Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cover letter/email style for job and internship applications

Sasha writes: There's one a show I absolutely love as both a writer and a viewer, and I'd like to intern (pay is a non-issue) anywhere on set or behind the scenes. But what should my cover letter look like? What kinds of information should I include? Who should I send it to? What position should I ask for?

Whom to send your cover letter/resume (and how to get their contact info) is probably the biggest hurdle. Different productions will designate different people to supervise interns. If you can find a friend of a friend of a friend, you'll be in the best shape. If not, I would do as much research as you can to figure out who is in charge of the show on the production company level, studio level and network level. If you can find the production office number, you might be able to simply call and ask who handles interns and if you can submit a resume for an internship, and if you sound like you're smart and not psycho, it just might work. (Internships are much easier than jobs in this way.) You might also be able to find some info from The Hollywood Creative directory, IMDBPro, or (if you have a friend with access) the expensive StudioSystem. Also, one of the upsides of attending a college's LA program is that the school will already have some contacts. Keep in mind that many internships will require you to receive college credit -but if money is no option, you might be able to skirt that as a graduate by enrolling in a local college class. (Yes, you'll literally be paying to intern - but that's how it works for undergrads too.)

I find that for Hollywood jobs, the shorter your cover letter, the better. I usually don't even write a separate cover letter document unless the posting specifically requests otherwise, because then you have to write an awkward email in addition to your cover letter. I combine them into a cover email, and I usually just write a quick note about how I found the job posting (if that's relevant - for example, if the person you're emailing knows the friend who told you about the job, that's important), why I want to work there, and why I'd be a good fit (experience, etc.). If you're applying from a posting, tailor what you say to that posting. Don't be too stuffy or effusive - but poor grammar and emoticons are also a bad idea. Generally, the stronger your connection, the less you need to write to explain your application. (Sometimes I literally just forward my resume.) But in your case, I think just a few sentences is fine. Remember that these people are busy and may have to sort through hundreds of emails and resumes. Here is one email I wrote that resulted in me getting an interview:

Hi there,
I saw the posting for an assistant position and I'd like to apply. Working for a lit agent for over a year has provided me with a breadth of knowledge about Hollywood, and also helped me hone my skills as an assistant. I feel I'm ready to make the move to working for a writer as that is my ultimate goal. I am ambitious, organized and computer-savvy, and I thrive on juggling many tasks at once. I also have a lot of experience with script coverage and would
be happy to send samples.

I have attached my resume. I can be reached at (phone) and (email). I look forward to hearing from you!

Amanda P

Here's a much shorter one that I used when I had a really strong personal connection. This also resulted in an interview.

Hi Carrie,
(Specific person) forwarded me the posting for the 1-hour cable legal dramedy showrunner asst position and I'd like to apply. I've attached my resume.

Thanks a lot!
Amanda P

Unless you think you are qualified for something more, I would ask for an internship position. Lower level jobs on a show include on-set PAs and office PAs - but I bet almost all of those people have already been interns somehwere (or have really strong personal connections).

Anyone who has gotten an internship without the support of a college, feel free to chime in!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thrifty Thursday: Free Disneyland Tickets

Disney is working to inspire one million people to volunteer in their communities. If you volunteer for one day this year, you can get one day free at Disneyland!

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Should I Have a Plan B?

Dustin writes: I'm having a dilemma right now between how much I should focus on my vocation (TV writing) and my plan B career. How common it is for there to be writers who are staffed after having a previous full-on career? And I don't just mean day-job, but careers like lawyers and mid-level office managers, marketing, etc.

I moved to Los Angeles right before the writer's strike, and unable to find any job in Hollywood, I ended up moving into the marketing industry. What started out as a day job assisting a publicist turned into something I became very passionate about. I was still able to write, but definitely did not make as much progress in terms of improving quality and producing pages as I have now that I've been laid off, or, I imagine, as I would bagging groceries at Ralph's. Again I'm looking for work, and this time really focusing on getting a job in the industry. But the only calls I'm really getting for interviews are coming from the marketing side.

I know there is no correct answer in regards to how hard important it is to work in the television industry as an assistant (specifically writer's assistant), but if a paycheck and the economy pulls my day-jobbing completely away from the industry and I end up developing a career in marketing, I worry I'll never get to where I really want to go. How common is it for TV writers to had full on previous careers? Am I just stressing out for nothing? I am writing nearly every day after all.

I definitely understand where you're coming from - and I think we all have a lesson to learn here: when your original plan doesn't work out, you need to formulate a new plan to keep moving ahead with your writing career (I definitely had to).

As for whether writers have had other careers first: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes it's actually seen as a positive thing because of the unique perspective you'll bring to a show. Criminal Minds showrunner Ed Bernero has even gone on the record saying that he doesn't like to staff people who have come straight from film school or assistant jobs and haven't had the "life experiences" of another career. I don't think you should worry about this, since every writer has a different background. What you should worry about is whether pursuing another career will sidetrack you.

Here's my take:

1. Try to find an industry job. In the beginning, these really are the best day jobs for aspiring writers. I think this is essential for the learning experience and the contacts you'll make. If you never have an industry job, how do you plan to get your scripts inside? Some people are lucky enough to have really strong contacts without toiling as a PA, assistant, etc. - but most of us aren't.

2. If you can't find an industry job, find the job that will pay you the most money. Life in LA is expensive, and you want to be able to experience it without going into massive credit card debt. For you, it sounds like marketing is the way to go. But always be on the lookout for that industry job, because of all the reasons I listed in #1. I blogged before about an interview with TV writer Scott Rosenberg, who quit his industry job to be a truck driver. But he did work in the industry first. If he didn't, I bet he wouldn't have had the connections (or knowledge) to transition from truck driver to TV writer. You need to position yourself in the best way possible, and do everything you can (whether it's applying for fellowships, attending events or studying your craft) to succeed.

3. Always be writing. The downside to some industry jobs (like working on a show) is that 12-hour days will get in the way of your writing. You have to figure out the right balance. You say you're writing nearly every day - so it sounds like your marketing gig is a good day job to pair with writing on the side. I would probably only opt for the Ralph's idea if it wasn't.

4. Don't get stuck on autopilot; keep re-assessing how your plan is working out. If you spend three years in marketing and you don't feel any closer to being a paid TV writer, it might be time to make a change. Same thing if you work 12 hours a day on a show and haven't been able to finish a script.

Lastly, Dustin - whether you want to give up on TV writing and pursue a career in marketing is completely up to you. Do what makes you happy. This business is too hard, too frustrating and too time-consuming for people who don't really love it.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Have you guys been following all the pilot pick-ups? What are you excited about? Josh Schwart'z multicamera pilot HITCHED is definitely something I'd watch.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

What shows to spec?

Nick writes: With fellowship deadlines coming up soon, which shows do you think are best to spec this year?

You have a bit of time for the fellowships (check out the links at right for the deadlines), but it's a good question. A friend of mine who works at a big production company suggested that shows like MAD MEN aren't the best since they're so limiting in terms of being applicable to a lot of shows on the air (that being said, I have heard of people getting into the WB and ABC programs with MAD MEN specs). She suggested THE MENTALIST since it's in it's second season, and with the "red John" thing, there's a lot of room to have both procedural elements and sort of bigger storylines when you're doing a spec. She says she's also seen a lot of DEXTERs lately for similar reasons, although that show is sort of hard to do with the random V.O.

New shows like THE GOOD WIFE and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES might be good, but keep in mind that with a new show (and more obscure cable shows), you are risking the fact that readers might not be familiar with it.

Like everything in Hollywood, there is no 100% correct answer or guaranteed path to success. Write a spec that shows off your skill and your voice, and make those first five pages absolutely fantastic. Both the ABC and WB programs look to staff their graduates on their shows, so take a look at what their shows are. WB doesn't have a ton of single-camera comedies, while ABC and ABCFamily don't have a lot of gritty 24-ish shows, you know? (The WB Workshop website also tells us what past participants wrote to get in, so I'd study that). Position yourself well.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Premiering tonight: The Deep End

The Deep End is a new ABC show about young lawyers that premieres tonight @ 8. I actually wrote a version of this in college called Partners that I pitched as "Grey's Anatomy with lawyers" - but I'm guessing this one is a bit better, mostly because it includes my beloved Veronica Mars alum Tina Majorino. Check out the promo:

I just have to add: Put a cork in it, Zane.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The story only you can tell

Write what you know. It's often a good place for beginners to start, but it can also be limiting advice. Maybe the key is to write a story only you can tell. There's a reason why so many doctors, lawyers and cops bring their real-life experiences to TV and film, right? I don't think you should spend ten years on a career diversion to observe things, but I do think you might consider what special skills, talents, perspectives and experiences you bring to your writing. Maybe it's the perfect real-life setting, or a knowledge of a unique art form, or the intricacies of an interesting job. Maybe it's an entire concept - or just some really authentic details. We love true stories. Whenever I pitch things to people and mention that it's something from my own life, I feel like people always perk up.

Here's something I hadn't yet realized when I posted about this back in '08. We always think our ideas are really original, but in actuality, producers and executives have been pitched many incarnations of the same ideas over and over. Infusing your idea with something that really happened to you might be the way to make your project the most interesting version - and your experiences can also make you an attractive choice for existing projects. When I was a the agency, I'd hear agents champion the unique qualities of their clients to sell them as the perfect pick. Joe is a single dad! John plays hockey! Rachel is a total slut! (Okay, maybe not that one.) But you might as well use any unique traits you have to your advantage.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Life Unexpected! This Monday!

Everybody needs to watch LIFE UNEXPECTED, which premieres this Monday, Jan 18th @ 9 pm on the CW. It was created by my fellow IC alum Liz Tigelaar, who is awesome!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to Get a Writer's Assistant Job (Update)

Andy writes: Staffing season is coming up soon. I'm local and trying to land a writers assistant job or a production assistant somewhere. My current approach is to start calling offices to see if anyone is looking for assistants. Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my chances/be more efficient? I hate making those calls, but I'm a writer and I want to get in that room.

I posted about this back in 08, but I figured I'd tackle it again since I had a few interviews for these kinds of jobs last year.

I have heard of a few people getting jobs via cold calls - and I commend your boldness. I definitely can't recommend this as your only route, but if you have the stomach for it (and can find the right numbers), go ahead and try. My advice would just be to be very brief and polite, don't stutter, and sound like you understand how Hollywood works. As someone who has had to field cold calls (albeit for representation), I was always happy to talk to people who were polite and succinct, and who understood that I was a human being who did not exist to make their dreams come true.

Also, don't discount pilots. They're often very short-term gigs, but if picked up they can lead to more. I would imagine they probably look to fill positions very quickly. (Feel free to comment if you've worked on a pilot.)

I know that nobody really wants to hear this, but these jobs are all filled through word-of-mouth and knowing people. The only way I landed writers assistant (and writers PA) interviews was by having friends and colleagues e-mail the postings to me. The kinds of people who might know about these openings include:
  • fellow writers assistants, script coordinators or writers PAs
  • other assistants who work on the show (set PA, line producer asst, etc.)
  • showrunner or executive producer assistants
  • the writers themselves
  • assistants or executives at studios
  • assistants or executives at networks
  • assistants or executives at production companies
  • agents of showrunners, and their assistants
  • managers of showrunners, and their assistants
It's actually a lot of people, right? Networking is key, but don't think about it in terms of who can get you a job. See it as making friends - because people want to help their friends. Now, even if they're your friends, you may have to remind them you're looking. But generally when people like you and know you'll do a good job, they're happy to pass along your resume. Also, don't think your contacts necessarily have to work in a writers office. My friend is an art department coordinator and she was able to send my resume in for a showrunner asst position because she talked to the old one all the time.
The other piece of advice I think is important is that people RARELY find writers assistant jobs as their first jobs. You might have better luck working as an on-set PA, agent assistant (but focus on agents who represent big showrunners), etc. Loyalty and good work sometimes does get rewarded in Hollywood; I was passed over for writers asst gigs a few times because other people had gotten promoted on the show. It's also important to let people know about your writing aspirations - after you've gotten to know everyone and proved that you're solid in your current position. You don't want to look like you're a selfish ladder-climber, but you also don't want people to pass you over because they had no idea you were interested in writers office jobs. You have to be your own biggest advocate.
Again, there is no job that will absolutely lead to a writer's assistant job (and no guarantee that being a WA will get you staffed). Some people get stuck in PA-land for years. But you might as well position yourself so that you can hear about as many of these jobs as possible.
If you're thinking that you don't know any of the people on the above list, consider doing an internship. I did four. Maybe you can even call up a show and ask to be their intern (I had some friends in college who interned on shows). If you're out of college it can be harder to find a place that doesn't require credit, but I know that not everywhere does.
Good luck, everyone! I know it's tough. Don't get discouraged if it doesn't happen for you this season. There is massive competition for these jobs, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. You might have to alter your plan a little (I certainly did).

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hey, 2010

I'm coming out of my vacation/hibernation to celebrate Palindrome Day (it's 01/02/2010, get it?). Okay, I'm not really celebrating...but I figure I should officially say that I'm still alive or something. And I've always liked palindromes.

We're in a new year. A new decade. It doesn't really feel that different, but I have high hopes for it. I've been taking a break from writing and most things Hollywood too, which I think is healthy. I know some writers who feel guilty for even taking a weekend off, and that always seems silly to me. People in regular jobs get time off, why shouldn't we? I think we all need to reflect and recharge. But when I get back to LA on Sunday (I'm in NY at the moment), it's time to jump back in. I'm not making any official New Years resolutions, but I would like to start off the year in a productive way. Polishing the romcom. Second draft of the new pilot. Treatment for the new feature. I guess they're less "resolutions" than goals. What are you guys planning for '10? Someone out there must be using the next 364 days to figure out how to arrange "2011" in a pair of glasses that still has eye holes.

One of my TV accomplishments of 2009 was watching the entire 5-season series of Six Feet Under, which is definitely one of my favorite shows of all time. The series finale involved some hardcore sobbing on my part. Here's a little promo for season one:

Oh - and since some of you have asked - I am still running my notes service. Click here for details! Dan had asked in the comments whether I would pass on any scripts to agent or manager friends. If I thought a script was really great, I certainly would. Because when a script is impressive, you look good, I look good, and whomever I send it to looks good. We all win, you know?

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