Troy DeVolld Gives Us a Few Words of Caution…

Moving On, Staying Put
by Troy DeVolld

Another friend just gave up on reality television and moved into a more stable profession… and I can’t blame her.

I’ve always loved reality television, but it has its pitfalls… one of which is the unpredictability of employment.

Case in point… I recently wrapped an incredible gig on a show that was pulled from production not because of its quality, but because the new network president opted to go another direction with programming.  Many shows in production, not just ours, were unceremoniously ditched, and the hell of it was —  it’s just one of those things that happens.  No bad guy in the scenario, just business.

I’ve always hated that line on the back of my book cover that says something about getting in, getting real, and maybe even getting rich.  It can be done, but it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to get there.  That’s why the focus of my book is on craft, and not the sexier, dreamier prospect of creating shows.

It takes years to make it in L.A. or New York — and those places aren’t cheap.  You can’t reward yourself too early, because you could always end up in a situation like I did last year and not land somewhere for months after 14 years of wall-to-wall work on countless hits… and as much as I try to practice what I preach when in comes to being financially conservative, six months at home is an unexpected sock in the guts to pretty much ANYONE with no notice.

New to this? Save your money.  Have a roommate… the kind that pays in cash instead of excuses.  Don’t try to be a baller, because no one cares if you drive a 1991 Nissan except you.  There’s a major studio head out here driving a Subaru Outback, and I spent two and a half years on the train/bus in LA before replacing my dead Buick with a ten year old Jetta.  I’d been working 11 years before I finally bought a “nice” car, and frankly, it’s sometimes the most expensive one in the parking garage.  You can bet I think about that stuff during my dry spells.

Remember how you used to feel when you had a few hundred bucks in the bank after paying the bills?  Imagine having tens or hundreds of thousands fifteen or twenty years into a career.  Remember how you felt when you were a few hundred in the hole at the end of the month, sweating a thirty dollar overdraft fee?  Now try feeling that way with 20 grand in credit card debt after watching your savings atrophy because the work dried up.

Those are the times you think about finding something else.  My friend saw that exit from show business life and jumped at it.  Me, I’m a single guy.  I can stay at the craps table and keep rolling.  I’ll be up again tomorrow on some other smash hit, feeling like the world is my oyster, because I live to tell stories and teach the next generation how it’s done.  It’s all a never-ending gamble that could end with me selling a company for tens or hundreds of millions… or as a kindly old greeter at a big box store.

Do this… do anything… because you love it.

MAD MEN Boss Matt Weiner on Making It – and the Struggle Thereto

One of TVWriter™’s all-time heroes speaks in the new book Getting There: A Book of Mentors. (Which also includes a ton of other successful people, most of them not in showbiz, but still – you probably ought to buy it HERE…and no, clicking on that link won’t get us any money. Damn it.)

mad men stuffby Matthew Weiner

I remember studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s poem “Kubla Khan” in high school. According to Coleridge, upon waking from a deep, opium-induced reverie, he recalled a vision and immediately wrote the 54 famous lines. But when we started doing the poetic analysis, it became clear that there was no way this poem came out all at once. It has this amazing structure. We learned from letters and notes that had been discovered that it was likely Coleridge had not only worked on “Kubla Khan” for several months, but that he also sent it to friends for feedback.

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.

Writers were revered in my home and I wanted to be one since I was a kid, but when I went to college, I could not get into a writing class. I went to Wesleyan, a very small liberal arts school. The classes had only 12 to 15 people, and you had to submit writing samples to get in. Mine, apparently, were just not good enough. I was rejected from every writing class. I ended up convincing an English teacher to do a one-on-one independent poetry study with me. When I finished my thesis, I was extremely proud and wanted others to see it. I gave it to a humanities professor and he invited me to his house to read the work out loud. After the first poem, he told me to get out a pen and take notes. He began, “The infantile use of . . . The puerile . . . The childish use of . . . The cliché awkwardness . . . ” It was one humiliating cruelty after the next. And I had to write these insults down myself. I literally went through hours of this, poem after poem. He finally leaned over to me and said, “I think you know that you are not a poet.” I said, “I was not aware of that.”

While being battered always hurts, an important survival mechanism I’ve acquired over the years is to both thrive on rejection and hold on to compliments. Rejection enrages me, but that “I’ll show you!” feeling is an extremely powerful motivator. I’m at a point now where I’m afraid that if I lose it I’ll stop working. On the flip side, there’s nothing like a meaningful compliment from someone you respect. In my youth I was a miserable student and rarely did my homework. My fourth grade teacher once pulled me aside and let me have it. She said, “Talking to you is like talking down the drain; you don’t hear anything. You think you are going to make it through the rest of your life because you are charming. You think you don’t have to do all the work—but you do.” I remember looking up at her after this tirade and saying, “You think I’m charming?”

After college, I attended film school at the University of Southern California, where I finally started doing some narrative writing. There were contests for the films that the school would actually make, and my material was never selected. I finally said, “I am going to make a documentary,” and made one about the paparazzi. It stood out, and I became known for my editing skills and sense of humor. Upon graduation, I set up meetings everywhere in the hopes of getting a job. In three months I got nothing. I couldn’t even get a meeting with an agent.

So for the next three years I stayed home and wrote spec scripts. My friends had day jobs, but I didn’t. My wife, Linda, worked hard as an architect and supported us. I attempted to shop my material around, but nothing sold. I got very bitter, seeing people I didn’t think deserved it succeed. It was a dark time. Show business looked so impenetrable that I eventually stopped writing. I began watching TV all day and lying about it. My mother would call me to drive my brother-in-law to the airport. That’s the kind of crap I was doing instead of being a writer. I felt like the most useless, worthless person in the world.

Then one day I saw the low-budget movie Clerks. It inspired me to get off my ass and make my own independent film: a small, quirky comedy where I played myself—a failing screenwriter. I used my wife, my apartment, my car—basically everything I could to finish the film. Making that movie was a transformational experience. It had trouble getting into festivals and never sold, but I had set out to do something and had gotten it done.

A friend of mine from college had a pilot in the works that needed punch-up. Punch-up is a bunch of comedy writers sitting around the room making a script funnier. I didn’t even know there was such a job, but I got to drive onto the Warner Bros. lot and sit in this room with all these professional writers. It turned out that I was pretty good at it. Everything I said was included in the script, and that felt great. The showrunner came up to me afterwards and offered me $600 if I could stay through the end of the pilot. I was like, “Oh, my God. Yes. I’ll be here.” I would’ve done it for free just to be able to drive onto the lot again. That show quickly went off the air, but word had gotten out that I was funny. Another showrunner took me to lunch and hired me for his show. One job leads to another, but you have to start somewhere. It was my first paying job in show business and I was 30.

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CRISTELA’s Creator gives her perspective on the show’s 1st Season

CRISTELA, created by Cristela Alonzo, is an ABC series that is – how can we put it? – so much better than its ratings that it makes us doubt the sanity, let alone the intelligent of U.S. television viewers. We think that ABC would be crazy not to renew the show, but we can’t say for sure that Cristela feels that same way. Here, however, is what she does feel about the show’s premiere season:

A Possible Goodbye: Cristela Season Finale
by Cristela Alonzo

Dear Supporters of Cristela,

Hi!  It’s April 17, 2015 and I find myself sitting in the middle seat of a full Southwest flight on my way to Nashville.  Tonight at 8:30/7:30 PM, ABC will show the season (and possibly series) finale of a sitcom that I put my heart and soul into.

I want to be realistic and honest about things.  I’m not sure if the show is coming back. It worries me and not because I want to be on TV more. It worries me because I think this show gives a voice to people that haven’t been given a voice before.

Cristela isn’t a flashy show. It’s not a slick single-cam that looks like it’s a movie shot on a weekly basis, it doesn’t have voiceovers telling you thoughts the characters are currently having and it certainly doesn’t use crass and edgy things to tell its stories.  That was my choice to not do any of those things.  I wanted to take a harder path, a path that really isn’t taken on TV anymore.  I wanted to make a TV show like the kind I grew up with, the kind that looked like a play, the kind that made the live studio audience we tape in front of, just as important as the cast because they are as important.

We shot twenty-two episodes of this show and yet hardly anyone knows we’re on the air.  The viewers we have are so loyal. They watch our show every week because they remember we’re on, not because we have so much promotion.

I know for a fact that the cast is so grateful to have had this opportunity.  We live-tweet the episodes every week and try to interact with the people watching the show because we want to. We want to be part of the experience with the people that are watching.

You know, it’s funny.  I never really pay attention to the criticism of the show.  The only time I hear any of it is when people tag my on social media, which I don’t understand why anyone would do that but whatever.  I guess since tonight could be the last episode of the series, I’ll address a couple of the criticisms and tell you why the show is the way it is. I’ll start with the most popular one:

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A TOUGH-LOVE GUIDE TO INTERNSHIPS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY

This remarkably frank article is must reading for everybody wanting to break into any segment of showbiz:

internship

by Dina Gachman

Beware: you are about to enter one of those “I used to walk fifty miles in the snow to school” rants, but when it’s all over, you’ll emerge with a renewed faith in humanity and a fierce drive to succeed. You’ll be a better person. Either that or you’ll still be exactly the same as you are right this second, which is fine too.

Let’s begin.

Back in my day (stay with me here), unpaid internships were a given. In the entertainment industry, which is the ridiculous, wonderful, idiotic industry that I chose, everyone took on unpaid internships. It was a way to get your foot in the door, build a résumé, and network during college so you could hopefully get a paying job after graduating. We never confused “internship” with “job.” That’s both a good and a bad thing.

People should get paid for their work. If a company is having you come in forty hours a week and they’re paying you nothing—you need to leave. In an ideal world, all internships would be paid, but the world is shifty and unfair, so many internships pay in experience and free coffee. If a giant corporation can afford to pay interns a little something, they should. Smaller companies often can’t do that, but they need the help, and to compensate for your work they can—and should—take time to mentor you and make it worthwhile for you to photocopy their papers and answer their calls for free. Maybe it’s bad that we suffered through our two- or three-day-a-week internships without suing or protesting and asking for pay. Maybe we were wimps. I don’t think so though.

I’ve been on both sides of the internship divide. I’ve been the lowly intern (many times), and I’ve been the person who hired the interns. The latter position is much better, obviously, but I didn’t get there by leaping straight from college into a fancy job where I could boss people around and make myself feel superior by tormenting them. I didn’t torment people because I knew what it was like to be an intern, and because I’m not a tyrant. I should probably be a tiny bit more tyrannical, but when you’re raised by a Southern mother who constantly warns, “Don’t be a Hateful Hannah!” during your formative years, it’s not so easy to channel your inner Nero.

I tried reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War when I was angling for a promotion at the job that eventually laid me off, but I got through three chapters and realized I didn’t want to become a cold-hearted, calculating, ancient Chinese military general in order to get ahead. I did get a raise and a promotion, but then I got laid-off, so maybe I should have finished the book.

That was the job that put me in charge of hiring the interns, which was an eye-opening experience. Some of the interns were hardworking and conscientious, and others were perpetually late, flakey, and calculating—maybe the calculating ones had read Sun Tzu. The wiliest intern I dealt with was not named Bane, but that’s the name I’m giving him and you’ll soon see why. Bane had a great résumé and an upbeat attitude, and he knew a lot about comic books, which, this being Hollywood 2009, was reason enough to bring him on. The first few weeks were great, but then he turned— and his dark, duplicitous nature emerged.

“Can you make two copies of this script for me?” I asked Bane one day. This was a totally reasonable request. He’d copied scripts before, I’d copied scripts before—interns copied scripts. Bane folded his arms across his chest, which was covered by a faded X-Men T-shirt. He’d quickly gone from dressing like he cared to dressing like a guy who wore faded comic book T-shirts to his internship.

“It’s not my job to copy scripts,” Bane shot back. If I had finished reading The Art of War, I probably would have beheaded him or at least publicly shamed him in some barbaric way, but instead I stared at him, thinking of a response. And then, like a bolt of lightning, one came to me.

“Yeah, it is,” I said. Bane took the script, pouted all the way to the Xerox machine, and made the copies. A few days later, I was sitting in the conference room with Bane and two other interns, because I was trying to be some sort of mentor and make the unpaid internship worth their while by answering questions and listening to ideas during lunch. “I’m never going to be someone’s assistant,” Bane declared. And then, for a brief second, it sounded like he was speaking through a cage-like, venomous mouthpiece when he said, “I want to run shit.”

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Buy the whole book at Amazon.Com

From Waitress To TV Writer

Ah, the kind of nonfiction we all love!

diane ruggiero-wright

Diane Ruggiero-Wright has written and produced a number of TV shows, including the cult classic Veronica Mars. She’s the co-creator of the new show iZombie — about a zombie who pretends to be a psychic and solves murders — which premieres on The CW on Tuesday.

But she wasn’t always a TV writer. Back in the late ’90s, she was working as a secretary with a temp agency. After a couple of years, she was offered a full-time job.

“I was in the new office that I was assigned to with the ficus tree and I just thought, ‘This is it, man. It’s me and this ficus staring out the window with this job that I hate if I don’t make a big decision now,’ ” she says.”

“So I quit to write and could not write a word — like the worst writer’s block ever.”

To make ends meet, she worked at a restaurant called Park and Orchard in East Rutherford, N.J. She had a regular customer who would come in on Tuesday nights with his daughter. One night, he asked her what she really did — assuming that she wasn’t a full-time waitress.

“I said I was a writer, which I wasn’t. And he said he was a writer, too, and asked to read something. And I just blew him off ’cause I figured, ‘Whatever, everyone’s a writer.’ ”

Ruggiero-Wright had another regular who would come in and work on his laptop on Sunday nights — always just before closing time, which made the waitresses crazy.

“One day I completely lost my patience and said, ‘You know, you’re not the only writer,’ or something ridiculous like that,” Ruggiero-Wright says. “And he said, ‘Oh, you’re a writer! I have a friend who’s a successful writer. Maybe he could help you.’

“And again I just blew him off. You know, it’s East Rutherford, N.J. — you’re not gonna think that someone’s this hugely successful playwright that you’re seeing once a week.”

A year went by. One night, she finally saw those two regulars — the one who claimed to be a writer and the one who claimed to know a writer — having dinner together.

The Tuesday regular with the daughter was a writer named Mark St. Germain. He was, indeed, a hugely successful playwright, as well as a writer for The Cosby Show.

He then asked her, once again, if he could some of her writing. “I said, ‘Oh my God, please! But I only have 10 pages.’ ”

Those pages were the beginning of a screenplay about a suicidal writer who couldn’t commit suicide because she had writer’s block and couldn’t write the note. St. Germain put her on a writing schedule, and each Tuesday when he came back to the restaurant, she would give him 10 more pages.

“Once I started writing, you know, once Mark put me on a schedule … that’s when I felt, for the first time, like myself in my life.”

St. Germain promised that if the finished script was good, he would give it to his agents. He made good on that promise, and things started to change for Ruggiero-Wright.

She got picked up by an agent who lived across the hall from screenwriter Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle). Ephron liked the script and got Columbia Pictures to buy it for her.

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Peggy Bechko talks “Agent Basics for Writers”

'agent' is just another word for...

A diagramatic guide to agents for ya!

by Peggy Bechko

I’m not going to get into the minutia or contracts or any of that stuff – it’s just too much to handle here. What I am going to discuss in this post are a few Agent basics since a few people I’ve spoken to seem to be a bit confused on the subject.

So, in broad strokes, here it is.

If you’re going the traditional publishing route you may want to hook up with an agent and that isn’t as easy as it may first sound. But, there are fewer obstacles than one might imagine. One of them isn’t upfront cash.

First, I’ve heard such comments as “I can’t afford an agent”. Hmmm, there’s little to afford ‘up front’. Reputable agents rarely charge any up-front fees. Their revenue comes from the percentage they get from the sales (royalties) of your books. There are a handful of agents you can find who are now charging a fee of maybe a couple of hundred dollars or a bit more they say to cover the costs of postage, printing, etc. But at this time there are few of them.  Mostly they don’t. And, even the ones that do, it will depend on the language in your contract, but that fee might be taken out of your earnings instead of being required of you up front. And, if they are indeed reputable there will be no other fees added without you knowing ahead of time its coming.

So, cut to the chase, don’t mess with any ‘agent’ who wants to charge you for everything you can think of and get that money from you before you even start. If the literary agency you’re talking to REQUIRES you pay in advance for Submission Fees, Reading Fees, Editing Fees, Proofreading or Marketing, run as fast and as far as you can in another direction. There are lots and lots of scammers out there preying on writers who have dreams. Don’t let them steal from you.

Okay so now that that is out of the way what are some of the advantages to seeking agent representation?  Here’s a short list.

  1. An agent knows the trade, genres and how you might fit into it. Because of that the agent can handle business issues for you, you might want to pass on, such as…
  2.   Negotiating your publishing contract

.   3.   Selling foreign rights to books when they’re published or after

.  4.  They track advances and royalties (I do suggest you keep good records on these as well though)

  1. You might find you have the possibility of a contract – book to film deal – that you otherwise might not have had
  2. They handle all the copyright stuff

Good, reputable agents are worth every penny they get from your royalties. Bad agents, even if otherwise reputable, are not. I’ve had both and speak from experience. I’ve had a great agent and one who was a (expletive deleted) sort I’m glad to be shut of.

If you tie in with a bad one (in any sense of the word) don’t hesitate to cut the cord and move on. Oh, and by the way, be sure you read any contract you might sign with an agent. Usually there is a clause in there on how to terminate the relationship. Make sure it isn’t too complicated.

So, how much do those good and reputable agents actually charge? Presuming qualified, honest and reputable with a decent reputation it’s about ten to fifteen percent of the royalties your book earns in the domestic market. Usually that bumps up to twenty percent or thereabouts of royalties earned on books internationally published. Movie rights? That’ll be something to be negotiated if the time comes.

Let’s summarize:

If you believe you can’t afford a literary agent, you need to be talking to some different folks. I suggest you visit www.AgentQuery.com or think about purchasing (or visiting at your library) a copy of Writer’sMarket 2015 where there are lots of markets listed as well as a section on Literary Agents.


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.