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Shonda Rhimes Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the Creator of Scandal
When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she was so nervous she had to start over, twice. Since then Shonda has created and produced television’s biggest hits. In this class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, be a showrunner, and build your career. You’ll also get her pilot scripts, pitch notes, and story bibles. Welcome to Shondaland.
The internationally respected Shonda Rhimes, whose TV credits include ABC Studios’ Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Catch.
In 5+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television. Watch, listen and learn as Shonda teaches you how to write, pitch, and create a hit TV show.
Shonda Rhimes Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the creator of Scandal is priced at $90 and includes:
- Shonda Rhimes teaches you his unique approach to television writing in over 5+ hours of lessons (10 Videos)
- Interactive exercises
- A 15-page downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.
- Lifetime access, with classes that never expires
- Learning materials and workbooks
- Accessible from any device
- Watch, listen, and learn as Shonda teaches his most comprehensive tennis class ever.
- Office Hours: Upload work to get feedback from the class. Shonda Rhimes will also critique select student work.
If this class is anything like past Masterclass’ you are in for a treat.
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- R.L. Stine Masterclass: Teaches Writing for Young Audiences
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Shonda Rhimes, creator and writer of groundbreaking hit shows and one of the most celebrated and influential producers in Hollywood, has been named MIPCOM 2016 Personality of the Year.
Shonda Rhimes at the 2015 Massachusetts Conference for Women
Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” creator and writer Shonda Rhimes spoke with New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,000 attendees at the 2015 MA Conference for Women in Boston on December 10, 2015.
Ms. Rhimes Delivers Dartmouth’s Commencement Speech
Shonda Rhimes ’91, the wildly successful television writer and producer, told the Dartmouth Class of 2014, “Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”
Vince Gilligan, Shonda Rhimes and more Top Showrunners on THR’s Roundtable | Emmys 2012
Roundtables are back! Tune in Monday, May 16th for the premiere of The Hollywood Reporter’s 2016 Emmy Roundtable season. Subscribe to stay up to date with new Roundtable videos publishing everyday this awards season! Who do you want to see on this season’s Roundtables? Tell us in the comments below!
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SHONDA RHIMES RHIMES
ANNA GUISE: Hello everybody I know you are as excited as I am to be here with SHONDA Rhimes thank you, so I grew up with my father who is an artist and the creative process to me is endlessly fascinating so I thought that maybe we could look into the creativity and not that you will reveal any secrets sauces but out of the tool box you will use in giving us these kind of moments.
So I wanted to start with at what age did you start telling stories making up characters, was that even before you could write.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes I think I was always a story teller, people always ask that question when did you know you were a writer, I don’t think there was time that I ever thought myself as anything but I really was making up stories into the tape recorder and trying to get my mom to type it up before I could write myself, that’s sort of how we spent our time as kids my sisters and I.
ANNA GUISE: And at what point did the idea of becoming a screen writer enter into your head.
SHONDA RHIMES: In a weird way that was kind of out of necessity, I thought I was going to be a novelist I really had these big plans to be Tony Morrison and Tony already have that job so you can’t really get that job. I got out of college and I didn’t know what to do with my life and my parents are professors and very much wanted me to go to grad school and they did not want me to be a writer because writers did not make a living.
They want me to starve and so I read an article that said it was harder to get into USC film school than it was harder to get into Harvard and that sounded to me that my parents couldn’t say there was a problem with that because it was harder than Harvard Law school and I told them I could teach if I went to film school and I could go into the writing program and that sounded great to me and I applied and I got in and so I went and it wasn’t until really I was there that I really seriously thought oh wait I really liked this. I was most just trying to find a way to stop working honestly and go back to school.
ANNA GUISE: Now your first screen play was for film though you didn’t start in television right away is that correct?
SHONDA RHIMES: No, I thought I was going to write film back then I got out of film school and in ninety something and back then film was what was happening, television wasn’t as big at the time, sitcoms were big you know it was sort of the Seinfeld era but dramas weren’t as big at the time and so movies did feel like where as independent films were big and I thought I would write movies at the time so I started out doing that.
ANNA GUISE: And you did it right what was.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes my first I sold specs scripts and things but my first produce projects was introducing Dorothy Dandridge which starts Hali Berry for HBO.
ANNA GUISE: Fantastic so from that how did Grey’s Anatomy comes about?
SHONDA RHIMES: I wrote, after that I started writing I called them teen grown movies I Cross Roads and I wrote Princess Diaries 2 and I enjoyed it, it was the living and it was great but it wasn’t a lot of character development going on in those movies things were more blockbuster kind of films but then I had a baby.
I adopted a baby and I was at home a lot and what you realize when you are home that much is there is a lot of television to be watched and I started really watching television and I watched I think it was 24 the television show 24, I watched the entire season of 24 in 24 hours and I loved it and I said wow, this is where all the character development is happening.
This is really interesting I watched like 3 seasons of Buffy in like 4 days and babies never sleep and so you are always awake and you watching and it was genius to me because that’s where you could really develop characters and I remember calling my agent saying I want to do TV and he sent me over to ABC studios which then was called Touchtone and I had a meeting and they said you want to write TV that sounds great and they said let’s try it out and we tried it out.
ANNA GUISE: And Greys Anatomy is the result.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes the first I did a pilot I wrote a pilot about was correspondence, which I wrote the script and I was really proud of it was a really great experience and it didn’t get made because it was about war correspondence, they were having a lot of fun drinking and having a lot of set while covering war and we were at war so that did not feel very appropriate, and the next year I remember asking very clearly what does Bob Iger want to see and they say Bob Iger wants a medical show and I love to watch surgeries.
I use to love to watch surgeries I use to love to watch surgeries on the channel I have been a candy striper I thought that was very interesting and so I wrote a medical show about people who are very competitive and how love to have sex and really enjoyed being competitive and doing these things while doing surgery and that was Grey’s Anatomy.
ANNA GUISE: And what did you learn after the first season what was the lessons?
SHONDA RHIMES: What did I learn after those first season, oh my gosh, it is a really interesting job because you go from being a movie writer where you are at home in your pyjamas by yourself and you type one script a year, literally I would spend 300 days doing nothing 40 days thinking 15 days writing and one day celebrating the fact that I have written something.
To suddenly you have to turn out a script every 7 to 9 days and you have 300 people working for you and you have to run a writers room and you have to know what you are doing so it was zero to three thousand in an instant and if you are a very introverted person, if you never held any other job before but possible being an assistant it was pretty intense, so I learned a lot I learned pretty much everything you could possible learn as fast as possible.
ANNA GUISE: So that’s baptism by fire. So let’s stick with Greys just for second last TV season 2015 2016 Greys in its 12th seasons if that data I saw is correct was the third highest rated network drama in the 1849 demographic, so the question is how have you been able how do you approach the show every season in order to keep it fresh and interesting for the viewers.
SHONDA RHIMES: How wow, I always try to think of the fact the Meredith Grey has been on a journey for now 13 seasons, it’s not the same show every year and I am not doing even though there is a procedural element every week there are medical stories and every week there are medical cases and you watching her solve them and you are watching her doctors do things.
It is a character journey I thought of writing a novel for 13 years and Ellen Pompeo who plays Meredith Grey and I have been locked together in this very interesting journey for a very long time and because she is sort of fearless and you know show me without my makeup, go ahead and cut back to me 12 years ago watched this journey happen watch me aged on screen all of these wonderful things.
We get to watch somebody evolve on camera and every season what I try to do is look at each season as if it is a completely different show not as if we are going to tell the same story we tell last season or we are going to try and repeat the feeling we got last season but where is Meredith now and how we make that story feel interesting and how we tell it.
ANNA GUISE: Right you told me in a previous interview that at the beginning of the season you know what the last episode will be and you work towards that, is that how you approach planning of the season.
SHONDA RHIMES: That’s how I approach Greys yes and Greys on Grey’s I know how it’s going to end and we sort of start with that last episode in mind and go and try to get there basically.
ANNA GUISE: So after Greys came Private Practice and what is it about the medical profession that fascinates you and you have written so many medical procedures would you feel able to perform any now.
SHONDA RHIMES: If anybody here want to give birth I can perform a C section I am very sure of it if you need an appendectomy I know that I can do that from beginning to end don’t fall and hit your head because I can do all sorts of procedures to your brain I think I know how to do them like backwards forward and sideways, probably very dangerous because I know just enough to be scary but not enough to save anybody’s life.
But what’s great is you get excited about this stuff what I love is that profession is filled with life and death experiences on a bad day you actually kill someone that is point of the job and on a good day you save someone’s life. When you have a creative thought in that job you are inventing a new medical procedure that is going to change the way someone lives or dies or breathes or moves.
You know in our job when I have a creative thought it just changes the story so there is something really visceral abut that job I love. I also love especially in the beginning the cut throat nature of it for women you know there really were about 6 women out of 20 for every medical class which is what they say in the pilot. That was interesting to me to be in a place where you were so overwhelmed by the men in the program and thought to be less than. That is no longer true there are a lot more women who are surgeons now but at the time that felt like a fascinating world to enter.
Private Practice came along though because the president of the network at the time Steven McPherson said I want a spin off and I am nothing if not obliging I am a straight A student and I thought okay well let’s make a spin off and really started thinking about it and really loved the character of Alison who had come on just to be a guest star and ended up staying and there is something about that, that character and who she was ad what she could be that felt interesting to me and thought how can we make that a show and what was different about Private Practice was it was different from Greys.
Grey’s was about these surgeons and how they felt about their patients. Private Practice was about the moral and ethical dilemmas of medicine which was very different.
ANNA GUISE: Right absolutely so than we were blessed with Scandal how did that, that’s a whole different kind of show.
SHONDA RHIMES: Completely different world.
ANNA GUISE: And how did that one come about.
SHONDA RHIMES: Scandal came about I had 2 shows going at the time I was exhausted but CBS? kept saying there was this woman I really think you should meet her name is Judy Smith she is a Washington fixer and I kept saying that great but I am not writing anymore shows I don’t have time to meet anybody but she says just meet here we have to meet her because I set up this meeting.
I said okay we will give her 15 minutes and so Judith Smith came in and Judy Smith had done everything from representing Monica Lewinsky to getting Clarence Thomas through his hearings she had done a ton of things and she came in she sat down and we started to talk and I think it was like 4 hours later I looked up and though I am hungry that is the only reason why I looked up.
And I realized that there was a show in there, there was hundreds of episode of what this woman did for a living it was fascinating and I was stuck, I am stuck because there were all these stories in my head and that was a show.
It took about a year for me to write show I kept thinking I will put it over there and then I went away for maybe 4 or 5 days and I wrote the script and came back and turned it in and said okay this will be a show but it’s been a lot of fun.
ANNA GUISE: How often have you and your writers come up with events that then actually played out in real life what do you do in those situations.
SHONDA RHIMES: I think it was a lot of times we write things that end up being disturbingly real, it started with Thorngate we came up with this concept of Thorngate your phones can listen to what you are saying or doing anybody can tap into your phone and pay attention to you.
Your computers can be switched on to watch you and we made all this stuff up and we thought it was really funny and we thought it was really awesome and 3 months later we found out it was real there was all these articles about it.
We thought that’s was interesting then it just kept happening in these ways we make things up and thought we were being really cute and fun and it would keep going and somebody in the room said I think we are like witches or something, and I said we aren’t witches it’s just weird.
By the time we got to Hollis Doyle our outspoken crazy republican guy running for president who really said appalling things, I don’t know I really don’t know what happened.
ANNA GUISE: Let’s leave it at that, okay the scandal cast seemed particularly closed knit and tight what are the advantages as the show runner of having that kind of atmosphere on your set.
SHONDA RHIMES: You know it is a really good thing to foster to have a group of people be that close to one another they really close knit group of friends and part of what I learned is that it makes sense to just try to I don’t know to create an environment in which everybody want to be together in a non competitive world where everybody feels like they are a family and what makes it wonderful is I mean this group of people that would show up and rehears on their lunch breaks because they wanted to rehearsed because they thought it would be fun.
They spend time together outside of work we get together on Sunday nights to watch the show so that everybody is ready to live tweet together there is just a sense of family there. They are very bonded a lot of things happen because, a lot of creative things happen just because everybody is so close and hangs out together in their free time in their extra time that’s how it goes.
ANAN GUISE: Whose idea it was to start the live tweeting.
SHONDA RHIMES: We started live tweeting we got everybody on twitter, Carey came to me and said you twitter I am on twitter we both know what twitter is like we should get everybody on so we got everybody on twitter. I was already live tweeting things and so we got everybody live tweeting.
Carey and I got everybody live tweeting immediately and what was great was it wasn’t just the cast, the cast was live tweeting the crew was live tweeting the directors were live tweeting and then you know other actors were live tweeting my researchers were live tweeting and then fans were live tweeting and then joyless was live tweeting along with us.
After awhile you felt like you have this lovely community on line of people who were all doing it together and I remember like our ratings were okay the first seasons and then somewhere in the middle of second season and then Oprah start live tweeting along with us and that sort of changed everything.
ANNA GUISE: That’s right, so for the benefit of the people who are in the audience who are not from the United States, the show runner is a very American figure it doesn’t really exist to the extent that it does in the US and other countries can you give a brief definition of the span of responsibilities.
SHONDA RHIMES: The American television show runner is and it is kind of an odd word because it doesn’t truly accurately cover the job for everybody but a show runner is sort of the pet writer on the show who both runs the writer’s room and runs the production of the show like you can’t just be the person who runs the writers room and you can’t just be the person who runs the production of the show you have to do both.
You are in charge of what’s happening on the set in a lot of ways you are in charge of what’s happening in the room you are in charge of the creative vision of the show overall, that goes to budget and it goes to keeping the actors happy and healthy and taken care of and it goes to keeping the stories happening and the trains on time is what I like to say which means scripts coming in on time and things happening when they are supposed to.
ANNA GUISE: Now at SHONDA Rhimes land your company there are shows that are produce for which you are not the show runner so what is your relationship on those shows which are Getaway with Murder, The Catch and the new one we will talk about in a minute.
SHONDA RHIMES: So on How to Get Away With Murder and The Catch my job especially when we are not in the first season of the show I would say in the first season it is different, when we are not in the first season of the show and I created the show and I am not running the show my job is really just dragging in the cage I like to say so I am the dragon that Pete can release out of the cage for How to Get Away with Murder when he feels like when he needs some extra power behind him to talk to the studio or the network about something.
I am the dragon he can release from the cage when he has some creative issues that he need some help with, and we joke about that because I use to call in the first season of Grey’s I use to call Mark Gordon who was our non writing executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy I use to call him my dragon because he use to be a powerful person on our show and I would say I am going to release Mark Gordon from his cage when we needed him and so I would say to Pete look think I am your dragon o I am Pete’s dragon.
Same thing for Alan Heinburg at this point on The Catch I try to do that for him as well creatively I am there if he needs me, generally these are people who knows what they are doing so they will pitch me there seasons we will talk about them I am always making sure I am on board but there hasn’t been a time when I haven’t been on board yet so we are doing really well in that sense.
ANNA GUISE: Now you the first script that you write you know you come up with the story line you create the character how do you then work with an actor and choose any example you want because you write the words but the actor brings that person to life that must be a collaborative process isn’t how together do you bring a character to life that we see on screen.
SHONDA RHIMES: I do and I do really think it is a collaborative process I think it is very important to look at it that way I don’t think a character is a character until an actor is having that role and it has always been that way in my mind. You can think of the character being one way until an actor has been cast the character doesn’t it has not fully have life breath into it.
For instance Dr Bailey played by Shondra Wilson, Dr Bailey was first imagines as being sort of a short adorable blond hair blue eyed sweet face woman she was the only person in the script for whom there was a physical description written literally and Shondra Wilson came in and read the part and Dr Bailey became a short adorable black woman in a completely different way who had a very different attitude.
Who wasn’t sweet and wasn’t warm and cuddly in that sense she was just a very different more no nonsense hard working woman and what was great about that was her interpretation of the character just made the character different and that became who Dr Bailey was for me completely without question, which was wonderful.
What happens a lot is my contract with all of the actors is you will say all of the words as they are written we are not going to discuss the text of the words, the words are text that’s just the way they are, however while I am not going to change the words I am also not going to go down to the stage and tell you to say them or how to interpret them in anyway shape or form and what I love about that is that you then get these performance back that informs whatever is going to happen next.
So Cyrus being on Scandal for instance there is something about his explanation on why he would never be President and his rage about that and the way he was playing it that said to me he has these things about him, he is a republican he is smart he is strong he is this he is that and I said he has a husband.
He has a husband that he has been protecting in a whole different way and I ran up to the writers room and I said Cyrus is gay and he has this husband and we need to introduce him so that we can play out the fact that he has somebody that he loves and it just worked really beautifully to have his anger and his secrets and his destructive powerful nature play out against the back drop of a marriage of a wonderful man.
Who is just waiting for him to be better than he could ever be and then to have that man I don’t know spoil or die but it was really great to watch you know how that performance was shaped by that and then to continue to watch as the shows plays out their performances changed the writing and the writing changed the performances.
ANNA GUISE: Fantastic I know that Peter Nowalk is the show runner for How to Get Away with Murder but if we can spend a moment on Viola Davis who is the force of nature, how is that relationship, is that different from the one you have with your actors.
SHONDA RHIMES: And I do think that each one of us works differently Peter works very differently, Pete and Viola has an amazing relationship which I love and Viola is extraordinary I mean truly extraordinary I honestly think that you could take pages from the phone book and give them to her and she could stand up on the stage and you guys will be weeping that’s how good she is.
But Pete’s relationship with Viola is, she is there is a writer in her soul there is a producer part of her but there is a part of her that is a writer so Viola will come and she will pitch scenes, when we talked with her for the very first time about playing the part of Annalise Keating she is the one who said I want to play a scene where I take off my wig and I take off my makeup and you see who I truly am.
That was her pitch that was her story pitch and it was the best scene that happens in that show it was amazing. She often pitches story lines for herself she pitch Cicely Tyson being her mother not actress but the idea of seeing her mother who she was and who she came from, she pitches really lovely stuff and she and Pete are very collaborative in that way.
They discuss story line they debate about them they have these great talks and for Pete it is really valuable he loves it and it works for him it would make my hair stand on end just because the way brain take sin story however, Carey and I have lots of long discussions about things that are going to happen way in the future because she has such a great head for politics as well and those things often end up feeding into the story too but its different we have different styles.
ANNA GUISE: Tell us about the new show that is coming up in mid season correct
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes, so we have a new season show which is created by Heather Mitchell who is another long time SHONDA Rhimes land (23:50) writer she wrote on Greys Anatomy she wrote on Scandal and now she has this new show it currently does not have a title we are calling it the untitled SHONDA Rhimes land project at the moment. All of our shows were called untitled something at first and it’s sort of a sequel to Romeo and Juliet.
It sort of what happens after Romeo and Juliet died we jokingly call it Romeo and Juliet are dead right now but it’s really the story of what happens to the family the Montague’s and the Capulet’s who is left behind and how they are going to cope and what happens to the town of Verona and the struggles that goes on and who is going to take the throne and how it is going to work and all the politics that comes with that.
ANNA GUISE: Cool, cool you mentioned that you had people who started for you as writers and people who are now show runners, has that been important to you to have people in your company see them grow and allow them to grow.
SHONDA RHIMES: Its really been probably the best and most exciting about getting to have this company is to watch and bring in fine talent and watch them grow and bring them up through the ranks not just from you know we have assistants who have been here CeCe McKee who was an assistant on the pilot on Grey’s Anatomy is now the head writer on Greys Anatomy.
It’s wonderful to have been here and bring them up and give them these opportunities but it is also just at this point how we work it the writers who learn how to tell story the way SHONDA Rhimes land tells stories which is really through character and about character and about sort of, I always say story is best told by saying what’s the worst possible thing that can happen in this moment to the character and then make that happen and get them out of it.
That sort of story of story telling you learn really well working in SHONDA Rhimes land and so it comes from we hire our assistants and we know that they have potential to be writers and from there on up that’s how we promote our writers that’s how we train then and so they come through there and then we find people who if they are interesting and they are great and they have been working in other capacities and we think wow we should give them more responsibilities, if its post production if it is production if it is anything we really want to keep people and we want them to stay so we have people who have been with us for 13 years or more just because we like our people to stay.
ANNA GUISE: And as you have evolved from writer to show runner to the head of a company that employs several hundred people I imagine, what has your learning curve been what new skills have you had to acquire.
SHONDA RHIMES: I think I have learned a lot I mean really going from being somebody who all I had to do is think about writing story to thinking about managing and leading a lot of people it’s going from thinking just about yourself to thinking about couple thousand people, 5 shows is a couple thousand I don’t know couple thousand or so plus the people who work at the company plus all the fans who are watching plus all the people who work at the studio network who are sort of the satellite people who are working with you on your show and are your partners.
You become responsible to them and to your partners and for all the people who work for you and part of that is trying really hard and this has been something that I am just really starting to feel like I am getting a handle on. Trying really hard to make sure that people feel values when they come to work not feel like they are working but feel like they are coming to work and feel valued there.
So that they are enjoying themselves at work I always say that work should be fun and if work isn’t fun then maybe we are doing it wrong because it is a creative endeavour and it should be for everybody who is doing it and so that’s really the goal at this point.
ANNA GUISE: Of all the things you have to do is writing still what you consider your most important thing or favourite.
SHONDA RHIMES: It is now I think there was a period in this journey of learning how to manage all of the things that I do which you know is a lot of things where I sort of felt like there is so many things I have to deal with just a piece of it and I wasn’t as happy you know, I was doing publicity I was doing business I was doing all of these things and I realize that is not frankly what ABC studios is paying me for and that is not what I came to do this job for and that is not what I love.
What I love is storytelling and so my job is really as a manager and a leader was to find ways to make it possible to have other people do the other things as much as possible to make room for myself to be more of a storyteller most of the time.
ANNA GUISE: Delegate.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes and that’s the other thing if you are a control freak it is very difficult to learn how to delegate and so I spend some time really learning how to delegate those other jobs could be entrusted to people who obviously know what they are doing so that I could spend time doing the things that I know how to do.
ANNA GUISE: When you write does your job require you to write anywhere or do you have favourite places.
SHONDA RHIMES: I can write anywhere and I train myself that way simply because when you have small children and when you travel there is so many shows and so many different locations you really have to figure out how to write anywhere.
So basically my plavonian (29:22) reflex is as long as I have headphones on my head and music in my ears I can write wherever I am it doesn’t matter, I don’t have to be in a specific place head phones are the specific things that transport me.
ANNA GUISE: I have spoken to show runners and writers who actually dread sitting down in the writing process but they are happy when they have the finished script do you enjoy writing I mean does it take you to a zone, tell us a little bit about what you experience.
I do enjoy writing I think there was a time where I didn’t I dreaded the getting there you know the forcing myself to access the place where the writing could happen but I really enjoy the writing process now. I think that because it has been such a habit and I have to do so much of it and because there is not a lot of time to think about how much I don’t want to do it.
It just not there is too many scripts to be written, I enjoy it I enjoy to go sit in the ward of the hospital I enjoy getting to be Meredith Grey for a while, I enjoy getting to be Fitz or getting to be LIV or getting to be you know any of those characters its fun.
My assistants will tell you bless their hearts I am glad none of them recorded this I say all the dialogue aloud while I am writing very passionately and I acted it all out and its embarrassing .I don’t hear it because I am wearing headphones and there is music playing but I do and apparently Betsy make fun of me Betsy who is my producing partner makes fun of me because she in the office across the way.
But it is very important to me to make sure that it feels alright and everything acts out well and I think that it is a little bit of play acting it is a lot of fun for me. When I was a kid I used to hang out in the pantry of my kitchen and play with the cans in there and it is still a little bit of still hanging out in the pantry playing with cans and pretending that they are doing things, I enjoyed it a great deal.
ANNA GUISE: Do you tap into the characters when you have to sit down and with headset or could you be driving or doing something and hear Meredith say something or Olivia Pope say something.
SHONDA RHIMES: No I don’t think I that doesn’t happen for me I am not a person who I am doing something else and suddenly the characters are speaking to me I have heard of that but that’s not me it feels very magical it doesn’t happen.
ANNA GUISE: You have all the scripts to write you have all the works you do and there is little time to do everything and yet you found time to write a book that quickly became a best seller and by the way it is great I am not just saying that, how did this come about why is it important for you to write this and find even more time in the day to write.
SHONDA RHIMES: The book was really, I honestly don’t know, my agent will tell you that I say oh I want to write a book I feel that he very kindly didn’t say you didn’t have time to write a book, he said sure and made a book deal and it was supposed to be about motherhood and then I realized I didn’t want to write about motherhood so the year went by and I didn’t write my book and time was running out.
I have been doing this year of weird things where I have been trying to make my life less workaholic like which is really what it started out I have been sort of, I become a workaholic and that was all I was doing I didn’t enjoy writing as much and I was really trying to find a way around that and that sort of became what the book was and in writing about doing it.
It made it even better like I was able to examine why I was doing it and why I was such a workaholic and in a lot of ways that helped make the change and so it was really a matter of the same way I like to write anything the same way writing doesn’t ever feel like work that did not feel like work the writing part never feels like work.
ANNA GUISE: Now imagine that you care deeply about all your characters obviously are there any with whom you feel particularly attached or you felt that you worked some issues of your own out through them.
SHONDA RHIMES: All of them I mean it is interesting I know everybody want me to say Christiana Yeng because that what I write in the book and that was because Sandra was leaving that year and I felt that I was grieving the lost of Christina Yeng at that particular point in time, but the reality of it is all the characters every last characters is somebody that you are working something out through or you are feeling particularly attached to.
You are a storyteller you are telling stories all of your characters should matter if they don’t matter to you shouldn’t be telling stories about them I think.
ANNA GUISE: Are there any that you feel we as viewers perhaps miss understand Cyrus Roland any of them.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes actually we have big arguments about this in my writers room in Scandal, my writers are constantly telling me that Cyrus is a terrible person or that Roland is a terrible person and I am really offended by that because you know Cyrus is a patriot he really does feel like he is doing his best for his country he might go about it the wrong way but in his mind the way he is going about it is completely correct.
And Roland is just a dad trying to take care of his kid you know there might be a lot of murder going on but he still just a dad trying to take care of his kid the best way he knows how and to me I truly look at it from that perspective and I don’t understand how you could think he is a terrible person if you go from his reality and the way his world works.
ANNA GUISE: Now you write for broadcast networks which in the United States broadcast networks have to comply with more standards and practices than cable or HBO or Showtime, have you ever been in a situation where you butted head with somebody and it was hard for you to follow a vision you wanted for a particular episode, silence.
SHONDA RHIMES: I am trying to figure out how to answer this without getting into trouble, yes but what’s interesting is now because honestly you know it has been 13 years of broadcasting standards and practices there is no way to do 13 years of broadcasting and practices and not butt heads with broadcast standards and practices there is a lot of broadcast standards and practices.
However what’s interesting is that over the years what has been a rule that stuff has change and it evolve I think before I started working in television the standards were really loose oddly and then they got tighter again I think it was in the NYPD era as I like to call it where it was really loose and then everything got tighter again and then things have sort of reached a nice place where it really does feel like it is realistic.
And so a lot of it is really about how frankly America has changed I mean really the standards have changed to match the American people the same way gay marriage is now legal in every state in the nation you can now show gay couples kissing on television and it is not a big deal.
I remember in season two and three of Greys where Kelly was dating somebody and she was going to run her hand up a woman’s thigh or something it was a big deal like I had to fight for it like I had to threaten to call Glad or something ridiculous like that and that seems really silly now and almost puritanical but at the time it was a huge moment.
Now none of those things are such a big deal, feminist moments aren’t such a big deal, Olivia Pope has and abortion because Olivia Pope has an abortion and it’s not a broadcast and standards moment in that same way.
ANNA GUISE: Well our time has come to an end and I am going to sneak in a couple of comments because I would like to speak on behalf and I am sure the audience and the viewers at home and say thank you because you not only provide us with great entertainment but I have found in my life that you have provided useable moments and I will give you a couple of examples.
When my teenage daughter became overly infatuated with a boy as females of all ages tend to do and she was starting to think that she self worth was in the boy’s being and not in her own being, I sat her down to one of the many scenes between Christina and Meredith when it say you are the son he is not the son and there is something, is your daughter almost a teenager now the oldest?
SHONDA RHIMES: I have a 14 year old.
ANNA GUISE: You are beginning to see how she doesn’t pay as much attention to you as she use to.
SHONDA RHIMES: My daughter thinks my show sucks.
ANNA: GUISE: Okay, so if I had told her be your own son you know she would have checked out, the fact that it was coming from you, thank you very much because she started to see the world differently. When my son came out a year ago and he is 20 he is very later compared to other people there were, he was concerned about how to have certain conversations with perspective partners and I pointed him to Oliver and Conner in How to get away with murder that nailed it so thank you very much, and in your book working moms out there you have got to read it there is this thing in the United States where parent of young school aged children have to bake things and bring them to school and these stay at home moms and I don’t mean to imply that they don’t work okay.
It’s just that there are certain moms who bake through the ceiling and some of us cant and don’t have the time and you make me feel less badly about store bough cupcakes when I would come in with store bought cup cakes and they would look at me like I was the devil incarnate.
So thank you for making me feel better about myself and please all of you join me in thanking SHONDA Rhimes, thank you for the gift of entertainment you give us.
SHONDA RHIMES: Thank you so much thank you.
SHONDA RHIMES AT THE 2015
MASSACHUSETTS CONFERENCE FOR WOMEN
INTERVIEWER: We had a wonderful introduction there and I also want to introduce Shonda to everyone and so the first thing I want to say is that as people would put it on our show Shonda is a gladiator and the easiest way to talk about her power and influence on television is to point out as she just said she owns Thursday nights, that’s one kind of power it is an important one.
She gets money and numbers and ads and buzz and the ability to hire and fire she cranks the power lever that’s right at the center of the network television. But talking about ratings doesn’t really describe the effect Shonda Rhimes has had on our culture because when I say she has influence I mean creative influence emotional influence story telling influence, the influence to alter the DNA about what qualifies TV ambition and whose stories get told.
Network television is one of the hardest places to make anything new yet Shonda Rhimes is not just sped TV up she has put a red wine in its hand created a new set of moves along with a whole new language dark and twisty gladiators the Jay, Jay crucially she has put women gay men and lesbians and people of colour at the center rather than the edges of her fictional world.
Her company is called Shonda Land and it logo is a great red heart surrounded by a roller coaster and over at the word Shonda Land are scrolled in hot pink.
In a word that tends to over value the gritty masculinity drama to regard only one kind of show as worthy of attention and prestige neon pink is a statement colour.
Shonda Land shows often get called mellow dramas but what they really are is more actual operas they are big and bold and fast and funny visionary and mythical and as any acture (1:54) you know what Shonda Land share when you see one.
Their creative dares their catalyst and they cause other television shows to raise their game to imagine their world as a wilder stronger feeling ruder more darkly funny more outrageous more inclusive and sometimes more frightening place.
That’s what an artist can do test the boundaries and then show everyone that they weren’t there in the first place, to me one of the interesting things about the book that she has written is that it makes it clear that Shonda herself had more difficulty beginning to kick out those walls and those for herself when she started this show and it wasn’t so easy so let’s start with that and the year of yes.
You written in the book about an attempt to transform yourself and you describe a real unhappiness during the early success of Grey’s Anatomy and realizing with a kind of shock that you were miserable, so what do you think was going on why was it such a big adjustment.
SHONDA RHIMES: First hello everybody how are you doing?
INTERVIEWER: Welcome Shonda Rhimes.
SHONDA RHIMES: Hi I think it feels shameful almost to say that I was miserable because you know you are successful your job is going great you have a life that on the outside looks like something that other people would want and feel embarrass to say I am unhappy, but I was mainly because I was doing nothing but working and coming home and I had no way of understanding how to deal with success.
The other thing that happens when you become really successful that I have been thinking about lately is that you stop having a peer group, you know the pyramid of women becomes smaller and smaller as you go up a ladder and at a certain point you stop having women who do the same job that you do to talk to and I had nobody at that point so it was sort of a lonely place. So I literally was working and coming home and doing nothing else.
INTERVIEWER: I feel like a lot of people don’t know this about show runners but it is an extremely odd job as you describe yourself as an introvert perfectionist and a show runner is clearly a writer who is assigned to become a CEO.
SHONDRA RHIMES: It is the strangest job in the world I have been writing movies at home in my pyjamas I am a writer and then one day they picked up my show and suddenly I had 273 people who worked for me and I was making basically a $4m movie a week that’s basically what a television show is every day you are making a $4m movie and now I am doing that with 4 shows.
So to go from being a writer who can’t balance her check book really to being somebody who is doing that is a huge leap and they just plop it on you and hope that you swim and some people don’t really many people don’t.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get advice from other show runners along the way.
SHONDA RHIMES: I did but not on the business part you know very interesting, I don’t think a lot of people like to talk about the fact that that’s hard to manage because I think a lot of the people who can manage the business part don’t do the creative part so well and a lot of people who do the creative part don’t do the business part so well.
INTERVIEWER: If you could quantum Leap yourself back and give yourself advice when you first started out what would you tell yourself.
SHONDA RHIMES: Oh you know I probably do it all the same way because I was fearless too in a lot of ways, I wrote like I could never be fired I thought I couldn’t be fired really, in the beginning I made a lot of mistake but I had a lot of fun trying in the process of the writing I probably would try to have more fun on the outside you know try to make my life feel more three dimensional.
INTERVIEWER: How would people who work for you describe you as a boss?
SHONDRA RHIMES: I hope they describe me as driven but inclusive, I really want everybody who works for me to feel like they have a stake in it. It is really hard to work at a place called Shonda Land and feel like you have a piece of it you know I always joke to everybody that there is a tiny little bit of arrogance in naming a company after yourself and I did it cheekily you know very silly thinking oh, we are going to have one show and maybe we are going to have 7 episodes and you know 10 years later, no.
So you want everyone who works for you to feel like they are a part of it and they have some ownership of everything that’s happening, their creative piece of it or their you know physical piece of it or their financial piece of it whatever they are doing they are invested too so that they enjoy their jobs.
I always if you are not having fun at your job then you are doing the wrong job or you are doing the job wrong and I really want people to love coming to work.
INTERVIEWER: Also your job ends up being monitoring other people and pushing them forward to greater careers and with Pete Nowak who is one of your writers and is now is the head of How to Get Away With Murder what did you tell him when he started that job.
SHONDA RHIMES: You know it was interesting because watching Pete who started out as basically baby staff writer on one of my shows on PRIVATE PRACTICE and sort of grew up writing all of my shows and now created and runs (7:17) murder it really was about I don’t know when you watch someone goes through the same process that you have been through telling him to enjoy it more to relax more.
I had experience now so having that experience allows me also to give him an umbrella of protection that I didn’t have as well, I get to be the mama in a lot of ways.
INTERVIEWER: The year of yes is essentially in a lot of ways is vowed a year you are giving yourself to change the life you felt wasn’t working, you talked about a lot of different things in the book including seizing opportunities that came with your prominence and embracing a more joyful attitude towards creativity a healthier idea of your body balance with your family.
I know you are a felicity fan sort of a new version of you kind of thing and I was wondering as part of that process which was the easiest yes for you to do and which was the most difficult.
SHONDA RHIMES: Which is the easiest, oddly it turned out probably the easiest yes was the taking of compliments maybe it’s that thing that you never see people taking compliments you never see women taking compliments and I felt that nobody ever did that well and I decided that anytime anybody said anything nice to me I will just say thank you and move on.
Because everybody always apologizes men and women everybody apologies when they complimenting and so that was probably the easiest one that became very easy very fast.
INTERVIEWER: You are very good at taking compliments.
SHONDA RHIMES: I become very good at taking compliments now I have stop apologizing which I think is a waste of every one’s time, I think, yea I think that’s probably one of them.
INTERVIEWER: What was the hardest and what has been the most difficult to stick with past the point of.
SHONDA RHIMES: I don’t know what is the most difficult I consider everything still a work in progress, one of the hardest but one of the most rewarding was the concept that I would really stick schedule that changed the way I work but the one that change the one I worked that I would come home at 6.pm every day, that I would not answer any emails after 7pm or on weekends and I have that at the bottom of my emails that I do not answer emails after 7pm or on the weekends and if you work with me I suggest that they put down their phones.
That’s really difficult to do to let that go.
INTERV IEWER: Did you get push back on that from people because that was one of the most fascinating to me and that’s impossible it is hard for me to imagine.
SHONDA RHIMES: A lot of people ask we are all on our phones 24 hours a day and we are all holding them and staring at them and it means that we are all working 24 hours a day and I think that’s ridiculous, you know when we were all young our parents stopped working when they got off the train or whatever unless your parent was a doctor you know but now we are all working all the time.
What was interesting to me was when I stopped answering my email and I start turning off at 7pm and turning it back on at 7am there was nothing that was so important that wouldn’t wait, so I figure out if I miss something oh my gosh what is going happen, nothing there is nothing so important between 7pm and 7am that is going to happen.
It’s not and so people would panic and people would say oh my god why you doing this and how can you and after a while they start doing it too if I wasn’t going to answer they weren’t going to email and I felt like it made everybody’s life better and I gave everybody who works for me the permission to do the same thing.
INTERVIEWER: Talk to me about the phase difficult conversations because one of the things that you talk about in your book is change not just the culture of your company but your own methods of communications.
SHONDA RHIMES: I really felt like I wasn’t a person who truly embodied being a leader in the sense of doing everything I could and one of the ways I found that out was when I dove into the idea of having difficult conversations, I think most of us spend most of our time avoiding all of the difficult conversations .
You do it with your spouse you do it at work with your or your assistant is driving you crazy by I don’t know she talks too loud n the phone but you never want to tell her she is talking too loud on the phone it might hurt her feelings so you spend a lot of time talking around it or before whatever your colleague does something that is a problem that you know you have to deal with. You have to tell your employee that they can’t work here anymore.
All of the things that you avoid even if it is a negotiation if it is asking for a raise anything of those things we all try to avoid these difficult conversation as long as we possibly can because it makes us nervous it feels like confrontation, it feels like negotiation we don’t want to do it and I had an experience where I realize that if you just have the conversation if you just dive in there and have the conversation the beauty is that across the other side of the beautiful conversation lies peace you have the answer it doesn’t matter how painful it is going to be while having it, it is so much more painful to avoid it.
All the time you spend avoiding it and stressing about it and worrying about it you just throw yourself into the conversation five minutes later your are fine because at least you know the answer and that is a very simple very silly idea and it has changed everything.
It has changed the way I negotiate its changed the way I deal with people I worked with it has change the way I deal with my family with my friends with my relationships, it’s really interesting what happens when you are willing to say the things that people aren’t willing to say to talk about the thing that you are willing to talk about that nobody ever wants to talk about.
It take all the tension out the room it takes all of the darkness out of whatever is going on and it takes all of the problems away because you just like lets address it.
INTERVIEWER: Can you describe a specific conversation and what do you do when it doesn’t go well because.
SHONDA RHIMES: And that’s the other thing, say you are doing a (I can describe a conversation without saying something I shouldn’t say) well if a conversation, for me when I enter a conversation that is going to be difficult when I enter a conversation that tells somebody that they are not doing a good job for instance or entering a conversation to negotiate with somebody I always tried walking into the room knowing what my bottom line is going to be.
When I am going to say that’s it I can’t do this anymore, In the most basic terms let’s put it like I am buying a house that’s not my business I am not telling anybody anything personal, I am buying a house when you enter into negotiation to when a house I always enter into negotiation going this is it this is when I am going to walk away I don’t care how much I want the house this number is the number period.
And it doesn’t matter how painful or how awful or how stressful it is obviously we are not talking buying house or anything else once that number is hit I know that I am done because I already made that rule before I walked in the door which works in a relationship which works when you are arguing with your child about whatever crazy thing she has decided she want to do, it works when you are in a room full of executives to want you to do something that you weren’t planning on doing.
It works when you are in a budget meeting when everybody wants you to cut a budget to a place where you are not comfortable with it works everywhere.
INTERVIEWER: You know you talk about being in a room full of executives who want you to do something that you don’t want to do, how does that change over the course of running your shows?
SHONDA RHIMES: That doesn’t happen anymore, nicely and I don’t want to make it seem like I am stomping around ABC doing whatever I want to do its just I have earned a partnership with the people I work with at ABC now in a way that is really wonderful. We are now people who work together as opposed to I have these bosses that I work for and its really you know after these years together I have been there longer than a lot of the people who are there after all these years together we really do work well together.
INTERVIEWER: One of the things that you writing about in the book is not simply power and authority and being a boss but also prominence being famous and actually you just recently mentioned yesterday on the Hollywood reporter list of power women and I see that you tweeted about an aspect of that which is that everyone on the list it listed whether they have kids and whether they were married and I want to hear your thoughts on that.
SHONDA RHIMES: The Hollywood Power of 100 list is you know is the 100 most powerful women in Hollywood it is important because the magazine comes out once a year and it does acknowledge the women in Hollywood and there is a vacuum not enough women are there and yet the article came out and every woman that was listed they said you know.
Shonda Rhimes mother of 3 Viola Davis mom of one and Carey Washington married mom and it was weird to me like this is not an article about that is about power, working women in power and we are all described is like married mom of one and you know they had Amy Schumer there and it’s like are they going to describe her like single and barren it was weird.
It is very strange that your material status the status of your relationship and who you choose to raise or not raise has something to do with the power you have at work.
INTERVIEWER: It would be interesting to see if they ever did that for men, I am sorry so your shows are watched by you know broad audiences but they do have a special way of like speaking to female audiences, I am very interested in this quality has there has been this enormous growth of television shows a range of kinds that are run by women and that have major female characters, complicated female characters.
I noticed the dynamic with the audience where sometime the audience it seems will demand two things positive role models and happy endings and I wanted to talk to you and ask you ever feel pressured by the audience what do you feel is your relationship with the audience in terms of giving them what they want.
SHONDA RHIMES: I am always on a story telling journey, like for me there is either a road that I have been going down and I am following story and I know that there is an audience out there who is paying attention and who is watching I am not writing to them I am writing a story and everybody else is coming along. It is the only way I know how to tell story is to write whatever feels interesting and whatever the story is telling me to write and hope that everybody else is paying attention that’s all, that’s literally all I know how to do.
So I can’t go well the audience doesn’t seems to like this so we are going to go of course this way, I am in a business which the one thing that I do is not dictated by no matter how much the network say they want it to be this way, it is not dictated by research or poles or demographics none of that stuff matters to me I just have to write it, like whatever is in my head is there and I happened to write stuff that people like to watch.
So I don’t really I don’t want to say I don’t pay attention, I can’t pay attention, I hear it sometimes it hurts my feelings sometimes I think I wish I could have a larger conversation of what the dynamic is of what people needing everyone to be a role model or needing people to have a happy ending because that’s not what I mean when I am writing stories about characters. Like that’s not what we are telling but I do feel like that they are along for the ride.
INTERVIEWER: But there is this concept in line about the one true paring and people do respond to your shows feeling very strongly about the future of romantic coupling including Olivia and Fitz and do you feel like this is a miss understanding what the show is meant to do.
SHONDRA RHIMES: I am always fascinated by hat I am really interested when I ran into somebody and I understand peoples love for the characters I really do and their investment especially because of if you like on Grey’s Anatomy there was a specific romance that was there so understand that maybe you came in with that expectation but I am always fascinated when you run into people and they say oh is she going to be with Fritz or is she going to be with Jake and I am thinking do anyone of those men feel like an acceptable men to spend their lives with.
Everybody on that show is a murder and a thief I am so confused by that, to me that’s not what the show is about and I understand there are people who see that in the show and that’s okay if that’s what they are following but that’s not what I am writing and I am always just fascinated by that.
The characters on your shows a lot of them are powerful women who have big jobs and I wonder if and you know in your book you actually talk about points at which you relay a bit to Meredith and Olivia both and I wondering what your relationship is with those characters as avatars for running things and whether you relate to them and whether you learn thing by writing them.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes there is no coincidence to the fact the Meredith Grey was an intern who was starting her first day of work and had no idea what she was doing in a show as I was starting my first day at work and I have never worked in television before when I started Grey’s Anatomy there was no, obviously that was for a reason and it felt true to me when I was writing it, it felt very simple.
Christina Yeng was a person who I write a lot about Christina Yeng in this book because it is her final year rose final year on the show when this book was going on. She was person for whom I was very attached and really was an avatar for me in a lot of ways.
I lived vicariously through this character that I created deeply in lots of ways in terms of what a working woman could do testing out the concept that you know I didn’t want to get married, Shondra said it on television a lot and I watched what America said and I thought about, thought about telling my family I didn’t want to get married I don’t need a husband and Olivia Pope started he job as somebody who was very powerful very successful everyone worked for her and it was a little bit lonely which was exactly where I was when I wrote that show.
INTERVIEWER: Scandal just had a fantastic episode in which Olivia had an abortion and you have also dealt with that issue on Grey’s and other devices issues as well how important do you feel for your shows to be reflecting contemporary politic how much are they message carriers and are there dangers in that to you.
SHONDA RHIMES: You know I don’t ever think of the shows to be issues shows or message shows we tell the stories that feels right at the time and often and maybe I am living in a bubble and often I am very surprised like when people say oh my gosh she is telling an issue or she is talking about this thing that shouldn’t be talked about.
We did an episode that is talking about women’s health Nelly had to filibuster something on the senate floor she had to filibuster something women’s health seems as good as any it seems like something the good old boys wouldn’t have wanted her to talk about, it was going on in politics the same way any of the other things we talked about are and so that was a great topic we had a ton of information.
Olivia’s abortion has been planned forever and so it was a perfect moment and time in coming together.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about Olivia’s abortion had been planned earlier, how earlier did you know that that was part of the story.
SHONDA RHIMES: I don’t like to say because I feel that people know too much about how we plan out stories.
INTERVIEWER: People are so curious about how you plan your stories.
SHONRA RHIMES: I know it is fascinating because it is different on each shows there are some shows like I know way ahead of tie what is going to happen like and like some shows we learned the day before we are shooting what we are going to do and it just depends on what’s coming. That was one that you don’t just do something like that on a whim obviously but and it want I don’t even feel like I was trying to wave a flag or stump or do anything. It has been legal for 43 years so I was just telling a story.
INTERVIEWER: You also had a great episode that was essentially about the black rise matter movement and I wondered to what extent do you feel your shows had been influenced by changing atmosphere in the country as far as discussing racial politics and tell me a little bit about the decision to talk about that movement specifically in that episode.
SHONDA: That one was different, that one was one that I literally could not get out of my head like I woke up one morning with the image of a father in a lawn chair holding a shot gun over the body of his dead son, I dreamt that image and I could not get it out of my head as much as I wanted to its driving me and everytime I turn on the television some other child had been killed for no reason or some other man had been killed for no reason and I was very, I was on edge and you know like in your head when you have a story that’s bubbling that you know you got to write it so I said this is what we are writing and writing a story was really, and again I don’t think we are trying to have a message, we fought (name Megee whose name is on the episode he and I fought back and forth about that episode so much so that most of the arguments are in the episode are things that I said and things that he said like Marcus and I was Olivia and just because we are both from literally I am kind of from where Olivia is from and he is kind of from where Marcus is from and arguments were very much those arguments.
We would have these vicious arguments about the ending should we have a happy ending should he you know should justice happen should he go be embraced by the president should it not happen and ultimately the only time I think ever in Scandal we just decided that America needed a happy ending just once people needed to see what could happen if something good happened.
INTERVIEWER: What were the alternate endings?
SHONDA RGIMES: The father got shot the father went to jail Marcus got shot there were a lot of alternate endings that made me feel sick and so just couldn’t do we argued about it and argued about it and then there was one which he didn’t go to the president you know there were a lot of them and I just felt like we had to be at least more hopeful than the country was being at that moment if we could so that one was a little bit issue and yes I do think the politic of what’s going on outside makes conversations feel more possible.
Maybe I don’t know scandal is a different show it is a show about something it is different Grey’s Anatomy is not it was not a show about anything other than medicine you know what I mean and we still talked about race we still do like one of my favourite episode is Bailey tells Derrick to do his black child’s hair.
We talked about race but it’s a much lighter show in a much lighter way and so Scandal is a show that is a much darker show and in a deeper way and the minute Pope showed up you know that was going to be a conversation.
INTERVIEWER: What is Scandal about because you saying it is about a different thing.
SHONDA RHIMES: It is about power, it is truly about power and the destruction that power causes it is a dark view of American politics but it is also a view of where we can go hopefully.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about the FOD thing that you talked about in the book.
SHONDA RHIMES: FIRST ONLY DIFFERENCE.
INTERVIEWER: You talked about the fact that other women in that position in various different ways that you could be the one person in the group come up to you and talk to you about that what do you tell them, do you offer strategies what is the conversation like.
SHONDA RHIMES: No it is almost, there is plenty of women in this room and sometime plenty of me who knows the first the only or the different in a room or it’s just you, don’t necessarily have to be a woman of colour you don’t necessarily have to be a woman sometimes but you are the only one in the room who is that thing, you are the only woman in the board room you are the only woman on the team you are the only person of colour in the room you are the only person who is disabled in the room you are the first you’re the only you are different and everybody sort of treats you like you are special that you can do this thing that you are doing because you are the fist the only and you are different.
Barak Obama is the first only different Serena Williams is the first only different I was trying to think like giving you good examples and I doing a bad job right now, but that feeling is what’s annoying because you feel like you are not a person anymore you feel like you are an icon, and I in my daily life now women come up to me all the time and go I am so glad to me you, you are the only person who does what you do.
I am the only person who does what I do at my job, it’s just me and some of them would say I am the only woman who works in this entire tech company, some of them will say I am the only black person in my entire you know news paper you know or whatever and there is a sense of no matter who you are a guy I am the only man in this company filled with women.
There is a sense of sisterhood going on there of people who we are al in this world together like we are trapped being the only person who does this thing.
INTERVIEWER: Are there strategies that you can offer that can deal with that are that’s the only strategy you have fix the world so people is not so isolated.
SHONDA RHIMES: I don’t know if it is necessarily is about fixing the world as much as it is about allowing yourself to recognize that that is the situation you know what I mean and being the first only different person means that you are being the trail blazer you are cutting path for somebody who is coming behind you there is a responsibility there whether you like it or not.
INTERVIEWER: I have to say when I look at television specifically especially compared to Hollywood and movies it seems to me that the last 5 years have marked an absolute explosion and expansion of both variety and in exclusivity most specifically a ton of female show runners very different aesthetics offering very different things so one has to stand quite as alone in that and it just creates a better conversation.
There is this historical misogynist cliché that women are in competition with one another and it seems to me like the show runners that are out there often seem bonded so is there a secret cabal and solidarity how important is that in order to make these kind of changes.
SHONDA RHIMES: Honestly there is a secret cabal of women show runners in Hollywood we actually have meetings there is a secret cabal, and there is a lot of us what’s fascinating now is there is a lot of women who are in charge of shows in Hollywood which is fantastic, a lot of the stories are being told by women.
What I think is important about that is more stories that are being told by women more shows that are being run by women that means the crews should be employed differently because the show runners is decides who is hired and fired on a crew, which directors are hired and fired they decides what actors are hired and fired they decide the stories that are told, when your child or your friend or you turns on a television and watches something the difference between watching a woman being treated misogynistically on television or have all the women on the show be secretaries or all the women on the shows be CEO is who is running that show. So it is very powerful that there are a lot of women running show right now it make a difference.
INTERVIEWER: You have a motto and a plaque and a secret.
SHONDA RHIMES: No we do not have a motto or secret ethics.
INTERVIEWER: What’s your reaction when people call your shows guilty pleasures?
SHONDA RHIMES: I really hate the phase guilty pleasure I don’t really don’t understand why something has to be guilty pleasure, first of all if you feel guilty watching it then don’t watch it, I really don’t want you to watch it, but second there is something insulting about that almost as if it is not worth it or its not relevant, not relevant what’s the word, my brain is gone dead.
Yes it almost as if it is not worth it, it doesn’t have and cashe (33:00) with anybody is like you are not suppose to watch it and that bothers me.
INTERVIEWER: How do you feel about people calling the soap operas or mellow dramas does that have a different.
SHONDA RHIMES: I don’t believe that they are soap operas or mellow dramas either which I think is interesting as well, I think that because, what I think is interesting is because the lead character is a woman they are called soap operas and mellow dramas because if that show Grey’s were the same show and it were Tony Soprano it would be not called that you know it is just because there is a woman in the lead why they say that. If Olivia Pope was a man if it was Oliver Pope they would not say that.
INTERVIEWER: I love the phase that you have biased towards action and you wrote very vividly in the book about triage that necessarily produce this huge amount of episodes but I wanted to ask you a granular question about how you do it which is the behind the scenes things. How many episodes are you producing on the shows right now?
SHONDA RHIMES: We do 24 episodes of Greys 22 episodes of scandal 15 episodes of murder and we are going to do this season we are going o do 10 episodes of The Catch, The Catch is our new show coming out this spring, so that like sixty something episode a year.
INTERVIEWER: On a pragmatic level how do you make that happen I always imagine this being like in minority report where you just moving things around.
SHONDA RHIMES: No for me, I am responsible for 66 of those episode of television, Pete is responsible for his 15, Alan is responsible for his 10 on The Catch so you know Greys has been going for 12 of those seasons oh my gosh we are in our 12th season at this point so we sort of know what we are doing like we are at this place where I am literally the store teller. I come in and sit down and say here is what happens next and then the writers can write.
INTERVIEWER: Do you do that at the beginning o f the season.
SHONDA RHIMES: I do with every episode, if I don’t go in and say what happens next nothing happens and it’s kind of lovely because it is like a little camp fire I have been telling this story around the camp fire for 12 seasons and for 260 something episodes and Meredith Grey has grown up, that’s nice and it has been interesting to watch people discover the show again and again and again different generations of people.
For Scandal it’s much more write guide the battle field is much more bloody we are literally writing episodes that are going to be shot the next day because we argue about them in the writers room because I like to write things and watch how the writers play them like give the actors no information on how I would like them to be played, so I watch them play them and then run upstairs to the editing room and go.
Everything change because I have decided by watching Cary do this that the character means this or that these 2 people have chemistry or that he really hates this person or that he is the murders not this person by their performances its changes the directory of our story all the time and it makes it more interesting but it is also really exhausting.
INTERVIEWER: Can you give me an example of that this is fascinating the performative thing that changes the story.
SHONDA RHIMES: It’s how we decided that, you see that part already,
INTERVIEWER: You can say it.
SHONDA RHIMES: No I can’t.
INTERVIEWER: Yes you can because the story is out there now.
SHONDA RHIMES: It’s just us now.
INTERVIEWER: Just us nobody is going to tweet or tell.
SHONDA RHIMES: It’s a small room for instance Cyrus being when I was trying to figure out why Cyrus never made a run for president himself I was watching an episode and there was something and I can’t explain it and its not it was something he said and it was the ways he said it that with sadness and I watched it and I said he has a secret, he has a secret that he has been keeping and he has been keeping it this whole time and I went upstairs and we talked about it and we were like Cyrus is gay.
So Cyrus is a republican and he could never run and that’s so I call Jeff and said you’re jay and he was like okay, it was great and suddenly he had a husband so it works.
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever fantasize about making a show for cable where is just 10 precious shows that you produce every 3 years.
SHONDA RHIMES: I dream about it constantly I mean I feel like you know I use to think that way about the BBC 6 episodes 3 episode you know, yeah I have some shows that I would love to do that are 10 episodes shows.
INTERVIEWER: Pitch them.
SHONDA RHIMES: Pitch them, no but right now I am busy I am very busy, very busy.
INTERVIEWER: What would you have done differently if you have that kind of.
SHONDA RHIMES: It would be really, really nice to, it would be so nice to shape something entirely, I would love to be able to write a whole season and then shoot it, I think that luxury would be amazing because A from a business stand point it makes so much sense financially.
You have written a whole season then you can cross board you can shoot everything that need to be shot together which saves a ton of money, you can plan better you not going oh wait that man should not be shot in this you spent money on 3 days ago we need it back so now you go rent it back and spend more money on it.
You would have planed everything perfectly you also are telling story in a much more holistic way because you figured it out you have written the whole novel from beginning to end as opposed to you are in the middle of it and still trying to figure out as you go. I don’t know it just has a whole symphony felling to it you get to be a part of the entire time versus running in and out of.
INTERVIEWER: I know you are a big TV fan before you became a show runner
SHONDA RHIMES: I was a very big TV fan.
INTERVIEWER: And you have excellent taste in television and all the shows that you liked are the same shows I liked Buffy and Velocity and 24 there was a really great year out there, I am curious about how you participate in fan hood right now like what are shows that you are a fan of what are you digging.
SHONDA RHIMES: I don’t get to watch much television right now mainly because I can’t watch dramas while writing dramas because I was watching game with throwns red wedding and I went to the writers room and they were like you have to stop watching television this is so dark stop.
INTERVIEWER: You are going to have a red wedding
SHOND RHIMES: I just get liked sucked into the world and I am like people’s heads were coming off and I was like they are all after the thrown and they were like there is no thrown in the oval office Shonda, so I mostly try to watch comedies during the season and one of the things that I am obsessed with is (40:06) veet because I think it is just a brilliant show.
It is smart it is funny and it is interesting and if you haven’t watch it, it’s genius so I love that show, the mindy Kalying show (40:17) projects which I think is now on Holo I think i am now watching that a lot I think that’s great I like Blackish and I like Fresh off the Boat so those shows are really great and then trying to get more adult about it there are some hour long shows that I am sort of waiting for them you know to come back I use to binge watch oranges and new black I have it all saved up to watch when I am done with the season.
INTERVIEWER: We got to tie up but I did want to ask because Scandal is so much of a politic I have always been curious whether you have been contacted behind the scenes by people in politics specifically experts journey like that because to me the show is your meditation on politics have you heard from people.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, and who are they and what did they say because I always hear about people watching it who were in Washington.
SHONDA RHIMES: Yes there is a lot of people in Washington watch it which was really fun and we have had some really interesting visitors who have come to shell some information.
INTERVIEWER: So the last thing is what’s next, so The Catch is next.
SHONDA RHIMES: The Catch is next it will come on when How to get away with Murder is done this season it will come on and it is interesting it will be with Peter Krause and Mireilla Enos who from parenthood and six feet under Peter Krause and I don’t know what ext.
INTERVIEWER: What’s that about?
SHONDA RHIMES: It’s about I can’t even explain it.
INTERVIEWER: The catch it’s on it way thank you so much I just want to thank you so much for the opportunity.
SHONDA RHIMES: Thank you it’s good to see everybody.
So a while ago I tried an experiment, for one year I would say yes to all the things that scared me, anything that made me nervous took me out of my comfort zone. I forced myself to say yes to, do I want to speak in public? No but yes, did I want to be on live TV? No. But yes did I want to try acting? No no no, but yes yes yes and the crazy thing happened. The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear made it not scary. My fear of public speaking my social anxiety poof gone. It’s amazing the power of one word, YES changed my life. YES to change to me but there was one particular Yes that affected my life in the most profound way in a way I never imagined and it started with a question from my toddler. I have these three amazing daughters Harper Beckett and Emerson and ever since a toddler who inexplicably refers to everyone as honey is that she’s a Southern waitress, (everybody laugh) honey I’m going to need some milk for my Sippy cup, the southern waitress asked me to play with her when evening when I was on my way somewhere and I said yes and that Yes was the beginning of a new way of life for my family, I made a vow that from now on every time one of my children asks me to play no matter what I’m doing or where I’m going I say YES every single time almost I’m not perfect at it but I try hard to practice it and it’s had a magical effect on me, on my children, on our family but it’s also had a stunning side effect and it wasn’t until recently that I fully understood it but I understood that saying yes to playing with my children likely saved my career. See I have what most people would call a dream job. I’m a writer I imagine I make stuff up for a living a dream job, No I’m a Titan dream job. I create television executive produce television I make television a great deal of television in one way or another this TV season I’m responsible for bringing about seventy hours of programming to the world for television programs seventy hours of TV three shows in production at a time sometimes for each show create hundreds of jobs that didn’t exist before the budget for one episode of network television can mean we’re from three to six million dollars let’s just say five, a new episode made every ninety days times four shows so every nine days that’s twenty million dollars with a television for television program seventy hours of TV three shows in production at a time sometimes for sixteen episodes going on at all times twenty four episodes of Grey’s twenty one episodes of scandal which never says how to get away with murder tips as the catch that seventy hours of T.V. that’s three hundred fifty million dollars for a season. In America, My television shows are back to back to back and Thursday night around the world my shows there are two hundred fifty six territories and sixty seven languages for an audience of thirty million people. My brain is global and forty five hours of that seven hours of TV hour shows I personally created and not just produce so on top of everything else I need to find time real quiet creative time to gather my fans around the campfire, and tell my stories for television programs seventy hours of TV three shows in production at a time sometimes for three hundred fifty million dollars camp fires burning all over the world. You know who else is doing that? Nobody, so like I said I’m a Titan dream job. Now I don’t tell you this to impress you. I tell you this because I know what you think of when you hear the word writer, I tell you this so that all of you out there who work so hard. Whether you run a company or a country or a classroom or a store or a home, take me seriously when I talk about working so you’ll get that I don’t have a computer and imagine all day so you’ll hear me when I say that I understand that a dream job is not about dreaming, it’s all job, all work all reality all blood all sweat no tears, i work a lot very hard and I love it, when I am hard at work when I am deep in it there is no other feeling, for me my work is at all times building a nation out of thin air, it is manning the troops, it is painting it canvas, it is hitting every high note, it is running a marathon, It is being beyond say and it is all of those things at the same time. I love working, it is creative and mechanical and exhausting and exhilarating and hilarious and disturbing and clinical and maternal and cruel and judicious and what makes it all so good is the hum. There is some kind of shift inside me when the work gets good. A hum begins in my brain and it grows and it grows and that Hum sounds like the open road and I can drive it forever, and a lot of people when I try to explain the hum, they assume that I’m talking about the writing, that my writing brings me joy and don’t get me wrong it does but the hum, it wasn’t till I started making television and I started working, working and making and building and creating and collaborating that I’ve discovered this thing this buzz this rush this hum, the hum is more than writing, the hum is action and activity the hum is a drug. The hum is music the hum is light and air the hum is God’s whisper right in my ear and when you have a home like that you can’t help but strive for greatness, that feeling you can’t help but strive for greatness at any cost. That’s called the hum or maybe it’s called being a workaholic, Maybe it’s called genius, Maybe it’s called ego, Maybe it’s just fear of failure, i don’t know I just know that I’m not built for failure and I just know that I love the hum, i just know that I want to tell you I’m a Titan and I know that I don’t want to question it. But here’s the thing. The more successful I become the more shows, the more episodes, the more barriers broken, the more work there is to do, the more balls in the air. The more eyes on me the more history stares the more expectations there are, the more I work to be successful, the more I need to work in what I say about work, I love working right? the nation I’m building, the marathon running, the troops the canvas the high note the hum, hum the hum. I like that hum, I love that hum, I need that hum, I am that hum, I am that hum. I am nothing but that hum and then the hum stopped, overworked, overused, overdone, burned out, the hum stopped and my three daughters are used to the truth that their mother is a single working Titan, Harper tells people my mom won’t be there but you can text my nanny and Emerson says Honey I’m wanting to go to Sunderland and the children over Titan, their baby Titans they were twelve, three and one when the home stopped. The hum of the engine died. I stopped loving work, i couldn’t restart the engine the hum would not come back my hum was broken, i was doing the same things I always did all the same type in work fifteen hours a day, working straight through the weekends no regrets never surrender, a Titan never sleeps, a Titan never quits, full hearts, clear eyes. Got it, whatever But there was no hum, inside me was silence for television program seventy hours of TV, through shows in production at a time sometimes for television programs seventy hours of TV, through shows and production, sometimes four, I was the perfect Titan. I was a Titan you could take home to your mother, all the colors were the same and I was no longer having any fun and it was my life. It was all I did I was the hum and the hum was me. So what do you do when the thing you do the work you love starts to taste like dust? Now I know somebody is out there thinking Cry Me a River stupid writer Titan lady but you know you do if you make, if you work, if you love what you do, being a teacher, being a banker, being a mother, being a painter, being Bill Gates. If you simply love another person and that gives you the hum. If you know the hum, if you know what the hum feels like if you’ve been to the hum. When the hum stops, who are you? What are you? What am I? Am I still a Titan. If the song of my heart ceases to play can I survive in the silence? And then my Southern waitress toddler asks me a question, I’m on my way out the door. I’m late and she says Mama want to play and I’m just about to say no when I realized two things, one. I’m supposed to say yes to everything and to my Southern waitress didn’t call me honey. She’s not calling everyone honey anymore. When did that happen, I’m missing it being a Titan then mourning my hum and here she is changing right before my eyes and so she says Mama want to play? and I say yes there’s nothing special about it. We play and were joined by her sisters and there’s a lot of laughing and I give a dramatic reading from the book, everybody Poops nothing out of the ordinary. And yet, it is extraordinary because in my pain and my panic in the homelessness of my homelessness I have nothing to do but to pay attention. I focus. I am still, the nation I am building the marathon I’m running the troops the canvas the high note does not exist. All that exists are sticky fingers and gooey kisses and tiny voices and and that song about letting go of whatever it is that frozen that all girl needs to let go of. Peace and simplicity, the air is so rare in this place for me that I can barely breathe. I can barely believe I’m breathing, playing is the opposite of work and I am happy something in me loosens a door in my brain swings open, and a rush of energy comes and it’s not instantaneous but it happens it does happen. I feel it. One hung back. Not at full volume. Barely there, it’s quiet and I have to stay very still to hear it but it is there not the hum. But a hum, and now I feel like I know a very magical secret. Well let’s not get carried away. It’s just love. That’s all it is no magic no secret, it’s just love to something we forgot the hum, the work hum, come the hum of the Titan, That’s just a replacement. If I have to ask you who I am if I have to tell you who I am if I describe myself in terms of shows and hours of television and how globally bad ass my brain is, I have forgotten what the real hum is the hum is not power. And the hum is not work specific the hum is Joy specific, the real hum is love specific, the hum is the electricity that comes from being excited by life the real hum is confidence and peace. The real hum ignores the stare of history and the balls in the air and the expectation and the pressure the real hum is singular and original, the real hum is God’s whisper in my ear but maybe God was whispering the wrong words because Which one of the gods was telling me I was a Titan. It’s just love we could all use a little more love a lot more love, and each time my child asked me to play. I will say yes, I make it a firm rule for one reason to give myself permission to free me from all of my workaholic. It’s a law so I don’t have a choice and I don’t have a choice. Not if I want to feel the hum. I wish it were that easy but I’m not good at playing. I don’t like it. I’m not interested in doing it the way I am interested in doing work. The truth is incredibly humbling and humiliating to face. I don’t like playing. I work all the time because I like working, I like working more than I like being at home facing that fact is incredibly difficult to handle because what kind of person likes working more than being at home. Well me. I mean let’s be honest I call myself a Titan. I’ve got issues and one of those issues. Isn’t that I am too relaxed. We run around the yard up and back and up and back. We have thirty second dance parties; we sing show tunes we play with balls. I blow bubbles and they pop them and I feel stiff and delirious and confused. Most of the time It’s from my cell phone always but it is OK my tiny human show me how to live and the hum of the universe fills me up. I play and I play until I begin to wonder why we ever stop playing in the first place, you can do it to say yes every time a child asks you to play. Are you thinking maybe that I’m an idiot and diamond shoes, you’re right. But you can still do this you have time, you know why because you’re not Rianna and you’re not a Muppet, your child does not think you’re very interesting. You only need fifteen minutes my two and four year old only ever want to play with me for about fifteen minutes or so before they think to themselves they want to do something else. It’s an amazing fifteen minutes but its fifteen minutes. I’m not a ladybug or a piece of candy I’m invisible after fifteen minutes and my thirteen year old if I can get a thirteen year old to talk to me for fifteen minutes, I’m parent of the year. Fifteen minutes is all you need I can totally pull off fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time on my worst day. Uninterrupted is the key no cell phone no laundry no anything. You have busy life dinner on the table. You have to force them to bathe but you can do fifteen minutes. My kids are my happy place, they’re my world but it doesn’t have to be your kids the fuel that feeds your home the place where life feels more good than not good. It’s not about playing with your kids. It’s about joy, It’s about playing in general. Give yourself the fifteen minutes find what makes you feel good just figure it out and play in that arena. I’m not perfect at it in fact I fail as often as I succeed, seeing friends reading books staring into space want to play starts to become shorthand for indulging myself in ways I’ve given up on right around the time I got my first TV show, right around the time I became a titan in training right around the time I started competing with myself for ways unknown. Fifteen minutes what could be wrong with giving myself, my full attention for fifteen minutes. Turns out nothing, the very act of not working has made it possible for the hum to return as if the hums engine could only refuel while I was away, work doesn’t work without play, it takes a little time but after a few months, one day the floodgates open and there is a rush and I find myself standing in my office filled with an unfamiliar melody full on groove inside me and around me and it sends me spinning with ideas and the humming road is open and I can drive it and drive it and I love working again. But now, I like but I don’t love that hum, I don’t need that hum, I am not that hum that is not me. Not anymore, I am bubbles and sticky fingers and dinners with friends. I am that hum Life’s hum, loves hum, and works is still a piece of me it is just no longer all of me and I am so grateful and I don’t give a crap about being a Titan because I’ve never once seen a Titan play Red Rover Red Rover. I said yes to less work and more play and somehow I still run my world, my brain is still global, my camp fire still burn, the more I play the happier I am and the happier my kids are the more I play, the more I feel like a good mother. The more I play the freer my mind becomes the more I play the better I work the more I play the more I feel the hum the nation. I’m building the marathon I’m running the troops the canvas The Hideout the hum the hum. The other home, the real home, life so the more I feel that the more this strange. Quivering and cocooned awkward brand new alive non Titan feels like me the more I feel that hum the more I know who I am. I’m a writer I make stuff up. I imagine that part of the job that’s living the dream. That’s the dream of the job. Because a dream job should be a little bit driven and I said yes to less work and more play. Titans need not apply. I want to play. Thank you, thank you.