Complications Ensue:
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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

... my American counterparts (some of them multi-award winning screenwriters/producers) said you never, ever write word one of the script until you've been hired to do so, and bibles should be somewhat limited with the information it has about the show, since the network suits will probably change 70-90 percent of it on you before the first draft of the pilot script is even finished.

So, I compromised. The bible runs about 35 pages and includes a detailed synopsis of the pilot episode, plus synopses of another 40 episodes or so right up to the two-hour series finale. But I will not write a single word of any script until the show gets the green light for production and I am hired/paid to do so.
I don't agree about network suits changing 90 percent of your show, because they're buying your show, so they must like most of it. We changed Naked Josh very early on from a show about a college student to one about a college professor, but it was the same show, just aged up 7 years. The basic relationships were the same, and the structure was the same (themed half hour comic drama).

Not that I'm an expert at this or anything, but I'll write a 10-15 page pitch bible and then try to get a producer and network on board. You should be able to get structure, template, characters and springboards into a dozen or so pages. Remember you're selling the sizzle, not the steak, so more detail than that and you're just making exec's heads ache. 35 pages might be right for a writer's bible, but too much for a pitch bible.

A lot of shows in the States are sold off spec pilots. After reading a pilot, an exec can sense whether there's a show there or not. Though as John Rogers pointed out recently , a hot pilot is no guarantee the writing staff won't have a gun in its collective mouth by January because the template isn't really there.

I'd say, if you love the project and you haven't got it set up, the next step is to write the pilot. If you can get people to buy the pitch and pay you to write the pilot, great, but if not, write the pilot. If nothing else you'll probably learn a lot of things about the show that will feed back into making a better pitch. Actually having to write stuff that will need to be shot will change a lot about your show, especially if it's in the fantasy genre.

Likewise, if you've got a great treatment for a movie, sure, try to get paid to write it. But if not, write the movie and try to sell it.

Also, don't stick forever on the same project. I'd love more than anything to get Unseen set up, but it's a hard sell. I'm letting it lay fallow a bit. I wrote the movie version as a backdoor pilot. I'm pitching other shows. I'll come back to Unseen and the show will probably be better for it. Certainly I'll be a more plausible showrunner.

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Remember you're selling the sizzle, not the steak, so more detail than that and you're just making exec's heads ache. 35 pages might be right for a writer's bible, but too much for a pitch bible.

I suppose I should clarify. The writer's bible is 35 pages and is available online. The pitch package or 'leavebehind' is 13 pages and includes several dozen story synopses (I'm not stupid enough to put that online). I've gotten some great feedback from prodco execs so far and I continue to approach others about the project in an effort to get it sold and on the air.

The Black Tower has been my all-consuming endeavour for so long, I barely remember what my life was like before it. Several of my showbiz commrades have suggested that I set it aside for a bit and develop new projects, expand my horizons. But I can't, for the simple reason that I have no interest in having a screenwriting career. Once The Black Tower has finished it's run -- even if it's cancelled after 3 episodes -- I intend to abandon that aspect of the biz (showrunner) and go back to managing talent part-time, in addition to running my two other businesses ( www.kjcgroup.net ).

Maybe someday I'll change my mind...but I doubt it. :)

By Blogger Kelly J. Crawford, at 5:09 PM  

A 35 page bible? Jesus crispy, that's impressive. Even the 13 page is a wee thick, though for a leave-behind. See if you can get it to single sigits, maybe by shaving a few of those plot synopses. They'll get what kind of stotries you'll be doing from the show structure and a dozen or so eps.

By Blogger Unknown, at 10:22 AM  

What is the difference between a bible and the television business bible to submit to producers? Our writing community has been great supplying templates but it's to the point, they are all different.
What is a writer to do for television?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:29 PM  

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