Television and Film Writer
Los Angeles, CA
The great thing about writing is that anybody can do it. That doesn’t mean anybody can do it well. It just means you don’t need any expensive equipment or formal training to do it — just a pen, paper and your imagination. However, if you want to succeed professionally in TV or film writing, you should dedicate yourself to reading piles of books and scripts, viewing as much TV and movies as you can then re-watching them over and over again. I recommend classes where you write your own scripts. And most importantly, expect a lot of bad writing before it’s any good.
Writing skills. This includes the ability to generate stories, outline them, execute the scripts and rewrite those scripts. Spelling isn’t required.
This is a hard one because every writer works differently. Writing on a TV comedy is unusual in that there is a standard schedule. The writers work everyday as a group. In the mornings they come up with new story ideas and outline them. (Once an episode is suitably outlined, a writer is assigned the job of actually writing the script. When the writer turns in the script, the group of writers rewrite it. Even the best scripts will need to be rewritten.) A new episode is shot every week and it takes all 5 days to prepare, rehearse and film them. Afternoons are spent rewriting the show that is going to be shot at the end of the week. Here’s how that process goes: the actors rehearse the show for the writers every afternoon. The writers then re-write based on what they saw. The next day, the actors rehearse the new script for the writers and the writers re-write again based on what they saw. Also, the writers don’t go home until the job for the day is finished. Sometimes that means you’re done by 7 or 8, sometimes it means 2 or 3 in the morning.
The hardest part of writing is the writing part! If you do it well it looks effortless and people assume it wasn’t hard at all. In reality, whether it’s good or bad, it usually involves banging your head against the desk every few minutes and convincing yourself you’ll never write anything good again. I think the hardest part is simply coming up with an idea and then turning it into a well-structured story. Structure is the key, not the dialog or jokes. When the structure is right you can hone dialog and easily come up with lots of jokes. If the structure isn’t solid then no amount of rewriting can save the script but you will try and your head will bleed before you give up and start from scratch. If you want a good sense of how hard the job can be, think back to all the school essays you were forced to write. Now make them funny. Banging your head against the desk yet?
There’s nothing like writing a joke that makes an audience laugh. In fact, it’s surreal. When you work in television, there’s usually a short amount of time between writing the script and seeing it aired on television. That kind of (almost) immediate gratification is amazing. In film, you can work on a script for over a year. Then it takes forever to film the movie. Then several other writers will rewrite your work. The only satisfaction comes from a) selling the script; b) seeing your name on the screen; and c) almost meeting somebody famous. In movies the writer is at the bottom of the ladder, but in TV, because the scripts must be churned out so fast, the writer is in charge.
The typical advice people give when someone asks if they should become a writer is, “don’t do it.” I disagree. Try it. See how you like it. Talent isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you acquire for yourself through hard work and perseverance. (Well, some people are born with natural writing talent, but we don’t like those people, do we?) Does that mean you’ll make it in Hollywood? Who knows. The best way to find out is first, move to Los Angeles. I know it sounds obvious but it’s an industry town and that’s where the work is. Don’t expect to write a screenplay in Iowa and have the studios clamor for it. Next, get a job in the business. I know, that doesn’t sound easy when you don’t know anybody in Hollywood. However, if you’re willing to work for almost nothing on a very unglamorous movie or TV show or student films, you can probably find one eventually. Your strategy should simply be to meet people, even if they’re not important (yet). Hang out where other people in the business hang out. Take writing classes and improv classes. There is no specific path to getting your first real job (or get someone to read your screenplay.) You want to meet other people who might know other people who might know someone whose looking for someone to work hard and for peanuts. But that’s okay because the first thing you should learn is how the business actually works. That way you’ll learn how to navigate it. Strangers will not read your scripts or hand you a job. You’ve got to get your own foot in the door and there’s no set way to do so. And sometimes sending resumes to production companies actually does work. And of course, you can ignore everything I said above and just make YouTube clips and funny Twitter posts. The networks and studios actually do scour them in search of fresh, young voices. I can think of several novice writers who got jobs that way. And oh yeah, write, write, write. Good luck.
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