A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick
Finding the right representation can be a key component to growing and developing a writing career. TVWriter.com sat down with several managers to find out what they’re looking for in writers and what writers can be doing to help achieve success in the industry.
Manager Tracey Murray spent 11 years as an agent at CAA before stepping into the world of management and is now a Managing Partner at Industry Entertainment. Tracey shares advice from what she’s learned over the years working with writers as both an agent and a manger.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES YOU SEE WRITERS MAKE?
I don’t know if I’d even call this a mistake, because sometimes it works out to be a positive, but sometimes they won’t let go of a project. I think it’s great to be tenacious and I think it’s great to exhaust all options, but there does come a point where you have to say, okay, we exhausted all the options and now it’s time to put it to bed. And sometimes there are writers that keep recycling the same product and that doesn’t bode well for the client. They need to generate new material.
The beauty of being a writer is a project is never dead, because maybe in a couple of years, someone will be looking for X project and you can bring out the old script and update it. But I think being too married to a project sometimes can be not a good thing.
WHAT KIND OF ADVICE DO YOU GIVE TO A NEWER WRITER WHEN THEY GO INTO A MEETING?
Any time a client goes in for a meeting they need to be prepped. They need to be told what that executive covers, whether it’s a show for development, whether it’s a show for staffing. They need to know if it’s a network meeting. They should be familiar with the shows on that network.
If it’s a studio meeting you have to prep your client before they go in, give them a little bit about that executive, the background of the executive, just a little information so they go in armed and ready for that meeting.
WHEN A WRITER IS STARTING OUT, DO YOU WANT THEM TO WRITE A VARIETY OF MATERIAL OR STICK IN A CERTAIN AREA?
I think they stick to one area, at least in the beginning, because you have to brand yourself. If you want to work in comedy, you need at least two samples. If you want to branch out into drama, great, you need two samples in drama. But if you have one here and one there and the material doesn’t really go together, nobody knows where to put you. You need to pick a lane, focus on that and then you can move into other areas.
I remember when we were representing Jerry Bruckheimer and he was wanting to move into comedy and we were like, know your brand. And he stayed and became very successful with his brand and then he only recently moved into developing comedy. I don’t care if you’re in the beginning of your career or you’re in the middle of your career, you want to brand yourself.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE WITH BREAKING A NEW WRITER IN?
I think in the beginning of your career it’s hard to get your first job, but it’s all about having that great piece of material and getting you out there and getting you as many general meetings for the executives at the studios and networks to meet you, like you, put you on their lists and also start pushing you.
Pushing you with the showrunners, saying this guy or woman has great material, you’ve got to read them. I think the first job is a hard job to get, it really is, but it’s the same. I mean getting a job is getting someone a job. At any level, you need to get them out there. You need them to be in front of the studio and the network. You need them to meet with the producers, then you need to get them in front of the showrunner. So it’s the same process, it’s just in the beginning you don’t know anyone. As you start working on shows then you have people that can recommend you, put in a good word to their pal who’s on another show.
That’s why a lot of those programs are great in the beginning when you’re a young writer. The Warner Bros. Program, every network has a program now and all that is very helpful because you meet executives and those executives push you and that again is about forming those relationships. It’s a relationship business. That’s what it’s all about. I don’t care if you’re a manager, agent, writer, executive, it’s all about relationships.
It’s also people trusting you, trusting your taste. As a representative, these executives, if you send them writers that they don’t respond to, they’re not going to pick up your call. If you send them good material, they will always pick up your call.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE ABOUT SUSTAINING A LONG CAREER AS A WRITER?
I think it’s always about writing new material. The cool thing about being a writer is you can write a great project and you can go get a hit on the air. As an actor, you look a certain way and you get to a certain age; it’s very different with a writer. If you write a great piece of material, it can change the whole landscape. So I think that at any stage in your career it’s about writing good material.
It’s about being the best and knowing the most you can about your business. So whether it’s going to the movies, whether it’s watching television shows, whether it’s reading scripts, whether it’s reading articles and magazines to generate ideas. It’s understanding your business, knowing your business. There are a lot of writers that I know who have been in the business a really long time, but they don’t understand the television business. They should make it a point to understand the television business because if you’re working in it, you should understand how it works and if you don’t, get someone to educate you and teach you a little more about it.
I think that’s the biggest advice at any stage of your career. Also working on those relationships. Whether it’s someone at the beginning of your career, you’ll grow up with those peers. We all have at the beginning of your career other assistants that you’re at the same level with and then they become an executive at a studio or a network. Stay in contact with those people and keep those relationships alive. I think those are the biggest things you need to do in order to flourish in this business, because there are a lot of people trying to do the same thing that you’re trying to do and it’s those things that set you apart from the others.
WHERE DO YOU SEE TRENDS IN TV GOING?
It has changed a lot with all the various channels. Right now drama is super hot and it’s going to switch back to comedy. It always does. At one time it was comedy, now it’s drama. It will switch back.
I think that the networks are struggling because there are so many outlets now. That’s going to change too. It’s not going to look the way it does now. You may not have the networks. You may be watching it on your computer. I think there are people who are going to be viewing television differently. But it’s all sort of in the works as we speak. We’re seeing it with Amazon and Netflix. People are binge watching. And there’s something to be said about that.
ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS ABOUT GETTING STARTED AND DEVELOPING THEIR CAREERS?
Be tenacious. It’s a lot of hard work, but if you honestly work hard and put in the effort and the hours and you do a lot of the things I had mentioned, you’ll eventually find your way. It may not be immediately. But you will find your way. I think that it’s sometimes challenging to get rejection. You have to have thick skin and don’t take it personally and really persevere, truly because it’s such a fun business.
There are ups and downs and everyone has ups and downs in their careers. You can’t always be hot, hot, hot. At some point that is going to shift. But you just have to persevere. I think that’s the best advice.
Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.