Who Needs a Bible? - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Q. I've developed a kick-ass (aren't they all?) concept for a Spanish language non-fiction series.

Now my Hollywood lawyer is asking me to cough up a bible so she can shop it around a bit.
So:
A. I'm not sure she's right about that. I thought a simple treatment sufficed at this stage.
B. Not only have I never seen a bible, but can't seem to find an example online.
In non-fiction, I tend to think 6 pages ought to do it. A page or two for the hook. A page or two about who you are and what you're doing. A page or two of sample episodes. The longer things are, the slower they get read. And after 6 pages, they either like your idea or they don't. They're going to want to have their input at that point, I would think, to shape it in the direction they want to go.

In fiction, you pretty much always need at least a spec pilot in the States. (In Canada, I know some "emerging" writers who've got development deals off 6-8 page pitches.)

I'm not sure there are that many bibles online. Does anyone know of any? (Just try Googling "online bible" and see what you get, Punky.) I suspect most people don't want to put theirs up.

The basic format I use for a pitch is:

a. The show in a nutshell -- a page of salesmanship

b. Format -- what happens every episode?

c. Who's the show for?

d. Who's producing the show? Why are they qualified?

e. A whack of episode ideas.

This basic structure works for both fiction and non-fiction, except that in non-fiction "Format" is more literal -- "every episode, we interview a humorous ethnic person, then teach him a circus trick" -- and in fiction it's more story oriented -- "every episode, Earl tries to make it up to someone."

UPDATE: As Book of Don points out in his helpful and insightful comment below, a pitch is not a bible. (Sometimes if you keep tinkering with it, the pitch gets long and becomes sort of a pitch-bible.) The bible is really a document created by the production as researchers bring in research, writers create scripts, etc. You wouldn't really write a bible in advance of setting the show up with a network because you don't know how they'll see your show. Six to eight pages should sink the hook if it's going to be sunk; more can just give them reasons to say "no," while eating up your time.

UPDATE: Piers has a great roundup of online bibles here. Thanks Piers!

Labels:

6 Comments:

A few years ago, I found two bibles online. I'm running out the door, but if you contact me through my blog, I'll be happy to email you what I downloaded.

Plus, the writers of Star Trek sell their bibles online, btw.

By Blogger Ross Pruden, at 3:44 PM  

hey there....if I could respectfully disagree regarding the definition of "bible".

sounds to me what you've described is a TREATMENT not a program bible.

In my experience Bibles come AFTER treatments and once a show has gone through the first round of funded development.

I have written many bibles for Canadian non-fiction TV shows and they generally run 15 to 20 pages and include a complete structural / beat breakdown of how the show will actually work and some script samples too.

It takes time to write a good bible. And so you shouldn't do it for free. It becomes the template from which they show emerges. And as the production team gets hired they read the bible and hopefully see the same "movie" playing in their heads as you do in yours.

A treatment on the other hand is a 5 - 6 pages concept teaser. A sales pitch in writing.

It should be written with that in mind. Good script. Punchy dialogue. And directly on the focus of who the network's audience is. Remember what you are REALLY SELLING are viewers.

Hate to sound like a cynic...but here in Canada at least - this is the way things get made these days.

By Blogger Book of Don, at 4:24 PM  

I found a Sheena bible online, when I was looking for them. I have absolutely no idea if this is exactly what you'd want, but it's what I found...
http://www.pondalee.com/Shbible3.htm

By Blogger Tim W., at 6:27 PM  

Thanks for the very interesting information. Obviously this particular question is geared toward nonfiction programming - is the bible template you set out specifically for nonfiction or is it a generic template for both fiction and non?

By Blogger Wool in Sunshine, at 7:00 PM  

All the bibles I could find.

By Blogger Piers, at 9:46 AM  

The MOTHERLOAD.

Thanks Piers, Lee, Book of Don, and Alex.

By Blogger Matt Racicot, at 10:14 AM  

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