Step 3: Get Usable Notes on Your Spec Script
Before you show your “hot off the press” spec scripts around town, you need to make sure they’re as good as you think they are. Find a minimum of three people that can give you “usable notes.” “Usable Notes” are notes that help you address problems in the script. This is also referred to as constructive criticism.
A note about notes: a note from your mother telling you how much she enjoyed the script is not a note. That is an opinion -- and of course your mother is going to like it. Frankly, opinions are useless. You need someone to read it who is a bit more qualified that can give you specifics on what’s not working and why. If you don’t have any friends who are in the “biz” then consider giving it to another comedy writer. You want them to be brutally honest with you.
If the story doesn’t seem feasible, or they say the character voices are way off, or your jokes aren’t funny enough, take heed. These are “usable notes” that will help you to create a better script on your journey to becoming a better writer.
Tip: It can be trying to hear someone tear your work apart. But if you can learn to remove any emotional attachment to your work and simply listen to the notes that are being given, you’ll be able to calmly discern which notes will help you to improve your script. Don’t justify why you did something. In fact, don’t say anything at all. Just listen to the notes as they’re being given – use what works for you and filter out what doesn’t. But remember, that if something isn’t coming across to your reader, it won’t help you to explain “what you meant.” If it’s not working, it’s not working – so consider fixing what might be broken.
Step 4: Pack up Your Specs and Move to Los Angeles
Unfortunately, Los Angeles is really the only place to be a TV comedy writer. Of course there are similar jobs in England and in Canada, but to work on 99% of all comedies on U.S. television, Los Angeles is where you have to be. Unlike writing for movies, your options for living anywhere other than Los Angeles are nil.
Step 5: Network
Most TV writing jobs are found through personal connections. Rare is the occasion that someone lands in Los Angeles with a script tucked under their arm and suddenly starts working in the TV biz. So, you need to start networking. Here are a few suggestions:
- Go to writer events – there are a number of events in Hollywood that are geared toward aspiring television and screenwriters. Whether it’s a screening, lecture or social event, you can find many of them advertised online or in the trade magazines.
- Take a Class – UCLA Extension, AFI and USC all offer high quality writing classes that will not only help you to improve your writing skills, but they’ll group you together with a number of like minded individuals. They’re also often taught by professional writers.
- Start a Writers Group – Through Craigslist.com, online chat rooms or even through local newspapers, you can identify other writers whom you might want to start meeting with on a regular basis. A writers group is not just a great networking tool, but it can help you get a host of constructive criticism on your writing.
- Take an Assistant Job – find a job working at one of the networks, studios or agencies as a low level staffer. By working as an assistant to a development executive, agent or producer, you’re not only learning valuable information about the business as a whole, but you’re developing relationships with people that have the power to help your budding writing career.
- Consider Working as a Writer’s Assistant – Not that these jobs are easy to find, but many television writers began their careers as a Writer’s Assistant. The job is exactly that – working as an assistant to the writers. It will not only familiarize you with the process of writing for television, but you will be working directly with the writers on staff. You will be in direct communication with the people that might one day hire you as a writer.
Step 6: Getting an Agent
Now here’s the big catch-22 of Hollywood – to get an agent, you need to be a working writer and to become a working writer, you need an agent. Frustrating as that may seem, it’s not impossible to get an agent.
Randomly submitting your spec scripts to agencies has been known to work for some people, but it is both time consuming and expensive. Besides, most agencies have a policy against people blindly submitting material and in fact may either return the package to you or simply throw it away and never respond (this way they can say it was simply never received).
So, the easiest and most productive way to go about getting an agent is to focus a lot of your attention on steps 2, 3 and 5 above. Make sure you have spec scripts that are of the highest quality possible and that you’re networking any time you’re not writing. More than likely, you will soon come across someone who is in a position to help you.
Let me reiterate however, the importance of having your spec scripts in tip top shape. When the opportunity to have someone of importance read your scripts comes along, you’ll want them to be so impressed by your writing that they can’t possibly pass you up.