To Successfully Chase Your Dreams, You Have to Network: An Interview with TR Armstrong
By Casmin Wisner
“It wasn’t until I began to cultivate relationships with people in various areas of the business that I started to move forward in my career.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing TR Armstrong. She is a screenwriter and author from the border city of El Paso, TX. TR moved back to El Paso from Gainesville, FL after deciding to give up law school and pursue her passion — writing. At the age of 44, this was indeed a bold move, proving it’s never too late to follow your dreams. She currently divides her time between El Paso and Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! I was living in Gainesville, FL auditing classes at the University of Florida Levin School of Law and debating if I was going to start the next semester. I had been putting it off. I was working on a new screenplay and looking online for information on getting into the business. I saw that award-winning writer and director Gordy Hoffman, founder of the Bluecat Screenplay competition was doing a two-day screenwriting workshop in Gainesville the following month. I had seen his movie Love Liza years ago, and was a huge fan. I saw it as a sign. I registered for the workshop and it was AMAZING! Getting to meet and talk with Gordy, as well as meeting other screenwriters and reading their work inspired me. I had the confidence I needed to leave the security of law school behind and follow my dream. Within three months I packed up and headed west.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I’ve had quite a few encounters that range from awesome to awkward, but one that sticks out is the first night I met Ben Best. He wrote the screenplay for the movie Your Highness which starred Academy Award winner Natalie Portman and James Franco. He is also the co-creator of the show East Bound and Down. I was at a friend’s house for a get together and he was there. I knew he acted on East Bound but had no idea he created and wrote for the show. Everyone was talking and introducing themselves.Turns out Ben and I, besides both being writers, are the exact same age, and share the same middle name. We bonded most over that fact that we also share a birthday, September 11. We talked about how the events of 9/11 affected us. When he asked what I did, I told him I was a writer and shared what I was working on. He just nodded.
Later in the evening my friend Marion asked if I knew who he was. She then told me and I was embarrassed to say the least. He probably has people giving him their ideas all the time. Before he left he came up to me, gave me his email address and phone number and told me to send him my screenplay. He actually liked my idea and we have been working on it together.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had been pitching another pilot I wrote and got the attention of a producer. He asked me to forward my screenplay. Instead of simply doing that, I went into a long speech about how great my ideas were, and how amazed he was going to be. BIG mistake! Long story short, I never heard back from him. He never responded or called again. I had single handedly talked myself out of my most promising break at the time. I learned the hard way that while you should be confident in yourself and your talent, humility is necessary. Let your talent speak for itself. If you’re good, it will come to you.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, I just published my first book The Power of Perspective: Gaining Clarity, Purpose & Truth Through Affirmation. It’s currently for sale on Amazon and is a collection of positive passages and affirmations that I wrote to keep me motivated and positive. I have been promoting it via social media and other platforms. I am also writing a TV pilot called La Escuela. I called my good friend Victoria Flores Argue and asked if she was interested. After reading the show bible, she was on board as a co-writer. It’s about the day-to-day lives, choices and struggles of the students, teachers and parents at a wealthy bi-lingual Montessori. It has a 90 percent Latino cast and brings a lot of issues to light within the community. Victoria left El Paso years ago and founded the company Lux Beauty Club in NYC. She has earned a lot of praise as a Latina entrepreneur and activist. We are excited to start pitching the project.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with?
I honestly believe that everyone I meet adds value to my life in one form or another. Some help you creatively or in your career—while others help you on a personal level. They help you become a better person overall. One of the most interesting people however, is my friend Ashley Cummings. She is the sister of writer and comedian Whitney Cummings. Ashley and I met in the restaurant next to the hotel I was staying at on one of my LA trips. We were seated next to each other and just started chatting. She mentioned something about how delicious her salad was and asked if I wanted to taste it. I said yes. As she was summoning the waiter for an extra plate, I grabbed her fork and started eating right out of her bowl. The look on her face was priceless. We bonded after that and have been as close as sisters ever since. Not my finest moment, but one we both still reflect on and laugh about. Ashley is one of the most positive people I have ever known. She is my muse of sorts. Her energy always motivates me and elevates my mood.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and avoid “burnout”?
Take a break every now and then. For me, whenever I feel I’m hitting a wall I turn to cooking. It has become an outlet for me outside of writing that still allows me to be creative. I give my dishes the same respect and attention that I do my stories. You need to have something, anything else outside of your specific career path to turn to. It keeps you motivated, yet keeps you from getting burned out.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Give back. Volunteer. Mentor. You don’t have to be a celebrity to influence people. No matter where you are on the ladder of success, you have something to offer. Volunteering is rewarding on so many levels. Not just for those you are helping, but for yourself as well. Sharing your story is another way of giving back. Letting people see not just your failures, but your successes. Show them that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Never underestimate your power. The positive impact you can have on the life of someone who is on the verge of giving up. You just might be the one who gives them the motivation and confidence to keep pushing forward despite adversity.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?
- Be patient. My first studio pitch didn’t go so well and I got angry. If I had given up, my pilot Valet wouldn’t have ended up in 15 film festivals and screenplay competitions.
- Networking is important. The saying, “It’s not what you know,” is definitely true. It wasn’t until I began to cultivate relationships with people in various areas of the business that I started to move forward in my career.
- Never stop learning. When I wrote my pilot I thought I was done. But that was just the beginning. Keep taking classes. Do workshops. Learn what’s trending in your genre. Watch shows or movies. Read books similar to your content.
- Be aggressive. You have to put yourself out there. I had contacts, but was afraid to use them. I didn’t want to ‘bother’ anyone. Respectfully bother them! If someone gives you their contact info, use it!
- Don’t give up. You would assume that’s a given, but believe me, there is a huge difference between telling yourself not to give up, and someone you respect and admire telling you.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
“When it comes to life remember: Nothing lasts forever. It goes on. It gets better. You get one.” This helps me keep things in perspective and stay focused—both professionally and personally. It reminds me that everyday is an opportunity to turn things around. It also keeps me from spending too much time on things beyond my control. I only have one life so I choose to use it to do what I love.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
I always feel awkward sharing this story, because it’s less a story than a moment. About 18 months ago I met a publicist, Brian Scott Gross of BSG Public Relations in LA. I had admired and respected him for quite some time. His work ethic. His focus and commitment. I valued his opinion and insight because of his longevity in the business and being at the top of his profession for over two decades. We were talking about my writing one day. My goals and what I hoped to accomplish. He said matter of factly ‘You need to come to LA and get your hustle on.’ Looking back it seems so simple. But that one phrase completely changed my life. It inspired me like nothing else had before. Within a month I made my first trip to Los Angeles. I know that one day I would’ve eventually taken the step, but Brian gave me the push I needed. For that I am eternally grateful.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Shonda Rhimes. I am in absolute awe of her. She is not only extremely talented, but inspiring as well. She is committed to giving back. Helping other screenwriters tap into their potential and realize their dreams. I am enrolled in her online Masterclass. Hearing her talk about how a show idea she had was turned down gave me hope. Let me know that even those at the top of their game aren’t hitting home runs all the time. But she didn’t give up. From the movie Crossroads to The Queen of Thursday night television is amazing. She didn’t let the industry put her in a box. She writes characters for EVERYONE. That’s what I want to do and who I aspire to be like.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook: TR Armstrong