Hey, Pamie: “What Does a Non-Staffed TV Writer Do in February?”

Aspiring television writers! Curious-about-writers people! Those of you sitting there thinking, “Uh, I know pamie doesn’t have a pilot, she’s not staffed, her latest book is turned in… so what the eff is she doing not updating pamie.com?”

Today’s Weekly Procrastination is for you.

Subject: YOUR WEEKLY PROCRASTINATION… although why do you let us do this to you?

Hi Pam,

This question is for Pam the TV Writer, not Pam the Author or Derby Girl or Cat Lover (although I have loads of questions for this Pam). ANYWAY, so your project didn’t get picked up (fuck ’em)… are you trying to get staffed on other shows or are you working on any other TV projects? Basically, what does Pam the TV Writer do when she’s not currently Pam the TV Writer?

Many thanks,

Barbara has the distinction of being the first person to make me feel Twitter-famous by retweeting something I wrote about the plane I was on because we were on the same plane. I tweet-manded she introduce herself and we made small talk at baggage claim. She would perhaps be higher on my list of cool things that have happened to me on planes if it weren’t for Bjork.

Okay, so Pam the TV Writer is lucky because she does wear a few other hats. I currently have (paid) work both outside and inside the TV world, even though I’m not allowed to talk about them yet because they wrote in their contracts that I can’t. So that’s part of TV Pam’s writing world, the secret projects that actually pay cash. Those are great and I’m very grateful for them.

But here’s what I mostly do right now:

I take meetings.
I prep to take meetings.
I take more meetings.

I also write things to send out that get me meetings, but that’s more about features. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I have a pilot script that’s going around to introduce me to producers I haven’t met before to see if they’d either like to attach themselves to that pilot or meet with me to discuss something new we could do together. That means: more meetings. I am watching television and reading pilot scripts like some kind of monkey in a cage because I’ve got to be ready to talk about shows and meet on shows and be like, “Yeah, I’ve totally watched all six seasons of your show. It’s my favorite.” (But, I mean: It does become your favorite once you find out it likes you.)

I meet with people who like what I write and we talk about what kind of show I could bring them that we could pitch together. I go back to my house and write up pitches. I take more meetings. I get meetings rescheduled. I prep for more meetings. I work with my agency to let them know which meetings would be good meetings to try to get set up for me. I pitch ideas and concepts and generally try to figure out what kind of workload I’m about to take on. In the meantime I go on meetings for features, which is more about sitting over a cup of coffee talking about something way less specific. “We’re always looking for something, so if you ever come across an idea of anything, please let us know.”

This is a very exciting time of the year for the UPS delivery man, because he finds himself saying things to me like, “Hey, you’re not wearing pajamas!” or, “Wow, I didn’t recognize you!”

I spend my day getting ready for the rest of the year, either by finishing up the projects from last year or getting a jump on what’s to come. And on top of all of this: at any time I must be prepared for the sudden, seemingly random meeting to interview to write on an existing show — which would immediately toss out most of the prep I’m doing. (But that’s a good thing.)

I could also get called in for punch-up, because lots of people are currently prepping their pilots for production. Once they settle on their cast, they will find out that their cast has opinions, strengths, weaknesses, power. (Sadly, sometimes only opinions and weaknesses.) They will have their cast do a read-through and find there are things that need to be changed. They will do rewrites. And they will be tired and want some help.

This is when those writers will have to scroll through their ever-dwindling list of friends, hoping some of them owe a favor or two. They will bring in writers they know, writers who have been recommended, and writers they are testing out for a possible job later if the show gets picked up. A punch-up runs like a writers room, except nobody’s getting paid in anything but free food and maybe a small thank-you gift in the mail later. Invitations to punch-ups also come last minute, sometimes in an email the night before. “HERE’S MY LATEST PDF THANK YOU THANK YOU SEE YOU AT NOON YOU CAN EMAIL YOUR COFFEE ORDER TO MY ASSISTANT AND IT WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU.”

Then you go to the punch-up, sometimes for one day, sometimes more, where you watch a run-through, scribble in your script the changes you’d suggest, listen to the showrunner complain about the notes from the studio and network and then gently try to suggest changes to the one script that showrunner’s been working on since he or she started pitching it in July, which means he or she has only had to work on this one twenty-four minute story for about seven months, so they sometimes just start shouting: “IT’S NOT LIKE I HAVEN’T ADDRESSED THAT NOTE AT THE TOP OF THE SECOND ACT! I MEAN, IF THEY WANT TO JUST MAKE IT SHIT, THEN WHY NOT SAY, ‘I’D REALLY LIKE THE SHOW TO SUCK ASS BY THE END OF THE FIRST ACT. THAT’S MY NOTE. CAN YOU DO THAT?’ YES, I CAN DO THAT. I THOUGHT YOU WANTED THE SHOW I SOLD YOU, BUT I GUESS NOT.”

Punch-ups can be testy. And yes, showrunners are kind of always stress-yelling.

Oh! And all my friends who have been staffed over the past year are about to go on small hiatuses right around March, which means I will also get lunches and brunches and dinners with all of my friends I haven’t seen since last summer, when they were like, “I might get on this show — have you read it yet?” These friends will be lost and shell-shocked without the scheduled chaos of their rooms. They’re unused to doing anything on their own. They will be so relieved to be out of work, and yet: so worried they’ll never work again. They will complain about how hard their room was and moan about about how much weight they’ve gained and then they will guilt-pay the check. It’s fantastic.

Irwin Handleman wrote about what has happened to him now that the show he pitched was sold but not picked up, how sometimes your last year can become your this year, and it’s a very familiar story. I, too, had to go through the, “Do I want to change this half-hour to an hour? Wait. Do I really want to make a show about roller derby be more ‘male-oriented’?”

But the part that I truly identified with is when Irwin writes about how weird it is to pitch a show over a busy table in a deli during a meal.

I hate having to pitch over food, but not nearly as much as I hate pitching in a conference room. It’s always a giant table in a room that appears to be designed solely for the purpose of telling thirty people they aren’t getting their Christmas bonuses. At least during the pitch over food you can pretend you’re telling someone about a movie you saw the other night that you loved, but at the sad, echo-y, always-cold-to-the-touch conference table that may or may not have some people dialed -in on a slightly delayed video feed, there’s no good way to deliver jokes. It’s comedy death.

Plus I’m always on some kind of swivel chair thinking to myself, “Don’t spin. Don’t spin. Don’t rock. Don’t swivel. Just sit. Just pitch. Stop sweating. You have lost your place. These people aren’t listening. Why are you sweating when it’s so cold? Why are you here? What have you done? Okay, one little swivel, then stop. Hey, how about a random Madonna song stuck in your head right now? Gonna dress you up in my love. All over, all over. Your pitch is all over. You have nothing new to say.

Okay, so to recap: I take meetings, I prep for meetings, I stay available for unexpected meetings and I write all the other things I have due that I got while I was taking meetings last year. I answer my email, I work on my fitness, I bring clothes to Goodwill, I think about learning Spanish, and then I write some more. And then I go take a meeting.


Hey, I did that one without any yelling!

If you have a question about writing or television or novels or screenplays or any of these places where I write words and other people read them, send an email to pamie at pamie dot com with the subject line: YOUR WEEKLY PROCRASTINATION.

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  1. irwin handleman

    oddly, i like pitching in those giant conference rooms the most. i feel like nothing funny could ever happen in that room so there’s no pressure. and also it makes me feel like a business man and my dad is proud of me.

  2. Heidi

    Good golly. I’m ever glad you wrote that blog post response to me (https://pamie.com/2011/06/making-it-work-while-youre-mostly-working-for-free) about making ends meet, because this? Is financially terrifying. You have fortitude! Good luck on all of it (and enjoy the staffed writers dinnerama o’ guilt =)!

  3. Alexandra

    Is it bad that my first thought upon reading the UPS man’s comment “Hey, you’re not wearing pajamas!” was, “Oh no, she was too stressed to realize she was naked.” Yeah? OK, now I know. :P