Write a Pitch or Shoot a Pilot?Complications Ensue
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Q. Traditionally, established writers in Hollywood pitch a series to a network and receive money to make a pilot. 
However, as technology continues to enable more people everywhere to produce their own films, some people make their own pilots. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia was picked up in this way. The creator had a manager who got him meetings with networks, but he also wrote/filmed/edited his own pilot ep with some actor friends. They went into the pitch, played the tape and got offers. 
Let's say that I actually did have an industry connection that could get me these kind of meetings. Then let's say I made a KILLER pilot episode on my own dime. If I was able to set up a pitch meeting, would there be any benefit to keeping the produced pilot a secret before going into the meeting? Let me rephrase it another way. Is there any reason this produced pilot should not be published on the web first, in an attempt to build interest from the general public?
Or do networks want to feel they are getting something "exclusive"? I suppose it is possible that something could have support online and for them not to have seen it going into the meeting.
It is extremely unlikely that someone outside a network could shoot a pilot that a network loved so much they bought it. Networks like to have a lot of input on a TV show. Script, showrunner, casting, director, they want to be involved in everything. They have very specific needs that you don't know about, and your pilot, even if it was a really good pilot in some abstract sense, probably won't satisfy them. It is also extremely unlikely that you would get a show set up, as an outsider, any other way. The advantage to shooting your own pilot, assuming it is great, which is a huge assumption, is that someone will certainly watch a few seconds of something that's shot. If it's amazing, they'll keep watching, and if it stays amazing all the way through, people will pass it around.

If you can bring a show with a proven audience to a network, then a lot of gates will open for you. If you can make episodes of a webseries and get a big audience, then suddenly you don't have a naked idea. You have a proven product with a proven team. That's what Jane Espenson is trying to do with HUSBANDS. Of course you're competing with the mountain of product that gets uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day, but that's not necessarily a bigger obstacle than a network's portcullis. And on YouTube, no one cares that you're unknown, they just care if you're funny.

Making something is an unlikely way in the door, but so is every other way in the door. SOUTH PARK was essentially a pilot (actually a video Christmas card) that got picked up and turned into a series. These days it would probably go on YouTube, become a hit, and get picked up.
So, to your question: if you shoot a pilot and it's great, of course you're going to tell everyone you know. Great things get passed around. If it's not good, then throw it away and shoot something better.

I've become a great believer in actually shooting things, if you can put together a team with the right skills. Sure, it is much, much easier to write something than to write it and produce and direct it, or to write something than to write something and then find a great producer and director who'll put it on film for free. But if you can actually make something, you can get it out there tomorrow and see if anyone's interested. If enough people are, then you will have no trouble getting in the door.

Let's put it this way. I directed a vampire short that now has over 200,000 views. If it was part of a series pitch, how much stronger would my pitch be than the usual 6-8 pages of promises?


Was the goal for Jane and Brad to get Husbands picked up by a network? Seems like with all the critical acclaim and following that that wouldn't be too hard.

By Blogger Jud, at 9:23 AM  

With comedy, this seems like a much more feasible idea -- especially if the talent is a part of the pitch. (If you wanted to convince someone that the two Chicago improvisers who make the Sonic ads actually have the versatility to handle a full-on sketch show, that would be the way to do it.)

With drama, I think a little proof of concept/teaser for the larger project isn't a terrible idea (and that has worked in the past -- there's a full-length movie in production now, inspired by the original short film "The Prototype.") But I also think that's a route that makes sense for people who have the background and the mindset to head up a new series -- especially people who have some directorial chops.

Just to state the obvious, if you want to be a straight up TV writer, you'll get meetings and job offers off your writing samples, which are only going to get stronger the more of them you write. So if you have one idea that you're in love with and you're hoping to shoot the pilot in order to score a staff writing job, a better use of your time would be to get cracking on the next script and the one after that, and the one after that.

By Blogger Kate, at 10:12 PM  

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