Making Yourself a Franchise (aka Beauty Tips according to Forest Whitaker)

This weekend has been about making myself into a Mickey D's. Stick with me. Let's look at the given:

1. Fellowship/Writing Program deadlines are fast approaching

We've got The NBC Writer's On the Verge program coming up tomorrow, June 30th. Then the WB Writer's Workshop is July 25th, and ABC/Disney is August 8th. So, I've been prepping my Writer's on the Verge package. (Let me take the time to say now that I think the fact that they're using an electronic submission policy is fuck-me-sideways awesome. You guys rock.)

So people are polishing scripts, or rushing to get them done -- whatever the case may be. But I find as deadlines start to gnaw on a writer's thoughts as they sleep, eat, and pay the bills, it's usually not the script that is eating away at them. The script is what it is. You've had the time to work on that -- you know the rules. Any little details that you're sweating, well, it's unlikely that those are the things that'll matter when it comes down to it. Make sure you don't have any spelling errors, sure, but I don't think that line of dialogue at the end of Act Three is going to make or break your chances.

People are usually freaking out about the additional materials they have to submit. I'm often in this group. And honestly, there's nothing much you can do about it. Your script is numero uno -- and other than that, there's really no way to know what they're looking for or what the right answer is for the short-answer essay question about your background and what you'll bring to the table as a new writer.

Unless you're an albino from Cameroon.

And these things create different obstacles for those of us that are white males. Anyway with a brain can understand the need for diversity (especially in the entertainment industry) and the purpose of these essays. But if you're a whitey with a Y chromosome, you've still got to find an answer to the question.

And voila: Franchising!

This is where you start to read posts on blogs about how valuable it is that you grew up on a farm, or that you learned Tagalog while studying climate change in the seasonally fucked region of Barrow, Alaska.

It's time to find yourself a logo, a brand name, a jingle -- basically, an angle. You also hear about this in terms of the business in general. It's just not enough to be a good writer anymore (if it ever was). What do you bring to the table?

So, what do you do if you grew up in a Wonder Years-esque suburb, are a Blanquito, your background is Heinz 57 enough to be worthless, and you didn't go to med school?

I have no idea. I really don't. There's the usual pithy and well-written bits about how you've always wanted to be a writer, about how much you love TV and the amazing narrative opportunities it provides -- blah blah blah. And these can be as sincere as a Kansas City native's love for barbeque, but are they going to compete with someone with actual diversity to broadcast and an equally good spec script to back it up?

Probably not, but again, I have no idea. There tends to be one white guy in each year of the ABC Disney Fellowship. As for the others, I don't know. But something has to get written. And I think the best bet is to be honest. If someone asked you that question, say in a bar somewhere, away from the pressure of being right and successful in your answer, what would it be?

I'm going to be writing those bits from the heart, just like I did my spec script. Whatever comes up comes out. Now, I'm sure there are better schemers out there -- but that's just not me. And I'd like to think (or hope, I guess), that the people reading these things are good at seeing through the bullshit.

All you can do is be honest, represent yourself and your strengths well and with confidence, and back it up with one hell of a script. And hope you stumble on a Franchise that'll do just that for you.

But, when it comes down to it, if you've chosen this path instead of one that would probably have been a lot easier, then hey, congrats: You're different. Just find a way to make them see it. They don't have to love you, they just have to accept you into the program.

2. UCLA Extension Classes & Picking the right spec

I attended my first UCLA class on Outlining for TV Drama. I wasn't so sure what to expect, but I enjoyed the first class. The instructor clearly knew what he was talking about, and was a straight shooter. I LOVE that. At the least, I'm looking forward to someone with experience giving me some honest and bottom-line feedback on my work.

I'm not going to write too much about what's taught in the class, because I wonder if that defeats the point -- you can take the class, and really it's all about the direct experiences with the writer teaching it, and the others taking it with you.

But I will say this: I majored in creative writing and theater in undergrad where I wrote short stories, novellas, plays, short films and screenplays. I studied screenwriting and film production in grad school, where I wrote short films, screenplays, and one late-in-the-game TV spec. And I never once was offered a class on outlining, story breaking, or anything of that sort. In fact, I don't even remember anyone spending much time on it at all.

Which floors me. So everything I know about outlining is through earnest self-teaching and massive amounts of research. I think I was almost more excited to see my first professional TV outline than I was when I got my hands on my first real TV script. (Maybe.)

So this class is amazing. Great to reexamine my habits and remind myself of the process. So, for anyone who is thinking about jumping to the intermediate class, or already has -- well, take a step back and reconsider. It doesn't matter how good you are or how much you've done already. I've only had one class, but I was pretty happy with the first dip into the pool.

(I also love that the class is a great mix: TV writers, feature writers, actors, and even someone who wants to go into development. Awesome.)

But the thing I loved most was when my current thought process was reflected in the teacher's first lesson:


It's everywhere! I rarely think about this in terms of TV writing -- especially not in spec writing. But it's there. Look at a good title sequence of a show (or one that still has one). Battlestar's is a great example. That IS a Franchise title sequence.

But, more importantly, the show that you choose to spec is your first step in building your own little franchise of mass-produced TV wonderfulness. The show you pick says a lot about you. It's also your first chance to advertise your dream staff job.

So House is a hot spec. Lots of people seem to be already jumping on the Pushing Daisies band wagon. But before you choose your spec show, make sure you're thinking about what kind of show you want to be a part of; if you're interested in flirty dialogue and meet cute moments galore, then maybe House isn't for you. And if your inner monkey really digs on dark story twists and pushing boundaries, then it doesn't really matter if you love Pushing Daisies. That's probably not the best way to advertise your skills.

Now, Jane Espenson got on Buffy with an NYPD Blue spec -- I know. That example comes up a lot. But, c'mon -- everybody was writing NYPD Blue specs for hour drama jobs back then. Seriously. It's a different market right now.

And you're going to write a better spec if you respect your inner salesman. You can be true to yourself and still acknowledge the business you want to be working in. You can. So write what you love, but also write what you'd love to write for.


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