For Alumna Lauren Iungerich, Transition from CMC to MTV Was Definitely Awkward
“I manage a team and crew of 150 people to provide entertainment that will ultimately make money for a corporation. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It embodies what makes me a CMCer.” Lauren Iungerich ’96
One would think that graduating from CMC with a government major wouldn’t necessarily lead to a thriving career as one of the hottest writers in television. But that’s the way it has worked out so far for Lauren Iungerich ’96, creator and writer of Awkward, a teen drama that launched last July on MTV. Praise for the show has come from a variety of sources, including the New York Times’ Mike Hale, who called it “the smartest, freshest, most moving new sitcom of 2011,” and from Entertainment Weekly, which named it one of the “10 Hot Summer Shows” to watch.
The teen drama revolves around Jenna Hamilton (played by Ashley Rickards) a 16-year-old high school outcast who vaults in popularity among her classmates following an accident that is misconstrued as a suicide attempt. Rickards’ performance in the role earned her a nomination for a 2012 Critic’s Choice Award for lead actress in a comedy series. And for her own deft hand behind-the-scenes, Variety last month named Iungerich one of “10 TV Scribes to Watch” for 2012.
The show, partly based on her own life and memories of high school in Southern California, has just been renewed for a third season. Iungerich also has a second show (currently untitled) in the works that she says is currently being “reworked” for future broadcast.
Just weeks after her honeymoon, the multi-talented writer/producer/director gave us the skinny on following your own muse, why CMC should consider adding more entertainment-oriented classes, and what it’s like to run the whole show.
CMC: Do you in any way identify with Awkward’s confused teen, Jenna Hamilton?
Lauren: Of course. To create a character you have to identify with it. The show and the character is a love letter to my 15-year-old self. Clearly, I have some solid experience and hindsight to draw from in my 30s, but at the heart of the show is my vulnerability. It’s something that I’ve continued to stay tapped into through the years. To know me is to know that I’m still very insecure and worried that people don’t like me.
CMC: What’s the toughest part about being a writer in Hollywood?
Lauren: Being true to yourself and writing what you love, not what you think other people will love. You have to constantly come from a place of being your own fan. Which means being a fan of what you are writing about and of yourself in the process. The journey of the writer can be very insular which makes it difficult. There can be a lot of second-guessing, which sucks. When people use the expression, “There’s no crying in show business,” they’re wrong. There’s a lot of crying. And most of it happens in my office. I’m a total crybaby. Also, something that is equally tough is maintaining a level of gratitude when success comes your way. Most writers, like me, struggle for years to find success. And for those of us who have found it, the hard times can be easily forgotten as you get caught up in the praise. I’ve watched a lot of my successful friends lose sight of the journey, the hard times, as well as the end game of savoring seeing something you create fully realized and thus, they become entitled to success. I try hard to appreciate every part of the experienceknowing that this may be my only time at the rodeo. I am just so grateful to be doing what I love and making a living at it. If it continues, I will be blessed. And if not, I’ll do something else that is interesting to make money. But I’ll always keep writing because there is a perversion to the struggle of being a writer that I love, and that still inspires me to be better on the page and as a person.
CMC: How did CMC prepare you, if indeed it did, for a career in entertainment?
Lauren: I’m not sure how CMC prepared me to go into entertainment other than surrounding me with other smart, determined students. I knew I didn’t want to do anything that CMCers traditionally do post-graduating; I didn’t want to go to law school or be a consultant or work in politics. However, navigating the intense competition and political nature of the student body prepared me to fend for myself in a tough and competitive business.
CMC: When were you first bitten by the entertainment bug?
Lauren: As a kid, I was a TV addict and drama geek. The love of stories started early, but it was not something I explored until my senior year of college because I didn’t see a career in it. And for a time I was also equally interested in business. However, after interning at a “think tank,” a news show and a financial consulting firm, I discovered that sometimes working in a job you don’t love teaches you more than working in a job you do love. So, ultimately, I learned what I didn’t want to do, and that gave me the confidence to pursue my passion and my creative side which I realized could also marry being part of a thriving business.
CMC: What is the best advice you could give young CMC undergrads who want to become the next Diablo Cody (Juno, The United States of Tara) or, perhaps, Lauren Iungerich?
Lauren: CMC’s motto, Leader’s in the Making, is a wonderful and empowering message. Yet, it appears to me the school is traditional in its focus on business industries. It is the rare kid at 18 who truly knows what they want to do when they graduate. And thus, college is a time of exploration. It’s great that you can take a screenwriting class at CMC, but it isn’t taught by someone in the industry, which is a missed opportunity.
There are so many insanely brilliant, successful people in the industry who live in CMC’s backyard and could teach at the college… I mean, who wouldn’t want one of their econ classes to be taught by Henry Kravis? Man, I would drive out there to sit in that class! So why not consider bringing in a really successful writer/producer to teach at the College, who offers real insight not just from the aspect of writing, but also in sharing war storiesespecially given how much the business changes every year.
CMC: So, some changes should be considered?
Lauren: It would be optimal to have someone who is in the thick of the business. I believe that having a creative aspiration is not mutually exclusive from a business one. The college does not currently offer classes that explore where art meets commerce in today’s world. Right now, students who want to do what I do must find that experience and information on their own It was insanely hard for me to figure out how to navigate my two interests, and the world has changed even more since I was at CMC. There no longer are safe jobs or industries. There are now more law school grads than jobs for lawyers. Wall Street is in flux and our political landscape is uninspired. So there has never been a better time to pursue something “unsafe” because every industry is “unsafe.” Every student should pursue their passion, whatever it may be.
I work in one of the most lucrative tertiary sectors of the economy that, again, is in CMC’s geographic backyard. But there are no “Business of Entertainment” classes at the College. There are so many careers to pursue in entertainment that don’t even involve writing, and I scratch my head, wishing CMC had a class to exploit the potential interests of students who are both interested in business and creative.
CMC: It seems the conjunction between writing (the creative side) and business is one near and dear to your heart.
Lauren: What I do involves not only writing and running my show, but being in charge of a multi-million dollar investment: my season budget. I manage a team and crew of 150 people to provide entertainment that will ultimately make money for a corporation. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It embodies what makes me a CMCer. And I think my attention to the detail and dedication to the entire process is a big reason why my show has had such a great response.
And while I aspired to find a job that was fulfilling vs. a job that I just made money at, I found that my bravery in pursuing a dream with no connections (just perseverance and desire) enabled me to find success doing what I love. And finally I am indeed financially comfortable. It’s kind of a headtrip that I have the life I have, doing what I love.
For once, I don’t look for jobs, I am responsible for creating them by simply putting my ideas down on paper. Now I truly understand what it means to embody being a “Leader in the Making.” I’m just glad I had the foresight and the gumption to know that I could pave my own path. And with that, I have learned is that there is no one path to success. What I did worked for me but there are so many other ways to be successful in my business as a writer. I found success by finding my voice and being true to it. I believed in myself even in hard times, and that is why I am doing O.K. today. Don’t get me wrong, my success most likely will be fleeting, but I’ve loved the ride!
CMC: You just got back from a whirlwind honeymoon where you visited Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, and France. Who’s the guy?
Lauren: He is the love of my life; the most creative, loving, kindest and inspired person I have ever known. He’s from Texas and he loves monkeys.