Damon Lindelof’s ‘Sins of TV Writing’

The title of this video is misleading. The titular TV’s Five Cardinal Sins aren’t sins committed by the well-known writer-producer of Lost, The Leftovers, and the upcoming (yay!) TV version of The Watchmen. Rather, these are the sins that Lindelof has identified and clearly despises.

In other words, it’s safe for Lindelof lovers to watch this as well as informative as hell for all of us struggling to replace him at the top of the showrunner pecking order. Enjoy.

What It’s Like to Get Hired as a Late Night TV Writer

Okay, so you aren’t living the dream yet. Sad to say, neither are we. But lots of other writers are, and Justin Caffier has talked to several of them to find out what their lives are like. Give a “listen:”

Seth Meyers – what do you mean you don’t know who he is?

by Justin Caffier

f you’re reading this website, there’s a high likelihood that you think it’d be pretty tight to land a job as a writer on a late night talk show. Where else can one collect a steady paycheck for churning out jokes that actually wind up on TV, all while enjoying fringe benefits like catered meals and celeb rendezvous?

Unfortunately, how one might go about landing one of these plum gigs is as enigmatic a riddle as any pertaining to “making it” in Hollywood. Some slave over packets for decades, fruitlessly chasing that dragon. Others seem to just trip and fall into the writers room from out of nowhere. We asked some current late night writers about the path that led them to their prized position and got as varied a group of responses as you might imagine.

If you’re reading this website, there’s a high likelihood that you think it’d be pretty tight to land a job as a writer on a late night talk show. Where else can one collect a steady paycheck for churning out jokes that actually wind up on TV, all while enjoying fringe benefits like catered meals and celeb rendezvous?

Unfortunately, how one might go about landing one of these plum gigs is as enigmatic a riddle as any pertaining to “making it” in Hollywood. Some slave over packets for decades, fruitlessly chasing that dragon. Others seem to just trip and fall into the writers room from out of nowhere. We asked some current late night writers about the path that led them to their prized position and got as varied a group of responses as you might imagine.

 

Ariel Dumas, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: I was an actor who didn’t start doing comedy until I was 26. I moved to Chicago to take improv classes after two years of failing the auditions for MFA acting schools. And thank God, because I saved thousands of dollars’ worth of rolling on the floor in a unitard.

Improv and writing and comedy in general was so much fun, I wanted to do it all the time. And while I wasn’t banking on it, I thought maybe if I worked really hard and got good and was a nice person, someone on some coast would offer me a job by the time I was 40.

Five years and one cruise ship gig later, I saw that The Colbert Report was soliciting packets. I was very intimidated and sad, somehow. Like a lot of comedy people, I was a depressed person who thought I was a hot piece of garbage and definitely not good enough to write for a TV show I loved. But then my therapist was like “Who cares! Write the packet! You’ve got nothing to lose!”

He was right, as therapists tend to be. I locked myself indoors for a long weekend and wrote, subjecting many patient friends to living room performances of my drafts (thanks, Katie and Neil and Jennifer!). I cried several times and ate a lot of stress-pizza.

A few days after I turned in the packet, I got an email saying the producers wanted to talk to me. After reading that email, I rolled off the couch onto the rug. On all fours, I let out a guttural wail like a beast who had finally killed, I don’t know, some sort of rival beast.

After a fun and nerve-wracking Skype interview (“Cool talking with you! Let’s see your apartment!”), a second packet, and an in-person interview in New York, they hired me. It was a friggin’ dream come true, and it’s been a blast ever since.

Moral of the story: hustle, be kind, be patient, eat pizza, and listen to your therapist.

Ian MorganLate Night with Seth Meyers: My TV career started with an internship out of college at Letterman, which led to a part-time job as an audience page at the show, and then to a full-time position in their mail room. Around the same time, a friend of mine who was working in the cue card department at SNL invited me to check out the studio during a Friday rehearsal….

Read it all at Splitsider

 

Peggy Bechko: Resuscitating Your Draft

by Peggy Bechko

As writers, we’ve all written screenplays or novels that sit around in our drawers for years. Something’s wrong, but what? Being a pro, you’ve already decided that script or novel needs major rehab, and you sure aren’t clinging to a story that just doesn’t work. BUT, what to do? How to approach the rewrite and the rehab?

Since you’re ready to do some major revisions I’m glad you asked. Let’s think about this and ponder a couple of radical methods for that revision.

First thoughts…

Have you considered that maybe your script or novel is focused on the wrong protagonist? You know, the guy/gal who gets all the action. For example, in animated world, were you aware that Frozen’s main character, Elsa, started out being a villain? If you’ve see it you know she ain’t a villain no more, she morphed into a ‘Disney Princess’. That was one major overhaul.

Another example: remember reading Ripley in Alien was originally written for a male lead? Could you see anyone else in that part now? Another new direction, another major rewrite.

So, is there someone in your story that could do the same? Some character you may have misunderstood? A character who could change from villain to hero? One that could move up from supporting character to main protagonist?

Take another hard look at that novel or script. Think about the motives behind the actions of your protagonist, supporting characters and villain. If those motives aren’t clear and your character’s desire to move forward strong, then your focus might be misplaced when it comes to your ‘hero’. Maybe reconsider? Perhaps a shuffle of your characters?

Will this take a lot of work?

Yep.

Is it worth it?

You better believe it.

Another idea. Have you considered the genre you’ve written the script or novel? Did you label it from the get-go, then trap yourself inside?

Is it a Romance, a thriller, a SciFi action flick? Whatever it is now, you might consider changing it. Could that romance become a thriller? Should your thriller morph to SciFi? Maybe your SciFi is actually Horror. Take a little ‘what-if’ trip and consider all the angles.

It’s possible that you’ve locked your story into a genre where it doesn’t fit. It’s possible that you, as writer, were uncertain as to what your genre could be and cubbyholed it before it was ready. If the story is ‘misplaced’ it’s very possible that you, as the writer, are trying to be funny when you shouldn’t. Or maybe whatever stakes you’ve chosen for your hero just aren’t powerful enough and great humor could result if you pulled that string.

You probably didn’t think much about the genre as you wrote the first draft unless you were writing ‘to genre’. That’s good. Great even, but once you have the basics laid down for your story you need to make sure your work is in the right genre. If that element is wobbly it’s just not going to fly.

What’s the take-away? If you have a story that’s been languishing somewhere, now is the time to get it out, dust it off and reread with a clear eye toward what the problem might be. And one last tip. Think about where the story belongs. Is it a novel? Is it a feature script? Maybe it should be a TV series or a mini-series. Don’t close your mind to any possibilities.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

10 Ingredients for Successful Screenwriting (TV too!)

This TVWriter™ minion wholeheartedly endorses Marilyn Horowitz’s YouTube series of videos on how to become a successful screen (and TV) writer. (Of course, you don’t know which minion I am, but I’m working on overcoming that and will soon be going mano a mano with LB.)

Not only only are Ms. Horowitz’s points right on the money, her videos are short. As in between one and a half and three and a half minutes each. Really now, who could ask for more?

Here’s a sample:

See the rest at Marilyn Horowitz’s YouTube channel

Dennis O’Neil: Après View Wonder Woman

Looking at Wonder Woman from a new angle

by Dennis O’Neil

So all hail, Princess Diana! For the second week in a row, she has conquered the all mighty Box Office!

You commerce-and-finance majors might consider declaring a holiday. Liberal arts dweebs like me will be satisfied with being grateful for a genuinely satisfying movie-going experience.

There’s a lot to be said for the film and no doubt a lot of it is already being said, with, again no doubt, more to come. It’s the kind of flick that prompts après theater discussion, which is kind of rare these days, especially among those of us who have logged a load of birthdays. We were so happy with the afternoon’s entertainment that we didn’t mind not remembering where we left the car.

I’d like to focus on only one aspect of it and maybe get in some opinions about superhero movies in general. And it affords a chance to blather about something that’s been bothering me for years.

Somewhere in the mists, when I was first creeping into the writing dodge, someone must have told me about the storytelling virtues of clarity. In order for the story, whether you’re experiencing it on a page or on a screen or by hearing it on a recording device, to be fully effective you must know what’s going on: who’s doing what to whom and if we’re pushing our luck, why. Where are the characters? How did they get there? Where are they in relation to one another? How did they get whatever props they’re using? How did they get the information they’re acting on?

Et cetera.

I’m particularly annoyed at lame fights. Surely, way out west, the movie crowd is aware that there’s entertainment value in well-choreographed kickass. If there’s any doubt, let them unspool some Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, the patron saint of cinematic brawling. Many modern action movies – or maybe most of them – render action in quick cuts, blurs, blaring sound effects. Not my idea of amusement, at least not in mega-doses.

Back to Wonder Woman (and maybe we can, please, have an end to complaining?) None of what I’ve bitched about applies to WW. While in the darkness, I never found myself wondering what was happening on the screen. This, the director was kind enough to show me and thus allow me to relax into her work.

A word about the lead actress Gal Gadot: she’s extraordinarily beautiful (duh!), but her face is not only gorgeous, it is expressive – it seemed to change from shot to shot. And that quality is a blessing for a performer.

So, yeah, all hail to Wonder Woman, I don’t expect to see a better movie this year.


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated on a series created for the BBC, without ever knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.

Now What? 10 Steps For Film Festival Premiere Prep

Last week TVWriter™ brought you “The Indignance of ‘Indie’ Film Festivals,” a rant about the way indie film fests are run,  wriltten by award winning filmmaker Bri Castellini. Bri’s points certainly are valid, but we thought that this week we would show you a different angle – how to prepare for your first film festival so you can get all you want from it.

No, we aren’t even pretending to be “fair and balanced.” Just tryin’ to be helpful, is all:

by Jared Ian Goldman

I repeatedly ask myself one question as I ready for a festival premiere: What’s my goal at the festival?

What am I looking to get out of the festival?

As you get to know the festival organizers and begin preparing for a premiere, the answer to that question may change or even have multiple answers. If you’re going to a festival with a film looking for distribution, for example, your priorities may and will likely differ than if your film already has distribution. You’d be surprised how many filmmakers I encounter who assume that the work is done once their film gets into a festival. However, the festival premiere simply marks a next phase in the life of the film, one that requires just as much focus and attention to detail as any phase in bringing the movie to life.

Step One: Caucus

Once accepted into a festival, I arrange a call with my filmmaking team, which includes the financier(s). This not only ensures that our group strategies and expectations are aligned, but also lets us check in with one another if we haven’t been in regular touch in a while.

Inevitably, this will lead to the question of who from the team is attending the festival—and how is that getting paid for? Production budgets don’t usually account for festival expenses, and not all festivals provide subsidies, so check in with your festival contact to find out what the festival will cover and what relationships they have. (I’ve found that regularly checking in with the festival staff is always beneficial.) Some festivals may cover director and cast travel and housing, while others may be able to provide a sponsor for a party. Some will only provide the platform to premiere.

This initial team strategy call is also the time to discuss a domestic sales agent, a foreign sales agent and a publicist.

Step Two: Hire Sales Agents

If you have a sales agent prior to getting into a festival, then they’ll likely have coached you on which festivals to be submitting to. If you don’t, once the festival makes its line up announcement, sales agents will likely reach out to you—but it’s OK to be proactive and reach out to a company if there is an agent that you think is especially well-suited for your film. If you secure a domestic sales agent, you’ll want to consult with them on who they partner well with for foreign sales and vice versa. When shopping for a sales agent it’s valuable to know how many other films they’re representing so you can ensure you’re being prioritized.

Step Three: Hire an Entertainment Lawyer

If you don’t have a sales agent (or can’t afford a publicist—more on that below), then it’s critical that you have an entertainment lawyer who can help coach the festival process and introduce you to sales agents and/or distributors. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having an attorney with a depth of entertainment experience. That experience can translate into a significantly better sales deal—and may mean the difference between making any deal whatsoever. Just because you have a friend who is a lawyer and will do you a favor does not mean they can actually help you. Some entertainment lawyers will want to charge hourly, whereas some may work for a percentage of the sale, so be prepared for either….

Read it all at Moviemaker


Producer Jared Ian Goldman’s credits include Brother’s Keeper starring Rose Byrne, The Skeleton Twins starring Kirsten Wiig, Kill Your Darlings starring Daniel Radcliffe, And So It Goes starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton.

 

Writer? – @BrisOwnWorld

by Bri Castellini

NOTE FROM LB: The following column by Bri Castellini was originally published last April, so if it reads like it doesn’t fit properly into the current context of “Bri’s Own World” articles we’ve been bringing you, that’s because, hey, it doesn’t.

The good news is that although the column may sound, as Bri herself has indicated, a bit “dismal,” things actually are pretty darn rosy for her now. The truth is that whether you’re a beginner, an established pro, or a writer on the way out, this is a tough game to play, filled with lows as well as highs.

We’ve all had to learn to live with it. To put this another way, knowledge is power, and after you read what’s below those of you who are just getting started will know a whole lot more about what to expect. I, for one, am grateful for Bri Castellini’s openness as well as her talent:

by Bri Castellini

I’m a very picky writer, and that’s starting to bite me in the butt as I go back on the job hunt, desperate not to end up as a barista again. I’m also a jumble of confusing and sometimes unrelated skill sets and strengths as a human in the workforce, which means my poor butt is not looking forward to the end of this metaphor. Moving on. Apologies to my butt.

Let’s talk about the jumbled skill sets first. I recently realized that, other than when I was a barista and camp counselor, every job I’ve ever had has been one I’ve created for myself, at least to an extent. For a good amount of time, I bounced around from small business to college department branding myself as a “Social Media Consultant.” Essentially, because I was young and on the internet a lot, I would make social media accounts, propose what each platform should be used for, and then run them until the person who hired me realized they didn’t know what to do with me or I graduated from the college and no longer applied for work study. These gigs were great, because they weren’t super time consuming and because I was the “expert” compared to people who didn’t even have a Facebook page, meaning that there was very little oversight and I could do whatever I wanted. I never had to look at analytics, or concern myself with engagement on the posts. The fact that I had made them a few accounts was such a huge improvement to their previous status quo, I was largely left to my own devices.

My full time job at MTV (which ends at the end of this month), as Associate Producer for Digital Development, was created specifically with me in mind. They needed help with a few very specific things and were passed my resume from the women who ran my internship in the research department, so when I interviewed with the SVP, we talked about my specific strengths and based the position around them. I organized and created extensive spreadsheets, did research, made PowerPoint presentations, and helped develop and pitch ideas. All things that were in my wheelhouse before the job.

Most recently, I started working (for equity, not pay) for the start up Stareable.com, which is a hub for web series discovery and reviews. After writing a few guest posts for their blog and offering advice about a few random things whenever I attended a happy hour for filmmakers hosted by the CEO, Ajay, he and I sat down and agreed I should join their team in a more official capacity. Once again, the job was created specifically for me. I write for their blog, acquire content and guest posts for their blog, offer advice, consult on social media, and help organize and run their physical, in person events like the filmmaker happy hours and their new screening series. All things I already know how to do.

Most jobs, however, are not designed for me. At least not when you job hunt in the traditional sense, trolling the internet for job postings. I’ve got almost eight years of social media consulting experience, but I don’t know SEO or any of the fancy analytics programs, so for most established companies who already have accounts, I’m not qualified for anything past maybe a copywriter, which is generally an entry level grunt gig. I also have experience as an “Associate Producer” but don’t know a lot of the software required for most positions under that same title. I’ve done a lot of independent film projects in a variety of roles, but I don’t know anything about paperwork or insurance or SAG waivers so I’m not qualified as a producer of any level, I’ve never technically been an assistant (though I’ve stepped in as one in a variety of other positions) so I’m not qualified for a lot of those jobs ether.

What I’m saying is that I’ve lived a blessed work life, in terms of the non food service gigs I’ve had, and that’s screwing me over right now as I rush to find a new position to pay my new apartment’s rent.

Now back to the picky writer thing. Writing, in most of its forms, is the one thing I’m 100% qualified to do in any role, right? Well… kind of. I knew all the way back in middle school that I didn’t want to be a teacher, and I knew by high school that I didn’t want to be a journalist. As such, I’m qualified to be a reporter or freelance writer in every way except for one- I don’t have a knack for finding stories. I have always erred on the side of personal essays and commentary stories, I hate interviewing people, and I have no vocabulary or confidence when it comes to pitching publications. I’m a writer… I guess. And I’ve done a lot of freelance and article writing, as evidenced by this alarmingly full page on my portfolio.

But if you actually look at that alarmingly long list of places I’ve written for, you’ll notice yet another trend- they’re mostly personal experience posts. I wrote about crocheting for a knitting blog, speech and debate advice for a speech and debate blog, and now most of my online blogging centers around the world of web series. All of these things, again, are things I’m already good at, written for people I already know. I’ve never been paid to blog, or to freelance- usually I do it for the “exposure.” I have no idea how to value my writing, or how to pitch a publication a story about myself when I’m a nobody.

It’s like… I have 75% of the skills needed for a bunch of jobs, but that 25% is really important and I have no way of bridging the gap, not in a way that wouldn’t be straight up lying. I have never taken any of my jobs for granted, because I knew how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to do all these things that are specifically created for me and my existing skill sets.

But those #blessed opportunities didn’t do me a lot of favors when it comes to developing new skill sets and learning things that will make me more qualified or hireable in the future. I have 7 years of social media consulting under my belt, but I do not qualify for jobs that require 7 years of social media consulting experience, because each subsequent consulting gig I took on was me doing the exact same things over and over again. I’d create a detailed proposal about which platforms the company should exist on and what kinds of things we should post to each platform, then I’d make those accounts, run them for a while, and eventually get dropped because the lack of oversight isn’t very useful when I need the boss’s participation in creating content. I am experienced, but I am not experienced. It’s very frustrating.

This is gonna be another one of those really long blog posts that doesn’t really have a point, or a solution. April is gonna be a rough month for me: I’m moving to a new apartment and losing my job at MTV by the end of it, at least two full weekends will be taken up by helping produce and direct the second season of my new friend Jack’s web series, and I’ve promised to help out on two other productions, plus my friend David’s new outdoor product review video series. None of that has anything to do with any of my personal projects either, because I don’t really have time or mental clarity to develop any personal projects because 2017 is hell bent on reversing everything good that happened to me in 2016.


Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. This article originally appeared on her blog. Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, BrainsHERE