wannabetvwriter

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Contest Prep Redux

It's that time o' year again. I've been getting some emails that some friends are getting their calls. Here are my tips on how to prepare for Disney, CBS, and WB. Good luck everyone!

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 was a CBS semi-finalist, waiting, as always, to hear.

Congrats!!!

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.
posted by BooM @ 10:56 PM

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