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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Staffed!


In Hollywoodland, that means you were hired as a television staff writer. It's the brass ring, it's exciting, it's uncertain and it's what every aspiring tv writer is working toward. A few weeks ago, it happened for our own Margaux Froley Outhred. I just had to ask her what it was like:

So. You got staffed on the new CW show Privileged this year. How much did you freak out when you found out?

Margaux: The whole "getting staffed" process is such a whirlwind, I don't know if I had time to get excited. I was coming out of the Warner Brothers Fellowship, and six out of the 13 of us had been staffed, and there was enough funding to get 8 of us hired, so the jobs were going quick. I knew that the WB shows were getting filled quickly, so I was in scramble mode, trying to get my manager and Warners to put me up for anything I could possibly be considered for. I had actually been passed on for PRIVILEGED by one Warner Exec, but I was determined not to let just one person decide my future, especially since I felt I was a great fit for PRIVILEGED because I had just finished a GOSSIP GIRL spec. I pushed another Warner Exec, who got my GOSSIP GIRL to the PRIVILEGED showrunner on a Wednesday. She read me a day later, Thursday morning. Requested a meeting with me that afternoon, and hired me in the meeting. I started work on Monday. That Monday. It was quick, but that's how it was for some of my other friends too. Just being ready was a huge thing. The best part of it was quitting my assistant job that Friday. Not that I liked giving my old boss so little notice, but it felt like I had officially made it past the assistant rank. And the funny thing was, I asked my manager, my Warner exec friend, and the Fellowship people like three times that morning if, really, it was OK to quit my job? I just couldn't believe I wouldn't need to be an assistant anymore, let alone, could hardly process that I was going to be an actual paid writer, in a writer's room.

What got you to this point? What were the breadcrumbs? What did you do right?

Margaux: Aside from everything above, the Warner Fellowship was really the huge factor. From assisting a showrunner, I decided to try my hand at writing a TV spec script. I wrote a 30 ROCK, and that first TV script is what got me into the Fellowship. Once I was in the Fellowship, the best decision I made was to write a GOSSIP GIRL spec. It was still early in their season, there was no indication it would be a worthwhile spec, but I knew I could write it well, and I knew that if it was a hit, there would be another version of it in the coming season. So, staying determined to write the best spec possible made a big difference. Also, just really finessing my connections along the way. A close friend within the Fellowship was able to give my new showrunner boss a solid personal recommendation. I even sent flowers at the BEGINNING of staffing season to my WB exec friend and the WB Fellowship people, knowing that they were about to do a lot of work on my behalf. When it came down to pushing for me, these people were really in my camp when I needed it most.

Where are you repped? How do you like it so far?

Margaux: I was lucky enough to find a brilliant manager, Jamie Wager. Or rather, he found me from the WB Fellowship and my GOSSIP GIRL spec. He's a former TV exec, so he gets how to work with writers. Thus far Jamie has been instrumental in helping me focus on what I need to write next, and helping me through development of a new pilot script. He also helped do the Agent Dance with me. I ended up getting repped by CAA. I currently have a job, so they haven't had much chance to flex that muscle of theirs, but thus far, they've been incredibly supportive and I feel like I've got a really kick ass team to back me up. I had the horrible realization the other week that I am in freelance land, and very quickly that fear was squashed when I remembered what a really on-the-ball team I have to help me get the next job. I believe that feeling is called security.

What is the process on Privileged? How many staff writers are there?


Margaux: We start every day meditating on keeping the CW afloat. Nah, just kidding. (insert uncomfortable laugh here). There are three of us "staff writers", that's the low level writers. Then there are four other higher level writers, plus our lovely and talented showrunner. So, that makes 8 of us total, but generally at least one writer will be off writing his/her script, the showrunner has a million other places to be, and one writer off on maternity leave. We all work together to "break" each episode, from discussing general scenes we'd like to see, to coming up with a fully fleshed out outline. Then that episode's assigned writer will go off and write the outline. Then they'll have to get that outline approved by both our studio (Warner Bros. TV) and then the network (CW) and address those notes. Then they'll be allowed to go off onto script, and again, have that script approved by the showrunner, the studio, and then the network. So each story has gone through many sets of eyes and opinions on it's way to being written and finally shot.

Then we'll do a table read with the cast, followed by a slew of production meetings, and then we can get that episode into production, during which the writer will be on set most of the time to help out/supervise his/her vision. The rest of us stay in the room and keep working on the next episodes. Whew......

What is the ratio of male to female writers on the show?

Margaux: Out of the full 8 of us, 4 of us are ladies. Given that this is a really female-driven cast, that makes sense.

Do you guys use the fabled White Board to sketch out episodes and the season?

Margaux: Yes, gotta have the white board. We have three in fact. One holds the arcs and storylines for all 12 episodes we've been approved for. (Holding out for that back 9!!!) Then, we have one board we really use to brainstorm scenes for an episode, which might then get transfered to the smaller board. The big board then gets used to write out the whole six acts of the episode and how each scene will fit into that structure. Lately I've become the board bitch, but I love it. Having good handwriting paid off.

How much time do you spend on set? Why are sets so cold?

Margaux: Our stages are just downstairs, nearby on the Paramount lot. We spend a little bit of each day there, but generally we stay in our offices. When it's our script being shot, we will live on set the majority of each day. I don't know why they're so cold, but my guess is it has something to do with the hot lights and trying to keep the make-up from melting off our actors.

How many hours a week do you work? Is this typical?


Margaux: We have amazing hours. Apparently this isn't that common, compared to some horror stories I've been told, but again, this is my first room, so I don't have much to compare it to. We work about 10-6 M-Friday. Pretty easy. But, luckily we're doing well breaking our episodes and our shoots are pretty manageable, so we haven't had to have any insanely late nights thus far.

Do you have a nice office? Tell the truth – how’s the food?

Margaux: I love my office. Three of us staff writers (again, we're the bottom of the food chain) had to split 2 offices. I was just so thrilled to actually have an office, I didn't mind sharing. In hindsight, I'm still happy having an office roommate because I'd rather have someone to talk to, or someone to secretly discuss where I'm confused than sitting alone in my own office. The food? Too good. I have a hard time staying away from the kitchen, which is stocked with everything we ask for. Scary habit to get used to.

Single piece of advice for aspiring television writers?

Margaux: It seems to be all about original material these days in terms of getting a writer staffed and/or repped. My manager almost didn't sign me because I didn't have origianl material to back up my specs. Once I wrote a One Act play that he really liked, we were off and running. And I know with getting repped at CAA and having agencies pursue me, a lot of that came from the One Act. But, really, once you've got the job, the day to day most important thing is just to be nice and to be relevant. I haven't written my episode's script yet, but I work hard to try to find side projects or research that can help the showrunner or the current writer on their script. Just being nice goes a really long way.

(See above note how buying someone flowers BEFORE they help you can be a very wise move. Don't wait for them to do all the work and then thank them. Advance thank yous can keep a relationship flowing for years to come.)

Conversely, what would you caution against?

Margaux: Stalking. It is really easy to push someone who is doing you a favor into the territory where they start avoiding your calls. If you push too hard, you will kill your contact. Seriously. I just heard about a producer who has a "Do Not Staff" list, filled with people who just bugged them and because of that, they never want to hire those writers. Don't bug the people you want favors from. There are only so many jobs out there, pushing harder doesn't change that.

Whoa! I heard about the Do Not Staff list a few years ago. I thought it was an urban myth, honestly. It really happens?

Margaux: Apparently so.

Thank you, Margaux, for taking your time to do this.


Margaux: Yeah. Where's my cupcake? :)

You earned it, babe.

Margaux: Privileged premiers on the CW on September 9th at 9pm.

I'm supposed to be the bold font.

Margaux: Now you're just talking to yourself.

****

Staffing season comes every spring, sure as the geese migrate from - wait - uh - arrive in wherever. Make the most of your time this fall. Study the new shows like crazy. And look into writing original material like a one-act play.

Margaux is available on a limited basis to review your television scripts at The Script Department. We will shortly be announcing a new tv script analyst we have hired who is much more available. Treat yourself to either one but know that due to her work demands, Margaux should be booked in advance. We're lucky to have her.

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12 comments:

Pete said...

Does this mean I have to watch Privileged out of solidarity? Cause I didn't get the impression I was their target demographic.

Anonymous said...

Wow! First of all congratulations on a dream come true, Margaux! I can feel your excitement jumpin' off my screen. Funny enough, this post came just in time for me and if you (or any other lovely RW people) have a minute I have a couple television writing questions.

Have you ever written for the big screen, either features or shorts, or have you always been a television (and play) script writer? If you've done both, how was that transition and how hard do you think it is to do both or go from one to another?

I just got some fantastic notes on one of my features today and one thing she said really made me stop and think. She said she could see this spinning off into a series because the characters are so unique and different and it could sustain an episodic television storyline. The funny thing was that I was thinking the same thing yesterday but I've never written for television and am terrified at learning (ie: stumbling through) an entirely new format, timing, plot development, etc. when I've worked so hard for the past six years to learn feature writing.

I can't see myself ever moving to LA to be a "real working writer" on a show, so it may be a waste of my time to even pursue this, but then what if? ...

Thanks for your time and any further comments.

Julie Gray said...

Solidarity indeed! Root for fellow writers who have made it inside the castle walls!

Anonymous said...

Hi "staffed"

I really don't get this.

You're happy to work on this level?

Good for you for getting a job. But a job is a job, everyone has a job. Even top TV writers.

But why work for others?

Why push other people's vision.

Do you own thing girl?

Stay away from big jobs, attain independence!

Julie Gray said...

Well - um - Anonymous, on Margaux's behalf, I don't really know how to respond to that sentiment. But good on you, love to see your independent film, tv show or webisode when it gets made. Truly. Everyone has a path. Good luck on yours and keep us posted!

PJ McIlvaine said...

Congrats, now give me the e-mail of your manager before I stalk you.

Margaux Outhred said...

Just to respond quickly to the 2nd "Anonymous" question.
Yes, I am pushing someone else's vision, but I am thoroughly thrilled to be working with talented writers in a room, and getting paid to write. Pushing my own vision only gets me so far.....getting paid to be a working writer is my goal. And, getting this experience is what is going to make people in the future want to hear more of my vision. Film, TV, it is all a collaborative medium...learning to work well with others and still get my own vision across is a skill you only learn by going through the experience.

Margaux Outhred said...

For the first "Anonymous" question. I have been writing features for a few years, so, making the jump to TV had a bit of a learning curve, but really not an insurmountable one. Finding TV scripts to learn from, studying shows and their act breaks, and reading TV Writing books helped me fill in the knowledge gaps.
However, if you have no intention of moving to LA, then I wouldn't kill yourself to learn a new medium. TV happens in LA. Yes, there are a handful of shows in NYC, or that shoot in Canada, but, the majority of jobs are in, or hired through LA. I've found throughout the town that people don't take you as seriously if you don't live in this town. Even if it's possible to write and get hired from out of town, you are expected to be here and show up to work every day, there really isn't any way around that, especially starting at a lower level. (I think some of the logic is also that if we have to live here, you do too.)

Some features can make for great TV shows, but if you aren't planning on writing the necessary material for TV, then it might not be the best or most productive path to follow. There are always exceptions to the rule, but again, like the living in LA thing, people want to know you've committed to something. Why hire a dabbler/hobbyist when there are a million people incredibly passionate about a certain medium.?
And also, in any writing, feature or TV, it is a long hard process to make a career of this. If you aren't that interested, then it might not be the right road to be on. I don't mean to be discouraging at all, just a reminder that this a really difficult dream to attain, and once you're there, you better prepared to commit to it fully. It's a great problem to have...so keep writing and hope you have such great, difficult problems to solve in the future,

Anthony Peterson said...

Congratulations. Its an incredible advantage to be paid to write full time.

You are past the "danger zone" of giving up through sheer exhaustion from holding down a regular job and writing in your spare time - time that should be devoted to family and friends.

I'm jealous!

Chris said...

totally awesome, margaux! well-earned and well-deserved

now i'm just that much more nervous for my Disney/ABC app knowing how much a game-changer that and Warners can be. Hope I don't have to wait another year . . .

R.A. Porter said...

Congratulations, Margaux! So happy to hear about a writer breaking through. Now I'm sitting here like @chris, hoping my Disney-ABC app makes people smile.

Must go write another pilot now...

Diana said...

Hi Margaux,

Are you ready for a summer intern?

Let me know!