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View Full Version : I Don't Want to be a Staff Writer...Should I Still Write My Pilot?


Kelsey
04-13-2012, 10:49 AM
I am not looking for a job as a staff writer on an existing show (about to head to grad school on a different continent), but I started writing a sitcom pilot I had been thinking about for a couple of years, and am now working on a couple additional episodes and a show bible.

Is this completely pointless? Is it really as impossible to sell a pilot as Google has led me to believe?

holly
04-13-2012, 11:52 AM
I am not looking for a job as a staff writer on an existing show (about to head to grad school on a different continent), but I started writing a sitcom pilot I had been thinking about for a couple of years, and am now working on a couple additional episodes and a show bible.

Is this completely pointless? Is it really as impossible to sell a pilot as Google has led me to believe?


sooo.... if you sold your show would you still go off to another continent? if so, it might be a fun exercise but yes, seems pointless from a selling pov.

if no, i think you're saying, you would be up for the holy grail of being a show creator but only a show creator - you're uninterested in putting in some time on staff learning and growing. you'd rather go to grad school.

or am i missing something?

jimjimgrande
04-13-2012, 12:47 PM
Is this completely pointless?

Yes.

Is it really as impossible to sell a pilot as Google has led me to believe?


statistically, yes.

Kelsey
04-13-2012, 12:56 PM
I certainly did not mean to offend anyone at this lack of ambition, as your final lines imply. It is not at all that I am "uninterested" in "learning" or "growing." If I sold my show, then that would be a different story (though I know it's unlikely, or even way less than unlikely).

I want to write my pilot, but my ambition is not to become a staff writer at this point in my life. If it were, I wouldn't be thinking graduate school at all. Obviously, TV writing is not [yet] my thing. I'm coming off some success with a couple different projects, and started this as a fun writing thing between drafts of another project, and surprised myself enough at the quality to keep expanding it.

Thanks in advance for any further advice.

Kelsey
04-13-2012, 12:57 PM
Yes.




statistically, yes.

Gracias.

holly
04-13-2012, 01:11 PM
im not offended at all i was just trying to clarify what your real desires were. if you only want to work in tv as a show creator of your own show - tho you havent worked on one before, yes? and you'd rather do that than grad school, theres no reason why you can't keep writing pilots while in school and see if one of them goes.

of course the only real shot you have of having control and actually running your show is if you get professional writing experience.

YakMan
04-13-2012, 02:09 PM
Is this completely pointless? Is it really as impossible to sell a pilot as Google has led me to believe?

Not...necessarily...run what you have through a couple pro readers mentioned here for a reaction (ScriptGal/Screenplay Mechanic)...then put your rewrite on the table...i.e. enter a contest that has categories for what you're doing.
-- http://www.trackingb.com/?page_id=9668
-- http://pageawards.com/

Then hope beyond hope to be vetted for a staff gig. Or mebbe you're the next Kyle Killen who's had two pilots picked up after a produced feature from The Black List? (...who himself, after a coupla brilliant forays is finding it's a - really - tough go.)

http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2012/04/03/nbc-awake-now-certain-to-be-canceled/127209/

Page Screenwriting has some nice categories too...hour-long drama/half-hour sitcom pilots. But it and the TrackingB'll soon be closed for the year but going again next year. And after you get critiqued by the above or likewise trusted and skilled associates -- you'll perhaps need the psych appointments, medication and rewrites (rewrites-rewrites-rewrites) to be ready at these contests' doorsteps the next year. Good luck.

(...okay, I'ma gunna duck now if there're any contest haters that wanna sling it my way...no worries...:cool: )

killertv
04-13-2012, 03:06 PM
Define pointless. I think the process of writing a pilot is very challenging for a writer, either one who writes features or television. Doing everything a feature has to do in 1/2 to 1/3 the pages while setting up potential future stories is potentially the hardest screenwriting format. I'd be interested if anyone thinks there's a harder one to nail.

As far as a bible or sample episodes? Definite waste of time. Better would be to write a treatment for a novel (basically a bible) and some specs of other shows (which you would need to be a staff writer).

And yeah, you can submit it to the NYTVF contest. Or a couple others. But you're planning on going to grad school anyways so why care about selling it? Worry about writing it first.

Levenger
04-13-2012, 05:47 PM
People have sold pilots without track records. Very, very, very seldom do those pilots get put into series, and if they are the original writer is pretty much phased out of the equation.

Whiners are always bitching about not wanting to be staff writers. It's like saying you want to be a pro athlete but don't want to go to play in college. Some are uber talented and can do it. Some are...well...

Madbandit
04-13-2012, 06:14 PM
Note that Josh Schwartz wasn't a staff writer and had only a bunch of specs before showrunning his first show, "The O.C.", but he was one in a million, and he got help running the show.

My advice: WRITE THE DAMN THING.

holly
04-13-2012, 07:05 PM
Note that Josh Schwartz wasn't a staff writer and had only a bunch of specs before showrunning his first show, "The O.C.", but he was one in a million, and he got help running the show.

My advice: WRITE THE DAMN THING.

not quite - he had sold two features and another pilot before the oc. he was a professional writer. im not sure if the poster is or not, that makes a big difference.
there are lots of examples of showrunners who havent written for tv before, but i dont know of any who werent considered professional.

iggy
04-13-2012, 07:11 PM
not quite - he had sold two features and another pilot before the oc. he was a professional writer. im not sure if the poster is or not, that makes a big difference.
there are lots of examples of showrunners who havent written for tv before, but i dont know of any who werent considered professional.

Off topic for a sec: Do you know of any websites that have this sort of credit information (sold but unproduced material, uncredited work on features, etc.)?

Thanks.

holly
04-13-2012, 07:17 PM
Off topic for a sec: Do you know of any websites that have this sort of credit information (sold but unproduced material, uncredited work on features, etc.)?

Thanks.

iggy, i dont. i feel like in the old days IMBD had any project you did that ever made the news and kept it on even it fell out of development, so it felt like that kind of resume. josh swartz just has all that celebrity lore about him. and as i recall they didnt even let him run that show at first, did they?

Levenger
04-13-2012, 11:35 PM
He might have been the "Showrunner" by title but I don't think he actually oversaw day-to-day on his own until Season 2, which is still impressive.

Again, dude sold a script for half a million as a junior in college so...

holly
04-14-2012, 10:24 AM
yes, and won the nichol as a sophmore but he had to give it back because he wasn't a senior. he's not exactly someone to call out as an example of how it goes for most people.

spinningdoc
04-16-2012, 12:59 PM
There's a bit about this on one of the older Nerdist podcasts - the one with Jane Espenson on it. The gist was that you won't get to show-run without putting in time in the writer's room because you won't have the business and political nous to deal with the non writing pressures. And even if you do get to be called a producer, the studio will put in someone to do that stuff who will de facto be calling the shots, not you.

YakMan
04-16-2012, 01:55 PM
There's a bit about this on one of the older Nerdist podcasts - the one with Jane Espenson on it. The gist was that you won't get to show-run without putting in time in the writer's room because you won't have the business and political nous to deal with the non writing pressures. And even if you do get to be called a producer, the studio will put in someone to do that stuff who will de facto be calling the shots, not you.

And for more on that....

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2006/04/how-to-be-good-showrunner.html

Madbandit
04-16-2012, 06:36 PM
not quite - he had sold two features and another pilot before the oc. he was a professional writer. im not sure if the poster is or not, that makes a big difference.
there are lots of examples of showrunners who havent written for tv before, but i dont know of any who werent considered professional.


That was I meant. Schwartz may have sold his work, but he wasn't a staff writer before coming out with "The O.C.".

NikeeGoddess
04-18-2012, 06:54 AM
Diablo Cody made a couple of features before she got her tv show out. if you don't want to be a staff writer then this is another way in, but...

Madbandit
04-18-2012, 06:24 PM
Diablo Cody made a couple of features before she got her tv show out. if you don't want to be a staff writer then this is another way in, but...


There's also her Fempire homegirl, Liz Meriwether. She wrote some plays and "No Strings Attached" before creating "New Girl".

holly
04-18-2012, 09:24 PM
she had a movie made and wrote for an adult swim tv series. again - a professional writer.

killertv
04-19-2012, 08:52 AM
she had a movie made and wrote for an adult swim tv series. again - a professional writer.


Also, NEW GIRL wasn't her first pilot. She had already had SLUTS at Fox, too.

Madbandit
04-19-2012, 11:14 AM
she had a movie made and wrote for an adult swim tv series. again - a professional writer.



Do you have to be produced/published to be a professional writer? Honest question.

holly
04-19-2012, 12:45 PM
Do you have to be produced/published to be a professional writer? Honest question.

i dont think so, but you have to have sold a thing or two. you have to be working in the hollywood system or a comparable one. you have to have reputable representation. you aren't a one hit wonder, youve done this more than once, people can vouch for you, you have some history of pitching successfully, interviewing successfully, solving problems, making deadlines and working and playing well with others. all of that, PARTICULARLY in tv is important.

working in tv requires SO MANY OTHER SKILLS than what is on the page. countless more. i think you need to be vetted or vett-erable in all these areas.

artisone
04-19-2012, 07:11 PM
August and Mazin have a great podcast episode on the definition of a professional writer. Worth a listen.

holly
04-20-2012, 08:20 AM
i dont know if it was in that podcast or a subsequent one where they burst a bubble that really needs to be burst - that once you sell something, you're in. even screenwriters have that "discovered at the mall" fantasy that actors have and it doesnt work like that.

being a showrunner is akin to being the CEO of a company where you also invent the product. i keep talking about being a "professional writer" (even if you're not a pro tv writer) here because no network is going to hand someone a million to three million dollars a week, entrust them with producing an hour (or half) of tv on an insanely tight schedule, hire and manage 200 people, adhere to network guidelines, jump thru all sorts of budgetary and creative hoops - based on the fact that that person has written a great 30 pages or 60 pages in their kitchen between starbucks runs.

montevideo
05-25-2012, 10:21 AM
Is it best to write a treatment or go for that 57 page pilot episode? I have a pitch window in June and wanted to flesh out the story by actually writing the pilot instead of just talking about an idea to this executive.

any advice, thoughts, experience in this?

Gracias

killertv
05-25-2012, 11:37 AM
any advice, thoughts, experience in this?


Just finished reading Ian Gurvitz' HELLO LIED THE AGENT where he talks about writing a pilot on spec and then pitching it, not telling them he'd already written a draft. If you know the people you're pitching to and you don't think anything will be changed radically, it could be helpful to write the script as once you sell it and get the outline approved, it could be as late as September/October and you only have two months to really nail the script. But at the same time, if they totally change the pitch/outline, you've done a lot of work for naught. I guess the question is how comfortable are you with the people you're pitching to, but I'll defer to the pros.

Kandiman
05-27-2012, 09:03 PM
Define pointless. I think the process of writing a pilot is very challenging for a writer, either one who writes features or television. Doing everything a feature has to do in 1/2 to 1/3 the pages while setting up potential future stories is potentially the hardest screenwriting format. I'd be interested if anyone thinks there's a harder one to nail.

Personally, I find pilots easier than features... I see features as a necessary evil on the road to TV...

montevideo
05-28-2012, 02:10 PM
For each its own. Feature and tv. Frank Darabont does both! Sorkin as well.. yeah yeah but they're pros. so what. Either you choose to learn it, master it or you don't. No need to set barriers by convincing yourself that you can't do both.

Kandiman
05-28-2012, 02:40 PM
For each its own. Feature and tv. Frank Darabont does both! Sorkin as well.. yeah yeah but they're pros. so what. Either you choose to learn it, master it or you don't. No need to set barriers by convincing yourself that you can't do both.

I can do both - I've even recently discovered that I can write plays - I just hate writing features. I like to play with my characters for more than 90 pages.

InfiniteJest
05-28-2012, 06:58 PM
My friend's Brother did both. He wrote for Fox TV for years and did very well, then moved on to features and always stuck to his true passion which was play writing.
Of course it helped that he won a pulitzer as a playwright before he moved into television and film, but he was willing to stretch his idea of being "a Writer".

gridlock'd
05-29-2012, 12:02 PM
If you don't ever wanna be a staff writer just do what I do, try REALLY HARD to become a staff writer.
It's worked for me.

BurOak
06-03-2012, 01:19 PM
If you don't ever wanna be a staff writer just do what I do, try REALLY HARD to become a staff writer.
It's worked for me.

That's the way my life generally seems to work. :(

jsay
06-14-2012, 10:37 AM
curious, anyone know what a 1st year staff writer makes?

jimjimgrande
06-14-2012, 11:06 AM
curious, anyone know what a 1st year staff writer makes?

From the WGA schedule of minimums:


WEEK-TO-WEEK AND TERM EMPLOYMENT (ARTICLE 13.B.7.s.(2))

Compensation Per Week - these are the current rates 5/12-4/13

6 out of 6 weeks 4,244
14 out of 14 wks guarantee 3,945
20 out of 26 wks guarantee 3,639
40 out of 52 wks guarantee 3,325

On most Network and Cable shows, a staff writer is going to get a 20 week guarantee, thus the 3,639 rate.

richardonthego
06-19-2012, 09:42 AM
In my experience, you should write the pilot so showrunners and producers can get a sense of your voice. I don't think many people want to read specs anymore -- they would rather see original stuff.

That said, it's always great to have a few specs to go along with your originals so you can show people you're able to write in another voice, which is what you're doing if you're staff.

So basically: write a whole bunch!

MacGuffin
03-20-2013, 02:52 AM
I like the idea of writing a tv drama pilot, and then every time I attempt it ... well, let's just say that for me writing screenplays seems infinitely easier. I still have the idea for one on the back burner though.

The part of creating a t.v. show that is the most challenging for me, is creating a world and characters that can continue on for season after season. Not such an easy task.

YakMan
03-20-2013, 08:35 AM
I like the idea of writing a tv drama pilot, and then every time I attempt it ... well, let's just say that for me writing screenplays seems infinitely easier. I still have the idea for one on the back burner though.

The part of creating a t.v. show that is the most challenging for me, is creating a world and characters that can continue on for season after season. Not such an easy task.

Writing a TV Drama Pilot is once again one of those "seemingly very simple" yet devilishly excruciating processes that I found was very well covered in a couple of books:

http://www.amazon.com/Television-Writing-Inside-Out-Channel/dp/1557835012

http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Pilot-William-Rabkin/dp/0615533612/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363790013&sr=1-1-spell&keywords=writing+the+pilot+william+rablin

And yet even better than both these for the Sitcom world is:

http://www.amazon.com/Elephant-Bucks-Inside-Writing-Sitcoms/dp/1932907270/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363790073&sr=1-1&keywords=elephant+bucks+sheldon+bull

ALL -- available for the Kindle'izer!!!

rdlln
05-20-2013, 11:32 AM
I think that at the amateur level you have to write whatever you're most passionate about. It's the only way you're going to write something amazing and have a shot at becoming a pro.