WeScreenplay recently hosted a “Cocktails and Conversations” panel with TV Pilot Competition judge Tze Chun, the creator and showrunner of the animated Warner Bros/Amblin Gremlins prequel GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI. He’s also the former writer/producer on Fox’s hit Batman prequel show GOTHAM and ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME.
The event was filled with amazing career advice for screenwriters and TV writers. You can catch the entire event below, but continue on for our favorite takeaways from the event.
Set Deadlines for Yourself and Keep Writing New Material
Tze opened the event by sharing his experiences breaking into the industry. He started his career as an indie filmmaker who skipped going to grad school, so he started making independent films. He set a schedule for himself to make a no-budget short film every six months and write a feature film every nine months. His eleventh short film got into the Sundance Film Festival after all the other ones were rejected.
It’s a great reminder that you never know when success will come to you. It might be your first screenplay, sure, but it also might be your fifth, sixth, or even your eleventh. So, be relentless in your pursuit, disciplined in your work, and patient with yourself.
There’s No One Way to Break into the Industry
No one likes spinning their wheels, but often it can feel like that’s what you’re doing as you’re waiting for your big break. A lot of screenwriters get frustrated when they’re not making inroads in their career, but it’s important to acknowledge that what seems like a casual social connection or fruitless endeavor may actually turn into the next major step in your screenwriting journey. This is because there are many ways to break into the industry. As Tze said:
“People break in all different ways. It’s hard to know you’re doing the right thing. The target is always moving. I think it’s great you have social media as a tool to meet other writers. Make friends with other writers.”
Creative Burnout is a Real Issue
When it comes to creative burnout, Tze is a big believer in doing the work but creating an environment for writers to have a healthy work-life balance.
“You have to get your hands dirty. You have to do the work – the hours are a big part of it. It’s about the writer’s stamina. Work efficiently, create a non-grinding environment leads to a better room. There’s no idea you’re going to have at 11 pm that won’t be there in the morning.”
We all got into screenwriting because it was our passion, but it’s easy to get into the habit of passionately grinding until you burn yourself out. Give yourself permission to take breaks from your work, to spend time with family and friends, and to do other things that you love. Writing will always be there waiting for you when you’re fresh and recharged!
Three Ways to Respond to Notes
Part of being a working writer is having to receive feedback and then implementing it into your writing, but navigating meetings where notes are discussed can be tricky. Tze mentioned there are three effective ways to respond to notes from executives, producers, or other writers:
- “That’s great. I agree and I’m going to do that exact thing on the script.”
- “I hear what you’re saying, I disagree with that note. I know you gave that note for a reason. I think what’s happening is there’s an issue somewhere else in the script. By fixing that, it will resolve your note there.”
- “I haven’t thought about it that way. I understand the note. I don’t know what the solution is yet, but I’ll think about it.”
“There’s Always Going to be Traffic”
Tze ended the event by sharing an anecdote about the best piece of advice he ever received. He said he heard this from a manager that didn’t even know he was giving him advice. New to Los Angeles, Tze was talking to his then-manager about being frustrated with traffic. His manager unknowingly gave him some great insight, saying simply: “There’s always going to be traffic.”
This made him think about the industry and the negative elements that are always present, like rejection, frustrations, and all the obstacles you have to deal with as a writer. Those elements will always exist and he spent too much time being negatively affected by them. It was starting to impact his creativity and he had to learn to let that stuff go. “Nobody likes to talk to somebody who is frustrated all the time,” said Tze.
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Julia Camara is an award-winning Brazilian screenwriter/filmmaker. Julia won a Telly Award for the sci-fi found footage feature Occupants. Julia’s feature directorial debut In Transit, won Best Experimental Film at four different festivals. Julia’s other writing credits include Area Q and Open Road.