Pitching a screenplay
May 20, 2004 11:30 AM   Subscribe

For unknown or novice screenplay writers, which is the best tack in trying to pitch an idea for the first time? Should a tv pilot, for example, be submitted as a simple logline and treatment, or should a cover letter, story-bible, script and character synopsis also be provided?

For the past year I've been preparing an extensive story bible for a pilot idea I'm working on with a friend, but just the other day I read that Friends (a show that couldn't be any more different than what I'm envisioning, btw) was originally pitched as a simple 5-page treatment without any sample script. Perhaps because they were established screenwriters their scriptless idea was purchased on good faith?

Frankly, the Friends concept doesn't sound like it could've been any more compelling on paper than was the final onscreen product, but that's just me.
posted by dhoyt to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
this has been discussed a few posts down, search for " troutfishing "
posted by matteo at 11:59 AM on May 20, 2004

Other thread is here.
posted by jeffmshaw at 12:01 PM on May 20, 2004

Damn. I was out sick yesterday and didn't even look at AskMe. Sorry. I'd searched this topic a few days ago and couldn't find what I was looking for. I'll check out trout's thread...
posted by dhoyt at 12:04 PM on May 20, 2004

First, a caveat: I don't know shit about the television market.

Next: unless you know someone, it's gonna be near impossible to pitch anything to anyone for TV or film.

I believe that most series tv is created by people with track records from other shows. The way to get onto other shows is to write sample episodes of existing shows and "somehow" get your samples to the right people (someone on the show and/or an agent).

As mentioned in yesterday's screenplay thread, one way for a new writer to get an agent is to place well in a respected contest. The Austin Heart of Film has a contest with a subsection for people interested in TV. Unfortunately, the deadline is about 10 days away. Your entry must be an original episode for an existing show (your choice).

That's all I got. Hope it's not discouraging.
posted by dobbs at 12:04 PM on May 20, 2004

(There must be something in the air this week. See the # of censorship-related threads on MeFi just today alone. And now trout's & my screenwriting threads. Synchronicity. I also thought it was funny/ironic that Matt "censored" trout's MeTa thread about censorship by deleting it! It's been a very Meta week.)

On preview: thanks dobbs.
posted by dhoyt at 12:21 PM on May 20, 2004

I don't want to dampen your enthusiasm, but things like TV series really aren't pitched by novice writers. They are generally developed in-house by a production company and assigned to trusted writers. A few moments of reflection will demonstrate why this is so. There is BIG money in the development side; those people will have their hand in the pie for the entire series run (and beyond) even if they leave after the first week. This is something they are going to try to keep to themselves as much as possible.

Also, a production company knows the resources they have at their disposal. You don't, unless you're in that loop. You might have a perfectly wondeful idea about four college roomies who run a gambling ring. Unfortunately how can you know that one of the prodcos has a brother who represents Cameron Diaz who is anxious to do TV, but will only commit if there is a large part for Justin Timberlake and the series is set in 18th century Sweden? In other words, with rare exceptions, series TV is usually developed backwards to the way most people would imagine. They secure the main ingredients first, then craft a property -- not the other way around.

However (insert ray of sunshine here [*]), if you were to write a successful movie that had potential carryover as a series, your chances would increase. You might wish to focus your efforts on that approach. ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is a great example of that. Even though the series didn't come off, Nia Vardalos had a shot that was very rare for a novice).
posted by RavinDave at 1:27 PM on May 20, 2004

The conventional way to proceed, setting aside all the issues about who you know, is to write specs episodes of existing shows, demonstrating that you know "how to write for TV." When enough interest turns to someone asking "what else you got?" and you tell them you have an original, and maybe they'll want to see it.

The who-you-know thing is, despite a lot of cynical talk, really not the hard part. All you have to do is live in Los Angeles for six months, find your way to a few parties, coffeeshops, video stores, etc., and voila: you now know a shitload of people in the film industry. Granted, most of them have very little power, some of them do, and some of them soon will, and they all know people who know people, and they all want to be the one to "discover" your immense talent, because that means that somehow or other, they will get a ride on your tail.

p.s. "The O.C." was created by, and is run by, a kid who had never worked on a TV show before. He did go to USC film school, but then, ahem, so did a lot of people.
posted by bingo at 11:00 PM on May 20, 2004

I'm a working sitcom writer -- or, at least, I was until the networks went all reality this week (sigh) -- and I'd agree with just about all the advice listed above.

Writing a spec TV pilot is a bad idea. Especially a spec comedy pilot. Your chances of getting any sort of attention, let alone work, off of a spec TV pilot are slim. You'd be better served taking that same idea and turning it into a play. Find a small space to stage the thing and viola, industry people will think "playwright" and then maybe want to read it, or adapt it.

Like others have said, if you really wanna write for TV, write a spec for an existing series that's either highly rated (ie Will & Grace) or a critic's darling (ie Arrested Development). A common mistake happens when new writers write specs of shows they love, but that have a vary narrow base of viewers.

As for looking for that break, Warner Bros. and Disney have two of the best writing programs in Hollywood. Competition is stiff, but get into one of these and the agents will usually come to you. Also, the WGA can offer a wealth of information -- much of it available to nonmembers. If you live in LA, I recommend you check out their library, they have a cache of produced scripts (TV and features) as well as a collection of useful books, videos, and tools. All free and all open to the public.

But now's a terrible time to write for television. My advice: work on a feature-length screenplay. That would present more opportunities if done well -- you could sell it on spec (happens all the time), you could use it as a sample to get assignment jobs, or even use it for staffing on television, as many hour-long show runners will read feature specs.
posted by herc at 12:11 AM on May 21, 2004

The "Reality TV" trend is particularly obnoxious in that good shows with solid ratings are starting to be dropped because it's cheaper to go with unscripted crap. And it shows no sign of abating real soon (just saw that Kelsey Grammar signed to host some improv-style show). Not a great time for TV writers.

It's like an orchestrated smoke-n-mirrors tactic to screw writers out of DVD money by making them grateful to be working in the first place (and afraid to make too many waves).
posted by RavinDave at 5:21 AM on May 21, 2004

« Older How to clone a hard drive in Win2k?   |   How do I get me some of that? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.