It would be nice to be discovered a la Lana Turner at a soda shop and then signed by Warner Brothers but, alas, writing is a grind that you have to buckle down and complete, or you never get better.
By January 2019 I had written two one-hour pilots, one about real estate and the other a genre piece. I was holding onto the secret that Neptune Theatre and Nightwood Theatre would be producing plays I’d written and co-written. My tv agent, Agent Awesome liked my tv pilots but didn’t think they were strong enough samples to get me interviews yet. He said, while my characters were good and the dialogue quite strong, the structure was messy. I didn’t disagree. Structure has been my biggest challenge when I come up with a story. His suggestion: apply to the CFC Bell Media Screenwriting program.
It’s not like I hadn’t thought about applying in the past. I just couldn’t imagine coming up with $7000 plus 6 months living expenses by the fall. I put it on my list of things to research in the next couple of months. I also felt that maybe my one-hour real estate pilot could be converted into a dark comedy. I reached out to friends to give me cable suggestions. My favourite ended up being the Australian hit, Please Like Me, which could be so dark it evoked deep discomfort. Perfect.
On February 2, 2019, a writer friend from high-school, currently residing in LA, took me for tea when he was in town visiting. He wanted to help me with any queries I had that hadn’t been answered by any book or podcast. Everything he told me was invaluable and I regret not taking notes. The best one, however, changed my career trajectory.
He said, ‘I think it’s great that you’ve written two one-hour pilots, however, showrunners are busy and don’t always have time to sit with a 60-page script. Write a 30-minute piece that showcases your voice. Find something that resonates with you and write it. If it’s good, it will help you get staffed.’
So, I went home and thought about the ideas that had been bobbing around in my mind for a few months and wrote out a very rough outline. Then I studied comedy structure for A and B (and sometimes C) storylines. I looked at where Act breaks fell in the script and got familiar with establishing character when humour underpins the protagonist’s journey.
On Friday, March 1, 2019 I sent my 30-minute sample, Bad Habits, a dark comedy about a nun leaving the order, to Agent Awesome. On Sunday, March 3 he wrote to say THIS was the sample he would send out to all the very important tv development people. His only request was that I change the ages so they were 20 years younger. Initially my protagonist was 60 so I adjusted it to 48 which required making a few edits.
Full Disclosure: For a month or so, I’d been reading Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong, a memoir about a young woman who left the convent after 7 years. Nuns have been a source of fascination for me since 2016, when I wrote Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife, and I wanted to have a proper idea of what their lives were like in a convent before writing my pilot. I was also reading books on espionage (Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, some Robert Ludlum, and Len Deighton) since I was flirting with writing a pilot about that world, too.
On March 25, 2019 Agent Awesome sent me an email saying: This new draft looks great and I’m sending it out this morning. I was sitting at my desk at my joe job and I gasped. My co-worker looked over and said, ‘what’s wrong?’ And I just smiled and said, ‘Nothing. Everything is going very well.’
Four hours later I was informed that Bill Lundy, VP of Development from Pier 21 wanted to meet with me. Two weeks after that I had a meeting with Laura Notarianni and Jessica Shadlock at Temple Street. Another company was asking for a one-hour procedural, if I had it.
Oh! And did I mention that I got hired in February for a tv writing job in the midst of all this creative chaos? Yeah, that will have to wait for the next entry. See you then!