Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On the Verge Part 3 by Cardinal Robbins

Last time, I shared the need for metrics generated by your brand and explained how writing fanfic (fan fiction) can greatly benefit you – if your eyes are on writing for a TV or streaming media show created by someone else. I was all hot to write for John Munch's character on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, putting long months of sweat equity into writing heavily-researched fanfic. It was a great way to ensure I could write all of the ensemble's characters well.
Here's a hurdle for you. While I was writing my first of two spec scripts, it was time to try for the brass ring: an agent. It can all become a muddled Catch-22 situation, and it was no different for me. To get your foot in the door, you need to have an agent, because no legitimate production company is going to risk getting sued by reading unsolicited (non-agent submitted) work.
Agents don't want to represent you for one or two spec scripts you've written for your favorite show, no matter the popularity of the show or how well you write. Unless you're seeking a staff position and have the talent to get invited into the Writers' Room, agents are absolutely convinced you cannot provide them with a steady revenue stream. Thus, you're not worth them so much as saying, “Sorry. Pass.” Every agent between NYC and LA has stacks of L&O: SVU specs piled high to the sky. We'll talk more about what I call “the agency dilemma” in a future blog post. I wanted to acknowledge it now, so no one would think I'd somehow scored an agent in advance.
Let's talk about some of the things I did to be sure my script was too good to be ignored:
To make sure my story was a strong one, I shared it confidentially with those who were the most dedicated and detail-oriented in my group of fellow fans. These were the people who would bust me on anything that I tried to pass off as canon which wasn't. Those who had police procedural expertise would also stop me cold if I played too fast and loose with how law enforcement agencies actually operate.
In an attempt to prevent too much, “That's not the way it works!” comments, my first call was to our local police department. Burbank (CA) has a department which understands community outreach, especially reaching out to the entertainment industry. In no time at all, I was at headquarters with a high ranking officer and nationally respected detective, encouraged to ask every question on my mind about how an Internal Affairs investigation really took place. Not too long after that, I was accepted for the BPD's Community Academy, which was a very thorough overview of everything you wanted to know about our city's law enforcement agency. (Yes, there was a graduation ceremony and reception. The BPD takes community education very seriously, for which I'm still extremely grateful. Sometimes a free series of seminars can be worth more than anything money could buy.)
Fortunately, thanks to social media, I'd made friends with a really cool woman on Facebook who is also a John Munch/SVU fan. She's a Special Agent (Forensics) for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. She's not only exceptional at what she does for her state's equivalent to the FBI, but offered her expertise to me whenever a project needed to be 100% realistic. She is a natural instructor who has taught me more about DNA evidence than I ever could have hoped to learn. (It's a paltry payback for her amazing generosity, but I swap her advice on re-qualifying with her weapon; she has to remain proficient with her Glock. I'd happily buy her a personal Starbucks franchise for her living room, if I could!) It takes a village to write, no matter how you access necessary information. Between law enforcement and the internet, I was getting an education and serious progress was being made.
The next major hurdle? I needed to know the language of the Writers' Room...especially the showrunner. If you can't speak their language, there's no way in Hades you'll be able to discuss what works, what doesn't, revisions from the writer's side, or changes other people in the process (director, actor, editor, producers, etc) need you to make. No matter what people tell you, there is no single book which will provide complete information on show-speak. I referenced at least four books, while digging for info on the web – keep in mind there wasn't as much internet-based information available just a few short years ago.
This is where social media helped tremendously. I got on Twitter and started following the SVU cast, as well as #hashtags which led me to more fans. Additionally – because Mr. Belzer is such an interesting fellow – I was not only re-tweeting things he said on Twitter, I was ferreting out things other Belzer fans would find irresistible and tweeting about it. I made sure to include Belz's Twitter handle, in case he needed to correct me on anything. During all this, I became acquainted with SVU's newest showrunner, the incomparable Warren Leight, who had just taken over from Neal Baer.
Why is this important? Networking is always good, even if it's just introducing yourself as another fan of the show. Also, Warren was a tremendous shot in the arm for SVU from a writer's standpoint: Neal Baer's Writers' Room was a closed shop, while Warren was not only open to new writers, he genuinely wanted to give good scribes a hand up. He works much more along the lines of what the Writers Guild of America had in mind, when they began requiring shows to use at least two new writers every season.
I'm a curious cat, to say the very least. I like to meet interesting people, less for networking and more to see if there are ways I can help them. Social media, especially Twitter, allowed me to do this while having the most fun ever, I kid you not! Little did I realize, people started to seek out my tweets, respond to them, and suddenly the ball was rolling – my expertise on the details of Belz's career garnered attention from a lot of people. Including the man himself.
Warren had been extremely encouraging all along, with the express knowledge I would never pitch to him. (I'm enough of a professional to respect that policy. I'd even mentioned it to him first – no pitching!) The SVU writing staff is a friendly, approachable, fabulously helpful group of people. More than once I needed sage advice from my favorite SVU writer and he never failed to steer me in the right direction or share pointers generously, as long as I wasn't specific. (No pitching!) One of the writers' assistants gave me much needed nit-picky details about things like Munch's new shield number via his promotion to sergeant – even sending me a photo of him holding the prop badge. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have made the acquaintance of so many wonderful individuals. The writers' assistant? He's written two episodes of the series and the young man is no slouch!
What is today's take away?
  • At this phase, get plot/story critiques from those who thoroughly know your audience.
  • Do your research by studying, digging deep, making connections, and asking if there are local experts you can interview.
  • Establish connections via e-mail, by social media, basically in every way possible – not so you can shamelessly use people for your own means, but because it's incredibly enjoyable and you never know where it will lead.
Next time, we'll talk about how friendly networking (to volunteer your services) can lead to things you never thought possible – not in your wildest dreams.

1 comment:

Sisters of the Quill said...

Show-speak (nice term - and things change constantly in the industry so I suspect one has to find the latest editions for the vernacular). Yes, research. I'm lucky to have a detective living next door. SVU? Didn't know about it. I'm not on Twitter yet. Interesting to know it has played a role in your networking success. Thanks for the post. Karen Lin