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An Interview with Melissa Llarena


Sep 1, 2020

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a screenwriter? Well, this week you will get an inside peek into what it takes to not only become a writer in Hollywood, but some behind the scenes insights from a writer and executive producer on Showtime's Billions, Theo Travers. 

In this episode, Theo shares the story of how he became a writer and drove across the U.S. from NYC to L.A. to pursue his dream. His journey is a reminder to us all that if you want to pursue a career, it’s not all about luck. Instead, prepare, show up, be ambitious and get comfortable with making scary choices.    

After graduating from NYU's Tisch School of Arts, Theo’s first foray into television was as an event coordinator for the William S. Paley Festival, where he helped assemble panels with show creators and their lead actors. After a brief detour in television ad sales, Theo cut his writing chops as a television news reporter in the Southeast, most recently in Memphis, TN. He shadowed undercover cops on drug busts and prostitution stings, earning an AP award for excellent journalism. He even got a chance to interview President Barack Obama and Representative John Lewis one-on-one. With a passion for scripted narrative still burning, Theo relocated to Los Angeles and broke into the creative side of television as an assistant to several production executives.  

Theo first staffed as a writer on Showtime's House of Lies starring Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell. There he wrote for four seasons, rising in the ranks and gaining hands-on production experience. Theo has gone on to write for network dramas Sleepy Hollow (FOX) The Brave (NBC) and served as writer and co-executive producer on Starz's hit crime saga, Power.  

This is an episode that busts misconceptions about working in the TV business, includes several examples of making scary choices voluntarily, and will give you goosebumps especially when Theo shares how he had the chance to thank John Singleton for replying to his letter 20-years before they met. 

Highlights:  

  • Theo shares his journeyman route to writing in Hollywood. (8:12) 
  • Everyone is a little uncomfortable -Theo shares his thoughts on knowing how to lead his bullpen and thrive as one of the few Black men writers in the TV business. (12:00) 
  • There is a great deal of uncertainty in every situation, those who do well have the aptitude to live with discomfort. (12:30) 
  • A common misconception is that working in Hollywood is a pipedream not a thing you can plan for. (13:24) 
  • Sound advice from Theo’s musician mother, be a specialist in what you do, and if you want to be a specialist focus on being the best at your job. (13:52) 
  • How the election of Barack Obama was an inspiration to Theo. (24:00) 
  • If the rock we are pushing is moving or not, so long as you have the ability, it is incumbent upon you to push and make the leap. (27:39) 
  • Today’s diverse audiences have made the economic demand for different stories to star people from all walks of life. (32:09) 
  • How the world has shifted in a multitude of ways and impacted the entertainment industry. (39:00) 
  • How writing is an outlet for personal expression and how there is power in the written word. (49:00) 
  • It feels like you have to trade something important away to become successful in this field. But Theo explains how he found the exact opposite, people who would stand up, live by their values are the ones experiencing success. (59:00) 
  • Theo’s Gutsy Moment: He recollects on the time he met his hero, John Singleton, and thanked him for encouraging him to pursue a career as a screenwriter.  (1:02:00) 

Links to quench your curiosity: 

  • Watch Billions on Stan 
  • Follow Theo on Instagram  
  • A cause close to Theo’s heart: If you're an American citizen, please join in the fight to protect our most fundamental right of voting at https://fairfight.com/ 

Be sure to officially subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast streaming platform of choice, for instant access to these weekly interviews. You’ll hear stories from professionals who are obsessed about their careers and are open to telling you about the scary decisions they have had to make along the way! 

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