I am a positive person. On the outside, I may have a crusty hard shell, but if you tap me with a fork, I crumble like a delicious crème brûlée. So while I eschew the hearts and flowers sentimentality of the season – the Hallmark movies about a lovely but lonely single woman and the slightly reckless single dad who looks like he just stepped from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog who hook up after fighting for ninety minutes over whose responsibility it is to save the town’s only church lost to a Grinch-like town councilman/rich old man, ugh! (And if I have to see one more commercial telling some man how special his woman is so he needs to buy her a diamond at Jared, I will put both my eyes out with a screwdriver) – BUT, I still have hope and optimism for the success of holiday movie screenwriting. That is why it is so disappointing when bad Christmas (apologies to my non-Christmas-celebrating friends/readers) movies happen to good writers. Screenwriting is hard enough, holiday features are even worse because of the emotional points that must be hit. We love classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol or the original Miracle of 34th Street. But most holiday movies don’t reach classic or even cult status – Black Christmas. The writers are lucky enough to get it made and move on.
It’s April. That time of the year we put away our winter coats and get out our spec pilots. May upfronts are two weeks away and it’s time for all writing gladiators to enter the arena. I have a feeling I am sadly forced to sit this season out because I am in the process of changing my support team, but I’m still here for you.
My manager from hell recently told me in no uncertain terms that only about 30% of writers catch heat. I know, time for a new manager, (but I digress). So if one show passes try to shake it off quickly and move on to the next. Remember, show runners want to hire someone fun and creative, not angry and bitter. With staffing upon us, I want to take time away from my own schpilkas and pass along some constructive advice.
This comes courtesy of Scripts& Scribes.com with thanks to Kevin.
Don’t take it personally. If you get a no, it’s rarely about you. There are a million factors that go into choosing a junior writer. If you take each rejection personally, it will overwhelm you and depress you. Admit that this is a long, difficult process with many, many disappointments. It’s like trying to get into one of the most exclusive clubs on the Sunset Strip. Make sure you have a support group of people who help keep you positive and don’t feed the resentment.
Good luck to everyone no matter what level and genre. Just remember, you did it. You wrote the script, you got the meeting. Now get the job!!!
For those of you lucky enough to have day jobs let’s hope you never need this information. For anyone facing the potential cancellation of your brand new fall series (I’m looking at you The Muppets writers) this may be of interest. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself without a job you must not freak out. Don’t let others put you down, either. “Why can’t you get a job?” or “How are you still not working?” are not motivators. When I was forced to go back to day jobs after losing a writing gig, I actually had someone suggest, “Why don’t you collect cans? You can get money for them.” Yeah, I know. I’m not friends with that person anymore. Not that there is anything wrong with cans, but at 5¢ a pop you can hardly pay rent, utilities, food, insurance, etc. collecting cans. There’s no joke there, that’s just the way it is.
Most of us don’t have trust funds or sugar daddies/mamas to support us until we sell a script. When you lose your job consider yourself lucky if you can go to the next one right away. If you can’t, to survive the months without a steady paycheck, you’ll have to tap into your state’s unemployment insurance program. This is your money. As a working adult you’ve paid into it. Don’t think of it as a punishment for being a bad person or a sign that you are a loser in life, it is neither. Shit happens. Carry an umbrella.
When I was growing up, the idea of getting government assistance was not only embarrassing, but showed an inability to stand on your own. It was like asking for a hand out. Like a bum. Grown ups don’t take hand outs. Be grateful if you have some family or a few friends who can help out if you really need it. And that’s okay. No one will think any less of you. I promise. But you can’t count on those people to carry you forever. That’s where your unemployment insurance (UI) comes in. Use it.
In California, the Employment Development Department or EDD runs the UI and state disability programs. They have information on qualifying for assistance and an easy online application.
Once the checks start coming you will notice they are not as much as you expect, nor are they designed to last until your next writing assignment. You must look for work. You cannot sit back collecting checks while your agent sends you on meetings. That is hoping for work, not actively seeking a job. Get a job. Any job. I know, you’re a writer. But in this moment you cannot earn a decent living as a writer. Doesn’t make you any less of one. Believe me. You are still emerging. That’s the point. You’re not there yet, so it’s okay to take a few steps back and work in a job that can afford you the basics like food. Take your ego out of the equation and think of it as being able to pay for more contests or a computer upgrade or Skype pitches. That’s what’s important . Who cares if you have to pass out menus or learn the cash register? You still get to push toward your writing goal.
Get A Job
To recap – how you survive unemployment is by getting a job. Don’t wait for your reps to get you one. Don’t go through your savings. I did that. Sat on my ass for a year hoping my agent and manager would come through. They didn’t and my savings went along with my sanity. Swallow the pride, suppress the ego and get back to work. If you don’t see anything on Craig’s List or in the trades consider known just-for-money jobs like waiting tables, retail, and banking. Then there’s temp agencies and education. School districts are always looking for substitute teachers. Granted, unless you hook into a place with a high demand it may only be a few days a month. Still– a check’s a check. If you don’t mind another student loan take those classes you always wanted – you never know who you’ll meet.
Until you can collect some kind of steady income, apply to EDD and accept help when you need it. Look on the bright side, there are a lot worse things in life than unemployment and you’ll get some great life experience to write about. And as I’m sure you’ve figured out, as long as you are not working, you can use the time to get a script done.