Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
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.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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.
In other news...going to the CAA Young Hollywood Party tomorrow night at Social. It's probably going to be a lot of schmoozy frat boys and model types - but I always figure that if you meet one cool person, it's worth it.
A commenter mentioned a while ago that she missed my TV reviews. Basically, I'm trying not to badmouth anything because A) I am still just a little aspirer, so who am I to say?, B) I don't want to piss people off and prevent them from hiring me (I know I don't have a lot of showrunners reading me, but it's a small town with plenty of future showrunners), and C) when you think about the intense process and competition of creating television, anything that actually gets on the air is a miracle. So I'm going to try to stick to raving - and my DVR is backed up, so I'll get to it shortly.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Paul writes: I started a production company and have developed "concepts" for several shows--some scripted, some non-scripted. I believe I will be able to get financing to shoot pilots (or sample episodes of the reality/game show projects). I gotta find a good agent though, right? How do I do that?
I don't know much about the reality world, so I won't try to speak to that. But as for scripted shows, independently shot pilots are RARELY picked up by major networks. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the only example I"m aware of. If you are somehow able to get financing, I don't want to discourage you. Shoot what you want, put it on the internet, enter festivals, etc. Get yourself out there. Maybe it will get you noticed by an agent. But you can't really expect that you can create and produce shows and get them on the air without having experience and any connection to Hollywood.
And yes, if you plan to work within the Hollywood system, eventually you'll need an agent. You can get an agent by A) query letters (discouraged), B) getting noticed via contest (unlikely) or C) meeting agents or the people who have constant contact with agents (generally, how it works). Basically, you need to find an agent to read or watch you, or find somebody (be it producer, studio exec, assistant, etc.) to read or watch your work and like it enough to recommend it to an agent. You need to meet people who can help you, and cultivate relationships with them so they'll want to help you. At least, that's how I'm doing it. As I've said before, it's a lot easier to do this when you live in LA.
If you are interested in creating and producing your own stuff, Ben wrote in to share the link the Channel 101 - a monthly pilot contest with screenings in Hollywood. Cool!
Thick skin = you can handle being yelled at. You won't take it personally, and you won't let it affect your ability to be cheery on your very next phone call. It's so hard to say how thick your skin will have to be; some bosses will yell at you every day, embarrass you in front of co-workers, and even talk about your incompetence to people on the phone when they know you're listening on the line. Some will make it personal and tell you you're worthless. But many will just keep it all business. Do this, do that. Don't do that ever again. It's hard to say - you definitely don't need a thick skin to work for my boss, but he's probably more the exception than the rule. I don't think anybody should have to put up with verbal abuse, or even rudeness. But does it happen? Sure. Sometimes it helps to remember that it's not your boss's job to make your life easier; in fact, just the opposite is true. Your boss is focused on making money and succeeding in a tough industry. Plus, s/he already has been an assistant and paid his/her dues. I don't think that gives anybody an excuse to be horrible to assistants, but you have to be able to suck it up a little to be an assistant. It's not about you. Even if you're brilliant and have great ideas. You are being paid to be an assistant.
Demanding environment = this is very general, but in the assistant world I would say it probably means dealing with a high volume desk: lots of calls, scripts, contracts, clients, emails, projects, meetings, just lots of everything. You have to be organized and detail-oriented. You have to be able to prioritize. Anticipate. And for some people, the pace never slows down.
Go the extra mile = This is a little contradictory to the "know your place as an assistant" attitude I mentioned earlier, but it means more than just phone answering. It means doing your homework: reading scripts, knowing who the execs are at studios, networks, production companies, etc., watching TV & movies, reading the trades, knowing TV ratings or box office performance, being extra helpful to clients, networking, bringing in new clients or projects, etc. Basically, the more involved and knowledgable you are, the better. Going the extra mile, to me, would also mean just being thorough. Don't just find a title if you can also find a logline. Don't just find an address if you can find directions and a map. You know?
Rolling & phone sheet = A lot of what assistants do is answer phones, make calls and keep track of all the calls on a phone sheet (generally a list on your computer, though I've heard of a few old-school bosses requiring paper trails). Sometimes execs trade calls back and forth for days. You will make the calls for you boss, saying "I've got SoAndSo for Whatshername." Then if Whatshername gets on, you say "one moment" and put your boss on the line. If your boss is out of the office you will connect the calls to his/her cell phone. It sounds overwhelming at first but it's the kind of thing you can do in your sleep (and unfortunately will) after a day or two. Dropping a call is when you accidentally hang up. Happens to everyone at some point. It's best if you drop it while your boss is driving through the canyon, since it's totally realistic that you would have lost the connection. :)
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
TV Writers & Friends monthly networking night
Location: Cat & Fiddle - 6350 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
JHRTS Fall Membership Mixer
Location: One Sunset - 8730 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
Sublime Primetime: Emmy Nominee Writers Panel
Location: WGA Theater, 135 S Doheny Dr., LA
7:30 pm; tickets required.
I'm hoping to make the first two...though I really wish I were going to see MGMT at the Fonda.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
But there's a new way that our writing has become unrealistic: technology. Especially cell phones. There's a lot more intensity and chemistry in the scene you write with your two leads together, but let's be honest: they wouldn't realistically show up at each other's doors for every conversation. They'd call - or text, which is even more boring onscreen. IMing too. I can't tell you how many times I've convinced people not to write features about online poker because they're booooring. Beyond visuals, cell phones also make it harder to put our characters in jeopardy.
Friend-of-a-friend Zachary Pincus-Roth explores this modern dilemma in this LA Times article: Remember movies before the cellphone?
I was going to go through facebook and accompany this post with some silly picture of me with a cell phone, but I feel like that'd be a bit too much like how Oprah puts herself on all her magazine covers.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Your instincts are right on - I recommend getting as close to the people who do what you ultimately want to do as you possibly can. I couldn't find a writer's assistant job or a development job, so I ended up at an agency. But I interact with high-level writer clients as well as assistants all across the industry, so I know it's worth it.
I feel like assistant jobs are kind of your only option. Keep in mind this includes on-set PAs, office PAs, agency assistants, studio assistants, production company assistants, management company assistants, etc. Within these, you probably want to be in development, production, current, lit, or directly working for a show (or movie) if you want to learn about and make connections in the creative world. Maybe acquisitions if you're interested in that.
I could be wrong, but I feel like if you were to get a job in finance, even within Hollywood, you'd still have to start at the bottom. Generally It's too specialized of an industry for outsiders to jump in on a high level. And if you have to start at the bottom anyway, you might as well try to start at the bottom in the department you want, in the company you want. Feel free to comment if you have other experience. But even if you were able to skip the assistant route, I think you might be right about being outside the system. Generally if you have creative aspirations - be it writer, studio exec, producer, etc. - you need to find an assistant gig in a department that will connect you with people who do these things. If you're in accounting or HR of biz affairs, it's not going to do much good. Even if you were an exec in another department, you certainly wouldn't be able to jump over and be an executive having creative meetings with writers and producers and such.
I would say a desk in a non-creative department might be worth it if you're at a very small company where you'll definitely interact with people in the right departments, or it seems like you might be able to jump desks. Also, I know that sometimes finding ANY job in this town can be really difficult. People - often well-connected, brilliant, qualified people - come here in droves. If you have no connections, it's going to be tough. (This is one of the reasons I recommend interning; it doesn't take any connections to get an internship, and you will certainly MAKE connections at said internship.) But if you're not coming to LA until after college, I understand that you won't be able to simply work for free. I don't know if I'd be willing to do the intern-and-waiting tables thing with a degree under my belt (though I know people who have). You might get really desperate for a job. I get it. I worked in reality for a while, and I knew it would do NOTHING for my career, but I needed to eat. Being an accounting assistant in Hollywood is better than answering phones at a doctor's office or something. And answering phones at a doctor's office is better than making lattes at the Coffee Bean, because at least you're getting part of the skill set you could put on a resume to make you more marketable for a Hollywood assistant job.
If at all possible, save some money so that you can take time and find a job that's a good opportunity and fit for you. Or, plan to do some kind of temporary job (like working as an extra through Central Casting) while you find your full-time gig. I know I've posted before about questions you should ask yourself when job shopping: Will you be learning about your craft or the industry? Will your boss(es) be willing to be mentors and/or help you get your next job? Will you have time to write? Will you be able to network? Will you be happy (enough)?
Few people only have one assistant job before moving into the job they really want. This is actually a Hollywood truth in general: success may not happen with your first agent, or your first desk, or your first script, or your first anything. Be prepared for the long haul.
Monday, September 8, 2008
You used the phrase "story/conflict-driven plots." Well, all your stories should certainly have both. But when it comes to driving the story, I think it's best to focus on character. For example:
Your character = Bob, who likes to be the center of attention at all times. Also a nutjob.
So, your conflict = Bob's brother, Steve, is super concerned about what people think of him. He wants to hide or silence Bob for fear of embarassment.
Your plot = We are at a dinner party where Steve is trying to convince his fiancee, Laura, that his family is totally normal.
Maybe Laura is secretly in love with Steve's dad, too.
So maybe this isn't the most enthralling idea I've ever had...but there is conflict, and there is plot, and it all comes from who our characters are and what they want. And when you connecting your characters through relationships just makes this all the more natural. No string-plot needed.
Friday, September 5, 2008
What was the theme of this episode that I had decided on?
Do I have interesting visuals?
Do my scenes have emotional shifts? Do people leave or end scenes different than how they started?
Are all my scenes crucial to the story?
And, most simply, but most importantly: Do my scenes all have conflict? People wanting things, and obstacles getting in their way?
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I got into TV writing by default. Sounds strange, but it's a little true. I talked before about how I got a silly all-inclusive scholarship to college (how I miss those catered meetings of fruit kabobs and chicken fingers and idealism). The catch of this scholarship was that I could only be one of four majors: Journalism, Television/Radio, Integrated Marketing Communications or Organizational Communications, Learning & Design (J, TV/R, IMC or OCLD, for short - we lived in acronyms). And I think the latter two have been merged or renamed or something, perhaps to CMD, which is similarly obtuse. The school has a Cinema/Photography department, but at the time you couldn't pick that major if you had the scholarship. Anyway, I began as a Journalism major, since that's why I did in high school: ran my school's news magazine. I was also in charge of the entertainment section, in which I told everyone to listen to the bands I liked, watch the movies I liked, etc. We didn't have a tv station or radio station, so I didn't have any experience with or exposure to those. I also wrote for our city's paper, The Buffalo News. Seriously, LexisNexis me. So I picked Journalism, only to discover that the journalism kids and classes at IC were really politically focused, and I was more interested in entertainment and human interest stories. And in general, I didn't like that it was all about facts, about fitting a story in 400 words. I wanted scenes, people, details. I loved the literary journalism we read in books like
The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, but we didn't focus on that kind of stuff. Sometimes I would write shells of stories before I would interview people, and already decide what I wanted them to say. Then I would do the interview, and get them to say it. I realized that maybe I should be writing dialogue instead. Even my prose pieces were very dialogue-heavy. So eventually I changed my major - and I had three choices: TV/R, IMC and OCLD. Definitely didn't want to market stuff, or organize/communicate/design stuff. So that left me with TV/R. And within that, I could be video production, audio production, scriptwriting, international somethingorother that nobody did, or I could invent a new concetration if I proved it was different enough from all the others. Hmm. I guess scriptwriting.
So I got into TV writing by default.
Maybe that will piss people off, that I didn't spend my terrible twos sitting and drooling in front of The Cosby Show, dreaming the satin bunny puppet I called "Bobby" was actually a network executive listening to my genius pitch. But I always knew I would write. When I was a kid, I wanted to write picture books. When I was a tween, it was chapter books. Later it was novels. Then newspaper articles. Then plays. Then TV. I've always loved stories.
The parents of a friend of mine wanted him to be a lawyer...but in college, after he'd finished his work and went out and such, he found himself watching movies every day, one after another, often until the middle of the night. And eventually it dawned on him that maybe he should be making movies for a living. Now he's a studio executive, one that my boss proudly claims is "going places." You have to follow your passions. I think I always have been, even when I didn't quite realize it. When I think back to high school, I remember that it took me hours and hours to finish my homework...and not because I was a crappy student, but because I had to do it while watching Dawson's Creek, Smallville, Felicity, Once and Again, ER...and I can tell you I was paying a lot less attention to quadratic equations than I was to that amazing scene where Shane West was crying in the bus station.
I also may or may not have been OBSESSED with the FoxFamily drama HIGHER GROUND, about teens (ahem...Hayden Christensen) tackling their troubles on a mountain. Like, I cried, wrote fan fiction, signed petitions, had all the episodes on VHS tapes and nearly murdered my father when he taped horse races over them.
A few years later, I think my love of TV manifests itself in what I call Hangover Discs. When you wake up that Saturday with the ache of regret, and well, just ache, what do you do? Usually I eat a bunch of stuff, hoping I won't feel hungover. Then I feel hungover, and full. So I turn on the TV and curl up with Seth Cohen or Veronica Mars. They're my Hangover Discs, the characters I will always find comfort in, the shows I can watch over and over.
I want to be a TV writer because there's nothing else I want to do. And so you have something to watch after you overdose on Jager bombs.
Think about some of you favorite shows. Gilmore Girls is about walking line the between friend and parent. Trying to prevent your daughter from making the same mistakes you did. Making sacrifices for your family.
Mad Men is about want versus need. How you can tap into people and make them buy products. How having everything, money, beauty, etc. still won't make you happy. How we are all just trying to live up to an image. How men and women need each other but make each other miserable.
Weeds is about the failure of the American dream, the emptiness of being a corporate carbon copy in a subdivision, and how people escape their unhappiness through drugs. It's about raising a family amidst constant chaos. It''s about getting in over your head, being your own worst enemy.
Greek is about family, the kind of non-traditional family you can create with your fraternity or sorority. It's about making sense of the world and finding your place in it, with the support of your brothers and sisters.
Even Entourage - it's about the strength of friendship, the kind of people who know the real you, the people who won't be swept up in the cult of celebrity. It's about taking chances, pursuing your dreams and passions, and having people who will always support you.
So what are the big choices? Is there conflict in your premise? And, what is your show about?