Telling Truths: Semi Chellas Reveals Secrets from the Mad Men Writers’ Room

Of Semi Chellas’ numerous accolades, the one by which I was most impressed was that she was the writer of the first and only screenplay to ever be published by Cornell’s reputed Epoch magazine — and it was the first screenplay she had ever written. Perhaps this is an indication of someone who truly has an instantly-recognizable talent, a talent that, in Chellas’ case, propelled her towards becoming co-producer and writer for the brilliant, Emmy-winning Mad Men in its fifth season. Chellas talked about this experience in her Thursday talk, “Telling Secrets: Notes from the Writers’ Room.”

That’s what we — the die hard fans, the aspiring writers — wanted to know: what is the secret to a show like Mad Men? Mentioning the high level of secrecy surrounding the show, Chellas joked how strange it was for her to be revealing these secrets to us. Her informal, engaging talk was punctuated by short clips, mostly from Mad Men, which she used to illustrate larger creative processes or to explain what went into a particular scene.

Mad Men Writer, Executive Producer Semi Chellas Shares Show’s Secrets

Clarification appended 
Semi Chellas — writer and executive producer of the television series Mad Men — spoke about her experiences behind the scenes of the Emmy-award winning show Thursday in Klarman Hall. Chellas called her relationship with the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner a “complicated dynamic.” She also described his definition of a successful pitch. “He told me once, if you pitch me something and I say no, then I come back a little later and I pitch it to you saying ‘I just thought of that,’ then you [have] succeeded,” Chellas said. “You have to internalize the stories, and kind of live with them and have them come forth within you.”
Although Weiner gave Mad Men its direction, the end product was ultimately the collective effort of the writers that developed the story, according to Chellas. “It was his story, but not necessarily his stories,” she said.

An Interview with Semi Chellas of Mad Men

Semi Chellas is a writer and co-executive producer for the acclaimed television series Mad Men. The Emmy-nominated writer studied English at Cornell as a Mellon fellow, and on March 10 will be returning to campus to speak at Klarman Hall. In anticipation of her lecture, “Telling Secrets: Notes from the Writers’ Room,” the Sun had a chance to speak with Chellas about her experiences writing for Mad Men and her opinions on the television industry in general. The Sun: What are the day-to-day operations like working in the writers’ room? Semi Chellas: There were about 10 to 12 people in the writing room, including two advertising people — i.e. not advertisers for the show but people who worked in advertising — [including] one that worked in advertising in the 60s.