WRITING/PERSONAL: Building a Portfolio I

So, in amongst the many projects I’m tackling for school and elsewhere, I’ve begun thinking about the breadth of work I’ve done over the past few years, and what would add up to a good, wide-ranged sample of my work. And, of course, what it means to have a portfolio in the first place…

My first real experience with portfolios was watching my two artist sisters build theirs in the run-up to applying for art schools. The careful selection and explanations for each chosen piece was something that fascinated me, even as I was never one to pursue the visual arts. As for a writing portfolio, however, I’d only occasionally considered it without ever putting anything really together.

With my graduation from Ryerson coming up at the end of my next year, I’ve been keeping one eye on what happens once I’m done and have to start building my career from the bottom up. One thing I think I should have is a portfolio – not just to apply for scriptwriting jobs, but media criticism and television reviewing jobs. Because if I can’t be Joss Whedon, I’d love to be Alan Sepinwall. So I’ve been considering what a portfolio spanning my various interests would look like, even though I doubt I’d really dig in in earnest until next year.

One thing that’s helped immensely has been having The Diversionist, The Signal and The Bringer of Song going to help me develop my skills. I’ve had a blog almost constantly since 2007, and that constant stream of output has allowed me to hone my skills in a public forum, which has been really helpful. And the topics I’ve covered – music, television, personal work and writing – are largely the fields I’d look at writing on for any jobs or internships I’d apply to.

So, what is my portfolio looking to shape up to be, as of this moment?

  • The Ugly Betty vs. Just Shoot Me comparison I did for classwork back in first year, which I got some really strong feedback on from my T.A. I think it does a good job of looking not just each show, but their places in their respective cultural contexts, which is a useful example to have on me.
  • The spec scripts I’ve worked on for class: the Community script I wrote last year and the Archer spec I’ll be writing for class this semester. Even though I’m not aiming at a comedic stream, if Ihave an opportunity in that world, I’d like to be able to take a fair shot at it.
  • The original pilots I’ve written for class. By end of semester, I should have two in my back pocket to offer up: Timeless and Black Dog. Both are dramas are on the darker side with supernatural elements, so perhaps I’ll just include whichever ends up being the stronger of the two.
  • Darken House, the webseries I’ve been writing since last summer. I wrote a ‘sequence’ of seven webisodes last summer, and I’ve got another sequence in editing. I’d like to tighten it up, but I’m generally happy with it, and it works as a good example that I can write webisode content.
  • There’s not much I can really use from The Bringer of Song, as the posts were often short and sweet, but I liked my review of Alanis Morissette’s “Flavors of Entanglement”, as it reviewed the album as well as contextualising it within her career and past output.
  • Competition, the tryptych of mini-films I’m writing for a fellow student’s special project. It’s three small scenes, each with a different flavour and a different relationship at their core.
  • If I can bring them up in quality, I might include some of the pilots I wrote for MZP-TV: Lifeblood, my dystopian supehero drama; The Grey, the supernatural drama I wrote that got me into Ryerson, or Villainous, my difficult animated comedy that, despite my best efforts, has had lukewarm-to-negative reviews with each attempt to write it. Lifeblood‘s bit similar in tone to the others I wrote for class, but it’s more of an ensemble approach, which could be useful. We’ll see. Also, if I frame them well, my episodes for virtual series might be viable samples of my work, at least until I have enough specs/originals to replace them.
  • Beth Grey, the ‘life is short’ short film I wrote in my final year of high school, and filmed for my final project. That will show that I’m pretty comfortabl writing a short film with a clear character arc, and I like how the main character goes through a symbolic journey over the course of it.
  • There’s lots here at The Diversionist I could include. For personal writing, I’m rather fond of Me and the Train, On Insomnia…, How the Internet Changed My Life and On University Classes. My posts on writing have some good stuff, with the glance at Fan Seasons, advice about dealing with First Draft Shame and The Most Important Thing and an introduction to Writing Specs (with more on that, presumably, on the horizon). And I think I’ve done some strong things on media criticism, from my work about Derivative Works, my look at Media Paratexts in Walking Dead and Glee and my reactions to Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors stories.
  • My work for The Signal has produced some pretty good work, though I think for a portfolio, I might either restructure or rewrite some of it. For example, my three Glee episodic reviews (1.01, 1.22, 2.09) could probably be condensed and extended to be a really strong essay about the show’s first two seasons. Alternately, I think my reviews of the first few episodes of Weeds’ sixth season work well as episode reviews, looking at both the episode and its context in a pretty strong way. And though it was for Signal precursor All My Friends and Enemies, I think my Dollhouse 2.03 review could be a viable sample; I like how, unlike many of my reviews, it looks at some of the cultural messages embedded in the episode.
  • Though I’m not orienting myself towards advertising, if an opportunity comes up, I’ll have the three television commercial scripts I’ll be writing this semester as an example of that kind of work.

Of course, looking at that list it seems pretty long, even though each piece of it would appeal to different jobs. The truth is, though, it’s still missing some key things I really think would make it stronger:

  • I need drama specs. That’s the big hole in it right now, everything from frothy basic cable fare like White Collar and Covert Affairs to network stuff like Castle, and premium cable work like Boardwalk Empire or The Walkind Dead. My coursework hasn’t had this for an assignment yet, and my previous attempts to write drama specs haven’t gone all the way. Heck, I still have notes from a four-year-old Supernatural spec I was planning back in high school.
  • I want more pieces like the Ugly Betty vs. Just Shot Me essay above: longer, extensive and analytical, touching not just on a show but its cultural context. I’d love to do more television critique and analysis in general. I have one essay that, should I have the time and focus to do it, would compare reactions to Breaking Bad‘s Walter White and Big Love‘s Bill Henrickson, and question what makes an acceptably-flawed cable hero.
  • I’d like to try a hand at something I came up with myself: ‘webi-specs’. One big element of  series in recent years has been writing webisodes, and an opening for new writers and interns has been in writing these spinoff shorts. This would be a spec webisode series for a show – the one I have my eye on is a Community webisode series.
  • A game script. I know the industry is more concept- and developer-driven than creative-driven, but I’d love to write some story and character-based games in the future, and it would be nice to have something in the format on tap.
  • Similarly, a graphic novel or graphic novel script. I’ve been discussing a graphic novel project with a good friend, and if we can get some real work done on that, that could give me a shot in grpahic novels. Though they make killer samples for producers, and are hot for option deals, I’m not just interested in them as a stepping stone to TV: I genuinely love the format, and have aspirations to work in the medium.
  • A screenplay. I’m not looking to enter film at all – it’s a much scarier industry and doesn’t appeal to the way I tell stories – but having one would be useful to have on hand in case an opportunity arises to work on a screenplay. Plus, there are some stories that just don’t work as series, and I’d hate to restrict myself from pursuing those.
  • A lighter, frothier drama pilot. These dark premium cable dramas are really only viable in a few places – HBO, Showtime, AMC, perhaps Starz, and maybe NBC or Fox in the US, and The Movie Network or Showcase here in Canada. Meanwhile, I’m sure something like Covert Affairs, with tweaks to fit each network’s particular flavour, could have had play at a lot wider selection. I have a few concepts that could work in this arena.

The above might give the impression that I’m a scatterbrain, but I’m not. I’m interested in plenty of areas, but I know how hard it is to break into any of these industries, so it’s more about covering my bases and ensuring that, no matter who I talk to, I have something to hand them. And as for the long list of what I should have… why not? I’ll enjoy writing any one of them, after all.

This post was moreso a look at my own portfolio, and its only real benefit to the casual reader was a reflection of my priorities buried in it. I’ll be writing another post, Building a Portfolio II, eventually which will focus solely on my general thoughts of what I think a portfolio should be.

So, what do you think? Anyone out there think I’m missing something key, or have any advice for building a sleek, strong portfolio for the areas I’m targeting? Or, perhaps, a post here or at The Signal I should consider including/dropping? Any thoughts you guys, have, I’ll listen to, after all, even if I don’t follow every grain of advice. Thoughts?

2 responses to “WRITING/PERSONAL: Building a Portfolio I

  1. getgeekier February 5, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Holy hell are you prepared! I just finished my first spec and I feel like I’m drowning in holes after reading this post. I can’t imagine you won’t be successful. Best of luck to you!

    • R. Lackie February 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      Haha, thanks! Don’t compare yourself to me yet, though: I’ve been going after the dream for six years now, and have plenty to show for it. I tend to be a bit overambitious.

      If you’re ever looking for someone to chat about writing with or share scripts with, let me know. The best resource writers have is other writers!

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