This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 207: Breaking Into Television With Screenwriting Career Coach Carole Kirschner.
Ashley: Welcome to 2018 and Episode #207 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Carole Kirschner who is an Entertainment Career Strategist. She has a ton of experience in television. She created the CBS Diversity Institute’s Writers Mentoring Program and she helped develop the WGA Showrunner Training Program’s curriculum. So she’s got a lot of great advice for people looking to break into television. So stay tuned for that interview.
If you find this episode viable, please help me out by giving me a review on iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode incase you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for episode number #207.
If you want my free guide- How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write to write a professional log line and creative letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
I just wanna quickly mention the writer’s group that I’m in. We’re always looking to add good writers to the rotation. We meet every Tuesday at 7:15 until about 10:00 pm in Sherman Oaks, California, right around where the 405 and the 101 intersect. Here’s how it works– each week three member writers put up around 25 pages of a screenplay that they’re currently working on. This can be TV, it can be a web series or of course it can be a feature film. The pages are read on stage by professional actors in front of the other writers in the group, and then the listening writers give notes to the presenting writers. As a member writer you’ll be putting up pages about every five weeks. It’s a great way to workshop your material, network with other talented actors and writers and hone your critical thinking skills by giving notes to the other writers.
This is a live in-person event, so you need to live somewhere near Sherman Oaks California to be able to attend weekly. If you’re not in the Los Angeles area perhaps consider starting a writer’s group of your own. Nearly every city in the world has a community of filmmakers and writers in most cases. They’re just looking for someone to step up and be a leader and get things organized. The one big stumbling block for people with this group is that you have to be committed to showing up nearly every Tuesday, even when you’re not up so that you can give notes to the other writers who are up. If you’d like to learn more about the group go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/writersgroup. Writers group is lower case and all one word and of course I will link to it in the show notes as well.
So a quick few words about what I’m working on. A quick update on The Pinch- the crime, action/thriller feature film that I am finishing up. There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is The Pinch is officially finished. I know most of the listeners of this podcast are sick of hearing me talk about it. That’s the bad news. Unfortunately I’m not done talking about it. Even though the film is complete there’s still a lot of work to be done, namely marketing and distribution. So I will continue to give updates as I figure out distribution and hopefully get accepted to a few film festivals. I’m saying and halfway jokingly that people are getting sick of it. Honestly most the emails…not most, all of the emails I’ve gotten about mentioning The Pinch on the podcast have been very much positive. People seem to enjoy getting this updates so I continue to give them.
If you’re getting sick of this, I’d be curious to hear from you just to get some feedback. Is talking about The Pinch just getting to the point where you don’t wanna hear it anymore or are you actually interested in this? You can always send me emails, really any comments, questions, concerns you have about the podcast. You can always send them to me at email@example.com. I have a finished version of the film which I sent out to my Kickstarter backers. Originally when I did the kick starter I had set it up and said that I would be done…the film, at the end of that year which was 2016. So I’m way behind schedule so I appreciate the patience and the support from all those Kickstarter backers. Literally I never got a single complain from any of the Kickstarter backers even though I know I was definitely behind schedule in what I had originally predicted when I’d be able to deliver the film.
So I sent a link to all the Kickstarter backers with a link so that they could view the film. If you are a kickstarter backer and you didn’t get this email, just email me. It’s easy for me to just send you the link personally. I don’t have to go through the kickstarter system so I can definitely do that. In terms of buying the film or seeing the film, we’re gonna have to wait on that. If you’re not a Kickstarter backer just wait on that. I’ve got to let distribution kind of settle a little bit and figure out what is gonna happen there and that sort of Segway’s into the next portion of this…what I’m doing in terms of marketing and distribution. As mentioned previously on the podcast, I entered about 30 film festivals. So far I have been rejected by two and accepted to none so obviously I’m hoping that gets a little bit more positive.
I’ve got a couple of offers from distributors. I’ve been talking about this on the podcast over the last couple of months. I’ve got to figure out which direction to go with those if any as I haven’t ruled out self-distribution, or maybe some sort of high-bred model where I do some self-distribution in some areas of the world and then a distributor does his distribution in other areas that I’m not able to do self-distribution. All of this is sort of influx and all of this needs to be determined. I’ve got half a mind of simply sit and wait and see what happens over the course of the next couple of months with film festivals. I mean, I’ve only heard from two. I entered about 30, so it still remains to be seen, but if I can get some traction in the film festival circuit. If you can get a little bit of traction, you go to the film festivals, maybe you meet some other film festival directors, they invite you to other film festivals.
These things can snowball if you get a good run in the festivals. Whether that’s likely to happen, I don’t know. I haven’t really been down this road with a film like this before, so I’m not honestly sure how that’s all gonna turn out. Most likely I’m gonna get into at least one or two of the 30 festivals. Maybe hopefully three, that will be 10 percent. I’d say that’s actually probably a pretty good number. So if I can get into even three of these 30 festivals, I’ll probably be doing pretty good. And is that gonna be enough to get this ball rolling? Yeah, doubt it, but I will know. In a couple of months I’ll have a bunch more of the rejections or acceptances…hopefully acceptances from film festivals and I’ll start to get a feel for that’s gonna go anywhere or not. If it’s not gonna go anywhere then I’ll probably just make a clean decision at that point to either go with one of these distributors or not.
The problem is this film is super low budget. It doesn’t have any name casts. So when I’m talking to distributors there’s not a lot they can do with the film. I mean, they can take and sort of put it through their channels, but without these other elements it’s difficult for them to really do much with the film. Now, if I can get some recognition from film festivals, all of a sudden that becomes just a little bit of a marketing hook that we can use. I haven’t even submitted this film to Sundance or South by South. None of the big festivals I don’t think would accept a film like this and so I haven’t even submitted to those. So I’m not submitting to the big festivals, so I’m not gonna get into the big festivals. And there is something from distributors. We talk to distributors and they say, ”Don’t worry about the small festivals,” but I’m hoping that some of these smaller festivals that I’ve entered I’m hoping that I can get as I said, a little bit traction, maybe some awards I can start to use that in my marketing to distributors, I can go back to some of these distributors and say, “Hey, we won some awards, what’s your final offer?”
So I’m kind of hoping to see how that plays out. But even if none of the festival stuff pans out, again I still have self-distribution and I still do have some offers from these distributors. I don’t think these offers are gonna go anywhere in the next couple of months honestly. So I think I’m gonna sit on them and see what happens. As I said, play my hand at the festivals so I’m already entered into them. Over the course of the next two months I will know. I’ll be starting to get a lot more of these acceptances or rejections. I’ll kind of have a feel probably in a month or two on how the festival run is gonna go for me. But again in either case whether I get a good festival run or don’t, it’s still is probably not a bad idea, just hedge my bet a little bit, wait and see how things shake out and then make a real final decision probably in a month or two or maybe even three, as far as who will actually be the distributor of The Pinch.
So I just wanna mention again, I mentioned this in the podcast before, if you’re interested in learning more about The Pinch, I did a webinar a couple of months ago where I went through the entire process of writing, directing, producing a micro-budget feature film. I go into great detail on exactly how I wrote, directed and produced this film. Specifically, I talk about how to write a micro-budget screenplay, how to raise money to shoot a micro-budget screenplay, which includes a lot of information about how I successfully ran a kickstarter campaign, and then I also dig into pre-production, production and of course post production. The webinar is over three hours long, so there’s a lot of information in it. I worked hard putting this webinar together, so I am charging a small fee to view it. But if you’re looking to write directly into a producer micro-budget film, I think this could really help you a lot. There are a ton of producers and directors out there looking for the next great micro-budget script. So even if you don’t want to be a director and producer of a micro-budget film, just being a writer of micro-budget scripts, I think you’ll get a lot of value out of this webinar as well as it will really help you understand just sort of some of the practical realities of production.
I think writing low budget scripts that can be shot on a micro-budget level is a great way to meet up and coming directors and producers and get some produced writing credits. You can find these people, whether it be short films or even future films, you can find them through places like Mandy.com or Craigslist.com, certainly paid services like SYS Select which I’m gonna talk about more later in the podcast. All of these places there’s a lot of producers looking for low budget films, stuff they can do fairly cheaply. And again it’s just a great way to get sort of on the board, network with people, see your stuff actually getting produced. I’m just a big proponent of this. Again, even if you don’t wanna go out and make your own film, I think this webinar could potentially help you.
I will link to it in the show notes, you can go to the webinar if you go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/thepinch. The pinch is all lowercase and all one word. It’s literally www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/thepinch. You can find information all about the webinar. I’ve also got a big announcement about sellingyourscreenplay.com and what I’ve been working on over these last six months or nine months. I’m rolling out a brand new platform for screenwriters to connect with producers. So stick around, after the interview I’m gonna talk more about that. Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing Screenwriting Career Strategist Carole Kirschner. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Carole to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Carole: Well, thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to it.
Ashley: To start out, maybe you can give us a little bit explanation about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Carole: Sure. So I’m actually from Los Angeles, one of the few and I started as a stand-up comic and then realized that since I wasn’t Whoopi Goldberg or somebody fabulous, I was just pretty good that I needed to go to the other side of the desk and I became a development executive. I started with a small production company and then I was at CBS in comedy development and then I went over to Steven Spielberg’s first Amblin television department and started that. I then became a consultant because I had a young daughter and all I was doing was travelling. So we changed our lifestyle, I became a consultant and as a consultant I created the CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program. And because of that I was asked to help Jeff Melvoin develop the curriculum for the WGA Showrunner Training Program and because of that I was asked to help [Inaudible 00:12:37] run that program. I wrote a book called Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV or Digital Entertainment. I speak around the world, in fact I’m going to India in two weeks to talk to them about the US showrunner training model and I’m a career coach.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. What is it about the entertainment business, and it sounds like stand-up comedy was sort of your first foray into it. What is it that attracted you to the entertainment business do you think?
Carole: Well, it’s interesting because I remember thinking when I was in college, I don’t care if I work from 8 o’clock in the morning to 11 o’clock at night, I just don’t wanna have a nine to five job. I have to be more creative. And I used to love to tell stories, and make people laugh. That was just who I was. I have this saying that the world’s divided between those people who if you say, “Get up on that stage and make people laugh,” those people that will say, “Just kill me now, there’s no way I’d do that,” and those people that would step on your face to get up to the stage and I was one of the second type of people. So just that I didn’t wanna work in an insurance company, I had to do something creative.
Ashley: Ok, perfect. Let’s talk about the WGA Showrunner Training Program. Maybe you can kind of tell us what that’s all about and who that program is for.
Carole: Sure, it’s a wonderful program. We’re going into year 13 and just for the second, 65 new series were created by a [Inaudible 00:14:14]. It’s a very prestigious program. It’s very competitive to get into. Let me tell you first who it’s for. It’s for senior level writers, people at the core executive and executive producer on a show, or people that have a pilot script in active development or a pilot in active development at a studio or network. This year it was amazing. We have two people…because I just yesterday called everybody to let them know they got in or they didn’t get in and they didn’t get in or those hard phone calls, and the guardian or the great phone calls.
Two people have series on the air. We have people who have produced pilots that are waiting to hear whether or not their pilots are gonna get picked up. We have people that are writing six…Amazon now want you to…no, TNT now wants you to write…no AMC, wants you to write six scripts. They don’t order pilots anymore, they do six scripts and then if they like the scripts and the pilot scripts then they order it to series. So we have people in that situation right now too.
Ashley: Is it all WGA members since it sounds like you have to have some experience before you would get into it you would by default sounds like be a WGA member or can anybody apply if they fit this other criteria?
Carole: Oh, you have to be a WGA member. The thing is if you fit that criteria, you are a WGA member. They go hand in hand. And so here’s the program. It’s six…and also this year we had 145 applicants for 25 slots. So it is intense. It’s six Saturdays starting in January and they’re organized around a theme each week. The first theme is going from writer to manager. The second week is managing writers and the writer’s room. The third week is managing production. The fourth week is managing actors and executives. The fifth week is managing post production and the sixth week is managing your career. We have alumni who’ve just ran their first shows, talk about what they did right, what they would do different, and very experienced showrunners talking about how they kept their shows on the air.
Ashley: Perfect. And so maybe we can do an overview for the CBS Diversity Writers Program as well just quickly. What’s that all about and who is that program for?
Carole: Sure, the program is for people with diverse backgrounds and voices. Here’s how it works…and we get 1200 applicants for eight slots. It was…talk about intense. So you don’t have to be in the WGA. In fact we don’t want…you can’t be in the WGA and be in the program. In order to apply you need an original pilot and a spec of a current show. And just as sort of an inside tip, the spec and the pilot should be in the same genres. So you don’t wanna write a horror original and a comedy spec. If you’re somebody who loves serialized drama then you should do a serialized drama pilot and a serialized drama spec. And then we choose 20 people to have interviews and you wanna learn how to nail those interviews, which is what I work with clients on a lot. If you are accepted into the program, then you spend the first three months writing a new piece of material with an executive mentor; a studio or network, current or development executive.
Then I get them starting in January and we have 16 weeks of workshops. Most of the people who are speaking at the workshops are showrunners, and we do mock showrunner meetings so that people can learn and they get feedback from the showrunner. You did this great, you need to work on that. So by the time they go out and have actual showrunner meetings, they know how to do it. I focus with people a lot on how you sell yourself, how you promote yourself, not promote yourself in a sleazing way, but how you talk about yourself in a way that gets people excited, knowing your personal A-story and your personal log line. We also have agents and managers come and many people get signed in the program and we have executives come and they get to spend some time in a writing room. It’s a fantastic program and I really encourage your listeners or audience, your watchers to apply to the program. The dates to apply are March 1st through May 1st.
Ashley: I just wrote that down. I will get the actual link and I’ll put that in the show notes so people can actually click over to it when they listen to that. I think that’s a good Segway. Let’s talk about just breaking into television. Some of the other people that I’ve had on the podcast that have broken in, a lot of them have used…and I’m not sure about this specific program, but there’s other similar programs out there for new writers coming up and that seems to be for television writing, sort of the tried and true. You can go work in a writer’s room as sort of the writer’s assistant or something, and that’s one path. And then this seems to be another good path. Maybe you can kind of elaborate on that and even correct me if I’m wrong, but what is the common ways that people break into television? If you’re fresh out of college or someone who’s written a couple of specs and wants to break in, what would you recommend that they do?
Carole: Well, absolutely apply to the fellowship programs. Apply to prestigious writing contests and in a little bit I’ll list some of those. Get a job as a writer’s PA. You know you said people can get a job as a writer’s assistant. The writer’s assistant is a very difficult job to get.
Ashley: I don’t wanna over-state that, yeah.
Carole: You have to move up. And so, here’s the hierarchy on a television series. The entry level is the writer’s PA and then if you’re a good writer’s PA, then you move up to being the assistant to a showrunner or an executive on the show. If you do that well then you have a shot at being the writer’s assistant. And if you’re a writer’s assistant, it’s very possible if you’re doing a great job and they have enough episodes, that you’ll write a freelance script and get into the gild as an associate member. Then if you’re great at that and you have writing samples that the staff can read and more importantly that the showrunner can read, you could get staffed on the show the next season, as a staff writer. Of course if your aunt is the president of the network, that’s the way to get in. And if you know a showrunner you have a shot of getting that PA gig or the assistant to an executive or show run.
Ashley: Would you say these fellowships, are they typically they get the writers to be like the writer’s PA or even the assistant writer or do you see people from these fellowship programs actually getting staffed as staff writers?
Carole: Staffed at a staff writer level. That’s really the point of the program is to get…and the real point of the program as I say about CBS and all the networks and all the studio programs are, we’re not looking to get somebody just a job as a staff writer. We are grooming people to be showrunners. Each of the fellowships provide the production that’s hiring the writer with money for that writer for the beginning 20 weeks or something like that depending.
Ashley: How viable in this day and age is doing something like creating a YouTube channel and creating videos there, and do you ever see writers Segway from something like that? I mean, there’s sort of the easy stories you can pick to, but is that like a viable path that is consistently turning up new writers and getting people staffed on writing shows, just doing something on your own?
Carole: Absolutely. Okay, I’m gonna launch into 10 ways to get an agent because this is…and if you get representation then it’s much easier to get in for a showrunner interview to get those gigs. I have my list and it will cover some of the things that you said. Those are smart questions. So people always say, “How do I get an agent?” Your constituent always ask that question, right? Everybody wants to.
Ashley: Yeah, a very common question.
Carole: When I ask agents that, they say this very frustrating thing. They say, “Don’t worry about finding us. If you’re ready we’ll find you. Which is true. So here’s 10 ways to get an agent or a manager. The first is to win a highly regarded contest or festival award. And it only counts if you come in the winner or first place. If you’re a quarter finalist, nobody’s gonna find you and nobody except your mother cares about that. You have to be the winner or come in second. Here’s some television contests I encourage people to apply for. There’s the TrackingB.com Launchpad and a guy named Mickey Fisher put one of his pilot scripts there. He’d been a play writer in New York. A young assistant at WME saw it, loved it, brought it to her boss, they brought it to Steven Spielberg’s company, he loved it, they brought it to the networks and there was a bidding war.
And just as an aside, everybody in Hollywood loves everything until they don’t return your calls anymore. That show got picked up with a straight to series order and it was Extant on CBS. So that was TrackingB. The others obvious are the Austin TV pilot contest, The Page Awards have a pilot contest. Final Draft Big Break is very good. The Sundance TV Lab, those are some…don’t spend your time as I like to say, on shmegegge television writing contests because nobody, none of the people that are gonna help you are looking at those contests. Just the top four or five. Okay, so that’s one way. Two is as you said, be selected to be in one of the fellowships like CBS, like NBC, like ABC, like Warner’s, like FOX. Each [Inaudible 00:25:49] has one. Three is to get an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to a one woman show or your stand up or your impro.
Four is getting half a million hits on your YouTube video web series, which is a question you just ask and yes you can get…an agent or manger will pay attention to that because there’s this 22 year old people at the agencies, these really young people and they’re spending all day online looking for this. They’re also going to stand up clubs to find stand ups. Five is get referred by a friend of the manager or the agent, an acquaintance. Six is getting referred by a current client. The way that works is that when agent or manager has a stack of scripts this high, can you see that…this high, the ones that come to the very top are the ones that have been referred by their clients because they wanna keep their clients happy. And then next down is people from friends and acquaintances and then further down are things that just have come to them through cold queries or through people that aren’t close acquaintances.
And then seven is being referred by an industry professional. There’re some screen writing teachers who have connections in the entertainment industry. Eight, and I used to think this didn’t work, but I have a client that this worked for, which is send a cold query letter. She sent out 90 emails. Eleven managers responded to her and asked for the script and of those 11, three of them read the script, liked it, met with her and all three of them wanted to represent her. So it is possible. Nine is get a job working in the industry. If you get a job in the industry, you will know connections to people who know agents and managers. And 10 is already be making money as a writer, because the agents love to coach other companies’ clients. However, from managers, if you already have a manager, let’s say you don’t like, you don’t wanna work with, a new manager won’t meet with you until you sever ties with your old manager.
Ashley: Okay, good to know. That’s all great advice. I wonder if we can talk a little bit about something you mentioned about these showrunner interviews, like once you get those things. Maybe there’s some tips for people that have actually made it to that point where they’re actually going in on these interviews. Sounds like you do a lot with that. So maybe we have a couple of tips there.
Carole: Sure, absolutely. So the first thing is to read the pilot script that you’re going in to meet on and if you can watch the pilot…this is for a new show. Read the script a couple of different times, watch the pilot, have very smart things to say about it. What you also need to do, and I’ll come back to that in a minute, you need to totally research the showrunner that you’re meeting with so you know who they are, what they have done so you can comment on that and sort of as small part of it. You should have the stories from your personal life, which I call your personal nuggets, which I work very hard with my clients on, so when they have those meetings they crash it. So what you want is to sort of dig through your life and find stories that are relevant to the show that you’re meeting with the showrunner on.
If it’s about a sorority, you can say, “You know what, I was in a sorority, my mum was in a sorority,” and tell an interesting story that happened in your sorority. What showrunners are looking for are story machines. They need to know that you can generate a lot of ideas. Let’s go back to being able to say something smart about the script or the pilot. You could say you loved it, always say you loved it, but then talk specifically about why you loved it. And don’t make it so general that it doesn’t make any sense. What you can also say is, “I loved the father in this. I would have loved to see more of the wife.” They may ask you for ideas and you don’t want to come in with pitches, but you wanna come in with general ideas like, “I think it would be really interesting and I would love to write the sisters ark. As I was reading I thought maybe somewhere down the line she joins a motorcycle gang.” That’s about the extent to the amount of pitching that you should do.
Ashley: Depending on what type of a show it is, if it’s a very episodic show, why not come in with some actual ideas for future episodes?
Carole: I would only come in with a couple and I would just have the log line. They’re not supposed to ask you to pitch ideas. That’s against the game rules. But if you say, “This detective [Inaudible 00:31:48], I just thought that it would be so fun to see him have to go to an MRK.” You know, something like that but no more than that. And you know, come 10 minutes early, they’ll give you a bottle of water. Take the water because everybody’s throat gets dry when they get nervous and it gives you something to do with your hands.
Ashley: Okay, let’s talk about these personal nuggets that you just mentioned. I wonder if you can give kind of an example of what that actually is.
Carole: Sure. So here’s some actual examples from mentees and clients. The first one is I got kicked out of the Girl Scouts for telling a dirty joke when I was 10 years old. That’s mine. There was the story of a mentee of mine who went to Russia on sort of a student abroad program and he was coming out of a night club and these Russian officials interrogated him because they thought that he was a spy. There is the story…and all of these are true stories. There’s the story of a mentee who came out to his Mormon family as a gay man on the CBS show- Survivor. He wasn’t prepared to tell but it came out on the show. One of them is my grandfather, one my grandmother in a card game. Those are the kinds of things, you know when I was 12, I…let’s see…
Ashely: So the idea is you’re just trying to be relatable and that kind of stuff. I mean, using your Girl Scout example, getting kicked out of the Girl Scouts, do you try and have a number of these stories so that you can…like if this particular project is about the Girl Scouts and you go in there and you tell your story about the Girl Scouts, it really makes you the perfect writer because you have experience with this, or are they more general stories that you’re just telling to make yourself more relatable and funny perhaps?
Carole: Right, you should have like 10 to 15 or 20 different nuggets that you have on your computer in a file so that when you’re going on a meeting you can go through and say, “Well, this is relevant, that’s relevant. I lived in foster care for eight years, that’s relevant.” And then have a story about being in foster care. You use your nuggets in meetings, let’s say general meetings with executives just to show that you’re interesting, that you have a colorful background, that you know how to tell stories, because writers are supposed to be story tellers. So you need to be able to tell a story about yourself that shows how interesting you are and how successful you are.
Ashley: Yeah, so going back to just what you had mentioned about this CBS diversity program, you had mentioned that you need an original spec and a spec based on a current show. Is that typical…what are you recommending now to writers like as they move along in their careers, is that very typical, you wanna have one of each that you can show, you can write original characters, you can also write existing characters?
Carole: For the fellowships, for my fellowship that’s what you need- an original and a spec. Other fellowships, they just ask for a spec first but if you make it to the next round then they’re gonna ask for a pilot. And in terms of what a writer breaking in needs, they need two original pilots in their portfolio that are what I call blazing hot. Not just good but blazing hot. And you should have a spec because some show runners are only interested in reading specs. They don’t really care about your original voice. They’re glad you have one but what they wanna know is that you can write in somebody else’s voice because that’s what you do if you’re on a show. You write in the voice and you support the showrunner.
Ashley: Yeah. What are some of the big mistakes that you see people making as they’re trying to break in?
Carole: Let me think about that. Being too pushy, meeting somebody and saying, ”Read my script.” That’s always a turn off. Waiting to have a relationship with somebody before you say, “Will you read my script?” And when you do say, “Read my script,” you might say, “When you have time, I know how busy you are,” because everyone in Hollywood is busy. “If you have the time to read my script and give me notes, I’d be so grateful.” If it’s an hour pilot, it takes an hour to go through, read it and make notes. You’re asking somebody for a lot. Don’t ask strangers. Another thing is sending out material before it’s ready, before it’s perfect. A lot of people think, “You know what, I can do another draft, I just really wanna get this out.” Don’t do that. Make sure that it’s ready. The other is not connecting with enough people, you know, staying in your house and not going out, not meeting new people, because that’s a really important part of it. Don’t be a dick.
Ashley: What sort of events would you recommend to writers that are looking to break in? Like what sort of networking events would be helpful?
Carole: Sure, so the Writer’s Guild Foundation has panels and events that you don’t have to be in the guild in order to attend. I always recommend that. If you’re a woman there’s something called Chicks with Scripts and they do networking events. The television blacklist has a cocktail party networking get together. Jen Grisanti is fantastic…does a once a month Friday night drinks and I think there’s like 80 people there– a lot of people to meet. You wanna get on her mailing list so you can find out when it is. That’s just some of the things I’d recommend.
Ashley: As I was researching this, just preparing for this interview, there was a lot of stuff where you were talking about the unwritten rules and know the unwritten rules. I wonder if you can just talk about that a little bit and maybe even give us one or two of these unwritten rules that are out there that people need to know before trying to become a TV writer.
Carole: Sure, well I sort of mentioned a couple of them when I said what not to do. Here’s the thing, there’s two parts of this. One is people want to find new voices. They really are interested in that because if they find somebody’s who’s great it makes them look good. The other side of that is people are really busy and they don’t have the time to read a script from somebody they don’t know. And there is something that we had at the network called the “life is too short” list, and this goes back to don’t be a dick. If you are annoying, if you don’t take notes well, then unless you’re brilliant people are not gonna wanna work with you again. You need to be really nice to assistants because the truth is the assistant will talk to his or her boss and the assistant is the gatekeeper. So if you are great to the assistant, when he or she talks to their boss they’re gonna say, “God, Ashley was such a pleasure.” That will make the boss already feel positively inclined towards you.
Ashley: Okay. And so this next question is gonna be a three, maybe four part question. But I’d just be curious to get your take on it. You mentioned just a moment ago, is don’t send your material out before it’s ready. This is easier said than done because even if you’re willing to do the work and constantly rewrite, it’s not always clear. I’d be curious to get your take, I mean, you worked at Steven Spielberg’s television company and are there some projects that came in that you thought were not ready and then they took them elsewhere and they were big hits. And then the flip side of that question is were there some projects that came in that you thought were just absolutely outstanding but for whatever reason they didn’t get any traction? And I ask this question, I find this fascinating. I saw an interview with Quentin Tarantino. Robert Rodrigues was interviewing Quentin Tarantino and they were talking about…this was like maybe five years ago and they were talking about pulp fiction and they had done a screening for the executives but not released the film yet.
And even Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodrigues at that time in 1993 or whenever it was, they were not sure, the executives were not sure if this movie was gonna work and they themselves were not even that confident that it was gonna work. So it’s not always that clear whether something is working or something is as developed as possible. I guess that’s the first part of the question is, how do you know when material’s ready? And then just as sort of anecdotally, are there some of those projects that you thought weren’t ready but then they ended up working in some other format, and then were there some other projects you thought were ready but didn’t work?
Carole: So to go back to the first one, the first one was projects…ask me the first question again…
Ashley: The first question is, when you were working in television seeing a lot of pitches, were there some projects that came in that you just thought were not ready but they ended up going elsewhere and being successful with another channel or another network?
Carole: Right, it’s not so much about not being ready. There’s two parts to that. Not being ready is a scripts that’s not good enough. That’s what I mean by not ready. What you’re talking about is taste. NBC passed on the Bill Cosby Show. And even though we know everything that’s going on with Bill Cosby at the time, that was a fantastic show. Let’s see…I think eight different networks passed on Breaking Bad. In fact one executive said, “That’s the worst idea for a television series I’ve ever had.” He later went and apologized to Vince Gilligan. Off the top of my head I cannot think of something that I read that I thought, “This is great,” that we let pass through our fingers and it went someplace else except that happens all the time like I just said about Vince’s show and other people’s shows where the executives kick themselves in the butt because they didn’t have the courage to do it or they just didn’t get it. So again, we’re talking about two different things.
Ashley: But don’t you think there is a sort of a blurred line where at some point it becomes more about taste than oh this script is not good enough. I mean, you know like there’s just some point where you get to the point where one person says, “This script is not good,” whereas another person says, “This script is great.” And so at some point those lines of taste versus just not being ready are a little bit blurry?
Carole: Actually I don’t agree with you, sorry. Once your script is blazing hot then it’s ready. Whether people buy it or not is a different question. It’s a taste question. But if you’re sending in a script where there’s typos, where the characters are not well developed, where it’s a first or second draft, then that gets dismissed immediately as being amateurish. But there’s many scripts that are beautifully done that are wonderful that get passed on. There’re scripts that are in drawers and have been in drawers for years because the timing wasn’t right. Does that make sense?
Ashley: No, it does. It definitely does. And so, what would you recommend to a writer? How can they tell that their material is ready? And maybe it just goes back to a lot of what you’ve been saying, like enter contests and start getting those quarter finals or semi-final placements and contests or sort of an objective measure. But maybe there’s just…like how do you know when your material is ready?
Carole: You show it to people and you show it to people that are discerning. If you know anybody in the entertainment industry, assistants or PAs, show it to them and if you’re getting people saying, “I don’t get this,” or “That character sort of bored me,” then it’s not ready. If you’re getting really good feedback then it means that it’s ready. I’m not talking about really good feedback from your mum or depending on your relationship with your mum you might not get good feedback no matter what. You need to show it to a number of people before you send it out. It’s interesting because my daughter who’s a comedy writer, her boyfriend just finished a pilot script and there’s a writer on a television series who said he would read it.
Her boyfriend was gonna send it without anybody giving notes on it before it got sent to the writer. You have one shot. Entering into contest is a good idea but you don’t know who’s reading it. If you pay money to get feedback, get lots of feedback and only take in the notes that resonate for you. Because sometimes it’s college students that are reading your scripts. Sometimes it’s actors that are reading your scripts. You just don’t know. They’re not generally network executives. That’s almost never. So get a couple of them and see if you’re getting similar notes.
Ashley: Okay, and I just wanna push back, and I’m just playing devil’s advocate. I’m not completely disagreeing with you. I just wanna push back a little bit again going back to what I was saying earlier and I’ll give you a specific example. I had a film noir script which I had submitted around and some people liked it, some people didn’t and I’ll give you an example. I did a cold submission to a production company that was run by Arthur Hiller. He’s done some iconic movies like Silver Streak. He literally called me on the phone and said, “I love this script, I’m gonna take it to my contacts.” I thought, “Fantastic.” I mean, he’s someone that’s had success in the industry so I have to assume, like trust that he has some credibility.
I took it to another producer who I will not name because I don’t wanna embarrass him or anything else, but he literally thought that the thing was garbage and it was the worst meeting. This was a while later but I had sent it to him and he was excited just to…like on the premise or something. He set up a meeting and I showed up for the meeting on Monday, he’s like, “Man, I’m sorry I should have cancelled this. This script is just literally terrible.” It was literally the same script and so from the writer’s standpoint, it just gets difficult to determine whether that…is that script ready? Arthur Hiller really liked it and this other producer has produced movies that you have heard of. I mean, he’s an experienced successful producer. I trust both…is either one of them right, is either one of them wrong? It’s hard to say.
Carole: First of all congratulations on having Arthur Hiller be excited about your material [Inaudible 00:47:14]. If there’s somebody in the business who’s respected who said, “I love this,” then you’re in great shape. The fact that this other producer who sounds like an awful person to say that to you…
Ashley: Frankly, I respected his directness. Like there was no point in wasting…in sitting in a meeting where he knew…he was just kind of being honest. He was giving me his honest opinion of my script, you know.
Carole: You’re right. A quick “No”, is often as kind as a “Yes”. Never quite as exciting but as kind. So in terms of is it ready, if you’re getting great responses from most of the people and you get an Arthur Hiller or another producer that says, “I’m very excited about this,” then it’s ready. But you can’t determine everybody’s taste. You don’t have control over that. So you’re gonna get the exact experience that you had, which is Arthur Hiller says, “I love this, I’m taking to my contacts,” and producer X says, “I didn’t respond to this at all, this is garbage. I don’t want…” I mean, I don’t think any producer should ever say, “This is garbage,” but, “This wasn’t for me.” That’s the correct response for any producer or executive. “You know what, this is not for me.” Very few times will you send something out that everybody loves. That’s like a dream that doesn’t happen all that often. It does happen sometimes but not that often.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay, let’s talk about your Hollywood Bootcamp. Maybe you can kind of tell us about that. What’s that all about and how can people learn more about it?
Carole: Sure. So I had to learn the hard way on how you break into this business. I made a lot of mistakes. I vowed to myself that when I made it I was gonna help other people learn how to do it, how not to make the mistakes I made. So I wrote the book called Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV or Digital Entertainment. And then a couple of years later I realized there were a lot of things that could be added to that and I produced Carole Kirschner’s Hollywood Bootcamp: How to Get Your First or Next Job In Hollywood. It’s 20 videos, they’re about 10 minutes long. You can watch them all at the same time, you can watch one, you can do whatever you want. You can listen to them. It goes into detail about what you need to do to break in and it talks about everything from how you have that first meeting to how you get that meeting, to how you should dress for that meeting. It covers everything. How you follow up effectively without being annoying. To find out more about it go to www.ckbootcamp.com.
Ashley: Perfect, and I’ll get that in the show notes as well. Do you recommend people read the book before they do The Bootcamp?
Carole: No, I think The Bootcamp can come first. I really do. If you don’t wanna do The Bootcamp…The Bootcamp’s more personal, it’s more stories, it’s more indepth but if that’s not what you want you can certainly read the book. There’s some of the same stuff in it. Again, The Bootcamp has more and we’ve gotten really great response from it. People say I wish I had found this a year ago, two years ago when I was…I wouldn’t have made these mistakes.
Ashley: Yeah. It sounds like the third arm of your business is your personal consulting. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about that.
Carole: Sure. The first thing is I don’t take everybody. You heard all the things I do, so I have really limited time. I take people only who I feel I can help and what we work on is sort of what I consider the four pillars of being a successful writer. As I study writers over the years who were successful, these are the things they had in common. One was blazing hot material, which we talked about. Then the other was having a really smart self-marketing strategy so they know how to talk about themselves, they know which of those stories are the right stories to tell.
I teach people something called their personal logline and their personal A-story and then we work on those personal nuggets. The third is having a comprehensive community of contacts and relationships. That’s really important, so I work with my clients on that. And then the fourth thing is the successful writers were industry savvy. They knew who the players were in the business, they knew where the best place to take their material was and I work with that with my clients. So that’s what I do in coaching. I tell people the honest truth but I’m nice about it and we set up milestones and I support them as they achieve those.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Is there a specific website that people can learn more about that?
Carole: Yeah, thanks for asking that. It’s www.carolekirschner.com, which is C-A-R-O-L-E. Well, you’ll have it on there, right?
Ashley: Exactly, I’ll make sure I put that on the show notes as well.
Carole: So www.carolekirschner.com is my website. You can see everything about what I do including my coaching services.
Ashley: Perfect. And I’m just starting to ask this question really for my own personal needs. Me and my wife are always watching stuff at night and we’re always looking for good shows to watch. What are some things that you’ve watched recently that you really liked that’s on Netflix of Hulu or any of the services?
Carole: Right, I watch a lot of comedy. I love The Good Place on NBC. It’s not streaming but I think it’s charming and wonderful. I like Better Things on FX a lot. I watch Catastrophe on Netflix. We watch something…this is a really old show but it’s so good, called Broadchurch. It’s a BBC show. It’s a mystery that’s wonderful, really nuanced. Let me think what else I watch. I watch a lot of documentaries. I just watched a Lady Gaga documentary that I thought was great. I liked Big Little Lies as did everybody else in the world. I didn’t wanna like it because I didn’t wanna be one of those groupies but I really liked it. I like the [Inaudible 00:54:06]. That’s gonna come out again. So those are the shows that I like.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up? We’ve talked about your website but maybe there’s a twitter handle, Facebook page, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I will also get that in the show notes as well.
Carole: Sure, thanks. Twitter’s @carolekirsch. Facebook is Carole Kirschner Entertainment Career Strategies and I wish I knew my name on Instagram but I think it’s Carole Kirschner.
Ashley: And I’ll figure that out and again I’ll put that on the show notes. Well Carole, this has been great information. I get a ton of emails about TV writing, something that I don’t know a ton about. So this was great to have you on. I know this is gonna help a lot of people.
Carole: Thanks, it was a pleasure to do it. Thank you for having me and I wish everybody good luck. Because here’s the truth, if you have great material it will be found. And today with 400 scripted shows on the air they look for content everywhere.
Ashley: For sure. Thank you very much Carole.
Carole: You’re welcome, thank you.
Ashley: Talk to you later.
I just wanna mention a brand new service that I’ve rolled out over the last couple of weeks. I haven’t talked about this in the podcast at all so this is the first time but it’s really been my main focus now for many many months and it’s been a big project. I’ve been trying to just get it launched and finally I was able to launch it a couple of weeks ago to SYS Select members. So here’s what it’s all about. I have built the SYS Select Screenplay data base. Screenwriters upload their scripts along with a log line, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays that they wanna produce. I’m adding features to this new service nearly every day, so ultimately it will be the main hub for all of the SYS Select services.
If you’re a member of SYS Select already you should have already received your log in information. If you haven’t please let me know. Just send me an email at info.sellingyourscreenplay.com and I will get you your log in information because if you’re a member of SYS Select you’re already a part of this new service and should already know something about it because I’ve sent out several emails to SYS Select members. So again if you don’t know what I’m talking about and you’re an SYS Select member send me an email and I will give you all that information. I invited in a few dozen producers a couple of weeks ago, so there’re already some producers in the system searching for screenplays. I’m going to keep the current price in place for the next month or so as I try and ramp the services up. I probably will increase the price after that. So if you sign up now you’ll get grandfathered in on the current pricing. So when I do the price increase the price increase won’t affect you.
I’m not gonna increase the price any current subscriptions so now is a good time to join and save a little bit of money each month. If you followed SYS Select and other services I offer through Selling Your Screenplay, you’ll know I never give out discounts, so this is really the closest thing to a discount that I’m going to offer. To learn more about this go to www.selingyourscreenplayselect.com. When you join SYS Select you get access to this brand new screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members, which include there’s a monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads. We have partnered with one of the premier paid screen writing leads sites out there so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members.
There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we’ve been receiving about five to ten high quality paid leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material or who are looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project. If you sign up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. These leads run the game from production companies looking for a specific type of specs script, to producers looking to hire a screen writer to write up one of their ideas or properties. Producers are looking for shots, features, TV and web series pilots. It’s a huge array of different types of projects that these producers are looking for and these leads are exclusive to our partner and SYS Select members.
Also you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your log line and creative letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. Also in the SYS Select forum is all the recorded screenwriting classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to all of those as well. You can learn about the SYS Select screenwriting classes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/online-classes. I’ll link to it in the show notes as that URL is not the easiest one to remember but is basically www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/online-classes. I think there’s more than a dozen classes that I did and have put into the SYS Select forum. As I said, all of them are screenwriting related pitching, writing a log line, preparing to write your script to outlining your script, writing your script, writing the first 10 pages, the first act, the second act.
All of those different components of the screenplay are broken down into individual classes that I go through ad teach. There’s even some classes that are taught by other people as well, so again it’s a pretty big array of different screenwriting related subjects. Once again, if this all sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing actress and producer Kelly Smith Westbrook. She recently did a film called People You May Know. It’s a comedy drama about a young man who uses social media to raise his social status. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.