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ASK RICH – Advice for Writers and Actors

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From time to time, I get approached with questions from people wanting to get my take on what’s happening for them in the worlds of writing or performing. I reply here through my website in this feature called “Ask Rich.” 
 
IN A TAILSPIN… 
 
Hi Rich, 
 
I finished a solid draft of a new 1/2 hour single-cam pilot. I sent it out to members of my writers group and a few friends (all who I trust their notes).  Not everyone read it, but those who did, had mostly all positive things to say about it.  I just heard back from a Borris Santiago*  (NOTE: *CHANGED NAME FOR ANONYMITY – RT) a working writer/producer…film and TV, whom I was intro’d to and met with recently.  He read the script and had issues with it.  Like, “trash it and start over again” issues. So, this has, sort of, sent me into a tailspin.  
 
I’ve already started outlining my next script. Deep down, I want to move on and keep writing what I just started. But, with the goal of finding some representation (manager or agent), just the thought of this finished script not being ready for anyone to read…makes it harder to breathe. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in this situation before, but how would you handle it?  Move on with what’s currently making you excited about writing…or go back to the work that you can’t bare to even look at any more?  
 
Hope you’re well, man! 
 
- Jason S.
 
 
Dear Jason,  
 
Yes I’ve been there many times when friends or employers or both did not respond to something I wrote. Happens all the time. That’s just the nature of doing anything creative. I think it’s okay to put a finger in the wind and see what people think of what you’re creating.  Then I wonder, is it possible you are creating a “tailspin” situation by just asking too many people? 
 
No one KNOWS what is “good” or what will work. And, a script is not the final product, it’s an early treasure map that many people will try to follow to the gold. Everyone is forecasting best they can. And, if it is a spec piece, you’re writing (meaning it’s a door opener) the only opinion that truly matters is yours. Sure— consider other’s feedback, but ultimately you have to make the executive decisions. Sometimes you will be wrong, sometimes you will be right. Most important thing is that YOU dig the material you are sending off to convince an agent to represent you. 
 
Another thought— is it possible that the note from Boris sent you into a tailspin because maybe deep down, you believe there’s an bit of truth to it. You know, if you had total confidence in the material, an army of Boris’ could not infiltrate your airspace and send you into such a whirl. As with all notes, take what you think can help you push your vision of the project and leave the rest of the notes behind. 
 
It’s important when writing to have asked and answered all the questions that the audience might have. Think about the script from every point of view. Asking friends for critical feedback on your scripts can be helpful or painful when too many opinions puts you in a spin or if you realize that negative notes might be right and this script is not the “chosen one.” 
 
Writing should be fun and fulfilling for you. Try to keep it loose and approach even the most dreadful re-writes with a positive attitude, see each writing problem as a chess problem to solve. Try to enjoy the painful opera of creation.  And, there’s nothing wrong with juggling both projects if you want to do both at the same time. Why not. Maybe you combine them. Choices are endless. If you don’t know what to do, you just don’t have enough information. So, keep asking questions till there are no more and get comfortable taking all the responsibility for what you’re putting out.  Take heart: you’ll be right some of the time! 
 
FYI: The Writer’s Guild website has a list of agents in town. 
 
And, to hell with Boris Santiago anyway, I never liked that guy. 
 
Truly, 
 
RT
 
 
FORK IN THE ROAD… 
Hi Rich, 
 
I was wondering if I could get your advice about a question I have been pondering, I feel your experiences would add great value. 
 
I took classes at COMEDY THEATER 1 here in LA, years ago and completed their curriculum, took some workshops at COMEDY THEATER 2 and other places as well. Earlier this year I challenged myself to take a class at COMEDY THEATER 3 after having long stayed away due to it’s reputation of how one advances in their structure.
 
I found their intro class and saw their style was not to be for me and thus didn’t pass since I wasn’t charactery enough. Now my ego wants to say two contradicting things 1) screw that I didn’t like their style anyways and 2) get back on the horse and knock it out of the park. 
 
I was curious if you would see any value of redoing the course from a learning stand point or would you recommend that my time and money best be spent elsewhere?
 
Sonny D. 
Ahoy Sonny, 
 
Thanks for writing. 

You know it all depends on what you want to achieve. There are many, many dojos in LA teaching a large range of comedy styles. Many different teacher/ interpreters of those styles.  Students of comedy today, enjoy a huge range of possibilities. 
 
I signed up for Second City’s classes in Chicago back in 1992. I failed the audition many times to get into the training center. Finished training and then proceeded to fail the auditions for Second City’s Touring Company three years in a row. 
 
Did I get mad? Did I cry?
 
Yes. 
 
But, during each of those years between auditions, I kept working out at Improv Olympic and other small theaters in Chicago. I did as many shows as I could and eventually found my rhythm. Students need something reliable to grind against to shape their style. 
 
Presently, you are at a fork in the road. Which way should I go?  
 
I think you could go back to THEATER 3 and say; “give me another shot!” As long as you’re doing it with the right intentions, you will be fine.  You could also go to theater 4, 5, 6. Just keep going.
 
I’ve said this before in these postings, but I think we (people in the arts) are all creatively trying to level up in some way. So, just do what you can as best you can every day to push yourself closer to your goals. All that honest effort will add up in a variety of ways, many you couldn’t predict. Whatever you decide to do, just try to get to be the best performer you can be, right now– whatever the road looks like. Everything that happens from now on is an obstacle or an opportunity, the choice is yours.  
Rich
(c) BRONZE MEDAL ENTERTAINMENT – 2015  
Do you want to ASK RICH? CLICK HERE.


Season 2 Premiere Episode of “Review”

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Did you miss the Season 2 Premiere Episode of Review on Comedy Central? Check out this clip in which, I play a small but significant part. -RT

https://www.facebook.com/reviewwithforrestmacneil/videos/vb.626344864088651/924173400972461/?type=2&theater

A bare-knukcle brawl was the perfect way for Forrest to jump back into reviewing life: FULL EPISODEhttp://on.cc.com/1OFhvgp

And, some backgroundhttps://www.yahoo.com/tv/review-comedy-central-andy-daly-season-2-125385340380.html

67th Emmy Awards

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 12.47.58 PM

Very happy to announce I’m up for 2 Emmy Awards this season. One for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series: “Key & Peele” and one for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special:  “Key & Peele Superbowl Special.” KP was nominated for a slew of awards this year, including Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, Nods for Make Up, Hair, Editing and a nod for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Keegan-Michael Key! Check out the nominations (and due to a glitch our names (not yet there) will be added next week to KP writers FYI).  See you in September! –RT

 

ASK RICH – Advice For Writers

ASK RICH LOGO ROUGH EDGEASK RICH returns with 10 new questions from a new writer (and guy I’ll probably be pitching to in 5 years) Elliot J. Brietta!

1. What is the best way to get representation for your writing? Write a strong packet and try to get meetings with agents? Doing the writer training programs through the networks? 

Finding the right reps can be a long trip. In the beginning you want ANYONE to rep you, then eventually you want to work to find people that share your goals and understand the kind of journey you’re on. So, it’s good if you’re just starting out to try to find someone to work with, get your feet wet and maybe that will be a good relationship. If you’re lucky. If not, keep looking.

I suggest going to the WGA website and finding out the list of agencies in town, then start sending in your stuff. See what kind of response you get. You can keep sending stuff in and following up.

The other part of the equation is making your stuff good. If you’re just starting out, I suggest getting involved with some or all of the comedy theaters in LA. You can write there, improvise there, learn and put up shows. Eventually you’ll get good enough that people will notice.  Eventually you will get more opportunities and eventually work.

Eventually, reps will find you.

No matter where you are trying to go, you are going to get there from here. So, in the mean time, do the work as best you can, on whatever level you can, every day and eventually you will level up.

2. What is the biggest thing that writers get wrong in their submission packets to shows you have written on? 

I have been a staff writer on a lot of shows, but that doesn’t mean I am reading submission packets. I have read very few. But, when friends ask me to read things, which I rarely have time for, the biggest thing is always TONE. Can the show or script declare what it is trying to do clearly enough. Often jokes are lost because the context is not clear.

3. What is the biggest tip you have for working day in and day out as a television writer? 

Show up early with your work done. That’s huge. Stay late if you can and always submit more than they are expecting. Essentially, work hard. Don’t say “good enough.” With Key & Peele I would work on stuff during the day and then look at it again at night when I got home and then look at it one more time before I turned it in the following morning. Go over your stuff and over it. And, over it.

4. What three things do show runners value most in writers, from what you have seen? 

See Above. And, also… I think 1. showing up early with 2. your stuff ready (and 3. good)  is all any boss could ask for. I have not been a show runner (YET!) but, I do know if I was, I would also want writers who are there to work hard and have fun and be in good spirits. I would want writers who are there to help me get my show out there. (not writers who would fight me on the premise of the show.)

When writing on Key and Peele, (which airs it’s 5th Season starting tonight on Comedy Central!) we (the writers) all tried to bring in a lot of variety of material that the guys could pick from and try to help them find or refine stuff they were excited about.

Depends on the show (i also wrote on Season 2 of REVIEW also on Comedy Central, new eps of that start July 30th!) on Review, there was a different goal. This was much more narrative. We had to create Forrest’s world and his relationships and his year long journey. Very different than Key and Peele obviously.

So in any case, it’s up to the writer to show up, with work done and lots of ideas and replacements ready.

5. When it comes to choosing NYC or LA, is it a matter of what type of show you want to write on, or personal preference? 

I have been lucky to work in NY LA and Chicago and I never picked the city first. Work always pulled me to various places. I’m doing some projects now with MAD Magazine and it’s wonderful to be back in NYC. But, I truly love the pace and rhythms of Los Angeles now so I’m happy to call LA home. I’ll always love Chicago and the 10 years I spent there, were an amazing dream of creativity.

I also love Austin and there’s amazing comedy scenes in Philly, Detroit, San Fran, St. Louis, Boston, etc…I’d say start wherever you are.

6. What’s the best advice you have ever gotten on television writing, and who was it from? 

This is the first thing that comes to mind:

This was something I picked up at Saturday Night Live and I think of it often, and it was from Jim Downey who wrote many of SNL’s most famous commercials (like the brilliant Change Bank.)

The advice is on how to write an SNL commercial and the advice is: SIMPLE PROBLEM, COMPLICATED SOLUTION.

That kind of blew my mind when I heard it, simple but so true and vital to what we do.

I’ve taken tons from Robert McKee (i read his book STORY many times and loved a lot about it) and have also taken McKee’s Story Workshop (4 8 hour days in a hotel ball room, brutal and so good.)  McKee is not nec. speaking to TV writers but he has a lot of great advice for the writer.

7. How can someone best prep to be a member of a writers’ room, if they have never written on a show before? 

This is why I think it’s so crucial to get involved with theatre if you can. Improv, comedy, or otherwise. Here in a theatre environment… you will learn all the skills you need in a writer’s room. You learn how to be creative with a group.

I came through Second City in Chicago and worked there for 5 years and in that time put up shows with amazingly talented people. Here we learned how to support each other and each others’ ideas.

The #1 skill you need in a writer’s room is listening. Followed by support, support, support.

8. What are some tips for banking away money when times are good, in order to save for the rough times – or lulls between writing jobs? 

I would encourage you to not worry about money. Just do the work on whatever level you can, as best you can. Eventually you will level up. Eventually, everything else takes care of itself.  But, since you asked– one way I save big is by buying all my Champagne in bulk. (it helps!)

9. Do you find it’s easier to get staffed on shows once you have written on one or are they all a fight to get in the room for? What’s the best way to make that transition easier? 

I am not sure I understand how to get into this question. You’re giving me two choices and I’m not sure either are true. I don’t think I’ve had to fight to get into shows. I’ve just kept my head down and worked and things came up. The best thing you can do is become as good a writer as you can be, personally. Then, work will come to you. People will want you around because they worked with you in theatre, in whatever. Be professional, work hard and work will come. It will.

10. Should one join the WGA before they get representation/staffed on a show, in order to better protect their specs and packet material? 

I don’t know how that would work, if you can even join before you had a job. I think it’s the old Catch-22, you have to have a job to join the union and you have to be in the union to work. I got my first union job, THEN I joined the union. So, that’s all I know. I was working in Chicago doing theatre and I got a union gig offer and joined upon taking that job.

At any rate, I think if you have some material you want to protect, you can send it to yourself certified mail. And, the WGA will also register material for NON-members at a slightly higher fee.

Don’t forget to watch all new Key & Peele tonight on Comedy Central and tune in to Comedy Central on JULY 30th to catch a whole new Season of Review!

CONTACT if you want to ASK RICH

 

Rich Talarico

Rich Talarico