Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, writers and producers of the HBO show Girls, discuss working your way up the career ladder
(bright, airy music) - I want to talk a little bit about career and about career ladders, how people get ahead. Lena, I know that Nora Ephron was one of your mentors. And she had a great essay about being a journalist. She'd said that she really recommended that people work their way up, that if she had been given too much, the ability to be too creative early on that probably she would have failed and that would have hampered her whole career. Instead she was a cub reporter at The Post, she learned next to people, she went on to Esquire, she be came a columnist.
You really came out of the gate creative, making big things, and pitching, getting picked up by HBO very early on. Do you recommend to people, when they say I want to be the next Lena Dunham. Do you recommend to people that they just start producing or that they work their way up the ladder? What's the right answer? - Well, usually, when I get approached, and a young person, a young woman asks me... They'll say, "How did Girls happen? "How did you get to the starting gate of your career?" And I tell them really honestly, I made something, I met some really talented friends, and wrote something that felt authentic to me, and we made something together.
I've done a fair amount of internet research about where one aught to send their movie, and I was ambitious and engaged with that process, and that's how I ended up making the two feature films that got me my meeting with HBO, and to meeting Jenny and Judd, and having the experience that I've had. But I think it's also really personal. Like, I think it shows a lot of self-knowledge that Nora understood that it was important for her to sort of, follow that procedure. I've also known other people who are actually incapable of existing in somebody else's work environment, and then the minute that they're given their own creative endeavor they totally thrive.
I'm talking about myself (laughs). - I mean, I have a have a really different answer, which is that - Yeah, I'd love to hear... - I am more of the Nora School, which is "work your way up," and I think you are an anomaly. I think that you have a specific talent that is greater than most people's, and so almost everyone, creatively, could benefit from doing the work. You happen to be better than most people, and that's why that path-- - She has to (words drowned out by crosstalk) I know, but that's why that path worked for you.
- Wow. - I truly believe that. I think that you had such a unique voice that it was going to get out there, and I'm not sure working on the staff of Modern Family would have been the right move for you, or-- - My dream was How I Met Your Mother. - Right, exactly, but really your dream was to be a poet or something. So maybe that would have helped but-- - Yeah. - But I do think if you want to be in television it is a business, you are selling, so it's great to learn. I was lucky enough that my first TV job was with Judd. And Judd is a guy who believes that if you're a staff writer, which is the lowest writer you can be, you're still in editing, you're still in casting.
You're on the set for your episode. That's a pretty rare occurrence. I didn't realize that when I started working in television and that's the way we run our show as well. So I was able to learn everything from him. So if you can get in in that action, that's the way to go. - If that's the case, would you tell people if they're looking on this path and say, "Yeah, create on the side, "but really, you got to get trained"? I mean, it just depends on who the person is, truthfully. But I think, nine times out of 10, probably, because I think people who are really talented, who might not have as unique a voice as Amy Schumer, or Lena Dunham, or some of these people who are really thriving...
And by the way, Amy did stand-up for a billion years and hustled and hustled and learned a lot from that. So you can go and have a great, creative, amazing career as a television writer. You don't have to run your own show necessarily. And that is why shows like Modern Family are huge hits, because it has 20 of the most talented writers in television working on it, who maybe just don't have the show they want to do necessarily, but they are all making this great show together. - Lena, do you agree with that? - She's the business mind of your operation. No, she's definitely, like, when people come to me at a book signing, it's different.
I try to give them an answer that I think is honest, but also won't lead them astr-- lead them into drugs. But I, when people in our personal life ask me for career advice I honestly often direct them to Jenny, because I think that she's been a mentoring voice for so many of the women who have worked on girls, so many of the women who have been her assistants. Like, that is a talent that she has that is always impressive to me and she's always the first person that I would call with a business conundrum. Mostly 'cause it would be a shared business conundrum.
- Do you find that people listen to that or in an era where anyone could cut out the middleman and you could become a Vine star or Instagram star, go on YouTube and create your own show, it's got to be a little bit frustrating to hear, "Oh no, you got to go through these. "You got to climb the ladder." - I do get a lot-- - Yeah, and a lot of people don't want to do that, and that's fine too. - I do have a lot of people coming up to me and be like, "I'm working on a web series." And I'm like, did we not establish in like, 2006, that web series were not the new television. - Right. - And... Just the amount of people who are like, "My friend and I have a YouTube show.
"But we're just trying to take it to the next level." And I just think that there, as Jenny said, there is something to be said for sort of, learning the rules of the game. - And also, it's so cheap to make everything now that you can just do both. That's the other thing Lena did was she wrote a whole book while we were making Girls. Not everyone can work like that, and sleep that little, but if you're really committed, get a day-job and do something else.