Peter Conquers Showbiz Episode 3

Outside-Looking-In

Television Writing from the Outside In
This week: Do you have an agent?

Last week: How do you meet people? How do you get around?

This week: Do you have an agent or manager yet?

This question reminds me of the Bill and Ted’s timeless tautological dialog between Aristobil and Socrated.

ARISTOBIL: While I agree that in time our band will be most triumphant, Wyld Stallyns will never be a superband until we have Eddie Van Halen on guitar.

SOCRATED: Yes, but I do not believe we will get Eddie Van Halen until we have a triumphant video.

ARISTOBIL: It’s pointless to have a triumphant video before we even have decent instruments.

SOCRATED: Well, how can we have decent instruments when we don’t really even know how to play?

ARISTOBIL: That is why we NEED Eddie Van Halen.

SOCRATED: And that is why we NEED a triumphant video.

Bill and Ted didn’t need Eddie Van Halen. They needed to finish their history report. And you don’t need an agent or manager (magent) until you’re ready for one. Getting one too soon might put you on a magency’s dorklist.

Here’s a sure-fire method for getting an agent that works for you:

1) read Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare

2) prove you can write

3) get your writing vetted by a professional

4) make deals on your own.

5) Read Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare.

I always knew the time would come for getting an agent, but I wasn’t worried about it yet because I felt I wasn’t good enough for one yet. I wasn’t working on high concept films. I wasn’t living in LA. I wasn’t sure whether I could do the tough work that screenwriters do. I hadn’t proven myself to myself.

Prove you can write. To do this, you have to write dozens of scripts and treatments. Reading every screenwriting book under heaven is a good start. Once you’ve got the theory down, you have to live the writer’s life—either part-time or full-time—meaning that you have to sit your ass in the chair and get a thrill out of the monotony of it. People who say “I’d like to write eventually…” probably aren’t people who enjoy sitting down.

Get your writing vetted by a professional. Use InkTip. Win a contest. Take the steps necessary to get TVWriter’s endorsement. Pay for coverage from a reputable company and earn a “Recommend” from them. In this way, you can call your would-be magent (or his/her assistant, more likely) with confidence, saying: “I sold a script on my own through InkTip.” “I won the XYZ competition, beating out ten thousand other scripts.” “I’ve already written a script for [a well-known producer] and he/she loved it.”

Make deals on your own through your network of contacts. A magent makes no money without writers. If you can write material that’s been vetted by professionals and made a deal on your own, you’re a good candidate for a magent. It means you know how to do your job, you know how the system works, you aren’t going to be a pain in the ass when the notes come in. Impress them with a slate of films your working on. Sell yourself as a screenwriting machine!

You can find articles on the difference between an agent or manager. In a nutshell, an agent facilitates a deal based on a script. A manager grooms writers’ careers. Confession. I don’t have an agent or a manager. I’m looking for the latter.

When I came to LA, I sent off blind submissions and got no response. (This is probably the worst way to do it.) A lawyer friend introduced me to his lawyer friend who promised to send my material to a few managers he knows. Nothing happened.

Finally, I decided to ask one of my producers (from a deal I got on my own) (and who loves my writing) if he knew anyone that might be a good manager for me, a “baby writer.” Nothing happened.

I started to get nervous. Finally he replied, “You may be a baby writer, but baby, you’re great!” He called me two days later and said he had a few key managers in LA that might be right for me. I’ll keep you posted.

But I’m no expert. I’m just a guy. Use my experiences to help inform yours. Leave your questions and advice in the comments below.

Next week: What deals have you got?

Peter is a baby feature writer who wants to be a showrunner. (BLAHAHAHA!)

Peter Conquers Showbiz Episode 2

Outside-Looking-In

Television Writing from the Outside In
This week: How do you meet people?

You’ve read the book, you’ve written the scripts, you’re contemplating “the move,” but you have questions. My answers may or may not be what you’re looking for, but they’ll be as honest and detailed as I can make them. Don’t see your question here? Ask it in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.

Last week: Where do you live? How much is rent?

This week: How do you meet people? How do you get around?

For years, on Larry’s advice, I’ve been compiling a list of people who might know people who might know people in LA. Why did I compile this list for years? Because I was too afraid (proud?) to actually utilize this network to my advantage. “Nah, nobody wants me to ask them if they know anybody in LA,” I thought. So desperate. So cliche! I didn’t want to be THAT guy. I’d achieved some success in another country, damn it! I was about to take LA by storm! Surely they would read about me in the papers! But as the date for my move became closer and closer, I sent out several emails that went something like this: “Dear #, My mentor says I should ask people I know if they know anyone in LA who might know anyone in LA. He says not to worry, as this is how LA works. You can tell people that I’m ABC and XYZ and not a dork. Thanks.”

Responses were varied. Some didn’t reply. Some introduced me to their friends who were interning at Disneyland. Some introduced me to bankrupt playboys. But each time an introduction was made, I followed up, I sent emails, I pasted their addresses into Google Maps and hopped on the bus ($1.50, unless the machine is broken) (or unless you buy a monthly pass, which I never figured out). A director I’ve worked with introduced me to one key contact—a producer of films you’ve seen. We talked on the phone and he felt that I wasn’t a dork, so he introduced me to four younger guys, all about my age, all connected to his family, all struggling to crack in (an actor, a writer, a cinematographer, an independent producer). And these introductions paid off. Not in the sense that it led to an immediate job—but in the sense that I now had a community that’s working on my behalf, just as strongly as I’m working on theirs. A lawyer introduced me to a lawyer (“Any friend of Mike’s is a friend of mine!”) who used to represent a manager that I’ve got my eye on. This is how it works.

Another friend from New York introduced me to his friend who’s living around the corner. He’s not in the film business, but get this—he’s an extrovert! He goes to the parties. He meets the people whose mansions I will eventually buy! The point is: from the smallest beginning, your community WILL grow. But you need to have the expertise (writing) and the humanity (don’t be a dork) that will make people believe in you and get behind you.

Another friend, who was raised in LA, said, “You’re going to be torn to pieces and screwed in every direction. I’m so fed up with LA sharks and their bullshit. It takes years, man, YEARS! Just got to parties. Fuck those sharks at the studios and on the lots. You don’t need them. Dude, get out of LA.” So there’s that.

My first few weeks, I focused on meeting as many production companies as possible—companies who were interested in producing films in the country where I’d just moved from. “Do you have scripts?” Yes. “May we see them?” Yes. I sent my best material to them and the response pretty much went like this: “Read the script, proves you can write, will keep you in mind for future stuff!” This isn’t a bad response. You can’t expect to come in and sell everything now. Because just as you’re working on things you believe in, so are they. You have your properties and niche and voice, and so do they.

Give it time. Don’t call back and say, “Hey dipshit! Someone else is interested in my script! You better tell me your answer now!” All you can do is keep writing and don’t be a dork. Remember crazy Joe Davola? Don’t be crazy Joe Davola.

As for getting around, the city is at first overwhelming, but soon becomes manageable enough as you start to recognize the pockets of activity. I bussed it for the first month, then finally bought a motorcycle. Throughout March and April, the whether has been warm by day and chilly by night—not coat whether, but chilly enough to accessorize your screenwriter’s uniform (jeans, t-shirt, furrowed brow) with, say, a black hoodie (with the sleeves rolled up, as the kids are doing it).

I was invited to a premiere by one of the production companies and was filled with introverted dread. (Surely they didn’t allow hoodies at these events.) So I popped into a cheap store and bought something for the occasion. I bussed to the theater, picked up my ticket at the will-call booth, slipped around the red carpet, found my seat and sunk down as low as possible as stars made their entrances. The director got up with a microphone and said, “First and foremost, I’d like to thank our writer, who delivered a fantastic script!” I was about to clap, but nobody else did. So I maintained invisibility.

“And, of course, our star!” the director said. The audience erupted in cheers. (So be it, world.) After the movie, I had a ticket for a hobnob and a drink at the place downstairs. But I had bus schedules to keep, and pages to go before I sleep.

My friend Mike was invited to the premiere of Shane Black’s new movie, Iron Man 3. I joined Mike for the after, after, AFTER party and talked with him about my future, as visions of sugarplums and danced in our heads. His brush with businessmen prompted him to promote my pilot, which he describes as “the best thing ever written in the history of mankind.” I left the party. I went home. I polished the pilot. I sent it out (to a reputable producer of films and TV series). Three days later, they called back and said, “We would like to meet.”

But I’m no expert. I’m just a guy. Use my experiences to help inform yours. Leave your questions and advice in the comments below.

Next week: Do you have an agent or manager yet?

Peter is a baby feature writer who wants to be a showrunner. (BLAHAHAHA!)

Peter Conquers Showbiz – Episode 1

Outside-Looking-In

Television Writing from the Outside In
This week: Where do you live? How much is rent?

I flew to L.A. with a single carry-on, the clothes on my back and a limited amount of cash on my foreign bank card. The plan was to rent a place week-by-week until I could get a better feel for the city, then find the right place for the best price. If you’re considering a similar move, my strongest piece of advice is to save as much money as you possibly can. You have to save money the way you write scripts—with a passion.

If you’re prone to spending money (like me), buy silver ingots if you have to (to satisfy your need to spend) and save those ingots. Every word, every page, every ingot is a step toward phase three of your own plan. So whether you choose to buy silver ingots or not—save your goddamn money. You’re going to be poor before you’re rich, so spend all your spare time writing, watching films/TV or working extra jobs.

If you want to buy Shane Black’s mansion, you can’t afford to get the foot-long Subway sandwich. You have to buy the six-inch, without the avocados, and put the rest of that money in your other pocket, because you’re going to need it. Trust me. You’re going to need it.

Craigslist wasn’t as helpful as you might think. Because every hour you spend on Craigslist (responding to ads, following up with shady strangers, being disappointed by the looks of the place when you bus your ass out there) is an hour that you’re not writing. If you’re like me, all you need is a bed and a desk and for everyone else in the house to shut the hell up while you write and re-write.

Luckily for me (and hopefully for you) a friend of a friend of a friend came through and let me stay in his living room until the second bedroom became available. I pay $850, but you should budget $1,000 a month for rent or more for a room with a bed and a desk. Twice that if you want to live alone. Can you find rooms for $500? $400? It’s possible, but what you save in money you’ll pay for in sanity.

(That week-by-week rental place I stayed in? I had to put up with Ukrainian strippers bursting in through the owner’s door while the owner called the cops. And you don’t need Ukrainian strippers right now.) (Invite them to Shane Black’s mansion later!)

Most of the people I’ve met so far live around here: West LA, West Hollywood, Westwood, Pico/Robertson, or perhaps just west of Sepulveda, near Stoner Park. A few live a few miles further west in Santa Monica, out by the coast. A few live in a place called Los Feliz, “where rich people dress like homeless people,” as a friend puts it. A few live up north in a magical place called “the Valley,” where rents are cheap and reality TV stars thrive.

Everyone you meet will want to tell you everything about themselves, their lives, their projects (but don’t you let them!). Write a brief character description of them in your trusty phone, and get out of that party while you’ve still got a byte of bandwidth.

Even if you choose the cheapest place you can afford, you’ll soon want to trade-up. Why? Because you’re surrounded by penthouses and Porsches and Ferraris. Not that money is everything—it just has an effect on you. You’ll want to say you live in a reputable neighborhood instead of nowhere land. The city will make you want to succeed.

But I’m no expert. I’m just a guy. Use my experiences to help inform yours. Leave your questions and advice in the comments below, and over the months, we’ll all be better for it—until we party at Shane Black’s mansion like it’s 1987.

Next week: How do you meet people? How do you get around?

Peter is a baby feature writer who wants to be a showrunner. (BLAHAHAHA!)