KEEP WRITING: Kriss Turner Towner Enters COM Hall of Fame
One variation of the American Dream is “to make it BIG in Hollywood.” However, wishes come true, not free, as COM alumna and 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Kriss Turner Towner (B.A., 1984) can tell you.
“Finishing and selling your first script or novel is going to take time,” she insists, extolling the virtues of consistent (and hard) work towards achieving one’s goals. “Go easy on yourself. It’s not a race. Don’t look at other writers’ careers and compare them to your own. Just write! Your journey is your own.”
As a television writer and producer, Turner Towner has written on such shows as “Cosby,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Living Single,” “Whoopi,” and “Sister, Sister.” She is currently a co-executive producer on the upcoming Matt Weiner (showrunner of megahit “Mad Men”) Amazon drama series, “The Romanoffs.”
However, when asked about her road to Tinsel Town, Turner Towner recalls that it was paved with anything but yellow bricks. The day after her graduation from the University of Washington, she drove down to Los Angeles. She worked in the Nordstrom shoe department during the day, and wrote scripts at night.
“I love Seattle, but if you’re interested in getting into television writing, you should plan to move to Los Angeles. You want to be around people who can help you: other writers, producers, studios execs, actors, agents, etc.,” Turner Towner explains. “And honestly, Los Angeles is where the majority of the television jobs are. In this business, you’re going to need a little bit of luck and you want to be around people who can help you get lucky.”
For Turner Towner, her “little bit of luck” was her spec Seinfeld script, which she was able to get into the hands of a producer. This ultimately led to her first writing job on “Sister, Sister.”
When asked how she handles challenges in an industry that is full of rejection, Turner Towner has one simple rule: “KEEP WRITING. Write something completely different. Don’t keep rewriting that one project. Believe me, that’s procrastination. Maybe one day you’ll come back to that project with a fresh new take, but in the meantime, start writing something new.”
Turner Towner has been honored for her writing with a Peabody, Humanitas, and NAACP Award. She credits her excellent communication skills with helping her overcome the pitfalls of working with “non-writing” network producers.
“The biggest challenge is getting notes from them that I either don’t agree with or simply don’t understand,” she sighs, “and then finding a way to communicate my concerns without offending them or seeming argumentative.” She recommends asking questions so that everyone can, hopefully, reach a mutual understanding. “It usually goes something like this: ‘Why would you see that happening?’ or ‘I hear your note, so what if we did ‘this’?’ ‘Didn’t they do that in *insert movie title here*?’”
If no resolution is forthcoming, Turner Towner advises content creators to give themselves the time they need by ending the initial conversation with a promise to “get back to” the issue at a later time. “Often, I’ll pitch them back something that sounds different, but is in the same vein as my original pitch,” she laughs. “Then, everybody’s happy.”
Turner Towner’s first feature film, “Something New,” won a Black Filmmakers Award for best screenplay, which she sites as one of her proudest achievements. “When I wrote my movie in 2006, I never thought that people would still be talking about it to this day,” she says, grinning broadly. “It’s still on cable and streaming, and I love it when people tell me they watched it again, for the third or fourth time, because it made them feel good.”
As a proud and active Husky alumna, Turner Towner welcomes students from the Communication Department to Los Angeles during the Department’s annual Career Exploration trip, where she answers questions about careers in show business. “I always tell students that if they can’t enthusiastically pitch or write a story, then they shouldn’t write it,” she insists. “In the past, I wrote things I didn’t love because there was a nice check on the other end. And it just wasn’t my best writing, because I didn’t have an emotional attachment to it. The ground-rule now is I only work on projects that reflect my beliefs and sensibilities. Life’s too short.”
When reflecting on her decades-long career in entertainment, Turner Towner offers this advice for anyone who aspires to get their words on a silver or mobile screen: “If you want to be a writer, write! Even a sentence. Today. How about right now? Seriously. Start writing! Go!”