"Call Me Adam" chats with head writer and co-executive producer Dayna Lynne North about her latest hit, VH1's Single Ladies, her numerous other television writing endeavors, mentoring young women filmmakers, and producing.
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1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer? So many things. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I come from a family of poets and storytellers. When I was young, my father would weave elaborate bedtime mysteries for me from his imagination. I wish he’d written them down. My sister took me to musicals and cultivated my love for theater. I loved movies, I was obsessed with the "making of," documentaries and the "behind the scenes," interstitials that ran on HBO. By 9 or 10 years old, I wanted to understand filmmaking, and I knew I wanted to be a part of crafting it.
2. What show would you like to write for that you have not? Oh man, that’s a tough one. Love what Jenji Kohan and her writers are doing with ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. SHAMELESS hits a ton of great notes. It’s twisted, it has heart, it’s funny... And of course, HOUSE OF CARDS just blew my mind all over again with season two. Can’t wait for GAME OF THRONES to come back. There’s a lot of fun on stuff right now. But the show I’d like to write for the most? My own. Stay tuned...
3. You are currently the head writer and co-executive producer of VH1's flagship drama series, Single Ladies. What made you want to write for this show? I’m a huge admirer of Queen Latifah, and was thrilled at the idea of working with her and her company. I also love a show that features women of color in lead roles, where you see them living complete lives -- as entrepreneurs, as best friends, as lovers...Seeing women of color in leading roles is still not the norm in television or film. I’m thrilled to play a part in changing that.
4. What do you enjoy most about working on the show? Probably the day-to-day work of breaking stories, working with an incredibly talented writing staff to arc out the season, storyline by storyline. There was never a dull moment in the season 3 writers’ room. They were all incredibly smart, incredibly generous, and there were many laughs, many NSFW moments -- at work. It’s a fascinating process to cull the best ideas from the room into what will become a fun story, then a great script, and then an amazing episode.
5. What do you feel Single Ladies can teach viewers? Single Ladies is primarily a sexy, soapy fantasy that allows us to relax and escape our lives for an hour. That being said, I do love that it serves you exactly what the title states. Even in 2014, we still live in a society that puts a lot of pressure on women to get married. There’s still an implication that you’re not "winning," that you don’t "have it all," if you’re not both successful and married. I like that our show and our main characters challenge that archaic notion.
6. You began your TV writing career on one of my favorite TV Shows, Lifetime's Any Day Now, first as a freelance writer, then as a staff writer for the show's third season in 2001. Looking back, what went through your head when you got hired to work on this show as a freelance writer, then as a permanent writer? What did you enjoy most about writing for this show? I loved every single second. Any Day Now was truly a unique experience, and we all knew it. I was with Any Day Now from beginning to end, first as a writers’ assistant, then the creator Nancy Miller gave me a shot at a freelance episode, and eventually, as a staff writer. Even though it was my first writing gig, I could already tell I’d hit the writing lottery. All of us on staff recognized that we were part of something special. Everyone wanted to nurture it, and bring their best selves to it. We had something to say, and we cared deeply about the themes of the show...but we also wanted to bring humor to it, and have fun. The cast and crew were all super invested. I’m very proud to have been a part of that show.
7. Since then, you have written for such hit shows as Showtime's Soul Food, CW's Veronica Mars, and as mentioned earlier now VH1's Single Ladies. What do you like about writing for television? Do have aspirations to write for other mediums such as novels or theatre? It’s such an exciting time. Television just keeps getting better. The medium continues to evolve. I love the playground of television. I love creating characters that you want to live with for a while, and taking an audience on a ride.
I would relish the chance to write for the theatre...It was my first love, after all. Your first love always holds a special place in your heart.
8. In addition to writing, you were the Producer and Co-Executive Producer for the final three seasons of ABC-Family's drama Lincoln Heights. What do you get from producing that you do not get from writing? Producing is an extension of the writing process. Producing in television means working with the director, the actors and all the department heads to bring the script to life -- while staying on budget. Producing is a great teacher. It makes you a better writer, because it allows you to understand the full reality of what, "EXT. GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE - NIGHT, means. It’s definitely an acquired skill. Fortunately, I was encouraged to be on set and in post from my first episode of television.
9. When you are not working, one of the ways you fill your time is by mentoring young woman filmmakers and teach screen writing classes at your alma mater USC. Why did you want to start mentoring aspiring filmmakers and teach? What have you learned from those you have mentored/taught? I believe in the idea of "lifting as you rise." There seems to be less of that happening in television than there used to be. I’ve had several mentors throughout my life. I know the value of learning from someone who’s walked the path you’re trying to walk. I love teaching. It’s wonderful to watch students find their artistic voice. It’s especially rewarding to see young women discover new ways to express themselves through their writing. I enjoy seeing how young writers and filmmakers are approaching their craft. They challenge me too, and keep me evolving.
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a writer/producer? The longer I work in this business, the more I’m reminded how much I enjoy collaborating with smart people. It’s hugely rewarding to put a talented team of writers together, work closely with them, and watch the results of allowing that team to shine. I’ve also learned how important it is to laugh -- at myself -- and others. Sometimes the others laugh with me, sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t matter. It’s important to keep perspective on this crazy business we’re in. Oh -- I’ve also learned how much stress and sleep deprivation I can endure without requiring hospitalization. It’s always more than you think
11. What's the best advice you've ever received?
Two things come to mind:
A) Play well with others. (I’m surprised at how many I’ve encountered in my business who underestimate the value of this).
B) Whatever you want to do or be in this business -- or in life period -- start doing it and being it. Don’t wait for someone else to validate or anoint you.
12. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Probably some type of morphing ability. I love the idea of being able to literally walk in someone else’s shoes, and experience the world from a different point of view. It would come with ancillary "fly on the wall," benefits as well.
Dayna Lynne North is currently Head Writer and Co-Executive producer of VH1’s flagship drama series Single Ladies. Dayna Lynne North is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, and a Cum Laude graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She began her writing career with a freelance episode for the critically acclaimed series Any Day Now (Lifetime). She was invited to join the writing staff during the third season, in 2001. Dayna then joined Soul Food (Showtime) for its fifth and final season. She wrote for the first two seasons of the pop culture phenom Veronica Mars (CW), which launched the television career of star, Kristen Bell. Veronica Mars recently made history when it was resurrected to become the largest, most quickly funded film project on Kickstarter.
Dayna was Producer and Co-Executive Producer on the final three seasons of the acclaimed ABC-Family drama Lincoln Heights, which starred Russell Hornsby, and garnered the NAACP Image award for Best Drama, as well as the Gabriel Award for Best Entertainment in 2008.
In 2012, after being courted to adapt the young adult novel Anna And The French Kiss into a single-camera romantic comedy pilot for Teen Nick, she joined the VH1/Flavor Unit series Single Ladies as Head-Writer/Co-Executive Producer.
In October 2013, in celebration of their two-year anniversary, Dayna was invited to partner with the fast-rising YouTube channel Black & Sexy.TV to produce a fun parody trailer of the hit Netflix series ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK entitled ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (AND SEXY). Starring Issa Rae (Akward Black Girl) it pays homage to OITNB with a nod to Miley Cyrus, Julianne Hough -- and other recent cultural trends. It got nods and retweets of approval from the cast of the Netflix hit, and is currently racking up views on YouTube.
In her stolen moments, Dayna enjoys traveling, SCUBA diving, mentoring young women filmmakers and returning to her alma mater, USC to teach screenwriting.