Monday, April 5, 2010

Why the hell does *that* guy have an office?

Contract completed! And, second imdb credit acquired!

I have finished my job as the Script Coordinator for the CBS Pilot Blue Bloods, and (so far) it seems like I did it without any major fuck-ups. Which is all I can hope for, really.

To be honest, I think I did a good job. And I think that was because I was fast, since I knew my way around Final Draft so well. The writers would essentially hand me a printed script that they had scribbled all over in pencil, various things crossed out, and entire scenes written in the margins of the page, and my job was to first decipher their handwriting, and then enter it into the script in the correct format. So it's also a good thing that I know screenplay format like the back of my hand (thank you Screenwriter's Bible!). I'd quickly put it all in the script, print it out and hand it back to them, and we'd go through this again until they were satisfied. Then I'd release the pages to the crew in the correct revision colour. If there were minimal changes (less than 50% of the pages) then I'd just release pages and people would, for example, put the blue pages in the white script. However, if the changes were major, (more than 50% of the pages) then I'd release the script again as an entirely new colour. Most of the time it was an entirely new colour. There was effectively a brand new script released every three days.

I also dealt with clearances. CBS had hired a research company to double check names of people and organizations, and I had to stay on top of it all to make sure that we had cleared every name by the time we started shooting. We only picked the names of the major characters (Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg's characters) the Friday before the first day of principal photography (which was on Monday). You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to pick a name. It has to be a name that there's either no one in the country with that name, or more than 3 people. Because if there are two people, they might sue you, especially if your character is morally bankrupt.

I started out working in the production bullpen before the writers arrived in Toronto, and I basically was a glorified PA for a couple days. Then when the writers arrived, I found that I was too far away and asked if I could use the office of the Executive Producer, who wasn't arriving for a couple weeks. Thing was, that this was one of the nicest offices on the lot, with big windows and a large mahogany desk. So when the director came by (who directed most of the entire first season of Dexter), he took one look at me and then asked the assistants outside the door, "who the fuck is that guy?". And they said, "oh that's the script coordinator". But that didn't go over well because the director's office did not have a window. Later, I moved into another spare office to be close to the writers and once again every person that passed, including the director, asked "why the hell does that guy have an office?". I even had a couch. I was told that is not the normal script coordinator experience and I shouldn't expect that next time. It was good.

So it was a great experience, I got to work with two of the best writers in the business, witnessed their writing process first hand and made some great connections. Obviously it would be ideal to work on a show that continues shooting in Canada (it's unlikely that they'd bring me to New York as a mere Script Coordinator), but now I know I could handle the job on any show since this was a particularly busy and intense one. That's the drawback of being part of a Canadian crew on a US show - if the US show gets picked up, you probably don't. But as a writer, the experience and contacts are invaluable.

For now, with my new found freedom, I'm going to continue writing specs (I've finished my Fringe spec and am just tweaking it before handing it over to my agent).

Oh, and I'm going to the gym. Film catering is evil; one should not have cake after lunch every day.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Script Coordinator

I have a job! And it's actually related to TV writing!

Tomorrow is my first day as the Script Coordinator for a new CBS drama pilot, Blue Bloods. It's only a short-term gig (likely one month), as it's just a pilot and not a series, but it's exciting nonetheless; It'll be great experience and should result in a few good contacts. I'm quite excited because the pilot was written by two writers that were previously writers on The Sopranos and the Director did most of the first season of Dexter. I'm going to have to try very hard to restrain my inner fanboy.

From what I understand, the Script Coordinator is the person who liaises between the writers and the production office. They're in charge of the script, making sure it's spell-checked and entering the revisions into the script, and making sure everyone has the most up-to-date copy. They also deal with clearances, essentially making sure that any names or products named in the script are legally cleared for use. They can also write the show bible, but I'm not sure I'd do that for a pilot. I think that's something that's done when a show is picked up. Aside from that, I'm not entirely sure what my day-to-day will be, but I'm excited to be working in such close proximity to the writers, and to be doing something that almost resembles TV writing.

I got this job through cold-calling production offices and asking to speak with Production Coordinators, and just telling them I was looking for more PA work. If I was lucky, they'd ask me to send a resume. Most of the time I never heard from them again... in this case I sent a resume months ago and they recently contacted me as a PA gig came up. I went in for the interview and they saw that I have a lot of experience with Final Draft (which is, by the way, a reason to learn to use Final Draft, as all major productions I've seen so far use it exclusively), and they thought I'd be better suited as the Script Coordinator. Which of course I thought was a great idea, of course.

I'd better get some sleep so I can get a good start tomorrow - I'll update to let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dexter, the One that Got Away

Ben writes,

"... in May of 2008 you were outlining a spec for Dexter... Did you ever finish it?... I've never written a spec before but I'd really like to write one for Dexter ... I'm 23 working as a waiter and have dreams of writing... something. I know that I'll never make a living with it, and probably never even make a dime with it, but it's fun and I would like to do it as a hobby ..."

Well Ben, first of all, yes I was writing a Dexter spec. But no, I didn't finish it. It's actually the only show I've tried and failed to write a spec for. Essentially I couldn't come up with story lines that I was satisfied with (quality-wise and tone-wise), and it was taking me so long that I realized I should move on. Because the thing is that in the real TV world you don't have that long to write a show. Maybe a month. So obviously if you're not working as a full-time writer that's going to take longer but if you can't do that in 2 or 3 months, I think it's time to move on to another spec.

I also just don't believe Dexter is a good spec. My reasons are:

1) It's a highly serialized show. If you saw the season finale you'll understand how difficult it would be to write an episode not connected to any particular season. And once you connect it to a season, it's shelf-life is directly connected to that season. Writing a spec in between seasons is an idea, but as soon as the next season starts your spec is totally useless. It's just easier to choose a show that is more procedural.

2) Dexter is kind of old, for a spec. It's still very popular but it's not the hot new thing, which I think is what people want to read. By this point a lot of people have written Dexter specs, and agents and producers may be tired of reading them. Saying that, as long as a show is on the air, you can spec it.

3) Dexter is a really smart, well-written show with an unusual structure. This means that it's really tough to nail. TV writing requires a mastery of TV structure and Dexter is purposefully written without one. Keep in mind it's a Showtime show, and they don't have commercials. I think you need, as a budding writer, to start with network shows that have commercials and therefore clear act breaks. If you want a challenge, go ahead by all means but I wouldn't recommend it for your first spec. Build up to it. My first spec was a Heroes, but I graduated to a Mad Men (although now I'm writing a Fringe). Start with something simpler. Also, it might be a better example of your ability to follow a particular structure if you write a show that has a clearer structure.

Now as for your personal aspirations, I know exactly how you feel. It's true you might not ever make a dime from it (I haven't yet, and I have an agent). But you should decide whether you really want it before starting it. I think it's the wrong attitude to say you know you'll never make a living from it because you're setting yourself up for failure. Of course it's possible you won't ever make a living from it but you have to believe that ultimately it's also possible that you will succeed. Because the only way you'll ever make it doing this is if you have the motivation to continue to do it unpaid for years until somehow things start to line up through sheer perseverance (and talent, hopefully). Because wanting to do it as a hobby is not enough. Writing TV specs is hard and in the end all you have is someone else's product. The only thing a finished TV spec is good for is to get you a job as a TV writer. So, if you want to write as a hobby, there are a ton of things you would be better off writing that in the end could result in you, say, selling your writing, for example. Like a screenplay or a novel. Because at least then you own your final product. I don't mean to discourage you but to have you think about what you really want to do. Because if it's TV writing you need to be focused about it and know what you're getting into.

Also, in case you haven't already done this, I'd suggest as a first step that you read some books and become familiar with screenwriting and TV writing structure. There are 10 books that I own on the subject and I read two of them (Story and Screenplay) back to back before even attempting to start writing. And I've read most of them more than once. Some books I particularly recommend are:

Story by Robert McKee
Screenplay by Syd Field
Writing the TV Drama Series by Pamela Douglas
Crafty TV Writing and Crafty Screenwriting by Alex Epstein
The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier (absolutely indispensable for script formatting - I refer back to this book almost every day)

Again, I hope I haven't discouraged you, because that wasn't my intention. I just think that the only way anyone will ever become successful at something is if they put consistent, steady energy into it, and know the steps they have to take to achieve something. And I hope you realize that this is something you'd like to do, and I hope you get paid! Speaking of which, I hope I get paid too...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Writer Represented

I have acquired a literary agent!

I'm now repped by Perry Zimel at Oscars Abrams Zimel. I'm excited to be working with Perry (and Karen, his Literary Associate) for many reasons, one of which is because he works as an agent and a manager simultaneously. This means he'll help me both direct my career and act in my interest with producers, as opposed to just negotiate for me. He represents writers, directors and actors (and more, I believe), and I've heard great things about him by asking around the industry. Plus I met with him and Karen and we all got along great. I think it's kinda awesome that my agent also reps Christopher Plummer. Just saying.

As a point of interest, I was connected to my agent through a referral. Two years ago I was spending my time and money submitting my scripts to competitions, and I read a post by Alex Epstein, which explained "there's only one real kind of screenplay competition, and that's the one every agent and producer runs. The prize is a produced picture. The application fee is nothing." I took his advice and altogether stopped caring about competitions (although fellowships are still good from what I hear). Instead I figured the best way I can get an agent or a job is by becoming as good a writer as I could, and really all that meant was writing lots of spec scripts. So I did. And then I re-wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote and eventually some of those scripts were half decent. One of my friends read them (who also happens to be a screenwriter - this is why networking is key), and told Perry about me, and I was told to drop my scripts off at OAZ. And that's it. I didn't even send a query.

So now I'm represented and it's nice to think that maybe, just maybe I'm not crazy after all. I mean, how do you really know you're any good at anything until there's someone that is willing to professionally bank on it? I might not be entirely convinced until I actually sell something or get hired on a TV show. Even then, I'm not sure I'll ever believe it; I think one of the defining factors of a writer (or any artist, really) is self-doubt. Makes us all introspectey and stuff.

So I'll pretty much continue as I've been doing for the past couple years - writing. I'm finishing up a Fringe spec, and then I'll immediately start writing something else (what that is, I have no idea yet, but I'll discuss that with my agent). And hopefully I'll have some real, actual paid writing work to talk about soon!

I wonder if I'll have to change the title of my blog?