Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Manager Tracey Murray, Part 1

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

Tracey MurrayFinding 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 didn’t always know she wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry. She started out working for a New York public relations company before moving to Los Angeles to explore a career in news broadcasting.   Realizing broadcasting wasn’t for her, she turned to the entertainment world, landing a job as an assistant to Lee Gabler who ran packaging at Creative Artists Agency. She spent 11 years as an agent at CAA before becoming a manager. Tracey now works with writers as a Managing Partner at Industry Entertainment.

YOU WERE AN AGENT BEFORE BECOMING A MANAGER. WHY THE CHANGE?

The industry was changing. William Morris was about to merge with Endeavor. And basically it was just going to be the two larger agencies so I thought now’s the time. There’s going to be a real need. I could always go back to the agency world if I was wrong, but I figured timing-wise, it was probably the best time to try it.

Actors have always had managers. Then it was the feature writers and directors and then only about 7-8 years ago did TV writers take on managers because there was a real need. The agencies were getting so large that they couldn’t manage all the clients, so that’s why they needed the extra help.

WHAT’S SOME OF THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE BREAKING IN?

Work in television. It was funny because I was a French major and I thought that I was going to use my languages in international, in features. I started working for a feature agent for about a minute and didn’t like it. I then moved into television and my boss at the time, he said, “My wife works in features, the best advice I can give you is work in television.” And clearly I picked the right lane because right now television is the hottest and features are sort of non-existent, sadly.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM WRITERS WHO ARE TRYING TO BREAK IN?

How do I get representation? There are many ways to get representation. I think lots of times it’s through relationships. People don’t accept unsolicited material, so it’s either through a lawyer or someone you know in the business. I think it’s also reaching out to your contacts. I know when I was starting out, I went to Penn and I tried to meet writers at Penn or younger writers that went to the Ivy League schools.

I think it depends on what level you are, so when you’re starting out and you’re trying to find representation, you should be reaching out to the newly promoted agents, the newly promoted managers who are trying to build their lists. I think that’s probably the best way to get representation.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WRITER?

For me, it’s all on the page. You could be a superstar in the room, that’s added bonus, but for me it has to be on the page. You know it when you read it, but I can’t really say specifically. I feel like I have very good taste and I’ve always sort of picked well the people I thought were going to succeed.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WRITING CONTESTS?

I think it’s great. Put it this way, we read everyone from all those programs, whether it’s Warner Bros., the Disney program, awards, all that stuff. Yes, absolutely. I think that just adds to your resume.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN DOING YOUR JOB?

I think one thing is keeping up, now there are so many networks and you have to be familiar with all the shows. I mean, as I say to my clients, I expect them to work as hard as I do. I expect them to watch everything. I expect them to read everything. During development season, I expect them to read all the scripts and know what’s in development and then when the pilots are shot, I expect them to see all the pilots. It’s hard to keep up with series, but you really have to do it. I do it, so I expect my clients to do it. That’s one of the challenges.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

First of all, I love writers. I love representing writers. I love reading. I love giving notes. I love being hands on with my clients and getting to know my clients and as a manager, I didn’t think that my relationships could deepen with my clients because I’ve always had a close relationship with my clients, but now I have more time to spend with them. And you represent less writers as a manager. I have about 20 clients as a manager.

IN COMPARISON, HOW MANY CLIENTS DID YOU HAVE AS AN AGENT?

You’re on teams and then you’re servicing a bigger list. You’re pitching all the clients of an agency and that’s thousands of clients. As a manager, you’re representing the clients that you want to represent and you represent them in all areas. So I’m not just a TV manager, I’m managing my clients in all areas of the business. Whether it’s television, features, theater, I represent them. In an agency, you’re either a TV agent or motion picture agent and then you pass your client off to another department and person when they want to branch out into a different area.

WHAT CAN A WRITER DO TO HELP YOU DO YOUR JOB?

Write. I mean you’d be surprised that a lot of writers won’t give you a new script and I can’t do my job if I don’t have new material. In television every year it’s the same cycle, at least for the networks. So if for development season I’m getting out their script, I need a new script for the following development season. Same thing for staffing.

Writers need to write. They also need to generate ideas. They need to be pounding the pavement, looking. Whether it’s optioning books, optioning articles. Reading articles, just figuring out how to generate ideas.

HOW IS STAFFING CHANGING NOW WITH MORE OUTLETS?

There was a time when if you did not get a job in May or early June, you could be out for a year and that’s not the case anymore. Because there are so many networks, there are jobs all year long.

The same goes for you can pitch network season the same every year, but cablewise, you can pitch all year long. There’s just a lot more opportunity and it’s not as scary for the clients because they know that if they miss that window, there’s much more opportunity throughout the year.

Coming soon – more from Tracey including building a brand as a writer, common mistakes writers make and advice on sustaining a long career.


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.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Jacque Edmonds Cofer

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Jacque Edmonds Cofer

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Writer Jacque Edmonds Cofer was living in Detroit when she heard about The Disney-ABC Writers Program. Her spec for A Different World, won her a place in the program and was the starting point for her writing career that includes writing for Martin, Living Single, Moesha and creating Let’s Stay Together

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

So my first job, I guess was as part of the Walt Disney – ABC Writers Program. It was only the second year of the program. I was living in Detroit at the time. I just heard about it sort of through a fluke and applied. So I didn’t know it was competitive. I kinda thought I might be the only one applying for this thing. I wrote my first spec script and got in. It was a spec for A Different World about a student who was HIV-positive.

That was 91, something like that. There was still a lot of fear around that issue, a lot of confusion about what it really meant and the difference between HIV-positive and actually having AIDS. So the message, if there was a message, was that people don’t change just because of their health. If he’s a great guy, he’s still a great guy.

WHAT DID THE WRITING PROGRAM INVOLVE?

There were four of us on the TV side and I think about 11 feature writers. We had seminars at the Disney studio where different feature and TV writers would come and speak, a Q&A or screenings, that sort of thing.

There were a lot of pilot screenings. The sort of self-directed part of it was that you pretty much had access to the lot. And I really took advantage of that. Every day I was at a taping or a screening or something that was going on. You know, there are a lot of resources there.

So in addition to the sort of formal training in outlining and pitching and developing a script and all of that, there was the informal access to the industry. Which I think was very important because of the four of us, two of us were from the Midwest. None of us really had that insight into how things work. In addition to just sitting at your computer writing a script there’s a lot that goes on in terms of how to meet people, how to get a job, what the trends are.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER ABC?

I really started working on spec material in preparation for staffing. I did get an agent and I got my first staff job on Martin the year after the fellowship.

FROM MARTIN, WHERE DID THE PATH TAKE YOU?

I was there 3 years and had a great showrunner that first year. There were no boundaries there according to your level of writer. So from staff writer I was going to edit sessions, mix session and all that. He was like if you want to come, come. If you want to hang out while I do the first cut, come sit in my office. So that was great experience.

It allowed me to move up really quickly. I started as a staff writer, in 3 years I was supervising producer and then the next season went on to Living Single as co-exec. So it was very fast.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A STAFF WRITER?

For me, I’m always going to look at personality; how well I think that they’re going to blend in our writers’ room with the other people. They can’t be easily offended. Sitcom writers are a very offensive bunch of people. So you gotta let it go.

They can’t be too defensive or protective of their work which is pretty much a new writer issue in general. I mean, I remember being in tears over my first couple of scripts. Not because of changes per say, but because of the way it was being changed. Now with hindsight, I still of course think I was right, but I guess I now know how to write so things aren’t misinterpreted.

So personality, ability to blend in and then if they’re bringing anything unique. A unique perspective, particularly one that relates to the show.  It’s what life experience they bring to the show and this is all on top of me having read the script and saying that they’re a really good writer.

I read a script recently that was passed on to me, someone who’s just a very, very beginning writer and the script it’s kind of interesting, the characters are kind of interesting, it kind of fell apart about half-way through. But what really came through for me in the script was this writer had a really good sense of fun.

The script was very playful. It was very upbeat. She was really going for laughs. And I really like that, even though she’s not there yet, but I can see  in her writing that with some training and some experience she’ll get there. The fact that it fell apart when it did, she took a couple shortcuts. Those are rookie mistakes and those are things that can be addressed as opposed to reading a comedy script that’s just not funny, doesn’t have the laughs or just doesn’t have that spirit of fun.

DO YOU PREFER TO READ SPECS OR ORIGINAL PILOTS?

I’ll read specs of current shows, although if you’re a fan of the show, you’re a harsher judge. I would maybe be more critical. It’s kind of a double-edged sword.   If I have the opportunity, I want to see both, because if I’m hiring you, you will be doing my show and that’s really what I want to see, how they adapt to my voice.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS A WRITER?

One thing that I did have to learn is to not take it personally. You know your jokes are going to get killed, your stories are going to get changed. You can’t hold on too tightly. If you’re smart, you just put it in the file and it will show up in another script and it won’t get cut that time.

The second one was to read, write and watch as much as you can. Because particularly now, as there are so many, many different forms of entertainment and ways to deliver it.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. Find out more about her HERE.

Kate G: Television Writing Contests 2013

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by Kate G

Get some eyes on your spec, original pilot, or other original scripts by submitting to yearly television writing contests. Contests at least guarantee that someone will take the time to read through your script, and if you’re good (and lucky), they can offer cash, development deals, paid internships, high level workshops, and bragging rights. For the most part, television writing contests seem to be held in the first half of the year with the majority holding deadlines during or at the end of May. Once you hit June/July you’re pretty much going to be working for next year’s contests. In the spirit of helping every aspiring television writer out there, we’re listing a bunch of contests here in relative chronological order!

New York Television Festival
http://www.nytvf.com/index.html

This one’s going first because it has many different deadlines throughout the year depending on which initiatives it is currently sponsoring. Take a good look, East Coasters, because this is all you’re gonna get close to home. Most of these contests (or ‘initiatives’) are for independent producers creating original content, meaning you’re probably going to have to get out there and film something – even if it’s just a couple minutes to go with your treatment. They partner with companies like A&E, History, and Fox to provide chances for development deals. Festival is held every fall in Manhattan. Check back for new initiatives.

Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship
http://www.nickwriting.com/home/

Entry Period: January 2nd – February 28th

Comedy spec scripts only. Sorry drama writers. Ready for this? Because this prize is a knockout. Nick hires (that means pays) around four writers to learn from the best, participate in production and development, meet all of the important players at Nickelodeon, and groom to (hopefully) work there when they’re done. Prepare to move to Burbank, California if you win, but they’ll pay round trip airfare and a month’s accommodations. A veritable holy grail for comedy writers. Oh, and you missed it for 2013. But there’s always next year.

Scriptapalooza
http://www.scriptapaloozatv.com/

Entry Period: April 15th & October 15th

Enter with everything from pilots to comedy/drama specs to reality shows (and there are a lot of reality show producers associated with this one). Cash prizes for the winners and feedback if you want to pay an additional $75. But more importantly, if you win, they show your work off to all of their contacts, producers, managers, and agents. Exposure exposure exposure. Their network is available for a possible leg up into the industry.

CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program
http://diversity.cbscorporation.com/page.php?id=23

Entry Period: March 1 – May 1, 2013

Break out your spec scripts and some of your original work because you’ll need one of each. For original work they accept pilots, short fiction, screenplays, or short plays. However, for a funky twist to spice up your life, the rules state that your spec and your original work will need to ‘match in tone’. The workshop takes place in the Los Angeles area (noticing a trend, yet?) where you will be shaking hands with and learning from all kinds of television bigwigs. You win access to executives, support, and the chance to dive right in and observe your mentor’s writing room.

NBC – Writers on the Verge
http://www.nbcunicareers.com/earlycareerprograms/writersontheverge.shtml

Entry Period: May 1, 2013 – May 31, 2013

Comedy and Drama specs accepted. A 12 week intensive course held on Tuesday and Thursday nights designed to help you create an awesome spec and pilot to show to those who might hire you. This is described as a program for writers who just need a little spit shine to be ready for professional work. Once again, get ready to rush out to California as the workshop is held in Universal City. No one’s helping you get there either. But we all know if you win you’ll hitchhike your way out there and live under a bridge if you have to (remember to charge a hefty toll).

Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop
http://writersworkshop.warnerbros.com/

Entry Period: May 1 – June 1

Comedy and Drama specs accepted. A lot like the NBC Writers on the Verge but now with 100% more Warner Bros. A Tuesday nightly workshop in Los Angeles, California with the end goal of possibly being staffed on a television show. No help with housing or pay, but when your big break knocks, are you going to tell it you just can’t afford it right now? A great many working professional television writers have been through this workshop – and some have written books about it.

Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship
http://www.abctalentdevelopment.com/index.html

Entry period: Usually May – June 1st as well. (For some reason they don’t like to keep their deadlines posted until it begins.)

Comedy and Drama specs accepted. Make sure you have three solid specs, because if you become a finalist you may be asked for more work. If (or when) you win, you are offered the opportunity to become an employee of Disney with an annual salary of 50,000 USD. As with Nickelodeon, you will be exposed to and work with key personnel to advance your career. They will also have the option to buy the scripts you submitted at the price that would befit your experience level. Something to be aware of: this one is going to require recommendations from people who work in the industry so start sucking up to bothering asking your friends in the industry for glowing letters extolling the virtues of your writing prowess.

Spec Scriptacular & People’s Pilot
https://tvwriter.com/?page_id=450
https://tvwriter.com/?page_id=260

Entry period: January 1st – June 1st.

These are TVWriter’s own flagship contests, one for comedy or drama spec scripts and the other for original pilots (guess which is which). With thousands of dollars in winnings as well as the invaluable mentorship of Larry Brody, we happen to think the rewards are top notch. TVWriter is dedicated to helping you write your very best, so this year LB and company are offering free feedback for every entry! How’s that for a deal? On a personal note, this contest has some of the quickest and most personable responses from LB himself. Makes you feel like someone actually wants to read your script – not to find any reason to throw it in the circular filing cabinet.

Slamdance
http://showcase.slamdance.com/Writing-Competition

Entry Period: Feb 25th – July 2nd (tiers of submission deadlines)

Original Feature, Horror, and Teleplay/Webisode winners each win 3,000 bucks in addition to other prizes and the chance to have their script read by production companies, studios, and agents. Winner for original feature length screenplay this year receives $10,000 and $50,000 to produce the film. If you’ve got an idea for a movie while you’re perfecting your webseries and your specs, now’s the time to get cracking!

Fox Intensive Initiative
http://www.fox.com/audiencestrategy/foxwritersintensive/

So, Fox. I get that you only want professionals, people who’ve worked in your industry already. Not so great for the rest of us trying to catch a break, but I get that bit. But how about updating your website with the new deadlines? Or letting us know if there’s even going to be a new contest? Nothing up here except for last year’s info. If you see something pop up, feel free to let us know (or keep it to your greedy self). Go forth, write, edit, and buy those antiquated brads, champ. Because you can’t win if you don’t play.

EDITED by LB TO ADD: Here’s another contest, one we just thought of. First reader/commentor to tell us why the pic at the top of this article is relevant (and, yep, it is) gets a prize. (C’mon, you can do it. Writers are the Kings & Queens of General Knowledge. Or at least we’re supposed to be.)