SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Many people might like to have Lauren Schmidt’s job. Schmidt, a Wittenberg University graduate from the class of 2000, is paid to tell the President of the United States what to do, or make that what to say, although in this case it is President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet of the NBC series The West Wing. Schmidt’s first solo episode titled “Access” airs tonight at 9 p.m.
One of 12 writers for the award-winning television drama, Schmidt was recently nominated for a 2003 Writer’s Guild of America award for an episode she co-wrote with Alexa Junge titled “Disaster Relief,” which aired in November of last year. Schmidt and Junge conceived the nominated episode, as the end of an emotional arc of President Bartlet, who was struggling to keep the country in order after his daughter was kidnapped.
“The writers, as a whole, felt that Bartlet needed to be re-engaged—to be jerked back to his role as Commander in Chief—and Alexa and I chose a tornado-ravaged town as the site for his resurrection,” Schmidt explained. “Alexa, comedy-writer extraordinaire who joined our show this season after heading the writers room at Friends for five years, was the best writing partner I could ask for. Writing a deux can be difficult—the level of communication is intense, and the need for compromise is great.
“Alexa and I spent every day for two or three weeks in her office, hunched over notepads, snacking on M&Ms, breaking the stories. When we got stuck on scenes, we swapped—offering new perspective, fresh arguments funnier dialogue. It’s one of the best things about writing with a partner you never feel stranded.”
Producer Lew Wells hired Schmidt as a writer’s production assistant at Warner Brothers Television Productions after she obtained her degree. Schmidt served as an intern on the show the summer between her junior and senior years. She worked for a year and then was promoted to writer’s assistant. For the following season, 2002-2003, she was promoted to researcher, and received her first credits as a member of the writing staff, “Story By” credit on two episodes, “Process Stories” and “The California 47th.”
Schmidt said she had the good fortune to have Robin Inboden, professor and chair of Wittenberg’s English department, as her adviser. “Dr. Inboden was the first person who told me, ‘Yes, Lauren, there really is a future career in writing,’” she said. “She, along with Dr. Cynthia Richards, Dr. Bob Davis, Dr. Scot Hinson, Dr. Susannah Mintz and Maureen Fry, were the most nurturing support system I could have had.”
“I noticed Lauren had that ability to inhabit someone else’s reality, which is rare for a young writer, particularly for a first-year college student,” said Inboden. “When I read the short story she submitted with her application to the Honors Program, I remember noting to other members of the committee the unusual maturity Lauren had in imagining the world from other people’s vantage.”
Schmidt arrived at Wittenberg a psychology major, because she had never thought of writing as anything but a pastime. “Certainly, I didn’t think I could call it a career, and getting paid for it—that was not even a fantasy,” she continued. “It took a year and half—and two creative writing classes under Dr. Susannah Mintz—for me to turn in the Change of Major form to the registrar.”
As a sophomore, she was hired as an adviser in Wittenberg’s Writing Center, which gave her a taste of the collaborative writing process. As an adviser, Schmidt worked hand-in-hand with students to outline, research, plot and fine-tune their papers.
“There was no better feeling than when a proud student came back to show you their good grade and positive comments,” Schmidt recalled. “Working in the Writing Center was also a unique opportunity to be surrounded by people who love writing—and love making writing better—just as much I did. The advisors all bounced ideas off of one another, discussing and creating and shaping new stories or themes. We were each others’ sounding boards, and it gave me an appreciation for where I would come to spend hours upon hours every day—the Writers Room at The West Wing.”
Schmidt was a co-winner of the Wittenberg English Department’s first Excellence in Literary Studies Award.
Schmidt admits there is nothing like watching a show you’ve helped write or fashion. She treasures a picture of her standing next to a big-screen television with her name on it from the airing of her first “Story By” credit last season.
“The actors on this show always exceed expectation, even when you’ve been hearing their voices in your head during the writing process, to see them performing your words on the screen will knock your socks off.”
One day, Schmidt’s name might be heard following the words, “And the award goes to.”
That might really knock her socks off. The fantasy of a career in writing seems to be turning into a reality for Schmidt.
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