Writing Samples and Self Promotion

writing samples

Today we have a reader question about writing samples and portfolios.

Melanie writes:

Hi! Thanks for your site, love the resource and your writing style! I am an aspiring television writer currently working as a PA. Just wanted to get your feedback on creating a portfolio of writing samples, and if this is something I should be putting together. I have a few scripts in the works, but I am intimidated with all of the options for self promotion, including all the social media outlets, blogs, etc… Should I be heavily marketing myself this way? I’ve looked at Portfolio Box to possibly present different aspects of my creativity (photography, writing, editing) and thought that may be a good option.

In your opinion, how can I put myself out there more? PAing is definitely giving me more experience on sets, but I still feel like I am on the “outside” of the creative side. I haven’t met many people that are interested in writing comedy but I am moving to Atlanta (where I am originally from) in a few months and I am planning to take some workshops/maybe try stand up to be around comedians…

Now I am on a tangent, but any thoughts on my scenario will at least make me feel a little bit more validated in my hurry up and wait lifestyle in this industry… it’s nice to hear from someone motivated to do the same thing! Thanks for listening!

Thanks for the kind words! Now down to business…

The answer to your first question is, yes, you should be creating a “portfolio” of writing samples.

You should always be writing and generating new material. With every script you write, you get a little better. And no one is ever going to contemplate hiring you if you don’t have a finished writing sample to show. Always consider your best and latest script as your “writing sample.” But keep your old scripts in your back pocket, because they may come in handy down the line…

It’s good to have different writing samples for different types of shows.

If and when you get representation, your agent or manager will send your samples out for staffing consideration. What sample they send out depends on what type of show you’re trying to staff on. For comedy, it may be good to have a “network” comedy sample and a “cable” comedy sample. Or a “single cam” comedy sample and a “multi-cam” comedy sample. Maybe have something that would air on HBO and another sample that would air on ABC.

For me, being an hour-long drama writer, I have a cop show set in present day. I have a paranormal sci-fi sample. I also have a couple of historical drama samples. Obviously, a rep wouldn’t send my historical drama sample to try and get me a job on a cop show, but for that, they can use my cop show sample. Etc…

On Self Promotion

I’m not familiar with Portfolio Box, so I can not speak to that service, but in general, I firmly believe the best self-promotion you can get is personal connections with people who work in the TV industry. Those are the contacts that are going to help you get the job. So when you DO have a strong writing sample, you have people you can email who will read it, and possibly help you get representation or a meeting with a showrunner about a staff job. Or they could help you get in touch with someone who may want to develop your pilot with you.

Keep in mind; it’s easy for a new writer to get too bogged down with “how to be a writer” or “how to self-promote” when all you should be doing is writing. You said you have a few ideas “in the works.” Write those scripts. Stop worrying about how to self-promote and finish those scripts. Everything else is procrastination. Write. Write. Write.  Then, when you’ve made the right industry connections, get that fantastic script into someone’s hands who can help you.

On Being a Production Assistant

I, like you, started off as a set production assistant. It’s an excellent place to start, but it’s not where you want to be if you desire to write for TV. That is unless you can somehow chat up the writers and producers on set without the AD breathing down your neck. (You can’t)

I would highly suggest trying to move your way into an office production assistant position, or even better, a writers’ assistant position (easier said than done.) That is what I did, and that is how I started to meet the writers and producers who eventually hired me on as their assistants. Which, in turn, gave me the contacts I needed to get my first TV writing job. But this leads to my next point, which you’re probably not going to like…

On Moving to Atlanta

If you want to write in television, you need to be in Los Angeles. All the writers’ rooms are in Los Angeles. All the writers are in Los Angeles. All the agents and managers are in Los Angeles. There may be a couple of shows who write out of Atlanta, but I don’t personally know of any. Even the writers’ room for the show “Atlanta” is probably in Los Angeles. (I may be wrong… but I’m probably right.) Now, I’m not sure if you’re moving from Los Angeles to Atlanta… if you are, I would maybe rethink that strategy. If you’re moving from somewhere else to Atlanta, I would very much think of Atlanta as a stepping stone to get to LA. Keep your eye on the prize.

I hope that answers your questions about writing samples. Also check out my article on HOW TO BECOME A TELEVISION WRITER.

2018 Oscar Scripts – Download PDF – All Nominees

2018 Oscar Scripts

DOWNLOAD 2018 OSCAR SCRIPTS / SCREENPLAYS – PDF – ALL NOMINEES

Below you can find all the 2018 Oscar scripts for this year’s 90th Academy Awards, which aired March 4, 2018.

(These scripts are not hosted by this website. If the script is not hosted by official channels, it will say where it is hosted in brackets).

Best Original Screenplay – 2018 Oscar Scripts

Best Adapted Screenplay – 2018 Oscar Scripts

If any of these script links are not working, please comment or email me, and I will take care of it ASAP. Enjoy!

(Click here for the 2017 Oscar scripts)

(Click here for the 2018 Emmy TV scripts)

2017 Oscar Scripts – Download PDF – All Nominees

2017 Oscar Scripts

DOWNLOAD 2017 OSCAR SCRIPTS / SCREENPLAYS – PDF – ALL NOMINEES

This post is coming… a little late. But with the success of my last post on the 2018 Emmy nominated TV scripts which you can find HERE, I’ve decided to go ahead and find all the screenplays for last years Oscars, the 89th Academy Awards, which aired February 26, 2017. (I will also post an updated 2018 Oscars post which you will be able to find HERE when it’s up.)

(These scripts are not hosted by this website. If the script is not hosted by official channels, it will say where it is hosted in brackets).

Best Original Screenplay – 2017 Oscar Scripts

Best Adapted Screenplay – 2017 Oscar Scripts

 

(Click here for the 2018 Oscar scripts)

(Click here for the 2018 Emmy TV scripts)

If any of these script links are not working, please comment or email me, and I will take care of it ASAP. Enjoy!

2018 Emmy Scripts – Download PDF – All Nominees

EVERY SINGLE 2018 EMMY SCRIPT AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD PDF.

All of these 2018 Emmy scripts are the television scripts that were submitted to the Television Academy for consideration in the 2018 70th Primetime Emmy Awards which will be held on September 17, 2018. The files are hosted by the academy, not by this website. Follow the links below to read and download the pdf 2018 Emmy scripts.

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special

 

If any of these script links are not working, please comment or email me, and I will take care of it ASAP. Enjoy!

Writing On the Go: Writing While Driving Using Dictation

writing on the go

WRITING ON THE GO USING DICTATION IS NOT ONLY EASY, IT’S SMART.

If you’re like me, you spend an insanely inordinate amount of time sitting in traffic. [This is especially true if you live in Los Angeles.] Usually, I fill up this time with podcasts or audiobooks. However, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been thinking about how I could use that time to write on the go? How can I work on a screenplay or teleplay while driving (without actually writing while driving and getting into a wreck)? That’s when I discovered that the NOTES app on my iPhone has a dictation feature!  Check it out below — see the little MICROPHONE button? Press that microphone button and start talking (on your phone, not the picture, dummie).

Writing on the go

Dictation isn’t perfect by any means.

The app gets a whole lot of words completely wrong. And it stops dictating after a paragraph or two for unknown reasons causing you to have to hit the little microphone button again and again (maybe it’s trying to catch up). And when I go back review the dictation, sometimes I have to try and figure out what I just said. But if I’m sitting in my car for 30min-1hour, it’s now entirely possible for me to hit that microphone button and start working out entire scenes in my head. I have figured out so many script problems over the past few months by doing this. I sit in traffic and talk through scenes out loud, while the dictation feature notes everything I say down for me. “What if this happens, no what about this, and then this could happen, and then this line of dialogue could happen.” It’s incredible how much work you can get done thinking out loud in a car for 30 min to an hour.

THINKING ON THE PAGE

Just like the process of “thinking on the page” (where you come up with ideas while writing, rather than coming up with ideas outside of writing), I find breaking scenes by talking out loud to be extremely productive. It FORCES you to work. When thinking about scenes in your head, it’s easy to give up or get distracted. But by thinking about scenes OUT LOUD (just like thinking out scenes while writing them), you’re actively doing something. You’re on a mission. Just keep talking and don’t let yourself stop. And record it ALL with dictation.  Half the time, I don’t even need to go back and read the dictation, because the process will give me the ideas I need to fix the problem or generate the right approach for the scene.

OTHER PROGRAMS

If you don’t have a dictation option on your phone (almost all phones have them now) you can check out some other devices that do the same thing.

It’s amazing what you can do in only 20-30 minutes while thinking outloud. Writing on the go. Give it a try!

Writing Sample: Write an Original Pilot or Spec of Existing TV Show?

Part of trying to get work as a TV writer (or any writing job) is having an excellent writing sample. A writing sample is a script you wrote that shows off your skills. It shows off your voice. It’s your calling card. You need a strong writing sample to get a writing job (and you should preferably have two,  in different genres). But should you write a TV Pilot or Spec Script?

When it comes to television, you have the choice of writing an original pilot episode (the first episode of a television show) or a spec (speculative) episode of an existing show. This doesn’t mean you should write a spec episode of the show you want to write for (because many shows legally cannot read spec episodes of their own show), but instead, you should write a spec episode for a show that is in the same genre you want to write in. For example, back in the day, you could write a spec X-Files episode to try and get a job on Buffy or another genre show. Now, before you start cooking up the perfect “Game of Thrones” episode — just STOP. Because no one wants to read spec episodes of existing shows anymore.

I shouldn’t say NO ONE, because I’ve heard many interviews with writers and showrunners who WISH people still wanted to read specs for existing shows, but that is not the case anymore. The reason these few writers and showrunners wish this is because when you’re a writer on a TV show, you’re working for a SHOWRUNNER. And in most cases, that showrunner is the person who created the show. Your job is not to write your vision in your voice, your job is to write FOR the showrunner’s vision and emulate the showrunner’s voice. Writing a spec sample for an existing tv show will give the showrunner a sense of how good you can emulate an existing shows voice. How well you can capture existing character’s voices. But alas, that is not the world we live in today.

There has been a shift over the past few years, and now everyone (and by everyone I mostly mean agents and managers) only want to read ORIGINAL MATERIAL. That means if you’re trying to become a TV writer, you need to write an original pilot episode. This is much harder than writing an existing show. You have the create everything. Characters, Setting, Plot, Theme. You’ve got to do it all. And it has to be great. It has to be engaging. And it has to have LEGS. That is to say, the reader has to see the potential for this single episode to turn into multiple seasons.

There are multiple reasons why people want to read original pilots these days. First, they want to see what YOUR original voice is. They want to see if your voice lends itself to their TV show. And because writing a pilot is so much harder, it also sets the bar for quality much higher. Another big reason is that agents and managers can not only use an original pilot as a writing sample, they can try and SELL IT (and I think this is probably the biggest reason this trend started).

So there you have it. Writing a spec of an original show is a complete waste of time because nobody gives a shit anymore. So go off and write a pilot! Good luck! You’re gonna need it.

How to Become a Television Writer

Please excuse the click-bait title. There are a million different ways to become a television writer. There is no right or wrong way to approach this career path. I can only tell you, from my experience, how best to become a television writer.

HOW TO BECOME A TELEVISION WRITER

The first thing you have to do if you want to become a television writer is move to Los Angeles.

If you are unwilling to move to Los Angeles, you can pretty much kiss your dreams of becoming a TV writer goodbye. Why? Because 99.99% of writers’ rooms are located in Los Angeles.

What is a writers’ room you ask?

The vast majority of television shows are written by more than one person. The episodes are “broken” by a group of writers who all sit in a room together every day. They wake up in the morning, drive to work, sit in a room, and come up with story ideas for the episodes as a group. So even if a show SHOOTS in Atlanta, New York, or Vancouver, the writers’ room is in Los Angeles. Also, all the agents and managers and production companies are in Los Angeles. Everyone you need to KNOW to get a job and all the MEETINGS you will take are all in Los Angeles. It is possible (but not probable) to become a screenwriter writing movies not living in LA, but it’s near impossible to become a TV writer if you don’t live in LA. There are some tiny exceptions, but the vast majority of writers’ rooms are in LA.

Now, the #1 way to get a writing job in TV is by knowing someone who will champion your work and fight for you to get a job in a very competitive field.

This means meeting people and building relationships. It kind of works the same way that it works when trying to become a production assistant. There are tiers of hiring. The first person someone wants to hire is someone they have worked with before and enjoy working with. If that person is not available, the next person they hire is someone recommended by someone they like and trust. The very last person someone hires is a random person they’ve never met.

Now, when it comes to a writing job, unlike a production assistant job, your writing samples (original scripts) play a factor in everything.

If you have a fantastic writing sample, it can open doors for you.  But, the sad truth is that it doesn’t play as big a factor as you may think. I know PLENTY of people who have become television writers who are not very good writers. But, to be honest, no one expects a staff writer (the entry-level tv writing job) to be a great writer. The VAST majority of staff writer jobs go to showrunner/producer assistants, writers’ assistants, writers’ PAs, and diversity hires. This is because a lot of writers like to “keep it in the family” and promote from within. YOUR job is to try and gain entry into one of those families by working from the bottom up as an assistant.

What is a diversity hire you ask?

Most writers’ rooms are full of white men because for a long time white men were the majority of people writing TV shows. But now there is a gigantic push to diversify writing rooms, so, in many cases, the NETWORK will PAY for that diverse writer. It’s a free writer for the show. And even if they don’t pay for that writer, they lay down a mandate. You HAVE to have a diverse writer on your staff. Which, to be honest, I think is a GOOD THING in theory, but it’s kind of turned into a total shit show.

These networks don’t GIVE A SHIT about actually diversifying writers’ rooms. I’ve seen it first hand. They only care about what the media will say if they don’t diversify a writers’ room. And their bosses are breathing down their necks to diversify writers’ rooms because there is a large public outcry to diversify writers’ rooms (for a good reason).

So these networks, in some cases, basically pay a show to hire a woman or person of color. But most shows aren’t hiring diverse writers for upper and med level writing jobs (TV writing jobs that go to writers with more TV producing experience, they pay more, etc.). These shows are only hiring diverse writers for entry-level writing jobs. Staff writer jobs. (THIS IS THE PROBLEM). This means if you’re a woman or person of color trying to get a TV job as a low-level staff writer, you odds have VASTLY improved. If you’re a white male, your odds of landing a staff writer job have VASTLY decreased. However, if you’re a woman or person of color trying to get a med to high-level writing job, your odds are still very low. And if you’re a white male trying to get a med to high-level writing job, your odds are pretty much the same as before the diversity mandate. And people will argue this point until they’re blue in the face, but it’s true.

Maybe only hiring minority staff writers is the single way to get diverse writers the experience they need to become med and high-level writers. I don’t claim to have the answer, but it doesn’t FEEL right.

Also, showrunners aren’t promoting their diversity hires (There are multiple positions as a TV writer, each promotion comes with more pay and more responsibility). These showrunners keep the diversity hires as staff writers (entry-level, low paying writers) or fire them after one season, and then hire on a new diversity hire staff writer.  So now we have a system that only employs low-level diversity hires. The same system doesn’t promote these low-level diversity hires, because all the med to high-level writers making the hiring decisions ARE ALL WHITE MALES. They’ll be fine. It’s not their jobs in jeopardy. They just run these diversity hires through a meat-grinder and never promote them.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

So you’ve moved to Los Angeles and now need to start making connections.

The best way to do this is by grabbing up any entry-level entertainment industry job you can find. Work as a production assistant, work as a producer’s assistant. Try to get work anywhere where you can start meeting writers and producers. (And if you’re wondering what a PA is and how to get a job as one, read the rest of my blog. Check out the Tips for PAs section…)

The best thing you could do is land a writers’ assistant job or a writers’ PA job.

However, these jobs are very hard to come by. You want to start forming personal relationships with writers and people who have the clout to make moves in the industry. People who have friends in high places. And the best way to do that is to work on TV shows or in production companies that produce TV.

What do you do once you have these friends?

Let them know you’re a writer and that you want a TV writing job — and get them to read your fantastic script!

That’s right; if you want to be a writer, you have to fucking write… who knew!?

The entire time you’re out in LA schmoozing around and making connections, you HAVE to be writing. Constantly. The only way you can improve your writing ability is by writing. And no manager or agency is going to take you on as a client unless you have material they can sell. This is a business. You are a product. If you follow my advice, there WILL be a time when someone who has the connections to get you a job will ask, “Oh, you want to be a writer? Let me read your script.” And if you haven’t done your job and written that brilliant script, you’ll have nothing to say and nothing to give them. Your opportunity just walked out the door. Sucks to be you.

Once you have the best script you’ve ever written, that you think is on par or better than every script you’ve read that is selling these days, then you try and get that influential person you know to read it. Maybe they’ll help you out. If they’re a showrunner, perhaps they’ll hire you on as a writer or writers’ assistant or writer’s PA on their show. Or maybe they’ll send that script over to another showrunner. Or maybe they’ll help you get representation.

Agents and managers are much more likely to read a script recommended by someone they know and trust than from some random person like you.

The HARSH truth is, most new writers have to get their first job, and even their second job, by themselves! Agents and managers have a tough job trying to staff a new writer. Your first writing jobs are going to be gained solely through relationships YOU make while working in Los Angeles.

So in short.

1. MOVE TO LA.
2. FIND ENTRY LEVEL JOBS.
3. MEET PEOPLE AND MAKE FRIENDS.
4. WRITE YOUR ASS OFF.
5. GET YOUR NEW INFLUENTIAL FRIENDS TO READ YOUR SCRIPT AND CHAMPION YOUR WORK LANDING YOU REPRESENTATION OR A JOB.

There are a million things I could talk about within this topic, so ask away in the comments, or shoot me an email via the ASK ME A QUESTION button at the top of the page and I’ll be happy to answer if I get to it.

Writer Tip: THE INTERCUT aka WRITING PHONE CONVERSATIONS

Writing Phone Conversations

This article will teach you how to write an intercut in a screenplay or teleplay.

Say you have a scene in your screenplay where there are two sides of a conversation (such as a PHONE CALL), or two different scenes happening at the same time, and you don’t want to write sluglines for every scene, you intercut. It looks a little bit like this.

INT. HOUSE – DAY

The phone rings. John picks it up.

JOHN
Hello?

EXT. PARK – DAY

Mary is on the phone looking at the dead dog floating in the pond.

MARY
I think I found your dog.

INTERCUT JOHN/MARY

JOHN
What!? Where?

MARY
At the park —

John grabs his keys off the counter.

JOHN
Stay there! I’m coming–

MARY
–John wait.

John stops at the door.

Mary turns away from the pond in disgust.

MARY
John, he’s dead.

We hold on John’s face and CUT TO:

There you go, a terrible little scene I pulled out of my ass. Can you imagine if you had to write a slugline for every single side of the conversation! That would be terrible!

Not go forth young writers and write many a phone conversation.

Writer Tip: How to get an Agent or Manager’s Email Address for a Query Letter

So, you have a screenplay, and you want to try and get it to an agent or manager, but you don’t have their email address? This article will teach you how to get an agent or manager’s email address.

All it takes a little internet sleuthing.  But you should know there is 99.99% chance no one will respond to your cold query email. I have probably sent out over 50 query letters to agents and managers in the past five years, and the only time I’ve gotten a response was once I already had some success in the business. Only then did a few of these guys start responding to my emails. And even then, most still don’t. So, in complete honesty, I’d advise AGAINST sending an agent or manager a query letter until you’re already working in the industry and have some success to gauge their interest. Even then, it probably won’t do you any good.

To start, you need two things.

You need to get an agent or manager’s name that you want to contact, and you need the company’s email address.

If you don’t even know WHO you want to contact, go figure that out.

HOW TO FIND THE COMPANY EMAIL ADDRESS:

Okay, say you’re looking for an agent named “Jane Doe” who works at an agency named “Big Agency.”  Go to the “Big Agency” website and see if they have an email address listed there. Usually, this email will look something like “info@bigagency.com”.  Now you know the company’s email address is “@bigagency.com.”  If you can’t find it on the website, head on over pro.imdb.com and register for a free 30-day account, or pay for an account (you can always cancel it later).  Once you’re on IMBD PRO, type in the agency’s name, go to the agency’s page, and navigate to the contact section. It should list their general email address.

HOW TO GET AN AGENT OR MANAGER’S EMAIL ADDRESS.

If you’re already on IMDB PRO, you might as well look up that agent or manager and check their contact info. A lot of agents and managers will have their email listed, but if they don’t, search all the agents or managers in that company until you find one that has their email addresses listed, any of them. If this doesn’t work, go to google and search “@bigagency.com” (with the quotes) and SOMEONE’s email address should show up. You’re just looking for anyone who works at the company.

So say you’re looking for “Jane Doe’s” email, but all you can find is “Bob Kent’s” email address, which just happens to be “bkent@bigagency.com” — then you can probably deduce that Jane Doe’s email address is “jdoe@bigagency.com.” This works 99% of the time. Companies, for the most part, always stick to the same email structure. The first letter of their first name followed by their last name, or their first name followed by the first letter of their last name… etc.

And if you want further proof you have the correct email address, just search “jdoe@bigagency.com” in google. Chances are, that email will be listed somewhere on the internet. I’ve found managers and agent’s emails listed in “contact” forms on b-list actor’s websites. I’ve even found them in the leaked hacked Sony emails. All searchable on google.

So go off young padawans, and send emails to agents and managers. Annoying them and never getting a response.

HOT TIP: NEVER, I repeat, NEVER actually send your script to someone unless they ask for it. EVERY SINGLE COMPANY in this INDUSTRY has a strict policy of not accepting unsolicited scripts. If you have an attachment on your email, that is a surefire way to NEVER get a response.  What you want to do is quickly describe you and your story, and then ask them if they’d like to read it. Only if they respond asking for your script do you send it over. And half the time they’ll have you sign a release form first.

Christmas Gifts for Writers (From a Writer)

gifts for writers

Christmas Gifts for Writers!

Doesn’t matter how old this post is. These are great christmas gifts for writers.

Want to get that writer or screenwriter something they’ll love and actually USE for Christmas? Here’s a quick buying guide. Enjoy.

USEFUL CHRISTMAS GIFTS FOR A WRITER:

Kindle Paperwhite

I bounced this item to the top of my list because it is literally my favorite electronic device. The kindle paperwhite is a brilliant piece of technology. And it actually looks like you’re reading off paper. And the battery life lasts for weeks. I would rather cut off my hands than ever read off an ipad or kindle fire again. Buy this. Now. Even if the person you’re buying it for is all like… “I LOVE REAL BOOKS, MEH”. Just tell them to read ONE book on the kindle paperwhite. They’ll never go back to reading “real books” ever again. You can also consider buying some of my recommended books!

Coffee Mug Warmer

This thing is awesome. I have one. It rocks. Keeps that coffee warm if you enjoy drinking out of a mug — if you don’t like a mug, check below item.

Yeti Rambler

I literally use the Yeti Rambler every single day. Works for hot drinks and cold drinks. It is my favorite cup/mug/travel mug. A little embarrassed to say it, but I actually own three of these things. They clean easy and keep drinks cold all day long. No shit. Put ice coffee in this thing at 8am, you’ll still have ice cubes well after lunch.

LAPTOP STAND

Another thing I use on the reg. Adjustable height. Great if you don’t want to buy a super expensive stand up desk.

Writer Emergency Pack

26 Illustrated cards designed by those great guys over at the ScriptNotes Podcast. Designed to help you out of a bind when you’re hitting some much dreaded writer’s block. And even if they writer doesn’t end up using them very much, it’s still a cute gift.

On Writing by Stephen King

This is one of my all time favorite books, let alone my favorite book on the craft of writing. Advice works for screenwriting just as much as novel writing. A must read for anyone interested in writing. AND YOU CAN BUY IT ON YOUR KINDLE… hint hint.

SHARPIES

A writer can never have enough sharpies. ‘Nuff Said.

NOTE CARDS

A writer can also never have enough index Cards. They’re amazing for breaking story.