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Learn from TV’s top working writers and producers
Today’s best writing is on television: The Walking Dead (AMC), Masters of Sex (Showtime), Breaking Bad (AMC), Game of Thrones (HBO), 2 Broke Girls (CBS), House of Cards (Netflix), Homeland (Showtime), Justified (FX), Duck Dynasty (A&E…Yes, it’s written), NCIS (CBS), Major Crimes (TNT)…the list goes on and on. The best – and most – opportunities for writers to succeed today both creatively and financially can be found on television.
But how do you create a show? How do you develop your show idea? How do you structure your characters and stories over a full season? How do you pitch and know who to sell your show to? At the TV Writers’ Summit, you’ll learn from 4 of the industry’s most respected and sought-after working TV pros – Jennifer Grisanti, Ellen Sandler, Troy DeVolld and Chad Gervich – how to create, develop, write, structure, produce, pitch and get your TV show on the air. From idea to airing, the TV Writers’ Summit is the premier event for aspiring and established (Emmy-winning writers regularly attend) TV writers.
The VP of Current Programs at CBS, Alix Jaffe, said, “Jen Grisanti has great insight into working with writers. She has a special ability to nurture their vision, while being true to story structure, character and dialogue.Her notes are always clear, insightful and productive.” Legendary NBC President Warren Littlefield said, “Sitting in a classroom and listening to Chad Gervich teach gave me goose bumps – why didn’t I have teachers like this? After his class I couldn’t sleep that night – my mind was racing with possibilities. Must hear teaching!” Bestselling author and Emmy-nominated writer/executive producer Ellen Sandler has worked on over 25 prime-time shows, and has been called the “Dalai Lama of television writing” by Entertainment Today. Andrew Hoagland, Story Producer for hit shows like The Bachelor and Basketball Wives, said, “I doubt anyone knows more about the making of Reality television than [Emmy-nominated] Troy DeVolld.”
If you have an idea for a TV show, or are currently working in TV and looking to learn more, the TV Writers’ Summit is the only event in the world of its kind. And you have two options:
1. One-Day TV Writers’ Seminar - A one-day, lecture-filled crash course on the craft of writing, story, creating and selling TV. Only $188. Course Outline
2. Two Day TV Writers’ Workshop – Includes Day 1 above, plus a second day of hands-on workshop where you’ll work on your individual show ideas with the expertise and guidance of each of the Pros. Learn how to develop, write and pitch your TV show. Both Days only on $398. Course Outline
Want to know more? Let the Pros themselves tell you what you’ll learn and why you should attend the TV Writers’ Summit!
YOU TUBE VIDEO about the event.
INTERVIEW WITH CHAD GERVICH – WRITER, AUTHOR, SPEAKER, PRODUCER – Book, “How To Manage Your Agent: A Writer’s Guide to Hollywood Representation”
When we feel the message in your story, there is an imprint that the storyteller leaves with the receiver. We experience what you wanted to say and we connect our own history and emotions to it and walk away with a stronger sense of fulfillment of what the journey was all about. Stories that make us feel the fuel behind the pursuit are the stories that resonate on a universal level because the message is clear. We understand what is motivating the character toward the goal. There is a quote that encapsulates the experience of life and the idea of choice perfectly, “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love this quote. It reminds me that this is what story is all about. With the incredible batch of movies this year, I felt a variety of emotions for stories that came from a place of depth and a wide array of topics.
With the movie Nebraska, written by Bob Nelson and directed by Alexander Payne, we felt the pursuit of a son’s desire to connect with his father by helping him on a pursuit that others considered frivolous. It is a story about belief. They go on a road trip. The father has to settle scores along the way. For the son, it was about the idea of allowing his father to believe in something as a way to give him purpose. In doing so, he gets a chance to get to know him more. I really connected with this. Now, the timing of just going through cancer with my mom certainly made the idea of this simple pursuit resonate even more. The humor was perfectly placed. There were lines that made you laugh out loud and moments that tugged at your heart and really made you feel what the storyteller intended. We understood the fuel behind the pursuit. Universally, the desire to connect with our parents before the time passes is a strong one. I loved this film.
With the movie 12 Years A Slave, screenplay written by John Ridley and directed by Steve McQueen, I felt so many emotions. One of the strongest emotions that I felt was anger. I really struggled with the concept of human behavior. This was the first movie I’ve been to where I seriously wanted to leave several times because the brutality hurt my heart. The power of the story, the performances and the pursuit of the central character are what kept me there because I wanted to know the answer to his quest. The universal idea of one day we have everything our heart could ever dream of and in a moment, it is taken away. How strong is our desire to get it back? Do we have the strength to survive? What did it all mean? Can we get back to a moment that will forever change as a result of the pursuit and the obstacles hit? This powerful story is a gift. It shows the true meaning of kindness and the will of the human spirit to feel unconditional love.
In the movie American Hustle, written by Eric Singer and David O. Russell and directed by David O. Russell, we feel the fictional story of a con man on a quest to survive with a woman that he loves. The two, Irving and Sydney, are caught in the middle of a con when she accepts a check from an undercover cop, Richie, and is arrested. They are given the choice of her giving up her freedom or the two of them helping Richie to get four more con artists like them. They realize to pull this heist off and free Sydney from returning to prison, they will have to make one final play. The idea of “People believe what they want to believe” resonates throughout. We feel the pursuit of moving from the idea of conning people for a living to the idea of legitimacy and truth. The emotional motivation behind the pursuit and the stakes were clear in this story. I loved the themes that were explored.
With the movie Philomena, screenplay written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope and directed by Stephen Frears, we feel the story of a man who is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace and a woman who had her son taken away when she was an “inmate” at a Catholic convent. The pursuit is fueled by a mother’s desire to find out whether she made the right choice in giving up her son. There is strong emotion behind this. He helps her in her pursuit and in doing so finds some of the answers to his own. Through her emotional responses to the obstacles that they hit on their quest, he is able to open his eyes to his own flaw and what is holding him back in his life. It is about a man’s search for meaning as we see this odd couple learn about life through the conflicting perspectives that each of them has toward it and the choice that she thinks she made but discovers was really made for her.
In the movie Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze, we feel the pain of life after divorce through the lead Theodore. He purchases an OSI to help him cope with the loneliness. He falls in love with an Operating System named Samantha. The gift of this journey is that it is such an internal experience. The writer and director brilliantly figured out how to tell it externally. It is a movie about living after trauma and how we find closure when parts of our story end. I was totally immersed in the gift of this vision. Having gone through divorce, I know what it is to move through the filling of a hole after something major changes in your life. Universally, this hits all of us who’ve known the experience of love and loss.
Storytellers, when we feel your intent with clarity and can define the fuel behind the pursuit, you give us the gift of understanding your message and interpreting it in a way that speaks to our own journey.
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I am a story/career consultant. I analyze story for a living. It is very rare that I come across one that is perfectly structured. I feel that the last film that fell into this realm for me was The King’s Speech. I am always on a quest to understand how story can be structured in a way that makes us feel the content, the message and the pursuit in the strongest way possible. I found this in the brilliant story of Philamena. Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope wrote it based on the book by Martin Sixsmith. This movie is what strong storytelling is all about.
This is a spoiler alert: Philomena is about a woman facing the shame of a choice that was made 50 years earlier. I will be going through the set up in Act I of the story so that you can see what led to it being crafted so perfectly.
It begins when Philomena hears in church, “You are the cause of your shame. You and your own indecency.” Then, they show flashbacks of a Young Philomena during the trigger moment, when she meets John. This moment would later lead to the choice. We see the symbolism of an apple with regards to the forbidden fruit.
When we meet Martin who is set up on page 3, he is at the doctor’s office. We learn that he lost his job and he is in search of a way to process the change. This creates empathy. His doctor suggests that he try running.
We see more flashbacks of Young Philomena with John. In the present, Philomena tells her daughter, Jane that today would have been Anthony’s 50th Birthday. Jane doesn’t know what she is talking about. She shows her a picture of when Anthony was a baby. This sets up the “why now” in regards to why we are entering the story when we are.
In the inciting incident from the flashback, we see Philomena when she is pregnant and talking with Mother Barbara. Mother Barbara asks her if she took her knickers down for him. She says, “He got an awful lot for a toffee apple.” She asks about Philomena’s mother. One of the other nuns says that she died ten years earlier. This builds on the empathy that we feel for Philomena. She was left motherless at a young age. So, when she gives birth to a child as an unwed mother, she has to make a choice of what to do that will be for the betterment of her child.
In the present, Philomena’s daughter, Jane, meets Martin at a party. She hears that he lost his job and that at one point he was a journalist. She tells him that she knows a story about a woman who had a baby when she was a teenager and kept it a secret. The nuns took the baby away from her and made her have it adopted and she’s kept it a secret for all of these years. Jane tells Martin that the story is about her mother. She asks him if he’d want to do a story on this.
This is the trigger that brings the two worlds of Philomena and Martin together. Both have gone through loss. Both are on a quest for meaning. I think it’s fascinating that shame is what drives Philomena; yet, through the story, the question of who should be feeling this is debated.
The trigger incident from the past was the choice that was made. The trigger incident in the present had to do with the sequence of when Philomena hears about “shame” in church and the fact that it is her adopted son, Anthony’s, 50th Birthday. The trigger incident is continued with the moment when Jane runs into Martin, a journalist, at a party right after he lost his job and asks him if he wants to cover this story.
The dilemma for Philomena is that if she doesn’t find out what happened to her son, she will never know the answer of whether she made the right choice or not. The dilemma for Martin is that he has no job and he is given the opportunity to write a story of human interest that could bring him more opportunity, which could also help in processing his own loss.
The pursuit has to do with getting the story for Martin. For Philomena, it is about finding out what happened to Anthony. The obstacles have to do with getting information from the nuns, uncovering a secret that they were keeping, discovering what really happened to young unwed mothers at the Abbey, finding people who knew Anthony and could share the truth.
The part of the story that mesmerized me was the idea of who really should be feeling shame from the choice that was made. I found the story to be so powerful. The movie was phenomenal. The script is simply brilliant.
How do you develop an idea into a script? What is the evolution process of an idea? After 20 years of working with writers at every level in the story development capacity, I’ve come up with what I’ve surmised is how the creative process goes during the writing process of a TV pilot script.
1. Idea/Concept Seed
2. Pitch Document Hot Mess
3. Outline Controlled Chaos
4. First Draft Possibility
5. Second Draft Potential
I share this as a way to motivate writers at every level to know that they are not alone in their madness. This seems to be how the evolution of an idea transforms as it goes through the creative process.
Idea/Concept – The first stage is often one of the most challenging for writers. How do you come up with an idea? Do you revert to writing what you know? Or, do you use your imagination and go into a world that you can create from scratch? There is a journey in both. If you write what you know, do not write it from an autobiographical place. This is a mistake. Write from a place of emotional truth and add fiction to it. This is how you get to reveal truth and hide it at the same time through fiction. If you choose to go into a world you don’t know, let your imagination go wild. Think of a concept that will take us into a world or life experience that we don’t know and make us want to know it through your execution. A world or life experience that is in the news or current events will give you an instant audience. For example, think of the shows – Homeland and The Good Wife.
In Homeland, many of us heard about the stories of prisoners of war returning home; however, what we didn’t know is what is it like to be held captive for 8 years and then return home to an existence that went on without you. This is taking the idea of fish out of water to a new level. The fertile ground is what happened in those eight years and how it informs the character of Brody and the choices he makes in the present.
In The Good Wife, we saw all kinds of stories on the news about famous politicians and sports athletes who cheated on their wives. Doing a show that goes into this life experience was a brilliant idea because it takes us deep into this journey and in doing so, makes the millions of people who’ve been betrayed, feel less isolated in their experience. We root for the main character, Alicia, to win her legal cases because we identify with her on an emotional level.
Pitch Document – This is part of the cycle that I take writers through before moving into the outline phase.
The pitch document that I like to use includes: Explanation or definition of the title, Write your series log line, Concept (further explanation), Pilot log line (Your pilot log line is how you go into your series through the A story), Themes for your show, Write a small paragraph for your main characters, Write a paragraph for the Teaser and each Act, Write a paragraph giving an overview of your show, Write a paragraph about the back-story of your central character, Write a paragraph for the first 13 episodes of your series. This could just be a log line for the A story and the B story.
The word that I used to describe this part of the creative process is “hot mess.” Typically, this is what happens during this phase. The concept is all over the place. The intention is still being formulated. The concept is being fleshed out. The writer is trying to find the identity of the show. This formula helps with this process. If the writer is lucky, they are able to master this and move to the next level with the outline. There are very few writers who are able to avoid the “hot mess” part of it and many who languish in this. It is ok. When your idea is meant to move to the next level, it will. Be “in” whatever is your creative process and trust that your idea will evolve when it’s ready.
The formula for the log line that I have writers use is set up of who (create empathy), dilemma, action, goal with a twist of irony.
The formula that I have writers use for their story structure is to start your story with a trigger incident that leads your central character into a dilemma. The choice that they make in the dilemma defines the goal. Then, all of the obstacles, escalating obstacles, “all is lost” moment should connect back to the goal. It is when the goal isn’t clear that story doesn’t work.
Outline – With the outline phase, you are writing a paragraph for each scene in each act and you are adding some dialogue to help bring it to life and set the tone. I’ve seen outlines vary in length. For the one-hour drama, outlines average between 12-17 pages. For a sitcom, the average is 8-10 pages. The more detailed that you are in the outline, the better it will be when you go from this phase into the script phase.
I refer to this part as “controlled chaos.” The reason for this is that the outline forces you think about what your story is about and how you are going to execute it. If you think back to the formula that I gave in the pitch document phase, think about how every scene in every arc has a purpose. It should fall under one of the following headings – trigger incident, dilemma, set up of goal, obstacles, escalating obstacles, “all is lost” moment and resolution. If your scene doesn’t fall under one of these headings, it is not advancing plot.
First Draft – This is often referred to as the “vomit draft”. In this phase, it is all about getting your story on the page, setting up the concept, the structure, the characters and the world. You want to really connect with the idea of just getting your idea out there and then knowing that you will have plenty of time to revise and define.
I refer to this stage in the evolution of an idea as the phase of “possibility.” We begin to see what is working in your idea. As an analyst, I look for many things when I go through a first draft. I look at the strength of the trigger incident and the dilemma. I look for the set up of the goal. I want to feel what the pursuit is and what is at stake if it is not achieved in every scene of the A story. I look at the act breaks. Do they end on an obstacle or a question that leaves the audience wanting to return to get the answer?
Second Draft – You made it! You got through the first four stages of an idea. Now, it’s about applying the notes and making the revisions. In the second draft, you want to fine tune and add touches. What is the theme of your story? This is something that you should have set up in your pitch document phase. In this phase, you want to check your theme. Is it the same? Or, is another theme coming through in a stronger way? Make the appropriate changes and thread throughout if you find that your theme appears to be different than where you started. Can we hear your voice in your scenes? Does your emotional truth appear in one of the reactions from your characters? If not, think about where you can add it. Did you address all of the notes that you received from the first draft? Did you go beyond the note? A common mistake is that many writers just address the place of the note instead of doing the work and threading it throughout.
The intention of taking you through this evolution is to show you that it is a universal process. Your seed has to grow and evolve. Try not to resist the process. Be open to every phase. Know that when the idea is ready, it will move to the next phase. When it does go through the five steps, you are taking a major step toward moving forward with your goal. You can make it happen. Every successful TV show or feature that has succeeded, started as a seed and evolved into something more.
2014 – STORYWISE© 10-WEEK SPEC AND PILOT TELESEMINAR
During this course, I will teach you everything that I teach in Writers on the Verge at NBC and more. This program includes pitch critiques by guest speakers (TBD) who are currently working on shows. You do not have to be on every call. You will receive all 10 recordings.
Writers who have participated in this have gone on to sell pilots, staff and get into Writers on the Verge.
The 10-week Storywise© Teleseminar will begin on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. PST and will be held weekly through Tuesday June 10, 2014.
* There will be a break on 4/22/14 for Easter and 5/27/14 for Memorial Day.
The below applies to the full 10-week Storywise© Teleseminar.
SERVICE FEE – 350.00
At this level, you will receive 10 weeks of story instruction about writing a TV spec and pilot script.
You will get to pitch your TV spec and pilot script. You will receive feedback on your pitches. This
level does not include direct feedback on your scripts. You will receive all ten weeks of recordings.
SERVICE FEE – $1,300.00
For this service, you will get the 10 weeks of story instruction on how to write a TV spec and pilot
script. You will get to pitch your TV spec and pilot script. You will also receive one read and one meeting for your spec script and one read and one meeting for your pilot script at the end of the 10 weeks. This includes written/verbal feedback on each of your scripts and two meetings up to one hour in length to go over the notes, your pitches and your log lines.
* Our pilot portion of the Storywise© Teleseminar doesn’t begin until 5/6/14. So, if you want to sign up at this level and you want to start the meetings early on with your pilot. (Beginning in January or February), then just contact me directly to schedule.
LEVEL 2 – PART II
SERVICE FEE – $1,800.00 (2 reads and 2 meetings of your TV spec and pilot script)
For this service, you will get the 10 weeks of story instruction on how to write a TV spec and pilot script. You will get to pitch your TV spec and pilot script. You will also receive two reads and two meetings for your spec script and two reads and two meetings for your pilot script at the end of the 10 weeks. This includes written/verbal feedback on each of your scripts and four meetings up to one hour in length to go over the notes, your pitches and your log lines.
If you would like to take this course with just reads and meetings for your pilot script or just reads and meetings for your spec script, you can contact me and I will design you a proposal.
SERVICE FEE – $3000.00
In this service, you will get direct feedback on your scripts every week. This starts in the concept phase,
then the outline, then three drafts of your pilot and spec scripts. This level is like being a writer in the
Writers on the Verge program. You will not only receive feedback from me but from everyone on the call
that chooses to participate with notes. This also includes two in-person meetings up to an hour in
length to go over the final drafts of your spec and pilot scripts.
*For this level, there are only four slots available.
Two slots are available for drama and two slots for comedy.
This will be first come, first serve.
SERVICE FEE – $4000.00
At this level, you will follow alongside the Storywise© Teleseminar and receive written and verbal feedback from me at each phase of the TV spec and pilot writing process. This includes written and verbal feedback on your concept, your outline and three drafts of each script. This includes ten meetings up to one hour in length to go over the notes, the log lines, the pitches and career guidance. You can either take the ten meetings along side the course or you can spread them out.
In the movie Enough Said with James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the trigger moment is the departure of Eva’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) daughter who will be leaving for college. The dilemma that stems from this for Eva is pondering the question of will she be able to fill the void when her daughter is gone. The pursuit begins when she meets Albert (James Gandolfini) and they begin what they refer to as “middle-aged” dating. One of the obstacles is her new friendship with Marianne (Catherine Keener).
The movie is so beautifully written and executed on every level. The writer and director, Nicole Holofcener really understands the intimacy of love and loss and the hurdles of this life experience. I am a huge fan of her voice. I especially loved the exploration of the question: will we be able to fill the hole when things change? With Eva, we see how she attempts to fill the pending void in different ways through different relationships. There is a poignant moment when Eva looks at her ex-husband and realizes that the sanctity that they once had in their relationship is no longer there. He now shares it with his new wife. This moment really resonated with me in reflecting on the idea of what does it all mean? I had the life experience of a long relationship ending in a short marriage so I understand this part of the quest. I also loved the way that Holofcener depicts obstacles through Eva and Albert’s relationship that so many of us face when we go through mid-life dating.
With movies, we connect with themes and we ponder the same questions in our own lives. I believe that many of us are pondering the question of will we be able to fill our lives after we go through a major life shift? I don’t have children so I am not dealing with the empty nest in my own life but I did have a clear recollection of when my mom went through it when my siblings and I left for college. I remember the variety of emotions that I saw her go through. I felt her fear of what’s next. What does life look like after we go through a big life change?
In my life, I am middle-aged and I am dating. So, I really connected with the idea of the walls that we put up to sabotage intimacy or prevent it from truly finding a home in our lives. We have our blocks; like how physically fit the person is and do they fit into our image of “handsome” or “beautiful”? Can we put up with their habits? Do things that they do or physical attributes they have attract us in one way but repel us in another? Does their level of darkness or craziness align with our own? This is what we do while we search for an answer.
My life moment that parallels with this idea of transition was losing a job after fifteen years with the same company and having to redefine my path. I did go through a feeling of the “empty nest” and the fear of wondering whether I’d be able to fill the void. It’s been six years since this happened. How I answered the question was I gave birth to a business. I nurture this choice everyday. In doing so, I redefined my path and I filled the void. I was able to do this professionally; however personally, there is still an ongoing journey. What does the answer look like? I don’t know.
Our turning points lead us to reflect on the questions that surface while we are going through them. The gift of the question is that it often causes us to take action. In Enough Said, I loved seeing Eva take action after her initial actions did not lead her to the answer she was seeking. I found this to be inspirational to all of us who are still experiencing the question that results from our life turning point. I felt fulfilled by what she discovered in herself, the missteps she took and how she resolved her question by a choice that she made in the end to be open. In my own life, I will use this as a gentle reminder that when we take action in our personal life that moves us past our comfort zone; we may find the answer that we’ve been seeking.
I want to talk to you today not about writing stories, but about being story. Being story means taking action to shape the story of your own life. It means making that story the foundation that your work comes from. It means choosing to live the life you want
The inventor Buckminister Fuller said, “If you want to change how a person thinks, give up. You cannot change how another person thinks. Give them a tool the of use of which will gradually lead them to think differently.” Well, this weekend was all about gathering tools from all the classes that you took on story. When you leave, I want you to apply those tools not only to your writing, but also to your life.
What is more important than the story that you are living? If you spent as much time developing your own personal character arc as you do polishing your spec script, how would your life change?
A few years ago, I worked with a writer named Ryan. When he first came to me, he was part of a writing team. He and his partner were very talented, but they hadn’t sold anything yet. They had a manager, but not an agent. They had a gift but they needed to learn how to get their writing to a stronger place.
We worked together for a little while, we made some progress, and then Ryan got some bad news. His partner was dealing with some personal issues, and wasn’t going to be able to keep working on their collaborative projects. Basically, he was breaking up with Ryan.
This was a huge blow. They’d been on the verge of real success, and now Ryan felt like he was starting over from scratch.
Ryan was looking at this breakup as not just a setback but as something that was happening to him, something that he couldn’t control. And he wasn’t going to be able to move forward until he started to think of himself as the active hero of his own story.
Yes, he was going to have to work twice as hard from now on. Yes, he was going to have to rebuild his writing portfolio from the ground up. But the most important thing was, he was going to have to believe he could do it on his own. He had to choose to see this setback as an opportunity–as the beginning of a new story, with himself as the sole protagonist.
Once he made this mental shift, Ryan felt re-energized. He started writing a lot. We worked together on several more scripts, and I could see that his voice was actually even stronger on its own. What’s more, he started to take charge of his own career. He knew what he wanted, and he took decisive action to go out and get it. He took my Storywise 10 Week TV Writing Teleseminar, he got into Writers on the Verge, and he was wanted for the Warner Bros. Program, all in that same year. He landed a big agent. And today he’s a staff writer on “Chicago Fire.”
Ryan took a big setback and, instead of giving up and becoming a victim, he used that setback to drive him toward success. He let that problem inspire him to take action. He became the hero of his own story.
What if you could create the story you want to live by taking action? What if you could learn to become the active hero of your own story?
If you aren’t living the life you’d want to see on the page–if you’re not happy with the log line for your own biopic–what actions can you take to change it? What’s holding you back from taking those actions?
Many of us let failure or the fear of failure, hold us back.
What if you changed the way you view failure?
I want you to start seeing your falls and failures in a new light. I want you to look at your failures as a step toward success instead of a step away from it.
Failure is what makes us grow. When you fall, you learn what didn’t work. You took an action, and you didn’t get the result you wanted. Fine. Now you know what not to do, right?
When we fail, we grow. And when we grow, we move forward.
No hero succeeds right away. In any great story, each action the hero takes sets up a new obstacle. These obstacles escalate. Things keep getting worse. Finally, it looks like all is lost–until the hero turns things around and triumphs.
But that triumph wouldn’t have happened without the failures that went before it, right? Heroes learn from each obstacle they face. A hero has to keep focused on her destination, but she also has to learn from her journey, or she’ll get to the end of the story without the knowledge she needs to succeed.
When you choose to become your own hero, you choose to transform your failures into obstacles just waiting to be heroically overcome.
There are three key ingredients you’ll need for this kind of real-life heroic journey:
And a Defined Goal.
Most of my friends would call me an optimist. And I think for the most part, that’s true. I’ve been working in Hollywood for 21 years. I’ve seen a lot of people’s dreams come true. I’ve seen a lot of magic happen.
But when it came to my own dreams, well, I just wasn’t quite as optimistic.
The legendary Aaron Spelling was my boss and mentor for 12 years. He was constantly telling me to write. Every time I turned in notes on a script or even wrote him a birthday card he’d say, “You should be writing.” But to become a writer, I’d have to leave the security of the executive world. That security was what I’d grown up with. It was what I knew. So the idea of leaving it to pursue the dream of writing terrified me.
I helped to launch a countless number of writing careers. I staffed over 15 top primetime shows. I saw what it was to go from non-working to being a working writer. The thought “what if” constantly filled my mind.
I knew how to do it. I just didn’t quite believe that I could.
It took a failure to light that fire of belief in me. I lost my job after 15 years with the same company. I felt like I was going through a second divorce. But recovering from that failure taught me how to redefine what I wanted, and take action to get it. I got where I am today by taking action to achieve a clear goal–but the very first step was igniting that belief in myself. The first step was for me to believe I could be the hero of my own story.
Of course, belief alone isn’t enough–you’ve got to carry it out. You’ve got to become the active hero of your own story.
Like TJ. TJ was one of my first clients when I started my consulting business. He was in his mid-thirties and already living one version of the American dream–steady job, nice apartment, loving fiancée. But he had another dream that was closer to his heart. His dilemma was, was his dream of becoming a writer worth leaving his safe, steady income?
TJ believed in himself. His writing was great. He had strong ideas and he knew how to execute them on the page. He just needed his actions to meet with an opportunity.
TJ referred his friend, Rasheed to me. We worked on several scripts together. Then, TJ told me that he and Rasheed had written a feature together and were contemplating the idea of writing TV together. TJ was a master of idea and structure. And Rasheed was great at character and emotion. We worked on several scripts together to build them a strong portfolio as a team.
We also had to figure out the right goal for them–they had to pitch the right kind of scripts. UTA loved their spec script for MAD MEN. They also liked their spec for FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. But nothing quite clicked until they wrote their second pilot, which showcased both of their strengths–the emotional strengths Rasheed brought, and the creative ideas TJ came up with. After they pitched this pilot, UTA signed them. And four days later they were staffed on LIE TO ME.
I found out later that TJ had created a vision board for himself years ago, showing the house he wanted to be living in and the family he wanted to start with his then-fiancee. Well, he is living that vision now. His fiancée is now is wife. They have two kids and they live in the house from his vision board. And he got there through belief, decisive action, and a defined goal.
Becoming the hero of your own story will help you achieve your career goals. But it’s not just about external markers of success. It’s also about changing the way you see yourself and the events in your life. It’s about deepening the connection between your life and your work, so that you’re not just successful in your work, you’re fulfilled by it.
I worked with another writer named Brian who’d worked his way up to a pretty high rank in the military. That experience gave him the courage he needed to take action, and the discipline he needed to pursue his goals. But there was still something holding him back from totally throwing himself into this work.
His mother was dying of cancer. Now, I’m not saying he should have ignored that pain to focus on his work–far from it. I wanted Brian to take that pain and use it to fuel his writing.
For a while, he held that part of himself back. But after his mother died, something changed for him. He took that grief and put it on the page. He wrote from a truer and more honest place. Not only did his work get better and better, he felt more grounded in that work. He truly became the hero of his own story when he let that story incorporate all of himself.
Brian built up a really strong portfolio of smart, sensitive pilots and TV specs. He landed an agent. Then he got into Writers on the Verge. Finally, he staffed on ARMY WIVES–truly the perfect show for him. Now he’s staffed on a new NBC show, “Ironside.”
In each of the stories I’ve told you, our hero took a challenging situation and turned it into something positive. These heroes were fueled by belief, and they took action to achieve defined goals. They did the important emotional work on their life stories so that they had even more to draw on when they sat down to write. They became the active heroes of their own lives.
In the book Conscious Business, Fred Kofman, talks about four components of the journey to success: being, doing, having and becoming. He says, “Our attention is normally drawn to that which we can see (the effect), which obscures the importance of what remains hidden (the cause). We focus on results (the having) and forget the process (the doing) necessary to achieve those results.”
To me, this means you can’t focus too much on your destination. You’ve got to have a goal, but you need to keep eyes open on the way there. If you don’t, you’ll miss the chance to learn from the obstacles you hit on the way there.
If you believed in yourself and you took action to start that journey towards your goal, what’s the worst that could happen?
You could fail. But that failure won’t be the end of your story. When you fall, when you fail, you get new information about how to do what you’re doing better. Take it. Recognize that your failures move you toward success, not away from it. When you shift the way you see your pain, the creative world you’ve dreamed of can become a reality.
In my own life, the dream of being a writer became the reality of being the author of three books when I changed the way I looked at my pain. I realized that my falls gave me something to write about. My failures took me toward my dream, not away from it. Learning how to emotionally process those falls gave me the emotional fuel for my journey.
With belief, action, and a defined goal, you can make your dream a reality. You can turn your failures into obstacles on the way to success.
This is the most important story you will ever write: your own story. Learn to be in your story. When you write your own life story, we will see the real you in your writing. And that’s what any audience wants: We want to see you be story.
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