Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting a head start

I just found out that cast members of GREEK were at the JHRTS holiday party last night, which I didn't attend because I'm trying to survive the next eight days without spending any money. Just another anecdote for Foiled: The Amanda P Story.

Tonight I went to Chad's Book Release party for Small Screen, Big Picture and I ran into some friends. It occurred to me, that Hollywood is already a small community, and it gets kinda fuzzy when you throw actors into the mix. At some point you'll see people and think, "Oh crap, do I know that person or have I just seen them on TV?" Life gets a little more absurd every day.

A question from Tiffany: I'm only 16 but I want to become a tv writer. I was just wondering what I should do now to help me acheive my goal of becoming a writer. Like are their certain courses that would benefit me or like what should I be looking for in a college if this is what I want to to for a living?

Wow, great question! Kudos for knowing what you want to do so early in life. I have friends who graduated from college with me who are still figuring that out. You're already doing the right thing by searching around on the internet! Basically my advice is to soak up as much info as you can. Read the blogs I have linked to the right. Read books about both writing and the industry. Watch a ton of TV.

And WRITE. Write a spec, or pilot. Or even prose. I started writing fiction, poetry and journalism before I transitioned to scriptwriting. If your school offers any kind of writing courses, take them. I was lucky enough to go to a fantastic public high school where I took Creative Writing, Journalism and Theatre classes in addition to AP Literature & Composition and AP Language & Literature. I also ran my school's newsmagazine (read: rewrote everyone's articles...haha) and wrote and directed plays for our one-act play festival. Check to see if local colleges offer weekend or summer writing workshops for high schoolers - I did one at Canisius College that was really inspiring. They're often prose-focused, especially since other cities don't have the high concentration of screenwriters and TV writers that LA does, but the basics of writing - conflict, character, etc. - are critical to all genres. If you are in LA, see if USC or UCLA have screenwriting programs for high school students. You can see speakers at the WGA, Paley, etc., or join WriteGirl, a mentorship program that I volunteer with and highly recommend. During the summers after your junior and senior years you might even be able to get an internship at an agency, production company, studio, etc. - we had some at my company, though the interns were all relatives of agents.

As for college, first check out my post Is TV School Worth It? Many schools offer degrees in TV or film...and though they can be fun and informative, they aren't absolutely necessary for pursuing a career in TV writing. You'll have to weigh what it is that you're looking for. I'm glad I went to school for TV writing, but there was no other major that interested me - and my major was also structured in a way that allowed me to take lots of courses in other subjects, and study abroad. Schools in LA (UCLA, USC, Chapman, LMU) are attractive because by simply being here, you'll be able to intern a lot of different places throughout school, gaining experience and contacts before you even graduate. There's also a good chance that your professors will be working professionals in the industry and not just people who have studied it or dabbled in it many years ago. But lots of schools outside LA have reputable communications programs, such as Ithaca, Emerson, BU, Miami, NYU, Syracuse and Northwestern. Of course, these are all expensive private schools - and if you end up with a lot of loans it will be hard to pay them back on an entry-level Hollywood salary. Look for scholarships, like mine.

Lastly I just want to say - relax! Youth is valuable in this industry, but you have plenty of time. Enjoy prom and drama club and not having to pay rent! :)

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Dan Williams said...

Don't worry about the money being tight, everybody goes through it, and it really does help you get in touch with your deepest self -- which is a priceless experience and crucial to achieving writing succes.

Excellent writing, by the way, in your answer to the question. Lots of great detail laid out in an entertaining way. I would argue that one of your on-going writing projects should be a non-fiction book as it seems you have the natural talent for conveying information.

Anyway, I liked your opening two observations on "life in Hollywood." Have you considered a "sex and the city meets Hollywood" book? You go out a lot, you have a great narritive hook (trying to get a TV gig) and you meet a lot of people the ordinary person doesn't.

Josh said...

Though I'm not sure exactly HOW, it is definitely possible to get into UCLA Extension screenwriting courses as a high school student. There were two very nice and talented girls in a feature outlining course I took a few months ago.

Unknown said...

One piece of advice for aspiring writers - READ.

Not so much the books about writing, but the medium you want to work with. If it's screenplays, read lots of them. If it's television screenplays, read lots of them. If it's short stories, novels, news articles...a particular genere...READ.

Unknown said...

Then in "genere" actually means genre. :/

We Really Didn't Think This Through said...

I'm a huge believer in going to a school you can afford. Should you decide to spend a crapload of money on tuition, and have a crapload of student loans...well, those are the people who can't take career risks. The saddest thing to hear is, "I really hate my job and I'd rather do X, but I have so many student loans."

John Reha said...

If you have the money for a ticket to Philadelphia, my alma mater, Drexel University holds a two-week screenwriting seminar for high school students every summer.

Info here:

Even if you can't make it to Philly, Ian (the program director) is an awesome guy to e-mail if you're planning on pursuing a career in screenwriting. He was the creator of the show Early Edition, and has sold many, many script.