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Complications Ensue:
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Friday, February 04, 2005

A reader writes in to say (specific details removed): 'I have created a wonderful world for a tv series and I'm wondering how to approach getting it set up. Write the pilot? Write the pitch bible? Write both?'

Unless you're an experienced TV writer -- Executive Story Editor credits and above -- you can't really pitch a spec TV series anywhere in the States. That's because the network isn't really buying an idea with a writer attached, so much as hiring a writer who has an idea.

But you can pitch a spec movie. People buy movie specs all the time. You don't have to have credits if you have a great idea.

The way to get your world on the air is to write a movie that showcases your world without explaining it. Have a fast-moving plot that uses the world as background, and creates the characters of your TV series; or at least creates the main character.

When you create a movie with an eye towards a TV series, it's called a "backdoor pilot," because you're essentially creating the pilot for the show -- in the old sense of the word pilot, meaning "an episode that's proof of concept for the show, that's made to see if the series is worth bankrolling" rather than "a two hour special episode that kicks off an already-ordered series." Joss Whedon's movie Buffy: The Vampire Slayer was proof of concept for the series, for example.

Note that if you have to choose between selling the series and making a good movie, make a good movie. You may well find that some of the story elements of the series won't work in the movie. Scrap'em. If the movie's a hit, you can always ignore it when you make the series. Again the example is Buffy, the movie of which was lighter and airier and funnier than the dark and scary, if still comic, series. The movie also didn't have the Scooby Gang, just the Watcher.

This is what I'm doing for Unseen: create the movie as proof of concept for the series. It'll be a lot easier to sell the movie than the series, and if the movie's made, it'll be easier to sell the series.

Don't use the movie to explain your world. Just use the world as background. When you're writing the movie, your first loyalty is to the movie, and movies don't like explanations much. Try to avoid them. As little expo as you can get away with.

Do create the characters if you can.

Don't worry if you give away a secret in the movie that you were planning to keep until somewhere in to the series. You probably shouldn't be keeping secrets from the audience in the series anyway. Who's going to watch the old episodes when they've seen the secret revealed?

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Variety (2/2/05):

NEW YORK --- While indie film has events like Sundance to tout grassroots talent, there's been no such venue for emerging voices hoping to break into the television biz.

Independent producer Terence Gray is looking to change things on that front by throwing an indie TV festival in September in Gotham. Linchpin of the event will be an festival competition showcasing 30-40 rough pilots.

The New York Television Festival, set to run Sept. 28-Oct. 3, is drawing the attention of key industry players, along with assistance from the William Morris Agency and the New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting.

Writers, directors and producers will be selected via national and international searches and given a chance to pitch originally produced pilots to broadcast and cable execs.

Festival organizers say inexpensive digital cameras make it possible for someone to produce a pilot without traditional financial backing. Even if a pilot isn't necessarily ready for air, TV execs would at least get the framework of the idea.

Festival also will feature panel discussions and screenings of classic TV shows.

"Television is in the middle of a transition," said Gray, who is exec director of the New York Television Festival. "This occurred more than a decade ago with film, when independent pictures become more popular. Festivals like Sundance were instrumental in cultivating that new market."

Members of the festival's board include NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly; Comedy Central prexy Doug Herzog; ABC exec VP of alternative programming, specials and latenight Andrea Wong; ESPN exec VP of programming and production Mark Shapiro; and Variety Group president and Variety/Daily Variety publisher Charlie Koones.

Other board members are WMA East Coast head of TV Cara Stein; Creative Artists Agency head of television packaging Adam Berkowitz; Gotham film commissioner Katherine Oliver; "Wife Swap" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" exec producer Michael Davis; "The Office" (U.S.) and "The Restaurant" exec producer Ben Silverman; Deutsch chairman-CEO Donny Deutsch; Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz entertainment and sports group co-chair Richard Hofstetter; and Syracuse U. Center for the Study of Popular TV director Robert Thompson.

The festival's goal is to pioneer the independent TV movement and cut a new path for program development, Gray said.

He's also looking for some of the glitz that accompanies film festivals and hopes to host red-carpet premieres for fall shows.

"A lot of stuff on TV isn't working," says WMA senior VP Jon Rosen, the agency's point man on the festival. "But it's difficult to get into cable or broadcast if you have never done anything before.

"Top television execs are serious about the state of development and are looking now more than ever for creative ways to find new talent."

Gray and Rosen said they would like to see the final pool include both amateurs and professionals, such as a thesp who has an idea for a show that otherwise wouldn't get an airing.

Beginning Thursday, festival organizers will launch a tour of top communications schools, beginning with Syracuse. There will be separate events in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston detailing the festival competition.

In the festival's first year, only pilots will be accepted, not pitches or scripts. There will be five categories: drama, comedy, reality, documentary and animation.

Festival is still firming up sponsorship deals.

Submissions are being accepted at

By Blogger Frank Ruscica, at 1:56 PM  

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