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’m supposed to be writing my pilot episode right now. I mean, this is the time I’ve carved out of working Job A, working Job B, writing for Sketch Show, contributing to Monologue Jokes, and Job Hunting. I started a Footloose Radio on Spotify, not because that’s the tone of the screenplay, but because Footloose and the music of Footloose’s era get me pumped up.
I’m at the coffeeshop. I have a writing buddy in hopes of keeping me honest. I have my beat sheet, my outline, my notes.
So, why am I not writing?
Well, I’m four pages into my sitcom and it’s not funny. Don’t try to get fancy with me. I know I shouldn’t be worrying about that right now, because I can always go back and revise (and I plan on doing just that.) It’s also possible that it’s funnier than what I give it credit for. You know. Possibly. I have a deadline for myself and I will meet it.
But, it’s gotten me thinking on what is it about this that’s going to be funny. I mean, it’s funny when I talk about it. It’s funny in my head. To be honest, I started writing this blog post hoping that I would get in touch with my funny. I mean, guys…we all know how hilarious I am.
Maybe it’s like Girls. It’s too close to reality for me to consider it funny. Maybe I’ve just had a bad week and “allocated time” isn’t what I’m looking for. Oh, and Vitamin C’s Graduation just came on, which is not helpful AT ALL.
I’ve been writing specs and editing things so long, it’s starting to feel like I’m better at helping other people find what they’re trying to say.
Do you ever feel like you can’t feel your funny? What do you do to get in touch with your inner self? Where is my writing Obi Wan-Kenobi telling me to let the hilarity flow through me?
I need a dance break. Catch you guys in five.