Saturday, October 25, 2008

But I don't wanna write a spec

Olya writes: I'm currently writing my own show. I wonder if I must absolutely do a spec. Can I ever hope to get a query letter answered with a request to see my original idea WITHOUT a ready spec on hand? I'm not looking to become a staff writer on any show. I want to see my own show produced.

No, you must not absolutely do a spec. You need a spec to apply for any of the workshops and fellowships listed on the right, but original pilots are very much welcomed by agents, managers and execs. Always remember that good writing is good writing. People get too caught up in the strategy of it all some time. Work hard on your script and let your writing speak for itself. Then get an agent and let him or her do the strategizing.

However, your question brings up a few more points:

1. Query letters should be your last resort. Yes, they work for some people in some cases, and I've even had a couple readers write in to tell of it - but most people get read through personal relationships. That's why I work at agency and network like crazy - to get to know people on a personal level. (Plus I like people.) If you do choose to query, I'm not aware of any general statistics about whether specs fare better than pilots (or vice versa).

2. Have more than one sample. Maybe you don't need to have a ready spec on hand, but usually one script isn't enough. So write another pilot before you expect great things to happen.

3. Would being a staff writer be so bad? I have heard of people getting pilots made, or working on pilots with producers in the hopes of getting them made, without having been staff writers. But I feel like it doesn't happen a ton. And even if you do get that far (which would make you really lucky), you're not going to have all the creative control. They'll probably hire someone more experienced because I don't think a network would let a writer who has never worked on a show call all the shots. So is that why you're so against being staffed? Because you don't want to work with other people's ideas? Because that's TV in general. Collaborating. You will always have to deal with notes from execs, producers, actors, you name it.

So I guess my advice is, go ahead and write your pilot(s). Just know that not a lot of pilots get bought, and fewer get made, and fewer get picked up, and fewer stay on the air. You should absolutely pursue your dream of producing you own show (I happen to share the same dream), but remember that it's gonna be tough. You'd be lucky to get a staff writer gig, and maybe it would even lead to you getting your own show on the air. A perfect example is MAD MEN; Matthew Weiner wrote it years ago, and then after writing on THE SOPRANOS and gaining a lot of notoriety, he was able to get it made.

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Emily Blake said...

There's also a lot of misled ego in that question. To think you're so incredible writer that you can immediately jump into running your own show without the slightest amount of experience in the trenches? That's arrogance.

Would a corporation hire a waiter to be a CEO? It makes no sense. There is so much competition out there for these jobs, it's flat-out stupid to think you could get one without doing the hard work.

Dan Williams said...

Another approach might be to write and shoot your own pilot. If you've got some friends who have a videocamera and can play the parts, maybe this is a way to get experience without having to get a staff job first! Nobody can say you have NO experience if you've written and shot your own pilot! And then, of course, you could try to get it on a local cable network. Ben Stiller did this when he was starting out.

TV writer said...

The question strikes me as a bit entitled. Of course, write all the pilots you want. But expect to pay your dues, too.

Jason A said...

The more quality scripts you have, the better off you'll be. Having solid specs to go along with your pilot(s) can only help your cause if/when someone asks what else you've written.

The overnight success story can happen, but it's usually the ten year overnight success story. In the past 6 years, I've written seven features (3 of which have been finalists or semi-finalists in various contests), and I'm still writing/re-writing scripts to try and crack into this business.

It's an ongoing process. This year I wrote my first two TV specs and finally got my first meeting with a small management company off those. They asked for a pilot, so I wrote one, and am waiting on notes. And I'll be writing or re-writing something until I hear back.

Use Amanda as your guide. She's doing everything right. She's paying her dues working a low-wage industry job, learning the business side of things, writing, submitting to contests, blogging (creating quite a following), hosting networking events, and fostering relationships with current/future industry players.

Follow Amanda's playbook. It's a good one.

odocoileus said...

She's paying her dues working a low-wage industry job, learning the business side of things, writing, submitting to contests, blogging (creating quite a following), hosting networking events, and fostering relationships with current/future industry players.

Nah. Too much work.

Find a working writer who looks like you.

Kill her.

Steal her identity.

(Okay, so you don't have to kill her. Murder is wrong. Just chain her up in your basement and feed her pet chow. You can afford it. Working writers make a lot of money.)

Jason A said...

Odocoileus -- very funny. ;)