Monday, December 29, 2008

Advice from Ed Bernero

I just noticed the video up on the WGA homepage inerviewing Ed Bernero of CRIMINAL MINDS. Check it out.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oh, 8

Here we are, in those strange unidentifiable nether-days between Christmas and New Years. What day is it? What time is it? How long have I been wearing these pants? I always seem a bit lost around now.

The only thing really noteworthy about now is that it's the time us writerly types start to look back on the year and make grand conclusions. Plan for resolutions we know we won't keep. Make lists of our favorite shows or CDs, asserting authority we've granted ourselves. Part of me wants to be better or cooler and avoid it, but gahhh...I just can't. We love this shit. I can't help it. Back in college with all the moving and packing it was even more irresistible, and tangible.

So what about 2008? I spent all of it working at a talent agency - three as a mailroomer/floater, nine as an assistant. I moved out of the valley and to WeHo. I got out of a long-distance relationship that started when I was a junior in college. I finished a spec show and a pilot, and started two features and another pilot (I wish I were further along). I saw Death Cab at the Nokia Theater. I got my first cavity - and three more. I got rejected from several contests, fellowships and workshops. I never left California (until Dec 18), and never left LA except for a day in Santa Barbara and a weekend in Carlsbad. I bought a bike, and it was stolen from my garage two months later. I saw a fun smattering of celebrities, from Adam Sandler to McLovin. I began mentoring a 15 year-old girl in creative writing through WriteGirl. I got my first massage. I lost and gained the same ten pounds about a dozen times. I watched probably a thousand hours of television and a whole lot of movies. I met a lot of new friends. I navigated the gateway from frappucinos to lattes to regular coffee (with milk and Splenda). I voted in my second Presidential election - and this time my guy won. People started actually reading this blog.

Big year? I don't know. I'm kinda hoping 2009 will be bigger.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The agency one year rule

Sean writes: Can you blog about the one year agency rule? I want to work in TV at a studio or for a show but I keep getting advice that I have to work for a agency first. Is it worth being stuck there for a year? And how do you start to get a job after being at an agency. When should you start planning an exit?

Make sure you read my previous posts in the Career Advice and Inside the Agency categories. But otherwise, it's pretty standard to agree to work for an agent for one year. Within a year you'll see any seasons (like pilot season) and learn about as much as there is to learn. You don't sign a contract or anything - so you could actually quit at any time. But I ran into the same problem you did - that to be an assistant at a studio or network, execs often want to see a year of agency experience. Generally agencies are seen as entry-level assistant jobs where you learn how to be an assistant. Agencies are also centers for information, so you will learn a lot about the process of television or film. I think there's also an idea that agents are tough personalities, so if you handle an agent, you can handle anybody.

Also, it's usually understood that with any assistant job, if you do a good job and stay for the time you've promised, your boss will help you find your next job by making calls, giving you a positive recommendation, etc. If you don't stay for the year, you may kind of be on your own. (And maybe that's fine, if you have great connections and have already lined up your next job by yourself...but it might not be easy for everybody.) I don't think any agents are counting down your year by the day - so I don't think you're going to be shunned for leaving at 11 months or anything if you find a good opportunity. It's just kind of a general rule. I'm going to start letting my friends and colleagues know I'm looking after probably 10 or 11 months. I'm sure you know that it's a very competitive job field (made even more competitive by this lovely economy), so it may take a couple months to find the right job. Other than looking on the UTA lists or reading posts on tracking boards, it's all a matter of knowing people who can help. This is why networking is so important.

Also I think it's important to know that a year at the agency is the usual prerequisite to be an assistant at a studio (film or TV) or network... but not necessarily for working on a show. Often being an on-set PA or Office PA is the entry-level job there. There's no hard and fast rule...I even know writer's assistants who had writer's assistant jobs as their first jobs (rare, but it happens). You just have to meet the right people who will give you a chance. Also, have you had an internship? I know it sucks to work for free...but I had four different internships, and ultimately it was one of my internship supervisors who recommended me for the agency job I have. I know of a few different people who leveraged their internships into assistant positions on shows or at production companies - often bypassing the agency step.

Is the year at the agency worth it? It really depends on who you work for and what your personality is like. I know a lot of people who were absolutely miserable at their agency jobs, but I also know people who planned to do a year and then stayed longer and even joined the training program because they liked it so much. You never know! Also, you might be interested to know that the path to being an agent can be a lot faster than the path to being an exec (by going from assistant to executive at a studio, prodco, etc.) - if you're on top of your shit. Every circumstance is different, but I know 25 or 26 year-old agents. And sometimes after being an agent for a couple years you could make the leap to being a studio exec or producer.

If you're having a tough time finding a different kind of assistant job, it might be worth it. If you want to be a studio or network exec, definitely do it. If you want to be a producer, almost definitely. If you want to be a writer...maybe. It will certainly be valuable, but there are other paths you can take also. Personally, I'm glad I did it - but I also have a great boss, and I didn't have a problem fitting into the agency culture.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Selling a spec TV script?

Steve writes: Can I sell TV scripts like I would a spec movie script? If you send a script for a single episode into a studio would they buy it if it were good enough? And what would the going rate be for such a small piece of writing (relative to Hollywood movies, that is)?

In theory, sure you could. But it pretty much never happens. Writers write spec episodes of TV shows as samples of their writing, in the hopes that they will get staff positions on shows. The idea is that a spec proves you can emulate someone else's style, vision and voice - and thus make a good staff writer. Theoretically, if you wrote a really hilarious episode of something and the showrunner read it and fell in love with it, it could become an episode. But I have never ever heard of that happening to anyone. (A spec pilot is different - plenty of spec pilots are being bought these days...but a pilot is written to be a TV show on the air. A spec episode of an exisiting show is written to be a writing sample.)

You shouldn't ever be sending your spec into a studio. They will send you a mean letter of legalese about how they can't accept it. Sure, studio execs read scripts all the time - but from writers represented by agents or managers. And these reps will decide who to send your scripts to, and for what. They generally will call the execs first to introduce you and pitch you and ask if they can send it.

To answer your question about the money, the WGA minimum payment for writing one episode of a half-hour TV show on a broadcast network is $21,585. The minimum for an hour-long show is $31,748. Cable is a little bit less. It's definitely less than what hot feature specs sell for (sometimes more than a million), but TV writers will also earn weekly payments for being staffed, and will earn more with higher titles, etc. Feature sales often yield more impressive lump sums, but with TV there is a lot of potential to rack up money over time - with staff positions, overall deals, backend, etc.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

I forgot to mention...

Jim Henson's 1986 movie THE CHRISTMAS TOY. My sister and I are in love with this one, and it's actually on DVD now! It's about toys who come alive (precursor to TOY STORY, anyone?) when their owners aren't watching...but will freeze forever if caught in the act. I haven't seen it in a long time, but I remember one of the toys being in love with a spacey doll named Meteora. Just adorable, and funny.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Amanda's Favorite Christmas Movies

By no means an exhaustive or all-inclusive list... but here are some of my faves:

This movie never gets old! You've got an impossibly cute kid, hilarious bumbling criminals, great music, etc. etc. etc. It has heartwarming themes of the true meaning of Christmas...yet it's also pretty damn funny. But I think what makes this one of my favorites is the fact that it's FUN. There's imagination. Wish fulfillment. Details. Minor characters with fun quirks - the polka dudes, the tarantula, the pizza guy who knocks over the statue, the Santa with tic tacs. When you're brainstorming for your next pilot, or spec, or movie - don't forget to have some fun.

I absolutely love this book AND movie. I suppose it's not entirely a Christmas movie, but with the reindeer jumper and all the snow, it's enough for me. Whenever I am thinking about writing a romantic comedy, I always use BJD is always my model because it manages to be unpredictable, and predictability is why I'm often underwhelmed by the romcoms I watch and read. It always seems that you're on page 10, you've met your guy and your girl, and you have to drudge through another 90 pages before they just hook up already. But BJD uses the love triangle, and it works because over the course of the movie you realize that Daniel (Hugh Grant) is an asshole who just seemed like a nice guy, and Mark (Colin Firth) is a nice guy who just seemed like an asshole. And there are so many great little details that complicate things; one of my favorite scenes is the one where they're all in boats on the lake, and Mark jealously watches as Daniel and Bridget let loose and have fun. Mark is stuffy. Daniel and Bridget are more like kindred spirits. Similarly, at the book party, Daniel and Bridget both ask people where the toilets are instead of making intelligent conversation. But Bridget wants more, and the unreliable Daniel will never be able to provide it. Anyway, I love this movie for a zillion reasons...Christmas, attractive Englishmen, the prospect of being eaten by wild dogs... and the fact that it's Bridget's movie, her journey to realizing it's perfectly okay to be her bumbling self.

I think the most impressive thing about this movie is that it pulls of the whole "intersecting lives" structure. I've had to read a bunch of them, and they rarely work...but in LOVE ACTUALLY, each of the many characters have some depth to them, and the stories never become too simple or too complicated. It also offers a lot of different perspectives on love, and manages to be feel-good without everyone living happily-ever-after. And again, it's FUN: the kid in the giant green costume for the Christmas play, Hugh's flamboyant dance down the stairs, Bill Mack the dirty old pop star, the sandwich delivery guy who flies to Wisconsin in search of American ass.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back home

I looked out the little plane window across the flat landscape, the golden lights shining through the pinkish gray sky, the houses and roads frosted in white. It now seems more strange than familiar. After we landed we taxied across the runway, until the captain announced that he could no longer turn the wheels, that we were stuck on ice and would have to be towed to the gate.

Welcome to Buffalo.

Now it's time to catch up on reading, and writing, and all that. The FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS season premiere is also up on Funny Or Die - enjoy!

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Science and medicine

I have bronchitis. I went to Cedars Sinai today, got me some drugs and some respiratory therapy, and was certainly disappointed when Greg House never hobbled in my room to go on a rude-yet-sexy diatribe and perform illegal surgery. My doctor kinda reminded me of Kutner, though!

Darren wrote in to share this WSJ article about BIG BANG THEORY, one of my faves. Thanks, dude!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making contacts at a seminar?

Phil writes: I read this morning that Robert McKee is giving a series of classes in LA in February and thought I might come over (it'll be a change from the sort of places I usually go). I just wondered if, while I'm there, it would be possible to meet people who might be interested in having a chat about, or a look at, my screenplays, and if so, how I would go about trying to arrange something.

I've never been to one of McKee's seminars, so I open the floor to anyone who has. But I would imagine that it's going to be filled with aspiring writers, not agents or managers or producers. It never hurts to meet other writers, but at that level they're not the people who are going to be able to help your career.

Sometimes you can meet people at other kinds of events through Paley, WGA, JHRTS, etc., but again, it's going to be mostly up-and-comers like you. It's always kind of a crapshoot, and it's rare that rushing up to someone after a speaking engagement will result in a deep connection. That's why I recommend getting a job in the industry, where you can learn a lot and really get to know people.

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How old is too old?

Rich writes: How's old too old for LA? I'm nearly 31 (though I look maybe 25-ish), am practically fed up with my MA, and am thinking of heading off to LA as soon as I can somehow afford it. My other choice is Toronto, where the business is much less youth-conscious but there's less opportunity as well. What are your thoughts?

It's true that Hollywood values youth, but there's definitely no hard and fast rule about being "too old." Never forget that good writing is good writing, and your writing matters the most. If someone reads the Best Script They've Ever Read, he or she is not going to care if the writer is 18 or 48. My boss discovered a client (who is now his most expensive one) when the writer was in his 40s. But since there is so much competition in this town, you have to try and have as many things going for you as possible. It can only help to have a lot of contacts, be "good in a room," and sure, be young and hot.

But at the same time, it's not like writer's rooms are filled with 22 year-olds. I don't know anybody who is under 25 (maybe even 30) and a working writer. It takes time to gain experience, get your work noticed, etc. In a way, that's really the more important thing to think about if you're wondering if you're too old to venture down this career path. Are you willing to spend the next 5-10 years working your way up? Do you already have a family that financially depends on you? Are you too anchored in one place to pick up and move here? I wanted to get started straight of college because I don't want to be answering phones when I'm 30...but there are plenty of people who do it.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting a head start

I just found out that cast members of GREEK were at the JHRTS holiday party last night, which I didn't attend because I'm trying to survive the next eight days without spending any money. Just another anecdote for Foiled: The Amanda P Story.

Tonight I went to Chad's Book Release party for Small Screen, Big Picture and I ran into some friends. It occurred to me, that Hollywood is already a small community, and it gets kinda fuzzy when you throw actors into the mix. At some point you'll see people and think, "Oh crap, do I know that person or have I just seen them on TV?" Life gets a little more absurd every day.

A question from Tiffany: I'm only 16 but I want to become a tv writer. I was just wondering what I should do now to help me acheive my goal of becoming a writer. Like are their certain courses that would benefit me or like what should I be looking for in a college if this is what I want to to for a living?

Wow, great question! Kudos for knowing what you want to do so early in life. I have friends who graduated from college with me who are still figuring that out. You're already doing the right thing by searching around on the internet! Basically my advice is to soak up as much info as you can. Read the blogs I have linked to the right. Read books about both writing and the industry. Watch a ton of TV.

And WRITE. Write a spec, or pilot. Or even prose. I started writing fiction, poetry and journalism before I transitioned to scriptwriting. If your school offers any kind of writing courses, take them. I was lucky enough to go to a fantastic public high school where I took Creative Writing, Journalism and Theatre classes in addition to AP Literature & Composition and AP Language & Literature. I also ran my school's newsmagazine (read: rewrote everyone's articles...haha) and wrote and directed plays for our one-act play festival. Check to see if local colleges offer weekend or summer writing workshops for high schoolers - I did one at Canisius College that was really inspiring. They're often prose-focused, especially since other cities don't have the high concentration of screenwriters and TV writers that LA does, but the basics of writing - conflict, character, etc. - are critical to all genres. If you are in LA, see if USC or UCLA have screenwriting programs for high school students. You can see speakers at the WGA, Paley, etc., or join WriteGirl, a mentorship program that I volunteer with and highly recommend. During the summers after your junior and senior years you might even be able to get an internship at an agency, production company, studio, etc. - we had some at my company, though the interns were all relatives of agents.

As for college, first check out my post Is TV School Worth It? Many schools offer degrees in TV or film...and though they can be fun and informative, they aren't absolutely necessary for pursuing a career in TV writing. You'll have to weigh what it is that you're looking for. I'm glad I went to school for TV writing, but there was no other major that interested me - and my major was also structured in a way that allowed me to take lots of courses in other subjects, and study abroad. Schools in LA (UCLA, USC, Chapman, LMU) are attractive because by simply being here, you'll be able to intern a lot of different places throughout school, gaining experience and contacts before you even graduate. There's also a good chance that your professors will be working professionals in the industry and not just people who have studied it or dabbled in it many years ago. But lots of schools outside LA have reputable communications programs, such as Ithaca, Emerson, BU, Miami, NYU, Syracuse and Northwestern. Of course, these are all expensive private schools - and if you end up with a lot of loans it will be hard to pay them back on an entry-level Hollywood salary. Look for scholarships, like mine.

Lastly I just want to say - relax! Youth is valuable in this industry, but you have plenty of time. Enjoy prom and drama club and not having to pay rent! :)

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008


My digestive system is functioning normally again. Hooray! Except now I have to actually go to the gym again. I have sworn off the dirty little WeHo 24 Hour Fitness that charges $4.75 for parking, but the other option is the Arclight one, which offers a garage that charges $2 and smells menacingly of KFC and McDonalds.

I've only got 12 more days of work until our 17-day break, which is exciting. And it's almost time to start eating and drinking all the gifts that People Who are Important Enough to Receive Gifts don't want. I can almost taste the DeLuscious cookies now. Sure, I snark, but I actually love the holiday season...and I don't just mean the paid vacation. It's the music, the parties, the shiny things, the various yueltide Snoopys I have to keep myself from buying at CVS. I guess maybe it's that it's all comfortable and familiar, but since it only comes around once a year, we don't get sick of it. Like how on Halloween I get so psyched to eat candy corn, until my stomach is regretfully sore and I never want to see the shit again. Yet somehow every year, I get psyched again...

I also hope to finish the feature I'm working on over the break. I've got an outline/treatment and about 20 pages at the moment. My current method of progress is to remember that it's just a first draft. I can add in jokes and polish character descriptions later. I think you have to start with a really solid story and just get it out there first.

So I'm going to go work on that right now.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

You're invited!

Chad Gervich over at Script Notes is having a party for his upcoming book SMALL SCREEN, BIG PICTURE and he wanted me to extend the invite to all of you!

When: Thurs 12/4
Time: 7 pm
Where: The Standard - Poolside Bar
Address: 8300 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069

I'll also be posting a review of the book on here when I get my hands on it!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Still alive

Sorry to be MIA. (I'm surprised I haven't gotten heckling instant messages from my sister by now). I've actually been home sick with some kind of flu or something these last couple days. Being home during the week, listening to's quite strange indeed.

I've been getting into SIX FEET UNDER. It's delightfully weird.

By the way, rumor has it that ABC/Disney fellowship finalists have been notified. Guess there's always next year.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Write. And listen carefully.

There was a great feature in The Hollywood Reporter today about feature writers John Patrick Shanley, Jenny Lumet, Dustin Lance Black, Andrew Stanton, J. Michael Straczynski and Thomas McCarthy. I think the biggest lesson to be taken away from it is their major dedication and discipline. These people write for hours and hours, every day. We all have moments of doubt or hesitation (I definitely have room for improvement myself), but sometimes I think writer's block is a thing of amateurs. Really successful writers just write. All the time.

I also love Jenny's line about listening very, very carefully to people.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The flow of ideas

Ryan writes: What does your writer's notebook look like? I'm always curious about how other writers "just write." Do you just jot down what happened to you that day? Ideas about life? About characters? About specs or pilots running through your head? Do you write in full sentences or just jot down key words and remember later? Basically, what works for you in writing now and culling good ideas together later?

I don't really have a notebook. When I was younger I used to keep journals of daily ramblings, what happened to me, etc., but that seems like quite a waste of time now. I need to be writing actual scripts. But sure, I get ideas all the time, and jot them down on post-it notes or receipts or whatever. If often seems the best ideas come in the car or the shower, when it's not so convenient. :) Luckily (or not so luckily) I'm at a computer all day at work, so I'm also a fan of emailing myself, or creating Word documents of ideas. If I'm in Final Draft I often write my own internal discussions onto the page, asking questions to be decided later and highlighting any unfinished thoughts in yellow. Probably my favorite part of a script is dialogue, so I'm always listening to people talk and writing down the gems.

I think it's great always to be thinking of new ideas and jotting things down, but you also can't be afraid of sitting down at the computer (or notepad, or whatever) and writing when you are NOT compelled by sudden inspiration. That's what will turn your writing from a hobby into a career.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

How much to send?

Greg writes: I have a friend who is signed to an agency, and she has offered to forward some material to a writer's agent. I'm planning on sending a half hour spec, a half hour pilot, as well as the first three (5-8 pgs) episodes of a web series that's based on the half hour pilot. In your opinion, is this too much to send? Web Series are still relatively new, so I was wondering if you have ever heard of writers submitting material for a web series to an agency?

I don't think that's too much. As long as you think your work is polished and the best it can be, pass it along. Agents will only read as much as they want to, and may very well pass off some or all of the load to an assistant to filter it first anyway. I think the web series is fine too...many agenices have agents who deal solely in the interactive realm, so even if this particular agent doesn't make web series deals, they may work with someone who does. On any account, if agents aren't interested, they just won't read it. But I can't see how it would be a strike against you.

Good luck!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Andrew Jackson

For Thanksgiving my friend and I are going on a "platonic getaway" to a resort in Carlsbad and I can't wait. It's such a weird phrase, isn't it? Not platonic getaway, that one's perfectly appropriate, but "can't wait." I mean, sure I can wait. And I will. But I can't wait, you know?

I'm just exhausted, from everything. I've been staring at this screen for half an hour, thinking I should work on my new pilot, or my old pilot, or the MAD MEN spec I started brainstorming about today. In the morning I always have the best intentions, such ambition and determination to come home and crank out masterpieces...but then I sit here and stare at the screen and my eyes are so tired from staring at screens, plus itchy since around age 19 I developed a severe allergy to life. So I find a fancy Urban Outfitters notebook I bought a few months back and scour my apartment for a pen only to find that my cat has stolen them all and batted them away into oblivion. Seriously, if I was about to be wiped off the earth I would have to leave my message to future generations in lipstick or purple Sharpie. I sneeze. I think about how I want to compare something you say you'll never do but then end up doing anyway to dating a Republican, but I cannot come up with the first part of the comparison. I sneeze again. I think about using a theme of powerlessness for my MAD MEN spec. Then I feel powerless. I want to write a SAMANTHA WHO spec because over the weekend I watched all of season one and I love the show because:

1. it is funny
2. it is female-driven
3. the music is really cute and catchy
4. despite its silly premise, it manages to be about something (choosing to be a good person or a bad person, and re-experiencing big life moments)
5. Barry Watson is hot

But I think I'd better write a one hour spec now, since I already have a WEEDS and there are literally only like 13 lower-level staff writer positions on half-hour comedies in this town. So your odds are just way better with dramas... and nobody will staff you on a one-hour drama based on a half-hour comedy spec.

Another cure would be to write both... and I have intentions to do so. But you know what happens then. Staring and sneezing and all that.

For the record, Bodega wine bar in Santa Monica does "Andrew Jackson night" every Tuesday and all bottles of wine are $20. I don't get it either, but I like the wine. (For another record, I am not drunk. This is just a vintage blog post, a throwback to the time before I used to be so practical and answer questions.)

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Friday, November 7, 2008

When to move to LA?

Rich writes: When is the best time to move out there to start pursuing a career in television writing? I figure I should be out there some time before pilot season to get settled and try to score an agent, but when would the be? What month are we talking about really?

It's true that television development runs in seasons. From what I'm told, staffing season (when writers are being hired to staff the new TV shows) happens between February and early June. Development season occurs from June through November - and down time is generally from November through January. Regardless, I don't know if it's really wise to base your move on that. If you are somehow well-connected (like, your uncle is a big agent at CAA or your friend from college is an EVP at a studio kind of well-connected) and you think you'll be able to get an agent quickly (ummm...I'm inclined to say something mean and snarky here) then sure, come right before staffing season. But it doesn't often work that way.

The work-your-way-up-from-the-inside approach that most of us are taking is all kind of on rolling admissions and it won't matter what time of year you choose. I would advise NOT moving here between now and January. Nobody's really hiring right now, and Hollywood will basically close up shop from Dec 18 - Jan 5. Agencies especially take long breaks, which almost makes up for the embarrassing salary. But after the new year, come whenever.

Also keep in mind that cable shows run on different schedules than networks, and there are more and more scripted cable shows popping up, as well as more cable networks breaking into scripted programming (Starz, AMC, A&E, etc.) - and they don't adhere to the traditional seasons.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes We Can

If you're on a voting kick, I've been asked to throw out there that 92 WICB, the college radio station that inspired my pilot (and featured my voice on many a morning), is up for an mtvU award.

Help them out by voting here!

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

But there are writers rooms in NY! I swear!

Mike writes, with much urgency: I have an urgent question: If a person is looking to get work on a show produced (written/shot) in NYC, e.g., Life on Mars, e.g., because one actually lives in New York (I'm a writer for 4KidsTV in NYC), is it really the case that one would have to move to LA to get an agent so that one could get work close to where one USED to live before one moved to LA??? Sorry for the three question marks, but it's starting to sound like the wicked-step-mother of all catch-22's. I'd appreciate some perspective, or better yet, some knock-my-socks-off/I-could-kiss-your-generously-sized-feet advice.

Ok dude, chill. Tonight's one of those nights when my allergies make me want to scratch my eyes out of my head, and too many question marks really exacerbate the situation. And is it really urgent? I mean, is California drifting off into the Pacific and you have to hurry up and jump on? And why did nobody tell me about this?? And how did I forget to DVR the premiere of 30 Rock??? And is it possible your question mark disease is contagious????

Okay, so here's the deal. There are writers in New York. There are agents in New York. I don't think the writers who work on 30 Rock or SNL or Monk or whatever show you're thinking of moved to LA to break in just to move back to NY. However, there are waaay more shows in LA and it's a case of odds. It's probably not super easy to get a staff gig in NY. And if you really want to be a writer, you might not realistically be able to tell your agent, "Only submit my work to these four shows instead of dozens more." It's like having a store but only keeping it open on Wednesdays and Fridays. You're gonna sell more if you're Clever, huh?

I can't really talk about how to make it as a TV writer in NY. I don't know how they do it. If I did, maybe I would have stayed there instead of moving here. There are definitely opportunities in late-night and variety. But for straight-up regular TV, it just seems to be way easier in LA. There are more writers, more agents, more shows, more people for you to meet with and impress. More entry-level jobs for you to get so you can work your way up.

Overall I just think it's too narrow minded to say, "I am going to write for a show based in NY." You gotta start somewhere. Walk dogs that belong to Important People. Be a writers assistant. Write for an obscure cable show. Whatever. I mean, sure, it would be nice to just walk into the writers room , tell Tina Fey you like her better than Sarah Palin and then write her next Emmy nomination vehicle. But very few people get that luxury.

I've blogged before about things you can do outside of LA...but I'm inclined to think that if you really wanted to be a TV writer, you'd move here. I did. And so did lotssss of other people.

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Should you write a miniseries? How?

Benjy writes: I have what I think is a great idea for a story. It's not a series, it's not a feels like a miniseries to me. How in the world do I go about writing it, and is it even worthwhile to do so if my goal is to get staffed on a show? I could write it and try to sell it, I suppose (rather than using it as just a writing sample) but even then, what's the method of doing that? Do you write the first episode of the series? Write a bible or outline of the entire series? Something else entirely?

Yowza, good question! To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what the answer is, and I open the floor to anybody with actual industry experience with this. But if I were doing it...I think I would write the first episode, and an outline or synopsis of the rest. You must have a pretty strong idea of the rest of the series and the ending to make you think it's a miniseries and not a regular one, right?

Keep in mind that not a lot of miniseries get produced. Everybody raved about John Adams, but can you think of another one? Sometimes I feel like every miniseries that gets on the air gets nominated for an Emmy - because there are only a couple. There just aren't a ton of networks putting them on TV, and I'm not sure that as a beginning writer you want to try it when the odds are against you. As for whether it is a good sample to get you staffed...yes and no. I feel like it'd be as good as a pilot. It will demonstrate your original voice, show you know structure and can write dialogue and character, etc. A spec is the only thing that can show your ability to mimic someone else's voice, which is usually what's wanted in a staff writer. So I feel like having a spec AND a pilot, or a spec AND a miniseries first ep would be kinda equal, you know?

As for how to go about selling it - it's the same way you would anything else. Get an agent or manager. Pitch it to production companies and studios. And I'm sure it would help if you have experience writing for a show. Sounds easy, right? Just kidding. :) This is a huge complicated process, and why we do all the rest of it - networking, writing specs, etc.

Write what you're passionate about. Good writing is good writing. If you write a kickass miniseries, I'm sure people would be interested. But I would think about whether you have other ideas you like too, and whether this story couldn't be told in a more common format.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to meet people in Hollywood

Chris writes: I just moved to LA. How do I meet people?

First off, congrats on making the move! And if you don't know anybody out here, you have more balls than I do. Which...I'm okay with.

As for meeting people, the internet/blogosphere is a great place to start. Many of us aspirers have blogs, which you can start reading via my links on the right. I got to know my writing group through the internet, and they all turned out to be super cool.

There are also events you can attend through JHRTS (Junior Hollywood Radio Television society) where you can meet people. I've met lots of cool people at them. There's also the monthly TV Writers Networking Group mixer. Also try events at Paley, the Academy or the WGA, or Screenwriting Expo. Maybe you might consider UCLA Extension classes, too.

Lastly, getting an industry job should help you meet people. And if it's a big company, like an agency, you will instantly have dozens of contacts.

Remember that people in the industry are constantly networking. Even if you just meet people for a few minutes, it's not strange to ask them to have drinks or coffee. The worst they can say is no.

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Monday, October 27, 2008


The Ex List has been cancelled. I am sad. Guess it's time to give up female-driven character dramas and choose procedurals with quirky male lead characters...

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Things I Love: Mad Men

It's been a long time since I've been engaged by an episode of television the way I was for tonight's season finale of Mad Men. Edge of the couch, goosebumps prickling my arms, hand over my mouth. AHH!

I think the show gets to me so much because it is so gradual and complex, layered with thematically linked plots and flawed, interesting characters. But what really makes it powerful and unique is its RESTRAINT. Less is always more on that show. There are moments you yearn for over the course of a whole season, conversations you wish people would have, confrontations that build and build and build. Tonight we finally got a couple - but instead of the knee-jerk dramatic reactions you might expect, the breakdowns, the slamming of doors, the exposing of feelings, the plans of what to do or predictions of what's to come, you get one line. Or one look. I'm always in awe of the subtlety and intensity of that show.

I had coffee with a Legitimate TV Writer on Saturday and she thought it would be a good show to spec. Perhaps I will.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

But I don't wanna write a spec

Olya writes: I'm currently writing my own show. I wonder if I must absolutely do a spec. Can I ever hope to get a query letter answered with a request to see my original idea WITHOUT a ready spec on hand? I'm not looking to become a staff writer on any show. I want to see my own show produced.

No, you must not absolutely do a spec. You need a spec to apply for any of the workshops and fellowships listed on the right, but original pilots are very much welcomed by agents, managers and execs. Always remember that good writing is good writing. People get too caught up in the strategy of it all some time. Work hard on your script and let your writing speak for itself. Then get an agent and let him or her do the strategizing.

However, your question brings up a few more points:

1. Query letters should be your last resort. Yes, they work for some people in some cases, and I've even had a couple readers write in to tell of it - but most people get read through personal relationships. That's why I work at agency and network like crazy - to get to know people on a personal level. (Plus I like people.) If you do choose to query, I'm not aware of any general statistics about whether specs fare better than pilots (or vice versa).

2. Have more than one sample. Maybe you don't need to have a ready spec on hand, but usually one script isn't enough. So write another pilot before you expect great things to happen.

3. Would being a staff writer be so bad? I have heard of people getting pilots made, or working on pilots with producers in the hopes of getting them made, without having been staff writers. But I feel like it doesn't happen a ton. And even if you do get that far (which would make you really lucky), you're not going to have all the creative control. They'll probably hire someone more experienced because I don't think a network would let a writer who has never worked on a show call all the shots. So is that why you're so against being staffed? Because you don't want to work with other people's ideas? Because that's TV in general. Collaborating. You will always have to deal with notes from execs, producers, actors, you name it.

So I guess my advice is, go ahead and write your pilot(s). Just know that not a lot of pilots get bought, and fewer get made, and fewer get picked up, and fewer stay on the air. You should absolutely pursue your dream of producing you own show (I happen to share the same dream), but remember that it's gonna be tough. You'd be lucky to get a staff writer gig, and maybe it would even lead to you getting your own show on the air. A perfect example is MAD MEN; Matthew Weiner wrote it years ago, and then after writing on THE SOPRANOS and gaining a lot of notoriety, he was able to get it made.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Other People

Here's a great post from John August about your First Script. I'd like to add that you should never pitch something to someone as "this is my first script!" Most people in Hollywood already assume that everything is crap. So when you say that, you give them even more reason to prejudge it. Maybe it isn't crap...who knows. But it's probably not going to be your best. And that's okay. Just keep writing.

Also check out Jane Espenson's Oct 17th post about why you might not have been a finalist for a contest, workshop or fellowship. Definitely good advice to follow for next year.

For networkers (which should be all of you): the next TV Writers & Friends monthly networking event is this Wednesday, 10/22 at 8 pm at the Falcon on Sunset. No Cat & Fiddle this time - and I don't want to hear everybody complaining about how it's too fancy or something, because it was my idea to have it there. :) Come, have a drink, meet me. I'll try to make that saucy face a lot so you can recognize me from my picture.

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Things I Love: Multicamera sitcoms?

I know, it sounds strange that I'm heralding a format that seems to be fading away. But I just love these two shows:

GARY UNMARRIED (Wednesdays @ 830 on CBS) - It's a simple premise: How you're supposed to get along with your ex after you're divorced. And sure, maybe we've seen it before. But here's the's funny. I don't care how clever or high concept your show is, if it's a comedy, it'd better be funny. Also, Jay Mohr and Paula Marshall are perfect in these roles. But I think what really works about the show for me is that it's ABOUT something, like I theorized before. There is always a moment near the end of every episode where we get to the heart of something serious, something grounded. In episode three it is when Gary and Allison kiss to prove to Gary he's over Allison. There's an intense liplock, then Gary cheers! Yay! Totally not into my ex. But then we see Allison, and the realization washing over her that maybe she still does have feelings for Gary. In episode four it is when the fight over a shared pool table finally ends with the realization that they both wanted the table for what it represented: the good memories they shared together. And all of this comes down to the fact that divorce is messy: you can't just erase 15 years of your life, you can't give your kids dating advice when you're terrible at it yourself, you can't live with that person, but maybe you can't live without them, either.

And like I's funny.
THE BIG BANG THEORY (Mondays @ 8 on CBS) - Again, I think a big component of my love for this show is that it's hilarious. For me it's a combination of the actors and the fact that all the jokes come from character. These are people who live and breathe science and other nerdy subjects, but still in their own ways. Sheldon scoffs at the historical inaaccuracies of a Renaissance Fair but loves video games and Star Wars. Leonard is more easygoing, but totally thrown off by Leslie's desire to have casual sex. And all these great character details inform their decisions and their dialogue. I think my favorite joke from the last episode was when a professor adressed all of our main cast and scoffed at the one who was a Mister and not a Doctor. Someone said, "He has a masters degree!" and the professor said "Psh, who doesn't?" The world and its people are incredibly specific, and it makes the jokes much funnier.
Coming soon: a post that doesn't make it seem like I'm being paid by CBS.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Semester programs in Los Angeles

I got my start in LA by spending a semester here in college - and for many people, it's a great way to learn about the industry hands-on and decide if you want to move here after graduation. I missed a great LA Times article from earlier this month that discusses the programs at various schools, including mine (Ithaca College).

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jobless, homeless and on your way to LA

Addie writes: How far before you moved did you start applying for jobs? And did you have someone in LA line up an apartment for you before you got there, or did you hunt online before you left?

I think I started applying for jobs at least a month before I moved to LA, but I heard back about NONE of them. Actually, that's a lie - I got a call about working for HEROES (only because I had an alumni connection) but when I said I was still in Ithaca I nearly got laughed at. "I can be there soon," said Idealist New Graduate Amanda. "How soon is soon?" he asked. And when I computed the states and timezones it didn't quite add up. Guess what - I never worked for HEROES.

As much as you'll want to feel secure before you move here and find a job or at least an interview, it just isn't going to happen. Jobs in this town go VERY quickly, and people will expect you to interview in person immediately. Why should they wait for you or settle for a phone interview when there are dozens of people ready to come in tomorrow? Click on my Job Search label for more of my tales.

Save some money (I wish I took my own advice!), try your best to reassure incredulous relatives and just get in the car. When you get here you can always find temporary jobs like being an extra through Central Casting. Most people I know took about six weeks to find a job in the industry. It's tough - but remember how competitive it is.

When I came out here in college and got internships, I DID set up seven interviews ahead of time. Internships are easier because there's not usually a time deadline the way there is to fill an assistant position. Companies are generally looking for interns at the beginning of the semesters (January or August) or summer (May) - but it shouldn't be too hard to get one at any time of the year. I mean, it's free labor. Keep in mind many companies (especially more corporate places like studios and networks) will require that you receive college credit for your internship. Smaller production companies won't care.

As for the apartment, I was lucky enough to be set with an Oakwood apartment in college (many colleges put their students there, or in Park La Brea), and when I moved out here for good, my roommate was out here already and in charge of finding us a place. I remember standing at a dusty gas station, looking up at power lines that seemed to stretch forever against the cloudless Texas sky and saying sure, Sherman Oaks sounds nice. You can look online at home if you want to: Westside Rentals is the standard here in LA - it's not free, but Craigslist is slim pickins. But like jobs, good apartments get snapped up quickly too. You can peruse the listings anywhere, but it won't do you much good if you can't see what they look like, right? I've also blogged about the different neighborhoods in LA if you're wondering.

And some advice about the drive: Keep the music a little too loud and the AC a little too cold. It's easy to fall asleep in the flat states.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Things I Love: The Ex List

I'm alive! I'm alive! Sorry, readers. I've been writing, reading, watching, drinking, searching for orange tube dresses. I've now realized that it'll probably easier to find a white tube dress and dye it orange so I can be my half of a slutty pumpkin patch for Halloween.

Anyway, on to a new blog feature called Things I Love. Today: The Ex List.

It's probably the new show you've heard the least about, which is sad, because it's great! The premise: A woman visits a psyhic and learns that she has already met the man she is to marry - but she has to find him within a year, or she'll never get married at all. And this woman is the fun and lovable Elizabeth Reaser (you remember her as Karev's faceless lady from Grey's, and I also cried too much at a wonderful little movie she was in called Sweetland). And she has a flower shop. And a dog she shares with her fABulous yet commitment-phobic ex. And a LOT of exes.

It's also hilarious. And sweet. And explores complicated relationships. And is female-driven. It loses a couple points for being an adaptation of an Israeli show (why are the networks SO afraid of original material and obsessed with remakes and adaptations?), and I'm a little afraid I might not love the post-Diane Ruggiero episodes as much (oh how I loved Veronica Mars....sigh) - but for now, it might just be my favorite new show.

Watch it online or Fridays at 9 pm on CBS.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TV at the Expo

Thanks to Eric for sharing more about Screenwriting Expo 2008:

11AM: Lost writers/executive producers/showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse discuss their wildly popular show and its much talked about mythology.
2:00 PM: Lost Anatomy of an Episode: writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz break down a fan-favorite episode from start to finish, and you can vote on the episode! (Details upcoming)6:00 PM: Heroes creator Tim Kring and writers Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander are here to talk about their acclaimed NBC series.

Everybody Loves Raymond writer and producer Ellen Sandler explains how your screenplay could have a second life as a TV script in Turning Your Screenplay into a TV Pilot. This workshop breaks down the elements of a television series proposal and outlines the differences between a feature script and a series pilot.

Dexter writer/producer Melissa Rosenberg, twentysomething/Once and Again creator Marshall Herskovitz, and Army Wives creator Katherine Fugate will participate in exclusive sessions where all of your small screen questions will be fielded by women who are veterans of the medium.

So, even if many of the seminars are geared toward selling you things, it might be worth it to hear from all of these fabulous people!

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When your spec becomes obsolete

Erin writes: Early in the summer I wrote a spec for THE OFFICE (I know...overdone, it was my first). I put a lot of time and effort into it and was really proud of the result. I heard a few days ago that the season premier was essentially based on the same premise as the spec I wrote. So...gone from the portfolio. Have you ever experienced this? Do you think it would work to re-tool some of the meat of the episode into another episode or format?

This sucks! It did happen a little bit with my FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS spec - not so much that they did exactly what I did, but the show evolved so much that my episode was way in the past. It's also even more frustrating if the show you spec gets cancelled! (Farewell, Seth Cohen.) That's why you should try to spec popular shows, but when they're in seasons 2 or 3, if at all possible.

For your problem, I think it really depends on two things: how closely your ep resembles the real one, and how much work it is going to take to re-tool it. If you feel like the plot is SO close that you need to throw it all out, and/or it's close to the same amount of work as writing a new spec, I would say you should just move on and write a totally fresh one. Maybe keep a couple jokes, but create a new plot. But small similarities are okay. In fact, you might feel redeemed knowing that your thoughts were right on track with how the show's actual writers think! And remember that agents and execs don't have time to watch every single episode - so there is a chance they might not see the one that resembles yours. But if it's an identical really big plot point in a serial, or if it's an identical case in a procedural, I'd be wary.

I think an important thing to remember is that you should ALWAYS be working on something. Specs WILL become obsolete no matter what. Honestly, I have been hearing PILOTS PILOTS PILOTS from everybody. They show off your voice a lot more than specs do. If it's your first script ever, write a spec. Pilots are way harder. But if you've already got a spec or two, go for a pilot. Especially since the fellowships and workshops that require specs have deadlines starting in the summer, any spec you write now will probably be obsolete then. I'd advise writing a pilot now, and then starting a spec in the spring.

Also, don't think your obsolete spec needs necessarily to be "gone from the portfolio." If someone reads your work and likes it, s/he will undoubtedly say, "what else you got?" I know of a writer who was asked this question 4 or times, and then was hired off her obsolete THE PRACTICE spec, which was the 5th script she handed over. It's not okay to have an obsolete spec be your first sample. But your 5th? Sure.

And lastly, think of it all as practice. Nobody's first script is mind-blowing. Okay, maybe yours is, and I hate you. But you will learn a lot and grow as a writer with every script you write - so keep going. I also like to remind myself this: If you wrote funny stuff before, you'll write funny stuff again. Same goes with good stuff. Don't be afraid of starting fresh if that's what you have to do.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Writer Insight: Ugly Betty

"Knowing the line between good humor and bad taste is part of being a responsible writer."

There's a fun Q&A with Ugly Betty's Silvio Horta up at Variety. One with Friday Night Lights showrunner Jason Katims is next! All the questions come from readers, so go ahead and send 'em in.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Screenwriting Expo 2008

Kermet wrote in to ask if I have ever been to Screenwriting Expo. I haven't , so please comment if you are going or have any insight from past expos!

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

How to deal

A reader who asked to remain anonymous asks: This is a bit silly, but how do you keep going? How do you keep your spirits up? I'm so tired and sick of working at this agency. I like my bosses...but how do you manage to not go insane and deal with the lack of prestige you have to endure everyday?

Aww. I hear you - it sucks sometimes. I think my biggest tip is to remember it's just a job. You should do your best and try to get the most out of it as you can, from reading scripts and networking with other assistants and establishing a good relationship with your boss. But don't make it your whole life. If you are able to leave your desk at lunch, go somewhere, even if it's eating PB&J on a bench somewhere. I'm also a big proponent of NOT talking shop at lunch. Talk about your weekend or something. Being an assistant is not who you are; it's just what you do.

Make sure you're keeping up with your writing, your friends, your favorite shows, etc. It's a lot to balance, but the more you fill your life with non-assistant things, I think the happier you'll be.
And remember that we all do it, we've all been there, and it won't be like this forever. You are doing this for a reason, and it will pay off.

I know you say you like your bosses...but for anybody who hates their bosses, or wakes up in the morning absolutely DREADING work - don't be afraid to look for something else. Maybe you'd be more comfortable being an on-set PA than an assistant in an office or something.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

WB finalists have been notified.

"Nothing like coming home to a rejection letter," texted a friend tonight. He's talking about the WB Writers Workshop - and yup, I got one too. It's becoming an annual thing! Maybe next year I'll send myself flowers.

Congrats to all those who are finalists, as well as the top 5% who've been invited to a seminar. I'm not about to begrudge anyone his or her success. We're not competing. I mean, we kind of are. We're competing for fellowships and workshops and staff gigs and assistant gigs and the time and attention of Influential People. But our writing itself isn't really competing. It does no good to sit around and fill yourself with tequila and talk about how much you suck. It also does no good to theorize about how everybody else had better connections, or that you spec'd too unknown of a show, or that your resume isn't impressive enough. The only thing that will do any good is to keep writing. So this script didn't rise to the top of the pile. Focus on your next one. Write the script that'll get you there. Write the story only you can tell.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Please vote. I mean, unless you don't care.

I hatehatehate things that are cliche... but I can't help this one: VOTE. And if you're like me and move pretty much every year when your lease is up, you may have to re-register.

Go to to find local voter information for your area.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

So glad I have DirecTV

I'm finding myself very...enchanted by this promo. It's tonally very different from the show itself, but I like it anyway. Maybe I'm just excited.

Watch Friday Night Lights this Wednesday. Pretty please.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008


There I go disappearing again. Sorry!

The CAA Party was super lame. There was an open bar until 10 pm, so the bouncers held us all outside in big lines (keep in mind we all paid at least $50 for tickets) until 9:55, so that when we got inside, the open bar was over. And then it took half an hour to get a drink, and most of the glasses were dirty and the liquors weren't even out yet (weren't they expecting us)? So I got a rum and diet coke for $13. Hooray. It was better for those assistants whose companies had paid for tables that included free drinks - and it seemed that every company except mine paid for such tables. I did run into a few IC alum and met a couple friends-of-friends. Overall, though, an aggravating night.

Going back to the subject of BJ Novak, Gavin Edwards wrote in to share his own piece about the Office writer-performers that appeared in Rolling Stone last year. Very cool. Have I mentioned that it used to be my life's dream to write for RS? Now I just dream of a world in which rum and diet coke doesn't cost $13.

And now to what's been on my mind the last couple days: the perils of being a Hollywood insider, as one writerfriend put it. I always recommend that people get industry jobs so they may make contacts and learn more about the business as well as the craft of writing. And I stand by my advice...but sometimes it can bog down your writing. When I was younger, I used to just write. I had dozens of fancy journals and plain composition notebooks filled with thoughts and words and stories. Now when I sit down to write something, I think about everything on TV or in movies. Am I being derivative? I think about format, genre. I think about what I know to be selling based on the phone calls I've listened to. I think about stakes and act breaks and whom I would cast. I wonder if my idea is high-concept. Or high-budget. I wonder what it will say about me as a writer, what it will demonstrate my voice to be. I wonder if it would be a writing sample that could win a contest, or get me an agent, or sell, or get me staffed. I contemplate motivations, themes, plot twists, demographics, tone. I ask other writers and friends if they like my ideas and take in all their opinions. And I've yet to write down anything.

We all certainly should be thinking about many of these things if we plan to write for this medium, work in this business. But when it comes down to it, it's a lot of fucking noise.

I'm not going to forget about all the knowledge I've soaked up in the last couple of years...but from now on, I'm going to try my hardest simply to WRITE.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

But I've never been an assistant...

Dave writes: I want to get a job as an assistant but it seems like all the assistant jobs want people who have experience. How am I supposed to get experience with things like rolling calls when I can't get a job that involves that unless I already know how?

I know! This sucks! I went through it myself. It seems like nobody wants an assistant who hasn't already been an assistant. I was told by one HR prick that I didn't have enough "basic admin experience," though I had held three industry internships and had answered phones at two other jobs. It was so frustrating because I knew that plenty of the assistants with fancy relatives hadn't even done that.

So what do you do? First, be confident in your interview. I don't recommend lying about your experience because I think it'll come back to bite you in the ass, but don't be afraid of jumping into new responsibilities. Highlight the fact that you're a smart, hard worker, and a fast learner. Being an assistant is "not fucking brain surgery," as one agent continually yelled at a friend of mine who later became known as Doctor. I wouldn't necessarily quote him, but know that you can absolutely learn how to do it well, and quickly. You basically just need to convince people to give you a chance. Usually agencies are places where people get their first desks, so it's understood that many people don't have experience; you just have to otherwise be impressive so they'll want to take a chance on you.

There are a couple of other options: you can start in the mailroom, like I did. I probably could have maneuvered my way onto a desk, but I was so desperate to get out of reality television that I enthsiastically said I would do whatever anybody at the agency wanted me to do...looking back, maybe I should have been pickier and I wouldn't have been stuck in the mailroom for so long (of course, that pesky strike also had something to do with it). In the mailroom you make copies, bind scripts, deliver mail. You REALLY don't need experience - and you can soak up the agency world so that when desks open up, you can position yourself as a worthy candidate.

You can also try being an Office PA or receptionist, which are generally seen as entry-level and a step down from being an assistant. Maybe you could even intern and then jump to assistant if you were lucky. A friend of mine is an assistant at a production company on the Warner lot and she started as an Office PA before moving up to receptionist/PA coordinator, and then to assistant (all in less than a year). But she is at a company that's really good about promoting, so you have to evaluate that. One of the companies I interned at never promoted interns or Office PAs; they only got their assistants from agencies.

It seems crazy that it's so hard to get somebody to let you answer their phones, but it is. This is a very competitive industry filled with determined, ambitious people. Still, if you look for a while, nail your interview and/or look into positions that might be stepping stones to being an assistant, I'm sure you can find something eventually.

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