Q. When writing a spec pilot should I spend a lot of time on the bible or, as a writing sample, is it more important to prove I can write an original five-act script that conforms to television parameters? I would, of course, set up relationships and introduce conflict that would continue throughout the series but how important is it to know where the show is going? What are the chances the spec pilot would ever function as anything other than a writing sample?
You wouldn't be the first writer to write a spec without knowing where the show is going.
Just look at J. J. Abrams and LOST. Or Aaron Sorkin and STUDIO 60.
Many big showrunners sell the pilot and then arc out the show when they have staff.
(That's not how I do it. But up here in Canada you can option a bible and get paid to write a pilot. In fact, that's what's paying my mortgage right now.)
When you circulate a spec pilot, you're not circulating the bible with it. You're sending around an excellent half hour or hour of television that tells a single story and introduces an arc of future stories. You want people to finish the script and think, "Wow. That was great. I'm dying to find out what happens next."
Usually the pilot asks the driving question. "How can we get off this damn island?" (LOST, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) "Who do I want to be when I grow up?" (FELICITY, etc.) "Will Sam and Diane ever get along?" (CHEERS)
I think you probably want to know where your series is headed. It's a good idea to know where Season One is going to end. It's a good idea to have an answer for "What's the 100th episode of this series?" But more specific than that, I don't think you need to be.
What are the odds of selling your pilot? Tiny. It's mostly a writing sample. So take risks. It's more important to write a memorable pilot than one that would make it easy for you to write the season. If your pilot gets set up, you'll have help solving the problems you set yourself. If your pilot is not memorable, it won't get set up anyway, no matter how "well wrought" it is in the abstract.
Labels: bibles, spec pilots