Rising Through the Ranks: Television writer Danielle Nicki on trusting yourself — and Bruce Wayne
January 11, 2022
From the moment Danielle Nicki mentioned that her dog’s name is Bruce Wayne, I liked her on a whole new level.“I love Wanda and I love Black Panther. And I mean, who doesn’t love Thor?” Nicki laughed. “Ask any mom and they’re like, ‘Hemsworth.’”
This mom of three has been screenwriting for nearly a decade, focusing on “flawed WOC protagonists” in a hobby that started as “something I did on the side to keep myself sane because I had three small children in diapers at the same time and I was working full-time.”
So she asked herself, “What can I do that's just mine, that I don't have to share with my husband or my kids or my career or anything? I would write on weekends and nights and kind of whenever I could. But around 2016 my family and I went through some craziness and I just kind of had to make a decision: is this something that I want to pursue? Or is this going to remain this hobby that I do? And I decided to do a push and to really try to make this my career.”
The crossroad paid off for Nicki.
“Around that time, I was realizing that the things that I was writing were more along what I thought people wanted from me versus what I wanted to create. The protagonists weren't who I was relating to and I think it all came out of my writing. ... I kind of did a step back and wrote exactly what I wanted to write. I was kind of afraid of, ‘nobody's gonna want to see this’ but I wrote it anyway. It was my first feature, because I had been writing really terrible pilots up until that point,” Nicki laughed.
Well, that feature was a quarterfinalist in the Nicholl Fellowship that year.
“It was the boost I needed to show myself that, ‘okay, write what you want to write because people want from you what you want to give them.’”
Sage advice for any writer. Nicki went on to final in the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition and was named one of ISA’s Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2021. Being around her calm, easy energy (that of course coupled with some kick-ass scripts), it’s clear why Nicki belongs in a writers room — you just feel a little more balanced for having been in her presence.
Maybe it comes from being born in Italy to military parents and calling several major European and American cities home over the years. Maybe it’s the inner zen you have to call upon juggling parenthood and a full-time job. But Nicki’s lovely presence and perseverance in writing landed her representation with Noah Jones of FWRD MGMT last summer — “I’m big on follow up! You know, I don't pester people ... but checking in after nine months isn’t out of the question, either” — which led to countless general meetings and pitches, before getting staffed on season two of IMDb TV’s original mystery/crime/thriller, Leverage: Redemption.
“COVID, of course, is the most horrible thing. But some good things came out of it; it made it so a lot of us emerging writers, we didn’t have to move to Los Angeles right away. You’re able to take general meetings and do all the things that you normally do in L.A., just from your living room,” she said.
“This past year, I have been on countless general meetings and I did some pitches. I really got a vibe for how that side works. And like I said, because it was all on Zoom, I was able to take 50-something general meetings in a year.” All from her living room in Ohio.
Nowadays, Nicki laughs, “Is this even work? What am I going to complain about?!”
After being a corporate employee for 20 years and having to “squeeze in my passion on the side ... [now] I get to sit in a room all day with a bunch of really fun, really smart, really creative people and talk about stories and characters all day. It's so fun and so amazing.”
Character is an area Nicki particularly excels in.
“What I love doing is telling stories about my protagonists who are living two lives, essentially. People who have to code-switch; people who have to pretend they are in a certain realm and then they get to go back to their regular life and be who they are. That's always really fascinating to me,” she said.
“And I love stories that make you think and question things about yourself. My favorite show of all time is Breaking Bad, and my second favorite is Handmaid's Tale. It's so good. It's just so juicy. … Nothing is made up about the things that they do to those women in Gilead or things that have been done to women all throughout history, all throughout the world. That’s what’s fascinating to me; that you can take something that's real and then you can fictionalize it a little bit — but then that brings it into the conversation.”
While Nicki admits to learning daily while in the Leverage: Redemption writers room, especially from the producing side, her most poignant advice is to cultivate the ability to market yourself well.
“You have to be able to sell yourself. I come from a sales background — I had a small business; a skin care line. I made all the recipes and all that stuff. I built the website and the labels and I did everything. [When I started writing], I decided to look at myself as the product; not what I write, I am the product, I am what you get when you buy my scripts, and so I had to figure out what my brand was as a product,” she said.
“I don't necessarily stick within one genre, and so I had to figure out what the throughline within all of my scripts was. ... Once I was able to identify that, then it made it easy for me to talk about myself as a brand when I was talking to representation and then also during my general meetings because they want to know that as well.”
Nicki advises to “trust yourself.”
“Like, trust what you know. Trust that your life experience is valid. And not only valid, it is welcome. They want to know all about what it was like raising children or living abroad or being a photographer. Whatever your first or second or third career was before you discovered screenwriting will inform who you are and make you an asset to have around. So I would encourage people to lean into it — into who you are — and be happy about wherever it is that you are in your journey today.”
Coming from Nicki, I wholeheartedly believe that and genuinely want to take a breath and say, “Yes, I love what I do and where I’m at.” That’s your gift as a writer — sharing your thoughts with the world. And while it can be scary, sometimes someone like Nicki comes along and proves it’s worth it.
Written by: Karin MaxeyAfter seeing her first big screen movie 007: License to Kill at age six, Karin naturally became obsessed with writing action-infused stories. The next time she’d see Benicio del Toro was in person, at the 68th Cannes Film Festival—he was there for the Sicario red carpet, she was there for her first produced short film in the basement of the Palais…same-same. In between, Karin earned a Creative Writing Degree and landed management at Echo Lake Entertainment. Her scripts have been a Big Break Top 3 finalist, HollyShorts Film Fest Official Selection, and a multi-Screencraft competitions semi-finalist. Karin is also a screenplay editor who delights in the process of polishing writers' work for submission. You can find her at www.writergirlkarin.com.