Photo by Andrew Bui on Unsplash

The TSC Fellowship recipients are back after a whirlwind conference weekend in Toronto. Here are seven pieces of advice from conference speakers, on topics ranging from mental health to writing, pitching, and receiving notes.

On looking after your mental health:
“You don’t need to be sick or in pain to create something.”
-Christopher Cantwell.  Showrunner, Halt and Catch Fire @ifyoucantwell

On creativity and discipline:
“The most important thing is to write every day. Your two most common enemies are procrastination and perfectionism, two sides of the same coin. Your mind tricks you into not doing the work. Push through and write the words regardless. Find a path to your subconscious. Some days are harder than others. Creativity is elusive – capture it by work ethic. Just keep working. Writing every day on a schedule is like training for a sport.”
-Carlton Cuse. Showrunner, Locke & Key, Lost, Bates Motel @CarltonCuse

On theme:
“Know what each character wants at the start of each season. That want needs to be in each episode with characters making both good and bad decisions based on that. It colours everything they do. Then you get ready to blend them together based on episode theme to get the stories to talk to each other. That makes it cohesive.”
– Ayanna Floyd Davis.  Showrunner, the Chi @qu33nofdrama

On writing your pilot:
“Anyone who is reading your pilot has probably read a thousand pilots, minimum…meaning you probably can’t surprise them. But they still want to be surprised. Subvert their expectations and focus on twists of character rather than plot. Let the characters feel familiar, then have them do surprising things.”
-Ben Watkins. Showrunner, Hand of God @_Benipedia_

On cutting through the marketplace noise:
Always be saying something. Be innovative and provocative. You have to be able to cut through in this market. People are hungry to see things subverted and see themselves reflected.
– Heather Brewster. VP, Scripted, Global Content Div, Keshet Int’l @HtoTheBrewster

On pitching:
“If you’re pitching as a team, practice as a team. MULTIPLE TIMES. Assign specific roles. “Before I let Kevin answer that, I’ll give you some context…” Prepare your answers to all anticipated talking points.
– Kevin White. Speaker and Pitching Coach @TheOptimalPitch

On receiving studio notes:
Listen to what is being said and try not to interrupt even if you disagree. Ask them specifically, “what’s driving the note?”  Then you can figure out if it’s a matter of opinion vs truly constructive. It’s okay to say “let me think about that.” Be willing to at least consider or even try what’s being suggested. Fight for what you truly believe in.  Let go of things that don’t affect the integrity of your project.
-Phil Breman, VP Scripted Programming, NBC @PhillingYourDay

We’d like to thank the organizers of the Toronto Screenwriting Conference for their dedication to bringing in such wonderful speakers. We’re already looking forward to next year!

Were you there too? What speakers stood out for you? Are you planning to go next year? We’d love to hear about it.