Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Manager Tracey Murray, Part 1

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

Tracey MurrayFinding the right representation can be a key component to growing and developing a writing career. TVWriter.com sat down with several managers to find out what they’re looking for in writers and what writers can be doing to help achieve success in the industry.

Manager Tracey Murray didn’t always know she wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry. She started out working for a New York public relations company before moving to Los Angeles to explore a career in news broadcasting.   Realizing broadcasting wasn’t for her, she turned to the entertainment world, landing a job as an assistant to Lee Gabler who ran packaging at Creative Artists Agency. She spent 11 years as an agent at CAA before becoming a manager. Tracey now works with writers as a Managing Partner at Industry Entertainment.

YOU WERE AN AGENT BEFORE BECOMING A MANAGER. WHY THE CHANGE?

The industry was changing. William Morris was about to merge with Endeavor. And basically it was just going to be the two larger agencies so I thought now’s the time. There’s going to be a real need. I could always go back to the agency world if I was wrong, but I figured timing-wise, it was probably the best time to try it.

Actors have always had managers. Then it was the feature writers and directors and then only about 7-8 years ago did TV writers take on managers because there was a real need. The agencies were getting so large that they couldn’t manage all the clients, so that’s why they needed the extra help.

WHAT’S SOME OF THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE BREAKING IN?

Work in television. It was funny because I was a French major and I thought that I was going to use my languages in international, in features. I started working for a feature agent for about a minute and didn’t like it. I then moved into television and my boss at the time, he said, “My wife works in features, the best advice I can give you is work in television.” And clearly I picked the right lane because right now television is the hottest and features are sort of non-existent, sadly.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM WRITERS WHO ARE TRYING TO BREAK IN?

How do I get representation? There are many ways to get representation. I think lots of times it’s through relationships. People don’t accept unsolicited material, so it’s either through a lawyer or someone you know in the business. I think it’s also reaching out to your contacts. I know when I was starting out, I went to Penn and I tried to meet writers at Penn or younger writers that went to the Ivy League schools.

I think it depends on what level you are, so when you’re starting out and you’re trying to find representation, you should be reaching out to the newly promoted agents, the newly promoted managers who are trying to build their lists. I think that’s probably the best way to get representation.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WRITER?

For me, it’s all on the page. You could be a superstar in the room, that’s added bonus, but for me it has to be on the page. You know it when you read it, but I can’t really say specifically. I feel like I have very good taste and I’ve always sort of picked well the people I thought were going to succeed.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WRITING CONTESTS?

I think it’s great. Put it this way, we read everyone from all those programs, whether it’s Warner Bros., the Disney program, awards, all that stuff. Yes, absolutely. I think that just adds to your resume.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN DOING YOUR JOB?

I think one thing is keeping up, now there are so many networks and you have to be familiar with all the shows. I mean, as I say to my clients, I expect them to work as hard as I do. I expect them to watch everything. I expect them to read everything. During development season, I expect them to read all the scripts and know what’s in development and then when the pilots are shot, I expect them to see all the pilots. It’s hard to keep up with series, but you really have to do it. I do it, so I expect my clients to do it. That’s one of the challenges.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

First of all, I love writers. I love representing writers. I love reading. I love giving notes. I love being hands on with my clients and getting to know my clients and as a manager, I didn’t think that my relationships could deepen with my clients because I’ve always had a close relationship with my clients, but now I have more time to spend with them. And you represent less writers as a manager. I have about 20 clients as a manager.

IN COMPARISON, HOW MANY CLIENTS DID YOU HAVE AS AN AGENT?

You’re on teams and then you’re servicing a bigger list. You’re pitching all the clients of an agency and that’s thousands of clients. As a manager, you’re representing the clients that you want to represent and you represent them in all areas. So I’m not just a TV manager, I’m managing my clients in all areas of the business. Whether it’s television, features, theater, I represent them. In an agency, you’re either a TV agent or motion picture agent and then you pass your client off to another department and person when they want to branch out into a different area.

WHAT CAN A WRITER DO TO HELP YOU DO YOUR JOB?

Write. I mean you’d be surprised that a lot of writers won’t give you a new script and I can’t do my job if I don’t have new material. In television every year it’s the same cycle, at least for the networks. So if for development season I’m getting out their script, I need a new script for the following development season. Same thing for staffing.

Writers need to write. They also need to generate ideas. They need to be pounding the pavement, looking. Whether it’s optioning books, optioning articles. Reading articles, just figuring out how to generate ideas.

HOW IS STAFFING CHANGING NOW WITH MORE OUTLETS?

There was a time when if you did not get a job in May or early June, you could be out for a year and that’s not the case anymore. Because there are so many networks, there are jobs all year long.

The same goes for you can pitch network season the same every year, but cablewise, you can pitch all year long. There’s just a lot more opportunity and it’s not as scary for the clients because they know that if they miss that window, there’s much more opportunity throughout the year.

Coming soon – more from Tracey including building a brand as a writer, common mistakes writers make and advice on sustaining a long career.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

THE ELEVEN LAWS OF SHOWRUNNING

The following analysis of television showrunners and how they operate, for better and for worse, has been making the interweb rounds. It’s a hell of an educational read, and we’re pleased to jump on the bandwagon with important info. (But if you think this TVWriter™ minion’s going to include his name here and get blackballed by all the VIPs who think this is about them, welp, no way, dudes!)

Check it out, gang. A perfect running shoe...erm, show...oh, wait. Crap....

Check it out, gang. A perfect running shoe…erm, show…oh, wait. Crap….

by Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Upon finding this essay, any number of showrunners with whom Ihave worked in the past will assume it is a personal attack inthe language of a management lesson. No matter that what followsis a distillation twenty years of experience – and has been inthe works since I ran my first show,  The Middleman.

I expect to be excoriated by some who will believe I am writing out of envy,or to avenge some perceived slight, or was just too cowardly to say it to their faces. It takes that level of ego to be a television writer/producer: the conviction that what you have to say matters so much that it is worth not only mastering the tropes of an entire medium, but also the risk that all the intermediaries required to create the finished product will ruin it all with some fatal blend of incomprehension, or incompetence.

For many, the undeniable triumph that is pitching a series idea,having a pilot ordered, successfully producing it, and then having it ordered to series is nothing less than a validation: not only of their voice and talent, but also their Way of DoingThings. This often translates to an intractable adherence to the notion that “my creative process” is so of the essence that all other concerns must be made subordinate lest the delicate alchemy that made success possible be snuffed. This often leads to incompetent and – whether through ignorance or ego – abusive senior management.

I’m not talking about “the lack of experienced showrunners” currently written about in industry publications, but rather that the management culture of television shows as represented by both experienced and novitiate showrunners is beset by a cult of idiosyncrasy overprofessionalism, and tolerance of toxic behavior; all enabled by the exigencies of getting the show on-air, and keeping it thereby any means necessary.

This is exacerbated by there only being two sins for which a showrunner pays with a pink slip: wasting time and squandering money. However, these contingencies are amply prepared for in studio plans and budgets; and an entire army of dedicated professionals stands beneath the showrunner day in and out to ensure neither occurs….

Read it all at Scribd

TV Writer-Playwright writes a play about writing TV

If TVWriter™ had a series called “Getting There,” or maybe “Making It,” this is exactly the kind of informative as all hell post you’d see from us:

Tanya Saracho Has No Plans to ‘Fade’ Away
by Rob Weinert-Kendt

TANYA SARACHO THE KILROYS ©ELISABETH CAREN 2015

Tanya Saracho 

In less than a decade, playwright Tanya Saracho has skyrocketed from Chicago storefront theatresto that city’s and the nation’s mainstages, and then quickly to a television career in Los Angeles, where her credits include “Devious Maids,” “Looking,” and the current Shonda Rhimes hit “How to Get Away With Murder.” Saracho’s recent stage credits have included The Tenth Muse at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Mala Hierba at New York City’s Second Stage Theatre. Currently running:Fade at Denver Center Theatre Company, Feb. 5-March 13.

It’s been a while since we spoke. You’re like a superstar now.
No, sir, that’s not true.

You’re doing well, though.
Doing well is different than being a superstar. I’m in a town full of superstars and I feel like such a hag. I mean, in L.A. you meet a 29-year-old who’s already had two development deals and is working on a movie, and you’re like: Why did I get started so late? I spend a lot of time thinking: God, I don’t get it! The inner monologue you have every day—that’s the exhausting part. I can see why people jump off bridges. That may sound extreme, but at the beginning, I was on the phone with my agent saying, “Get me off this show, get me on a plane back to Chicago, I’m the worst one here.” He had to play therapist for me. I was like, “I’m a fraud,” and he said, “Let me let you in on a secret: Everyone here has that fraud syndrome. Everyone. Just go back to work.”

There’s been a learning curve, obviously, but you seem to have picked it up quickly.
It’s like a video game: I achieved Level One, and there’s brrrring sound, and you get more guns—a little bit more in your armory. I’m well into Year Three. But it’s like, outlines still stress me out. I don’t write outlines when I write a play. I just light a candle, put on some incense and go! But first of all, you can’t have a candle in your office here, and also they’re like, “You have an hour!” I’m like, “But I need to pray to my muse…”

And everything has to be vetted at every stage. So I couldn’t see the alchemy here at first, like you have in the theatre, where something goes from words on the page and actors and designers take it and make it something onstage, and there’s a magic you can’t explain. But there is alchemy here too, especially in the reach. That was something I was not prepared for. It’s even more than film. Especially on “Looking,” where I had more agency to shape characters and I was on an episode—more people watched that one episode than have seen all my plays combined. Memes started happening, and it wasn’t just that there were memes; it was that people were listening. Suddenly you’re like, Oh, shoot, you have a responsibility in what you’re saying….

Read it all at American Theatre

New, Improved PEOPLE’S PILOT Opens March 1st

tv_writer_peoples_pilot_smby Larry Brody

Last week we announced that we were postponing the opening of the 2016 PEOPLE’S PILOT by a month, and I promised to explain soon. I figure that 8 days pretty much qualifies as “soon,” so here comes the ‘splaining.

First, the Good News:

We’re re-organizing and enlarging and otherwise improving everyone’s favorite online contest – well, mine anyway – the PEOPLE’S PILOT.

As the opening page of the PP site now says, “New Categories – More Prizes – Longer Entry Period.” The contest now will have three categories instead of two, be open for almost a year instead of just a few months, offer larger dollar amounts for First and Second Prize winners, and if all goes according to plan we’ll have not one but two helpful bonuses for all entrants.

How about some specifics?

  • Categories now include:
    1) Scripted Series 1/2 Hour or Less
    2) Scripted Series Longer than 1/2 Hour up to 1 Hour long
    3) Scripted Series Longer than 1 hour
    In other words, entries anywhere from, oh, a few seconds to several hours long are cordially invited!
  • Genres are totally unlimited. We’re really hoping to receive not just broadcast and cable pilot scripts but a substantial number of entries for web series and console game series. Shows that could play on any electronic media you can think of via major websites like Netflix, Amazon, and their ilk, YouTube and Vimio, and personal sites as well. We all know that “TV” isn’t really TV anymore, so let’s go for the alternate gold.
  • First Prize in each category is now $500. Second Prize is $100.
  • We’re whipping up a new entry bonus to join the Free Feedback and should be announcing it soon.
  • This year’s PP, our 26th running of the contest, will open March 1 and close November 1. 8 months in which to perfect and then finish your work.
  • We’re also creating a new entry fee schedule so that those who enter two or more scripts can get a discount even if they aren’t “Early Birds.”

What we’re really trying to get at here is an emphasis on creativity. We want to see scripts that are innovative and unique. And we’re wide open to input from all of our visitors. If you’ve got an idea for how to ratchet up the wildness, please, please, please lay it on us in the comments, okay?

Time now for the Bad News:

TVWriter™’s SPEC SCRIPTACULAR for this year has been cancelled, for three reasons.

  1. The number of entries in the Spec Scriptacular have been steadily declining over the past few years.
  2. Almost twenty-five percent of this year’s entries were, in effect, series pilots entered as specials or screenplays.
  3. The TV biz on the whole has become much less interested than it used to be in seeing spec scripts for current series.

The Industry is changing quickly, and the current currency for finding new writers to represent and hire for staff jobs and individual episodic assignments has become pilot scripts. Overwhelmingly so.

The powers that be seem to finally recognize that pilot scripts are a much better way for a writer to demonstrate his or her creativity and skills than spec episodes. Combine that with the fact that they’re also a hell of a lot more fun to write, and it becomes clear that the SS has lost much of its original purpose and usefulness.

And why in the world would TVWriter™ and I want new writers to spend time, effort and moolah on anything but that which will help them and their careers the most? I.e., pilot scripts?

Will the SS return? Sure. As soon as it mean something again. Showbiz is nothing if not cyclical. That time is bound to come.

Meanwhile, I’m eager to get your reaction to this new plan. And even more eager to read your next PEOPLE’S PILOT scripts. I’m feeling excited. And ambitious. And ready to take part in making what so many people are calling TV’s new “Golden Age” shine even more brightly.

And I’m hoping, for the sake of storytelling and storytellers and their audiences everywhere, that all of you are too.

More PEOPLE’S PILOT info is HERE

LYMI LB

LYMI
LB

 

 

8 Ways Studying Improv Will Make You a Better Comedy Writer

Probably not genuine improv, but, hey, we're playing it by ear here.

Probably not genuine improv, but, hey, we’re playing it by ear here.

by Erica Lies

Recently, it’s become a common adage — almost to the point of cliché — that if you want to be in entertainment, you should take improv classes. They’re recommended for a variety of benefits like networking or how they’ll teach you to think fast on your feet and be flexible. And improvising has become increasingly popular even for the regular folk, whether it’s for better communication or just feeling comfortable in front of a crowd.

But for writers who aren’t interested in performing, there’s more direct and obvious upside to studying improv: it’ll make you a better comedy writer. Yeah yeah, big shock that practicing comedy makes you better at it, but improv is often overlooked in favor of sketch precisely for those seeking writing skills.

I’ve been improvising for the last ten years, and busting my chops with various teams in front of both large and tiny audiences certainly helped me get up to speed with television writing much faster than I would have otherwise. Sure, improv gets a terrible reputation for being hokey and forced, and it’s been mocked everywhere from The Office to Broad City to You’re the Worst. But learning to do it well will give you secret ninja comedy prowess. Here’s a few of the skills you’ll pick up that are valuable to a comedy writer:

1. How to hold onto your material very lightly

Revising and editing scenes you’ve labored over can be so painful—really, that scene that took me two hours to write, I have to cut it and all my amazing jokes? But doing scene after scene in an improv rehearsal will teach you that for every scene that doesn’t totally work, there’s four more that can be conjured just as easily. Improvising taught me to love cutting out what’s unnecessary or what doesn’t work. I know there’s always more where it came from, and if those new scenes don’t work, I’m happy to cut them, too.

2. How to write efficient dialogue

To that end, improv will also train you to move scenes further faster. There’s a whole lotta rules you learn when first start out improvising, and in addition to the rule of “Yes, and,” an especially helpful one for writers is labeling your who, what, and where in the first few lines of a scene. You’ll also learn to use fewer but more specific words, because specificity creates humor. There’s no being wishy-washiness in the best improv, only statements that move the scene forward because they’re packed with information, much like a good script. In this way, practicing improv also teaches you to clearly communicate your idea or premise. The faster you can get on the same page with your partner onstage, the quicker you can start being funny, but without that base reality to play against, nothing stands out as unusual.

3. It’ll help your exposition sound less like exposition

Doing any screenwriting, whether it’s film or tv, ruins watching both, and for me, the worst is hearing clunky exposition delivered at the top of either. But of course, making exposition flow and sound natural in your own writing is tough, and that’s where improv comes in. Doing scene work repeatedly will teach you how story points sound when they’re delivered with more importance than simply the writer’s need to explain, and you’ll learn how to sound like a human being while portraying a high stakes prison break or how backstory can be suggested with simply a line or two.

4. How to recognize the unusual

Every school of improv has a slightly different approach to what’s referred to as “game,” or the funny part of the scene, but each one agrees that its starting point is when the first unusual thing happens. This is something that sounds like it’s easy to spot, but takes some practice. Because what’s important isn’t just noticing the unusual, but noticing it within the particular world of a scene. What’s strange in an everyday doctor’s office is worlds different from what’s strange in an alternate reality like a real life Candyland. But even the world of Candyland has a pattern and rules that apply to what’s “normal” there. For instance, a building not made out of sugar would really stand out in Candyland, and there’s where your scene potential lies. Once you’ve labeled your who, what, and where, you have what’s called that scene’s base reality. The first thing that happens that breaks that reality is where the funny of your scene starts.

5. How to convey character quickly through specifics

Once you’ve gotten a few classes under your belt and the terror of being in front of people has died down a bit, it becomes easier to implement that tool every writer loves and needs: specifics. And more importantly, you’ll learn how even the tiniest detail at the beginning of a scene can be used to inform a character’s attitude and worldview. A character drinking fancy coffee at the top of a scene might be someone who’s a coffee connoisseur and more broadly someone who enjoys the finer things. Maybe it turns out they’re a foodie. The point is improv will teach you to hear yourself and the tiny details you put forth, recognizing that they matter. One small detail mentioned because it’s the only thing in your head can be explored to reveal an entire character without having to strain or think much.

6. How to write “straight” and absurd characters

Much like playing against a base reality helps improvisers find what’s funny in a scene, playing what are called “straight” and absurd characters helps point out what’s funny and keep the scene simple. Despite the name, the comedy “straight man” has nothing to with gender or sexuality. The straight man plays the reality of the scene. They’re the sane person, or at least the person who finds the crazy absurd. Straight/absurd scenes are some of the most common in improv, but furthermore they make good scripted comedy. It’s the basis of nearly every strong comedy duo, from Abbott and Costello to Broad City. And if you become skilled in recognizing that dynamic quickly, it’s becomes much easier to write.

7. It helps you focus material and edit yourself

The stereotype of bad improv is that it gets too wacky, too crazy, and tries too hard, and that’s often what happens when players aren’t zeroing in on one comic premise—that “game” I mentioned earlier—and playing it out. Simply, playing a game in a scene consists of establishing a base reality, recognizing the first unusual thing that happens, then zeroing in on that and heightening (increasing the absurdity) and exploring (essentially, justifying) it. Recognizing a game when it pops up (and it will) helps improvisers focus on only one funny idea, rather than running with several different ones and landing in Crazytown (also known as that stereotype of bad improv). And learning to keep it simple one scene at a time helps focus writing, whether you’re working on sketch or a storyline in a pilot.

8. Improv teaches you to recognize rhythm and brevity

Once you start doing shows, you’ll notice a quick pattern with getting laughs: often the short, more direct line of dialogue is all you know. They more you improvise, the easier it becomes to feel the rhythm in scenes, and this carries over into writing dialogue. Too many syllables and the same sentiment isn’t funny, but make your exchanges short and suddenly it’s easier to feel where the laugh comes in.


Erica Lies is one-half of the writing duo of (not coincidentally) Erica Lies & Valerie Nies, whose extraordinarily funny script, EDGEWICK COMMONS, finished second in the 2015 People’s Pilot.

 

Is THE VENTURE BROTHERS the Best-Written Show on TV?

We lurves us our VENTURE BROTHERS for many reasons, and, yeppers, writing is at the top of the list. In the following article, Jeff Rindskopf of CheatSheet shows how good a writer he is as well:

Brock-Venture-Bros.by Jeff Rindskopf

It takes a lot of talent to make something as deliriously silly as Adult Swim’s ultra-violent Johnny Quest parodyThe Venture Bros. into something that is often genuinely touching. Luckily, there’s a lot of talent and time put into making The Venture Bros., a series that has slowly evolved from a thin parody of Saturday morning cartoons into perhaps the best written series on television.

It’s certainly the most dense. Obscure pop culture references, episode callbacks, and character-based jokes whiz by like bullets in any given episode, far too fast for anyone to catch everything in one viewing. The density of the joke-writing is outmatched by the complexity of the series’ continuity, which routinely turns one-off throwaway characters into important players a season or two down the line. What other series would turn a modern day wannabe pirate or a slightly sociopathic parody of Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four into fully-fledged characters who mature between episodes in unexpected, hilarious, and often vaguely tragic ways. Before the long-awaited season premiere last Sunday, the last episode was the hour-long special “All This and Gargantua 2,” which serves as an impressive showcase for the series’ enormous roster of characters and the creators’ ability to juggle them all somehow.

 Of course, the series wasn’t always like this. When the show first premiered in 2003, it was comparatively simple, a straightforward if brutal parody show whose characters were barely one-dimensional — from the self-involved failed super scientist Rusty Venture living in his father’s shadow to the bloodthirsty beefcake bodyguard and airheaded sons he dragged around with him.

In five short seasons, the series has deepened that core cast, often by fearlessly upsetting their status quo with each new season, while building out the supporting cast to include hundreds of heroes and villains — though actual morality is rarely so cut and dry in the Venture-verse….

Read it all at TV Cheat Sheet