After countless hours of writing, and months (or years) of slogging it out in Hollywood, a Showrunner has read your stuff, liked it, and now you finally have the chance that could change your career: an interview for a staff job in a TV Writers Room.
Amazing! Now what?
Through my CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program and working with my private coaching clients, I have helped more than a hundred writers prepare for Showrunner meetings. Many, many of them landed the gigs.
There are lots of variables at play and each Showrunner is an individual, so it’s not “one size fits all” but there are some things almost every Showrunner is looking for when they’re hiring their staff.
Here are 5 things to consider before your interview with a Showrunner:
First and foremost know that the Showrunner likes your material. You wouldn’t be meeting with them if that wasn’t the case. They’re looking to see if you’re going to fit in with the rest of the writers and what you specifically can bring to the table. Sometimes they’re so excited about your work, they’re just checking to make sure you’re not a psycho and that they could spend ten hours a day in a room with you. So, as I often say, the job is yours to lose (see point #3).
2. The Obvious.
Be prepared! Watch or read the pilot (or several episodes if it’s a returning show). Review it more than once. I know upper level writers who’ll review a pilot two or three times before they meet with the Showrunner. If it’s a long running show, watch the pilot and the first and last episodes of each season. Read the synopsis’ of the episodes you don’t watch. Come in with thoughtful ideas about the show. Don’t comment on the obvious things. That’s what everyone’s going to talk about. Take the time to go deeper and discuss less obvious points. Also, I always tell writers to say, what they loved and what they’d love to see more of. That’s a way to be constructive and positive even though there may be some things you didn’t respond to. It’s also a way to answer if the Showrunner asks: “What didn’t you like?” Never say you didn’t like something. Say, I was hoping to find out more about _____ or I’m looking forward to finding out what happens with the relationship between _____ and _____. All that being said, sometimes you may only have a day to prepare. Don’t freak out, just do your best and come up with one point that’s interesting and a little unexpected.
3. Be You, Not Them.
Most Showrunners are not looking to hire themselves. They want to hire someone who will add something they don’t already have: writers with a different background, different world-view, set of experiences, and/or expertise from their own life. Someone who will push the narrative in new directions that they would never think of. Don’t waste their time, and yours, trying to be what you “think” they are looking for. Just be you. Even though it can be hard in situations where the stakes are high, try to just tell them honestly what makes you and your writing unique and how those qualities will add to their room. A big part of getting hired is just being yourself, rather than trying to please.
4. Be Prepared to Tell Relevant Stories from Your Life.
What a Showrunner needs from you are ideas. They’re hoping you’ll be a story machine for them. And they’re hoping most of the story ideas will come from your life. That your life experience and the anecdotes you tell are a great match for the type of stories they need for the show. If the show is about sororities and you – or your sister – were in a sorority, come in with three great sorority stories that you experienced. Don’t “say” you have lots of stories, “show” that you have stories, by telling a couple. It’s just as important that you prepare these stories, as having something interesting and helpful to say about the pilot. Sometimes it’s more important.
5. Know Your Strengths.
All writers have different strengths and weaknesses: you might be a joke machine (if it’s a comedy), but not the greatest at structure; you might be a great macro thinker who will be incredibly helpful when they’re breaking a season arc, but not as helpful with character beats. A writers room needs all kinds. To get hired you don’t have to be a genius at every single element of writing a script, I don’t know any writers who are. But you need to know what you’re really good at, and be able to articulate it with confidence. A Showrunner needs to know what you can deliver when they decide to hire you.
Have you had a Showrunner meeting and nailed it? I want to hear from you. Tweet me @CaroleKirsch!