Jessica Glassberg – Screenwriter
HEATHER Hi Jessica! Thanks so much for agreeing to talk to us about your writing career and your new movie You Make It Feel Like Christmas.
JESSICA Thanks for having me.
HEATHER Before we get to the movie, tell me about yourself growing up and where you’re from and what you were like as a kid.
JESSICA I’m originally from Long Island, New York. I was always the funny kid. Anytime I was in any plays or anything in elementary through high school, I was always the funny side character. I loved acting but I realized I’m fine at acting. I’m not great at it. Then in college I started doing stand-up and I loved it! I don’t know, maybe I’m just better at not playing with others.
I recently found something that I wrote in third grade. It was basically my first spec script. Although it was two pages, so more like a spec scene… most spec scripts are around 30 pages. It was for The Wonder Years. All written out with dialogue and action…it was terrible, but it had Kevin and the narrator talking about what was happening. This was the cool thing I was up to in third grade. .
HEATHER That was perfect training for your future career! And then where did you end up going to college?
JESSICA I went to Carnegie Mellon University. I applied to 17 schools. I’m neurotic and crazy and thought I wouldn’t get in anywhere.
HEATHER Wow. You are an overachiever.
JESSICA I thought “If I apply to enough schools, somebody will take me” And Carnegie Mellon did! And it was great. I love CMU. It was a great education. And I had a foot in the theater department and one in the English department.
They had this program, it was called BHA, Bachelor of Humanities and Arts, where you’re basically a double major. My senior year was all just stuff I wanted to do. I wrote a sitcom with a friend of mine. I mean, again, it was terrible, but it was a lot of fun and we made two episodes. I did a one woman show and I wrote a children’s book, and all of this was for credit. It was great. I had someone from the faculty supervising it and making sure I’m not just sitting in my room drinking. I was actually producing some tangible work out of it. It was great.
HEATHER And then how did you leap from that into writing professionally?
JESSICA My major was Creative and Dramatic Writing, which I think I made up. I took a lot of playwriting classes, one every semester from freshman year on, and they had one film writing course. I wrote a couple of spec scripts and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. By senior year, I knew I wanted to write for TV. So, my spring break that year, I decided I’m going to go out to LA. I knew no one in Los Angeles.
I’m going to go out to LA and just see who I can meet and what I can do. And I probably called everyone’s coworkers’ child’s cousin to meet with me and talk to me about Los Angeles. In the end my mom’s coworker’s son, who was interning at Malcolm in the Middle, agreed to meet with me. And he was very nice. We met at CBS Radford and we talked and basically, I said, “I want an internship.” And right when I was saying that… it was just like out of a movie… the person that selects the interns was in the room. He heard me and said, “Oh, do you have a resume?” I said, “I do! “He looked at it and told me that if I could make it back to LA by September, I can have an internship.
So, the idea of me moving to Los Angeles was bonkers. I’m going to move to a city and state I don’t know, with an unpaid internship. And basically, I was freaking out.
HEATHER Wow, very brave move. How did you support yourself during the internship?
JESSICA: I got a job at the Comedy Club. I was a terrible waitress, but I got to listen to some of the best comedians in the world and earn money.
HEATHER Tell me about the internship.
JESSICA So as an intern the idea is to learn, right? I mean, yes, I’m going to make photocopies and I’m going to answer phones and I’m going to get lunches. I’m going to do all that, but also can I sit in the writers’ room? Mouth shut, not saying a word, just to see what a writer’s room is. My “writer’s room” in college was me in my dorm room, alone, just writing and stuff. And I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I was talking to the writers and they were like, “Yeah, come in.”
So, I went in and they were fine with it. I didn’t say a word. I was a fly on the wall – silent. And the writer’s assistants were my friends and they’re like, yeah, come in. And you know, a lot of it was exciting and a lot of it was really boring, as a writers’ room is when you don’t know what’s going on or how to pitch a story or whatever.
But I was so excited to be there. And then the assistant to the executive producer ended up helping me get my next job.
HEATHER So what came next after that?
So right after Malcolm in the Middle, I got a job at the Jerry Lewis telethon and I was also the producer’s assistant. I wrote on the telethon for 11 years. But since it was only a 3 month gig, I’d write for the show at night and on weekends while also working different day jobs. I became an assistant for four executive producers, which was crazy, just juggling four people’s lives. I did a ton of things. Let me make your appointment for the dog acupuncturist and plan your kid’s birthday party and whatever. Great. Great guys. I still keep in touch with some of them.
HEATHER So you’re just incrementally raising your writing chops. How did you start writing your own stuff?
JESSICA I became a writer’s assistant on a DisneyXD show called Zeke and Luther, and the showrunners gave me the opportunity to writer a script… and then another one. With my telethon experience, I’ve written on a bunch of other live-event shows: awards shows like the SAG awards, branded comedy competitions and Christmas specials.
HEATHER So when did you first start writing Christmas films? Or, is this your first?
JESSICA This is my first Christmas movie.
HEATHER What prompted you to write it? Was it a spec script or did Lifetime come to you?
JESSICA This was actually a rewrite for a production company. So, I had written for the production company, MarVista on a different movie. I did not get commissioned through Lifetime directly. They are wonderful people and they are really great to work with and give great notes. I had written this other movie and I guess they found me easy to work with too. They had a script and it needed to be rewritten and I had a very, very short timeline. Completely re-outline, create the characters, everything—from that to final draft in less than three months. I think the only thing that needed to stay was the male lead needed to work to get the female lead home for Christmas. So, we’d talk through and every stage I send them my work, get notes, etc.
HEATHER So tell me about how many people were giving you notes and, and were you helped by those notes or were they difficult?
I think there were four people giving notes. And for the most part, they would chat amongst themselves first and then give one set of notes, which was very helpful. I also found it very helpful that they would write everything out. You don’t usually get that. It’s usually a phone call and everybody’s throwing out their ideas. Everything was written out, so I had the chance to go through the notes and then set up a call to be like, “Okay, here’s how I’m going to fix this. Here’s how I’m pushing back on that.”
And we would go through it and it made it faster. If I was like, “Hmm, I don’t really think this is going to work for this character. Let’s see where this note is coming from and what you really want in this story.”
HEATHER I was happily surprised by the diversity in the film.
JESSICA I would love to take 1000% credit for all of it. I mean, I wrote the same gender love story. When I wrote the other characters, I left it open-ended. And I’m so happy that that is what is showing on screen. It’s something I’m really super proud of. It’s a very diverse story and I’m so excited. It’s something that I want to push for to have more diversity.
HEATHER I heard the story had a different title to begin with.
JESSICA Yes, it was Mission Christmas, which is what I wrote towards, and you can hear them say “mission” like a million times.
HEATHER Did you enjoy writing a made for TV Christmas movie? Do you want to write more?
JESSICA Yeah. Yeah. It was a lot of fun. I mean, the formula works, right? You know, what’s going to happen. Exactly. You know this couple you’re meeting in the very beginning who don’t like each other and there’s some tension they’re going to end up together, but it’s still fun to write. Totally fun.
HEATHER If you could go back to your 20 year old self, would you do anything differently? What advice would you have for yourself at that age?
JESSICA So many things. I mean, I would tell myself to write so much more when I have so much more time to work. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Because there were so many situations where there were probably way more connections that I could have made that I didn’t, because I thought, Well, this is my place. And I’m an assistant and I’m not supposed to talk to that person. I’m not supposed to do those things. I can’t talk to them.
So yeah, I would say to just do a lot more asking for what I want, getting things done. Networking more. I’m a terrible networker.
HEATHER I find that hard to believe. You are so charming.
JESSICA Tell me more…
HEATHER Some people are very against unpaid internships. I had great internships that were unpaid. Having started that way what’s your thought on that?
JESSICA Okay. I think it’s a great opportunity. It is probably a bit elitist. Cause if you’re not in college, you can’t get one or find out about it. Right? So I don’t love that aspect and I was working for free. Many people can’t afford to that.
Would I have moved out here without that? I wouldn’t have learned what a production office is – learned the etiquette of a production office. I mean, I’m sure I would’ve gotten a some job somewhere, but everything started because I had worked there and later people were like, “Oh, I’ve heard of Malcolm in the Middle”. Yeah. I mean, I’m for internships. As long as you’re learning. Right? Yes, come make our photocopies, answer our phones, learn a few things, but also have time to ask questions. You should be encouraged to ask questions.
HEATHER So what’s next writing wise?
JESSICA I’m working on a pilot, always working on my stand-up.
HEATHER Last question.What are you watching? That’s really good right now that you think is great writing.
JESSICA Ted Lasso is great. And I just started watching Succession. So far I hate everyone… we’ll see.
You can find Jessica’s movie You Make It Feel Like Christmas here https://amzn.to/3zRJQiN