Jameal Turner on what new staff writers should know about how, and when, to pitch ideas in a Zoom room.
Congrats! You’ve just landed your first TV staff job! But now that you’re “in the room,” how do you navigate the challenges of pitching your ideas in a virtual environment while still proving your worth? Mentor Jameal Turner (All American, Rosewood) explains how and when it’s appropriate for new writers to make their contributions.
Send your questions about the craft, job hunting, your career, or Guild service to Connect (under 100 words, please) with the subject “Mentor,” and we’ll send them to an established screen or TV writer to answer. Questions might be edited for space or clarity and will be published anonymously.
Question: “What advice would you give a new writer about how, and when, to pitch ideas for the show in a Zoom room?”
Jameal Turner: Truthfully, this answer lies within the dynamics of the room, which is contingent upon the showrunner and what type of room they prefer to run. Is it a “best idea wins” type of room, which generally encourages all levels of the writing staff to pitch? Or is it a room that leans heavier on “hierarchy,” where your upper levels (showrunner, co-EPs, supervising producers) typically do most of the talking? Regardless, I highly encourage the new writer to spend the first few weeks gauging the room and how the writers operate when it comes to pitching, to help determine when it’s appropriate to make their contributions and pitch that gold-standard nugget they’ve been noodling for the past few days.
Once you have sussed out the dynamics of the room, I typically encourage young writers to “pick their spots” in terms of when it’s the right time to pitch. Find the quiet moments when the room is normally stuck in neutral over a story or character point. Or, when there is something that speaks to you specifically—whether it’s a character trait, an event you experienced, or something you’re obsessed with and have a treasure trove of research to back up—feel free to pick your spot and make a contribution. Swing for the fences, understanding that you won’t hit a home run every time, but that’s ok. As long as you’re hitting singles and a few doubles here and there, you are doing more than enough to prove your worth and exist beyond your 20-week probationary...or 10-week if you’re on a shorter order. DAMN.
Now, I know we’re living in a different time. Your time on the clock in a Zoom room is typically much less than your time in a traditional writers’ room, because let’s face it, nobody wants to stare at a laptop screen for eight to ten hours a day, running the risk of burning out their corneas. That said, you’re probably feeling the urge to pitch more because you have less time to prove your worth. Not to mention it’s a little more daunting when EVERYBODY in the Zoom gallery is staring at you as you pitch your heart out at a time when your internet is the most unstable it’s been all day. Regardless, the same action still applies. Pick your spot and bet on yourself.
But before you do that, one last piece of advice: be sure to give yourself a competitive edge.
What do I mean by that? ALWAYS read the notes from the night before to help you get up to speed if you feel a little lost or confused when it comes to whatever you might have discussed that day in the room. The notes also serve as a tool to help you pitch. There are normally holes in the story that will need a little spackle; be the spackle and pitch that alt. Or there is a character that needs a little more emotional heft; be the spackle and pitch that alt. Or there is a plot point that needs one more twist; be the spackle and pitch that alt. Preparation is EVERYTHING in this business. The better prepared you are, the brighter you’ll shine. Doesn’t matter if it’s Zoom or a regular room.
Missed a previous “Ask a Mentor”? Read answers to these questions.
“I’m an older writer returning to my early passion after a successful medical career. Any advice for older writers trying to break back in?” Answer
“I have just been offered a one-step deal in which I am only guaranteed one pass at a non-original project. How, Curmudgeonly-But-Experienced Mentor, do you feel about this?” Answer
“What's a reasonable number of general meetings per year for a feature writer at the studio level? Perhaps not someone with a major produced credit, but someone who lands assignments and works regularly.” Answer
“When do you know your script is ready to go out into the world?” Answer
“Should a new staff member in an established writers’ room worry about talking too much, or too little?” Answer
“As an aspiring TV writer, should I skip over staffing and go straight to selling my own show?” Answer
“Most managers/agents say they want you to stick to one genre, because otherwise the execs will get ‘confused’ as to what you write. Do you have any recommendations about how to get repped and/or put yourself out there, when you write in more than one discrete genre?” Answer
“I was looking for some advice regarding manager/client relationships and the general management of your representation when you feel as though you have no street cred and/or are in the weaker position.” Answer