Alums Who Kind of Have Their Shit Together: Emma Specter ’15
Believe it or not after you graduate Kenyon, you’re still stuck in your human form and expected to sustain life for at least a few more years. I know, the harsh reality of the situation can seem bleak and excruciatingly overwhelming at times. But then there are those stories you’ll hear of people in far off lands living in towns with traffic lights and running water actually doing something with themselves. In this edition of Post-Grad Might Be Okay, I spoke with Emma Specter ’15. As a former Thrill editor herself, Emma has been a champion of wit, truth, and heart. She is also currently living the dream.
Emma worked on the Amazon TV series, Good Girls Revolt. The show is set in New York in the late 1960s, when a cultural revolution was sweeping through the free world. One place that was not quick to change with the times was newsrooms. Inspired by real events, “Good Girls Revolt” follows Patti Robinson and her fellow female researchers at News of the Week, who decide to ask for equal treatment. Their quest initiates an upheaval that impacts romantic relationships, careers and friendships, and propels Patti and her friends into unfamiliar territory that they never dreamed of. (Thank you, Google) I personally inhaled the show almost instantly. It fills a hole in current television that is so satisfying to witness it’s almost cathartic. It’s equal doses of fascinating and empowering send chills down my spine, and it deserves all the praise out there.
We quite literally asked Emma to tell us everything, and she graciously obliged. Emma’s return to The Thrill is enthusiastically welcomed. Read more about her experiences below.
How did you get involved with the show?
The show’s creator, Dana Calvo, was mentored early on in her journalism career by a friend of my mom’s, who connected us via email a few months after I moved to LA. “Good Girls Revolt” hadn’t yet been picked up for a full season at the time, but I’d adored the Amazon pilot and jumped at the chance when Dana graciously offered to meet me for coffee. We chatted about TV writing and Dana gave me excellent advice about the industry, one piece of which I scrawled on a Post-It and stuck to my laptop in an attempt to absorb its message: “MAKE YOURSELF INDISPENSABLE.”
A month later, I read that “Good Girls Revolt” had been picked up and emailed Dana to congratulate her/shamelessly try to scrounge a job. I had a formal interview with Dana and her co-showrunner, Darlene Hunt. Later that day, they emailed me saying they wanted me as their assistant, and I cried in the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on La Cienega Blvd (which wasn’t even the first time I’d cried in that particular Coffee Bean, but it was definitely the first time the tears had been ones of joy.)
What exactly did you do on a daily basis/aka what was your title?
My official title was “showrunner’s assistant.” I answered the showrunners’ phones, set their meetings, kept track of their schedules, took notes on their calls with the studio and network, and generally tried to make their lives easier in whatever small ways I could.
Right before I started, a former showrunner’s assistant gave me a piece of advice I didn’t understand at the time – “Your job is to limit the noise.” Once the season began, I saw exactly what she meant. A TV showrunner basically has five full-time jobs rolled into one, serving as what Mindy Kaling calls a “professional question answerer” to every last one of the show’s writers, editors, directors, actors, crew members, and studio/network executives. My job was to solve as many problems as I could, as thoroughly as I could, in order to ensure that only the most important “noise” actually reached my bosses.
How was it?
It was, in short, the best. I was lucky enough to work for two uncommonly generous showrunners who actively sought out ways to teach me, from letting me hang out on set and observe filming to inviting me into the edit bay to watch them review footage. They were nice to me even at the beginning, when I was basically Christina Applegate in the 1991 classic “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead”; a terrified, inappropriately dressed teen who’d conned her way into an adult job and was just pretending to know how to use the fax machine. (The best assistant advice I received came courtesy of this movie; when faced with a seemingly impossible task, just stay calm, smile and say, “I’m right on top of that, [boss’s name.]” Then go off somewhere and figure out how to do it.)
What was your favorite part?
The short answer: Free food from craft services. Unlimited meatloaf, baby.
The long answer: Working alongside a record number of female writers, directors, and producers (and amazing men who were fiercely committed to amplifying female voices). Unfortunately, that’s still far from the norm in the entertainment industry, so I tried not to take it for granted when I’d enter the writer’s room or walk over to video village (the place on set where the director works) and see women quite literally running the show. I got used to it after a while, which actually a pretty great feeling in itself, but hearing a female director yell “Action!” for the first time gave me goosebumps.
What was your least favorite part?
Hmm. I’d have to say “the crushing, incessant fear of fucking up.” I knew nothing about the TV industry or Los Angeles or office jobs in general when I started, so in stressful moments I’d often fall prey to an inner monologue along the lines of “You can’t possibly figure out how to connect this conference call, so the best thing to do is probably to just quit via email and then go under your desk and quietly eat Red Vines until everybody leaves for the day and then get in your car and start driving and for the love of God don’t stop until you hit desert.” Weirdly, this mindset was not super-conducive to success. Over the course of the season, though, I learned to trust myself a little bit and not immediately assume that every obstacle was an opportunity for spectacular failure.
Do you like the show?
I love it. I binge-watched all of Season 1 last weekend, and it was so surreal and cool to realize I’d actually gotten to work on this brilliant, complex show that I would have devoured even if I’d had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Why should people watch it?
Because it’s relatable as hell. The show revolves around young women in 1969 fighting institutional sexism, an issue that’s still sadly relevant today; hopefully, looking back at women’s struggles through “Good Girls Revolt” can help us move forward. As the show’s protagonists navigate a sexist workplace, they also wrestle with broader questions of identity that are sure to hit home: “Where do I fit in?” “How does the world see me?” “How do I turn myself into the kind of person I want to be?” (And, on a slightly more superficial note, the show just looks so damn good. I defy you to get through the first episode without yearning for a lamé tube top and a pair of bellbottoms.)