i started a pilot writers’ group

i finished revising my sitcom pilot a few months ago, and settled on the concept for my next pilot. that first pilot took months to write, though, and i wanted my second one to go much quicker.

i thought about taking a writing class, but i’m unemployed and money is tight. more importantly, classes are so dependent on the talent and work ethic of the other students. instead, i decided to start a writers’ group specifically to work on tv comedy pilots. this way, i get to hand pick who i work with.

most writers’ groups are run in a workshop format, where you send your work before you meet, then you get notes when you meet up. or sometimes, you read your work out loud at the meeting, and then get notes right after. those formats are fine, but i wanted this group to be run like a tv writers’ room.

i got to sit in the writers’ room for korra for the last 2 weeks of the fellowship, so i got a little taste of what that was like. i also took a class w/ ed lee at io west a couple years ago that was run like a writers’ room, and i recently finished a faux writers’ room at nickelodeon. i wanted to structure this group based on those experiences. i thought it would be a quick way to break stories, punch up jokes, and give everyone the chance to practice pitching in the room.

writers’ rooms on a network show can be 14 people or so, where on animated shows it can be as small as 3 people. i decided i wanted about 5-7 people for the group. i wanted it to be big enough to get a good mix of voices, but small enough so everyone gets feedback pretty regularly.

my plan was each person would act as showrunner for their pilot, someone else would be the writers’ assistant and take notes, and everyone would contribute towards the showrunner’s script for that entire session. we would rotate each week so everyone had a chance to be showrunner, and maintain that cycle for a set number of times.

i posted my idea on the yahoo tv group message boards and i asked people who were interested to reply with the following info:

  1. any recognition they received for their writing in contests and fellowships. obviously, i want to work with the best writers i can, but i didn’t want to read a bunch of scripts. if someone got some recognition for their writing, that means someone else already read their work and thought it was good.
  2. any improv and/or stand up comedy experience. i think if you want to write comedy, you really should learn some improv. it’s great for comedy in general, but especially for the dynamics of the room.
  3. industry work experience – writers’ assistant, coordinator, pa, etc. i wanted to see where they were in their career, and to see what they would bring to the table for networking purposes. if there were 2 candidates and one had connections and one didn’t, i’m picking the one with connections.

i wasn’t sure how many people would be interested, but i got about 30 responses. i needed a way to filter people, so first i looked at contest and fellowship placement. that cut the list from 30 to about 12.

then i decided to set up 1 on 1 meetings with people to get a sense of their personality, experience, sense of humor, etc. i didn’t want to bring someone into the group who would clash with others and bring productivity down. (go listen to the bad apple story on this american life – http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/370/ruining-it-for-the-rest-of-us?act=0.)

i met people for coffee and we talked about their writing, their pilots, their jobs, what shows they liked, etc. it was basically the same as a job interview. it took a while to meet everyone, but i found 6 other writers who are talented and committed. here are some of their impressive accomplishments: disney finalist, nick finalist, nbc writers on the verge semifinalist, warner brothers top 5%, scriptapalooza semifinalist, finalist, and winner. nicholl quarter finalist.

we just had our first meeting, and i’m very excited to be working with these people!

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