2017 Writing Program Notifications

(updated 12/09/17) It's that time of year again, and notifications have started! Please let me know if you hear any news, and check the comments for updates I may not have…

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2016 Writing Program Notifications

(updated 12/08/16) Notifications have started! Please let me know if you hear any news. WRITING PROGRAMS ABC Disney Writing Program I hear they already conducted their semi-final interviews, and they may have already…

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interview: Nick Keetch, Sundance Episodic Story Lab

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. (more…)

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2015 Writing Program Notifications

(this post is outdated. the current 2016 notifications are here.) I didn't apply to any fellowships this year, but here’s my annual writing program post. If you hear of any updates,…

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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.


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2014 writing program notifications

*updated 10/07/14 Here's my annual writing program post. If you hear of any updates, please let me know. Good luck, everyone! WRITING PROGRAMS Nickelodeon Finalists have been announced on their…

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interview: Raf Esparza, NBC Late Night Writers Workshop

I met Raf back when I was a fellow in the Nick program. He had taken a meeting with Karen Kirkland, and she introduced us. When I heard that NBC was starting a Late Night Writers Workshop, I thought Raf would be great for the program, and it was no surprise to me when he got in.

Congrats on having been chosen for the inaugural Late Night Writers Workshop! You seemed like the perfect candidate because you’ve been doing this for a while: you worked on the Tonight Show as a coordinator, submitted jokes, and you perform a late night talk show at Flappers Comedy Club. How did all that help you write the material you submitted?

Hey Kiyong, thank you so much for the nice words (please do not cash the check I gave you to say said nice things, it won’t clear until the end of the month).

For me, the Late Night Writers Workshop was the cumulation of all the little things I’ve tried to do for the past five years—including my time at The Tonight Show and the creation of my own late night talk show Early Late Night.

At The Tonight Show I learned the discipline needed for a successful writing schedule and the ability to persevere through constant rejection.

Writing monologue jokes is a pretty thankless job (even when you do get paid). You spend hours of your time researching, sifting through news articles trying to find the best takes on the day’s headlines. The minute my shift would end, I’d sit at my computer and force myself to write for at least another hour. After a full day of work, I’d be tired as hell—but sticking to that routine was something that I knew would one day pay off.

I didn’t get a ton of jokes on at the very beginning and would often get discouraged—until one day one of the most prolific writers at the show (an awesome writer named Jon Macks) shared the following statistic: for every 100 jokes you write, 1 will get on air.

Now just take a moment to really think about that number. 1. For Every 100.


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CAAM Fellowship: How I Met My Mentor

I’m excited to share that my CAAM mentor is Kourtney Kang, Writer and Executive Producer of How I Met Your Mother! She was on the show for all 9 seasons, and wrote one of my favorite episodes, Slap Bet, which introduces the slap bet, and it’s where we first meet Robin Sparkles. Amazing!


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CAAM Fellowship: mentor update

Last week I got to go to San Francisco for CAAM Fest, and got to meet the other fellows. Check out the bios and the work of my super talented, accomplished fellows!


Since getting accepted into the CAAM Fellowship, I’ve had several discussions in trying to decide which mentor to try to go after. Should we go after a writer, a producer, or an executive? If it’s an executive, should it be someone in current series or development? We ended up picking someone who is a writer and Executive Producer. We felt like that role was the best one that could help me. The person we picked is high up and it’s a stretch, but why not at least try, right? Karin reached out to contact the person on my behalf, and I’ve been waiting to hear back.


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