Beyond Vassar

Thriving in Tinseltown

By Larry Hertz

The head of a U.S. counter-terrorism agency races the clock to head off a series of looming disasters. The brother of a man wrongly convicted of a crime tries to spring him from prison. Survivors of a plane crash cope with life on a mysterious, uncharted island. A high school student who is bitten by a werewolf tries desperately to maintain a normal life.

Monica Johnson Macer ’93, who started as a writers’ assistant on 24, found herself writing for a succession of hit shows.
Monica Johnson Macer ’93, who started as a writers’ assistant on 24, found herself writing for a succession of hit shows.

As a member of the writing teams for Fox’s 24 and Prison Break, ABC’s Lost, and MTV’s Teen Wolf, Monica Johnson Macer ’93 has played a role in bringing these disparate characters to life. As she begins her latest venture as a writer for the ABC hit Nashville, Macer says she thoroughly enjoys creating plots and characters for TV audiences—the long hours and vagaries of the entertainment business notwithstanding.

The journey from the Vassar campus to Hollywood was anything but a straight line.

“I knew I wanted to write for a living when I got to college, but I had no idea what direction it would take,” Macer says. During her freshman year, she wrote a play called Vassar in a Nutshell that poked fun at some of the cliques on campus. College administrators used the play as a springboard for a discussion on campus life and race relations. Feeling empowered, the Africana Studies major followed up with a more serious play about race for her senior thesis.

After graduation, Macer worked a series of low-paying theater jobs and internships in the New York/New Jersey area, until a director she had met while working at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, urged her to go to Los Angeles and pursue screenwriting. Six months later, Macer and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, actor Sterling Macer, Jr., drove across the country, moved in with her mother, and began looking for work.

Macer’s first big break came when two fellow Vassar alums—Tulani Bridgewater Kowalski ’93 and Damon Ross ’94, who were working for Nickelodeon—helped her secure an interview. A job there eventually led to a writers’ training position at Fox that paved the way for a job as a writers’ assistant for the Fox hit 24.

Some of her tasks for 24 involved some undercover work. Under orders not to reveal that she was working for the show, Macer was once asked to do some research on what would happen if a “dirty bomb” of a given strength were detonated 3,000 feet above the ground.

When she heard ABC was looking for writers for the first season of Lost, she applied for the job but was convinced she had “totally blown” the interview. “All the people hiring for Lost were crazy about 24, so I spent about 22 minutes of a 30-minute interview answering their questions about the gossip on the show,” Macer says.

She got the job anyway and helped shape two of the characters on Lost: a Korean-American couple named Sun and Jin. Macer, who is of mixed-race—one of her parents is African American and the other Korean—says, “Long after I left the show, a writer told me, ‘Your DNA is still in those characters.’”

When Macer joined the writing staff of MTV’s Teen Wolf in 2011, she was given additional responsibilities, overseeing casting for the show’s executive producer and creator, Jeff Davis. It was during a production meeting that Macer found out she and Davis had something in common. He also had graduated from Vassar (in 1997). “It was a great moment, and we bonded a bit,” Macer says.

Now an established writer, Macer says she has some ideas for an original series, and she’s working on a screenplay for a feature film, “but I’m not ready to pitch either of them quite yet.”