By Sam Tracton.
Almost every writer in the world wants to write for TV (I know I do), but few know how to break in nor how to stay there once they’ve got the chance. If you only knew the steps that would help you on that journey, and how to stay staffed on a show, that could help you become one of the few writers who get the chance to write for television.
As we open a new season of our TV Pilot Contest at Shore Scripts, we have interviewed several of our contest alumni about their journey breaking into writing for TV and how their experiences in the writers’ room shaped them into the successful writers they are today.
We hope that by sharing their feedback, we can provide you with inspiration and insight to pursue your television screenwriting dreams!
Getting into the Writers’ Room
First up, getting the job. You’ve accumulated your hard-earned skills, you’ve turned your best idea into a killer story, and you’re ready to make it. Here, our alumni share their tips for how to land the coveted offer of a space at the table.
Question 1: What route would you recommend for getting staffed/entering a writers’ room?
“Get your work out there! Constantly churn stuff out, while dropping stuff you can’t use. Twitter is a useful way to make contacts, sometimes you even get read off there. #WGAStaffingBoost has intervals where you just promote yourself. #WRACgroup allows you to post your personal deadlines for each of your projects, letting you yourself become accountable. They put you on a promotional list if you make your deadline. I had a friend who was funny on Twitter and because of that got staffed on Community, Rick & Morty, and The Goldbergs. Don’t necessarily try to network with writers that are above you, but if you get a group of writers on your career level, you can help each other. My own writers’ group has helped me make leaps.” – Jeff Bower, 2018 TV-Pilot Semi-Finalist
Writing is a job and like any job, the key to succeeding is to share the work you’ve done and to network with your peers. In the modern age, we have easier than ever access to social media like Twitter and Zoom, to make connections and form writers’ groups.
So, get out there and do it, and then you’ll make your first big step towards getting that offer.
Question 2: What do you consider to be your first significant step on your journey to getting staffed?
“First step was getting my agents. There was a virtual panel during the pandemic ‘Difference between Agent and Lit Manager’ with two managers and an agent. And the agent on the panel was from Verve*. A few weeks later, I reached out to the agent, I was nervous while he was polite, and got lucky when he got the chance to read it soon. He called back a few days later. I assumed I’d just get a junior agent, but he told me I’d get a team. I was crying, but I squeezed out a ‘Sounds good’ and went and hugged my kids.” – Lele Park, 2019 TV-Pilot Finalist
*Verve – US Literary & Talent Agents.
‘Luck’ is when hard work meets opportunity. If you’ve created a great script, you’ve then got to seek out the opportunity to get it into the hands of those who can help you. Never turn down a chance to make your own luck. One of those chances might be to enter a contest.
Question 3: What part did screenwriting contests and other competitions play in your journey?
“Very important! Initially, I did a competition or two just to see if I could make it. Without [being in] LA or being in a writer’s room, there aren’t a lot of ways to show you’re worth the time and one of the ways you can do so is to consistently place. Certain competitions stand out, but they all show that there are people who believe in you. Look at their sponsorships and how up-to-date their social media presences are. I really like Shore Scripts because their staff are like writer’s angels, they always comes back to help writers figure out how to move their work forward.” – Lele Park, 2019 TV-Pilot Finalist
At the risk of sounding like shameless self-promotion, utilizing high-quality contests such as Shore Scripts can give a writer access to contacts and avenues for growth that they might not have been able to find on their own. Search out the right competitions for you. Placing in them can pave the way to finally reach a writer’s room.
Being in the Writers’ Room
One would think that the job of being in a writer’s room would be simple. It’s in the name: you write. But as is often with anything in life, the question is less what you’re doing and more how you need to do it. And our interviewees are more than eager to share their insight on that mission.
Question 4: Are there any major differences between writing by yourself and writing in a writers’ room?
“Yes…You immediately get notes on your stuff instead of writing in a vacuum. All the great minds in the room are all chipping away at the same story. Everyone comes at it from a different perspective and that opens the door to alternate solutions that you might not have thought of on your own. It also creates accountability and structure, as own on your own, things can slip away, but in a room, you have to make your deadlines.” – Brian McCauley, 2019 TV Pilot Semi-Finalist
Once you’re in a writer’s room, you are on a team. Therefore, you must be a team player. You’re not in a vacuum anymore, but the other writers in the room will do their best to help you. They will not only contribute their views on the show but also on your ideas too.
Therefore, you have to support them just as they will support you, hitting your deadlines no matter what. It might be daunting, but you have to jump right in.
Question 5: What was your experience entering a writers’ room for the first time?
“I can tell you to get there early so you can pick your office. Two of my co-workers beat me there my first day. I worked at Broadcast* and we jumped right into breaking into the mythology of the show. It was a fun time. A general rule of thumb for young writers: say one smart thing before lunch and one after lunch. Keep your pitches concise, don’t say anything if you’re still getting lay of the land. Know that it isn’t your job to ‘save the show.’ If you see something, odds are someone else will as well and bring it up. Let the co-Executive Producers and Showrunners work things out.” – Lauriel Harte Marger, 2016 TV Pilot Winner
*Broadcast – A broadcast television network.
Don’t try too hard to prove you deserve your place. Contributing does not mean you have to single-handedly revamp the entire show. Proving that you can be a team player can just be supporting the rest of the room where you can. When you’re working to do that, you are on the right path.
Question 6: If you are writing for someone else’s show, how do you, or should you, incorporate your own style into the requirements of the show?
“Read the pilot and understand the showrunners’ tone, characters, and plan. Be a student of the show and study the art of outlines. Read others’ outlines and understand how they get in and out of scenes and do Act-Outs. A big part of being on the show is understanding the showrunner’s taste and you must always be working on it.” – Lauriel Harte Marger, 2016 TV Pilot Winner
So, in the world of screenwriting, you can only succeed if people know who you are, what you’ve written, and most importantly if they want to work with you.
Hopefully, these tips from our alumni will help you accomplish your goals and create your career in the world of television. Keep Writing!
Sam Tracton draws his inspiration from a life of translating a small Pennsylvania hometown into terms that interested and entertained his Asperger’s autism mind. Sam set his mind to teaching himself screenwriting and then refining his talents at Rowan University. He has since created multiple television pilot scripts, writing more every day.