Sunday, August 31, 2008

What to Wear

Another question I've thrown to guest blogger Amanda the Aspiring TV Lit Agent:

Amita writes: I have a very random question. What do you wear to an interview for a job like yours? What do you wear to work? What should tv writers looking to get hired wear when they meet producers/execs? I think it's not all formal but I wouldn't want to look like a hobo. Do girls wear heels? Can I get away with Pumas?

I love this question, mostly because I still feel like I ask myself the same thing every morning. Remember that interviews and writer meetings are very different things, so with that said, let’s break it down:

AGENCY INTERVIEWS (assistant positions) - Business to business formal, no exceptions. For guys, that means at the very least a dress shirt and tie, and preferably a suit and tie. For girls it means a dress blouse, skirt, dress pants, suit, and heels. For both, hair should be nice and neat, jewelry tasteful, and for girls, don’t overdo it on the makeup. Personal aside: Always, always, ALWAYS double check that your cell phone is off, you don’t have a Bluetooth still in your ear, or chewing gum. They’re the 3 top things that will ruin any interview.

PRODUCTION COMPANIES / MANAGERS (assistant positions) - Business casual to business. Same as above, but you can dress it down to a well tailored pair of dark jeans or pressed khakis.

CREATIVE/STAFFING MEETINGS (as a writer) - The sky is the limit. I’m not a fan of the hobo look when I’m meeting with people that I want to sell something to, regardless, but writers have a lot more flexibility. Think of it as creating a persona, creating a visual sense of the type of writer that you are – remember for staffing, the people you’re meeting with are much more concerned about whether they can stand to be around you in a room for 14 hours a day, not about your clothes (or in many ways, your writing, at that stage of the game). For pitches, the execs want to hear about your idea, and they’re supposed to be in suits, not you. All that being said, it’s Hollywood after all, and stylish/hip/designer has a tendency to work better than schlubby.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

How to write for late-night television

Matt was kind enough to share some wisdom about late-night writing:

I took a Writing for The Daily Show class in NYC, Taught by a guy that writes for them: J.R. Havlan. It was a class to prepare us how to write a submission packet for the show. In a submission packet, they ask you to write 4 headline news stories, each containing five jokes. Pretty much you write the big headline for Monday, Tues, Wed, Thurs of a given week. Try to think of a clever puns for the title like they do. He suggested doing it on a week they have off as not to compete with their headlines. Basically we just kept writing headlines and he would give us feedback.

Here is the link to the class in NYC: . They also do The Colbert Report and The Late Show classes.


Paul also had some insight:

As a former intern on a late night talk show, I got to spend the day with a couple of writers job shadowing them and picking their brains. The BIGGEST question I had was how they got staffed. The vast majority of the writers on the show I was at were either stand-ups or sketch/improv players. Many had quite a few other writing credits, but the younger ones (mid 20s) who were on their first staff writing jobs, had been writing promos for other networks and websites. They also had several freelance articles published in online and print humor magazines. They of course heard about an opening on the show from a friend who was a writer or writers' assistant and submitted a packet. Every talk show has its own packet and asks for different things. The network shows like Leno, Letterman and Conan are all going to want some solid monologue jokes. Letterman will ask for five or ten Top Ten lists, Conan's going to ask for more sketches. The Daily Show's not going to want monologue jokes because Jon doesn't do a monologue. They're going to want stories written in the same way Jon does them on the show (which means you should also include the OTS graphics which also better be funny) as well as a couple of host-reporter exchanges. For Colbert you're going to need stories as well as some show staples like Threatdown, Alpha Dog of the Week, Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger, etc. Oh yeah, and it all better be damn funny.

The good news is that you can probably call the writers' office and talk to a writers' assistant and they'll probably tell you what to include in the packet. They might only give this information to an agent, but the writers I talked to said you should be able to get it on your own. The bad news is that there are tons of people who desperately want these jobs and, just like sitcoms, it's hard to get your packet read by an EP without a recommendation from another writer, WA, or someone close to the EP. It's also not unusual for a WA to just throw away other packets they receive b/c they're also trying to get that sought after staff position, or so I'm told.

Don't think you can whip out a packet, send it into the show, and if you never hear back send them another. You have to take it very seriously and the whole thing better be hilarious. If they like your packet they may ask you to write another. They want to know that you can put out new material that's hilarious and current on the fly and that you didn't just send them a greatest hits collection of your best jokes. They'll also want to see other work which is where stand-up, published articles, or maybe your spec will help. The WA position can be a real stepping stone to late night staff writer if you can land it. Of course if my advice gets any readers a WA or staff writer position on a late night talk show I hope they'll let me know. I've already got a bunch of jokes about how (insert new President's name here) totally screwed up the country...and a Masturbating Bear sketch.

Oh, and one of the staff writers on the show I worked on also created a hit show for MTV. Sounds easy enough.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

The headache of waiting

I once dated a guy who had chronic migraine headaches. (I think there was some long, hard-to-pronounce name for his condition, but he just called them headaches.) One of his friends used to joke, "Do you have a headache now?" "Yup." "How bout now?" "Uh huh." He took some intense medicine that sometimes helped, but generally he was always in pain, sometimes too much to get out of bed. And the medicine couldn't be mixed with alcohol - which made college life kinda shitty sometimes. His dad had the same condition, and just sort of grew out of it when he was 22ish, so my guy hoped that one day he would wake up, headache-free, and his life would be perfect.

But that's the thing - your life is never going to be perfect. I made this point to him once, and I think he was annoyed for a minute, but then he agreed completely. Sometimes you get so focused on one thing, you give it an inflated amount of value. You see it as a grand solution to your life, when in fact there is no such thing. You give it more meaning than it deserves.

All the contest and fellowship deadlines have passed, and people are starting to get ansty. (For the record, if you made it to the last round for Austin, you get a phone call. If you didn't, you get a letter - and I've heard of people getting both by now. I've gotten neither, which seems strangely appropriate.) But you have to try not to wait by the phone or check your email endlessly, waiting for the judgement of whether you're a good writer, whether you can declare yourself successful. Because that's the thing. If you win, it doesn't mean you've completely made it. You might not get a rep. You might get a rep, but you might not get work. There are all kinds of ups and downs in this profession, both on the way up and once you've already have some success. Certainly don't downplay your successes - celebrate them - but keep working. And on the flip side, if you don't even place in the quarterfinals or whatever, it doesn't mean that you're a shitty writer and you'll never make it. It just means that whoever was assigned to read your script didn't love it. And that's how taste works.

I hope your headaches go away. But even if they do, you're not finished. You've gotta keep writing.

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Insight from the agent trainee

I thought I would let Amanda the Aspiring TV Lit Agent weigh in on a few of your questions:

Mike writes: My question for AAA is... WTF?? (With a smile.)

In the past I've hit the Quarters in the Nicholl and the Semis as well. Both netted me several requests for my script, but it just didn't hit with people. Recently, I made the cut for the New York TV Festival/Fox TV comedy pilot contest. 25 out of 900 pilots selected and sent to Fox development, with the ultimate winner (maybe top three) getting a development deal with Fox. Queries with that info have netted exactly squat-ola. Is it just freakin' impossible to get read these days without either a recommendation or being able to walk in the door with a deal in hand?

First of all, the universal question of ‘wtf?’ isn’t limited to those outside looking in. When it comes to matters of taste, saleability, green lights, deals, and representation, there’s really no accounting for, well…taste.

Second of all, getting a read is by no means impossible, as long as you know how to go about it. Here are my tips for getting a read:

1. You have to forget the contests, seriously. I know outlets like Creative Screenwriting Magazine and etc. tout the “successes” that come out of these, but unless it’s a winner, being a quarter or a semi in the Nicholls means precisely squat to agents, despite its “prestige.” Please remember that contest readers are paid by the sponsors and/or organizers, are often assistants or interns or freelancers, and rarely read with an eye towards viability in the market place. a. Sidenote: I often am referred contest winner lists, graduate catalogues, and pitch winner materials to go through for representation. People do see them, but they are not the best way to get your material into the light, because of the sheer volume that’s associated with them.

2. Know the marketplace. This is a path that you, hopefully, want to make a full time career, and that means you need to know what’s going on in your industry and your place of business. Do you know what the networks and studios are looking to buy this year? Do you know what pilots are being picked up? Are you reading the trades, checking up on TV news websites, and keeping track of what is hitting and missing on the major networks and bigger cable outlets? Not to stifle your creativity, but in all honesty, you might be the greatest writer who walked the Earth, but if what you’re writing is not in any of the arenas that the buyers are interested in, you’ll find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to trying to get reads from people who are going to have to sell your material.

3. Forget query letters. Period. They’re a waste of time, energy, and money that you should spend writing, networking, and doing everything you can to meet writer’s and agent’s assistants, studio and network assistants, and agent trainees around town. BY LAW agencies are not allowed to accept unsolicited material. It opens up a huge can of liability worms that no legitimate major or boutique agency is willing to touch. Assistants are almost universally instructed to throw away any and all unsolicited materials as part of their agency training, so I’ll say it again: forget query letters!

4. Don’t ever be afraid of or intimidated by the industry. Like my dad always said to me, “No one will ever question you as long as you answer with confidence and authority.” The way you’re going to get your stuff read is by honing your writing, being savvy about the market, and above all GETTING YOURSELF OUT THERE. No matter where you are in the world, research, email, and a simple reaching out to make connections will get you so much further than entering contests and writing query letters. Don’t think about what’s going to happen, don’t what if yourself to death, don’t worry if so and so is going to answer you or not – if they don’t, to hell with it! There are hundreds of other outlets to try; don’t worry about the 10 that never got back to you.

5. Get comfortable with rejection. 97 out of 100 people aren’t going to read you, don’t want to read you, and never want you to hear from you again. Of the 3 that do read you, multiple that number a good 7 or 8 times, and maybe one of those people will get back to you. That’s the only person that ever matters.

6. Have faith. Be patient. There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. Keep working.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Amanda the Aspiring TV Lit Agent

Exciting news, readers! My friend, Amanda the Aspiring TV Lit Agent (what can I say, the girl has an excellent first name) has volunteered to be a guest blogger on our little site here. So please email in any questions you have related to agencies, representation, agent trainee programs, that kind of thing - and she can share her infinite widsom.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

That Guy

Dan posted a comment in response to my post about the Paley preview events:

How does it work when you meet somebody like a TV writer or showrunner and you'd like to meet up with them or have them read a spec? Do you give out a business card and ask for theirs? Or is that too forward?

It's funny you mentioned this, because I was just talking about it at drinks with another assistant. You go to a panel or something and there is always That Guy...well, two kinds of Those Guys:

That Guy #1: Cringe-inducing Bad Question-, Multiple Question- or Non-Question-Asker

You know him. He runs up to the mic or waves his hand wildly in the air, only to A) ask a personalized question that wastes the time of the group, B) ask many complicated questions because he's self-absorbed, or C) make irrelevant comments instead of asking a question at all. That Guy always makes me feel so awkward and embarrassed that I have to look away. It makes me mad that he paints all us eager aspirers as idiots who don't get it. Usually I don't ask anything for fear I might lose myself in fandom and become this dude. Remember that the writers are being generous and taking time to give advice and insight. Don't make it all about you. Nobody came to see you. When people are just greedily using other people to get ahead, it's obvious. And annoying.

That Guy #2: Overzealous Script-Shover

There she is. That writer who created Your Favorite Show Ever. She eats crackers and drinks Diet Coke like you do!!! It's remarkable. And there is just this perfect little slice of time in which you can accost her and shove your script into her crackerless hand. Please don't be That Guy. Even if she does accept the script, she's probably gonna throw it out, because you're another dude who doesn't get it. And you might sue her someday. This harkens back to all my posts about networking: don't ask for favors you haven't earned. When you write a query letter, or make a cold call, or shove a script at someone you've just met, you're essentially asking for a favor you have no right to be asking for.

That being said, you've gotta have some balls sometimes. You've gotta network. Play the game. Whatever. So, sure, walk up to the showrunner and say hi. (I honestly need to work on this more myself.) Tell her you love her show. Who wouldn't want to hear that? Introduce yourself - get on her radar. If you strike up a bond, maybe you can exchange a number or card. Cards are pretty harmless...but I kinda doubt a big showrunner would hand you one, or call you after you give her one. If you hit it off, maybe you can meet for drinks or coffee sometime. Maybe you can talk about a script and ultimately get her to read it - but don't expect this, Greedy McGreederson. If she OFFERS to do favors for you, awesome. Just don't expect it, or try to force it to happen.

I DID hear a story about some eager beavers who gave a script to a showrunner at a panel, and during the strike, he got bored and read it. And liked it. And called them in for a meeting. And liked them, but realized they were too young to remember the 80s. So he made them writer's assistants. Hooray for all. I feel the need to share this, because yes, crazy shit happens sometimes. Having balls pays off (oh, how I didn't intend for that to be grand gender commentary...). But the story probably never ever would have happened had there not been a big strike that rendered showrunners bored. Know that this is certainly an exception to the rule. If you're That Guy, it most likely won't result in a great gig for you. Plus, I'll think of you as a That Guy.

So yes. Go to events. Network. Get yourself out there. But don't be pushy and ask for favors you haven't earned. Don't be That Guy.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

My two favorite things...

TV AND PARTIES! Jane tipped me off to these great fall TV preview parties at the Paley center in September. They're totally free, you just have to RSVP online. Oh - there are ones in NY too!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Movie poster quiz

Here's what everybody at the agency was doing today instead of updating credits like we were supposed to:

Can you name the movies?

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

That song on that show

I just discovered this great little website where you can find out the songs played on your favorite shows:

For the record, music is a whole other reason to love Friday Night Lights.

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A query about queries

Nick writes: I can barely get an agency to respond to a script query. Most don't respond and the others send letters from their lawyers telling me never to write them again, concerned they may be sued. How does one approach an agency to get a response one way or another?

I really have to stress that this town does not operate on query letters; it operates on recommendations and relationships. If you can cultivate a relationship with agent or manager (or someone who has access to an agent or manager and can pass along your work), that will be much more meaningful that a letter from someone that nobody knows. This is why I am taking the path of assistantdom and meeting lots of people...ideally, I'll never need to write a query.

Many agencies DO NOT ACCEPT QUERY LETTERS. This includes all of the Big Five and many of the next five. That's why you're getting the letters from biz affairs...and yes, it's about legality. Every so often you will hear a story about a movie that started with a query letter, maybe even to a biggie... but it is absolutely the exception and not the rule. Some smaller agencies and management companies (don't forget about managers - writers often get managers before they get agents) DO accept them, so I don't want to completely steer you away from sending them. But target smaller places, and know that you're probably going to have to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall before some sticks. Here is the list of WGA signatory agenices. You can google management companies. I blogged a little about them before: Is this company legit? Know that you may never hear back about many of your queries. It means that the company either doesn't accept them, or doesn't like the sound of your script. Either way, you have to move on.

If you're determined to query your way to the top, I recommend you keep your query short. Give a logline or brief synopsis of the script and ask if you can send it. If you can't sum up what your story's about in a couple sentences, you have bigger problems entirely. If the script has won contests, mention that too. If you're funny, be funny. But generally quick and to the point is best. The assistants who open it are probably going to throw it in the trash, or if they're feeling generous, send it over to BA so you can get that rejection letter. They've got lunches to confirm and meetings to set. Do everything you can to keep that letter IN their hands, and compel them to email you and ask for it. Play agent a little - if you had to sell this script, how would you do it? Why should people want to read it?

It's tough, and I feel bad that I can't give any better advice. But here's the deal: only young agents are out there scouring the earth for new talent. Once you've got some clients you're passionate about, you have to spend your time and energy busting your ass to sell their work and get them jobs. Think of it this way: once you have an agent, do you want your agent to ignore you while he tries to find new clients, or spend his time working for you? Exactly.

Make sure your script is ready, and fantastic. The truth is, there is a lot of crap out there. Maybe it's sad that people assume your script will be crap, but I write enough coverage to agree with them. If you write a great script and keep at it long enough, I really believe you'll get there. But crap is crap. The other day my boss had me print out scripts for him to read that had been written by his friend's wife's friend (I'm telling you, use your connections, no matter how random). He sighed, looking at his huge reading pile for the weekend. "Maybe it'll be really good!" I said, smiling. He smiled, and laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

So we're not in reruns...

FYI, I've put up all the Labels to different categories of posts to the right. If you're new here and have a question, try perusing the right topic before sending in your questions. Questions are still welcome, of course, but I figure we can A) save everybody time and B) not bore longtime readers by posting the same things over and over.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

How is it, workin at the agency?

This question came from "The Genre Writer" an embarassingly long time ago: Do you work in tv lit, feature lit, or talent? Do you like agency work or is it hell for a upcoming writer?

And recently, from Shane: Can you blog more about being an assistant? I have a couple of call backs to set up various interviews to be one. Is it worth it to be an assistant? Do you find the horror stories true or false? Is the job hell and getting yelled at mostly and insane hours? I really want to be work for an agency and get my 1 year but I'm afraid I won't last. What are your thoughts about the assistant lifestyle?

I work in feature lit, and here's what I do at the agency: Answer the phone. Make calls for my boss. Connect my boss to calls when he's out of the office. Set lunches and meetings for my boss. Set meetings for clients. Confirm all these. Pick out restaurants I've never been to, make reservations and print out little maps of them. Submit our clients' scripts to buyers. Order scripts from the mailroom and DVDs from the video room. Generate expense reports. Translate contracts into booking reports that tell our accounting department exactly how much money our clients should be getting for spec sales, drafts, revisions, producing services, etc. Send invoices to buyers. Call buyers and tell them to pay us. Send things like scripts and checks to clients. Help clients out with random tasks. Help my boss out with random tasks like ordering cupcakes, faxing insurance forms and spelling words. Make and maintain files. Read scripts if my boss asks me to.

Do I like it? No, not the tasks themselves - they're pretty menial. But know that ALL assistants do those kind of things, be it at a studio, network, production company. I don't have a degree or set of skills to get me into another career, so I think it's worth it. And I don't hate it the way I think I would hate being a waitress again. It's pretty easy, and for me personally, I think it's better to be in the industry than out of it, since I am making contacts and learning things (you will learn a TON by listening to all your boss's phone calls).

I am also lucky because I like my boss, I'm not overwhelmed with work, I'm not expected to do ridiculous personal taks like ordering hookers, I only work 40 hours a week, and I like my coworkers. But - the horror stories are true, just not for me. A friend of mine worked at a big agency and had a terrible experience. Her boss made her cry a few times and she also worked a ton of overtime and even had to come in on weekends because there was so much work. It's really dependent on who your boss is. Lots of people do get yelled at for crazy things. It can be kinda hard to know what you're getting yourself into when you interview to be an agent's assistant, because agents are salespeople. Of course they're going to sell the job as great and themselves as a fantastic person to work for. In a way I had an advantage starting in the mailroom because I found out who was tough and who was nice, and I was able to go for a desk already knowing about the boss.

As for whether agency jobs are good specifically for writers: yes and no. I love talking to the clients, and I'm inspired by their successes. I am learning a lot about what agents look for, what buyers look for, etc. I also have access to a giant script library and can print out whatever I want. Industry jobs are what you make of them; I know some assistants who never read scripts or have drinks with other assistants or anything...and I feel like they're probably missing out. Also, you can't walk into an agency job with the intention of getting represented there. It's possible, but not a good attitude to have. You have to think of it as learning a lot and making contacts.

Production companies are generally more laid-back, and might be a better fit for a writer. The only problem is, many assistant jobs at prodcos require agency you may be able to get one, you may not. Agencies are kind of known as the place you go to learn how to be an assistant. They are centers for information. I think the mentality is: once you've worked at an agency, you can work anywhere. Most studio and network executives start out at agencies, so if you want to become one of those, I say definitely go for it. But if you know you're gonna write? Eh.

Some people don't last a year, and move onto good jobs anyway. Sometimes it's just a bad personality match. Some people try it and then decide they're done with entertainment and move to Texas. I definitely don't recommend the agency thing to everyone...and if you're thinking OMG, I DON'T want to work there at ALL, but I feel like I have to, I don't know if it's a good idea. Especially since it's not a sure-fire way to break in as a writer (hint: there is no sure-fire way). But if it interests you, it might be worth a try. If you hate it that badly, you can always quit. I think people will understand.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

A nasty piece of work

Regardless of what you think about Gossip Girl as a show, you have to kind of admire their marketing. First there was last season's hullabaloo surrounding the phrase OMFG (which I myself have started to use on occasion as a smirky homage), and now they've taken to using awesomely negative quotes about the show from the Parent's TV Council, such as "nasty piece of work" and "mind-blowingly inappropriate." Why it works...and why this concept might be valuable to you in your writing: perspective. What is horrible to someone might be delightful to another. Similarly, the fact that other people find something horrible might make it even MORE delightful. The more parents get upset about Gossip Girl, I bet the more kids will want to watch it - and this is exactly what the marketing dept is capitalizing upon.

In writing, this is a great way to compare your characters. On an episode of Swingtown, there was a charity benefit for a porn star. Each character reacted to it in their own way; some were excited, some intrigued, some disgusted. Then they reacted to each other's reactions, and some of them changed their minds. It brought out a lot about the characters and their relationships.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Move to LA? Maybe. Have a plan? Fo sho.

Well, I certainly never expected or intended to ignite such vitriol with my comment about the query letter from Indiana, especially since the point of that post was to advise a stay-at-home mom to be creative in her networking. Just to make everything clear:

I have no problem with the state of Indiana. I am not an LA snob; I grew up in Western New York and am actually pretty glad about it. My least favorite state in the union happens to be Kentucky, because of a long story involving getting crunk in New Orleans, snapping my phone, Wal Mart, Subway, steak knives, the Interstate and the insanity that occurs when you drive across the US by yourself. My point is, I'm sure there are plenty of talented writers in Indiana, Kentucky, Saskatchewan, etc.

I threw out the query letter because it was a poorly written query letter asking me to read a horrible-sounding screenplay. Still, I am an optimist. I do believe it is possible to write a great screenplay followed by a great query letter and then obtain representation. If I ever come across such a combo during my time at the agency, I'll let you know.

There are things you can do from any location to launch your career: you can read books and blogs. You can write. You can raise money and shoot your own stuff. You can try to get an online following. You can enter contests, festivals and fellowships. You can take classes. You can find other writers and start a critique group. You can write query letters. In New York and a couple other cities (Lucasfilm is in San Francisco, Montecito has an office in...Montecito, etc.), you might be able to find an industry office job. Shoots also happen everywhere thanks to tax breaks (and the fact that not everybody sets their script amidst palm trees) - so you might be able to work on a production outside of LA.

I just think you're giving yourself much better odds if you come to LA. Does everyone who succeeds in screenwriting or TV writing move there? No, definitely not. But if you plan to get an agent, you'll have to come here sometime. Even if you write a query letter and then email your script and get some interest, I don't think anybody's gonna sign you without meeting you. They'll want to see if you're "good in a room," that you'll impress people like producers and studio execs at meetings. And those rooms generally are all in LA also. Sure, conference calls happen every day, but you can't do everything with a phone call.

For TV specifically, I think it'd be even harder to succeed outside of LA. In film there is a huge independent community, much of it in New York but parts of it everywhere. But most TV happens within the traditional Hollywood system. Writer's rooms (save for 30 Rock, Monk and a few others) are in LA. The ABC/Disney fellowship provides money for you to relocate...but they require you to relocate. I think this is significant.

You may not have to stay in LA forever. Once you're established you can write from anywhere, especially in features. But if you have aspirations of being a showrunner or something, I think you'll probably want to stay in LA. Or at least plan to be here pretty often. Also keep in mind that there are gobs of aspiring writers who DO make the move to LA. I feel like they all have to have a bit of an advantage over writers trying to make it elsewhere.

So...what? Maybe because of the recent post, Marcie wrote in: I live in New York City, but since I want to write for television, should I move to Los Angeles? I know my chances of finding work are better in LA, but are they so much better that's it's worth me packing up my belongings and leaving a city I love?

Maybe, maybe not. Some east-coasters, especially New Yorkers, hate LA. (It kind of annoys me how many people decide they hate it way before they get here...but I guess that's another issue.) If you think you'll really be unhappy outside of NYC, the move may not be worth it. But if you know deep down that you must be a television writer, and that you will be supremely unhappy if you can't make that happen, maybe it is worth it.

I guess I would ask, what's your plan? Do you have an industry job? Are you trying to find one? Do you think your job is going to lead to TV writing? Do you already have enough scripts to start seeking representation? Do you have any industry connections? Are you applying to fellowships and contests? Are you using the internet at all? Since you're in New York, have you tried getting involved in theatre?

Like I said before, you can take steps from anywhere. I still maintain that LA is the place that will give you the best odds...and I would think New York is certainly second-best. But wherever you are, you need to be proactive. You've gotta have a plan. Remember that there are two steps to becoming a TV writer: 1. writing a great script, and 2. getting someone important to read it (and like it). Are you endeavoring to do both of those things?

As always, anybody with insight is welcome to comment. If you have been able to get an agent, sell a script, get staffed, etc., without coming to LA, I'm sure we're all interested in your story.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Creating your network (of people)

First off, Disney/ABC applications must be postmarked by Friday! Quick reminders:
Don't forget the Statement of Interest aka Why You Are Diverse.
Or the Autobiography.
Your script needs to be WGA registered.

Good luck everybody!


Talia writes: How did you initially make the contacts and initiate relationships with the people you've met in LA?

For me personally, it started when I studied in LA through my school's LA semester program. Our school had a database of internship sites, and I got one internship through that. I got the other by applying online. (Getting an internship is easy, I promise. There are a zillion postings on the UTA list and tracking boards. But really all you have to do is call up a company you'd like to work for. If you make a good impression, few places will refuse your free labor. Enjoy it, because getting a Real Job afterward is much harder.)

Stay in touch with your supervisors (that's how I got my current job, and a couple other interviews). Make friends with other interns or assistants (that's how I got my current roommate). Then your network will just grow and grow. If you're an assistant, you'll meet lots of other assistants by talking to them on the phone and then meeting them for drinks. If you're a PA you'll probably be moving from job to job which will also enable you to network. Soon you'll meet more people and their friends and their friends. It takes being a bit proactive, but you'll find that Hollywood is actually a very small place, and that everybody is connected somehow.

I have also been lucky to have a base of people I went to college with who moved out here (the fact that we got to test it out for a semester was a big help). If your school doesn't have an LA program, you can enroll in one through another school (like mine) - just know that you're going to be paying that hefty private school tuition. You might also try your school's alumni database to see if there are any alums living out here. I bet there are at least a few, and people generally love meeting and helping out those who stumbled across the same quads. If you really need the internships more than classes, you could come out here for a summer, or any few months really, get a sublet and an internship and see if you like it before making a commitment. If you're older you can do the same thing - just know that finding a paying job might take you a little while.

What else? UCLA extension classes...writing groups...networking groups like LA TV Writers. You can also meet people through blogs and the internet - which is how I've met so many of you. :)

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Horribly Terrific

I know I am way behind on this, but Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible blog is quite hilarious. Especially the part about the Master Plan.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

But I don't wanna be an assistant

Here's a very interesting question from Kathy: I moved to LA/Redondo Beach a few months ago for my husband's job. I'm a stay at home mom, so I don't have a lot of time to network to get an agent to sell a screenplay that I have written. Any ideas?

First, I think there a couple other things to consider besides your main question. You should probably have more than one screenplay before you seek representation. I'd recommend three. You are generally going to hear "what else ya got?" before people sign you, staff you, etc. People want to get a sense of your voice and your abilities, and they may not be able to do it with just one script. And don't necessarily think you need a broad portfolio of TV, feature, comedy, horror, drama, etc. It's kind of better, from what I've seen, to find what you do best and just keep doing that. Is your speciality The Female Superbad? Buddy comedies? Family movies with adult protagonists? Dark sci-fi stuff? Police procedurals? In a way it's frustrating that agents, execs, etc. will put you in a box and describe you with a buzzphrase, it will most definitely happen. If you can write a kickass drama and comedy, fine. Great writing is great writing, and it will get you noticed. Just don't force yourself to write something you're not passionate about.

Second, know that many beginning writers do not sell their first screenplays. It does happen, but what you should really focus on is getting an agent and getting yourself on people's radars. The script should prove you can write well. If it never sells or gets made (also two very different things), it can still be an effective sample to get you representation and rewrite assignments (which I will probably post on in the future since it's a huge part of the feature world that a lot of new writers don't seem to know about).

But now to your actual question: how do you meet people and get your writing career off the ground when you have no intentions of being a PA, assistant, etc.?

I once joked about my dream of writing by the pool while some attractive man paid for my cushy lifestyle. Of course, yours involves kids, which I'm sure makes you a bit busier. I honestly don't know how I'd be making all these connections without my job. But here are some thoughts: first, the internet. There are plenty of blogs, websites, tracking boards, etc. A friend recently started the LA TV writers (and friends) networking group, which will be having monthly meetings (there may be another one out there for feature writers).

I also recommend entering your scripts into contests; there are a ton for features, some of which are more highly regarded than others. The Nicholl is renowned as a big one. ABC/Disney also has a feature fellowship, and the Austin Film Festival has a screenplay competition. Google up some more - there are a ton. The idea with contests is to get noticed and get an agent; if your agent is well-connected enough, you shouldn't need to have a lot of your own industry contacts (though it never hurts, and writers who started as assistants probably already have a ton).

You can also send query letters to find agents and managers. I would say don't bother sending them to the Big Five, or even really the next five...but every so often you hear about that query letter that was so hilarious that a huge agent ended up signing the writer. It hardly EVER happens, though. You're better off trying smaller agencies and management companies; they will read them and occasionally request scripts that sound promising. Check the list of WGA signatory agencies for places to try. Beware of any "agency" not on the list, or an agency that charges you a reading or printing fee; it's a scam. Keep your letter brief, ideally just a few sentences. Don't go on about your degree or yourself; just give a a logline and try to make it sound as interesting as possible. I get query letters all the time, and if a letter was good enough, I'd send the writer a release and ask to read the script. Guess what? They never are. (They also usually come from Indiana or somewhere, and I know that if the writer was serious about their career, s/he'd move to LA.) People also have tendency ramble on and on about their lives, and often can't sum up their script in a few sentences. If you're passionate enough to write the damn thing and you can't even tell me what it's about, that's a problem. SELL IT to me. Because that's what an agent is going to have to do. Speaking of, here's some advice I heard my boss tell a manager the other day: "If it's not high concept, the writing has to be FANTASTIC." It makes perfect sense. You can sell a cool concept, even if the writing is absolute shit. They'll just hire someone else to rewrite it. But great characters and dialogue with a shitty concept? No one will buy it.

In Kathy's situation I'm also wondering if a little creativity in networking wouldn't hurt. Can you find out where female execs or wives of male execs get their manicures? Take Pilates? Enroll their kids in preschool? Do any of your friends know any of these people? It sounds a little crazy, but it might just work - and getting to know these people on a personal level might make them more likely to help you out.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Keeping in touch

Filip writes: I was wondering if you could offer any advice on strategies for staying in touch with people over long periods of time. I mean, it's one thing to send them a follow-up email after you've just had a meeting with them, but six, ten, fourteen MONTHS down the line, it's a little more difficult to send a legitimate "Here's an innocent advice-question-and-by-the-way-how-are-you?" email. I understand you've been keeping in touch with people - any tips on how to do so in a polite, professional, and memorable way?

It's tough, especially when the person is a former supervisor or some kind of higher-up writer or exec. I've definitely struggled with how to do this. I think it helps to focus on successes: keep up with what the person's done, what their company has set up, scripts that have sold, movies that have come out, shows that have gotten picked up, that sort of thing. Who doesn't like to open an email of congratulations? I guess if the people don't have a lot of press about them or their companies, it's harder...but you can maybe ask what they've got going on. Also try to keep it short, maybe just a couple sentences. People in Hollywood sift through hundreds of emails a day and definitely don't want to read novelistic ones.

If they don't answer, they don't answer - not every contact you make is going to come through for you. But it's worth a shot.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Where to Live in LA?

Chris emailed me to ask where he should find a place when he moves to LA.

This one's all about personality and what's important to you. Lots of new kids to LA live in the valley since my school (Ithaca) and others like Emerson house their semester program students in the Oakwood apartments across from Universal. Once we moved out here for good, we felt very comfortable with that area, so a lot of my friends ended up in the valley - Burbank, North Hollywood, Valley Village, Sherman Oaks, etc. Maybe you can manage Studio City if you're lucky - but it's small and probably the most expensive spot. That's the other thing about the valley; you can generally get a lot more for your money there. Do you want space and a pool, or do you want to be near cool restaurants and bars? Also remember that the valley will always be 10-15 degrees warmer than everywhere else. Not humid, but hot: Often 95 or 100 (don't rent a place without AC). I would say that west of Sherman Oaks is too far, and north of maybe Burbank Blvd is too far. If you have to be in the valley, I'm a fan of ShOaks because it's fairly nice and I lived at the intersection of 405 and 101 - which in rush hour is the busiest interchange in LA, but every other time is a convenient gateway OUT of the valley. If you need to go to BH or the like for work, take Laurel Canyon, Coldwater and Beverly Glen/Benedict (I <3 Benedict).

I have a huge aversion to Burbank, but it's actually got a lot of stores and restaurants (and three AMC movie theaters - I will never figure that out). Free parking too. Maybe my hatred is totally unfounded, like my hatred of Tribeca in NYC. But the valley is just so boring and suburban to me - and Burbank epitomizes this. There is also zero nightlife, save for the occasional dive bar (I have enjoyed $3 beers at the Blue Room - and I assure you that on the other side of the canyon you'll be happy to pay $5.50). It's just...if I wanted to live in the suburbs, I would go home to Buffalo and live with my parents for free, you know?

There are lots of industry jobs in the valley, as many big studio lots are there: Warners, NBC Universal, CBS Radford, Disney, etc. Agency jobs are generally all in Beverly Hills/Century City. Production companies and smaller studios are spread around the map...Lionsgate's in Santa Monica, Dreamworks Animation is in Glendale, Imagine is in Beverly Hills. It's really hard to pick a place based on where you work, since most leases are for a year and many jobs (especially in production, or if you work on something short-lived like a pilot) are temporary. It's probably best to pick something fairly central that you can afford, in a neighborhood you like. Santa Monica is gorgeous, but generally too expensive for entry-level people (I tried). Same with the Beverly Blvd/La Cienega area that my roommate and I liked.

There are different attitudes everywhere. Pasadena is really mellow and feels like Northern California or something. Silverlake is for hipsters. Echo Park is for aspiring hipsters. Los Feliz is for grown up hipsters. Downtown is for optimistic hipsters who swear it'll be cool in a couple years. WeHo is for beautiful gay men. Santa Monica is for athletic, effortlessly pretty people with dogs. Venice is for free-spirited, pot-smoking hippies. All the Del Reys and Beaches are for surfers. Beverly Hills is for people with trust funds. Orange County is for Republicans with trust funds. Of course these are stereotypes, but you'll see what I mean.

 Affordable areas you won't get shot in: The Valley, Hollywood (but it's generally seedier the further east you go), West LA (my roommate and I almost lived here - it's the area between Century City and Santa Monica), Park La Brea/Miracle Mile, Mar Vista/Culver City, Pico & Robertson (aka Beverlywood or Beverly Hills adjacent - I didn't like it, but there are decent parts). I also know some kids who live well in Playa Del Rey - but it seems a bit far to me. Keep in mind this is all general - there are expensive places everywhere, and also affordable places sprinkled throughout (like mine in WeHo). It just takes some looking. Try Westside Rentals for sure - it's like $60 for a 6-week membership, but you can share the password with someone, and I generally find it's worth it since Craigslist is such slim pickins compared to NYC. Also try driving around where you like and calling numbers on signs. You may get some people laugh at you when you say you're looking for a 2 bdrm 2 bath for $1700 (that just wasn't nice!) but keep trying. There are signs everywhere.

Also know that when Google maps estimates how long traffic will take you, multiply that by around 3. You may find a great place that's only 6 miles from your job, but 6 miles could easily take an hour in the morning. Welcome to LA; I hope you like driving.

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I had my first earthquake the other day. I guess it's a kind of Angeleno right of passage. It was so bizarre...I was just sitting at work and suddenly I felt my desk shaking. For some reason I thought it was a coworker doing it, though that would have been physically impossible. I turned around to scowl the way I do when rubberbands sting my bare arms - and I saw that everything was shaking. "We're having an earthquake!" someone yelled. I wasn't scared - I was a little excited, a little thrilled to see what would happen, how everyone would respond. We all got up and gathered at the center of our room, unsure of what to do. Wait in a doorframe? Or is that for tornadoes? Before we had made a decision, it was over - and thus began all the talk of feelings and past experiences and everything that wasn't making script sales. Agents were talking to assistants. Phone calls could wait. In a strange way, the earthquake was the most relaxing moment of a very stressful week. For a few minutes, we were all the same - just people. People doing silly little things that can be interrupted at any moment by the shifting and splitting and shaking of something so much bigger.

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