With my TV writing class finished I’m once again left to my own devices. And that’s kinda scary. I’ve proven to myself that I can write in volume while others are staring at a blank page. What I don’t know how to do is to get people read my writing. Most notably agents, producers, head writers, etc. And so that’s the new goal.
It’s a scary word. Not gonna lie, sorta outside my comfort zone. Not really sure how Mack does it. Put me in a dark hole of a room with a computer and I’ll churn out pages (as well as meticulously check Facebook and Gmail.) But now it’s time to be social, cultivate relationships, attend functions, exchange business cards. You know, marketing. Gonna have to get a website designed and off the ground. Gonna have to start cold calling agents (those are pure death). And contests and fellowships must be submitted to non stop.
On some hopeful news, one of my plays will be read on May 20 on the upper west side. If you live in Manhattan, stop by. It will be at the Underground at 2pm. (That’s a bar, so you can get drunk and such.) And I think I’ve picked out my show to spec so I’ve still got the writing to do.
Happy February 29th every one. (Aka Leap Day!) And on this day of once every 4 year days I am proud to announce I have submitted my first TV spce script to a TV competition! Script Pipeline is $45 to submit so I hope to hell they’re legitimate. I basically spent the last two hours combing through my 30 Rock script for typos. I read it once last night and just now twice. If you’ve ever read this blog before, you’ll probably notice an overabundance of them. So I had to read the damn thing in hyper sensitive mode. It sucked and my eyes hurt.
When you’re writing you’re tearing through the script, as fast as you can. You don’t have time for proper grammar or spelling! Think of a writer as a badass cop in a car chase. Yea, knows how to drive, he’s the best. But he’s going to have to run a few stops signs, maybe brush up against a car or two while he’s pulling that 180 emergency break trick. But you know what? He just saved a school bus full of children with puppies (it was bring your puppy to show-and-tell day) from a psycho bomber. I think that gives him a pass. That’s what a writer is like. Editors are for cleaning up the wreckage.
Anyway, in addition writing my pilot script (my current project) I have to write what is known as…
The Show Bible
The show bible is a sales document designed to attract investors to my pilot. It also works a sort of play book for all ideas, characters, tie-ins, concepts, format, style, and about anything else you can think of. Once a show gets sold, the show bible becomes a very proprietary item. If it gets in the wrong hands, people get fired, and money gets lost.
Parts of the show bible:
1) Over view. A 1-2 page pitch, general plot, theme, etc.
2) Characters: Primary (characters that carry plot lines,)
Secondary(characters appearing in every episode, but don’t carry plot lines,
Reoccurring (characters that show up often,)
Occasional (characters that show up not too infrequently,)
Special Characters (characters that might show up given the nature of your show, i.e. Brian Williams on 30 Rock.)
Descriptions of each and how they compliment each other.
3) Time and Place
Time is more important in a period piece. Description need to be as specific as you need for your show. So The Wire needed to describe the despair on the streets of Baltimore. Gossip Girls needed to describe the glits and glamour of the Upper East Side. It is important to describe things that are not obvious.
4) Format and Style
Is it a multi camera comedy? Is it a single camera drama? Is it fast-paced? What’s the visual tone and style?
5) 1-2 page synopsis of the pilot episode.
6) Ancillary ideas
This is a big one. You can sell your show on this idea alone (almost.) What marketing tie-in deals can your show produce?
Can there be a Happy Meal Toy for your show? A ride at Six Flags? Mad Men has a Banana Republic clothing line. Glee loses money on each episode, but then make much more back by selling the songs on iTunes the next day. They’ve even started selling the Castle novels!
7) Demographic Breakdown
Who will watch it and why?
I’ve been told this one is actually worth skipping. The only thing that matters is if you can prove white males age 25-45
will watch your show.
8) Future Episode Ideas
Long lines of new episodes to show where your idea can go.
It’s best to do them in the number of episodes the network will order the show. (i.e. initial order of 6, or 13 for a half
And those are the secrets of the Show Bible format. Now to get to work.
As I’ve been writing my pilot, I’ve been wishy-washy on nailing down the aspects of my characters. Character development has always been a scary word for me. When I used to act and it came to building my character, I always felt I never did enough. Not enough back story, I didn’t like to pick out their favorite foods, and creating memories…ugh! I even hated coming up with physicality. I was always more focused on the script and what the character wanted, ’cause that’s all I was really ever taught in school.
Now as I’ve been writing I’ve let the story come out and the characters present themselves naturally. But for the sake of making my show bible (a document that fully encompasses characters, plot lines, back story, concept, etc) I really need to nail down the characters.
Furthermore TV lives on characters. TV is formulaic, predictable, and repetitive. What we keep coming back for are the characters. Even reality TV is about our connection with the contestants. So now that I have my challenge, how do I accomplish it?
Well today I’ve been pondering Alignment.
“Alignment is a categorization of the ethical and moral perspective of people, creatures, and societies.”
Thanks Wikipedia! Essentially is your character good or evil? But extended to another dimension: chaotic vs lawful. Lawful means you follow the rules of the society in power while chaotic means you want to tear down that society. The grid looks like this…
So as you can see someone can follow the rules of society and can be evil, Lawful Evil. Darth Vader, Stringer Bell, The Capital in the Hunger Games. Meanwhile Chaotic Good would see a character that hates the rules of society and wants to tear it down, but is morally strong. Rorschach, Malcolm Reynolds, Princess Leia. And from the chart there is a third category in both, Neutral (with respect to moral and societal alignments.) A neutrally societal character doesn’t let the rules of the world around them influence their behavior. Neutral good characters? Wolverine, Han Solo. Neutral evil? the Aliens from Alien, Boba Fett.
It is interesting to ponder what these character alignments are saying when we get behind them. When we identify with a chaotic character, does it imply that we feel disenfranchised by own system or society? Chaotic alignment embodies the rebel.
Is there a place for the Lawful Hero? Who wants to root for the guy supporting the establishment? When was the last time anyone was nuts over Superman? But maybe there’s something about fighting for something bigger than yourself, (ideologies?) even when others around your don’t understand it (John Locke, Professor Xavier.)
And how does a Neutral Good protagonist speak to us? They’re lost. They don’t trust the system, because they either don’t have the courage to tear it down or are too apathetic to care. Or maybe just only answer to themselves. Some would argue that Wolverine was chaotic, but I think he’s neutral. At his happiest, he’s in a log cabin in Canada, chopping wood, and being left alone. But he’s not really torn between sides.
If you remember a while back I did a post on TV writing. That was from my first class which basically focused on how to write a TV spec script. Essentially you write an episode of an existing TV show. Now I’ve picked back up with TV writing II: Electric Boogaloo…I mean writing a pilot.
I could explain to you what a pilot is, but I think I’ll turn that over to my friend Jules…
Thanks Jules. Now in case you don’t like Pulp Fiction or that video has been taken down or SOPA/PIPA/ACTA got passed and I’m in jail, I will explain what a pilot is after all. When developing an original idea for a TV series you sell the first episode of a show to a production company and/or (not sure if it’s either or both) a network. Let me clarify, you don’t sell quite yet. You option your pilot script.
When you option the show you get a certain amount of money and the production company has a window of time to make the show. Then if they film the pilot episode you get more money. If the pilot episode is successful and a network makes a second episode that’s when the real money comes in!
So how do I sell my show? I need my elevator pitch! An elevator pitch is a short 30 second – 1 minute pitch I could rattle off if I were in an elevator with an executive or whoever could get my show made. Not that any of us will be so lucky. But when pitching the show I need to distill what’s important about my show and what’s most attractive to get someone’s attention.
What do my targets need to hear?
Distill the essence of my show.
-Depending on which network I pitch to, my script will have to subtlety change. A pitch to MTV better be a bit different than a pitch to HBO. No matter who gets the show, changes will be insisted upon. What in my idea must I hold on to that makes it different from every other show? If I can be as specific as possible on this, I can hold my ground on what I need and change everything else that’s not so important.
What THEY need to see.
-The production company (people physically making the show) needs to see that the show can last 100 episodes. Around that time a TV show goes into something called syndication. I.e. it goes to TBS or channel 32 and it shown at 6:00 pm then again at 11:30 pm. When that happens everyone who makes the show really gets money. Every time the show airs, you get money, but when it goes from once a week to 5-10 times a week, that’s 5x -10X more money a week. When a show’s on network, it will only airs as long as it’s being made. In syndication it could run for decades.
-The network (the people airing the show) needs to see it appealing to a massive audience and possibly attracting celebrities. They don’t care so much about it going into syndication, they want it to have as many people watching it at one time for the sake of ad revenue.
The type of pitch. Depending on the type of show, my pitch needs to be different.
a) Title Show pitch. (Seinfeld, Cosby, Louis C.K.) For these shows I’m pitching the character.
b) Circumstance pitch. (Northern Exposure, Raising Hope) Guy X is taken from big city and moves to small town.
c) Concept pitch. (LOST, Battlestar Galactica) Most appropriate for sci-fi, you have to sell a concept about the world of the show.
d) Theme (Modern Family, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives) You guessed it, you’re selling a thematic idea for the show and how your characters revolve around that theme.
So that’s pitching and I have to develop my idea enough to have a sound elevator pitch for class next Monday. Come back next week for another exciting installment of Jack’s TV Writing Notes!
I’ve started a TV writing class. It’s been too long since I’ve been in a class room setting. It’s nice. I’ve missed it. People ask me why I want to write TV opposed to theatre or film or even novels. Then they ask me why I’m going after something that’s so hard to get into. As if maybe I should set my sights lower. Fuck it. I’m already in my late 20’s. I’ve only ever seen myself doing something in entertainment. I’m not going to change now. I can’t imagine myself in a 9-5 working for someone else’s benefit. If I’m going to devote 40 plus hours a week of my life to something, it’s going be creating some thing unique from me and meaningful.
The first thing the teacher said: “In TV writing you are not creating anything unique. You’re following a formula pieced to together from vaudville, film, and radio. It’s been perfected. You write in that formula or your fired.” Well fuck. I still want to do it.
Here are the TV facts of life. 1. Less writing a script as you are executing a brand.
As a TV writer it is your job to safeguard the characters. A brand has been establish and it’s essential you protect it. Characters don’t change. They return to saneness. The audience identifies with something in the character. If we change that, we change the reason people watch the show
2. There are no pre-planned story arcs.
Each week you as a writer are given notes. From the top. YOU MUST FOLLOW THESE. The notes come from 3 sources which decide the direction of the show. Always.
Committee of Experts (bigwigs)
3. All news for about the inner works of a TV show is fake. A TV show’s news if a fiction that the network want to keep going. Curb Your Enthusiasm isn’t improved, it has 14 writers. When it comes to interviews every writer/actor/etc, is given talking points. If you deviate from that, you’re fired. The network spends a lot of money on the show and they’re not going to let anything get out that they don’t want. Even the Charlie Sheen scandal was spun. You didn’t hear about the armed guards keeping him out of the studio.
Am I selling my soul? Probably. But I’ve spent a lot of time doing art and not getting paid for it. I still love shows like West Wing, LOST, Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad, and 30 Rock. If I get to be apart of anything like that, I’ll consider myself incredibly lucky. Even if it means I have to do crap the rest of the time.
I’ve found my script, an old 10 minute play called Stick Up. It was the first thing I wrote when I quit marketing to do writing. The rules to the Naked Fairy Tales website insist it only be 10 pages, and Stick Up is closer to 14 pages, but I figured a way to format it. I called them just to be clear on specifics. The girl told me to come with two copies of my play to the reading. Watch the play readings, then submit mine at the end for next week. Sounds wonderful.
I read through my play and timed it and it was about 9 minutes long. I thought I’d be fine. Only thing was I don’t have a printer. No problem, just stop by a Staples or Kinkos (now FedEX office.) Sure enough there was a Staples around the theatre. I wanted to conserve paper so I had two pages printed per sheet. You know, so it reads like a book. Like so…
I go the show and boy did the plays sucks. There was only one that I didn’t hate. The rest of them had no conflict, no stakes, and insufferable pauses. Granted it was reading so the actors didn’t know the scripts but the plays died none the less. I don’t know where this “under 10 minutes” thing went because they went through 5 or 6 in the whole two hours.
Finally, the plays all done. People dispersed to the bar and it once again became a social environment. I looked for the two emcees to whom I was to submit my script. I find one of them and he’s talking to someone, I wait patiently back. In conversation with the other guy, the emcee stops, mid-sentence and addresses me, “What?.”
Startled, I presented my script. “I brought this for next week. My name is Jack.”
“It is 10 pages?” he jumps to.
“Yea, less, it’s 8.”
“Why’d you format it like this. You see my gray hair? I can’t read this.”
“It was to save paper. I can email it to you.”
“Why do you have two copies? You just need one.”
“I called ahead, the girl told me to bring 2 copies.”
“Well you don’t need two copies. Just one.”
And then he turned by to the guy he was talking to and we were done. Fuck that place.
He was pretty drunk. Getting woken up happens a lot. Rarely does he bust into my room though. Usually he just makes toast and slams doors. But last night I had to know about this “thing.”
“I’m at Ellen’s birthday party. You know Bourbon Street bar or whatever. I go to borrow this chair from another table and the guy’s reading Hamlet. I’m like why are you reading Hamlet at a bar?”
I chimed in, “Mack? Does this have a point? ”
“Yea, well he’s an actor and we got to talking. Turns out his theatre company does play readings every Monday. You should send something. It’s called ‘slutty pixie fairies’ or something. Google it. You want some toast?”
“I’m good,” I replied.
Now that couldn’t sleep I decided to look it up. Slutty pixie fairies yielded some wikis, a funny youtube video, and a bizarre fetish site. But nothing to help me get any of my plays read. Finally I found what most likely was what he was talking about; a theatre company called Naked Fairy Tales. They do, in fact “promote new and emerging playwrights” with readings every Monday night. I looked over a few of my plays, but I knew what I was going to submit. I watched a Futurama episode and tried to go back to bed. Zoidberg rules.