After an amazing first day, the question was, could the second day of the POWER UP 2Day Writer/Producer Intensive be as good as the first. The day was starting with someone I’d never heard of BUT, to be honest, she knocked my socks off. Day Two totally rocked!
LAUREN IUNGERICH (pronounced YOU-KNOW-RICK) came in all bouncy with her blonde hair and her luscious vanilla-scented lotion that wafted through the room (did I mention I hadn’t had time for breakfast?) and she set the room on fire! There were the questions about her college years and internships and all that. It got really interesting when she started talking about a spoof movie she had done called SKäNK. The film was about several Scandinavian supermodel lesbians who had become directors. The models-cum-directors were named Inga, Molle, Hanna and Inga 2. They had SKäNK hats made that they distributed, posters they put up and a website … that studio officials were calling after the festival to get more information and hire these supermodels … I mean directors. Funny, irreverent, bawdy, subversive and totally hooked in to what is appealing to the market, Lauren schooled us in how to generate pilot ideas, create powerful tag lines, and how to handle yourself in a pitch meeting. Like the presenters from the previous day, Lauren affirmed that you need to connect with your material on a personal level to make it work.
Of greatest value to me was how Lauren revealed how the process works from beginning to end. First, someone reads your work and appreciates the ORIGINAL VOICE; voice is everything. Then, you’re referred to and invited in for a “General Meeting” … a get to know you soiree where everyone takes a look at what it would be like to work together (because there are long hours in television). If that goes well, a “Pitch Meeting” will follow. If one of your ideas is appealing, you will be PAID for the idea and be asked to write a pilot. Then, most likely, the idea will go no further and you’ll be out pitching another pilot idea. But, hey, you’re getting paid along the way.
Lauren’s list :
- One of the most important elements of the pitch is how you connect with it personally.
- NEVER leave anything behind at a pitch meeting. Your presentation should leave an indelible image in their mind and make them want more.
- When creating your pilot, join the story in motion. Show the audience who the characters are and what they’re struggling with in their current circumstances.
- Never rely on others. Rely on yourself. Work with effective producers.
- In television, they buy your story and they’re buying you, too.
Writer/comedian CAROL LEIFER not only wrote for SEINFELD, we hear she is the inspiration for the character of “Elaine.” While in college, Leifer was dating (then unknown) actor Paul Reiser which brought her into a milieu populated by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Leifer loved both performing stand-up comedy and comedy writing. She shared that David and Seinfeld thought the funniest things happen in real life. Any Seinfeld story based on real events was preferred. In fact, we discovered that the “Marble Rye” episode had happened to Leifer. She went to a dinner party in which the host forgot to serve the bread and the guests snuck it home with them. Leifer also affirmed that this business is all RELATIONSHIPS, you must be a pleasant person who is easy to work with. And, you must network assiduously. With a deadpan seriousness, Leifer said she still had every phone number she’d ever been given.
Carol’s suggestions :
- You must be your own biggest fan. Always.
- Mine the moments of your life.
- Writers write. No one can stop you. Tell your stories.
- Don’t hide from what you are … when you lie about your age (or whatever) the terrorists win.
I was so excited about the final presenter at the POWER UP event … the executive producer of my favorite show, LOST. The weekend was winding down but our enthusiasm was mounting by the minute. ELIZABETH SARNOFF started her presentation by saying she totally disagreed with what screenwriter Josh Olson had said in The Village Voice about being unwilling to read screenplays. Sarnoff said she loves original work! She said that when hiring writers for a show (like LOST), the skills AND personality of the writer come into play because you have to choose “people you want to spend 9 hours per day with, involved in a steel cage death match.” I think she was kidding. A little. Sarnoff shared a writing exercise she got from David Milch. While working with Milch, she learned to write for no less than 20 minutes, no more than 50 minutes, a scene with two characters and no setting. Just two humans deeply involved in human connection. Then, we were told to put it away for six months, come back later and discover what stories are at our heart and core. I tried the exercise and found it very useful. To be honest, I didn’t last six months. I maybe waited six hours before I read it again. And I liked it.
Liz’s tips :
- Don’t think about writing when you’re not writing. Thinking about writing is totally ego-centric. Writing is like prayer; ego disappears.
- Actors, when stripped of preparation, become generous, adaptive creatures.
- More people crumble under success than failure. Success is complicated.
With POWER UP, success is still complicated but it gets a helping hand.
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.