Michelle Amor, TV Writer, Screenwriting Professor

Editor’s Note: “The Reel Black List” is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity. For the next 29 days, you will be able to celebrate these various personalities with us.

After losing her beloved grandmother, Michelle Amor decided life was way too short to be unhappy. So, in 2010, she quit her job and convinced her husband to do the same and they drove their kids and all their worldly possessions 2000+ miles from Chicago to L.A. so she could pursue her dream of becoming a screenwriter and professor.

It was the best decision of her life.

In November 2019, Michelle sold The Honorable to CBS. A one-hour drama about the city’s third elected Black mayor, a family woman of integrity and a novice to politics, who rises from childhood poverty to the most powerful seat in the most politically corrupt city in the nation. Co-created with Everybody Hates Chris’s Ali LeRoi, The Honorable is produced by Dr. Phil’s Stage 29 Productions and CBS Television Studios.

Previously, Michelle co-wrote the rom-com film Playin’ for Love, directed by and starring Robert Townsend (Five Heartbeats), Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Family Law) and Jenifer Lewis (Black-ish). It debuted on the UP Cable Network in 2015, was released on Magic Johnson’s Aspire TV in 2016 and aired on Bounce TV in 2017 and 2018.

She also wrote the feature film Of Boys & Men starring Academy® Award-nominated actress Angela Bassett and Robert Townsend. It won “Best of the Fest” at the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival and was released on Warner Bros Home Video in 2011.

Michelle also co-produced and co-wrote the documentary film Tupac Shakur: Before I Wake, distributed by Xenon, which has sold over 4 million copies worldwide. Michelle has had original work optioned by Academy® Award-nominated director Lee Daniels developed stories for and with R&B singer Michel’le, Academy® Award-winning producer Al Ruddy (The Godfather & Million Dollar Baby), and Motown founder Berry Gordy.

She was a Semi-Finalist in the 2018 Universal Feature Writers Program, a Second Round Finalist in the 2017 Sundance Institute Episodic Story Lab, a Second Round Finalist in the 2017 Austin Film Festival in both Feature and One-Hour Pilot, and a Second Round Finalist in the 2017 New York TV Festival.

A passionate Clinical Assistant Professor of screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University, Michelle’s also taught at UCLA, Chapman University, Cal State, Northridge, and the American Film Institute.

A proud and active member of the Writers Guild of America, West, she’s currently serving her third elected term as co-chair of the WGAW Committee of Black Writers (CBW), whose mission is to empower, increase visibility, and create career and networking opportunities for Black writers in Hollywood.

Michelle received her B.A. in Entertainment & Media Management from Columbia College, Chicago, and her M.F.A. in Theater, Film, and Television from UCLA. A proud native Chicagoan, Michelle currently resides in West Los Angeles with her family.

What did You Originally Want to be When You Grow Up? You know how as a kid you want to be a bunch of things when you grow up, that was me. I wanted to be a lawyer, a politician, and a community activist. And though I didn’t end up ultimately pursuing those careers, the lead character in The Honorable, the pilot I co-created with Ali LeRoi, and we sold to CBS last fall, is a lawyer and a community activist who becomes a politician.

How did You Get into the Entertainment Industry? I got into the entertainment industry thanks to The Community Film Workshop of Chicago (CFW) [https://www.cfwchicago.org] which provides media arts education in underserved and under-represented communities. I was a senior at Whitney Young high school and the late James “JT” Taylor, CFW’s founder, approached me at a school production fair and said, “Little girl, you can make movies.”

I was fascinated. I never had anyone tell me that before. Sure, I loved movies like everyone else but I never saw it as a viable career option for myself. I was just a little Black girl from the West Side, K-Town to be exact. I remember running home excited to tell my grandma. JT then gave me a full-scholarship to attend his workshop the summer before college. It was an incredible life-changing experience.

He taught me screenwriting, directing, sound, editing, and how to have a great work ethic. I made two short films there, fell in love with the art of filmmaking, and found my life’s purpose.

Who were/are Your Mentors? My first mentors were JT and his wife Margaret Caples, who still runs the Community Film Workshop to this day. Kelvin Bulger, Esquire, my former Columbia College Chicago professor and lawyer, who helped me to get my first film project Of Boys & Men, starring Robert Townsend and Angela Bassett.

Robert Townsend mentored me when we worked together on Of Boys & Men and later when we co-wrote our second film Playin’ for Love. In grad school at UCLA, my mentors were my professors’ showrunner Felicia Henderson and super-producer Paula Wagner as well as Richard Walter and Hal Ackerman, the screenwriting department chairs.

Holly Brown mentored me as my supervisor at Will Smith’s production company Overbrook Entertainment, where I did my first internship. And later, when I interned on Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I was mentored by producer/director Reggie Hudlin.

Today, my mentor is TV producer Maggie Murphy, who was also my UCLA professor and is now my colleague and friend at Loyola Marymount University, where we both teach in the School of Film & Television. Clearly, I’m big on mentors. Everyone needs someone to help them on their journey. I also now mentor others as well.

What is Your Biggest Achievement? My biggest achievement is my family— my husband and two kids. They mean the world to me. Having the courage to go after my dreams, in my 30s, with them by my side, made my journey to Hollywood that much more meaningful.

I know you asked for biggest achievement, as in one, but I’m going to cheat and add two more things I’m super proud of: 1) Being a professor and 2) my work at the Writers Guild of America (WGA) West.

In undergrad, it bothered me that I didn’t have one Black woman professor, so I went back to school, got my MFA, and became what I desired. Teaching truly gives me joy. When I was a kid, a prophet (sort of like a psychic but from a Baptist church) told me that I’d one day “be a great leader of many people”.

I’m extremely proud to be the co-chair of the Committee of Black Writers at the WGA, the labor union for the writers of all your favorite TV shows and movies. And I have the honor of leading the most talented group of Black writers in Hollywood who are changing the industry, for the better, one script at a time.

ALSO READ: The Reel Black List: Hilliard Guess, Writer/Producer/Director

What is Your Biggest Disappointment? My biggest disappointment is that my beloved late grandma, Madeline Boyd-Fields, didn’t live long enough to see my accomplishments. I may not be where I’m going…but one thing’s for certain, I know what I want (all my diehard Prince fans will get that :), and I’m working hard as hell to get there. I just know she’d be so proud of what I’ve done thus far.

She was always super supportive. She read all my early scripts, even the ones with sex, profanity, and violence, which was huge because she was a Jesus-loving, Bible-toting Christian woman. She told me once that one day I’ll win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Whenever I waver, I remember her words, sit my ass down in front of my laptop, and get to writing.

Name Your Biggest Pet Peeves? My biggest pet peeves are phony people and excuses. I believe in keeping it real and that there’s always a solution.

Predictions for the Entertainment Industry Over the Next Decade: I believe entertainment is the most powerful industry in the world. Besides being a multi-billion dollar business, it has the greatest reach, impact, and influence. I predict in the next ten years, more and more diverse film and TV content will be produced and distributed and will, thus, change the entire world for the better.

Name a Job You had that Would Surprise People: My very first job, I was a hostess at Ponderosa Steak House at Northriverside Mall. I was 16 years old and I loved it! I got to greet customers all day and I also got to eat a lot of steaks. I made $4.25 an hour and I thought I was ballin’.

What Marvel or DC Superhero do You Get to Play? Batman.

What do You Wish You had More Time to do? Read.

What Drives You to be Extraordinary at What You do? My faith in God and my desire to leave the world better for my children is what drives me to be extraordinary. For example, I plan to launch my own production company in 2020 so I can begin building generational wealth for my children and their children, and I’ve already secured the name— Generational Wealth Productions. There’s a scripture in the Bible, Proverbs, 13:22, that says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” and that’s my plan.

Congratulations, You Built a Time Machine! What do You go Back and Tell Your 15-Year-Old Self? You’re good enough. Your story is good enough. Now, go out there and tell it to the world!