Friday, April 11, 2008

Dexter + job = Not what you're thinking

While I'd like this post to be about Jul and I getting a job on Dexter, that has not come to pass. But what has come to pass is that new reader Adam emailed me a couple of questions about how to land an entertainment job and how to spec a Dexter.

Speaking of which, if you have previously emailed me a question and I haven't answered it, please resend.

I just realized (thanks to Adam, who referenced sending me two emails even though only one appeared) that my gmail doesn't have the same regard for you as I do and could very likely be considering you spam (its definition, not mine!). So anyway, please resend any questions I haven't answered and I'll try to be more diligent in checking my spam folder.

Without further ado, here's Adam:

"I'm currently looking for work to get my foot in the door and start meeting the people I'll need to get closer to writing for TV. And we all know how fun looking for work is. In your blog you talked about how you got your current job, and you mention getting on a desk assisting a VP after six months of hardcore job search. Can you go into more detail about those six months? Did you apply to anything and everything? Or were you just seeking out jobs that people you knew could refer you to?

I'm currently talking to everyone I know and applying for everything I can find, but I generally assume that must things off the UTA job list and other such job sites are no good (people hire people they know or who are referred by someone they know, etc.). I'm always worried I'm leaving stones unturned. And I'm also not
so great at the networking thing. But I'm getting better."

I actually got the job you refer to because I was relentless with the UTA list. After much trial and error, I came to the conclusion that the way to go was to ignore anything more than a week or two old and blanket submit more-or-less generic cover letters with my resume, only personalizing it if the job sounded really interesting. The UTA list allows you to apply to these "older" posts because it has a much more limited audience and therefore fewer people are applying to the jobs. If you're using something like to find jobs, don't even bother if the position was posted more than a day ago...and usually you're probably screwed after a few hours pass.

The few connections I had did net me an interview or two, but in the end it was all me. I interviewed three separate times with my current company...for three different positions...over four months. I kept getting asked back because the recruiter liked me and wanted to bring me into the company, and finally it paid off.

So while personal recommendations and connections are definitely best, I highly recommend the UTA list. Applying to that first job at my company ended up even being the thing that created the connection that ultimately landed me an actual job, so you never know how it's going to work out.

"I'm going to dodge the issue of act breaks (like you I broke episodes in Season 1 and 2 down for quite a while until I found an interview with Melissa Rosenberg where she said that they specifically worked at not having a formula for the show, and then I just ended charting out episodes like features) and focus on what I'm dealing with now:

- When you two wrote your script, did you place in a specific place in Season 2, or was it more of a vague, What If? I tend to like putting my specs in very specific pockets of time in the latest season, but this is proving difficult with Dexter. It's such a dense season, with episodes often falling right on top of each other. So I've decided to try and stretch out the time a bit between episodes 5 and 6 of Season 2. I was curious how you guy approached this.

- Did you decide to use flashbacks? They're a little on and off in Season 2. In the end I thought I'd use Jane Espenson's advice and use whatever they use often enough.

- How did you handle the end-of-episode hooks? It's really not a Dexter episode without some kind of big arc hook at the end. It's not always there, but more often than not. So I'm torn over this. Right now my ending is modeled more after the end of "Love American Style," but that was a unique episode.

Anyway. Just some general questions. And I don't know anyone in my circle of writing friends who have or are specing Dexter."

Aww, that's sweet. Adam assumes we've finished our Dexter spec. I'd like to say that's true but unfortunately it's still in that half-outline/half-script form that it's been in for months. I blame lots of things, from the show itself for taking our B-plot to Jul and I not thinking things through well enough in our revised outline to our recently completed (though the second one starts next week) Extension class where we individually outlined a Chuck and a Pushing Daisies spec. Oh, and there's that little webcomic thing we're working on for Pink Raygun. And zombies. Always zombies.

But anyway, on to Adam's question. Jul and I did place our episode in mid-season 2, but beyond that we tried to stay away from positioning it too specifically. I think we did this because we didn't want to get too tied down to a specific season 2 occurrence or something, but setting a spec between episodes isn't a bad idea at all, so go for it if that's where your story works best.

We did put flashbacks in, and probably for the same reason you're going to - based on Jane's advice. More often than not the show has flashbacks, so we came up with a thematically relevant series of flashbacks.

As for an end-of-episode hook, I'm not 100 percent sure what specifically you're referring to. If you mean something like "Oh my god, Doakes just saw Dexter kill a man, what will happen next episode??" then no. And I think that's a horrible idea, personally. Even if I were doing a Heroes, I would try to come up with the most self-contained story I could find and wrap up as much as possible by the end of the spec. You're right when you say "it's not really a Dexter episode without..." etc. But, well, it's not really a Dexter episode. It's a spec. What works on the show doesn't necessarily work in a standalone piece of writing. Your job is to tell a good story that fits into the world of the show and puts everything back where you found it by the end of the spec. That being said... Part of our spec involved Dexter trying to keep Deb off of his scent as a BHB suspect, but ultimately his actions actually lead her to something that likely will bring her closer to the truth. That's where we leave Dexter at the end of the episode, having inadvertently made things worse for himself. So it definitely had kind of a "big arc hook" at the end, but it was still something vague enough that it didn't disrupt the real season 2 stuff. I think. That was our theory, anyway.

Amusingly, I know several people speccing Dexter, including Michael, who you should totally harass because the bastard and his annoyingly fast writing skills has already written not one, but two Dexter specs. Jerk.

But still, it's definitely one of those shows that hasn't quite hit in terms of being the show to spec. Give it another year. As long as the show doesn't start to suck because of the departure of the showrunner. Sigh.


John Reha said...

It's that time of the year when all the TV Blog-writers are getting questions about good shows to spec.

Ken Levine's List

The big one I've been noticing, as kind of a "dark horse" spec idea, is MAD MEN. Anyone see that show? (Granted, I've got the whole season on DVD, so I should probably just watch it)

Josh said...

I thought about Mad Men, but... I'd rather not continue this trend of starting and abandoning scripts, so, not so much. The Michael I linked to above wrote a very good Mad Men spec, though. I think it's a great show to write.

m said...

Thanks for the "jerk" out!

It's about to turn into 2.5 Dexters, since I'm about to rewrite exactly 50% of it based on some writer's groupy suggestions.

This after finishing my Pushing Daisies, then onto a new pilot and then, unless I change my mind, I'll follow in your footsteps and hit a Chuck.