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By Tony LaScala · May 31, 2013
The road is fraught with peril,
An Odd-Jobbers life can take unexpected turns. Career altering decisions can be made with a single stroke of a pen, and the past few months have been filled with moments worthy of writing an Odd-Job chronicle article about. Somehow I could never find the words in between the frantic nights of scrambling to make deadlines, proposed and rejected projects, and the general disarray that is the life of an ADHD afflicted Odd-Jobbing weirdo just trying to get a foot in the proverbial door of this industry. Since I’ve last written, many a road have been travelled down; some have dead ended, some are still winding down the path, and one has lead me to the entrance of a much bigger road full of potholes and blind spots.
It looked like any other envelope, white with red lettering. Not thick enough to stand out from the regular junk mail and too thick to be a check. When I came home that day I tossed it on my desk like I would any other letter to be opened at a more convenient time. Both my body and mind were aching. I had worked a full day, the constant yapping of the dogs echoing still in my brain. I knew the drudgery of the task I had before me for the night; a re-re-re-rewrite of a sketch I had been writing for a client a friend of mine had found for me. The sketch had started out pretty funny, and quickly degenerated (based on the wants of the client) into a hack-fest of a script that I was ashamed to have my name attached to. Thankfully the sketch was for a Russian wedding and would only be seen by the attendees and perhaps a few friends of the bride and groom post nuptials. The final deposit from the client into my PayPal account had quickly washed my shame away, and I was desperately trying to get the final okay so that I could move on and work on my own “free” scripts.
The letter sat on my desk for several days, unopened and unnoticed until that fateful evening when my writing area needed to be cleared of notes and scraps to prepare for my next project. I took a quick sift through the letters, to ensure none of them were of importance. When it finally dawned on me what the letter was, my heart skipped a beat. I shoved my index finger into the opening of the envelope and slid it along the seam, splitting the paper just between the red lettered “State” and “University” of Cal State University Northridge…
You have been admitted to the California State University, Northridge Cinema and Television Arts Department, Master of Arts in Screenwriting Program.
We have just 15 seats to offer each year, and can accept only a small percentage of applicants…
…the road took an unexpected turn.
I never expected to get in to the Masters Program. I didn’t have a plan for attending, of leaving my job, of finding financial aid, of how to commit myself to another two years of education. But an opportunity was staring me in the face in Geneva font on 32 -pound off-white stock paper. It was a difficult adventure to fully comprehend undertaking, but the opportunity could not be denied. Sometimes an Odd-Jobber only needs one opportunity.
For over a decade I have been trying to break into “The Industry.” I’ve worked crew on short films, independent films, I’ve written pro bono for countless “D” level Hollywood types, taken seminars, glad-handed other writers, I’ve burned bridges with friends by devoting myself nearly twenty-four seven to writing, writing, and more writing. I’ve never, ever, ever, never, never, ever had a lead or a meeting or a handshake lead to anything of major significance. In order to break into this business, you need to know someone already in the business that is willing to give you a first job.
Therein lies the rub.
I’ve never expected a shot from anyone. I’ve wanted one several hundred million billion times, but I respect a professionals privilege to say no. Recently, I did a podcast at the Jon Lovitz Theater in Hollywood, and our guest was Kerry Ehrin (Former executive producer/writer for Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and now the critically acclaimed Bates Motel). Over the course of the interview, she offered several insights into writing in the business, breaking in, and the decorum of a writing room in television. Towards the end of the interview, she mentioned that one way to break into the industry was to become a writing assistant on a show first, to which I blatantly and unapologetically begged for one of those jobs. It was all fun and games, but when we went off the air Kerry was kind enough to ask for my card and offer her email address. Later that evening, I emailed her my resume, and my thoughts wandered from hopefulness to the inevitable depression that followed once I realized that she was probably just trying not to hurt my feelings. The following morning I had an email, in which she said she would pass my resume along to any show she thought I would be a good fit for as a writing room assistant, and in the meantime could I send something I’d written for her to read.
Then I died.
Over the next 78 hours I re-wrote a television pilot I had been developing for web (The same project I have been speaking about at the beginning of this year) I wrote all night, and typed out notes to myself while at work. I sent drafts to myself and edited them while my boss wasn’t looking. Draft after draft after draft, I honed it down to my best possible work and I sent it along. That’s ONE connection down.
An Odd-Jobbing writer NEEDS connections to break into this industry. Every time I thought of other ways to break in, at some point I came upon an inevitable intersection with some producer, writer, director, agent, or what-have-you needing to Green light some step of the process. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and the goal of every screenwriter (at least I believe) is to have their babies grow up into fully-fledged champions of filmmaking lore. Be it an art house film, tearjerker, popcorn flick, indie horror, or any other incarnation of script; we want them to get made.
I’m not naïve enough to believe myself the greatest writer whom ever walked the planet, I’m not even the best in my own city, but I have lofty goals to become just that. Education for a writer is a very important part of the process. Not just because of what you learn, but whom you meet…
Connections help us grow in this industry, meet people that can give us jobs, internships, or pointers. I don’t know many people, and therefore I applied to CSUN with the hope that through their renowned internship program I could find some connections within the television and/or filmmaking community. I believed there was an off chance at getting in, but I put it out of my mind and continued plugging away at my job, dropping resumes, and Odd-Job writing bizarre little scripts like the aforementioned catastrophe of a comedy sketch for pathetic paydays that did little more than provide a few more tanks of gas and a pin cushion in my bank account.
The road before me is not without its perils, no worthwhile roads in Hollywood are. But, in the blood pressure raising mad scramble to piece my life together, justify my transition back into higher education, find a financial avenue to cover the costs, and put a mountain of projects on the backburner: the tiniest of smiles crept across my face.
I found an open road. I’m sprinting down it.
Preparing for a few blisters,
P.S.: If any Odd-Jobber is interested in Kerry Ehrin’s incites into the television industry, here’s the link to said interview, skip ahead to about 9:35 in (unless you want to subject yourself to some of my random ramblings that are un-related to film and television, but hey, it’s your time):