Saturday, January 31, 2009

Movie Review Haikus

I'm pretty proud of myself that I've seen almost all the Academy movies. Still need to watch DOUBT and VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. But otherwise, woo. Don't you love that watching movies is considered productive in our line of work?

I don't want to be long-winded about my thoughts, so I'm using the beloved haiku. I was almost too lazy to write this but my buddy Willz seems amused by the prospect, so here we go.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON:
Like Forrest Gump 2.
Pitt's hot, flick's overrated -
And there's no conflict.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE:
A heartwarming tale,
Kind of a boring logline
No big white stars! Woo.

GRAN TORINO
Supporting cast: C
But Clint: lovable racist.
A pleasant surprise

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
I'm sad for the snub.
Each line so deliberate,
Sad, intense, poignant.

THE READER
Kate is so awesome
Exploring the shades of grey.
Rick's right: Oscar soon.

WALL-E
Why not Best Picture?
Pixar's most adult movie
But simple love tale.

Update: oops! I knew I had forgotten some:

FROST/NIXON
I love how Morgan
Finds the small stories within
Some great acting too.

MILK
Sean Penn disappeared.
Heartbreaking and uplifting.
I really liked it.

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Finally some good news

Rob Thomas confirms a Veronica Mars movie!

Be still my heart.



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Friday, January 30, 2009

Job Market

People keep asking me about the job market here. It sucks. It really sucks. Suddenly executives are answering their phones with a sort of lost "hello?" and you hesitate for a moment, wonder if you dialed the wrong number...until you realize that you didn't. The execs' assistants just got laid off, that's all. You try to confirm lunches with clueless, surely-unpaid interns who try to hang up on you before you even figure out where lunch will take place. It's kind of a strange poetic stereotype, people packing up their desks into those iconic cardboard banker's boxes...

I know I'm usually all optimistic and benevolent on this thing, but it's tough right now. Should you move out here right now and try to find a job? I don't know. You're gonna be competing with a lot of unemployed people who have way more experience and contacts than you do. It's never exactly easy to break into this industry, but right now it's harder than ever, and I honestly don't know if there's any reason to believe it'll be getting better anytime soon.

Move here if you want, but pleasepleaseplease save money first. Take it from me.


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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is there another way?

Robert writes: Do you ever think that you might try and write/produce/direct something independently and go that route or are you just going to try and stick the writing?

Good question. There are certainly a lot of different paths you can take to becoming a successful writer, and there is no guarantee that any one path will pay off (it's probably the best and worst thing about what we're doing). It's possible that someday I'll want to produce and/or direct...but right now my main goal is just writing, so I'm going to stick to that. It'd be cool to have a short to show people, but those cost a lot of money and time and grief to make. In a way, we just-writers have it easier because we can just sit and write specs without spending a dime to show off our talents, while directors and producers can't. I have an idea for a short that an aspiring producer friend of mine is interested in making, so perhaps after I finish my feature and my spec show and my second pilot I will get to that. But I think to get an agent or manager it's more important to have my scripts polished.

Plenty of people toil independently, put stuff on the internet, etc. etc. - but I am very much immersed in the traditional world of writing for commercial, mainstream film and television, and I am trying to succeed within that system. It's not the only way, but it's the way that makes the most sense for me right now.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Monsters on a rampage

I meant to share the Seventh Sanctum Story Generator with you guys when I discovered it over Christmas break. It generates some pretty amazing things:

This is an exploitation-style story with an undercurrent about lost love. The story is about a fire fighter, a mobster, a seer, and an amiable official. It takes place in an unholy commonwealth on a sunless world of forbidden magic. Monsters on a rampage play a major part in the story.

Perfect for your next script...or at least procrastinating your next script, as you find out just how many permutations there are when you involve monsters on a rampage.

In other news, my UGLY BETTY spec pretty much aired last week. Goddamnit. I do have a more stand-alone idea, but still. I want those hours of my life back, you know? Today I'm focusing on the feature...79 pages, w00t...


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

To my fellow poor Angelenos

Lean Cuisines are on sale for $1.77 this week at Ralph's. Even the big ones. Holla!

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Interview Tips

Michael writes: Ideally, I want to work at a talent agency. Any advice on interviews, or how to get another round of interviews at the agencies now that the new year has begun?

Be confident, especially at agencies. Agencies are filled with confident, even aggressive personalities and you need to be able to fit in there. That being said, don't come off as desperate. Relax and be yourself, and show off your passion for the industry.

Do your homework. Know who the agency's biggest clients are, what show's they've packaged, that kind of thing. If you're interviewing with a specific agent, find out who some of their successful clients are. You can find this info on IMDBPro, or ask an employed friend to look up info on StudioSystem, an amazing database that most agencies, studios, networks, etc. have subscriptions to. Every agent loves to be congratulated on their successes.

I'd be wary of saying you want to be a writer. Generally nobody wants to hire an aspiring client. They feel like you're using them, and they probably assume you're no good at what you're aspiring to do. Imagine you are the one hiring - wouldn't you want to hire someone who is dedicated to working at your company and giving it their all? Still, don't lie and say you want to be an agent if you don't want to. You're usually safe saying that you don't quite know what you want to do yet, maybe development, maybe producing, but you just want to learn as much as you can - that kind of thing. You don't have to lie.

Don't highlight your weakness or lack of experience. If you don't have much experience, highlight the fact that you're a fast learner and a hard worker. Focus on what you CAN do, and what skills and qualities will make you succeed in the job. They probably will ask you that question about your greatest weakness... I don't know quite what the best answer is to that. I think I once said I was a perfectionist but even that's kind of a cop out. Whatever you pick, maybe the key is to spin it that you're working on whatever that weakness is.

Write a handwritten thank you note after the interview. You'd be amazed how impressed people are by the personal touch.


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Friday, January 16, 2009

Event Roundup

The next LA TV Writers networking next is Weds, Jan 21 @ 8 pm at the Falcon in Hollywood.

Paley Fest '09 tickets go on sale Feb 26 to members and March 1 to the public. There will be Fringe and True Blood nights, among others to be announced.

Michael Patrick King of Sex & the City fame is speaking at the WGA on 1/29.


I'm off to mourn the death of Indie 103.1



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Monday, January 12, 2009

Procrastination and motivation

Kelsey writes: How do you actually get yourself in the habit of writing? I have ideas all the time and I usually develop them extensively, but procrastinate when it comes down to actually putting them down on paper. (Part of the reason why I'm interested in a TV writing job is that I get things done better under pressure and/or in a rewrite meeting at 2:00 AM in the morning before shooting starts.)

It's definitely true that incentive helps. When I found out a friend was passing my script to an executive at her company, my Facebook news feed suddenly didn't seem so interesting. Similarly, Legitimate Writers have told me that when you're getting paid it's also a lot easier to write. Until we're lucky enough to be there, you just have to be disciplined. Find the time, whether it's in the morning, or during lunch, or late at night - we're all different. I think all of us newbies struggle with discipline, and it's okay. But remember there's a lot of competition, and you're not a contender until you have a few solid scripts finished. I don't want to be an assistant forever - I want to be a writer. That's probably my biggest motivation.




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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The best assistant job

Kelsey writes: I was wondering if you could provide any more insight on working for an agency vs. having an assistant job on the set of a TV show, whether you think one is more effective or a faster way to go about eventually getting a staff writing job. Also, do you think there is any value in getting an assistant-type job on a show you don't really want to write for?

No assistant job leads directly to being a writer. There is no sure-fire path, which is why I'm jealous of all my friends and cousins in medical school. (But then I turn away at the bloody scenes in Grey's Anatomy and I figure I'm doing the right thing.) The best job is to be a writer's assistant on a tv show because you'll be surrounded by writers with agents who all know you want to be a writer. You will learn a lot, and if they all like you they will help you out. But it doesn't automatically mean you'll be given a freelance episode or be promoted to staff writer. it's just a good POSITION to put yourself in. The problem is, these jobs are super hard to get and you will probably not be able to find one for your first job. Being a PA or Office PA might be the job to lead you to this job. Or maybe being an assistant in current or development at a studio or network - but again, those are often not really entry level jobs either.

Working at an agency is probably less ideal for a writer - but might be easier to get. It is still a good job because you learn what people are looking for in scripts, but you cannot work at an agency with the intention of getting repped there. If you even say in the interview that you're a writer you probably won't get the job. (There are plenty of aspiring writers working at agencies, but they're smart enough to know what agencies want to hear.) You have to think of it as a learning experience and gaining contacts. Like I've said before, agency assistant gigs are seen as entry-level, and that's why I ended up there. I would have rather been an assistant at a studio or prodco or on a show, but I couldn't find a job like that - it seemed that everybody wanted agency experience. You won't necessarily want agency experience to be a PA or office PA on a tv show - but those jobs tend to be harder to find. In terms of comedy or drama, I think it would be best to work on the show that you'd most like to write for... but you may not have that luxury in finding the job. I don't know - other people will more experience might want to comment on this. For sure, the assistant experience will be transferable (except maybe if you're a writer's assistant on a comedy - I've heard that sitting in a comedy room and writing all the jokes being pitched is kind of a specific thing, and I've also seen writer's assistant job postings looking for specific multicamera vs. single-camera comedy experience). But other general assistant stuff is usually universal. No assistant experience is transferable into a writing gig. Nobody cares how well you rolled calls or scheduled meetings - it's has nothing to do with writing a great script or being a helpful member of the writer's room. I have heard that it's good to have "room experience," to know how it all works...but generally it seems that the reason it helps to be an assistant is that you will learn a lot about the process and meet the people who can help you or do you a favor or give you an opportunity. A showrunner might make his assistant a staff writer because he likes the person and knows the assistant is a talented writer - but I don't think only being a good assistant will make you a staff writer. It's similar at studios, networks, etc: it's kind of a weird, counter-intuitive rule, but generally nobody gets promoted for being a good assistant - they get promoted for proving they can do a good job at a higher position. This means going beyond the assistant duties of answering phones and scheduling - it's finding new material, discovering new talent, reading everything, giving good notes, writing a great spec, etc., depending on the particular job. (Now, I'm not saying you can be a crappy assistant - that will get you nowhere!)



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Thursday, January 8, 2009

What they don't tell you

One of the tough things about being an aspiring writer is the "aspiring" part. You have to write so that you have samples to show people, but no one is going to pay you to write those samples, so you have to also have a full-time job so you can pay rent and eat. That means all your writing happens when you're not at work. So does your sleeping. And your dating. And your TV watching. And your working out. (Maybe I should stop blogging so much, but the questions have been piling up - I'll get to them all soon, I promise.) I'm trying to get back on the fitness bandwagon (I despise having a cliche New Years' resolution, but when I'm jacked I'll be able to beat people up for calling me out on it)...and that doesn't leave much writing time. It seems that you're either a fit non-writer or a fat writer.

One of the tough things about being an assistant is bladder control. For much of the work day, I have to pee. This is my dilemma. No, it's not like we don't have a bathroom nearby, or that agencies forbid peeing like factories in the 20s...but you just KNOW that the moment you step away, the messenger you sent is going to be held up by the Universal Gate Gestapo, the mailroom will lose two $800,000 checks, clients will call and get voicemail some shiny CAA agent will use their distress to sweep in and poach them, and after your boss gets an email that someone wants him to join something called Facebook he'll start intercomming you AMANDAAAAA? AMANDAAAAA? HELPPPP! for the whole department to hear. So sometimes it's really just better to hold it.


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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

College stuff

Kelsey writes: Do you know anything about how seriously people in the industry take experience writing for a college TV station?


Not very seriously. College doesn't really count. Certainly, put that stuff on your resume - any experience is better than nothing - but Hollywood is a whole different world. Some assistants have degrees in film or TV - but many have degrees in finance or art history, and the same with the variety of extracurriculars. In terms of writing, I don't think very many agents or managers or showrunners care about work done in college. Sure, if a script or short film is amazing, anybody will notice. But I remember the scripts my classmates and I wrote in college. :) It's usually the time you learn the basics. There are occasional exceptions; I know that some agents take a serious look at the script books sent out by UCLA or USC. Also, if something you worked on in college won an award or got into a big festival, I'm sure it couldn't hurt. But it's probably best to think of your college stuff as a learning experience, since it probably isn't at the professional level of work that will launch your career in LA. I did a lot of TV and film writing in college, but I learned WAY more about Hollywood in one year of working in the industry than I did in 4 years of college - and I think this comes out in the scripts I write now.



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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Speconomy

John writes: Do you have a sense if the economy is negatively affecting the feature spec script market?

Hmm. Yes and no. A lot of the studios are parent companies are cutting costs across the board, demonstrated by widespread layoffs, hiring freezes, overtime slashing and other cuts in messenger services, private jets, etc. But at the same time, people are absolutely still going to see movies; Universal even had its best year ever in 2008. People always used to say that Hollywood was "recession-proof," since people still watch TV and go to movies when times are tough because they're relatively cheap forms of entertainment, and we all need to be entertained when the world sucks. (I don't think it's a coincidence that people are suddenly loving musicals like Hairspray and Mamma Mia again and not going to see war flicks like Stop Loss.) But the problem with this recession is that a lot of the studios are now owned by parent companies that ARE affected by the economy, so they have to join in the cost cutting. Anyway, studios are still making movies, and I've heard plenty of executives say they're looking for new material. Once you get an agent it will be his/her job to navigate the marketplace and figure out how to sell your work or get you a rewrite or adaptation assignment.

I think there are a couple other lessons to take away from this:
A) It will never be easy to be a writer in Hollywood. It is not the kind of regular job with a regular paycheck. Though you might make half a million dollars one year, you might make $0 for the next two. Be prepared to deal wiith a low level of security and a high level of uncertainty.
B) You can't really base your writing on trends of the industry or the economy. Maybe a company is looking for big action movies, but they might be looking for smart romantic comedies by the time you finish yours. I think it's important to stay informed and think about what audiences want to see, but you've got to write what you're passionate about.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Next Step After Finishing a Pilot

Rochelle writes: So I've come up with an idea for a tv show and I've written a pilot script. What now?

Congrats on finishing the pilot! I think your first step is to send it to some trusted friends, professors, etc. to get some feedback. Nobody's first draft is perfect. After you've collected some thoughts, you'll probably want to take another pass at it.

After you're sure it's the most perfect thing it can be, then I think you should write something else. Write a spec episode of an existing show, or a feature, or something else that interests you. Maybe even a comic book or web series. Generally you'll need a portfolio of at least three scripts before anything will happen. It's not a hard and fast rule, but a common question that's asked by someone who likes your script is: "What else ya got?" Also, pilots are a great way to demonstrate your personal voice as a writer, but if you want to get staffed on a TV show (which is the first paying writing gig for many writers), you'll probably want to have a spec in your arsenal.

In terms of the pilot itself, you can enter it into contests if you like. Unfortunately, most of the studio-sponsored fellowships and workshops only accept specs, not pilots. There is debate over whether or not contests are worth their entry fees...but I have heard some people say that agents and managers noticed them as a result of them winning something.

You can also write query letters to agents or managers in which you pitch your idea and ask if they want to read it. (You'll probably need an agent or manager if you're going to sell your pilot or be considered for professional writing gigs.) I've warned readers before, though, that query letters are probably a waste of your time. Generally people get representation through relationships. A more likely occurrence is that you'll send your script to your assistant friend, who will like it enough to pass it onto their boss, or their newly promoted manager friend, or their friend who is an agent's assistant and eager member of the training program, and eventually you'll find someone to represent you. These personal recommendations all mean a lot more than a letter from someone nobody knows. A stamp of approval by a trusted colleague is the way a script makes it into the reading pile.

But like I said - even if you do break through and get your work to an agent, manager, studio exec, producer, etc. - he or she will probably want to see more than one sample.


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Saturday, January 3, 2009

New year, same old irony

In the darkness of the first morning of '09, I was walking up my block to my apartment when I heard the footsteps of someone coming up behind me. I glanced over my shoulder to see a guy with dark hair and a trendy blazer. "Don't worry," he said, and I think he was kind of amused that he could be a perceived rapist. "I'm following her." He pointed at a skinny blonde walking a little farther up the sidewalk.

happy new year.



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