My sitcom pilot, The Fabulous Life of Arthur Watkins, is tonight.
Second City Hollywood at 6:30pm
Here’s all the media for it:
Reclusive author ML Reeves can’t keep it together. After her book series, The Fabulous Life of Arthur Watkins, hit the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there, she’s been crushed by fame, movie contracts, and a rabid fan base. When a long stint of writer’s block has book five behind deadline, Arthur Watkins, the 15-year-old main character, appears to ML. But is he there to help or will he only make things worse?
Travis Van Rijn
We held auditions for the stage read of my pilot this weekend (it’s at 6:30 on April 17th at Second City Hollywood and you’ll see two shows for the low, low price of FREE!) and these auditions put me on the other side of throwing yourself at the mercy of someone else’s judgement.
It’s not easy being an actor. We had 39 people show up.
There are 8 people in my pilot.
One of them only exists off-stage. That’s right. I’ve cut the story down to the essentials (how many people are in an episode of The Big Bang Theory? You’ve gotta keep it tight). Now, there are a few non-speaking roles in there. The first scene takes place at the Hugo Awards, so you would presumably have a whole audience in there somewhere.
But, they don’t talk.
On top of that, I already had two of my characters cast from people I know from the show I write for at Second City.
It was a little ridiculous. Even I was getting nervous about auditions and all I had to do was sit at a table and watch. It’s hard to imagine how they feel. Worse, you’re throwing yourself at the mercy of someone’s highly subjective opinion, someone who has a look, a style, a character, in mind and you need to rock it. I only write down you’re name if you’re interesting. I only remember you if you impressed me. The first thing that goes out the window is “Nice.” I can’t waste too much time saying how wonderful everyone is. I have to get down to it.
There were a few people I saw that I thought, “It’s too bad that I don’t have a part for you.” Literally. Out of eight characters, three of them are male, and one of them can’t be half-assed or borderline. You have to rock it.
You have to either read my mind or change it.
Here’s what I learn from having to drop the gavel:
1.) Sometimes, it’s how you look.
I need a 15 year old boy. But, the character is so important, I didn’t want to cast a 15 year old (everyone on Glee is in their 20’s, so you can get away with it). If you look like you’ve walked a hard road to 30, it’s a hard sell, even when it’s just a read.
2.) Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how you look.
One guy, clearly older than 25, read for the 15 year old character and nailed it. So, he didn’t perfectly fit the role as far as looks were concerned. He hit the important part, which was in the attitude and the speech pattern. He brought something to it. What I’m saying is you can change someone’s mind.
3.) Go all out.
I can’t imagine how nervous you are. Whenever I submit my stories to agents, it’s always from behind a computer screen where I can listen to Take A Chance On Me or Maybe This Time and dance around in my pajamas, because I’m a writer and that’s pretty much what we do. I’ve had pitches with agents in the past, but even those were one on one. It’s not as terrible as standing in a line with 7 other people. The person who ended up as my lead took the direction I gave her and made something out of it, even in a three page scene. I was able to look at her reading the role and think, “I never saw the character this way, but, damn, it works.”
4.) Don’t be cocky.
Sometimes, you have to psych yourself up. I get that. I’ve performed live before and ten minutes before every show, I had to sequester myself and talk myself into it. I had to amp up. I had to get ready. I’m an introvert, so I could keep that amping up in my head.
Don’t do it out loud.
If saying you’re going to fucking rock these auditions is what gets you into the room and gets you psyched, great. Don’t do it in front of the people in charge of the auditions. They don’t all think you’re psyching yourself up. Some of them think you’re just being a jerk.
If you are just being a jerk, stop. STAHP.
5.) Bring a headshot.
It’s LA. You should have one.
Even if they don’t ask you to bring one, you should bring one. A little professional can go a long way. If you single yourself out, maybe you don’t need one. But, you should have one. It’s like bringing a resume to a job interview. Yeah, you already sent one, but maybe they didn’t feel like printing it out. And, it’s easy to say, “Would you like a copy of my resume?” They can say no if they’ve got one. If they don’t, you’ve already set yourself apart from everyone who forgot theirs.
I know rejection sucks. I’ve been there about 120 times in the last 2 years, and those are the ones that bothered to answer.
You can do one of two things:
So, it’s up to you.
What’s the next step?
I finished writing a pilot.
It’s the first sitcom pilot I’ve written. My other scripts have all been either sci fi drama pilots or sitcom spec scripts. For those of you outside the TV writing sphere, a spec script is a script for a show that already exists.
It’s sort of weird to talk to writers about writing television shows. Some say it’s easier to write the spec, some say it’s easier to write original material. I don’t really see either as being particularly easier than the other. The hardest thing about writing a spec script (in my personal experience) is writing it for a show that will be relevant in two years. The shows I love (Up All Night, Community, Happy Endings) are all on the brink of death (don’t get me started). Or, they are overwhelming spec’d (everyone’s got their Modern Family script).
So, with this sitcom pilot out of the way, I find myself ready for a new project. More than ready. Chomping at the bit.
Since most of my experience is novel writing, that isn’t always the case. What normally happens is I start querying agents, then I sit around and wait for my rejection letters. But, that’s not really what happens in the screenwriting world. I mean, I could query agents, but that’s not the norm.
The norm is you make friends. Your friends introduce you to producers and agents or friends of producers and agents. Most people (though not all) sell something before they get an agent. So, basically, the answer is, save the file and move on. When you meet someone who can do something with it, whip it out.
It’s a body of work.
The next thing, though. It’s a sci fi drama. And it’s gonna be huge.
The pilot I completed was part of the Completing and Presenting Your Sitcom Pilot class at Second City. There will be an onstage reading of it on April 17th at 6:30pm at Second City Hollywood (there will be two shows read on that night).
What if JK Rowling got writer’s block after Harry Potter 4?
When Arthur Watkins, the main character from a wildly popular young adult series, appears to his author, M.L. Reeves, she has to figure out how to deal with her errant work of fiction while deadlines loom.
I have a dream. I don’t often talk about my dream publicly. I mean, my friends know. And my family knows. And I’m always striving, always working toward that goal. I think I have a sort of weird knock on wood mentality about my dream, like if I say it out loud, it won’t come true. It’s something that I have to keep on the inside, something that’s my own.
Before you think you know what it is, it’s not being a “writer.” Saying I want to be a writer is like saying I want to be biologically classified Homo sapien. I’ve had a problem with the word aspiring for a long time, especially as it pertains to writers. Are you writing? Yes. Are you actively pursuing a career as a writer? Yes. Than you’re a writer. If you label yourself as aspiring, my first assumption is that you’ve never actually finished writing anything that doesn’t begin with the words, “Dear Diary.”
In Hollywood, it’s weird. There’s a “who do you want to be” atmosphere that I finally reached the breaking point with.
So, here are some things I’ve learned about dreaming, straight from Hollywoodland.
1) Celebrate the victories
My dream is huge. It takes a lot of steps. Usually, when someone asks me what my dream is, I only tell them the current plateau I’m headed for. Like “head writer” or “created by.”
I have a problem taking compliments. When someone tells me they like something I’ve written, the dreamer in me reminds me that this isn’t the peak I’ve dreamed. This is a road sign to blow past. But, that’s not really the case. I’m working on celebrating these moments of compliment, because I know where they come from. Rather than answer with an I’m not there yet, I take them in stride and acknowledge and appreciate them.
2) Dreams are hard
When I told people I was moving to Los Angeles to pursue my dream, I got a lot of reactions. Most of them started with “You’re so brave.” I suppose that’s a compliment, but it struck me as odd. I didn’t think I was brave at all. I was simply doing that which was necessary to achieve what I wanted.
So, step two is to understand that some people find out that their dream is hard, and they stop going for it. There are other people that don’t acknowledge that part of their dream. There is no hard, there is only an obstacle that has to be surmounted. If you get stuck on the hard, you need to either reevaluate or quit.
3) Aspirations are misleading
So often, people want the simple answer. The question isn’t so much what as it is who. Who do you want to be?
I don’t have an answer for that. I want to be myself. I don’t want to compare myself to other people. So, Tina Fey? No. Tina Fey can be Tina Fey. I will not be better at being Tina Fey than Tina Fey is. Jane Espenson? Closer, but no. I would not make a very good Jane Espenson. (I love Jane Espenson and have the utmost respect for her.)
I understand why this is a question that people ask. It’s the same reason they have to take complex scientific theories on sci fi shows and distill them to clumsy analogies that are simple enough for a largely unscientific audience to understand.
Regardless, stop comparing me to other people. Our dreams might not be the same, and even if they were, everyone’s path is different.
4) Reputation is currency
I suppose this could be specific to my field, but I don’t think so. It’s a little bit karma, but mostly attitude. If you go out to meet people, get to know people, connect with people on a basic level, you will develop a reputation of being kind. I know myself enough that I am often considered aloof and disinterested. I’m not. I’m fully engaged, I just usually enter a receptive state.
Yes, I’m listening. But my face is apathetic. Understanding my aloofness, I have to remind my face to do things when I’m talking to people. Be aware of what you’re putting out there. People might talk about you. You don’t want them to say bad things.
That’s what I’ve learned so far. It’s a work in progress.
When the Oscar’s come to LA (well, my part of LA, which is the Hollywood part), everything shuts down. I mean, seriously. The street is closed. Events are cancelled. This is our Super Bowl.
I thought that I could fulfill my lifelong dream of hooting at Meryl Streep.
All right, so it’s not really a lifelong dream to hoot at Meryl Streep, it’s more of a last four days dream.
Anyway, I looked up tickets for the red carpet. They’re free. Which is nice. But, then there was this.
- Write a short essay explaining why you deserve to be chosen.
- Upload three photos: full length photo, real passport photo and a recent photo with friends.
- Complete a “Background Check” conducted by the Academy’s Security Team. A passport-type photo will be required.
I can understand the background check, but an essay? A full-length photo? A recent photo with friends? I don’t even think I have this stuff on my Facebook page. In response, here’s my essay on why I DON’T deserve to be chosen for the Academy Award Red Carpet Grandstand:
I don’t care about the Oscars. I really don’t. I just wanted the opportunity to yell at celebrities in their natural habitat; award shows. I wanted the chance to see Robert Downey, Jr. I’m not even sure he’s invited to this year’s Academy Awards. I wanted the opportunity to see how tall George Clooney is (he’s short, isn’t he? I bet he’s short). I wanted to Instagram a bunch of famous people and also the back of some guy’s head. I wanted to check-in on Foursquare at the Kodak Theatre (I live pretty close; I can probably do that anyway).
The only Oscar nominated movie I saw this year was Silver Linings Playbook, so if they don’t win any awards, I’m at a loss. There was something in French, right? I don’t even know. It was probably boring.
I have no appreciation for clothing. You could point out some famous designer, and I would have no idea who you were talking about. Tuxedos. Yeah!
To be honest, if I went anywhere, it should have been the Golden Globes. Or the SAG Awards. Or the Emmys. Because I *heart* TV.
Here’s a photo of me with a finger mustache.