Writing for Television

Today we are continuing our interview with Brian Bird, a Hollywood writer/producer who has written and/or produced more than 250 episodes of network television, working on such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and The Family Man. On top of this, he has adapted a dozen novels for film and television.

If you’re joining us for the first time, be sure to check out yesterday’s post.

Today we're going to discuss writing for television and Brian's upcoming movie, Jake's Run.

MERRIE: What’s the best way to pitch an idea for a television series, and is it true that television is only open to new writers if they are young? This is something I’ve heard from people who work in television.

BRIAN: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for the mainstream network and cable business, there is really no good way for a newcomer to break into the world of creating series for television, no matter what your age. It is very much a closed club at that level, reserved for writer-producers who have risen through the ranks on hit television shows. Most of the series that are created each year come from established veterans with strong existing relationships with the buyers at the studios and networks. For instance, in my nearly 25 years writing and producing in Hollywood, I have sold three television pilots, one to ABC, one to NBC and one to Showtime. But none of those series ever made it past the pilot stage. But new writers can break into the television business as I did by forging opportunities for themselves as staff writers on shows, and therein, someday perhaps having the opportunity to pitch and sell their own series. It is incredibly competitive, but not impossible to break in. But a new writer would be better off spending his or her energy on writing good spec scripts of existing shows in order to show what they can do. It is also true that there is rampant ageism in Hollywood . The buyers at the networks are all very young, and there is a bias toward younger writers because the networks believe they can relate more to younger audiences – which is the goal of the advertisers. I still stubbornly hold onto the ideal that a good writer is a good writer, and that a good writer can write anything and make his work relatable to any age group. I’ve yet to be proven wrong in that, but you definitely have to get past a lot of biases built into the business.

MERRIE: Thanks for those tips, Brian. It's good to know that although it is incredibly difficult, it is possible to break into television. Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming movie, Jake’s Run?

BRIAN: Jake’s Run is based on a true story that occurred in Southern Ohio in 2002. Jake Porter, a boy with Fragile X chromosomal syndrome and an IQ of 65, earned a place on his high school football team and in his last game as a senior scored a touchdown as time ran out on the clock. It was an electrifying event that caught the world’s attention and resulted in Jake being presented with and EPSY award on national television for the most inspirational sports moment of the year. Our film starts back at the beginning of that the football season and charts Jake’s journey in his small town as his mother and coach battle for his right to be on the team, and culminates with him getting in the game and scoring the TD. If I could put it in “high-concept” terms, I would say that it is “Rudy meets Rainman.”

MERRIE: I have a feeling this movie is going to be a hit! When will it be released?

BRIAN: We are hoping to go into production on the film May 12, and right now plans call for it to be released by Fox in January of 2009.

MERRIE: Brian, thanks for visiting us here at Alien Dream again.


And don’t forget, there are still openings available to attend the OCCWF conference. Visit their site at http://www.occwf.org/ for more information.


Mark Goodyear said...

I like his description of how to break in--or rather how to work with the system. Spec scripts. Staff writing. Etc.

It makes so much sense. Why do so many writers except to break into a VP position without working the mail room first?

Merrie Destefano said...

That's a good point. I've never had a job in publishing unless I was willing to start at the bottom. That goes for both the graphic design side of publishing and the writing/editing side.

Boy, I've had some pretty yucky jobs along the way . . . wait, that's the meme I'm supposed to finish.