January 21, 2020

Alumnus Mike Diaz was one of six writers chosen for mentorship for CBS’ Writers Mentoring Program. The eight-month mentoring program pairs a CBS executive mentor with a writer who will receive help in developing a new piece of material. After the mentorship period, writers are provided access to agents, managers, executives, showrunners and producers through a workshop dedicated to teaching them all about the television business. Diaz earned a B.A. in History and an M.F.A in Film, which led him to write, direct, and produce narrative features, documentaries, short films and digital series. Read more about the CBS mentorship program on Deadline.

We had the chance to ask Diaz a few questions about his experience as a writer and what he’s looking forward to with the mentorship program.

What does this program mean for your career?

Throughout the program, writers draft a new pilot script to be used as a sample for staffing, attend weekly workshops with guest speakers from the industry, and CBS executives work to get participants staffed in writers’ rooms on CBS shows. Getting into this program was a huge win for my career; my long-term career goal is to become a showrunner, and having CBS on my side for the long haul will definitely help me on that journey. I was ecstatic when I got the call from CBS because I knew this program would open a ton of doors for me. I am swimming in gratitude, saying I feel lucky would be an understatement.

Tell us what you’ve worked on. How was it to work with National Geographic?

I started on the unscripted side of the industry at National Geographic Television in New York, where I worked as an associate producer and in post-production on survival-based docuseries. I also taught filmmaking for National Geographic Student Expeditions and got to travel to some amazing places, I’m proud to say I’ve set foot on six continents while making/teaching film over the last several years.

I packed up and moved out to Los Angeles three years ago to break into the narrative side of the industry, which is challenging after having worked in unscripted for so many years. My current “day job” is working as a development assistant to an executive producer at 20th Century Fox; we’re currently working on Fox’s upcoming drama, 9-1-1: Lone Star.

What made you choose drama over comedy?

I’ve dabbled in writing both drama and comedy, but ultimately, I’m a story-driven writer who loves world-building and sketching character arcs more than trying to come up with one-liner jokes. My favorite shows are grounded genres with winding, serialized storylines filled with dramatic twists and turns.

How did your studies at UCF prepare you for your career?

My time at UCF Film as a graduate student was priceless. I still consider Ula Stoeckl, my thesis chair, to be my first creative mentor. She was incredibly kind and supportive while I wrote and directed my thesis feature. And having a background as a director has only made me a stronger, more visual screenwriter.

What advice would you give to aspiring TV writers?

There’s no formula for breaking into TV writing; every working writer in Hollywood seems to have a different story about how they got their first staff job. The entertainment business is incredibly social. People love to hire their friends, so going to mixers and working entry-level industry jobs will open your circle. Networking should be about making long term friends who you’ll grow with throughout your career, not just meeting people to see how they’ll help you in the immediate future.

This is an extremely competitive field, so your work really needs to stand out in order to get your foot in the door. The best way to get better is to just write. Have people you trust read your script and rip it apart, then rewrite it. Get your script to a readable place, then move on to another one. When somebody asks to read you, you must have scripts ready to go. You can’t control when you’ll get opportunities, but you can control whether you’ll be ready for them or not.