Friday, October 16, 2015

Moving on

I first started this blog in June of 2007, two months before I moved to L.A as an eager college graduate working on a spec script of little-known drama FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Netflix had introduced online streaming just four months earlier. Twitter had recently celebrated its first birthday. Neither the first iPad nor the first version of Instagram would be released for three more years. Of the two studios I now read for, one didn't exist and the other was primarily known as an online bookstore.

A lot has changed, but I'm still here.

I never really planned to be a blogger. But ever since I was a kid, I always found creative outlets online. Buy me a glass of Pinot sometime and I'll tell you about my Goo Goo Dolls fan site with animated rainbow GIFs and my Snoopy Geocities page that was very popular in Singapore. In high school and college, I wrote melodramatic Livejournal posts that eventually morphed into this blog, a real-time account of my path to becoming a writer for TV and film. Once Jane Espenson linked me and put this blog on the radar of aspiring writers everywhere, I realized that people wanted to know more about agencies, internships and assistant jobs -- so I went with it. Writing this blog actually led me to paid blogging jobs, and though I wasn't particularly proud of writing celebrity clickbait, I was happy to leave my low-paying agency job in 2009. I'm also a valuable addition to your bar trivia team, provided you get asked about The Youngest Celebrities To Go To Rehab.

In 2009, I supplemented my blogging income by writing script coverage for production companies and working as an SAT/ACT English tutor. I still do both. In 2010, I also started offering my coverage services to aspiring writers, and that business has grown to a level I never could have predicted. People tell me I could expand the business even more with data collection and employees and advertising and other smart-sounding stuff, but the thing is, I never set out to be a professional script reader. People also tell me I could make more money tutoring if I mastered more subjects and went out on my own, but I never set out to be a tutor, either. You should become a private college counselor or an on-set tutor, they say. But..but...

What happens when you get too good at your day jobs?

One side effect is that I haven't had the time to maintain this blog the way I used to. I've also run out of things to say about the assistant world, internships and networking; when I get questions from readers, I often direct them to old posts. This will be my last post here as I shift my primary online presence to AmandaPendolino.com, a more modern-looking site that won't look like such a trainwreck on mobile devices. I will leave all the old entries here for new writers and students - and for long-time readers who may want to reference old posts.

I've also slowed down a little when it comes to writing - turning 30 and working several jobs sometimes renders you unable to do anything except sink into a couch and marvel at the dysfunctional marriages on House Hunters. I wish I still had the energy and completely unfounded confidence I had at 22. But I've written a new comedy pilot and the other day I woke from a dead sleep with an idea for a movie starring Tinmy Feyhler, a combination of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, so grand success is clearly imminent. I'll be sure to tweet updates.

Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on this blog over the years. It's introduced me to a lot of wonderful people. And in case you're wondering, I've had some writing victories: I developed a feature with a big writer I really admire. I developed a half-hour pilot with a producer who taught me everything I know about pitching. I was paid to adapt a feature based on a magazine article/true story, a project that got me into the WGA. I've worked with directors, actors and digital companies. I'm still not making all of my income from screenwriting, but I'm not giving up yet, either. It's all just happened more gradually than I'd expected.

I will continue to operate my script notes service. For information and updates on that, check out my new website. I will write occasional blog posts there as well. I mean, come on - the new Peanuts movie comes out next month.

xo

Amanda

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Interview w/ James & Sharla Oliver, the writers of tonight's UNDER THE DOME

James and Sharla Oliver wrote tonight's episode of UNDER THE DOME, which airs at 10/9c on CBS -- and they were kind enough to answer five questions about their experience as writers and assistants. This interview is extra special for me since they met at a networking event they both read about on this blog and are now married!

1. How did you get the chance to write the episode? (What positions did you have first, etc.)  

James: I moved to LA after college and spent several years bouncing around between various assistant jobs.  One day, a friend of ours from our writing group sent me an email that a friend-of-a-friend of his was looking to replace himself as the assistant to Neal Baer, who has an overall deal at CBS Studios.  I sent our friend my resume, and he passed it along (Thanks yet again Jeremy!).  One week later I had my interview with Neal for the job (and thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of Brian K. Vaughan by confessing to dressing up as the main character from Y: The Last Man for Halloween).  That was mid-way through production on the first season of Under the Dome (UTD).  After a couple years of working for Neal on both Under the Dome and his development with the studio, we were heading into the third season of UTD, and Neal offered us a chance to write a freelance episode.  He knew that Sharla and I wrote as a team, so even though she worked on another show, he let her come into the room so we could work on the episode together.

Sharla: And while James has been assisting Neal over on Under the Dome, I have been working as the writers’ assistant on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..  Before that, I was the writers’ PA on Spartacus, which is where I met all three of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s showrunners.  So when their show was picked up to series, I was lucky enough to be asked to join them as their PA, and from there I moved up to writers’ assistant.  Being in the room every day has really been the best learning environment I could ask for as a new writer.  I know the experience helped me immensely while we were working on our own episode.    

James & Sharla: We were excited when Amanda asked if she could interview us because the two of us actually met at a networking event after we both saw a post about it on our favorite aspiring TV writer blog [Editor's note: Yay!!].  A couple years later we got engaged and suddenly everyone started asking us if we wrote as a team.  We’d been writing separately up until that point, but giving each other lots of notes and using each other to bounce ideas around, so it wasn’t a hard transition to writing together.   Since then we’ve written a bunch of pilots as a team, but this was our first opportunity to write an episode of a show on the air.

2. What was the process of breaking the story?

James: I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in the room for a lot of this season, so I was caught up on where the writers were taking the story this year.  When we were breaking the couple episodes before ours, Sharla was on her hiatus from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so the timing worked out nicely that she was able to come shadow in the room with me to get up to speed.  I was still doing my regular assistant job on top of this, so it was good to know that if I got pulled out for a couple hours to take care of something, Sharla could fill me in later that day.   It was our first time getting a taste of what it would be like to go to work together every day, and it was a lot of fun.

Since UTD is a very serialized show, a lot of the story is broken in the room on white boards.  We decided early on that Sharla would be in charge of writing on the board for our episode, because her handwriting is lovely, legible, and a pleasure to look upon, but my handwriting looks like it was written by an over-caffeinated third-grader.  The writers all sit around the room in comfy chairs bouncing ideas back and forth.  Stories are broken by character, and then woven together in more detail before we head off to outline.  Going into our episode, we knew where all the characters were going to be in the episode ahead of ours, and what had to be set up for the following episodes.  On top of that we knew what sets we had to play with that were already established on the show, which of the actors were available when, and that we needed a fun way to involve Julia’s Prius as part of an integration deal the show has with Toyota.  Once we had a clearer idea of what pieces we could use, we brainstormed various fun ways to fit them all together and brought those ideas to the room.

James & Sharla: Some elements of the story changed a lot while we were breaking the outline, but from outline to script nothing major had to change based on notes, which was a relief.  We were able to focus on revisions and cutting for time, rather than creating a lot of new material at the last minute.

For the actual writing of the draft, we rearranged our kitchen table in the middle of our living room, pulled our desk chairs up to either side, and slid an ottoman underneath where both of us could reach it.  We divided up the scenes from the outline and wrote our first passes separately, then traded things back and forth.

3. Did you get to go to set for the shooting of it? What was that like? 

James & Sharla: We were able to go out to Wilmington, NC for a few days of prep and the first five days of production before we both had to come back to LA and our regular jobs.  It was a great experience, and a lot of the credit for that goes to our director, Sam Hill, who did an amazing job and never treated us like we were "just the assistants." There were several scenes that sadly shot on the days we couldn’t be there, but we knew that everything would come out great, and it did.  It was also really nice for James to meet our North Carolina crew in person, given that he’d been working with many of them for two years without ever meeting in person.

The two caveats we’d offer for anyone shooting in Wilmington are 1) be prepared for shooting to get interrupted repeatedly by low-flying airplanes and/or thunderstorms, and 2) find the most badass bug spray you can and use a lot of it.  The woods out there are known for these tiny bugs called “chiggers” that will crawl up your pant legs, and by the time you realize you’ve been bit, it’s too late.  Our show involves a fair amount of running around the woods, so our actors are painfully aware of how bad they can get.  On day one of shooting, one of the first things Rachelle LeFevre said to us was, “Do you have bugspray?”

It’s a strange thing to be in video village with a headset on, and realize that the crew, and the director, and actors are all creating something we thought up while sitting in our apartment one morning.  And it’s a bit of a rush when it comes time to shoot an emotional scene and the actor just nails it.  There are also times when the actors will come to you with a question about a scene you didn’t expect, or a limitation in the location comes to light, but improvising a solution in the moment is part of the fun.

4. What's something you learned from the experience?

James & Sharla: It’s really helpful knowing that you have deadlines, and that lots of very professional people are waiting on the result of your labors.  When procrastination isn’t an option, it’s much easier to be productive.  You can’t always predict which parts of the episode are going to be the trickiest.  The scene you’re sure will get noted by the network doesn’t get commented on, and the part you think is ready to shoot will change fourteen times before production.  Given how much is out of our control, it’s a good idea to write with flexibility in mind, just in case a freak lightning storm leaves you in a position where either the scene changes or it doesn’t get shot that day.

James: It was also great to get a chance to be there for editing and the rest of post-production.  I got to go to the final playback on a mixing stage, and there was the episode on a big movie screen, with titles, final visual effects, composed music, and sound effects booming from the speakers.  Seeing that really drives home that this is an actual thing.  Now we’re in the part where we wait until suddenly the number of people who’ve seen it jumps from a few dozen on the show and at CBS to strangers all over the world, and all you can do is cross your fingers and hope they like it.  I follow a lot of the chatter about our show on the internet, so it’s weird anticipating angry tweets in Turkish about something we wrote.

5. What's something you've learned from more experienced writers on the show?  

James & Sharla: All the other writers on staff were really supportive and welcoming.  They were great about sharing from their experiences, both on UTD and on other shows.  Sometimes it’s the small practical things that help, such as, "don’t set the scene in that location, because it’s actually a 40 minute drive in the opposite direction from the other locations and you’d lose half a day on the company move" or knowing which actors are going to work especially well together.  The writers also have experience working with the studio/network, so they were a huge help in breaking an outline that CBS would be excited about.  Our first draft of the script was also long, and since our episodes can’t be any longer than 43 minutes we needed to make cuts.  We were able to trim dialogue and scenes on our own, but there were also cuts suggested by Neal or one of the other writers.  Part of why we like writing as a team is there’s always someone to provide a fresh point of view on a scene, and we were happy to take advantage of a whole room full of smart people with great story instincts.

In one scene in particular, we had filled in some character backstory with some long pieces of dialogue.  We cut it down based on notes, and there were pieces we were sad to lose, but when we were shooting the scene it still felt long.  The final cut of the episode has that scene trimmed even shorter, and it works really well.  It was a very good reminder that often less is more.  We’ve been working on our own pilot in our free time, and after we got back from shooting we went through the outline and made cuts with this in mind.  Hopefully the final product will be much more streamlined now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

2015 Disney Channel Storytellers Program open for submissions


Disney Channel Storytellers is a 20-week writer incubator program focused on developing up-and-coming talent who already have professional representation. The primary focus of the program is not staffing, but rather identifying the unique voices who represent the next wave of half hour comedy developers.

Running from November through April, Storytellers will allow four participants to write an original script for pilot consideration, create digital content for the online space, and pitch Disney-centric concepts for network consideration. The highly competitive program will be overseen by key Disney Channel development executives who will provide regular guidance and feedback, all in the name of building the creators and showrunners of tomorrow.

About the program:
  • Four writer entities will be selected. Both teams and individuals will be considered.
  • The program will run for 20 weeks beginning on or about November 2, 2015 through April 2016.
  • Participants are exclusive to Disney Channel for the duration of the program.
  • Participants will be paid at Article 13 scale, and be guaranteed a base salary of $77,000.
  • Participants will be given entrance into the WGA with accompanying benefits. If already WGA, the writer will receive WGA points.
  • Participants must be eligible to work in the US, and must be 18 years and or older.
  • Participants must provide own housing and transportation in Los Angeles.
The application deadline is September 1, 2015. You must submit two live action, half hour comedy samples (one sample MUST be original) and bio or credits via email from an agent or manager. For more information, check out the program's website.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What's your favorite line in a movie?

Dialogue lovers: here's a fun new Academy Originals video in which industry pros reveal their favorite movie lines.

What's your favorite movie line?

Monday, July 13, 2015

What to expect in an entertainment internship interview

A.R. writes: As someone hoping to get their first internship doing script coverage, I'm not really sure what questions to expect for the interview. What, in your experience, do employees looking for script interns usually ask? What would be any advice you have for the interview?

Don't stress out too much about the interview. When it comes to internship interviews, employers are just trying to make sure you're an intelligent, responsible person with a good attitude. Show up on time, have a printed copy of your resume on hand and be prepared to talk about your favorite movies. Ideally, you'll like movies that are similar to the ones the company makes (do some internet research to find out what they've released and what they're developing -- they'll be impressed if you can mention a title or two). You don't have to fawn all over the company's films, though. At one of my internship interviews, the creative executive was happy to hear I liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which wasn't their film); "The last guy said his favorite movie was Weekend at Bernie's, and I didn't know what to do with that," she said.

You can also talk about any previous internship or script coverage experience, if you have any. If not, don't worry -- the questions should be pretty simple where-are-you-from? kind of questions. The interview might even be a formality; the employer might be ready to hire you and just want to convince you to come on board or discuss scheduling. Interns often go on many interviews and have their pick of positions (it's vice versa when you're looking for a paid job). Some internship positions will be more competitive than others -- so if you want the position, be sure to send the person you interview with a succinct thank you email or card afterward. You might also be asked to submit some sample coverage -- take your time and make sure it's free of errors. (For more on script coverage, check out this post.)

Lastly, take the time to prepare a question or two. It can be awkward if the interviewer says "do you have any questions for me?" and you say "Nope." You can ask about what made other interns successful (or what made them annoying), what the company looks for in coverage (if this hasn't been covered), etc. You can also ask about the person's own history -- people love talking about themselves. What does she wish she knew as an intern?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Get $50 off an Austin Film Festival conference badge


The 2015 Austin Film Festival will run from October 29-November 5 and feature panelists such as Norman Lear, Shane Black, Jack Burditt, David Wain, Kelly Marcel and Terry Rossio (along with other writers, industry agents and creative executives).

If you're interested in a Conference Badge for this year's festival, you can get $50 off here with the promo code CON300.

For more info about the Austin Film Festival in general, check out its main site: www.austinfilmfestival.com.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fellowship & contest deadline alert: Austin and WB

Austin Film Festival Screenplay & Teleplay Competition
Final Deadline: May 20

For the first time ever, AFF will provide Reader Comments to ALL entrants in the Screenplay & Teleplay Competition for FREE!  In addition, all entrants receive registration discounts, with even bigger discounts when you place in the competition. Unlike other screenplay competitions, your experience with AFF doesn’t end after making the first cut. Second Rounders (the esteemed top 10-12% in each category), Semifinalists, and Finalists attend special panels, programmed specifically for them and not open to regular badge holders.  This year, AFF has an exciting line-up of sponsored award judges including AMC for the One-Hour Pilot category, the Writer’s Guild of America East who will provide three established WGAE screenwriters to judge the Final Round of the Drama category, Enderby Entertainment who will be looking for scripts with an original concept and distinctive voice that can be produced under $5 million, and Frank Darabont’s Darkwoods Productions who will be reviewing this year’s top Sci-Fi scripts. AFF is also now accepting short and digital series scripts!

Warner Brothers TV Writing Workshop
Final Deadline: May 31

For over 30 years, the Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop has been the premier writing program for new writers looking to start and further their career in the world of television. Every year, the Workshop selects up to 10 participants out of almost 2,000 submissions and exposes them to Warner Bros. Television’s top writers and executives, all with the ultimate goal of earning them a staff position on a Warner Bros. produced television show. Selected writers will attend lectures, work in a simulated writers' room and get connected with staffing opportunities. To apply, submit a resume, one or two spec scripts (from WB's list of accepted shows), a one-page statement and a submission agreement.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NHMC TV writers program open for submissions

Created in 2003, the NHMC Television Writers Program is an intensive scriptwriters workshop that prepares Latinos for writing jobs at major television networks. Modeled after the previously successful Hispanic Film Project, the program is a direct response to the lack of diverse writers in primetime network TV. To take NHMC TV Writers Program graduates to the next level, NHMC has also created the NHMC Pitching Lab and the Latino Scene Showcase.

The television scriptwriters workshop is designed to familiarize participants with the format, characters and storyline structure of specific shows that are currently on the air. The five-week, total immersion workshop is mentored and guided by former NBC V.P of Script Development, Geoff Harris and is conducted in Burbank, CA. A total of 10 writers are accepted nationwide from an established network of non-profit agencies, schools, universities, guilds and media organizations. The goal is that the writers garner the skills necessary to obtain employment in the industry.

During the five-week program, you'll write a half-hour comedy or one-hour drama that will be read by network executives. Those writers whose scripts show promise will be interviewed and mentored by the network executives with the objective of placing them on a show.

A stipend of $250 per week will be given to each participant. Southwest Airline vouchers, housing, and meals will be provided to accepted participants who hail from out of state. If accepted into the program you must be willing to take a leave of absence from work or school as the program is a full time commitment Monday-Friday. Those who reside outside of Southwest’s flying regions will have to get to an airport that flies Southwest, AT THEIR OWN COST, and then catch a Southwest flight to Burbank.

Submissions for the 2015 program will be accepted from April 6 - August 3. The program takes place October 5 – November 6.

To apply, you'll need a writing sample, resume or bio, statement of interest, application and completed release form. Apply and get more info here!

Monday, April 20, 2015

NYWIFT launches writers lab for women over 40

Funded with the generous support of Meryl Streep and organized by Iris, The NYWIFT Writers Lab brings 8 women screenwriters over the age of 40 together with established mentors from the film industry for an intimate gathering and intensive workshop at Wiawaka Center for Women on Lake George, NY from September 18-20, 2015.

The only program of its kind, The Writers Lab evolved in recognition of the absence of the female voice in narrative film, along with the dearth of support for script development. The lab offers 8 promising films by women over 40 a springboard to production.

Applicants must be women who were born on or prior to June 1, 1975, and must be US Citizens or Permanent Residents. The Lab seeks submissions from all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural groups. Submissions must be full-length narrative screenplays in English. (No TV scripts, shorts or documentaries.)

You may enter starting May 1, 2015. Click here for more info!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Resources for comedy writers

Fernando writes:


Thanks for reading! For screenwriting advice in general, definitely check out Go Into the Story. There, Scott Myers has produced an absolute wealth of information, and plenty of the movies he explores are comedies. Geoff LaTulippe, who wrote GOING THE DISTANCE, also doles out advice on his blog and on Twitter.

You might also like the Scriptnotes podcast, since co-host Craig Mazin has written comedies such as IDENTITY THIEF.

Lastly, I enjoy the website Splitsider, which curates a lot of news and interviews about comedy (including TV and stand-up).

Check out the right side of this blog for a more complete list of screenwriting blogs, podcasts and places where you can download scripts. Reading professional comedy scripts is probably the most important thing you can do!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to get a pitch meeting

razor7 writes: Can you explain the process of ACQUIRING a pitch meeting.

In most cases, you need an agent or manager before someone (such as producer or studio executive) will hear your pitch, and your rep can set it up. Otherwise, you'll need to have a personal connection to the person you're pitching (but even in that case, you might need a rep). I first pitched a TV idea in a general meeting with a producer because my close friend was the producer's assistant and pre-pitched my idea to her to find out if she'd like it before I met with her. However, the producer wouldn't have met with me if I didn't have some kind of representation.

I got another opportunity to pitch my take on a movie adaptation when a friend of mine (whom I met when he was a manager assistant and I was an agent assistant) reached out to me. So the overall answer to your question goes along with my overall answer for everything: move to LA and start meeting people (probably through a job) so that you can start cultivating relationships and opportunities. Also, you'll need to have writing samples before you pitch anything; people generally won't hear pitches until after they've seen the kind of writing they can expect from you.

Readers, how did you get your first pitch meeting? I'd love to hear stories in the comments.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On the Cusp: a podcast featuring up-and-coming TV writers

On the Cusp, a podcast by Ben Greene, features writers, actors, and improvisers trying to make it in the industry. Here are some episodes with TV writers:

Episode 14 -- Jen D'Angelo (Cougar Town, The Millers)

Episode 16 -- Lauren McGuire (Comedy Bang Bang)

Other TV writer guests include Dan Lippert, Justin Michael, Madeline Walter, and Ben Axelrad. All the other episodes can be found on iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud. Check 'em out!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Nickelodeon's 'Script First' program open for submissions


Want to write an animated series for Nickelodeon? Enter the network's new Script First program!

From Nick's website:
Nickelodeon Animation Studios is proud to present a new path in series development called Script First! Here’s how it works: you submit a spec 3-5 page script that showcases an original show premise and characters in a self-contained story. If your submission is selected by our selection committee, you will get an offer to be paid to write an expanded script. You can choose to either build upon your submitted spec script or choose a different story using your same original characters and world.
What they're looking for:

  • Original short scripts, 3 to 5 pages in length
  • Content that is kid-appropriate
  • Strong, relatable characters that our kid audience of boys and girls ages 6 to 11 will love and want to see again and again
  • Concepts that play well for animation - visual humor is just as important as verbal!
  • Creators who are passionate about their ideas, their characters, and their stories. We want you to write from the heart. What do you really, really want to make that means something to you?
We’re open to any genre if your original idea has a strong comedic backbone. Action/Adventure/mystery is okay as long as it’s also funny. 
A short script, 3 – 5 pages long, is required. You can include an optional additional page explaining characters, worlds, or setup.  
Limit of three (3) submissions per person. Any scripts submitted beyond this cannot be considered. 
Submissions open on Monday March 30, 2015. The deadline for submissions is Friday May 15, 2015. No submissions will be accepted after this time.


Black List announces podcast series


The Black List has announced a new podcast series called the Black List Table Reads.

It's a podcast version of what the company already does with the live staged script readings, along with founder Franklin Leonard interviewing the scripts' writers. Scripts will come from the annual list, the website, and various other sourcing methods. Each script will be serialized over four episodes.

Launching April 16, the first featured script read for episodes 1-4 is Balls Out, written by Malcolm Spellman (producer of Empire) and Tim Talbott (winner of the 2014 Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award). Follow the coveted stories as they unfold on The Black List Table Reads Thursdays on Wolfpop.com.

All Wolfpop podcasts are available for streaming on iTunes and Soundcloud.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Snag a fellowship at LA writing workspace theOffice

Just got word of a fellowship opportunity at theOffice:
If you're looking for the perfect place in LA to leave the distractions of life behind and finish that screenplay/novel/short story/what-have-you, enter now to win a FREE 6 month Premium Membership to theOffice. 
theOffice is a quiet, communal workspace on 26th Street in Santa Monica (across from the Brentwood Country Mart). There are 26 ergonomic workstations in the room equipped with Aeron chairs, wifi, a reference library and all the coffee & tea you can handle. Charter and current members include JJ Abrams, Matthew Carnahan, Clark Gregg, Gigi Levangie Grazer, Jen Celotta, Gary Glasberg and many more. It's where serious writers go to GET IT DONE. 
The contest is free to enter. All of the details are on theOfficeOnlineBlog.com.
Hurry!!  Deadline to apply is April 15th. 
Send Submissions to: theOfficeFellowship@gmail.com 
Find us on Twitter: @theOffice_LA

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Upcoming screenwriting events in LA

Black List Live Read: 2014 Black List Script GIFTED

Sat, March 14
7:30 - 10:30 pm

Ricardo Montalban Theatre
1615 Vine St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Tickets are $27.37. Purchase them & get more info here.

Written and Directed by Tom Flynn, GIFTED is the story of Frank Adler, a deliberate under-achiever raising his niece Mary in rural Florida. Things get complicated for both of them when he enrolls her in school for the first time and she is immediately labeled as gifted. For reasons that become boldly apparent, all Frank wants is for Mary to have a normal life, but standing in his way is his formidable mother Evelyn, and the small problem that he doesn't actually have custody of Mary.

Starring:

Armie Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE LONE RANGER)
Mckenna Grace (COOK, AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES)
Mary Steenburgen
Gina Rodriguez (JANE THE VIRGIN)
Michael Beach (SONS OF ANARCHY)
Nick Searcy (JUSTIFIED)

Writers Guild Foundation: First Draft To Feature (Spring Craft Symposium)

Sat, March 28
9 am - 6 pm

Writers Guild Theater
135 S. Doheny Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Tickets are $65. Purchase them & get more info here.

Get your screenplay ready for submission to industry professionals with a full day of panels discussing how to take apart your story and turn it into something special. Writers Guild Foundation and Austin Film Festival team-up for four panels, a WGA Archive Exhibit, and a full day of inspiration.

Panelists:

Greg Beal – Director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting
Evan Daugherty – DIVERGENT, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
Leslie Dixon – MRS. DOUBTFIRE, PAY IT FORWARD
Matt Dy – Director of the Austin Film Festival Screenplay and Teleplay Competitions
Jason Hall – AMERICAN SNIPER, PARANOIA
Rick Jaffa – AVATAR 2 & 3, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Adam Kolbrenner – Manager/Producer at MADHOUSE ENTERTAINMENT
Ashley Edward Miller – X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, THOR
Barbara Morgan – Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Austin Film Festival, Producer
Pamela Ribon – Memoir "Notes to Boys (And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public)," novelist, screenwriter, actor, and blogger
Edward Ricourt – A.K.A. JESSICA JONES, NOW YOU SEE ME
Terry Rossio – NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN TRILOGY & ON STRANGER TIDES
Amanda Silver – AVATAR 2 & 3, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Robin Swicord – MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, MATILDA

Monday, March 2, 2015

CBS Writers Mentoring Program now accepting submissions


The CBS Writers Mentoring Program is accepting submissions from March 2 - May 1, 2015. From its website:
The focus of this six month program is on opening doors: providing opportunities to build relationships with network executives and show runners; to support new and emerging writers in their efforts to improve their craft; and to develop the interpersonal skills necessary to break in and succeed. 
The Writers Mentoring Program is not employment and there is no monetary compensation. It is, instead, a structured program of career development, support, and personal access to executives and the decision-making processes, with the goal of preparing aspiring writers for later employment opportunities in television.
Each participant will be teamed with two different mentors. One is a CBS network or studio executive with whom they will meet on a regular basis, to discuss their work, get creative feedback on their material and get advice and support in furthering their career. The other is a show mentor who is a senior-level writer on a current CBS drama or comedy series. This relationship builds over the course of the Program and is focused on helping the participant with career goals. 
Once a week, participants will be invited to attend a small workshop-style meeting with various CBS show runners and other industry professionals. Speakers include executive producers, agents, managers, development and current executives and show runners. The purpose of these gatherings is for participants to gain a better understanding of how the business works from many different perspectives as well as creating the opportunity to make critical networking connections. 
Another important part of the Program is the opportunity for each participant to spend time observing in a writing room, as well as in the CBS current and development departments.
The Program is scheduled to begin in late September 2015 and continues through April 1, 2016. To apply, you must submit an application, letter of interest, work resume or bio, notarized submission release form and two writing samples (one spec script and one original pilot, stage play or short fiction story).

 Head over to the program's website to read more and apply.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

HBO launches writing fellowship


HBO has launched a new HBOAccess Writing Fellowship.

From their website:
The HBOAccess Writing Fellowship is designed to give emerging, diverse writers the opportunity to develop a half-hour or hour script suitable for HBO or Cinemax. 
The program will select up to 8 diverse writers to take part in a series of master classes held over one week in mid-August at the HBO campus in Santa Monica. Classes will consist of discussions with HBO executives and showrunners and will focus on character, story, pitching, securing an agent, and networking.  
Each participant will then be paired with an HBO or Cinemax development executive who will serve as his/her mentor throughout next 8 months. In addition, we will hold monthly group meetings during which projects will continue to be work-shopped. At the end of the 8 months, HBO will hold a reception for industry professionals where the writers will be introduced to the entertainment community.
Applicants must by 21 or older and able to work in the U.S. You also must not have been staffed on a network or cable series in excess of 13 episodes and/or have had more than one feature film or more than two plays produced.

The submission period opens March 4, 2015 and the deadline is April 1, 2015. To apply, submit a resume, writing sample, completed release form and 500-word personal essay through Withoutabox. For more info, go here!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

5 Questions with a Writers' PA on a network drama

A Writers' Production Assistant on an upcoming drama on a three-letter network was kind enough to answer 5 questions about her job:

What's your background?

I grew up in the south and I didn't attend any film school. But I did go to college and my degree is actually on the other end of the spectrum from film: Health and Physical Education. It's funny looking back -- Google and trial-by-fire were my film education. For two years before I decided to pursue writing professionally and move to LA,  I was a coach and teacher. I looked around and told myself I didn't want to do this for the next thirty years of my life, so after my second year I packed up and moved to LA.

I did do an internship for a summer at a production company, but I got in right on the brink of that big intern lawsuit so I was lucky to be able to do that and not need it for college credit. I was already living in LA at the time. Funny enough, I had a staffing meeting at this company and made friends with the exec and when I saw the listing for an intern at that company I emailed her and was like, "So... what are the requirements?" And she told me to start the next week.

How did you get your current job as Writers' PA? 

This is actually my first industry related job. I kind of went about it backwards so I apologize to anyone leaning in to get all the good secrets to success. I actually went on a staffing meeting for this show and had made a good connection with the creator, so when I didn't get the writing position, I emailed to see if they needed any assistants since they were about to start up and they did, so he hired me. I originally got the staffing meeting because I had a manager and agents. I had reps when I moved out, but have since changed management companies and agencies. My team is really great and the get my material out there and really champion me. I know that's not the case for everyone (I've been on the opposite side) but I really give them credit where it's due.

What are the basic duties of your job?

My biggest duty of the day is definitely lunch. I collect orders every morning from the writers and get that put in as early as I can because it seems all the TV shows eat at the same dozen places around this area every week. One day I showed up to pick up an order and there were five of us PAs from various shows waiting on food, ha.

Aside from lunch I do a lot of office work -- answering phones, ordering supplies, getting groceries, keeping the kitchen clean and stocked. When the writers' assistant is gone, sometimes I get to pop in the room to take notes or when the showrunner's assistant is away, I take over phone and email duties -- so I get to mix it up every now and then.

How long is your typical work day? When do you write?

I consistently work 10-12 hours a day. There's that saying you always hear about PAs -- first to arrive, last to leave -- and that's pretty accurate. Finding writing time and the energy can definitely be tough because at the end of the day you're exhausted mentally and physically and weekends become about recuperation. When I have some down time at work (like I do at the moment), I will sneak in some writing at my desk. Otherwise, I'm taking full advantage of three day weekends or long holidays to binge write and then I'll rewrite in the office. Every blue moon, I'll get up early enough to get in the office early and do some writing, but I've found I'm not a morning writing at all, so sometimes I'll stay after everyone leaves and get a couple pages in.

What's something you've learned from your job?

How much being a great writer can become secondary when working on a television show...because when you're breaking as a group and getting constant feedback on outlines and scripts from ten or more people, it's like they help rewrite you over and over. Which leads me to say, it's very important to have a great personality because you're hanging around the same 12-14 people all day. I think I heard a showrunner say something like, "I'll hire a good writer with a great personality over a great writer who is an asshole...I can always rewrite them but I can't change them if they're an asshole..."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to describe minor characters

Chris writes: Should I assign names to the minor characters in my feature? I don't want readers to get "character overload".

There's no hard and fast rule about this, but when characters are named "WOMAN #1" or "COP #1," it signals to me that I don't really have to pay attention to these people because if they were important, they'd have names. I would try to avoid writing a ton of unnamed characters in your script, because readers will gloss over them and because we'd rather spend time learning more about the main characters we do care about. Sometimes a story requires a lot of characters and you can't avoid these people, but take a step back and reassess if you introduce thirty different people by page 10 (yes, I've seen this).

If a character is in multiple scenes, give him/her a name or perhaps a memorable epithet. Maybe this works better in comedy, but you can call people BANGS and FEDORA instead of WOMAN #1 and MAN #2. Even TALL COP or SKINNY COP. Anything that creates a visual image will be helpful and more interesting. If a character is only in one scene, it's fine to use a name like WOMAN, but make your choice functional. There's a SCRAPYARD OWNER in the NIGHTCRAWLER script, for example, which is more specific than MAN. You can also include someone's title in the name you use above dialogue, such as DETECTIVE GARCIA instead of just GARCIA. The goal is always clarity.

John August has also written helpful posts about introducing characters.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Advice from TV lit manager Zadoc Angell

The internet is filled with great interviews with TV writers, but we don't often hear from agents and managers. That's why I was so happy to read Final Draft's interview with Zadoc Angell, a manager at Echo Lake who has also worked as an agent (we used to work together!). He offers a lot of good advice for aspiring TV writers:
My advice is to work in the business. I think too often writers will keep a day job in some other medium that affords them the ability to write and a lot of free time to write so they might be getting the writing done but they are not building relationships. And so, they are missing out on a huge component – especially in television – of jumpstarting a career. People will have a day job at Starbucks or something and write a lot and they might have a body of material, but they are hoping to be discovered by an agent or manager out of the blue who then will somehow single-handedly launch their career overnight, and that’s just not realistic.
Click over to Final Draft to read the whole interview!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Scott Myers of Go Into the Story teaching writing workshop in LA

Are you a feature writer looking to immerse yourself in a writing workshop? Scott Myers of the impossibly helpful blog Go Into the Story is coming to Los Angeles for his Quest workshop, which takes place March 12-15, 2015.

There is the four day on-site workshop in Santa Monica that goes from 10AM-5PM Thursday-Sunday. In it, we learn screenwriting theory focusing on Character, Plot and Theme, then use a series of writing exercises and feedback sessions for each participant to develop an original story. This is all based on lectures and content I have used, created and taught for years. 
I added a 16 week online program which participants can use to build off the work they do in the workshop by prepping their original story (6 weeks) and writing a first draft (10 weeks). That is a free benefit for writers and an optional choice. Most use the 16 week program as a structure to motivate them to write a script, but others simply do the 4 day weekend.
Then this: Many of the participants continue to stay in touch becoming in effect a writers group. This pleases me no end because for an individual to have other writers as a resource — critique loglines, give feedback on pages, provide emotional support — can be a huge boost to one’s productivity and psychological well-being.
The cost is $895, but you can get 10% off if you enroll early with the promo code Discount10.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ask the screenwriters: Emma Thompson, Steven Knight and James Schamus

In this cool BAFTA guru video, Emma Thompson, Steven Knight and James Schamus discuss treatments, outlines, rewriting, plot and momentum.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

5 Questions with 'iZombie' writer Bob Dearden


Bob Dearden is a writer for the upcoming CW show iZombie. His first produced work, though, is the Veronica Mars spinoff, Play it Again, Dick. Bob was kind enough to answer 5 questions about how working as an assistant launched his career as a writer.
 
What's your background?

I was a theatre major in my undergrad days, and got into writing plays and screenplays back then, informally. I wanted to go to film school after I graduated, but was already pretty deep in debt and didn't think I could afford it. So I always had screenwriting in the back of my mind, but put the idea on the back burner while I pursued a total different career, in the forest industry in British Columbia. I stayed in that world for over a decade before I finally decided to go back to school, to take an MFA in Screenwriting at UT Austin.

While I was there, I interned for Rob Thomas, who lives in Austin when he's not in LA. I guess he thought I was a decent enough fella and liked whatever I brought to the table, because he eventually offered me my first job in Hollywood, as a production assistant on the Veronica Mars feature.
My next job was through another UT Austin alum, Patrick Sean Smith, who I'd met via an introduction from one of my professors. Sean created Greek and was now running Chasing Life at ABC Family, and gave me a temporary job as their producers' assistant. That was my first exposure to a writers' room, which was great.

After that, I went back to working for Rob as his assistant while he was in postproduction on Veronica Mars, while simultaneously working on multiple pilot scripts. One of those scripts -- iZombie -- was ordered to pilot, so I ended up working as a producers' assistant throughout that process as well.

How did you end up getting to write on iZombie?

Once iZombie got ordered to series, I was hired as writers' assistant. I guess it was kind of a natural progression after working with Rob as his intern and assistant for so long, and after working on the pilot -- but still a pretty great opportunity, and one I was very lucky and grateful to have. Throughout the two years of working with Rob, I'd participated in a minor way in the breaking of various scripts, and he'd given me the occasional scene assignment as well, so he was somewhat familiar with both my storytelling instincts and my writing style. I think that engendered a certain amount of trust that I could handle the writers' assistant responsibilities. I'd also had the chance to work with co-creator Diane Ruggiero-Wright during the pilot production, and I think that familiarity and trust was key to her signing off on my hiring as well.

As far as writing an episode, the WGA mandates that one episode per show per season be written by a "freelance" writer -- someone who is not on the full-time writing staff. In certain circumstances, that episode is granted to the writers' assistant, and I was very fortunate that Rob and Diane had enough faith in my abilities to grant me that privilege as well.


How did Play It Again, Dick come about?

The impetus for Play It Again, Dick came from the producers of the Veronica Mars feature film -- specifically from Danielle Stokdyk (also a producer on iZombie) and Andrew Mellett at Warner Bros. It started as an idea for a promotional tie-in to the movie, something that would go online in advance of its release. It was always meant to be centred on Ryan Hansen and/or his character, Dick Casablancas, who is a fan favourite and constant source of comic relief in the Veronica Mars world. We didn't really know what form it would take, however -- we just thought it would be something small, cheap, and easy. Rob had a lot on his plate at the time, and asked if I'd like to write it. I was ecstatic to accept the offer, especially as a fan of the show and of Ryan.

A couple of weeks later, we found out that Warner Bros. had a bigger budget and bigger ideas in mind for the series, and a few weeks after that we heard that CW was interested in hosting the series on their digital channel, CW Seed. Suddenly, it was a much bigger, more high profile project, and as such, Rob had no choice but to get more involved, and to push it until the summer, after the film's release, when he had more room on his plate. He very generously allowed me to stay on as co-writer, and we worked together on the scripts.

It was a pitch of mine that gave us the very broadest strokes of what the series would be, and Rob developed that into a workable structure and framework. I was actually back in British Columbia for a couple of months when we got down to outlining and writing, so we Skyped a few times to bounce ideas back and forth, and then he took half the episodes to write, and gave me the other half.

I would come up with a first draft, checking in with him on any questions I had or running some of the bigger choices I was making by him, and then he would send his notes back and I'd try to rewrite and get in a decent second draft. He would edit and rewrite as well, where he saw fit, but he was pretty great about trying to let me get my scripts into shooting shape, so that as much of the final product as possible felt like they were my words.

Once production began, iZombie was already in full swing, so I got to be pretty involved in the production processes. There was some writing to do on the fly, which is always fun, and I was able to work with our director, Viet Nguyen, and Danielle, to try and ensure Rob's vision for the series was executed. It was a lot of pressure, but it was so cool to be on set and watch all of these actors I'd always admired bring our words to life, that it really was more fun than anything. Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better experience for my first produced work.  Plus, I got them to cast my dog in a cameo role, which is a highlight of both of our lives so far.

How did you get your manager or agent?

I just got an agent recently, and it happened in the reverse order than what I understand most writers go through. After I wrote PIAD and the iZombie episode, and one of our Co-EPs, Kit Boss, talked me up to his agent, who in turn reached out to me. So once again, I got pretty lucky to be in Rob's orbit, and to work with all of the great people around him.

What's something you've learned in the writers room?

From my perspective, being the rookie, I think the biggest lesson was just to be as prepared as possible for everything. Come prepared with ideas, but be ready to give them up if they aren't resonating with the show runner. Be ready to come up with new ideas on the fly, and to build off the ideas of others that may not have remotely occurred to you beforehand. And put the show and the show runners' vision for it first -- there's a reason they're in the big chair, and there wouldn't be a show without them, so while you can diplomatically disagree and make your own case, ultimately your job is to execute their version of the show in a voice that's as close to theirs as possible. I think if you don't come into the room ready to work and ready to be humble, you're asking for a headache.

Okay, 6 questions. Anything else you want to add?

The best advice I got in terms of getting a foot in the door in TV or film was (surprise!) from Rob. We all have to pay our dues in jobs for which we're overqualified -- that's just the nature of assistant work and our industry. No one dreams of being an assistant -- everyone wants to get ahead and climb the ladder as quickly as possible, but a lot of people shoot themselves in the foot by wearing that ambition on their sleeve, to the detriment of their present responsibilities. Rob's advice was this: do the job for which you've been hired really, really well, and the upward mobility will take care of itself.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Take a TV writing class with an actual working TV writer

Normally I'm skeptical of TV writing and screenwriting workshops and seminars because they're taught by out-of-touch "gurus" with little experience -- but here's one that isn't: The Script Anatomy Televisionary Writers Workshop.

Taught by Ali Laventhol (Perception, The Night Shift), this intensive 6-week TV workshop gives writers the option to focus on a TV spec or an original pilot. It takes place on Thursday nights from 7-10 pm, from March 5 to April 16th.

From their website:
Your instructor will guide you step by step through the process of crafting your script from concept to solid outline using Script Anatomy tools. This applicable and hands on course will help prepare you for staffing, development and the studio writing program application process.
Classes will cover:
Hooks/Concepts
Arena
Loglines & Pitching
TV Story Structure
Strong Act Outs
Tone & Genre Expectation
Character Development
Dynamic Relationships
Conflict and Obstacles
Dilemmas & Goals
Stakes
Theme
Writers will learn tools to develop their TV scripts, have weekly assignments on concept, pitching, character development, outline, etc. Additionally, each writer will receive weekly peer feedback and instructor critique and evaluation of weekly assignments and material in a supportive environment.
I know the $595.00 pricetag isn't cheap, but it's for 6 classes. I haven't taken them myself, but I can vouch for Ali's knowledge and experience. The aspiring writer world contains so many books and classes by people without real-world experience that this workshop is a happy exception.

To learn more about Ali and her writing partner Tawnya Bhattacharya, check out their extensive article about crushing all your meetings in 2015!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Power of Story: Serious Ladies at 2015 Sundance Film Festival

Moderated by awesome New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, this Sundance panel features Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Jenji Kohan and Kristen Wiig talking about everything from sex scenes to career strategy. It's long but fantastic!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Why do writers use "we see" in screenplays?

Brian writes: I wanted to ask why some screenwriters use "we", in their scene descriptions, while others do not. WE hear, WE see, and even WE saw etc...and it's not used just once or twice. Why do they do this?

Some people are very anti "we see," but I'm a little more lenient. Plenty of pro writers use it. I've used it. In many cases, writers probably don't need the much-maligned phrase; "We see Jenny walk up to the car" isn't really an improvement upon "Jenny walks up to the car." And if you're writing "we see" several times on a page, maybe your action could be trimmed.

I think writers use the phrase to convey the sense that we're all experiencing the script together as a movie, and to explain what precisely the camera is revealing at what time (as opposed to what the camera isn't revealing, or isn't revealing just yet). "We see" can also show us what's happening from a particular character's visual perspective.

Here's an instance of "we see" from FOXCATCHER, which earned Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye a 2015 Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay:

I/E. TAXI/MADISON/DAVE’S STREET - DAY

Mark rides in the back of a cab. As he nears Dave’s house, we SEE Nancy tapping a beer keg in the side yard. Dave and Alex sit in the TOP OF THE TREE, watching Mark arrive.

In her screenplay for GONE GIRL, Gillian Flynn also treats the script like a movie we're all experiencing together with "ushers us":

EXT. NORTH CARTHAGE - MORNING 2

A carved faux-marble entry—reading FOREST GLEN—ushers us into a ruined HOUSING DEVELOPMENT. Mostly VACANT houses. A few Fourth of July decorations hang in windows. A weird, BUCOLIC air: swaying grasses, stray wildlife.

If a reader criticizes your use of "we see," the reader might be a bad analyst who is focusing on the wrong things. However, the reader might be right that your action/description is clunky or uninspired, and just doesn't have specific advice for improving it.

The reader might also be trying to find things to say because he or she simply didn't love your script. Sometimes if a script is boring or unimpressive (but doesn't have obvious structure or character issues to talk about), readers find themselves getting picky about other things, because they don't know how else to fill up their required document of notes. I read a fair amount of "meh" scripts with clear concepts and fine characters and don't always know what to say beyond "I just don't love it." I try to not to obsess about things like "we see," but I think this is why some readers do. (I do think you should aim to make even the prose in your script impressive, though. In a script, you're creating an atmosphere while also showing off your ability to write. Words like "lavender" and "cinnamon" can even stimulate multiple parts of your readers' brains.)

Keep reading professional scripts to see how the best writers formulate their pose. Also, remember that "We see" is a small style thing. Agonize over the more important things in your script.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship submission period now open


Each year, the Academy Nicholl screenwriting competition awards up to five $35,000 fellowships to amateur screenwriters. To enter, submit a feature length screenplay and entry fee via the online application when the competition is open for submissions. Fellowship winners are invited to participate in awards week ceremonies and seminars and expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the Fellowship year.


QUALIFICATIONS
  • Screenwriters who have not earned more than $25,000 writing fictional work for film or television.
  • Entry scripts must be the original work of one writer, or of two writers who collaborated equally, and must be written originally in English. Adaptations and translated scripts are not eligible.
ENTRY DEADLINE

There are three deadlines for 2015: early is March 2 ($40 entry fee), regular is April 10 ($55 entry fee), and late is May 1 ($75 entry fee). The online application form must be completed and a PDF version of the script uploaded by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on May 1. Because of the anticipated surge in submissions, we cannot guarantee access to the online application form during the last six hours before the entry deadline.

PRIZES

Up to five $35,000 fellowships are awarded each year to promising new screenwriters. From the program’s inception in 1986 through 2014, $3.74 million has been awarded to 149 writers.

FELLOWSHIP OBLIGATIONS
  • Up to five fellows in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition will be invited to participate in awards week ceremonies and seminars in November.
  • Fellowship recipients will be expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the fellowship year.
  • Fellowship payments will be made quarterly subject to satisfactory progress of the recipient’s work, as judged by the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee.
  • The Academy reserves the right to grant no awards if, in the opinion of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee, no entry is of sufficient merit.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
  • Original feature film screenplay (no shorter than 70 pages and no longer than 160 pages) in PDF format only
  • Completed online application form
  • Early entry fee of US$40 (by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on March 2) or regular deadline entry fee of US$55 (by 11:59 p.m. PT on April 10) or late deadline entry fee of US$75 (by 11:59 p.m. PT on May 1).
For more information, head over to the Academy's' Nicholl Fellowship website. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

5 Questions with Writer and Script Consultant Timothy Cooper

Timothy Cooper is a screenwriter and script consultant whose web series, CONCIERGE, was nominated for a WGA award. On Twitter, he's @therealtimothy. He also runs the Blueprint Screenwriting Group.


What's your background? 

I got my undergraduate degree at Yale, where I was pre-med at first, then moved into philosophy (organic chemistry isn't easy, y'all). I focused largely on bioethics—the intersection of philosophy, and medicine, technology, and politics. A lot of my work is still informed by those interests. But it was as an undergrad that I wrote and directed a bunch of my own plays for the first time. I took two playwriting courses, including one with the excellent Donald Margulies. And I directed (we'll see if she remembers this) a one-act play by Elizabeth Meriwether (New Girl) that starred Zoe Kazan (everything) called “The Touch, The Feel.”

After graduating, I wrote plays while doing freelance editing jobs. I eventually earned enough consulting on people's college and grad school application essays (that's a whole story in itself) to start supporting myself, so I moved to New York City. Throughout this time, I was doing tons of film internships—script coverage, production assistant jobs, getting coffee, picking up laundry (having done this, I will never make an intern do anything close to that, ever), acting as camera assistant, building props, whatever. I also read every single screenwriting and story theory book available, read thousands (really, thousands) of screenplays, and joined different writing groups and communities of filmmakers.

I also did lots of improv at Upright Citizens Brigade and the Magnet, under some amazing teachers (Jason Mantzoukas, Liz Cackowski, Owen Burke, Peter Gwinn, and Chris Gethard, among others), where I got to perform with and direct some remarkably funny people.



How did you get Concierge made into a web series? 

I had tons of talented friends at Upright Citizens Brigade, and I thought they deserved starring roles. Since then, I was proven right in several cases, as you'll see if you (shameless plug) watch Concierge: The Series. A hotel is a perfect place expose all types of characters at every status level, from high to low. Plus I'm kind of obsessed with hotels, for reasons that are unclear even to me. But it really is the perfect setting to experience all walks of life, all types of behavior, and tons of awesome cameos. I think it would make the perfect sitcom—right, NBCaslongasyouhireme?

I think it only took a few days to write the script for all the episodes. I workshopped it with a few close friends to get feedback. Then I did improv rehearsals with the actors, which definitely helped. I love that collaborative process because it creates so many great new moments, and tells you what needs to be expanded or cut.

I called in lots of favors, then funded the rest out of pocket, which wasn't too bad. The location—a senior home that used to be a hotel—was donated. So was most of the food.

That was my first time really directing, but I knew exactly what I wanted. I brought on cast and crew I genuinely got along with, whom I agreed with comedically and aesthetically. At that point, all you have to do is trust them to do their job really well.

Ultimately, the series got me plenty of meetings with networks, producers, and my now-managers. Our Writers Guild Award nomination —the first for a webseries—didn't hurt either.

One mistake I see over and over is people spending all their time on one script for years, then completely giving up when that doesn't sell. 

Do you have an agent or manager? If so, how did you get representation?

I do have a manager—actually, two managers, at a boutique management company in Hollywood. They are amazing. We work together on my new feature and pilot projects pretty much every week.

I met my managers at Sundance; after they saw my webseries, they asked for more scripts. So I sent them a spec feature and two spec sitcom pilots that I was really proud of. These projects presumably demonstrated my writing style, voice, and commercial appeal.

As a script consultant, what are some mistakes you see writers making over and over, or what are you sick of?

One mistake I see over and over is people spending all their time on one script for years, then completely giving up when that doesn't sell. Your first script will be the best you can write at that time. The second will be even better. By the third, you won't even know why you wasted time on that first script, since you can now see its flaws. But you HAD to write the first one to get to the second one to get to the third! Trust me: If you sell your 10th or 20th script, you're doing really, really well. If you give up before that, you didn't give yourself a chance to get better. For some reason, unlike any other sport or art or skill, people expect their first completed screenplay to be bankable. That's not a realistic expectation, and it's definitely not a viable way to improve.

I also see writers who spend a week on the outline and then months or years on the script. It should be the other way around. Run your story and outline by some trusted associates who understand the industry. Sadly, your parents or significant other don't count, because they (hopefully) think everything you write is golden. Spend time to really iron out the story. If it doesn't capture people's interest in the summarized form, the longer form probably isn't going to work any better.

Don't wait for someone to come along and produce your work. Just do it yourself. I'm talking about making webseries, short films, sketches on YouTube, music videos, fake commercials, isolated scenes, anything. You can easily pick up the skills to shoot a video or short film yourself. Or, if you don't want to direct, try to get in with your local university or improv school. People everywhere are desperate for new stories and great scripts. If it's good, it will get made.

What is the best writing advice you've ever gotten?

David Koepp told me, “Keep at it.”* That's pretty much the answer.
(*When I accosted him after he presented at the Writers Guild Awards.)

Don't put off writing until the perfect day. You have to write when your boss isn't looking, when you have a minute on the toilet, when you're sitting in a traffic jam, when your kids are napping, etc., etc. No one just gets weeks off on an island to write somewhere.

Don't watch a mediocre movie or see a mediocre script and say, “But I could write something mediocre too.” Of course you can; anyone can. Your job, when breaking into the industry—and with every script thereafter, too—is to write something extraordinary. Very few people can tell a story we haven't seen before, in a brand-new way. That's why screenplays sell for so much money—it's really freaking hard to write something with universal implications and appeal.

Move me. Another scene about a reluctant assassin who blows up lots of stuff won't affect anyone in the least. A truly flawed, multidimensional character WILL affect us. Write about a topic you genuinely care about, not just a genre that you've seen selling lately. If you don't care about your message, why should we?

Something I always emphasize in my Blueprint Screenwriting Group workshops is the importance of being receptive to feedback. There is no successful screenwriter who doesn't have to listen to executives, producers, funders, and—most important—his or her audience. Even the world's highest-paid screenwriters rely on a brain trust of peers with whom they test every story beat (as they do at Pixar, for example). If you argue with the criticism rather than just listening, that doesn't bode well for your ability to work with a studio or a production team.

Just hear to what people are saying. Do a reading with actors or friends. You don't have to take everyone's advice, but you have to listen and be open to it. Every script can be improved. Your job is never done.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

5 Questions with a Writers' PA on a network drama

I interviewed a Writers' PA on a network drama (who wishes to stay anonymous). I can relate to her story of a winding path: a career is more than just one job or one opportunity!

1. What's your background?

I went to film school at USC, majored in Critical Studies (Film Studies). I did a wide variety of internships from production companies to TV shows and even in TV I dabbled...I worked in the art department on Mad Men but then also worked in writers' offices on shows like Smallville and Brothers and Sisters. I also at one point worked with an executive coordinating animation events which was interesting. And then if I don't sound career ADD enough, on weekends, I was doing film makeup and working as a production designer on music videos and student projects. I was all over the place, but honestly I think a lot of the moving around came from fear. I knew I wanted to write and was trying to find everything and anything to replace what seemed like a far-fetched dream but then a few years later decided to actually take a chance on myself.

2. How did you finally get the writers' PA job?

Oh god. I honestly thought after school I was golden, I had done so many internships, I thought I'd easily land back on a show after graduation but it didn't happen that way, not for 3 more years. I sort of had to take every step possible to get there which frustrated me beyond belief. I ended up temping / PAing at a studio which then got me assistant experience. With that assistant experience I was able to land a desk at a management company where I also worked for a film / tv producer in development. While I was there, I was trying to take advantage of building up my network which ultimately helped me finally move back into TV where I landed a gig as a production PA. I was on a few Showtime shows as a production PA before I was able to finally hop over into the writers' office as a writers' PA on a network drama.  My friend worked on the sister show and let me know about the opening.

3. What are the typical duties and hours of your job, and how long did the job last?

I was pretty lucky that this writers' PA gig lasted from March to the holidays -- but the catch is that because it's a new show and wouldn't air until a couple months after, if we did get picked up, we wouldn't work until June so then you're on the search all over again. While on the show, the hours depended on where the writers were on the deadlines. Sometimes a couple writers would work late and you'd stay an extra hour or two but I definitely didn't work the hours I did in production. I can safely say I worked 9-10 hour days, sometimes less, sometimes more. As for tasks, my gig was a little more unique in the sense that our production was in Vancouver so I ended up also being a production coordinator type role for LA so I ended up setting up the entire office. It was surprise on my first day when I came and there were no office supplies, no internet, nothing. It was like OK, we have a lot to take care of and you sort of just dive in. Luckily, I just came from production so had an idea of what to do. In addition to those tasks, I did the lunch runs, grocery runs, handled office supply orders, any sort of distribution to the writers and logistics I took care of.

The journey never looks anything like you expect it to.

4. What's something you've learned from your experiences in Hollywood?

That even when you "make it" and are consistently working, there is always going to be a new writing struggle. You're constantly proving yourself even if you have a multi-million dollar deal with a studio. It was eye-opening. It made me realize to try to have fun even while going through the sludge and misery -- being miserable the 90% of the time you're not feeling accomplished or successful is no way to live.

5. What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writers' PA or wants to get closer to TV writers?

The funny thing is there's never just one way. I know people who literally ran into a producer or UPM who then put them on a show and it's history after that then there are others who have had to really climb through different facets of the industry or TV departments to get on a show. It really comes down to meeting that person who can hire you so yeah, just bumping into someone isn't a sure thing but gaining exposure certainly will help those chances of getting to know the right people. I'd look at where you are now and think of ways to meet people. The agency route tends to be great for networking but I don't think is necessarily good for everyone. A TV production company could be a good way to go and I know working in the digital space you meet a good chunk of people who have access to writers. I don't know, the list could go on, there's literally ten thousand different ways to get there so if you're carving any sort of path, I'd say throw it out now because if I've learned anything, the journey never looks anything like you expect it to. Just make sure to keep meeting people, thinking of outside of the box in your approach and of course, writing as much as you can.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Nickelodeon Writing Program open for submissions



The Nickelodeon Writing Program is now open for submissions! The program is a full-time one year program that, unlike many other writing programs, includes a salary. US and international applicants 18 years of age or older are welcome to apply. The application deadline is February 15, 2015.

SCRIPT GUIDELINES

All applicants must submit a writing sample. Appropriate Spec Scripts must adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Must be Comedic; either Live Action or Animation
  • Based on a half-hour television series that is currently on-air and being produced for primetime network or cable (series must have been on-air for at least one season)
  • Typed in standard Final Draft (or equivalent) script format
  • In black ink
  • In 12pt courier style font
  • On 8-1/2 x 11, 3-hole punched white paper
  • With only two brass fasteners (top & bottom)

THE FOLLOWING MATERIALS WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED

Feature-length screenplays, hour-long dramas, reality-based comedies or dramas, pilots, treatments, outlines, plays, short stories, books, graphics, magazine/newspaper articles, poems, headshots, audio/video tapes, digital media, loose-leaf pages or non-U.S. content.

SUBMISSION MATERIALS TO INCLUDE

  • Two copies of one spec script (this applies to both individual writers and writing teams)
  • One-page resume
  • Half-page biography
  • Completed and signed application form
  • Completed and signed submission release form and Schedule A (included with application)
Good luck! For full information about the program, check out Nick's website and FAQ. You can also follow the program on Facebook and Twitter

I also did an interview with the Executive Director of the program back in 2011. I can't say if the program has stayed completely the same, but the interview contains a lot of good advice!