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Sheryl Anderson: #StartWith8Hollywood Mentor

February 12, 2021
2 min read time

TV writer and producer Sheryl J. Anderson didn't have a mentor while she was learning the ropes in Hollywood. And while her résumé is studded with success (Charmed, Sweet Magnolias), she admits she wishes she had.

"I made some spectacular mistakes along the way, and I think I might not have made them - or made all of them, at least - if I'd had someone more experienced I could've gone to for guidance," she told Final Draft.

"I think advice about how to successfully navigate this wild industry of ours is just as valuable as advice on how to be a better writer. At some point the two are inextricable in how you're perceived in the marketplace."

The reality that the film industry functions on personal connections was the impetus for the #StartWith8Hollywood initiative, which connects well-established industry mentors like Anderson to eight women of color working in the entertainment industry. Together, they formulate a plan of action based on what each mentee desires and what is achievable by the mentor to create tangible progress in the mentee’s career.

Anderson became involved with the program through her friend, TV writer-producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach.

"I read the goals of the program and wanted to be part of it," Anderson said.

"We, as an industry, need to be doing everything we can to facilitate the entry and rise of BIPOC and WOC. Brilliant, valuable voices have been missing from our rooms; varied and genuine characters are missing from too many shows, and new shows reflecting diversity of life experience are missing from our platforms. We can only become better by being more welcoming."

Anderson did informational interviews with each mentee, letting each guide the conversation.

"Some of the conversations were about art, some were about finding your voice, some were about carving out a path," she said. "I tried to be like that older cousin you sit on the back porch with at Christmas speaking from the heart, sharing experience but not dictating."

Several of the women who Anderson spoke with have circled back around for further discussions and have kept Anderson posted on their progress.

"Their successes are their stories to tell, but I'm cheering on all eight of them. And I was so impressed by them, I've signed up for Round 2."

For those who are interested in the program, Anderson only has two words: "Do it."

"For mentors, I'm so delighted to know these women who I might not have met otherwise - and I hope to work with several of them in the future," she said.

"For mentees, the people in charge of #StartWith8 are gifted matchmakers: Don't miss your chance to be introduced to new people who are eager to help you."

As for what makes a great mentor and mentee, Anderson says, "An open mind and an open heart are crucial for both. Honesty, grace and humor are essential to good communication, and that's what's at the heart of a good mentor-mentee relationship."

When it comes to including voices of BIPOC and WOC on her shows, Anderson says as a showrunner, it's very important.

"I don't want a room filled with writers whose experiences mirror mine. I want a diverse room, filled with people of different backgrounds and viewpoints. I want my team to challenge me on my perceptions and pitch me characters and stories I haven't considered. I want us all to work together to craft a show that reflects the varied texture of the world we live in. Sweet Magnolias would not be the show it is without the deep discussions that came out of our probing - and respecting - each other's hearts."

Whether a writer becomes a mentee or not, Anderson says her biggest piece of advice for writers who are starting out in the industry is to be patient.

"You will not reach your goal overnight. It takes time to refine your craft and to build your community. Don't measure your progress against someone else's: we're each on our own unique journey. Don't waste time on anger and jealousy: those will sap your strength and damage your heart. Spend time writing, reading, studying film and TV, participating in a writers group, and hanging out with people who care about you. Those are all crucial components in building a career and a life you're going to enjoy."

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