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Meet Jude Roth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jude Roth.

Thanks for sharing your story with us . So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m a TV and film writer whose obsession with putting words on paper began like most writers I’m sure – in 3rd grade with petty theft. I was convinced I was going to need a LOT of notebooks for all I had to get out of my nine-year-old head but was too embarrassed to ask my parents. So luckily there was a supply closet to filch from at school – I just had to make my way down an eerily long and quiet hallway to get there. And once I made it there, I opened the closet, saw a foot-high stack of notebooks, dumped them in my backpack, got home, hid in my bedroom, opened one, primed pencil to paper and began…to have writers block for the next 13 years.

It wasn’t until my senior year in college during a bout of insomnia that I put pen to paper and finally words poured out – and I’ve been writing ever since. I was at New York University studying acting. And what came out of sleep-deprived writing was an audition monologue I started using to get cast in plays. Then peers asked me to write monologues for them, and that led to some playwriting.

After college, when I was looking to write/produce a one-act play to star in, I was reading a novel by Nadine Gordimer. It was a story of a young political prisoner in apartheid-South Africa struggling with her identity, to carve hers out from her parents who were anti-apartheid lawyers and wound up dying as political prisoners. I didn’t know it then but that kind of personal/political story would drive me over the years to write my own scripts set within political or global backdrops while focusing on intimate, complex family dynamics. In hindsight, given the complexity of my own family and the corrupt industrial town politics I grew up in, my focus makes sense.

Also as an actor then, I grew frustrated with the roles I kept being offered – the characters so often seemed like one-dimensional afterthoughts for the male characters, or if they were leads, they felt like cut-outs, one-size-fits-all women. I became committed to elevating the roles women were offered. And more than that, I knew that if I could write and produce three dimensional, authentic roles, I’d be helping to improve how women were viewed in the world.

Anyway, I decided to adapt and produce Gordimer’s novel, if she’d give permission. And she did. And so I did. With a production at New York City’s Ensemble Studio Theatre.

Playwriting eventually turned into feature-length screenwriting and those scripts did well in some renowned contests like the Austin Film Festival. When I moved to LA, a former CBS Current exec saw “something” in my writing and encouraged me to write for TV, which was the first time I’d considered doing that. Not because I wasn’t completely consumed by TV, especially the new wave of complex dramas out there, but the thought had never occurred that I could. Yet the idea took hold the way the idea of needing all those notebooks as a kid took hold, so I started writing TV scripts and continue to this day.

While working toward a TV career, I also let a sense of outrage over the amount of “nationalist” racism in this country fuel my creativity into some short form content – I needed to say something and say it fast, and short films helped satisfy that need. While doing what people always suggest doing – networking with others in the business – I met some really awesome creative and business collaborators. The first short content piece I put together was in collaboration with a producer I met over a fire pit at a Century City hotel during a mixer. And a few projects down the line, she introduced me to others I collaborated with on a film that became my first sale called “El Doctor.” “El Doctor” is an explosive drama about an undocumented day laborer and the Arizona family who hires him during the height of that state’s “Show Me Your Papers” Senate bill. After Latino Public Broadcasting saw the drama at Edward James Olmos’s Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, it acquired it for PBS’s online film competition.

Then in 2016, I was fortunate to have been mentored by TV showrunner Glen Mazzara. Since then, my TV pilots have been featured on prestigious “lists” including the WeForShe WriteHer List and The Black List, have been finalists for the HUMANITAS New Voices in TV and Sundance Episodic TV Lab programs, and this past October were selected for The Black List-Women in Film Episodic Lab. And in November last year, my pilot “Homefront” about female veterans was included as 1 of 10 best unproduced disability-inclusive scripts on The Black List’s inaugural Disability List.

So where I am today? Mostly on my couch, having meetings over Zoom because of the Coronavirus. Developing a TV series with an enthusiastic, talented producer whose notes are damn good. And…still committed to elevating how women are seen in the world through writing nuanced, three-dimensional roles for them to play.

But my commitment goes beyond women. What I mean is, stories are so entertaining, so impactful when characters and situations are written and produced with a sense of fundamental authenticity. I’m constantly striving for that realness, that true reflection of the richly diverse world we live in. To that end, along with continuing to write, I’m on the steering committee for the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity (TTIE) in TV. TTIE’s an independent consortium of working TV writers from all levels that’s committed to increasing inclusion and improving working conditions for all writers, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. TTIE also does a lot of work around increasing authenticity and representation in characters and stories and it’s been really inspiring to find and work with others who get it.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road’s been extremely smooth – I’ve always gotten what I’ve wanted, all the time, very quickly and easily without any trouble. The end.

Okay okay okay… the road has been a THOUSAND different forms of bumpy, but pointing true north, always with the same goal of telling stories that come to life. It’s been tough. AND… wonderful. For every time one of my scripts did well in a contest, for instance, that same script did badly in another. (And seeking consensus, for me, is one of the greatest wastes of time and soul.) The countless “no thanks” and the even more countless ghostings… Well, I knew early on I better develop a super thick skin or I was going to go mad. It’s going to sound really trite but I’ll say it anyway: The truer I am to myself, the more I value my vision, my voice…the happier I am. And then there’s no pressure on anyone else to dig my stuff. People will or won’t and I respect the fact that they’re free to have their own opinions.

Then there are the near misses. Like ALMOST getting “staffed” on a TV show, ALMOST being accepted into a potentially career-changing Lab, ALMOST signing with a badass manager, ALMOST getting hired to develop a series, you get the idea. A TV showrunner read my first pilot, my spec script based on “Breaking Bad,” and a feature script, and liked them all enough to give them to his agent at CAA. I was what they call a “baby” (unproduced) writer and the agent didn’t take on babies. But he said he was a fan and referred me to three hotshot managers he worked with who would. One of those who had clients on little shows like “Mad Men” called while he was on vacation in August saying “I love your pilot, I could sell your pilot every day for a year, don’t sign with anyone else till I get back into town in September and we meet.” But when we met, the first thing he said when we sat down was “I don’t know what to do with you cuz we don’t have a watershed pilot to break you in.” I very eloquently responded with, “um…but…um…okay…” I’ve got lots more stories like that but I’ve never let them stop me. And because of all the butt time I put in sitting and writing, I continue to evolve and improve.

Here’s one near miss that really hurt though… I had the opportunity to pitch a series to Fox based on one of my favorite indie films – one that meant a lot to me because its lovely writer/director/co-star played the lead role in a NYC workshop of a feature script I wrote. The actress was tragically murdered in her NYC apartment many years later, and here I was called into Fox to pitch my take on her brilliant film. It was an honor and joy to do it, the development exec loved my take, asked me to write an outline for it, and I was thrilled to do that as well. However, Fox decided not to move forward – not with me, not with any writer, and not with the series at all. As the filmmaker probably would have said oh so guilelessly, “well – that’s just the way the pie got sliced.”

So what keeps me going through it all? I have the most amazing group of colleagues in TV and film, and outside the industry as well, thank goodness. In fact, I’m rich with friends and their passion, humor, dedication – and support. All of that makes this thorny road one I can tolerate and even enjoy continuing on.

Also, and I can’t find a logical explanation for why, but I keep showing up to the page day in and day out no matter what. Writing continues to be, by far, the most fulfilling thing I’ve done, other than building a life with my husband and trying to continue to grow as a human being. Something my dad, who taught English, once said to me still rings in my ears. Years ago, after sadly breaking up with my then boyfriend, my dad called to see what I was doing and I told him I was trying my hand at writing a short story. A few months later, my ex-boyfriend came back and I was so happy. And the next day, dad called to see what I was doing. I told him I was at my computer working on the short story still. And he said, “Sweetheart, that’s a mark of a true writer. Writers write when they’re sad. They write when they’re happy.” I don’t know if that holds true for every writer out there, but it felt true for me and still does. It’s how I roll.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Jude Roth – what should we know? What are you most proud of?
My business is my writing, and my writing is informed by my life experiences. Especially those that happened when I was a kid, including my parents’ brutal divorce, the financial collapse of my home town due to corporate corruption, and some other issues with my parents that made my head spin when I found out some facts they’d kept hidden. Suffice it to say, I often write dramas where characters go on missions to uncover truths or expose lies and set the world aright.

One of my favorite writers/directors is Susanne Bier who directed “The Night Manager” for AMC. Whoever wrote the content for her IMDB page expressed exactly what I try to do in my writing. Instead of paraphrasing, here’s what it says, and what I aim for in my TV and feature scripts: “[Her] films often play out against a wide-reaching global backdrop, their focus is intimate, carefully exploring the explosive emotions and complexities of familial bonds.”

I’m most proud of my business because of the heart and dedication I put into it, and the fact that people can count on me to get done what needs to get done. And though I write dramas and thrillers, and on screen I eat’em up, I don’t like drama in my life. I’m a pretty light-hearted person. I love to laugh and there’s almost nothing I like more than hearing my husband and friends laugh at something I say or do. I love sharing ideas, and building on others’, so my business relationships tend to be pretty easy going. I’m an extrovert who thrives on working with other people, and an introvert who’s super okay working alone and on deadline.

I’m pretty sure I’m the number one fan of the series “The Americans.” I devoured every last minute of the writing, and the pilot remains one of my all-time favorites. Last year, having industry writers and producers publicly compare my spy thriller pilot “The Assets” to “The Americans” but with a current affairs twist was by far…my proudest creative achievement. I wasn’t trying to duplicate “The Americans” because clearly that’d be INSANITY on my part. But I tried to tell a nuanced story about America and China’s escalating Cold War that follows intelligence officers on both sides and the spies who work for them.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
So many people have helped me along the way! Though writing can be solitary, I’ve never done it in a vacuum. And because I don’t have a formal writing education, I’ve gone to writers I respect and a few script consultants for feedback over the years. The VERY first person to read my VERY first feature script is the screen- and TV writer Bryan Goluboff. One of his notes sticks with me: “You’re REALLY interested in what the character’s wearing – you describe it so specifically and repeatedly throughout the script.” Or something like that. I was trying to be mindful that the outer tends to represent the inner and link wardrobe to personality and behavior but as a first-time writer, I had no idea how to write it without overdoing it.

Early on, I also worked with the savvy script consultant Susan Kouguell at Su-City Pictures. Susan helped ensure that a feature I was writing based on a Nobel Prize-winning author’s novel – well, she helped ensure it didn’t suck!

When I moved to LA, the consultant Pilar Alessandra from On the Page read one of my features and asked me into her “invitation only” writers group. Her feedback always cuts quick and precisely to the core. And she pulls potential creative solutions out of what seems like thin air but they’re really connected to what I’ve set up and help me execute my ideas more effectively. Her writers group was also a key way I started building relationships with other writers. Some of those writers, like Ayser Salman, are still my confidantes and note givers, along with other dear friends and writers like Tawal Panyacosit, Jr., and Kristine Huntley who I rely on in embarrassingly large amounts for support. And because one can never have too MUCH support, I started something I call a no-drama drama mixer. Nearly every month, I get together with 7-10 working writers I love and and respect and we cheer each other on, share line-of-fire anecdotes, and refer each other places when we can. Same with the five other writers from The Black List-Women in Film Episodic Lab – they’re creative and emotional cheerleaders to the core.

The fabulous consultant Jen Grisanti also imparted some fundamental story and character building blocks I’d missed in my education process. She has an amazing heart and the ability to see where that heart could use clarifying early in scripts so readers can emotionally connect to characters and their journeys. Jen also “pushed” me to network and write for TV, and introduced me to my first manager. And career coach Lee Jessup has a generosity of spirit, depth of insight, and tells it like it is, which is exactly what I want in the nebulous world of art meets entertainment business.

I’m honestly overwhelmed thinking of all those who’ve enriched my life and career. Ashley Hillard was one of my first cheerleaders and my first producer in LA, and she introduced me to so many people – including the filmmakers Reena Dutt, and Heather de Michele who produced and directed, respectively, the first project I ever sold. And more recently, the writers Nicky Hawthorne, Keli Goff, and the writing team Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Pinder Hynek are like guardian angels looking out for and recommending me places.

I’ve had two wonderful mentors as well – the showrunners and writers Ron Burch and as I mentioned above, Glen Mazzara. Both referred me to producers, other content creators, and reps, and they were always there to answer my questions about this business and how to conduct myself in it. And when I’d asked Glen to mentor me, it was at a time in my life when it seems I’d lost track of my voice and unique perspective. He helped me find them again and insisted that I trust myself more than anything, above what anyone else might think about my writing.

Lastly, my steadfast college friend and actress Teisha Friedgut has read and given early feedback on nearly everything I’ve written since the dawn the time, and my husband Rob – all I can say is, somehow he’s still married to me even after daring to give me feedback on absolutely everything I ask him to – which is everything, always. God love’m.

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Image Credit:
Anthony Mehlhaff

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