A friend of mine recently wrote a screenplay for a sitcom. Not a spec of an existing show, mind you, but rather an entirely new idea she developed.
In accomplishing this feat, she joined rarified company. For every person who has written a television pilot, there may be a thousand people who have written a spec script and millions who have never put pen to paper (finger to keyboard).
And like any good writer, she wanted her work to be as good as it could be, so she asked a handful of people she knew—including me—to read it and give her feedback.
Unfortunately, as I later learned on sending her my feedback, she was ready to chuck in the writing game because of scathing criticism from another reviewer, who essentially told her that her pilot was complete crap (or worse).
My friend is talented and is in the process of maturing her style. And the feedback I gave her was honest and critical, but it was also designed to help her improve, not make her quit. The pilot was still raw, but there was merit in many aspects of it, and the rest could be easily improved.
Sadly, it seems her other reviewer was less interested in helping her find the gems in her work.
To the writers out there, I say, pick your reviewers wisely, and before you take any of the feedback to heart, consider the source and get input from more than one person.
Feedback that is overly critical or overly praising is largely useless…and potentially lethal.
To the reviewers out there, I say, be honest but be constructive. It does no one any good to rip a work to shreds and leave it in tatters. It doesn’t make you more powerful. This isn’t even about you but about the work.
At the end of this post, I have links to pieces I have written previously on receiving and giving feedback. And below, without giving away my friend’s identity or her concept, I offer the opening of my notes to her.
Good luck and good writing to everyone!
My favourite insight of all time on writing for television is that pilots suck. Let me repeat that:
The challenge with a pilot is you have to do soooo much structural heavy-lifting and still try to tell a coherent story.
- You need to establish the premise.
- You need to establish the perspective of your protagonist and therefore your concept.
- You need to not only introduce all of the regular characters and their relationships to each other, but also make them engaging.
- You need to give the audience a sense of what a typical episode might look like so they know when they can go pee.
- And did I mention that you also need to tell a coherent story?
- Oh, and one last thing for the sitcom writers…you have to be funny.
So, massive kudos to you for writing a sitcom pilot and doing a decent job of it. You’ve covered all of the points above, but you haven’t really nailed them yet. And for me, nailing them hinges on your decisions about point #2…