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Complications Ensue:
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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Q. A producer has asked me to write a show bible and pilot script for a new drama show next year.

However, you should understand what this means: "A producer has asked me to write a show bible and pilot script for a new drama show he would like to put on the air next year." Without a show bible and pilot script, the network has nothing to approve. Therefore nothing has been approved. No network approves an idea.
Q. The producer has asked me for a pilot script, treatment and character bible by this Friday (Sept 22).
Your producer is out of his mind. No one can do good work in that amount of time. The shortest I would agree to do a pilot script would be three weeks. I'd spend a week figuring out what the pilot should be and breaking it down. A week writing. A week rewriting. But honestly, I'd rather spend two weeks figuring out the show, a week figuring out the pilot, a week writing, and two weeks rewriting. That would be a nice tight schedule.
Q. Firstly, should I be doing this for free?
Of course not. It is one thing to write a pilot script of your own for free. US networks generally want to see a pilot, not a bible. If you want to option a show, you'll have to write a pilot.

In this case, though, your producer is attempting to get you so excited about his SHOW WHICH IS GOING ON THE AIR NEXT YEAR!!!!!! that you'll write for free.

What has really happened, I believe, is that he mentioned an idea to someone at the network. The network person said, "Yeah, I'm intrigued. I'm supposed to talk with [some other guy] on Friday. Can you get me something by then?"

Now your producer wants you to front the work on the off chance the network likes it. It's no skin off his nose if they don't. He only has to spend an hour or so reading whatever you wrote. (If he reads it at all!)

Typical rates in Canada might be $5,000-$10,000 for a pitch bible (plus guarantees of writing a certain number of scripts if any are commissioned, a possible royalty, right of first refusal to write an MOW, etc.). An hour pilot is minimum about $18,000. Minimum rates in the States are, say, two or three times that. (Maximums -- well, I shudder to think what it would cost to hire Aaron Sorkin to create a show based on someone else's idea. A million bucks? Five? Plus royalties, and he's guaranteed to be the showrunner with an appropriate compensation package?)

Note that your producer is not at the top of his craft. A good producer would never turn in something rushed. It makes him look amateurish. Have you checked out this guy's credits?
Q. For the treatment and character bible, do I need to include every storyline and dramatic arc for the full season?
I think a good pitch bible needs about ten springboards to show the kind of stories you'll be telling, the richness of the narrative vein you're mining, and the range of stories you might have. I wouldn't go much beyond that. Your springboards will all change as you create the show, anyway.

NEVER get too excited about anything a producer says unless it involves paying you money prior to commencement of writing services. It costs them nothing to talk.



Thanks Alex, that is some great advice! I've contacted the agency I'm apart of and they are going to check out the validity of the request and the details of the production company that emailed me and if necessary negotiate a contract. Keep well!

By Blogger Grant, at 1:17 PM  

Very sound advice. I've been down that road twice before, while in university. Because I didn't learn anything staying up all night writing a treatment the first time around.

My experiences came from businessmen with marquee dreams and a third cousin in the industry, looking for some young 'up and comer' (that's how they bill ya, them scoundrels) seeking 'an excellent opportunity'.

The only opportunity it gives the 'producer' is the chance to tell their buddies that they've got a writer working on their 'project'.

I hope your request is legit and fruitful...they can't all be Gargamel, can they?

By Blogger Josh Budd, at 9:49 PM  

Wow, excellent advice!


By Blogger Brandon Laraby, at 5:10 PM  

What do you do when you have a great idea for a tv show, based on a column you wrote for a NY alt weekly? I've sent a few e-mails to agents but have little faith in that approach. I've also got a friend at NBC who says they'll give it a read. Sent them a two page treatment, char descrips, and a summary of about 8 episodes, but now what the hell do I do? Thanks,
I'm at

By Blogger Brian Carter, at 8:02 PM  

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