Jeff Astrof has 100 days off. See how he spends them.

Day 79

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I knew going into my 100 days off that there would be three different parts, or “acts”. The first part was getting my house in order, literally and figuratively. I would organize my garage, break and write a script and transform my body out of looking like I worked as a taster at Krispy Kreme. The second part would be dedicated to planning and taking my family on a vacation resulting in greater cohesiveness as a family as well as a spiritual boost and well-deserved relaxation. Which leads me to the third part which started today: getting a freaking job. Now, I could go through the folly of grading myself on each of the first two parts (F-, C+) but I won’t. Because it’s time for me to get my donut-eating stressed out self a freaking job.

Each year a select group of writers are chosen to film their pilots– based on having better hair or better families than I come from I can only assume since my pilot was not one of those chosen. By now, all of the pilots have been cast and shot and edited and tested in front of people in Las Vegas or Glendale looking to get $25 and a free donut. Some pilots have “buzz” some are “cold”, the writers hang on every rumor hoping their show will get on tv and take them to the next level of income and fame and everything else that is truly important in life. It is the networks’ last chance to give a writer diarrhea and they don’t waste it. I have shot several pilots in my career, none of which you have ever seen. The most famous one– and you still haven’t seen or heard of it– was the first pilot my partner and I ever shot which was about a bunch of commuters on the Long Island Railroad called “7:08”. It was what we left “Friends” to do. How’d that work out for us you ask? Please don’t. We were so confident about our impending success that we made up “7:08” hats with the words, “The Pilot”, embroidered on the back as if to say, “the first episode of many episodes that will someday make leaving Friends seem like the best business move since Ray Kroc opened a hamburger stand.” Unfortunately, a different tale had to be told: our pilot was a disaster from the start to finish– a finish that the head of the network never saw because he left at the act break to see another pilot of a show called “Will & Grace”. Several weeks after our ignominious pilot shoot, I was wearing one of the 250 7:08 hats I had left over and noticed two people looking at me and conferring with each other. They finally approached and one said, “We were looking at your hat. 7:08– the pilot. Was that the name of a flight that crashed?” Without hesitating I responded, “Yes. Yes it was.” (As a bit of trivia, one of the actresses we passed on for a part in our show was Oscar winner Hillary Swank, and two of the writers we hired as a favor to our agent to help us punch up the pilot went on to create Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, respectively. You’re welcome, America.)

Anyway, if you have your own pilot in the mix it’s a certain form of anxiety, probably more intense than the uncertainty I feel now. I would use a pregnancy metaphor but I don’t want to diminish the importance of the pilot process. In two weeks the networks will get together in their secret hideouts and announce which shows are going to be picked up and put on tv. I have never been on the business end of that call, but I imagine it’s a pretty good feeling and I secretly envy and hate people who have had experienced it and hope to someday be hated by others for doing the same. In the meantime, because writers are an anxious lot, we go on meetings in advance of these announcements. The meaningful meetings are with the showrunners of shows that have already gotten picked up and have actual jobs to offer. This part takes place in about 2-3 weeks where 90 or so percent of all jobs will be filled for the coming year. Assuming 12 new shows get picked up and each show has one “number two” on it, give or take, it means that I will be trying to get one of around a dozen jobs out there. This assumes that the show I was on last year– which was a great fit for me– does not come back, which seems to be a fifty-fifty shot. So you can see why this might be a digestively-challenging time. Yet through this whole process, my biggest job is to convince myself that this will be my best year yet in show business.

Even though the official announcements do not come for two weeks, I am someone who likes to get a jump on things (and who at this point desperately needs to get into a work mode– they’re starting to know me at each of the three supermarkets I shop at regularly and I’m not kidding). With this in mind I have told my agent that I am happy to take any meeting he can set up for me, which at this point in the season is what is called a “general meeting”. A general meeting is usually a meeting you have when you first move to Los Angeles from Kansas and talk about your experience writing for your local theater group and why you really want to be a sitcom writer and is held with people who moved out from Chicago the previous year and are loving it! At my level the general meetings are with the “heads of comedy” at various studios and networks who are thrilled to get out of another screening of another pilot about a tells-it-like-it-is mom for a half an hour to sit down with a snarky writer-who-tells-it-like-it-is such as myself. The truth is, I love these meetings because, as it was when I was on “Love Connection”, I feel like I get to have an audience for The Jeff Astrof show, and because I get to try to impress the network heads who were the assistants to the assistants when I did “7:08”. And again, it’s hanging out with people who just want to laugh and not just tell me I’m swiping my credit card the wrong way.

In addition to setting up these meetings, which I did today, I also got the mandatory “run down” of available shows from my agent. The agent is just going off buzz that is on a website that everyone including me has read, so it’s really just an exercise in talking and listening, but we go through the motions. He has to balance his enthusiasm for the new shows with the fact that my script didn’t get picked up but he’s sure I’m going to get a great job but there’s still a great chance the show I worked on last year will come back. It’s exhausting for both of us, but it’s the business we’ve chosen. We go through each potential show– with him not fully committing to recommending a show until he finds out what I thought about the script– most of which I haven’t read. There are a couple of awkward moments, like where he tells me he found a great fit for me on a show that he’s really going to push hard for until I tell him that my relationship with that particular show-runner is so toxic that I once defined it as “like oil and someone who hates oil”. He immediately retracts liking the show. And it goes on this way until we’re both convinced that this is going to be my best year yet in show business. And you know what? I think it will be.


Written by 100daysoff

May 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Good Luck in the hunt. Bring back Shatner!


    May 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

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