Troy DeVolld: Toughing Out Those Dry Spells

reality troy logo

by Troy DeVolld

Woke up this morning feeling great.  I’ve got a game show in play and some EP possibilities on the horizon after a pretty tough stretch, which inspired me to write the following post to Facebook this morning.

Remember, the entertainment business is no cake walk.

The older I get, the more I realize that everything’s transitional. Wild periods of success and struggle come and go no matter what you do or how you plan for them.

Here’s my story — and there’s a moral to it and loads of good stuff and gratitude on the other side, so don’t get bogged down with the little bit of bum-outage in the middle part of this thing.

Two years ago, I was three years and five seasons into a hit show as its Co-EP when an executive shuffle at network led to a discussion of “refreshing” the series, which ultimately resulted in me getting the axe. Every major exec (SVP and above) at the production company I worked for had moved to other opportunities elsewhere over the three years I’d been there, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when the new topper didn’t go to bat for me over the network’s ask — we’d barely had the chance to work together. She replaced me and while I really stewed about what had happened for a long time, I tried hard to just take it on the chin and move forward.

As I’d been counting on returning to the show and hadn’t made much effort to network elsewhere for three years, Spring and Summer of 2013 were lean. I managed to get by with a series of smaller jobs including the first season of Hollywood Game Night (a wonderful experience), finally landing another Co-EP seat when an old friend called and asked me to come work for him on a new docu-series. As sometimes happens with bold, unusual concepts, the show struggled to find a tone acceptable to the network and the friend that had brought me on began to plan his exit from the company for another opportunity.

Christmas came, and I went home for our extended two-week unpaid holiday break. Just before our return, I was asked if I could wait another week to come back as the company considered its course of action with the troubled project. That extra week became another, then another, and I was finally let go more than a month after I’d last set foot in the office while someone else was brought in to replace me and given the latitude to execute the position effectively.

I was crushed. Twice in under one year, I’d been let go from a show. Prior to that, I’d never been fired in the 27 years since I’d first taken a job making pizzas at 16.

For whatever reason, I didn’t land anywhere for the entire first half of the year…. another first, as I usually roll from one job right into the next. I went six months without a paycheck (having declined January offers in the period while I waited for the series to tell me what my return date that never came would be), and finally wound up going to work for someone who once worked for me when he got a well-earned break on a new series. I had a great time with him and his post team, comprised of many of the people who had been with me on the hit show that cut me loose in 2013. The end result was terrific, even if I had fallen down the ladder a bit.

From there, I rejoined Dancing With the Stars, which just ended its 19th season around Thanksgiving. I hadn’t been there since season 3, so the whole experience felt like a high school reunion. Once again, my direct supervisor was someone who had once been on one of my story teams, and I had wonderful time.

As 2014 draws to a close, I still struggle with the financial and emotional ramifications of the six-figure and sometimes humiliating torpedoing I took in 2013/14, but I do think it’s made me more appreciative of the alignment of circumstances that led me to the successes I had enjoyed up until then and those I’ll enjoy in the future. My work ethic remains solid, and I know who I am and what I can do.

The lectures (most recently London, LA, Tel Aviv) and consults continue, and one of the main points of every one-on-one discussion I have with clients and students is that it’s important to understand what a crapshoot this business is. The important things are to work hard, be likable, and to develop a thick skin, like the one these past two years have granted me.

I am encouraged, and I feel stronger moving forward. The period where I felt as if a career has to progress logically and on some sort of fixed upswing is gone. The period where I expected loyalty has passed without me feeling as if I should give up my loyalties to others. I am absolutely beat to hell, but I’m still here and God save me, I still like what I do.

Adversity passes. Your responsibilities in life are to stay alive, to learn, and to be accountable to yourself.

Here’s to all of us in 2015.

20 Years in Comedy’s Best Writers’ Rooms: A Conversation with John Riggi

John Riggi may well be the most successful sitcom writer you’ve never heard of. Well, you’re hearing about him now, gang, so we suggest you do what we did – read and learn. Read and learn:

by Matt Siegal

John Riggi has written for, among many other shows, The Larry Sanders Show, 30 Rock,and the first and second seasons—nine years separated—of HBO’s The Comeback. He spoke with us about his two decades in the industry: about how TV writing has changed; about how TV writers have changed; about working in the industry while gay, then and now; and about coming back, again, to HBO.

john riggiMy way into television writing was so atypical, because I started out as a standup and that’s what took me out of Ohio to Chicago. I started working a lot at the Improv in Chicago, and I met a lot of L.A.-based comedians there and one of the main ones, strangely—I say because of our different political leanings—is Dennis Miller. We worked together for a week and really kind of keyed into each other, and he was very interested in me and he just kept saying you’ve got to move to L.A., you’ve got to move to L.A., and so I did. He had said he was potentially going to get this talk show, and would I be interested in writing on it, and I said sure.

I wasn’t really interested in political humor, so I kind of pushed through the idea of doing these desk pieces that became longer and longer and more complicated and became little narrative pieces. And then that show got canceled after eight months. I had read for a part on a show that Garry Shandling was doing called The Larry Sanders Show, and I got the part, and then through a very long story that isn’t important, I ultimately didn’t get the part. The Larry Sanders Show was just about to start up at the same time that The Dennis Miller Show was canceled, so I wrote a script, and I didn’t know what I was doing; I had never written a script before in my life. My script got to Garry and I went in and had a meeting, and then heard nothing, and was kind of giving it up. And then I met him at Campanile [a Los Angeles restaurant] where HBO was having a party for the Cable Ace Awards. My One Night Stand for HBO (a now-defunct stand-up comedy series) was nominated for an award, and my husband David said, “Put your tux on and go down to Campanile and find Garry and talk to him about this job.” So I did, and I finally got to Garry, and he said, “I’m just really worried; I’m not sure you’ll be happy being a writer on The Larry Sanders Showbecause you wanted to be an actor,” and I said, “I just want to work on it—I don’t care.” And that was on a Sunday and then that following Wednesday I got hired.

What was your brand of humor?

It was very long form, like I didn’t really have jokes. One time I got this gig where I got to open up for two weeks for Diana Ross in Las Vegas and I was so excited. The first night I did it I bombed terribly, and I realized that the Las Vegas audience didn’t want to get to know me, they just wanted me to do some jokes and get off, and so I went back to my room that night and thought, “What setup punchline jokes do I have?” So I just extracted everything else that wasn’t a joke and just went out and told jokes for ten minutes and it went much better.

Your first writers’ room was Dennis Miller. Was that a boys’ club?

Yes, the only woman was Leah Krinsky, but it was an amazing writing staff. It was Max Mutchnick and David Kohan (creators and Executive Producers of Will & Grace), it was Eddie Feldman, it was Kevin Rooney, it was Drake Sather, it was Ed Driscoll, Steve Rudnick and Leo Benvenuti—people who went on to do a bunch of different things.

Was gay okay in that writers’ room?

It was okay—I don’t think it was necessarily prized in any way. I don’t think it was like, “What’s the gay perspective on this joke?” I don’t think that ever happened. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me quite frankly…maybe on The Comeback.

Writers’ rooms, to me, don’t necessarily seem like a “safe space,” so where was your comfort level during Dennis Miller?

Oh my god, I’m just realizing that I don’t think I was out yet. I wasn’t out. So my comfort level was really bad. Like I remember one time—I don’t know why he did this, I can’t remember the circumstance—but we were looking to move to this guesthouse in Silver Lake—me and my boyfriend at the time. And for some reason Dennis [Miller] came with me to look at this place, and I remember that I went to work wearing black bicycle pants and Doc Martens and some kind of weird t-shirt, and I remember we were walking up the steps to look at this place, and I remember Dennis going, “Reej, what’s going on with the outfit? What, are you going gay on me?” I remember him saying that and I was like “No, no, what are you talking about?” So my comfort level was not great as far as that goes. Like I was very much a part of that [writers’] room and I was appreciated for what I was bringing to the table comedically, but I was not at all talking about my personal life.

So you flew under the radar in terms of passing as straight.

Yes, surprisingly.

But, could one be a big ol’ queen in a writers’ room in 1991?

I don’t think—not on that show. I don’t think so. I think it was too—I don’t think it would be overt, but I just don’t think it would work. I don’t think it would work.

So, you went from Dennis Miller directly into writing for The Larry Sanders Show. Did you feel more secure as a writer at that point?

No, I felt like I jumped in the deep end of a swimming pool—I knew what that show was. I mean, almost immediately I realized that I was working in an environment where the bar, writing-wise, was so high that it was a little bit intimidating. Garry taught me the kind of writing that I like the best, which is writing about human behavior that’s funny as opposed to writing jokes. I can write jokes, and I do it for a living, but, like, Garry used to say to us all the time, “Write the behavior and then figure out what’s funny about the behavior.” I’ve never forgotten that and I think it’s really good advice, but it’s also really hard—that’s why people write jokes.

Even then, as green as I was, I remember watching us shoot stuff, and I remember thinking, “Oh my god, I’m seeing something that is above the level of what most shows are.” Just the level of those guys like Rip [Torn] and Jeffrey [Tambor]. They were such good actors.

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Narrative Points of View (for prose fiction writers especially…)

…But the rest of us can profit as well.

Cuz who knows? We all may become novelists after getting that one ridiculous network note too many.  Beats suicide, doesn’t it?

Anyway:

point-of-view

by Rita Karnopp

Every writer must face the question of which point of view they want to use in their novel.  First person?  Second person?  Third person?

Let’s be honest, there are several advantages and disadvantages to each.  Let’s take a look at all three and see what you think.

First Person ~ Many writers believe this is the most difficult point-of-view to write.  The reader only gets to see what’s happening through the eyes, mind, and feelings of a single character.  It’s the; I, me, my, mine, we, and us speaker.

“I confess I should have kissed him when he leaned into me.”

So what are the advantages of First Person point-of-view?

  • It draws the reader in – at a more personal level.  They relate to ‘I.’
  • They aren’t worried about what anyone else is thinking – a single point-of-view is easier to deal with.
  • It’s an easy avenue for internal voice.
  • The sneaky part is – you could surprise your reader – who’s to say the POV character is reliable?

So what are the disadvantages of First Person point-of-view?

  • It’s limited to what the first person character can see, hear, feel, touch, smell, and think.
  • You don’t get that character break because you can’t get into the minds of other characters.
  • The narrator must limit observations only from the first person POV.

Second Person ~ This is the most difficult to write because it’s the story from the narrator’s point-of-view.  It’s even the least favorite of POVs for both the reader and writer.

You wanted to make your move, but she froze when you moved in close.  You jumped back as though you’d been burned.

So the advantages of Second Person point-of-view?

  • It’s difficult to find any advantages- maybe the chance to be quirky or a stab at being different.

So the disdvantages of Second Person point-of-view?

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Top UK Showrunner on How to Create TV Gold

After reading this article, this particular TVWriter™ minion has a new ambition: To get my butt in gear and move my life and career over to where excellence matters. Yep, I’m talking about the UK.

Here’s why:

Sally_Wainwright1

by Gerard Gilbert

Sally Wainwright must be doing something right.

And I don’t mean because of the swish-looking Jaguar parked in the television script writer’s driveway when I pay her a visit at her Cotswolds home. I mean because of the viewing figures she’s able to generate for prime-time show after prime-time show.

Her self-described “feminist” buddy cop drama Scott & Bailey, starring Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp, was the most successful drama launch of 2011 and has now gone to four series. The following year, BBC1 began broadcasting Wainwright’s Bafta-winning inter-generational drama Last Tango in Halifaxabout former childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia (Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid) reunited via Facebook; returning for a third series in a couple of weeks, it has been a ratings winner on both sides of the Atlantic.

And earlier this year, her BBC1 thriller Happy Valley attracted viewers, controversy and some of the year’s best reviews with its graphic depiction of kidnap, rape and murder in Hebden Bridge; Wainwright is now busy working on the scripts for the second series.

Given her outstanding run of form, what exactly goes into creating a sure-fire television hit? Below are some guidelines from Wainwright herself:

Begin with an emotion

“My story ideas start out tiny and then I build up layers …Unforgiven [her 2009 drama with Suranne Jones as a young woman released from prison 15 years after being convicted of killing two policemen] came from somebody trying to sue me for plagiarism at the time. She thought I’d copied a play that she’d written and it was a completely ridiculous claim but at the same time it was scary and stressful and it made me think ‘how awful it must be to be on the wrong side of the law’. That was the starting point.”

Stay true to your roots

“Happy Valley was successful because it made Yorkshire sexy… it gets mentioned now in the same columns as Breaking Bad, and part of the success of Breaking Bad is that it’s absolutely true to itself. I think Happy Valley has done something similar… people were absolutely buying into Yorkshire. I was talking to a couple of American journalists and both of them said ‘I’m sorry to admit it but I watched it with the subtitles on’, and I thought that was fantastic… that they took the trouble.

“I [also] don’t like setting my dramas in fictional places… someone complained about Happy Valley that I made Hebden Bridge out to be a drugs den and my response to that is that most of rural England is a drugs den these days – I wasn’t singling out Hebden Bridge. Their point was that if you’re going to make somewhere out to be terrible you ought to fictionalise it, but for me it’s about being authentic.”

Don’t go transatlantic

“Most British [shows] base their research on watching American cop dramas – even Broadchurch, where David Tennant is supposed to be a detective superintendent and he goes out on to the street interviewing people, which really wouldn’t happen [in the UK]. [Before Scott & Bailey] I was lucky because I met Diane Taylor, a detective inspector with Greater Manchester police, socially, and she made sure the procedure in the series was absolutely correct.”

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What Songwriters Need to Know About Writing for, um, Hollywood

Everybody wants to get into the act. And why not? In Hollywood they stiff you whenever and however they can, just like everywhere else. But if what we write – TV show, film, theme song, score, gets made and shown – wow, what a thrill to be able to reach millions.

And sometimes somebody in power screws up, and guess what? Yeppers, we actually get paid.

TVWriter™ tips its hat to song writing and songwriters. Everywhere:

What? No Ableton?

What? No Ableton?

by Andrew Leahy

Before Los Angeles had record labels, it had movie studios.

Hollywood has been the center of America’s film industry for more than 100 years. It’s the town that gave us Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind and The Graduate. A town whose backlots and sound stages include sights like Norman Bates’ house and the clock tower from Back To The Future. A town where all of the “Big Six” movie studios have headquarters. Songwriters like Brian Wilson may have created the “California sound” during the 1960s, but California had a look long before it had a sound.

So what happens when the look and the sound combine?

Even before movies had actual audio, their screenings usually involved some sort of live music. During the early 20th century, organists would play along with silent films, only stopping after the credits rolled. Even the Lumiere brothers got a piece of the action on December 28, 1895 – the day they held the world’s first movie screening ever – byhiring aFrench pianist to help add some sparkle to the event. From the very start, music and movies were close cousins.

Who gets to make that music these days, though? And how? Those are the questions we asked some of our favorite L.A.-based musicians, bandmates, songwriters, supervisors and licensing agents. Their answers paint the picture of a community that’s as diverse and complicated as the city that spawned it.

COMPOSERS VS. SONGWRITERS

There’s always been a fine line between composers and songwriters. Composers write instrumental music and themes for films. Songwriters, on the other hand … well, songwriters write songs. And if you’re a songwriter looking to break into film, you should be prepared for a bit of an uphill climb.

“This isn’t the easiest world to break into, especially if your history is with a band,” admits Robert Schwartzman, frontman of the power-pop band Rooney and nephew of Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.

In a town filled with hundreds of wannabe John Williams’, it helps to know someone on the inside. Someone who can grease the wheels, so to speak. For Schwartzman, that person was his cousin, Gia Coppola, who recently asked Schwartzman to write a full score – including instrumental music and traditional songs – for her independent film, Palo Alto.

“Typically, the filmmaker is either a big fan of the band,” Schwartzman continues, “and they think, ‘I just wanna work with this artist, and whatever we do, something cool is gonna happen,’ or that songwriter is someone who’s studied orchestration and has worked his way into the film world. If you’re a songwriter, you’re not really viewed as a composer. It’s a different beast. You need to find an entry point, a way to get your foot in the door.”

In a city like L.A., it’s common for musicians to have some experience in front of the camera. Take Jenny Lewis, who kicked off her career as a child actress before ditching the silver screen to form Rilo Kiley. Still, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t excited – and maybe a bit surprised – to receive a call from Disney in 2008, asking her to write music for the CGI film Bolt.

“I was so shocked that Disney asked me to do it, and the process was amazing,” Lewis says. “I was invited to come see the film before it was concluded. I got to stand in a room with sketches of the characters tacked up on the wall. I got to see a three dimensional figure of one of the characters. I went home and wrote the song in an hour, then demo’d it on Garageband and sent it along, and they put it in a Disney movie. A Disney movie! And that song has probably been heard by more people than any of my other songs combined.”

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Best Day Jobs For Aspiring Screenwriters

The following tips are really for more than “day jobs.” They’re entry level showbiz gigs. But show us the newbie who says s/he doesn’t want one of those instead and we’ll show you a writer who’s lovin’ every second of working at McDonald’s.

production-assistant

by David Silverman, MA, LMFT

“Malia Obama has been working as a production assistant on the Los Angeles set of Halle Berry‘s TV seriesExtant, the CBS sci-fi produced by Steven Spielberg.”  – Leslie Larson.

A problem facing almost all aspiring TV and film writers or filmmakers is how to pay the rent while they’re writing speculative TV pilots or features.

The traditional entry level day jobs, working as a barista, an Uber driver, a waiter, cocktail waitress or bartender (combined with writing) can be physically and emotionally exhausting.  When these writers finally have time to knock off a few pages, they’re hardly at their best.

Meanwhile, the other key to film writing success, networking with other writers and entertainment workers, gets short shrift.  How can they work all day, write all night and network?

What about getting a day job working on a studio lot or at a production company?  You’re going to be working closely with others who have similar interests.  Knowing these people will pay off some day.

1.  Story Analyst.

When I was still at USC Cinema, I worked as a bartender weeknights and a “story analyst” during the day. The job involves reading a screenplay or a novel each day, then writing a very tight synopsis for the execs higher up to read.

We also had to rate the script’s concept, setting, production values, storyline, plot structure, character, dialogue and pacing from “poor” to “excellent.”  This turned out to be almost as valuable an education as film school.

As a story analyst, you will also have access and be working closely with people who have the power to greenlight a project.  You’ll make a lot of valuable and very close connections.

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