Breaking in to TV and Film

Yeah, right. After years of learning the business of submitting short fiction, and becoming successful enough to rack up lots of published credits in print magazines and anthologies, not to mention teaching students how to do that, I'm trying to get into teleplays and screenplays. It's like being sent back to kindergarten! The biggest challenge: getting an agent--any agent, any agent at all--to even respond to a query.

I've toyed with screenwriting since 2005, when I first got the software Final Draft, which is designed just for writing scripts (and it's fantastic at it). In fact, the book I'm currently shopping, Lost Souls, began as a screenplay. I toyed with a Law & Order script as well, and then moved on to sitcom scripts. I've gone back to it on and off over the years, and about a year ago revisited it.

According to sitcom writing legend Ken Levine, when you try to break into writing sitcoms, you should have two things ready to go. The first is a spec script--a teleplay based on an existing sitcom, to show you can write within an existing framework. The second is a pilot of your own for a sitcom you create--to show that you can create from the ground up. The spec script I wrote is for The Big Bang Theory, and while I don't have any ideas that I'm The Next Big BBT Writer, it has been a blast writing it--and I hope it will serve as a good showpiece to an agent. But first, I need an agent to actually respond to me.

Now, with short fiction, the process is fairly typical. You send along a story, unsolicited, often with a brief cover letter, and wait for acceptance or rejection. But writing for TV and film is more like writing novels; you never submit anything unsolicited, and you start with an agent. Agents are the gatekeepers; you don't get anywhere unless you go through them. But try to get any of them to respond! Even with book agents and editors, I've gotten reasonably timely declinations, but after contacting dozens and dozens of agents who handle sitcom writers, I haven't gotten a single return phone call or email.

This is going to be a learning experience. And I'm not getting any younger! I'll update this as I learn more and move further along.

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