Fellowship Season Prep Part 4: The Interview
May 7, 2020
Applications have been turned in, but it’s too soon to take a victory lap/victory nap just yet. One of the reasons applying to fellowships is such a great process for all writers to partake in is because it parallels the absolute marathon-like gambit of writing, staffing, pitching and repeating that makes up a successful career. Your personal essays and applications may be done, but if you’re fortunate enough to make it further in this process, there’s an interview on the horizon. So while you wait with bated breath to hear back from the powers that be, let’s check out a few exercises that will help you prepare for a fellowship interview, as well as general meetings, pitches and staffing interviews.
The exercises in the first three articles of this fellowship series were designed to prep you for writing a killer personal essay. Those exercises (mining memories and clarifying your voice parts one and two) can help you prepare for in-person or Zoom interviews, too. Now is a great time to look over your answers to those exercises or try them for the first time. Once you finish, look through your responses and keep track of any keywords that resonate strongly with you. These will come in handy later.
- Personal tentpoles
Specific interview experiences will vary, but whether you’re mid-fellowship process, taking a general meeting, or being considered for staffing, there will inevitably be a moment for you to, “Tell us a little about yourself.”
What a wonderful and painfully open-ended question.
The keywords you highlighted from the previous exercises should give you some strong jumping off points, but if you’d like another way to prepare for this kind of question, try writing out your personal tentpoles. This exercise will chronologically organize noteworthy turning points in your life.
To start, draw a line longways down the middle of a blank piece of paper. Mark on the line your ages, from birth to present, using one or five-year increments.
Mark on the timeline five to 10 moments in your life where you had to make important life decisions or ones were made for you. On one side of the line write the decision that was made, and on the other side of the line write the path that was not chosen. Decisions require sacrifice and every big choice in your life that you said, “Yes” to required saying, “No,” to something else. Clarifying specifically what you said, “Yes,” to and what you said, “No,” to can help understand your development over time as well as highlight stories and views you can bring to a writers room.
- Love lists
Who doesn’t love a good list? A surprising number of writers aren’t prepared to answer questions about their favorite shows, showrunners and writers. Whether they’ve never really paid attention to who’s writing what or because they just go blank in the moment, making lists of the shows you love, the episodes you love, and the writers and showrunners behind them will help save you from a possible brain freeze in the room.
And while this exercise is about lists, once you get in the room or that Zoom camera pops on, you don’t just want to repeat your list; have an opinion about what you love and why. Sharing your personal connections to the shows and writers you mention will give your interviewers a clearer picture of you and your taste.
- One of these things …
… is not like the other. Once again, go through the keywords and answers you’ve given to previous exercises. This time, as you do, highlight five answers that you think it’s possible or even likely that other writers would have in common with you. Then highlight five answers that you think are your most unique.
Pitching yourself in an interview or general meeting is a lot like pitching a story to an exec; you want to be ready in case they say something to the effect of, “We’ve heard that before, what else have you got?” Ideal writers rooms and fellowships are interested in building a diverse group of voices.
The thing you find oddest about yourself might overlap with others already in the room, and something you find common about yourself may be the one thing they’re looking to add. Understanding what you bring to the table from a multifaceted perspective will give you an opportunity to make a stronger and more lasting impression.
Study the person you’re interviewing with! Whether your meeting is for a fellowship, staffing or a pitch, read up on the history of the execs with whom you’ll be speaking. Study anything you can get your hands on regarding the networks to which you’ve applied. What shows do they have on the air or in production? What’s the tone and demographic of their viewers? Who has overall deals with them? Who runs the fellowships at each one? A lot of these questions can be answered on the network’s website or by scouring through Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and other online industry publications with your morning coffee.
When the Internet makes it so easy to be informed, there’s no excuse not to be. And when the Internet makes it so easy for others to be informed as well, those who haven’t put in the time to do so are even easier to spot.
These exercises should get you headed in the right direction as you prep and hope for that magic email/call/text letting you know you’ve made it to the interview round. Next week we’ll dig into a few more. Stay tuned!
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter, playwright, and development consultant, and has sold shows to CBS (sitcom) and NBC (crime/mystery). Raised on a mix of Gilda Radner sketches, Columbo reruns, and neuroscience conferences, Liz’s love of comedy, mystery, and the puzzle of human behavior is woven through every story she writes. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook and can be found at www.BletchleySpark.com.