Interview with screenwriter, script reader and blogger, Amanda Pendolino
Kevin Fukunaga (Scripts & Scribes): First off, your blog The Aspiring TV Writer and Screenwriter Blog is a great resource for aspiring writers. What inspired you to start your blog and did you have any idea what it would become — 7 years and over 800 posts later?
Amanda Pendolino: Thank you! I originally started the blog as a way to keep in touch with people back home, but I wanted it to be more specific than the personal blog I had in high school and college. I decided to focus on screenwriting/TV writing and my path to becoming a professional. Once I got a job at an agency, that seemed like something people might be interested in, so I wrote about that too.
Kevin: When you started the blog, you were definitely more focused on being a TV writer. What drove you to want to be a TV writer specifically and has your focus changed at all?
Amanda: I just loved so many shows in high school and college – Felicity, Gilmore Girls, The OC, Dawson’s Creek, Veronica Mars, Ugly Betty — all those fun one-hour dramas of the 2000s. But when I ended up getting an assistant job, I worked for a feature agent. I learned a lot about features and met people in features, and I knew I’d have a better shot getting a feature read than getting a pilot read, so I wrote a feature that helped me get a manager and connected me with some producers and directors. But I still write both TV and features.
Kevin: Where are you from originally and what did you study prior to venturing out to Los Angeles to pursue TV writing?
Amanda: I’m from a town outside of Buffalo, NY. In college I started out as a journalism major but then changed my major to Television/Radio with a concentration in Scriptwriting. I minored in English.
Kevin: I’m sure you get a lot of questions from aspiring writers. What are some of the most common questions you get asked (and what are the answers)?
Amanda: Writers are most concerned with finding a manager/agent and getting a writer’s assistant job. For the first, the answer is to write something great and find someone important to read it and pass it along to a rep. Getting a job in the industry is often the best way to make those connections to important people (or work your work up alongside them). As for a writer’s assistant – you have to get a more entry level position first, like an intern or PA.
Kevin: You’re a former agency assistant. Did you find it helpful, as an aspiring writer, to work at a talent and literary agency and would you recommend it to other aspiring writers? What were some of the more valuable things you learned working there?
Amanda: Absolutely. The agency culture is not something that every writer will fit into, but if you can handle it, you will get such great insight into how the whole industry works. You’ll meet working writers and understand how they sell things and get jobs. You’ll also spend your day talking to other assistants at management companies, production companies, studios and networks. I owe everything to my agency experience.
Kevin: You moved to Los Angeles to from New York to pursue TV writing. How important is it for aspiring TV writers and screenwriters to move to Los Angeles for their careers? What advice do you have for aspiring writers planning on moving to L.A.? What is something you wish you had known before relocating to L.A.?
Amanda: I think it’s incredibly important. To be clear, I moved from upstate New York, not New York City (though I considered moving there and found that there just weren’t enough entry level industry job opportunities that I could get interviews for). You’ll hear stories of writers who live outside of LA, but they’re outliers. Also, many of them had to come here at some point. If you don’t have any connections to people in LA, how are you going to get them to read your stuff? You aren’t. But if you move to LA, you’ll start meeting people who can help you. You can also get a job in the industry so that you learn how things work and how to make connections. Everybody who moves to LA has an advantage over the writers who don’t.
I don’t think there’s anything I wish I’d known – I think a lot of the lessons you learn in your early twenties are things you have to learn the hard way. That said, I do wish I’d saved a bit more money.
Kevin: You are also a professional reader and offer script coverage services on your site. What companies have you read for and what do your services cost and entail?
Amanda: I need to stay anonymous for the companies I work for, but you can find all the info about my script notes here.
Kevin: What are some of the most common problems that you see with screenplays that are submitted to you?
Amanda: I wrote a post about the 10 reasons I pass. It’s very common to see a concept that just isn’t that compelling. Does your script really need to be a movie (or show)? Will anyone want to see it? Other issues are characters who aren’t believable or specific, overall sloppiness (formatting, typos, etc) and plot points that are either predictable or illogical.
Kevin: I know you recently wrote an entire post on what the difference between average scripts and great ones (and I will link it here), but in a nutshell, what separates good scripts from truly great ones?
Amanda: Something original and memorable.
Kevin: What TV shows are you watching right now? What are some of your favorite shows of all time?
Amanda: Right now I’m into The Mindy Project, You’re the Worst, Mad Men, Girls, Louie, Silicon Valley, Broad City, Downton Abbey, Parks & Rec, House of Cards, New Girl. I try to sample a lot of pilots, but I’ve strayed away from drama and find myself watching more comedy these days. Of all time: Six Feet Under, The OC, Veronica Mars.
Kevin: Besides your own website, what are some of your favorite screenwriting resources?
Amanda: Go Into The Story is an amazingly vast resource. Podcasts – Just started listening to Chicks Who Script, which is great. Scriptnotes and Children of Tendu are also great. And Nerdist Writers Panel podcasts. Academy Originals YouTube videos are also cool. Beyond that, I’m always on the lookout for interviews with screenwriters in the trades or on movie/TV blogs. I try to tweet or blog about the best ones I find.
Kevin: Lastly, what kind of advice would you give to aspiring writers or is there anything else you’d like to share?
Amanda: Watch your favorite shows and movies once for entertainment, and then watch them again and break them down. Take notes. Also, read more scripts. Most aspiring writers aren’t reading enough professional scripts.
Kevin: Which fellow Ithaca College alum would you most like to be trapped in an elevator with and why: actor David Boreanaz, ABC World News anchor David Muir or Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw?
Amanda: Haha, I’m pretty sure GD transferred after a semester, didn’t he? I pick Ben Feldman, who is known for MAD MEN and is in a great new show called A to Z that premieres this fall. The pilot is up on NBC’s website right now and it’s a lot of fun.
Kevin: Which is your favorite: Pendolino olives, Pendolino high speed tilting trains or Sydney, Australia based Italian restaurant and wine bar, Pendolino?
Amanda: You’ve clearly done some googling. I haven’t been to the wine bar or tried the olives, but I’ve heard the trains are cool!
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