “Why We Write” essay series. Speaking as a baby writer, the authors are a pretty intimidating group – one with which I don’t have too much in common with. I haven’t run my own show, and I certainly haven’t come close to hitting the triple digits in terms of episodes under my belt. Hell, I’ve only been in the guild since June. The first day of picketing was the same day my first episode – which I co-wrote with the indomitable Zack Estrin – aired on network television. I felt such an incredible mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I was thrilled that something I had helped conceive and write was being viewed by people all over the country. On the other I couldn’t help but think – D’oh! Just when I’m starting to get some traction the rug is being pulled out from under me! But I know that as untimely as I find the strike (and let’s be honest who’s it timely for…) – I also recognize that the issues at hand could not be more relevant. To turn a sci-fi connotative phrase: The future is now. I know it’s the newer set, to which I belong, that will really be affected by this new media business.
I write because it’s who I am. It’s how I think. I can’t stop my imagination from running away from me. My mind is always racing, pondering whimsical even nonsensical things. Things like – what if a miniature spaceship floated through my open window? What if my neighbor was a serial killer? What if I saw a T-Rex poke its head out from amongst the palms in the Hollywood Hills. All I can do is try to organize my thoughts – contain them and put them down onto paper. And maybe, just maybe, something I write will make someone think – possibly even propose a challenge or two.
So maybe all the big shots who’ve submitted essays aren’t as different from myself as I might have thought. We are all writers after all, and though the process for each of us is unique – we are unified by a passion for what we do. In many ways, the strike has been the great equalizer. On any given day on the picket line in either LA or New York, the line may have a showrunner next to a staff writer, a story editor next to a future guild member – an oscar winning documentary film maker next to someone who just sold their first feature spec. The thing of it is, stripped of our titles, stripped of our salaries, stripped of our “jobs” – we are all still writers. I am still a writer. No matter what the AMPTP does, they can’t take away that core portion of my identity. Of our identity.
WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers. Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers. If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.