by Jorge c Perez
Joan Didion once wrote “ Writing is an act of violence, a way to impose your will on a world.” I’ll use that as a framework to write about my (almost) military approach to landing a TV staff writing position, which is the goal of the NHMC TV Writing Program (and all of the TV writing programs). I’m hoping to commit acts of violence for 12-16 hours a day. For pay. Which would make me a writing mercenary;)
Since my last post during the November 2014 fellowship – sponsored by ABC/NBC – I’ve been hunkered in my bunker. I’ve procrastinat – uh, researched – by watching a lot of the sponsoring networks’ shows to prepare for staffing meetings.
I was hired to rewrite & polish a feature film script starring Michael Madsen entitled TWO CRANES. So I’ve officially gone pro as a writer. I submitted two original projects to the Sundance ShowRunner lab, and am preparing materials for the HBO TV Writing program.
Sleep? We don’t need no stinkin’ SLEEP. Writers are night watchmen-sleep is a luxury. (Good thing I’ve got my café con leche game down pat.)
I revised the SHOOTING STARS pilot- entitled PLAY WITH FIRE – which was written in part during the NHMC five-week fellowship. For those who didn’t read – or immediately forgot what my series is about:) Here is the log line: A lone wolf young coach – hellbent on creating an NBA franchise in the dying community he grew up in – must face the sudden responsibility of shepherding 3 young teens to manhood and their own dreams.
You, TV Writer.net readers, are privy to a sneak peek. Here is the link to Act One.
Astute observers, (or those who clicked on old TVWriter™ links:) will note some changes.
I have a completely new first act. In early drafts, my middle three acts were too long. The characters were viewed (by writers in the program, and Geoff Harris – moderator/mentor) as compelling. The setting has not yet been explored in either cable or network television. But I had too many story threads. Peeling them away proved MUCH more difficult than coming up with new scenes.
Which surprised me. I’ve written other pilots. One was produced. Others have placed in television writing competitions. But SHOOTING STARS is rooted in what was my LIFE for six years. I think that made it harder to edit. I knew the setups and information were necessary for the SERIES, but not all were necessary in structuring the PILOT.
Making the pilot as riveting as possible —knowing that Episode 2 might never be read (Episodes 2-9 are written) changed the narrative and story lines. When I began penning the series three years ago, I took a Nick Pizzolatto/Beau Willimon approach – not knowing who they were. I used to be horrible at summarizing, writing log lines, submitting. So in order to avoid what I was bad at I always jumped into writing the next episode. And the next.
That wasn’t the way TV development was approached. But now we have a couple of examples, TRUE DETECTIVE and HOUSE OF CARDS – that have proven to be artistic, critical, commercial successes. It’s still not the prevalent way of developing, but those shows have proven there is more than one way to conquer the creative battlefield. I hope to one day be running SHOOTING STARS and BODIES OF WORK-NYC. But here is my battle plan to become a great soldier in a Show Runner’s army:
I write drama, but need to be versed in each network’s current slate. So, I’m reading at least the first five scripts of all ABC/NBC dramas, and three each of their primetime comedies. I’ve gone a little deeper with certain shows.
I love AGENT CARTER! I haven’t really been drawn to the Marvel world until now. That show is greatly written and acted, and since they don’t play up superhero elements, I’ve watched all 8 episodes to date and can’t wait for the rest.
I’m catching up to HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER. I’ve watched all episodes of ALLEGIANCE (an EP is about to read SHOOTING STARS and may want to meet), and all of ABOUT A BOY- because I love Jason Katim’s work.
I’m behind – but will catch up to- the BLACKLIST. I am a big fan of hit cable shows (MANHATTAN, KINGDOM, MASTER’S OF SEX—three BRILLIANT series), and even EMPIRE— a breakout hit on Fox. I wanted to be versed in those series because they might be points of comparison and conversation in meetings.
Note to other writers: the Writer’s Guild Foundation is an amazing script resource, as is THE TRACKING BOARD. For $125/YEAR it is one the best resources to CONNECT with industry players and writers that have access to hard-to-find scripts.
I met a few show runners and EP’s during the fellowship, and at industry events after it was over. I subscribed to some podcasts (CHILDREN OF TENDU is fantastic, fun, and informative. It’s hosted/run by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina) and follow them on Twitter (two EP’s have requested writing samples from me).
I learned something really cool recently: the Writer’s Guild will forward letters to writers’ homes. So I’m writing to the Show Runner/Creator of the DIRECT TV series KINGDOM – Byron Belasco. This gritty, powerful drama is about a father of two twenty-something young men, who is also a father figure/coach to a third young man just out of jail. It’s set in the mixed martial arts world. He tries to coach them to MMA greatness, while dealing with his own demons and dysfunction.
I love that show and feel I could write for it and contribute. Why that one? I’ve trained in martial arts for 13 years. For five years, I was stepfather to twin boys, and my girlfriend and I became guardians to a gifted, troubled kid during that time. I coached all three as we moved up the ranks in basketball.
So the parallels between my life and that show are direct and striking. I can contribute LIFE EXPERIENCES. Thematically, that series explores things I dramatize in SHOOTING STARS: the changing face of masculinity, tribalism, fathers and sons, brotherly dysfunction, competition, finding your way in the world, being part of a team while retaining individuality, leaving the warrior in the ring or on the court- so you can function OFF the court, etc. etc. etc
All of the above will hopefully pay off in a meeting where I click with the show runner: we like talking, he/she has read my work and gets the feeling that I’ll be good in the room, not just good on a page. All of that is completely subjective and out of my hands, except for the research part. You can’t plan to have chemistry. But you can have lots of info that could maybe SPARK chemistry.
Note about the Act One Link:
TVWriter™’s Larry Brody and I communicated about posting a link to my work. He and I both feel that writers are unnecessarily wary that work might be stolen or plagiarized. I just don’t see it. I think TV executives/show runners know that it’s the execution of the idea, not the idea itself.
My scripts have my world view/experiences imbued in them. While premises or settings could be duplicated/borrowed? Characters could never be – and TV IS characters. I trust what I’ve created will not be able to be executed as well as I can.
Hopefully, other writers reading this will feel the same way about their work. Here’s a 21- Gun Salute to future creative ‘acts of violence’.