The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today is about writing for television, with the spotlight on Jen Grisanti of Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc.
International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed story and career consultant with her own firm, Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc., and a writing instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC. She spent 12 years as a studio executive, including working as VP of Current Programming at CBS/Paramount. Jen also blogs for The Huffington Post and is the author of Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story, TV Writing Tool Kit: How To Write a Script That Sells, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success. She teaches classes for TV Writers’ Summit (LA, NYC, London and Israel) and Story Expo. She has taught at the TV Writers’ Studio (Australia), Scriptwriters’ Network, The Screenwriting Expo, and The Great American Pitchfest. Jen has also served on panels for the WGA, Scriptwriters’ Network, Final Draft/The Writer’s Bootcamp, and ScreenCraft. Her company hosts online Storywise Seminars.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
After studying Communications with TV & Cinema at USC, the first job that paved my way to where I am today was working as an assistant to Aaron Spelling. While working in his office I began to voraciously read scripts. Spelling was my mentor. We had a routine where I’d read all of the scripts for the current shows he had on the air and he’d review my notes and tell me what worked and what didn’t. I learned so much about what makes story work by watching him in the edit bay during rough cuts. I got my Bachelor’s at USC, but I always say I got my Master’s degree in TV in the Spelling office. It was the best place to learn.
I climbed the ladder while I was at Spelling and eventually ran Current Programming covering shows including Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and 7th Heaven. I went on to become Vice President at CBS/Paramount where I covered shows including: Numb3rs, Medium, NCIS, The 4400 and Girlfriends.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
I believe that for some, writing comes naturally. They have a sense of their voice from the start. They may need help with structure, but the voice is there.
With others, I do believe it can be taught or learned. I’ve definitely seen this happen many times in my career. There is no greater reward than to see the growth of a writer, to help guide them in finding their voice and to help them understand how to use story structure in the best way possible to bring their voice to life.
4. What are the components of a good script?
The components of a good script are a strong trigger incident that leads the central character into a dilemma. This creates empathy. Then, the choice that they make as a result of the dilemma defines the goal. We should be clear on what the central character wants and why they want it. Another thing that really adds to a good script is when the personal dilemma is connected to the professional pursuit. With this, when the writer comes from a place of emotional truth, it really helps to connect what they are trying to say.
A strong script should have a concept we can feel and a story with a clear message.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
We don’t know what the central character wants, or we don’t know why they want it. If you don’t know what the central character wants or why they want it, then there’s no rooting factor. The central character reacts to things that happen to them versus taking action toward the goal, giving you a reactive hero instead of an active one. The obstacles happen to the central character versus being a result of an action that the character took. There is no external stakes arc. We don’t know what the worst thing is that can happen if the central character does not achieve their goal.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
I wouldn’t say there’s a specific story trope I’m tired of seeing. I’m just tired of seeing films being made where the story wasn’t ready. I feel like TV is in a much stronger place than film with regards to writing.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-Make us empathize with your central character from the start.
-Have a clear goal.
-Establish the internal and external stakes.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
I’m not a reader. I analyze story from the studio executive perspective, so I don’t give “recommend” or “pass,” which is what readers do. I give development notes that help the writer to know how to elevate their script to the best place possible.
That being said, over two dozen of the writers I’ve worked with have sold pilots. Four of them went to series. So I do have lots of projects that I work with people on that go on to sell and be produced.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
Competitions allow writers to put something on their bio that shows their writing has been recognized. This is a town that loves heat. If someone else thinks you’re great, everyone wants to know you. So the competitions do serve a purpose in building heat and creating possibility.
10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
If you want to see how I work with writers one-on-one, I recommend reviewing my Writer Proposals Page – http://jengrisanticonsultancy.com/services/proposals/
Plus, if you mention this interview, I’ll give you 10% off of your first consult.
11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
I love it. I’m big on baking, and my favorite is cherry pie.