Monday, June 30, 2008

LEARN TO LOVE CAPS LOCK

Or, up the ante like I do and HOLD DOWN THE SHIFT KEY! (It's been a boring day in agencyland.)

This will all make sense after Cal's question: When writing a spec, how closely should the formatting resemble produced scripts from the show you're writng? I ask because I'm following a produced script very closely, so my spec includes lots of capitalized of sounds, fragmented action description, and other language particular to that show.

Capitalized sounds and fragmented action description are actually very common in all scripts. Scripts are not written like novels; they are often choppy. Many writers think in shots, and write exactly what they want you to picture in each frame. I did once read a script that had NO complex sentences and it kinda drove me crazy...but used well, fragments are 100% okay. Your instinct to follow the show's real script is a good one - but remember that shows have many different writers, so while one script may use lots of fragments, another episode might be completely complete sentences. Every writer has a different style.

As for the caps (or shift), some things you always capitalize, like slug lines and names of characters we're just meeting. Beyond that, it's customary to capitalize anything you want to emphasize, whether it's an object your character picks up, or a big moment in the story. I think there's a line in the Fringe script like "AND THEN THE WHOLE THING FUCKING EXPLODES." Or something like that. It ups the intensity. It can also help establish your tone. Are you capitalizing phrases like BULLETS SPRAY INTO THE CROWD or HE CHUGS THE ENTIRE BEER, THEN GRABS ANOTHER? What you consider a BIG DEAL in your script will give us a sense of the world we're in.

Of course, don't get carried away. You don't want your readers to feel like they're being yelled at.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Honest to Blog

First, a deadline check:

NBC Writers on the Verge - June 30

Fox Diversity Development Writing Program - July 3

WB Writers Workshop - July 25

Disney/ABC Fellowship - August 8

Good luck!

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A question from Lewis: I've started a blog recently and I've got about a handful of readers, mostly people who I've had loose contact with, so I've been wondering...how long did it take for your blog to find its audience?

I've been blogging since high school, but I started this particular blog about a year ago, right before I made the big move to LA. I decided to stop whining about my astounding ability to gain five pounds in one weekend and instead focus on my path to TV writerdom. I think that's step one: give your blog a solid focus, and write about stuff that people want to read about. If you're just writing about your life, you're probably not going to get that many readers, unless your life is really unique and interesting (Diablo Cody's blog about stripping did get her noticed, after all). I answer questions from readers and write about what (I think) aspiring TV writers need to know.

My readership hasn't really come gradually; once Jane Epsenson, Alex Epstein and The Chicago Tribune's The Watcher linked me, my hits grew exponentially. Literally overnight. That's step two: get noticed by other bloggers who get more hits than you. Also, you've gotta blog often and keep up the interesting posts so that people keep coming back.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Favors, Cahones, Contests

A lot of people have been asking where they can find real TV scripts to use as templates for their specs. There were a lot of good ideas posted in the comments of the previous post - the WGA library, websites, etc. I have access to many as part of my job, but I'm afraid I can't post them or send them to guys. Leaking scripts violates Agency Rule #1, No Sharing of Agency Secrets, and it can get me fired.

That kind of leads me to another topic I've been thinking about: how to use your assistant friend or acquaintance. Let's say you meet an assistant to a big TV Lit agent. Or an assistant to an executive producer on your favorite show. Or a writer's assistant. The first thing that pops into your head is, I should get her to give her boss my script!

Hoooooold on. First off, boss/assistant relationships can be very tricky (I touched on this in my post about Respectful Networking). Second, your friend is dedicating a year or more of her life as an overworked, underpaid minion so that SHE can cash in a favor like getting a script read or having a phone call made on her behalf so she can get a better job. Why should she hand you a favor that she is working so hard to earn for herself? If you're good friends with this person and your script is really good, maybe something will happen. But all too often I see eager writers meet people and immediately say CAN YOU READ MY SCRIPT or WILL YOU GIVE MY SCRIPT TO YOUR BOSS? Dude, you must chill. If they're a high-up person, wait for them to OFFER to read your script. If they're an assistant and you've cultivated a relationship, go ahead and ask - but expect notes and advice, not that they're going to hand it to someone Really Important and make you a lot of money. If they think it's the Best Thing Ever, maybe they will pass it on. But you have to remember, the people you meet have their own motives and aspirations. Who the F are you to be asking for favors?

That being said, you do have to be assertive - you can't just sit around and wait for success to rain down on you. Ask questions and advice. Ask people to coffee or drinks, or be so charming that they ask you. Usually, people will be flattered that you're asking their opinion. I had drinks with a few people this week whom I thought would never want to meet me - but I took the initiative and made it happen.

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A question from Mark: I wanted your take on contests. I've entered quite a few of them two years ago, but with no results. Should I re-enter the script? Or should I just try to market it another way?

Unless you've made some pretty huge changes to the script, don't re-enter it. I don't think the way you "market" it will make much of a difference if the readers just don't respond to your material (pardon my agentspeak). If you're sure the script has lots of potential, get some notes and do a huge rewrite. Otherwise, move on and write another one. Even the most successful writers have plenty of scripts that never went anywhere.


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Size Matters

First, a success story! Stephen disovered the Independent TV Festival on the blog and he just found out that his online series, "My Life at 26," has been accepted into the festival (which takes place August 1-7 in LA). Congrats! Feel free to share any success stories that begin with my humble blog!

Next, a question from Paul about spec length: It seems like everybody says that my half hour sitcom spec should only be 22 pages. All those same people also advise you find an actual script from the show you're specing so that you can make your spec look like theirs. I did that, but the script I got is a shooting script, 42 pages for a half-hour episode. Should my spec look like that or should I scale it back to the 22 page range? I've tried to do my homework, but I'm really confused by the contradicting info.

Yeesh. First off, is the show single-camera or multi-camera? Multi-camera sitcoms have a different format: the dialogue is double spaced, the action is written in all caps and the scenes are labeled with letters - and these changes will add pages. I don't have a ton of familiarity with this format since I've never written a multi-camera spec...but I just looked at a few How I Met Your Mothers and they're closer to the 42 pages you mentioned. For single-camera shows (which includes all hourloung shows), the format is the same as basic screenplay format, except that you label each act, unlike in a feature. As for length, half hours should be anywhere from 22-35 pages. For a half-hour pilot I think it's more acceptable to be around 30-35...but for a spec I would be wary of doing more than 26 or so. Overall it's probably best to stay shorter - since your script is going to be in a huge pile of other scripts, and people might look for reasons (like: IT'S TOO LONG!) to toss yours aside. Similarly, screenplays should never be more than 120 pages; it's like giving your script a shiny cover that says DON'T READ ME. (John August recently posted about this.) That being said, writing a 17-page spec won't make you look clever, it'll make you look like you don't understand how television works.

Of course, premium cable shows are a bit of an exception (Jane Espenson recently wrote a post about how the lack of act breaks also makes them different). When I wrote my Weeds I got my hands on two of the show's scripts; one was 38 and the other was 43. An Entourage I found came in at 35.


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Friday, June 20, 2008

Your Resume

Scott found the blog while searching for examples of TV writer resumes, since he is putting together an application for the ABC/Disney fellowship. The hard thing about putting together our TV writer resumes is that we're not professional TV writers yet. When you are, your resume will just list the shows you've written for, nothing else. (At the agency we just call them credits.) But at this stage what you put together should be just your standard work resume - where you went to school, what your degree is in, work experience, etc. I'm sure the fellowship people will be happy to see sme industry experience, and anything you've done that utilized your writing skills. Also include any awards you've won, poems you've had published, etc. If you're just getting into this whole TV writer thing and don't have any related experience, don't fret; there is no set training to become a TV writer, and sometimes the best thing is to have an expertise in something else so that you can write about it. Are you a doctor? Hair stylist? Your nonwriting jobs might be the exact things that the fellowship people will want to see to know that you're an interesting, unique writer. And, in my opinion, the more unorthodox, the better. If you were a lion tamer for a circus or in the Israeli army, put it down! Things like that give you a really unique perspective (and those fellowships are all about diversity). One of my coworkers just got a new job at a TV studio, and she said that person who interviewed her noticed on her resume that she was also a yoga teacher, and they talked about that for half an hour. It made her stand out, and it gave them a talking point - two very valuable things when you're just a resume in a huge a pile of resumes. At the bottom of my resume I list the fun fact that I was on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - and it's come up in at least half of my job interviews.

Also, I shouldn't have to say this, but I've seen enough horrible resumes to know that I need to: Please spend some time on the layout, and check your spelling and grammar. You're a WRITER, for Chrissakes!

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The Sketchy Approach

Adam writes: I'm about to make a big move either to NY or LA. I know you're more into straight television writing, but I was wondering if you knew anything about the sketch comedy scene. I have a great interest in being a sitcom writer, but a greater one in sketch. That being said, I'm not a performer. I know you never lived in NY, but do you know from a sketch perspective which city has better training/opportunities/reputation?

First off, I did live in NYC for a summer, interning for a movie studio run by some Steins and defying warnings not to live above 96th Street (woo Morningside Heights!).

But since this isn't a biography quiz: Wow, good question. Lots of comedy writers start in standup or sketch comedy. I've never really considered it because, like you, I don't see myself as a performer or a comedian, and I prefer hourlong "dramas with comedy" or "comedies with heart" (depending on my mood). I don't have much experience with the sketch scene, other than having gone to a few friends' shows. I do have to say that if your ultimate goal is TV writing, I feel like you have to come to LA at some point. That being said, there is definitely a healthy comedy scene in NY, and shows like Letterman, Conan, SNL and The Daily Show are all based in NY. It's just a very small percentage of TV shows in general.

I asked a friend who is more involved with the scene, and he was unable to say much about NY except that he attended Sketchfest NYC 2008 and loved it. In LA, he's taken classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, a theater that boasts the beginnings of many successful comedy writers, and has found it to be the most supportive welcoming and inspiring environment he could imagine. UCB also has a theater in NY. It actually began in Chicago, and my friend says that he's also heard about a fun scene there.

Other comedy avenues in LA include IO West, Garage Comedy LA and Steve Allen Theater.

Feel free to comment if you have sketch/improv insight!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Meet other TV writers!

A lot of you have asked where you can find writing partners or writing groups...and aside from blogs and classes, I didn't really know where to point you. However, my friend Jane recently started a networking group for TV writers in LA. You can join here:

http://tv.groups.yahoo.com/group/tvwriters/

It's open to anyone in LA who wants to meet TV writers - whether you're a writer, agent, manager, producer, studio exec or network exec - aspiring or otherwise. We'll be having an in-person gathering once a month to prevent ourselves from becoming tortured-soul hermits like feature writers. Note: this is not a critique group, but it might be the perfect way to find people to start one of your own.


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Monday, June 16, 2008

Life update?

Mitchell writes: I was wondering how your quest to become a writer has been going for you?

I'm feeling a bit motionless in terms of my career right now, because I have committed to work for my current boss until March of 09. TIS A LONG TIME. A year at an agency is standard, but that means a year on a desk - so my mailroom and floater time didn't count, and I'll have done more like 17 months when I'm finished. It's cool, though - I'm using the time to network and make sure I will be armed with three really good scripts when I'm finished at the agency. I currently have a spec of WEEDS I'm happy with, and I have entered it in a few contests and will enter it into the upcoming fellowships. I'm also thisclose to finishing a second draft of my pilot, after which point I'll get some more notes and write a third draft before entering into anything, etc. Then I'll probably write another spec. Brothers and Sisters maybe? Gossip Girl? I haven't decided yet.

Once March comes, if I'm not an ABC/Disney fellow (hope is good, but so is realism), I'll try to get a writer's assistant job. This is much easier said than done; I've only seen about 3 postings for these jobs ever, and I get several postings a week. But I've managed to meet a few of these unicorns, and perhaps they will get promoted...or perhaps I can leverage some of my other connections into a WA job. Or maybe I'll find a magical chest of money and never have to roll calls and fetch things ever again. The problem with plans is that your life never quite adheres to them.


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Saturday, June 14, 2008

one more thing

Nice to meet some of you at the industry party at La Cantina last night! If you're an LA reader and see me somewhere, feel free to say hi. I'm not going to think you're creepy, I'm going to feel awesome. As long as you don't ask to lick my shoulders.

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Is this company legit?

Dave emailed a few days ago to ask about a management company he found on the internet. How do you tell if a company is legit?

For agencies, check the list of WGA signatories. For writers in New York, here is the WGA East's list. Be wary of any agency not on these lists. You should also be wary of any company that asks you to pay a fee of any kind - they shouldn't be making money until you are.

Management companies are a little tougher since there is no official list that I'm aware of. See what you can find on Google, IMDBpro, StudioSystem, etc. If you can't dig up anything on them or their clients, I'd be skeptical. Also, watch out for terms like "screenplay agency," "script management," etc. Companies represent people, not scripts.

In many cases, a company might not be a scam, but just a fledgling company. Other clues: LA area codes are 310, 213, 323, 424, 818. There are reputable people in all of these, but most of the money is in 310 (or 424, which is more or less CAA's personal area code). Dave asked me about a company with a 626 (Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley). It's not Kansas, but it's no 90210. Sounds silly, but it's worth noting. If the company's website lists who their managers are, try to dig up dirt on them too. Did they used to be development execs or something, or did they just leave their careers in investment banking to manage screenwriters? If they're as new to the industry as you are, they probably won't be able to help you much. You need representation with contacts; your rep should be able to get you in the doors of studios, production companies, etc. Buyers need to take their phone calls. It seems to me that brand new agents and managers have the most success at firmly established agencies/management companies, since they have the advantage of older, more experienced reps to guide them and the respect that accompanies a brand name. If it's a brand new company, I'd hope one of the managers had a lot of experience working at a bigger one. You also want to be careful of brand new managers who want to attach themselves as producers to your projects. Producers with no credits probably aren't going make your material more attractive to studios and prodcos.

Remember that new writers often do not begin at the Big Five, or at the largest management companies. Also, all companies have to start somewhere: Chris Bender, one of the founders of Benderspink, explained how his company began in this interview on UGO Online:

The best way to find out if you're going to survive in Hollywood is to take a chance and see if you can make it. In November of 1998, we packed our things and started the company out of a three bedroom house in Hollywood with about 15 writing clients. We each took a bedroom to live in, and the third room became our first office. We built the company up to 9 people in that house before moving into new office space. Within our first year, we were lucky enough to secure a first look production deal with New Line Cinema. We were effectively at the same place our previous boss was at within a year all because we took a risk.

If that's not badass, I don't know what is. Sometimes representation involves boths sides taking a bit of a chance. For the record, Benderspink still accepts queries. They also have a great little image of how NOT to write a query (with a pen and notebook paper and 13 year-old boy handwriting).

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why nothing I ever write will truly be fiction

The Parlor in Santa Monica seems to be a place where 20somethings go to relive a college experience they never quite had.

As the Lakers crowd filtered out, a drunk guy continued to lean on the bar.
To my friend: You have a nice smile.
To my other friend: You have a nice smile, too!
To me: I like your earrings, but it looks like you never comb your hair.

I swear, I do not make this shit up. It's like the time at Lubitsch the round guy with the accent and black-framed glasses asked if he could lick my shoulders.


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Dude, you're outta the band.

Hollie asks: How you deal with notes...specifically people who give notes in a way that makes you feel like scratching their eyelids out?

Notes are great. But they're just opinions, and you don't have to take them. Never forget that this is YOUR story and you can tell it how YOU want. Sometimes getting too many notes will send you in so many directions that you've got a muddled script that's trying to tell too many stories. Identifying which notes are good and which should be ignored is tough, and takes much practice and thought.

As for the eyelid scratching: Eek. I think you have to wonder if these awful people actually know what they’re talking about and just have a tact problem, or if they’re useless AND have a tact problem. If it’s the former, maybe have a word with them about being professional and polite. This sounds really hard to me as I hate confrontation, but if you think it’s still worth it to hear their notes but you can’t stand the WAY they give the notes, maybe it’s worth asking.

But if all their notes are totally useless, AND the delivery is threatening the safety of your eyelids, why bother getting notes from the person? Lose ‘em. Writing should be fun and rewarding. Tough sometimes, yes, but your eyelids should stay safe at all times. If said Cruel Note Givers part of a larger group that contains cooler, more useful people, maybe you should ask the other members if they feel the same way, and if so, how they'd feel about telling the CNGs, "Dude, you’re outta the band." I’ve never had to do that (as my writing group rocks, and I never really got my shit together enough to start the band). Anybody have any tips?

I do remember classes with people like the ones you mentioned. Honestly, when I get crappy notes – especially in an insulting way – I am most likely to just nod and say okay while daydreaming about sharing a keg with Cappie from Greek.

There’s one thing you might want to keep in mind, though – even if a note seems stupid, it’s coming from somewhere. It might be useful to think about why this person is having this reaction to your material. Are you missing something? Is something confusing?

And, since you mentioned commas...for the record – I happen to love commas. People don't give them enough love. Semicolons really get me going, but commas are hot too.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

People vs. Devices

One of my pet peeves in writing is when characters seem not to be fully fleshed out people but instead to be devices for plot or other characters. I find myself giving this note a lot. It's not usually about protagonists; we all know your story should be about who she is, what she wants and how she endeavors to achieve it. But what about those other people involved along the way?

Common devices:

1. The Love Interest. So your main dude goes after a girl. But what is SHE doing? What does she want? Please don't have her just stand around and look hot. What is so special about her that catches your guy's eye? And, as Jason Katims would say, "mess it up." It'd be really convenient if your guy asked her out on a date and she said yes and they lived happily ever after. Convenient and BORING! How about this: she likes somebody else. Or, she likes him, but she's stopping herself from dating right now because her last boyfriend was psycho. Or, she'll go out on the date, but because she has the ulterior motive of kidnapping his cat. Or getting closer to his sister, whom she really likes. Or maybe she wants to use him for sex, but not get involved in an emotional relationship. See all these ideas? These stem from a character who wants things and sets out to achieve them - not from a device your protagonist can simply use. Much messier.

2. The Comic Relief. This one is tough - but you know that guy who stands around in your pilot chiming in with witty banter? He's a device too. What does he want? Why is he funny? Is there a motivation behind why he makes fun of your protagonist? I don't mean to overthink this (I do believe that jokes are jokes and funny is funny) but the best jokes come from character. Chandler always had a lot of fun, sarcastic things to say -but he was also a friend and a husband and a driver of plots.

3. The Messer-Upper. This may seem like a contradiction to my explanation of #1, since I really like Jason Katims' idea of messing up your script. But hear me out. Sometimes new characters will be brought into shows to mess them up - and sometimes in an unnatural way. I lovelovelove Brothers & Sisters, but I felt kind of cheated when Lena showed up. She felt like a device to me; Rebecca just happened to have this friend we never knew, who just happened to need a job. And there just happened to be a job opening at Ojai, and Lena just happened to be really attracted to Tommy, who just happened to be attracted to her. Boom. Affair. Now, it seemed completely natural for Tommy to have the affair; he had been having problems with his wife for a while. But Tommy is a fully fleshed out character - and to me, Lena was not a naturally evolving character, but the device to get Tommy to cheat and cause more conflict in his marriage. I think we learned more about her later, but in the beginning her arrival seemed kinda convenient.

I feel like The Messer-Upper device also happened on The OC a couple times. Many new characters would be brought in to mess up the two couples, Marissa/Ryan and Seth/Summer. Don't get me wrong - I liked a lot of these people, and I do think many of them had some nice depth. Still, I found the principle to be problematic: there'd be a new guest character to come in and mess things up for a while, and then after s/he left, the couple would be stable again, and then we'd meet a new person to mess them up. The cycle just kept repeating. I found it dissatisfying because it felt like our couples were not evolving, but just going back to square one.

By the way, the ABC/Disney Fellowship application is up, and the deadline is later than we all thought: August 8, 2008. Thanks for the emails - my readers rock!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Austin, assistants and ...my inability to give up on alliteration

Brian chimes in on the should-you-or-shouldn't-you contest debate: Having won a pair of fiction prizes, similarly geared toward identifying new talent, I was of the mindset that winning is the only thing that mattered (if not, you're just a bridesmaid who got drunk and regretfully slept with the groom's horrid frat brother). But I have to say, even though I didn't win – I was one of three finalists in the teleplay category – Austin was great. The panelists were splendid and accessible, everything was laid back, and, no, I did not have tons of managers/agents begging to read my work on the spot, but I know others who landed representation out of the conference/festival, and after my return I did get responded to off the dreaded query. Now, I was still living up north at the time, so I was not in a position to really push, but the point is: it's a crowded field, and short of being a competition whore, why not apply to Austin and others of reputable ilk?

I am also thrilled to share some advice from Adam, a staff writer on the new CBS series Swingtown: My first advice for you, become an assistant on a show...any show. Asst in the room, EP asst, Script Coordinator, and the Writer's PA (in that order). Every single (or at least most) freelance and staff writer bumps come from one of these four jobs. Beg, borrow, and steal from all of your agency contacts to get one of these jobs...and then wait. Sad but true, it still takes a while once you're in.

Those of you following my personal pilot writing saga will be happy to hear I've finished my new act two and three of my college radio pilot. The problem? I'm on page 49. After watching a few pilots this week (including Swingtown), I've come to realize you don't necessarily need the twistiest, craziest plot in your pilot. Yes, you need some. You need a couple surprises and developments, you need your characters to make decisions and act on them, and you need exposition to fall out naturally as your characters do their thing. (One of the crappier pilots I watched had the curse of being an hour of people standing around and talking about who they are and how they got there.) But with a town festival and a setup of person-entering-world (or re-entering world, as is in my pilot, Gossip Girl, and a few others) - you may have enough.

Next: People vs. Devices - and how you can't have nearly as much fun with devices... (I can see the comments already.)

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Career advice

Client: I can't believe they want to work with us. That article made us seem like drunken sluts!

My boss: But that's what people want to see - SUCCESSFUL drunken sluts!


I have a new motto for life.


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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Leave it in the oven!

Reader Scott wrote in to suggest that perhaps the blog has focused too much on entering contests and not enough on writing a good script. In a way, that's on purpose; I feel like there are already a zillion books, blogs, classes, etc. that can teach you about structure, dialogue, characters, that sort of thing. I figured it was a given that you need a good script (or three); I'm more about the THEN WHAT? question. But he makes a good point.

The following metaphor is brought to you by the fact that my pilot light's out and all I can think about is that I have all the materials needed to make cornbread and my roommate has all the materials needed to make a bluberry pie. IRONY'S A BITCH.

So, it's the night before that contest or fellowship deadline. You're scrambling to finish your script, register it with the WGA, find a 24-hour copy store and track down a notary. And where are your brads??? You're staring into the oven, the rich blueberry aroma filling your crappy Valley apartment. You know it needs a little more time, but all you ate today was a bagel and a grape leftover from the MP Lit staff meeting and an alarming amount of Diet Coke. Sweet, soft pastry...surely it must be ready...

NO! LEAVE IT IN THE OVEN!

End metaphor. You get what I'm saying? I know how eager you are to win that contest and start your career, but try your best to patient. Your script might still be gooey in the middle. We all do it - we're so excited to have finally finished the pilot or spec or whatever, that we want to send it out to everyone and their brother. But try to hold back. Send it to your writer's group or other trusted readers, get some notes, let them percolate for a while, and then write your next draft. My ninth grade English teacher used to say, "write hot, revise cold." And I think it's excellent advice. Write with all the passion your inspiration brings, and then rewrite when you can be tough and objective about it. Make sure that script is polished and the best it can be before you start sending it out as the representation of who you are and what you can do.

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The Happy Business of Webisodes

Jason wrote in to offer some contrast to the Sad Business of Comedy: This article, The Anti-Entourage, tells the story of the web series We Need Girlfriends, which is now being developed with Darren Star for CBS. I'm skeptical of three characters who cower in the corner of bars instead of actively pursuing what they want...but it's still a pretty amusing concept.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

More about SATC

I know the Sex and the City movie (and how men love to hate it) spurred a lot of debate in the comments. Here's a Newsweek article that continues the discussion: Criticism of 'Sex and the City' is mostly Sexist.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

More info: Are contests worth it?

A lot of you have asked if scriptwriting contests are worth the time and entry fees. Before I've theorized yes and no - and it seems to be the case again. I had drinks with an assistant the other day who had WON Best Comedy in the Austin Film Festival Teleplay contest a couple years ago. And it got him an agent - but an agent at a small agency who ultimately passed him on to someone who didn't really know what she was doing. I don't know the entire story, but it didn't work out, so he discharged them. And he's still an assistant. Overall, the contest worked for him in the way I said you should use contests: to get representation. But did it launch his TV writing career? No.

Reader Matthew wrote in and shared his experience about becoming a finalist in the Slamdance Teleplay Competition: Finishing in the top three at Slamdance definitely didn't hurt. It's helped get a few assistants at agencies to read my work, so that was valuable. All in all I think their film contest is much more helpful as they focus on that more and do an in-town awards ceremony to hype the top 10 finalists. The last winner of the film program has already been signed and had his film go into production. TV seems to be more of an afterthought for Slamdance but it's one of the few places that allows pilots to be submitted. They do give you a few contacts at Fox21.

One of the best parts about Slamdance is that all of the other filmmakers and writers are at about the same point in their careers so getting to meet everyone at the festival in Park City was a great way to network. And if any writers have short or feature length films, Slamdance is a great place to show them. Since it's held during the same time as Sundance you can get easy exposure to a lot of distributors. Most of the films I saw at Slamdance had distribution deals in place by the end of the festival.

Matthew identifies one of the things I've noticed about contests and festivals: they're often very feature-oriented, so you have to assess whether they're going to help your TV aspirations. Along the same lines, I'm on the Inktip email newsletter, but I rarely see any mentions of TV scripts being sold or TV writers obtaining representation through them.

Candice also commented about another contest through The Scriptwriters Network - she says she found it useful because they actually give you feedback about your work. The fact that they're a nonprofit organization seems encouraging, but I'm a little skeptical about what you get if you win (this is straight from their site): a gift certificate to the Writer's Store, and the two runners-up (if there are any,) will receive a year's subscript to scr(i)pt magazine. For those scripts that are selected, the writer(s) will meet with a member of the CSMTOP committee to develop a list of showrunners and producers, as well as network and studio development executives, whom the Network can contact on the writer's behalf. The timing may be such that any obtained reads could occur prior to the staffing season, to offer the best opportunity to translating the recommendation into a job. If the writer has an agent, it will be important for us to know that as most shows today require it, however it's not a requirement to enter the program. Since this is a very busy time for the industry, the exact timing is impossible to predict.

Hmm. They're basically saying, if you don't have an agent, there's really not much we can do for you. So I'm not sure I want to pay $40 for a chance to get some magazines and have some useless cold-calling done on my behalf. That being said, The Scriptwriters Network is hosting a panel on one-hour TV on June 14 with Dawn DeKeyser, Jane Espenson, Melody Fox, Amy Berg and Jeanette Collins that sounds pretty cool. Girl power!

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The Sad Business of Comedy (online)

Those of you interested in putting videos online (or even just watching them) might want to check out this interesting Newsweek article, The Sad Business of Comedy.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

the punchline

Weekend thought: I will always be the girl who gets an entire cup of pink punch spilled all over her white pants.

FYI, there's another writing program to enter! NBC's Writers on the Verge. Deadline is June 30.

And this was posted in the comments, but in case you didn't see: ABC has told curious entrants via email that they'll be updating the fellowship website soon, and that the deadline is July 31. Amita also shared a link to the blog of a writing team who were finalists in the Disney/ABC writing program...a blog that looks curiously like mine...

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