Category Archives: Career

The Downside of Non-Disclosure Agreements

There’s quite a bit of work I do that I am not allowed to speak or write about. As you may guess, this can be quite frustrating. However, there is a big reason I cannot mention my assignment work. It is also is the main reason only vague references to things often appear on this blog.

As I have mentioned before, I am often bound by…

Non-Disclosure Agreements

Yeah. It’s a bit of a mouthful. Perhaps that’s why people usually just refer to them as NDAs.

Non-disclosure agreements often appear in many industries and business-y type situations. These are put to great use in the entertainment world because nobody wants you to give away their “big secret project.”

So screenwriters, and many other people, are asked to sign an agreement to not talk about the project they’re working on. NDAs exist to control information and who can release it to the public. It’s all about perception and press and selling your product. If keeping a project under wraps wasn’t such a big deal, then Quentin Tarantino might not be abandoning his film “The Hateful Eight” for a legal battle.

I understand the point, the use, and the need of an NDA… and yet I still hate them a great deal. For a screenwriter, your work is at the beginning of a project. So by the time the world finds out about what you did… you’re a bit older and more grumpy.

Or maybe I just need another cup of coffee.

Even more frustrating is the fact of not being allowed to show the great piece of writing you were hired to do. It can be solid work, great work, amazing work… and nobody else can read it. You cannot share your writing without potentially extreme consequences. Unless I have been severely misled, legal battles are not friendly conversations over beers in a courtroom.

It is true that some people will know about the things you’ve written, some may even manage to find a copy through unknown sources. However, if you are responsible for sharing work you agreed to keep under wraps because of an NDA… the courtroom beers are on your tab. I hear that’s a steep bill.

Right now there are many screenwriters with great work that they cannot show… not even if a producer wants to see that specific piece of writing as a sample of his or her work… cause, you know, they want to hire you…

And that’s another good reason to have great writing samples of original work to show people — because work for hire covered under an NDA is never for sharing.

At least not yet.

There is a common practice of using scripts as writing samples for projects that have already been released into the world. Once the movie is out, the TV episode has aired, or the webisodes have gone viral, many people are okay with sharing those scripts as work samples.

But even in this case, screenwriters tend to tread lightly. Sending along a script to a producer or executive as a sample is one thing… plastering your assignment work all over the internet can still potentially lead to trouble.

On that note, I’m going to stare at the pile of completed freelance TV scripts on my desk while I have another cup of coffee.

Yep. Just going to sit here and not tell you anything about those episodes I wrote…

But I promise there will be news soon.

-Zac

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Double Overtime: Writing Two Assignments at Once

By all appearances, I simply disappeared from this blog for the last two months. Other than trying to update the Recently Lists, I didn’t have any time to post or do much else. Thankfully, I do have a great excuse…

Two Assignments at Once

After a brief dry spell, I landed two freelance scripts at the same time. It has been a challenge to keep up with everything, and I learned a few things along the way. First, let’s cover the obvious…

-You cannot make more hours suddenly appear in a day.

-It is not possible to properly spellcheck a document when sleep deprived.

-Skipping showers and personal hygiene is acceptable when trying to make a deadline. However, it should be noted you will not make any new friends and baristas may consider you homeless and offer free refills out of pity.

While those are all valuable life lessons, there are a few more important things I discovered while desperately trying to keep on schedule. Mostly, I learned more about my personal time management skills. That is, mine are still a work in progress. I did manage to impress myself with the amount of work I was able to complete in a short time. It’s possible to get so much more done than you might imagine with the right motivation…like deadlines tied to paychecks.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to be grateful. Yes–and perhaps the holiday season is influencing me–it sounds mushy, but I am genuinely thankful to have more writing assignments. I’m thankful to be paid to write. I’m thankful to be writing scripts that will be produced. I’m thankful for those who hired me. I’m also thankful for my wonderful wife who put up with my insane schedule and helped take care of so many important things.

Now it’s time to get back to one last deadline.

-Zac

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Guard the Clock

Sooner or later, as your life gets busy and more things are demanded of you, there will come a time when you must guard the clock. You must protect your writing time. No matter what, if you give away that time, you will no longer be a writer. That is the fastest way to having once been a writer.

Watch

With an eye on protecting my writing time, I made a difficult decision between my two job offers. The new job offer was simply too demanding on the clock. I would have been at work all the time. I wouldn’t have time to write my own material, and just as importantly I wouldn’t have time to do any freelance work. Honestly, I may not have even had time to shower on a regular basis if I had taken that job.

So, in order to save my marriage from a quick downward spiral of bad smells, and to protect my writing career, I am happy to report that I am still a writers’ assistant on an animated series.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s bath time.

What?

Baths are relaxing.

Don’t judge me.

-Zac

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Leveling Up

Entertainment careers are a strange and funny thing. More often than not, they don’t always make sense. This makes career planning something akin to predicting the weather. Like a meteorologist predicting a blizzard, some people are better trained than others at how to navigate the job market. Some guess blindly and miss repeatedly. Others, a few anyways, are just down right lucky. The rest of us learn by experience, both our own and from those we meet along the way.

When starting out, the general career strategy is fairly simple – get employed and stay employed. Once you’re working in the business and don’t have to worry about being able to pay the rent, life can get a bit better. It’s an important step when anyone in Hollywood figures out how to simply survive in this business. Add living in Los Angeles to that, and you deserve a hardy pat on the back. Congrats! At this point, you have a foothold in a difficult business and a tough town.

Leveling Up

Stick it out long enough and you might have a chance to progress that career forward. Moving up to the next level can happen unexpectedly, and there are an almost endless number of levels to reach. Often this leveling up isn’t even realized until after the fact. For example, let’s look at a recent event…

In my day job, I currently work as the writers’ assistant for an animated series. However, I often keep an eye out for other job opportunities and throw my résumé at ones that seem like a potentially better situation. I’m a big fan of finding the next job before the current job ends. Given the odd nature of hiring, I am occasionally called in for interviews long after I’ve forgotten about applying to the various opportunities. The most recent job I interviewed for was even more unusual because I hadn’t even applied to the job. Frankly, I still don’t know how they got my name and email. All I know is that I was in consideration for an exciting job that would allow me to move into a different realm of the television business.

So, I went to the interview. Why? Well, first, you always take the meeting when offered. You simply never know what might come out of it. And second, an interview goes both ways – I wanted to know more about this potential job. Once at the interview, I met some wonderful people, and I found out some important things. I would later need this information to make a difficult decision…

Should I take this new job, or stay with my current one?

This was not an easy thing to sort out. There were some pluses to both sides, and some minuses as well. As I struggled with what to do, an interesting realization crept into my mind… I finally had a choice.

And that’s how I recently leveled up in my career.

Never before have I had the chance to choose between two great jobs in Hollywood. I was in a fortunate and wonderfully difficult place. Either choice would have a clear impact on my future. But before I made a decision, it was nice to take the moment and enjoy making it to that next level.

What choice did I make? Which job won out?

You’ll just have to wait and find out…

-Zac

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Day Job: Interview Advice

Occasionally, people ask me for a small bit of advice. It’s not because I’m an authority on anything, nor do I really have any special words of wisdom. Usually they seek my advice simply because I’ve already done something they’re trying to do. Experience seems to count for something.

Congrats You Got An Interview

All writers need day jobs when they’re first starting out. There’s always rent to be paid. I personally think any job in the entertainment business is best for an aspiring screenwriter. As I’ve talked about before, production jobs can be especially insightful.

Recently, a friend landed an interview for a script coordinator job, and he wanted to know if I had any thoughts on the situation. Here’s the email response I wrote:

Well… more than anything it will come down to being personable. They want to know that after a long, long day you will still be somebody they can be cool having in the office to get the last few things done. They need a team player.

Focus on wanting the script coordinator job. Don’t treat this as simply an ‘in’ to a writing career. They may ask your long-term goals. I’m not sure what the best answer is to this one. I’ve been a bit too forward about pursing a writing career before, and I guess sometimes that can come across in the wrong way. I’ve messed up interviews when I did this. So, maybe talk about an interest in writing… but don’t over highlight it? I’m not sure. Maybe try to play it by ear. Just know they’ll likely ask.

Aside from that, I would just highlight your organizational abilities. The job involves a lot of details and keeping track of many things. They need to know you can keep things in order for them. They don’t have time to do it themselves, that’s why they have a script coordinator.

I think you’d be great for a coordinator job. So just relax, have a little faith in yourself, and have a good time. At the very least, you’ll get to meet some cool people.

Of course if they’re not cool people… there will be other jobs.

Hope that’s at least mildly helpful.

-

I have no idea if my friend landed the job or not. I do wish him the best of luck.

I also think it’s an important thing to note that when you interview for any job that is not your ultimate career goal, you still must show the interviewer that you want the job for which you applied. Aspirations are a good thing, but nobody will want to hire you if you only plan to use them as a stepping stone.

That is unless your potential future boss is actually a rock. In that case, I have no experience.

-Zac

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Waiting or the Ripe Fruit Theory

Hollywood is a strange town when it comes to timing. There’s always a lot of waiting. And you can wait a long time. Then, after so much waiting, you wait some more.

THE RIPE FRUIT THEORY

All this waiting is like buying and selling fruit.

Tasty Fruit

When buying, you wait and wait for fruit to ripen and go on sale. There are many reasons your favorite fruit–strawberries, bananas, kiwi, whatever–may currently be at an astronomical price. The fruit could be out of season, maybe there was a poor crop, or perhaps the weather caused a beetle infestation that ate everything before you could.

When selling, you just hope to unload all the ripe fruit you spent months growing before it goes bad…and you want to get the best price you can for it.

Now when fruit goes on sale, you want to hurry up and buy all of it at a great price. However, you can only stock up on so much fruit at one time because it will quickly rot in your non-air conditioned LA apartment. Next thing you know, you’re surrounded by fruit flies and bad smells.

It appears that script buyers view things in an oddly similar way. They don’t want to pay too much or be stuck with a script that starts to go bad and rot in development in their office. If you ever saw script flies swarm an assistant’s desk, you’d be wary, too.

Unfortunately, there can be many reasons your writing product may not currently be in demand. Your spec might not be the current hot genre, perhaps the characters don’t mesh with the bankable actors currently available, or maybe your story is in the wrong budget range. Just how a farmer can’t control the weather, a writer can’t control the market place.

However, writers and farmers can control how hard they choose to work to grow and write the best product possible. So find the right tools, the best patch of soil, and all the other ways you can extrapolate this metaphor and put in the hard work now. Sooner or later your script will be ripe and you could win the county fair–with a cash prize and a blue ribbon!

Thankfully for writers, our product continues to hold out the hope of one day finding the right buyer. All the left over pumpkins after Halloween aren’t so lucky.

Time to get back to farming–I mean writing.

-Zac

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Post Follow Up Gig Thoughts

It has been several weeks since I completed my most recent freelance writing assignment. Since then, I’ve been busy with other things, but now seems like a good time for my –

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This was my second freelance writing gig and it was a bit different from my first… but it was also somewhat similar. And that’s the main thing I’ve come to learn from this writing experience, this career will always be the same but different.

When it comes to taking on a freelance TV episode, there’s a chance I could be working with a new editor… or one I’ve worked with before. I could end up writing for a new show… or one I’ve written for before. It’s possible I may land an assignment where I’m working on a new show with new people and the entire experience will be new. But I can guarantee that I’ll never have the exact same assignment twice because…

The story will always be different. And every story will come with its own awesome moments and its own challenges. There will never come a time when a writer lands a gig that only requires them to retype the same thing they wrote before. Copy-paste is not what this job is about.

So, that old adage about writing a project – a spec, a pilot, a novel, etc. – that is the same but different applies to more than just developing your own material as a writer. It also applies to the process and work of a freelance assignment.

The real challenge is finding a way to take the part that’s different and learn something from it. You have to continue to grow as a writer because after you spend the paycheck, that lesson is the real reward you get to keep.

-Zac

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Landing the Follow Up Gig

This holiday season has been spectacular for many reasons. I’ve been busy, happy and most importantly of all I’ve been…

Writing on Assignment Glorified Lollipop Tree - Shaded - Tiny

I’ve landed a second freelance writing gig!

This new assignment is for the same great project as my previous writing gig. Just like before, I cannot really say much about the writing or the work.

I can say that so far the experience has been the same, but different. That idea just keeps appearing everywhere I go in Hollywood. If I can find some entertainment business DNA and put it under a microscope, then I imagine somewhere on that double helix in tiny courier font are the words: “same but different”.

There will be another round of post assignment thoughts when this gig is complete. Until then… Happy Holidays!

And now back to writing.

-Zac

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Promoting Promotions: Writers’ Assistant

After the thankful end of my show’s hiatus, I’ve been extremely busy at work. And that extra work has finally paid off with a…

Promotion Glorified Lollipop Tree - Shaded - Tiny

That’s right, I’m moving on up… or at least over. I suppose it’s slightly on a diagonal. It’s up and sideways.

After working for a season as a script coordinator on a kids animated television series, I have been promoted to the position of Writers’ Assistant. At least that’s what it’ll say in the credits.

Writers' Assistant

If the title doesn’t give it away, the job is all about assisting the writers on the show. Sometimes I help do research to answer unusual story-related questions, or I will compile synopses for episodes that have already been written. I’ve even been asked to read writing samples from potential freelance writers. Basically I am there to do anything the writers need help with–including fetching coffee. Fortunately none of the writers I work for ask me to make coffee runs… there’s a reason I gave up the food service industry after my very first job at a sandwich shop. Let’s just say there was some crying over spilt mustard.

In addition to these new responsibilities, I also still perform all the same script coordinator duties as before. Our production runs a rather small crew, so I play double duty. Usually the positions of script coordinator and writers’ assistant are two separate jobs, especially on live action shows. Once again animation proves to be a different sort of beast.

Time to get back to work. I’ve also been extremely busy for other reasons, and I hope to share that news next time.

-Zac

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The Dreaded Hiatus

TV lovers know there is a long break between the seasons of a show appearing on their television screens. In television production, that long wait is not merely a frustrating time to search through reruns or catch up on that never-ending Netflix instant queue. Rather, that break between seasons is known in the production world as the dreaded…

Production Hiatus 

The break between seasons of a show on our TV screens often does not coincide with the production break between seasons. However, there are some interesting similarities in what both the audience goes through and the production team experiences during a hiatus. The main common ground comes down to one thing: anxiety.

What will happen next? When will the next season start? These are concerns we have when on hiatus. It can be slightly stressful. Of course there is the even bigger question that eats at an audience: will there be another season? If that question eats at the audience, it literally plagues the production teams that make the show. For those of us that work to make a show, finding out if there will be another season is about more than keeping the story going for our favorite characters. It’s about knowing if there will be a paycheck, if there will be a way to pay the bills, a way to put food on the plate. Frankly, it’s down right scary.

But we all know this going into a television job. If a show doesn’t return, then it’s simply time to find a new one. While the audience may only need to change the channel to see what else is on, production teams have to brush up their resumes and hustle. In fact, it is a good habit to search for a new job whenever the end of a season is coming up.

Recently (sort of… I’m way behind on my blogging), I survived my first production hiatus. I was given a one-week notice that my job would be ending… and that was terrible news. The rumor was that there might be another season of the show I’d been working on, but it was unclear when that would be. This is what they call “being on the bubble”, and nobody wants their bubble to burst. Basically, don’t get your hopes up in that situation. Additionally, it was not clear if my job would be around in the potential next season due to… let’s just call it outsourcing of a sort.

So, I networked as much as possible and landed a few interviews. And, unfortunately, those interviews did not go well. One of the interviews was so terrible I was actually glad when they did not give me the job. The other interview was okay, but I was not picked. It was disappointing… sort of like never knowing how a TV series ends because it was prematurely canceled.

But then sometimes things work out.

My show was picked up for a full second season. You can read the official press release here. I was also offered the chance to return to the show with a minor promotion. There’ll be more on that… next time.

For now, I am gratefully employed!

-Zac

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