Today’s question comes from Jessica, an aspiring TV development exec/producer living in Atlanta and working in theater. Jessica writes…
“I am currently in Atlanta trying to… save the funds for a move to LA. I am interested in the development end of things. Most of my experience is theatre related. I did a lot of dramaturgy, essentially contextual research for production and script analysis.
“One aspect of dramaturgy that I really wanted to get more involved in was new play development, working with playwrights to fine tune scripts for production. I also write and am working on plays and eventually screen plays myself, so I love all aspects of creative production. I eventually… want to transition into TV Development.
“I wish I knew more specific details about what development entails. I have vague ideas, but I don’t know what the day-to-day entails… In short, I am trying to get to LA and would love to have a Production Assistant job lined up upon arriving but apparently this is rare. I do feel like there is a Catch-22 dynamic; you need experience to get a job but you need a job to gain experience.
“I am no longer a student so internships aren’t an option. The thought of being unemployed in a new city in this economy is quite frankly a little scary. Any advice you could share about the industry and what I could do to prepare for it (ex. What do I need to know? Is there something I can read?), or how to go about finding job leads (other than perusing major network’s employment sites, which is what I am currently doing) would be immensely helpful.”
Well, Jessica—this is a huge, complex question addressing challenges that hundreds of aspirants face each year when debating when or how to move to Los Angeles. So let’s break it into parts and look at each individually.
QUESTION ONE: WHAT’S THE DAY-TO-DAY LIFE OF A DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE?
Many of the creative skills needed by development executives or TV producers are very similar to those you have as a dramaturg. Execs and producers work with writers… reading their scripts, suggesting constructive feedback, shaping stories and characters.
They also search for new projects, and the idea for a new show or movie can come from virtually anywhere: a book, a short story, a video game, a poem, a song, a music video, a news story, a stand-up comedy routine, comic books, a short film… you name it. Thus, execs and producers—when they’re not working on projects in active development—spend hours upon hours reading whatever they get their hands on… seeing every movie in theaters… going to comedy clubs and plays. As a purveyor of pop culture, you must be a massive CONSUMER of pop culture.
When I was an exec at the Littlefield Company, my typical day might look like this…
6:30 a.m. – Wake up
7:00 a.m. – Work out at gym or run
7:45/8:00 – Shower
(Quick side note: the above part is a lie. Maybe only twice in my life have I EVER woken up at 6:30 to go running or “work out,” and both those times were horrible, horrible mistakes. But it sounds impressive, right? And I know many people who DO do this.)
(A more accurate schedule would’ve said… 7:00 – Alarm goes off, hit snooze for 45 minutes… 7:45 – Suddenly realize, in a blind panic, that I am running ridiculously late to get to my 8:30 breakfast meeting…)
8:30 a.m. – Breakfast meeting or coffee with an agent or exec from another company
10:00 a.m. – Arrive at office, read trades, check emails
10:30 a.m. – Company meeting to discuss development slate and pitch new projects
11:30 – Conference call to give pilot notes to a Joe Writer, one of the 9 writers we’re working with
12:00 – Studio notes conference call with Sally Drama, another writer we’re working with (this time we’re not giving notes… we’re just listening to notes from the studio)
12:30 – Leave for lunch, roll phone calls while I’m in the car
1:00 – Lunch with agent or manager who pitches me new writers and projects
2:00 – Return from lunch, roll more phone calls from car
2:30 – Casting meeting to discuss casting choices for Ron Comedy’s sitcom pilot
3:15 – Pitch meeting with a writing team from CAA
4:15 – Read episode outlines for “Lisa Laughter,” our sitcom which we just picked up
5:00 – Internal notes meeting to discuss “Lisa Laughter” outlines
5:30 – Phone call with “Lisa Laughter” showrunner to discuss outlines
6:00 – Leave for dinner
6:30 – Dinner with network talent executive
8:00 – Comedy showcase at the Improv
10:15 – Arrive home, read 4-5 scripts
11:30/12:00 – Go to bed
So as you can see, many of a development exec’s daily duties are very similar—or use the same mental skills—to those of a dramaturg.
QUESTION TWO: THE WHOLE JOB ISSUE – GETTING A JOB FROM LA, GETTING A JOB WITH NO EXPERIENCE, GETTING EXPERIENCE WITHOUT A JOB, ETC.
Well, first of all, Jessica … you’re right: it’s almost impossible to get a PA gig or entry-level job if you’re not in LA… most places won’t even consider you unless you’re local. However—it’s not experience you need to get those entry-level jobs… it’s CONNECTIONS. Most PA’s, assistants, runners, floaters, and mailroomers are hired by someone who knows them… and it’s almost impossible to form those relationships when you’re not in LA.
Here are links to several good posts where I’ve already written about this issue, so check them out… you’ll find recommendations and links to some great job-hunting resources and advice. (I know their titles don’t all sound relevant, but they all have different links and advice that I think you’ll find helpful.)
As for internships… you CAN do internships even though you are not in school. You can enroll in one or two hours, for very little cost, at local community colleges like Santa Monica College.
Also, but since you’re currentl
y in Atlanta, I’d look into working or interning for Tyler Perry Studios. Sure, it’s always a long shot to target one particular company and hope to get in, but hey—you’re in Atlanta… why not? And Tyler Perry is a MAJOR player… he produces record-breaking films like Madea Goes to Jail, has a hit TV show, Meet the Browns, that was just picked up for 70 more episodes on TBS, and he’s constantly setting up projects. HERE is an interesting recent LA Times piece from Patrick Goldstein to check out… but as long as you’re in Atlanta, I think he’d be my first stop.
QUESTION THREE: WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? IS THERE SOMETHING I CAN READ? ETC.
I promise you, Jessica, I’m not just saying this out of crazy self-promotion, but my new book, “Small Screen, Big Picture: A Writer’s Guide to the TV Business,” which just came out this winter, answers EXACTLY the questions you’re dealing with.
The first 75% of the book explains how TV works as an industry—the differences between networks, studios, and production companies… how shows are financed and developed… how a writers room works… what development execs do… etc.—and the last 25% goes through, in detail, how to break in and get a job. It outlines the kinds of jobs you should aim for, teaches you how to network (and how NOT to network), gives examples of resumes and cover letters, and offers tons of job-hunting websites and resources.
Again, I’m not steering you toward the book just to steer you toward it… but because between the book and the blog posts listed above, I think you’ll find many of the answers you’re looking for… most of which are broad and complex.
Anyway, I hope this helps, Jessica… thanks a million for reading, and please feel free to ask if you have more questions or need more help!