Pilot, or Pilot and Bible? - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'm about half way through writing a TV pilot script. I don't have a bible as such - a few notes here and there. I'm letting the characters work themsevles though the pilot, which means once it's done, it'll be crap and need re-working like hell.
Yah. Kids, don't try this at home.
Should I just write (and worry about) the pilot? Or would you recommend that I come up with character profiles, the bible and how it would work on an episodic basis? Perhaps I could write the first 3 episodes and any springboards, episode ideas I can think of etc? I'm in England, so things may be different.
I would never start writing a pilot without having about dozen episodic springboards. That's because you need about a dozen springboards to be sure you actually have a template that allows you to generate stories. Do you have a story motor? Or do you just have a single really cool pilot?

As you try and come up with springboards, you will often discover things about your show that you wouldn't have found out just writing a pilot. You may realize there are characters you need that you don't have, or that some characters you thought would be interesting just don't seem to generate stories, and other characters that you thought were minor are actually recurring or even core cast members.

That doesn't mean you are necessarily going out with a show bible. You're probably just going out with the pilot. But I think you need to know what your show is episode to episode, and you need the pilot to set that template up. A pilot that feels like a one-off will kill your sale. A pilot that establishes a strong story motor for later episodes will attract attention.

I can't speak about England -- ask Stephen Gallagher. In the States you'll be circulating your pilot. In Canada you used to be able to option just a bible, and I believe my friend Shelley can option an idea off a one-pager. But I also hear that networks are starting to look for pilot scripts here too.

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6 Comments:

Alex,

I know what you mean in general when talking about spring boards, but what exactly do you mean? Are you talking about an actual document that plots out different episodes or something else?

By Blogger Tim W., at 3:35 PM  

I'm not sure I understand your question, Tim.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:50 PM  

You mention coming up with springboards, and I'm just wondering whether these springboards are just vague ideas or fairly well plotted episodes. Is this something you would show to a producer or keep for yourself?

By Blogger Tim W., at 8:04 PM  

Oh. A springboard is just what it sounds like. "Lucy goes to work in a chocolate factory, but she can't stop eating the chocolates." Just the idea of an episode in a sentence or two.

If it 's more like a page or two with the stories broken down, I call it a "breakdown."

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:25 PM  

That's great, Alex. really useful.

You're totally right about the springboards. Makes perfect sense now. I have you make sure the system or general idea will work on an episodic basis. Cos if not (like you say) you've got nothing.

Will make sure that's the next thing I do. Thanks.

By Blogger Neil, at 5:02 AM  

In the UK it usually goes one of two ways.

If it's a writer-initiated project, most producers in my experience want to work and rework the pilot script because that's what will secure them the broadcaster's commission. Time spent thinking about episode 5 or 9 involves effort that ought to be devoted to that first assault. As a result there's many a British show that's gone into production without any sense of where it's going after the third episode.

At the other end of the scale, you'll get a non-writing producer devising a format and set of role-based characters and the pilot is done as work-for-hire.

I actually think there's a value in 'just writing' at first, because it's the road to the unique. It allows you to find core values of character, story and tone. Which then gives you a bag o'gold into which you can reach for everything to answer the needs of series construction. It'll function as foundation material, in the way a source novel is foundation material.

My advice would be to write your way into the 'world' and then lay it all aside and, without even looking at it, draft a beat sheet for a first episode like you just got handed the gig that morning.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 6:13 AM  

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