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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

TV pilot vs. TV spec

I just finished a draft of a tv pilot. Cable. Half hour. It made me think about the art of TV writing, and how efficient you have to be at creating the gem of a scene. 'Enter late and leave early' is the old writers adage about scene writing to remind us not to waste space. It's even truer on the small screen where time is clocked so precisely. Your script needs to be a string of gems, essentially. You don't have time to waste.

This made me think on the value of writing a pilot as part of the writers arsenal. Not just a selling tool for the series, the pilot is a great reading sample to prove yet another skill set.

And when you're trying to get a staff job on a tv show, what's the best writing sample? Is it better to write a spec episode of a popular show or a spec pilot?

Hands down it's the pilot. If you're trying to figure out a new episode of Breaking Bad, or Awake or dare I say, House, don't. I know one of the writers on House. And they're very clear when they're looking at new writers that the spec episodes of popular shows are no longer the way in. "It feels stale...we want to hear new voices," is the best paraphrasing of our discussion. "Write something new."

So if you're going to the trouble of creating a spec script to begin with, make sure you're writing the right kind.

Want to write for One Tree Hill? Walking Dead? Desparate Housewives? Look at the format, hour or half hour? Look to the genre, teen drama, thriller, dark comedy? And think of a new world in that drama.

There's multiple upsides - you're not just creating a writing sample, but a potential shot of your own.


Blogger Jeffrey said...

Great advice Phil. I've wrestled with this one for years. It appears that the scales have tipped in favor of television in recent years when it comes to the more compelling, interesting, and, dare I say, ENTERTAINING works in American visual offerings.

Got two pilots in the works right now, one a half hour comedy and the other an hourlong s/f drama. (plus the obligatory spec script... I'm a glutton for punishment.)

By the way, I'm so overjoyed to see you back that I could plotz!

Monday, April 02, 2012  
Blogger Phil said...

Thanks Jeffrey! Yes, there's no question that television has had a rennaisance in the last decade, I think starting with the Sopranos, and then reinforced by Mad Men, Cold Case, Breaking Bad, Modern Family, etc - that the small screen attracts, holds an audience and wins awards bringing more audience. It's very exciting in fact. The fact that the studios have tightened up and are developing less leaves a tremendous amount of talent available and eager. It used to be said that TV is where film actors, directors and writers go to die - but that was decades ago, now TV is looked at as the place where you can have real creative expression and make a living!

Monday, April 02, 2012  

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