September 14, 2005

tell your name, the livelong June, to an admiring Blog

9/14/05

In order to develop ideas for television, you have to have two skills: the ability to pitch the idea in a room full of TV execs, and then the ability to write a brilliant hour-long script. These two talents are so far apart, require such different areas of the human brain, it's a wonder anyone develops the cajones to do it. It's like an Olympic sport where you have to swim 100 meters and then play the Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto on a clavichord.

I mention this not just because we're doing that very thing, but because the current anti-intellectual atmosphere in this country - as well as the venality shown to people who dare make "art" for a living - means that all creators must also be their own public relations agent. In other eras, you could have been a nebbishy artist cranking out verse like Emily Dickinson stuck in a chamber pot-reeking bedroom and let the words speak for themselves, but not in this environment. Fully 33% of your workload as an artist must be spent promoting yourself (for actors, that might be as high as 85%).

Part of the problem is that so many people want to be actors or musicians that there is a line to get into the line that gets you into the door of an agent, and even if you can crack it, most actors spend hours of their week trying to get their managers interested in their careers again.

It's not just the commercialization of art, nor is it the modern notion that "art is only art if people will pay to consume it." It's more that people want other people to be personable and well-rounded. Your talent set must be bizarrely diversified. Business deals are worked out on the golf course in Administrative America, but there's a rub: you have to be able to play golf.

Does playing golf make you a better manager? Hell no, but it is now a tangential requirement for business. I'm fascinated by the myriad of skills you need to be successful at anything now, as we have truly left the guild age behind: you can be a blacksmith, sure, but you're only going to get the Anderson account if you have a good backhand, know about the special scotch that Macallan has on reserve, and can tell a joke about Janet Reno within 2.4 seconds. In a way, it's no wonder that dorks have taken over America, because we're the only ones that had more than two interests in high school.

I know there are playwrights and scribblers and indie filmmakers out there who say "fuck that, man" and take a perverse glee in how bad they are in crowds. I say that if you're going to adopt this attitude, you had better have a trust fund or be content with nary a soul ever seeing your work. There is so much static in our culture that it will take more than your innate brilliance to let your work slip the surly bonds of your studio and penetrate the brains of your fellow man.

Scream from rooftops if you have to. Be able to wow a room full of executives, even if you're a sculptor. Be able to pitch over the bunker and land on the green, even if you just wanna dance. Don't be proud of your insularity, it only ensures silence.


Posted by Ian Williams at September 14, 2005 11:08 PM
Comments
Posted by: CP at September 15, 2005 2:55 AM

you said it, man.

just go into a room and hang out. get the vibe and go with it. not in an insincere way either. literally, relate to the person/people you happen to be with that particular day, and if you're pitching -- tell them a story. be funny, intelligent, passionate, charming. be the best version of yourself you can be, without trying to be anyone other than who you are. it's a date, make it fun, make it hot.

I don't think this is a bad thing. I don't see it as anti-intellectual nor as shameless self-promotion. LA is a silly town. one needs equal parts ambition and an almost profound sense of the absurd in order to retain some sort of perspective. (staying up on your politics/getting angry about the things that actually matter -- slipping that into your work if you can, because why the hell do we do this in the first place??? -- also helps.) yes, your work has to be amazing. but you can't take yourself too seriously. can't be a pompous jackass or a pretentious fuck. it may be art, but it's also entertainment. which as we all know is big business, and when you're in the trenches (not iraq or the gulf coast -- my apologies to those who might take offense at the regionally insular southland notion of being on set or in the writers room at 3 in the morning as anything even remotely trench-like), you want to be with people that you like. that you trust. that have their shit together and can consistently deliver, in a classy, professional way.

finally, I don't think pitching and writing are all that different. obviously a lot depends on your own personal process, but the bottom line is you're telling story either way. if you're fun and engaging and specific in a pitch, chances are your script will be as well. the execs are just people, they're your first audience.

to quote my favorite local band...
(www.somethingforrockets.com -- your shameless self-promotion, even though I'm only just a fan)
keep it sexy.

Posted by: killian at September 15, 2005 3:20 AM

Ah, yes. Sexy. Hot. Without being a pretentious fuck. Could we call this a mating ritual of sorts?

And, BTW, all this goes for dancers and choreographers, as well. Am "working the room" right now in a grant proposal for my next gig--AND trying to figure out how I can borrow Ian's metaphor "to pitch over the bunker onto the green". . . I LIKE it!!

Posted by: cm at September 15, 2005 4:25 AM

I'm not sure things haven't always been thus. Emily Dickinson did toil in obscurity. Mark Twain, on the other hand, that guy could work a room. Ditto Charles Dickens. And those dudes definitely were heard from in their lifetime.

Posted by: Laurie from Manly Dorm at September 15, 2005 5:09 AM

Ick. I hate schmoozing. Sorry that you have to do it. My cubicle life is sounding better today . . . I write insurance contract language, and it is either compliant with current regs or not.

I agree with you . . . everyone wants to be an actor and everyone thinks that they can write a screenplay. I know of a bunch of law school classmates who are trying to "make it" in Hollywood. Good grief. Well, actually, one of my best law school friends worked for the Prosecutor's office in Brooklyn, decided she did not like that, enrolled in the Tisch School at NYU and got a MFA in Screenwriting, and she has been writing for one of Dick Wolf's Law & Order shows since its inception. Things worked out very well for her. We used to complain about all these inane lawyer shows that have no basis in legal reality. A trial that goes from start to finish in the same week? Please, people! Anyway, she is able to put some legal reality into the show, and she gets to express her creative side.

Sorry, I digress. Good luck and hang in there!

Posted by: Greg from Winston Dorm at September 15, 2005 5:32 AM

Interesting insight on pitching a television show. I envision equal parts ENTOURAGE and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM when you talk about the LA scene and trying to carve out a niche in order to get a TV pilot. As for the skill set required to "schmooze" a room of execs, it's not really that different from trying to convince a jury of twelve that your client's "story" is the one they should vote for. I would, daresay, suggest that it's exactly the same. But we litigators tend to enjoy that kind of stage and the butterflies, sleepless nights and adrenaline that go with it. Of course, we're already being paid by the time we do our presentation to the jury. So, to quote Bill Murray in Caddyshack, "I've got that going for me."

Good luck and may the "verdict" come down in your favor.

On a completely different note, how about a blog entry on your thoughts about some of the new fall shows.

Posted by: tregen at September 15, 2005 6:55 AM

Agreed re: lack of appreciation of the arts / humanities. However, I often tell first year associates that "office politics are just a fact of life, you either get in the game or sit on the sidelines". It sucks but it's true and the sooner you realize that to survive your work has to be impecible and your gossip juicy.

Good luck. I have more than a few agent friends if you need a few more contacts. T

Posted by: oliver at September 15, 2005 7:32 AM

I dunno. I make the same laments. How's this for advice: Just pop a Celexa (or Powdermilk Biscuit) and dive in, kamikaze. Tessa will be there to pick up the pieces if you blow up, and vice versa. Do the homework and then pay no mind to whether you've prepared enough. After all, would it be so bad if you only get so far as your merits take you? The supernaturally charming might get farther, but so what? At least you won't be in over your head. Also, recall it's one damn unlucky cheetah who starves for missing one gazelle. Fluky as success may be, there's still some averaging going on.

Posted by: kjf at September 15, 2005 8:05 AM

after seeing an article on some of the crap that is going to be on tv this season i sure hope that you find some success out there. (love the dickinson in the title of today's entry.)

Posted by: Laurie from Manly Dorm at September 15, 2005 8:42 AM

Hey, this is unrelated, but I have been watching "Weeds" lately. Good show! And, why on Earth did your friend Billy Crudup dump a pregnant Mary-Louise Parker for scrawny Claire Danes????? Why? M-L has talent coming out of every pore. She fucking rocks, for sure.

If you know the dirt, spill it.

Posted by: scruggs at September 15, 2005 10:51 AM

LFMD...I remember seeing that on the E news back when it happened and was bummed! I like Billy "General College Mullet guy" Crudup...great actor, but way to dog your baby's momma at the last minute. Of course, maybe she was evil incarnate or something and her public persona is misleading...not like ole M-L and I are tight!

Its funny to follow in the People rags this guy I went to h.s. with who ended up dating one of the olsen twins until recently; now he's been linked to ashlee simpson. Interesting who ends up being in the limelight from your hometown.

Posted by: LFMD at September 15, 2005 11:22 AM

Scruggs! Who is your h.s. classmate who dated an Olsen and Ashlee? Sadly enough, I bet that I will recognize the name or the face from all of my trash magazine reading during my gym workouts.

Yea, that was some way for Billy to dis his Baby Mama. And she named the baby after him! Who knows. . . M-L could be a bitch on wheels, but they were together for years and she was knocked up. . . and then he left. Any way you look at it, Billy dogged her. Just like Diddy and all the other deadbeat dads. All I know is that M-L is TALENTED. And, hey, why does a 37 year old man still call himself Billy? Does that seem strange to anyone else?

No one from my little hometown in NJ has hit the limelight, as far as I know. Oh, but I remember being horrified when Wendell Williamson went on a shooting spree in Chapel Hill. I had 3 points of reference for that incident -- I remember having classes with Wendell, the guy who wrestled/knocked him to the ground went to high school with me, and one of the people he killed was a local boy from a nearby town in MD.

Posted by: david at September 15, 2005 11:52 AM

Great Post Ian. Michael Cass said some things very similar about the two forks of this biathlon sport of screen writing. http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue228/cassutt.html

It reminded me how lucky George Lucas was to have Francis Ford Coppola as a pitch man early on. There are probably many merits to having the writing team formula, not least of which are the ability to bounce ideas and dialogue of one another to see what sticks. But, of course also it helps the four phone lines, and the cocktail and conference room banter to roll that much easier. Good luck out there.

Posted by: cullen at September 15, 2005 12:38 PM

LFMD, Wendell Williamson, a horrific chapter in Chapel Hill history for sure, was from my home NC county, an irony I try to forget.

But hey girls and all ya'll, Britney SPears done had her baby and it's initials are P.M.S. Federline, a word-play victory for women the world over?

Now this is a thorough political discourse about the big issues currently facing THE PEOPLE. Where's the right's side to this story?

BTW Ian, do you have to do all your writing on actual screens? And yeah, it must suck that there's a real viable penchant for crap TV out there; I can't play golf for shit.

Aim low, Score High. Good Luck!!

Posted by: CP at September 15, 2005 12:48 PM

laurie,

weeds. hmmm. I like almost everything about it (including kevin nealon, justin kirk, the luminous mary-louise parker and especially shoshannah stern -- the stunningly beautiful 25 year-old deaf actress who plays the son's girlfriend.)

two thoughts:

1) tone-wise, it's a little desperate housewives for me, only with weed.

2) and here's where it gets tricky...

(for me at least) a little "folksy", a little "cute", a little "sassy" with the black people. just a little. but that little can read as false and (not racist but) patronizing if that's all we see them doing/being. I think the men fare better than the women (conrad, the drug dealer in the club ML was flirting/talking shop with, etc.), but it's still mostly about dealing, cornbread, SUVs, and sexual prowess. (all fun things, don't get me wrong...) I don't know the ethnic breakdown of the staff, but most TV writers in this town are white. that said, in terms of writing three-dimensional characters of races other than (and obviously including) white, shows like the wire, other HBO stuff (sopranos, six feet, comeback, etc.), desperate housewives, arrested development seem to do this really well if only because the approach those take to character -- regardless of race -- is much more idiosyncratic and consistently interesting than it is on showtime.

(three thoughts)

3) it's on showtime.

(make it four)

4) the cell is going to be on showtime, so we'll see how that is. by all accounts sounds interesting (muslim FBI agent undercover in anti-terrorism unit), but could be lousy if under-executed.

the thing about showtime is they never seem to trust their audience, one thing HBO does really well.

best show of the fall season: breaking bonaduce. which has to be one of the scariest fucking things I've ever seen, and I say that completely without irony.

Posted by: scruggs at September 15, 2005 12:51 PM

LFMD:
His name is Scott Sartiano, and he owns a restaurant in NYC (Butter). He was two years younger than me, though I graduated with one of his brothers and went to his oldest brother's senior prom (Columbia, SC). Always a nice, smart kid, so I wonder if the NYC limelight has tainted that.

At least P Diddy named his Atlanta restaurant after one of his kids.

That Wendell spree was craziness. Happened the year after I graduated, and I was still in the Hill working for the athletic dept and bartending at Bub's (I think the guy who tackled him worked at the bar below us). My husband always parked his car on Rosemary in front of the Phi Mu house before walking in to work at Davis, and many of the cars around his had windows were shot out. But the '83 Malibu station wagon was spared. That poor lacrosse player (from MD) and his family.

But were you Carolina law, too? Because I remember when some law student walked into class, sat down, and lit up a joint. Wild.

Posted by: LFMD at September 15, 2005 4:19 PM

Scruggs! That was me! I was the one who lit up a joint in Torts class! It was my 15 minutes of fame!

Only kidding. But that sounds interesting! I graduated from UNC in 1990, and if I am correct, WW got his undergrad from Carolina. I remember him from my history classes. Thought him a bit odd at the time.

I went to Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, VA. Once you get past the fact that Robert E. Lee is buried and venerated there, it is a lovely little campus and town in which to study law. I am sure Ian is familiar with W&L and VMI -- probably some of his prep school classmates matriculated there.

Anyway, BUTTER! Anyone who reads as much Entertainment trash mags and watches as much E! Channel as I do knows that Butter is THE place to see and be seen. Good grief. He must be making money hand over fist. I would expect that he is a bit tainted at this point, but what do I know. Interesting! You are probably 2 degrees of separation from Paris Hilton!

And CP -- I agree with everything you say about Weeds. It is a bit limited, but I love Mary-Louise Parker and watch anything she is in (Elizabeth Perkins too, for that matter). And, oh my God, I watched Breaking Bonaduce the other night, and I was ENTHRALLED! What on Earth???? It was the best TV I have seen in a while! My husband kept trying to engage me in conversation during the show, and I had to ask him to leave the room so that I didn't miss anything. The poor man!

And, I can't believe Cullen scooped me on Britney's baby's name. I have been checking the internet all day at work to find out what kind of asinine cul-de-sac name that they picked. I am going to find out right now. . . Bye.

Posted by: LFMD at September 15, 2005 4:23 PM

Ian, PLEASE PLEASE tell your brother Sean the wonderful news!

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9358081/

Posted by: LFMD at September 15, 2005 5:22 PM

Scruggs! I know that I have been married for almost 11 years and all, but I googled Scott Sartiano, and he is CUTE! Did his brothers look like him?

Oh, and the latest news is that he is dating Lindsay Lohan.

Posted by: CL at September 15, 2005 7:20 PM

I wanted the boy to be named Broccoli Spears. Or maybe 'Gus.

Posted by: Ian at September 15, 2005 7:52 PM

CP - good link on the Cassutt article, and Tessa liked your words before the pitch this morning. Ditto Oliver and everyone else!

LFMD and others: Billy is an old friend and all I can say is, obviously, there was more to the story. He's one of the nicest guys around, BTW.

Funny how Wendell Williamson snuck into the comments. He wrote a book about the experience that is actually a fascinating account of a murderer. Couldn't put it down, haunted me for weeks.

I was sad when they stopped putting flowers on curb in front of the Phi Mu house (it was about fifty yards away from the Pink House) where the young boy was killed. As all of you mentioned in this entry:

http://www.xtcian.com/arch/002184.php

...Chapel Hill started getting pretty bizarre in those days.

Posted by: scruggs at September 15, 2005 7:53 PM

LFMD.
Funny. What's up with all these teenagers, he's 30 or 31?! Regressing? Scoop since you're an E junkie: He is indeed cute (not liking the longer hair in the picture I saw) and was cute, friendly, and wellrounded in h.s. However, he wasn't Mr. Cool by Breakfast Club clique standards. He was a pretty good tennis player, and my main h.s. boyfriend was on the team with him. I think he ended up at Columbia Univ. His brothers were very academic, and without offending them, they were not near as cute. All were nice. Too bad I can't scan the prom picture of the oldest brother and me (cropping out me with my big 80's hair and hideous dress). We basically went together because his best friend (who then went to W&L undergrad!) was dating my best friend. The middle brother (often classmate, even in AP Latin, so I guess I had my dork side, too) was cute and nice, though somewhat strange...went to Davidson, big into orchestra/music and is trying to be a music producer type in L.A. Bet he's loving his connections now.

After I saw his name mentioned in People last fall, I emailed the restaurant and wrote that I was touching base and included my email if he wanted to check in. That week he "Blackberry'd" me back to say hi. As my husband (also Italian name!)is from NY and we visit somewhat often, he said to give him a heads up when we're next in town so we can check out Butter. I don't think this southern yokel has anything in her closet (that fits!) to run by there unless I want to look like I'm headed to playgroup!

I thought about W&L for undergrad primarily because of VMI. Big fan of men in uniform.

Posted by: Vicki the Robot at September 15, 2005 9:30 PM

Sorry, but Satriano looks like her dad here...

http://breakupnews.com/photo.asp?blog_id=338

Even the arm around the shoulder is daddylike.

Posted by: LFMD at September 16, 2005 5:26 AM

Hi Ian. I apologize for talking trash about your friend. And if he is one of the nicest guys you know, then I feel really bad. What can I say. . . I don't know what I am talking about! I am glad that no one on your blog holds my ignorance against me.

Scruggs -- you better go to Butter, even if you have to wear a burlap sack! Maybe your playgroup attire will start a new fashion trend! You gotta go! And bring a digital camera so that vicarious gawkers like me can see the photos! I do find it disturbing that Scott is drawn to 18 year olds, but hey, live and let live is my new mantra!

I noticed on Amazon that Wendell had written a book. Good grief. Maybe I will read it, if I dare. Accounts of mental illness are always fascinating reads.

Good luck with all of your pitches, Ian. You and Tessa have charm, wit, and intelligence galore, and I know that someone out there will appreciate it.

Posted by: david at September 16, 2005 10:16 PM

Ian, you’ve perhaps already seen this? I think it’s a writer’s dream http://www.overheardinnewyork.com/

Posted by: at July 2, 2009 8:55 AM

Hettie Welches Isabel Talmudization transmogrification Alistair forgetting physics dire

Posted by: Joan at June 21, 2010 2:36 AM

Hi. What does this mean please?
I am nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody too?
Then there's a pair of us? Don't tell! They'd advertise you know! How dreary to be somebody!
public like a frog to tell one's name the livelong June to an admiring bog!

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