Wednesday, August 19, 2015
What to do on your first TV writing gig?
Regular readers of this blog know that when I can't find an appropriate photo to accompany a post I feature photos of Natalie Wood. This is now one of my favorites.
Here’s one of those Friday Questions that thanks to long-winded me now becomes an entire post.
It’s from Sarah.
You've written about how to get that first TV writing gig (all of which has been tremendously helpful, thank you!) but I can't seem to find anything you've written about what to do AFTER you've landed that first job. I'll be starting my first staff writer job on a mid-season comedy really soon and I'm a bit nervous.
What did you expect from the baby writers on your staff?
What advice would you give a first time staff writer?
Great question and first off, congratulations on the new gig, Sarah.
The first piece of advice would be to LISTEN. Become a sponge. Soak up everything. How does the showrunner break stories? What are the actors’ strengths and weaknesses? What kind of jokes do or don’t work? How tolerant is the showrunner on arguing story points? How can you best contribute?
If there’s a lot of room writing, get a sense of the room dynamic. There will usually be a few writers who drive it. Study them. Get into their thought processes if you can. And don’t get in their way. Learn when to slide in with your own pitches.
Room etiquette is something else to learn and observe. Rule number one: Pitch something ONCE. If the showrunner rejects it for any reason move on. Do not keep lobbying for it. And don’t sulk or become resentful. I worked with a truly hilarious writer on a couple of shows; maybe one of the funniest room people I’ve ever met. There were times I was in awe. But he was very moody. If he pitched something he thought should go in and was rejected he would clam up the rest of the night. Eventually, he wasn’t asked back despite his brilliance. Play nice with others.
Don’t text in the room unless you’re on a break. Don’t check email unless you’re on a break.
And if others do it, don’t YOU. If others are breaking these rules, don’t YOU.
Don’t be the grammar police. Don’t just pitch that things don’t work. Offer a possible fix or better way to go. Anyone can say “this doesn’t work.” Writers solve the problems.
What happens in the room STAYS in the room.
Understand that the showrunner steers the boat. You just row in that direction. You may not agree with the direction but be a good team player and row like crazy. Someday you’ll become a showrunner and others can row in your direction and inwardly bitch.
Be professional. Always show up on time, always be prepared (read the outline or script you’ll be working on beforehand), and bathe.
Be supportive of other staff members. Yes, you’re in competition to a degree – all hoping to get your jokes in. But acknowledge and appreciate when your fellow writers lob in something good. Make friends.
Since you are the baby writer you will not be expected to shoulder the burden of the show. Showrunners would rather you hang back and listen then to try to dazzle everybody by pitching incessantly. The more you get comfortable the more you will be able pitch good stuff. That said, don’t just sit in the room the entire season like a lox and say nothing.
And finally, have fun. Don’t constantly be grading yourself. “Did I pitch enough today?” “Was I funny enough?” “How do I stack up to the story editor?” “Am I falling behind on Donald Trump jokes?” etc. You worked very hard to get there, allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Again, congratulations.