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Complications Ensue:
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Saturday, November 01, 2008

I'm a 20-something starry eyed hopeful screenwriter. I'm living in Toronto, taking some post-grad classes, and attempting to break into TV comedy screenwriting.

Quick question: What's the best way to start writing TV comedy here in Toronto, Vancouver, or Quebec? I do not yet have an agent.

I would love to be on a writing staff of a CORNER GAS, LITTLE MOSQUE, or a SOPHIE. I would kill puppies to be hired on 22 MINUTES. I'm working on a couple specs, but I'm worried that I'll never find representation, or ultimately, a job.
Wayyyy too early to be worrying. Start worrying if, after four or five years of diligently writing the best specs you can, you still don't have an agent and haven't written anything for money. And by "diligently," I mean that you take feedback to heart and work on whatever aspect of your writing is weakest.

If you need reassurance that you'll break in, you're probably in the wrong business.

I'm nervous about the "working on a couple of specs." That suggests you're browsing. You should be working fullheartedly on your current spec, with ideas for your next spec. It is often ineffective to work on two things at once. It means you can avoid solving the hard problems.

You should immediately form a writing group with 5-6 writers at your level. See my book Crafty Screenwriting for advice about writing groups.

You should meet other writers and filmmakers. In Montreal you could meet people in the Montreal Film Group. In Toronto you should find Jill Golick and go to her Writers Watching TV events. I kick myself every time I get one of those invitations and can't go because I'm not in Toronto. In any Canadian city you can join Karen Walton's Ink Canada and go to their events. Women should join Women In Film. I'm sure there are all sorts of similar organizations in LA.

Once you have specs, you should apply to the Canadian Film Centre. This is the only film program I recommend. Rather than going to UCLA, USC, NYU or AFI, if you want to start your career in LA, I would send you to Beverly Hills to get a job as an assistant or mail room guy at CAA, ICM, WMA, UTA, Endeavor, APA, Paradigm or Gersh or similar literary agencies.

Wouldn't kill you to do the same in Toronto, if you can get a job working for Vanguarde, Meridien, Jennifer Hollyer, Rena Zimmerman at Great North, Brent Sherman at Characters, Harrison Mgt., Alpern or OAZ. That would be well worth a year of your time.

Also, call comedy writers in town and ask if you can buy them lunch, coffee, or fine tequila at Reposado. Ask them for advice, not a job.

Many comedy writers start in standup (e.g. John Rogers out of Ottawa, that red-haired short guy who makes movies in New York), but it is by no means a requirement. I've never done standup. Standup will improve your pitching immeasurably, and give you a deep sense of comedy timing, but if you write other people better than you write yourself, you can skip Amateur Night. Still, probably worth trying for a year, if only to stretch your comedy muscles.

But really, it's all about the specs. Write two kickass specs. Write a 30 ROCK and a MY NAME IS EARL, or whatever else people are speccing these days. Worry about the writing, and the money will follow.



I'm the dude from the letter.

I come from a long line of worriers and worryworts. So when I say that I'm concerned about not getting an agent, well... I'm concerned about everything. Thanks for the tips about specking and finding that first gig. Your advice is really appreciated. I'm going to go work on my spec right now.

I have thought about agency assistant positions before, so when you named those agencies, I thought about it again. Definitely going to apply later this year when school's out. I don't think they would want someone for only part time, but hey, who knows?

One last question: The spec I'm working on right now is for HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, which is in it's 4th season on CBS. Good choice?

By Blogger theextramedium, at 11:04 AM  

If you're Toronto based, and comedy-centred, there's an even more elemental thing you have to start to do.

Insert yourself into the comedy scene in Toronto. The biggest comedy room is the alt.dot comedy lounge at the Rivoli's on Monday nights. Most comics that have gone on in the last few years have come from that scene. When I was getting established, before I got too busy, I would go there a lot and I often still miss it. Writers from Corner Gas, Mosque, 22, Mercer -- have all gone there, too. Many people from the Humber School of comedy go there as well. The performers are all up and comers -- so they will be the people who, if you're serious about writing, will be your peers. Go. Talk to people. Engage. Talk to comics you like. Buy them a drink. Make friends. Be part of the scene. Talk about comedy.

Before you can tune your efforts to scripts and the solitary side of things, you need to engage on the social side of things. That's a very, very easy thing to do in Toronto. It may be intimidating at first, but the scene is small.

By Blogger DMc, at 12:19 PM  

Cool, I haven't been to the Rivoli yet, but I'm actually in the Humber Comedy program, and I'm a starting comic myself.

I'll definitely check that place out, should be good times. Thanks for the suggestion. Also now I have your blog to read.

By Blogger theextramedium, at 12:45 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Christopher Bolton, at 2:33 PM  

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