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What do you do with a BA in English?

June 5, 2008

You start a blog, of course.

The Avenue Q soundtrack seems to have been written for my life – if my life was performed by puppets.  One day after my very last college course, and 10 days before my official graduation with a BA in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside, I find myself in bed with a box of Chocolate Chex watching old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes on YouTube.  Given that this was how I spent most mornings of my college career, I suppose I was expecting something different.  Some sudden epiphany of how I was going to live my life to its fullest, take the job world by storm, and achieve my goal of becoming a published author.

Instead, I woke up, and it was any other Thursday morning.  How disappointing.  Maybe the epiphany doesn’t kick in until after I walk across that makeshift stage in a horribly unflattering cheap black gown and move my white tassel from one side of the mortarboard to the other.  I doubt it.

I have stopped and started, tried and failed so many times in keeping a blog.  Discipline is my Achilles heel.  But as I no longer have the excuse of being ‘merely’ a college student, I have decided that it’s time to, as they say, try, try again.

Every so often, living as I do in West Hollywood, I have the good fortune to meet one of my heroes.  Not the actors I catch having brunch at BLD or sipping their ice blended mochas at Coffee Bean, but the writers whose work I so admire that I’ll stand in line for hours just to say five words to them.

Thanks to my friend Vlada (stayinginwithvlada.com), who tells me everything about the television world I need to know, last year I met Bryan Fuller, creator of Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, and the short-lived but no less brilliant Wonderfalls.  At the time, he was screening the pilot of Daisies at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  We sat on the lawn, watched the Pie-lette projected against a mausoleum, and ate miniature apple pies.  I plucked up my courage to speak to him, and he gave me advice in writing for television that has been seconded (and thirded) elsewhere: write original pilot scripts.  While it’s important to have a spec-script for an existing show or two under your belt, showrunners these days are less interested in seeing if you can imitate someone else’s style; they want to know what you as a writer will bring to the table.

Now, a year and 8 episodes later, two of the writers for the show came to speak to my class, “Creating the One-Hour Drama.”  We screened the episode they wrote (“Bitches”) and then they discussed the breakdown of a writers’ room, and the ups and downs of getting to that point.

Every author I’ve ever met has said that if you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader.  The same applies to writing for television.  You want to write teleplays, you have to watch t.v.  I think it’s best to have a diverse sense of what’s out there as well.  While I’m partial to any serialized show with a dash of the supernatural, I’m equally at home with nightime soaps, sitcoms, and procedurals.  

In recent months my sense of the writing has been heightened.  In many cases I predicted actions, even dialogue – not because the show itself was predictable, but because that’s how I would have written it.  I understand now what a story needs.  Though I worried that would ruin my love of television, much like a course in screenwriting made it impossible to watch a movie without identifying the 17-minute point, I feel like an engineer who can see all the moving parts.  I’ve also gained a greater appreciation for the delicate craftsmanship of a truly well-written episode.

Take “Bitches,” for example.  While the original pitch came from on high, credit for setting the story in the world of competitive dog breeding is all the writers’.  What I love best is that no detail is accidental.  The dog assigned to each character was not random; each dog perfectly suits that person, just as the person’s role within the dog world suits her character. Everything in writing for television needs to pull double duty.  If it’s not accomplishing two things at once, it’s not good enough.

Though they came out of a USC graduate film school program, and got attention from their feature script thesis project, both Pushing Daisies writers credit jobs as writer/agency assistants with helping them make the necessary connections to get where they are today.

Which is great – so how do I manage to get one of those?

 

Quote of the Day:

“This business is 50% talent – plain old ability to write – 25% tenacity, and 25% pure dumb luck.  There’s nothing you can do about that.” – Chad Creasey, writer Pushing Daisies

Link of the Day: Staying In – Reviews/commentaries, random lists and observations, occasional TV development/casting news, spoilers and article links, What to Watch, and TV related events happening around town.  Get the latest news in television from a blogger for TVWeek.com (and a close personal friend!)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 13, 2008 6:33 am

    Hey, just started reading the blog on a search for anything Pushing Daisies related.

    And I felt the need to comment when I read “The Avenue Q soundtrack seems to have been written for my life – if my life was performed by puppets. One day after my very last college course, and 10 days before my official graduation with a BA in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside, I find myself in bed with a box of Chocolate Chex watching old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes on YouTube.”

    Because I’m pretty sure it says your name is Jane, and not Donna, I determined that you must be a different human being and not me in my sleep.

    So hi, you’ve got a new reader. I’m really interested in what you have to say about writing in television. I’m in university aiming towards genetic counseling, journalism, or archaeology, but ever since I started watching the Futurama DVDs I’ve developed a huge interest in behind-the-scenes TV.

    Of course, I imagine if I were to ever write for TV I’d have to get a bit better at summarizing.

    In my defense, I just woke up and the filter isn’t on yet.

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