Kai Wu is a fighter. Not just in the boxing sense, but in an I’m-gonna-make-it-in-Hollywood-hell-or-high-water kind of sense. Originally from Maryland, she cut her teeth in Hollywood as an agency assistant. In the past few years, she has not only blossomed as a television writer on NBC’s Hannibal and CW’s The Flash, but she has also directed and written a web series Tiger Rules and co-wrote her first Flash episode with DC Comic Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns. She is the type you’d underestimate at her 5’3″ height… until she knocks you out. Here, she shares her fighting tips on how to make it when the odds are stacked against you.
Image Source: Kai Wu
What is the difference between writing for television and writing for comic books? Which do you prefer?
The biggest difference is the budget. We have to be mindful when we write our episodes because realistically, we can only go so big. With comics, the sky’s the limit, which I love. Also with comics, you get to direct–you tell the artists how the panel looks, so that’s really fun. With TV, we get to work with actors and go on set and produce our episodes. I love both mediums so it’s really hard to choose!
You co-write your first Flash episode with DC Comics Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns. What did you learn about The Flash from writing with him?
How to write dynamic action sequences (he’s amazing at it) and the importance of emotion in every scene, even if it’s one to mainly further the plot. I also became a huge Captain Cold fan as well, especially the way Wentworth Miller portrays him.
What difficulties have you come across while working in the industry?
I’ve dealt with bullying in a writers’ room. I’ve also dealt with people who didn’t believe that I would “make it” so they would brush me off. I think with the bullying, I would stand up for myself more next time. It was during a time when I wasn’t in a position of power and the guy who did it was way higher ranked than me. To not rock the boat, I would just let it happen. In retrospect, I should’ve been bolder because it’s not like he was going to be supportive of me anyway, so I shouldn’t have let him walk all over me.
In addition to political frustrations, being a diverse female writer has its own issues too. Diverse writers in TV make up only 11%, and I don’t even know what that number is for diverse female writers. It’s crazy low. My writer friends and I talk about that all the time, especially how we can change things once we get into positions that will allow for that. For now, I can only encourage people who want to do this but are scared by the low statistics to NOT worry about it and just focus on their work. The odds of my being here (a paid TV writer) is super low, but I didn’t care. I was going to do whatever it takes and that’s where the blind belief in yourself comes in. If you are worried about statistics, perhaps Hollywood is not the place for you. And if you do finally get a seat at the table, try to lift each other up.
What would you advise someone who wants to be in your position?
Don’t let the “NOs” deplete your confidence. And really focus on your writing. As writers, we have the unique luxury of NOT having to wait around for people.
Your web series Tiger Rules is about the daughter of a Tiger Mom. Some people are put off by the negative connection of the term ‘Tiger Mom.’ How do you view the idea of Tiger Mom, and what do you think people do not understand about it?
I think people mistake Tiger Mom for being a mean parent or unnecessarily strict one. I think people forget that the motivation for Tiger Moms to behave that way is so that their kids can succeed in the future. Everything they do–however strict or annoying–is out of love. It might not be the way you personally would do it or how you were raised, but it’s one way. Everyone shows love differently and I think for parents like that, it’s their way of showing love. You have parents who shower kids with kisses and “I love you’s”, and you have parents who have never said those things to their kids but are wearing clothes that are 15 years old so that they can save money and send their kids to college.
Image Source: 13th Dimension Website
What do you do geek out about?
I geek out about tennis. I can sit on my couch for ten hours at a time and watch every match, which is dangerous because all productivity goes out the window. Those athletes inspire me because it’s an incredibly hard sport where it’s just you and your opponent. You don’t have a team and there’s no one to bail you out but yourself. Not only do you have to be physically strong, you have to have the mental fortitude as well. I aspire to their work ethic. Serena Williams uses a hashtag that I love and apply to myself, which is #DotheWork.
What are you working on next?
I’m on Season 2 of The Flash, so that’s my main priority. Other than that, I’m starting a new action/horror feature that I’m really excited about, and I’m trying to direct a short film hopefully sometime early next year.
What is one good piece of advice that someone has given you?
Theresa Kang, who is an agent at WME, said to me a long time ago that as a writer, we can write ourselves out of any situation. When things are looking down, just write a new piece of material. All it takes is one script to rebrand, restart, and change everything. Theresa is actually now my agent (she wasn’t then). I’m not sure she even remembers giving me this advice but I’ve always remembered it, especially when the times are tough.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Don’t rush things. Things happen for a reason and usually when the timing is right (i.e. when you are ready). When I was younger, I’d be worried that if I didn’t get to a certain position by a certain age, I’d be behind. All that is just nonsense that gets in the way of writing. Tune that stuff out and just focus on your craft, not what other people are doing. Just worry about what you’re doing.