Winner of the 2021 Script Pipeline TV Writing Competition with her half-hour dramedy pilot Munch, Erin Muroski managed to pull off a script that, in the eyes of Script Pipeline staff, sparked a deeply resonant conversation about societal norms and mental health. Erin signed with managers Kate Sharp and Zack Zucker (Bellevue) after an introduction by Pipeline execs.
In the long history of Script Pipeline’s TV Writing Competition, I don’t think we’ve had more staff discussions about a single script than we had about Munch. Polarizing in the best of ways, since it opened up so many windows—not so much about your writing ability (which is obviously stellar) but about the subject matter. How difficult was it to find a balance in getting your underlying commentary across and still present a lead character we wanted to follow?
The reason I wanted to tell this story is because I think, as a society, we’ve gotten to a place where it is so easy to sit back and look at someone else’s choices and say, “I’d NEVER do that!” or “Why would someone make such a horrible choice?!” Peyton [the protagonist] makes a terrible and unlikable choice in the pilot, no question. What I wanted was to have the audience pause for even a second and think, “If I were in this situation, what would I do?” Haven’t we all been in a situation where we were pissed or horrified at the way someone behaved, then learned later that they were going through something huge? When we are able to empathize, it changes everything. Especially after the past year and a half we’ve all had, I think people can relate to feeling so desperate and invisible that they might do something they think they would never do. It took several drafts before the majority of folks who read it got what I was going for. I had to make Peyton’s rock bottom worse and worse until most people reading the pilot could understand why she might make such a desperate move. I wasn’t aiming to make her likable or have the audience root for her. I focused on creating a deeply flawed, hilariously self-deprecating and vulnerable person that draws you into her journey, even if it’s while yelling at the page, “Why the hell are you doing this?!”
Where did the premise stem from? How influenced were you by the beautiful trainwreck that is social media, and what lessons are you looking to impart with Munch? Is the script as much a criticism of the culture of Twitter and Instagram et al as it is about anything else? Why, yes, this is a leading question (but no, really, very curious about this point—dish …).
The premise stemmed from two situations in real life:
1. My mother got breast cancer young (at 35) and survived. Because she was diagnosed so young, I’ve had mammograms starting at 29 years old, and have also had two biopsies. I know what it’s like to wait for results for a few days while your brain plays the game of “what if.”
2. A few years ago, a childhood friend of mine posted on Instagram that she had about 3 months to live because she had ovarian cancer and was refusing treatment. We reconnected and made plans to hang out. I found out a week later that she had made the whole thing up. She did not have cancer. I was completely shocked. If someone asked me what kind of person would fake cancer, I would never have thought of my friend. It made the wheels turn … what would make a seemingly kind, funny, wonderful person decide to do something so awful? Having known her since we were kids, I am aware of many struggles she has gone through in her life, so I felt much more empathetic about what she did as opposed to horrified. Ultimately, I think telling Peyton’s story from behind the curtain gives the audience that same empathy.
One hundred percent, social media influenced this a lot. We’ve never been more “connected” and less connected at the same time. We think we know what is going on in someone’s life based on their feed, and it usually couldn’t be further from the truth. Statistics prove that this makes us feel awful and puts us in an addictive feedback loop! We compare our reality to someone else’s curated social media feed. It creates a very lonely, sad society. When I think of any other shows that have dealt with this subject matter (faking something on social media), the person doing it is either a malicious villain or a pathetic victim. I wanted to pull back the curtain a bit and show that in real life, things aren’t so black and white.
You mentioned you’ve been on many “water bottle tours” (taking general meetings with reps and so forth). What’s some advice you could pass along to newer writers who have never gone on such meetings? Ultimately, what do you look for in reps, or anyone you’re considering working with?
Be ready to casually pitch all of your finished projects or fairly fleshed-out ideas. You won’t pitch them all, but you should know how to naturally segue into talking about your projects and pitch them in a non-“sales-y” way. I have three-minute conversational pitches for every project, and I’ve practiced them over and over. Run through them with other writers, friends, anyone who will listen.
Most reps or producers are not just going to come out and say “pitch me your projects.” If you find yourself 20 minutes into a meeting, and all you’ve done is talk about the best place for tapas in the Valley or the weather, you need to steer the convo to your projects! An easy way to do that is say, “You’re so easy to talk to that I haven’t gotten to tell you about Munch! Mind if I jump in and tell you about it?” Of course, you’re a person first and should show your personality. It also helps calm my nerves because I know that I have those pitches down, so I can really just be myself.
Also: remember it’s a two way street. You’re not just trying to get them to like YOU. You should also see if you like them. You don’t need to go with the first manager or producer you meet that likes your work (of course they like your work, you’re a rock star!). What I look for is someone I can easily talk to and not feel like I’m bothering them or too intimidated to ask “dumb” questions, someone who has a strategy that makes sense to me, and (the biggest) someone who is really passionate about my work and voice. It is so hard to get your foot in the door. If your rep or a producer you’re working with isn’t wild with passion about your work, it’s not a fit. And that’s okay! Someone will come along who can’t wait to pick up the phone on your behalf.
What are some of your comedy/dramedy writing key principles? The necessary parts you feel are universal in every great film or series in this genre?
My background is in acting before writing, so it probably makes sense that I think character is key! When I watch, read, and write comedy, I want all of the characters to have vulnerabilities and be grounded. A character can be totally hilarious and off the rails, but at the same time be grounded. I don’t know how to explain it, but I don’t connect with shows or movies where the main character, no matter how hilarious, isn’t grounded in their own reality. Even if the audience doesn’t see it, we need to feel that the character has wants, needs, fears, vulnerabilities, etc. Steve Carrell in 40-Year-Old Virgin is a great example of this. He played such an eccentric, hilarious weirdo, but he wanted to be loved and love someone. All of Steve’s characters have that grounded feeling to me, no matter how wild they are. Also, PEN15! Maya and Anna do an incredible job of creating ridiculous and awkward teenagers that can make you laugh your ass off, then cry the next moment because you feel their pain so deeply. That’s comedic genius.
They (the industry, usually) say “write a script an actor will get excited about.” Given your acting background, what can writers do to hit the mark?
Oh man, I think I answered this preemptively! All of the above ,and also, stretch your character’s legs! Every scene needs an arc within the arc of the episode AND within the arc of the series! You shouldn’t have a scene where every character feels the same from the beginning to the end. Actors want to play characters that go on a journey and challenge them. It has to be earned. Lay the groundwork and let the audience see your character’s vulnerabilities. And yes, this is true of comedy as well as drama. You also want your characters to have different voices! When you’re reading the script, which character is speaking shouldn’t be confusing. It should flow because you can hear that character’s voice so distinctly.
The TV series that influenced you the most. Yes, you can only pick one. Yes, you must explain why.
It is incredibly cruel to ask a comedy nerd like myself to pick one series that influenced her the most, but I’ll do it for you. :)
SO. MANY. SHOWS. Have influenced me, and new ones continue to, but when I think of a damn near perfect sitcom, I think of Cheers. If you’re writing a network sitcom pilot, go watch Cheers. It’s like a masterclass. Every character entrance tells you EXACTLY who that character is, brilliantly. Every relationship is clear. The main character (Diane) ends up in a completely different place mentally and emotionally by the end of the pilot. They did it all on one set. The characters feel fresh and funny, but familiar at the same time. You want to go to this place where everybody knows your name! The show went 11 seasons and managed to create all of these storylines that rarely left a bar. How? Because the characters were so rich and how they felt about each other was so clear. As far as the show that taught me the most about sitcom writing, it’d be Cheers.
(but… can I tell you like 10 more sitcoms that influenced me greatly and that I love?! Please? No? okay, I’ll shut up now.)
Erin Muroski is a comedy writer and actor who prefers hurricanes to earthquakes (she’s from Orlando, but currently lives in LA). She writes about real, multifaceted women who try really hard to keep it together, but end up screwing it up in some way… just like her!
As a performer, she’s appeared on sitcoms, in national commercials, at San Francisco Sketch Fest two years running and was one of the leads in an uber religious romantic comedy that made her Catholic mother very happy called In-Lawfully Yours (available on Amazon & iTunes). She has taught and performed improv for over a decade and has her own podcast about the Bachelor franchise (so she is officially an Angeleno now.)
As a writer, won “Best Original Comedy Pilot” for her pilot Level Up at the UCLA Screenwriting Contest and won the PAGE International Screenwriting Award for “Best Comedy Pilot Script” for her script Game, based on her years of experience as a dating coach. She’s a two-time finalist at the Austin Film Festival and was chosen as a fellow by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer in “Imagine Impact Content Accelerator Program.” Her latest pilot Munch won first place in the Script Pipeline 2021 TV Writing contest. Erin is currently shopping her holiday feature Dumped on Christmas with Kimberly Montini at Cranium Entertainment.
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