Tawnya Bhattacharya is a writer/co-producer on NBC’s The Night Shift, and formerly wrote on TNT’s Perception, The Client List at Lifetime and on USA’s Fairly Legal, with her writing partner, Ali Laventhol. Repped by ICM Partners, the duo are former NBC Writers on the Verge fellows. Bhattacharya was also a FOX Writer’s Intensive fellow. A writing instructor for 10 years, Bhattacharya launched Script Anatomy in 2010, a unique TV writing curriculum designed to give emerging professionals practical development, writing and rewriting tools to help advance their craft. Script Anatomy clients have been staffed, sold shows, and won numerous awards and TV writing fellowships.
What was the first movie you ever remember seeing or the one that made the most impact on you as a child?
E.T. because it was so emotional and thematic and who can forget the amazing set pieces? But since I’m working in TV, I want to add the TV show that made me want to be a writer, which is The Sopranos. It blew me away on about 80 different levels. It’s fantastic storytelling and I miss the hell out of those characters.
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
I’m going to give you my five favorite TV shows in no particular order instead: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad. Oh, but on the comedy side: Frasier, The Office (British version), Archer.
What word or scenario do you never want to see in a screenplay again?
I rarely like flashbacks or voice-over. They’re overused and often not done well.
What profession did your parents want you to have?
My mom wanted me to be a news broadcaster so I’d have a backup plan. I think she was hoping plan A would disappear. She did not get her way, and I think not having a backup plan made it so I was forced to sink or swim.
What profession, other than your current one, would you like to try if you could have a do-over?
I don’t want a do-over because I’m doing what I love working as a TV writer and teaching and consulting, but if I had to do something else by force then I love real estate – but I don’t want to be a real estate agent, I just want to buy a lot of it and rent it out.
What drew you to the entertainment industry and specifically, why did you want to help writers?
I think I knew coming out of the womb that I wanted to live in L.A. and be in the entertainment industry. Teaching chose me, initially – I was invited to become an instructor for a place where I had studied. I choose to continue to help writers because I love doing it and it’s my way of giving back. It’s fulfilling to be the mentor I would have liked to have coming up.
Tell us something we don’t know about you.
Most people don’t know that I love “Real Sports.” And I love to watch boxing. Also, I wear contacts most of the time, so people seem surprised when they see me wearing glasses, then look through them and find out how blind I am. I have to have my glasses by my nightstand every night in case of an earthquake so I can see where the hell to run to safety.
What do you wish you knew about the industry before you jumped in?
Well, I don’t think I jumped in. It was a bit of a long distance run which can be tiring if you don’t see an end in sight so, I wish I knew that I would break in. You don’t know that so you’re taking a giant leap of faith which can be anxiety inducing and stressful. It would have been nice to have a crystal ball. But as far as imparting helpful knowledge to someone else… You need to do a lot of writing. You’ll get better with each script. I once heard a rumor that according to the WGA statistics, a writer would register an average of 14 scripts before breaking in… Don’t know if that’s true, but I think from most people I know that sounds about right.
If you could impart only one piece of knowledge onto writers, what would it be?
Die by your own sword. Meaning listen to your gut, write what you are passionate about and don’t chase trends. Don’t write what your manager or agent wants you to write. Be the best at what you do. When your manager is pushing you to write that sci-fi sample because that’s what’s hot and what they think they can sell – imagine how many other clients all over town are getting that same advice. 1) It won’t be the hot thing by the time you finish. 2) Why compete with people who live and breathe sci-fi and who will write a script that’s stronger because it’s what they do? 3) Why die by someone else’s sword? If you write what you love and believe in and get a rejection you can still feel good that maybe that person just doesn’t have good taste. If you write someone you didn’t want to write what defense do you have if you weren’t into it either?
If you could go back in time and talk to your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give?
To take a year off after high school, pick a country and move there for a year. Take some classes just for the fun of it – not that you want to do for a career, just something fun, like a cooking class, or an art class, or an Italian class. I think that would have been invaluable for personal growth.
If you have any other fun tidbits you want to add, go for it!
I worked with somebody on a show who always went out to dinner several nights a week, had drinks with friends, went to movies, went to Palm Springs for the weekend, got up early to do yoga – and I thought God, that person knows how to live a balanced life. And when you’re on a show and you’re working, it’s really difficult to do that – but it’s important. And if you’re not on a show yet, it’s important. Have a life you can write about.