This weekend at WonderCon, I had the opportunity to sit in a very enlightening panel revolving around TV writing, and what it takes to move forward from your very first draft to actually getting hired. The process as a whole was interesting and informational.
The ‘Intro to TV Writing: From First Draft to Getting Staffed’ panel featured moderator Spiro Skentzos (Arrow) and panelists Drew Greenberg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), Keto Shimizu (Legends of Tomorrow) and Melinda Hsu Taylor (The Gifted).
We learned about navigating the TV spec terrain and the do’s and don’ts for writers. The panelists also shared their insight on beginners mistakes, what they look for in a writer, and what it takes for you to write a spec script that truly stands out.
If you’re interested in writing for TV and are working on your own spec script, check out what we learned!
How do you start on your first spec script?
- Spec a script of an original series or of a series that is still airing.
- They recommend NOT writing about a show you don’t like, or a show you don’t care for, because then you will have a dull script. You must like the show you’re writing a spec for.
- Watch ALL the episodes. If you’ve seen everything that’s aired it’ll be easier for you.
- Know and find your main act! (For example, The Vampire Diaries huge/surprise act is act 3).
- Not everyone has watched the show you’re writing your spec on, so make sure you make it understandable and clear enough that a non-fan can be moved when reading it.
- Find a show you love!
- Don’t show your spec to the person who runs the show! Mainly for legal reasons, but it’s also unprofessional and can be intimidating, depending on the situation.
What to look for in a script?
- All three panelists emphasized having ‘humor and character.’
- Writers’ rooms focus on, what some call, ’emojos,’ or ’emotional journeys.’ Give your characters emojos!
- Have their emojos resonate with one another.
- Great dialogue.
- Make sure to have transportive qualities in your writing. Go with the flow. If it’s a comedy, make it a comedy. If it’s a suspense, make it a suspense.
- Certain TV shows will require a specific set of writing skills, do your best to go with it. (For example, writing for Game of Thrones is different than writing for Lost, etc.)
Writing your own original pilot:
- Your script tells them about you as the writer. Does it match you as a person? The panelists related it to dating. Will you be a good fit? Original pieces usually reflect the writer’s perceptions and creativity.
- Get to the banter. How to go from an okay-> good -> great writer.
- The way characters speak to one another should have fire in it. Create your own fire and use that with your character’s arc to make them stand out, to make them intriguing.
- When writing a pilot, make sure it’s right. Read it out loud.
- Think about a character you love and channel them in your script. Make then distinct.
- Make sure you know WHAT the series is.
- Don’t wrap anything up in a pilot, continue with the story. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.
Know of any writers mixers/events in your town? GO TO THEM.
- Keto spills that agents and writers actually go to these writers’ mixers! They are there. Don’t miss your chance to network. You might find your potential agent there.
Assistants= Gatekeepers. Once you make a connection with them, present yourself in a way that makes you stand out, as you could eventually land yourself a writing position. Writer assistants can vouch for you in their own writers’ room or another. If someone is looking to staff a writer, you might be in luck. So keep the networking going!
Interested in getting into a writers’ program?
- Don’t bring your spec script to actual showrunners for that exact show. If the show gets canceled, you can’t do that script.
The panelists take away from their 1st writing job:
- Have good handwriting for whiteboards!
- Drew’s first writing job was at Buffy The Vampire Slayer and he advises that you need to shift your whole skill set when working in a room full of geniuses. A story is like a train, keep it on track.
- You can’t be too opinionated as a staff writer.
- Melinda said to be comfortable in your own skin!
Mistakes in writing a pilot:
- Jamming too much in! Don’t go from writing about a civil war to time travel and then a love triangle all in one. It makes it hard to be consistent.
Tips on final polishing before sending your spec script:
- Be part of a writers group, because those friendships last.
- You’re not in a competition, ask for feedback.
- Do a table read, as it makes a difference when read by strangers.
Did you find any of these tips helpful? Let us know in the comments below!