Here’s one of those Friday Questions that became an entire post when I drifted off and started talking about something else.
It’s from Jim S:
Networking. I've noticed that many writers often work on each other's projects. Do you ask Mr. X after seeing his show for job? I recall reading about a showrunner who would give one assignment a year to his old mentor who had aged out of the business so that the mentor could keep his health insurance from the writer's guild.
Is that kind of loyalty common?
I don’t know if it’s common, but we gave our mentor an assignment in his later years. We were thrilled to do it. And we were rewarded with a great script. It’s not like athletes. Talent doesn’t fade with age.
Showrunners will often hire writers they’ve worked with and trust. It only makes sense. That said, openings do come up that require showrunners to hire people they have no history with. Lots of time these positions will be lower level thus allowing the showrunner to groom and mentor the new scribes.
One way that new writers can “audition” is to offer their services free to showrunners when they have a pilot in production and are looking to put together a temporary staff to help rewrite and punch up.
Personally, I’m not a fan of this practice. First of all, I feel the young writers are being taken advantage of. It’s one thing to ask a friend to help. We have a relationship, and I also feel I can reciprocate by helping out on his pilot somewhere down the road. But to ask someone I don’t know to come in for eight hours, help out, with no guarantees at all seems unfair. I would feel too guilty. I’m getting paid a lot of money; he's getting nothing but a lovely parting gift and cold Chinese food. It doesn’t seem right.
Yes, if you’re a young writer and you’re offered a chance to participate in a rewrite for a showrunner you don’t know I would say jump at it. You never know. You might impress him and ultimately get a job out of it. I will just say this tough: the odds are against it. Lots of things have to fall in place. But it does happen. And even if chances are low, you gotta take it.
My other concern is that when I have a pilot in production it is no time to break anybody in. I much prefer to surround myself with a smaller group of All-Star writers I know. We move quicker and more efficiently. We all have the same comic sensibility. No one is going to waste our time pitching completely inappropriate jokes. Everyone is rowing in the same direction.
I’d say most of the writers in the rewrite never spoke a word. I don’t know why they were there other than to eat lunch or maybe hide out from the cops. Others were pitching drivel. Maybe four of the writers actually got jokes in. And they were primarily veterans. Most of the stuff came from the two showrunners themselves. And here’s the irony, they’re both terrific writers. If we had a pilot I would invite just the two of them to help. That’s all we’d need.
So for young writers, not only is it hard to stand out in normal circumstances, you’re trying to be noticed in a room of twenty. Depending on when you enter the room you might be stuck in the back corner – like having the farthest booth in the county fair.
What was the original question? I’ve gone off on a tangent and forgot what he asked. Oh yeah. Networking.
Networking is important. Showrunners help their mentors, friends who are down on their luck, writers’ assistants that have earned a shot, staffers they’ve worked with before, and newbies that dazzle in pilot rewrites.
The trick is getting in. And if free labor is one way then you’ve got to do it. But make no mistake -- you’re doing the showrunner a favor as much as he’s doing one for you.
Somewhere in all that I hope I answered Jim's question. Or at least touched on it.