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So You Want To Be A Writer?


Ad Copywriter
Desired Address: Tribeca. Good for the downtown ad ghetto on Varick.

Preferred Hangouts: Agency parties with open bars; production-company parties with open bars; editorial parties with open bars.

Icon of the Moment: Young French copywriters Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart, who recently moved to San Francisco’s Goodby, Silverstein (their seventh agency—spanning three countries—in five years); their work for Pepsi and Xbox in Europe made them the ad-world Spike Jonzes.

The Route In: You’ll need a portfolio to get a job, and to get a portfolio without a job, you’ll probably need to do post-graduate work at advertising academies like Ad House in New York, the Portfolio Center in Atlanta, or the Miami Ad School. “You almost have to go to one of these schools now,” says Laura Fegley, 32, a director at Cliff Freeman & Partners. “Nobody’s going to hire you just because you went to Brown. It’s almost like a trade school. You go to put together books of fake ads. The quality of your book coming out of there is going to be so much better than one you could do living at home, asking your mom, ‘Do you think this is a funny ad?’ ” These programs cost about $13,000 a year. The other option is to cobble together a mock campaign and try to grab the attention of an influential headhunter like Susan Kirshenbaum of Greenberg Kirshenbaum.

“It’s not a closed business like Wall Street, where you need your M.B.A.,” says Kirshenbaum. “You might see a waiter who puts together a book in his spare time and see something special there, so we’ll call the agencies and see if they want to give them an assistant job.”

The Payoff: Junior creatives can expect $25,000 to $40,000. As a senior creative, whatever you can ask for with a straight face. Between years five and ten, $150,000 to $250,000 is quite possible, maybe more for the stars. Top creative directors leap well past $500,000.

Fashion Item: For women, jeans and a T-shirt with Sigerson Morrison loafers. On men, black just never seems to go away.

Pet Kvetch: “The threat of TiVo,” says Ernest Lupinacci, a Wieden+Kennedy vet who’s written ads for ESPN and Nike.

It Helps If You’re: Eager to sell your soul to Procter & Gamble.

Desired Address: Chelsea.

Preferred Hangouts: Joe Allen or the spinoff Angus McIndoe near the St. James Theater. Edgier downtown types still cluster at P.S. 122 and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. “Hanging out” is relative, however. Professional bitchiness is inversely proportional to the number of professional opportunities. “Playwrights don’t really hang out together,” explains one established Off Broadway playwright. “We’re so envious by nature, we basically hate each other.”

Icon of the Moment: Tony Kushner, for lack of a new Tony Kushner; Wendy Wasserstein, for lack of a new Wendy Wasserstein.

The Route In: The Juilliard for the future playwright is, well, Juilliard. The school’s ultra-exclusive Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program offers a year of instruction from visiting playwrights tuition-free—if you make the cut. The undergraduate Dramatic Writing Program at NYU’s Tisch School serves up instructors ranging from Kushner to Arthur Miller. But beware. “Any school that trains you for a career as a working playwright should probably be indicted for fraud,” says Warren Leight (Side Man).

“It’s like training you to be a blacksmith. I don’t think I know five playwrights under 50 who make their sole living as a playwright.”

Most have made their peace with the notion of theater as a résumé-builder for TV. (Aaron Sorkin wrote A Few Good Men before The West Wing.) Those who stay in the city inevitably work on some incarnation of Law & Order. “It took a Tony to get hired by Law & Order,” says Leight. “So much has changed in the last 30 years. It used to be, you wrote a hit play, you could buy a brownstone. Now you couldn’t even rent one. Did Lanford Wilson try to get on by writing for Starsky & Hutch?”

The Payoff: A well-received Off Broadway play may mean a one-off payment of up to $15,000 before taxes and agent fees. Even if you beat those odds, some theaters will take 40 percent, your agent another 10. The Dramatists’ Guild minimum for Broadway is $1,000 per week.

Fashion Item: Dick Wolf’s cell-phone number.

Pet Kvetch: “Straight theater is dead.” The truth: They never found a body, so keep typing. It helps if you’re: Able to convince yourself that playwriting, like the clergy, is a vocation, not a profession.

Desired Address: Malibu, but until then Columbus Avenue is fine.

Preferred Hangouts: Da Silvano. Starbucks.

Icon of the Moment: Charlie Kaufman.

The Route In: Start with the bibles: Screenplay by Syd Field and Story by Robert McKee. If you want to commit, you go to NYU Film School (it worked for Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and even Todd Solondz). If you’re hedging your bets and your finances, NYU also offers three-week screenwriting courses each summer. New York Film Academy offers intensive, twelve-week workshops for $2,750, and alums include the sons of Steven Spielberg and Pierce Brosnan and the daughter of Peter Bogdanovich. “You must get software like Final Draft or Movie Magic that will make your stuff look professional,” says writer-director Dylan Kidd, who created his own big break when he approached Campbell Scott in a downtown café about starring in his first film, Roger Dodger. “You need to know that no one’s going to look at a screenplay that isn’t written in the proper, official format.”

The Payoff: “Remember, you can make an awful lot of money not making movies,” says one local screenwriter, who earned $150,000 on his first four scripts, none of which were produced. “I got fired from one film with Sony and everyone said ‘That’s great!’ because if you’re in the Guild, they have to pay you the full amount anyway, someone else has to finish it—which is the real pain in the ass—and you get credit anyway.” The sky’s the limit for big-name screenwriters, many of whom also earn over $500,000 apiece doctoring scripts for other screenwriters.

Fashion Item: Tickets to LAX, business class.

Pet Kvetch: You’ll take meetings from story-development people whose job it is to take meetings. They’ll love your work. You’ll go home thinking Oscar. You’ll never hear from them again.

It Helps If You’re: Paul Schrader.


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