The Bricks of Breaking In: FBI: International Writer Kristina Thomas on Trusting the Process
February 5, 2024
FBI: International writer Kristina Thomas related her path into writing television to the famous image of a straight line to get you where you need to compare with the reality of a line all balled, jumbled, and twirled around that eventually gets you where you want to be.
Getting to your dreams and goals isn’t easy. It takes drive, persistence, and trust in the process of it all. For Thomas, her journey to television came through the building blocks of trying all kinds of entertainment experiences and an eagerness to explore different formats from music videos to documentaries to shorts, comedy, and drama.
Read More: Staying Motivated as a Screenwriter
Thomas’ interest in writing began at an early age, but it wasn’t TV and film that grabbed her focus.
“I was writing songs for my girl group called GWA, Girls With Attitude. We were like 9 and 10 [years old]. We entered a talent show and everything," Thomas said. "They quit. I continued writing music and even poetry. But I was just like, oh, I don’t think this is really something that I can pursue and when I went to Howard, I even took a writing class and my professor was like yeah, you can’t write and I just kept on pursuing directing.”
It was encouragement from another professor, this time in grad school at the University of Southern California, who brought the idea of writing back alive for Thomas. That inspiring teacher, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (S.W.A.T.), happened to be the only teacher of color instructing USC’s TV classes while Thomas was a student.
“I did his pilot outline class and I chose the only show that nobody really knew because it was so bloody, Sons of Anarchy," Thomas said. "When he saw what I did with it, he was just like, I think you have something here and I think you should continue with it. And that’s when my passion came back.”
With this spark of confidence fueling her, Thomas started taking more classes at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Writing Pad.
“I just needed somebody to tell me there was something there. Not that I was great, because I knew everybody had to start somewhere, but that’s where it started,” Thomas said.
Taking class after class helped Thomas grow her craft, which is something she encouraged up-and-coming writers to explore as well. She also reminded writers that you’re never too old to take a writing class. Not only do classes and workshops help develop your skills, but they also give you the push of deadlines.
Another thing Thomas recommended writers do, is to find a writers’ group. They bring support and consistency to your writing journey. “They hold you accountable for making sure you really finish your pieces, which is hard for writers,” Thomas asserted.
Classes, writers’ groups, and mentors also have served Thomas in facing a big challenge that so many writers face, and that’s confidence, something she’s not alone with as a creative.
“Funny enough, I saw that Ryan Coogler, my former classmate, he quoted in his podcast that he suffers from imposter syndrome every single day," Thomas said. "Like he was on the set of Black Panther, like whoa. I’m here. I’m not going to do a good job.”
Thomas admitted this is a whirlwind she found herself caught up in even when in the room. “Literally I was in the writers’ room and in my mind I’m going through pitches and I’m like, I’m a terrible writer. Why am I here? I need to talk to them," She added. "And then things come out of my mouth and they’re like, that’s a good pitch, let’s put that on the board. And it’s just fighting through the imposter syndrome every single day.”
Breaking into the entertainment industry is a real journey, but it is one that you can work and build toward. In grad school, Thomas tried out all kinds of avenues to help her grow as a creative.
“I did everything that I could before I got out. I did a web series. I did music videos. I did short documentaries, I did shorts. I tried everything because I was like, I don’t know what I like yet, but this is going to help me with my process,” Thomas said.
Writers’ Room Or Grad School?
One question Thomas is often asked by up-and-coming writers is whether they should start in the writers’ room and some sort of assistant job or should they go to grad school. As someone who has done both, Thomas pointed out, “Grad schools and writers’ rooms, you don’t have to really have experience in both, or either, but it would be great for you to understand the process of what it takes to get to those different types of experiences. For me, grad school was a way to become a professor.”
She continued: “Writers’ rooms helped me understand I can write. How to be better in the room, because I was in over ten rooms. I saw the good, the bad, the in-between. A lot of people who did not start off in writers’ rooms who get staffed on shows, they can’t keep up with the pace sometimes or they don’t understand the essential process of going from board to outline to scripts.”
Read More: What Is the Best Screenwriting Education?
Meetings & Staffing
Thomas’ first staffing job came during COVID-19. A friend had shared a lead about some openings at Bad Robot, so Thomas submitted her resume for a script coordinator position. After a few months, she got what seemed to be a random email from a writer named Kira Snyder (The Handmaid’s Tale), who wanted to chat for a few minutes.
“We talked for literally ten minutes and then she was like 'OK, bye,' and then clicked off Zoom and I was like, 'This was the worst ever experience that I ever had in my life,'" Thomas said. "The next day she emailed me. She was like hey, sorry for the weird Zoom. I just wanted to know if you really wanted to write because I wanted to interview you for the staff position on Demimonde, an HBO show.”
Overall the interview process for this series was four months long. “I met with everybody except J.J. HBO, Bad Robot, another company," Thomas said. "All of them at least three times. I did three rounds of them because I had to read scripts, I had to give notes. It was a whole thing.”
With such big stakes for meetings, whether a general or for staffing, how can writers best prepare? In her experiences, Thomas advised to “come with nine ideas."
"A logline for nine ideas of things that you’re thinking about that you want to write," Thomas said. "At the end of the meeting, if the meeting goes really well, they’re going to be like, do you have anything else? Actually, I have some ideas. That has worked out for me every single time.”
There’s another thing Thomas highly recommended writers keep in mind during these meetings. “Don’t have too many expectations of thinking you’re going to get a deal out of this meeting. They’re not going to give you an automatic deal," She cautioned. "You’re building a new relationship. It’s basically a first date.”
She also stressed to know your strengths and be sure to share them in these meetings. People are hired for the different assets they bring to the room. When it came to her FBI: International showrunner meeting, Thomas noted, “I was very blunt with them, just like, look, action is my weak spot, but I love characters. I know I can bring these characters to life.”
Thomas credited multiple things as being vital to her ongoing career development. At the center, she has been keeping connected and up-to-date with fellow writers and mentors. She also recognized the role panels and talks have played in her ongoing growth, and taking time to take care of yourself is essential.
“I meditated a lot during the room to kind of set the tone for the day, because there are some points when trying to work out an episode, gosh dang, it just got hard. You have to take those moments for yourself," Thomas said. "You have to take care of yourself so you’re not stressed out. You’re finding moments of peace when you can.”
Many times the road to breaking in as a writer can feel long and lonely. To get through difficult times, Thomas recommended, “At the end of the day, you just have to trust the process and trust whoever you look up to that you’re going to get through this. There’s going to be a lot more hardships than congratulatory, oh, we made it. You have to understand you got into this for a reason.”
In her parting advice, Thomas emphasized that you need to know when to celebrate the wins.
“You have to celebrate your wins despite you not feeling into it, because I feel it does help with the process of knowing you are a good writer, which we struggle with time and time again," Thomas said. "It helps you get to that next like okay, I celebrate this, now I can get to the next point.”
Written by: Kelly Jo BrickKelly Jo Brick is a TV drama and documentary writer. A Sundance Fellow and alum of Women In Film’s Writer/Showrunner Mentoring Circle, Kelly Jo is also the Vice Chair of the WGAW Genre Committee. She wrote the Telly Award-winning film PAUSE and the Frank Lloyd Wright documentary, The Jewel In The Woods. Follow her on Twitter @KellyJoBrick.