“You don’t get a lot of wins in screenwriting. You have to be your own cheerleader.”
When one writer wins, everyone wins. It shows us all that this industry, which is largely gatekept and inaccessible by most, is open to new voices and ideas. This is why we’re so excited for Michelle Askew, the Launch Pad Feature Competition 2020 winner, who found representation following the win of her script Hot Girl Summer and is currently a writers’ PA on Apple TV+’s The Morning Show.
We met up with her to talk about what she’s been up to and how she handles the successes and setbacks of being a writer.
Celebrate the Wins
Michelle was in her senior year at USC for screenwriting when she found out she’d won the Launch Pad Feature Competition, however, her senior year wasn’t the exciting end to the college experience that she expected.
“I didn’t have a senior year of college [because of COVID]… I was actually in class when I found out,” she told us. Since the announcements came out in December 2020 and Michelle still had a few more months of school and the country was largely still in lockdown.
But just because things around her weren’t going the way she’d expected didn’t stop Michelle from understanding and celebrating her script’s success. “You don’t get a lot of wins in screenwriting. You have to be your own cheerleader. So any win you can get feels extra good.”
And Michelle used that win to propel her career and self-confidence forward, saying, “It definitely gave me the energy to be like, ‘Okay, I can do this. I can write another one now.’”
When you have a script that’s as hot as Michelle’s Hot Girl Summer, it can seem as though you have to make decisions fast, so you don’t miss your window of opportunity. “As soon as I was even in the Top 100, people were asking to read my script.”
But Michelle took her time. Though she was having meetings with representation as soon as she found out she’d won, she took three months to really meet with her options before making a choice. It’s something many established writers recommend up-and-coming writers do but can be challenging when you’re first setting out and want to launch your career.
Michelle teamed up with Russell Hollander of Fourth Wall Management, who clicked with her dark comedic voice. However, Michelle understands that they are a team and says you have to “work with your representation, not just letting them tell you what is right for you. Always being your own advocate.”
The Next Project
A writer’s work is never done, and now that Michelle is building a career as an in-demand writer, it can be challenging to balance time to make money (whether it’s in the industry or not) and time to write. And the pressure to make time can be the hardest part.
“Trying to make time to write in those situations can seem impossible… Making sure you’re still finding joy in it every day, even in just the smallest of ways, it’ll keep you going in the long run.”
Helping Michelle keep up her focus and energy on her latest script is that “trusting your gut” instinct. “Just write what you want. Really just staying true to yourself and knowing who you want to be, and holding tight to that is the most important.”
Even though Michelle has nabbed herself a gig at one of the most critically acclaimed shows on air currently, and has teamed up with a well-known management company, she still finds self-doubt creeping in.
“My biggest advice to that is, for me, doubting myself about whether something is good enough is something you’re constantly going to question… if you feel confident in it, and you’re telling your own truth… you have to trust your gut and just go with it.”
She also recommends leaning on feedback from people you know and industry connections. “Fellow writers are one of the greatest resources that you can have.” Michelle points out that it’s important to establish relationships with other writers at your level, to help one another improve and rise through the ranks together.
Don’t Give Yourself Options
Lastly, Michelle sums up her success as focusing on what she knows she wants, and she’s known for many years that she wanted to be a screenwriter, as her family stories became the basis for her screenplays. She believes the combination of focusing on what you want and connecting with the right people to make it happen is the formula to her success.
“As cliche as it sounds, don’t give up. The people without a Plan B are the people who succeed in their Plan A. It’s really hard, even when you are doing well… There’s a lot of hard moments, and it does ebb and flow. I think that having small wins, or big wins like with Launch Pad, holding onto those moments, and those feelings of ‘I can do this’ will get you so far.”