Since he's back in the headlines again, due to the frustrating HBO film "The Girl," (and on my mind since I just wrote a chapter about Hitch for a book on San Francisco films), thought this "What's My Line?" clip was amusing--especially the concept that this was not an easy person to guess.
This is a sobering but important article on the reality of submitting TV scripts written by Chad Gerwich for Script Magazine that folks on Twitter's #tvwriterchat and others among you who are trying to get your spec TV scripts read and even sold.
TV shows don’t accept submissions from outside writers.
Most TV shows — from sitcoms and dramas like Raising Hope or Hawaii Five-Oh to sketch, talk, and variety shows like The Colbert Report or The Tonight Show — are written by staffs, groups of (usually) five to 10 writers hired to architect the season and write every episode … so they’re not actively looking for new scripts, writers, or story ideas.
And lastly … yes — the world of professional TV writers is, ultimately, a fairly small pool … so even when shows hire new writers, or new shows put together a staff, they’re hiring from the same well of writers that’s been circulating for years. This isn’t to say those writers aren’t talented. Far from it … I find that most TV writers, especially the veterans, are A) incredibly passionate and talented, and B) absolute experts on structure, character, joke-writing, etc. But even the freshest voices can become un-fresh, and the true geniuses — the Larry Gelbarts and the David Chases and the Louis C.K.’s and the Joss Whedons — only come along once in a blue moon.
Having said that, the WGA, the Writers Guild of America (the labor union governing professional screenwriters), in an effort to inject new blood into the writing world, does require TV shows that have been on-air for at least a year to farm out 2-3 freelance episodes per season to writers who aren’t on staff.
Most of the time — and by “most” I mean “pretty much all of” — these freelance scripts are given to either:
The show’s writers assistant
The assistant to the show’s showrunner or executive producer
A personal writer-friend of the showrunner, often someone who’s already an established professional writer
[Editor’s note: I decided that in order to post something here about pitching, I should call in someone with more experience in that arena than I have. I am still learning the art of pitching, having done most of mine so far on the phone or via e-mails. But these two guys, who know a good amount about comedy writing and the writing business, "pitched me" and I was sold. So here you go. Feel free to post comments below with your own pitching stories -- good and bad. --Craig]
by Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis
In our book Show Me The Funny!: At the Writers Table With Hollywood's Top Comedy Writers, twenty-seven comedy writers take a generic premise we gave them and develop it into twenty-two unique stories. An unexpected bonus is some great pitch stories that emerged during these interviews. Both screenwriters and sitcom writers from the golden age of TV to Everybody Loves Raymond talked about their experiences with producers and executives. That gave us the idea of writing a pitch book. We called in two friends: a writer/director with forty movies to his credit who has spent time on both sides of the desk and a producer who has two Oscars to her credit. The four of us started spit-balling.
Within twenty minutes we heard that a competent producer “can smell a good story regardless of how it's presented.” Then we heard: “The story isn't that important. It's the enthusiasm of the person making the pitch.” The same person made both statements…our award-winning producer.
This double message showed us why so many people go into pitch meetings with shaking knees, sweaty hands and pounding hearts. We decided we could be much more helpful talking about how to handle the stage fright that emerges whenever even the most experienced and successful writers pitch.
Stage Fright? What is it good for?
Stage fright can actually be useful if you can convert it into excitement. Too much of it can be devastating, but it can motivate you to practice. To kick that off, here's one tip to help you project enthusiasm.
1. Go over your idea or script and make sure it's good enough to merit your enthusiasm. It's important that you think it's great.
2. Take a stab at this classic acting exercise: practice pitching over-the-top; do it with wildly exaggerated enthusiasm. Go for a cartoony effect to get in touch with the most extreme enthusiasm you can create. (Make sure you're alone when you do this.) Next, look for something within that crazy, out-of-control pitch and find an element in it that resonates with you. Try it again, only this time, dial it down to a level you feel comfortable pitching with.
3. Use a camcorder to record yourself. Tinker with the presentation until you're happy with the results.
4. When you're ready, try the pitch out on a few discerning friends who will give you honest and knowledgeable feedback.
5. Find some other more extreme friends to help you simulate a pitch going very wrong. Ask them to push even beyond that point. Tell them they can't hurt your feelings. Remind them that you're a writer and you have no feelings left.
We were struck by the level of enthusiasm Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (Dinner for Schmucks, The Santa Clause 2, Bubble Boy), one of the writing teams we interviewed, generated during their pitch. As they were developing a story their enthusiasm for what they were creating grew exponentially. Soon they were finishing one another's sentences and feeding off each other's energy and ideas.
If you find this useful, we'll be happy to provide many more tips to battle “Pitch Panic.” Come to our web site Show Me the Funny! [or www.smtfo.com]. And, hey while you're at it 'Like' us on Facebook.
About the Authors:
One out of every 150 people in America bought a copy of a joke book that Peter Desberg has written. Unfortunately, Scholastic sold the most popular one for $1 each, so he still has to work. Counting his five joke books, he has had twenty books published. In addition to this lucrative writing career, he is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the area of stage fright. He has worked with many top stand-up comedians, who are regularly confronted with massive cases of flop sweat. He also has been moonlighting as a full professor at California State University Dominguez Hills for over thirty years.
Jeffrey Davis's earliest memories are of sitting around the writers' table at Nate & Al's Delicatessen, where his father and his comedy writer cronies gathered over corn beef and Doctor Brown's Cream Soda, told war stories, and tried to fix third acts. He began his own career writing jokes for Thicke of the Night. Among his situation comedy credits are Love Boat, House Calls with Lynn Redgrave, Give Me a Break, Diff'rent Strokes, and Night Court. He has also written for such shows as America's Funniest People, America's Funniest Home Videos, and Small Wonder, and has had film projects developed by Bette Midler's All Girl Productions, among others. His plays have been produced in New York and Los Angeles. His most recently published play is Speed Dating 101. He is the Screenwriting Department Chair and associate professor of film and TV writing at Loyola Marymount University. His one night of stand-up at the Comedy Store convinced him that he should stay permanently seated at his desk.
As Marc Maron's WTF podcast just had its 200th episode (a nice reversal of form in which host/comedian Maron is interviewed by comic Mike Birbiglia) , here's a list of some of my favorite interviews from the show [links to iTunes; can also find other means of listening via the web site]:
Judd Apatow [part 2] (writer/director/producer of TV and film, an epic interview that is a must-listen not just for Apatow fans but fans of comedy history)
Louis CK [part 2] (the darkly hilarious comedian/actor/writer/star of "Louie", in another epic podcast where he and Marc repair some old fissues and get to the heart of things, funny and moving)
A lot of the more recent interviews are not linked to iTunes but you should still be able to find them either by registering with the WTF site or can find them on iTunes itself:
Episode 116 - Sarah Silverman (as risque as her act can be, discover that the candid comedienne
Episode 177 - Garry Shandling (nice personal chat between the two, Shandling one of the better comedy minds in TV over the decades)
Episode 167 - Bobcat Goldthwait (some great anecdotes from the one-of-a-kind comedian who goes way back; now a very good indie director, too, a long way from Hot to Trot)
Episode 144 - Patton Oswalt (one of my favorite comedians and now an actor, too, always provocative and hilariously "on")
I also recommend the Dana Gould, Margaret Cho, Dave Attel, Ira Glass and many others. The Gallagher episode is now infamous after the gimmicky comic stormed off the interview because he didn't like the conversation but other than that bit of tension you can skip it.
Of the many live WTF shows, I have a particular fondness for Episode 107 - Patton Oswalt, Doug Benson, El Chupacabra, Donald Glover, Eddie Pepitone. Quite amusing. (Find it on iTunes)
I think even writers and screenwriters can learn a lot about the creative process and the often painful history a lot of artists go through to get to where they are. Some of the conversations involve revisiting friendships that had gone astray, personal histories that had their ups and downs. They show how people can change, grow, work it out... But most of all they are often also just hysterically funny storytellers.
Found this in a recycling bin outside Bad Robot Productions.
"Notes to the Writers on How to Write a Final Season Episode of LOST"
- Keep in mind the theme of Deja Vu. - When needing a character to use in one of the parallel timeline stories, refer back to first two seasons and pick a random character (except, under no circumstances, Shannon) - Keep in mind the theme of Deja Vu. - When stuck as to where you are, have one character (i.e., Jack or Illana) tell another that they have to get moving. / And then make sure there is at least one scene with several characters hiking from one part of the island to another. - Hint at a mystical/mythical God vs. the Devil connection but if hinting doesn't work you may bludgeon people over the head with the connection. But: only in moderation! - When in doubt make sure something blows up once per episode - Hurley is the only one allowed to be funny - Stretch the season out by at least 3-4 episodes
Last year I did a piece for Variety as part of their dedicated Emmy award coverage, on some of the first time nominees -- focusing on shows and performers. One of the actors I interviewed for the piece was Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) partner in the meth business and former student, on AMC's Breaking Bad. Paul was a first time nominee for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series. Since the piece covered quite a few people and programs, there wasn't enough room for more than a few quotes from Paul. Here then, at last -- as the show premieres its third season (on the heels of a terrific second season) -- is my full interview with Paul.--Craig P
Congratulations on getting the Emmy nomination. Has that
lead to other offers down the road, other films or series – how has that
changed things for you?
As of right now I’ve been getting so many amazing
congratulatory phone calls from people I haven’t heard from for ages. But
otherwise as of right now nothing’s really changed. My life’s been turned
upside down by all this attention.I was not expecting this at all. Just to be on a show that I’m so
unbelievably proud of, I really consider everyone a part of it like a family to
me, so to see the show recognized is such an honor.
You and Bryan [Cranston] have such great chemistry together, how has
working with him rubbed off on you as an actor?
Just being around Bryan just makes me a better person
because he’s the kindest man probably the funniest guy I’ve ever met in my
entire life. But working opposite him, everything he does is so honest and
genuine, it’s not forced. Working with someone like that, as an actor, makes me
a much better actor, he’s taught me a lot of things.
How do you think your character, Jesse, himself changed from
season 1 to 2 --?
Season 1 didn’t really have a lot of room for – we saw
some character arc but season 2 delved in for every character involved much
more character development. We saw much more where Jesse was coming from. And
season 2 compared to S1, Jesse wasn’t as much a fan of Walter White [Cranston’s
character] at the beginning of the series but he’s grown very fond of Walter,
he truly believes he’s an artist. The buddy angle really works for the story
and won’t ever really go away – that Odd Couple relationship that Jesse and
White have. But Jesse in Season 2 has just been constantly beaten down,
anything that could go wrong goes wrong. So he grows a tougher skin, a harder
shell.And who knows what happens
with Season 3.
I read that your character wasn’t originally going to
even make it to Season 2, is that right?
Yeah, originally – this is when Vince Gilligan, our amazing
show runner, was pitching the arc of the first season to AMC, and at the end
Jesse was to meet his demise. And after we shot the pilot, they really liked
the chemistry between these two characters. When Bryan and I were on screen, we
just battled it out and they loved that dynamic. Once it got picked up they
changed that. I didn’t know about that at the time but I’m so glad they didn’t
do that. So many pilots in my career that never got picked up [for a series]
and then finally one gets picked up that I’m so unbelievably passionate about,
that I would’ve been just devastated if they killed me.
That was the plan before I was cast. Vince told me when we
were shooting the 5th season, that he had something he was gonna
tell me that couldn’t wait anymore. He told me over lunch, “You know at the end
of the season you were gonna die. But that’s not gonna happen anymore.”
I’m like panicked. He reassured me, “No, no, you don’t understand -- Jesse is
not gonna die anymore.”Ever since
that moment it’s been so funny because everybody teases me. “Yeah man you’re not
gonna make it past the second episode of the third season.”One of the producers last year, Karen
Moore, took me aside and was like, “Really quick – how tall are you exactly?”
“I don’t know, 5’8 ½ depending on the time of day.” “Okay well we need the specific
measurements. We’re getting the casket made for Jesse.”Oh man. Those stories are always
getting played on me because they know how freaked out I was. But Vince says
I’ll be around for awhile.
Do you have any input on your character as far as what
happens to him in future scripts?
Not really, I don’t know what’s happening with Season 3.
They keep it under wraps. They’re totally open as far as suggestions and ideas,
things they might play with. But the writers do such a great job with what
they’re doing, I’m happy to leave it up to them, they’re the ones molding this
magic so I leave it in their court. But going into season 3 I know that
Jesse will be in recovery obviously from losing the love of his life, he’s
never really had that kind of relationship before, and she was taken away. And
at the end of season 2 he was dragged by Walt out of that crack house and into
a rehab facility. So that’s where we’ll start off. Jesse and the rehab, and
dealing with his grief and emotions. So who knows if Jesse will stay clean and
keep his head on straight, but I’m excited about finding out.
How do you prepare for some of the physical abuse and
punishment that your character has to go through?
With the physical stuff, wearing knee pads really helps, but
with the emotional aspect I just try to make it as human as possible so I can
get to that point of emotion, so that it feels like I myself am going through
what Jesse is.With the drug use, I
got addicted to the show Intervention, and YouTube, watching documentaries
online. I didn’t know the effects of heroin the first time you use it, how your
speech is, whether it slows down or speeds up.From my research I found your speech slows down and you’re
in your own world. So I did as much research as possible.
Intervention is tough because you’re seeing what it does to the families too.
And at a certain point, that’s what’s so horrible about these drugs we’re
dealing with on the show – in the first season we were dealing with the effects
of meth, but in second season it kind of bled into the whole heroin
aspect. At a certain point the user doesn’t have control of the drug anymore,
the drug has 100% control of them. It’s not even really their fault at that
point. So they end up needing other people to come in and help them because if
they don’t have that, then they’re lost. At a certain point they can’t do it,
they need other people’s help. That’s what’s so devastating about watching
Intervention, some of the shows have happy endings but a lot of them don’t,
just like life.
The whole drug world is just so tragic. It’s so intense...
Do you get feedback from former drug users?
The greatest compliments I get are from [those] people – [the show] is almost
their fix, rather than using. And the show does not glamorize crystal meth by any means.
But then on the other end of the spectrum I get, “Hey so do
you got any hookups, get me some blue meth?” “No I absolutely cannot.” It’s
disturbing, but I guess it’s like a compliment to the show in a weird way.
Getting back to the Emmy nomination, do you get any
feedback, or how would you yourself assess it as far as whether you did anything
special or different to get you the nomination?
Yeah, I think the second season really hit its stride more and there was much more character development. I guess what was happening in that season, there were more levels of emotion with Jesse, more that he went through, I think that’s what people saw and that’s what people noticed. It’s all so surreal.
I moved down to Los Angeles about 12.5 years ago and went
through ups and downs, the rollercoaster of emotions, from great jobs to the
kind of jobs that I didn’t really want to but I kind of had to do to survive.
But I’m finally doing a job that I’m so unbelievably passionate about, to be in
this [Emmy] category with an unbelievable group of people – William Hurt, are you
kidding me? Michael Emerson – I’m the biggest Lost fan.