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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Q. I've written a TV pilot, but I don't know anyone in TV. I'm considering getting a screenplay evaluation, but am I wasting my time and money?
If you're hoping the screenplay evaluation will get you to a salable screenplay, you might be. Your first birch bark canoe probably won't survive the rapids. No one wins their first tennis tournament. It takes a lot of screenplays to get to the point where you know what you're doing.

Before you hire a screenplay evaluation, have you read my book on TV writing? I'm embarrassed to toot my own horn, but I wrote Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box as a way of putting a pretty red wrapper around most of what I know about TV. If you haven't read any TV writing books, then why pay someone to critique your screenplay for a lot of money when you can read most of the same advice in a ten dollar book?

It's tough not knowing anyone in the business. That's why people go to film school. UCLA, USC, AFI, NYU, and Columbia, are all excellent. I've also blogged about fellowships and internships. Check out those posts.

In Canada there is a lot of support for newbies. The Canadian Film Centre has a kickass program. I also hear good things about the National Screen Institute.

If you can't take the time off to go to school, try forming a writing group over the Internet; or find some non-writing readers whose opinion you value -- maybe a few people who post intelligently to the Television Without Pity forums. There's no reason not to try to get your first script to agents, but it may be many scripts down the road before your scripts get you out of the house. Until then, you need intelligent feedback.

There are always ways in. I write about many of them in my two books, so I won't go into detail here. What they have in common is you need to leave your shame at the door, and be willing to work hard for almost nothing until you're worth hiring. If you really love film or tv, that will still be hard, but not as hard as walking away.

4 Comments:

I would not concentrate show much on the pilot script as much as I would on your concept. As a new writer your script will be rewritten. Guaranteed. Is the concept solid? marketable? Are your characters strong? If you aren't sure, find out. You must do the research.

I read Alex's book and others. I researched as much as I could what producers and broadcasters were looking for (its mostly a guessing game) and how to go about getting your concept in front of them.

One thing I learned and advise others with.. DO NOT listen to those, Alex included, who say first timers can't get an agent or a producer or a broadcaster to listen to them. If someone tells you it can't be done, more than likely it's them that can't do it, not you.

Case in point, I too wrote a tv pilot based on a concept I created in film school. In February 2006 I went to a workshop to learn how to pitch and who to pitch it to. People told me it was pointless, no one would listen to you. "We'll see" I said.
I learned there was an industry event in Banff where producers and broadcasters go strictly to listen to concepts and ideas for new shows. I went. I made some appointments with the people who I thought would like my idea and threw caution to the wind. After an embarrasing lunch where my rather large frame got stuck in a tiny little chair, Alex should remember this he sat next to me, I ventured to my last meeting with a television executive. I pitched my idea, she loved it and now, six months later, I sit here having to choose between two well known production companies(who said no in the beginning) who are now vying for the rights to my show, because the network loved it so much. Can you believe it, they are now pitching me.

So, don't listen to the so called experts. Sure they know how to write, however, they know no more than you or I what will sell and what won't. If you believe in your concept, don't let anything stand in your way.

Sure, I beat some large odds to get to this point and there is no guarantee that it goes past development, a lot of shows don't, but, I did not ever take no for an answer. My reward for that, I get to write a tv show instead of a blogs about writing tv shows.

ps. There are lots of people who will read your script for FREE and will give you great advise. Do a little digging ang you will find them.

By Blogger george zawadzki, at 11:13 AM  

George's rather inexplicable hostility aside, he has a point. That is why I am careful not to say that first timers can *never* get an agent. Or sell a script. All I've said is the odds are against you. For every George, there are a bunch more people whose first concepts don't go anywhere.

I agree that no one knows what will sell. One does begin to get a sense what will probably not sell, and one gets a sense of what might work. But every time someone says "Westerns are dead" along comes a Western that works. It's a matter of rethinking it.

Success in TV is partly a matter of refining your crafty and partly doing what it takes to get it out there. George flew to the Canadian Rockies and paid over a thousand dollars to get ten minutes to sit with a network exec. I'm sure he had other meetings too, but that takes guts. Bravo George.

And absolutely: with the Internet, you should be able to find smart people to give you smart feedback on your scripts, for free. The trick is knowing how to interpret their feedback.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:53 AM  

Sorry, I did not aim to be hostile. If you sensed that, I apologize. It's just I encountered many people who said you can't do this and you can't do that. I have read blogs and books and articles steeped with negativity. Perhaps, I chose the wrong venue to vent some of my frustrations. If it is any consolation, I found Crafty TV Writing incredibly useful to get to point where I am now, and will without doubt need and want to go back to it for future reference.

By Blogger george zawadzki, at 2:25 PM  

I appreciate that. The question I was answering was, "Should I pay muchos dinero$$$ for a screenplay evaluation on my first script?" And my answer was, partly, "No, buy my book first, and get free feedback from other sources."

If the question is, "Should I submit my first script?" -- well, why not? If you can get someone to read it, maybe you'll score big, or maybe you'll at least score a little feedback. Buyer feedback is bound to be useful one way or another. Just don't be disheartened if you get rejected or simply ignored, is all I'm saying.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 2:59 PM  

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