The Mail I Get – Show Me The Short Cut Edition

George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin

Every day I get emails from writers asking me how to break into the TV business. Most of them are looking for a short cut (namely, by using me, my agent and my friends).  And most of the writers, it seems, have only a vague idea of what being a writer or producer really involves. They just like the idea of it. Take this email, for instance:

I am contacting you to ask if you can give me advice on how to be a TV writer. I discovered you on a WritersStore.com article in which you gave advice on how to break into the TV business.

My dream is to one day be an Executive Producer or Show runner for my own scripted show on television. However, I am not sure the correct route to achieve that dream. I understand that some people eventually have their own show by being a writer on many other scripted shows and working their way up. This is a path that I am reluctant to take because I am adamant about working on and putting out my vision. I am not really interested in contributing to other people shows or vision because I feel I have something unique to bring to television. Also, I have heard that some people get a TV show due to their work in the fiction world such as George R. R. Martin, the writer of Game of Thrones. I like this route better because he was able to keep his unique vision of his story without really compromising to any network or producer.

I have a lot of ideas and concepts; however, I don’t really know how to put together a cohesive story for the screen. Also, I understand to achieve any success in the film business it takes at least 10 years of hard work and networking. I was considering getting an online degree from Full Sail in creative writing or doing some kind of online writing program. What would you suggest I do considering all of this?

Do you think it is a good idea just to write a lot of short stories first as a way to get my work noticed by people? It bothers me that as of yet I have not been able to write any full length story of any kind. Can you give me advice concerning my questions? Thanks a lot.

There are so many misconceptions and bone-headed opinions in this email that I think the best thing to do is to tackle them one by one in the order in which they came up.

I am contacting you to ask if you can give me advice on how to be a TV writer. I discovered you on a WritersStore.com article in which you gave advice on how to break into the TV business.

Did you actually read the article? Because I answered almost all of your questions in it.

I understand that some people eventually have their own show by being a writer on many other scripted shows and working their way up. This is a path that I am reluctant to take because I am adamant about working on and putting out my vision.

No, that’s not the reason you are “reluctant.” You want to take a short-cut. What you don’t seem to realize is that a TV series represents a $100 million or more investment. Before a studio or network will hand you that money to “put out your vision,” you will have to earn their trust in your skill and faith in your creative vision. You earn that by proving you can write a script and produce a TV show. Which you do by working your way up. Alternatively, you can earn that trust by writing a blockbuster hit movie or perhaps writing several internationally bestselling books…but even then, they will probably pair you with an experienced showrunner…someone who has worked their way up and gained the necessary experience to run a show.

I am not really interested in contributing to other people shows or vision because I feel I have something unique to bring to television.

You don’t. There’s an old saying in TV: ideas are cheap, execution is everything. No one is interested in your ideas or your vision. Everybody has those. What’s rare is talent and skill. You may not be interested in contributing to other people’s shows or vision. Too damn bad. That’s how the business works. It’s not going to be re-invented because you a) are too full of yourself to follow established path or b) are too lazy to put in the work involved.

Also, I have heard that some people get a TV show due to their work in the fiction world such as George R. R. Martin, the writer of Game of Thrones. I like this route better because he was able to keep his unique vision of his story without really compromising to any network or producer.

game-of-thrones-season-4You like this route better because you think it’s a short-cut. It’s not. Because it’s a fantasy. I hate to break it to you, but George did his time working on other people’s shows (ie Beauty and the Beast, Twilight Zone, etc ) before getting a shot at writing his own pilots. He eventually left television and concentrated on his books. He is not running Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B Weiss are. Both of them, incidentally, worked their way up writing books, movies and TV shows for other people before getting this show.

I have a lot of ideas and concepts; however, I don’t really know how to put together a cohesive story for the screen.

If you can’t do that, why would anyone entrust you with $100 million to write & produce a TV series? That is why you need experience and skill…built over years of working in the business…because if you can’t put together a cohesive story, and have no idea how, you are not a showrunner or a writer. You are a development executive.

I was considering getting an online degree from Full Sail in creative writing or doing some kind of online writing program. What would you suggest I do considering all of this?

Yes, getting an education and some training in the field you’d like to enter would be a very good idea. Go back and look at the article of mine you supposedly read for more details.

Do you think it is a good idea just to write a lot of short stories first as a way to get my work noticed by people? It bothers me that as of yet I have not been able to write any full length story of any kind.

It should, especially given your grandiose notions of your own amazing talent. No, I don’t think writing short stories are the path to becoming a TV writer and showrunner. Short stories have nothing to do with TV writing and producing.

4 thoughts on “The Mail I Get – Show Me The Short Cut Edition”

  1. I love this article, I hear this one so much. I have some high profile friends and they all say the same thing. I am currently putting my time in and I know that when I am ready or when my stuff is good enough I will be there. Thank you so much for speaking your mind and telling it how it really is.

    All the best,
    Deb

  2. Whenever I get an email like this, I feel like suggesting that the author head down to the Army recruitment office and tell them they’d like to enlist, but only as a Five-Star General.

  3. Ages ago I ran a blog called the ArtMachine, where one of my earliest posts encouraged young actors and playwrights to constantly be producing their own material with whatever resources they could scrounge — stressing that the random discovery at the counter at Woolworth’s was not only out of date, but largely a myth.

    The result was that literally hundreds of high school-age kids who found my site by googling “Be an Actor” flooded the comment section with earnest pleas to Hollywood producers to call their home phones and drop by their homes (which numbers and addresses were openly provided in those comments) because they really wanted to be actors and just needed to be discovered.

    I posted numerous exhortations — including one in large, bold text at the head of the article — *not* to share private information in a public forum. The comments continued. I had to delete hundreds of comments and finally close discussion on the article. The lure of a shortcut — however illusory — always seems to trump the advice you’re actually offering.

  4. What a loser! Doesn’t he know that the mark of a good showrunner or TV writer is the ability to wonder about the texture of various types of paper?

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