Thursday, April 28, 2011

When I Grow Up

When I was little, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. An Actress. Yes, there it is. I wanted to act. But it’s interesting how you change over the years. And how something you are so sure of at 12, can feel so unclear and ominous at 22.

When I first arrived at USC, I remember sitting in an assembly of fellow Film Production majors and being asked by a moderator, “how many of you want to be directors?” About 75% of the kids raised their hands. When you’re young and love film, being a director seems like the natural course of action. But as the years went on and we all learned more about the different types of jobs available in film, slowly we started to morph. We realized, maybe we didn’t actually enjoy working with actors that much, but had a real knack for sound mixing or editing or cinematography or producing. Film school opened our eyes to all these different specialties, that would still allow us to be involved in film, but maybe in a slightly different way than we had planned. I’ve come to realize that life has a funny way of panning out that way, though!

Before graduation, I feel like most of my friends could tell you more or less what they wanted to do with their life. But now, I feel like the resounding answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up” is “I’m not sure yet.” I’m no longer getting taller (and haven’t for almost 10 years now) but I’m definitely still growing and figuring out what I’m good at and what I like and what’s important to me. I’m hoping that as I gain more experience in the working world and observe others older and wiser than myself, the answer will become clear. But until then, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, meet as many great people as I can, and most of all, just be happy with who I am and where I’m at now.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How to Get Into USC Film

One of my little sisters is graduating from high school this year and it's really gotten me thinking about my own senior year of high school. All I wanted was to be accepted into USC's film production program...and somehow, I was.

I've gotten asked the question ALOT over the years: "How did you get into USC's Production program"? Well, here is what I've come to realize over the years, looking at both myself and my fellow classmates.

First of all, everyone from my year of Production had SAT scores and grades that were above average for USC. So BE SMART. Most of the kids in Production would probably be going to a "higher-calibur" school if they didn't get into a program as prestigious as USC film. That's one of the reason why you run into so many production kids who have full ride scholarships or partial scholarships....they are the really smart kids.

Second, you gotta be really creative. This is the main thing USC is looking for when selecting Production applicants.

Third, be a great writer. My mom told me that at orientation all the parents of Production students were sitting around trying to figure out what their kids had in common (and thus how they got into the program) and the one thing that everyone seemed to be really good at (according to their parents)was writing. Even though we weren't in the screenwriting program, its important to all film degrees.

Fourth, don't send movies as samples. I know we are all proud of our dinky little high school movies, but USC actually doesn't want to see them! Unless they are Academy Award Short Film contenders....keep 'em to yourself. USC doesn't want to see you already making cinematic mistakes; they would rather start with clean slates. For the record, I didn't send a single video....and I had many.

Fifth, and most importantly, passion. Everyone I know from my program is incredibly passionate about film. They don't want to do anything else with their lives and it shows. Obsessed with film as a kid, I had always felt kind of like an alien. But then I came to USC, and it was like I had finally landed on this planet where everyone loved movies as much as I did. I felt totally at home, like I'd finally found where I belonged.

Well hopefully that is a tad helpful. It's what I tell any prospective students I speak with. And I think its pretty good advice!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Interview with Amy Baack, Executive Assistant on "V"

A good friend of mine, Amy Baack, is the executive producer's assistant on the TV show "V"....I asked her to share a few of her experiences and insights on working on a TV show! Here's what she has to say....

You graduated from USC in 2010, what did you study there and how was the experience?

I studied Film/TV Production at the School of Cinematic Arts. That program is very intensive in that you study every aspect of film production, from writing to post-production. It was an incredible experience - USC has earned its reputation for being one of the top film schools in the nation for a reason. I think the alumni it produces are so successful in this industry because they’ve had experience in every aspect of the creative process and are thus more well-rounded than anyone who specializes in just one field.

What sorts of activities did you participate in and what kind of jobs did you have prior working at “V”?

I held many internships in various fields of the entertainment industry during my college years. I was interning in the production department on Mad Men when I got the job for V. Before that, I worked at E!, Spyglass Entertainment, ICM, and Fox Television Studios, to name a few.

How did you get your job as the Assistant to the Executive Producer at “V”?

I have a wonderful friend who works at one of the big agencies in town and was willing to help me search for jobs. My boss’ agent had sent out an in-house job listing for the assistant position, and my friend was able to give me a heads-up about it. I submitted my resume not expecting to hear anything, but then I got an interview and landed the spot! It was completely unexpected.

What is a typical day like for you? What hours do you work and what sort of tasks do you perform?

As the showrunner's assistant, my duties are primarily based on the needs of my boss, though I am involved in many of the creative sides of the show as well. I manage my boss's personal schedule and contacts, transcribe notes calls with our studio and network, edit outlines/scripts, along with a whole bunch of other random tasks. Sometimes I have to do personal assistant-type duties, but those are rare. My work hours during the writing period were 9:00AM - 7:00PM (sometimes a little later).

How does your job as Assistant t the Executive Producer differ from that of a Writer’s Assistant or a Writer’s PA?

The writers' assistants job was centered in the writers' room: they took detailed notes, got lunch for the staff every day, bought groceries, helped write up outlines, and did research. They started work at 10:00 AM and usually worked until much later than I did, but it depended on how many notes they had to type up and edit, as well as how late the writers stayed that day. I did a lot more coordinating with the studio and network and oversaw the whole office, whereas they worked directly with the writing team.

Do you get to spend any time in the writer’s room? Can you explain the hierarchy of the writer’s room?

I got to spend a ton of time in the writers’ room. My boss was amazing in that he encouraged me to spend time in the room whenever I could. The hierarchy will vary from show to show, but it is established by how much experience each writer has and what title they have been given on the show. Obviously the showrunner has the final say on every decision; all the writers have to pitch ideas to him or her for approval. Our writers would usually split up into a couple of rooms, with the senior writers leading the others in brainstorming ideas, then they’d all come together to pitch their ideas to the showrunner. The writers’ titles are arranged in the following descending order: Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer. Consulting Producer, Co-Producer, Executive Story Editor, and finally Staff Writer.

With your busy schedule, how do you find time to write?

That’s the biggest dilemma in the television world; working 10-12-hour-long days is hardly conducive to the creative process. But if you’re committed, you’ll make it work. If I had any down time at work, I would usually spend it writing (again, my boss encouraged me to do this because he knows I want to eventually be a writer); weekends are also a good time to write as much as you can. But it is definitely a challenge.

Are you trying to get an literary agent? Do you have any tips on how aspiring screenwriters can find representation?

I’m not currently ready for the agent stage, since I’m still polishing my spec scripts, but I’m not too worried about it since I have plenty of contacts within the industry to help me out when I want it. The best way to get representation is to start with the smaller agencies, since they’ll be better able to help foster a beginning writer’s career than a big agency would. If you know anyone with representation, it’s also a good idea to ask them for help in submitting your writing samples to people who might read it. You just need to use your contacts to get your script on the right desk; and, of course, the script has to be good.

Have any of “V”’s former writer’s assistants been promoted to staff writers on the show? How does one more up from writer’s assistant to staff writer?

V hasn’t been around long enough for the writers’ assistants to be promoted (and we had different assistants in season 2 than we did in season 1). However, my boss is a strong believer in upward promotion; if V sticks around for another season or two, I’m sure he’d be willing to give the assistants opportunities to write scripts. The jump from writers’ assistant to staff writer is a tricky one; basically, the assistant has to prove that he or she has good ideas (by actively pitching them in the room and not being afraid to pipe in during the writers’ conversations) and the showrunner has to be willing to take a chance on them.

What advice do you have for those hoping to land a gig in a writing office?

There’s no magic formula for getting a job in a writers’ room, but since those are some of the most coveted positions (especially for aspiring writers), they are the most difficult to find and get. They won’t be posted in any joblists for that reason. I’d recommend trying to find and get to know people who work in television who can tell you about open assistant positions and put in a good word for you. Also, it’s always a good idea to bolster your resume by working in other industry assistant positions, such as at an agency or production company.

You always hear about how important networking is in the entertainment industry, how important do you feel networking is for an aspiring writer? Do you have any networking tips?

Networking is critical, but I think the concept has become a bit misunderstood. The truth of the matter is that no one is going to give you a job just because you schmoozed them up at some industry event. Networking is really about building friendships and proving that you are intelligent, friendly, and interesting. People in this field can see through fronts pretty well; if you’re not genuine or actually talented, no one is going to want to associate their name with yours. The best way to go about “networking” is to be willing to work very hard with a good attitude; that’s how you’ll get noticed and promoted.

What is the best thing about your job? The worst thing?

The best thing is that I’m immersed in the writing process on a television show, which was exactly where I wanted to be when I graduated from college. I feel really blessed for having gotten such a great position so quickly. The worst thing might be the stress that comes with the long hours and pace of working on a show, but that’s not much to complain about. I truly love my job.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Ideally, I’d love to be running my own show by then. But I’d be happy just to be getting paid to write in any capacity.

What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from your job at “V”?

V taught me the importance of collaboration in television writing. It’s very different from feature writing, which consists of one or two writers at a time working alone on a script. In TV, you have to be willing to put your ego aside and work for the good of the show. You have to be willing to pitch any and all ideas and not be offended when they get shot down or someone else has a better take. Television writing can be a truly marvelous experience when everyone is willing to work together to produce the best possible content; it only goes sour when personal conflicts start getting in the way of the creative process.