“I don’t consider myself a writer,” said Jennifer Guinier Danielson ’95 in her opening statements to a crowd of students and faculty gathered in the cozy Reading Room of the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House. Given the location and context of the talk, this assertion may at first have seemed rather strange to many in attendance, but Danielson went on to explain that in her world of entertainment, specifically comedy, it is her job not to write the story, but to view the story from her position of expertise and figure out when it and isn’t working. From the very beginning of her talk, Danielson opened up the minds of her audience to the idea that a career path driven by passion does not always have to be linear, and that big ideas can always be followed to fruition if you are willing to put in the work to create outlets for your ideas to blossom.
Danielson graduated from Franklin and Marshall College with a bachelor’s degree in English and later received her master’s degree from the University of Southern California. She has won two Peabody Awards, received credits on Mean Girls, 30 Rock, and Saturday Night Live, and is the president of Above Average Productions, the digital component of Broadway Video.
During her time at F&M, Danielson had to create her own outlets for following her true passion: television. She interned with a local news station, and during her senior year, she created an independent study with Professor Mongia, in which she wrote a thesis on women in television, the topic she has always been most interested in within her field. As a senior attempting to make the most of his opportunities during his last semester at F&M, I found these words very reassuring to hear. I, too, have spent this last year working hard to push my chosen field of study to make room to explore my more specific passions and ideas, and Danielson’s words give me some hope that this work will eventually reward me with a fulfilling career.
Of the many delightful, humorous, and thought-provoking stories from her career Danielson told, the one that stuck with me the most was the story of how Waco Valley, an Above Average series of comical short film clips focused on dinosaurs living in a human world, came to be.
“It started with a Post-It,” said Danielson. She explained to us that Waco Valley was born when her colleague, Ben, started drawing and writing small stories about dinosaurs on Post-It notes. Through a short series of incrementally more well-known writing jobs, he eventually landed a full time writing job on a late night comedy show, and producers took his idea and helped him turn it into a series of ½ hour episodes. Using this story as her launching point, Danielson stated that Above Average funds ideas that it thinks are interesting, and she urged the students in attendance to reach out to her with their own big plans.
“Try to make things people can attach themselves to,” said Danielson. “You don’t have to have famous faces, just talk in a sharable way.”
She concluded by posing the question, “What constitutes content?” At Above Average, content or stories can take many forms, and Danielson’s job is to help creators see and realize these many possibilities. In the end, Danielson left her audience with the message that with passion and work ethic, all of us can make a positive impact on the larger world.
Jason Mitchell-Boyask is a staff member at the Writer’s House. His email is email@example.com.