Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How I Landed My First Freelance Gig...(or How To Get Hired and Not Be Sure Why)

More from the recesses of the mind. When you work in the film/TV business but live far away from the centers of the universe, freelance work is much harder to come by. If you are a writer, you have the best shot at it…presuming you’re really good and have a great agent – but even still, series like for you to come in and meet them, pitch them, walk through the episode on the whiteboard, make sure you don’t have three heads. So if you are living outside of the major production centers, that’s next to impossible to do.

“We’d like to consider you to write an episode of ‘Major Network Series’. Can you come in this afternoon and talk it through? You need to check airline schedules? If you’re lucky you might be able to get here by end of day tomorrow? Uh, never mind.”

However, if you are a really talented scribe and recognized as such, you can work from home and with telephones/computers/email/etc., pull it off.

But if you are a director, it’s next to impossible.

Every major production center has dozens of really good directors just standing by to work. Why fly in and pay to put up an up and coming competent from the regions when you just need to look down the street? Why indeed…

So years ago, shortly after I got my first agent, I finished directing a TV movie that I co-wrote, and then packed me and my family’s bags and moved to Toronto. Nothing was waiting for me/us. But if I wanted to ‘do drama more often’, it was the next logical step.

Cut to six months later and I’d had a bunch of meet and greets around town, but no serious ‘work’ leads developing anywhere. And I remember being very confused as to why some producers and companies that used to meet with me every time I flew to Toronto now wouldn’t take a meeting. I cornered one of the execs at an industry party, and asked him why. His response: “Well, now that you live here – there’s no real reason to meet unless it’s for something specific. We know where to find you if we need to talk.”


The other thing that was going on was my lovely agent was pushing me on the handful of big drama series. Some meetings, but no ‘this is going to turn into something’ vibe.

Then my eldest daughter turned old enough to graduate from watching Treehouse channel all the time to watching YTV sometimes. And even though 3 of the 4 shows I’d directed and/or wrote were kids/family mystery/fantasy drama’s, I swear this was the first time in my life I’d seen YTV. And I see a show called ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Cool show, anthology series, scary tales for kids…much like three of my four credits.

I hastily got the agent on the phone – ask if she knows the show and has contacted them about me.


I'm sure she'd heard of the series because they filmed up in Montreal, Canada - but she appeared to have very little information about it. And she seemed a little confused as to why I would be interested in a ‘kids’ show. I said I needed some work, and it looked like an okay series (it was also on Nickelodeon in U.S.), so why not? She said she would look into it.

SIDEROAD #1: when starting out, help your cause and target shows that somewhat match your existing credits. It made no sense for me to be pushing to get on a legal or medical series when most of my credits were family/kids/comedy – blame it on ego, arrogance, ignorance, etc. Producers, execs, etc. are inundated with talent to work on their shows. And they are always looking for a reason to say ‘No’. Make it difficult for them to say no…don’t send a kids fantasy/mystery show as a sample of your work to an adult legal drama series --- or you can submit it to try to get your name in front of the decision-makers, but don’t expect to get hired.

SIDEROAD #2: although I muttered a bit about why it was me that found this series that seemed appropriate for me and my talents, and not my agent – it was my agent who tracked down the Showrunner in L.A., sent my samples in a professional package thus lending credibility to my name, and then followed up and badgered for a meeting. She earned every penny of her 10%.

Anyways, a month or so later there’s a call – agent has heard back that the executive producers will be in Toronto that week for some casting sessions and would like to meet me for breakfast at the Sutton Place Hotel. It’s to discuss directing an episode. Yeehaw.

I rewatch the episodes I’d taped in the previous month – ABP’s…always be prepping… to know the show you are trying to work for. I toss and turn until meeting day, wake up before dawn and race down to the hotel to beat rush hour traffic…and end up having to have a coffee up the street to kill 45 minutes I’m so early. Make my way in to the restaurant and am ushered to the table to meet: Showrunner (from L.A.) and Co-Executive Producer (also from L.A. but is bilingual and will be running the day to day of the show up in Montreal).

Nervous. Sweating. Not sure what they’ll ask…what to say or do…they don’t prep you for these meetings in film school. Can’t remember details other than trying real hard to not to embarrass myself. There was the obligatory chit chat and feeling out part --- then they begin to talk about the show and how it works and what they want…there were a few testing questions about how I worked with kids, how fast I was, could I roll with changes or unexpected disruptions. I answer to the best of my knowledge – nothing too opinionated – don’t embarrass myself I think.

Now I’m starting to get excited…they seem to be leaning toward hiring me…they are talking dates, and whether I’m available --- and all I’m interested in knowing is…why me? Which one of my shows did they watch and like? Or did they watch them all and like them all? Man I must be good – listen to them, they really sound like they are going to hire me!

Meeting starts to wrap up…they say thanks and then drop bombshell that they’ve already informed my agent that they’d like to hire me and will get back to her with details. What?! It’s already a done deal?! Man, I am awesome!

So I blurt out: “You must have watched my samples, the shows I did – what did you like about them?”

The Showrunner glances at the other exec, thinks a bit, and then says: “Actually, I haven’t watched them. But my assistant did and said they were okay. The truth of matter is that I directed that lead kid (the kid that starred in my one hour family mystery/drama) before on another show of mine, and he was nuts…a real handful (which the kid was). I figured if you could work with him, then you could work on anything with anyone.”


To say I was a little deflated was an understatement. But I smiled and we shook hands and parted ways. And three weeks later I was on a plane to direct an episode of ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ --- my first freelance gig (which led to more directing and writing for show as well - once in the door kind of stuff - but more on that another time).

So what’s my point…what you do and how you do it and how effective or successful it happens to be is ALL very important. But showrunner’s are busy busy people and most would rather ‘hear’ someone is good or worth working with than have to sit down and watch and make that difficult decision themselves.

SIDEROAD #3: I was once hired onto the staff of a big big show that shot in Vancouver based on a short, relatively rushed meeting in LA at the end of a frantic day while I literally followed the exec through the MGM building talking to him as he prepared to leave for the airport. I found out at a later date that just prior to my meeting, the same exec had happened to sit down on a plane beside a semi-famous actor that was starring in the series I was presently working on. What I heard was exec had told actor that he was considering me for their series, and asked the actor what he thought of me. Actor apparently replied: “Oh, he’s cool.”…and then went on to try to pitch something. I’m not saying that there weren’t a lot of other factors that came into play (there was apparently a first and second choice that both passed on the gig – I was number three), but I’m sure if semi-famous actor says: “Oh, he’s an idiot and an asshole.” – I don’t get hired.

Back to the ‘Dark’ freelance hiring – the people/relationships element is so important. The Showrunner might have seen all kinds of wonderful work in my samples, and perhaps been impressed – but there are also so many intangibles at play if you don’t have any first-hand experience/knowledge about the person you are thinking of hiring. Was the script brilliant and anybody could shoot it and it would work? Did the awesome assistant director in fact direct it for me? Was the cast brilliant and therefore made me, the director, look good?

But because there was a personal, first hand connection (the hyperactive child actor)…he felt comfortable enough to make the hire. And that’s something I could have no way of knowing. It isn’t something you plan for or can orchestrate…it just happens.

So do the best that you can, and treat people with courtesy and respect…the rest of it is really out of your hands.

SONG & ARTIST? - "We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference
If we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
For love - we'll give it a shot"

Friday, June 23, 2006

On Another Personal Note...

...my middle daughter took part in her Grade 8 graduation ceremony last night - having successfully completed elementary school and preparing for that next life stage: high school. Two grads in one month. Wow. It's all zipping by. And she was awarded the most improved student medal to boot (I presume it was for her grades as she has never really... 'copped any 'tude, man').

I know...yawn... (I hear chants of 'more Banff dirt' 'more Banff dirt!') but hey, congratulations honey --- pride and joy, pride and joy.

SONG & ARTIST? - Well I've been afraid of changin'
Because I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, even children get older
And I'm getting older too
I get older, too
p.s. saw 'Cars' this evening, not that it wasn't an enjoyable, entertaining, visual treat...but it was 'Doc Hollywood', no? A close lift I'd say, as I'm sure Doc Hollywood was 'inspired' by something as well. Has every review already pointed this out? If so, sorry.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Oh My Baby, Sweet My Honey...

I realize there's a lot of issues/things going on in the world today that would be far more important to discuss, but as the World Cup soccer tourney stomps along, I'm sure I've seen/heard the (Canadian) Rogers Mobile Phone ad about a thousand times - and the music track underneath sounds like a Bob Dylan song, but being the music nut that I be, I cannot place it.

Help me someone....ARTIST & SONG?

(Click Watch 60 second spot)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Last Word on Banff tv Fest....

...I promise.

Mulling some stuff over the weekend - the old 'what do the networks really want?' question.
During the festival meets, I had a couple of sexy 'pushing the boundries' drama/comedy tv series to pitch. And let it be known that I wasn't really targeting the major networks with these projects, but when the 'what else are you working on?' question came up, I didn't keep my mouth shut. I did the quick and dirty song and dance, and met with the inevitable 'that doesn't seem appropriate for us' response.

But instead of letting it slide, I chose to push a bit. I asked said network reps if they would like to make and air a 'Nip and Tuck'...a 'Big Love'...a 'Rescue Me'...an "Entourage'...a 'Sex In The City' - they answered yes across the board. Then I deftly dovetailed back to my pitches, pointed out some similarities, and then asked what exactly was their definition of 'appropriate'? After much hum and haw, they responded that it would depend on 'execution', and the boundries weren't 'pushed too far'. So you would possibly consider a series like this? I ask. Possibly. And then one began listing some rules of appropriateness (though apparently airing a buy of The Soprano's at 10pm isn't inappropriate - must be the execution)...

What's my point... networks want hits, they want the viewers watching and talking about those hits - in pretty much whatever racy, genre busting, boundry pushing form they may take. So write your show/series the way you want to make it, the way it works best, and make it pop ...and if it catches someone's eye, adjustments can and will be made to make it network appropriate (there will always be 'adjustments' and 'modifications'. That's the nature of the beast).

But in my experience, when decision making people start talking about execution or the rules, it can mean they don't really know what they want, but more than likely, it means they don't really want to work with you(me).

Trying to remain positive...

SONG & ARTIST? - You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun,
Mama always said
you'd beThe Chosen One.

She said: You're one in a million
You've got to burn to shine,
But you were born under a bad sign,
With a blue moon in your eyes.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The 'Foul' Monty...

It's Father's Day today (thanks kids), which also means Sunday at the U.S. Open: the final round on what usually plays as golf's toughest track, with a leaderboard cluttered with some of the game's top players, it's going down to the wire...I'll be there, with spikes on.

So when Canada's Mike Weir shot himself out of contention after the front nine, I turned to watch the only other player I really really wanted to win this tournament...England's Colin Montgomerie. For those who don't know, Montgomerie or 'Monty' was Europe's #1 player for seven straight years from 1993 until 2000...Ryder Cup hero, top winner, top money earner, top dawg....except,he's never won one of golf's four major tournaments. Why? Who knows - he's finished second in 3 previous U.S. Opens I believe, lost two in playoff's, second at the PGA Championship...a second at the British Open...but as he grew to be known as 'the best player in the world to never win a major', it hung like an anvil around his neck and practically choked him to death.

I actually followed Montgomerie and Davis Love around for 9 holes back at the 2001 Target World Golf Challenge in Thousand Oaks, CA (before racing back to follow Woods and Singh battle it out for the title)...he was just a regular looking guy with a sweet smooth swing - sort of like your country club champ, not Europe's best player. But he hit some real pretty shots that day...and he did this afternoon as well.

Now 43 and his best days considered behind him (welcome to the club), Monty fought back from 3 strokes back and tied Phil Mickelson for the lead - dropping a bomb sinking a 70 foot birdie putt on the 17th hole. Final hole - Monty hits a perfect drive down the right side of the fairway. I was almost shouting at the tv - I hadn't done that since Weir won the Masters a couple years ago....Mickelson was struggling off the tee, this was looking like destiny...

And then Monty flared one out right of the green... into some deep rough, chunked a chip all the way across the green, and then three putted for a double bogey. I was stunned...and even more so when Mickelson also butchered the final hole to also double bogey...and so the two 'superstars' basically handed the tourney over to young Auzzie Geoff Olgivy (who?), a solid up and coming player who managed to par the final hole. So a lot of credit to him, but he was sitting in the locker room when he won, watching from the clubhouse as everyone else faltered and fell....very anticlimatic.

But poor Colin Montgomerie...he really deserved it, not just for his play today but for his career...and he lost it - and I felt sick for him afterwards, so I can only imagine how shitty he feels right now.

I hope his kids still speak to him tomorrow - say what the hey, happy fathers day!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Someone Call A Towtruck, Please...

Could you pull this car off of me? The one that ran over me yesterday and remain stalled on my head...

That's how you feel after spending half a week at the Banff tv fest, or any tv/film festival or marketplace for that matter. As A. Epstein posted, it really is like three months of meetings in three days. You're constantly working the room, being 'up' and entertaining and interesting (you hope) all day and night long. It's exhausting, yet also invigorating. Part of you is glad its behind you and you can get back to 'real life', and part of you wishes it could be like that all the time.
Ah, life as a freelancer...

Well, now it's the requisite follow-ups and a lot of 'wait and see' patience....and maybe a nap.

EDIT: Finally got to watch 'Entourage' Season 3 premiere...and I bet they spend more on music per ep than the cost of an entire episode of 'Corner Gas'...but it rocked, as usual.

SONG & ARTIST? - I don't mind you coming here
and wasting all my time
'cause when you're standing oh so near
I kinda lose my mind
It's not the perfume that you wear
It's not the ribbons in your hair...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

C'est Fini...Banff Day 3...

...not too much to add as I wrapped up Banff TV Festival today.

This is a funny business - ended up cancelling or rescheduling my remaining meetings this morning to go play a round of golf at the Banff Springs course with the network honcho I spoke of yesterday that was interested in the series idea that I didn't think was appropriate for their network (which goes to show you..nobody knows anything - including me). It was his suggestion, asked of me last night (after hearing some of my golfing at Banff with industry players when I was a nobody (and thats changed wc?) anecdotes), and ended up being a fun few hours whacking the white ball while yacking golf and life...and concluded with some business/deal talk on the way back to conference centre.

That golf game might well be the most productive 'meeting' I had all week.

I've had this happen before - where a dinner or a card game or a golf game or something like that evolves out of the event, and it becomes invaluable because you are getting to know who you are dealing with away from the implicit hierarchy of the pitch meeting and all of that pressure. And they get to see you in a different context. It isn't that the pressure is completely gone, but its a very different dynamic.

And since this is ultimately a people business as much as its an ideas business, or an entertainment business, or all the other businesses it can be....those kind of meetings can be the best kind of meetings. But they have to grow out of the situation - you can't 'book' them. You just have to recognize them when they arise and do what you have to do.

Caught my plane home and arrived safe and sound. Bagged and heading to bed. Thanks for understanding.

SONG & ARTIST? - If I have to sleep on your doorstep,
all night and day
Just to keep you from walkin' away
Let your friends laugh even this I can stand
Cause I wanna keep you, any way I can.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What's a Sella Phone? Banff Day 2...

Pooped again...Banff is like packing 6 days into 3 because things tend to always go late into the evening.

Stood beside a very dignified older gentleman who was with the festival as he spoke loudly into his cell..."You have a sella phone? I have a sella phone. You need a sella phone? Oh you have a sella phone? Your sella phone is good? Then I'll call you later on your sella phone." I hope they connected, and someone bought or sold something.

So...discussed, observed, and overheard...

GalaKids - a long discussion on the future of kids tv...a very interesting conversation....
And so far, several companies from Montreal have liked my pitches...maybe I should think about moving to Quebec.

CHUM - trying to skew a lot younger then they might have said a year ago - 'Entourage' inspired and such...and much praise and excitement for their new series 'Blood Ties' and 'Across The River in Motor City', so congrats to Denis McGrath / Bob Wertheimer and the others working on Motor City...

No new Haggis stories...just lots of sightings in the smoking areas...

CBC Comedy - ended up searching around and around at meeting time and ended up missing each other (lot of navel gazing here ...not like you think - more like looking down to try to read people's name tags) ....disappointed because wanted to hear what they had to say... he wasn't able to reschedule.

ION/NBC Uninversal - new digital kids network in US that's taking over the PAX stations...enlightening discussion about future of kids tv as they saw it - with the tv series almost as the final piece of the puzzle as opposed to the first - lots of multi platforming, internet, direct downloads, phone downloads, product placement, corporate sponsers for entire episodes/seasons speak...total info overload - my head hurt afterwards...

Spoke with a couple of 'consulting' firms offering to take on the accounting, financing, banking, contracting, deal closing, etc. etc. for the small independent companies or creative producer/writers....be aware these consultants are out there - you can almost build your company at the time you need it as opposed to paying for overhead and infrastructure while waiting for your show/movie to come together and happen...

GLOBAL - got a better sense of where they were taking network...very mainstream - no surprise there, but having a US broadcaster also on board seems almost an expectation ('Falcon Beach', 'Class')

The usual run into's with a lot of independent producers I know, several with greenlit projects and now looking for some help....never a bad thing....

Had a interesting conclusion to the day when a network rep that heard a pitch I had yesterday (that I didn't really think was right for them) came and found me with her higher up in tow saying they were very interested in project. It turned into a two hour spin session looking for ways to shape project a little more in line with what they'd want - seemed to go well...nothing promised but I left with a good vibe...

Said what the hell and introduced myself to Alex Epstein at the Rose & Crown pub...seems like a very pleasant man...and sounded like his Banff has gone well so far - congrats

And night ended exiting a restaurant and seeing a gaggle of young women from the town whooping their way down Banff Ave., all wearing tight jeans and black t-shirts that read something like: "Doubles, triples, shooters...and then we show skin!" As they passed by, saw the back of the t-shirt which read: "Banff Girls Gone Wild"

'Nuff said again.

Banff...Day One...short version...

...because I'm pooped.

I don't schmooze too well - more like take meetings or hang out and hope someone bumps into me. Nevertheless, things heard, discussed, observed....

Comedy Ch - wants to find their own 'Corner Gas', a big hit they can call their own...but not sure what that is yet (can anyone know?) ...mainly target younger audience 18-35...

David Shore(House) is in fact, the real Greg House...

Discovery Ch - still targeting men 25-50, who want to see 'how stuff works' ...

Showcase - very proud of 'Billable Hours' and something new called 'Rent A Goalie'...still want to push the boundries but sense not so much with sex, drugs, language these days...still trying to figure that one out....

As many people seemed to be talking hockey and Edmonton Oilers losing as they were talking business...

Global documentaries - seeking some Canuck 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' or 'Inked'-type series...

Amusing sidebar: Banff has gotten very militant the past couple years about not letting people into select areas without industry/delegate passes or credentials...Paul Haggis is in front of me heading into main convention center and he gets stopped by security - he's not wearing his pass...some back and forth (he was very polite/understanding)...several onlookers come over and start barking:"Come on...it's Paul HAGGIS for crying out loud!" and so on....security says she's just doing her job and stands her ground. One of Paul's companions exclaims: 'Just let him in...we need a cigarette for Mr. Haggis." No one moves, so I offered up a cig...he takes it and lights up and thanks me very much. Then some security arrive from inside and say something like: "it's Mr. Haggis, of course he can come in!" (he was actually heading in to do his Master Class talk). I felt for the woman who stopped him - but Haggis was nice enough to say to her that he understood she was just doing her job.

A new movie channel from the Allarcom group is just getting going...

Lifetime(USA) - is doing a ton of low budget tv movies in Canada...63 at last count...not interested in development but will pick up finished scripts if come through right producer/company...

Paul Gross is one handsome looking man...and don't think the women didn't notice. But he seemed pretty down to earth.

Granada UK - always interested in treaty co-productions but couldn't possibly see co-producing/airing a Canadian comedy in UK and having anyone watch...so how come we watch/enjoy their comedies?

Overheard while departing from the St. James pub late in evening...one guy to another..."If she was a little more pretty or I was a little more drunk, I would've gone for it!"

'Nuff said. I'm done.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Does Anyone Give A Crap...

...about what's happening at Banff tv fest? Debating whether its worth posting any of the 'happenings' - or at least what I've encountered (had a nice visit with old colleague Scott Peters (not that he's old - we just worked together long ago), creator of 'The 4400'....Paul Haggis was seated at next table - much on-going fawning - but he seemed pretty cool about it all...etc.).

Just wondering...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Banff Bound...

...decided only recently to wind my way over to the mountains and attend the Banff World Television Festival for the upteenth time. The fest used to be a crucial stop for not only pitching /developing a tv show, but even for closing the deal. Lately, however - decisions are being made at different times of the year...Banff's still a good place to connect or reconnect or pitch, but its just not quite what it was.

Figured what the heck, but going on the cheap - driving in and set up all meetings over in the Rundle lounge at the Banff Springs hotel (across street from convention center) - can't really justify the 800.00 x 3 days festival pass.... not with eldest starting to go to college.

Teamed up with an old producing partner and armed with some tv project pitches - a couple I'm quite keen on, but have learned from past that its either the one you don't really care about... or the one you just threw together at last minute that gets picked up for development (happened last year)....
...and meanwhile the baby you've sweated blood over for months to get just right generally gets met with "nice, but we already have something like that..." OR "interesting, can we see the bible and pilot script?" Argggghh - I wanted you to pay me to write that bible and pilot! Ah well, what can you do. Try try try again. And so I am.

SONG & ARTIST? - "Well he's tellin' us this, and he's tellin' us that
Changes it ev'ry day
Says it doesn't matter
Bases are loaded, and Casey's at bat
Playin' it play by play
Time to change the batter."

Sunday, June 04, 2006

What is this 'Tagged' of which you speak?

okay, this is for Hart (no, not that Hart) - and mostly because I was dared to do so....

Things I've gotten hung up on during May 2006...

...BOOK: rereading Stephen King's "On Writing"
...SONG: "Favourite Year" from Dixie Chicks new cd
...TV SHOW: "House", "House", and more "House" - only started watching it at end of Season 2 - totally hooked...and so just watched Season 1 dvd's
...QUOTE: Dr. Gregory House: "I find your interest interesting" and "Perseverance does not equal worthiness. Next time you want to get my attention, wear something fun. Low-riding jeans are hot."
...WEBSITE: imdb.com and a pile of blogs discovered this month...you know who you are...
...EVENT: Who's Line Is It Anyway" stage show starring Ryan Stiles, etc. live and in person
...PIECE OF USELESS KNOWLEDGE: cats sleep away about 2/3 of their life
...MUSIC BY: Bruce Springsteen doing Pete Seeger, and the soundtrack to documentary 'Dig!' (Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhol's, etc.)
...EVERYDAY ITEM: my black ink pen
...COMPANY: Dell
...JOKE: what are three words you'll only hear on a golf course? "Bite, you c*cksucker!"
...DR. PHIL-ISM: no idea - is this supposed to be a real quote from Dr. Phil?
...POLITICS: reading about Electorial College maps over on Kung Fu Monkey blog (I know, US politics...perhaps the Harper vs. media silliness in Canada should be noted)
...PRISON BREAK ACTOR: sorry, don't watch it...an actress maybe?
...LIFETIME LESSON: don't tell lies...it will always catch up to you
...PET PEEVE - MYSELF: needing extra cream for my coffee
...PET PEEVE - OTHERS: people who don't listen, and thus usually only love sound of their own voice
...DRUG OF CHOICE: unfortunately, still the cigs - cutting back though
...TO CHEW ON: Denis McGrath's most excellent musings about Canadian televison over at DeadThingsOnSticks blog
...MONUMENTAL EVENT: eldest daughter graduating high school
...COMMERCIAL: Westjet one where guy can't get tv channel everyone is laughing at so he fake laughs to fit in - and people stare
...LIFE HAPPENS ON TV-MOMENT: nothing comes to mind, which either doesn't say much for my life, or for my tv viewing (I couldn't bear to reference 'House' yet again - yet was left wondering... 'what is my 'bum leg'?')

There you go, first time for everything...please don't hold any of it against me.

EDIT: SONG & ARTIST ? - And she was lying in the grass
And she could hear the highway breathing
And she could see a nearby factory
She's making sure she is not dreaming