Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Hi, Marion, let’s start with a brief background and how you got into writing. From LA? Move to LA? Did you study writing? Did you always want to be a writer? Etc.
I'm from Superior, Nebraska. It's little. We got a stoplight when I was a Sophomore but it only lasted a couple years, now it's a stop sign again. I studied biochemistry and thought I would be a mortician like my dad, uncle, and grandpa -- or a pediatric orthopedic surgeon like the one who helped my brother. I didn't think writing was a real job. I read everything I could get my hands on, and wrote from the time I learned how. I always thought it would be a hobby, like handstands or something. When I realized I wanted to be a writer, I got the only writing job in Nebraska I could find -- a journalist for the railroad. I did that for a few years and it was rad. I wanted to move into scripting and knew I needed to be better and I needed to move to do it. I moved to LA, got work, and got my MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA.
How long were you writing before you got your first staff writing gig? How many TV Pilots and Spec Scripts have you written and did you apply for any networking programs or screenwriting contests in that time?
Years. Years and years. I started writing as a teen and got my first staff job in 2015. I've written two specs, mostly pilots and features. I've been rejected from lots of fellowships and labs. I was accepted into the inaugural Sundance Episodic Writers Lab in 2014 with an original pilot I first wrote in grad school.
You worked as a writer’s assistant on shows like the United States of Tara, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Goldbergs. How did those gigs come about? How long did you work as a writer’s assistant before getting staffed? What was the most valuable lesson you learned as a writers’ assistant?
First I interned, and I became the best intern in the office. Then I became an assistant, and became the best assistant that boss had ever had. I didn't ask for favors, I didn't complain, and I owned my mistakes when I made them. I was WA on Better Call Saul for two seasons. The second season I co-wrote the finale with Vince Gilligan. The most valuable lesson I learned as WA was to be the absolute best WA I could be (look for opportunities to make the writers' jobs easier), and I was generous with the opportunities I shared with other assistants. If you don't treat the people AT YOUR LEVEL well, you will not go far.
You’ve been involved with Better Call Saul since its inception, working originally as a writer’s assistant and script coordinator, then as a writer, story editor and executive story editor on 2020’s Season. Can you talk about climbing the ladder in the TV world? What’s the process of going from writer’s assistant to newbie staff writer to producer level?
A lot of hard work, and generous people like Genny Hutchison and Gordon Smith who had done my job before me, taught me, and were kind and talented people for me to look up to. That, and asking for help when I fell into the dark hole of Imposter Syndrome. It took me too long to believe that I deserved to be there.
How was it for you to go from the writer’s room of half-hour comedy like Curb Your Enthusiasm to hour-long drama series like Better Call Saul? Is the writing process very different?
Curb is written VERY differently from BCS. Every show is, not just genre to genre but show to show within dramatic or comedic series. It all depends on what works best for that show, for that group, for that showrunner.
Is there a fun or interesting anecdote that happened in any of the writers’ rooms you would love to share?
From riding around in Vince's helicopter to sharing a day with Bill Hader to breaking story with Jeff Garlin, Larry David, and Charlie Hunnam... plus getting pickles from Patrick Fabian every year -- writers' rooms are chock full of anecdotes but also protected by cones of silences. They have to be the safest places on earth so we can all get vulnerable and real. I'll tell you more over coffee!
Have you met any actors or actresses from the shows you worked on? For example Larry David or Bob Odenkirk? Who was your favorite? Did you learn anything from them?
All of them! I learned so much from every one. I tell them each why they're my favorite, and I mean it!
How has your writing process evolved over time?
With more reading, more training, more education, and more work on different shows, I've been able to find my voice, lean into my vulnerabilities, find real, layered, compassionate characters, trust them to make their own decisions (rather than me making their decisions for them), learn what to do (and NOT do as a leader), and most importantly, I've learned how to trust myself (most of the time). I used to think my ideas needed to be perfect before sharing them. Now I can say "Hey here's the wrong idea, let's plus it," and "Hey, I don't know how to do this, can we get someone in here who does?"
Tell us a bit about your daily habits as a writer. Do you have a routine? What’s an average day like for you?
I start with a prayer. "More of You, less of Me." I write 3 pages, free-write. Sometimes a diary, sometimes affirmations, sometimes a grocery list, sometimes an angry doodle. However I feel, I get it out. I eat breakfast and drink a tiny bit of caffeine, just a little. If it's an exercise day, I do that. I call one writer or artist who is newer than me to see if there's anything I can do to help them. Emphasis: newer than me. It's easy to kiss asses of folks above me. That's not what I'm about. I mean, be a good employee. But focus on the colleagues around you, not above you.
If I'm in a writers' room, I go on time. I smile and say hello and make non-story conversation because it's important, even though I feel nervous and socially awkward. I dive into whatever homework I've done the night before on the characters I'm writing about. I do the best I can to push the ball forward, and remind myself not to keep score. It's not about who has the most good ideas. Did I speak up when I had an authentic thought? Good, that's hard! Did I express pride when someone pitched something I dug? Good! Was I the best team player I could be and did my best to pitch into my showrunner's vision? Win! Sometimes, I don't write script pages at all. Most days I don't. Most writing takes place off the page. After hours, I know that if I start doing something that makes me feel bad (too much social media, telling myself I suck, etc)., it's time to reach out to one more artist to ask them how their day is going, or see if they're working on anything I can support or promote. Or if my bandwidth is low and I don't honestly have time to be of service, I just have a nice conversation. That's service, too. Before bed, I read. And/or play Gardenscapes.
Even for a writer as successful as you, surely you have had to face rejection at some point. Any advice for writers dealing with the discouragement that comes with it?
The biggest, most frequent rejection I get comes from between my own ears. I'm always at battle with myself. I look for evidence that I will fail, that I'm a fraud, that I don't deserve to represent the characters I work so hard to understand. My advice? Call out the truth. Rejection letters are opinions, not facts. My negative thoughts are lies. I have the power to say, "Hey, anxiety -- I see you. I've seen you a lot lately. I know everything you're about to say and frankly I'm too busy to rehash." Then I remind myself that all I'm doing is getting to know characters and telling the truth about them. There's no me in that. I'm simply an interpreter for a higher creative power. There's no me in that.
What’s the best and the worst advice you have ever received about the craft of TV writing?
The best: If you have something to say, the rest can be learned.
When you think "I can't" -- back up. Figure out what you're really saying. Are you saying it's impossible, or are you saying you don't know how to do it yet? 100% of the time, it's the latter. Don't give up.
The worst: You have to write every day to be a good writer. You have to be paid every day to be a real writer. You have to have a bunch of Twitter followers to know what you're doing. That's all bullshit.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming screenwriters who want to write for a famous TV Show like you?
Get better at writing, and then ask the people you admire how you can help them with jobs that aren't necessarily writing.
In our TV Pilot Screenplay Competition, we evaluate submitted TV Pilot Scripts in these 10 categories: Idea, Plot, Characters, Concept, Structure, Dialogue, Originality, Writing Style, Marketability and the Potential for the whole series. When you’ll be reading the screenplays from our contestants, which of these 10 categories will be the most important for you?
Wow. These are all important.
Can I add one or two? Authenticity and Momentum.
What’s your favorite TV show you've ever seen? Best (TV) script you’ve ever read? Favorite book? Best music to listen to while writing?
I have a feeling you want something scripted so I'll say the OG American Gladiators as an aside. I like Columbo, The X-Files, and The Night Of. I would include a few in-progress shows but I don't know if they stick the landing.
Best script I've ever read: Ted Lasso 101, Black Mirror 406
Favorite Book: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Music: Varies! I like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Bon Iver
What else are you currently working on? What's next for you? We heard rumors about you being linked as the showrunner of an upcoming Marvel Studios television series, can you tell us anything about that?
Where and how can our followers support you? What’s your website and social media handles?
@mariondayre -- everywhere!
Thanks, Marion! This was an Outstanding Interview!
To receive an EXCLUSIVE one page written feedback report from MARION DAYRE click below to Submit your TV Pilot Script to our TV Pilot Screenplay Competition: https://writers.coverfly.com/competitions/view/outstanding-screenplays-tv-pilot