How a Writing Contest Launched the Career of EXTANT’s Creator

Why should you enter TVWriter™’s currently running (and only a week or so away from closing) People’s Pilot competition? Well, here’s some food for thought:

Mickey Fisher of EXTANT

by Jacob N. Stuart

I first met Mickey Fisher back in September of 2014. We were both scheduled to speak at the Cincinnati Film Festival‘s screenwriting panel. Mickey, however, was scheduled a few hours before me. Usually when I’m speaking at a film festival, I use the time before my slot to network, exchange information, and form new industry relationships. But with Mickey, that all changed. I found myself fascinated by his amazing story, and how over night, through a screenplay contest, his life changed drastically. Still to this day, I can’t figure out why I would be scheduled after Mickey; who in the world would want to listen to ME after hearing Mickey speak first!

So who is Mickey Fisher? Mickey is a native of Ohio, who is the writer and creator of the popular CBS series, EXTANT, staring Hale Berry, and executive produced by Stephen Spielberg. Need I say more?

But what makes Mickey’s story even more inspiring? He was discovered (and so was EXTANT) through a screenplay contest (trackingb)!

So I caught up with Mickey, who is one the nicest people you will ever meet, and asked him for an interview. For those who don’t know, I’m the Screenplay Contest Director for this year’s Cincinnati Film Festival (Screenwriting Staffing is the official sponsor). That’s why I thought it would be fitting to have Mickey share his thoughts on screenwriting contests on ‘The Backstory’!

Screenwriting Staffing: What is your overall thoughts and opinions on screenplay contests?extant poster

Mickey Fisher: A contest led me to having my own show on CBS so of course I’m a bit biased, but I think for someone who is outside the industry like I was, they’re a great way to get your material into the right hands.  Even the ones I didn’t win paid off in some way.  I was a semi-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship back in 2006 and even though I didn’t win, a student in a graduate producing program tracked me down and asked to use my script for her thesis project, which led to a friendship and professional relationship that exists to this day.

Screenwriting Staffing: What should EVERY screenwriter look for when choosing and submitting to screenplay contests?

Mickey Fisher: You have to do your research and find out which ones are really kicking off careers or opening doors for people.  When I entered the TrackingB TV Pilot contest I had been reading about it for a year or two and knew that it was a viable option for getting scripts in the hands of people who could do something with them.  Shortly before I was a finalist there I won a contest held by The Writer’s Store and I entered because I knew one of the prizes was a lunch meeting with Susannah Grant.  I had read about The Nicholl Fellowship for years before I entered that back in 2006.  Now there’s The Blacklist website, which isn’t a contest, but it’s got a real track record for launching writers.

Read it all at Screenwriter Staffing

How the Pilot Process Can Make You Crazy

You know you’ve made it when you join the ranks of those bitching about the horrors of pilot season. What’s there to bitch about? Ask the man who knows:

pilot-seasonby Ken Levine

Now we’re getting down to it, pilot-wise. The last pilots have been delivered and networks are cobbling together their upcoming season. It used to be exclusively their Fall season but now they pretty much order all the shows they plan on rolling out throughout the course of the year – Fall, Mid-season, Early March (slim chance of renewal), Late March (no chance – just schedule fodder), and Summer.

The scene shifts to New York where all the big decisions are made. A highly respected agent once said, “Everything turns to shit over Mississippi.” He’s right. Shows that network execs were excited about in LA seem to lose their luster. The testing has come back. Someone higher up doesn’t like it.  Other pilots have now come in they like more.  The network wants to shoehorn an actress into the show, the showrunner balks, quits or is fired, and now there’s a mad scramble for a new showrunner. Negotiations for license fees get complicated. Power agents, showrunners with clout, and studios lobby for the best time slots. Networks waffle on what direction they want their Fall season to take. Add another hour of comedy? More drama? Move comedy out of Wednesday night?

How do the new pilots mesh with existing shows? What’s a compatible lead in? And then there’s counter-programming. Is this the year you can topple THE VOICE? And if so, with what? Is THE BLACK LIST vulnerable? Have they run out of cities to tack onto NCIS?

If you’ve got a horse in this race it can make you CRAZY. Rumors swirl hourly. You read the on-line industry trades and shows are on the schedule, then dead, then a strong candidate for mid-season, then maybe another network is interested if the first one passes, then that option flames out, then they’re alive again at the first network.

Read it all at Ken Levine’s superlative blog

A SCANDAL Writer’s Journey to ShondaLand

These days it seems like everybody loves every TV series Shonda Rimes produces, especially writers looking for good gigs on shows that seem like they’re going to last forever. Here’s one woman writer’s story of what it’s like to make it into ShondaLand:

raamla_picture.jpg.CROP.rtstoryvar-largeby Akilah Green

Before we [headed] into the season 4 finale of Scandal, The Root sat down with Scandal writer Raamla Mohamed to talk about how she began her TV writing career, what it’s like working with Shonda Rhimes and her thoughts on the importance of diversity in TV writing.

I was introduced to Mohamed by a mutual friend when I moved to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., two years ago to pursue my own career in TV writing.

Mohamed began as a writers production assistant on Grey’s Anatomy in 2009. Then she worked as a medical researcher on Off the Map before becoming a researcher on Scandal during season 1. After being accepted into the Disney-ABC Writing Program, Mohamed returned to Scandal for season 2 as a Disney fellow.

Since then she has worked her way up the ranks of the writing staff, and starting season 5, she will be an executive story editor. Mohamed has written five episodes of Scandal and co-wrote an additional episode with another writer. This season Mohamed has written “Where’s the Black Lady?” and “I’m Just a Bill.”

The Root: How did you first decide that you wanted to be a TV writer?

Raamla Mohamed: I’ve always been a fan of television and movies. I’m an only child, so it was pretty much like the TV was my friend. I was also raised by a single mom, so when I got home from school, I would do my homework, then watch TV. Then, at Columbia [University], where I went for undergrad, I double-majored in English and film studies. So I had been interested in TV and movies for years, but I didn’t know in what capacity.

After college I worked in off-Broadway theater in New York [City] and had the opportunity to watch so many shows and plays. That’s when I realized that I was excited about writing, so I applied to grad programs.

TR: And how did you land your first job in the industry?

RM: About a year after I graduated from University of Southern California’s grad school for film and TV writing in 2008, a friend told me that there was an opening for a writers production assistant on Grey’s Anatomy, one of my favorite shows, so I interviewed for it and got the job. That’s where I really learned a lot about TV, and I got to watch these writers sit in a room and on couches telling stories.

I tell people that it’s like this music video back in the ’90s by Blind Melon called “No Rain,” where this girl was a bumblebee, and at first she couldn’t find her place, but then she found this place with all of the bees. That’s kind of how I felt when I started working at Grey’s. I was like, “All of the bees are here! And they pay you for this!” After that I was like, “Whatever it takes, I will try to make this my career.”

TR: So what is it like working for Shonda Rhimes?

RM: Well, I’ve been working at ShondaLand for almost six years, and even when I was an assistant and Shonda would give notes after our table read, it would be pretty amazing how she could just pinpoint what was wrong with the script and know how to fix it. And afterwards you’re like, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But she’s Shonda Rhimes.

There have been things that she’s pitched and I’ve been like, “Really??” For example, when she first came up with the idea that Fitz and Olivia would just take one minute with one another sometimes, I saw the script and was like, “What? And then what happens?” But then cut to when I see it on-screen: Fitz and Liv are sitting there and the song is playing, and I’m crying. That, to me, is a perfect example of how she just has her finger on the pulse of what’s going to be awesome. You learn a lot.

TR: As of season 5, you’ll be an executive story editor on Scandal. Fancy! What is the best part of working in a writers room?

Read it all at The Root

A Client’s Guide to Agent Speak

Ooh, it’s infographic time. We lurve these:

THR_AgentDecoder_FULL

Originally published at Hollywood Reporter

Kurt Vonnegut’s Rejected Master’s Thesis – on Writing

Now this is one cool infogram:

tumblr_mgv7hlbAF71r54xrko1_1280Found at Maya Eilam

Peggy Bechko: How Talented are Your Characters? How Skillful?

found on beyondmiles.aeroplan.com

by Peggy Bechko

Have you given real thought, I mean REAL thought, to skills, talents, gifts and abilities you might imbue your characters with? How those skills, etc., can add to the texture of your story, move it forward, integrate within it?

Think about it. From the simple every day like being a spectacular baker or gifted seamstress to the more peculiar like a person who has an amazing tolerance for pain or can see unusually well in the dark to someone who can fix anything or has a photographic memory or is gifted with clairvoyance or the ability to discern tastes or smells no one else can.

There are literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of such scenarios. People can be pretty amazing (not to mention irritating, but we won’t go into that).

But to narrow things down a bit, how about a character who has a way with animals as an example. A horse whisperer, or someone who can identify with all animals in a “Dr. Doolittle” sort of way? That person is gifted with the ability to zero in on physical and emotional problems of animals and get close to even those who would normally be skittish around people. Animals can instantly relate to such a person, recognizes him or her and is more than cooperative with them whereas with others it could be a dog who bites or a horse who bucks.

So what kind of a person would this have to be? It would be one who was compassionate without a doubt. Unselfish and detail oriented so as to be sensitive to the nuances of the animal’s behavior. Very patient and calm. Kind would go without saying, but in a script or book would need to be said. I think it would also have to be a person comfortable with him or herself and okay with spending time alone as animals, especially ones in some sort of distress, aren’t likely to be big on crowds.

Would there be training involved in this area for this person? Might be if it’s a vet or someone who works closely with animal rescue, etc., but could also be someone who’s spent a lot of time with animals, studying them, understanding them, seeing their individuality and how they interact with others. Perhaps the character found a mentor with a similar ‘knack’ and that could create an entire springboard for a story. If you’re going fantasy/SciFi/Paranormal there might be other experience or training leading to their ability.

And speaking of stories, what sort of stories could this particular characteristic, this knack for communication with animals, be a part of?

We’ve seen movies like The Horse Whisperer and Hildalgo and many others. There are lots of examples. But, here’s where we branch off. Fight your way out of the box and give it all a whole new spin.

Go for the futuristic/dystopian in a land where animals are in charge and humans not so much. Author Sherri Tepper did a book The Companions that offers an interesting scenario.

How about a situation where animals are the key to resolving the main conflict?

In the paranormal try a circumstance where the animal(s) are much more than sentient and harbor information the hero doesn’t have access to other than through them. I used a similar approach with the wolves who star in my own novel Stormrider.

You, as the writer, could also use a local where the animals are much more plentiful and people a rare find.

And toss in how this gift is to be manifested, what character will possess it? A child? An adult? An elder? A reformed felon? And is this gift one that applies to all animals or only certain species or only in a certain location (geographical, interdimensional, whatever). And if this gift is even more out of the ordinary than say, the Horse Whisperer, is there a reason the character in in possession of this gift? Creating a reason and following through would make it even more believable to the readers/watchers.

Give some thought to all the possibilities when deciding what sort of skills, abilities and gifts you’ll bestow upon your characters – and then run with it.