I was told recently of a TV writer wanna-be who has dismissed the various writers' programs in Hollywood. He's so convinced of his own singular talent that he doesn't need to bother with such things. In no small amount of time, he believes that his genius will be recognized all on its own.
Look, I'm all for self-confidence. You need it if you're gonna stare down a blank sheet of paper or screen every day for a living. But you also need at least half a brain when it comes to making opportunities for yourself. By my unofficial guestimation, the various studio-sponsored programs for new and emerging writers will staff anywhere from 30 to 50 first-time staff writers each year. Anyone passing up a chance to be included in those ranks is clueless.
While you're waiting for the spotlight to find you, pal, every other writer in LA just got to take a step forward because you left the line. You just made it that much easier for everybody else to have a shot, and that much harder on yourself.
But don't listen to me. I don't know anything. Except that I'm a working TV writer thanks to the Warner Bros. Writers' Workshop, which I cannot recommend highly enough. But be warned: you have to bring your A-game not just to your spec, but to your personal essay and (if you advance) to the personal interview as well.
The submission window is fast approaching for the WB workshop. You have from May 1 until June 1 to apply, and you've got a wide range of approved shows to spec.
The submission process should not be approached lightly. I cannot stress that enough. Here are some sobering statistics to prove the point. When I applied to the WB Workshop in 2009, there were over 1,300 spec script submissions. From that pile, my script was one of 10 that made the final cut. In 2011, the number of submissions rose to 1,800 -- again, only 10 were selected. Expect even more this year.
Yes, those odds are staggering. But guess what? The odds are always staggering. If you're a wanna-be TV writer with half a brain, you already know there are thousands of people just like you in Hollywood right now. They are your coffee baristas and waitresses and bartenders and cubicle monkeys writing and scribbling whenever they can, cranking out specs and making themselves ready and available for any break at all.
Of course, these programs aren't the only way into the industry. Some people land the coveted position of writers' assistant or PA on a show. This is hard and thankless work, and sadly it cuts into that valuable writing time, but it can often serve to open doors for new writers. Other wanna-be's are talented and lucky enough to write an original spec that gets someone's attention and maybe, just maybe, is actually bought by a production company or studio.
My point: you need to be doing all of these things. You never know which door is gonna open, so the last thing you wanna do is block a potential path with arrogance or stupidity.
Below are links to some of the other programs for new writers. All are worthy of your time. These aren't the only ways to break into TV writing. But wanna-be TV writers simply cannot afford to pass them up.
I first sat down at a Macintosh in 1986. Prior to that, I'd worked on early PCs and Commodore machines. The Mac blew me away. It still does.
Here's a pic of the first Mac I could actually afford. I've owned several since the venerable Mac Classic, but this one holds a special place in my heart because it's the first one that actually lived with me and became part of my personal space. The way my other Macs do. And the iPod. And iPhone. And iPad. And AppleTV.
So. Network staffing season came and went and left me standing at the altar like a jilted groom.
It's very tough out there, especially for newer writers. Network TV writing staffs are shrinking at precisely the same time the networks are making tons of money. I know, it doesn't make sense. I've worked extensively in the corporate world and I never understood it when a company would cut back on the core reason they were making money.
I had meetings on lots of network shows over the past few months, but when it came time for staffing, they all ran out of money before getting to the lower-level positions.
A number of amazing, talented and very affordable writers I know are in the same sad position. Truth be told, it's not uncommon for newer writers to warm the benches for a season or two between gigs. That's when you hunker down and crank out original pilots and new specs and keep the creative gears greased. Which I was prepared to do. But thank goodness for the world of cable TV, which has come to my rescue.
My new gig: I've joined the writing staff of a brand new SyFy TV show called Defiance. I've signed a brick-thick stack of non-disclosure forms so legally impenetrable that I can tell you absolutely nothing about it.
But I can point you to this sneak preview trailer, and to a brief interview with showrunner Rockne O'Bannon, whom I was lucky enough to work with on V.
Set on a future Earth, Defiance introduces players and Syfy viewers to a world ravaged by decades of conflict, where humans and aliens live together in a world the likes of which no one has seen. The game combines the frenetic action of a top-tier console shooter with the persistence, scale, and customization of an MMO, while its TV counterpart exudes the scope, story, and drama of a classic sci-fi epic. The game's story will take place in the San Francisco bay area, while the TV series will be set just outside of St. Louis, MO. Because they exist in a single universe, the show and the game will influence and evolve each other over time, with actions in both mediums driving the overall story of Defiance.
I think I am allowed to say this much: it's gonna be a helluva lotta fun.
ABC has officially cancelled V. We hate to end the saga on such a game-changing cliffhanger, but them's the breaks.
After being on the viewer-fan end of many an unfair cancellation (hello Firefly, Karen Sisco, Threshold, etc.), it's interesting and enlightening to be on the creative side for a change. No matter what the show's about, or who's involved, it all comes down to money. And while V did respectable numbers and gave the network one of its few shows with a strong male viewership, it was in the end too expensive to continue.
While I can see the reasoning clearly from the other side, it's no less frustrating to experience. There were so many cool tales left to tell. We'd opened up a new world of stories that would've been fun to explore. Now we'll never see Erica shattered and vengeful over her murdered son. We'll never find out what Bliss is doing to the troubled soul of Father Jack. And we'll never see the all-out global war as humans use every weapon they've got to take back their planet.
Many fans have written to ask: Can V continue on another network? If another network's interested, then sure, it's possible. Other shows, like Medium, have jumped networks to survive. But the major networks have already committed their budgetarty war chests to the upcoming fall slate of new and returning shows. None of them have any room or money for V right now. In another year they might ... but the actors' contracts will be long expired by that time.
Is cable an option for V? Sadly, no. Cable shows are produced for a fraction of the budget of a network show, and there's just no way for an effects-heavy show like V to scale down the numbers.
I had a great time on my first TV writing gig. I worked with and learned from some amazingly talented people, and was thrilled whenever something I'd written made it to the final cut. The actors and crew and everybody else flat-out rocked.
If you are one of the millions of people around the world who watched what we made: thank you, deeply and sincerely.
Now it's off to the annual merry-go-round known as staffing season. When I emerge on the other side, either with or without a new gig, I'll report back on that singular experience.
Comics writer Gail Simone has some honest and tough advice for anyone hoping to make it in the world of comics. Her words are good and sound and wise and can easily apply to anyone wanting to write novels or poems or plays or TV or just about anything else.
Here's a key excerpt on something that I wish I'd realized sooner than I did:
... [P]ut away the excuses that are getting in your way. Don’t share them, don’t give them that power. Move around them. No one can clear that path for you. You have to do it. You have to be smart, talented, and determined like a bastard. And you have to put the things holding you back aside. Bury them in the yard and plant a tree over them. Work hard, make art you’re proud of and show it everywhere. Know what you offer and let others know it. Do it now. Start right now.
If her words scare the hell out of you or piss you off, you will probably be happier doing something else worthwhile with your life. But if you're scared and pissed off and yet still somehow hopeful and inspired, then you know what to do.
The back floorboard of my car is packed with plastic water bottles. Writers all over Hollywood collect them during staffing season. Every meeting you book could lead to a job writing for a TV show. And at every meeting, someone will hand you a bottle of water, and it will end up in your back floorboard.
I've not had time to empty these sloshing bottles onto my parched plants, let alone recycle the bottles. But if there's an earthquake or alien invasion while I'm driving, I won't die of dehydration for a while.
Nor have I had time to update the blog. I wanted to write something about staffing season and how it's a big crazy game of musical chairs, but Life -- wonderful tho' 'tis -- just isn't giving me any free time right now. Turns out other writers are sounding off on their experiences over at John August's blog, and they're doing a great job of it.
I’ve been in LA since 2002 and every single year, the refrain is always the same: “Ugh, this is the worst year ever, no one’s getting work.” I absolutely believe people have been repeating those words since the days we were all fighting over gigs on radio dramas.
Snagging a staff job requires these things: hard work, self awareness, a killer script, a logical connection between your brand and a show that makes it on the schedule, and a fair bit of fortunate timing.
Remember that staffing is a war of attrition. You might deserve a gig this year, but if that gig falls through due to circumstances out of your control — tough shit. Stay focused on the circumstances you can control and prepare for whatever’s next — development season, cable staffing, Subway sandwich artistry, etc.