While most middle school students fill their after-school hours with homework, sports, and social media, Heather Jeng Bladt, an alumni of BYMS , Esperanza High School, and USC’s Writing for Screen and Television Program and currently a writer’s assistant on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, recalls spending much of her free time in the video rental aisle at the Wherehouse in the Village Center Shopping Center in Yorba Linda, California.
“I’ve always been a fan of language and stories,” stated Heather Jeng Bladt, in a recent interview with the Matador Messenger. “Actually as far back as Mrs.Burn’s sixth-grade class at Fairmont Elementary, I remember loving learning Latin, Greek mythology, writing and creating my own stories and worlds and I have always been a fan of TV and movies.”
It was during a high school career day presentation given by Esperanza High School graduate and screenwriter, Elisa Bell, that sophomore Bladt put “two and two together” and realized that she too could become a screenwriter.
“ Elisa Bell was basically telling me that I could combine my two favorite things into a career. She told the audience that she went to USC for screenwriting and that it was the best film school in the world,” explained Jeng Bladt, ” After that talk, I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter and that my first goal would be to get into USC’s screenwriting program.”
As one of only 26 students in the program, Bladt had “a wonderful four years of studying film and writing, getting to know the industry, and making lifelong friends” and completed internships at film and TV production companies leading to an entry-level assistant job at DreamWorks.
“ The internships and entry level assistant jobs continued my education in the entertainment industry and as a writer; they were basically my grad school,” explained Jeng Bladt.
As a writer’s assistant on Orange is the New Black, Heather Jeng Bladt is “one step away from being a writer on the show,” Jeng Bladt explained.
“ I get to be in the writers’ room and pitch ideas while also taking notes on what everyone is saying.” Previous to Orange is the New Black, Jeng Bladt was the showrunner’s assistant on AMC’s Mad Men. Jeng Bladt was working on the show for three seasons. “It is very rewarding when audiences connect to your material,” stated Jeng Bladt. For Jeng Bladt, seeing her script being produced and put on screen was to experience her own special magic. “What was once inside your head has now come to life and it’s amazing.”
In addition to being the writer’s’ assistant on Orange is the New Black, Jeng Bladt is writing TV pilot scripts on her own to send out as samples to hopefully have a studio or a production company to hire her someday.“ In the entertainment industry, it takes the time to get the job you really want,” she added.
Jeng Bladt often writes, directs, edits, produces and acts in projects of her own so that she can then send out her projects as a “calling card” to prove that she can do the jobs that she really wants.
Even though being a screenwriter may sound exciting, Jeng Bladt also recalls facing a number of challenges on the road to the writers’ room. On her first day of film school, the professor said, “if you want a stable job, leave now and become a lawyer.”
“There is also no job security,” added Jeng Bladt. “One day, the show can be doing very well and the next day, audiences can hate the show, stop watching it, and your show is canceled and so is your job.”
Even the writing process itself presents its own unique challenges.
“As a writer, you have to bare your soul to your audience. The more personal the story is, the more the audience tends to relate to the story,” Jeng Bladt explained. “Sometimes I find it hard to be so open with complete strangers. They are reading or seeing my most secret thoughts. And it is difficult to get negative feedback on something so intimate. But it is something I’m working on and the more honest the writing, the better it is.”
To inspiring young screenwriters, Jeng Bladt suggests writing every day. “You have to keep writing to exercise that muscle, to develop your voice, and also to learn from your mistakes and successes.”
“It’s hard to get people in the positions of power to read a young writer’s scripts, but when someone does want to read your script, you need to be prepared with a variety of material to let them read. If you write constantly, then you will have lots of scripts you can pull from and be ready for your opportunity.”