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.

How many people read the same script? How many rounds does it go through?

Sometimes there are two rounds, sometimes three. If you make it past the first round (which is really hard to do), you move up the chain until you get to in-person interviews.

How important is the choice of show?  Would it make a difference to write a spec of a more mainstream show like Modern Family or New Girl, vs something more offbeat like Man Seeking Woman or Broad City?

People are not lying to you when they say pay close attention to the show you spec. The show you choose says a lot about you as a writer, whether you intend it that way or not.  If you choose an older show, it may convey that you are either a die-hard fan or a writer so green you don’t know current trends.  On the other hand, if you choose a brand new show to spec, your idea may not be the most original because the show is still figuring itself out.  Typically, readers are given scripts of shows they know, so you will most likely have your script read by someone who is familiar with the main concept, characters, structure etc. Just beware: That hot, new, off-beat show you think no one is speccing is actually what everyone is speccing. So you will have company.  Create something that will stand out from the crowd.

How important is it for the spec to appear new, and not have an old storyline, like something that’s a couple seasons old?

We do pay attention to whether or not your spec follows the current season’s storyline, especially for drama, so don’t try to slip in an old spec just to get something read. Just do the work. Watch some current TV and write a new spec. It only benefits you. Submitting a dated spec makes you look out of touch at best and lazy at worst.

How many scripts would you say are good? Give me a percentage.

I can’t offer a guess, but I will say this: Thousands of scripts are submitted to these writing programs, and only a handful make it to the very end.  In between are a bunch of scripts that run the gamut from unreadable to OK to amazing.  And that all depends on who is reading your script. Know your show, write something that is meaningful to you, and fer godssakes use spell check.

What makes a good script stand out to you? What makes a spec memorable?

A good comedy script has got to be funny.  A good drama script has got to have wonderful twists and relatable human moments. I know this is a cliché, but try to “think outside the box” and come up with something that is unique and exciting but still true to the characters. 

What are some things that make a script bad? What should people not do? Are there certain storylines that you see over and over?

Did I mention spell check?  Seriously though, I’ve read so many scripts that go to the same places emotionally and don’t take risks. Or scripts that make the protagonists act out of character just to service the storyline. You must know the show you’re speccing inside and out before you launch into writing.  Give yourself time. You can’t just bang something out in a week and expect it to be any good.  Get someone you trust (or better yet, a bunch of people) and get fresh eyes on your script, and don’t be overly defensive about the notes.  Some obvious things that make a script bad are a lack of attention to detail, wrapping things up too neatly, confusing storylines, boring openings. I’ve read tons of specs where the writer actually invented an entirely new character for the show and centered the story around him or her.  Don’t do this.

For comedy, what are your thoughts about writing something like Girls or Louie, vs a more traditional sitcom? What about live action vs animated shows?

Non-traditional is the new black. Bring it on.  I’d advise against writing specs for any animated shows shorter than 30 minutes. Know your audience.

Any general advice you’d like to share?

Write something good.  We the Readers want to read something good.

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