Serving up Scripts

Dispatch from television writers Bo Yeon Kim ’08 and Erika Lippoldt ’10

Bo Yeon Kim ’08 and Erika Lippoldt ’10 first met on the Bryn Mawr badminton team. They weren’t good doubles partners, but they did turn out to be great writing partners.

They moved to Los Angeles and followed their passion for television, writing for shows Reign, Sweet Tooth, and writing-producing Star Trek: Discovery. They are currently working on a new dark comedy with director Kim Jee-woon they describe as “a Korean American take on the series Fargo.”

Lippoldt recalls attending a season one premiere of Star Trek: Discovery in London with her parents.

All these people started coming up to me –– because they knew I was a writer –– asking for my autograph,” she says. “My parents, of course, were very proud in that moment. It felt like a shift with where I was in my career.”

While they used to dream of working on certain shows, Kim and Lippoldt say now they dream of working with certain people – Guillermo del Toro or Battlestar Galactica showrunner Ron D. Moore. But in an industry fraught with battles over labor rights and navigating the economics of streaming, Kim and Lippoldt mainly want to keep doing what they love – writing sci-fi and fantasy.

“As women of color working in the genre,” Kim said, “I think the dream would be to sustain this career for the next 20 to 25 years and be able to look back and see a string of projects we worked on and were proud of.”

Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt in Video Village
Bo Yeon Kim ’08 and Erika Lippoldt ’10 on the set of Star Trek: Discovery with actor Anthony Rapp and director Jonathan Frakes.
How did you become writers and start working together?

Erika Lippoldt: Once we both graduated and were doing our own separate things––Boey had gone back to Korea, I pursued science; I did my Ph.D. in neurobiology at USC here in L.A––we kept in touch. We were basically always talking about TV shows we were watching and doing deep dives on behind-the-scenes stuff.

Bo Yeon Kim: We were almost obsessive, we wanted to be students of the filmmaking process. We decided to start writing our own script together, over a 17-hour time difference and over a lot of emails and Skyping. We like to say we Zoomed before everyone else Zoomed.

We had very complementary skills but ultimately, the two voices we have merged really nicely into one that worked as a singular voice on the page.

How did your studies or experiences at Bryn Mawr affect your career?
Erika Lippoldt on the set of Star Trek: Discovery.
Erika Lippoldt on the set of Star Trek: Discovery.

EL: This might sound a little cliché, but Bryn Mawr really is where I really found confidence in myself. I’m American but grew up in France since the age of 4. I’m also mixed ethnicity, and I was also a girl who loved science fiction … I always felt a bit like a weirdo or an outsider. I feel like I was in a comfortable enough place [at Bryn Mawr] to express myself, to realize that having these interests in science and TV and screenwriting wasn’t a bad thing, it could also be a strength.

BYK: I do think the way we were trained to think and the attention to detail asked of in our research papers, it trained us to be more serious scholars. When you’re writing on a TV show, there’s just so much research involved.

What do you like best about writing for TV? 
Bo Yeon in the Captain's chair on the set of Star Trek: Discover
Bo Yeon Kim in the Captain's chair on the set of Star Trek: Discovery.

EL: It is kind of a dream job; we get to play in all these fictional worlds and make up stories for a living. But one thing I realized only once we were in a writers’ room was how collaborative it is. It becomes this thing when it’s at its best, and everyone is working to achieve a singular vision.

BYK: It’s a very unique, creative medium and I just love the unpredictability of it and the satisfaction you feel when you get to finish telling that story. I think the most special moment for me is getting to go to set… I feel like that’s the Hollywood I imagined as a kid.

How did last year’s strike affect you? Did it change how you think of the industry? Do you think it changed how others think of the industry?

EL: For five months last year, work was stopped, and we were picketing almost every day. For us, what came out of it was a larger sense of community. We spent a lot of time talking to other writers and getting to know the issues that the industry is facing. [Streaming] overinflated the TV landscape in a way that wasn’t sustainable … things were going to shrink in terms of the amount of content getting made, and the number of jobs that are available, and the strike was a way of trying to defend against that.

BYK: It does feel like this strike really drove home to non-industry people that the Writers Guild is a labor union … a lot of the Guild membership writers are just fighting to pay rent and making this a more sustainable profession.

Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt with the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery.
Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt with the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery.
What was it like to move from writing into production?

EL: When you start as a staff writer, you don’t have many production duties, and as you work your way up. you start to have more and more: calls with the director, with the production designer, with costumes. The collaborative aspect of it doesn’t really become clear until you go through that experience. That first time we got to go to set was so eye-opening because when we went on to work on our next script, we weren’t just thinking in terms of what the words are on the page, we’re thinking about how this will be executed.

BYK: We tend to work on projects that are science fiction, fantasy, supernatural. A lot of that is, either you are building something from scratch––you can’t just go to a store and buy a spaceship prop –– or it’s all VFX [visual effects], so that’s something you have to take into account. Interacting with the VFX supervisor and watching him do his duties on set, I think those are rare experiences for us to get so early in our careers … You can’t just be a creative person; you also have to have a sense of the producibility of a project.

Do you have a favorite episode you’ve worked on?

BYK: I think my favorite was the very first episode of Star Trek we wrote. It was meaningful in the story sense, but it will just have a special place in my heart.

EL: After that, we worked on this Netflix show called Sweet Tooth. We wrote an episode of season three I’m very proud of. I’m excited for people to see that sometime this year.