Complications Ensue:
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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Q. The one thing I would love to see more than anything is a first time staff writer's spec/specs that got them staffed. I know personality and all is a big part too...but always curious how good/original their spec's actually are in order for them to rise above all the rest.
That's a challenging idea. What immediately comes to mind is "no way I'm letting anyone see how bad a writer I was five years ago!" Another issue is that television has changed and grown, and whatever Ken Levine's specs were when he was first staffed, for example, might seem hackneyed simply because television was hackneyed. If you read a Gilligan's Island now, whether spec or produced, you'd see the flip cut coming a mile off --

There's no way I'm putting on a red dress
and dancing the samba!



in a red dress, dancing the samba.

But then, another name for the flip cut is "the Gilligan."

It's that old remark about Shakespeare: he's that guy who writes in clichés!

Television has changed. You could look at a perfect Miami Vice spec, for example, and fall asleep at the pace the plot develops. But the same is true for the produced scripts from the show. One plotline? One plotline???

Another problem is that until you're good enough to get staffed, you may not realize just why Ken Levine's spec was so brilliant at the time. You just wouldn't see it. Part of learning your craft is seeing other people's craft. The more I know about writing, the more I can appreciate other people's writing.

And then, of course, there's personality. You do get staffed for personality. You get staffed for quick wit and likability and being easy to be around.

I guess my question is: what would you get out of reading Josh Schwartz's no-doubt-kickass Original Spec? Would you feel daunted, and quit? Or figure you just have a lot to learn? What would you get out of reading my not-so-kickass ancient Buffy spec? Would you figure "Heh. If Epstein could get staffed with this junk, I'm not so far off"? Or would you figure that no one in show business can appreciate a good script and it's all a crap shoot?

I feel that if you need to be a TV writer, you probably will. And if you don't need to be, you probably won't. Like any other endeavor, the laurels go to the ones who devote themselves to their calling. I find that tracking other people's genius is too wearing. There are people whose scripts I think suck who luck into stuff. There are people like Denis McGrath who I hope will throw me some scripts when they get their own shows. I just try to worry about making my own scripts as good as they can be while still finishing them, and praying now and then that I continue to be able to support myself in this crazy business.
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I don't know if I would learn much from reading it...I think it is more for curiosity's sake. I've met a lot of working writers and have often asked to read the script that landed them an agent or first writing job etc. In part just to see how much better of a writer they are I guess...but often I was a bit shocked to see how bad/unoriginal that initial script actually was.

This isn't to say I view myself as the overlooked brilliant writer...because that ain't the case. My stuff is not primetime material...and I have no illusions otherwise.

In part this notion is from reading a interview with Joss Whedon, or maybe it was David Fury, where he talked about how both the Buffy team and the Angel team were fighting over who got to staff Drew Goddard based in part on an amazing Six Feet Under spec he wrote. I was always curious to read a spec that was so good that two great shows were fighting over who gets to staff you. Was it just really well written with the characters nailed perfectly...or did it do something completly original that blew everyone's mind?

How good honestly are first time writer who get staffed? How often do first time staffers survive past their rookie season or get sent back to the minors? Is there a overall general view of first time staffers by showrunners or seasoned vets?

I read a lot of my assistant friend's TV specs and in general I know that their specs are well written but they would never land someone a meeting/staff job. But I wonder if maybe I'm wrong (after all what the hell do I know about what Rob Thomas or Damon Lindehof looks for in rookie staffer)...the scripts are well written and stay true to the characters...but they aren't really all that original or "fresh" storylines. Then again not all the episodes of given TV show during a season are that either.

it was a totally random question/thought...I don't know if I was looking for an answer or just thinking out loud.

Though I would still like to read that Six Feet Under...

By Blogger CharlieDontSurf, at 5:48 PM  

testing the comments function...

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 6:30 PM  

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