Ask LA Screenwriter: Breaking Into TV Writing

We’re doing something new over here at LA Screenwriter. If you have any specific questions about screenwriting, the film industry, or life in general, send them to LAScreenwritierBlog@gmail.com, and I’ll do my best to answer.

This week’s question comes from Kat. She writes:

First off, I have to say I just recently stumbled upon your site and I think it’s awesome. So much to work with/so much fascinating information! It’s very inspiring.

So I guess my question is about specifically TV writing. I took a Comedy TV writing class in graduate school and really enjoyed it. What direction would you send someone new to writing it? Read lots of scripts? Read a specific book? Write a spec script for an existing show?

Writing for television and writing for film are parallel, related worlds, but they play by their own sets of rules.

Screenwriting can be done from virtually anywhere in the world (though most writers still recommend moving to LA if you can), but to succeed in television, you really do need to move to Los Angeles. There’s no getting around it. It’s true that some shows shoot in other locations like New York, Vancouver, and Georgia, but almost all of the writing is done in LA. You have to come here to start making connections, meet the right people, and apply for low level jobs on TV shows.

That’s the next step: do whatever it takes to get in a writing room. Become an actor’s assistant, work as a production assistant on any show you can get on, or if you can find a way, get a job as an assistant in a writer’s room. This final position is just one step away from getting hired to write on the show.

The key components of making this leap are 1) pitch good material in the room whenever you’re given the chance and 2) make friends with everyone. In film, producers don’t always mind hiring writers who are jerks because they don’t have to spend much time with them (but you should still be nice!). This isn’t the case in TV. In TV, the person who hires you is going to be the showrunner and/or the head writer. It’ll be someone who has to work with you every day, so you damn well better make sure they like you.

Parallel to these steps, you need to write both a spec script and a pilot. Specs show that you’re able to take on the voice of a show you didn’t create, and pilots show that you’re able to develop original, exciting story ideas. Here’s a lot of great advice on that topic: Writing for Television — Lessons Learned at GAPF.

Once you have a solid spec and pilot, enter contests, submit to agents, and do whatever you can to get your material in the hands of people who can help. Do your research to make sure the contests you enter are worth the fee and that the agents you’re querying work with TV writers.

Another great way to break into television is by writing a play. There are dozens of small theaters in LA that are always looking for new plays, and television producers frequent these theaters looking for budding talent. There are also special theater projects like Unscreened that produce plays by four new writers every year. It’s a different medium that you’ll have to research and learn, but plays have key ties with teleplays. If the other avenues aren’t working well for you, give this one a try.

Got a question? Email it to LAScreenwriterBlog@gmail.com. Please use the subject: Ask LA Screenwriter

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