Wednesday, February 29, 2012

EPI's Ross Eisenbrey slams unpaid internships on Colbert

Last night, Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute appeared on The Colbert Report to explain how unpaid internships are hurting our economy. Take a look:

From the EPI website:

Over the past decade, the illegal use of unpaid interns has exploded with little protest. EPI has been a crucial voice highlighting the inadequate regulation of student internships and has detailed why it is wrong, particularly with respect to for-profit employers not paying interns for their work. Unpaid internships don’t fairly reward hard work, they block economic mobility, and they leave young workers exposed to exploitation.

You might remember my discussion of unpaid internships in Hollywood following the BLACK SWAN intern lawsuit (which Eisenbrey mentioned).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Advice for high school students interested in filmmaking and screenwriting

Brianna writes: I'm in high school right now, but I've known for a long time I want to be in the film/television business. The idea of getting started in that goal is a little daunting that this point, so I was wondering if you had any tips for getting started at a young age? I really want to go to USC, Chapman or NYU, but I know those schools are really hard to get into and for their film programs you need to have a resume of things you've done in terms of writing or film/tv experience. If you have any tips on getting started that would be awesome! And last, I've read several times to "write what you know," but since I'm still in high school I don't really "know" a lot and I haven't had too many life changing experiences that I feel like are worth writing about. Do you have any advice for this?

Kudos for getting started so early! I offered some advice for high schoolers once before, mostly about looking for summer programs in your area. But in terms of getting more experience to put on your application for a competitive film school - why not try entering some writing competitions (screenwriting or prose)? You could also make a video/short film and put it on YouTube and/or enter it into contests and festivals. With new technology in cameras and cell phones, it's easier than ever to make your own film. I would try and target contest/festivals specifically for students, so you're not up against people with a lot more money and experience. The Palm Beach International Film Festival, for example, has a contest specifically for students in Florida. Other contests focus on specific subjects, like the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival Student Film Competition - so see what is of interest to you. I'm sure an hour of Googling will provide you with a lot of things to enter!

If you'd like to focus just on writing, consider entering prose writing or screenwriting competitions, like the 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking Competition for Santa Barbara high school students. You could also start up a Screenwriting Club or Film Club at your school. Leadership experiences always look good on a college application.

Writing what you know can be good advice for beginning writers - but I appreciate that you want to explore something a bit bigger. Don't be afraid to tackle something more fantastical; none of us really know about aliens and zombies, right? A writer once advised me to "write what you want to know," so perhaps you'll find that more inspiring. I think the best thing you can do is write about some aspect of life you've experienced or are passionate about...but explore it in a setting or way that is interesting to you. You could write about a person you know, but put them in a fictional world, or a heightened situation. What if your best friend got mistaken for royalty? What if your uncle got abducted by aliens? "Write what you know" can be helpful but also limiting advice. When you're tackling your first idea, you might want to pick something simple so you're not overwhelmed by research AND structure AND format and all of the things that make screenwriting challenging...but don't write make yourself write about taking the SATs if that's a story you're not passionate about writing. If you're interested in TV writing, you can also get started by writing a spec episode of an existing TV show you like. This can help you work on format and story structure before tackling the tough jobs of creating worlds and characters.

Nickelodeon Writers Fellowship deadline approaching

The deadline for the Nickelodeon Writers Fellowship is Tuesday, February 28. You can apply with a live action or animation half-hour comedy spec (click here for the rest of the submission guidelines). It does NOT have to be a kids' show.

If you get to the next round of the competition, you'll need to have a SECOND comedy spec (so get writing!). For more information, read my interview with Karen Kirkland, Executive Director of the program.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is pilot season?

Rj writes: How does an unrepresented writer with 2 specs and a pilot script take advantage of pilot season? Is it just for actors? I'm about to seek representation, so that's the first step, but I guess I'm just trying to figure out if pilot season means anything to me as a new writer.

"Pilot season" refers to January and February, when actors audition for the pilots that have been picked up. (You may have noticed that Deadline is filled with casting notices lately.) The seasons more applicable to writers are pitch season, development season and staffing season. In the summer and early fall, TV writers pitch ideas to producers, studios and networks. By October, generally the networks have decided what to buy. Then during the winter, writers develop the ideas and submit their scripts, and networks decide which scripts to shoot as pilots. After all the pilots get shot in the spring, networks will decide what shows to order to series and unveil their upcoming fall schedules at the Upfront presentations in May. Then begins staffing season, when agents submit their clients to be staffed on shows. However, by the time shows are ordered to series, many showrunners have already met with prospective writers and are just waiting to sign the already-prepared contracts and start up their writers' room. Writers need to be meeting people and submitting their samples well before the series orders come out.

If you can get an agent to read your stuff right now and throw you in the ring for staffing, great - but there's not one specific season for targeting agents. Do know that agents tend to be very busy in the midst of staffing; you might have the best chance of getting read in the summer (after staffing), or right before the December holiday break. Also, don't forget that many new writers get managers before they get agents, so you might want to target managers first.

Remember that cable networks run on different schedules; ABC Family, for example, announced series orders earlier this month. For more about how the television industry works, check out Small Screen, Big Picture by Chad Gervich.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Film and TV internships for college students

Chloe writes: I'm currently a sophomore in college in Boston and my ultimate goal is to enter the entertainment industry, preferably in television or entertainment news (but I also have an interest in screenwriting). I feel stuck because I don't really know how to go about pursuing this dream of mine. I don't have any contacts, I don't reside in L.A., I spend my summers home in Atlanta, I attend a liberal arts college that doesn't have any connections to its own L.A. campus, I've applied to several different internships and haven't heard back, etc. My school's Career Services office has been particularly unhelpful. Am I doomed because I don't have any professional work experience? Can you offer any advice?

First off, you're just a sophomore. You have time! Though college students seem to be doing internships earlier and earlier, it's most common to start in your junior year. Schools with specific majors like film, television, screenwriting and journalism often have LA programs and/or internship databases with contact information, but these aren't vital to securing an internship. Also, if you're interested in news, you don't need to be in LA, since every decently-sized city has a news station. Even if your school were a bit more rural, you could plan your classes so that you could intern at a news station. I went to Ithaca College, and many of my friends traveled to Syracuse and Binghamton for broadcast news internships during the school year. A few were even working as on-air reporters by the time we graduated! You could also stick with summer internships in Atlanta. Generally internships run Jan-May, May-August or August-December, so you may find that companies have all the interns they need for the current semester right now. Start looking for a summer internship in April if you can. (It's too early to start looking for a summer one now.) Your lack of work experience shouldn't be too much of a problem, as long as you can interview well and write a solid, succinct cover letter. A part-time job will show prospective employers that you are reliable and can show up to work on time - but experience isn't essential (Remember that you're working for free). You can fill up your resume with college extracurriculars.

Here's how you can find an internship in film/TV/news:

Start looking for phone numbers/email addresses/people to contact.
Since you're looking for an unpaid internship and not a job, you should be able to be a bit more picky. Think you where you'd like to intern (for example, what company released a movie you love? What local news station is your favorite?) and then see if you can find a phone number from their website, an industry directory, Google results, etc. Simply ask to speak with the person who handles internships and then ask if you can submit a resume. For film and TV productions (in a variety of locations), check out Production Weekly and the Production Reference Services report. For development internships, a free trial subscription to IMDBPro can be very helpful for companies in LA, as can the weekly UTA Joblist (which is widely distributed - see if someone can forward it to you). Check to see if your school has an internship database - but don't necessarily limit yourself to these places. Also, don't be surprised if your Career Services office is massively unhelpful...the entertainment industry is very specialized, and people outside of it don't seem to know much about how it works. A journalism professor might be more helpful than a Career Services person.

Check your alumni network.
Many schools maintain an online alumni database that you can search based on profession. You'd be surprised how much mileage you can get out of "Hey, I went to Miami too!" My school's database also lets alumni check a box saying that they're willing to help current students and recent grads - so that's a good indication that your email is worth sending. You can also ask your professors about any recent grads they're still in touch with who may be able to help. Fellow classmates can help too. I actually got an internship in NYC through a contact from a younger classmate!

Apply online.
Like with jobs, you will probably hear back from less than 2% of the internships you apply for online - but it's worth a shot. I got an internship at a studio genre label by applying through its website. Check the "Job Sites" section to the right of this blog and start searching for internships at those sites. The bigger ones (NBCUniversal, Time Warner, etc.) should have a few listed. Also, remember that many companies fall under the umbrella of larger companies - so click on Viacom to apply for internships at MTV, for example. Again, you may never hear back from these people...sometimes I think jobs and internships are posted online but not actually filled by online applicants - but I know first hand that it is at least possible to get an internship this way. In terms of following up - you can try once if you want, but after that you should let it go. Don't pester.

Consider an LA semester or summer program.
I offer this advice with the caveat that they can be incredibly expensive and aren't absolutely necessary for an internship...but I probably never would have moved to LA without my school's LA's program. Especially if your school isn't a specialized communications school, an LA program can offer more specific classes and easier access to internship opportunities. During my semester in LA, I interned at two companies, wrote a pilot and wrote a feature. Productive, huh? Be wary of programs that aren't affiliated with real universities and ask yourself where your money is actually going...I don't want you moving to LA with a ton of debt since you probably won't be able to pay it back for a very long time. But if your parents are willing to help, and/or your school doesn't offer specific classes like screenwriting, an LA program might be worth looking into. Just know that you can definitely find an internship on your own without the help of a school.

You may want to focus your goals; The path to working in scripted television is very different from the path to working in television news. I suppose you could do a news internship this summer and a more scripted kind of internship the following summer to see what you like better...but at some point you will need to choose a path so you can start making contacts in the right field.

Good luck! Click here to read all my previous posts on internships, including this one about what makes an internship legal.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hear what your script would sound like

Many writers stage live reads or ask friends to read their dialogue aloud - but now you can achieve the same affect without leaving your chair or speaking to humans. Check out, which lets you upload your script to a website and instantly hear what it sounds like. The site, which features 100+ voices, lets you listen on-line or download an MP3. PDF, Final Draft 8, Celtx, Word, Text and other files are supported. View a demo or jump right into a one-month free trial.

I haven't tried it - so let me know what you think if you give a try.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Creating a video to promote your script?

When Adam Gaines wrote a spec pilot, he wanted to promote in a creative way - so he made an opening credits sequence and put it on Vimeo:

ORGANIZED Concept Titles from Adam Gaines on Vimeo.

Here's what Adam had to say about the experience:

I had just gotten a TV day job that was not as creative as my last one and my childhood friend Ryan Lathey had just moved to LA after doing VFX and Animation in New York and was looking for work. It was the perfect collaboration at this moment and time for us: a reminder to people about my original material and a great piece for Ryan's demo reel. I don't expect the phone to start ringing with studios looking to buy the show, but if I can generate a little extra buzz amongst the contacts I've amassed in the last 4 years and show something kind of unique in whatever meetings I can wrangle, then this seemed like the way to do it. If the elevator pitch is truly only one minute: I can now use 30 seconds to say it's 'Dawson's Creek' meets 'The Sopranos' and the other 30 seconds to play this.
What do you think of Adam's approach? Although I think we should be spending most of our time writing scripts, it never hurts to make yourself stand out. Sometimes it's tough to get people to read things - but getting them to click on something might be a bit easier.

If you're interested in making content for the internet, you might enjoy this upcoming Tubefilter Panel, Outside the Box: Creative Marketing in Online Video. It takes place Weds March 7 from 7-10 pm and costs $10.

Panelists include:
Rome Viharo Senior Vice President, Business Development and Innovations, Alphabird
Tony Chen CEO, Yellow Thunder Media
Kai Hasson Partner and Creative Director, Portal A Creator, White Collar Brawler

Monday, February 6, 2012

Go see Unscreened!

Sunday and Monday Nights at 8 PM from Feb 6-27
Tickets: $25
Reserve your seats here or call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006
More info at
Facebook event page

Unscreened is a lively evening of new short plays - at turns funny, insightful, inventive and biting - by some of Hollywood's fastest-rising writers and featuring a multi-star cast.

This year's writers are:
Anna Christopher
Michelle Morgan
Dahvi Waller
John Whittington

Cast includes:
Chris Klein
Josh Fadem
John Forest
Minerva Garcia
Jasper Grey
Will Greenberg
Anne Gregory
Ryan Harrison
Steven Klein
Abby Miller
Tig Notaro
Noah Segan
Maria Thayer

Directed by:
Anna Christopher
Susanna Fogel
Michelle Morgan
Robbie Pickering

Produced by:
Jordana Mollick
Brendan Bragg
Natalia Duncan
Steven Klein

Set Design:
Joel Daavid

Lighting Design: Derrick McDaniel

Costume Design: Karina Torrico

Stage Manager: Miguel Flores