Liane Balaban Interviews TV Writer Nadiya Chettiar

LB: You started off as an actor. Now you have a successful career as a television writer. How did you make that transition? 

My transition into writing began when I started a long distance relationship with a guy I really admired, and who happened to be a great writer. For nearly two years we wrote each other regular letters (well, emails). And because he was so good at writing--and not to mention so funny--I felt challenged and it made me want to write better, more creative, more funny letters (well, emails). We stopped writing when I made the leap and moved across the country from Toronto to Vancouver. I had seen some success as an actor in TO, and thought that I could ride that wave all the way to Vancouver. 

Well, the wave crashed on the pacific shoreline, leaving me without any job prospects, and wondering what the hell I just did. My move to Vancouver happened to coincide with the writer's strike in LA, which had dried up most of the work in Vancouver. It was a terrible career move. And I very quickly found myself in a whole new place with lots of time on my hands. This is when lightning struck. Or what have you. Since I had spent nearly 80% of my acting career wearing a headscarf (because I look vaguely Muslim, sorta Eastern European--I'm mixed race: Half Indian/half Irish), and I was frustrated with rarely getting to represent people like myself in the parts I was auditioning for, I decided to try writing something from my life. The result was a radio play. Yup. Radio. In 2010. Anyway, from doing that I pretty quickly learned that I liked writing scripts. It turned out it wasn't just love I was pursuing with my "creative and funny" love emails. I wanted to learn how to be a better writer.

LB: What was your first professional breakthrough as a writer? 

My first job was as a script coordinator/Jr. writer on a kids' multi-cam sitcom called, "Some Assembly Required." But I guess the "breakthrough" elements to my landing that job were: 1) meeting Jennica Harper, an amazing writer who was an early inspiration to me, then friend, then colleague when she recommended me to the show and I got the job. And 2) pursuing writing half-hour TV doggedly until I finally got good at it. Luckily, because I never gave up, I had a solid spec ready when "Some Assembly Required" was looking. When I got my first writing assignment on the job, I was so nervous. I felt like, “this was it: make or break time.”  When I got good feedback from my boss, that’s when it really connected for me that all my hard work had paid off. I was really doing it.

LB: You’ve already had so many great achievements in your career. You’ve worked with some of Canada’s top comedy writers, you’ve been nominated for a Leo Award. What have been your favourite achievements so far?

I think getting staffed on shows is always an achievement. But there’s been some other fun stuff, too. After booking my first couple gigs, I was chosen to attend the Banff World Media and Television festival as an up-and-comer in TV. That was a huge honor. It’s like the whole world to television collides at the festival. I mean huge names, like Mitch Hurwitz, Dan Harmon, and even, Henry Winkler, were there. And since I was chosen to be there, I was given an all access pass to amazing talks, panels, and parties, where I actually got to meet these people. That was pretty amazing since I grew up watching Happy Days reruns, Mitch Hurwitz was the first showrunner I ever Googled before I even knew what a showrunner was, and Community, a show created by Dan Harmon, was the first show I ever spec’d. It felt really special to be there and to know I was a part of the whole thing.

LB: How did you "learn" writing? Do you feel it is a skill that can he learned? 

YES! Absolutely. I think people have natural proclivities toward writing and comedy specifically, but you can certainly learn to get better at story. You can learn to get better at all of it, but I think people tend to need more practice with story. Coming up with good stories, with unexpected turns, or that reveal character, etc. is definitely a skill anyone can practice and get better at.

LB: I know writing can be challenging. What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a writer?

I think staying practiced is a challenge because it requires discipline. You have to be willing to sit down and write. On the regular. And learn how to meet deadlines that you set for yourself. You have to be able to do it for yourself before you can do it for anyone else. And that can be tricky. Oh wait, you asked for MY biggest challenge? Not giving into thoughts that I'm a terrible writer and just carrying on.

LB: For someone who has worked so consistently what do you think has contributed to your success? What would you say is your greatest asset?

Huh. That's a tough question. I guess I like to play. That sounds kinda lame/gross. What I mean is I like work of being in the room and having a good time breaking and dissecting and creating the best stories possible. I like being a player in that game. No... still gross sounding.

LB: What are some of your go-to techniques when you feel stuck on a draft? 

Ooh... taking a shower can be good for me. Or exercise. Anything that can change the channel in my brain. 

LB: What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Perseverance is key. Don't worry if you don't feel talented enough--you never will. But if you stick to it, you'll outlast everyone. Also, get writing. If that means taking classes so those deadlines are set for you, then do that. I know I really benefitted from enforced deadlines when I started. 

LB: Now that you're pitching and meeting in Hollywood, what has been the biggest surprise?I guess that I'm doing this at all is the biggest surprise. I mean, I've worked for it, but still. You never really expect it. 

LB: In your experience, what makes a script something that gets other people excited, something that attracts professional attention?

I think writing your story is always a good way to go. People are attracted to authenticity. And in my experience if it's happened to you, it's happened to other people, or some version has happened to other people. The point being, people will be able to relate and see themselves in your honest work.

LB: Is there anything else you'd like to share? 

As much as you need to write a lot, you also need to live a lot. If you're not living, you'll have nothing to write about. Or, for that matter, to live for.

Nadiya Chettiar is a prize-wining half-hour television writer.  She began her career as an actor and improviser on the comedy scenes of Toronto, Vancouver, and New York City. Nadiya got her first writing jobs on Some Assembly Required (Netflix) and Package Deal (Hulu). She has since worked on the highly anticipated CBC project, Workin’ Moms, starring and created by Catherine Reitman. Nadiya is signed with ICM Partners and resides in Vancouver, BC, where she was recently nominated for a coveted Leo Award. 

Liane Balaban is an actor, web producer, and nationally broadcast poet. She has appeared in many film and TV roles, including New Waterford Girl, Last Chance Harvey, Definitely Maybe, The Grand Seduction, Supernatural and Covert Affairs. Her proudest accomplishment is, the Gemini-nominated interactive web site that celebrates menstruation and also originated the film genre of "puppet realism." She is the cowriter with Ed Gas Donnelly of the feature F&J, currently in development with Abigail Cornish set to star.