Interview with Screenwriter, Producer and Showrunner Karin Gist
Meet Karin Gist. She's a writer, producer and showrunner. Deadline recently announced her two-year pact with 20th Century Fox TV as executive producer and new showrunner on Fox's music drama Star, which is returning on March 28th. She's also worked on shows like Grey's Anatomy, Revenge, House of Lies, Undercovers and One Tree Hill and began her career writing for Girlfriends. The importance of the female voice on network television, especially in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, is deafening. Not to mention, Karin's one of the few black female showrunners in television. She's got perspective and enough moxie to keep persevering in a tough industry. Seriously — she practiced family law and civil litigation for three years before she forged her way into the entertainment industry. Currently living and working in LA, Karin was able to take the time to answer some of our questions. We're looking forward to a future where Karin continues to grow and have an impact on what flows through the airwaves.
What projects are you currently working on?
I just finished developing a pilot with Lee Daniels' Company for Fox and I’m still finishing up this season of Star. I’m also working on developing some ideas for next season.
Is there anything you’ve wrapped up, but hasn’t been released yet?
The rest of Star Season 2. WATCH IT. We are very proud of the work we did.
What got you interested in Star?
When the notion of me running the show first came up, I had to sit with myself and really think about what I could bring to the show. Star has everything that I love rolled into one. Character driven stories, social commentary, music. The show is about inclusion. I always say it’s Dreamgirls with politics. So as soon as I saw the show I was interested in it. And in my first meeting with Lee Daniels, we clicked right away and I knew we would work well together.
What was it like to work on Grey's Anatomy?
That show is a beast. Very challenging. But in the BEST way. 24 Episodes per season. And the history of the characters runs deep. Writing on Grey’s worked so many different muscles at once, character, voice, structure, soap and procedural. The writers worked hard and Shonda has a special magic that is fun to watch. I loved it.
Did you ever work on anything that was canceled? What was that like?
Girlfriends was canceled after 7 seasons during the 2007-08 Writers' Strike. That one was hard because I LOVED that show and those characters. It still hurts me that we were not able to say goodbye in a satisfying way for the audience and the people who worked on the show. I also worked on NBC’s Undercovers which was canceled after 10 eps. That was interesting because it started off as a HOT, HOT show that just didn’t connect with the audience. I learned a lot about how necessary it is to be clear about what a show is beyond the pilot.
Do you like working on Dramas in particular? What are your favorite genres?
I’m drawn to working in drama but I also really like single-camera comedies. Like Insecure. Right now I am obsessed with an FX show called Better Things. I guess my favorite genre to write is soap but I also like historical shows.
What's a show we haven't seen yet, that you think we need?
Let me finish my development and I’ll tell you then… But in the general sense, I want more complex shows about women of color. Shows that are diverse and inclusive both on the screen and behind the camera. I call it BLACKGIRLMAFIA. As I look to the future, my goal is for #blackgirlmafia to give voice to those stories and shepherd the women who want to tell them.
How do you go from practicing law to becoming a Screenwriter/Producer/Showrunner?
Lots of daydreaming at first then twice as much hard work. I could see the Hollywood sign from my law office and I knew I wasn’t living the life meant for me, so I decided to do something about it. I started writing, not knowing exactly what I was doing. But like anything, I became a student of it. I practiced and studied and just kept honing the craft. Luckily, I landed a job on Girlfriends within the year and just kept studying, pitching, showing up for work, being grateful and WRITING. ALWAYS WRITING. The Showrunner gig came out of the blue, I was happily married to Grey’s Anatomy but then I got a call… And I fell in love with Star.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity, being a black woman in the entertainment industry? How do you feel about that?
The biggest opportunity is getting to tell stories. Creating worlds and people. And being a part of the conversation. No matter what level you are in this business, you have a platform to say things and make people think. And I get to use my big, black, gay voice to do that [laughs]. And that feels like a right and a privilege all rolled into a "hell yes".
What has been the most satisfying project to work on so far?
Honestly, I have to find ways to make them all satisfying. I call it stepping inside a script or a project. When I am writing, I know when I am not in it yet. And I love that AHA moment when all of a sudden, it’s the only thing I can think about. The thing that wakes me up at night. That’s a good feeling.
What’s the best advice you can give to beginning screenwriters?
WRITE. BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING. My agent once told me, one script can change your life. And it is true. So WRITE. Because you want that one script to be fucking amazing.
What do you wish you would have known 5 years ago that you know today?
SLEEP NOW, BITCH. Just kidding…
What's one surprising (non-industry) related fact about you?
I am a creature of habit, I can eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner for months… and often do. And I am a BLERD about musicals anything from Grease 2 to Hamilton.
What’s next for you?
Anything and everything. I’m just going to keep writing and working and daydreaming...