I be a good righter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Overheard in LA.

Yesterday, I'm out doing the last bit of Christmas shopping and this woman butts in line.

WOMAN: Where the Grey's Anatomy boxset? I've looked on the shelves. It's not there?!

The clerk behind the counter chooses to look it up and appease her, the butterer innerer, for which I'm thankful. However, as I'm standing there, I realize that it's not out yet. So, I say:

ME: It's not out yet.

She glares at me. Clearly she thinks me an idiot.

WOMAN: Uh, yeah, I saw the commercial, it's not out till Feb 14th.

Then... THEN! She has the gall to turn back to the clerk guy:

WOMAN: Well? Do you have it?

She knew it wasn't out. I mean. This woman KNEW IT HAD NOT BEEN RELEASED! And yet? WAS STILL LOOKING FOR IT!

This is what Christmas is all about, my friends. It's about shopping for gifts that are unavailable.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wow. Kinda depressing.

This blog's started out with a bang. A really depressing, sad bang.

Now I'm gonna add more depression!

Recently I've become CBS semi-finalist.

And, I'd like to talk a little about the irony of the CBS debacle. Which is related to the Disney Debacle. However, I'm really proud of the fact that I was a Disney Fellow. It was a HUGE achievement to be chosen out of 7,000+ entrants.

So, I get the call that I'm a semi-finalist at CBS. I'm in the middle of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Well, the pre-cooking, the stuff you do the day before. I've got like 3 pots boiling on the stove. I'm in a critical cooking zone. The phone rings and I think 'this better be fucking important.' Sort of reminscent of when WB called a few years ago (I was at an alanon meeting and this poor woman was talking about how she just found out she only had months to live, and my fucking phone rings because I was an idiot and didn't turn it off). So, CBS calls. I'm elated, stirring pots, trying to write down where I need to go, etc.

So, I go to my interview. I rool. The Disney Fellowship comes up, as I knew it would (my contingency plan, had it not, is I would bring it up at end of interview, because I've learned my lesson and it's full disclosure all the way now). I tell them what happened. I tell them that I think there are many people who might have quit writing after that experience. I tell them that quitting never entered my mind, because writing is what I want to do. They seem impressed.

Two weeks pass. And I think about it from a business standpoint. The further they get away from my interview the worse that black mark looks. So, I'm IMing with a friend of mine who happens to be an Exec Prod on a show at CBS. She offers to put in a call for me. My first instinct is, I want to win this one on my own. My second instinct is, I'm not going to get CBS because of Disneygate. So, I thank her profusely, and she says she'll call during the week.

Before she gets a free moment (she's busy people) they've made their decision. They call me, let me down easy. I figure I've got nothing to lose so I ask about Disneygate. They concede that it was the deciding factor. I totally understand. I'm bummed, but I understand.

I hang up the phone and have 10 minutes before I have to leave to go to my writers' group. I spend that 10 minutes trying not to cry. Mainly cuz I'm a big baby. Then I go to writers' group.

Now, I've never been to this person's house. And I miss one of the turns. I'm going about 40 mph. And have to come to a screeching halt because there's a tree lying in the middle of Olympic. I sit there for a moment looking at this tree. There's no way around it. It must have just fallen, because there are no cars in front of me. Cars are piling up behind me. HONKING. Like that's going to make the tree move. So, I get out of car, as do about 4 other people, and we manage to move the tree out of the road, to a soundtrack of honking assholes.

As I'm driving to this woman's house, back on course, I realize it's a total metaphor for my year. I'm not sure who the tree is. Or what the tree is in the grand scheme of the metaphor. It might be me? It might be Disneygate. I had a whole feverish IM (as in I had a fever, not heated debate) with a friend about this, where we decreed we were all the tree. We're all zen and shit.

So, that might be the end of the story, but it's not.

Two days after they rejected me, CBS calls me. They're letting me know that my friend had called. And they're insistent that I apply next year. Like, really insistent. I'm like, "the facts aren't going to change here. The reason I got rejected will still be there." THEM: "You should apply." Erm. Okay.

So... the moral of the story is: Move trees and keep on applying. At least, I think that's the moral. I still have that fever, so I'm not at full brain capacity. (Um, full brain capacity for me is two brain cells. Who are fighting.)

History, Mine

It's probably pretty obvious what I want to be when I grow up. Hint, my "title" is "wannabe TV writer." Hopefully, you can figure it out.

You probably don't want my life history. Hell, maybe you don't want to know about me at all. And, that's cool. But, I do have to wonder, if you don't, why the hell are you here?

My story is as follows:

I went to film school in Minnesota. I didn't finish, because I came out to LA to take care of my grandma. Yeah, I sound pretty altruistic, right? If I'd had to go to her actual home in Detroit, I probably wouldn't have. I mean, come on, free vacation in LA, and all I have to do is make sure that Grandma eats three squares? I'm so there.

Of course, now that she's dead, I'm ever so grateful that I did it. She was pretty far gone in her Alzheimers at that point, so I won't pretend that we had quality time together. But, there's something very amazing about Alzheimers, in that, though the short term memory is shot to hell, the long term memory is sharp as anything. I got to learn more about her history than I'd ever thought possible. And her history is mine. It's the stock I come from. She died the week Warner Bros' contest deadline. I knew that the week would be all about family, and I wouldn't have time to perfect my script. So, I send it off in a Hail Mary attempt, and went to my dad's house to help him go through Grandma's remaining things. A ghoulish task. It was going through these items, that I came across her diary, from when she was 20. It's creepy reading a dead woman's diary, I get that. But, at the same time, my mother's parents had been dead long before I was born, and my mother never really talked much about them. My father's parents never really talked about the past, or where they came from, until my grandma had Alzheimers, and I heard every story at least ten times. The point is, creepy as it was, I wanted to know a little more about my family's history, so I cracked her diary open, and the first thing I learned? My grandma wanted to be a writer. I can only assume that in that day and age, career women weren't encouraged. And given the fact that she was married shortly after she got out of school, and had my uncle shortly thereafter, that her dream of being a writer was swept under the bed.

In my day and age, however, women are expected to have careers. It's just fate that I happened to choose writing. Or is it genetics? That would be an interesting experiment, in my opinion. Career paths: nature v. nurture. Though, I never knew my grandma wanted to be a writer, until the day after she died. The day I sent off my script to Warner Bros'.

About 5 months later, WB Writers' workshop called me (more on that later) in for an interview. They were falling over themselves saying how much they loved my script. All I could do was say, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." I went in for my interview. I'd prepared way too much. I'd done research on the company, learning all the names of all the execs. I'd learned all about the WB shows, past and present. I'd tried to learn all I could about the women who were about to interview me. I was a nervous freakin' wreck. I'd never had any sort of success with writing. Hell, it was only my second year of writing. I didn't know what to wear, what to say, I was nervous. In the interview, my hands were shaking, my knees were weak, my head was doing some sort of weird imitation of a bobblehead. Oh, and in case they couldn't see how nervous I was? I told them. It was a ten minute interview from hell. For me, and for them. Needless to say, I didn't get into their workshop.

I enrolled in an advanced workshop at UCLAExtension. I wrote a WB spec, Without A Trace. Convinced that next year they would desperately want me. Convinced that they'd really wanted me in the first place.

Meanwhile, I was working out three times a week with a trainer, and the guy who worked out before me, turned out to be a Lit Manager. Within days, I was repped by him. I was amazed, and awed, and he had this somewhat decent office near the Formosa. I didn't want to bug him too much, so I just concentrated on my class, and my spec. I finished the spec, and hated it. The manager asked to see it, I told him it wasn't very good, I wasn't proud of it. He basically forced me to send it to him. He told me that it was pretty good, but the mystery was a bit obvious. Which was a huge affront to my ego, since I consider myself the Mystery Queen. In fact, I plan on naming my first born daughter Agatha. However, I reread the script, and saw what he meant. So, days before the FOX Diversity Program contest was coming up, I rewrote the WAT, and made the killer slightly less obvious.

In the Summer, I'd already sent my Law & Order to WB the year before (this was the one they 'loved'), and I'd sent it to Disney. So, I was really left with only one choice, the WAT that I hated. I sent it off, not thinking that I had a chance in either program. I ended up throwing the script away in September, thinking it was a piece of crap. It was in November, when I was working as a researcher on Crazy Food Facts (a series of interstitials for the Travel Channel) that I received a phone call from Disney wanting to interview me. On the phone. It ended up being a great interview, being that I'm awesome on the phone. But, as the weeks went by, I started to doubt. It was three weeks between this phone interview and the second phone call. I don't know that I slept more that 2 hours a night for those three weeks. But, then they called. They wanted me to come in for an in-person interview. So, I did.

This time, I was determined to get into the program. I was determined not to do anything like I'd done during the WB interview the previous year. Sadly, my hands were shaking just as much, my neck was bobbling, I thought I was going to pass out. However, once I got into the interview, once I got talking about writing (I was exactly three years from the day I'd started writing), once I talked about the writers who inspire me, I calmed down. At the beginning it was touch and go, my voice was shaking, and I felt that I needed to make excuses. However, all I said was "Sorry, guys, I'm excited to be here." It was a little way for me to do mind control over my body. I calmed down after that, and had a perfectly respectable interview.

A few days later, they accepted me into the program. A few weeks later, they fired me. Long story (yes, longer than this one). I don't think I want to get into that whole thing on this blog. I'd like this to be more about trials and tribulations of trying to be a tv writer in LA. I will say: Don't lie on any part of your application.

Today, I'm no better off than I was before I'd gotten into Disney. I'm the same writer. I'm still (somewhat) unrepped (that's a blog entry in itself).

The main thing I've learned is: You have to want it badly, but you have to realize that even if you get it, it can be ripped from your hands. So, you have to ask yourself, would you still be doing this if nothing happened? Would you still be doing this if you got fired? I think that this is mainly a game of endurance. This blog will be about my journey, past and present. Will I make it? The odds are against me. But, I'm going to keep trying. I hope you will, too.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Contest Prep

This is a compilation of emails written to assist some friends as they prepared for their first contest interviews. Some are phone interviews, some are in person interviews. I've been a Disney Fellow, a Warner Bros semi-finalist and am currently a CBS semi-finalist, waiting, as always, to hear.


For my phone interview, I had prepared about 20 index cards with possible questions they might ask me. On the back of the cards I put the answers to these questions. I knew I'd be nervous, so having the answers right in front of me was extremely helpful. The only answer I didn't prepare for was "what else have you written" assuming I'd know. Turns out, I had no idea.

So, the questions were like (remember, I'm TV):

What shows do you have to get home for? They were looking for diversity in my TV watching. I didn't mention any sitcoms, so they probed further and asked me if I watched any sitcoms. Fortunately I was able to remember that scrubs is a touchstone production.

Why TV (if you're features, they'll probably ask a similar question)?

I told them I'd not been allowed to watch TV when I was a kid. First thing I did when I moved out was to buy a TV, I spent a lot of years catching up, till one day I found out that people (normal people!!!) could write for TV.

"How did you come up with the idea for this script?" Now, I'd done some research and found a really great coincidence. I wrote a Without A Trace spec. When I was first coming up with the idea, I'd seen an episode of Cold Case where they took an extremely hateful man and turned it around by the end of the episode to make him sympathetic. Turns out this episode of Cold Case was written by a former winner of this contest. I found this out when researching the past winners (research is key, here).

The questions really are what you'd expect. They're trying to find out about you as a writer and you as a person and how you'll fit into their family (The Director's really big on considering the group a family).

Now, at the end, the'll ask you if you have anything to add about yourself that they haven't covered already. Have this answer ready, because though my interview went really really well, I believe it was my answer to this question that got me the in-person interview. Again, I'm TV, so what I'd said was geared toward TV. I told them that I was a passionate writer and a passionate person. That I was a lot of fun to work with, as well as being an incredibly hard worker. And the clincher was: I've heard people say that they're looking for that person they can spend 7 years working alongside in a small room, I'm the person they'll want to work with for 10 years.

Oh, I just remembered, they also asked me if story started with character or plot. I told her both. I believe that in order to have a story that works on all levels you have to place interesting characters in interesting situations.

The night before the interview, get a good night's sleep. Remember that they need you more than you need them. It's hard to think that way, but, do. The less stressed out about it, the better. Easy to say, right? But know that if your script got you this far (I think they do about 100 phone interviews from about 7,000 applicants) you must be an awesome writer, so, you don't need them. They need you.

First off, you'll get a phone call saying The Director's running late. They always are. I had the first interview in the morning and they were already half hour behind (CBS weren't running late, I liked that).

Don't be frazzled. You'll have the index cards, and that's going to be a big relief. The main objective is to relax, have fun, and talk to someone who loves your writing!

Having an interesting reason for writing your script, choosing your story, is a must have. I was lucky and was able to talk about the former contest winner who'd written a Cold Case about a hateful character and redeemed him by the end. I told them that that episode made a huge impact on me. The idea that someone could redeem a bigot was huge. I wanted to take that theme and see if I could do the same kind of thing with my own script.

I'd done some research on past Disney winners and was able to talk knowledgeably about why I wanted to win. This is something that may come up in your interview, so you should have a good answer about why you want it. And of course, why they need you (which will most likely be the end portion of the interview when she asks you if there's anything more you'd like to add).

They'll probably ask you about your favorite writers (hint: Every episode that writer writes on Cold Case has a distinct feel, a certain grittiness, and an interesting way of turning a cliche on its head).

They'll ask you what shows you have to be home for (make sure you include a lot of the network's programs; comedy and drama, but also other shows to show that you're not kissing ass).

Right now it's all about you. The script portion is over, though you'll talk a bit about it, they want to feel you out see how you'll fit into the program. I have a friend who was interviewing at the same time I was. I still don't understand why she didn't get in. However, she did tell me that in her phone interview she kept bring up the fact that though she's white that she's had a diverse background. My race (I'm half-Indian) never played into the phone interview (nor the in-person). So don't bring that up, definitely.

Have some anecdotes ready about your writing or you experiences. Be confident and err on the side of egotistical without bragging. If you've got any kind of experience in filmmaking or working in the industry, make sure to play that up. When I was interviewed I was working on a series of interstitials for the Food Network called "Crazy Food Facts." She did ask me if I was currently working, or something to that effect. So, I brought that up, then made a joke about how I'm a lot of fun to go to the grocery store with because of all the research I did for the interstitials. I mean, it was a totally stupid joke, but I think it humanized me, and a little bit of self-deprecation goes a long way, especially if you're sitting there telling her how great you are.

Nothing will really come out of left field. Like I said, the only question that caught me unawares was the "what else have you written?" You'd be surprised how during that interview, if they asked your name and you didn't have it written down, how you'd not be able to answer. So, any possible job interview for writing question that you can think of, write it down and have the answers on the back. Lay them all out in front of you for easy access.

I'm really of the opinion that unless you're a total freak, and you're at the phone interview stage... you'll get to the in-person stage.

If you know any former winners, that's pretty helpful, too. I was able to talk about some successful former winners that I've known. Some people who interviewed the previous year but didn't make it. Through that, and through telling them about my continuing to take classes at UCLA, they were able to garner that I was truly invested in my writing and becoming the best writer I could/can.

Now, on the downside: There's always the chance, for whatever reason, that you won't get to the next stage. However, you're interviewing around the time that I did last year, and I was one of the first TV people called. Which means you'd have to really fuck up not to get to the in-person stage. (also, be warned that you're in for a long road ahead, because they won't be doing in-persons until mid-December, and you won't find out if you'll be interviewing until after T-Day, if they stick to the schedule from last year).

My interview schedule was:

Nov 16th: Call to arrange phone interview for,
Nov 19th: Phone interview.
Dec 8th: Call to arrange in-person interview for,
Dec 16th: In-Person interview
Dec 20th: I win I win I win!

It was 5 weeks of torture. I barely slept or ate. The end result was great, but you know, still torture.

Back to downside: There's that chance you don't make it to next round. And this is important to remember during the interview. This is not the only thing going on for you right now. What's really going on for you right now is that you've made it to this level, which means if you don't have an agent, and you don't make it to next round, you could get an agent off this script. You could be in the race for winning America's next top model. Sorry. This is a really fucking long email, I'm getting a little slap happy. It's an important thing to remember though, because when I went to interview for the WB Workshop, I thought that was the only thing I had going on. I put all my eggs into that little basket and it ended up making me so nervous that I was totally retarded in the interview and didn't get into the workshop. I'd learned that lesson, and when I approached the Fellowship interviews I kept it in mind. Yes, I really really wanted it from the bottom of my heart. I was passionate about wanting it. But, I also knew that if not this, then something else. It really helped calm me and focus me.

The best advice I've ever gotten from anyone about a meeting (applicable here) is: Sit back and relax. There's something about the act of physically sitting back that just makes you relax. Have fun.

In my in-person I was really nervous, but they'd notated a lot of what I'd said in the phone interview, and had me repeat it (there were a bunch of execs in the interview, too). It made me believe that they really wants us to succeed in these interviews. Think about it, they've read your script, they know you have talent, now they wants to find someone warm, passionate, excited about all things TV to bring into the family, to show off to the execs. They want you to do well.

I'm trying to remember any last things... I guess have all the why's covered: Why do I love these TV shows? Why do I love these characters (hint: I said I loved all the characters on Desperate Housewives, she didn't seem to like that answer and asked me to go in to deeper detail, so, you know, I read a lot about TV stuff, and I was able to pull out of my ass: "Well, Carmen, I read an article about Marc Cherry saying that he'd created all four women as the four different sides of his mother. I find it fascinating that he was able to look at a person under a microscope and draw four completely different characters out of the same woman." Director: "Yes!" (I don't really remember what the director said, but they were excited by my answer) So, I think the why's are important.

They were impressed that though I was drama that I'd written a sitcom, so make sure you mention that (if you have, if not, then talk about your willingness to do so).

Do talk about some of the comedies if you get a chance -- however, if you can't talk knowledgeably, feel comfortable that I'd only said that the comedies I watched were Scrubs and AD.


I just remembered another question: Are you involved in any screenwriter's groups? They meant like, Women In Film, or that other big one (screenwriter's network maybe?) that I can't remember the name of off the top of my head. That's why I brought up everything about my taking classes etc (because I wasn't in any of those kinds of groups, so I felt that I needed to prove that I surround myself with a lot of talented writers, etc. That I wasn't totally out of the loop. That might be a question for you, so best to be prepared.

If you're drama, make sure to watch all their sitcoms by your in-person, at least once (and vice versa). So, you know, start now.

It is a job interview, so be as professional as possible. But, again, have fun.

It's going to be the same sort of deal for all the in persons. They'll want to know about your writing, how you came to write, etc.

My interview process with them was kinda sucky, and ultimately I didn't get in. However, there was one particular in person I had where I didn't get in. And I totally knew I didn't get in. And it still sucked. So, here it goes:

However, my experience was: Got the call. Freaked about the interview. It was my second year of writing, had absolutely no idea what I was doing, never had a meeting before, pinned all my hopes on this. So, um, to say I was nervous is an understatement. I had the whole bobblehead thing going, like my head was disconnected from my neck, cuz I was so nervous. So, yeah, don't do that. Take a valium if you have to.

Anyway, I got to the gates. When I got there the guards called upstairs to double-check that I was okay to come in (which, um, is par for the course, I was at at the network yesterday and the guards were retarded and couldn't find my name, it was a big pain in the ass). I parked. Smoked like three cigarettes in a row. Down to the filter. Then I went in and up. I sat in the waiting room and made small talk with the guys in the waiting room with me (waiting to interview), which I believe was a mistake, because I didn't give myself a chance to collect my thoughts, etc. So, when I had an interview the next year, I didn't talk to anyone there, I just sat there and did the crossword and looked over my index cards from the phone interview, that helped a lot. So, maybe bring your cards? Anyway, while I was sitting there. The phone kept ringing. And you can kind of hear the people in the interview room answering, etc. Then one of the program chicks came out with the person they were just interviewing, and it was all warm and hugs and mutual admiration for each other. Not really, but it was clear that she (the interviewee) had had a stellar interview.

So, anyway, I got in there. We made small talk. I got bobblyhead. Apologized, told them I was nervous (BIG MISTAKE!!! When I had interview following year, I was equally as nervous, shaky voice, etc. I apologized then, too, but told them that I was really excited to be there, which they seemed to love). So this director talks at me for first three minutes. Telling me what the program is about, etc. Then, the phone rings. Fucking Director answers it, in. the. middle. of. the. interview. It's the guards from downstairs, double-checking that someone down there is okay to come in. So, interview comes to screeching halt. The other chick and I kind of stare at each other. Director gets off the phone, starts asking me questions about my writing (all the usual stuff). Then the phone rings. Director answers. It's the guards. I was mid-answer. I'm totally thrown. So, she gets off the phone, asks where we were... I have no idea. And, frankly, I'm getting a little pissed. So, she asks me another question. I start answering, I'm warming up to the answer, I'm going to ROOL THIS INTERVIEW. And then the fucking phone rings. It's the guards. Director answers. She gets off, I end the interview. She calls me Monday (interview was Saturday) first thing to let me know I didn't get in. I fucking hate the guards at WB. And I hate Debby for answering the phone in the middle of the interview. So fucking stupid.

If I were to get an interview today with them, I wouldn't be thrown by the phone calls. But it was my first time ever in any sort of meeting type thing. And it was awful. In fact, I just interviewed at CBS for their fellowship thingy on Monday. And I rooled the interview (though, I told them about the ABC Fellowship firing, because I felt they should know, so, you know, that could hinder my chances). They're all exactly the same. "How did you come up with this idea?" "How did you start writing?" "What shows do you watch?" The main reason I wasn't nervous about the CBS interview is: I have other things going on right now. My entire career doesn't hinge on this interview (as I'd thought when I went to another interview). If anything, that you have an interview with a prestigious company. That, in fact, you have an awesome script, and this is just the beginning.