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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