Thursday, June 4, 2009

Advice for foreign screenwriters outside the United States

Brian writes: I'm a screenwriting student from Scotland, and really want to try my luck in Hollywood. Things are a little more complicated for me coming from the UK (what with travel, Visas etc)... I was wondering - Do you have any more general advice you could give me to think about over the next few months? Any particular companies or contacts you would suggest I target? What kind of materials should you send to studios/agencies in order to convince them you're up to the job?

The visa thing is definitely tough - make sure you do some extensive research about all that before you jet over here. All Hollywood entry-level jobs are very low-paying, and there is an insane amount of competition from people just as eager as yourself. From my understanding, very few companies will be willing to sponsor your visa (feel free to comment if you have other experience). My general advice is the usual: read and watch as much as you can, meet as many people as you can, check out blogs, events, panels, screenwriting classes, etc. Write!

I wonder, also - are there any opportunities you can find closer to home? Production companies, studios, agencies? (I know there are some of these in London at least.) The BBC? Films shooting in town that are hiring locals? It couldn't hurt to have any of these things on your resume - and I'm sure many of the higher-ups you'd work with would have connections over here.

Also, I wonder if there is anything you can you can do to become a published writer in another way. Write a book, become a journalist, etc.? I know it's not easy - but if the whole visa thing is an problem for you getting a job here, maybe you should try the straight Be-a-Writer path instead of the work-your-way-up-from-the-inside path that I usually recommend. Getting published could certainly make it easier to make people read your scripts, methinks.

David writes: I just have a question about how to sell a tv pilot/pitch idea. I've heard from someone that generally new writers don't write a pilot script, but instead write a 5 page treatment and summary of the first 13 episodes of a series. However, I've also heard from other people that new writers should just write pilot scripts and not worry about writing a treatment. For submitting unsolicited material to agencies and managers, what would you recommend doing?

You know how I feel about unsolicited material, right? :)

You have to write the whole script so that people know you can write. Yes, agents and managers want to represent people who have ideas that sell, but they represent writers, not ideas. They are interested in you as a writer - your voice, your style, etc. How will they know you can write if all they read is the idea? At this point I think you're wise to focus on finding representation, not selling your material (just yet). Find a rep who is passionate about you as a writer. They'll worry about the selling.

The 13 episode thing sounds crazy to me. Yes, you should have ideas about the direction of your series, and you should work hard to lay the foundation for many future conflicts and episodes... but at this stage, you just need the pilot. If it's bought, and then shot, and then actually picked up to series (we're already talking about a tiny tiny percentage of pilot ideas here), then the writing staff will work together to break the stories for the season.

FYI, when you actually contact the agents and/or managers - you want to send a letter with a brief summary and pitch - not the whole script, or treatment, or anything else. You are writing to them to find out if they're interested in the idea and want you to send the actual material.

Some visa insight from Adam: I'm actually in my job because the first person they wanted couldn't get approved by the government for a visa. The show was willing to sponsor it, but the government isn't really approving visas right now for low level jobs, primarily because of the fact there are so many American's who don't have jobs. I think that situation changes if your job is higher up the chain, but you'll be hard pressed to find an assistant level job approved for a visa in the past year.

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7 comments:

Little Miss Nomad said...

Agreed, but that said, you should have an answer ready if someone asks you, okay, what would another episode entail? You should have plot ideas or arc ideas for future episodes. But it doesn't have to be even remotely detailed.

Little Miss Nomad said...

That's for the spec pilot question, natch.

Sarah said...

Re: Conchords. I spec'd this and submitted it to the Disney Fellowship last year, (unsuccessfully) only to learn this year that they look for voices that mesh with their current shows. They are looking to get you staffed on one of them, of course. Epic fail.

Also, I think a lot more industry people 'claim' to love the Conchords than actually watch the show. As a sample, I'd say it was a long-shot. But definitely worth having in your arsenal if you're in the quirky or deadpan comedy genre. Just don't expect everyone to go bananas over it. It's a fun spec to write, though!

Dan Williams said...

"you should have an answer ready if someone asks you, okay, what would another episode entail? You should have plot ideas or arc ideas for future episodes."

If a writer is outling shows in an existing or former series as a writing excercise, this would be no problem and might be a good asset. Remember the Seinfeld ep about "the soup Nazi"? It was hilarious. Well, this type of story could be retold as "the car salesman Nazi" or "the camp counsellor Nazi" or "the bus driver Nazi." And if the writer had the story beats worked out for each example in advance, then he or she would probably do well in a job interview with a showrunner. Anyway, it beats trying to think stuff up on the spur of the moment.

Taylor said...

Re: 2008-2009 season

Disney is the only of the initiatives that says current show that does NOT include last season (i.e., must be for current/upcoming season).
I was going to submit a WITHOUT A TRACE episode for the Disney this year. It was not renewed in May and so I emailed Disney to see if it could be used for the initiative (since the other networks specifically state 2008-9 in their FAQs and the Disney wording differs) and they said no, if it will not air this upcoming season it does not qualify.

Amialya said...

What scripts are hot to spec this year for the WB program?

ChedderHed said...

I don't know if it's "hot" or not, but I wrote a Party Down spec for WB this year. It was very last minute, as I was about to give up trying to find a comedy that I liked enough to be able to write. Somebody mentioned it in passing, and I was thrilled to find it on Netflix (took it as a sign).

It's mighty slim pickins in the comedy world these days. Hopefully the upcoming season will bring some fresh and funny fodder.