Monday, December 29, 2008

Advice from Ed Bernero

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

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oh, 8

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The agency one year rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Selling a spec TV script?

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

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

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

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

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Monday, December 22, 2008

I forgot to mention...

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

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Amanda's Favorite Christmas Movies

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back home

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

Welcome to Buffalo.

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

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Science and medicine

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

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

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making contacts at a seminar?

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

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

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

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How old is too old?

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

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

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

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting a head start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008


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

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

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

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

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