Dawn McElligott: Philly to L.A. – The First Step is a Doozy

by Dawn McElligott

In February 2017, I was living in Greater Philadelphia and working at a global not-for-profit organization. The pay was low, the work was hard, and I was having tension headaches. Relief came in the form of feedback on the 2016 People’s Pilot contest from a distinguished gentleman with the initials, LB. The gist of the feedback was that the script showed enough professionalism to earn a staff writing position on a TV show but moving to Los Angeles was the first step.

By late March, I was ready to take that step. I quit my job, notified the landlord and started sorting my belongings. It took me two weeks of non-stop work to donate my used furniture to various charities and pack what I could take in the car. I borrowed money from a retirement plan for the journey. Finally, my car was packed a little after 5 pm on April 5, 2017.

I set the GPS for 200 Santa Monica Pier. Pulling out of the apartment house parking lot, I felt like I was blasting off for the moon. I drove as far as I could that evening. Fearing the effects of fatigue, I pulled over for the night and stayed at a low-budget inn. I had gotten as far as Shanksville, PA, the final resting place of Flight 93. Not exactly a good omen, but I took it to mean this was a significant journey.

The next morning, I headed out into the rain and drove to West Virginia. I had lunch at a McDonald’s restaurant. Returning to my car, an older, bearded man laughed heartily at, I suppose, my bumper stickers promoting the Hillary Clinton campaign. He got into his black pickup truck and drove away. I continued my journey too, reaching another small town, outside of St. Louis, MO, the following night.

The next morning as I prepared to leave the Comfort Inn, my Hillary Clinton bumper stickers yielded pairs of raised eyebrows from the older man and his wife, parked next to my car. Nevertheless, they seemed good natured and jovial, understanding that interstate highways bring all sorts of people together, even liberals and conservatives. They drove away and so did I.

Throughout the drive, I had too much time to think about dead relatives and friends that had passed away. In the solitude of my vehicle, I simply cried about my losses and fears for my future. Driving without the distractions of local traffic, allowed me to cry out numerous frustrations.

I might have wept out the heartaches that led to the tension headaches in Philadelphia. I began to realize why road trip movies had been so popular, years ago. Driving long distances does force introspection. The physical journey becomes a spiritual one.

Around New Mexico, I start to regret my decision not to buy a GoPro for the car. I would have picked up such spectacular footage! New Mexico’s tranquility informs me why it’s called “The Land of Enchantment.” I imagine my great loved and loving Shepherd-Rottweiler, “Punkin,” dead since 2014, reliving her youth by running happily throughout the valleys.

On Sunday, April 9, I set out from Albuquerque, NM to drive as far West as I could. I drove into Arizona and saw my first road signs, saying Los Angeles was a certain distance, 500 miles or so. What a welcome sight! I felt tired as I drove through Arizona, but I was determined to reach California, that evening.

As twilight descended, I arrived at the state’s westernmost frontier. The setting sun gilded the pointy peaks of the mountains before me, adding drama and an air of fantasy to the long-anticipated drive over the Colorado River, into Needles, CA. Hollywood couldn’t have staged a more dramatic entrance into the Golden State. Alas, no GoPro!

Not seeing any Comfort Inns or any other predictable, franchise establishments, I continued westward, despite the fatigue, until reaching Barstow. In Barstow I stayed at a hotel, part of a well-known chain. Undergoing major repairs, the inn appeared to be as close to collapsing as I was. Waking up the next morning, I realized that neither I, nor the hotel, was in a pile of rubble. It seemed like a good sign to me.

After paying the bill, I headed for my car in the parking lot. A lady parked next to mine said to me, “I love your bumper stickers… we tried.” We chatted for a bit and she left. I knew I was in a better place. I headed for Santa Monica. A traffic jam caused me to pull off the freeway in El Monte.

I found a business that does oil changes and car washes. When I paid for both, the cashier urged me to sit outside at a cute, little table in the warm sun. This was in high contrast to East Coast oil changes where I’ve been stuck indoors, pouring non-dairy creamer into coffee brewed during the Spanish-American War. Now, I was in the Golden State. Sipping soda outdoors, watching people towel dry my Hyundai Tucson, I thought of the new world I was entering.

I continued further until reaching the destination on my GPS: 200 Santa Monica Pier. A decade and a half earlier, I had lived in Anaheim but had to go back East when the Southern California economy collapsed in 2002. Now I did something I’d been waiting to do ever since. I waded along the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

Too exhausted to spend the rest of the day looking for an apartment, I treated myself to tacos, beer and conversation with the gentleman at the next table. It turned out that he had been raised in a small town next to Monroe, NY, where I’d grown up. He appeared to be an out of work actor, and in spite of facing homelessness himself, he wished me great success as he left with a wave and a “Welcome to L.A.!”

During much of the drive, I’d been afraid Southern Californians would see me only as “a woman of a certain age” arriving in Tinseltown too late for the party.  I’d thought of them as having arrived before me because they were more successful, alpha types who would see me as a failure upon arrival. I’d even envisioned them locking arms to prevent my entry into the City of the Angels.

As I watched the man go, it came to me that I was being hurt by old prejudices that I had to shed. Nobody here was trying to stop me. The only person I had to overcome was myself.


Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Philadelphia and other points East. You can learn more about her HERE

How to be a good showrunner

One of the most knowledgeable writers on the web hits one out of the park…again.

We thought we had a showrunner pun when we uploaded this pic, but now we can’t remember what it was. Yikes!

by Ken Levine

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.  I know the WGA has seminars on this and some colleges offer courses in this, but the following points are pretty much everything you need to know.   (Reminder: Whenever I can’t think of an appropriate picture I always post Natalie Wood photos.)

The question is from Brian Hennessy.

Hey Ken – can I ask you what are mistakes that first time showrunners make?

1. Not communicating with your staff. It’s not enough to have your vision for the show; you need to clearly share it with your other writers. Don’t just assume. It’ll be hard enough for them without trying to figure out what’s in your head. Same is true with your editor and directors.

2. Be very organized. Time will go by much faster than you think. From day one lay out a plan. You want so many outlines by this date, so many first drafts by that date, etc.

3. Don’t squander that period before production begins. It’s easy to knock off early or move meetings back. But this is golden time before the crunch when actors arrive, cameras roll, and a thousand additional details require your attention.

4. Accept the fact that the first draft of the first script you receive from every staff member will look like a script from the last show they were on. It will take them time to adapt to your show.

5. Remember that every writer is not a “five-tool player” as they say in baseball. By that I mean, some may be strong at story but not jokes, or punch-up but not drafts. Not everybody is good at everything.  Consider that when putting together your staff.

6. Hire the best writers, not your best friends.

7. Hire at least one experienced writer. Otherwise, on top of everything else you’re doing, you’re re-inventing the wheel.

8. Don’t show favoritism to some writers over others. It destroys morale and no one loves a teacher’s pet.

9. Pick your fights with the network and studio. Don’t go to war over every little note. Antagonizing everyone all the time is a good way to ensure this will be your only showrunning gig. Yes, you’re an artist and you’re trying to protect your vision. And yes, a lot of the notes are moronic, but you have to hear them out. You have to consider them. You have to do the ones you can live with. The best way to get your way is to get them on your side.

10. Don’t overwork your staff. This goes back to being organized. There’s only so many times you can whip the same horse. Your people are dedicated to the show but not to the extent you are.

Read it all at Ken Levine’s great blog

Diana Black on The Pilot Vs. The Series Goal

 by Diana Black

A ‘Strong pilot’ has a ‘Pilot Goal’ as well as a ‘Series Goal’ that is, if you expect to generate interest with your spec ‘calling card’. But what does this really entail? Maybe we need to define what a goal is before exploring the development and importance of such beasties…

For dramatic purposes, a ‘goal’ needs to be a burning desire with the stakes – crazy high – either for an individual Protagonist or an Ensemble. Regardless, it must be achieved…a ‘do-or-die’. It can
take the form of an object, state of being, relationship, or an act of heroism… whatever…

Do we as viewers, want to invest our time in a wimp? Maybe, if they’re seriously compelling to watch. If the goal the Protagonist consciously wants is achieved in the Pilot episode; typically for a
regular U.S. episodic series, does that mean its ‘Game Over’ for the Series?

No. The ‘Tag’ of the Pilot may allude to the Protagonist (or ‘Ensemble’) about to embark on a new
‘adventure’. Alternatively, the Pilot might close with the Antagonist looming or reappearing on the
Protagonist’s horizon… ‘Game on’! Or, the Protagonist might be on the brink of achieving their
desire when the Pilot comes to an end – leaving us with a ‘cliff-hanger’ with ‘will they, won’t they’
buzz going on in the lunchroom the following day – yay!

If it’s a Mini-series, or a Limited Series – both having a relatively short, narrative arc, the ‘Pilot goal’ might be achieved later on. It will depend on how you’ve set up the narrative and over how many Episodes you envisage the Season to run.

Regardless, there’ll be an unconscious goal – the ‘Series Goal’ – alluded to in your ‘Leave Behind’.
It’s buried deep in the Protagonist’s/Ensemble’s subconscious… either driving them in a specific
direction or presenting an obstacle that they must overcome. Their initial failure to recognize and
achieve this subconscious goal relates to their psychological ‘flaw’.

In the ‘Character Profile’ you’ve devised for all of the main characters (You have,yes??!), have you identified for each of them their fundamental flaw? If you’re not sure of the importance of the ‘flaw’ don’t worry. We’ll talk about that in another article soon.

Either way, that flaw has to continue to stymie their efforts to achieve the ‘Series Goal’ until it’s overcome (or they die trying). It’s essentially a thematic ‘issue’ in your story world, which in order for them to ‘grow’ and realize their true potential, they must achieve.

Equally important, is the escalating tension associated with the ‘Series Goal’. Allowing them to
succeed without a struggle and/or considerable risk is boring for us ‘clever apes’ – every story is a
‘survival lesson by proxy’ – so they have to fight for it.

For the Writer, the ‘Series Goal’ must be known and pre-mapped, prior to writing the Pilot in
order to lay down the breadcrumbs associated with it – in the Pilot Episode. In this way the narrative is layered with hidden meanings, which if the Viewer is watching very carefully, will slowly reveal the ‘Series Goal’ but do we want it to be that easy? No… but that’s an upcoming article as well…


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black on Targeting Your Spec TV Script

Enjoy this cool visual metaphor found on the interwebs

 by Diana Black

Is there such a thing as, ‘The’ definitive television series? Perhaps once, in relation to narrative form and length of ‘season’. But gone are the days when series television originated solely from broadcast networks. Now thanks to Cable subscription and the Internet, not only has the viewing platform changed, but also the nature of what constitutes a ‘series’.

In other words, episodic storytelling has evolved. Does it matter? Well it kind of does – to us, as writers of content. You need to know from the outset, what ‘form’ of series you’re writing – Limited, Mini, or Regular series – because that will have a bearing on the narrative arc and on the number of episodes you envisage in your outline. If the objective is to sell it – duh, you need to determine who you’re going to pitch this ‘calling card’ to.

In relation to the narrative arc, think about what you’re trying to say, the intended media platform, and who’s likely to comprise the audience. Hazy generality won’t work here – specific tailoring is ‘mission critical’ if you expect a warm reception… unless you’re into just throwing it against the wall to see what sticks…for shame.

Let’s distinguish between the ‘Limited Series’, ‘Mini-series’ and ‘Regular Series’ – all of which tend to be found on cable and other streaming platforms; as opposed to the typical ‘Network Series’ aired on big networks, which many go on for years.

A ‘Limited Series’ is less than the regular 18ish episodes (network) or 13ish episodes (cable). It’s a way of ‘testing the waters’ – the potential the series has to develop longer legs (more episodes), which of course depends on the ratings. From the suit’s POV, it’s a safer bet regarding expenditure than purchasing its bigger cousin.

A ‘Mini Series’ is a finite entity with a set number of episodes, an ensemble of characters and written with a clear and contained narrative arc in terms of plot. Examples include British productions like the four episode, The Night Manager, and the three episode series And Then There Were None.

A ‘Regular Series’ sometimes known as an ‘Anthology Series’ generally takes the form of 18 or so episodes (network) or 8 to 13 episodes (cable) – often over multiple seasons, in which the lead characters are maintained and new characters introduced into an established setting. The plotting is either ‘serialized’ or ‘procedural’.

Serialized plotting entails a narrative arc across the season such as Breaking Bad and Twin Peaks. In procedurals the regular family of crime solvers deals with a new plot every episode, as on Bones and NCIS.

Are web-series different again? If the narrative is compelling and the characters lovable and worthy of following, it may well run into the ‘20+’ episode range – then it may get picked-up by a 3rd party with lots of moolah.

Of course, there’s one way to determine that whatever you go to market with will be looked on
favorably. Have the property already associated in another form – such as a successful novel.

There isn’t a TV executive alive who can resist the siren call of a project another executive somewhere else has already loved. In fact, sometimes all it takes the knowledge that another professional outlet is courting your work.

Previous success equals leverage. And leverage means power. So get your work out there, and do everything you can to get the word about it out into the showbiz wild as well.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Web Series: ‘SIBS’ Goes Hollywood

by Dawn McElligott

What kind of a show would you and your sibling make?

Last month, real-life siblings, Kimberly and Bryan Scamman answered that question for themselves with a short film entitled, SUPER SECRET CANADIAN SPY MOVIE.

The movie is a version of the first season finale episodes of their web series, SIBS. The brother and sister duo screened the film at a promotional event at the Three Clubs in Hollywood on August 27th.

In addition to free admission, the audience was treated to photo ops with the stars, gratuitous grub, a comedy act, and then, finally, the screening of SUPER SECRET CANADIAN SPY MOVIE itself.

The Three Clubs is a fun, retro lounge on Vine Street where one could easily imagine the original, Frank Sinatra-led, rat pack hanging out.  Danny Jolles from CW’s Emmy Award-winning series CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND, warmed up the audience with some laughs. Well, more than some. Enough for Kimberly to gush, “Danny was a great fit for our content, and we were blessed to have him!”

Kimberly and Bryan pack a punch of pure silliness into their series as only two siblings can. For one thing, their biological bond created greater artistic freedom. For another, they’ve both studied martial arts, lending a physical, bordering-on-cartoonish slant to the action.

The real-life sibs are from a southern California family that moved around often before returning to Los Angeles. Kimberly was born in San Pedro, and her brother was born about two years later in Seattle. Upon return to Los Angeles, Kimberly attended the American Academy for Dramatic Arts in Hollywood.

The academy bestowed its prestigious Charles Jehlinger Award on Kimberly, who’s most recent work has been with the Noise and Vision Production Company and 2 Kings Productions.  Bryan developed his acting acumen by working on such films as HELL HOLE: DARK HARVEST (2016).

The co-creators of SIBS grew up with a love for physical comedy. “We both really loved Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade,” said Kimberly.

The old school influence is most evident at one point in the film where brother and sister enter a bedroom closet to find a secret passageway. This farcical scene combines the wonder of THE LION, the WITCH and the WARDROBE with the zaniness of THE MONKEES. And why not? Kimberly told me point blank, that she has  watching re-runs of such classic TV shows as I LOVE LUCY,GET SMART, and, yes, THE MONKEES has been a lifelong and not-so-secret passion.

Kimberly also gives plenty of credit to Wham Social (@whamsocial) for the-fun filled promotional screening at The Three Clubs and for promoting SIBS in cyberspace as well.

Check out the SIBS trailer:

Lovers of campy comedy can see new episodes of SIBS on Sunday evenings at 8 pm Pacific Time on YouTube

And don’t forget the show’s presence on Facebook

And those interested in knowing more about Wham Social can find it HERE

Can’t forget the credits, yeah?

Created by and Starring: Kimberly Niccole and Bryan Scamman Produced by: Broster Productions Editing and SFX by: Matt Ryan SPECIAL THANKS! Sponsors: Deeva Boutique bit.ly/DeevaBoutique Stephanie Rojas Dominique Rodriguez and Take It From Me Show ( bit.ly/TakeitFromMe )


Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Philadelphia and other points East. You can learn more about her HERE