March 1, 2007


NAACP Honors “Friday Night Lights” Writer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas

By James Tella

Being a huge movie fan growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, M.F.A. writing graduate Aaron Rahsaan Thomas ’02 was always telling stories. From elementary school with his three-page tales about the bully on the block to his first video in high school, Thomas reveled in the reaction his words were able to elicit from his audiences. And, recently, when Thomas’ name was among those recognized as a nominee for Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series with the NBC drama, Friday Night Lights at the 38th annual NAACP Image Awards, Thomas had his own unique response.

Aaron Rahsaan Thomas '02 looks over the story boards for Friday Night Lights.
“I couldn’t believe it was real. At first I thought it was somebody pulling a joke on me,” laughed the writer whose script “Full Hearts” nabbed him the honor. “I mean, how many people can name the writers on any show?”

Discovering his love for television at USC, the self-described “good kid who lived vicariously through his bad kid friends and told their stories,” Thomas owes his introduction to the small screen medium to Associate Professor Pam Douglas. Left wanting to learn more after taking the veteran screenwriter’s class, the then graduate student sought out a television internship and landed at Showtime’s Soul Food: The Series where he obtained representation while still at USC and moved on to writer’s assistant after graduation.

“Television lights a fire under you,” Thomas said. “Everyone from the crew to the actors are waiting for that script, and you get such a rush from really getting in there and exploring characters. Just knowing that millions of people are watching at the same time is so different from anything else and the feeling is almost indescribable.”

Reflection on the ensemble team approach of his fellow Friday Night Lights writers, the USC grad describes the writer’s room akin to “hanging out in a bar with a bunch of friends,” and notes that all topics are fair game behind the closed door. From the clothes the show’s characters buy to where they might vacation, to their marriages, divorces, sexuality, and more, conversations within the room all have a purpose, and it’s “great to just be able to walk in there and vent.”

With personal experience playing a large part in his success, Thomas says that every writer draws from his or her past to tell stories, and it’s important to keep those elements in whatever work they produce. Overall, he says television is a big challenge for young writers, who although they must recognize the vision of a show’s executive producer, can still find a way to add their voice to the final draft. 
A scene from Thomas' award nominated episode, "Full Hearts."

“Be persistent,” the now award-nominated writer offers to those following in his footsteps. “Even though it’s a daily battle, don’t cave from the fears and pressures of the industry. Give as much energy to the current job that’s possible and make sure you give 100 percent. For me, it helps to remember where I came from, so all of this is gravy. Just being where I’m at today is already a victory.”

And the one bit of advice he wishes someone would give him? He thinks for a moment and chuckles.

“What does a writer wear to an award show?”