Everything you ever wanted to know about show business (if what you ever wanted to know is in these four Friday Questions.)
Robert Pierce gets us started:
Ken, what is your opinion of pilot script competitions such as NYTVF's (New York Television Festival)Fox Comedy Script Contest? Do you think they are a valuable tool for those who are out of the industry to use to break into the business or do you believe otherwise? Seeing as how they only guarantee that the winner is given the opportunity to make a pilot, and after learning how the pilot process works from you, would you suggest a more direct route to the networks, and if so, how?
When trying to break in, the goal is to get recognized and distinguish yourself -- anyway you can other than sleeping with people. Placing high in writing competitions is a great way to do that. Forget the prize money – just being able to write a cover letter to major agencies and saying you won a big script competition will definitely get their attention.
Also, entering contests does not have to be your only plan of attack. If you have direct contacts at shows or networks then by all means, pursue those avenues too.
Malinda Hackett asks:
I'm almost finished writing a spec script I plan on using to enter the tv writing fellowships. There's just one problem. The show I wrote a spec for used my idea in their season finale. I don't have time to write another script before the fellowship deadlines. What should I do? Will it look like I stole the idea?
You should be okay. This happens quite often. Plus, I imagine your story structue and jokes are disparate enough from the original that it won’t look like you just lifted it outright. And maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe the person reading and judging will not have seen the original. Or he did see the original but thought your presentation was better.
When you write a script and then learn the show is doing the same story it’s frustrating as hell but means that you’re thinking along the same lines as the producers… and that’s an encouraging sign. Good luck.
Mr. Levine, did you ever work on a pilot that was massively retooled?
I talked it about it recently, the first pilot we ever did, THE BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY got retooled, although I believe violated is a more accurate word. But that pilot was taken completely out of our hands. All the pilots that we wrote and produced stayed very close to the original draft all the way through production. Not that there weren’t casting changes and rewriting along the way, but we always have a strong sense going in of what the theme is, and if you have that compass you can generally keep your story on track.
The problems come when you start making big sweeping changes during pilot production. Now sometimes those are deemed necessary because what you have is bombing, but often these major decisions come out of desperation and although they may address one problem they usually create three others. And suddenly you’re four days into production, you’ve made the married brother now a bachelor, you’ve turned the parents into two neighbors, switched the workplace from a museum gift shop to a meat packing plant, made the show more kid friendly, and now you have no fucking clue what the show is about and what you could possibly do for episode two. I’ve helped out on a few shows like that and the end result was never pretty.
And finally, from Norm Garr:
In "light" of the firing of the head coach at Rutger's for the way he treated players and the video tape that was released, as a Director/Show Runner, have you seen such "abuse" on the set, in meetings, etc. over-the-years with actors, crew, etc.
Personally, no. But it does exist. There have been some showrunners who are verbally abusive to their staffs – yelling, belittling, ruling by fear. Not my style.
There are some directors who yell and have tantrums. Not my style either. I won’t allow it on my sets and once fired a director for screaming at his crew.
But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. The overwhelming majority of people I’ve worked with – from stars to gofers – are consummate professionals who take great pride in their work.
I know one agency trainee who dropped out and joined the Marines because the Drill Sergeants treated him nicer.
What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.