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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In this post, OutOfContext writes:
Sometimes you've got to explain the 'world of the show', but often not as much as you think you do.
You don't need to put all your backstory in the pilot. Remember the Big Rule of Pilots:
The real purpose of the pilot is to get you to watch the second episode.
The Big Rule of Pilot Scripts:
The real purpose of a pilot script is to get them to commission a second script.
So only put as much backstory as is necessary to get them to commission a second script. It's TV, not features. You can develop the world of the show as you develop the characters, episode by episode. You don't have to do it all in the first script.

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11 Comments:

This seems to go against what I have read in books about movie-scripting, where good practice seems to be to have a pretty clear biography for every main character before you write the thing.

One of the differences between writing for television and writing for movies, I guess.

By Blogger avlan, at 4:58 AM  

I sent a recent spec pilot out into the world this past week. One of the first conversations went like this:

PRODUCER: I love it, but I really want to know what XXX is. Why they want it so badly?

ME: You'll find out.

PRODUCER: Yeah, but I can't wait until the next episode. Maybe you should think about putting it into the pilot.

"Maybe you should think about..." is code for do it.

But it's a bad idea. And I completely understand where this producer is coming from. It's the reaction I want.

These are the conversations I always find difficult.

By Blogger James, at 5:53 AM  

@Avian, you're welcome to have biographies for your characters, if you like. You just don't have to tell the audience everything you know. Personally I like to find the characters as I write.

@James: it's tricky. We usually want to know why the heroes want what they're chasing after. That's the stakes. But you can leave a mystery, say, who the bad guys are working for.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:43 AM  

I very much agree with this post,

With my recent pilot script, I created a show bible beforehand, including the mythology, biographies, etc., so I had a very thorough knowledge of the world I was playing God to. Then I extracted the most important information for my pilot and considered questions I would ask myself if I was a viewer watching it unfold. The key motivations, conflicts and stakes of the main characters were not among these, though, they're sort of vital for your pilot.

By Blogger Will, at 9:26 AM  

It's clear what the heroes want. The part the producer wanted to know was why the bad guy wanted XXX.

It's hinted at, but it's not necessary, or even advantageous, to divulge in the pilot. In fact, it would take away from the main story.

By Blogger James, at 6:04 PM  

@Will—I admire the fact that you go into the writing so prepared. I’ve written two spec pilots and in both I just had some mostly formed characters and an idea of where I was starting and where I was ending. I wrote the bibles after and purely for pitch purposes.
@Alex—About bibles: How important do you find a bible in a show your creating and pitching? I wrote a six page one for my first project with a couple of paragraphs for each main character, a couple of sentences for each supporting character, a couple of pages on theme, setting and season arc and six or seven springboards for future episodes. I found it helped me focus my thoughts for the verbal pitch and focused my discussions with the producers in preparing for the pitch, but didn’t help me much with the work product--and didn't sell the show either. I got even lazier with the second bible-2 & ½ pages-- since I already had a commitment by an exec to read it and I felt it was a free-standing doc. Is it foolish to feel 'either their going to get it or not' or at least get it enough to want to find out more--which, come to think of it, is your point in this post.

By Blogger OutOfContext, at 6:59 PM  

My pitch bibles are usually 6-8 pages long, with at least a dozen springboards. But my buddy Shelley sells series off one-pagers.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:28 PM  

@OutOfContext: Well, being only 18, I have the luxury of not worrying about professional pitches for quite a few years. My series bible was really an anal-retentive project for me by me. However, if/WHEN an agent likes my pilot in the future and decides to shop it around, I'll be sure not to be particular about the mythology because I understand how flexible you have to be in the biz.

Out of interest, you say you had "an idea" of where you were headed with your pilots... did you not use a scene-by-scene outline?

re: bad guy motivations. It's strange, because I can think of a number of pilots that maintained very elusive antagonists throughout. I usually find the less you know the creepier they are, too. (Like the fog horn and forest shaking in the LOST pilot.)

By Blogger Will, at 5:09 PM  

Will: I have blogged EXTENSIVELY about using outlines!

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:52 PM  

I know, but OutOfContext's description seems to suggest he didn't use any! I would never consider not using an outline. I'd be awful at pacing it for one thing.

By Blogger Will, at 7:29 PM  

Guilty. But I've only been optioned and not actually sold a script and unlike Alex, am nowhere near my union card. Listen to Alex.

By Blogger OutOfContext, at 8:13 PM  

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