More Conversation with Rina Mimoun:
Neely: Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
Rina: I don’t know. I think college. Growing up, I had always done theater but I quickly saw that I was never going to act. I did not have the stamina or the talent for that. But I loved writing. I wrote a lot of plays in college.
The first thing that happened after I graduated was that I was interning for a production company and the guy who I was interning for said “plays are a lot like sitcoms. You should write a sitcom.” So I took an extension class at UCLA and then I took it again and then I just started specking sitcoms, multi-cam by the way (not to date myself). Because it was the most like a play, because it was just dialogue and you don’t have think in terms of big giant set pieces; you just have to put characters in a room and make them say funny stuff. I started in half hour. That was my plan all along. I got derailed.
Neely: So where did you go to school?
Rina: Santa Barbara, UCSB.
Neely: It’s out of order, but what was the first sitcom that you landed?
Rina: The first job I had was for “Ned and Stacey.” And by the way, Charlie Kaufman was on the staff of that show. So talk about meeting cool people right away! But technically I was a WGA intern on the show. I had written my specs and had gotten them out and I got an agent through the guy I was interning for. All sorts of random machinations. And I got this opportunity to go on “Ned and Stacey” as an intern.
But when Michael Weithorn met me (and we’re now Facebook friend, it was based on my script. I came in and I was wearing this big frou-frou polka dot dress and I was about 21 and he was just, “Oh, I can’t hire you. No I can’t do that. But we’ll see if we can figure out a way to get you in the room.” So I came in on that. And then I was writers’ assistant on a few shows after that. “Men Behaving Badly” and “The Closer” (the Tom Selleck one) and “Caroline in the City” for a week. And then my first staff job was on a UPN sitcom called “Guys Like Us.”
Neely: When you left Santa Barbara, did you already have some sort of support network in place, or perhaps a plan?
Rina: No. I had no plan. It’s funny because I grew up here. Weirdly I am specking a comedy right now, which I haven’t done in a long time, and it’s literally about this exact thing. When I first graduated college and I knew I was coming back home, I had two different friends – my best friend from high school and my best friend from the theater group that I had grown up with out here – and I had promised them both that I was going to live with them but they didn’t know that. So I sort of forced the three of us to live together.
All of my friends here, and my support system here have been my friends since I was 12. I didn’t know how I was going to get through this industry thing, I just kept writing specs after specs after specs. I just kept writing.
And something else I remember of the time, and I don’t think it’s like that anymore, but “Written By” magazine used to have at the end these pages with every single show that was on TV with a phone number for their production office. So right when I was looking for work, I called every single stupid show that was there and faxed my resume that I totally lied about and just kept trying to get writers’ assistant jobs, figuring at some point it would translate.
Neely: What was your first job in the industry, because clearly that’s how you got it.
Rina: My first job in the industry was before “Ned and Stacey.” I was working… it doesn’t exist anymore either. There used to be a place called the HBO workspace. It was this tiny tiny tiny theater off Seward in Hollywood. Jack Black…
Neely: I do remember it. HBO used to workshop their material there.
Rina: All these people who are now… Mary Lynn Rajskub was there, Jack Black was there, Nora Dunn used to do a ton of stuff there… the Oedinkirks… every person now that has had a show on the air at HBO, all the comedy guys, they all did little workshops there and I was the person in charge of the phone.
Neely: …the coordinator.
Rina: Not even the coordinator. I answered the phone. (laughing) So that was my first job.
Neely: Out of sync here, but you said something that was intriguing. What was this theater group you were involved in in high school?
Rina: The Santa Monica Playhouse.
Neely: Wow! Were you part of the repertory group?
Rina: Yeah, the YPC (young professionals’ company). Truly, all of my best friends today were from there. We all weirdly had kids at the same time; three of us live on the same block. It’s very bizarre and not very L.A.
Neely: That’s very incestuous. Are any of them still actors?
Rina: No one is an actor. One of them is a big casting director; one of them is kind of a rock star. Actually she is a rock star. She did my opening credits to “Privileged.” Inara George – “A Bird and a Bee.” And another friend of mine from that same group became a writer/director. She just directed “Country Strong” and she’s got another movie that she’s writing for Sony. And the other one is in charge of the YA division at Penguin. Liz Dean is the casting director; Shana Feste is the writer/director; Inara George is the rock star, as I like to call her; and Jennifer Besser is YA. And then the other friend of ours who’s part of that group, because I can’t not mention her, is Aisha Wagle who took a totally different road and ended up moving to India for the last 5 years. She’s raising her daughter…
Neely: …in India?
Rina: …in India.
Neely: Is she Indian?
Rina: She is Indian but she never lived there. Her husband, who is not Indian, randomly got a job there and took them to India. But I maintain that if Aisha was here, she’d be president of one of these networks for sure.
Neely: So how did that first writing job come about?
Rina: My first writing job was for “Guys Like Us” Same thing… I had been specking and specking and I was a writers’ assistant at the time and my then agent, Evan Corday who was at Writers and Artists, got my material to “Guys Like Us.” And Jeannie Bradley, who at the time was at Sony and was the person who got me into “Ned and Stacey” as an intern, so she was my champion. She got me read by Dan Schneider. They needed a girl; they didn’t want a girl but they were forced to hire a girl and I got paper-teamed. Dan said if he had to hire a girl he was going to hire a boy with her. So they paper-teamed me with a guy. He and I were both writers’ assistants and we had no idea who the other one was but we gladly teamed up.
Neely: So the two of you were staff writers or writers’ assistants?
Rina: We had both previously been writers’ assistants. He’d been a writers’ assistant on “Seinfeld” and I was coming off literally one week at “Caroline in the City.” His name was George Doty. He was the writers’ assistant at “Seinfeld” and Dan Schneider wanted to hire him, but they told him he had to hire a girl. So he said that we had to work together and we’d be half a girl. It worked out.
Neely: Dan Schneider, the fat kid on “Head of the Class?” Is he still working?
Rina: Ohmygod. Dan Schneider is like all of Nickelodeon.
Neely: Wonder how many women he’s hired on that? Actually I looked up some of the credits on his shows and though he’s consistently hired George Doty, I didn’t see a whole lot (actually any) women’s names as writers – maybe I missed some but…
Have you had any mentors along the way?
Rina: I have. I definitely have. Randy Singer brought me in on “Jack and Jill” and she was really amazing to me because she let me see the entire process. And as a staff writer I don’t think that ever happens. I was in post with her. I would never have learned post production but Randy let me sit in editing with her for hours. I loved that show and I was so excited; it was a one hour and was exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to be doing and she let me sit in on every part of production and let me even sit with her when she was doing rewrites. I didn’t have any life at all so it worked out great. (both laugh) She was a amazing with that.
And I always credit Greg Berlanti because he taught me of so much of the way I approach storytelling. It’s still very much the way Greg taught me. I am true to Berlanti form. I hear from others that he’s working differently now but he definitely showed me how to break stories from an emotional place so that it always feels real and always feels grounded; so that you are, hopefully, caring about the people you’re watching which I think is always consistent with the television he makes. Whether you like it or not, you’re drawn in by the people.
Neely: Are you mentoring others?
Rina: I would like to. I don’t know if I am but I have to say that my assistant Jenna is one of the best rewriters ever, so I make her read all of my scripts. I try to read hers but she’s too busy noting me on mine. If I could mentor anyone, it’s Jenna.
Neely: What have been some of your literary influences?
Rina: You mean books or movies?
Rina: Woody Allen, Cameron Crowe… literary… I don’t read a lot and I don’t read as much as I should, especially now. I have to say that I love Douglas Coupland.
Neely: How about in the past? Reading good writing usually leads to writing.
Rina: I know. I’m thinking of only things I’ve read recently. I will say that once I like a writer I tend to read everything that they’ve written. So when I first read Agustin Burrows I wanted to read everything. And when I read Prep, I wanted to read all of hers although she doesn’t have as much output yet. I think Prep is my favorite of everything she ever did.
Neely; Who is she?
Rina: Curtis Sittenfeld. And I love The Time Traveler’s Wife. And then Nicole Krauss who I have the feeling is married to a writer who’s more famous than she is, but she wrote one of my all time favorite books called The History of Love.
Neely: What about when you were growing up or in college, there are no authors you can think of that touch your writing?
Rina: If you want me to be honest (Neely nods) and I’ll sound like a dope, but in high school and college I was all about TV. It’s no mistake that I became a TV writer. And comedies. When I think about what influenced me most it was “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers” and “Friends” and “Seinfeld” and “Roseanne” and “Wonder Years.” I just ate television all day long. That was my favorite thing. More than movies, more than anything. I’ve always loved television and it was always what I wanted to do because I loved it.
Neely: What are you watching right now?
Rina: My favorite show, and I still get to call it that because it’s still sort of recent is “Friday Night Lights.” Ohmygod, I love “Friday Night Lights.” I’ve gotten into “Parenthood,” although I wasn’t totally into it at the beginning, but now it’s completely won me over. I’m still watching “The Good Wife.” I’m watching “30 Rock,” “The Office;” it’s embarrassing but I’m still watching “Grey’s” – I know, but they got me in the beginning and I stayed on the train. I went off for a second but now I’m back. I’m watching “Modern Family.” Ohmygod! I love “Happy Endings.”
Neely: It changed? It got better?
Rina: I don’t know.
Certainly I was a “Sex and the City” fan, but if you were going to ask me what show I was taking to the island, it would probably be “Friends” because I still keep it on my TiVo so I can watch it and make me feel happy. “Happy Endings” is sort of like that.
Neely: Then I’ll give it another try. I watched it at the end of last season. I hadn’t particularly liked the script but I’ve heard rumblings that it has matured into something else.
Rina: I just find them delightful. I love them; I like all of them. They’re funny and I just think that it’s not trying all that hard and I just like all of the characters. They’re all pretty well drawn. I’ve been really enjoying it. And “House.”
Neely: So what are you reading right now? What’s on your night stand?
Rina: It’s boring. It’s a book about Charter Schools and it’s called Class Warfare by Steven Brill.
Neely: That’s an interesting choice.
Rina: I haven’t given up on my silly show about schools that I’m still obsessed with. That one I can’t figure out.
Neely: You’ve told me some of the authors you like, but what are some of the titles that leap to mind?
Rina: History of Love by Nicole Krauss, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers…
Neely: I loved that one.
Rina: That’s pretty old at this point, but I love that. That one you could read again.
Neely: And it fits right in with your Charter School story.
Rina: Yeah. It does. I’m trying to think. I don’t even do these lists on Facebook.
Neely: You’re kidding. I’d never do a list on Facebook.
Rina: But you realize¸ this is one of the reasons I can’t think off the top of my head. Those are definitely my…
Neely: What about films?
Rina: Everything Woody Allen except… I can’t say everything Woody Allen anymore. Old Woody Allen.
Neely: Most people are either everything or they stop with around the time of “Manhattan.” That’s basically my stopping point except I do like “Broadway Danny Rose,” “Hannah and her Sisters,” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” I’ve also heard good things about “Paris After Midnight.”
Rina: He’s had some good ones after…
Neely: …but not great ones.
Rina: Wait. There’s one that he just did that I really really did love… not the Larry David one although I liked it. Oh, oh.. that reminds me that I love “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Nurse Jackie.” But I love old Woody Allen and I love Cameron Crowe, pre-“Elizabeth Town.” I like sucker movies. I like “When Harry Met Sally” I’m not that interesting. I’m pretty commercial mainstream stuff.
Neely: You’ve actually already answered this but I’ll ask it anyway. Do you think you’re more influenced by what you see or what you read?
Rina: What I see, definitely.
Neely: Can you tell me what you’re working on right now?
Rina: It’s funny in the way it came about. And I’ll tell you a little bit about it because it relates to “The Doctor.” So after “The Doctor” didn’t happen… I’ve been under a deal at Warner Brothers and it all happened so fast. Almost the second you find out that you’re not making a show, where you’ve been prepping and coming up with a whole season and having to do all this work, within the next few weeks you’re essentially being put out there again to come up with new ideas. And I honestly couldn’t imagine it this year. Anyway, after we found out “The Doctor” wasn’t going, I was heartbroken, Scott Foley, who’s more of a trouper than I am, came to me and said, “When you’re in a better mood, call me because I have an idea.” And I was like… sure. (laughing loudly)
I didn’t really take it to heart too much. I was meeting a lot of producers and pods here and reading a bunch of stuff and then Scott called again and said, “Really. It’s a good idea. I want to tell you.” So I told him to email me and he emailed me this idea. And it’s very much out of what I normally do, very much out of my comfort zone. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea, so finally I called him back and said, “Let’s put together a quick pitch because the studio is very good about weighing in. I’m not fighting any more uphill battles with them. If they like it, they’ll tell us right away and we can really work on it. If they don’t, you should take it somewhere else because I think it’s a really good idea.” So we went in and had a 30 minute meeting with them and they totally got it right a way and were excited about it. And we sold it to CBS.
Neely: Is Scott co-writing it with you?
Rina: Scott is co-writing. It’s my first time ever that I’m writing with anyone and it’s Scott Foley. How weird is that?
Neely: How fantastic. I hope you’ll let me read it at some point.
Neely: Thanks so much for spending the time because I know how busy you are. And especially, thanks for sharing your wonderful script.
Upcoming after the first of the year, “Limbo” by Brandon Camp.
In the meantime, take a look at my most recent film reviews: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (or rather Tinker Tailor Soldier Snooze), We Need to Talk about Kevin, Young Adult, Carnage (true carnage), London River (see it before it’s too late), and The Adventures of Tintin (a true delight). Coming soon: War Horse, Albert Nobbs and The Iron Lady. This season brings with it an embarrassment of riches (although in a couple of cases it may just be an embarrassment).