Creating your own comedy competition

Cold Cut Logo - NUEA flag 2Cuz why not?

A little “cold marketing” never hurt anybody, right? Just ask TVWriter™ bud Jeff Burdick, an aspiring TV comedy writer who puts as much thought into  marketing himself as he does into his scripts. With his wife and adopted son, he moved last year from Chicago to Los Angeles. He soon landed a literary agent after renting theater space and staging a showcase of three of his original sitcom pilot scripts.

As he works to land his first staff gig, Burdick continues to write and raise his industry profile. This includes creating a unique new live comedy competition for original TV pilot scripts. Called “The Cold Cut,” the June 3rd event will stage the Cold Opens from nine original comedy pilots. Battle of the Bands-style, the audience will vote for their favorite. After intermission, the one that makes the “cut” wins an immediate staged reading of its full script and other prizes.

But enough from us. Let’s hear from Jeff:

How did you conceive The Cold Cut?

I’m fortunate my alma mater has a very active alumni base in LA. This includes an entertainment-focused alumni club, the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance (NUEA), which comprises hundreds of actors, writers, directors and producers. They regularly mount talent showcases, but had never geared one toward TV comedy writing. 

But where did the idea for a live pilot script competition come from?

All good TV scripts must grab a reader in the first few pages, so why not a rapid-fire staging of just the Cold Opening scenes from multiple comedy scripts, with all scripts available online afterward. For a more interactive live experience, I also opted for a Battle of the Bands-style audience vote over the standard judging panel.

What has been the response?

Pretty stunning. To our Reading Committee’s surprise, we received more than 40 scripts, from which we selected nine finalists. More than 40 alumni actors submitted for casting. The Black List came on as an event sponsor, and we were able to recruit a pretty impressive group of recent showrunners, staff writers, and active producers to provide expert script feedback to our writers.

How did you get The Black List and your industry readers?

It’s as simple as having a solid professional pitch, reaching out, and then finding some people interested in both your project and hutzpah. I have a journalism background so I’m used to reaching out to people not expecting my call. I know some say “cold-calling” doesn’t work in this town, but I’ve cold-called my way into a general at WME and a pitch meeting on the Fox lot Also my relationship with my current agent also began with a cold call. So in general, if you have a smart and unique angle, you can usually find some people willing to hear you out.

Have you received any industry feedback yet?

Yes, very positive feedback. Early on, I and my two co-producers – Liz Kenny and Michael Yawanis – solicited feedback on our concept from different industry pros. Some were alums; some not. These ranged from Key & Peele Executive Producer Ian Roberts to staff writers and studio executives to agents and managers. Everyone was terribly generous with their time and tips. Plus their uniform enthusiasm confirmed we had a winning format.

Yours is an alumni competition, but do you expect wider interest?

We hope so. Through our partnership with The Black List, the finalist scripts will be posted for review after the live June 3rd competition. We will be reaching out throughout the industry to publicize the event, the script loglines, and Black List links. We’ve also created a general interest Facebook “Cold Cut” page at which we post weekly links to great Cold Opens a week from classic and current TV shows. We hope this appeals to other writers.

I see your own script is a finalist. Since you created the competition, isn’t this a bit like a movie producer giving his girlfriend a plum role in his film?

Ha! Not in my case. All script judging was blind, and no judge could read a script with which they were already familiar. So I had no guarantee my script would make the cut. A couple of our judges also submitted scripts blind, but they did not make the cut.

What are your tips for other writers looking to uniquely market themselves?

I first recommend doing a self-audit of what makes you unique, what tools and resources are at your fingertips, and then how to leverage these to crack open more doors. I’m a big fan of re-using existing quality content in creative new ways, such as creating your own sizzle real or staging your own multi-work showcase. Also consider how to partner with others to create win-win opportunities and expose your talents to new networks.

For instance, I have friend who recently created a funny Web series about magicians. My suggestion for him was to approach some Hollywood magic shops to see if any would like to host a screening in their shop. The writer invites his circle and the magic shop promotes to its customer base. Then you also have a unique “happening” to reach out an invite potential agents, managers and producers.

What’s next for your own self-marketing?

Back to basics. Never forget the best marketing tool is always your next quality script. So I’m polishing my half-hour comedy pilot script that got me my agent and is in The Cold Cut competition. I am also doing final revisions to a new first hour-long dramedy pilot called “Assistants.” (Yes, it is about a group of 20-something college friends who are all different kinds of assistants trying to climb the Hollywood ladder.)

Contact Jeff Burdick through his writer’s Web site