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With the increased demand for new writer voices, networks and studios are increasing efforts toward talent development and recruitment of diverse talent. HBO kicked off its Writing Fellowship several weeks ago. And though the program encountered technical glitches in the first hours of the submission period, that was the result of the crush of applications overloading the server.

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Those who were shut out by the 1000 confirmed applicants–a pre-instituted limit–may be dismayed that 20-30% of those applications were filled out incorrectly. That’s the consistent percentage of applications that NBC, CBS, and ABC receive that are automatically eliminated from contention in their respective programs. All because they didn’t follow the rules.

I do recall that the NBC’s Writers on the Verge release one year had a small space in which you were supposed to input your submission title. It was overlooked by so many that the program sent out emails requesting a correction.

Nowadays if your application isn’t filled out correctly or you forget to attach something, it’s “Try again next year.” And you thought it was your writing!

Usually the program heads hold their Do’s and Don’ts close to the chest. But at a LA Webfest panel, bits of info were eased out by moderator Kathie Fong Yoneda.

Other sure ways to kill your application:

“I was a latchkey kid.” Janine Jones-Clark, Director at Disney ABC Talent Development and Inclusion, said everyone supplies that as a reason why they became interested in writing for TV. She wants more honesty and more digging deeper in revealing who you are. Including the latchkey bit almost assuredly torpedoes your application.

Weak Bio NBC’s Entertainment Diversity Manager Grace Borrero said that often the deciding factor between two applications with great scripts is the supplied bio. Carole Kirschner of CBS’ Diversity Institute’s Writers Mentoring Program echoed that in saying many bios feel like form letters or afterthoughts. The weight to these bios could not be stressed enough by all the panelists.

Courtesy of Victor Bui. Nelson Soler and Jen Grisanti at WonderCon

Courtesy of Victor Bui. Nelson Soler and Jen Grisanti at WonderCon

During our Hollywood consultant panel at WonderCon, Jen Grisanti and Lee Jessup also advocated mining into one’s emotional depths, both in writing and in creating a personal logline. Fail to reveal your junk, and it’s the junkyard for your application.

Being OCD on canon This may be contrary to Con-goers and pop culture aficionados who lambast any conflicting story details, clearly and unerringly pointing out the date, scene, and paragraph number/millisecond as to where the contradiction lies. But the necessity of fitting an episode in between 4:13 and 4:14 is a fallacy. Kirschner said that she doesn’t want to read a script that could be an episode on the show. She wants a script that is better than anything on the show.

I’ve read several specs that took modest liberties, and they were successful in getting the writers into programs.

Similarly Kirschner said that all samples should take risks. Playing it safe on a script won’t get you anywhere but the rejection pile. That doesn’t mean executing every character and reanimating them into zombie sock puppets–even if it’s a multi-cam comedy. All the panelists agreed that the tone should be consistent with the voice of the show. But if you haven’t stretched the parameters, it will be a stretch that your application will advance.

Typos, etc I don’t use Final Draft because of the weak spell checker. Most people turn their auto-spell check off because they don’t want those red squiggly lines permanently on their script. I’m not sure if people forget to turn it back on or not. When I read for a network program, I found over 100 typos and grammatical and punctuation errors. And that was on just one script. I still had to read the script in its entirety.

Grisanti said that in her experience, an abundance of typos will knock you out of contention.

Pasting a PDF into MS Word has mixed results. But even Word’s spell check has deficiencies. A complete scan for typos is essential prior to submission. It’s just rude not to. (I’m sure there are some typos in this article, but my iPhone tried.)

Commas do not mean pause Most people don’t know how to use commas. One of the most common mistakes is the use of a comma to infer a pause in a line of dialogue. In reality, all it pauses is the reader’s attention. There are a lot of rules, and some are debatable. But correct usage goes a long way.

I think I want to do a portion of my next panel on commas. It’s that important.
There are so many reasons a reader can hate your script. Why blow your chances on easy-fixes?

 

–Ken Choy

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