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Rising Through the Ranks: 'Equalizer's' Vanessa Herron

November 11, 2022
6 min read time

“I’m excited to wake up in the morning and do what I’ve dreamed of doing for so long: Make a decent living as a writer.”


The inspiring Vanessa Herron is a pleasure to listen to, with plenty of insightful advice that she offers up willingly — all of which feels very befitting for a screenwriter on a television show about a woman who uses her repertoire of skills to help those in need on The Equalizer.


It’s also an inspiring culmination of a two-decade journey that went from a father who told her she’d never make money as a writer to a husband who once gifted Herron screenwriting software for their anniversary.


“I had a very unusual childhood, in many ways. My dad was a preacher and for a number of years, we lived in a haunted house, a parsonage. Those experiences we were having there, I wanted to process them in a way that would make sense for me, so I started writing. I remember being a teenager and going to my dad and telling him I wanted to be a writer, and he was like, ‘Well, you're not gonna make any money.’ I was good at science, so I thought, ‘Okay, I want to be a doctor and I want to help people.’”


“So, my undergrad was in biology with a pre-med emphasis. But as I went through my studies, I really began to feel like I was going in the wrong direction. There was a moment where one of my English professors said, ‘You need to be changing majors, like, what are you doing?’ At the time, my family was encouraging me to just stay the course. And so, I did, but by the time I graduated, I knew that that was not the right thing for me. I just knew from that moment that I was going to be working towards actually doing what I feel like I was going to do.”


Believing in yourself, especially as a creative, can be one of the hardest things to do. But Herron persevered, having recognized her purpose.


“I was a young mom, I got married at 18. My husband saw my writing a year or two after we got married and he told me, ‘You can actually write!’ and a few years after that he got me some screenwriting software for our anniversary. I thought, ‘This is the least romantic thing you could ever get,’” she laughs. “But it started me on the journey of becoming a screenwriter and really actually taking it seriously.”


In the meantime, Herron worked in radio for 17 years before her husband encouraged her to apply to USC, where she credits Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and Mary Sweeney with “contributing so much to the arsenal that I have now to tell stories.”


Walking the serious path to screenwriting

“Look, it's not for everybody to go to grad school. It's not for everybody to go to a school like USC and it's expensive. But I tell people, ‘Don’t say no to yourself.’ There are grants. There are scholarships. There are things that can make it an easier financial decision. And the lessons you get, and the friendships you make, are just so invaluable. I won an NAACP ViacomCBS Scholarship, which gave me a little bit of an edge into the ViacomCBS Writing Program, which is now called the Paramount writing program. Going through that program was incredibly helpful. Aaron Thomas refers to it as Finishing School for Writers because once you get into a program like that, you learn how the industry really works, the intricacies and nuances. Carole Kirschner runs that program and she's amazing. She's just one of the best people I've ever met in this industry. She's wonderful, she's funny, she's sweet, she's smart, and she cares.”


It was through that program that Herron was paired with “two amazing mentors. They were wonderful with helping me to craft a story that I never really thought I would tell, which was about my childhood and living in a haunted parsonage. Then after working on that for a few months with them and getting it as good as I could get it, we started these workshops where we would meet with managers, agents, with showrunners and it prepared you to know what kind of questions they could ask you, how to conduct these interviews and not, you know, make a fool out of yourself,” she chuckles.


It's where Herron credits gaining “confidence in being able to talk about your writing, talk about your brand as a writer, and talk about what your genre is, your preferences, and why you write what you write. So that program was crucial in feeling confident that I was ready to be staffed. And through that program, is how I met one of the showrunners for the show I ended up writing for, which is The Equalizer.


“I could not have asked to be on a better show; the showrunners are wonderful. They have been so welcoming, and they've always encouraged me to give ideas and to speak my mind. I think that's just such a wonderful thing. Everybody in the room is wonderful!” Herron gushes about her new work family.


“I also want to address something I’ve heard people say about how diversity programs like the Paramount Writing Program don’t really work. I believe that they absolutely can work as effective, impactful pathways of opportunity if you have good showrunners and upper-level writers in the room like I do. They are true leaders – they support and encourage me, and they challenge me when need be.”


Vanessa’s valuable screenwriting advice

“I had so many different people telling me how hard it is for women over 35 to get started in this industry. How hard it’s to get started because I'm a Black woman. How if you haven't made it in five years, you should go home. You know, it's a lottery ticket that you might never win, so why bother; why waste time? But I'm saying that if you really want it, if it's the reason that God put you on the planet, you don't have the right to give up on yourself,” emphasizes Herron.


“All the experiences that I've had as a wife, as a mother, working in the real world, radio and in journalism and just being a person—being a part of the PTA, volunteering; all the things that I've done in life have made me. I've had times of great love. I've had times of great loss. I've had times of joy and monumental lessons. I've had times of making horrible mistakes and time to learn from those mistakes and overcome them,” says Herron. “I think you need that in this industry. So, to be at this point now and to be in this position now—I think it's the right time. Your time is your time, there is no timeline.”


“You can be happy for everybody else as they get opportunities,” she explains. “You can rejoice with them. Don't be jealous. What's for you is only for you; it has your name on it. It's about you doing what you need to do.”


That, and while you’re writing: “If you feel uncomfortable, then you're on the right track. You should be a little uncomfortable.”


Herron has also discovered her groove with pitching, “I’ve learned how to choose my moments better when it comes to pitching and speaking up in the room. I’ve also learned that it’s more important to have something worth saying when you pitch rather than just saying something because you haven’t spoken in 20 minutes.”


There’s so much more Herron has to offer and hopefully we’ll get to see her own compelling stories on screen soon, in the meantime, catch her work on The Equalizer.


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