Yesterday my classmates and I went to Malibu to have class in our teacher’s house. His commute is long and trying, so he wanted to have us come up and chill with him. A drive to Malibu? That I don’t have to make myself? To a house with a view of Catalina Island? Yes please!
There, my teacher Lee gave us what he called “the sermon on the mount” of TV writing. It all boiled down to three ideas:
1) Belief. It sounds odd, but if you believe that you’re going to break in some day, that confidence (not arrogance) is going to come across to the people you’re pitching your stuff to. Don’t ask anyone’s permission to be in the industry. You’re in the industry, and the people that you’re pitching to can work with you, or someone else will work with you. You don’t really mind who, because you’re just excited about your project. That’s what you need to project.
2) Do your work. Lee said “homework,” but I’m going to shorten it to “work,” because dammit, after March I won’t have any homework anymore, thank you very much. This went along with the idea of not asking permission to enter the industry. If you’re writing–spec scripts, original pilots, screenplays, whatever–even if no one is paying you, you’re just building up to the day when someone does pay you.
So keep doing your work and becoming a better writer, so that when someone asks you what you’re working on you can say “well, I have a Big Bang spec and one for Leverage. I also have a show bible for a one hour drama and an original pilot for a 30 minute single camera sit-com.” How much more impressive is than than “Yeah, I have a couple original ideas and a treatment for a Modern Family spec.” Answer: so much more impressive.
3) Don’t worry about where your break will come (because it won’t come from the place you expect). As long as you believe and you do your work (which includes getting out and meeting people and making connections), something will happen. Eventually. So don’t worry! Because it won’t come from where you expect, but you have to be prepared when it does.
He just makes it sound so easy.
Ah, and the funny story! So this will probably only be interesting to my mother and her small group, but Lee wrote for Remington Steele. And the first episode I ever saw happened to be an episode that Lee wrote. I didn’t know it at the time, and when I looked up his credits later I didn’t connect the two. But yesterday he was talking about the odd ways that stories come about, and he started to talk about the set of Remington Steele.
Laura’s (the main character) apartment was a copy of her actress’ apartment (Stephanie Zimbalist). It was cramped and small, so it was difficult and time-consuming to shoot there, because you had to arrange the lights to “turn the room around” and make the audience believe that it’s an actual room and not a sound stage. The directors would say “please, please don’t write me in that (effing) room.”
Also, no one on the set liked Stephanie’s choices for Laura’s wardrobe. I mean, it was the 80s, so good clothing choices were few and far between, but apparently her clothes were just awful and completely unsexy, and they had a version of that scene in Black Swan when Thomas “I don’t want any boundaries between us” Leroy asked the prince if he would screw Nina and he was all “no.”
So! The first season ends and the second season begins and Lee is writing the season premier. So he decided to blow up Laura’s apartment. At this point in the story I gasped and said “I’ve seen that episode!” and he smiled and continued. So they blew up Laura’s apartment and sent her to Remington’s house to stay (which allowed for some unresolved sexual tension, naturally).
It also gave an opening to a line that I had always remembered (and had no idea Lee had written). Laura and Remington are in his house and she’s all sad and alone and upset because her damn apartment got blown up and she almost died, and she said to Remington (who has been trying to sleep with her for a year), “tonight, if you asked I couldn’t say no.” and Remington said, “tonight, I couldn’t ask.” Swoon!
During the course of whatever case they were investigating, Laura and Remington went to a loft, and Laura promptly rented it and moved in. A loft that was spacious and wide open and made it very easy for the directors to “turn the room around.”
And the explosion “destroyed” all of Laura’s clothes, so she got a new (sexier, apparently, though I still couldn’t tell) wardrobe. And the directors were happy.