CEDAR FALLS – When nominees for 2018 Writers Guild awards gathered Sunday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Cydney Kelley was seated at a table with her fingers crossed.
The Cedar Falls native was nominated along with 15 fellow writers for their work on “Days of Our Lives,” going head-to-head with writers from “General Hospital.”
Although Kelley no longer writes for the daytime drama, she’s thrilled about the nomination.
“Being lucky enough to be nominated as part of the writing team is super exciting. It’s a nice dinner and lots of fun, and it’s a good networking opportunity,” she says. “This is actually my fourth time working at ‘Days’ and the second time I’ve been nominated with a group of writers on the show.”
Her most recent stint on the show ended last summer when a new head writer was hired. “Anytime a new head writer comes in, writers lose their jobs,” explains Kelley, who lives in Santa Monica.
Kelley, daughter of nationally renowned illustrator Gary and Linda Kelley, knew at age 14 that she wanted to work in television, in particular at “Days.”
After two years at the University of Northern Iowa, Kelley transferred to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, majoring in screenwriting.
She snagged an internship on “Days” after interviewing the writers assistants on the show for a class assignment. The internship opened the door to a writers assistant job, then a script writing job from 1998 to 2002. When a new head writer was hired, Kelley lost her job, was rehired in 2003 and lost her job again when the next new head writer took over. She was rehired in 2006 and let go in 2009 after another turnover at the top.
Kelley describes the process as “an assembly line when you’re churning out 250 episodes a year. I handled writing dialogue from an outline, which is what I prefer, turning it into a 75-page script. I didn’t write for a specific character or storyline. You write dialogue for whoever happens to be in the episode you’re working on. It used to be a one-month difference between turning in a script until it was on the air. Now you’re not getting to see it on TV for six months.”
After leaving “Days” in 2009, she spent five years working on the BET comedy, “The Game,” including writing an episode and appearing as an extra. The scripts were written in LA and filmed in Atlanta.
“In the writers room in LA, all we did was write, but in Atlanta I was the script coordinator. There were some long days — 13 hours was the minimum for production, sometimes 16 hours. It was fun being on set all day. It’s also a really good way to see a new city. You’re put up in a nice apartment, receive a per diem and have a car and driver,” Kelley explains.
The script coordinator is responsible for producing each draft of a script for the production team and serves as a liaison between the production staff and writers.
Kelley also worked on “Being Mary Jane,” “Zoe Ever After,” which starred Brandy, and “Free Ride.” She recently wrapped up work as script coordinator on the new season of “Grownish,” currently airing on Freeform TV. The show is a spin-off of “Blackish” and explores a young woman’s journey into adulthood.
“Mine are the last eyes to see the script before it is sent to everyone for production. I’m really proud of my work on this show,” Kelley says.
Over the years, she’s gotten used to the uncertainty that comes along with working in TV, including the challenge of landing a job, then staying employed.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, but honestly I don’t know what’s next,” she adds.