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!

Updates: Website Maintenance, SSL Certificates, and Name Servers

Updates SLL Nameservers

WEBSITE AND LIFE UPDATES:

A lot has happened since I let this website fall into the netherworld. Browsers are now blocking sites that don’t have SSL certificates, or at the very least, informing users that the website is not “secure.” I don’t know the finer details of how this all works, all I know is that many of you probably encountered some irritating warning over the past — who knows how long — that this website may be compromised, or not safe, or hacked by ISIS, or something of that nature. Rest assured, this website is completely safe, and the internet was just forcing me into buying an SSL certificate. It kind of feels like racketeering. But, whatevs. Now that I have acquired an SSL certificate, when you look up near the website name in your browser, depending on what browser you’re using, you should see a little “LOCK” icon, indicating this website is safe. Yay!

Another thing that happened while I was away … my host changed their name servers, and I still had this domain tied to the old name servers. This made it so a whole lot of people COULDN’T even access this website if they wanted to. Entire regions of the United States and parts of the world were locked out of visiting this site because of some crazy DNS “server not found” error. Anyway, I’ve switched us over to the new name servers, and that shouldn’t be a problem anymore. So if you’re seeing this website for the first time in a while, yay! It worked!

On the home front, I’ve finished up a pilot script and pitch document for a new show I’m developing. Right now that is in a holding pattern, as the project is in someone else’s hands for about a week. So, I’m looking at about a week of free time. What do I do? Besides trying to get this website back up and running, I’ve dusted off an old screenplay that’s been sitting on a shelf for two years. I have some big ideas on how to fix some of its many problems (problems that got me to shelve it in the first place). So I’m going to spend the next week rewriting that sucker and getting it into enough shape to send out for some notes.

This most significant problem with that script was the ending. And by that, I mean there was no ending. I wrote the entire screenplay, but because I got antsy during the outline, I never figured out the end before I started writing. So once I got to the ending, I got lost.  The other day I was driving in traffic on the ten freeway (or as I like to call it, FUCKING HELL) and the ending just popped into my head. Out of nowhere. Like, as if the story had been moving around in my head for the past two years without me knowing. Now I have an ending. So I’m going to write it.

In other news, the comic book pitch I’ve been working on is coming along nicely. Art is done. Color is almost done. Then I just have to ship it off to the letterer and finish up the pitch doc, and that sucker will be ready to send out.

Anyway. If anyone has any questions about getting a job as a production assistant or as a writer or anything like that, shoot me a question via the “ASK ME A QUESTION” link in the top menu.

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.

Writing Tip: Learn to Write Anywhere

Learn to Write Anywhere

Welcome to 2016 you procrastinating pieces of shit! In this article we’ll discuss why YOU NEED TO LEARN TO WRITE ANYWHERE.

Let’s face it — a writer will basically find any excuse not to write. And we all know the number one mistake new writers make is not writing.

One question I see asked over and over again to professional writers is “What does your writing space look like?”.

I feel this question stems from a big problem in young writer’s minds. And that problem is a little voice that says “I need to be in the right environment to write, and if I could only figure out what environment my favorite writers write in, then maybe I will write better.” You know what that is? That is called bullshit. Absolute Grade-A-Mother-Fucking-Bullshit. It’s an excuse! Because deep down you don’t want to write, you want to have written. And your mind is looking for any excuse not to write. So you tell yourself, “I’ll write later when I can go to Starbucks.” Or “I can’t wait until I finish my home office, because then I can write.” Or “I can only write sitting alone in my room wearing my specific noise-cancelling headphones and listening to that specific soundtrack I created specifically for my story.” No. These are excuses to not write now.

Listen – I understand everyone has their “ideal writing environment”. But the problem is when that “ideal writing environment” stops you from actually  writing. If you would stop reading this article right now and start writing, wherever you are, you would find that it is not only possible, it’s really not much different from writing anywhere else. Guess what, you can even write on a pad of paper freehand! OMG. Or on your PHONE. I know. It’s insane. Who knew? You can learn to write anywhere. It is completely possible.

Put aside that dream of your perfect writing room.

You know — the one with the large wooden desk and the view of the ocean. The fireplace crackling nearby with a hot steaming cup of coffee in easy reach — And realize that it is what it is — only a dream. Maybe someday you will get that perfect writing space, and I for one hope you do, but for now, do yourself a favor and realize that until you can write anywhere, you will never be a professional writer.

LEARN TO WRITE ANYWHERE.

PODCASTS FOR SCREENWRITERS (TOP 5)

podcasts for screenwriters

Alright everyone. Long time no posting. Let’s remedy that.

I spend a shit ton of time listening to podcasts since my commute is about an hour every morning and every afternoon. If you’re doing the math, that is pretty much 10 hours of podcasts going into my face every work week. Some of that time is dedicated to listening to podcasts about writing — specifically screenwriting. So here they are in no particular order.

MY TOP FIVE PODCASTS FOR SCREENWRITERS AND TV WRITERS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

  1. WRITING EXCUSES – “Brandon Sanderson, Mary Roninette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Daniel Wells discuss writing techniques in a fast-paced, 15-minute format.” Now although this podcast is specifically geared towards writing science fiction and fantasy novels, short stories, and comics, I can tell you from personal experience that pretty much everything they saw also applies to screenwriting.  A story is a story is a story . . . plus the short podcast length is perfect for a quick trip around town on errands.  Downside is the podcast seems to crash my iphone quite a bit. Not sure why.

  2. THE WRITER’S GUILD FOUNDATION PODCAST – “Founded in swinging, mondo-groovy 1966, The Writer’s Guild Foundation is the only organization in the world devoted solely to the promotion and preservation of writing for the screen. Our events and interviews capture screenwriters and television writers at their most intimate, and run the gamut from Oscar-winning dramatists to TV scribes writing to devoted fanbases.” This podcast provides some great interviews with screenwriters. The only problem is their episodes are few and far-inbetween.
  3. NERDIST WRITER’S PANEL – “The Nerdist Writer’s Panel series is an informal chat moderated by Ben Blacker (co-creator of the Thrilling Adventure Hour; writer for Supah Ninjas, Supernatural, among others) with professional writers about the process and business of writing. Covering TV, film, comic books, music novels, and any other kind of writing about which you’d care to hear. Proceeds from the live panels benefit 826LA, the national non-profit tutoring program.” This podcast puts out a shit ton of material and some great interviews with screenwriters and comic writers. The only downside is sometimes the audio quality is total garbage. Lots of live panels.
  4. SCRIPTNOTES PODCAST – “Screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss screenwriting and related topics in the film and television industry, everything from getting stuff written to the vagaries of copyright and work-for-hire law.” A very helpful and entertaining podcast from two working screenwriters. Arguably one of the most popular scrXCing specific podcasts.
  5. THE CHILDREN OF TENDU PODCAST -“Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Emmy Award-winning writer/producer on “Lost” and creator of “The Middleman”) and Jose Molina (writer/producer on “Sleepy Hollow,” “Firefly,” “Castle” and “Law & Order: SVU”) share their hard-earned experiences, giving practical, straight-shooting advice on breaking into television and staying there!”

There you have it. My top 5 podcasts for screenwriters in no particular order. Go have fun.