Don’t Make Me Write
Marlene Sharp went into writing for entertainment kicking and screaming. In school, where she thought she would be singing and dancing all the time, students were required to write original material. Add in an academic component of studying different periods in history, everything required her to write papers.
“I didn’t want to write,” admits Marlene. “I didn’t really want to do anything except for perform. That was my ambition. Then I thought, oh, for a plan B, if that doesn’t work out, I’ll just be a theater academic and I’ll have a comfortable university life, have my students, and coach them. It’ll be wonderful.”
In the last semester of graduate school, she was unable to get an interview to teach anywhere. The competition in California is fierce. Most people there don’t need a degree when they have an Oscar or an Emmy, they’ve starred on Broadway, or come from a famous family. Marlene quickly realized there were more people higher on the entertainment food chain than she was. She had to fit into show business some other way.
She found her way in as an assistant through a temp firm. “That’s how I landed in kids and family entertainment. Then I tried a bunch of different things. I was interested in writing in the sense that I wanted to write material that I could star in.”
Marlene really wanted to be like Tina Fey. So she wrote a little bit, a short play and other things here and there. She eventually found her way in.
A Career Beckons
To work on bigger projects means people need to write as a collaborative. When one writes on assignment, especially for a big brand like Sonic The Hedgehog or others, a lot of the writing is not credited. It’s the higher profile writers, who were hired at some point during the process, who get the credit.
Some of the writers may have preceded Marlene. “And I come in as a development executive and also as an advocate for the brand. I bridged that gap between what the brand needs and wants and what those who were originally hired for the project wanted. Often, the higher the stakes are, the more of a Hunger Games-like atmosphere ensues behind the scenes.”
When someone very famous shows up, the atmosphere can get very cutthroat. People will do almost anything to align themselves with that star.
“A particular experience was so unpleasant. As the director of development at the company, I didn’t get the respect or authority that a high price screenwriter or a producer would have gotten. I tried to be the steward to make everybody play nice and to serve the needs of what the distributor wanted, what the company I worked for that was financing the film had wanted, and what star’s company would want. There were a lot of cooks in that kitchen and it just got crazy.”
The bottom line: collaboration can be beautiful and terrible at the same time.
How to Survive and Thrive in Entertainment
Her advice to survive and thrive in the entertainment industry is to be nice to everybody. Also keep an open mind because an opportunity that presents itself might look unattractive at first. However, there is a way to massage it. But none of that matters without the work.
“It’s hard to be a human being. It takes work. It takes maintenance, no matter if it’s show business or anything else, it’s unless you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth. Some work is involved.”