Thursday, November 29, 2007

Agency + Alcohol = Oh Boy.

Upon my graduation from college, I had a conversation with a friend about our mixed feelings about starting Real Life. She pouted, "But I'm not ready to give up binge drinking!" My advice to her, and to all, is that you don't have to! Just work at an agency.

Tonight will be the first installment in my series of What I've Learned in the Mailroom. The topic: ALCOHOL!

And boy, is there a lot of it! Take, for instance, the scene I observed walking through the hallway around 6 pm on a Monday:

Senior Agent 1 walks out of the kitchen with a red solo cup in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. He says to Senior Agent 2, "Boy, these cups are great. Nobody can tell what's in 'em."

I hid my smirk behind my stack of interoffice envelopes. But sir, I wanted to say, people can surely tell there is a BOTTLE OF JACK DANIELS in your other hand.

We once had an official meeting in which the head of HR told us that she wanted the agency to be like a fraternity. I thought it odd...but let me tell you, we all take this attitude very seriously. Yes, we keep piles of red solo cups in all the kitchens. After 4 pm on any given day (or all day on Friday), you are safe in assuming that said solo cups are not holding Arrowhead. Now, we often do "projects" for agents and assistants. A "project" might be a character breakdown or script coverage. It might be organizing a folder of headshots or magazine articles. It might be a run down to a production company or a client's house. It might be taking a shot at the bar across the street. Or going on a beer run. Or schmoozing at a film fest party and drinking a lot of free rum.

These things happen both in and out of the office. If it's someone's birthday...we have drinks! If someone moves on to a new job...we have drinks! If someone ends their internship...we have drinks! If someone gets promoted to agent...we have drinks! If we sign a great new client...we have drinks! If it's a holiday...we have drinks! If it's the end of the day...we have drinks!

Sensing a theme here?

Now, it can get pretty dangerous, since everybody changes a little when they drink. Do you make out with people you normally wouldn't - Or try your hardest? Do you get in fights? Are you brutally honest? Do you spread rumors? Do you dance like an idiot? Because you're going to do these things with people you WORK with. And see EVERY DAY. It's kind of amazing to me that people don't care. I mean, reaaaaally don't care. I've seen mailroom kids, assistants, agents even get WASTED with work people. I've seen them do all those things and more. Maybe it's because they work too hard and need to let loose. Maybe it's because they're caught up in living the Hollywood life. Maybe they just never plan to grow up, because it's LA and you don't have to. Maybe it's because they take that fraternity thing way too seriously.

For me, it's great. Because I'm a writer. I stand back and observe. I watch and listen and think, God, these are some amazing characters.

But I have to be careful...because I can be a drunk talker, too. :)

Monday, November 26, 2007

good news?

Strike news: Despite this morning's bad omen of finding that my roommate's cat had smashed several of the ornaments on my cheap little Christmas tree into colorful bits, Rumor has it that the talks went well today.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What else?

Writers getting paid for internet work: it can happen. In fact, it already is happening for writers of Lost - check out this New York Times article.

What else? I have a friend who always asks "what else?" when we reach a lull in conversation. She's spending her post-collegiate life in some kind of social justice program on the Marshall Islands because she is infinitely cooler than I am. I don't have much of an answer to her question right now. I need to write some more. I took notes on Thursday's Ugly Betty so I can start an outline for a spec...fewer scenes than I had imagined. It seems fairly formulaic...but I'm having trouble thinking of good themes and ideas. I feel like everything I come up with either involves a guest character (something you're not supposed to feature in a non-procedural spec) or has been done before. Argh.

I caught up on a lot (but not all - don't spoil!) of season three of Weeds. I still enjoy it, but I found some of the plots annoying: Andy and the porn was out of nowhere, the Majestic/Agrestic city council stuff was boring and monotonous, and Mary Kate Olsen's character added very little...Silus falls for Girl #3 who doesn't care about him as much as he cares for her. Bleh. I wonder how much longer Weeds will be able to go on. I do enjoy everything with Conrad...

So now it's 3 am. What else? I should probably go to bed before my emo alter ego Emanda comes out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

from the comments

I came home yesterday and saw a notice on the door to my apartment complex. You'd think it be something about trash, paint, holiday lights maybe. But no. It was a notice that CSI will be filming outside my apartment. Oh, LA.

Amanda, my friend who used to work for Friday Night Lights, asked me a question in the comments:

While I was still with FNL, our dept. had a huge discussion about the episode that aired on riday. Many felt it was a huuuuuge mistake to end the episode on a character who had only recently been introduced. As a writer, how do you feel about that?

Oooh. Interesting. I was fine with it, and here's why:

1. I once went back to my high school after I had graduated, and I was hit with the eerie realization that the place never changes. The teachers, classes, lunches, dances, it all just happens over and over again to new students. In terms of FNL, we eventually need to meet new students because Smash and Riggins are close to graduating and Jason Street is already pretty far away from the Panthers. It won't make sense to follow them forever, unless they stay in Dillon and are somehow involved with the team...because as much as the show is not about football, its whole premise is deeply rooted in the Panthers. So I think we need to start meeting new, younger players and get to know them.

2. Santiago is different and interesting - and I want to get to know his story.

3. FNL doesn't always have the same episode formula, and I like that. Games always happen in different acts, and some episodes don't have games at all. And actually, FNL did this same kinda thing with a new character last season: when we met Waverly for the first time (does anyone else miss her?!), almost all of act five was a very long scene at the mini golf course where Waverly and Smash discovered they were both covering up secrets. And I loved that scene.


Soon I'm going to post about all the things I've learned at the agency. I think they'll surprise you. Lots of stuff film school just can't prepare you for.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A little Pantherama

It has been a weekend filled with drinking. And since my weekend started on Thursday, today will be a much-needed detox day. I think I might try to catch up on Weeds season 3 on, a cool site that lets you watch a certain number of shows per month for free. Some people are saying you shouldn't watch any TV online until writers get paid for it...and I think this site might basically be pirating...but I'm going to do it for right now. If you also make $90 a week after taxes and rent, feel free to criticize me.

Back to Thursday. 10 or so of my work friends and I went straight to Barney's, which was pretty hopping. Sometimes it gets too crowded on the weekends, but Thursday seems like the perfect night to go. There's also karaoke, which is fun. I was standing near the karaoke stage when a familiar FNL quarterback walked by: none other than Jason Street, Scott Porter. Seems taller, sans his wheelchair. I sort of did a double take and turned to my friend Betsy, who echoed my excitement. She's more of a Riggins girl, though. Scott sang three or four songs and, as it turns out, has a great voice. He's also really nice and hung out with my friends and me for a while. Before he left, HE shook MY hand and said, "I'm Scott, by the way." As if I didn't know. ;)

Strangely enough, Scott was absent in this week's ep of FNL...but I did find it to be one of my favorites of the season. I think my favorite scene was the tiny one at the end where Matt, his grandma and Carlotta are eating breakfast. Grandma is the only one who speaks, blathering on about something or other...but the scene is about the fact that Matt had kissed Carlotta the night before, and neither of them really knew how to respond. In the kitchen, Matt was nervous, feeling that he had crossed a line, and was afraid that Carlotta might be upset with him. This is all conveyed in a series of glances. Then Carlotta smiles, and we know everything is fine. I love scenes like this, but I do think they are kind of a challenge to write, especially for a newbie writing specs or pilots. Because you're doing what screenwriting teachers always tell you not to do: writing what characters are thinking and not saying. Stuff that supposedly can't be shot. It may be breaking a rule, but it makes for amazing television...I may try to get my hands on the script to see how it was written.

Something else I liked about the ep was that there were a few scenes where characters are talking but not listening to each other because they each are pursuing separate goals. In one, Tami basically forces Lyla and Tyra to plan the entertainment portion of Pantherama. She won't listen to their excuses; she basically dumps the project in their laps and walks away. Later, Tami and Eric have a similar conversation where they each want something and plan to use the other to get it (and I feel this is a common thing with them). I think it works so well because it reminds us that these are each characters pursuing goals, and they are not to be used as devices for a plot or arc. Moreover, these kinds of scenes are efficient because they reveal character, weave plots together and advance two things at once, often complicating them. Another great scene was when Santiago moved in with Buddy. The two characters were on totally different planes...Buddy was a little nervous and worried because he wasn't entirely prepared for it, and he is a bit embarassed about his sparse bachelor pad. Meanwhile, Santiago is overwhelmed because it's more than he's ever had. We don't even realize how far apart these two are until the end of the scene, when Santiago says something along the lines of, "This is the first real bed I've ever had," and suddenly Buddy is brought into Santiago's world. Anyway, I guess the whole idea is that we need to think of our characters individually: their wants, their tactics, etc., and never use a character as a device for another when s/he has goals of their own.

Some links: Dirty Sexy Money just became the first full-season pickup since the strike. It may not even happen, but the two sides have agreed to negotiate, which is an important step in the right direction. (Maybe they'll come up with something by Christmas - my roommate and I concurred that keeping our jobs would be the best Christmas present ever.) Anyway, I haven't watched Dirty Sexy Money in a few weeks; I had kind of given up on it because I think it has fundamental flaws: 1. the tone is totally off. I feel its dramatic moments are genuine and well done...but when it tries to be funny, it misses the mark completely and feels like a terrible Arrested Development knock-off. 2. the main character is the most boring person on the show. 3. I don't buy WHY he's continuing to work for this family if they're such a pain and he really doesn't care about the money. Yes, I know that he's trying to find his father's murderer, but I don't think he really needs to keep the job to do that.

One more thing - I saw Lions for Lambs last night, which was a huge disappointment. (Stupid Lars and the Real Girl being sold out.) It's basically an hour and forty minutes of Robert Redford taking the theme of The War is Dumb and beating you over the head with it. It's painfully slow, with literally no plot, just talking and talking in these interminable, visually static 12-minute scenes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not in the top 0.56%

Tonight I went to an Academy-sponsored Working Your Way Up in Television event after hearing about it from Lisa Klink and others. Mostly I found it to be a waste of time...I know the names of the networks, and how to put together a resume. But I could see how it might be of interest to current college students or people coming to LA with no industry experience. I did get to talk to one of the directors of the ABC Diversity Development programs (including the ABC/Disney writing fellowship that Jane Espenson raves about). By now I think it's safe to assume I wasn't accepted. He said they received 2,500 submissions for 14 spots. Yeesh. I guess you can look at it in two ways: 1. reassuring, because surely many talented writers didn't make it and you very well may be one of them, or 2. disheartening, because you basically have no chance at getting in and you can consider it another door closed. I also asked him what they look for, and beyond a great script, he said they want people who really want to be TV writers, and can express that in their application.

Meanwhile, PROJECT RUNWAY SEASON FOUR HAS BEGUN! Strike-proof television that I actually like. Tip for west coasters, though: don't go to before the episode is over, because they POST WHO GETS KICKED OFF. Grr.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Strike: Here's an AMAZING Youtube video about how the studios are making gobs of money from the internet (and therefore should be sharing it with writers).

Finding an agent (in a bar): here's where agents go to drink. I doubt you'll be able to round up representation there, but hey, maybe you can if you're attractive. I actually know someone at the agency who got a job (albeit in the mailroom) from meeting agents in the bar where she worked.

Heroes: Creator Tim Kring actually apologizes for the disappointing second season in this Entertainment Weekly article. The points: the pace is too slow, the world-saving stakes should have been established sooner, the rookies didn't greet themselves properly, Hiro was in Japan way too long, and young love stinks. One of the reasons I love television is that it can evolve over weeks and seasons, it can experiment with plots and character arcs and then go in completely different directions. I had been close to writing off Heroes, but maybe if the creator is on the same page as I am, there's a reason to keep watching.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Simple Strike Explanation

I know I said I wouldn't talk more about the strike...but I just had to share this great YouTube video about why you should support the writers. It's also good to send back to your families in wherever so you don't have to try to translate all the industry lingo for them. :)

Today was good. I wrote a character breakdown, split a Hawaiian pizza at Cheesecake Factory for lunch, and hung out with mailroom guys all day. I'd have to say the best thing about working at an agency is all the other people my age (or close to my age...since at 22 I tie for the youngest person there, besides the Intern). And with so many aspiring talent agents, there are lots of outgoing personalities. Diverse backgrounds. Future characters in my scripts. One mailroom kid mused that this is the only industry where it's okay to be "aspiring." If you said you were an aspiring doctor or an aspiring lawyer, you'd sound like a jackass. Go to med school. Take the LSATS. But aspiring writer? Actress? Musician? Sure, why not. I guess it's because there's so much competition, and there's no sure-fire path that you must take to achieve success.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Still Working.

Yesterday the agency's president had a meeting with everyone and said he had no plans to lay off anybody. Yay! We have many divisions that will be keeping up work as usual, and the others will just have to be mindful of spending money, but otherwise we should be fine. If the strike lasts for several months, that could change...but there's no reason to be worried right now. I feel reassured, especially since I do support everything the writers are asking for. I won't say more about the strike, because I don't have any authority, and because you can read about it in the trades or on the blogs. (I've added a few more blogs to the right...if you want strike lowdown, there are a lot of good arguments and info.)

Instead, I'll point to a non-strike news article:

Reveille, Ali, N network on Body Image - I'm actually not that concerned with the new show, Student Body, but I am intrigued by the fact that the N will become its own 24-hour channel next year. The expansion of cable networks has offered new venues for great shows like Mad Men, My Boys, etc. And the N, which aims at a pretty young audience, might just be the perfect place to sell my dramedy about college radio. :P Or ABC Family. Or the CW. I'm not really picky.

What else? I think I'm going to write an Ugly Betty spec. It's a great example of a show that blends drama and comedy, which is what I want my writing to achieve. Although there are a lot of serial elements, I feel that you could pick a more episodic plot and ignore the serial stuff more than you could with a show like Brothers & Sisters.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I need this week to be over.

I think I'm homesick for a life I've never had. I have been having some doubts lately, about whether I should be in LA, whether my job will pay off, whether I have the patience and determination to stick it out in this business, whether I will ever succeed. But then I thought to myself, if I quit everything and moved back east, what would I do? And I have no answer. If I'm not meant to do this, I'm not sure I'm meant to do anything. Man, I really hope this strike doesn't last long, because I don't want to get laid off and have to find another job.

In other news, the company chef made us all delicious cookies yesterday, which I didn't feel that guilty about eating because I met with my new trainer in the morning and have been in extreme PAIN ever since. Yes, I have a trainer...I'm so LA. Or at least I will be until my five free sessions are over.

I got some feedback on my pilot from two of the guys I work with. They both really liked the main character, which I take as a compliment, since it is basically me. :) I think I may wait for a few more opinions before I go back and re-draft, because they had a lot of differing opinions. One lesson I took from both, though, is not to assume that one line of dialogue or action will make something obvious. In my attempt to make things nuanced and not on-the-nose I made a relationship much too murky.

And just so you know...Deezer is my new favorite music destination. And btw, all the mailroom kids are on Meebo, a chatting tool that combines yahoo, AIM and google chat.