writing recap of 2015, goals for 2016

So 2015 turned out to be a good a pretty good year. I finally got an agent, had meetings, wrote a new pilot, got some good feedback.

Friends of mine had good years as well. They got repped, got staffed, placed in contests and programs. I’m hoping the good momentum continues for everyone this year!

My goals for 2015 were:

1 – Get an agent.
YES

2 – Get staffed on a show.
NO. I had some meetings though.

3 – Write 2 pilots.
SORT OF. I wrote 1 pilot and started an outline of another, so 1.5.

4 – Work on some other creative project: either a feature, a web series, or an animated pitch.
NO. I came up with a bunch of ideas, but nothing that I loved enough to finish.
Continue reading writing recap of 2015, goals for 2016

interview: Nick Keetch, Sundance Episodic Story Lab

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I met Nick through my writing group friends, and we met in person at the Austin Film Fest. I was really happy for him when he got accepted into the Sundance Episodic Story Lab, and I finally got around to interviewing him about it. Follow him on Twitter at @ndotkeetch.

A belated congrats on getting accepted into the inaugural Sundance Episodic Story Lab! What was it like? How was the program structured?

Thanks. The program was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We spent six days in Robert Redford’s absurd mountain paradise in Utah, I met and worked with some of the best writers and producers in Hollywood and I got a rad poncho, because it rained a lot and, having lived in LA for five years, was ill equipped for extreme weather. I also made some awesome friends in the other lab participants, showrunners, producing mentors and incredible Sundance program staff.

The program was broken down into two sections — the first few days were spent working with the showrunners on the pilot script that got me into the lab. The process varied for each of the lab participants. Some people were closer to a finished product than others. For me it meant an eventual page one rewrite (which was done after the program finished). I was partnered with Chic Eglee, Michelle Ashford and Warren Leight, all of whom gave me excellent, clear, and most importantly, consistent notes on how to improve the script. While it sounds a little demoralizing to win the writing lottery and get into the program, only to find out that there’s very serious work that needs to be done on your script, I think the process I went through at the lab, led to me writing a better script and made me a better writer.

After the first three days, the showrunners left the resort and the producers arrived. We worked with them on pitching, taking meetings and working with the executive side of the business.

What was the day to day? Did you each have individual mentors or were there group sessions? Did you get notes on a specific script? Did you have to pitch new things? How much interaction was there between you and the other writers?

Every day began at 8am. We had breakfast with the Sundance crew and whichever showrunners or producers decided to join us. It was a very casual, comfortable environment, where we were encouraged to treat everyone like our peers.

We worked individually with different showrunners on our scripts and had group sessions which varied from roundtable discussions of the practicalities of the industry to in-depth analysis of specific pilots. I was partnered with Chic Eglee, Warren Leight and Michelle Ashford, who are all lovely and incredible smart. They all brought very different backgrounds and experience to the ways they approached developing my pilot, and they have continued to help me in in numerous ways.

We had to pitch to both the showrunners and the producers. My pilot had been broken down and beaten to death by the time pitching came around, so the first attempt was pretty terrible. I stopped in the middle and said, “fuck it,” which is apparently not a successful way to sell a concept. The showrunners gave me some notes, I took the basic premise that I knew was strong, paired everything down, and am told I killed the producers pitch. Pitching was the most difficult stage of the program for me, but I also learned more from failing than would have if things had gone well the first time around. So, you know, that thing the Michael Caine says to Bruce Wayne about bats attacking you or something.

The interaction with the showrunners and the producers was pretty much constant. Sundance want you to develop a relationship with these people. It’s awkward for everyone at first, but we settled in pretty quickly. Continue reading interview: Nick Keetch, Sundance Episodic Story Lab

Personal Finance 101

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This isn’t writing related at all, but I think it’s super important to learn how to manage your finances. It’s an essential life skill that will have a huge impact on your life, yet so many people are really bad at it.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much money you make, you will use your money skills until the day you die, so you might as well get good at it, the sooner the better.

I’m considering starting a finance blog, but for now, here are some bullet points of what I’ve learned over the years.

Track all your spending and income

You need to gather raw data before you can assess the situation, so you need to track where all of your money goes. Track every single dollar that comes in and goes out.

I use mint.com, which is free.

I recommend doing this for 2-3 months before you move on to the next step so you get a sense of what you make and what you spend in an average month.

A lot of people say you should use cash as much as possible because it’s too easy to overspend if you use credit cards, but I disagree. I pay for everything I can with my credit card, and pay if off at the end of every month. This improves your credit rating, and it’ll be automatically tracked in mint so you know where your money’s going.

Make a budget

Step 1: Figure out the totals for your income and expenses. Hopefully, your income is more than your expenses every month.

Step 2: Categorize your expenses.

fixed – same amount every month (rent, car payment, student loans, health insurance)
variable – the amount changes month to month (groceries, entertainment, clothing)

Step 3: Calculate the minimum amount of money you need every month. Always know this number.
Continue reading Personal Finance 101

notes from the Austin Film Festival 2015

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I had another wonderful time at the Austin Film Festival. It was 4 days full of panels, roundtables, parties, meeting other writers, hanging out at the bar at the Driskill hotel, and lots of beer and brisket. It would take me too long to write a detailed post about Austin, so here are some bullet points:

Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weapon
It’s all about the material. That’s the most important thing.
Don’t chase the marketplace. By the time you write what’s currently hot, gets sold, and goes into production, people will already be on to the next thing.

Michael Arndt, writer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine
Internal conflicts and obstacles alone aren’t enough. The plot is there to force the character to take action and address their issues.

Adam Kolbrenner, manager, co-founder of Madhouse Entertainment
I asked when he’s considering potential clients, if he’d be more interested in someone who was a just writer, or someone who did multiple things like write TV, write features, direct short films, etc. He said he’d be less interested in someone who did multiple things. “Pick a lane.” Focus on one thing and be good at it. Don’t try to do everything.

Jarrod Murray, manager at Epicenter
Don’t send multiple loglines when querying. Pick one.
For your writing to stand out, make the reader care about the characters.
Keep writing. Generate new material.

Continue reading notes from the Austin Film Festival 2015

2015 Writing Program Notifications

I didn’t apply to any fellowships this year, but here’s my annual writing program post. If you hear of any updates, please let me know. Good luck, everyone!

(updated 11/12/15)

WRITING PROGRAMS

  • Nickelodeon
    The chosen writers have been announced on their Facebook page.
  • WB
    I hear the final writers have been selected!
  • CBS
    They started making calls, and sent rejection emails.
  • NBC
    The writers have been chosen! Check their Facebook page.
  • Sundance Episodic Story Lab
    Writers have been selected.
  • NHMC
    Started sending rejection letters.
  • ABC/Disney
    Started making calls. Phone interviews next week.

CONTESTS

  • Austin
    Semifinal calls were made over the weekend. Here’s the list of semifinalists and 2nd rounders. Congrats to my 4 students who made 2nd round with the specs they wrote in my workshop!
  • Scriptapalooza
    Winners listed here.
  • Slamdance
    Rejection emails were sent.
  • Final Draft Big Break
    Quarterfinalists announced on their site.
  • Nicholl Fellowship
    Finalists have been announced on their site.
  • Launch Pad Pilot Competition
    Semi-finalists have been announced on their site. Congrats to my friend and writing group member Cynthia for placing!
  • Creative World Awards
    Finalists have been announced on their site. Congrats to my student Jack for placing as a semifinalist with his Brooklyn Nine Nine spec!
  • NYTVF
    Semi-finalists for the Lifetime Writers Project have been selected.

interview: anonymous reader of writing program

It’s almost that time of year when contests and fellowships start contacting people who made it to the next round. I did an interview with a reader from one of the network writing programs to find out about what they’re looking for.

When you’re given the scripts, are they anonymous? Do you as a reader look at any of the other submission info like the bio and stuff?

When your script is in the initial round, readers won’t take any personal info into account. We’re really just reading the script and looking to see if the writer has a clear understanding of the basics of storytelling, a strong voice, and (in the case of spec scripts) familiarity with the show.

What did the fellowship people tell you to look for when reading? How did they tell you to judge the scripts? What’s the process to make it to the next round?

I wish I could sugar-coat it, but the entire process is mostly subjective.  If you wrote a drama, did you surprise me and keep me wanting more?  If you wrote a comedy, did you make me laugh? Keep in mind, what I may find appealing may be a total turn-off to the next reader (and sometimes is… haha).  Yet despite this fact, there are definitely guidelines.  You must follow the format of the show you’re speccing.  I can’t tell you how many people submitted specs that were too long or too short or didn’t follow the same structure (e.g. failing to include the right number of act breaks) or didn’t feature any of the main characters.  In order to make it to the next round, you have to get the basics down and still write something entertaining and unique. That’s all.  Unfortunately, not many people who apply can do this.

Continue reading interview: anonymous reader of writing program

mid year creative review 2015

The year is already half over! Here were my goals at the start of the year.

1. Get an agent.
YES! Finally.

2. Get staffed on a show.
NOT YET. I had several general meetings, but no showrunner meetings. I’ll have to try again next year, but who knows. Maybe something midseason? Or cable?

3. Write 2 pilots.
1 OF 2. My last pilot was a family sitcom, so I wanted to write a workplace comedy to round out my portfolio. I just finished last week, and my agent has already started sending it out. For my next pilot, I’m thinking of writing a multicam, since I don’t have one in my portfolio.

4. Work on some other creative project: either a feature, a web series, or an animated pitch.
NOT YET. Not sure if I’ll get to one of these projects, but I have some ideas floating around.

It’s been a good, productive first half of the year. Looking forward to the second half.