July 24, 2011

Pitching a TV show: TV Writer Chat nom-noms with Mike Alber

Well, hello sailor. Welcome to the port of knowledge. Today you get to read the hot moments from the TV Writer Chat starring the brain of Mike Alber. He's done a lot of pitching and had a lot of success with it, and is currently working on DEATH VALLEY which is premiering on MTV this year. You can find him on Twitter: Mike Alber

TV WRITER CHAT Sunday 10th July 
Guest: Mike Alber, screenwriter

* First step: getting the meeting. This is where your agent or manager comes in. It's hard to get a meeting on your own.
* It is possible to sell a pitch to a network without a manager or agent, but you really need to use your contacts.
* Major elements to include in your pitch: logline, tone, major character/s, pilot, a taste/teaser, and future episode ideas.
* Have about 6 future episodes plotted out, but know what drives your story forward. You won't need a whole heap of ep ideas if it's clear what kinds of stories can be generated by your concept and story arc.
* You may start by pitching to creative executives, and they'll in turn go pitch your idea to the head of development.
* Winning/placing in a screenwriting competition can open doors for you. 

* Mike won the Trackingboard.com screenwriting competition, which got him attention.
* If someone doesn't dig your ideas but likes you, ask them for a referral. "Who else may be into my idea?" This can be your launchpad.
* Showrunners like more writers for less (like writing partners) and can be happy to get two brains for the price of one.
* After you sell your pilot, your contract dictates your involvement on the show.
* If you work in a team and have success, once the two of you split you're kinda screwed - no-one sees you as a solo writer.
* Agents want clients who can sell themselves, and are proven entities.
* Look at what shows a chosen network has bought in the last two years before pitching.
* Don't look for a buy in the first meeting. Look to develop process further.
* Agents may ask how many Facebook friends/Twitter followers you have. They want to know your clout.
* Read The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.
* A showrunner is only attached after a network buys and makes the pilot.
* Pitch meetings get rescheduled A LOT. Bear this in mind if you fly in to pitch and only allot a finite amount of days to be in town.
* The best part of writing for TV now is this: SO many channels are doing original content. And they all need good stuff.
* Pitch a little scene from the show. A taste. Do actual dialogue if called for.
* Don't leave a one-sheet. They make everything black & white.
* (As usual the big advice is:) Move to L.A. Until then? Use social media. Networking is not optional in this industry.
* Read tonnes of pilots, especially from the network you're interested in selling to.
* WB is a pussycat compared to Fox.

Thanks to all who contributed to the chat. I'm tellin' ya, you won't learn this stuff at film school.

I'm wondering... Those of you who started a new script excitedly at the start of this year and swore to finish it, are you still working on it? Did you finish it, or is it sitting as a skeleton in a desktop folder, waiting for you to come back and slather your meaty words all over it?
New year's resolutions are always hard to keep. Sometimes you just need a reminder that you forgot to kick your ass back into gear. Just think about how happy you'll be if you end this year knowing you finished something. Use that for motivation.

And if the thought of going back through and reading all your notes and bits of script feels too exhausting, just start again. Use the kernels of your idea, all you remember and loved, and write that. You can always check back with the old material later to see if there's anything you can salvage for the new version.
Just write. Because I need to be jealous of you to get back to writing obsessively myself.

Screenwriters Anonymous - the support group that guilt-trips you into greatness.

July 16, 2011

Hello, fair gentle people of the keyboard. Time for more learning - some much-needed roughage for your grey matter. There's still heaps to catch up on, so consider me you ghost of Scripchats past.

No faffing about today, let's get straight to the gooey centre. Yes, that is Australian spelling. You'll cope.

TV WRITER CHAT Sunday 26th June

Because I don't write down everything that's said in the chats, just the bits that stand out and aren't easily found in the 4 million screenwriting books out there, I only have two notes from this chat:
* ABC FAMILY's demographic is 12 - 34-years-old. They are currently desperate for fresh ideas.
* Try out the Write or Die app.

THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS on #Scriptchat Sunday 10th July Guest: Zac Sanford, development executive and screenwriter

* During the development process, the Prodco (production company) and their development team are in the mix.
* As talent gets attached, most directors and bigger actors will want to put their thoughts in.
* The development process can mean one draft or it can mean MANY drafts.
* Each Prodco will have a different way of doing things.
* No matter how perfect you make your script, it will need to go through development.
* An option = a ticking clock. Development starts immediately after an option is purchased. Even with a new writer.
* Some Prodcos will give a writer development notes before optioning to see if the writer can take notes,
* A Prodco may give up on a writer who isn't a team player.
* As the writer, you may get very broad notes, or very detailed notes.
* There's a difference between a script being ready to submit, and ready to shoot - this is what development exists for.
* The more detailed the notes, the closer you are to being finished.
* Options can run 6 - 18 months for first option period, then typically two extension periods after that.
* As a non-produced writer, don't expect more than $100 for an option.
* The more open and collaborative a writer is, the faster and smoother development goes.
* A Prodco will either option or purchase your script. A purchase is better, but options are more common.
* The goal of development is: make the best script possible for the intended budget/audience.* Avoid Amazon Studios!!
* Once development starts, the writer is more like a partner than an order-taker.
* If a note has something missing/isn't clicking, dig into it. Find out what it's really about.
* Try not to ignore a note - give the Prodco a strong reason why it won't work.
* A newbie writer should only pitch finished scripts. A produced writer can pitch unfinished works.
* You should have 2 - 3 solid scripts before shopping around. Your intended project may not be right for them and they could ask "What else do you have?"
* A good note highlights a problem. A bad note offers the solution. Suggestions, however, can be useful.
* The best notes are often questions.
* Some kinds of notes you may get: 'Act breaks are wrong', 'scenes need punching up', 'main character is bland', 'jokes flat', 'dire straits aren't dire enough', etc.
* The first notes you'll get will be: broad story/character/scene notes.
* With that first broad set of notes, the producers are trying to get the ultimate spine and characters in place.
* These notes can include character changes, act breaks not working, set-ups and pay-offs missing, theme, ending, etc.
* Always have another project going while you're in development!
* You can get written out/replaced by another writer, especially if the script was purchased instead of optioned.
* Don't tailor a role to an actor unless the Prodco has a relationship with that actor.
* Usually, the producer will give you notes, then you'll meet up a week or two later.
* It can help to do a step outline/treatment between drafts if the changes are big (this is for you, not for anyone else).
* To learn the importance of development, be part of an indie short film. You'll learn a lot.
* A brain tumour the size of an acorn = not funny. A brain tumour the size of a beachball? Funny.
* Reading recommendation: Story Notes From Hell (blog).

And that's just the Scriptchat for Sunday 10th July! In a couple days I'll add the notes from the TV Writer Chat from that day, starring Mike Alber, and he gives some unbeatable advice about getting into the world of writing television.

Until then, here's something to think about: in the script you're working on now, what would happen if you changed the gender of your protagonist? Would the story still be roughly the same, or would everything need to change? Have you picked the right sex for your character? Maybe play around and see how they'd be as the other.

Screenwriters Anonymous - the support group that recommends failure as a stepping stone to success.

July 10, 2011

Scriptchat recap & writing for sitcoms on TV Writer Chat

Hello my fellow junkies, and welcome to another week of screenwriting obsession.
In today's post, I recap a juicy Scriptchat, and give notes from a handy TV Writer Chat all about writing TV sitcoms. Enjoy!

SCRIPTCHAT Sunday 19th June

* Most independent film companies would rather not work with a writer/director - harder to develop with.
* Don't pitch at sit-down meetings - listen to what they want.
* It's good to get a manager before you get an agent, but having screen credits trumps both, and will be better for getting you work.
* Currently, females over 25 are the most powerful movie ticket buyers.
* Right now in the U.S., Latins are the biggest buyers of movie tickets.
* Universal themes = $$$. (Bridesmaids could have been about dudes, or set in India.)

* Use the Hollywood Creative Directory.
* There are different opportunities to pitch, including virtualpitchfest.com, inktip, and more.
* Enter fellowship screenwriting competitions above all others.
* In writing, go very broad, or very niche.
* The most successful comedies are ones people can relate to, due to experience. Like being a bridesmaid, having a buck's party, being on an awkward date, etc.

* Book suggestions for the day: 'The War of Art'; 'Do the Work'; 'Write for Fun
& Profit'.

SITCOM-WRITING CONT'D on #TvWriterChat Sunday 19th June
* Sitcoms usually have two acts. Sometimes also a teaser and/or a tag.
* Mike & Molly and 2.5 Men are both multi-camera.
* Modern Family and Cougar Town are both single-camera.
* Single-cam is story-focussed in comedy; multi is more about set-up/punchline.
* Multi-cam has more immediacy.
* Because multi-cam shows are on a set, jokes tend to get rewritten on the spot, depending on audience reaction.
* Single-cam shows are shot on-location.
* If you're in LA, go to a taping of the show you want to spec for.
* Multi-cam and single-cam are written differently. If you're writing a pilot, you need to know which you're writing for.
* There are two types of shows: ones where stock characters say jokes; and shows where flawed characters are put in funny situations (although you could argue most sitcoms do both).
* TV skews more towards the female market, depending on the network. Remember this when you're trying to write your show about 4 misogynists living on a whale-harpooning ship.
* Male-targeted TV networks in the U.S. include Comedy Channel, Spike, and FX.
* If you want to spec for a show, study scripts from it (not transcripts), read the Wikipedia page (especially helpful for character profiles), watch show, over and over, and break it down, and watch the DVDs with the audio commentaries on.
* Book suggestions for the day: 'Elephant Bucks' by Sheldon Bull; 'Successful Sitcom Writing' by J
├╝rgen Wolff.

As always, thanks to all the wonderful and savvy contributors to the chats who share knowledge like a happy rash. Their brilliance is contagious.

I'm going to give you homework this week. Not because I'm a sadist but because I enjoy inflicting pain.
Your homework is this:
Think of a show you wish was on TV (any style or genre
) but isn't on-air, and jot down a couple notes on how you would do/write such a show. Maybe you dislike the lack of celebrity vampire cooking shows or think there should be a program about one of Paris Hilton's Chihuahuas being a private detective.
Yes, your ideas will certainly be better, and maybe nothing will come of it, but it doesn't hurt to think about what interests you. Chances are your idea appeals to others (unless you propose a trivia game show about antique telephone poles, in which case, you're on your own, buddy).

You never know - a little brainstorming session can light a spark and lead you onto your next project.

Screenwriters Anonymous - the only support group that makes you wish you'd been a banker like your parents nagged you to.

July 3, 2011

Dropbox, TV Writer Chat gems with Chad Gervich

Hi folks, 

If you haven't heard, apparently Dropbox has pulled a Facebook and changed its terms of use. They have empowered themselves to have rights over your content, to do with as they wish.
That future cloud of the internet just gets darker and darker.
If you want to read more, go to http://jdsawyer.net/2011/07/02/put-it-in-the-cloud-are-you-nuts/
And in light of all the recent hackdom, I recommend pulling your preciouses off Dropbox, and investing in a bunch of flashdrives for back-up, as well as emailing stuff to yourself.
UPDATE: Read - Dropbox responds to the lashing out of its members

Okay, the morbidity done, now for the fun.
The following is notes from the Chad Gervich-guested TV Writer Chat from last month. Why go to film school when you can learn more for free in front of your computer screen? You have the added bonus of maintaining a spinal posture that allows you to use your navel as a cereal bowl. Think of the lint as the surprise toy.

But first, a little clarification. The 'spec' (the oft-used abbreviation of 'on speculation') has a different meaning in film than it does in television. The basic definition of something 'on spec' is work, such as screenplay, that's done for a client without a job offer or contract, that the client will (hopefully) pay for.
In film, this means you write a script, and try and get someone to buy it.
In television, a spec refers to the writing of a script for a pre-existing show; whereas a 'pilot' refers to the writing of an original initial script for a show you have invented.

And now, on with the learning!

TV Writer Chat Sunday 12th June
Guest: Chad Gervich, author of 'Small Screen, Big Picture'

* Don't write a bible or one-pager for a spec pilot unless you know the agent.
* Agents won't bother reading scripts from a total stranger, especially a baby writer with no experience.
* No-one uses bibles before a show is made. They're created when the show is already up and running. They're not selling tools (and remember the old adage: No-one reads in Hollywood).
* A bible will hurt you; it shows you're an amateur. It also excludes the buyer from the development process.
* Don't shoot your own pilot, it will hurt you.
* Specs are the hot trend in Hollywood. If you want to be hired to write for TV you should always have several (up-to-date) specs and several pilots under your arm, but right now, original content is what eyes most want to read.
* Network structure is usually TEASER -> 5 ACTS
* Cable structure is usually TEASER -> 4 ACTS
* Know the structure of the type of broadcasting you're aiming for.
* A pilot script should never be the episode you intend to have aired first (the origin story). The pilot needs to be a prototype for how stories and generated, and how episodes will work. Maybe write the second or third episode-in.
* When you go to a pitch meeting, be armed with 10 - 12 plot ideas for your show, but do not take a bible (and memorise your plot ideas - shakily reading off a piece of paper doesn't make you look like you know your stuff, and if you don't know your show premise inside-out, who does?)
* Sample episodes you write scripts for are not to show where the series will go - they illuminate the kinds of stories the show will present (and character establishment).
* e.g. if pitching Friends, your sample eps would contain stories about dating, office drama, etc., even if these things never end up being used in the series.
* Chances are none of the eps you write will be used to make the show.
* Networks hate premise pilots (think of LOST's first episode). They do not reflect what subsequent episodes and stories will look like. Lost's first ep is chapter 1 of a long story.
* If you've already written your pilot script, don't bother pitching it - just send it to who you want to read it.
* A pilot should definitely be 'the day everything changed' (though this point conflicts a little with the whole 'do not use episode 1/the origin story as your pilot' thing).
* Reality TV has writers.
* If you start at the bottom in reality TV, you ascend faster.
* Check out realitystaff.com for job opportunities.

As always, think through what you read and don't take every word for gospel. For each point made there is always a success story to negate it.
There are lots of resources out there, like Chad's book, to get you savvy on how to write for TV, so make the most of them.

Next time on the show we'll give you juicy feature writing tips from the Scriptchat hive, and we talk to a rabbit who chooses to wear cosmetics. "If humans didn't judge us on how we look, we wouldn't feel the need to hide behind make-up."

Screenwriters Anonymous - the only support group that believes in peer pressure.