It’s not easy to crack Hollywood, but Hamilton writer Shoshana Sachi has done exactly that. The Waikato screen and media studies graduate currently writes for TV show Doom Patrol, starring Brendan Fraser and Timothy Dalton.
Shoshana has been writing since she was four years old – a hobby which carried on into adulthood and culminated in her publishing The Way of the River, a dystopian action adventure novel set in Hamilton. The former Sir Edmund Hillary scholar is now living the dream in LA, working with well-known actors, writers and producers of TV shows she used to watch religiously as a teenager.
What made you choose to study at the University of Waikato?
Proximity to my family was important to me in choosing where to go for my undergraduate degree. The beautiful campus was a bonus. Initially I began a degree in Law with electives in Film and English, but soon discovered what my true passions were. So I switched to a BA in Screen and Media Studies and English.
What was your favourite subject and why?
One of the early film studies papers at Waikato involved a lot of practical work, including cinematography, editing and lighting, and helped me develop foundations in film. But it was the screenwriting papers that set me on this path.
Tell us about what a typical day looks like for you now.
My day to day changes depending on the task at hand. When I'm at the writers’ room offices, I'm working with my colleagues and my boss (showrunner Jeremy Carver) to ‘break story’. This involves a lot of discussion and brainstorming, as well as research of the source material (Doom Patrol comics). We map out the season and then hone in on episodes. From there, we break an episode ‘beat by beat’. If I'm assigned an episode to write, it involves everything, from researching to writing the outline and screenplay. After that, it's many meetings with my boss and the studio to sharpen my work. When we move to pre-production, it's numerous meetings with the different departments from costume to props, as well as discussions with the assigned director and visual effects supervisors. Eventually when the episode is shot, I fly to set and work closely with the director, the various different departments and the actors to ensure our vision is delivered in the best way possible.
What do you love about your job?
Absolutely everything. I enjoy each process of bringing our vibrant characters to life – from page to screen. Obviously my favourite parts involve writing an episode and conveying their unique voices, as well as visualising the action and ‘mise-en-scène’. I also really enjoy working with the director and actors on set, and feeling the energy of being surrounded by creatives across every department. Nothing beats being on set when there's a major fight sequence involving explosions, squibs and stunts.
What do you find rewarding about your job?
It's been incredibly rewarding to see talented actors I've admired for years convey the words and actions I've written. It's also a blast to write something on the page, like a huge sequence set in the 70s, and turn up to the studio with a huge, massively detailed set built to reflect my words. It's a real rush that I never quite adjust to. I've also enjoyed making relationships with all the different hardworking men and women across the departments, and learning from my incredibly talented colleagues who have been in the industry for years. Since the release of Doom Patrol, I've also really enjoyed corresponding with fans of the show, and reading reviews week-to-week. Seeing people's interpretations of the work you create is really something else.
Any advice for getting into your sector?
Some people think a plane ticket and a script is all you need, but the truth is it's a really competitive and cut-throat industry. As much as people may scoff at the idea of education, my experience has been that education is key. Learning the foundations of screenwriting at Waikato, and sharpening them, and learning intensively about what it means to work in the industry at UCLA gave me the building blocks I needed to even begin my journey. Furthermore, knocking on doors and networking with the right people is incredibly important. It's intimidating and I think a lot of Kiwis find it hard to talk about themselves positively, but confidence in your work is essential, and yes you do have to talk about yourself in order to get other people excited about you and your work. I owe a lot of my success to my manager, who was integral in getting me into meetings with people, studios, production houses – and eventually a seat across Jeremy Carver for a job interview. Representation is key to a career in the industry – essential alongside an excellent sample of work.