POWER UP Workshop – Day One
I’ve been looking forward to this workshop for weeks and, holy cow, was it worth the wait. The POWER UP 2Day TV Writer/Producer Intensive Seminar/Workshop (could they have made the title of this workshop any longer?!) was FANTASTIC. I’ve only been through one day and it’s already been worth it (and it wasn’t cheap).
ELLEN SANDLER, the co-executive producer of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND was the first speaker of the day. A Jewish woman from Sioux City, Iowa (there’s a sitcom right there), Sandler went to New York to work in the theatre. Working as a READER for the legendary Joe Papp, Sandler learned how to write concise summaries with explanations of her opinion on the particular piece she was reading. After she moved to LA, she wrote a one-act play that starred Rhea Perlman (who was dating a lovely fellow named Danny DeVito who was working on a show called TAXI). Danny brought all of the TAXI folks to Rhea’s play. Afterwards, writer/producer James L. Brooks approached Sandler about writing on his show. And, as they say, the rest is history. POWER UP founder Stacy Codikow made a point that Sandler’s play was one of several that evening but she was the only one who “had the goods” when Brooks was present. She had the combination of a strong piece and the serendipitous good fortune of having Rhea Perlman in her play.
Sandler’s tips :
- Remember that the industry is a FEUDAL SYSTEM and everyone serves the Lord. Forget it and you’ll be unemployed.
- Get your words into the mouths of actors who have friends.
- You’ve got to have some personal connection to the material to make it work.
After lunch, JAN OXENBERG the co-exec producer of COLD CASE, consulting producer on PARENTHOOD, and writer of MY DARK PLACES and LONG ISLAND CONFIDENTIAL, shared her experience entering the industry. She was wearing awesome yellow and white tennis shoes with pale blue and white striped socks. I was lost in her shoes for a while. I’d wanted to meet Jan for a very long time. She’d worked on a lot of shows I really liked and she’d worked with Michael Mann and Ami Caanan Mann. Jan talked about how every episode of COLD CASE was a period piece and also an effort to raise social consciousness. She talked about how it is more common for producers to read an original piece of material (feature script or stage play) to get a sense of your writing ability than a series spec script. Most of all, she said everyone wants something original with a unique point of view and a strong character that just “pops.”
- Many of the most successful TV writers have never had a show produced.
- Television is a writer’s medium. Meredith Stiehm came from the “John Wells” school of filmmaking which means writers are taught to be producers, they have the authority and they are responsible for getting that episode made.
- Being successful is a combination of opportunity, skill and relationship.
Showrunner CLAUDIA LONOW had the challenge of bringing up the end of the day. We were all excited but weary. Claudia came in and she was hysterical. She has an acerbic wit, dry delivery and moderately shocking observations that perked the whole room up quite quickly. I wasn’t surprised to discover that her stepdad owned The Improv and that she’d spent her entire life around comedy and comedians. I was surprised to learn she had been on KNOT’S LANDING in her teen years. After that, she fell out circulation for a while. Years later, she pitched a television series based loosely on her life. RUDE AWAKENINGS was purchased and Lonow returned as a showrunner. Lonow spoke a lot about the resilience necessary to survive in this business. Her new series (for which she is, again, the showrunner [aka top dog]) is ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE and stars Jenna Elfman.
- Get humor in your pitch. Don’t bore them with the story. Give them the premise, the characters, the story line.
- Get Blake Snyder’s book SAVE THE CAT and study it.
- When you’re looking for an agent, make sure you find one that is a FAN of your work and that you know some of the same people.
Tomorrow, I’m really excited that LOST exec producer ELIZABETH SARNOFF will be one of the guest speakers. Also, CAROL LEIFER (the inspiration for ‘Elaine’ on SEINFELD) and someone I’ve never heard of before … LAUREN IUNGERICH, a woman who has sold eight pilots! I can hardly wait.