It sounds like the premise for a sitcom: A recent graduate from an Ivy League school, trying to break into Hollywood, ends up taking a second job to pay the bills. When Keith Eisner quit his job and moved to Los Angeles, though, his second job was at a law firm.
The 1993 Penn Law graduate and executive producer for the critically acclaimed drama “The Good Wife” had a chance to come back to Penn recently and speak about his career path from law to Hollywood, an event made possible by Penn Law’s Entertainment and Sports Law Society and the alumni association.
Eisner summarized his life after graduating law school simply: “I worked [at] a big law firm for two years — and I didn’t like it.”
Writing for television, though, piqued his interest. So Eisner quit his job in New York and moved to California without ever having studied screenwriting or even writing a formal screenplay.
“If you want to be a fisherman,” he explained of his decision to pack up and move across the country, “You go where the fish are.”
But when he got to L.A. and he saw his first television script, he realized his dream of writing for television was not something that could come true overnight with just passion and a plane ticket.
“After sort of failing initially … I wound up having to put my law degree to some use,” he said. Eisner took on a part-time job doing contract law for a firm during the day to help pay the bills. However, his real focus was for a position writing jokes for a comedy show.
It was not an easy situation to be in. “Neither job knew about the other job,” Eisner said. “I was so stressed about losing one of those jobs … I would wake up eight, 10 times a night with jokes in my head and leave myself voicemails.”
The next day, he would listen to his own messages, write them down and then turn the jokes in during lunch.
His first writing job is one that he looks back on and laughs.
“It was a fairly embarrassing job,” he admitted. “Very silly.” The show that Eisner wrote for, “Strip Poker,” was an evening program for USA Network.
After a short time there, Eisner got a better gig writing jokes for comedian Drew Carey to use on “Whose Line is it Anyway?“
However, Eisner was not satisfied with this job. “I was still looking to break in [to television],” he said.
He soon heard about a new show called “Philly.” It was about a single mother living in Philadelphia and working as a lawyer — in some ways, a perfect fit for Eisner, and he became a writer for it. Though the show was canceled after a season, Eisner had finally broken into the industry. He then went on to write for other shows like “NYPD Blue” and then “Law & Order.”
Eisner enjoys incorporating things he learned at Penn Law in his current job as a producer and writer for “The Good Wife” as well as in his past jobs.
“Law is about writing [and] being disciplined, and that’s the job of a professional TV writer,” he said. He also enjoys drawing on facts he learned in law classes that inform his writing.
Current events are another place that Eisner finds inspiration and can act as “great jumping off points,” he said.
However, his best writing, he says, does not even feel like writing. Instead, he lets the characters speak.
“You feel like you haven’t had much to do with it,” he explained. “You’ve just been the conduit” for the characters.
It has been 15 years since Eisner decided to leave law and become a writer, and he does not regret leaving law one bit. Part of success means making a decision, and that sometimes means closing doors, he said.
“If you wind up going to Penn, you’re very smart. You’re always trying to keep your options open,” he said. But “at a certain point in time, you have to make a choice.”
Penn Law’s Entertainment and Sports Law Society Vice President Grant Darwin, a third-year Law student, said that he was glad to learn that there were other routes for law graduates outside of legal firms.
“He showed us … if you have something you really want to do, you should just go for it,” Peter Wu, a third-year Law student in attendance, added.
As Eisner sees it, many people end up wandering into jobs and then get stuck in something they aren’t particularly passionate about.
“If you worked hard enough to get into Penn, you owe it to yourself. You deserve a career you love,” he said.Comments powered by Disqus
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