Anne Kenney speaks to the importance of using original works as writing samples, no matter the type.
Writing samples give potential employers and reps a valuable sense of a writer’s capabilities. Mentor Anne Kenney (American Gods, Outlander) explains what to consider with a writing sample and why it should always be original.
Question: “My rep has asked for some new samples. Should I provide them with work that I produced for a show I was staffed on?”
Anne Kenney: Ah, the dreaded “we need a new sample” request…
In general, scripts written for an existing show are not an ideal writing sample. Even if it’s a writer’s draft, it’s hard to tell what a person came up with on their own or what was a product of the writers’ room.
Showrunners, executives, producers, etc….are interested in seeing how an individual writer’s head works. What interests them? What’s their passion? What distinctive point of view might this person bring to a writers’ room? To show that, you really need an original piece of work. Now, that piece doesn’t necessarily have to be a spec pilot, although that’s always good—it can be a play (even a one-act play), a full-length screenplay, or a screenplay for a short film. I’ve actually had reps use a short story I had written as a writing sample. This, along with my track record on staff, was sufficient to give the exec I was meeting with enough to go on. I don’t think I got a job off of that, but I also don’t think that was because my writing sample was a short story.
The good news about the arduous process of generating a new piece of original work—especially a pilot or feature (although, having been on the receiving end of spec scripts, I am often MUCH happier if what I am reading is shorter than a full-length feature)—is that it can serve double duty for you. It’s a writing sample and ALSO something someone might actually buy to develop or make. In my experience, this outcome is a LONG SHOT, but a possibility, nonetheless.
One other thing: I’ve also had the experience of having reps tell me they need a new piece of material as a way to explain why they aren’t getting me meetings. Sometimes this is true. They DO need something new/newish to show. Sometimes, however, especially if you have several pieces of original material they could be using, it’s a way for ineffective reps to foist off their lack of working on your behalf onto you. In that instance (and it took me YEARS, and many requests for new samples, to finally acknowledge this in my case), the repeated request for a new sample COULD be a wakeup call that it might be time to look for new reps.
Of course, the best way to look for a new rep is to go out with a new piece of material. Which brings us back to go….It’s never a bad thing to generate a new piece of original material.
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