This has been sitting in the inbox for a while. My apologies.
I attended your Chicks with Bics panel and we met briefly during the BBQ at the Austin Film Festival. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak on the panels and share your experiences, and also for taking the time to talk with me personally. I am a novelist and an aspiring TV comedy writer so everything you spoke about has direct relevance to what I’m trying to do/achieve/be. Therefore, I am writing to express my thanks.
Your advice solidified my plans to start a blog and take an improv class, the latter of which frightens me to my very core (it was the only time I purchased something where I hoped my credit card would be declined).
With the hope that I’m not overstaying my email welcome, I do have a question for you – if you have the time. I wrote a half-hour comedy with the following logline: An orthodox Jewish family, desperate to have a child, tries to adopt a little Jewish girl but through a mixup at the agency, ends up with an African American one. (it’s sort of a Modern Family meets Different Strokes) I know it’s not necessarily a marketable idea but I hope it’s unique enough to get read and, in an ideal world, help me get staffed.
I received notes from a (film) producer friend who said it was basically too Jewish to sell and has too narrow of an appeal to use as a writing sample. So, my question: Is he right in that IF it doesn’t have broad appeal, could that be a problem? Should I be writing something that’s safe and appeals to the broadest audience possible so that agents, producers etc. know that I can, or is it ok to have an idea that may be a bit niche without them thinking I can only write to that niche?
Thank you again so very much for your time and assistance. It really is invaluable to receive advice from someone with your accomplishments.
Hi, Megan! It’s good to hear from you, and YAY on the improv class! I know it’s scary, but that’s the point. You’ll have more sympathy for the actors in the roles you create, and all actors want is love, attention, sympathy and everything else you have and then more than that and actors can be needy, is what I’m saying.
So, someone told you that your idea wasn’t that great. The next question to ask yourself is, “Do I want that person to be right?” Because if this is the story that showcases your voice, your point of view, your unique place in this huge world of writers and storytellers, then you have to stick with it. If you’re looking to get staffed, showrunners aren’t looking for writers with “broad appeal.” They’re looking for something new, something different, something funny with heart and talent. Did this story happen to you or someone you know? Even better. And even more reason to tell the haters to suck it.
Nia Vardalos writes in her excellent Instant Mom about the years she endured hearing “Too Greek” concerning MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, but she knew this was her story. More importantly, she knew this was a universal story, and she was obsessed with it. Her passion met luck in the form of Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, who certainly didn’t think it was Too Greek.
It’s possible the person who gave you notes wasn’t so great at giving notes, and while it’s tempting to use that as an excuse to drop the mic and call yourself a genius, the smarter move is to find the note inside that note. Get something valuable out of that person’s time and yours. When someone tells you that your story is “Too Jewish” (which, what year is this?) that person might be actually saying, “I don’t get it.” Or he’s saying, “You didn’t make this feel universal enough,” which can easily come out in the form of the crappy note, “It lacks broad appeal.”
I just clicked over to your personal site to see what else you’ve done. Good news! I wasn’t immediately pelted in the eye with flying dreidels! In fact, I saw that you’ve self-published some fiction that has been well-received. This would mean you already have a voice that resonates with readers, and know how to connect with an audience. So ease up on yourself, you’re already doing a great job.
Bottom line: if you know your script comes from your heart and your voice, stick with it. If you have a fleeting idea that you’d like someone to shoot down so you don’t have to do the work involved to get it from the mental to the physical, then by all means find people who will crap all over it. That’s easy enough to find. The harder road is the one where you’re making a path for yourself, because that’s a road that’s never existed before. It’s all up to you where it goes.
Best of luck and don’t puke on your improv partner unless it’s funny– and then don’t negate it! Go with it! Yes, and! Yes, and! Yes, and!
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.