Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Producers Stopped Talking, This Emmy-Winner Started Writing

"I have one the best jobs ever," says Susan Dansby, a script writer on the CBS soap opera "As the World Turns." "I get to live in Atlanta, work at home and write about romance, drama, action and adventure. What's not to like?"

That was Dansby's life until November 5, 2007, when the writers strike started. "I was pretty naïve. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) demands seemed reasonable. I figured the two sides would come together fairly quickly."

Then December 7, 2007, the producers (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP))walked away from table. "When the talks broke off," explains Dansby, "I had to do something to make money. I earn a good salary, but it's been a rough couple of years."

Susan Dansby was hit hard financially when her mother became ill. "Mom has good health insurance. But there were things like extended stays in sub-acute rehab, caregiver costs and respite stays, that simply weren't covered. But it was worth it, because Mom's doing great now."

When the writers strike created yet another financial challenge for Dansby, she decided to write the book she'd always planned to write. "People always ask how I got started in television. The truth is I followed a plan that's fairly simple."

Dansby's book, "How Did You Get That Job? My Dream Jobs and How They Came True" outlines her life through her work in mostly funny anecdotes. Included is a step-by-step guide to the system she used to get over 20 years worth of jobs in television like director, associate producer and writer.

What's the hardest thing about getting a dream job? "Not believing you can do it. It breaks my heart to see people spend their lives slaving at jobs they can barely tolerate like I did for so long." Indeed, it wasn't until Dansby was "fired-quit" from her job at a New York law firm that she made the commitment to find her dream job.

"I'd majored in theater, and was pursuing that at night. For free. Then working days making money. I wanted to pull the two together. Get paid for doing what I loved." Within a year of making that decision, she had her first TV job on the soap opera, "Guiding Light."

In the book, Dansby outlines the steps she took in that successful job hunt and another career search (when she became a director on the interracial soap opera, "Generations") over five years later.

Why only two job hunts? "That's all it took," explains Dansby. "Spending just a few hours a week on those two job hunts kept the jobs coming for 20 years. There's a measure of confidence that comes from knowing you can do more than get a job - you can get a job you love with a little bit of extra effort."

There are also stories about the soap opera of working on daytime drama. Dansby smiles, "Working with ambitious and creative people can get intense sometimes. I write about one actor who tried to get me fired, and one who delivered a letter to Oprah for me. In soaps, you run the gamut."

Despite the uncertainty caused by the strike, Susan Dansby is upbeat. "I've hated being away from my work; because I truly love my job. And I have definitely missed my paycheck. But people need to know they can have fulfilling careers, and be happy in their work. If I can help get that message out there, it'll all be worth it."


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