I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, and began making a living as a screenwriter a year and a half later. Got my first movie made in 2006, my second movie in 2009. All in all, I’d spent about a decade making a living as a screenwriter with two produced credits to show for it, something I am VERY proud of.
Getting any movie made is an impossible journey. Movies are expensive. They’re hard to get right. At the executive level, a sure-fire way to lose your job is to say “yes” to a movie that doesn’t do well. Only slightly less dangerous is to say “no” to a movie that does great for another studio. What this reinforces is a culture of “maybe”. As in, maybe they’ll read it, maybe they’ll pass it up to their boss, maybe they’ll buy it, maybe they’ll hire a director, maybe maybe maybe. It can be maddening, which is why, whenever something actually gets MADE, when enough maybes are dodged, when enough people say yes, it’s a flat-out miracle.
In 2011, I wrote my first spec TV pilot which, in a crazy round-about way, led to my first job in TV, as a story editor for one of my favorite shows WHITE COLLAR. The best thing about this gig was getting to work with a warm, funny, ultra-talented team of writers who know a hell of a lot about writing television. So all the time, I would ask them a gazillion questions about TV. In return, they would ask me questions about the feature world. I could write many blogs (and probably will) on the differences between writing TV and writing movies. But far and away, the most important difference between the two worlds is simple: the movie industry doesn’t seem like it really wants to make stuff, while in television, they TOTALLY want to make stuff.
Once a show is picked up and put on the air, the clock starts ticking. Episodes must be written, re-written, put through the ringer of notes, rewritten again, shot, edited, all because on a particular day at a certain time, SOMETHING has gotta be on those airwaves. It is a stunning difference. Features are a culture of maybe, while television is a culture of YES, C’MON, LET’S MOVE, FASTER! Now this kind of schedule creates it’s own craziness but compared to the “hurry up and wait” mentality of features, it’s a dream.
I started in the WHITE COLLAR writers room a few weeks late, and show-creator Jeff Eastin and his writers were already well on their way to “breaking” the season. But there was still plenty to do. I worked with the other writers breaking story, writing outlines, reading and giving notes on drafts. But late in the season, I got a surprise. I was assigned an episode to co-write with the excellent Matt Negrete. And that episode, titled “Shoot the Moon”, airs this coming Tuesday night, February 19th, on the USA network.
So in February 2012, I started working in television, and one year later, I have my first produced credit on the air. That fast of a turnaround is a dream for a writer who spent ten years working in the land of maybes.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love movies and want to make them. But there are things to love about TV, and number one on the list: television is all about getting stuff made. And this Tuesday, I can proudly say…I helped make some stuff. Check it out if you can.