Sunday, April 27, 2008

How to find an internship (or job)

Thanks to The Chicago Tribune's TV blog, The Watcher, for linking me - cool stuff! I feel like the next best thing to being a TV writer would be getting paid to write about TV. Hmm...

Matt asked for more details about how to get an internship. My school's LA program maintained an internship database with a lot of contacts, which was helpful - but you can find the info on your own. Get an IMDBPro membership (there is 14-day free trial, and I think a month is only $8). Pick up a copy of the Hollywood Creative Directory. Or look at the weekly production listings in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Just call the companies that interest you and ask if you can submit a resume. Also, don't discount agencies - the interns at my company perform mailroom duties and sometimes become floating assistants - which gives them a lot of valuable experience to build on when finding their first assistant job. The UTA list also has a ton of internships on it. It isn't posted on the internet, but it's pretty ubiquitious via email so I'm sure you can find someone to forward it to you.

I recommend those avenues the most - but you can also check the job websites of major studios, networks, etc. It took me a long time to compile all of these so I hope the universe recognizes all the work I'm saving you and throws me some nice karma. Note: these are for jobs as well as internships. I don't know if you'll have much luck or response, but I did get one of my internships by applying online. So it can work.


ABC jobs
CBS jobs
Defamer job board
Entertainmentcareers.net
Focus Features/Rogue Pictures internships
Mandy.com
Viacom jobs
Paramount jobs
Sony Pictures jobs
Disney jobs
Time Warner jobs
The Weinstein Company jobs
Star Staffing Services

I'm sure there are more - start searching!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Internships

Matt writes: I'm getting ready to move out to L.A. for a summer internship, after which I'd be finding a job/apartment for the long haul. I'm just curious what to expect, or any other sage advice you might have.

Interning is a great idea. Almost everybody I know who works in Hollywood started as an intern. It sucks that 98% of them don't get paid, but that's just something you have to deal with. I already talked about HOW to get an internship - either in the trade listings, websites, or just cold calling - but in terms of WHAT will be involved, it runs the gamut.

My first Hollywood internship was in marketing at a feature studio in New York. It kinda sucked because I had no interest in marketing, but I desperately needed something. I watched TV spots of practically every movie the studio had ever made and digitized them so that when an exec was like, "let's market this like we did for that movie ten years ago," they'd be able to quickly pull up the spot. Good for them, shitty for me - watching that blue bar crawl across the screen was like watching a pregnancy test all summer. I also spent a lot of time transporting DVDs and one-sheets in the company van; the studio has two offices, both in Tribeca, but about a mile apart - so they employ a woman named Flor to drive people back and forth all day. We'd sit in traffic and watch the people at the school of trapeze do crazy flips next to the river. She tried to teach me a little Spanish but I retained none. Ah well, it was better than going with the studio head's driver, who would flash a creepy grin and offer me rides every day.

During my semester in LA, I interned two days a week in development at a feature studio genre specialty arm and also two days a week at a feature production company with a studio deal. I took classes one day and one night a week (Ithaca's satellite school is structured around interning). I definitely recommend trying a couple different internships. That way, you can get double the contacts, double the experience/knowledge, and double the resume lines. Plus, if one turns out to be a total bust (which happens sometimes), you'll still have one left. People who go to school at USC or UCLA have the luxury of doing several internships over the course of school...though after a couple you'll probably get sick of it.

My production company internship was pretty good; my boss was a Creative Exec who was really friendly and willing to answer questions and talk about projects. We were encouraged to read everything, and we were asked to write coverage and scene breakdowns. We also did a lot of menial stuff - photocopying, script assembly, fetching coffee, etc. The stuff I did in the agency mailroom was actually pretty similar. But it was fun to be on a lot and see how it all worked. There were always three or four interns around, which was nice - and I actually met my current roommate there. The exec producer of the company was also really down to earth, despite the photo of him receiving his Oscar that hung proudly on the wall. He took the time to meet with every intern individually, and he also bought us all lunch one day and sat with us to answer any questions we had. I asked him what he looked for in a script, and he said: 1. a compelling visual world, and 2. a challenging performance for an actor.

The genre specialty arm internship turned out to be really boring...the company was very small and didn't really need me; I used to sit in my cubicle and play facebook and do my homework. I would occasionally make copies or read scripts and give my bosses reasons to tell the agents and managers they were passing. Honestly, though, I did about 35 minutes of work per day. My immediate supervisor was a seasoned assistant whom I kept in touch with (he actually submitted my resume for the agency job), and I also made friends with the CE and did some work for him when he wanted to find new directors who had won film festivals. I also met two interns at the other genre arm that my company was technically a divison of - and we still keep in touch.

Intern stories vary widely. I knew some people who got to go to fancy premieres and others who became super-stressed unpaid assistants who ran around fetching dry cleaning and non-cream-based soups. You also have to remember that it is not your company's goal to give you an enriching experience; it is your company's goal to make money. You just have to try and soak up as much as you can. You have to be assertive and ask questions, but not be a pest. When shopping for an internship, ask yourself - am I going to learn something? Will I have things to do? Will I learn skills like writing coverage or rolling calls, that I can use in the future? Are there other interns I can hang out with? Will this potentially lead to a job? Will my supervisors be valuable connections? No internship is perfect - but since you're not getting paid, you need to be getting SOMETHING.

Most places (and all big networks and studios) require that you receive college credit for your internship. However, if you move out to LA with a degree but no experience, you may need to spend a couple months as an intern before getting a job. Smaller companies will let you do it (two of the interns at the production company I interned at were already grads). It sucks and you'll need to get a side job to pay the rent, but it'll only be for a few months. I refused to be an unpaid intern after I had graduated - but I also had four internships on my resume already.

Also, don't be afraid to shop around. I had seven or eight interviews before settling on my two internships. It's not like looking for a real job, where there is lots of rejection; when you're an intern, you get to reject lots of companies who want to bring you on as a free laborer. Look up places that make movies or TV you're passionate about, and see if you can intern there. I have a feeling it will be inspiring and exciting to meet the minds behind your favorites.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tidbits

Check out this video of Diablo Cody talking about screenwriting at our WriteGirl workshop last month.

Also, someecards has a batch of pretty hilarious cards for Administrative Professionals Day (yesterday). We got free breakfast! And some assistants even got gifts from their bosses (one got a $100 bill inside a handshake). I don't think my boss remembered, even though HR sent out an email the day before about the "holiday." I did, however, get a high five when I showed my boss how to copy a URL someone emailed him and paste it into his web browser. I'm telling you, I'm a computer GENIUS. Indispensible. Can you imagine getting through life without copy and paste? Yeesh.

One agent forwarded the HR email to his assistant with the simple instruction:

put in my calendar to acknowledge and thank you tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Respectful Networking

First, an addition to yesterday's post, from Matthew:

I am a senior about to graduate from Notre Dame and I'm heading out to LA soon to be a sitcom writer. I was wondering if you, as a college-grad-turned-aspiring-writer, had any advice about the best time to get out to Cali. I am currently planning on heading out about a week after graduation, so around the 25th of May. Do you think I should try to get out there earlier? Later? Does it matter?

Yes. Don't come when one of the guilds is on strike.

Otherwise, nah, it doesn't matter. There will always be jobs - and I don't even think it matters that so many people graduate in May, because lots of people (myself included) put off the move to save money, backpack across Europe, try practical careers in investment banking, etc. People bring their dreams to Hollywood year-round. You can try to wait for staffing season if you want to work on a TV production in some capacity, but I wouldn't even do that...cable shows are on different schedules anyway, and there are plenty of other jobs to be had. Watch out for August, though - It was over 100 degrees for the first three weeks I lived here. (Damn that 100% silk, dry-clean-only, sexy-yet-professional, perfect-for-job-interviews BCBG shirt.)

A note from reader who's been in LA a few years longer than I have:
November-December is a terrible time to move out here (or, for your future, look for the next job). The UTA Joblist shrinks that time of year every year and the amount of people hiring declines because everyone wraps up for the following year.

And onto my main topic for today: Networking. It's a delicate art. Basically, you want to try to get to know as many people as you can. Everybody in Hollywood understands that this is how it works, and we think nothing of having drinks with complete strangers to talk about our careers. People do it in other industries too, but it is still foreign to some people, like my friend who's presently wondering what to do with his film degree in Wisconsin:

LoganEcholls4eva (ok, I made this one up): I'm having drinks with a guy tonight.
MadisonsBicycleThief (this one too): It's Monday.
LoganEcholls4eva : No, I'm not getting wasted or anything, it's networking.
MadisonsBicycleThief: Networking?
LoganEcholls4eva: Yeah, like, meeting people for career stuff.
MadisonsBicycleThief: So you're meeting a guy. For a drink. At a bar. And it's not about sex?
LoganEcholls4eva: Nope.

Well...I mean...it depends...

In all seriousness, I think the most important thing to remember about networking is that it's not asking for favors - it's cultivating relationships. A big mistake I see newbies make is that they ask for favors right off the bat, like, will you read my script? can you get me a job? can you get me an agent? etc. Don't do this - it's tacky, and it makes the other person feel like they're being used (because that's pretty much what you're doing). It shouldn't be all about you; you should give them reason to want to cultivate a relationship with you also.

Don't ask for a date either! It's creepy. My friend actually had this happen to her after a networking event: she got an email from a guy asking her to set up meetings with agents for him (!!)...and THEN had the nerve to ask her out on a date. Yeesh. It's one thing if you really hit it off, but they had like a 5-minute conversation. Be professional, and be patient. Networking has to be an even-sided relationship. After a while, helping each other out will come naturally and it won't seem like you're just asking for favors.

But - what if you're networking with people at a much higher level? You probably don't have any way to help them out. That's okay, they will understand. Start with asking for advice. Ask about how they got to where they are, what they think would be beneficial for you to do, etc. It's okay for you to be the one initiating the contact (in fact, you will probably have to be the one to initiate with former internship supervisors, execs, older alumni from your school, etc.) - just be brief and friendly.

So let's recap:
Don't be shy. Meet as many people as possible.
Don't ask for favors right off the bat. Cultivate a relationship first.
Don't let it be all about you.
Don't be a creep.
Do keep up with former colleagues and supervisors every few months.
Do ask for advice.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Job Search

Adam writes:

What would be a good starting point to find a job in the business out there in LA? I'd like to move there as soon as I can, but I need to find something first. Plus, I'm a guy, and maybe it's different in LA, but everywhere else, assistant jobs are 90-something% of the time given to women. Besides just finding a job, what else do you recommend doing in order to get better at writing?

First off, I talk to a pretty equal number of female and male assistants across agenices, studios, networks, prodcos. Certain bosses have gender preferences, but overall, I think the playing field's pretty equal. My mailroom "class" was about 11 guys and 3 girls (is it wrong that I really enjoyed this?). On any account, I assure you that dudes get jobs.

Annnd - I hear ya. It is more than a little daunting to move to a new city (which, for many of us, is three timezones away) without a job. But I'm telling you, it's what you have to do. For most of the people I know, it takes about 6-8 weeks to find a job - and maybe longer to find the right one, even if you know a ton of people out here already like I did. Check out my blog posts from August & September - especially this one - for more on the search. I've heard of people with contacts taking trips out here for pre-move interviews, but it didn't seem plausible for me. I think you're going to have a really tough time trying to get a job here if you don't live here. For one, there are zillions of other people vying for the same position. Why would your prospective employer bother dealing with someone who can't come in for an interview if there are thirty people who can come in tomorrow? Also, assistant gigs become available and are filled VERY quickly. Nobody is going to wait a few weeks or more for you to move. So, although you're going to face many blank stares from the friends and relatives who would never dream of doing it, just come here. For the record, I didn't have a job OR an apartment when I started my journey down the 90. (I'm not saying it's not a big deal. I'm saying you'd better be damn sure you want this - so sure that you're willing to face the uncertainty of being jobless and homeless.)

In those 6-8 weeks of The Search, there are a few things you can do. It would be great if you had some money saved up. I didn't because I was aching to start Real Life, but I'm still in credit card debt, I have a weakness for pretty clothes and I've learned all my financial lessons the hard way. You can work as an extra through Central Casting pretty much immediately. I know a few people who did that while we interned out here during college and had some very amusing stories to tell. My friend was going to write a show about it until realizing Ricky Gervais beat her to it. Sneaky, that one. You can find PA work through internet sites, friends, etc. You can also get temp work through staffing agencies like Star Staffing. As for the real jobs - there is the UTA list, craigslist, mandy.com, entertainmentcareers.net, mediabistro.com, and all the various studio and network websites. Also don't be afraid to look at the production listings in the trades and call up the offices to ask if you can send a resume. The worst they can say is no. You may eat up a lot of your cell phone minutes, but I do know of three people who got jobs this way. None of these avenues will pay off as much as personal referrals (which is why networking is so important), but I've gotten a few interviews as a result of scouring the internet. And once you have your first job, you'll have those referrals so you probably won't need to scour ever again (yay!).

Keep in mind that none of these jobs will lead directly to TV writerdom. The whole point of getting a job in the industry is to 1. learn how it all works and 2. make contacts, so you can complete the two-step process to TV writing success: writing a great script, and getting someone important to read it. There are plenty of writers who don't start out as Hollywood assistants. It makes the most sense for me, but if you've got some other way to pay rent, go for it. I always liked the idea of marrying some rich, attractive man who supported me while I sat around and wrote scripts by the pool - but I also liked the idea of a fourth season of Veronica Mars. Time to let go of the dream.

As for how else you can become a better writer:

READ: scripts - especially the real ones and not the online transcripts, if you can get your hands on them (another perk of being a Hollywood asssistant). books. blogs. screenwriting books. trades like Variety & the Hollywood Reporter.

WATCH: tv. film. youtube videos. whatever.

DISCUSS: your writing and the writing of others in classes, workshops, writing groups.

GO: to events hosted by the Academy, the WGA, Paley, etc.

Meet the assistants

Yeesh, I'm tired. Not only did I have to watch Gossip Girl and Greek, but I also went to a JHRTS speed networking event at Falcon tonight, which was pretty cool. I met lets of fellow industry minions, and the concept did yield a lot of new contacts in one efficient night. Aspiring writers, agents, studio execs, directors, etc. And of course, Hollywood gets smaller and smaller - I met people who know friends, coworkers, even a girl who grew up on the same street as my roommate (IN OKLAHOMA). The first guy I met (a development assistant) actually said, "do you have a blog? I recognize you from your picture." That was pretty cool. My friend Jamie said "awwwwwkward" and walked away from us. But whatever. I am a blogger. I ADMIT IT! IT'S OKAY.

I've come to the realization that there are many kinds of assistant jobs out there...and though none of them promise a path to writerdom, I feel like they each have unique benefits and problems.

Agent Assistant
Pros: You learn how agents sell scripts, to whom they sell, and what's selling. You learn the process and the structure of the industry. You learn how people get agents. You have access to countless scripts. You will be talking to people at studios and production companies all over town. You will meet lots of other young people. In certain cases (like mine): you will be working very regular eight-hour days, leaving plenty of time for writing. You could move up and become coordinator very quickly (though you might not want to if you're an aspiring writer). Your boss might come to really value your opinion about scripts. Your job is very secure (unless you fuck up) - you get paid vacation and do not take a hiatus.
Cons: You must thrive among cutthroat salespeople. When dealing with clients, you're basically a customer service representative. You might work extremely long hours. You get paid the least out of all the assistants (except maybe in some kinds of production, but they work so many hours they end up with more money overall). You have to dress for Beverly Hills. You will probably not feel 100% comfortable sharing your writing aspirations.

Development Assistant (studio)
Pros: You learn the process of development and how shows become ready to shoot. You get to listen in on notes calls, where you learn what studios and networks tell writers to change. You will be talking to people at agenices, networks and production companies all over town. You might work with other young people. Your bosses are more likely to be friendly, creative people. You can probably wear jeans. You get corporate perks like tickets to Disneyland or Universal. You might get to read scripts and give feedback to your bosses during busy staffing seasons. Your job is very secure - you get paid vacations and do not take a hiatus.
Cons: You will likely work 10-12 hour days, leaving very little time for writing. You might need to spend a year at an agency before being considered for the job. You will likely have to work for two bosses, unless your boss is pretty high-level. Overall, nobody cares what you think about scripts and projects. You probably will have to leave and work for a smaller company before getting promoted to manager or coordinator - or wait around for several years.

Development assistant/Producer's assistant (production company/independent producer)
Pros: You learn the process of development. You get to listen in on calls from agents, studios, networks, etc. You will be talking to people at agenices, networks and studios all over town. You might work with other young people. Your bosses are more likely to be friendly, creative people. You can probably wear jeans. You might get to read scripts and give feedback to your bosses - possibly even all the time if your office is small. If your bosses have a deal, your job is probably very secure.
Cons: You might work long days, leaving very little time for writing. You might need to spend a year at an agency before being considered for the job. You might work in a small office with limited opportunities for meeting other young people. Your job might best be suited for an aspiring producer rather than writer. If your bosses do not have a deal, your job might not be very secure (or much of a learning experience if they don't have much in development or production).

Production PA on a TV show
Pros: You are on set, seeing everything firsthand. You do not have to sit in an office all day answering the phone. You might be able to leverage the position into a writer's PA or writer's assistant job. You get to wear jeans.
Cons: You will work long hours and may not have time to write on your own. You might not be exposed to the right people to get your way into the writer's room. It might take a while to get promoted. You probably won't get paid much or have benefits (depends on the company). You won't get exposed to scripts or writing-related aspects of the industry; you'll be doing odd jobs and tasks.

Note: these next two are based on my observations and stories from people I've met and I'm not super familiar with them...feel free to chime in or correct me. Of course, each show operates differently. Some shows have a writer's assistant for each writer AND a couple writer's PAs. Some just have one writer's assistant and one writer's PA. Plenty fall somewhere in between.

Writer's PA on a TV show
Pros: You are (sometimes) in the writer's room, learning how it all works. People know (and respect) the fact that you want to be a writer, and may be inclined to read your scripts and give you notes. You get to work with successful, talent writers all day. You get to wear jeans. You are that much closer to being the writer's assistant.
Cons: You probably need to have a strong connection to get this job. You are not a writer's assistant. You are getting lunch and running errands. You work long hours and may not have time for your own writing. Your job is not very secure - there is always the possibility of cancellation, and you may not make enough to save money for the hiatus (during which time you might not have health benefits).

Writer's assistant on a TV show
Pros: You are in the writers room, learning how it all works. People know (and respect) the fact that you want to be a writer, and may be inclined to read your scripts and give you notes. You get to work with successful, talent writers all day. You get to wear jeans. You get to listen to notes calls. There is the possibility that you might get promoted to staff writer.
Cons: You probably need to have a strong connection to get this job. If it's a big successful show, there is not much chance of you getting staffed. You will probably work long hours, and may or may not have time for your own writing. Your job is not very secure - there is always the possibility of cancellation, and you may not make enough to save money for the hiatus (during which time you might not have health benefits).

There are a few other positions...Office PA, Runner, Manager Assistant...but I think you get the picture. One of the writer's assistants I met (who is crazy stressed out since she's the only one) suggested that trying to get a job as an assistant to an executive producer is the better way to go - same learning opportunities, same access, less stress. When you're shopping for an assistant gig, I think these are some good questions to ask yourself:

Will I still have time and energy to keep up with my writing?
Will I be learning about my craft and/or the business?
Are my bosses people I can learn things from?
Will my bosses help me get my next job, or launch my writing career?
Will I be able to network?
Is it a steady enough job? If it isn't, will I be able to find something else or live off savings for a while?
Will I be happy (enough) in the job?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Voice

A word that always comes up when describing writers, especially new writers, is VOICE. It's sort of hard to explain now that I'm trying to do it, but your style, perspective, attitude, characters, themes, influences (and probably much more) all add up to your voice. Who you are as a writer. If you're funny or serious - and what kind of funny or serious. Where you fit on the spectrum between Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which, btw, was funny but kind of forgettable) and There Will Be Blood. Sometimes it kinda sucks because the one script of yours that people read will be the representation of who you are. If all goes well you'll get a meeting and get to show them more about you, but really, your talents have to shine off the page.

I think it can be difficult to write with all of this in mind. I kinda want to keep it simple and just write a good story with good characters. But I know my writing needs to make an impression. Am I making the right one? I want people to read me and get what I'm about. That life is hilarious and tragic. That people are impossibly complex and interesting. That we make bad decisions despite ourselves. That there is poetry in everything - and bullshit in everyone.

Maybe you can't really try to create your voice. Maybe it's just there naturally. I just hope that if people start listening, they're hearing what I want them to hear.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Get noticed on the internet

A couple weeks ago I had dinner with a bunch of aspiring doctors. (Doesn't it sound funny when you apply the Aspiring label to other industries?) I am jealous of them because their path is so clear: go to college, go to grad school, do your internship and residency, boom. Doctor! Of course they have to be good at what they do, and I am not for a second saying it is not a challenging career - but they do not go through the uncertainty of the path itself the way we do.

The way I see it, the steps to becoming a TV writer are:

1. Write a great TV script
2. Get someone important to read it (and like it)

Alas, it is a simple concept with a more complicated execution. Step 1 might involve reading a zillion books and scripts, watching hundreds of shows, taking classes, going to panels, joining a writers group, staying up late to write because you need a day job to pay the rent, etc. Step 2 might involve getting a job as a PA or assistant, working your ass off for a couple years doing stuff you hate, relentless networking, winning a contest, blanketing the town with queries, etc. And you might get halfway through the steps and have to start over several times.

So what else can you do to expedite the process and get noticed? The internet is a wonderful thing. You might start a blog (getting noticed was never my intention with this blog, but I'm thrilled to have earned some readers), or make a short for YouTube. Maybe you can make several shorts and put them on your own website like Stephen (he got a pitch meting at a cable network). Remember the Doctor? He now works for the head of our Interactive Media Department - or as my boss likes to say, The Internet Guy. (Later on I'll post about how I use the fact that my boss thinks I am a Computer Genius to my advantage.) He knows a lot about developing shows for the internet...and also about the digital world in general. His advice for people putting shorts online:

1. Keep it under 7 minutes. Online videos work best when they can be consumed in small bites. This way, people can watch them in their entirety during their downtime at work.

2. Go for comedy. It's too hard to tell a dramatic story (well) in under 7 minutes. Also, people are more likely to pass them on if they think their friends will laugh. People are also more likely to watch.

3. Get a celebrity. OK, that's kind of hard, but my friend says that a big name will get people watching, and is easy for people to search for. On the search topic...it also helps to give your idea a simple, memorable title.

4. Be Rick Astley. :)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Links

My friend Jason emailed to share a screenwriting podcast called On the Page by writer Pilar Alessandra. Cool stuff.

Reader Randall also shared the link for the New York Television Festival, which takes place from Sept. 12-17 this year. They're now accepting submissions for its pilot competition (deadline is June 30). Keep in mind this is for produced pilots, not scripts.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Two punchlines: better than one

Jane Epsenson often breaks down jokes on her blog, analyzing their types. At first I didn't like this. I wanted to think that I'm just funny, and there isn't a method or formula behind it...that it's cheating to construct jokes instead of writing what magically comes to you. But now I have started to recognize and appreciate the kinds of jokes she talks about. For example, on Monday's Greek (which you can watch online):

RUSTY
It's like we're a boy band, and I'm the fat one.

CASEY
I believe it's pronounced Fatone.

Boom! Double punchline! Rusty's line would have been funny on its own, but it was twice as funny with the extra punchline. BTW, once I wrote the dialogue down I realized it was even funnier spoken than written, because on the page you kind of see the joke coming. I feel like I should make a point about writing for actors and TV and not people reading...but let's be honest, it's gonna be a while before I've got people reading, much less actors speaking.

Not really sure why I turned into Captain Positivity there... but anyway. Gonna try to get a lot done this weekend. I've got a new teaser to my pilot that basically retells the original teaser AND act one in 8 pages. Which is great. Except now I have to rework everything and add a whole other act.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Queries and Knowing People

In my How (Not) to Get an Agent post, I told you not to bother querying the top Hollywood agencies. Then a bunch of you asked, but what about the smaller ones? Should we bother? I personally didn't know...but the answer I got from a guy who works at a management/production company tonight at a bar (I love networking...) is - YES! Go ahead! Now, he certainly can't speak for everyone in town, but he says that his company absolutely accepts queries. He gets about a hundred a week, and from those he requests 3-4 scripts. Of all the scripts he's read, he has passed on 4 or 5 to upper level people at his company. So it's still a bit of a long shot...but if you can write a great query and a great script, consider it an open door.

I know you want me to tell you what company this is, but I don't think it would be fair of me. Do some research; they accept them online. This also brings me to another point: managers. Writers are always focused on getting an agent, and often forget about managers - even though it's common to get a manager first. So if you're going to send out queries to smaller agencies in Hollywood, you might as well go for some smaller management companies too. In your query, SELL your idea. Keep it brief, but enthusiastic. Draw them in. And most of all, be absolutely sure your script is ready to be read.

I've also heard some people lament that they just don't KNOW anybody - and as I've said before, knowing people will get you farther than the greatest query letter or cover letter on earth. But here's the thing - I didn't know anyone either. My dad works in a factory. My mom is a teacher. My sister took her English degree and got a job in banking (at 25, she makes four times what I do). My brother is 17 and obsessed with paintball.

When I came out to LA for a semester, I got one internship by cold-faxing someone and the other by applying online. (Interns are free labor - who doesn't want that? Honestly, just pick a company you'd like to work at and find a phone number/fax number/email. If you're halfway intelligent they'll probably say yes.) I kept in touch with my supervisors, and when I moved to LA I asked them if they knew anybody at agencies. One of them knew an assistant, and sent my resume to her with the request that she send it to HR to be put at the top of the mailroom pile. I had applied to this same agency a few weeks before per an internet posting and heard nothing. But after my boss's email, they called me within hours to set up the interview. And here I am.

Maybe I "know people" now - but I didn't when my story began.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Doctor

I feel the need to mention that working for an agency is not for everybody. My situation (a low-volume desk with a small roster of successful-yet-low-maintenance clients and an easygoing boss with 37 years of experience) is actually a unique one, and for many other assistants, jobs at the agency can be more stressful. Two of my friends recently were kicked off their desks due to no mistakes of their own, but political restructuring. Other perfectly smart people do not last because their personalities don't mesh with their bosses. Some agents are young and inexperienced and trying to figure everything out while impressing their superiors - and put this same pressure on their assistants. Some agents are really disorganized and expect their assistants to fix problems the assistants didn't even know existed. Some agents have really high-maintenance clients who don't return emails or know how to show up at meetings. Some agents get upset over tiny things, like when other agents' assistants don't recognize their voices when they call from an unknown number and just say, "It's me." Some agents are terrible communicators who are never clear about what they want. One of my friends works for a woman who noticed he wasn't wearing collar stays after 30 seconds with him. She once called him into her office and, after a brief conversation, started making a call. He left - and she snapped, "I didn't tell you to leave!" So he sat back down, and stayed when she started a second call. Then she snapped, "What are you doing here? Did I say that you could listen to this call?"

Being an assistant often involves navigating the fine line between making decisions on a whim and knowing when to ask questions before making said decisions. You have to be patient and organized and informed. You have to accept that you will constantly be challenged, but never in a fulfilling way. You have to anticipate. And you have to not let it drive you crazy that your life consists of running someone else's life. Let's be honest, it's not exactly the description of a writer.
You also have to deal with a lot of bullshit. (I'm sure this an important lesson for any career in Hollywood.) Here's one of my favorite stories, from the guy who recently moved to the desk next to mine. People often come to our room to visit, because A) we're awesome and B) our room is spacious and has become a hangout for transient chairs. I started to notice that all the guys call my friend "Doctor," and last week I finally asked him why. He used to work for one of our big talent agents, who is famous for signing clients and abusing assistants. He'd yell at my friend all day, firing him, saying he was useless, etc. Then he'd call him at two in the morning on his cell phone to say that my friend was doing a great job and that he was just toughening up to prepare him for the industry. It was a tough work environment. So, why Doctor? The agent's favorite thing to yell was, "IT'S NOT FUCKING BRAIN SURGERY!"

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Big Notes

Since I'm more or less done with the first draft of my Weeds spec and have some time before hearing feedback from my writers group, I've dusted off my pilot and started to address the notes I received a few months ago. I love the little notes, about typos or confusing lines or joke suggestions. You can breeze through them and make changes in minutes.

But then there are the dreaded Big Notes. Like:

You need more plot.
You need more conflict.
You have five guys all around the same age and I'm getting them confused.
Three of your act breaks aren't big enough.
Why does your protagonist like such an asshole?
I think you should start at this event and throw out the 16 pages preceding it.
Tie your B-plot into your A-plot.
Show what these things MEAN to your characters.
Make it funnier.

Damn it! That's going to take forever! I know they're right, but I also know it means I have a lot of work to do. My writers group and I joke that we would like the next version of Final Draft to have an option under the Tools menu called Make It Funnier. You'd be able to type in the percentage funnier you would like your script to be. Helpful, no? My pilot needs about 25%, I think. Now that I think about it, an option for 35% more conflict might also be convenient...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Is TV school worth it?

I sometimes say I went to film school, though technically my degree is in Television/Radio. "TV school" just sounds kinda silly, I guess. Lovely reader Kate wrote in and asked if I would recommend she pursue a degree - or at least take classes - in TV writing. I apologize in advance for my answer: Yes and No.

If you are just graduating high school and choosing your college major, go ahead. Get your degree in TV like I did. It seems crazy to spend (or have your parents spend) upwards of $140,000 so you can be miserable taking engineering or biology. That being said, I hope you take the opportunity to explore all kinds of subjects that interest you in college. I originally began as a Journalism major, because I had been writing for The Buffalo News all through high school and it didn't occur to me, as a teenager in a snowy suburb, that I could write things for actors to say on TV. My college (Ithaca College) required that Journalism majors pick a minor outside of the Communications school, under the notion that beyond learning to write in your J classes, you ought to have something to write about. And I think the same goes for TV writing - I have no plans to be a doctor or a lawyer like the TV Lit deptartment head suggested, but it's good to have something to write about. Anyway, my writing classes were all great and I learned a lot about writing as well as giving and receiving notes (a HUGE part of the process). My school also had a satellite school in LA, which allowed me to study here, intern, test out the city and get a feel for what Hollywood was really like - something you can't really do atop a hill in the wine country of central New York.

But if you've already got a degree framed on your wall? Nah, I wouldn't go back to school for TV writing. Sure, you're going to have some catching up to do - but you can learn a lot from reading books, blogs and scripts, and from watching TV. If you have directing aspirations, that's different, and there are some great grad programs with major Hollywood connections that allow you to make films. But for those of us who contain all our vision in Courier, I would skip grad school. If you just want a class or two, you can take some through UCLA extension. In fact, fellow blogger Josh has recommended them. You just have to decide if the deadlines and guidance are worth paying for.

When making your decision, know that nobody is really going to care what's in the frame. I'm glad I went to school for TV, but A) I was on scholarship and B) MANY (if not most) people who make it in this industry do not go to school for it. What's really important is not your schooling but your script.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What is "unsolicited" ?

Alex Epstein, another professional writer with a blog I love, was nice enough to link to me on his site. He also posed a question in response to my post about unsolicited material:

Okay, Amanda, but define "unsolicited." Because even Big Five agents will read a baby writer if they for some reason think you are the Next Hot Thing.

I guess the real question is, "How do you get solicited," short of wearing hot pants and hanging out on Sunset Boulevard after dark?


Dude, let's be honest...in this town, you need hot pants more than you need Final Draft. :)

Unsolicited, to me, means that the agent does not know you and did not ask you to send your script. Yes, surely big five agents want to read the Next Hot Thing. But the Next Hot Thing according to whom? You may think you're crazy awesome, but they're not going to take your word for it -you need to be referred. If a manager, studio exec, producer, client or another agent recommends your script, they'll read it. If you're lucky, maybe a relative or friend or hairstylist's ex-fiancee could get you in this door (we've all heard the stories)...but generally we work off of industry referrals. An assistant might recommend something to his/her boss, but this is tricky; it takes a while to develop the relationship necessary to ask your boss to do this. And you'd better be sure you're recommending something good, because if your boss thinks the script is crap, they're probably not going to trust your judgment or read any of your referrals again. Some agency assistants (especially aspiring agents) certainly want to impress their boss by finding the Next Hot Thing - but they want to be confident about it.

There are a couple other ways to get noticed by agents, like winning the Nicholls or making a film that's screened at a USC or UCLA event that agents are invited to. But generally, big agents are not scouring the earth for great undiscovered talent.

Please keep in mind that this blog is all my observations as I try to carve a path towards TV-writerdom. I'm still learning and I'm not an expert by any means, but I'm happy to share what I've found. I promise I will get to all of your questions and emails soon!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Welcome!

Welcome, Jane Espenson readers! I'm honored that Jane featured me on her site today. Feel free to comment or email me at the link to the right.

Meanwhile, my usual readers will know that I've been MIA for a few days. Here is my dilemma: I can no longer steal internet at home. dlink, the trusty network I've been using since August, has now disappeared. How dare my neighbors password protect their networks! (And how sad it is that my eager wireless card finds a dozen networks at all points in my apartment and yet all of them taunt me with their locked key icons.) I suppose I could knock on some doors, ask, "Hey, are you the owner of the 'Suk Ma Ballz' network? Can I pay you $10 a month for the password?" But alas, who actually talks to their neighbors these days?

Part two of the dilemma is that I have plenty of access and time for internet surfing at work, but I know that HR or whoever can follow where I go on the internet - and I do not want them to read my blog and see what I'm saying about them. Not that I've said anything particularly disparaging lately...because things are going pretty well with my job! I've already been on this desk for a month, and it makes me think this year might go faster than I thought. It has occurred to me that my timing will be kind of off...because by March of 09 I don't know if any shows will be looking for writer's assistants...but I guess I'll deal with that problem later.

Back to the problem. I may or may not be posting this from my car, sitting in a parking lot. I am on the lookout for a coffee shop in ShOaks that's is open late and has free internet, but the valley kind of dies after 9 pm...and I'm too cheap to be buying sugary coffee drinks anyway.

WriteGirl is going well. I'm sad I wasn't able to pull anything together in time for our publication deadline, but I helped my mentee submit some of her pieces, so that is exciting. We also had our screenwriting workshop last weekend, and we had some awesome screenwriters there: Diablo Cody (Juno), Rita Hsiao (Mulan, Toy Story 2 - and beginnings in television) and Robin Swicord (adaptations of Little Women, Jane Austen Book Club, Memoirs of a Geisha). It was nice to see/hear really great writers who are also enthusastic about empowering women - and fun to learn things like the fact that Diablo has to write in a room with other writers so she doesn't get off track and start looking at gossip websites. The workshops are always so inspirational. As I told Rita in our small group, I love WriteGirl because it's such a positive retreat when Hollywood gets you down. A fellow New Yorker, she had actually heard of Ithaca, and she was really down-to-earth and friendly. She got her start as a writer's assistant on The Wonder Years (jealous!!). I brought up Jeffrey Stepakoff (who also worked on Wonder Years), the writer of Billion Dollar Kiss, the fabulous book about the BUSINESS and CAREER aspects of TV writing you never come across. She said, "Oh! I'm in his book!" And surely, a few nights later, I reached the part where he calls her and asks for help in getting a staff job. Hollywood really is tiny sometimes.

Can we talk about how amazing Greek is? Two episodes have aired so far this season and I loved them both. If I had to criticize, I'd say the peripheral characters need a little more depth - and not be just "the gay one," etc. But they're getting deeper each episode. The show is funny, fun, creatively visual for a soapy cable show (prohibition/flappers party!), and I can say the same thing about it that I said of Gossip Girl: it is successful because it takles small plots and events that mean big things to the characters. What's funny is that it's on ABC Family, what with all the sex and underage drinking that are not undertones or implications - but the PLOTS THEMSEVLES. My roommate said, "This needs to be on the CW." But as I reminded her, "IT'S A NEW KIND OF FAMILY!"