What Writers Need To Know About Breaking Into Television by John Truby

What Writers Need To Know About Breaking Into Television by John Truby



John what is the question that you're asked most often about breaking into television and how is your answer evolved over the years well a lot of writers have an interest in television but they see it as this you know this castle that they have to get into that's very difficult to to get through the wall and so they're wondering how specifically do you do that and what they think is the answer is that you come up with a spec idea for your own TV show and unfortunately it doesn't work that way you can have a great idea for a TV show but it won't matter unless you have a tremendous amount of experience writing for television writing on a television staff so the process that a writer needs to go through is to first of all write a spec script for show that's already on the year and what that means is you want to focus on a particular show that first of all that you like very much that you really know top to bottom it's a show that should be very popular so that it's going to be running for a few years and it should be a show that is highly regarded in other words it it was constructed well its critics really like it the reason for that is that when you write a spec script for a really good show it improves your writing as well it shows you off now what you do then is you study that show very carefully you come up with an idea for a script for that show you write the script and then it's important to realize that you're not writing it because you think you're going to sell that script you're writing that script as a calling card which will then be sent around to various TV shows and this proves that you have the skills to write the professional level for television one other thing I would say about this is that the primary emphasis in television is being able to crack stories really fast in other words to come up with a new story for that show at a really high rate of speed because TV has this timeout that is much more intense than film so you've got to be great at story and this is the primary skill that writers need to emphasize so once you realize that they need to pay their dues they're not going to be just plucked and unknown and their idea is going to just change everything they really have to start from the ground up right the the with film it's a little different keep in mind you can write a spec this excuse me you can write a spec script for film that is actually good enough to be bought and might even be made this is not the case in television in television you've got to pay your dues and the steps of paying the dues are much more take a much longer period of time but the payoff is tremendous and the steps that you're looking for then are you write the spec script it's a good calling card somebody hires you to be a staff writer on the show you then get experience writing for a television show then they might give you the opportunity to create your own show that's the ultimate payoff and why why are there two different ways of doing things it is the television is because it's already established there's a show there's a whole system in place whereas each film's its own separate unit exactly do with the film you can come up with a great script with a great premise that is a highly commercial idea and even though you won't have a tremendous say amount of experience as a professional screenwriter because it's a one-off because it's a single unit that is going to be made you have a chance of it being bought in may whereas with television when when you're creating a TV show basically you are creating a big business this is a show that needs to run minimum five years so with anywhere from 13 to 24 episodes per season so you're talking about in some cases for example in Seinfeld almost 200 shows that they're doing over the course of the history of that show so you've got to be the amount of money that is going into creating and sustaining show is just immense and going back to whether your answer answer excuse me has evolved over the years was there a time when you thought that a virtual unknown could break into the business and then you see that it just doesn't happen that way it's it's funny because people always want there to be an evolution in terms of how you break in but it's remarkably the same over the years this this has been the way you break into television from the very beginning now where it has changed is in the film area because in the film area the typical way was you write a spec script you try to sell that spec script and nice big spec sale now what's happening now though is that with the internet and the ability to make a short film and post it so that anybody can see it like that it's a huge change because in the past when you wrote this spec script you had to get it into the studio and unless you're a writer with an agent which most writers aren't do not have that agent you can't even get into the studio to have it read once it's in the studio then it has to get through a reader and readers say no 99.9% of the time if it gets through the reader it then has to go to a story executive and the story executive has to say I really like this so you got to get through all these obstacles and keep in mind the story executive doesn't have time to read your spec script because the only time they have is on the weekends and they don't want to spend their weekends reading your specs rip all of a sudden you get this huge game-changer with the internet because you can post 5 10 minute short film short video on the internet and anybody including that story executive can take 5 minutes 10 minutes to take a look at that video and now that doesn't guarantee that all of a sudden you know you're going to get a deal with the studio but it gets you entrance where before it was so much more difficult to get through that door even to be noticed you

17 Comments

  • Darlene Smith says:

    The information given in this video is good but it's very out dated. The ways of how the television industry works have drastically changed. Changed for the better!

  • queerchoreography says:

    WOW 😮 really valuable advice. Thanks!!

  • Therese Ember says:

    I disagree with this gentleman. The rationale is that when the vast majority of TV shows are extremely violent and/or desecrate females (raped; murdered, prison, etc.),
    DO NOT add to that mentality. Always raise the bar and take the high road. Align yourself with only virtuous platforms and virtuous noble instructors/goals/associates. Take the lead to guide yourself and others towards paths of only virtue and wisdom. Surround yourself with ONLY those whose values
    subscribe to a narrow margin for well-being, virtue and safety. You’ll save yourself from being around an environment of harmful associative influences. When you’re a writer, you have an enormous responsibility not to lead the public in ignoble directions. It helps no one when, in real life, copycat crimes are inspired by an ignoble writer.

  • Debra Diament says:

    Yeah what about Lena Dunham writer/ creator of Girls? Was she a tv writer before? Now she has the show Camping

  • Yanti Mohhan says:

    Oh, My God.TV writers have no life? Work for 6 days a week and long hours .How about. I just write few draft and the rest the draft i let another writer write the script.i just give an idea for the storyline.lol

  • Mick G. says:

    Could some of these notions (paying dues etc,) be outdated with the new approach to TV? It's much more filmic, The idea can be as unique and explosive as a blockbuster movie. Obviously you have to be able to work fast and react quickly. But Seinfeld is ages ago. Seasons are way shorter (6-8 episodes). I might be completely wrong.

  • Melody Beattie says:

    Mr. Truby has such profoundly honest and helpful information about teleplay and screenwriting that while I hesitate to make a guru out of anyone, he is — he is a master at this craft who devotes his life to teaching the truth about writing great stories, and he inspires appropriate respect for the craft in his students.  Thanks for sharing these videos.

  • Leland Anderson says:

    FFS, networks buy Twitter feeds to turn into shows. The last time this guy wrote for television it was the 80's. You break in the same way you always did: you know someone who gives you a chance even though you don't know what you're doing.

  • JP Murphy says:

    Any suggestions on how to make those connections? Randomly talking to people seems kind of like throw stuff against a wall and just seeing what sticks

  • Miles Maker says:

    Good stuff. Will share with my TV writer friends and people who inquire about TV work.

  • JP Murphy says:

    I do focus on the work… How are they going to "find" me if all I do is write re-write and re-write again, and there is no where to send my scripts to for someone to "find" me. I keep getting this same basic response I've been writing since I was 16… And yes i enter in contests that's the only answer I get is "just write the rest will come" and I spend 50 bucks a pop enter contests. There has got to be something else to it. I'm looking for specifics on how to make it happen.

  • Film Courage says:

    Generally in regards to finding representation we often hear do not focus on finding representation, they will find you. Focus on the work. We know we have talked about it, but this is a rare case where we cannot think of videos from our own library to share. We'd recommend visiting John August's site, we imagine this is something he has covered often. What always makes this so challenging is there is no one set way to break in other than being relentless and putting in the work.

  • JP Murphy says:

    Thanks for the response. I watched the video it was great general information & a good reminder to stick w/ the fundamentals through a production but as far as trying to sell a script idea from a short there was no information specifically on watched by people for selling a written script or obtaining representation. I am constantly combing through resources & can never find anything helpful that has specific terms on how to get representation in terms of writing

  • Film Courage says:

    Hi James, we'd recommend a video we just posted "What You Need To Know About Building Your Audience by Sheri Candler." You may find many of our videos with Sheri helpful. Whatever it is you are trying to get people to see, we'd recommend not relying on that one thing. Keep making things, getting better, and sharing as you go. We believe it's the body of work, not the piece of work.

  • Film Courage says:

    Thanks, we are really excited about our new series with Mr. Truby. We've posted 3 new segments so far and have many more to share. We hope you'll check back in later.

  • JP Murphy says:

    How do you get someone to watch your short is the question I have?

  • CahuengaConfidential says:

    Terrific video, thanks for posting this…

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