Each of us has special people in our lives that do things that impact the culture in their own way. We come across amazing people, whether for a lifetime or a blink of an eye. These people are Influencers. This is the first in an ongoing series of interviews where I interview the people in my life that I'm proud to know and work to impact the world around them.
The first is Amy Suto, a writer living in Los Angeles, California.
The Phoenix: So what do you do for a living?
Amy Suto: I'm an assistant to a TV Literary Agent at Verve, which is an agency that reps writers and directors in Hollywood.
TP: How did you decide you wanted to go down this route?
AS: I eventually want to get staffed on a television show. One of the ways to become a staff writer is to work your way up the ladder, by working as a writers' assistant and showrunners' assistant, but in to get there you need previous industry experience. Working at an agency is kind of like "grad school"-you learn how the whole industry works because agencies are the center of it all, and you also get to network with a lot of incredible people who work at other companies. Being an assistant, while challenging, is like the infamous "marshmallow” willpower test in psychology. Nobody really wants to schedule meetings or do all the minutiae you need to do as an assistant, but it's the best ways to grow your network and get to where you really want to work.
TP: When you say staffed, what do you mean?
AS: TV shows have writers rooms that are made up of the showrunner who is a writer/executive producer who runs the production side of the show as well as the writers' room, and then a room of writers who brainstorm the stories for the season together and then go off and write their own episodes. Being staffed means you get paid to spend all day playing pretend with other writers, and then see your episode get made.
TP: Awesome! When did you know you wanted to do this?
AS: Back in high school! I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and wrote novels and short films and screenplays my whole life. The golden age of television brought by a new wave of incredible shows like LOST also brought a lot of new opportunities for writers in television to try out more creative storytelling, which really made the field more appealing to be a part of. While feature films are a director's medium, television is truly run by the writers.
TP: We actually went to high school together, what did you do back then to prepare yourself for this?
AS: I know, I remember you from then! You were good friends with Ariel if I remember correctly but I don't think you and I ever talked much. I made a webseries that Ariel was in called The Complex about a group of people living in an apartment complex that's actually being run by an art smuggler, which was decidedly bad, and also just wrote a lot of my own scripts which helped me get into the ultra-competitive USC screenwriting program — which is harder to get into than Harvard Law — it only accepts about 26 writers per year for the undergrad program.
TP: That's actually pretty amazing. We rarely talked, we were in a few of the same circles, but we definitely lost touch after graduation. When you got to college, what was the biggest adjustment you needed to make?
AS: Learning how to manage my time on another level became really important, I worked my way through college — I was an RA, Orientation Advisor and then Orientation Coordinator — and also created my own scripted television miniseries for USC's television station, Trojan Vision, that won a College Emmy from the Television Academy. My schedule was always insane. I also had a series of hobbies, including being a competitive ballroom dancer — I won first in Samba with my dance partner during my Freshman year. So learning how to walk the line of being happily busy and wildly overwhelmed was a learning curve since I always wanted to be incredibly involved at USC.
TP: We grew up in a relatively small suburb outside of Phoenix. Although Phoenix is a major city, Los Angeles is in another league. What did you need to learn upon moving there?
AS: I didn't have a car for the first three years of college, so I had to learn to use the metro train by USC — or how to befriend people with cars and bribe them for rides with home-baked goods! — and then just needed to be more cautious about being out alone at night. Other than that, it really wasn't that much of an adjustment as I found fast friends who wanted to explore the city with me, or who know the area and could help me find the most hipster of coffeeshops or the best half-marathons to run in.
TP: You've mentioned some things I didn't really know about you, ballroom dancing, baking, running. What hobbies did you pick up or hone that you'd like to talk about?
AS: I've always dabbled in different hobbies so I could write about them — at USC I also took this awesome computer hacking/lockpicking class where we learned how to hack into computers and lockpick our way out of a pair of police-grade handcuffs in under sixty seconds using just a paperclip. I also did archery for a hot second just to prove that I could, and in the first day of practice I shot my first arrow at the bullseye so that was all I needed to do of that. Pretty much anything that would be interested in writing about, I would try to learn about, kind of like method writing.
TP: That's a pretty varied list of things. What is your favorite to write about?
AS: I write stories more based around theme rather than topics, and I like to write about the cost of ambition. All of my characters struggle with going after an impossible goal, and the personal costs of that.
TP: What are some things that influenced you to write like that?
AS: Everything in a writers' body of work is personal; I write about the cost of ambition because I've faced those costs firsthand. I'd spend Friday and Saturday nights writing, and during a few really intense stretches of filming every weekend for 12-hour shoot days, I often had struggles with boyfriends who didn't understand why I was clocking in 80+ hour weeks in class, work, on set, and on my own writing. I've broken up with several great guys simply because they were not of my world and it was too exasperating to explain to them why I was enduring the struggles I chose to endure.
TP: If it's OK with you, I'd like to explore that a little. What are some of the sacrifices you've made, that you're glad you did and not so glad you did?
AS: Sure! Most of it comes down to time. In my last semester of senior year, I was working at Verve in the mailroom for two days a week for twenty hours, I was working as an RA for about ten hours, in classes for about fifteen hours during the week, then working on homework/writing work for another ten hours. On top of all that, I spent about twenty hours on set for production for CON — we were in production for the second season at the time — and a few hours during the week preparing for those shoots. That kind of work is all-consuming even though I loved everything, and I didn't have much time to hang out with friends outside of being on set with them, and didn't have enough time for my then-boyfriend. He was a great guy, he just needed more time from me and the math simply didn't work out. I didn't sleep much, and still don't, and often was up at midnight to fit in a work out or make food for the week. My schedule's a lot calmer now — I work 60-70 hour weeks and just write in my free time — but my industry is notorious for this kind of nonexistent personal life because work is everything.
TP: On a brighter note, since The Phoenix is about rising, what has your been your favorite experience in this field?
AS: There have been many! I love what I do, and celebrating our success at the College Emmys was amazing since a lot of my favorite actors were presenting the awards and it was surreal to attend the mixers and awards celebrations with my cast and crew to celebrate a victory that we had created with our own hard work. The work I do at Verve is often hard and exhausting, but nothing's more rewarding than helping a client out or finding a solution to a really challenging problem. Plus, I'm an assistant with a lot of other great people there, and the camaraderie in the trenches is always a highlight as we are all doing this hard thing together.
TP: Anything you can tell us about upcoming projects? Or any dream projects you'd love to work on?
AS: No upcoming projects as I can't produce anything with the hours I work, but I just finished up a new pilot I'm rewriting and sharing with other writers. Eventually I'd like to make the jump into a writers' room, but my dream show changes daily since there is so much great TV out there. Currently, my favorite show of the moment is Orphan Black, which I’m rewatching since I love it so much. The writing and Tatiana Maslany’s performance is stellar.
TP: Last thing, what are you watching or listening to? TV, movies, podcasts, music, whatever? What's your top five in the culture right now?
AS: NPR's "This American Life". It's consistently amazing reporting and storytelling. "A Series Of Unfortunate Events". Maybe it's the nostalgia of my generation's love for this book series when we were kids, but Neil Patrick Harris is phenomenal in this show. "Black Mirror". This British series is our generations' Twilight Zone, great satire and cinematic storytelling. "Stumbling On Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert. It's about what makes us happy, and I read this as part of my Science of Happiness class back in school. I'm reading again and it's truly a great handbook for finding happiness and defining it. "The Atlantic". Great reporting and op-eds, especially in this election cycle. There's also a great series about women and ambition I found particularly interesting called 'The Ambition Interviews'. And that's it! There are so many more, like "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver", but that's my top five right now.
TP: I'd like to thank you for taking the time out for this interview, I definitely appreciate it. I wish you success in what you do.
AS: Of course, thanks for interviewing me, I appreciate it!