I was on my friend Richard's podcast, Pulling Your Hair Out, where he interviews writers on their process. Check out my interview here. In the interview, I mention how I…
I met Richard at a mixer, then saw him again at the Austin Film Festival, then we ended up in the same writers group. You wrote a great pilot about…
Even though we both live in LA, I first met Minty in Austin at the Austin Film Festival! Then we became Facebook friends and I saw that she created a short, so I had to ask her all about it. Follow this super talented lady on Twitter @mintylewis.
Your short has an alpaca and a peanut as the main characters! How’d you come up with the idea for your short?
It’s all kind of blurry when I look back on the origin, almost three years ago at this point. I knew I wanted to pitch something before I knew what I wanted to pitch, so I basically just threw a bunch of ideas at the wall and then saw what stuck for me. One of the things I was thinking about was my aunt Beverly, who has a giant, joyful, reckless personality, but now has Alzheimer’s and spent most of her life in dealing with alcoholism. Specifically, I was thinking about a story of hers in which she decided to audition for a play as she was drunkenly walking by a theater. They called to give her the lead role the next day, but once she sobered up she didn’t have the guts to follow through. The alpaca character (also named Beverly) grew out of me thinking about what it would be like if she could’ve just maintained that sweet spot of drunkenness. Like, maybe great things would have been possible if she could have just held on to that optimism and extroversion and risk-seeking behavior?
Translating these musings into a cartoon character, I’ve landed on a straitlaced alpaca who twisted her bun too tight and turned into a freewheelin’ teenager. The fact that she’s specifically an alpaca isn’t all that important, I just felt like there’d be more range in what I could do with her and the world if she wasn’t a human. People just seem more willing to accept/laugh at dark ideas if there’s a goofy cartoon face in front of them. I’ve always appreciated how nuts alpacas look with all the teeth and the hair, but you can take any creature and make it seem serious/nerdy/sexy/etc. with the details of the character design. The Peanette character grew out of a totally separate path where I was thinking about a “peanut butler,” but after I did some drawings and she turned into a burnout wearing a denim jacket, she seemed like a good pal for Beverly.
Behind the Scenes with Busy Philipps and me
Interview with me about the short
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…)
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.
How different were the writers’ rooms in Married and Silicon Valley? Were your responsibilities different?
Do you know how the writing staff of either show was put together? What made one writer get hired over another?
Has your writing process changed at all since you’ve become a writers’ assistant / script coordinator?
I met Ty when we were in the same writing group, along with Beau and a few others. He’s placed in a bunch of stuff, and then he won Final Draft, which made me super happy. Follow Ty on Twitter @TyFreer, on Instagram @Ty.Freer or check out his truly terrible artwork at tyrribleart.tumblr.com.
What’s your writing background?
This is usually the most boring part. So I’ll spice it up by answering with Buzzfeed-like bullet points without the fun of an accompanying Buzzfeed-like gif!
- Loved writing dumb, funny stories in English class. Remember one called “The Merce-Granny” about a grandmother/Irish mercenary. I am dumb.
- Wrote movie reviews for high school paper. Gave “Phantom Menace” an A. Like I said, I am dumb.
- Wrote David Letterman-themed valedictorian speech entitled “The Top Ten Things To Get From My Speech.”
- Wrote for sports section for short time at Purdue during Kyle Orton era. We went 6-5 a lot.
- Wrote for LA Weekly-style magazine in Champaign, IL while at U of Illinois. Favorite story was first-person account playing Belegarth with a field of super competitive uber-nerds.
- Started copywriting after graduating from grad school. Projects include work for NBDL (the NBA’s minor league), Riot Games, and Cinedigm. Also weird stuff like a lawn treatment company and a chain of fitness centers I accidentally offended and never heard from again. I continue to copywrite.
- Start writing TV specs while living in Austin. Wrote two terrible ones. Fear my computer’s hacking and their eventual public release.
- 2011, move to LA to get into TV. Wife agrees, because she’s the best. Shortly thereafter, named a Finalist in the Nickelodeon TV Writing Fellowship. Don’t get in.
- 2012, named a Semi-Finalist in the NBC Writers’ on the Verge program. Don’t get in.
- 2014, again named a Semi-Finalist in the NBC Writers’ on the Verge program… and got in! Just kidding. Don’t get in. Strike three.
- 2015, won Best Half Hour Pilot in the Final Draft Big Break contest. Confetti falls. Tears dramatically roll down cheek. “We Are The Champions” plays. FADE TO BLACK.
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.
I follow @MysteryTVWrtrAs on Twitter. Apparently we’ve met before, but I have no idea who it is, and I know nothing about this person’s gender/ethnicity/age. I’m not even sure whether this person works in comedy or drama. We got chatting one night on Twitter, and I asked to do an interview. This person’s anonymity allowed for some candid answers about being a writers’ assistant.
What’s a typical day like as a writers’ assistant?
Every day is different. But a typical day is keeping your ass in the seat and taking notes. All the other writers get up to pee, you stay in your seat. Have an important call/text, redirect it to your laptop. I now have carpal tunnel due to many hours over many months with an indecisive Showrunner. It sucks, but it’s the path I chose.
How should someone go about trying to get a job as writers’ assistant?
My story: I was a PA on a show (how did I get that?…there was a listing for a PA gig on the studio website). While the other PA’s would take the long runs for the mileage reimbursement, I would get to know the writers by doing the short runs. Eventually the writers’ assistant was let go, and they needed someone ASAP…ME!!
I was a fan of Hannibal on NBC, so when I met Kai and learned she was a writer on the show, I was pretty excited. Then she told me how she ended up getting staffed, and I wanted to share.
Can you talk a bit about your background? Did you study writing in school? Did you work as an assistant? Did you enter writing contests?
I was born in Taiwan and raised in a very small town (Salisbury) in Maryland. I went to Carnegie Mellon for college and while I did study writing, it was for fiction. I always knew I wanted to be a screenwriter so I purposely chose something that wasn’t film/television writing so I could have a different experience. After college, I came out to LA and got a job as an agency assistant. It made my life a living hell but the experience was invaluable. After spending two years in feature development, I moved to TV and worked as showrunner’s assistant and Writers’ Assistant on various shows before finally making the jump. Prior to my getting my first staffing gig, I tried writing contests twice but never got very far. So I just decided to focus on pilots instead of specs and forgo the writing contest route.