30 Rock and Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon discusses the challenge of becoming the boss on her new series
I know it sounds cliché, but when I sold Netflix my show Girlboss, based on the book by Sophia Amoruso, it was a dream come true. I’ve been a supervising producer and co-executive producer on 30 Rock and New Girl, but this was the first opportunity for me to be the showrunner, essentially the person everyone answers to on a TV production.
It was daunting. I felt the need to prove myself because there aren’t many female showrunners out there. I remember the first day of shooting, I kept introducing myself to the crew: “Hi, I’m Kay, the showrunner.” Our first assistant director asked me, “Why do you keep doing that?!” “Look at me,” I told him. “I’m in overalls and boat shoes. Everyone thinks I’m an extra if I don’t.”
Girlboss is the hardest thing I’ve ever done—artistically and physically. I was on set every day and wrote almost half the episodes. As the creator and showrunner, I was also responsible for figuring out the tone and making sure everything worked. Luckily, I had a wonderful writing staff, cast and crew. I think comedy should always be done in collaboration, where the best idea wins, so even though everything went through me, the final product was a real team effort.
There were times I didn’t sleep at all. A week after we started production, my daughter started pre-school and got really sick. I was at work all day and up with her all night, but I got through it.
We shot for three weeks in San Francisco. In one of the episodes, our star, Britt Robertson, is running across the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge. I was in this little covered cart in front of her, shouting directions. I’m from a small township in Illinois (it’s not even considered a town). Growing up, I never thought I’d even fly on a plane, let alone film my own creation on the Golden Gate Bridge. That entire day, I kept thinking to myself, “How cool is this?” It was cold and rainy, but I didn’t care.
I worked on 30 Rock for six seasons, so I learned a great deal about how to run a show by watching (creator and co-showrunner) Tina Fey.
I can’t construct a joke nearly as well as she can, nor juggle everything she does as brilliantly, but I can pound snacks at a way more prolific rate.
After creating and producing Girlboss, it seems like everything else from this point forward won’t be as tough. I’m about to direct my first feature film for Universal Pictures. While that’s a very difficult thing to do—some say the most difficult thing you can do in this business—it will probably pale in comparison to filming 13 episodes of a very cinematic series in such a short period of time.
I feel like nothing can stop me now—even if I am still dressed like an extra.
Kay Cannon is the creator, executive producer and showrunner of Girlboss, which debuts April 21 on Netflix.