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Friday, November 26, 2004

PITCHES, PITCH BIBLES AND BIBLES

Someone who calls himself the Red Monk writes in to ask what they should send in to a producer if they have a great idea for a TV show.

As I noted in my book, in general, TV networks do not accept pitches from inexperienced writers. TV producers rarely do. However, if you have a great idea burning a hole in your brain, there's nothing to stop you from trying to convince a producer to look at your idea.

How much to send? Here's the rule of thumb: send as much as you can so long as it's all brilliant.

Whatever you send must shine. So if all you can be brilliant about is the idea itself, ask if you can send that in a page or two. Don't flesh it out badly. Send nothing half-assed or half-thought out. If you can come up with the whole show in ten to fifteen pages -- a "pitch bible" -- then send that. Send as much as you can so long as it's all brilliant.

If you want to sell the idea to a producer for some money and credit and then walk away, a page or two might be enough. I don't know anyone who's ever bought just an idea, but show business is show business: a great idea may be worth a lot. If you want to write for the show, or even run it (assuming you have the experience that qualifies you to run a show), then you may get away with a three page pitch at first, but as soon as there's interest, you'll probably have to flesh it out to a ten to fifteen page pitch bible.

(Whoever writes the pilot episode is entitled to the "Created By" credit; if you want that credit, better start with a pitch bible, which in turn entitles you to write the pilot. Then it's hard for anyone to claim that you haven't created the show.)

What exactly is going on those pages?

The shortest answer is: whatever will sell the show. You want this show to get picked up, right? Whatever will sell the show should be in the pitch.

The short answer is: everything that you need to enable the producer to "see" the show -- and the production -- in his or her mind. What proves to the producer that a network may love the idea, that the show can be made for an appropriate budget, and that a big enough audience will watch it.

How you convince a producer of all this is up to you, and there is not a standard format in the way that there's a standard screenplay format. However, here's what I like to show a producer when I'm trying to convince them to let me create a show for them:

a. Title page. A snappy title that sells the show in a few words. See the section in my book about titles. It also says whether it's a comedy or drama series, whether it's half hour or hour (unless you want that to be up to the buyer) and, naturally, your name.

b. (Optional) A little story (a half page or so) illustrating the sort of stories our episodes will tell. This is probably the story the pilot tells, because the pilot story is doing the same thing for the audience that this pitch bible is doing for the producer. They introduce the character, tone, etc., of the show. Might as well pull them in right away.

c. A brief explanation of the show, in language that will get them excited about it. Page and a half. Maybe two pages. Who is it about, what is it about, what sort of stories do we tell. Sometimes I refer to other shows ("An OC-style glamour soap." "Felicity meets Seinfeld.") Sometimes I don't. I like to explain the attractive fantasy explicitly ("Why We'll Watch"). I like to talk about who the audience demographic is ("Who'll Watch").

If you only do a pitch and not a pitch bible, this is the pitch itself.

d. A rundown of the core cast. Four to six people. These are the people who are going to be in every single episode.

e. A rundown of recurring cast. People we'll know, but who may not be in every episode.

f. Story springboards. Story ideas, not broken down into acts yet, which give you the flavor for what the episodes will be about.

If you have other creative ideas that don't relate to the cast or the springboards -- background information, say -- you can give us another section. The Unseen pitch bible goes on for pages about what sort of stories we'd see in the show, what the rules of the mythical world are, what sources we intend to steal stories from, etc. The bible I did for a robot show, similarly, goes on for pages about the "rules" of the world the show takes place in. These details usually belong in a bible, not a pitch bible; they're for the writers. But if you think it'll sell the show, and it's brilliant, put it in.

The pitch or pitch bible does not include your resume.

The pitch or pitch bible does NOT come with a sample script. Why?

- You want them to hire you to write a script, right? So why would you write it in advance?
- TV is a collaboration. There are questions you'll need to answer before you can start writing a script, e.g. how many sets, what kind of budget, what's the tone, what's the network we're shooting for, etc. Writing before you know these things is not only a waste of time, but it might put people off if you make different choices than they would. It might even put them off if you make the same choices, but they didn't get to make them with you.
- It's easier to be brilliant describing a show than actually writing the show. Especially without help. No one writes a TV show without input from producers, and often we have a whole story department to help.

Good luck, eh?

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11 Comments:

Dear: Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog

I totally understand the process of pitching a property could very well be life’s most frustrating endeavor.

Not that I want to tell you my life story but it would be helpful to give you some background. I was a broadcaster for 25 years. A DJ, consultant, Writer / Producer and Talk Show Host. In 2000 I thought it would be a good Idea to quit broadcasting and buy a Deli. A few years into my stint as a small business man - while driving to work on morning, I got an idea for a TV Show. So rather than just letting that idea float away like most normal people do I decided to produce a pilot for this show. I may be delusional but I think it’s pretty good.

I recently sold the store and am ready to feed from the media trough again. So as I sit around waiting for the right real job to come across the transom, I have it in my head that I want to pitch my show.

After naively emailing a handful of cable networks to get a name and address of some one in program development and receiving several auto-responses stating that they do not accept unsolicited material. I decided to do a little research and happened upon your blog. The question is how do I break through the wall? Do I need an agent? How do I find an agent?

Here is a link to some clips of the show. If you have the time or inclination I’d like to know if you think it’s worth pursuing. http://www.veoh.com/videos/v204413nGhgT5N3

Will you be my agent? I’ll give you a thick percentage.

Louie Manno
A naïve manchild in Burlington Vermont.

By Blogger Louie Manno, at 7:29 PM  

You need an agent.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:56 PM  

Alex:

Thanks for the reply. What type of agent? A literary agent a theatrical agent? By the way I’ll be ordering you book.

Thanks again,

Louie

By Blogger Louie Manno, at 9:28 PM  

A lit agent. It's all in the book.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 2:41 AM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger dhd, at 8:05 PM  

you need a show runner!

By Blogger jeannette, at 4:28 AM  

Hello, Alex!
Very helpful info. I'm writing a TV series bible right now, and have been asking myself about the logline to choose for my bible. Let me ask you, what is the best approach for a logline:

1. A one that tells from the beginning of the story (the whys and hows of the protogonist that lead them into the general plot of the whole show - basically what the pilot tells - plus what there will be after it all begins).

Or:

2. The general idea of the whole show, what we will see - after it all started.

Hope you understand my qustion. I'm having a big dilemma here.

By Blogger Daphne Lamm, at 3:23 PM  

A logline is the premise for an episode. But if you're writing a bible, then you want to mention the hook, which is the premise for the show itself. So the answer is 2.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:57 PM  

Thank you!

By Blogger Daphne Lamm, at 4:16 PM  

I want to send one of my stories ( 6 page of containing outline, show summary, story headlines, characters directions and derivations, show themes that lead the entire series ) a "Tv concept idea" contest in L.A. I get some script consulting about it such as " it will be not a bad idea for TV " from a reputable blogger .He says that the core idea is interesting and the concept has some potential for future episodes, but the only thing is my language barrier . I know my english as a second language will not be sufficient to write in english like an american fellow even I know all about TV show business ; how to find a story, how to evaluate a story, how to built the characters and how to hide the hook or invent the events, dream the scenes. I also know what I can or can not. As an experienced writer in the business in my country far away from U.S.,I can easily confess what I am writing in english is not a teleplay.
One another problem is that I am a bit cautious about the critics of someone I paid for it.Would you suggest me to get another idea from another guy of business or stick the consulting and suggestions of him ? at least before sanding my outline for the contest.I am also work for TV time to time in my country, I know everybody says lots of things, usually of non sense to make money esp. in this business.
I want to learn what is the criteria to have "story by" credits, especially on tv. I though a writer should at least write an episode for the pilot even it will be scratched "rewrite" in big prints at the first page of the script .This is I think a declaration of proof " to be a writer ". Am I right ? shoul I try to write a pilot script no matter how bad it is even it is not enough to fit in your industrial criteria ?And I want to learn what can I do more to be considered as a "story by" credit ?
Handan

By Blogger handan, at 8:43 AM  

thanks for your quick response and honest approach !Maybe one day I will try to get some help from you as a consultant..

By Blogger handan, at 7:55 AM  

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