MME Spotlight: Cinque Henderson
Cinque Henderson Takes Us On His Journey to Hollywood And Of What It’s Like Working Alongside Entertainment Icons Steven Spielberg and Aaron Sorkin
(Note: Cinque Henderson spoke during MME’s 2015 seminar at The Los Angeles Film School)
Cinque Henderson graduated from Harvard and headed to Hollywood by way of Wall Street. His first job in the entertainment industry was working at DreamWorks as a creative executive on the historical epic, Amistad, and the family comedy, Mouse Hunt.
But after spending several years reading hundreds of scripts, developing hit projects, and honing his talents as a producer, Cinque Henderson left DreamWorks to pursue his own dream. Now, he’s an accomplished writer who has worked on some of the biggest shows on network and cable television, including HBO’s award-winning series The Newsroom and NBC critical hits Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and E-Ring.
Here’s a brief excerpt as MME caught up with Mr. Henderson, who shared his thoughts on the entertainment business, including working with Steven Spielberg, Aaron Sorkin and also being named after a courageous historical figure.
MME: Your background is so colorful and diverse. Tell us about some of the amazing opportunities you had as a college undergrad?
CH: I went to Harvard and worked with Henry Louis Gates. I interned at 40 Acres & A Mule for filmmaker Spike Lee during a summer. I also registered people to vote a year before the first free elections in South Africa that ultimately led to Nelson Mandela being elected President.
MME: Did you snag a writing job right out of Harvard?
CH: My first “industry job” was as an executive. My first “job” was in Wall Street; I hated it. I was very, very lucky to work at DreamWorks at the beginning when things were still fluid and very creative.
MME: How did you go from working on Wall Street to working at DreamWorks as a Creative Executive?
CH: A mentor/friend of mine was a friend of one of the owners of DreamWorks. He introduced us. The owner passed my resume on to the film department and they were in the process of developing the movie Amistad about Joseph Cinque whom I am named after. So it was a bit of kismet.
MME: What was it like working with legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg?
CH: That experience gave me confidence that I could work with and alongside the best in the business. When you’re at Steven Spielberg’s house and he’s listening to something you’re saying and nodding in agreement, that’s a special feeling.
MME: You’ve worked with Emmy and Oscar winning writer Aaron Sorkin on several projects. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from him while working as one of his staff writers?
CH: Aaron is an unusual bird. The lesson for me is always have people around you who can see through and call you on your BS. To Aaron’s credit, he kept me around even though we’d get into heated arguments about some social policy or another. He’s a lefty from the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he goes to bed at night. I’m far less left wing, much more of a centrist in my political ideas. But Aaron allowed you to openly and freely disagree with him and not suffer from it. He enjoyed the give and take. He hardly listened or followed my advice but he heard me out.
MME: Quite often, first-time writers, and perhaps even yourself, are asked to write on spec. When should you say “yes” and when “no”?
CH: Every writer has to write in spec at some point in their career. You need a spec script to get hired to write a “non spec” script, especially in TV. So if you think the idea is a good one that you can remain passionate about (even through multiple drafts and I mean many multiple drafts), and it will be a good addition to your arsenal of scripts, then go for it; if it sells, all the better. And what else are you doing with your free time to get better as a writer? The only way to become a good writer is writing and editing, writing and editing, writing and editing.