PopConLA, a new popular culture convention debuted July 5-8, spotlighting fantasy/sci-fi, art, music, fashion, extreme sports, and other pop-culture memes. It hosted a Screenwriters Panel as a part of a series of indie-TV-Movie events. The panel of working professionals shared their take on how to succeed in TV and Hollywood. They conducted an entertaining and feisty discussion, heavy on (sometimes contradictory) advice for new screenwriters. Despite the contradictions, you left with a satisfying feeling that what you heard was a no-punches-pulled, honest examination of the subject.
The panel was moderated by Brandon Easton (ThunderCats (2011), Transformers: Rescue Bots, Shadowlaw graphic novel). He was joined by Marc Zicree (Sliders, Star Trek), Geoffrey Thorne (Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Leverage), Jonathan Callan (Ben 10), Dave Shelton (National Lampoon magazine, Everybody Loves Raymond), and Matt Lohr (Blade of the King).
I distilled four pieces of advice from the sometimes raucous discussion: hone your craft, be true to yourself, stay committed, and don’t be the naked schmooze.
Hone Your Craft. According to Callen, “You’re sample isn’t good enough. If you want to write freelance television you need a better sample.” He included his own sample under that rule. Zicree put it this way: “Do the work and have the work be of quality.” Everyone agreed that Sturgeon’s Law applied to screenplays.
Be True to Yourself. Zicree recalled an incident when he was a student on a fellowship. Each week a different famous writer would work with the class. One week Damon Knight, writer of the short story which was the basis for To Serve Man, was the mentor. Zicree said, “A student asked a question of Knight he shouldn’t have. ‘Which ones of us do you think will make it and which ones won’t?’ Knight said I wouldn’t make it. Then the next day he bought one of my short stories for an anthology he was editing. If he couldn’t predict writing success 24 hours ahead, how can anyone tell you that you won’t make it?”
Dave Shelton put it succinctly: “Always be true to yourself and write what you love. Stick to your guns and have a good time with it.”
Stay Committed. Matt Lohr suggested you ask yourself, “If no one picked me, how would I get to the finish line. Answer that and then you’re free.”
Callen put it like this: “If you do it long enough someone will come along and pay you.”
Geoffrey Thorne was more specific: “Finish it. Put it on the market and start writing the next one. The job of the gatekeeper is to say ‘no.’ Your job is not to care. Keep on writing.”
Don’t Be the Naked Schmooze. Everyone agreed that the TV-movie business was about who you know. But, given that, don’t just run up to people, pay them some compliments, and then ask them to read your screenplay. Make friends and eventually people will ask you what you’re working on and you’ll have an opportunity to pitch a project.
Easton cautioned, “You always want to have something to show. Don’t go up with just a pitch; have a pitch, some pages, and graphics. Don’t be superficial.”
Zicree suggested exploring alternatives to just asking people to read your screenplay. “Create a concept video or a trailer for your film. When people see you are producing something they will get excited about your project.”