Monday, March 1, 2010

The Two Hundred Others

Came across two numbers last week that I don't normally hear. First, a friend told me about a recent job post he was forwarded for a receptionist gig at a production company. An hour later he gets another email asking for a stop to responses - they had already received over two hundred resumes.

The next day, I read a Wall Street Journal article about playwrites in Hollywood (good discussion here). The article says that there were two hundred submissions for a staffing job on the freshman cable drama LIGHTS OUT. There was probably one staff writing position.

Two job opportunities - one entry level as an industry assistant, the other entry level as a television writer. For the first one, two hundred responses in an hour indicates the high demand and low supply of entry level jobs currently in Hollywood. Additionally, two hundred other people have been in Hollywood long enough to be at a professional level to be submitted for staffing. Unfortunately, all but one of those two hundred for each job will be rejected.

It's a business of rejection and a business of failure. At least eighty percent of pilot scripts don't go to pilot, at least eighty percent of those don't go to series and at least eighty percent of those series get a second season. At least at the networks. Cable seems to be having more success in the pilot scripts to series to returning series ratios.

By its very nature, cable development can't compete on the same playing field as the networks. There's just not enough money. In order to create competitive original series, the cable networks target a few talent and a few projects and take the time to develop them. Every year, the networks have to hear pitches in August and get scripts by December. It's a very short development cycle that leaves a lot of scripts wanting for more work but is necessary in order to have new shows to launch each fall. Cable doesn't have a fall launch. They can launch any time of the year - and in fact have much success launching off-cycle focusing on one program.

There's a front door to the writer's room and a back door, but right now they're both clogged. The front door is a script submitted for staffing - and I can't tell you the last time I heard someone say their career got started because their agent submitted their script to a new show. I just don't think it happens much these days. Additionally, the back door has always been working through the assistant ranks onto a show, but most people think it's more competitive to try to get a writer's assistant position than a staff writer position. Either way, there are a number of people with experience who will be a first choice above anyone without experience.

The lesson is that to succeed it's going to be a lot harder being one of two hundred paper submissions than one of two people who have a personal relationship with someone near the job. It's tough to think that success can be just about knowing the right person at the right time, but the more people you know and the more time you spend in the right place, Hollywood, the more likely success could be yours.

And when it comes to the next job: be cable, not network.

No comments: