Recently, I was asked by a few aspiring writers how I broke into TV writing. Here’s the beginning of my story along with the many, many mistakes I’ve made along the way.
Let me start by saying: there is no one way to do it. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has their own path.
It’s not like being a doctor or lawyer or insurance salesman. There’s no clear path or job requirements.
Writing is an artistic career. It requires an artist’s touch to navigate.
There are some fundamentals that can lead you into a career in TV writing. Number one: personally know a successful writer or be the child of one.
Okay, so that’s not most of us. It wasn’t me ten years ago when I started this adventure. If it were, I wouldn’t be here on Medium. I’d be developing my TikTok for HBO and posting pics of my chill Ibiza birthday.
So what are the others fundamentals that create a career in TV?
Openness. Curiosity. Faith.
Ability to communicate. Ability to weather constant failure and criticism.
Ability to collaborate with others. Willingness to assist others.
Consistent work habits. A love of story.
Not being a dick.
By working to hone these skills, I believe you can put yourself in a good position for future employment (TV writing or otherwise).
Taking the Leap
Of course, I knew none of these things when I started. Maybe a couple. The not being a dick one for sure.
I knew was that I wanted to work in comedy. But I was afraid to make the leap after college. Moving to LA was a scary distant mountain.
My eyes were only on the summit, which was very far away. Instead of taking a breath and focusing on taking that first step, I panicked and gave up.
It helped/didn’t help that I had a great job at the time working for the San Diego Padres. I love baseball. I love San Diego. I should have been very happy.
And yet after a couple years I knew in my gut that I would regret not taking the leap to pursue comedy. I had recently been performing short form improv in San Diego and absolutely loved it. It was a solid creative outlet away from steady but boring job.
So after a lot of hemming and hawing and a fair amount of persuasion from my superhero girlfriend and now wife, I quit my job and we moved up to LA.
Disclaimer: I would not recommend doing this now. In hindsight, I could have kept my boring, well-paying job for a few more years while I worked on my writing craft and contacts. It would have taken the pressure off of the hustle so I could learn without worrying about landing a comedy writing job.
In the end, it all worked out. I was only in my mid-twenties with zero attachments. I had the luxury of being able to fumble my way through. But there was probably a smarter way to do it.
Moving up to LA was still scary but I had my best friend coming with me. We were on an adventure together. She landed a job up here first so we moved to be close to her work. I was able to get a job in Glendale at the Apple Store. At the time it felt like a step back because I had worked at the Apple Store in college. But the hours were steady and I planned to fill in my two off days with industry work.
I had no solid contacts other than a guy I had taken a UCLA screenwriting certificate course with a couple years prior. He was really struggling at the time and told me NOT to quit my job and move up. I didn’t listen. Funny enough, he would be the tiny link that started my career.
I didn’t have a career plan because honestly I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I loved acting. I was mixed on writing. Being a professional actor scared me though and my writing had been praised in the past. It seemed like the safer route.
I started looking into unpaid internships that I could do on my off-days from Apple. Why unpaid? Because I was dumb and never did one for college credit one while I was in school. All of the cool legit unpaid internships at big-time studios had to be for college credit. At twenty-five, I never felt so old.
I scrounged for opportunities posted on the Internet. It was a real mixed-bag. Some were legit. Others not so much. I found an internship working for a movie development/modeling agency in Hollywood. That slash should have been a red flag. Later, I would find out that the whole company was a front for a Saudi prince to pretend to be a movie producer.
It was exciting at first. They had a fancy penthouse office in Beverly Hills. I had to park on the street and move my car every two hours so I didn’t get a ticket. I had a half-hour for lunch. My hours were 9–7 Tuesday and Thursday. I thought I was so lucky.
The work was… dumb. I don’t mind physical work. Working in events in college and at the Padres, I was used to slinging around tables and chairs and trash cans. That was the gig.
But this place was supposed to be about the movies, right? Uh, sure. Most days I did simple data entry for the accountant. I should have known this place was fucked when he tried to get me a job as a front desk receptionsit at the the Hilton.
Sometimes I got to stretch my legs and do something physical like clean dried paint off the carpet. Another time I was tasked with picking the lock on a file cabinet the accountant had lost the key for. I spent all day researching how to pick locks. I bent the shit out of many paper clips. I never got it open.
No one that worked there was a jerk to me. But nobody cared about what they were doing or that I even existed. The founder of the company was a sleaze. He was the one bilking the Saudi prince while cheating on his wife with a college student. I know this because his second assistant (he needed two, apparently) was tasked with writing her college essays. So yeah. Just all around great guy.
Three weeks in, I knew I had to get out and unceremoniously fired off an email to the poor, kind office manager who had so graciously hired me.
It was time to find something new. It was time to find something that actually had to do with comedy.
Stay tuned for part two where I tell you how I got my first professional TV gig: making sure the broken studio door didn’t slam during takes!