Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Crazy Little Business Called Show...

When I decided my latest television show idea was ready to be pitched, I called upon a distant family friend who I barely knew to ask for his advice. A long-time actor, he had successfully sold a show (that currently airs on a cable network I will not name to protect the privacy of all of those involved), and I wanted to get some advice on how. He is not a writer, and though he has an agent, his agent is used to booking him roles, not getting him meetings with guys like Peter Roth. So he and I chatted, and what I learned was this: be personable and patient and have access to those of importance and I, too, could sell a show.

Sounds so easy, doesn't it!??


This particular guy spent a few years pounding the pavement on sets, working as a guest star or any part he could get, simply to be around writers, producers, and directors. When they'd call cut, he would be schmoozing over the Craft Services table, in the make-up trailer, around Video Village, simply to put feelers out for who liked the sound of his idea. He'd never come out and say "Let me tell you about this great idea I have for a show" because then their eyes would glaze over. But he'd find ways to work the topic of his show into conversation and see who took the bait. Eventually it worked. And since he's not a writer, he partnered with a director, went into a studio, and they ultimately hired a writer to pen the pilot. Eventually they wound up pitching the pilot the traditional way, but it all started well before he ever got his foot in the door for any official meetings.

It seems more and more deals get made these days in unorthodox ways. Yet, there's a thin line between talking casually and actually pitching an idea. And there's an even thinner line when it comes to the relationships you may have cultivated versus the ones you think you may have cultivated. For years, my greatest fear was that if I didn't walk into a formal setting-- most likely some dude's office-- with printed materials clearly showcasing the proper WGA registration and copyright, my idea could be taken from me-- stolen and given to someone they already knew and trusted to execute to their liking, if not perfection. Call it my innate cynicism, but I knew the odds were stacked against me, some little girl without representation with a lot of big dreams and big ideas but teeny tiny credits to back up my words.

But more recently my fears have changed. Maybe there's wisdom in aging; maybe I just don't care to control as much as I once did. Instead, these days I focus on the thin line between taking advantage of a previously formed relationship and taking advantage of one. Since I have spent the last year and a half pursuing entertainment blogging full-time, I have made a number of connections-- from writers and producers to actors to managers and publicists to those within the studio system-- who, on paper, are the perfect sounding boards for my show pitches and treatments. But here's the catch: since I have spent the last year and a half pursuing entertainment blogging full-time, I already work with them in one professional capacity-- and one that could be taken as a conflict of interest should I say to them 'Hey, you know, I have this great idea for a show' one day over email or on Twitter or casually over drinks at a party. Mine is not the easiest of ideas to simply "seed" in simple conversation, after all.

It's the most frustrating thing in the world.

Cultivating relationships from one side of the industry should breed ease when you try to move to another side, right? Perhaps. In some situations, that already established peer-acceptance may be all one needs. But I am not one to assume relationships have stepped past the "we clearly need each other to make our jobs easier" level onto "we will do favors for each other because we're friends." I think there is nothing worse than someone who presumes a relationship is friendlier than it actually is. I know I'm bitchy enough to make fun of those who think they're my BFFs when I clearly don't like, or don't even know, them very well, so I wouldn't put it past others to be the same way. And that's the worst because if people aren't taking you seriously, you will be nothing in this industry. I tend to play it more cautiously, therefore, and I'm of the "if they approach or initiate" mind-set, then I'll go with the opportunity. But I won't seize it any other way right now. I don't like to ask for help anyway. That is severely limiting. And you can surely see why I'm still single, too.

I guess you could say I've gotten off-course. My business cards say "Writer," rather than "Blogger" because I don't want to be associated with just one specific niche. If I meet someone at a TCA party, for example, and then am brought into their office to pitch a few months, or even a few years, down the line, I don't want them to automatically associate me as "just that blogger" (though it would surely help if they'd remember me at all!) and not take what I have to say seriously simply because I haven't worked in a writer's room. I have no desire to work in a writer's room. I want to develop and sell my own ideas, not work on someone else's. I know that can make me sound incredibly short-sighted and snotty, and that, too, is why I don't want to close the door on the type of writing I'm doing now. I'm fully aware there may never be a turn on TV but "only" about TV for me.

Even this blog has gotten off-course. It started out as a personal space to talk about how pop culture was influencing my life, but it has since turned into a space simply to house all of my more professional pieces. And in doing so, I became acutely aware of the eyes on this site, and though it was always deemed a personal space, still found myself censoring certain things-- or simply not saying certain things-- to again, not risk pissing someone off. I don't know when or why that happened; I certainly never gave a crap about what people thought of me growing up. And I, especially, am entitled to my opinion, given that I write reviews and all...

If I didn't care about my "day job" in blogging, I would say 'Screw it' and go balls out with the pitch, bringing it up every time and with everyone I'm in front of someone of importance. You never know if it will hit until you try, right? And you can't win if you don't play...or whatever. But maybe it's because I do value getting to write professionally, even if I'm still not quite writing exactly what I want to be full-time and long term, that I don't want to risk burning any bridges, so I more closely guard my true passion and interest than I should.

It's a new year (admittedly a later start in the new year than I planned, but better late than never...), but my plan now is actually to go back to basics with this blog and with my pitching. Wish me luck!


Jenna HP said...

good luck ;)
Great post.

RT said...

Oh, the places you'll go, Danielle!!

Don't forget- as Mick Jagger says: "Time, time, time, is on your side, yes it is".