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:
Loglines & Pitching
TV Story Structure
Strong Act Outs
Tone & Genre Expectation
Character Development
Dynamic Relationships
Conflict and Obstacles
Dilemmas & Goals
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!