Screenwriter, producer, teacher, novelist and bon vivant William Rabkin has written an excellent article on Storylink about what a newbie writer has to do to break into television. You've still got to write an episodic spec script, but…
Your spec can’t simply be a good episode. It’s got to be bold, audacious, and big. It has to go places no one has ever thought of going before and do things no one has imagined doing. And it’s got to do it on the first page. Hell, on the first half page, because your reader may not bother going further than that. You’ve got to grab your readers right away and force them to keep reading.
In short, you need a gimmick.
No, typing your script in 3-D and including polarized glasses isn’t going to do it. What I mean by a gimmick is a transformative approach to storytelling that allows you to retell the series’ underlying narrative in a way that makes it seem new again. It’s a stylistic or structural element that shows that your vision is so intriguingly different that showrunners will fight to bring it to their series.
5 thoughts on “Breaking In”
Rabkin nails it with this:
>>If you can pull your readers in with what looks like a clever gimmick, keep them amused with constant iterations and consequences of that gimmick, and then at the end show that what they’ve been reading is actually not just a gimmick but the essential element that creates an emotional story – and do it all within the rules of the show’s franchise – you will have a spec that will not only open doors, it will knock them down.<< So many newbies think giving a "gimmick" to the read is what's meant, when they need to be giving a gimmick to their story. I do hate the word gimmick, though. But that above paragraph is the nutshell of how to receive a check as a professional television writer.
Thanks for posting this, Lee. It helped me make a few decisions about a spec I’ve just started.
Be careful though…I worked on a show where they did not want this, or said they didn’t. What they wanted was an episode that looked like they wrote it (but didn’t have the time to).
Also a personal pet peeve…about 1 in 10 submissions came with a character “who could be played by me/my spouse”….I don’t know if this has ever worked, but my advice is to come in as a writer, pitch as a writer and hopefully work as a writer…stop using it as a vehicle to get on the show!
One could say the same thing for novels.
Except it’s much, much easier to sell a first novel than break in as a screenwriter. So a gimmick (or a great hook), while certainly useful, isn’t essential.