We had the good fortune of connecting with Shauna McGarry and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shauna, what’s the most important lesson your business/career has taught you?
No one but you can determine your limits, and no one but you carries them. I had a boss once, an artist writer director, who proudly never worked a day in a conventional setting. She knew it wasn’t for her, she had to strike out her own path. And if she ever did find herself in a job that confined her, she quit. Meanwhile, while I wouldn’t call working in a television writers’ room as an assistant conventional, I stayed in such jobs for seven years, and then I became a paid staff writer on a show that wasn’t my voice or my humor. It was the opposite: a sitcom about a 50-something male hornball. The tone was archaic, the jokes were often sexist and racist. I took an opportunity to work on it because writing jobs are extremely hard to get, but I knew it wouldn’t make me feel great or result in work of which I was proud. Yet, I stayed with that show through my contract of three years. Unlike my former boss, I had never quit a job.
One day, that former boss asked me to come over after work and help her edit a performance she was reworking. I watched it and gave my thoughts. It was beautiful. Then I started crying. Mortifying. I told her how unhappy my job was making me. How far away from my true self I felt. Generously, she told me to be easy on myself. She told me every person has their own limits. The point when they realize they have an internal barometer of personal integrity and intention and they have to listen to it and follow it to live an authentic life. I realized, with self compassion, that in my 20s, my need for financial security had outweighed my need for a lot of other things. And that’s okay. We all have childhoods that build up these complicated puzzles inside us that determine how we live in the world for a long time. I also realized my job had helped build me, taught me skills, and importantly, showed me how I didn’t want to do that job. And now, I had reached my limit. Now, I had the confidence in myself and the awareness to know I was selling myself short. And I could choose where to go from there. She told me my limit was different than hers and that was only a good thing. It’s what would make me a better artist in the ways I needed to be. And she was right. I started storytelling. I only took jobs I believed in. I’m not advising anyone to stay in a toxic job, that part of my own story I have complicated feelings about, but I do advise you to be kind to yourself. There is probably a very good reason you haven’t given up your 9 to 5 to write that novel, or why you have only ever worked for other people. It doesn’t make you less than, it makes you more vast. And all those parts of you, when you’re ready, will also make you a stronger, more individual artist and person with a deeper understanding of who you are.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I currently work as a writer and showrunner for an animated adult comedy, hopefully coming to Amazon (but for now, a bit secret). I’m so happy to be working in animation at this time. So many amazing voices and artists are stretching and changing the medium. I was very proud to write for both “BoJack Horseman” and “Tuca and Bertie”. Both shows push the idea of what adult animation can be. T&B, especially, being a comedy that centers female friendship and perspective, was the first adult animated show to do so, much overdo, and when it came out, its reception was amazing. There are people out there who crave an alternative to the mainstream and I’m so lucky to be able to write to that. Also I pushed to cast Isabella Rossellini as a queer, older artist owl in my episode and it is one of the highlights of my life that she said yes! I’ve been working on creating my own shows and hopefully will be adding to the animation universe soon. Becoming a tv writer was incredibly challenging. I have a to-do list from college. It has “Become a tv writers’ assistant” on it and that’s basically what I did. I was an assistant for a long time. I let other people tell me when I was ready to move up for a long time, instead of telling myself. That can be a gendered thing. Waiting for permission, not taking on the bigger job until you feel overqualified… I hope that’s changing. I’m also, however, glad for the way I got here, and all that I learned. It’s all helped me be the writer and leader I am today. People don’t often think of writers as leaders. We can do what we do on our own, hunched over a computer, and grumpy, but in tv, it’s very collaborative. As you move up the ranks, having the ability to mentor and manage people and work flow is a huge part of the job as showrunner. I’m good at it. I love creating a bond between writers and making them feel supported and valued. I love the big picture of tv making. If I get to continue to create tv, I want to build worlds that I see every day, stories about local community engagement and acitvism, and moms and grandmas, and queer friendships. I want a lot of color and hope.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love being a tour guide in LA! One of my favorite suggestions to people is to go to one of our gardens! We have such good ones. Descanso Gardens, Huntington Gardens, Arlington Garden, the Los Angeles Arboretum! I would also tell friends to see a movie at one of the old houses, like The Vista or The New Beverly, or hopefully soon, Vidiots (!) or spend a night with a visiting film artist at Echo Park Film Center! I’d tell them to go to LACMA, and then also check out the local gallery scene. My husband and I love visiting a gallery on a weekend afternoon. There are also so many amazing walks in LA. Silver Lake is full of “secret staircases” you can find and pant your way up. As far as food, the best breakfast burrito is at Tacos Villa Corona in Atwater Village. If you can handle the wait, get their Papas with spinach, then walk over to Proof Bakery across the street. Get a latte and a chocolate croissant and go sit by the LA River and chow down. In Atwater, the bottom of the river isn’t concrete and there is much plant life, and cranes… and it’s one of the most unique LA views there is. One of the places I can’t wait to go back to post quarantine is the Pasadena Flea Market. It’s huge and with the mountains of Pas as a backdrop, it makes for a peaceful Sunday morning. I’m also a huge fan of my neighborhood, Eagle Rock! We have Little Beast, a great American cuisine restaurant, and next door in Highland Park is Joy, the best Taiwanese food! We love Eagle Rock for its pocket parks and rec centers, all very mid-century modern. We walk our dog every morning through the neighborhood to our local park. It has an old amphitheater and there are always people playing tennis or throwing a baseball. It reminds me I’m part of a history, a community that is always growing and changing.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Since I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2005, I have been a part of the community at Echo Park Film Center (echoparkfilmcenter.org). No matter where my jobs and career were taking me, I could always return to this special place. EPFC is a microcinema, a media arts school, and an access point. We rent small format equipment, we administer residencies and grants, we host so many workshops, we give people the tools to tell their stories. My favorite thing to teach there have always been senior filmmaking classes. I love hearing the experiences of multi-generations. And I love helping them learn new ways to express themselves. The founders and directors of EPFC, Paolo Davanzo and Lisa Marr, have been steady examples to me that there are so many ways to be an artist. Sometimes being an artist means creating and building a community for other artists to thrive. EPFC is 20 years old soon. And through the pandemic, it continues to march forward and grow. The leadership at the Alvarado flagship is transitioning to a co-op model and I am so excited to see how it develops.
Also, I have to give credit to the tv show creators who I have worked with the last few years and who are trying hard to make Hollywood a more inclusive, diverse place, while telling funny, heartfelt stories. They inspire me every day: Lisa Hanawalt, Michael Grassi, Ben Levin and Matt Burnett, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Cirocco Dunlap, Kulap Vilaysack, and many others.
Mia Katherine Iverson – Katy Keene writing photos Lauren Lotz – house shot, me laughing on steps