Sunday, July 18th
Friday, July 2nd
I was told once that there is a formalized way of offering second portions at a Japanese table that goes something like: "Would you like more? It isn't very good." Or maybe it was France. Or Apocrypha. But it always struck me as an interesting solution to resolving the conflict between enticement and modesty.
When you're in a writers' room, you're going to notice almost exactly the same formula used to preface idea pitches. Common phrases -- seriously, you hear EXACTLY THESE WORDS all the time -- include:
This isn't it, but I just want to get it out of my head...
I don't think this is right, but in case it prompts someone else...
Here's the bad pitch...
This is terrible, but I'm just going to say it...
If you spend even half an hour in a writers' room, I would expect you to hear at least one of these.
For a long time I attributed this strange counter-salesmanship to some kind of natural self-effacement characteristic of writers. But I realize now that these disclaimers are actually serving a really valuable self-preserving function.
The room is a very fluid place. Ideas are adopted and discarded very quickly. If you wed yourself too enthusiastically to any one idea, then it becomes harder to gracefully execute the turn when that idea is dropped in favor of a different one. Even if you agree that the newer idea is better, all that passion you put into the previous pitch can make it hard to suddenly run full tilt in the opposite direction.
Obviously, this sort of pitching style can become ridiculous and self-defeating. You don't want to run down your own ideas with any kind of serious vigor. And there's nothing wrong with suddenly sitting up straight and exclaiming "I think I've got it!", if and when you think you've got it. But there are few things more awkward than watching a writer return to a sitting position after an over-caffeinated but ultimately rejected pitch brought her to her feet.
This is all about developing your own style, of course. You'll figure out what kind of pitching style fits you best. You may be able to gracefully make the turn even after the most passionate advocating of another road. Or you may find your own happy medium. It's just worth being aware that your colleagues aren't being self-hating writers when they hedge and excuse.
Lunch: meat and cheese board and chilaquiles at Westside Tavern. Very nice.
Jane on 07.18.10 @ 06:36 PM PST [link]
Let's imagine that you've landed a job interview for a writing position on a new show. You've just been shown the pilot and you need to react in the moment. What should you say? What I'm going to say here may seem self-evident, but it's amazing what you'll hear yourself saying when you're nervous, so it's best to have thought about it.
First tip: concentrate on the positive. They may ask you what didn't work for you, but wait until they bring it up first. And then pick the flaw wisely. If you criticize the basic premise of the show, for example, you're not likely to come across as someone who will have loads of ideas in the room.
You're there because you want to work as a writer, so figure out what you liked about the writing. All the other aspects -- acting, prognosis for success, production values -- that's all secondary to the writing for the purposes of this meeting. So when they ask what you thought of the pilot, talk about the best parts of the writing.
For example: I really liked how the humor was really subtle and grounded. Like in the moment when [blah blah]. It makes the show feel very real.
I loved the way the characters liked and supported each other. It gives the show a positive feeling. Like in the moment when [blah supported blah].
I loved the way the show brings in a horror element. Like that bit where [blah]. It's so effective when genres are mixed like that, because I think [blah].
I'm not putting "blah" in there because the content doesn't matter, or because I think you'll be less than sincere, but just because the exact examples depend on the show.
The more specific the better. Don't just say the show was "good" or "funny". Use this as a springboard to talk about specific aspects of writing. You may want to mention other widely-admired pieces of writing that use similar techniques. And then, if I may suggest, you might want to say that this particular quality is one that you strive to achieve in your own writing.
You don't need to pitch story ideas (unless you've been told to), but it's perfectly acceptable to say that watching the pilot filled your head with thoughts about stories and about the characters. The idea is to make it clear that you're eager and able to contribute to the process of writing the series.
This is the time of year when many shows are interviewing new writers. I hope some of you will have meetings like this. And I hope you get the job!
Lunch: Mango and papaya salad and a tuna-avocado thing at Rock Sugar. Nice.
Jane on 07.02.10 @ 08:21 PM PST [link]