October 26, 2011

What makes a good pilot? TV Writer Chat juice

So you want to write for TV do you? You sick, sick person. You've come to the right place!
There's a TV boom going on at the moment, and it's an industry that always has jobs going.
How do you get one of those jobs? You write, learn to write good, then send your writing out and hope someone buys it or hires you.

Here are some stellar tips on writing a pilot with a chance of succeeding.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD PILOT? Sunday 2nd October

* A great pilot introduces premise, develops characters, and is also a good stand-alone episode.
* A premise ep. is the origin ep. For example, the first episode of LOST or HAPPY ENDINGS.
* Don’t do a premise ep. unless it can succeed as a regular ep. You want your pilot to give the viewer/reader a strong sense of what every ep. will feel like, and how stories are generated.
* Instead of writing a premise episode, consider compacting the premise into the teaser/1st act of the pilot, or maybe even into the title sequence.
* Even the title can show the premise, like DEATH VALLEY, or LAST MAN STANDING by Tim Allen.
* A good pilot can play anywhere in the series.
* Fish out of water shows tend to have premise pilots, and they hook you. MEN IN TREES, NORTHERN EXPOSURE.
* Sitcom is about an obstacle and how the main character approaches it. The pilot must highlight the main character.
* Most networks/buyers prefer a non-premise pilot.
* Premise pilots are used more in drama.
* Pay TV/cable shows can get away with being more premise-heavy in the pilot.
* Serialised event drama series tend to scare away buyers. Viewers want to be able to jump in and out easily (you remember what it was like if you missed a couple weeks of LOST... Lost is exactly what you were).
* Write a spec script before penning a pilot (a spec being a script of a pre-existing show). Get to know structure.
* Pilot should not only show template for other episodes, but the engine. What drives it.
* Show the fun of the world. Chances are the network will be buying the world.
* Characters need to be great, but relationships can’t grow in one episode. You need to build over time.
* A good pilot teaches the audience how to watch the show. Kinds of stories, humour, cadence...
* It’s hard to sell a spec pilot because networks want a hand in developing the series to their needs. This is where a bible can also ruin you.
* Still, spec pilots are a great way for landing representation and staffing gigs. It just may not ever get made.
* Surprising stories keep viewers coming back.
* A character doesn’t have to be likeable (look at Al Swearengen!) – just relatable.
* One way to make an unlikeable character more likeable is add a character who’s even worse (going with the Deadwood motif, this would be Cy Tolliver).
* You have three acts to suck in viewers. Make your act breaks sizzle.
* Dan Goor recommends always starting with the ad breaks, and figuring out the acts from there when breaking a story.
* Leave audience hanging when you shift to B story and back!
* In pilot, be sure to deliver on the premise of your logline/premise.
* Keep the story simple and the characters complex.
* In TV, the story can always be reworked, but at least one main character will remain constant – that’s what sustains a show (so make your characters solid and interesting!)
* TV loglines need to establish world and characters. Feature loglines establish drive and story.
* Most dramas are now: 6 acts, or a teaser + 5 acts.
* Check out: Done Deal boards.
* Book recommends: ‘The Cheeky Monkey, writing narrative comedy’ by Tim Ferguson, and ‘The TV Writers Workbook’ by Ellen Sandler.

I hope all this info. has gotten your brain even more excited (and not terrified and overwhelmed). I think the moral of this #TVWriterChat is know your target broadcaster. Don't write generic and send your pilot our everywhere. And be honest with yourself that you may never see your show made, but it may get you your first gig.

And don't just send out the first thing you write. It takes years to get good, and employers and agents want to see you are prolific, and your pilot wasn't a fluke. Don't kill your career before it's started by jumping the gun.

Now go, write!

Screenwriters Anonymous - I'll show you my script if you show me yours.

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