#13 TV Killed The Movie Star

“Features are so hard to sell. You should write a pilot. Everybody’s looking for pilots.”  — Joanne, Killer Party

I wrote those words four years ago.

They were true then. They’re even more true now.

I’m going to take a little break from my agonizing account of making The Shower Killer Party to ruminate on this whole TV thing.

Why now?

Because I just started a TV writing class.

A sitcom class, specifically.

I'm going to write a spec episode which is surprisingly close to my life as a 12 year old who loved rap with a tough Asian mom
I’m going to write a spec episode for this show. I know all about being a suburban kid who loved rap and basketball and has a tough Asian mom.

Here’s the deal:

Features are so hard to sell… Everybody’s looking for pilots.


Joanne giving her sage advice
Joanne giving her sage advice

A brief history of my writing life:

  • I won a poetry contest in grammar school for a poem about Mary. (The Virgin Mary). There was a cash prize and I liked loved the attention.
  • My sophomore year in high school, I wrote an essay about my life and why I was unhappy. My teacher, Mr. Donohue, responded very strongly (and positively) to it. I felt like I might be able to express myself through writing.
  • My junior year of high school, I wrote an April Fool’s Day article for the school paper about our all-boys Catholic school going co-ed and that gave me 15 minutes of fame.
  • My senior year in high school I wrote an essay about not having a prom date (slick bastard) and I ended up going to the prom with Alyssa Milano. (That’s a lie.)

    This poster hung on my wall in 7th grade
    This poster hung on my wall in 7th grade
  • In my AP English Class that same year, I wrote an obituary for Randall Patrick McMurphy from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that our teacher, Doc Kennedy, read to the class. And getting Doc’s approval was enormous.
    I remember writing that he sparred with Cassius Clay and also made a lame “Martini, shaken not stirred” reference

    Just like the approval of Mr. Donohue and Mr. DeAngelo (the moderator of the school newspaper) was life-affirming with those earlier pieces of work.

  • I went to college thinking I’d become an English teacher, but once again, the siren call of writing (and fame and fortune) pulled me away. (And wrecked my life on the jagged rocks of reality?) I took Dr. Victoria Sullivan’s playwriting class and suddenly my miserable existence made sense. I’d write something, it would be read in class, people would laugh, and I was a minor celebrity. Not as cool as a basketball player or (groan) baseball player. But I was kinda cool for a teeny tiny sliver of the student body. OK, maybe the 12 people in the class… The playwriting became short stories and poetry, I continued to get positive feedback and my confidence grew. I knew that my awkward adolescence and crippling acne were not suffered in vain. My life had a purpose. I was meant to be a writer.
  • I moved to L.A. to become a screenwriter and it took me five years (2007) to write something that got anyone’s attention. (A biblical romcom: When Joseph Met Mary) *Writing about Mary seems to be a key for me.
  • It took another two years after that to write something that was shopped to the studios: (My bounty hunter action-comedy: You’re Dead Meat, Piplowski)
  • I had toyed with the idea of writing for TV in 2007-2008 and even took a few classes at iO West. One for sketch comedy like SNL. One on writing for late night talk shows. One for pilot writing (I wrote a sitcom pilot about four friends who open a retirement home to cash in on aging baby boomers.) I also thought about writing some spec TV scripts (scripts of existing shows as writing samples) but never followed through because it always seemed like I was making progress on my screenplays and was was close enough to get in the door and become a working screenwriter.

So is this one of those “Close, but no cigar” stories?

That is the question, my dear Hamlet.

I’ve certainly had to ask myself “Am I good enough?” a few hundred times over the last 14 years.

My answer has always been “Yes.” Sometimes with more confidence, sometimes with less.

The fear is that I’m a career AAA ballplayer. Like a way less handsome version of Crash Davis in Bull Durham.

Handsome bastard
Handsome bastard

Pretty good, just not good enough to play in The Show. (And AAA players make a minimum of $2150 a month. They’re at least good enough to get paid something.)

Maybe TV is like the tech bubble, housing bubble, any other bubble.

It will eventually burst. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a fear that TV shows will go away. Years back, people were upset about reality TV, but reality and scripted seem to be coexisting quite nicely.

Movies, on the other hand…

That industry has changed a lot since the 1990s.

Far less spec script sales. Far less screens for indie movies. Studios are focused on movies that play internationally and can earn a billion dollars. No more Blockbuster Video. DVDs are like vinyl.

We live in a world where no one will ever rent a DVD of Killer Party. (sniffle)

It’s a different world.

I couldn't resist. And I also never questioned what happened to Denise.
I couldn’t resist. And I also never questioned what happened to Denise.

People like Joanne are saying that TV has become the new indie filmmaking.

I was resistant to that idea in the past, because they still make independent movies and Sundance is still this Holy Grail, but the reality is that less and less of those movies are shown in movie theaters. And we’ve gotten away from the model where TV shows are static by nature. (For me as an audience, that might have started with Buffy and progressed with The Sopranos and the subsequent outstanding cable shows.)

And the bottom line is that getting paid to be a writer and earning a living by telling stories would be a dream come true. From my experience with Killer Party, I’ve learned that the medium isn’t the most important thing. It’s the opportunity to share a story with people and connect, whether it’s in a big theater, a small theater, a conference room, a partitioned conference room, or on a TV or computer screen.

It could be moving images. It could be words.

So here I am, at some sort of crossroads. Unknown Unknown-2

And it might be one that only exists in my mind.

I don’t know if I’ll find any opportunities in television.

I don’t know if I’m good enough.

Features are so hard to sell… Everybody’s looking for pilots.

I’ve come this far, so I might as well find out.

Author: Alex

A married waiter/filmmaker with two kids.

4 thoughts on “#13 TV Killed The Movie Star”

  1. Doing the same myself, old hoss…. two weeks away from giving my manager my first TV pilot. It. Is. Fucking. Hard.

    One word of advice: what was conventional wisdom ten years ago – write a spec of an existing show – has disappeared faster than spec sales. I know you’re talking about pilots anyway, but just so’s some folk reading this realize that’s not the dynamic now. Everything must be new, with a show bible.

    The other thing I’ve learned about the actual craft of TV pilots: most rookie TV writers make the mistake of ladling every single element into the pilot, thinking that’s what the exec wants to see. They don’t. If, say, like me, you’re writing something ongoing, an ensemble with a high concept twist (and I’ve been breaking down “The leftovers” for the structure for that): the pilot did nothing to present anything more than a series of questions and mysteries. That is the hook. Don’t shoot yer wad in the first episode…

  2. I hear you. I’m doing the spec thing as an intro for myself into the world of TV writing. Pilot will be the next step.

  3. Hey Ron, the movie will be available later this year. We’re working on the details now. I’ll check out the website, thanks!

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