Henry “Hank” Jones, BA English ’07, MA ’10, first dreamt of becoming a film and television writer in graduate school. He attended writing courses at film festivals, read scriptwriting books, and watched any movie he could on Netflix. “This was back when they still mailed DVDs,” he says.
His study of the craft has paid off, with writing credits that include shows such as Motown Magic, Family Reunion, The Neighborhood, Grown-ish, Bel-Air, Truth Be Told, The Game, Black-ish, The New Edition Story, and Dear White People. He is currently a writer and producer on ABC’s Will Trent.
Jones, the first African American Mason alumnus to write for a dramatic network television series, says the road to success was not easy. “I faced self-doubt, doubt from others, poverty, joblessness, breakups, isolation...I can keep going.”
He recently shared what he’s learned from his journey and what’s next.
What were your career goals when you enrolled at Mason as a freshman in 2003?
I transferred to [Mason] after changing my major from communications (advertising) to English. My freshman composition instructor at my previous college told me I needed to focus on writing as a career. I still wasn’t sure what type of writing—and I knew I loved movies—so I concentrated on film and media studies with the thought of being a movie critic/entertainment journalist.
Which actors have been the most fun or interesting to work with?
Anthony Anderson was great on Black-ish. That guy can do anything you ask in a scene. [He would say] “Can I play ping-pong? Sure! I won a tournament.” “Break-dance? You know I used to be a semi-professional break-dancer, right?” He really was. Google it. Outside of work, Anthony would throw parties or pay for a table at a party and invite everybody out—even the assistants (me). It was always a great time.
Jenifer Lewis was amazing to work with, too. She was never not funny, and she told the best stories. Other greats include Erika Christensen, Wood Harris, Michael Rappaport, Regina Hall, and Lala Anthony.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into TV writing?
Write from the most personal place you can with your samples. Don’t worry about what you think audiences might like or what’s hot right now. Your truth will always be more interesting and evergreen—and that’s what people will respond to the most. Afterwards, revise your script until you hate it. Once that’s done, submit it to any writing contest or program. Sundance, American Black Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Film Independent’s Episodic Lab, and Project Involve are all great options. This will get you the attention you need to get into TV writing—especially if you’re doing it from outside Los Angeles.
What can we expect from you next?
2023 is the year I get both feet into the feature [film] world. I have a few projects I’m writing and hoping to sell. I’ll keep y’all posted!
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