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I Need a Happy Working Song

June 17, 2008

I wrote before about an idea of mine that turned out to have been written (and written better) by Kim Harrison, but I’d like to share another, more frustrating, experience.

After coming up with five pilot ideas at my local Coffee Bean, I started work on one today.  The first thing I came up with was, “A show set in a dead letter office,” which became, “and everyone’s actually dead.”  The idea being that the lead character, stuck in Limbo’s mailroom, would start a crusade to learn the stories behind the mail that never made it while he tried to climb the ‘corporate ladder’ to heaven. 

Unfortunately the angle of a man who walks into a dead letter office and decides to start responding to some of the letters is not new, which was where the ‘they’re dead’ idea came in.  Then I realized where I’d seen that before: it’s called Dead Like Me, created by Bryan Fuller.  Now, his characters didn’t work in a post office, but all the ideas I kept thinking of reminded me of his show, until I had to give up the ghost and realize I was trying to imitate.  Okay, it was copying, but subconsciously.

That wasn’t the first time, either.  The first pilot script I completed was a sci-fi show that I eventually recognized as my desperate attempt to relive the brilliant Farscape.

That, sadly, is the greatest drawback to watching so much television.  It gets in your head, and it becomes hard to distinguish between your ideas, and someone else’s.  When you realize that, instead of struggling to make it different, it’s better to just put it away and pull out something new.  Otherwise you’re not writing an original pilot, you’re just writing something that’s trying not to be this other show.

Aside from simply learning the basics, taking a class taught by someone who actually has experience writing for television means you’ve made your first contact.  My professor, Stu Krieger (The Land Before TIme, Zenon: Girl of the Twenty-First Century) forwarded a list of job openings in L.A. to the class, which meant that I could save a step in the job hunt.  A list from Stu saved me the trouble of having to determine which jobs I could even apply to as a recent college graduate with no experience.  Sure, some of the jobs on this list aren’t for me, but it’s pretty extensive, and a definite perk of having taken the class.

I also recently found out that I went to high school with his son – which just proves that Hollywood really is a small world, so the more people you know, the better.

Today I tasked myself with sending out some resumes.  With e-mail as the preferred method of transport, it only took twenty minutes.  If you’re clueless about resumes and don’t have a parent who can help, I would recommend one of those resume builder sites – what you put on that paper is your first impression.  It sucks, but it’s part of the hunt.  The trick is to puff it up while remaining professional and not, you know, flat-out lying.  My dad’s an ace at that, and my resume has his seal of approval.  

Then comes the hard part of figuring out what to put in the body of the e-mail.  It’s the equivalent of a cover letter – my favorite.  The first two I sent out probably were a little stilted, but there was nothing wrong with them, per se, it just wasn’t until the third that I realized I hadn’t mentioned the name of the university I graduated from.

Before I sent off my resume, I googled each job listing – to the best of my ability.  This list is third generation, after all, and though I trust the source, the posts don’t all have a title to go with them.  Despite my best Google-fu, I couldn’t get a name to address any of the cover letters to.  No matter, I just sent it to “Dear Sir or Madam.”  Might be a little pretentious, but it covers the bases and sounds a little less silly than “To Whom it May Concern.”  The response to that could always be, ‘Well, it doesn’t concern any of us.’  *delete*

Here’s what one of my cover letters looks like:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am a recent college graduate with a BA in creative writing from the University of California, Riverside.  I am interested in writing for television, but have written in other genres, and would love the opportunity to learn about the business side of the industry.  Please let me know if you require any additional information.
Thank you for your time.
Sincerely,

I can’t say for certain that this is the acceptable way to do it, but it’s polite, sans contractions, and gets the point across.  Always keep it short – just imagine if you were the one who had to slog through dozens of them.

I think one of the keys is adding just a single line that personally tailors the note to whatever job you’re applying for.  It shows that you’ve actually paid attention to the ad and did your homework.  It might make a difference when compared to, say, someone who just copies and pastes the exact same note to a dozen jobs without checking.

At least this part I can do by e-mail and save postage.  The postage for all the query letters and journal submissions I have to do will probably kill me.  I need a job just to cover that.

Quote of the Day:

“Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.” – David Sedaris, author When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Link of the Day: I Hate My Life – apparently the secret to my professor’s job hunting skills is the UTA List.  Supposedly only available if you know a guy who knows a guy, this website is offering it for free if you e-mail the webmaster.  The site looks pretty interesting too, just scroll down until you see Entertainment Jobs.  Someone after my own heart.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 23, 2008 3:12 pm

    One of my coworkers forwarded me the UTA list a couple of times. Not very helpful for what I was looking for, but definitely a great resource for industry jobs.

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