FAQ of Aspiring Writers

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen “a mid-career journalist trying to write one-hour dramas” answers the FAQ of aspiring writers in her blog, Wasabi Mama. Visit WM to read about her first staffing season in LA:

I’m back in Joisey taking a breather from TV staffing season; soon enough I’ll head back out to L.A. for more meetings. As I sift through reader e-mail and blog comments, I’m noticing some similar questions from fellow TV-writing aspirants about the process. I’m hardly your expert, this being my first dance in Hollywood, but you know what they say about the one-eyed chick in the land of the blind. So here’s me taking a fumble at some answers. It bears repeating that I speak only from my very limited and narrow experience as a mid-career journalist trying to write one-hour dramas. Please add your own in the comments.

Do I really need an agent to land TV meetings? Unless you’re Facebook buds with execs at all the networks, studios and individual shows — yeah, you do. Agents don’t just set up meetings with execs. Without an agent, I wouldn’t have had access to all the pilot scripts this season, and thus would have no idea what shows would be hiring. Plus my big-agency agent lends an unknown schmuck like me credibility by association.

What about a manager? Here’s the reality check: an agent’s top priority is his agency. His goal is to make money for his employer, whether by securing a lucrative contract for a writer or a packaging deal for developing a show. My agent’s smart and good at his job, but my newbie hands need a lot of hand-holding. Enter the manager. This relationship’s much more narrowly focused on the client. At a price. The manager takes a cut of my earnings, too — which tally up thus far to zero. (More on the agent-lawyer-manager thing here.)

So how exactly do I go about getting an agent and/or manager? I can only tell you my own experience and that of my friends, and you’re not going to like it: contacts. I met my TV agent through my book agent. I have a friend whose agent is his former colleague’s brother. Recently I met a working TV writer who didn’t even have an agent until she got her show, though she did have a manager. I’m told managers are easier to score. Don’t despair: my point is that you probably know someone who knows someone. If you don’t, take a workshop. Join a Meetup group. Attend a McKee seminar. You’re bound to meet people, trade cards. But here’s the catch: you’ve got to have something to sell. A great spec, a ripping good story, a fascinating bio. Me, I had an idea. It was just that — an idea. Then I had to learn what the hell a “treatment” was.

How do I get started? Write a spec. An original spec. You know all those books that tell you to write a pretend episode of a real show? Sure, do it for practice. But my agent didn’t even send out my “Good Wife” or “Big Love.” All he sent was the very first script I ever wrote in my life, which was an original idea based on an article I wrote.

Do I need to quit my job? I think that depends on what you do and how serious you are about making a switch. Me, I was a full-time staff writer at a newsweekly magazine. No way I could juggle a career switch on the down-low. To the lawyer and dad who wrote me from D.C. — buddy, I feel your frustration. It’s a big, big deal to toss a hard-fought career to the winds, especially with dependents in diapers. The good news is your lawyerly expertise won’t go to waste; you’ll have a terrific shot at one of the many legal shows that go to pilot every season. See David Feige’s story for inspiration; he’s a lawyer who wrote a book about his experiences as a public defender, then co-created TNT’s “Raising the Bar” with none other than Steven Bochco.

Will anyone take me seriously if I have no TV background? If you could call a do-over on life, you coulda gone the USC > intern > TV writer’s assistant > TV staff writer route. Me, too. All I can say is I didn’t even know that career path existed, and I’m not getting laughed out of meetings. It could be blarney, but what I keep hearing from execs is just the opposite: that they find my background as a journalist/author/blogger refreshing. Four of them in a row told me about the “Hollywood bubble” and the need for fresh, “real” perspectives and stories. Who knew a New Jersey address was an asset? That said…

Do I really have to live in L.A.? The answer I’m still trying to swallow is yes. As a baby writer, all the jobs — and I mean all of them — are there. This season I’m hearing about maybe three pilots, max, that’ll be written out of New York. Even the “Law & Orders” have migrated west. Me, I’m still hoping against hope for a shot at the thimbleful of New York shows. But if I get so lucky as to score an offer from something in L.A., I’ll have some tough decisions to make. I know someone who commutes from her home in Brooklyn to write on a well-regarded show in Hollywood. The things we working mothers do to keep our constituents happy, right?

About these ads

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s