Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff keeps teaching students in the low-residency MFA in Writing for Film and Television program after a false fire alarm sends them out onto Sunset Boulevard. Photo/Daryl Paranada
By Daryl Paranada
Golden Globe winner Krista Vernoff, showrunner at Grey’s Anatomy, shared writing tips and insight into the industry with students in the low-residency MFA in Writing for Film and Television program at Emerson College Los Angeles on January 8-9.
As the Spring 2019 Semel Chair in Screenwriting, Vernoff taught a master class for students as well as screened episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Shameless, followed by a Q&A session.
“I love to teach. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend my time, but it’s rare I find the time to do it,” said Vernoff.
When she received the invitation to serve as chair, Vernoff said it just felt right. During her time with the students, she simulated a mock writer’s room and offered a wide variety of advice. She told students who want to be television writers that they need to move to LA, shared what it’s like working in a variety of TV writer’s rooms, and offered advice on navigating the industry.
“You need to be emotionally intelligent and emotionally stable,” said Vernoff, who served as head writer/executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy for its first seven seasons before returning for the 14th season to run the show. “You have to work on yourself — that’s my number one message today.”
In addition to her work on Grey’s Anatomy, Vernoff was a writer and executive producer on Shameless and has also written for Law & Order and Charmed, among other shows.
“Something Krista said that resonated with me was that there’s no manual to getting into the industry,” said Kes Speelman, G’20, an aspiring TV writer. “There’s no set of instructions.”
To illustrate her point, Vernoff said she majored in acting and had only taken one course on screenwriting and another on playwriting in college. For years, she worked as a singing waitress. With dreams of becoming a TV writer, she moved to LA with a former boyfriend, and within months sold a script to Law & Order, which led to a series of staff jobs.
Vernoff encouraged students to not be ashamed of having a “survival job” while working on their crafts and trying to break into the industry.
“Do something that takes as little of your creative energy as possible,” she said.
Vernoff’s advice about writing multiple scripts is something that resonated with Castel Jean-Francois, G’20, an aspiring TV writer who’s working on a dramedy based on his life.
“You may think you have the next best thing, but keep going,” said Jean-Francois. “Don’t be so precious.”
Even a false fire alarm didn’t stop Vernoff from teaching. Out on Sunset Boulevard, with students huddled around her, she continued sharing advice. Teaching is something that Vernoff said “feeds my soul.”
She told students that the sky is the limit as long as they are ambitious and have a powerful work ethic.
“There’s nothing in your story that prevents you from becoming working screenwriters,” she said.