Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Changes to the ABC/Disney Fellowship

Applications for the ABC/Disney Fellowship are due July 1st - so get to work perfecting your spec and filling out your application!

Sarah emailed me to point out that there have been some potentially upsetting changes to the "eligibility" section on the application:

The Disney | ABC Writing Program is not a training program. We are looking for writers who demonstrate the potential to be staffed on network and cable television outlets. Prior professional work experience in the entertainment industry is recommended. Post college experience preferred. Although one completed script is required for consideration, the ideal candidates should have a body of work consisting of no less than two spec scripts and at least one original sample.
This professional writing program is open to all individuals who are at least eighteen (18) years of age and who possess evidence of identity and United States employment eligibility for the duration of the program. Writers with Writers Guild of America (WGA/west or WGA/east) credits are also eligible for this Program.
If candidate advances to final stages of interview process, the review of additional scripts and referrals from working entertainment industry professionals will be required.
What? You need three scripts, professional experience and industry referrals? And WGA members can apply?

Don't freak out. Honestly, I don't think the program is working any differently than it has in the past, or that they're accepting different kinds of people than they have in the past few years. They've just put it in writing. The program was never known to accept 22 year-olds fresh out of film school who have only written one script. Why? This is a serious program. Afterward, the program will send you out on meetings with showrunners and try to get you staffed on a show. They want people who have done their homework and understand how TV works. People they won't be embarrassed by. People who are ready to work on a writing staff. Are you ready for that? Many of us aren't - at least not yet.

By "experience," I don't think they mean only professional writing - it could be a PA job. At one of the ABC Fellowship info sessions last year, Frank Gonzalez said that assistants on shows are ideal candidates because they understand how TV shows operate. The program had selected people with no industry experience in the past and found it difficult to prepare these people for professional meetings. I know it's not the easiest thing in the world to get a job right now, but I can see why they would do this. They don't want to send out someone who isn't ready and have that person fail. It looks bad for the program, and it could damage the relationships between the program and showrunners.

I admit that the experience and "industry referrals" requirements are a bit perturbing to me, at least in terms of this being a diversity program. If the aim of the program is to seek out diverse voices, it seems strange that they would be afraid to reach outside of people who already have connections in Hollywood. This is one of the reasons I'm so passionate about WriteGirl. We're getting at girls early, teaching diverse teens who never knew they had stories to tell that they DO, and that we want to hear their voices. As a kid, my parents and teachers were extremely supportive - but not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone grows up thinking, sure, I can be a TV writer - and that might be one of the reasons why we need more diversity in writers' rooms.

That being said, you could argue that anyone serious about TV writing (and anyone with enough determination to succeed in such a competitive field) needs to seek out their own industry connections. Isn't that what I've been saying on this blog for years? I made my own connections. Move to LA. Get a job. Find some alumni from your school. Go to networking events. Meet some people. I didn't have any connections when I started out here...I applied for an internship on the internet, and that's the position that ultimately led me to my agency job, my manager and the producer/director I'm working with.

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Jen C said...

Wow, this is incredibly disappointing and disheartening. As someone who realized her passion for TV writing a little late in the game (I'm 28 and have worked in advertising since college), I was looking at the contests and fellowships as an opportunity (the only one) where my lack of experience didn't immediately disqualify me.

I haven't even be able to get a job as a PA due to my age and level of experience in a different field, even though I've offered to work for free. And I'm still in my 20s!

While I still plan to apply with fingers and toes crossed, it's disappointing that they are shifting this fellowship in such an "insiders only" direction. Boo ABC!

Ryan Canty said...

It is disheartening in a way..if you don't have all of these requirements, then you have a slim chance of getting in...

BUT, Amanda is right..at least they PUT IT in writing..but still apply. You never know who will read your material that will spark to it...

I was planning to apply but won't be able to this year because current job issues have stopped me from really making a good effort to write.

so i'm going to spend the summer and fall making *SURE* all of my writing is in tip top shape before I send anything out (and will definnitely plan to have my work read and looked at by script consultants BEFORE i move to LA in late 2010/early 2011...i.e. if ANYONE wants the Creative Screenwriting 2010 Guide, email me...I got it and its a GREAT resource!)

BUT, I'm not giving up. Like Jen, I always wanted to write for tv and film but just came to it late (after spending my post college careers working in non profits, education and now the legal field).

I don't have connections whatsoever and haven't worked in the industry--yet...but plan to find them once i'm in town.

As for LA, i'm moving there at the end of this year/next year, and hopefully at that time ill be able to somehow FIND those connections, etc.

But, you can't give up...I know i'm not.

What you lack in experience you make up for in being someone who, though you didn't come to tv writing right after college, COME with a serious amount of maturity and experience in an area that can only enhance everything else you bring to writing, etc.

So, apply and keep writing, etc. and never give up :)

I wouldn't and won't and don't...

Sasha said...

In a way, it's fairer to relative unknowns/newbies for the judges to make these industry connections and broader portfolio requirements an explicit part of the application package. They were always taking experience and connections into account, after all. But this way, the relative newcomer gets the chance to show the judges that just because they in particular haven't heard of the applicant, it doesn't mean she's totally ignorant of or isolated from the industry, and just because they in particular haven't seen the applicant's work anywhere else doesn't mean she doesn't have other, strong work to show.

Plus this isn't entirely new even in terms of the fellowship's explicit requirements--in order to go to the third round last year, everyone had to submit a second spec as an additional writing sample. The only difference between then and this year is that now they're requiring people to show an original piece besides. Which shouldn't be anyone's downfall, since that's what everyone shows managers/agents/whoever outside of the fellowships anyway.

And just think: if you're beating out all the other first-round applicants with the first TV script you've ever written--spec OR original--then you've got an amazing gift. Which means you can probably crank out or re-purpose some stuff for the interview process anyway, and you probably also have a writing mentor you can hit up for a reference or who can pull strings to get you one. So cross that bridge later, you know?

Guess for me it comes down to: it never hurts to try. Why not send in your stuff, try your best, and see what happens? :)

Dan Williams said...

"So, apply and keep writing, etc. and never give up :)"

I agree with Sasha.

What happens is that the program received so many applications last year, that, this year, they put in all these "requirements" so that they'll have much fewer applications to weed through. They don't really expect anybody to have the requirements--they just want many fewer persons to apply, so it's less work for them.

What counts is not the "requirements" but the writing ability. So if you enter, and you are good, you'll get selected.

So I would say not to pay any attention to the "requirements" but just go over and over your scripts and make them jim-dandy, and you'll get your fair chance at being selected.

Sarah Mathews said...

Just thought I would mention another change: they want *everything* scanned onto a CD--script, application, resume, everything. Nothing on paper.

They'll definitely be saving a small forest this year.

Sarah Mathews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eamenes said...

"Afterward, the program will send you out on meetings with showrunners and try to get you staffed on a show."

Afterward, no longer. They send the Fellows out almost immediately and expect them to get staffed during the fellowship -- within the first month if possible. For showrunners wiith staff budgets in the state they are now, those pre-paid fellows look mighty tasty. The program was never intended as a writing class; it really isn't now.

Amanda said...

@eamenes - good to know! now it makes even more sense, from a business perspective.

Little Miss Nomad said...

Dan Williams:

Do you know that for sure or are you inferring?

Dan Williams said...

Little Miss Nomad, I've seen it happen over and over again, decade after decade. And it was pointed out to me by several "head hunters."

For example: In Toronto, in 1990, a very large insurance company went bankrupt, and laid off over 6,000 very experienced workers. These very good people applied to every and any opening in the remaining insurance companies. As a result, each open position would attract, literally, thousands of applications. The "head hunters" told me that, as a result, the hiring companies "required" all sorts of "qualifications" for no other reason than to weed out as many applications as possible--the human resources departments were sick and tired of wading through all these applications. And this is the basic pattern whenever zillions of applicants apply to a position: add in "requirements" to cut down on applicants. If they get 500 applicants, it's a lot more work than if they get 50.

I don't know for sure that this is the case with ABC/Disney, but I'm willing to bet big on it. My opinion is to simply pay no attention to "the requirements" and to just go with the best writing you've got, and to tell them you can do the job in the room. They want results, not "requirements."

Now, if you don't think my arguement holds water, talk to some "head hunter" companies in your town, and see if they don't agree with me.

Bottom line is: write and apply.

christa said...

I've been thinking about this, and the comments, for a few days. I think the reason I find it discouraging for ALL writers is because if somebody is a WGA member and good enough to get staffed on a show right out of the gate, they should just be getting staffed and should be getting paid WGA rates. An experienced person shouldn't be getting paid admin-assistant wages to do the same exact job as their non-fellowship counterparts. This seems like a sneaky way for ABC to get cheap labor. As a fellowship for inexperienced people who are talented but maybe not well-connected, I'm all for it. You get in, you learn about the business, you're mentored ... it seems like a fair trade. But as a way of getting union talent at non-union rates, it smells like a load of b.s.

amy quick parrish said...

JENC: You're never too old to be a PA. I became interested in Film at 29, finished my first decent screenplay around 32 (2 crappy ones before that) and got my first PA job OUTSIDE of LA at the ripe old age of 36. Get long hair, be skinny, smile when they say they saw Transformers in college (maybe you saw the Transformers in college??) no one cares how old you are if you don't.

de Brito said...


That is very encouraging to hear from another writer over the age of 32! I am a novelist and my most recent experience is in writing fiction at Columbia.

I was disheartened by the new requirements of the fellowship, only because if I was already so connected and experienced- I would not need a fellowship to pay me less than any other staff writer in the room! I do think it is a little sneaky of ABC/Disney, but not at all surprising.

PS. I will still apply of course because it is an opportunity to send in work you know will be read. (Even if it is by someone who is just weeding out scripts)