LB: Toughing it out

It isn’t easy becoming a TV writer, and guess what? It isn’t easy to stay one either. The following post by a distinguished “old pro” is among the best advice I’ve ever heard or read for anyone thinking of going into – or already in – showbiz.

Especially, yeah, writers:


One Phone Call
by Mark Evanier

Early in 2011, I posted this piece of what I still think is sound advice. And hey, if you have a past posting here you think is worthy of a reprise, please drop me a line and tell me. In the meantime, here’s what I wrote about the awesome, life-changing power of One Phone Call…

If you have a steady job, you may want to skip this. It’s directed to many friends, acquaintances and total strangers who never have jobs that are all that steady: Writers, artists, actors and various other freelancers who think it’s a big deal if they get something that pays them for six months or a year…or who even subsist on a string of one-shot gigs.

It’s been a rough couple of years and no one’s forecasting a huge change in this one. Our unemployment level is impossible to chart but (obviously) way too high. I can’t remember a time of so many calls and e-mails that include the phrase, “Please, if you hear of anything…” The answer, alas, is that I rarely hear of anything.

So what can we tell these folks? The first thing to remember is that there are two kinds of problems in this world. You might be unfortunate enough to have both kinds at once but you should never forget that there are two kinds — the ones that can be largely solved by One Phone Call and the ones that can’t. “I don’t have a job” can be solved with One Phone Call. Someone calls up and hires you. That happens all the time…admittedly, not as often or as perfectly timed as you would like but it certainly happens and if it’s the right One Phone Call, the problem disappears in its entirety. Gone. Evaporated. A distant memory. Congrats.

The other kind of problem is the kind that can’t be solved by One Phone Call. Being very ill would probably be the most obvious example but it can also be a relationship problem that isn’t going to get better and we can all imagine plenty of other situations. I have a friend who has severe Fibromyalgia. No One Phone Call is going to make that go away.

People keep plunging themselves into depression and despair because they mistake the first kind of problem for the second kind. Neither is fun and I’m not suggesting the second kind is necessarily hopeless. I know plenty of folks who’ve recovered from pretty severe disasters. I just think it’s valuable to distinguish between them and to not overdramatize the former into the latter. I don’t know how many times a friend has called on Monday, wailing about unemployment and speaking in the bleakest, most depressing terms. And then on Tuesday, they get that One Phone Call.

It doesn’t always happen that neatly. But it does happen.

When it doesn’t happen, that may be because of simple numbers. It’s sometimes the case that the talent pool is too large for the marketplace. Back in the eighties in the animation business, there was a period when there were 25 cartoon series in production in Los Angeles, many of them Monday-Friday shows that required 65 episodes to fill out a season. That meant a great demand for scripts and a lot of people who hadn’t been animation writers before suddenly became animation writers. Dozens of ’em.

Then only two or three years later, there was a downswing in production and the business was down to (I think) 16 series, mostly Saturday-only shows that produced but 13 episodes a year. I may have the precise numbers wrong but it was something like a 70% drop in the quantity of scripts that were needed.

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