Interview with Michelle Lesley Johnson - Roadmap's 187th Writer Signed

Interview with Michelle Lesley Johnson

Tell us a little bit about your writing background. How did it all begin?
I “published” my first book at 5. “Smiles Are Happy Faces” was all the rage with 2nd graders in my elementary school. My first Award-winning piece, the poem “The Tale of Modesty McGovern,” was recognized in 7th grade. Got my picture on the local paper. As both “Smiles” and “Modesty” had twist endings, I knew writing for TV was in my future. After penning features and shorts in college, I moved to LA where I excelled at getting lunch, typing and knowing that my current job is ALWAYS my dream job until I get the next one. Translation: I was a PA, Producers’ Assistant, WPA, WA, and now an SC.

You just signed with Industry Entertainment. How did that come about?
Roadmap regularly holds initiatives for emerging writers. I submitted bios, loglines and samples to the BIPOC and Supporting Support Staff Initiatives. Joey first read me during BIPOC and loved my voice. (His words not mine.) The needle moved when he submitted my dramedy, HIP HOP HIGH, to Stephen Crawford at Industry Entertainment during Supporting Support Staff. Industry asked for a second sample and Joey sent my drama sample, THE FIFTH QUARTER. That sealed the deal. Stephen and Brandy Rivers met with me within a week and they proposed to rep me. I said, “Yes!”

What are you most looking forward to about working with your rep?
I’m looking forward to getting to know Stephen & Brandy better personally and professionally. For example, I now know Brandy and I share an alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill. And Stephen has long championed women writers and writers of color. I’m excited about them nudging me to continue to develop my voice, write strong samples and help expand my relationships with creatives and executives in TV and film.

As a storyteller how do you infuse your voice into your work?
It will someday swing back, but in this age of peak (or post-peak?) TV, spec scripts are out of favor. That emerging writers are encouraged to pen original scripts has been a great benefit to infusing my voice into my work. In few other types of writing are emerging artists told “to work, be successful, you must mimic [fill in the blank]”! The infusing comes from observing, from living and then having the freedom to develop worlds and characters of my own.

Who are your writing influences?
I was a reader before I was a writer. My parents gifted me with books from a very early age, read to me and allowed me to “read” to them even as a toddler. I also want to shout out the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Maryland and the Wake County Public Library in North Carolina for being my after-school-care as a latch-key kid. As a writer who script coordinates, I study the writers I’ve worked with. I learn, apply and execute something new from each showrunner and each writers’ room.

Having reached this new milestone for your career, what is one piece of advice you know now, that you would tell yourself when you first started out?
I’m a bit extra, so the TWO pieces of advice I’d give me both deal with doors. “If it doesn’t open… it’s not your door.” Conversely, I would tell myself to listen to Emmy-nominated and NAACP Award-winning writer Kenny Smith, Jr., who once told me NOT to take a job! So, “Just because there’s a knock at the door, doesn’t mean you have to answer.” Advice I’d give others is: MAKE FRIENDS and stop “networking.” (See? Extra.)

How did you first discover Roadmap?
I first heard of Roadmap when the team partnered with WAN, a group for writers’ assistants. Friends and fellow assistants were always quick to share, “Roadmap and/or Joey are great!” When the opportunity to submit to Roadmap’s BIPOC and Supporting Support Staff Initiatives came, I jumped at the chance. If you’re reading this and on-the-fence, you should too!

Smiles are Happy Faces
Cover of Michelle's 2nd grade book "Smiles Are Happy Faces"
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