So, you think you have an idea for a TV show. Maybe it's more than an idea. Maybe you've already written a full fledged original pilot script complete with TV Bible (that's a listing of the characters, synopsis of the pilot and future storylines.) Perhaps you have the next great reality show? Today if you are not represented, it's almost impossible to get your work in front of the right executive. However, NATPE's Pitch Fest, happening this week at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, is one such place that acts as a connective tissue between the writer and the studios or producers.
Writers these days need samples of their work - several of them. One needs to be able to show the powers that be that you can follow up your successes. Therefore you need to have not only an original pilot (maybe even two says Carole Kirschner, an entertainment consultant of www.ParkOnTheLot.com) and a spec script of one of the currently popular shows. Don't chose a show in its first season unless it is wildly popular and you already know that it will be renewed. Likewise, don't use a show, like CSI, that has been done to death. Your spec and your pilot should be of the same genre - drama or comedy - not a combination or it will confuse people. One of the mistakes many new writers make is bringing in a new character that becomes central to your story. The spec scripts should always have an emphasis on the regular characters and bring out emotions that we haven't seen yet. She stresses that to stand out among the crowd, you have to have a personal logline to stand out to be noticed. One of the good ways is to enter and win contests. Austin Film Festival is one of the best, The Page Scriptwriters contest is another, and Final Draft's Big Break is a third big one.
According to showrunner Oliver Goldstick, executive producer of Pretty Little Liars, writers, to stand out, must think outside the box. You never thought that a show like the Sopranos would succeed the way it did. After all, it wasn't just a pretty family drama, but it was about emotion and people could relate to the characters there. Nevertheless, David Chase had to stretch the boundaries and call in favors to get the show on the air. The writer, Goldstick says, has three duties - to entertain, engross and relate. He says that the writer needs to tap into the emotions from page one and not put gratuitous violence there. Of course, it always helps if you know someone in the business, but if not, and if you don't have an agent yet, enter contests and try to get into one of the many studio writing programs. (The competition for these are stiff. Warner gets 14,000 submissions for 12 slots.)
Justin Killion, who does development at Original Productions, discussed budget and development of the reality show. "It's important to target the network you want to air on and then work backwards." Understand the demographics of that network and who their audience is remains a crucial part to the pitch. More than ever before in reality, it's not just the idea, but the execution. A sizzle reel of either your cast or a trailer of your show is needed to sell the story. He suggested that you might want to consider doing it in animation for a less expensive package. "Graphics make a huge difference in how your sizzle reel is perceived."
When asked how much you should allow for a budget, he answered, a budget is a state of mind. Obviously, you want to make your show for the least amount you can, but you don't want it to look cheap. The network, themselves, will tell you the budget they will allow you to use.
He warned the audience to be open to changing their show as revisions are always being made.
While Andrew Jacobs, director of development at Atlas Media, warned writers that unless they were already multi produced not to attempt going directly to networks themselves. "They will only want you to partner up with someone more experienced and we won't be happy if you've already been to the network with your material." He gets a tremendous amount of pitches. "The days when you could just pitch it on paper are long gone. You need either a short sizzle reel or a character study to show the producers." In addition, you have to know the popular reality shows, like Pawn Stars or Hotel Impossible, and if you are going to copy cat them, it had better be really unique.
Jen Grisanti, a story consultant, warned writers that they had to write from a universal truth and dig deep into their own emotional traumas and big moments for stories that the ordinary person can relate to.
Once you have your great pitch or story, it's crucial that you protect it. While the copyright office is the only real protection, said attorney Mariya Levy," listing your work with the writer's guild, can establish a time line." We were warned by Alison Brehm to always keep our old copies so that we can show origins. Steve Krone made it clear that you never, ever work with anyone, even your best friend, without a contract in writing. Glen Kulik said that you need to keep a log of where you send things, when, what the response was and if you have gotten it back or not.
NATPE concludes tomorrow with a pitch pit, in which writers can talk to the executives one on one
If you miss tomorrow, there's always January's event at the Fountainblu Resort in Miami and one in Budapest Hungry, the following June.
for more information go to www.natpe.org