Today we had an assistants meeting where the co-head of our TV Lit dept opened up the floor for questions and provided a lot of good insight. Someone was brave enough to ask her advice about pursuing a writing career. And here's what she said:
Don't diversify. It may seem like a great idea to have 7 really different specs, but she recommends that you only have 2 or 3. If she sees someone with 7, she wonders what happened with the first 6 - what was wrong with them? She also recommends to write from personal experience. She would love to sign more writers who have been doctors, lawyers or cops. Whatever your experience is, write about it - it will make your writing unique and authentic.
And in general, she recommends that you act like you're hot shit and own the place - but be able to back up everything you do and say with knowledge of everything going on in your field - and at least some basic knowledge of other fields (i.e. features if you're in TV, talent if you're in lit, etc.). She also warns that you'd better get a kick out of this stuff - or it won't be worth it.
As for yesterday's promise, thinking like a talent agent:
ACTORS very much affect whether projects get made. If there's a spec by a nobody writer and Brad Pitt decides he wants to attach himself, that movie is going to be made asap (hot rush!). So - as a writer, you should be thinking about how you're going to get people like Brad Pitt to want to be in your stuff. You need to provide a challenging role for the actor...something they can really sink their teeth into. There needs to be the scene that will clinch the Oscar nomination. (A writer's assistant friend of mine says he hears execs constantly talk about the "Holy Shit Moment.") There's a saying that the formula to a feature is taking your character, throwing them up into a tree and seeing how they get down. You have to really throw your character into an intense conflict, push them to their limits. What would make your character have a nervous breakdown? Slap somebody? Cry? Change the world?
As agents read scripts, they are thinking - what studio will make this? who will produce and direct it? who will star in it? If you plan to work within the hollywood system, you'd better be thinking of those things too. On a more practical level - give your characters good descriptions. And give them ages or age ranges - because if you don't, the intern or assistant writing the character breakdown will MAKE IT UP. Hey, we gotta know whose headshots and resumes to send.