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Searching for Gambit – By Jack

Actually Ice Man was harder to find. But everyone wanted Gambit more.

 

When I was 10 years old, I was on a manhunt for Gambit. Part Toy Biz’s second series of X-Men action figures (pictured below.)

A roster of the dream.

A roster of the dream.

You could walk into any Toys ‘R’ Us, KB Toys, or Lone Star Comics and see on the shelf any of one those beloved action figures. Except Gambit (and Iceman, but his toy was stupid.) You see, much like the De Beers diamond cartel, toy companies intentionally withhold certain figures to create a demand. So when a box of X-Men figures shipped, its contents included plenty of Banshees, Forges, Saurons, and the three different versions of Wolverine. But the a Gambit figure might be only one per box, or even none at all.

So in order to conduct my manhunt, I called previously listed toy stores everyday for about 6 months. To this day I still have the Toys ‘R’ Us number memorized. Even though it’s been closed for about 10 years. My phone call went something like this.

Toys’R’Us Automated Phone: Thank you for calling Toys R Us. We are conveniently located on 5505 Arapaho Road. Across from the Preston Wood mall. Our hours today are from 9 am to 10 pm.  If you need help with–

Little Jack presses 0.

Toys’R’Us Representative: Thank you for calling Toys’R’Us how can I help you?

Little Jack: Um..I was wondering if you’ve gotten your shipment in for the day.

Toys’R’Us Representative: Is this Jack?

Little Jack: Yes.

Toys’R’Us Representative: What is it you’re looking for again? Power Rangers?

Little Jack: No, I’m looking for any shipments of the X-Men Series 2 action figures.

Toys’R’Us Representative: Hold on, let me check.

2-5 minutes later. 

Toys’R’Us Representative: We did, but didn’t get any Gambits.

And that’s what I did with my childhood when I wasn’t playing video games.

So why am I telling you about this? Well I’ve been out of a job for a few months now.  I’ll spare you the details of my rise and fall from the reality TV world, my adventures of the writers’ room of an unnamed but super mega awesome scripted TV show, and finally my depressing return to the restaurant frontier. I decided once and for all to do what it takes to get the office Production Assistant job that is so coveted by any and all aspiring TV writers.

Between Deadline, Below the Line, Che Equis’s Temp Diaries, and a few secret tracking boards, I’ve managed to compile a list of television pilots currently in either development or production. (See below).

Spreadsheet

This is just a sample of the document in my Google Drive. In actuality it spans over 100 pilots. And each day I update the list’s phone numbers, status, and then scan for who I have slated to contact for the day. Then I call.

Here’s how it goes down.

Production Intern/Assistant: Something Something Productions.

Adult Jack: Hi, I was calling to see if the production company of [insert show name] pilot has been set up yet.

Production Intern/Assistant: Oh I uh…I don’t think so. Try calling back in a month. (They always say a month).

Not the best answer in the world, but at least you can try them again.

or

Production Intern/Assistant: Yeah, here’s the production office number.

This is actually bad, because most likely if the production office is set up, then it is staffed up too. But still worth a shot.

or

Production Intern/Assistant: No not quite yet. Probably next week though.

That’s the answer you want!

Adult Jack: Great! Has a line producer or production coordinator been hired for the project.

Production Intern/Assistant: Yeah, actually.

Adult Jack: Wonderful. Might I be able to forward my resume to them for staffing?

And it goes from there. Then you have to check back.

So as you can see, I can’t help but feel the parallel between my adulthood and childhood. It’s a slug, but you gotta do it.  Sad fact: You know how I finally got the Gambit toy? My friend found one for me. Which sadly, despite my best efforts, is probably what I am going to need to actually land the job.

—Jack out.

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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in By Jack, Writing

 

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After the First Week…– By Jack

Okay. I’ve been in LA a week now, and in that week I’ve worked one day on a TV show, got into a car accident, almost gotten into a fight at the DMV, and seen the actor Garret Dillahunt twice at the gym.

Early last week, I had sat down to look for a job when I got a call from the line producer to B&^#$@!5 (I’m not naming the show because they may still contact me for a job and my resume has this blog on it.) The line producer said that the writer’s PA job I applied for was interviewing tomorrow but had filled all the interview spots. But I could come in to work as her assistant and maybe the creator/showrunner might consider me. I told her absolutely and she told me to do my research. I power watched half the first season of B&^#$@!5 and was pleasantly surprised. Who thought a show about 3@77$* would be so interesting? The quirky funny dialogue really took me by surprise.

The next day I brewed coffee, refilled refrigerators, picked up lunch, set up the line producer’s WiFi and printer, and ushered people into meetings. What was mostly happening was that the showrunner was staffing various production jobs so she was conducting interviews. I was to make sure people waiting for their interview were taken care of. I ended up having conversations with practically everyone. Learned some good stuff. Even made a friend. One of the people interviewing for that writer’s PA job and I really got along. We had lunch yesterday. Though I didn’t get the job, they said the production office would soon be staffed and I might be considered for that.

One last note. The show directly one floor below B&^#$@!5 was none other than Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom! Alas, Sorkin wasn’t there. Dexter is also done at this studio. But I don’t know if they film there or just produce it.
Come back tomorrow (or the next day) for the Accident.

-Jack Out

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in By Jack, Writing

 

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Separate Ways and New Beginnings — By Mack, Jack, and Jill

Well Jack and Jill moved out. Jack went off to LA and Jill went back to Seattle. Finding new roommates is gonna blow.

TV writing just isn’t happening in New York

New York was just too much for me. I just got sick of it all.  

Take this one guy. He asks me what times of the day am I going to be present? Present? What the hell does that mean?

I ended up finding a nice place in Burbank. For about $100 bucks more than what I was paying in New York, I get a one bedroom with dishwasher, air conditioning, parking space, closet space up the ying yang, and a garbage disposal.

I’ll be living with my parents for a while. That is going to suuuuuck.  My mom will not stop offering advice. “Maybe you and your sister should team up. You like to draw and she likes to do that web stuff. Maybe you could make the next Facebook?” 

Honestly I wish I could swing the bill for the entire place and live alone. Half the time I figure, “why live in Manhattan? It’s cheaper in Brooklyn.” Then the L train goes down for the weekend and I remember why. 

I’ll miss walking everywhere and reading. My Kindle + the subway = heaven. Audio books in traffic just doesn’t cut it.

It’ll be good to see my friends again. Candice and Sherine still work at the Starbucks. And Martin is getting married soon. New York sucked for friendships. Everyone was always so super busy. 

Nothing beats living next to Central Park. Maybe I’ll get a dog. Jack was allergic. A Welsh Corgi? Maybe a Shiba Inu? Great way to start conversations with the ladies. 😉 

Now that I’m here, it’s time to get serious. I gotta break into this this industry or die trying. I just have no idea how I’m going to do it.

Leaving New York…I feel well…defeated. Like, I couldn’t make it against the big and the bad. 

I knew Jill wasn’t going to make it. She’s such a complainer. Doesn’t know how to enjoy life and let the stupid shit go. 

New city, new car, new diet, new outlook. I think I’m going to be okay. Once I find a job, I’ll be great. Hell, I’ve already lost 10 pounds. Maybe there’s something to this Saturn Return.

I’m so depressed.

Who needs them?

I feel like I can take on the world!

 

– Big Mack Attack

– Jack Out

-What the hell am I going to do?

 

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in By Jack, By Jill, By Mack

 

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Happy Leap Day! 30 Rock and a Show Bible — By Jack

Happy February 29th every one. (Aka Leap Day!) And on this day of once every 4 year days I am proud to announce I have submitted my first TV spce script to a TV competition! Script Pipeline is $45 to submit so I hope to hell they’re legitimate.   I basically spent the last two hours combing through my 30 Rock script for typos. I read it once last night and just now twice. If you’ve ever read this blog before, you’ll probably notice an overabundance of them.  So I had to read the damn thing in hyper sensitive mode. It sucked and my eyes hurt.

When you’re writing you’re tearing through the script, as fast as you can. You don’t have time for proper grammar or spelling! Think of a writer as a badass cop in a car chase. Yea, knows how to drive, he’s the best. But he’s going to have to run a few stops signs, maybe brush up against a car or two while he’s pulling that 180 emergency break trick. But you know what? He just saved a school bus full of children with puppies (it was bring your puppy to show-and-tell day) from a psycho bomber. I think that gives him a pass. That’s what a writer is like. Editors are for cleaning up the wreckage.

Anyway, in addition writing my pilot script (my current project) I have to write what is known as…

The Show Bible

The show bible is a sales document designed to attract investors to my pilot. It also works a sort of play book for all ideas, characters, tie-ins, concepts, format, style, and about anything else you can think of. Once a show gets sold, the show bible becomes a very proprietary item. If it gets in the wrong hands, people get fired, and money gets lost.

Parts of the show bible:

1) Over view. A 1-2 page pitch, general plot, theme, etc.
2) Characters: Primary (characters that carry plot lines,)
Secondary(characters appearing in every episode, but don’t carry plot lines,
Reoccurring (characters that show up often,)
Occasional (characters that show up not too infrequently,)
Special Characters (characters that might show up given the nature of your show, i.e. Brian Williams on 30 Rock.)
Descriptions of each and how they compliment each other.
3) Time and Place
Time is more important in a period piece. Description need to be as specific as you need for your show. So The Wire needed to describe the despair on the streets of Baltimore. Gossip Girls needed to describe the glits and glamour of the Upper East Side. It is important to describe things that are not obvious.
4) Format and Style
Is it a multi camera comedy? Is it a single camera drama? Is it fast-paced? What’s the visual tone and style?
5) 1-2 page synopsis of the pilot episode.
6) Ancillary ideas
This is a big one. You can sell your show on this idea alone (almost.) What marketing tie-in deals can your show produce?
Can there be a Happy Meal Toy for your show? A ride at Six Flags? Mad Men has a Banana Republic clothing line. Glee loses money on each episode, but then make much more back by selling the songs on iTunes the next day. They’ve even started selling the Castle novels!
7) Demographic Breakdown
Who will watch it and why?
I’ve been told this one is actually worth skipping. The only thing that matters is if you can prove white males age 25-45
will watch your show.
8) Future Episode Ideas
Long lines of new episodes to show where your idea can go.
It’s best to do them in the number of episodes the network will order the show. (i.e. initial order of 6, or 13 for a half
season)

And those are the secrets of the Show Bible format. Now to get to work.

 

–Jack Out

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in By Jack, Writing

 

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Evil Vs Chaos: Meditations on Character — by Jack

As I’ve been writing my pilot, I’ve been wishy-washy on nailing down the aspects of my characters.  Character development has always been a scary word for me. When I used to act and it came to building my character, I always felt I never did enough. Not enough back story, I didn’t like to pick out their favorite foods, and creating memories…ugh! I even hated coming up with physicality.  I was always more focused on the script and what the character wanted, ’cause that’s all I was really ever taught in school.

Now as I’ve been writing I’ve let the story come out and the characters present themselves naturally. But for the sake of making my show bible (a document that fully encompasses characters, plot lines, back story, concept, etc) I really need to nail down the characters.

Furthermore TV lives on characters.  TV is formulaic, predictable, and repetitive. What we keep coming back for are the characters. Even reality TV is about our connection with the contestants. So now that I have my challenge, how do I accomplish it?

Well today I’ve been pondering Alignment.

“Alignment is a categorization of the ethical and moral perspective of people, creatures, and societies.”
Thanks Wikipedia! Essentially is your character good or evil? But extended to another dimension:  chaotic vs lawful.  Lawful means you follow the rules of the society in power while chaotic means you want to tear down that society. The grid looks like this…

So as you can see someone can follow the rules of society and can be evil, Lawful Evil. Darth Vader, Stringer Bell, The Capital in the Hunger Games. Meanwhile Chaotic Good would see a character that hates the rules of society and wants to tear it down, but is morally strong.  Rorschach, Malcolm Reynolds, Princess Leia. And from the chart there is a third category in both, Neutral (with respect to moral and societal alignments.) A neutrally societal character doesn’t let the rules of the world around them influence their behavior. Neutral good characters? Wolverine, Han Solo. Neutral evil? the Aliens from Alien, Boba Fett.

It is interesting to ponder what these character alignments are saying when we get behind them. When we identify with a chaotic character, does it imply that we feel disenfranchised by own system or society? Chaotic alignment embodies the rebel.

Is there a place for the Lawful Hero? Who wants to root for the guy supporting the establishment? When was the last time anyone was nuts over Superman?  But maybe there’s something about fighting for something bigger than yourself, (ideologies?)  even when others around your don’t understand it (John Locke, Professor Xavier.)

And how does a Neutral Good protagonist speak to us? They’re lost. They don’t trust the system, because they either don’t have the courage to tear it down or are too apathetic to care. Or maybe just only answer to themselves. Some would argue that Wolverine was chaotic, but I think he’s neutral.  At his happiest, he’s in a log cabin in Canada, chopping wood, and being left alone. But he’s not really torn between sides.

So what alignments do you most enjoy?

–Jack Out.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in By Jack, Writing

 

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Jack’s TV Writing Notes! — By Jack

If you remember a while back I did a post on TV writing. That was from my first class which basically focused on how to write a TV spec script. Essentially you write an episode of an existing TV show.  Now I’ve picked back up with TV writing II: Electric Boogaloo…I mean writing a pilot.

I could explain to you what a pilot is, but I think I’ll turn that over to my friend Jules…

Thanks Jules. Now in case you don’t like Pulp Fiction or that video has been taken down or SOPA/PIPA/ACTA got passed and I’m in jail, I will explain what a pilot is after all.  When developing an original idea for a TV series you sell the first episode of a show to a production company and/or (not sure if it’s either or both) a network. Let me clarify, you don’t sell quite yet. You option your pilot script.

When you option the show you get a certain amount of money and the production company has a window of time to make the show. Then if they film the pilot episode you get more money. If the pilot episode is successful and a network makes a second episode that’s when the real money comes in!

So how do I sell my show? I need my elevator pitch! An elevator pitch is a short 30 second – 1 minute pitch I could rattle off if I were in an elevator with an executive or whoever could get my show made. Not that any of us will be so lucky. But when pitching the show I need to distill what’s important about my show and what’s most attractive to get someone’s attention.

What do my targets need to hear?

  1. Distill the essence of my show.
    -Depending on which network I pitch to, my script will have to subtlety change.  A pitch to MTV better be a bit different than a pitch to HBO.  No matter who gets the show, changes will be insisted upon. What in my idea  must I hold on to that makes it different from every other show? If I can be as specific as possible on this, I can hold my ground on what I need and change everything else that’s not so important.
  2. What THEY need to see.
    -The production company (people physically making the show) needs to see that the show can last 100 episodes. Around that time a TV show goes into something called syndication. I.e. it goes to TBS or channel 32 and it shown at 6:00 pm then again at 11:30 pm. When that happens everyone who makes the show really gets money. Every time the show airs, you get money, but when it goes from once a week to 5-10 times a week, that’s 5x -10X more money a week. When a show’s on network, it will only airs as long as it’s being made. In syndication it could run for decades.
    -The network  (the people airing the show) needs to see it appealing to a massive audience and possibly attracting celebrities. They don’t care so much about it going into syndication, they want it to have as many people watching it at one time for the sake of ad revenue.
  3. The type of pitch. Depending on the type of show, my pitch needs to be different.
    a) Title Show pitch. (Seinfeld, Cosby, Louis C.K.) For these shows I’m pitching the character.
    b) Circumstance pitch. (Northern Exposure, Raising Hope) Guy X is taken from big city and moves to small town.
    c) Concept pitch. (LOST, Battlestar Galactica) Most appropriate for sci-fi, you have to sell a concept about the world of the show.
    d) Theme (Modern Family, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives) You guessed it, you’re selling a thematic idea for the show and how your characters revolve around that theme.

So that’s pitching and I have to develop my idea enough to have a sound elevator pitch for class next Monday. Come back next week for another exciting installment of Jack’s TV Writing Notes!

-Jack Out

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in By Jack, Writing

 

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The TV facts of life — By JACK

I’ve started a TV writing class.  It’s been too long since I’ve been in a class room setting. It’s nice. I’ve missed it. People ask me why I want to write TV opposed to theatre or film or even novels. Then they ask me why I’m going after something that’s so hard to get into. As if maybe I should set my sights lower. Fuck it. I’m already in my late 20’s. I’ve only ever seen myself doing something in entertainment. I’m not going to change now. I can’t imagine myself in a 9-5 working for someone else’s benefit. If I’m going to devote 40 plus hours a week of my life to something, it’s going be creating some thing unique from me and meaningful.

The first thing the teacher said: “In TV writing you are not creating anything unique. You’re following a formula pieced to together from vaudville, film, and radio. It’s been perfected. You write in that formula or your fired.”  Well fuck. I still want to do it.

Here are the TV facts of life.
1. Less writing a script as you are executing a brand.
As a TV writer it is your job to safeguard the characters. A brand has been establish and it’s essential you protect it. Characters don’t change. They return to saneness. The audience identifies with something in the character. If we change that, we change the reason people watch the show

2. There are no pre-planned story arcs.
Each week you as a writer are given notes. From the top. YOU MUST FOLLOW THESE. The notes come from 3 sources which decide the direction of the show. Always.

Committee of Experts (bigwigs)
Primary Advertisers
Focus Groups

3. All news for about the inner works of a TV show is fake.
      A TV show’s news if a fiction that the network want to keep going.  Curb Your Enthusiasm isn’t improved, it has 14 writers.  When it comes to interviews every writer/actor/etc, is given talking points. If you deviate from that, you’re fired. The network spends a lot of money on the show and they’re not going to let anything get out that they don’t want.  Even the Charlie Sheen scandal was spun. You didn’t hear about the armed guards keeping him out of the studio.
Am I selling my soul? Probably. But I’ve spent a lot of time doing art and not getting paid for it. I still love shows like West Wing, LOST, Twin PeaksBreaking Bad, and 30 Rock. If I get to be apart of anything like that, I’ll consider myself incredibly lucky. Even if it means I have to do crap the rest of the time.

-Jack out.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in By Jack, Writing

 

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