Submitted by Amisha Upadhyaya
For anyone wondering why it is so hard to break into TV, let’s take a top TV writer who will go unnamed. (Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams don’t count as they come from TV royalty. They’re exceptionally talented but being 2nd or 3rd generation “TV royalty” as they’re called, really helps as they admit.) So this unnamed, hit writer got her break with a spec script into the Star Trek franchise, Deep Space Nine, as did a few other writers out there.
Forward to Now. Is there a show that allows freelance unrepp’d spec scripts? No. Will this same writer allow spec scripts on her shows to be sent to perhaps give others the chance she herself got? As listed very specifically on her sites, No. (But neither will anyone else who got their break in this way so it’s not just her). Will her agent forward specs so that you can even get a shot at interviewing for an entry-level writer’s assistant or story editor position? No. Will agents get you your first job based on the strength of your writing? No. They don’t read. Is there a way to to get a freelance unrepp’d spec script to a show? See above.
So you see: that’s why it’s called a break.
Get an MFA, publish a novel that does well but no Harry Potter, become an assistant to a costume designer on a WB show when you don’t know how to sew a button and hope more than 3 years don’t go by before you get an agent or a sale or a look at your spec. This has been done. Not by me (no MFA here).
Once upon a time, the TV world was like the theater world: a community that encouraged and supported new voices with ways of letting you break through, as in the Star Trek or Stargate days. Now the millions must apply to the Disney and ABC New Writers Competition and hope. Until then, keep working on your craft and sending specs to anyone any which way you can, take any job you’re offered that gets you on a set. Know your show if shooting for TV. Know your genre if film. Know structure and grammar and how to pitch. And hope. And don’t break before your break!
But if you feel you will, then break from the industry. I would never have said this years ago. In any non-traditional industry, you’re told to persevere, given slaps on the back for following your dream as they happily enjoy life not seeming terribly bothered they didn’t follow their dream.
But there is more to life: memories to be made, hobbies to pursue, contributions to society, families to raise, love and a whole world that was the actual inspiration for pursuing your art in the first place. Very few artists or entertainers are naive to do it for fame or fortune. Early on, they know that most are lucky to be paying their rent or mortgage. Lots do it simply because they think they’re good — and only at it and nothing else will do. Lots more do it ’cause it makes them feel good about themselves. Write because you love to write. It will not make your esteem higher if you have none nor make your marriage better or fulfill something else. Writing fulfills writing just as a good relationship fulfills a good relationship. Sorry, no replacements.
No one will hire you, no breaks will be given because you’ve suffered. Ask the richest, most comfortable man and he will tell you of his suffering. No one wants to hear it much less reward it. So if you are unhappy, if you are afraid to get hurt ’cause there’s no insurance, or migraines take hold whenever you put your card into an ATM, do something else. Poverty isn’t so debilitating because of lack of money alone; it is because you feel powerless with no say over your life. Always feel empowered. The minute you don’t, change your gameplan.
Writing or acting or anything involving film or TV is NOT about talent. Callings may have been misheard. Look at the state of the world. Really, does it seem like merit is the deciding factor for monetary success? Perhaps in tech or fields where intellect must be there. Even then, there will be politics of the job. And is money the only gauge for success?
So walk away and know that it’s not giving up. No one’s giving you a huge grant to fund your life are they? With at least dignity in hand and time to nourish love and your soul. Get a job where the hounds of credit cards are not at your feet . You may be surprised at what else you enjoy, are good at. Writer? Then write novels, articles, start a blog. Actor? Join theatre troupes in your area. Dancer? Join a class that you never would have before. Get grants for your projects where your work can be produced or seen if not necessarily on Broadway or network TV. This is a culture that values reaching the top but that’s not what any of these journeys are about.
I can say that now even though I am a professional writer. Not because I can sell stuff or get published or any such thing. I already believed myself to be a writer long before that when I spent days writing, revising, polishing. It’s because, as cliche as it sounds, I realized the importance of love in my life and that shifted my priorities. You CANNOT have it all despite what they say. I continue pursuing film and TV, and make no mistake, it is only because I am so blessed as to be able to do this and still nourish myself without financial ruin. Even then, the migraines don’t necessarily end. Be careful what you wish for, as they say. And they say that for a reason.
So if you do want to pursue a field where hope is the only strategy and connections rank before talent, ask yourself: why am I really pursuing this? What does success mean to me? What is my game plan to get me from steps A to B to C? What are my priorities? Have a support system or outlet for stress. Then whatever your answer, pursue it with enjoyment of the journey, taking care to build friendships, nurture relationships, stay connected to family, do that which you always wanted to do like travel or cook or garden. And write a blog to complain about it all. That’ll come in handy even when you have a produced show or hit movie!