How I Got My First Screenwriting Contract?

Two weeks ago, a Chinese woman sent me a message through Weibo (微薄,the Chinese twitter thing), saying that she needs to talk to me, and asked for my Wechat (微信,the Chinese What’s App) ID.

I gave it to her without hesitation, and it turned out that she is a film/TV producer, and a USC Annenberg alum.

She told me that she watched my documentary Drifting in Los Angeles, and thought that I am talented. She then asked me if I’m interested in writing a 30 episodes TV drama about Chinese people living in Los Angeles. I said yes, and sent her my writing portfolio, which includes:

1. a 30 episodes TV drama screenplay that I co-wrote with my father, who is  a university professor and a freelance writer;

2. a collection of 12 English writing that I did in a creative writing class at The University of Iowa;

3. a film screenplay for a short that I directed;

4. several non-fiction writings about my understanding and experience of American culture.

She liked them, and asked me to write a synopsis/treatment. She also sent me a draft of what she had, including the character settings and asked me to keep writing it.

I didn’t like what she sent me, so I wrote my own story, with my own characters.

I sent the synopsis to her, and despite the fact that it was different from what she has expected, she liked it a lot.

After three re-writes and a lot of drama between me and my father; my father was eventually on the soft sleeper train (软卧) to Beijing to sign the contract with her.

It was only until then that I knew I had so many competitors, including established writers in the industry.

I don’t want to tell you how hard it was when I was doing the “a writing assignment per week” in Iowa, or how frustrated it was for me to rewrite my screenplay ten times before production, or how disappointed it was when the previous TV drama that me and my father wrote didn’t get produced because of funding issues. All I want to tell you is that they all paid off eventually.

If I have never done the lists of writing above, I wouldn’t be able to get the contract.

How to Write for Television

This experience resonates with an idea that I read in Madeline Dimaggio’s book How to Write for Television: It can be done if you want it badly enough to work that hard. Here it refers to breaking into television writing, but really it can be anything: finding a job, finding a date, starting a business, traveling around the world and you name it…

The only reason that you are not yet successful is because you haven’t worked hard and smart enough, and the only reason that you fail is because you give up before you succeed. 



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