Fitting a pitch

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The line has been drawn in the sand. I’ve painted myself into a corner. It’s time to s#!t or get off the pot. [Insert other cliché expression indicating you’re stalling and we all know it.]

It is time for me to start pitching my television show ideas to production companies. No more fine tuning. No more market analysis. Get out there and sell, boy.

I was at an information session over the weekend where a Head of Development for a local production company was talking to new comedy writers (and me) about what producers are looking for in new sitcom pitches, and perhaps just as importantly, what they do not want to see.

Much of what he had to tell me was very familiar, but one factoid took me quite by surprise and shook me off the procrastination horse. Nobody, it seems, wants to see your pilot script (at least not in Canada).

They haven’t got time to wade through it and really just want to know three simple facts:

  • What’s your story idea?
  • How expensive will it be to make?
  • Can we sell it in the U.S. or in Europe?

And all of this, the producer assures us, can be handled in no more than 3 pages and for some, ideally in one.

What’s your story idea? Tell me about the scenario, the characters and what I can expect to see in a typically episode.

How expensive will it be to make? One or a couple of sets works in Canada…multiple location shoots gets expensive.

Can we sell it abroad? Make it Canadian enough to get government tax incentives but not so Canadian that Americans and Europeans won’t want it. Broad and universal is the name of the game.

No pilot script? Too many changes after everyone has had their hands in your concept…although, if you have one, you can use it as a sample of your writing.

Oh.

Hunh.

Well.

Suddenly, I have gone from having one sitcom ready to pitch to producers to three sitcoms, two animated kids programs, one anthology series (think Quantum Leap) and two educational/lifestyle programs. [This is aside from the sketch comedy show on which I am a writer, but is someone else’s puppy to pitch.]

Time to figure out what production companies develop shows similar to mine and arrange some meetings. Time to make this career leap pay some bills.

Wish me luck (and please check in every now and again to keep me honest).

(Photo used without permission from the delightful blog Picnics in the Park.)

Toronto Screenwriting Conference – Day Two Highlights

Personal highlights or take-aways from Day Two of the Toronto Screenwriting Conference:

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Darlene Hunt – Masterclass (creator, showrunner for Showtime’s The Big C)

Take your time responding to questions: When someone is asking you about a specific line or scene, whether in meeting on or set, give yourself time to think about it, because you may not remember exactly why you wrote that scene that way. At the same time, even if you can explain why you went that way, make sure you remain open to new interpretations or new ideas that may work better.

Bob Kushell—Anatomy of a Pilot (creator of BBC series Way to Go)

Pilots suck: All pilots suck to one extent or another and he explains why using the analogy of an approaching tornado. You’re living your life when suddenly you hear that a tornado is coming. Quickly, you run into the storm shelter with several other people and try to prepare for the coming storm. At the same time, as each of you goes about your tasks, you remind one of the people about that time she ran over your cat, which is why you don’t like her. But hey, you love the fact that another individual’s here despite those awkward feelings after that drunken fling at the cottage. Oh, but you still need to prepare for the coming tornado.

Within an ever-shortening time span (now around 21 minutes), you need to fill in useless backstory that everyone in the show should know (it’s their backstory) and still manage to tell a coherent plot that somehow illustrates the show’s premise.

Penny Penniston—Not Just Talk: How Writers Think About Dialogue (professor at Northwestern University)

Dialogue is not conversation: If words were keys on a piano keyboard, then the difference between conversation and dialogue is the difference between noise and music. Dialogue is precise and crafted, gives voice and describes themes. It gives clear direction to the artists interpreting it and a chance for them to show off. And like learning to play music, learning to craft dialogue takes practice to develop muscle memory, but at the same time, understanding the theory behind dialogue will allow you to step back from your work and find the good and bad things about it.

Aaron Korsh – Masterclass (creator and showrunner of USA Network’s Suits)

Understand your scene’s goal: Reading a scene out loud can be very helpful when it comes to determining if it’s working, as some scenes may read well, but something goes wrong when it becomes audible. And if the scene isn’t working, it’s often because you haven’t really established what the scene’s dynamic or purpose is.