Friday's TV Development Talk

Robert Markovich, Director of Original Project Development for the Starz Network and Mark Stegemann, past writer on Scrubs, My Boys, and now the famously popular Greek discuss how TV shows get made and how to break in.

Breaking into the TV business may not be impossible but it’s hard. Real hard. It’s made even harder by the seemingly divergent advice given to the eager writers who showed up for Friday morning's AFF panel on TV Development to hear advice from two men who’ve found work in the biz.

On your work: Have fresh ideas, be unique, but make sure your characters are relatable.

On spec scripts: Sure, everyone wants to spec The Office because it’s popular. But beware — your script has to be better than anything the team of existing 10 to 12 writers can come with. Go with something that’s on the air, but maybe not flying so high on the radar (New Adventures of Old Christine, According to Jim, My Boys come to mind.) Write a stand-alone episode. Don’t take huge leaps with characters but still be unique. In short, spec a series you love. You’re likely to do your best work based on an understanding of the show, the characters, and it’s rules. As Stegemann said, writers are often good at mimicking the voices of the characters in their spec scripts, but not realizing their motives. When that happens, it shows.

On selling your work: Remember that you're also selling yourself. Be confident! Producers and TV execs want to believe they can trust you to deliver. But working on a TV series is potentially a long-term relationship. To get a writing gig means you will spend 10 to 12 hours a day with a group of other writers. If you’re obviously belligerent, rude, stubborn, or stupid, why would someone want to work with you for long periods of time?

On breaking in: Network, make friends — not just vertically, but horizontally. The old adage about being nice to the people on the bottom because you don’t know who might pass you on the way up rings true in the TV business. Never be rude to a person’s assistant. Never. Treat them with kindness and respect. Always thank them. Get a job in the business. Markovich started managing talent. Stegmann took a job as a writer’s assistant. This gave him a great place to observe how the writers’ room works, how the writing process works, and how important it is to learn how a series is put together, scene to scene, episode to episode, and season to season.

Cool tips: Check out script-o-rama.com to find scripts of your favorite films and TV shows. Study what you love. Learn from them and try your hand at it.

Walk away thoughts: It goes without saying but it's worth mentioning again. Know the form you are working in — that includes the genre form and the formatting of your script itself. There is plenty of scriptwriting software out there (Final Draft is the industry standard nowadays). But more importantly, the thing writers eager to break in should know is, there is no magic bullet to success. Do your homework. Pay your dues, listen to the masters and learn from your mistakes. Work for what you want and pray for some good luck. When those two things happen to, as they do once in a great while, rhyme, hopefully you’ll be ready.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin Film Festival, TV, Mark Stegemann, Robert Markovich, development

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