Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Call Bullshit on Internships

I have a job again.

Or at least, I have the same job again. I got a call this morning that they want me to come back in January as a writer for the corporate video/doc company. They don't know how long for. Or even how much work there is. But I'm just glad to not have to compete in the blood bath that is our TV industry right now.

And, just as a side note, as someone that has been scouring job postings for the past couple weeks with little or no luck, how useless is Craigslist (or the internet for that matter)? Not the site itself, it seems like a good space for posting, but there are just no good jobs posted. I'd find a gig that read like my perfect position and then find that it's a 3-month volunteer internship. For God's sake, pay your PAs, researchers, script assistants at least minimum wage.

In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and call bullshit on internships. I don't mean that all internships are bullshit. Those that are part of school, fine. Those that you can do part-time or telecommuting, while working a paying job, OK. And if they are teaching you valuable lessons about your chosen career, great! But those that have you come to work for 8+ hours a day, after you've graduated from University or College and have rent, food, and student loans to pay back, and who could hire someone for $9/hour but don't want to spend the money, that is slavery.

Let's just think about this - you're working full-time, doing bitch-work for no money with the possibility that you could be hired on to be paid afterwards. In the US there's the Fair Labor Standards Act, which says that there are 6 conditions to be met in order for an internship to be legal. The two most important rules are that an intern cannot do the same work as a regular employee, and that the employer must not obtain "immediate advantage from the activities of the student." So your photocopy and FedEx internship is not only a waste of time, it's illegal.

Anyway, this blog post is much longer than I'd originally intended. I certainly didn't plan on linking to a government website.

And the ironic thing is, even though this is my opinion about the industry at large, if I was offered an internship on a scripted TV show, I'd take it and shut the hell up. *sigh*

Monday, December 15, 2008

In My Mind, I'm Very Special

I got into the CFC last night. I wrote my specs, applied, went to the interview, and was accepted (on the spot).

And then I woke up.

My morning yogurt depressed me, because it was not a yogurt of celebration. But at least now I feel like I've already done a practice round.

I should probably explain that I have decided to apply to the CFC Prime-Time Television Program for Sept 09. I'm slightly daunted by the fact that they accept 8 people a year, but in my mind I'm very special so I figure I've got a shot.

I've also decided, after flip-flopping like John Kerry (too late?), that I'm going to write a Mad Men spec. Even though it's probably one of the toughest shows to nail, it's the only one I really want to take a crack at. And I've heard that if you can nail a Mad Men, you're golden. And golden is what I want to get into the CFC. So stay tuned for a Mad Men deconstruction.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ink Drinks

Went to the "Ink Drinks with Jim Henshaw" event on Saturday and it was great! Basically it was an excuse to get a whole bunch of TV writers (pro and burgeoning) together to have drinks and chat. And naturally, most of what we talked about was TV. I'd only been to one other TV writer event, the Writer's Watching TV series a couple weeks ago, but I didn't really talk to people much there, as I just watched the show, heard the writers talk and then went home. This event on Saturday however was an entirely social experience. It's nice to be around people that think about the same things I do; mostly when I'm around my family and friends I bore them to tears with talk about the industry, which is almost all of the time. About 13 people showed up while I was there. I wasn't sure what to expect, I thought maybe we'd just be listening to Jim talk but actually he didn't dominate the conversations at all, but was there to talk to us about his experiences, and whatever we wanted to talk about. Also, Denis McGrath showed up, which was a pleasant surprise since I'd missed the last Ink Drinks event where he was the official guest. Denis is as animated and passionate about Canadian politics and the industry as he is on his blog, which makes him perfect for facilitating great conversations (not that a group of opinionated writers need much facilitating, but still). Also present were some members of my writing group, including Ink intern (and organizer of the event) Brandon. I highly suggest any writers in Toronto (or any other cities that have these kind of functions) check these events out in future. I'll definitely be at the next one.

I really have been amazed recently at the usefulness of Facebook when it comes to career networking. I'd never heard of these events until a few weeks ago when Alex Epstein mentioned the Canadian TV Writing group on Facebook, Ink Canada. Until recently I was the only person I knew actively trying to become a TV writer (despite having taking Radio and TV at Ryerson), and I had no idea how to meet other TV writers. Since reading that post a few weeks ago I've joined a TV writer's group, attended two industry events and increased my network within the scripted TV industry exponentially. For anyone interested, the facebook page for Ink Canada (a group for TV, film, and new media writers) is here.

As for how my career is doing right now, it's not pretty. I just finished my contract with the doc/tribute/roast production company. I have enough cash to carry me through January on a pauper's budget, so I can apply for work until then but in reality the industry seems to be in the toilet right now. With the 300+ people just laid off from Much Music, CanWest, and who knows how many others, I'm now competing with people with much more experience than I have. I'm hoping that in January when production starts up again I can get an assistant job with a scripted series, but realistically I may need to keep my eye on reality and lifestyle opportunities as well. So I guess I'll also be looking for assistant, researcher, writer and Associate Producer positions with those kind of companies.

Of course, I could also end up walking down the street wearing a sandwich board for Pizza Pizza. Which is unfortunately more likely.

Monday, November 24, 2008

One Writing Group, Two Writing Group

A brand spankin' new group!

The meeting on Saturday went swimmingly, I think. 7 of us showed up and discussed what we'd be looking for in a group and I think we're all on the same page. Two members are currently in the CFC Prime Time Writer's program, several others are in various stages of our writing careers, and one person is actually a seasoned writer and showrunner, so the group is quite varied in experience levels. Because I feel so strongly about this group, I've already quit the other.

We've decided that since this is a TV-writing group, it should be devoted to all things TV. So, no short films or features, just specs and spec pilots. We're meeting every 2 weeks on Saturdays. I'm not presenting for a few weeks but I'd better figure out soon what I want to write next - most likely a spec pilot.

Peter, one of the CFC students, gave me a list created by Meridian Artists in Toronto that lists all current TV shows and their speccability. It's 5 months old, but still pretty useful, and discusses why each show is or isn't good to spec. I should have read it first before trying Dexter. It's labelled "not a good show to spec" for the reason that it's hard to spec because of the season archs. Well yeah I see that now! I'm surprised that House and The Simpsons (for animation) are still considered good shows to spec. I'm thinking after my pilot, I'll write a True Blood. Just started watching it and it's great.

I don't think my excitement about True Blood carried through there. It's FUCKING AWESOME. Race relations between vampires and humans in the American South, and created by Alan Ball? Brilliant!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Writers Watching TV

Last night I went to my first Writer's Watching TV series, put on by the WGC. It was held at Camera on Queen W., in the screening room, and it was packed full. They screened two episodes of Flashpoint, the CTV/CBS production, and then afterwards had a discussion with the creators, Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis.

I really think I've been underestimating Canadian TV, because I admit I hadn't seen the show before and I thoroughly enjoyed both episodes. They've managed to infuse a procedural with a high degree of emotional weight and moral complexity. It was interesting to be in a room full of writers watching the show because the questions asked were much more focused than a regular crowd's would have been. I thought the event would be mostly aspiring writers, but in fact it seemed to be largely composed of established writers. Interesting then, that those that have already broken in find it educational to go and listen to their peers speak about the craft. Obviously then it's important for those of us not already part of the Guild, so I'm going to make an effort to go to these as often as I can.

Stephanie and Mark talked about switching from acting to writing and they solidified my intention to go and audition as an actor. I know being an actor helps you as a writer, but they brought up another point which was that when you are in auditions you are constantly reading scripts. Next to being a pro reader, that's probably the next best way to read the best and worst scripts out there.

On another note, I'm thinking about switching writing groups. My current group is composed entirely of screenwriters, and I'm the lone TV writer. As well, I'm not sure about the skill level or seriousness that my current group members possess. While some of them are more talented and more serious about becoming a pro than others, I feel like they are outweighed by the hobbyists. I need to find people that are as serious about it as I am - this is what I want to do for a career. And though screenwriting and TV writing are related, I think the two spheres use different skill sets and therefore I need to find a group that can help me grow as a TV writer. Saying all that, I may have found one. Through Ink Canada on Facebook (I knew it was good for something!) I've signed up with a few others to meet tomorrow and talk about possibly setting up a TV Writer's group. Exciting!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dinner and Criticism

I haven't actually started writing my next spec because for the last few weeks I've been sending out my short script, getting notes and re-writing it. The most help, even more than my writing group, was my cousin Kevin. He works in the industry as an assistant to a prominent Toronto producer, and so he reads a ton of scripts. I asked him to take a look at mine and we sat down for dinner the other night.

Kevin told me that there are two things he does when he gets a script: 1) he looks at the title and 2) he looks at the final page to see how long it is. That gives him an idea of whether or not he's going to enjoy reading it and sets his mood about it. Well, I didn't pass his litmus test as he told me that he didn't like my title, The Hunt, (it's boring) and the "short" script is too long. It's currently 17 pages, and he suggests that I cut it down to 10.

After that, he gives the script about 5 pages to hook him. If it doesn't, it goes directly into the recycling box. 5 pages? I thought it was 10. Fortunately I passed that test, as he said I kept him interested all the way through. He did say that the idea was really strong and original, and could make a great short film, but that it needed work. For example, my characters need to be fleshed out and made 3 dimensional. He also didn't like my opening and thought I revealed too much exposition through dialogue. However, he was crazy about my ending, so that's really good. So, I'm back to re-writing, but I have a definite idea of where I'm going.

Interestingly Kevin told about the difference between the Canadian and US relationships between screenwriters and production companies. With his production company (and apparently most Canadian companies) they don't option a script until they know it's ready. So they'll develop a relationship with a screenwriter, give them notes and guide them through re-writing, and months later when it's ready, they'll option the script. The idea is that we have more limited money in Canada so if they option a script for a year and it takes a year to re-write then they've wasted that money. However they still give the screenwriter money if he needs it, so I'm not entirely sure why they don't just option it (or how agents fit in here?). Apparently this doesn't always work out, which isn't that surprising. Kevin told me about a recent case where he was helping a screenwriter with development notes and over a year helped the writer to craft the story into something really good and got his bosses interested in it, however Kevin's prod co never optioned it. To complicate things, since the writer was an actor, he wanted to have it in his contract that he would also be an actor in the film. Kevin told me that they couldn't promise that - how can you bring on a director and then tell them that you've already casted his film? So the writer took the finished script to a different production company who optioned it immediately and would promise the writer that he'd be in it. Apparently this was a bad decision on the writer's part as Kevin's prod co is one of the biggest in T.O. and now holds a grudge against the writer as a writer and an actor.

Bringing this back to me (me me always me), I've realized that I probably shouldn't write a spec pilot just yet. I'm going to keep writing TV specs (of existing shows) until I can write any spec for any show in 2 months. Then I'll write my own pilot. So for my next spec I'm trying to decide between Terminator: SCC or Mad Men. I realize these are drastically different shows, and that Mad Men is definitely more difficult/complex to write, but if I can nail a Mad Men I think that would be more impressive than a Terminator. And I think I just answered my own question there.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

short film scripts make good rolling paper

Ok, finished writing my short film, The Hunt. It's a dark dramedy about a recent grad violently looking for work after university. I presented it to my writing group this week and I got very positive feedback, which is somewhat unusual in my group. Since then I've sent it out to a few people in the industry, but I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it. Sell it? Just try to get a student to make it? Keep it as a sample? Use it as rolling paper?

I've been mulling over what to do for my next project, and before I get to another TV spec of a current show, I'm going to write a spec pilot. A pilot has a much longer shelf life than a spec; since you want your TV specs to be as up-to-date with the series as possible, it makes more sense to do the pilot first. One thing I'm unsure about however is whether to do a half-hour comedy or hour-long drama. I'm leaning towards a half-hour comedy even though I want to write hour-long drama as a career (though in Canada we are able to do both). I think that what they want to see in a pilot is originality and talent. And if I was to follow it up with 2 specs of hour-long dramas then I know I'd be set.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When to Quit

No, I'm not thinking about quitting writing. Writing is my nature, and it's what I do best. If I stopped doing that, then... well that would be depressing.

Instead, my question revolves around specific scripts. When do you give up if it's going nowhere? And what does it mean if you give up? Does it mean you aren't a good writer?

I've been writing my Dexter spec for almost 6 months now, writing and re-writing the plot points. That is about 2-3 times too long. You should be able to conceive, plot and write a TV spec in 2 months (though I think 3 months is OK if you have a full-time job). And I hadn't even started writing the script. So I decided yesterday, painfully because I've put so much time and energy into it, that I'm giving up my Dexter spec. I knew that Dexter would be a tough nut to crack, as it's one of the most complex shows on TV, but it's one of my favourites and so I gave it a shot. I came up with storyline after storyline, but very few of them really spoke to me. So I re-wrote and re-wrote, and eventually I think I got sick of it, which made me neglect my writing. If this were a film script, I'd put it to the side, turn to another script and come back when I felt refreshed, but this is a TV spec that is already approaching the expiration point, as the 3rd season begins tomorrow.

Now, it's also been difficult for me to let this script go because a point of a spec script is supposed to be that you are showing that you can write anything. If you're hired on to freelance for a show then you can't just *not* write it. But perhaps that is the point: I'm still learning. Maybe I should have done Dexter as my 3rd or 4th spec; maybe it was too much to bite off right now. I'd only written a Heroes spec before, and that is a much simpler show on many levels: plot, dialogue, structure, morality. While I feel shame for admitting this, I realize that when you're hired on a series you break story with the room, and then write the script around that predetermined story. This is another reason I think that 3 months for a spec is more fair than the 2 month limit. So what I need is a show that is more basic, at least in structure (part of the problem with Dexter is I had a lot of trouble figuring out the acts, and I found out later that the writers practically ignore acts). So for my next attempt, instead of doing a Mad Men, perhaps it would be better to write a Terminator: SCC spec.

But before I begin another spec, I need to create something. I can't go this long without writing a script, so I'm going to write a horror/comedy short that I've had percolating in my head for a while. A short script will give me some much needed creative release, but also will add another completed work under my belt. Never underestimate a sense of accomplishment!

Update: Saw the 3rd season Dexter premiere, and my spec would have been completely useless now, because my B plot was introduced at the end of the episode! At least it means my ideas are spot on...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Quill and Ink

Quill and Ink, originally uploaded by Trevor Finn.

I'm back from my 2-week trip to Italy! On one hand that's depressing, but on the other hand I didn't get a chance to write the entire time I was there, and for a writer that's excruciating.

So, while I was there I confirmed my writerdom by getting this pretty feather quill and ink for my desk. I have no idea how to use it, let alone write in courier font, plus I'm left handed so even if I did know how to use it, I'd smudge the ink all over everything anyway.

But, it looks pretty, and it will give me luck.

As for the career front, I started my first week of being a paid writer/producer this week, for the company I mentioned before, that does corporate tribute videos. Meaning if a CEO is retiring from the company, we're who they hire to make the video either celebrating or lampooning them. So you can imagine the sheer lengths to which I can stretch my storytelling and comedic muscles. I self-deprecate, but actually, I do like it. I can actually say I'm a writer. I can't say I'm writing what I want, or getting paid how I want, I'm not in the Writer's Guild and am not even writing for broadcast TV but damnit I'm a writer!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I'd been hearing good things about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, so I picked up the first disc from Blockbuster.

And... I'm not really sure how I feel about it. Perhaps I was expecting to be blown away like I was for the pilots and first few episodes of Battlestar, LOST, Dexter or even Mad Men. Maybe because I know the story of John Connor through so many films, it's just not fresh to me. Although, I must say that Lena Headley is a total MILF (those are actually my girlfriend's words) and Summer Glau is cyborg-next-door fantastic as a sexy but naive Terminator.

Granted, I've only seen the first two episodes, and will watch the third tonight. I know that a show can take a while to hit it's stride and pick up steam. I do like it enough to continue watching it for now, so we'll see where it goes. Don't get me wrong, it is exciting. It's visceral in the punch-you-in-the-nuts variety, but I'm still waiting for the emotional meat. I'm an omnivore, you know?

Update: I'm on disc 3, and it's getting good. Really good. It's not Battlestar Galactica, but there is some serious man/machine conflict, and not just the physical kind. Guess it just needed time to ferment.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Will Spell-Check for Change

I am sorry, blog.

I have been neglectful of my blog these past few weeks, because things in my life have become increasingly, maddeningly busy. My new writing gig has begun part-time on top of my full-time non-industry day job (which I just gave my 2 weeks for! woo! that felt good). I'll start with the prodco full-time in mid-Sept, as I'm going on vacation to Italy for the first 2 weeks of the month. So I'd better get blogging before I go. For that matter, I'd better get writing in general - I'm not bringing my laptop so that will be 2 weeks without writing a single courier font character. This will be painful. I played with the idea of heading to an internet cafe each day but taking a holiday means taking a holiday. As a writer, all writing is work, and if you work on vacation then I think you're not really taking a vacation. Ideas and brains can get old, stale and cobwebby and I think a periodic cleanse can bring clarity.

On top of this, I'm launching a guerrilla marketing company with a friend. Because I think to make money in Canada as a screenwriter, you always need to have your hands in different picnic baskets. Especially when you're starting out. I did acquire a full-time writing/producing gig with the prodco, but it's only a 3-month contract and therefore expires in mid December. It took me 8 months to get that job since my last industry job, so while I know each credit makes it easier to get the next I'm not fooling myself. I know I could end up scrambling in December, so I'm taking some precautions: 1) starting to search for my next job now and 2) taking any other opportunities to earn money, as long as they don't conflict with writing. Maybe I should start a paper route?

Saturday, August 2, 2008


My first paid writing gig!

I've been hired by a production company that makes tribute and roast videos. Essentially companies, or people, hire out this company to create a doc/mockumentary about someone, usually for their retirement, birthday or whatever occasion. So I'll research, write and associate-produce these videos. I get to be funny, and be paid for it.

The producer asked me to write a sample roast and tribute for him, essentially 2 10-page shorts written in documentary format. He liked them, so told me this morning that he would be using me as a writer.

Of course, this is the tv-writing equivalent of a wedding singer. But it's a definite resume and contact builder.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Slow News Day

I had the chance this weekend to read the winning spec of the Script P.I.M.P. TV competition. It's a Dexter spec entitled "Slow News Day", written by Ryan Harris & Brian Lubocki. I was interested for 2 reasons, one being that I didn't win the competition and wanted to read the script that did, and second being that I'm currently writing a Dexter spec myself, and have been having trouble with it.

First of all, the script flows, and fast. I read it in one sitting, almost by accident; I just wanted to take a look and read it later but ended up being swept up in it. I like how they made the episode stand-alone, not only from the series, but from the seasons. There's no mention of the Bay Harbor Butcher, the Ice Truck Killer, Lilah or even Doakes. This gives them immense flexibility of storylines since they don't have to fit within any particular timeline, and it gives the spec a much longer shelf life to be used as a sample. Unlike my Heroes spec, which will expire as soon as season 3 starts.

They had only A, B and C storylines, which surprised me. I've been trying to create mine with A, B, C and several runners, but their approach makes sense, since the runners usually have to do with the season arc anyway. As well, the A and B stories were so intertwined that almost every scene with the B story also had the A story plot pushed forward. The A story was a "killer of the week" story, the B story started out as a feud between the police station and the local news team (revolving around the A story) and eventually turned into something more sinister. The C story was the only thing separate, dealing with Dexter's relationship with Rita's family.

I asked Ryan and Brian how they structured the script, since Dexter episodes do not have clear act breaks and the scripts read like a screenplay. They said they used four acts, but with a cold open it seems almost like five, which they deciphered from watching the show and reading the original scripts.

I understand why they won. Their spec is great. It was funny and freaky in all the right places. The dialogue was spot-on for each character. The plot was the exact type of Dexter plot you'd see in the show, and it had a definite Miami feel. The plot twists were fresh and extremely satisfying. I'm jealous, actually. I hope that my Dexter spec reads as well. I'm pretty sure that reading their spec has helped me just as much as when I read the original episode "Crocodile", because it shows how others dealt, successfully, with the issues I've been struggling with in writing my spec.

Congrats, guys!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Writing teams and credit

I'm writing a screenplay with some friends.

My friends Saul and Yoni, for whom I was story editor on a previous short animated film of theirs, came up with the idea. They pitched me the concept, which essentially just consisted of the main villain. I took that idea and created a story around it, with the occasional input of Yoni. We did some brainstorming sessions but the bulk of the writing/creating is mine. I wrote half the beat sheet and took it to my writing group last night.

I can't seem to figure out how to designate credit. Obviously I'm the writer, but how much input allows for credit as a writer? Yoni wants to be credited as a co-writer, though he doesn't know how to structure or format a screenplay and so far the creative process has been 90% me and 10% him. Do he and Saul get a "story by" or "characters by" credit? At what point can someone receive a "written by" or co-writer credit? How much actual writing does a person have to do?

How I think I could work around this situation:

Me: Writer
Saul: Based on characters by
Yoni: Story by

All this depends on how much writing Yoni does after the beat sheet of course, but I'm guessing that it's going to be mostly me doing the actual writing. I do know that some writing teams work in the way where one person writes and the other speaks, or does characters. You have to find that balance, so if I can actually develop some system with Yoni where we are writing it together, then that will make it easier to figure out.

Or maybe I should stop worrying about that and just get back to writing the damn thing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On Networking and Shakespeare

I went to a high school reunion a couple nights ago. It's interesting to see where people have gone in 10 years (yes, I graduated that long ago - I took 4 years off before TV school). Most of us who showed up were drama geeks and were in our high school performance of Midsummer Night's Dream (I was Theseus, because of my manly voice and then long-flowing hair). My friend who played Lysander went directly after high school to USC and studied acting. Now he's starting to get bigger parts, including a role in LOST last season. He said that his friends are starting to get even better roles... some of them are in the show Heroes, for example. As a joke I said well then maybe he can show them my Heroes spec and they can tell me if I got their characters right, and he said "yeah, no problem." So now I'm scared to send him my spec, because the real actors of the characters in my spec were the last people I ever expected to read the damn thing.

Another friend, who played Puck, also eventually went to LA, and studied at AFI. He's now producing a film starring [someone famous]. This impressed me since he only graduated last year. He told me (without me asking him, mind you), to send him something once I've got an original pilot or screenplay.

I've read this in several places recently, but this reminded me that you should network by being passionate and excited about about what you're doing, but that you shouldn't ask people to further your career for you. Be interested in what they're doing (for their sake, and not for what it means to you); natural partnerships will form when people are genuine and enthusiastic. And if you are going to ask people for something, let it be for feedback and not a job. You have to also mind your familiarity; your level of rapport is important when deciding whether to ask someone to even take a look at your material. It seems that your true network forms when you aren't using people for what you think they can give you, but when you develop real and trusting relationships with people. And hopefully some of them happen to also be wickedly connected (compared to you, anyway).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tripple Knitter

I'm not treading water with my Dexter spec, I'm actually swimming backwards.

Having almost finished my beat sheet, I realized the new season begins in just over 2 months. So even if I'm finished this within the next month, that leaves 1 month until my spec becomes obsolete. So I'm back to re-writing the plots, specifically the one with Lila and anything concerning the BHB. I think I will place my episode directly after the end of the season finale. That should let my spec last the longest since by then all the threads are tied up, and I can be more free to do a contained episode.

Aside from my spec, a few friends have asked me to help them with writing their scripts, and now I'm finding myself stretched a little thin; I can't spend all the time I need to on my own script, and neither can I totally be 100% involved in theirs. Compound this with a day job and it does not make for a productive lifestyle. It's like knitting three sweaters at once. I think I may need to step back from the secondary projects to get this spec done as fast as possible.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Meniscus Point

After reading so many different books and taking so many classes on how to write, I think I'm at the point now that any new writing advice feels useless. Not that I believe I'm so good that I can't take advice, but I'm sitting at a meniscus point; I've internalized screenplay structure to the point that any new info seems to conflict with what I already know. I've read so many different styles and techniques for screenwriting that I now just have to nurture my own style.

On Denis McGrath's suggestion, this weekend I picked up a copy of Billion-Dollar Kiss by Jeffrey Stepakoff. Stepakoff's book is exactly what I'm into right now - looking into the world of Hollywood and how it works. How others have made it outside of having talent. And it's imprinted a big footprint on my ass. Stepakoff talks about his first TV spec, written while he was at school; he wrote a spec of the half-hour show Molly Dodd in one week. This one spec impressed John Wells and then got Stepakoff an agent in LA. One week! I know Dexter is hour-long and is a more complex show than Molly Dodd, but reading that has made me write like a maniac over the last couple days.

Makes me think though. I thought you needed 3 specs: 2 existing shows and 1 original pilot/play/ect... Right now I have 1 Heroes spec and 1 original TV script. Would it be a mistake for me to start looking for an agent before I have the Dexter completed?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Writing Group #1

I attended my first writing group meeting on Monday. It's composed of people in various stages of their screenwriting careers, some of whom are pro and some of whom are on their way (or at least think they are). Most have at least one produced credit; one of them wasn't there because she's apparently got something going in LA, and another guy that presented his pilot last week has set up pitch meetings with broadcasters this week, so they're all people who are serious about the craft.

One thing I wonder is whether it should matter that most of the people in the group are screenwriters, while I'm aiming mostly towards TV. I suppose a script is a script, but can they can help me as much as a group of TV writers could? They'll give me good notes on character and structure, but may not be aware of what a TV spec script needs to be (whether I'm capturing the voice of the series, the characters, ect). Of course, this is all conjecture and I'll know once I bring in my own material. For all I know they've all studied TV writing as well.

Another thing is that instead of everyone sending their scripts to each other a week or two before, the people presenting just bring in their scripts on the day and they have a cold read of it before they start talking about it. This strikes me as odd because it seems like it would be too tedious to read through an entire feature (or teleplay) script and then dissect it, and you hardly have time to think about criticism. In the meeting we only looked at scenes, short sequences or outlines, which may limit the usefulness of the meeting.

But then, I've never joined a group before so perhaps this is how things are done. And I don't want to be the annoying new guy. At least not until my third meeting.

Monday, June 2, 2008


I sent off my Heroes spec to the teleplay competition at the Austin Film Festival today. That's the third screenwriting competition I've applied to. Though I resisted, at the last minute (today) I gave in and paid my $30. Is this the screenwriting equivalent of playing the lottery? Every time I fix on my two brass brads I feel kinda like an old lady buying a scratch and win ticket.

As I was running to the post office to mail it off I saw an acquaintance having a beer on a patio. When I told them about the competition, and my aspirations, they told me that they had a fantastic idea that they just needed a writer for. I've noticed this a lot from non-writers, which is that everyone thinks they have a good idea, because everyone does. Or well, they think they do, but really they haven't thought it far enough through. But either way, I'm not a vacuous writing vessel waiting in limbo for a good idea; I'm too busy writing my own ideas, and even those are backed up. I think up new ideas for spec films and pilots faster than I could ever write them (every time I have an idea, which is often, I jot it down into a massive idea list that I've amassed over the years).

Of course, this was all internal, while outwardly I humoured him and said that yes, we definitely should go for a drink and talk about his wonderful idea.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Job!

Looks like I have a new job! Although not a screenwriting job as yet, I have been brought into a new marketing company to do sales and copywriting. It's writing, and it's in media. Both good.

Interestingly, several of the people in the office are established directors and screenwriters (essentially this company is the marketing arm of a new full-service media and film production company), which can only be good for me. In passing I'd mentioned to the Director of the company that I was writing a Dexter spec and his response was "Oh, yeah Michael is a great guy, I worked with him," referring of course to Michael C. Hall. Cool.

I'm supposed to start within a few weeks. Supposedly a lot of travel is required. Nice!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Structuring the Dexter Spec

After much deliberation, I've decided how I'll structure my Dexter spec.

I'm going to have 3 main stories and two runners. The A and B stories will have around 12 beats each, the C story will have 8 beats and the runners will each have three beats. That gives me 38 beats in the story, which isn't far off from most Dexter episodes.

As for acts, I'm going to see where the story naturally takes me, but I am going to try and make some kind of act break or major turn happen every 10 pages or so (though in the script there will be no act breaks). So that's 5 invisible acts, which most Dexter episodes I've deconstructed appear to have.

So far I have my A, B and C stories picked and am mapping them out. I'm trying to put the story in the world of the 2nd season without too closely tying it to the arcs. I still use some aspects of the season, like the BHB investigation and Lila, but I've tried to keep them out of the timeline. My Heroes spec was done as an episode fitting between two real episodes (4 and 5 of season 2), so I kept the timeline and some story arcs in mind with that script. For Dexter I'd like to write my spec as more of a stand-alone episode: the A story features Dexter with a murderer of the week; The B story deals with Dexter's relationship with Lila and Rita; The C story surrounds the investigation into the BHB, and has Deb and Lundy getting closer to Dexter.

One thing I haven't figured out yet are the runners. I feel like I need Doakes to be following Dexter, as that is a big part of the 2nd season, but I'm having trouble thinking of a fresh premise for that scenario. Same goes for the relationship between Deb and Lundy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

To Pimp or not to Pimp?

I did it. I applied to the Script Pimp competition.

As an aspiring screenwriter that has yet to aquire an agent (though admittedly I haven't tried to find one, and won't until I've finished my Dexter spec), the possibility of acquiring representation by submitting to screenwriting competitions is tempting. A few weeks ago I submitted my Heroes spec to Scriptapalooza, and yesterday I applied to Script Pimp. But though the websites of each competition suggest that your script will be judged by industry people, I'm not entirely convinced that the competitions aren't cash grabs.

However, I don't agree with some other (mostly pro) opinions that the competitions are useless. Even if I don't get representation directly through the competition, it serves me in three ways: 1) a ticking clock to finish my friggin script already; 2) a way to build my resume and therefore a crude form of credibility; 3) encouragement. The last two are obviously dependent on whether or not I place as a finalist, but I'm willing to shell out $30-$50 if it makes me finish a script quicker.

Saying that, I'm not going to apply to every TV script competition out there. I've read decent reviews of Scriptapalooza and Script P.I.M.P., and I know that every competition run by a network or studio is golden. And I may not actually be able to apply to the US studio fellowships, as I'm a Canadian citizen. I know that the Disney fellowship requires winners to be able to work in the states. Does that mean I can apply and win the fellowship, but not accept it? Maybe that would look good on the resume anyway. I'm not sure about the Warner Bros. fellowship, as I didn't see anything on the website regarding international applicants.

Canada really needs to get some equivalent fellowships. I haven't found any yet. I saw one Banff competition that initially looked promising, but on closer inspection, the competition is for people who have already had at least one produced credit. I'm trying to win representation, so I'm not at that point yet. It may be less competitive in breaking into TV writing in Canada, but it seems there isn't as much support for the writer trying to break through. So which is harder? I'll have to get back to you on that one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Deconstructing Dexter

Developing my Dexter spec has been much tougher than I anticipated. I've deconstructed 3 episodes and they each seem to have their own independent structures. There is no magic number of plots, scenes and no obvious act breaks. I purchased a copy of "Crocodile", a script from the first season, and that didn't help much as it's written without act breaks. When I do pick a certain number of acts, the length of each varies so widely between episodes that it brings my theories into question.

Josh talks here about writing the spec with a major twist every 10 pages, but also about the Dexter writers trying very hard to not have a structure. This seems contradictory. Why bother putting a structure to a show that doesn't have one? Perhaps the best technique is to abandon structure (well, you still need a beginning, middle and end of each story), and have the acts vary as widely as they need to. Because if you're trying to capture the feeling of a show, following too rigid a structure may make the Dexter spec feel like something else. I think that instead of concentrating on acts, I should just concentrate on plot, and see what organically happens.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Delusions of Grandeur

The first post of my new screenwriting blog. Because the universe desperately needs another blog about a developing TV writer. I tried to write a blog a few years ago but found it self-indulgent and somewhat useless - it was a personal blog, and I couldn't bring myself to write honestly about my own internal thoughts. So basically I was left with a dishonest journal, which is worth a penny covered in shit.

But over time I've become more and more obsessed with screenwriting. It takes up all my free time (and much non-free time... I may or may not be at work right now). My girlfriend is sick of me talking about it, though she's kind enough to pretend to care. And since I read screenwriting blogs every day, and maintain a constant internal monologue about the craft, I figure it could help to write it all down in the online community. So then, if I think something, and it's shit, I don't keep on thinking it. I've learned a lot from the screenwriting blogs I religiously read every day, and they aren't all pros either. It's good to know there are other people like me, pushing towards a dream that seems almost impossible at times. It's also good to know there are those that have plowed through, eye on the prize, and made it. Fortunately, my doubt is balanced out by intense delusions of grandeur.

To introduce myself: I recently graduated from the Radio and Television Arts program at Ryerson University in Toronto, and now I'm attempting to become a TV writer. I recently finished writing a spec of the show Heroes, and I've written an original episode of a single-camera sitcom series I created with some other people (it's the 5th episode, and since it's not the pilot I'm not entirely sure how useful it is to me). Right now I'm working on a Dexter spec, and once that's finished I'll start searching for an agent.

Outside of writing, I do freelance gigs (research, PA) in reality TV, and also have a day job that is completely outside the industry. The day job sometimes makes me feel like a douche and that I'm wasting my degree, but I know in order to be a writer I really only need to keep writing. Any job outside of writing for scripted TV is just a temporary pay cheque. Or so I tell myself six times a day.

So welcome to the ongoing saga of my quest to become a TV writer. At the least I'll waste some time while procrastinating on my current script.