I had a meeting this past week for staffing. Yes, yes good for me in the general sense, but after over a decade I’m still staff level so what the fuck happened to my career? But I digress. My manager informed me she was going to NYC for upfronts again. Really? Is it May already? I had forgotten all about upfronts. A reminder for anyone else who has forgotten, television upfronts are the yearly to-do networks make showcasing their new and returning fall programming to advertisers hoping to get them to throw their commercial bucks their way. It’s a crap shoot, after all who knows how the fickle television audience will commit their viewing time. Back in the day – say 2010, this was the biggest fucking deal. There were gala events with top billed actors and balloons and champagne to woo the buyers. Pilots were picked up to series with an eight to ten episode commitment. Writers rooms were opened and the frenzy to get staffed was chaotic and electric.

Not so much now. Oh, there is still chaos and frenzy, but the electricity has given over to apathy. After all, network and basic cable viewership has been in a steady decline since DVR, VOD and streaming options have increased. An argument can even be made that devices have made the TV itself as an appliance obsolete (gasp!)

See, when network TV was the only game in town programs were “appointment viewing.” Audiences scheduled their activities on the coach for the Thursday night NBC line-up of Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace and Law & Order and the TGIF family sitcom juggernaut on ABC.  This may explain why Will & Grace is coming back and why the TGIF line-up was similarly updated (Fuller House and Girl Meets World.  Really? Yes, really.)

Pay cable’s frequent multiple repeats, changed the game. The Sopranos? – Fageddaboudit. That’s appointment viewing in the millennium – watch once, then tune in three hours later and five more times during the week in case you missed something. The habit passed on to basic cable with Sunday nights on AMC. Mad Men was written into appointment books, and don’t lie, I know it’s not just me.

Networks couldn’t keep up. Pay cable and web streaming don’t really do the advertiser thing. In today’s terms, the binge is the thing. I admit guilt but no shame in watching eight hours of Orange is the New Black on my iPad while flying and changing planes then capping it off with another three hours of Game of Thrones on my phone. On. My. Phone. Thank you, HBO Go.

Okay, Gayle, what does that have to do with upfronts for the emerging screenwriter, you ask? Well, advertisers are spending their money differently on TV, to include streaming and watching across multiple devices. So that means networks are ordering fewer episodes per season. The original twelve order with a back nine at mid-season is a dinosaur. Fewer episodes means fewer writers. Fewer writers means less money to hire down the list. That means the staff writer is an after thought. Not good for us.

As emerging writers in television we must be aware of how drastically the game has changed. We can no longer rely on our representation to get meetings with show runners unless a) our representation represents the showrunner or b) we are the contact to the showrunner. Most staff writers are people they already know. That’s part of the package.

I know, I hadn’t expected this to turn so dark, but that is our reality. Emerging TV writers – network, network, network. The more people who know who you are and what you do, the better chance to get the meeting in today’s year-round TV cycle.

It is a Golden Age of Television. That means more opportunities, but those opportunities are not coming to us, we must create our own. Network and basic cable upfronts are a very nice week of parties and enthusiasm for those involved, but for those of us still seeking a way into the room they really do not matter. Not a lick. Write a great pilot. And a back-up great pilot. Then get it to someone who knows a showrunner-level writer. That is the best (and unfortunately may be the only) way to score that staff writer job.

 

My little friend Dave–  is a producer on a network television series. Dave is smart and confident and has earned every break he ever got on his own – with some assistance from the nimble telephone skills of a well-connected agent, but he’s an outstanding writer who is fantastic in the room.    Now he’s in escrow on his first house –  in the Hollywood Hills, and just bought a new BMW.  All well deserved.  Not to mention his most recent girlfriend was a television actress on a long-running cable series that ended a few seasons ago.  Dave— is living the life and I couldn’t be happier for him.  No, truly.  No shade, not hate, just happiness that someone who put in the work, got something back. That is the ideal TV writing relationship.  You give a little, you get a lot.  You and your beloved walking hand in hand down the garden path.  All is love.  When it’s good, it’s Jess and Nick in a cooler on New Girl.  Oh, but when it’s bad… Carrie cheats on Aidan then doesn’t marry him when he takes her back.  WTF Sex & the City?

A bad relationship involves more than the simple act of lying.  It’s Game of Thrones-style abuse, treachery and betrayal to the core of your marrow.   And a good cry doesn’t wash the pain away.

Television writing is my bad relationship.  For my little friend Dave– he watched some episodes, read some scripts and liked what he saw.  He took it out a few times and discovered it liked him back.  So began their romance.  One meeting led to another. Then meeting the show runner for a staff position which is sort of like meeting the parents.  Can this person sit down to dinner with us every week?  If the answer is yes, sweet– you’re in. If not, then it’s time to break up.  After a few tries, you find the right show, or make the right connection.  And someone pops the question:  Will you write for us?  The ring of the telephone call from your agent with the offer is better than a diamond.

Read More →

Sunday, September 18, 2016. I had come home at about 8 pm and when I walked in the door I found at least two dozen dead fruit flies on the floor below my front window. The window was open, but there is no hole in the screen. So where did the flies come from and why are they dead?  It was seriously some American Horror Story A+ level freaky shit.  I was so focused on that I forgot to even turn the television on.  After I triple bleached and disinfected my home, I took a nuclear grade Silkwood shower to bleach and disinfect myself.  Finally, I had calmed down enough to settle into the last moments of prime time.  Turning on the TV I saw one of my new favorite actors, Rami Malek from Mr. Robot making an acceptance speech and I realized this is the Emmys, and it was almost over.  Oops.  I missed it.  Then I thought, “What else is on?”  As a viewer, fair enough, but as an emerging television writer, to not care about the TV industry’s big do is so wrong, right?

TV by the numbers cites the viewership for the 68th annual prime time Emmy Awards at 11.3 million.  Down from last year’s 11.7 million and a far cry from 2013’s 17.6 million (I think host  Neil Patrick Harris had a lot to do with that one).  So I am not the only viewer with my finger on the remote.  The reasons are way too obvi – #1 Football.  Who cares about rich celebrities and talented creative types in fancy dress when the Packers are playing the Vikings?  #2 It’s the Emmys.  The night where the TV academy salutes its brightest shiny objects while the rest of us stretch out on the sofa contemplating returning to our underpaid, overworked jobs.  It has no value for a viewer not invested in the nominees.  Sure, we love Julia Louis-Dreyfus and are happy to see her win (again) for HBO’s fabulous and funny VEEP but she is not really the President and cannot really improve our lot in life with a witty and heartfelt acceptance speech.  The “celebrities, they have families just like us” trope doesn’t cut it when you have to fight with the unemployment office for your check.

Read More →

tv-627876_1280Welcome to the digital revolution. Yeah, I know we have been in the digital revolution for some time. Cable and satellite TV have been overthrown by the likes of Roku and AppleTV. Only half of the people I know still have a land line telephone. You know you’re old when your child refuses to believe telephones use to have wires that plugged into the wall. “That’s what those plugs are for, baby.” But the major gut busting change is streaming movies and television shows on all of your devices: TV, computer, tablet, mobile… Think of it. No longer do we have to rush home for appointment viewing. We can watch the latest Game of Thrones episode in line at the DMV. In America, our forefathers and mothers fought world wars and domestic terror for the right to vote for our elected representatives, to marry the person of our choice, and to skip commercials. No, I’m not crying, I just have something in my eye. Read More →

Marcel Proust

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Marcel Proust

Wow, what a difference a year makes.  It has been one year since I began this blog.  Everything I wrote on day one in the Welcome post is still true.  With one exception– I am extremely grateful for the support, friendship and love I have received in surviving the long journey to storm Castle Hollywood.  Today I want to take time to express my gratitude…

My number one cheerleader and fan, Juan, thank you for having my back, man.

Jonathan Rhys-Witherspoon, Consuelo Mackintosh, Wilhemina, my little friend Dave, thanks for being guinea pigs.

Lisa, Mercy, Elizabeth, Carol, Joanne, thanks for my birthday brunch with the girls.

Vanessa, Michelle R., Michelle C., Sandra, Tyesha, Ellie, catch you later.

Shawn, Pilar, Lee, thanks for the great mentorship.

And everyone who reads any of my posts, THANK YOU for your time and indulgence.

Emerging is hard, but it sure is a lot easier and much more fun with people around you to share the experience.

0410161516d0410161516c0410161516a

 

0410161516

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special thanks to St. Jude, who truly is the patron on the hopeful, for looking out for Guinevere. And me, too.

reptile-642970__180.png_LOGOPlease indulge me.  I’m taking this week off for a rant.

I define “Emerging Screenwriter” as someone who has developed their work to a professional level and is ready to be noticed.

My mate Jonathan Rhys-Witherspoon, my little friend Dave, and  I are all emerging screenwriters.  We’ve been writing for years.  We have a ton of peers through contests and workshops and writers groups.  We’ve done film school, taught screenwriting classes and have had our work produced in small doses. Yet, we still have day jobs to pay the bills.  We have done the work, folks.  We just need the luck it takes to be noticed.

That is an emerging screenwriter.  Someone who has sharpened their skills and honed their talent.  All that’s missing is getting the right script into the right hands.  It’s about that unknown element of right time/right place and who knows you.  How do we create that?

I started this blog because of that confusion.  I wanted to show beginning writers how to survive.  I want to share my experiences in the trenches and give options (and opinions) on how to make it while struggling.  How not to give up.  It’s frustrating being mistaken for a beginner.  My ego, my problem, but I have done a lot as a writer.  Maybe I don’t have the career I had hoped, but I haven’t (and won’t) give up.   Let me make this clear, emerging writers are not household names working on studio productions.  But we sure as shit know what we’re doing.

Read More →

originalWhen John Krasinski read the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards, an audible gasp went through the room.  Not because Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) and Will Smith (“Concussion”) missed the cut but because the only African-American representation on the night seems be host Chris Rock.  Audible. Gasp. Really?  An organization that began its history pandering to a society that celebrated negative stereotyping (“The Birth of a Nation”) and racial/cultural segregation (um– everything) is holding its annual, “Let’s give ourselves prizes for a job well done and televise it because the little people want to see how we enjoy being fabulous” party and didn’t invite the colored folks.  The little gold statues go to the popular kids and the rest of us are just noticing the popular kids are white?  Again, I ask – really?  Well, duh.

So now the powers that be — and by powers I mean black people with big mouths like Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, Tyrese Gibson and that shrinking violet, Rev. Al Sharpton are asking black actors to not participate in the Academy Awards in protest.

Boycott the Oscars, are they kidding?  The problem does not lie with the Academy Awards but with the studios and production companies who are not thinking about diversity.  There are four factors studio and production executives consider when greenlighting a picture: 1) Popularity  2) Comfort  3) Money  4) Gratitude

Read More →

Emerging screenwriters often feel like desert nomads struggling, stranded for years at a time hoping for a little relief be it a sip of water or a refreshing spring rain.  When the sun beats down and the mind goes off on it own it plays tricks.  You start to imagine the kind of cool, nourishing oasis that will revitalize your energy and allow you to continue on.  That’s how I imagine sites like Virtual PitchFest.  They are food, shelter, a pit stop on my journey to success.  That is what the success stories on the site will lead you to believe.  Caveat emptor, people.  Buyer beware – before you spend your hard-earned money, know the possibility exists that this oasis in the desert is nothing but a mirage.  A fantasy creation of your desire to succeed that drives you to take extreme and reckless actions.  In short, a waste of time, money and your most precious commodity, hope.

trees-in-the-desert-1365434

Several months ago I ranted about Ellen Sadler’s “The Great Query Letter Hoax” and came down on the side of “It can’t hurt” rather than “Don’t waste the time and money.”  Putting my money where my blog post is I signed up with Virtual PitchFest.  Owner David Kohner Zuckerman has worked out a tidy little system of connecting scripts to agents, managers and producers that satisfies a basic need for cosmic justice.  Let me explain:  many still emerging screenwriters like myself who have been there, done that, come so close so many times to have a foot in the door only to have it slammed again feel there is not a level playing ground.  Virtual PitchFest solves that problem.  A good query yields a read.  A great read makes a much needed connection. You get what you deserve.  Nirvana for the emerging.

Read More →

Network was screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s magnificent middle finger to the absurdity of television networks pandering to blood thirsty audiences by creating what passes for entertainment in our self-absorbed, ridiculously entitled society.  All for the sake of ratings which generates income for the corporations.  When news anchor Howard Beale (Academy Award winner Peter Finch) had enough, he used his television program as a platform to launch (arguably) the most prophetic societal outburst in film history.  “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Forty years later this is more than a moment of pop culture cinema, it is a rallying cry for the fed up.  What you are fed up with is insignificant, the fact is the wealth gap is growing.  Inflation is through the roof.  The cost of medical care and education is prohibitive.  Reality TV dominates the idiot box fueled by ignorant, untalented morons who become celebrities and messianic icons for whatever point of view fuels their rhetoric. The American Dream is officially a nightmare.  I want my hopes for love, happiness and success back.  Don’t you?

Read More →

boxers-557167__180.jpg_IHNEvery protagonist needs an antagonist. For every hero there is an equally strong villain. Since I am the princess in my fairy tale, I must have an evil queen. Her name is Effthat’B Jackson (no relation). She is the Joker to my Batman. The Green Goblin to my Spiderman. My very own Lex Luthor. I never thought I’d be someone with an arch-enemy. Well, she is not very arch, but she is an enemy. Effthat’B is a 4′ nothing of a pixie who thinks she is something because she has the title of “Manager.” She isn’t even my manager, but that doesn’t stop her from making snide comments on the way I speak, think, move, act, eat and take a dump. Doesn’t she have enough people in her life to run over, why pick on me?

Using that to my advantage can only assist my emerging. According to Robert McKee in Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, “The more powerful and complex the forces of antagonism opposing the character, the more completely realized character and story must become.” Think about it. The greater the challenge, the more the hero has to gain. Use it in your own story. Achievement is greatest against the strongest odds. How much satisfaction would it be if James Bond knocked on a door and asked for a code to stop the missiles that could blow up the earth? A kindly spinster librarian with a couple of cats responds, “Sure, let me get the secret encryption for you, Mr. Bond. Care for some tea?” Either that woman is Jaws in disguise, the house is a trap and that tea better be spiked with cyanide or I want my money back.

Read More →