For the past few years, I’ve organized a networking event for Bay Area and northern California screenwriters and those in fields connected to screenwriting, always in a charming deli a stone’s throw from the Pacific.
I got to meet a lot of great people, and stay in contact with many of them to this day.
Normally, I’d be in the early planning stages to do it again in early December, but the current world situation has made that pretty much impossible. Even more tragically, the deli had lost so much business over the past few months, they had to shut down for good.
So no networking event for the foreseeable future.
But that doesn’t mean writers can’t still connect with other writers. All it takes is a little organization, strategy, patience, and manners. Actually, it takes a lot of all of those.
Luckily for you, I’ve written about this sort of thing before – several times, in fact – so here are some informative networking-related posts from the archives.
Michael Jamin has been a television writer/showrunner for the past 25 years. His many credits include King of the Hill, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Beavis & Butthead, and Tacoma FD. He’s currently working on a collection of personal essays to be published in 2021. Some of them can be read on michaeljamin.com
What’s the last thing you read or watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
I thought the show Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge was a masterpiece. She wrote one soliloquy towards the end of the series that made me want to stand up and applaud.
I’ve also been re-reading David Sedaris’ works. To me, his writing is like watching a magic trick. When you finally arrive at the end of one of his pieces, you ask yourself, “How did he get me here?” It’s just so lovely. When people read a good book, they often say, “I couldn’t put it down.” But I put his books down all the time. I’ll read a particularly poignant passage, or beautifully craft line, and stop reading for a few moments just to admire it.
Were you always a writer, or was it something you eventually discovered you had a knack for?
In high school and college, I very much enjoyed writing, but I wasn’t a good writer. I was funny, but I didn’t yet understand story structure so my writing lacked cohesion and purpose. Even though I studied under some very talented authors, I don’t think they knew how to convey this. They just wrote from the gut, and because their talent level was so high, their writing was very engaging. It wasn’t until I got work as a staff writer in television that I really started started to learn about structure, and that can applied to so many different mediums.
How’d you get your start in the industry?
A year or so after moving to Hollywood to follow my dream of being a sitcom writer, I met a guy who would eventually become my writing partner. For a couple of years, we worked every night and weekend to assemble a good collection of spec scripts. Probably close to a dozen. Eventually we landed on the writing staff of Just Shoot Me and we’ve worked steadily ever since.
What do you consider the components of a good script?
Even in comedy, it’s not about the jokes or funny situations. It’s all about story and how engaging you can make it. Until the audience can identify the three main components of every story, the writer is just wasting their time… daring them to find something better to do.
What are some of the most common writing mistakes you see?
Most new writers don’t really understand what makes a story. They think they understand, but if you ask them to define what a story is in one clear sentence, they’re at a loss. It’s a difficult question! But if you can’t define it accurately, you’re never going to be able write one on a consistent basis.
What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
It’s not so much tropes that bother me as it is tired old cliches. In comedy rooms, we call them clams. They’re jokes that have been floating around the zeitgeist and you’ve heard a million times. “Asking for a friend.” “Said no one ever.” Those are clams. You see them on dopey friends Facebook posts. That’s fine for them, because they’re not writers. But if you want to be a writer, then your job is to create new things to say, not transcribe old ones.
What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?
Start the story sooner.
Raise the stakes.
What’s the story really about?
Does the idea have enough weight to be a story?
Do your act breaks pop?
What are your thoughts about writing a spec script for an already-existing show as opposed to a totally new and original pilot?
When I’m staffing for a show, I much prefer reading scripts for existing shows. Writing an original pilot is very hard, and it requires a completely different skill set from writing a spec for an existing show and it’s a skill set that I’m not really looking for. I don’t care if you can create an entire world. I want to know if you can write a compelling script for characters who already exist.
Have you ever read a spec script that immediately told you “this writer gets it”. If so, what were the reasons why?
Most spec scripts from new writers are mediocre. And these are writers who are good enough to land representation. But there’s no demand in Hollywood for mediocre writers. If the story doesn’t start quickly enough, or that first act break doesn’t pop, I’ll put down the script and pick up another one. That may seem unfair, but viewers are no different. If they’re not engaged by the story, they’ll click the remote and find a story that does engage them. I’ve got a huge pile of scripts to read and one of them will be great. I decided to hire one new writer without even finishing the script. I could tell he knew what he was doing.
How can people find out more about you and the services you provide?
I’ve been a sitcom writer and showrunner for 25 years. A friend of mine who is an aspiring writer had been begging me to create an online course, but I just didn’t have the time. When the pandemic hit, that excuse went out the window. So I spent a few months creating an online screenwriting course. This is everything I wish I had when I was trying to break in. If anyone is interested, the first 3 lessons are free.
As the lockdown continues, here are some works of your fellow creatives to help you pass the time – plus an informative opportunity for aspiring TV and webseries writers. Take a gander at the offerings below.
The Arab Messiah
Book [via Kindle]
A young woman on an archaeological expedition brings the past back to life with the resurrection of an ancient Pharaoh.
Into the Black, A Sci-Fi Mystery (Janey McCallister Mystery, Book 1)
Anything goes at Bijoux de L’Étoile space station casino—until theft turns to murder and first-time lead investigator Janey McCallister must find the killer before he escapes into the black.
Page Turner Awards eBook Finalist
The Joy of Self-Publishing 101 Kept Secrets
Book [paperback & Kindle]
If you need reasons why you should publish your book look no further. This book will answer your questions. All the best on your journey of publishing a book! And do not forget life always offers maybe even when you cannot clearly see the possibilities in front of you, keep your writing alive!
The rugged shores of Scotland in the 1800s, with its highlands and heaths serve as a backdrop for the inviting faerie-tale like story of Liam McPhee, an eleven year old hero that faces an array of almost insurmountable challenges in a young adult fantasy designed to attract all ages of readers.
The story of a blended family, as told from the alternating and singularly distinctive voices of the family pets: a deluded evil genius guinea pig named GIZMO, and his happy-go-lucky rival, an equally deluded Welsh Corgi called WEDGIE.
As challenging as it is to write a screenplay, let alone a good one, one of the biggest obstacles to get past is coming up with a solid story. Have a relatively firm idea of what’s supposed to happen from beginning to end and you’re already ahead of the game.
Which is just about where I am with my latest project. Some of it feels rock-solid, while other parts are a bit on the wobbly side. A few scenes and sequences have been rewritten numerous times, and there are still some blanks requiring some temporary filling-in.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty satisfied with how it’s coming along. I may not have it done as soon or as fast as I’d originally hoped, but that’s fine. I’d rather spend the time doing what I am now rather than ramming my way forward, and then going back and fixing all the things, which usually results in more changes and further complications.
As much as I would love to be able to just plow through, it’s just not how I operate. Developing my story’s outline is the part of the process where a majority of the heavy lifting gets done. It’s a lot easier to figure things out here than after it’s been written.
Admittedly, there are times where I’ll second-guess myself. Is this the right way to tell this part? Would this work better here, here, or here? What if I switched this around, or took it out altogether? Taking the time to explore all options might seem like a lot of work for now, but in the end, all of it will come together, giving me the results I need.
And that’s when I’ll feel ready to start on pages.
-Next week’s post will be all about promoting a nice selection of creative projects, so there are just a few days left to submit the pertinent info.
Got a film, short film, book, comic, webcomic, webseries, or any other creative venture you’d like to share with the world?