• Jason Kyle

DO YOU NEED A GENRE?

5 Industry Experts Give Advice on Samples and Picking Your "Lane"


I looove watching It’s Always Sunny, Atlanta, Mad Men and The West Wing. Four shows in four different genres with four different tones. But if I’m a writer looking to break into the biz and land my first rep, should I try to write samples in each one of these genres?


This is a Q we get all the time from creators:


“Should I write in different genres and formats, or stick to one?”

In terms of career strategy, it’s wise to hone in on a specific genre/format (i.e. hour-long drama, multi-cam comedy, half-hour dramedy, etc). This way, when reps, showrunners, execs need that specific thing (that YOU write in YOUR unique voice) they’ll know exactly who to call.


...YOU!


One thing is for sure: when you’re a newer writer trying to break in, you need a killer sample. Your sample will serve three main functions:


  1. Getting you repped

  2. Getting you staffed

  3. Establishing your brand


I asked a few of my industry pals for their take on this topic.



Q: What should writers do when focusing on finding a rep?


“In order to get an agent, you need to start with one really GREAT sample. You are probably more likely to get there by focusing on the genre that you're strongest in. If you're a comedy nerd, focus on a great comedy sample. If you're a drama geek, try to write a great drama script. Keep in mind, most writers crank out about five scripts before they have one that is ‘quality.’ It makes some sense to do all five in the same genre, and hone your craft in one area.”

Brent Forrester Head Writer: The Office, Love, Space Force


“Since our industry is incredibly competitive, emerging writers should focus initially on samples in the one genre they are most passionate about. It helps establish their identity in the marketplace which will be very useful as they build their network of industry relationships to secure work….I also believe it helps build and define a writer’s personal brand, which is cultivated by time and a lot of hard work. Once a writer builds brand recognition, then they can decide if they want to expand into other genres.”

Sandra Avila

Partner / Manager, Inclusion Management


“I want to read the script that provides the best idea/sense of the creator's voice. Agents only have so much bandwidth, so regardless of the genre, I want to read a voice and point of view that stands out.”

Danny Alexander

Literary Agent, APA



Q: How about getting staffed?


“Showrunners often ask for two writing samples, but in my experience they will make their decision about your writing after reading just one. For your second writing sample, if you have to choose between giving a comedy showrunner a great drama sample or a mediocre comedy sample, give them the great drama over the mediocre comedy.”

Brent Forrester Head Writer: The Office, Love, Space Force


“Having an incredible sample is essential for getting staffed. You and your reps will use it to present and position your writing to the industry in a particular way. Congrats - you’re now starting to build a brand. But you’re not Nike or Apple just yet. So your sample needs to do the heavy lifting and tell the story of your brand. Are you a future Shonda Rhimes? Alan Yang? Brent Forrester? There’s a big gap between ‘Bridgerton’ and ‘The Office.’ With your samples, especially for staffing, be clear on what you want your brand to be.”

Jason Kyle

TV Development, Sony Pictures Entertainment

(Yes, I’m quoting myself in my own blog post)



“If I’m staffing a multi-cam sitcom I don’t want to see your This Is Us sample.”

Lee Aronsohn

Co-Creator / EP: Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory


“Focusing on a genre definitely helps with staffing because at the end of the day, showrunners want writers in their room who have a consistent desire for and history of working in a genre they love as much as they do.”

Sandra Avila

Partner / Manager, Inclusion Management



Q: Are there exceptions? Come on - tell me there are exceptions!


“There’s nothing to prevent someone from pursuing opportunities in different genres simultaneously, but you should have a separate set of samples for each. Don’t throw the kitchen sink at agents, execs, or showrunners.”

Lee Aronsohn

Co-Creator / EP: Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory


“I think it's less about a single genre and more about complementary genres. If you have a thriller sample, then a horror sample seems along a similar vein. Or an action sample. Those genres feel like they draw from a similar skill set for set pieces and suspense. However, a horror sample and a comedy sample are often so disparate in their skill sets that it can be hard for people to reconcile them.”

John Zaozirny

President of Feature Film Production and Literary Management, Bellevue

Productions



Q: What’s the bottom(ish) line?


“Strategically, it’s best to match a pilot script to the genre preferences of the executive who will be reading it. But fundamentally, the script that provides the best sense of a creator’s voice is always the right answer.”

Danny Alexander

Literary Agent, APA


“You want to write something that stands out and that makes people pursue you for opportunities in that same genre. You want to land on an exec's ‘list’ for that particular genre. Later on, after having success in that genre, you can expand beyond it. But it certainly helps early on to showcase your skill set.”

John Zaozirny

President of Feature Film Production and Literary Management, Bellevue

Productions


“The best work comes from writers who follow the path of their greatest passion. If your passion this season is to write a comedy, and next season it's to write drama, I'd say it's okay to ride the power of that creative passion even if it means switching genres.”

Brent Forrester Head Writer: The Office, Love, Space Force


Big shout out and thank you to my besties Lee, Brent, Sandra, John and Danny for dropping their expert insights.


So yes, it’s probably wise to write in a specific genre. But keep in mind - something Lee and I always say - there’s no linear path to “breaking in” to this biz. Write what excites you, what you’re passionate about, what’s personal to you — and your unique voice will be sure to stand out.


Much love to you all,


-Jason Kyle


Just like some films do extra scenes at the end of the credits, here’s one last inspiring quote from my ride-or-die: Mr. Aronsohn (said like: “Mr. Anderson” from the guy in The Matrix).


“When starting out, I would recommend focusing. Very few writers enter the business being good in multiple genres.”

Lee Aronsohn

Co-Creator / EP: Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory




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