By Diana Peterson
ABC Disney Fellowship night at Hollywood Billiards on Tuesday April 28th proved to be a fabulous success. Jeane and I would like to thank our speakers, ABC Disney Writing Fellowship Director Frank Gonzalez and Ollie Ashtari-Larki, for taking time out of their busy schedules to give a presentation to HWAS members and stay for a question and answer session afterwards.
I've provided a summary below of my notes from Frank and Ollie’s presentation and our Q&A:
Applications for the 2010 fellowship became available online May 1. Ollie recommends that you download this application now, create a checklist for yourself and complete the application by May 31st. This will allow you to focus solely on your script knowing that all other application materials are prepared. It’s also important to note that ABC Disney does not read original material. A spec script from an existing show television show should be submitted.
Applications are due July 1, 2009.
**Note: This year this will no longer be a Feature Writing Fellowship Program.
Last year there were 1,268 applicants. Eight were selected as fellows. Each year the program runs from February through February, paying fellows $961.54 a week ($50,000 annually) with benefits. Many writers get staffed on shows while as a fellow.
Once your application materials are in, professional readers will do a first pass reading of your spec script. Last year there were about twenty-two readers. It’s important that you spec a show that people are familiar with. It’s okay to spec a cable show, but make sure it’s a successful one that is at least in its second or third season. If a reader doesn’t know the show you’ve written a spec for, they’ll have a difficult time judging your writing.
The highest scoring scripts from the first pass go through a second read and then the top 50-60 scripts are read by fellowship executives. Applicants who make the cut will be contacted between November and mid-December for a phone interview. If the phone interview goes well the applicant proceeds to the three-day interview process.
The top 30-40 applicants are called in for the final interviews. The interview process tests their interpersonal skills, personality and experience.
- Day One Mixer: There will be a mixer with finalists and executives. When the night is over executives will discuss their perception of the finalists individually. They will be asking questions like; did he or she treat everyone at the mixer with respect? Can he or she work on a staff? Could he or she function within a writing room?
- Day Two Interviews: ABC Disney Executives will interview finalists individually.
- Day Three Panel Sessions: The panels will consist of producers from different shows who will ask further questions of finalists. This will give finalists a good idea of the kind of questions that Showrunners ask.
WHAT DOES A WRITING FELLOW DO?
You’ve made it into the fellowship program, now what?
First 30 Days: When you start the fellowship, the first thirty days is like a boot camp. You focus on story structure and participate in workshops. You will not only be improving your writing, but improving how you present yourself as a writer and how you pitch yourself. There will be guest lectures about pitching and how to present yourself, as well as an improv workshop.
During this time Creative Executives will be looking at your material to see if they respond to it and to get an idea of where you would fit in. You’ll have the chance to take meetings with ABC shows, where showrunners will be interviewing you not only as a fellow, but as a potential staff writer.
First 60 Days: If you haven’t been staffed within the first sixty days of the program you are now paired up with:
(a) Overall Executive Mentor: This Executive will be in current programming or development. This person is your checkpoint through the duration of the fellowship.
(b) Spec Script Mentor: This Creative Executive will work with you on your second spec.
(c) Alumni Membership Component: You will be paired up with three to four fellowship alumni who will mentor you throughout the year.
- Download application now and finish by May 31st, then focus on your script. Make a checklist to ensure that all application materials are together.
- Don’t be too fancy with your presentation.
- Scripts should be typed and in standard industry format.
- Triple check for typos and other mistakes as basic grammatical errors will hurt your application.
- Don’t staple your script.
- Autobiographical Summary: This should be about one paragraph. Be honest and open. What have you done that maybe isn’t listed on your resume? What kind of experiences have you had?
- Statement of Interest: What’s your pitch? Why would this program be good for you at this point in your career?
WHAT DOES ABC/DISNEY LOOK FOR IN A FELLOW?
A serious TV writer should have two spec scripts and one original pilot at the least. One of the first things Frank will ask all applicants is: What else have you written? They’re looking for writers with strong samples and good interpersonal skills. When Frank speaks with finalists he will be asking: Why does this make sense at this point in your career?
OF THE EIGHT FELLOWS: HOW MANY ARE COMEDY WRITERS AND HOW MANY ARE DRAMA WRITERS?
There is no hard and fast rule. This year there are six drama writers and two comedy writers. Next year this could change. It all comes down to the quality of the material submitted.
WHAT IF YOU SPEC A SHOW THAT RIDES THE LINE BETWEEN COMEDY AND DRAMA?
When submitting your application you have to check a box for comedy or drama. If you write a DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES spec (drama), you would check 1 hour drama. All one hours are dramas and all half hours are comedies for the sake of this application process.
WHAT ABOUT WRITING TEAMS?
Writing teams may submit, but of the eight fellows selected, a team fills two spots. If selected they will receive separate and equal salaries. Writing teams have been a part of the fellowship in the past, but it is harder to get selected as a team.
ARE THERE ANY SPECS THE ABC/DISNEY FELLOWSHIP PREFERS?
You don’t have to write a spec for an ABC show to be considered. You should spec a primetime network or cable show that’s been on at least three years (3 seasons) that is well known. It’s important to not only capture the voice of the show, but to really reflect your point of view. Bring something new to the table, something unique, while still working within the framework of the show.
Story Timeline: Your spec should be where the show is as of July 1st, 2009.
BEST ADVICE: KNOW YOURSELF
Applicants should know who they are, where they’ve come from and have an idea of where they fit within the ABC Family. You should have an idea going in what shows you think you could be staffed on and where you might perform best.
Thanks again everyone for coming out. See you at the next mixer!