This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 178: Lee Jessup Author Of ‘Breaking In: Tales From The Screenwriting Trenches’.
Ashley: Welcome to episode #178 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and Blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing Screenwriter, Career Coach, Lee Jessup. She just wrote a book where she interviewed a number of working screenwriters. And we go through some of the important insights that she gained while working on the book. It’s a great interview, and it’s tons of insights into a wide range of screenwriters and topics. So, stay tuned for that interview.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes. Or leaving a comment on YouTube, or retweeting the Podcast on Twitter. Or liking us on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the Podcast and are 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 each episode. In case you would rather read the show or look up something else up later-on. You can find all transcripts and show notes on the website, just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and look for episode #178.
If you would like my free guide, “How to Sell Your Screenplay in 5 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 a week for 5 weeks. Along with a bunch of free bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. How to write a professional log-line and quarry letter. How to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for new material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing,
Screenwriting Career Coach Lee Jessup. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Lee to, the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today.
Lee: A pleasure being here, thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, you’ve been on the Podcast twice before, and I would encourage people to check-out those episodes, it’s episodes #14, #91. I will link to those in the show notes. I thought what might be interesting as a start for today’s conversation. Is to just get your kind of perspective, kind of a statement you have even on screenwriting. And maybe we can start out you think we could do one for TV and one for feature films. And maybe just, sort of an overview. And then we’ll dig into your book. And I know your book probably covers a lot of this too.
Maybe just a kind of an update, or kind of a current trend that you see in both of them, and those different sections.
Lee: Well, we just survived the threatened writer’s strike. So, you know, it’s a good moment in that story didn’t happen past, like it would have not been good for anybody. So, it’s great to see that screenwriters and what they want feature writers less so. But really to see this industry continue to chug forward. We’re as well all know, in the golden age of television peak TV has, as it’s known. It’s great to see this continue growth. It’s really anticipated to go into 2019 at the least.
On the feature side, you know, it’s great if you are a feature writer, with Paradigm right now. They are moving a lot of product, but we are also seeing Sean Barkley with a spec. sales. So, we are seeing some amount of material move on the market. Saw at the end of April with a bit of a fire sale quality. As agents we are getting material out there. Managers we’re trying to get everything they could off of their shelves. And equally, studios, amaze, we are trying to lock down some deals, should this strike happen? Luckily it was averted. Now it’s back to business as usual. Of course, business is usual. Continues to be a question mark as usual year changes,
year-to-year, month-to-month, and sometimes day-to-day. So, cord cutting continues to be an interesting influence on scripted television on the growth of studios and corporations that own them. So, we’re waiting to see where this goes of course. New media continue to grow. All in all, it’s not a bad time to be a screenwriter.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I think a good summation. So, let’s dig into your book. You have a new book coming out called, “Breaking In.” And it’s a fascinating book, you do a lot of interviews. There’s a lot of excerpts from various people in the industry. And I would encourage people to check it out. Because it’s even called, “Tales From the Screenwriting Trenches.” And I think that’s a good summation of it. Because you got a lot of real working people. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick overview of the book. Just tell us what it’s all about? Maybe the
log-line or pitch for the book.
Lee: Sure. I was really interested in is? Learning what writers are doing these days, breaking in right. We hear people talk about the 2008 strike, the strike that changed everything. How everything is different now, that it was then. And so, it was really my cause to get out there and start talking to different writers who are working writers today with their nose to the grindstone, boots on the ground, doing the hard work, finding out, how they got there, what they did, And also collect advice from agents, managers, executives. About what it takes, what is the state of the industry, what are the expectations? What is it like out there? What is expected of the writer? What is the journey to selling a pilot? Selling a spec? So, that people can start gaining a real understanding of how it works to be a screenwriter in this place. As opposed to live vicariously through the fantasies of people who have made it 20 years ago, when the industry was very different.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, I’m just going to knock through a couple of these chapters you have different chapters divided up into different sections. And one of the sections you have is on “Craft.” Maybe you can just give us a few highlights. Again, you have a ton of quotes from various people. Were there some things that surprised you, that came back.
When you’re talking about the craft. And some of the quotes, some of the people you talked to. Was there any advice that came back from these experts that surprised you?
Lee: It wasn’t too much that it surprised me? Is that it delighted me. As you continue to hear them, it boils down to craft wise is a really great story telling right? There was less of a hunger for gimmicks, and interesting, different for the sake of interesting and different. But, just really more of a search for great craft, great writing, and it’s great to know that even in this day and age. Where you know, occasionally, I’ll talk to writers that say, “Oh, I still write, “Pre-Act.” And I know it’s not conventional/traditional, anymore. But, that’s what I do. That it really is about
3-Act, or the 4-Act features. That it is about original, interesting, different, story writing, that is telling us great stories. Or seeing that reflected in the marketplace today, in terms of how much we’re mining on the feature side. True stories, that are period pieces, that 5-10 years ago, period pieces were “Persona-Non-Grata”, for lack of a better term. Today, you know, there’s anyplace you can turn to that uncover that great story. I think people really get jazzed, really excited. And you know, the other thing that I realize is that I talk to these people, is that, when I talk to agents and managers, they were talking about finding the life long story teller. Somebody who has a million stories to tell as to a guy, with a story. So, really looking at writers who are looking to put in those 10,000 hours to mastery, that’s inspiring to people.
Ashley: I’m curious, and bring up an interesting point. I get a lot of Emails. As I’m sure you do, from the guy with a story. And what advice do you give them? I often give them I think similar advice to what you’re trying to say. That screenwriting is really not about writing screenplays. It’s about screenplays. What do you tell people? When there’s, because there’s some times I get someone, you know, they’ve had a whole career, they’ve had a family, they are in their
60’s, 70’s maybe even ‘80’s? And they’ve got one script. And they don’t want to pursue it as career. But, they feel like they have this one story. What is your advice to them, if any?
Lee: If it’s highly marketable concept. And it’s brilliantly written, right. And this is one of the changes that we’ve seen from the ‘90’s till today. Like, ‘90’s concept was king till today, it was all about the execution. So, for a script to gain traction in this space, it has to be brilliantly executed, if you are able to brilliantly execute it? And there’s, you know, it’s a story that leans on pre-existing idea, or so unique and different. That it will be easy to make a worthwhile sale for an agent rather quickly, great, go ahead, go nuts. But, short of that, I say, one of two options, write the book, find a way to make a movie. Because you’re not looking to be a screenwriter. You’re looking to tell a story in the visual medium. Which is very, very different, that being a screenwriter, who is a guy or a girl, a person who turns out a lot of material that is stuff that’s, mediocre over years and years. So, for me, certainly, enter contests, do all of those things, to see if you can serve it to the industry. But if you find, submitting your material to contests and nothing is happening? What you want to do, is see, can I make it myself, do I know people who are in the film space, and in the Indi space, and who might want to direct it? Somebody who can come up and produce it. Because you’re just trying to get that one story told. Or else, write the book, that would tell them.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Honestly that’s very similar. And I tell them basically write is the money. Because ultimately, that’s what it’s going to come down to. Is to go out and raise the money yourself. Because once you have the money, you can find experienced people to produce it.
Ashley: And what not. And so, was there anything going back to this chapter on, “Craft.” Where there, was there anything that every screenwriter should understand. But, you feel like they don’t? I think the issues on “Craft” are probably, everyone knows, kind of, that we have to have a good script. But, are there any things you can floated back to you. That you say, man, new writers are missing this!
Lee: Well, you know, Ryan’s follow over at 18, they told me, like tell first time writer’s write the first script and then burn it. Go write the second, go write the third, and maybe you didn’t burn the first so maybe, you can learn from the third, and apply it. Chris Cocoo manager of
Sky-Way. Stuck about a team of writers against that door. And the team of writers, who wrote, who set out to write 5 screenplays, in their whole hopes of finding in two that were worthwhile. It is about working the craft. It is not sexy, it’s not cute. But, you got to put in those hours. And without those hours. It, the enthusiasm you will must is not going to be significant as you want it to be. Now some, writers are born good writers, they are just born able to word smith a little bit prettier. To understand stories, structures and in a way that others have to look at and learn. And sure they have differences there. But, we want to see you putting in those hours. And that’s why somebody, agents and managers speak to screenwriting programs, and similar programs. Not so much about how much you’ll learn to write? But about the fact that you’ll put your butt in the seat and you’ll churn in new work every 8-12 weeks. And that’ll ultimately is what will lead you to great writing.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so you have a chapter on “Breaking In.” Let’s talk about that a little bit. One of the things we talk about in that chapter is this idea of building your personal brand. Maybe you can kind of define that for the listeners. What is the personal brand. And how does someone kind of create that for yourself.
Lee: Sure. So, when you’re writer and you’re trying to surface in the industry. Everybody wants to know you. So you have to understand what your brand is as a writer. In terms of material that you’re writing. So, what’s faced with genre, what is the world you’re writing in it? You are a thriller writer we want you to know. If you are a comedy writer, we want to know. If you’re a comedy writer, for example, you need to supplement your education with sketch, with stand-up, with improv. So, you need to really create a cohesive piece of writer. Like creating the body of work as well as, creating a strong, personal, narratives, that allow you to connect yourself to the material that you are writing. So that it’s no longer is the material good. But, is this the writer for this very writing conflict. And you tie that in through your personal story, as a writer. You’re story to tell is your own. So, you have to find a way that connects it in a cohesive fashion, to what it is you’re writing. So, if you tell us a story, you know, about the very depressing life that you had growing-up, in a very morose and dark town. And then you share with us, that you write comedies, probably going to be a little bit confusing. I’m probably not, if I’m a manager or an agent? I’m probably not going to rush to put you in the room. Because you’re probably not going to get people laughing. But, if you tell me about the miss-haps of your childhood. And all the near disasters of that you got into, and hilariously found your way out of. Perhaps I’m going to become that much more exciting about reading you when you’re in front of people. Who will be excited about getting into business with you with their contract career.
And then it’s a matter of time, in finding the right piece, you originate that piece, or that piece ends up being an assignment.
Ashley: So, you’re talking about kind of a personal narrative when you in like, meetings. Or where you are meeting people to kind of with your background. That’s correct, that would be something like a polished piece, that a writer would think about. Like when I’m talking to these executives. I have a 3 minute spiel about how I grew-up in this, you know, hilarious family. Is that the kind of the jest of it?
Lee: Yeah. It’s about finding what way to connect your story, and who you are? And the work that you are doing. So effectively, the life experiences that you have collected. Particularly one or two of those experiences. Now inform the material that you are writing the characters you are excited about. In television, it’s going to be dramatic choices. So, it’s really not on, is this a great script I’m telling you about? But, am I the right writer for this script that I am supposed to be telling you about, or this storyline that I am pitching you. Or, for this show that you are proposing? That I am potentially being considered or to staff. How am I the right writer? And not only do I have the right chops. And that’s about understanding the right writer as a business unto himself, or herself. And understanding that executives, agents, managers, show-runners, producers, make business choices every day. And it’s about being able to present yourself, and your business in a cohesive fashion.
Ashley: And so, just as I like, but on a tactical level. What does that actually mean? Are you talking about meetings, are you talking about, a quarry letters, are you talking about you know.
Lee: Everything; meetings, quarry letters, you know, 5 minutes at a cocktail hour. Just the way that you present yourself. It’s going to be more elaborate in general meetings, and in show runner meetings. But, you should understand how to speak about yourself. So that, that is available to you. You should use, should you run into an executive at a WJ Station event. Or, at the
“Final Draft Awards.” And be able to very quickly connect on that.
Ashley: Okay. And is there ever any backing out of this. Like, have writers gone down this road where they’ve written a bunch of scripts. They’ve created this brand. Maybe not had a ton of success. But, they’ve had those meetings, but just haven’t quite broken in. Can you back away from that and move from comedy to horror, or something, or visa-versa? What is the options there, if it’s not working?
Lee: Again, initially writers will try their hand. Or smart writers will try their hands at a few different things? If they are not quite sure? They know they want to write, but the don’t quite know where their voice is best suited. So, they might try their hand at comedy, and throw it in drama, and really see where their happiest? Where they’re just flowing. If they have gone down that path, they will usually understand where they are innately stronger. Now, do writers pivot? Absolutely, the most success you have, the easier you can have to pivot. You can re-invent and re-create yourself. And I think that’s part of the beauty of screenwriting thing. Is that, yeah, I can tell you everything in the world about how tough it will be for an agent to refrain from understanding of you, now that you want to be a comedy writer, right after you were a thriller writer. But, at the end of the day, if you deliver an amazing comedy script.
Nobody is going to get in your way. So, writers have the power and the ability to re-invent themselves by just doing the work.
Ashley: Okay. So, let’s go on, the next chapter is? And I think essentially a lot of these meetings, these general meetings that someone’s going to get is, going to be through their agent or manager. So, let’s go onto the next chapter about getting an agent.
First, maybe, just describe the difference between an agent and a manager? And then we can kind of move in from there.
Lee: Sure. So, let’s start with Managers. Because they are really on the forefront of challenges and discovery today. They are, in many ways, and the younger managers, not all of them are the “Talent Scouts” for the writers of the industry today. Agents are really there to book revenues, to sell the client, to paper the client of all money. That is their job. Managers, in the more traditional sense, and of course there is exceptions, are more there to help with development, to help sell relationships, to manage the day-to-day of the writer. Now, not all managers develop. But, they are expected to be more hands-on than they, the agent. Who, is there, purely for business opportunities.
Ashley: Okay. And then from there, maybe you can just talk about that. So, it sounds like your advice is, maybe getting a manager first, to help with the younger writer. To help them develop somebody material, and then they can go out to the agent. So, maybe the first step would be, how would you approach managers? What’s your recommendation for that?
Lee: So, managers they are always. The great thing about managers. Because they are not licensed. There are new ones coming up and out of the wood work all the time. You can wear that moniker without a lot of pre-requisites. So, that means.
Ashley: For better, or for worse. (Chuckling)
Lee: For better or for worse.
Lee: But, that means, a lot more-young managers are joining the game, and looking for clients that are needing agents who are to go through the mailroom, and then get hired by an agency, etc… So, you really want to look to where they are looking, as far as how to gain their attention. I think, high-end contests are great. There’s 5 or 6 of them. That managers, and agents traditionally judge. The final rounds are finalist are getting read by judges. And also like, if you Quarter-Final in it, you’re going to get a few calls from some managers. If you sell, definitely. And because these are people who building their lists up. They’re looking at contests, and vetting services. To start understanding where writers I should be reading right now. I love targeted quarry letters, and targeted quarries can go a long way. You simply have to collect the information. About who they are, as you are approaching them, be willing to be methodical and thoughtful about it. “The Black List” has done it, a great job connecting writers with managers. Also, “Stage 32” has matched up writers, online pitches. There are more ways now, to get out there, than I think there has been for some years.
The challenge is that managers typically read so much that it’s tough for them to get excited. So, they really are looking for that diamond in the rough.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Lee: And of course, I mean the other one, in the most popular ways is referrals, right? Because a referral’s business. So, that if you’ve been able to generate a referral from somebody who’s reffed by that manager, from somebody who knows that manager. That is going to really, really, break down a lot of walls in there for that. They will likely at least to pay attention and read and see where it takes them?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. These are some general tips in writing this chapter, you interviewed a lot of agents, and managers. Maybe you could talk about specifically what they’re looking for? Was it anything that stuck out?
Lee: They are looking for people who are not treating this as a second option. Or you know, the second job. This is really, the first job. This is the priority even if they are not even getting paid for it right now. So, they are looking for writers who are very serious writers. Who know how to take notes. Writers who don’t have a lot of trust issues, definitely got some push backs of you know, if a writer will not sign a release form? I know I don’t want to work with him. Because that’s already a sign of mistrust. And the relationship has not even started. I’ve also gotten things that are as simple as tell writers not to be weird. We want to work with people that we like. We want to have a good positive relationship. And we want to work with somebody who knows how to take notes. We want to work with somebody who is able to turn in new material at some sort of regular clip. We want to work with somebody, who can work collaboratively with us. As opposed to just tell us why we’re wrong. As somebody that works that we decide to put in a room. Somebody that we know we can put in a room. And nobody will call us and say, “Oh, my God, why did you send me this person? What’s wrong with you?” Because you have to remember, that for agents, managers, them putting you in the room is their reputation. It’s not your reputation separate from theirs. It’s, they chose to invest their time and energy in you. And so, you are effectively extending their own brand, as they set you up. They said, they want you to present well. They want you to be very researched. And I’ve talked to managers who said, I want my writers to take acting classes. Because if they’re in a room, I need them to figure out how to come out of their shell for half an hour. So, they are looking to see all of those things that make a writer good on a page and a room.
Ashley: Okay. And maybe you can just talk briefly about what writers can expect. Especially newer writers can expect from that first agent or manager?
Lee: A, from a manager, if it’s somebody who is young and hungry. Hopefully, they’re going to get a lot of input into their next project. What are you developing next? What are you thinking about doing? How are we doing that? Let’s go through ideas together. Potentially the manager maybe a little bit over involved because. It’s the first time they are developing with that writer. So, they are going to be very, very, thoughtful about what is the next thing. What of is the next best thing to take you to market with? If it’s going to be a busier manager? There’s going to be significantly less time and attention.
Because ultimately that manager has a manager as well. They are those of people who they have to work for. They have to make sure those people are working first before they extend any energy to writers who are not earning the money yet. I find that with most agents, and it’s not true across the board. Because there are agents who see, taking on younger writers as a project. And so, you will see very high up agents in top agencies, definitely the “Big 4.” Are, who will take on a young writer, and put him on a lot of time and energy. Because quite frankly, they can. You’re not going to see that across the board with an agent. And agent is only going to call when there is an opportunity. They’re not going to, I was talking to somebody yesterday, who’s, why can’t they get my team to update me. About who they sent where? Why, when, and how? And ultimately, they’re not going to do that because that’s taking time away from booking revenue. So, agents are going to, most of the time, be limited to the most specific occasion, only when necessary. Managers are only going to be more hands-on, and the degree of hands-on, really depends on where the manager is, and in his or her career.
Ashley: Yeah. And I just wonder if you could kinds of expectations. I find a lot of new writers. They think that getting this first manager is kind of, they’ve crossed the finish line. And I think that maybe you could speak to that a little bit, just in terms of like, once you get that first manager, how long until you, realistically, can be making a living as a writer. It certainly is not going to be a day, a week, or probably a month. But what do you typically see?
Lee: Listen it certainly can really take time. I think the latest trend is for an aspiring TV writer, an emerging TV Writer, should get a manager. And have the manager’s say to them at the third or fourth meeting, when the writer says, great, you love my pilot I’m working on a new one, we’re all so excited, what about staffing? To which the manager will turn around and say,
oh, no, no, no, your responsible for getting yourself, your first job, I’m not responsible for staffing. It’s too hard to staff one writer. I’m a manager, I’m not an agency, I don’t do that. So, you know, I’ve see writers go years, and years, and years, with a team. Potentially with an agent and a manager on them. Before starting to generate some revenue. I’ve seen it go faster, and by faster, I mean, a 12 month cycle, an 8 month cycle. Before we end up with revenue coming in. But, it’s certainly only the beginning of the whole hard work. And that’s for me, and in my mind that’s when the pressure really heightens. Because you have somebody now waiting on you. And you are contending with their entire list for their attention. And you want to be top of the line. And you want to be the first writer they are talking about when they are sitting down to lunch. And the writers, they’re excited about, so you have to be generating that content. You have to be generating leads. You have to be out networking and meeting people so you can call back to your manager and say I’m at this particular executive at a party, can you please send them the material. So, you’re going to have to impress and work harder once you’re rep’ed. The idea, that you know, the hard work is done, and you did that part of it, is not necessarily true to form. What is true, is that you’re going to have more advocates who are known to the space speaking your name. And that’s where potentially more doors will open. But you’ll have to work harder to ram through to them. And you’re going to get the attention.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious you keep mentioning, generating a lot of material. Most of the people would assume, they are trying to break into the industry, probably have full lives outside of screenwriting. Whether that be a full-time job, or a full-time thing and stuff.
How much material do you think is realistic for someone to generate at the beginning of their career, when they are starting to work another job? Maybe, TV pilot, versus feature specs. Maybe you can give some guidelines there. Because again, I feel like the Emails I get from people they are grossly under estimated in how much they should be producing, during this time when they are trying to get into the industry.
Lee: Listen, in a perfect world? And I doubt and I don’t think this world exists? I would love to see 1 to 2 features a year, at least 2 pilots. Is that necessarily realistic, no. Would I be content with the really great feature a year, absolutely. But, it has to be great. Would I be as content with a feature every time, every 2 or 3 years, no I wouldn’t. Because ultimately if your manager is not hearing from you, for 2 or 3 years with no new work? They’ve forgot about you. They’ve gotten excited about so many new writers since they’ve signed you. It’s going to be really harder to get them to read you with any priority, to get notes quickly, to move things along. So, you have to show your agent or your manager that you are working as hard as they are, and then some. And in order to make sure that they keep working for you. And that’s like I said, you are competing with the rest of their list. The bigger the list the higher the priority, the higher the competition. You have to keep them excited about you.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, the next chapter you have in your book, is
“Screenwriting Competitions.” And I wonder if we could just talk about that for a minute. And again, I get a lot of Emails on this. And sometimes I’m not at all sure how to answer them? So, I’d be curious to get your take on it? I guess maybe just to start, you could just give us kind of your overall take on screenwriting competitions?
Lee: As I mentioned earlier, screenwriting competitions are really betting services for the industry, right? So, they are the way for managers to say, and agents to say, research to say, 8000 scripts got entered into, “Nickel” and which are the 150 I should read? 150 is a much more digestible proposition than 8000. And so, they are looking to known contests that have been able to serve as material previously, in order to find the next bit of material. So, I’m sure you’ve heard about this there was just a big success story off of the “Launch Pad Competition”, Marion that made Top 25. Just sold it in a big splashy spec. sale, before the winner was even announced. We had the same story happen a couple of years ago with Eric CoMegan, who’s script “Matriarch.” So, the industry really looks to these entities that have been able to surface material, and or writers, who have gone on to some level of success for finding new writers. And so, the end of the day while the Statius was saturated. There was hundreds of promise in it. It really is about find the contests with known industry individuals are going to be reading the material. It’s not about the financial prize. It’s about exposure, it’s about access. You know, so I like the contests where you see real success stories. If you don’t see a real success story, you see real meetings with real people as part of the prize. Traffic B, as it was building it’s way up for years. It made it’s mission to pair each one of their winners with representation, that was their cause. Since then, we’ve had it extend and other material and stuff through their contest. So, we’re past that now. But, they really are just vetting services for the industry, and that they serve the writer and it gives those who qualify a significant amount of exposure at some level of pedigree, and a door opener, should they choose the quarry? Should they choose to gain referrals. Hey, I just won this contest, I was a finalist in the big contest. But, they also serve the industry.
And so, to the industry writers, that are in the contests, in my humbled opinion worthwhile the attention.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And you have a list of where you actually mention a few common contests. I have a similar list on my blog, I’ll link to that. But, people can definitely check that out for your book and the contests you recommend. And you, and one of the big questions I always get is? Hey, is this contest the “Joe Blow Contest” in Omaha is this worth entering? I’m always torn because in a lot of cases I feel like, they may only get 25 scripts that are entered. So, your chances of winning are actually, probably pretty good. But, what’s your take on some of the smaller lesser known contests?
Lee: Listen, I think they’re great for an ego-boost. And I’m not saying that promising’s that dozens actually mean that. I think it’s great to know that of the 100’s of scripts entered, yours was the best one. I think it’s a great start. And you should do it with that in mind if you have the money to spare it. I don’t think that, I know for a fact that it has no bearings on the industry. And to take it even further. A few come in and you say, I just won the top in the
“Oklahoma Screenwriting Contest” and I was, you know, the best script of 99. Then the industry is going to say, eh, I don’t care, go win the “Nickel” and then we’ll talk. So, you have to understand what is enough of a trial to please you, and what is a trial to please the industry? Both are fine and valid. But, you simply have to understand that while one may feel great to you. It’s not going to have any good things in the industry. The industry is looking for the big fish, in the big pond.
Ashley: So, let’s talk about the television programs, just in reading through some of the bios of screenwriters that you interviewed. It seems a lot of them have broken in through these television writing programs. So, maybe you could just describe how some of them and how they work? And then we can talk about which ones are worth entering?
Lee: The television writing programs are fantastic. I really, really, love them, because they have an end game, right. While a majority of them, I believe the network ones, have a very specific end game. Which is, to get you staffed. And so, right now, these programs are growing every day. A few independent, just announced, “New Episodic Lab”, that is going to be closing next week. You know, we have the main ones, NBC, ABC, Warner Bros., Disney, as well as FOX Diversity, HBO, has a fellowship they run every other year, Sundance, Humanitos. And then we also have, Nickelodeon, Cape, and HMC. Most of these are diversity driven programs. So, they are looking to recognize diverse writers. Some of this, these, like Nickelodeon, and ABC Disney, offer pay. But, their goal is, really to discover the next generation of publisher writers.
Ashley: Okay. Now are there a couple of them that you would recommend? Highly recommend that people enter?
Lee: Honestly? I recommend people enter all of them. Because breaking into television is potentially the hardest thing to do in the industry today. In a sense that what it parlays to is, paying work. And because it’s so hard, you have to try all these avenues that are available to you. At Warner Bros. is considered a difficult meal ticket. They have certainly been the most successful, that is at staffing their writers.
But, you know, at the same time, you get into NBC writers on the verge. You just won the lottery saying, or ABC Disney, saying, for Nickelodeon, that pays. So, I really just don’t “Poo-Poo” any of them. And Agency and Cape are two smaller fellowships that are diversity specific. So, one caters to Hispanic audience, the other caters to Asian Pacific’s. They tend to surface writers for the larger organizations running these programs. So, with them, there’s not going to be quite so much direct blank into staffing. But, it’s certainly great feather to have in your cap. And another way you should get noticed.
Ashley: And for the most part are you submitting a original pilot or are you submitting spec scripts of a current show. To these things, do they take either?
Lee: It really varies, each program has their unique specifications. So, you’ll get the early onset of fellowships every year. Since Sundance, you might toss, HBO, their original content. That’s usually followed by Nickelodeon, which is half-hour specs. And then after that networks go for both every shape and size.
Ashley: Okay. Is there any comedy, drama, is the contest, do they, are they specific to comedy or drama, or does some of them take both? It’s just a matter of?
Lee: The only one that only takes comedy, is Nickelodeon.
Ashley: Okay, okay, perfect. So, let’s talk about another chapter you have in your book. “Additional Paths to Breaking In.” And one of the sections that stood out, was when, web series, and short films. And I have a lot of people on that started with short films. So, I’m a big proponent of that. And I just be curious to kind of get your take on that. Are there some actual examples you can point to for web series. That where people produce the web series that they wrote, and then somehow got staffed after, or maybe got sold, or moved along that way?
Lee: A Listen, the most obvious example is Lisa Aray. Who did,
“Miss Adventures of That Poor Little Black Girl.” Who, then went on to do “Insecure” on HBO. After that we have, I mean, Deara Kirk-Patrick did a web series and from there, went onto get staffed, we have those stories. The challenge with the web today is? That it is complete saturated. And so, it’s very, very, tough to make content really surface in the way that we’re hoping.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I’d say that is a fair assessment. So, in your book, you interviewed a bunch of screenwriters. I wonder, if there is any stories that particularly stand out. As good illustrations of how a writer could potentially break into the industry.
Lee: It’s funny, I selected all of these writers for different reasons. And I’m a fan of all of theirs. And many of them I have known personally, for a long time. So, it’s kinda hard to pick your favorite. But, the one story that I really particularly love. Let’s talk first about what I love in the over all of them, and their stories and why I picked all of them. Because I found all of them to be very hard working, very determined, very diligent, nobody broke overnight. People talk about going back 6, 7, 8, 10, years, after putting in hard work, and not relenting, not giving up. And being methodical, thoughtful, the one story that I particularly love. And was actually the last story that I added to the collection of writers that I interviewed.
Was a writer by the name of Moiset Meran, who is a long-time friend and client of mine. Who, got staffed about a month before I had to turn the book into the publishers. The interviews had been done, you know, it was mid-just putting the finishing touches on. And a friend we have in common says to me, you have to include him now. Yes, I know, but I have no space and I have to move everything around. And I moved everything around because Moises is a one hour drama writer. Who came to L.A. And had been in L.A. for a really long time. And actually all the way in Mexico. And a definitely a film maker. He came to L.A. with a definite decision, determination to write for television. So, he took a lot of classes. He did everything people told him to do. And one of them was networking. And he went and did networking all the time. You know, he wasn’t a guy who was like every night, you could find him partying it up at some event. But, he was very methodical about his networking. And at some point he got a manager. And had a pilot go out there. And he took a lot of meetings, but did not, or nothing became of it. Around the same time, he went to a panel of Latino writers, in television. And really connected with one of the writers. They’ve kept in touch ever since through social media. But, Moises, he was very clear about, I don’t want to ask anyone for favors. And so, someone said, they found out that, that same writer Davy Perez, was teaching a class, at “Writing Pad.” A preparation class for the fellowships. And so, Moises decided to take the class. If I pave this way, I can put my material here with a spot with Davy. And I’m not asking anybody for favors. Now, Moises is an exceptionally great writer. He put himself in front of Davy, Davy quickly responded, read Moises material, and said, he might know something for you. Let me send the material in. Didn’t really say much about it, about the what, where, and the why of it? But, a couple of weeks later, Moises was on the phone with John Ridley, talking about staffing on the third season of “American Crime.” Went on to staff on that, all on his own. Of course his manager was on his side, and doing some of the grunt work, of crawling and getting back up, and sharing was. And now Moises got staffed on the next season of “Stark.” So, I love that particular story. Because it’s a story of a writer who didn’t wait for anybody, who took any initiative, who networked smart, wrote smart, got out there and got working. And I love that story. Because it’s an unconventional story. But it reminds you that every writers path is different. And because of that you have to continue to search for yours.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And so, are there anything, it almost sounds like one of my questions was going to be? Was there any other common threads that didn’t surprise you, throughout these stories. And it sounds like just hard work and persistence and dedication, was a big one. But, are there any other things that these writers all had in common, that you can kind of point to?
Lee: These writers all our students of the game, they know everybody, they’ve taken every class, they’ve studied with every instructor, they met everybody through television writers. They met every fellowship director. They really made a point to read everything, see everything. They worked and watched TV diligently, they read books all the time. They have become experts in their space. And they’ve been under the best lens. Some of them have done for 6-7 years before making a dollar. They’ve continued, I’m going to curiosity is really what catapulted them to, into the room. Or while in the room. Say, it’s hard work that got them there, into the room. It’s they and their natural curiosity and knowledge, that ultimately pushed them into a career.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I wonder to, just as someone who consults with a lot of screenwriters. And you just mentioned, sometimes 6-7 years they will work without making a dime.
Lee: Most times.
Ashley: Yeah, most times, exactly. When is it time for a writer to say, maybe this isn’t for me? Is there ever, ever, a time, and how does someone make that kind of a decision? What advice do you give people if they are at that point, where they’ve been at this for a number of years and haven’t broken in. Maybe just a little advice on that end.
Lee: When you think you can be happy elsewhere. If this is your second option, if there is another life that you know is available. To know that you’re going to be just as happy, go to it, it’s probably going to be easy, or easier than this. So, for me, it’s really about, you do this as long as this is where your heart sings, right? This is the creation of content, the telling stories, and this fashion. Is what fills you, and you can’t imagine doing anything else. When you can imagine being something else, and you have conviction. In the fact that you won’t want to come back to this, in this form. Then certainly, go find your happiness. And nobody said, you were born to be a screenwriter. I think we are born to happy, healthy contributional individuals on this earth. Do good and bad. If you find that there is another life that is calling to you? That you think you’ll be just as happy in, run!
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Good advice. So, what’s the best way for people to keep up with you? You can mention your Twitter handle. And I’ll gather all these things up and put them in the show notes. But, maybe you can just tell us about it, that stuff now, a website, a blog, anything you feel comfortable sharing.
Lee: Sure. So, my website, www.leejessup.com, I blog, A LOT!! I’m also going to start releasing some breaking-in new videos which I am also excite about. Some of the writers for the books, some who have not been. Stories about writers breaking in. So, that’s coming out for me and my Twitter handle is – @LeeZJessup, All of that is of course on my website. On Facebook, I’m a little hobby – www.facebook.com/leejessup. There are many different ways that are not difficult to find, and of course my website, the easiest – www.leejessup.com
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. And maybe you can tell us about your book? Where is that to be released? And how can people get the book?
Lee: The book is actually already out.
Lee: So, you can get it on Amazon.com, you can get it on my website, you can get it at
Barnes & Nobles, you can get it on the publisher. Side Taylor and Princess, Purple Press. So, it’s widely available. And New Writers Store stocked it. So, it’s really everywhere, which is fun, fun.
Ashley: Yep, yep. It is, it is. So, congratulations on finishing this book. I wish you a lot of luck with it, thank you again for coming on and talking with me.
Lee: Thank you, it was a pleasure, thanks for having me again.
Ashley: Thank you. I’ll talk to ya later.
Ashley: : I just want to mention two things I am doing at “Selling Your Screenplay” to help screenwriters find producers that are looking for new material.
First I’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log-line per newsletter, per month. I went and Emailed my large database of Industry contacts and asked them if they would like to receive this newsletter of monthly pitches. So far I have well over 400 producers who have signed-up to receive it. These producers are hungry for new material and are happy to read scripts from new writers. So, if you would like to participate in this pitch newsletter and get your script into the hands of lots of producers. Sign-up at – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com, that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
And secondly, I’ve contacted one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites. So I can syndicate their leads onto SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been getting about ten to twelve high quality paid screenwriting leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material. Or are looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project. If you
sign-up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads Emailed to you directly several times per week. These leads run the gambit from production companies looking for a specific type of spec. script. To producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas. Producers are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series pilots, it’s a huge aray of different types of projects that these producers are looking for. And these leads are exclusive to our partner and
That is the show, thank you for listening