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From Intern to Story Editor: Emerson Alumna Talks About Breaking into Writing Jobs

Stefani Robinson ' 14 works on the set of Atlanta. Contributed photo

Emerson alumna Stefani Robinson ’14 not only served as staff writer for Atlanta, which premieres on FX on Tuesday, September 6, but she also just finished another stint as story editor for a second half-hour comedy series, Man Seeking Woman, on FX’s sister network, FXX.

Atlanta stars Donald Glover (Community) as a young father desperate to work with his newly successful rapper cousin. The cousin also turns out to be a drug dealer.

The first season of Atlanta has 10 episodes. Robinson co-wrote the sixth episode, airing on October 11, with Glover; and she wrote the eighth episode, airing on October 25, on her own.

Robinson recently was promoted to story editor on Man Seeking Woman. Robinson wrote two of the ten episodes of the surreal comic FXX series, the third season of which will premiere in January 2017. Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live is one of the executive producers.

Emerson Visual and Media Arts Associate Professor Jim Macak interviewed Robinson over email about leveraging her Emerson Los Angeles internship with the Gersh Agency into a full-time writing job, and how that led to an agent and to an incredible year.

JM: You worked your way up from an intern at Gersh to a writer with representation?

SR: My job with Gersh was my first job after Emerson. I actually started as an intern there during my time in the ELA program. I interned in the comedy department and the motion picture lit department. They offered me a job before I officially graduated from Emerson.

So at some point, I flew back to Boston to graduate and flew right back to LA to start work as an agent assistant. I worked in the below-the-line department, which primarily deals with production clients (cinematographers, editors, production designers, costume designers).

JM: Did that job lead to representation?

SR: My time at Gersh did actually lead me to landing an agent. I met my agent, Sean Barclay ’99, when I was an intern there. We really took to each other and [he] was impressed with my writing. He’s been my champion from then on. I’m so happy and lucky to have such an incredible agent. He’s the greatest.

JM: How did you land that first writing job at Atlanta?

SR: So, this kind of came out of nowhere. I had written an original pilot that my managers sent to FX at the same time Donald [Glover] and the producers were looking to hire a writer for Atlanta. FX was enthusiastic about my pilot and sent it to Donald for him to read. He took to it and wanted to meet me.

So out of nowhere I started meeting a ton of people. I met with Donald, met with FX, had Skype calls with producers….It was crazy. I never thought I would get the job; they were hiring one writer for an incredibly small writing staff. But a couple weeks later, Sean called me into his office and told me I got the job.

JM: Why did you switch from Atlanta to Man Seeking Woman? I presume you didn’t want to wait to see if Atlanta got renewed?

SR: This isn’t a “switch” but more of a timing situation. The Atlanta writers’ room finished and I was technically going to be out of a job until season two of the show. (It isn’t unheard of for a writer to hop onto another show in the meantime.)

After Atlanta ended, I started meeting [for staff positions] on some shows and was lucky enough to meet on season three of Man Seeking Woman, which had been my absolute favorite on-air comedy at the time. I got the job and spent 16 weeks writing with some other really incredible writers. (This week is our last week writing the show.)

JM: What’s next for you? Do you plan on going back to Man Seeking Woman, or will you be looking for other writing assignments?

SR: The plan is to go back to Atlanta if we’re renewed—and the same goes for Man Seeking Woman! I love both of those shows and would write on them forever if I could. It also looks as if I’ll start developing my own series, which will be a whole different and crazy adventure!

JM: Are there people you’d like to single out who you felt have really helped you along the way?

SR: Emerson writing professors Diane Lake, Martie Cook, and Diane Pontius were incredibly helpful in terms of helping me understand the industry. But mostly, they taught me how to write screenplays. I owe a lot of my success to that. I’m a firm believer that craft liberates genius, and those three women helped make sure I knew my craft.

Emerson alum [film producer and president of The Arlook Group] Richard Arlook [’83] also got me my internship at Gersh. So, in a way, all this cool stuff I get to do now is because of him. I met him in Martie Cook’s Writing for Late Night Comedy class and still see him now and then.

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