TV Insights, Observations and Obsessions from the NYTVF
Check out our Q&A series with Fest Founder Terence Gray (and others), designed to provide submitting artists and TV fans with insight to the current development landscape. If you're thinking about submitting to the NYTVF, this is for you.
As part of our continuing education series on the NYTVF Blog, the NYTVF sat down with multi-year NYTVF Alum Jorge Rivera, who is currently a staff writer on Fox’s new series A.P.B.
Congrats on being named a staff writer on FOX’s new show A.P.B. (Mondays on FOX!)! Can you tell us a little about the day-to-day experience of writing for a network show?
Remember as a kid, when you and your friends played with action figures or Barbies (or whatever the case may be), and you made up scenarios that you acted out with these make-believe characters? It’s exactly like that, except minus the toys. And, a paycheck shows up in the mail once a week. It’s my dream job.
More specifically, the process is broken up into stages... This might be a little different for comedy rooms, but for our show (which is a drama) the first few weeks were spent with the entire staff meeting to pitch episode ideas for the entire season. Once those episode pitches were approved, we split into smaller groups to “break the episode.” “Breaking” is the process of drilling down into the actual beats of the story, act by act. Once that’s approved, the story is assigned to a writer, and they write the script.
Before reaching the final version of the script, the network will have had several opportunities to weigh in with notes on outlines and early drafts. Shortly after the final draft is written and approved, we’re off to the races to shoot it. This is a several-month-long process peppered throughout with a lot of free lunches.
My episode, which I co-wrote with our amazing showrunner Matt Nix (Burn Notice, and the forthcoming X-Men), will air sometime in April of 2017.
Going back to the beginning, what are the highlights that got you here — from your first project through the NYTVF to where you are now?
The very first thing I ever created/co-wrote (with my great friends and collaborators, Billy Fox and Aaron Schnore) was Rhyme Animal. It was an official selection at the NYTVF in 2008. It made the digital festival rounds and won some awards, but there was a very particular moment at the NYTVF the year Rhyme Animal was there that was a tipping point for me.
I remember standing in the middle of New World Stages, where the NYTVF was held at the time, surrounded by all this positive energy and excitement from other independent TV creators, and thinking to myself, “I love this. I can do this. This is possible.” From that point forward, I committed myself to a career as a writer and producer. It took me a while to get to a place where I could actually earn a living doing it, but that moment is still crystal clear in my mind, and I have the NYTVF to thank for it.
Since then, I spent every moment possible honing my craft and collaborating at every available opportunity. The digital series Lenox Avenue, East WillyB and Odessa (the NYTVF 2010 Winner of SYFY’s Imagine Greater award) were all a result of that effort. I went back to school for a masters in TV writing at the TV Writers Studio, studying with Norman Steinberg (Blazing Saddles) and eventually moved to Los Angeles. My first gig in LA was as an Associate Producer on a string of true-crime shows for the Investigation Discovery channel. All the while, I had been constantly writing and applying to the TV writing fellowships every year. I was accepted to the Fox Writers Intensive in 2016 and hired on A.P.B. that spring.
How did being a Fox Writers Intensive Fellow come about? What was that experience like?
The FWI came about due to a lot of hard work on my scripts and consistently applying, several years in a row. I must have tried each one, every year, for about four years, until I was finally accepted by Fox. There were many rejections before I got in.
Also, relocating to Los Angeles made a difference. Pro tip to those of you applying: Moving here and landing even an entry-level gig in television (whether as an assistant, assist. producer or a writer’s PA etc.) shows your commitment to being a working writer in television (here in LA). Not that there aren’t a million ways to skin that cat, but for the fellowship decision makers, it rings a lot of bells in terms of the type of commitment *they* are looking for.
The three months in the program itself were pretty amazing. We’d meet once or twice a week as a group (there were twelve of us) to work on a new piece of material, and about a quarter of those meetings were with TV execs and showrunners. The mock writer's room with Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead, Damian) was a highlight. The twelve weeks wrapped up right before staffing season, and we were sent out on a bunch of meetings with showrunners. I was lucky enough to land A.P.B.; being an FWI fellow was not a guarantee of being hired on a show. I’m really grateful to have gotten the gig.
What is it like going from writing scripts by yourself to being part of a writers’ room? How has that experience changed the way you approach a story?
Luckily, I’ve found myself writing collaboratively more often than by myself. The digital shows I mentioned above (and about a half-dozen others) have all been collaborations. Many of them were actually run like a traditional writer's room. That’s been immensely helpful in preparation for being on A.P.B.
What was a bit of a culture shock for me was how the stakes were suddenly raised being on a network show. For a variety of reasons, I suddenly felt the pressure to perform and deliver in a way I never had. It was simultaneously the most terrifying and exhilarating experience of my life. I can laugh about it now, but I’m pretty sure I bombed most of my pitches in my first few weeks. A month or so later, I was voted MVP by the writing staff…so, I got better.
Do you still experience writer’s block or have a hard time coming up with story ideas? If so, do you have any tips and tricks for how to work through a challenge?
Oh god, yes! I’m experiencing it right now. I’m usually way harder on myself at the very beginning of a brainstorming cycle…at the inception of a premise. But in my self-flagellating defense, it’s so important (and so much harder) to come up with an original premise for a story or a series. I’d rather spend weeks beating up my ideas and coming out on the other end with a sharp and original premise that I love than settling on one of the dozens of mediocre ideas that might arrive during that process.
Ultimately, the hard work pays off. Once I have that golden nugget, the floodgates open and I have no shortage of ideas to support it. In the meantime, I try and turn off the brain from time to time and do unrelated activities like exercise, socializing or guest writing for a blog. Sometimes getting out of the way of the subconscious mind to let it do its work is the best medicine.
What piece of advice have you gotten as a writer/producer that you’ve carried with you through your career?
Work hard and don’t be a dick. Nine out of ten times, someone will rather hire someone who is a little less accomplished as a writer if they’re cool to work with, than a self-absorbed “genius” who treats people poorly.
What advice do you have for people creating their own work and trying to get noticed by networks and agencies?
Never stop producing material, written or shot. And, be original. That sounds obvious, but the projects that get noticed are the ones that elicit that “Hmmm, never seen that before” reaction. Also, believe it can happen. Stay positive. If you ask a hundred successful writer/producers how they did it, you’ll get a hundred different answers. But I guarantee you, they all had the craft down and a positive attitude.
Jorge is currently a Staff Writer on the new Fox Series A.P.B. and a recent fellow of the 2016 Fox Writers Intensive. Before joining the staff of A.P.B., he was an Associate Producer on a string of true-crime documentary series for the Investigation Discovery channel. Previously, he was best known as the creator/writer of Rhyme Animal, the digital series about the cannibalistic hip-hop rapper that won the Independent Film Quarterly's Best New Media Series of 2011. That same year, another pilot he wrote was an NBC Shortcuts finalist.
He's written two series for hire (starring Dorian Missick of Southland and guest starring Michael K. Williams of Boardwalk Empire) that were optioned to the BET Digital Network, one of which was also the recipient of the SYFY Network's Imagine Greater Development Award (via the NYTVF). Before relocating to Los Angeles, he wrote on the web comedy East WillyB, which was touted as the “The Latino Show for a New Generation” by The New York Times. He is repped by Bellevue Productions and The Kaplan-Stahler Agency.
Check out previous downloads here:
No Tomorrow Writers | FLOWERS Creator Will Sharpe | Comedy Central Insights - 5/6/16 | 2016 TV Town Halls Advice | 2016 Bento Box Interview | 2016 truTV - Marissa Ronca | NYTVF Best Comedy Animals Heads to HBO | Q&A with the Jamz | Alumni Q&A (Richard Keith and Erin Cardillo) - 5/29/15 | Alumni Q&A (Damian Lanigan) - 5/29/15 | Chicago Comedy Panel - 5/18/15 | Big Laughs at Just For Laughs - 5/5/15 | Alumni Q&A (Whatever Linda) - 3/27/15 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/27/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/19/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/6/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/30/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/24/14 | Rory Covey of My Damn Channel's Honchos - 4/10/14 | Drama advice from Siobhan Byrne O'Connor - 4/3/14 | NYTVF Alum Danny Abrahms - 3/21/14 | Drama Advice - 3/13/14 | Advice from Chicago - 3/10/14 | Unscripted LA Panel - 2/25/14 | Drama Development - 2/20/14 | MSN Development - 2/12/14 | Casting - 2/5/14 | The Network Development Process - 1/29/14 | History Development - 1/15/14 | Comedy Formats - 3/18/13 | A&E Pipeline - 4/3/13| Fox Script Contest - 4/10/13 | From Film to TV - 5/17/13 | Lifetime Unscripted - 9/4/13