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Job Title: Writer/producer

Job Overview

The writer creates characters and situations, invents dialogue and story line, and rewrites and polishes the treatment or script for production.

A writer/producer often oversees the writing to ensure that what is written can be filmed, weighing such considerations as sound stage availability and budget limitations. “You're responsible as a writer/producer to trim the script down to budget and still keep it interesting,” says writer/producer Peter Dunne. “There is a way to write it that is just as colorful and less expensive.”

Episodic television writer/producers are responsible for the quality of production, making budgetary choices that balance cost against value. The writer/producer may also assign directors to the different episodes; oversee casting, the hiring of crew, and all aspects of production; and coordinate post-production. They also work with the writing staff.

Special Skills and Education

Write. Hone your craft by immersing yourself in writing spec scripts over and over again. The way to develop your writing skills is to keep writing.

Speaking of attending college or film school, Dunne says, “I think it's great to study, because you find yourself [through] study, but it doesn't guarantee you a job. It doesn't better your chances of getting a job unless you make connections while you're in school. Like studying art, sooner or later you have to go out and make your own paintings. All the studying in the world isn't going to get you your first sale.”

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

Dunne suggests watching a lot of television to determine what type of writing appeals to you most: drama, like Ed or the Gilmore Girls, something political like West Wing, or criminal like C.S.I: Crime Scene Investigation or Law & Order, and start writing in that genre. “There are so many screenplays available to every person now, at specialty bookstores and online. Go to scripts.com and buy some, or visit the WG [Writer's Guild] offices downtown and read scripts. Read episodic pilots. Immerse yourself. The trick to writing and becoming a writer is to write. That's the trick most people avoid. They want to plan around it and educate and theorize and learn about writing theory. Sit down and write, and you learn to write. Just write one screenplay after another, one episodic spec script after another, and keep going. They don't take a long time to write. Keep writing until you can attract an agent, and off you go.”

It is a myth that you need to have sold something to get an agent. Dunne says your writing will get you an agent, “then the agent will get you the job, if your writing is any good at all.” Check with the Writers Guild to find out when they are hosting events where writers can meet potential agents. Some agencies will accept unsolicited scripts. Ask the Guild for a list of agencies and guidelines.

“You just have to write; get the writing out and be prepared for rejection, because that's a big part of the deal.”

Professional Profile: Peter Dunne, Writer, Producer, Line Producer

Filmmaking is the second successful career for Peter Dunne, who was an advertising executive in Manhattan before relocating to the West Coast. Through friends made in the film industry, he met Aaron Spelling socially. Spelling told Dunne that if he ever wanted to get out of advertising and work in the business, to give him a call. One day he did.

Dunne's film career began as a trainee on Mod Squad. “As a trainee, I was an observer. I ran errands and was elevated a little bit above a production assistant.” Working for Spelling was better than going to film school. “Aaron was very generous and said, ‘Why don't you work with this director for a couple of months, then work with this editor for a couple of months, and these writers for a couple of months.’ He just groomed me.”

At the end of each season, Spelling sat down with each employee for fifteen to twenty private minutes and asked them how they felt about the past year, how they liked their job, and what they wanted to do next. “Many people wanted to move up and he accommodated that. If an editor wanted to direct, he would promise them a directing assignment, but he would also arrange for the editor to observe Aaron's favorite directors on different sets. By the end of the season, that editor would have an opportunity to direct. I wanted to write, so he put me into development. He gave me a choice between grooming me as a producer or a development exec. I wanted to be a development exec first because I thought in order to be a producer, I really had to know a lot more about scripts.”

What do you like least about your job?

“I do so many different jobs from season to season (some years I take a job as a line producer and other years as a writing/producer) that I don't dislike any of it. I don't think I would be happy if I had to stick with one thing forever.”Peter Dunne

What do you love most about your job?

“I love writing more than anything else. I also teach at UCLA, and I'm working on a novel and a screenplay. I think writing came first to me in terms of artistic expression because it's a lonely art.”Peter Dunne

Ready for a new challenge, Dunne left his development job at Aaron Spelling Productions to become the head of development for Lorimar Productions. There he developed several projects that included Eight Is Enough, Helter Skelter, and Sybil, for which he won an Emmy. In addition to development, Dunne often filled the role of writer and/or producer as well. He spent three seasons as a writer and producer on the mega-hit series Knot's Landing, followed by nearly two years as supervising producer for Dallas.

Another mentor early in Dunne's career was David Jacobs, “especially in the writing field, when I started working with him on Knot's Landing. He was very generous. He gave me room to write and let me make mistakes. He framed and put on my wall scenes that could never be shot—they were just too impractical—that he knew I loved, so I would always appreciate them.”

In the late 1990s, Dunne wrote and produced Nowhere Man, starring Bruce Greenwood. “It was one of the most fun projects for me as a producer and writer. I did the pilot here in town and then shot the series in Portland. We didn't have any stages. That's what made it interesting. We shot on the streets every day, whether it rained or snowed; no matter how hot it was. It was like doing a film every day.”

For a time, Dunne reunited with Spelling to serve as supervising producer on Melrose Place, and later to write an episode for the series. Then it was off to New Zealand to work on the pilot of the ABC series McKenna. In 2001, he worked on the series That's Life, starring Ellen Burstyn and Paul Sorvino, and is currently about to launch a series that he wrote and will produce.


* “Show business, probably more than any other business, is terribly cruel. You're only as good as your currency today. It doesn't matter if you have a lot of great credits; it really doesn't. It just matters if you have a good idea today. I think the thing you have to keep in mind is that your life can't be about this business; as much as I love it, and as kind as it's been to me (and ugly at times), I can't judge myself as a success or failure in life based on the business. I have to keep other interests: writing, art, family. You have to stay centered as a person, and then success will come.”Peter Dunne

* “You have to be passionate and really love the art of filmmaking; then you'll have fun doing it. That's the bottom line of whether you're a success: if you've actually smiled during the day and you feel good about your work.”Peter Dunne

In addition to Spelling and Jacobs, Dunne states that he has found many mentors in the business: “guys in craft services, ladies in casting, grips on high; everybody has taught me something and they still do.”

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionWRITERS - Job Title: Writer/producer, Job Titles: Writer; Executive Story Editor, Job Title: Screenwriter, Writer