Do you have to have an agent to get anything looked at, bought or published?
It is not mandatory, but without one your odds of getting read, seen, met with, are very slim. Still, writers do get their material read if they simply send it "over the transom" without agency representation.
How do you get an agent?
This is where it helps to know somebody who will give you an introduction to his/her agent. If you don't know anyone who can do that for you, check out Literary Marketplace and contact the agents who are listed there.
How do you get a job in the soap business?
There are hundreds of ways to get a job in the soap business, but most of them involve your working for nothing in a really crummy job for a long time before you get your break. However, that is one of the ways that the networks winnow out the short-hitters. If you aren't willing to take a lot of crap for very little money, you won't last long in television. If you pass this odd initiation process, welcome to the club. Contact the networks, the shows themselves, and take any job you can get in order to get your foot in the door.
How many writers work on the average one-hour soap?
Lots. There is usually a head writer who comes up with most of the long-term storylines. He or she uses three or four associate head writers to help with the storylines and then help chop the stories into month-long and weeklong chunks. The associate head writers break the stories into five day-long chunks (a week) under the head writer's direction. Then there are the dialogue writers (4 or 5 of them) who turn the breakdowns into the scripts which the actors and directors will use to tape the individual episodes.
The head writer is usually responsible for overseeing the entire process, insuring that the work is consistent, good and in character for the individuals on the canvas. Another key player in the game is the script editor who insures that the scripts flow together, the dialogue is appropriate for the characters and that the history of the show is respected. There is also a writer's assistant who tracks the smallest details of action and history to make sure that the writers haven't "forgotten" which characters have been married to whom, who drinks or doesn't drink, who's been to prison, etc.
The assistant is also asked to check the facts and make sure that the legal and medical details are correct. At each stage the producer and the network are actively involved, trying to keep the show's standards high, looking for ways to increase viewership which is, after all, the name of the game.
Do you have to be in the union to work on a soap?
Head writers, associate head writers, dialogue writers and editors (who do a lot of re-writing on many scripts) must be members of The Writers Guild of America, (east or west). Getting into the Guild is not difficult once you are contracted to work on a soap.
Is it fun to work on a soap?
Coming up with the storylines is fun. Laying out the days and the weeks is fun. Coming up with the solutions to all the problems---how to get a character out of jeopardy, how to bring back a "dead" character, etc., is fun. But the work is hard and the pressure to increase viewership can be painful. If you don't like being criticized, this is not the job for you. Your work will be judged and critiqued, you will be made to rewrite days, made to make changes because of odd events---an actor is fired, quits, disappears, is arrested, whatever…
The pay is hugely wonderful, but you will earn every last cent and the risk of burnout is always chasing you. There is no such thing as "phoning" in a day, writing the bare minimum, because you will be found out and forced to rewrite the whole thing. You cannot take off a day because you and your fellow writers must come up with five breakdowns a week. You are always on a deadline. If you write slowly, think too much, and edit yourself endlessly, the daytime serial business is not for you.
How far ahead do you write in daytime drama?
The breakdowns are written about a month ahead of taping. The scripts are written three weeks ahead (on average). The storylines are plotted six months ahead, unless the show and its writers are in real trouble. The shows are usually taped a week ahead of air time.
Do you write for one character?
don't know why so many people ask us that question. We cannot write for one character, as much as we might like to. Each serial's day is made up of three stories with many characters in each story. You have to mix and match and weave all those characters together.
Why do so many characters pop up on soaps as their own twins or their own long lost brothers?
Many times actors choose to leave the soap to go on to "bigger and better things", like nighttime television or theatrical release movies. The writers write the actors' characters off, sometimes killing them. Some actors don't make it in Hollywood and ask to come back even if they've been "killed" off. That's when we are forced to come up with creating the dead character's twin.
When can you call yourself a writer?
I forget who told me the answer to this one (perhaps Herbert Berghof). He said, "When you write every day you can call yourself a writer. You can't just write whenever the muse speaks to you." I believe he was right. Many people have come up to me and asked me for advice about a storyline they have invented. I ask them to send me their rough draft and they tell me they haven't put anything down on paper yet. These people are not writers. They are dreamers with stories. Writers can't stop themselves from writing.
How did you come up with the horrific deaths in Friday the 13th? Are you sick??
All the deaths in that film were borrowed liberally from my childhood nightmares. Until I was ten or eleven I checked under my bed to make sure nobody was hiding there. So, that's why I had the killer in Friday stab Kevin Bacon from beneath the camp bed. Further, I was always afraid of being smashed in the face. That's why I had the actress get axed in the face. In that way I managed to exorcise my childhood fears in what I feel was a very healthy way.
You have 3 Daytime Emmys. Do you get more money when you win an Emmy?
No. Winning an Emmy is fun and feels great, but it doesn't really win you more viewers and the only way to get more money is to get more viewers. Never forget: Television exists to put viewers in front of commercials.
What is the hardest part of writing? Coming up with the ideas
Not for me. The hardest part of writing for me comes in the middle of a project---I have come up with lots of ideas and written the beginnings of lots of books and films. But making the middles and the ends work is excruciating work, and it makes the difference between a successful project and a pile of meaningless pages.
What did you think of the Friday the 13th sequels?
To be honest, I have not seen any of the sequels, but I have a major problem with all of them because they made Jason the villain. I still believe that the best part of my screenplay was the fact that a mother figure was the serial killer---working from a horribly twisted desire to avenge the senseless death of her son, Jason. Jason was dead from the very beginning. He was a victim, not a villain. But I took motherhood and turned it on its head and I think that was great fun. Mrs. Vorhees was the mother I'd always wanted---a mother who would have killed for her kids.
If you could have written any movie, what movie would you have written?
If you knew me, you'd know that the film I wish I had written is Airplane or Airplane, the Sequel. I am really a very silly person with a madcap sense of humor. I never meant to be a horror film writer. But I am very glad that I am known for something beyond the local area code.
Why did you get into writing?
I have no clue. I know that I have no skill with my hands. I tried making a birdhouse once and it was a disaster. I have been a truck driver, a forklift operator, a proxy-counter and a teacher. I think one of the things that led me to writing was the fact that I was always very good at making thing sup, at telling lies.
One of my first memories is of lying to my mother when she caught me playing doctor with a girl from down the street. I was three years old. I told her that what she was seeing was not what she was seeing. Perhaps that was the first moment I became a journeyman in the field of fiction. I have always had the kind of mind that projects negative, horrible outcomes from otherwise pleasant moments. In that way I guess I've turned a neurosis into a very profitable career.
Do you have to live things to write about them?
God, I hope not. I have never been a serial murderer, but I created Mrs. Vorhees anyway.
How do you discipline yourself to write every day?
I have always been a little on the obsessive-compulsive side. (Some friends will say a lot on the obsessive-compulsive side…) Once I quit my day jobs, I had to write every day in order to pay our rent and put food on the table. When writing becomes your job, you find a routine, a ritual, and you do it.
What kind of writing do you like best?
I like screenplays best because they have a tight format and I hate having to spend a lot of time writing descriptions of landscapes, etc. I love telling stories in dialogue and in simple actions.
Of all the things you've written, which was the most enjoyable to write?
I wrote two screenplays with my son, Josh. They were never bought, but the process was fabulous and, I think, the screenplays were some of the best things I've ever had a hand in.
What is the most important advice you have for anyone who wants to make a career out of writing?
Simple: write every day, don't pre-judge your characters for your audience, and enjoy yourself.