Writers asked to provide voluminous amounts of free material to audition for jobs.
Here’s one example I personally encountered early in my career. But I can see the rationale for it.
I used to dabble in cartooning. The picture above is one I drew. (Yeah, I was somewhat “influenced” by Al Hirschfeld.) And one of the things I always wanted to do was get a cartoon in THE NEW YORKER magazine.
This was the late ‘70s. David Isaacs and I were the head writers of MASH. But I inquired as to how you submit cartoons to THE NEW YORKER. I understand things have changed, but back then you were instructed to submit five or six cartoons – just pencil drawings, nothing real elaborate with the typed captions underneath. If they bought a drawing you would go back and do a full pen-and-ink version. So the real effort was coming up with five or six ideas for cartoons. Quick pencil sketches are a breeze.
I came up with some cartoon ideas I thought were funny and off to Gotham they went. A couple of weeks later I received a standard rejection letter. But at the bottom was a hand-written note from the cartoon editor, Lee Lorenz to call him.
I did and got him on the phone. He said he really liked my stuff. But he needed to know if I was prolific. He needed to know he could count on me every week – that these weren’t the only five jokes I ever came up with. So he proposed this: I send him five cartoons a week for a year. After that he would start buying them. And he would even buy a few he had rejected. But he had to be confident that I didn’t just want to get one or two cartoons in on a whim. Unfortunately, that WAS my intent. I told him I was writing MASH so five cartoons a week might be a little tough. He laughed and said, “Well, no wonder the jokes were good.”
I didn’t pursue it further. I just had no time. But I could see his point. And even if it was a lot of work, (a) at least you knew you were being seriously considered, (b) you still might be paid for some of your effort, (c) there was no way he was going to steal your material and use it, and (d) it was THE NEW YORKER, the most prestigious magazine for one-panel cartoons. So if you were accepted you hit a home run.
Interestingly, had I not been on staff of a show, had I submitted those drawings a couple of years earlier when I was writing spec scripts and trying to break in, I probably would have taken him up on his offer and submitted drawings for a year. My career path might have been very different. There would be a lot more drawings on this blog.