TV Writer Podcast 035 – Mike Alber (Death Valley, Ultradome)

Ever heard of someone who didn’t live in L.A. or New York landing a staff TV writing gig? How about sight unseen, hired from a phone interview? Meet Mike Alber, who sold many pitches to a major network, wrote on a web series, and even landed a staff writing gig while not even living in the same state!

Mike & writing partner Gabe Snyder met in high school, and clicked right away. Despite going to different colleges in different cities, they wrote together constantly. Mike was on track to be a doctor, but after starting med school he realized that writing was his passion, so he switched his masters studies to creative writing.

Gabe moved to L.A. in 2006, but Mike continued his studies in Ohio. They placed in several screenplay competitions, but it was through an honorable mention at a contest that they got their first option. They were on the map! One relationship led to another, and soon they sold several pitches to Spike TV, worked on the web series Ultradome, signed for management and representation, and were taking meetings all over town.

Mike tells the amazing story of how his newborn daughter kept him away from L.A., yet he was able to land his first TV staff gig, on MTV’s Death Valley, with a phone call from the hospital waiting room! Mike finally did move to L.A. this year, and does advise that everyone else should move to L.A. first — his luck is not easy to repeat!

Mike and Gabe are idea machines, and Mike has great advice on how you can be one too!

Follow Mike on Twitter: @malber

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3 thoughts on “TV Writer Podcast 035 – Mike Alber (Death Valley, Ultradome)

  1. Gray Jones

    Thanks all for your comments!

    to Dale: there are a few things to remember. The most important is that a staff writer’s impact can be measured in millions of dollars. A well-written episode can ensure people come back to a show, while a poorly written episode can cause thousands of viewers to permanently walk away. Also, a writing room depends on chemistry, which is very difficult to measure through a phone call or video conference.

    Hollywood is a place where deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars are made, and so it is a town that values eye contact, and face to face meetings where you can feel a person’s handshake and observe their body language,

    Secondly — creativity and technology often don’t mix. I know one network show creator who doesn’t even have a desk in his office, because the straight, hard lines are an impediment to his creativity. Smartphones, with their social networking distractions, are often avoided by creative types, because they can distract you from important streams of creativity.

    Most importantly — it is what it is. You have to play by Hollywood’s rules if you want to win the game. Exceptions exist, but they are exactly that: exceptions. Even Mike Alber advises that he was exceptionally lucky, and that you should not try to follow his example.

    Hope this helps,

  2. Dale Crowe

    As someone transitioning from “IT guy” to screenwriter, I have to say that I’m floored by how technophobic the film production industry seems to be. When I went to the SWG-West site to begin my search for representation there were perhaps three agencies with a web listing.
    With all of the web meeting, real-time video and near instantaneous text transmission capabilities it’s quite unreasonable to say a writer HAS to be in LA-LA land to do anything.
    I’m lucky in that I’m close enough (Seattle area) that a commute for meetings woulodn’t be out of the question with a little foresight. I’d even be happy to rent or stay in an extended-stay chain during production. Living in LA just shouldn’t be the requirement it once was.

  3. Terry

    I live in Alaska and although going down to LA multiple times is alright, and even a temporary move there would be fine but full-time, as in BUYING a house there?! Not as long as there are planes to catch! I’ll roll the dice and attempt, like Mike, to telecommute first. If it can be done once, it can be done repeatedly. We may not get the same results each time but that’s the fun of testing a hypothesis. Writing is a passionate joy and if remaining ‘undiscovered’ is the price to pay for living in clean, beautiful Alaska vs. violent, crazy LA, let me be invisible for a while longer, please God! Fame is not that important, although some extra money would be very cool. Nice to know that Mike is lousy with luck – a new baby AND that phone call. Can I touch his sleeve?! LOLOLOL