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Old 05-22-2018, 08:01 PM   #1
opie
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Default Newbie Calling Card

What is more effective these days for new writers as a calling card: a feature or a spec pilot? Assume the writer would be equally happy writing for TV or film.
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Old 05-22-2018, 08:41 PM   #2
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Default Re: Newbie Calling Card

My honest opinion? If you have zero preference between features and TV, focus ALL your energies on TV.

For some time now, TV has been expanding while features have been contracting.

There are more jobs in TV. There's more demand for TV. There are more entry level positions that provide a clear ladder toward a career in TV.

Network fellowships, writer's PA, story editor, etc. They're all highly-competitive, but they are well-established funnels toward becoming a working TV writer.

Everyone I know who has broken in during the last five years has done so on the TV side.
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Old 05-22-2018, 11:11 PM   #3
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Default Re: Newbie Calling Card

are you in LA? (almost) all the TV jobs are here so a spec pilot will be of more limited value if the writer is not actually in LA to take full advantage of it,
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Old 05-23-2018, 05:38 AM   #4
opie
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Default Re: Newbie Calling Card

Thx for your replies. I was thinking more from a "what managers want to read" perspective. I had read that these are interchangeable to an extent -- that TV specs can launch a feature career and vice-versa -- is that true in your experience?
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Old 05-23-2018, 05:59 AM   #5
catcon
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Default Re: Newbie Calling Card

I've not yet "broken in", but from my own efforts I still see 90% feature requests, eg. on VPF, InkTip, etc. versus TV, cable, streaming, etc.

That may be what buyers want, but as for what reps want, I would think most of them would be able to see the interchangeability of a submission's story potential, for TV vs. features.

But I'm not naive: If I were just starting out I might only write for TV, even though "chasing what they want now" can be a bit dangerous. That is, if it's what "everyone" wants right now, isn't it best to try to be different from the masses? Anything can become saturated pretty quickly. Features aren't disappearing; that end of the business is simply changing, and becoming a bit more democratic ie. DIY, compared to TV which is 100% corporate.

I'm with those who advise to have one-of-each. But mostly, focus on the story, which can always be adapted to whatever is the format du jour.
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Old 05-23-2018, 10:38 AM   #6
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Default Re: Newbie Calling Card

Quote:
Originally Posted by opie View Post
Thx for your replies. I was thinking more from a "what managers want to read" perspective. I had read that these are interchangeable to an extent -- that TV specs can launch a feature career and vice-versa -- is that true in your experience?
Managers, from what I can tell, are much more interested in reading TV. They are more likely to know what to do with TV.

But you shouldn't base your decisions on what managers want to read.

That being said, I agree - if you're indifferent, focus on TV.
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Old 05-23-2018, 05:58 PM   #7
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Default Re: Newbie Calling Card

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Originally Posted by JoeBanks View Post
are you in LA? (almost) all the TV jobs are here so a spec pilot will be of more limited value if the writer is not actually in LA to take full advantage of it,
THIS. Do you live in LA or NY? It's important, even for getting representation.

Production may be leaving LA but 99% of TV Writer's Rooms are still there (and yes, that includes almost every room for shows that shoot out of state). The other 1% percent of rooms are in New York, and honestly my 1% figure for rooms in NYC is probably generous.

Unless you're already a working feature writer or MAYBE a successful novelist, you NEED to be in LA or New York (but preferably LA) to be considered for TV gigs. Networks just aren't interested in flying out and staffing "that guy from the midwest with the one interesting pilot script" and that makes those writers' less appealing to managers and agents.

Granted, I've worked with a TV writer who used to live in Minnesota. She had a theater background and I believe she was living there when she got repped by her west coast manager. BUT her rep couldn't even get her any legitimate meetings until she moved out to LA on her own dime. And she already had a strong reputation as a published playwright which is probably the only reason she scored a good manager while still Minnesota.

Truth is that if you aren't willing to move to LA or New York, forget about TV for now.
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Old 05-24-2018, 11:00 AM   #8
docgonzo
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Default Re: Newbie Calling Card

It's also good to understand that breaking into TV is different than features. The avenues just aren't the same.

With features, you send out a script to buyers and can make a sale fairly quickly if it goes wide. A lot more goes into it, of course, but still.

With TV, it's much harder to sell a pilot. Not that it's easy to sell a feature, but the path in TV has more roadblocks.

Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't go out with a pilot, get producers on board, and carve our territories like you would with a feature. You need a showrunner or production company on board, and then will have to pitch the series to buyers.

Not that it can't be done, of course. But it is catching lightning in a bottle.

Much more typically, your pilot is a sample that will get you into staffing meetings and you try to land a job on a series.

Or you work as an assistant on a show and (hopefully) get assigned a script by your showrunner after toiling away for a couple years.

Or you write a spec episode and enter one of the fellowships (ABC/Disney, NBC WOTV, WB Workshop, etc.) That's an arduous, months-long process that will not guarantee a staff job. But you'll likely get one. However, your second job will be harder to come by...

I tried for years to break into TV and did everything I could. I had reps send out my pilots, I've pitched series to producers, and even had one go out to buyers with the backing of a network. No dice there.

So I switched to features this year, had one go out wide (thanks to getting my first agent because of said script), and had a lot more traction. It didn't sell out of the gate (we have a producer trying to package now), but I did the water bottle tour and ginned up interest in my next feature, which will go out in the summer.

Meanwhile, the feature that went out is likely going to get on the Black List, so that'll be a boost.

While opportunities in the feature world are indeed shrinking, I wouldn't discount it. And know that everyone has switched over to TV, so the competition is fierce, to say the least.

Eyes wide open.
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