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Friday, May 06, 2005

I understand that in L.A the best way to get a start is to be a writers assistant. But there just doesn't
seem to be a lot of work in Canada for that sort of thing. I thought you might be able to advise me on what steps I should take to get my start as a writer in the Canadian system.
I don't think the best way into TV in LA is to be a writer's assistant. I think that being a writer's assistant is a good back door in. The best way is via the front door. Write two kickass spec scripts. That will get you an agent and jobs faster than anything else.

(To paraphrase Ezra Pound's translation of Confucius: "The way in is via the door. HOW IS IT THAT NO ONE WILL USE THIS METHOD???")

In Canada, fewer people write specs, apparently. More people write original stuff. But great specs will still get you in faster than original stuff.

Personally I don't like reading original stuff. Half the time the writer hasn't really created a show with his spec pilot. So in addition to the burden of convincing me he can write, the writer has added the burden of creating a show in my mind that wasn't there before, giving voices to the characters, creating a fresh and yet familiar template, blah biddy blah blah. And when he has created a show in my mind, it's so quirky that it doesn't tell me whether he can write my show. My reaction is along the lines of: great! Go make that show so I can watch it! Instead of: great! Now I know who I'm gonna hire!

On the other hand, I got most of my writing jobs in Canada through the late and much lamented Robin Spry, with whom I got into business by optioning a series pitch to him. The show never got made, but he hired me for Galidor, and then to create a show called Isaac Asimov's Robot City (still unproduced), and then for Charlie Jade. So your mileage may vary.

It never hurts to work in the business. Really any job you can get above the line will help you understand better what producers are looking for, and will get you closer to people who can hire you to write a script. If you have the time and the ambition, volunteer to be someone's intern. Internships lead to paying jobs if you're good. Writing assistant jobs are rare but every show does have a script coordinator, and those cats often get a script to write if their samples are good.

But their samples have to be good. I didn't just have the series pitch, I also had a West Wing spec and a Buffy. No one's throwing a writer's assistant a script without they already have some respectable samples.

Which gets you back to specs.

Why not cut to the chase and write the damn specs?

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