a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TV or not TV

So I went to the TV writing seminar last weekend, and it was both incredibly encouraging and incredibly discouraging.

Encouraging because I'd really love to have a job on a TV series. The panelists were all friendly people, and the picture they drew of the writing-staff life just sounded better and better, long hours and all. It's something that I know I could do, and do well.

The discouraging part? I wish I were 15 years younger.

In the first panel, someone asked a question referencing their experienced TV writer friends in their 40s, who were having trouble getting work. One of the panelists responded that this wasn't true, that shows need experienced writers to blend with the young to work well.

Of course the implication is that if you are inexperienced and in your 40s, you don't really fit in that paradigm.

I actually wrote a version of this question on an index card to be addressed on a later panel: what are the odds of breaking into the business if you are in your 40s?

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't brought up. One suspects that its something that no one there really wanted to talk about.

(While I blew my own audience microphone question on wondering how long one should wait before following up with an agent who has your script. Yeah, that was me. The pathetic guy in the back of the room).

There were plenty of people in the audience who were my age, as well as a few who were older. But most had the bloom of youth.

I hate them.

Otherwise, I learned that most of the TV people there would rather read something original than another spec of "House" or "The Office" (a comment which elicited some soft, sad moans from the audience).

I learned that confidence and likability are key; if you get an interview with someone, they already know you can write, they want to know if they want to spend a lot of time in a room with you.

The four 90-minute panels were all riveting, particularly the dream team panel of creators/co-creators: Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Damon Lindelof (Lost), Peter Casey (Frasier), Ian Biederman (Shark) and Brannon Braga (Threshold/assorted recent Star Trek stuff).

So I'm going to bang some TV stuff into shape. I now know that I need to hammer my pilot down to an hour (because a two hour pilot for a newbie is death) while I have an out-of-the-box TV spec episode idea I'm working on (I debuted a raw first 25 pages at my writing group this past Monday, to largely-good effect).

Staffing season is pretty much over for this year, but there's always next year. I'll be another year older, but another year wiser as well.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to keep writing.


At 12:01 PM, Blogger IQCrash said...

I spent yesterday afternoon with a working screenwriter - and she's been in the writer's room for the past two weeks. She had nothing but great things to say about it and the process.

As for your age... Don't fret, Scott - 40 is the new 30. And 30 is the new 20.

So technically, you're 20.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Allen said...

Writing for TV is also something I've recently started to explore. I've always considered myself a feature kind of guy, but the more and more I think about it, the more I'd like to be a part of a writing room. I'll definitely be ready for next yr's staffing season.

At 1:04 PM, Anonymous ask whole said...

Who you kiddin? You were too old ten years ago.

Staff job?! Sheesh. They might let you drive a truck if you were related to the Teamster captain.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

Every time I hear about Damon Lindelof being somewhere (besides writing Lost) I wonder why he isn't writing Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, his comic miniseries that had two issues a couple years ago and then never finished. Bah!

Sorry. Off topic.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Poppy said...

Just hook up the writing staff with some krank and you are in baby.
Sorkin likes his sprinkled in his coffee.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger Abe Vionas said...

How does anyone in their 20's have anything worth writing about and/or have the skill to communicate it in a meaningful way? I say that and I'm still in my 20's myself (okay, late 20's). Though others have always told me I'm a talented writer, I've only recently (like in the last year) started to write material that is genuine, heartfelt, and soulful. My writing has a depth and intricacy that it used to lack. I feel like I'm JUST beginning to blossom as a writer--and I've been writing, on and off, for my entire life and writing screenplays on and off for the last 11 years.

Yes, I'm sure there are excellent writers who're in their teens and twenties, but they're bound to be the exception not the rule.

Even if there are a signficant number of staff writers in their twenties, most of them are still relatively young in terms of living, and that will effect their writing unavoidably.

If you're like me, though, you probably tend to live and write according to statistics and rules of thumb (or wrist, however you want it). The problem with such an approach is that it ignores the fact that statistics and rules of thumb are mere snapshots of the past--NOT the future. Limiting our potential as individuals and writers according to statistical realities would be a recipe for a life of going nowhere and doing nothing. All creative types have to ignore the statistics because the statistics are heavily against anyone engaged in a creative pursuit. Course, that's in large part because statistics don't tell the whole story. For example: perhaps there's a statistic that 80% of all surveyed television writers are aged 23-35; what does that tell us? Not a lot. Just that at the time the survey was taken there was a majority of writers aged 23-35. It doesn't reveal why that statistic is the case. We tend to assume it's because no one hires anyone older than that. Also--if we take the statistics my dad has been fond of beating me over the head with since I decided I wanted to be a writer--we would all give up on wanting to be writers. There are so many hundreds of thousands of scripts written (or something) every year and only 670 (or something) get purchased, and an even smaller number get made. What most people forget when they look at those numbers is that the great majority of those scripts are absolute garbage. Like my experience of moving to LA. Before moving there I'd heard how tough the competition was there. How there were so many actresses, actors, writers, and directors vying for a limited number of slots. I decided to give it a shot anyway. What I discovered was that there are indeed a lot of people trying to make it there, but most of them suck--to be frank. Typically their suckage is directly proportional to how much they just want the fame and fortune, and not how much they actually just LOVE to write, act, or direct. Those who have a legitimate passion for the craft tend to be those who make it, and those who're good at it. So, even though the statistics (and rules of wrist) often seem bleak, they don't represent an accurate, meaningful picture of reality.

Don't give up on what you want to do. If you really want to do it then you'll make it happen. Rules of wrist be damned.

At 12:42 AM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

It's real encouraging to see you perusing your dreams, Scott.

I have a hard time believing the networks want writers in the 20s, as opposed to 40s -- just for the experience factor. Guys in their 40s have a lot more in their bag to draw off then guys in the 20s.

As your fans on this blog with attest, you're a likible guy. BE CONFIDENT, hone your TV writing skills, and put youself in the best possible position to succeed.

I'm rooting for ya!

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

"perusing your dreams"

I hope that is a typo. If not, it is one of the cleverest jabs I've ever read.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Shawna said...

Hey! You newbies get outta my pool!!

Just kidding. Welcome to the suck.


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