In some of your responses, you've advised one writer to stop being "a pussy," and another "to start making funeral arrangements" if he thinks he's going to die if he doesn't sell a script soon. Could you expound on the expected mind-set of the professional writer? It seems that talent without the proper mind-set or attitude will not take a writer very far. It also seems that the profession of screenwriting may not suit the timid, introverted, overly sensitive type. Or maybe there's a place for anyone who can write as well as Mamet?
Save the drama for the screenplay. All the histrionics and egotism is draining and counterproductive – hence, my occasional glib comment. I can only refer to my observation of another’s mindset, but for most who collect a paycheck writing, it’s simply a job. So the “dream” factor wanes quickly as one struggles with the ups and downs of the profession – like any occupation. As writers progress professionally, there are always new hurdles. For instance, many writers spend long frustrating years struggling to get their first paid gig. The excitement wanes as the realities of deadlines, endless rewrites and hard-to-please producers/executives rise up. Then years of hard work selling a spec or two and landing assignments (collecting paychecks) can still lead to frustration if nothing is produced. And if something is produced, it can frustrate if it doesn’t represent the writer’s intent (or has been severely rewritten by others). Since writers (hopefully) put a lot of thought, heart and soul into their work, ego is always involved, but it should be tempered with common sense. A “sensitive” writer may have a difficult time surviving the process. Most may never get through that first job. (Randall “Braveheart” Wallace has the soul of a poet yet survives and thrives.) The business is filled with all different sorts of writers. Some are introverted and some extroverted. Some are as good as Mamet and many are not. It’s a caucus of diversity, where the only common denominator in mindset should be the ability to tell a story. (Both on paper and in a room.) Two important tools a writer must carry in his survival kit are the need to tell stories and a business acumen (since a writer is his own business). The rest he’ll just have to learn along the way.
I recently responded to a call for material by a Mid-Sized Management & Production Company. The Story Editor there liked my writing sample - but it wasn't the genre they rep. So I sent across a new piece (genre friendly) and am waiting for a response from it...The question is, as this person I'm dealing with is a Story Editor, who "wants to get people excited about my work" - just how much of a serious position am I in to land a Manager? Is this typical of how a Management Company works? Do they have Story Editors field material - then send it onto their bosses once they are happy?
Every management company works differently. Based on the business model you’ve described, it seems like you’re not quite in a serious position to land a manager – yet. The management/production company is a clever hybrid because it can develop material under its management banner and not pay the writer (in this case the dangling carrot is possible representation), and can then shop the script around under the prodco letterhead. If the company is reputable and the managers and staff sincere (like the many I know) then the work you do is not in vain. I cannot second guess the motives of this Story Editor. I would suspect if he spends time helping you develop a project, he has something planned. He must feel you have some ability since developing a script with an untalented writer is a fruitless and futile process. Having an insider help you to develop a screenplay (provided he knows what he’s talking about) isn’t necessarily a bad thing – regardless of the outcome. Communicate your expectations of this writing process with the Story Editor and ask him about his goals. Ultimately, the person in the best position to answer your questions here is the Story Editor himself.
I was wondering if you had any insight for those of us seeking work as television writers. Would it be effective for us to send query letters pitching our specs to production companies, showrunners and agents? I’m aware of submitting to the ABC/Disney Fellowship, Warner Bros. Workshop, et al, but I’d like to know if using the same techniques as feature writers for getting work can be helpful, since I haven’t come across much advice beyond going the contest route.
The routine for peddling a TV script isn’t much different than the process in general. I don’t think there are many shows looking for specs to prime their primetime pumps. Your goal should be to get on staff of a show, so send queries to anyone and everyone you can. Just expect a lot of rejection/”no solicitation” letters. (Remember that most shows will not read specs for their own shows.) TV queries are no different from feature queries. Query a TV lit agent like you would a feature agent. Let him know what script you’re peddling (like a spec for MY NAME IS EARL) and, additionally, let him know what else you've written (without details that could detract from your “EARL” spec) – like a pilot, a feature, a stage play. TV agents often like to look at more than one piece of writing. But remember, there are many ways to the wheel. One writer I know queried a group of TV producers telling them how much he admired their work and wanted to meet with them. He met with several – which led to him passing off a spec and eventually landing on staff. His career took off and he has had great success in both TV and film. A good friend of mine got his first staff writing job (on THE X FILES) based solely on a LAW AND ORDER script that his wife passed on to a friend of a friend who worked on the show. (There was no agent involved.) Coincidentally, I met a woman yesterday who is now on staff with that same friend for the new Kevin Williamson show, and she got her start in the Warner Brothers Workshop with one spec and landed her first job on THE WEST WING.
Things have been hectic, so blog entries will trickle out over the next month. Thanks for your patience. Send questions to email@example.com.