HOLLYWOOD, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
We’re in a new golden age of television where outlets and appetites for great storytelling have flourished as a new space for filmmakers and screenwriters to see original projects come to fruition, and for new creators to find opportunity in what used to be an extremely insulated business. Running parallel to that has been the convergence of the Internet with the Entertainment Industry, bringing new creatives to the table by way of online sourcing vehicles like the TV Writers Vault and iPitch.tv. Studio executives and new writers no longer have respective excuses for not delivering quality entertainment, or not being able to find “connections”. Hollywood, you’ve been warned.
In my early twenties I was unemployed, studying acting and writing, with no real direction or mentor to help me even know how or what to navigate. On a sunny winter morning, I stopped in to Nate & Al’s deli for a coffee in Beverly Hills and had the good fortune of meeting a prolific Producer, Scott Brazil (“Hills Street Blues”, “The Shield”). In our quick chat, he understood that I was learning to write, and I loved story. He cut off any talk I made about acting and directing, and immediately urged me to Write, and write for TV. “Write, Create, and you’ll have the power. Go into television, and you’ll see things get done. Your family won’t starve”, he ordered me, with a hard stare into my eyes that I can still see today. His advice not only changed my life, but was a foreshadowing of the renaissance of cable TV becoming a playground for brilliant film directors and screenwriters to do their passion projects, and the Internet leveling the playing field for new writers and producers fighting to find a way to connect and create.
Today, if a Writer is serious about having a career, or just selling a show, they’re not limiting themselves to being produced for theatrical outlets. They see television as a medium now open to a limitless spectrum of subjects for storytelling. Cross-over careers are the norm, and all of the categorizing and stereotyping of TV versus Film has been reduced to one thing….Good Story transcends all.. A medium which was once looked down upon by film professionals, is now the go-to venue for our most talented screenwriters, directors, and stars producing projects that otherwise wouldn’t find traction in a theatrical release. They’ve found unparalleled audiences with appetites that result in “binge watching” and fanfare you just don’t see anywhere else. The spec scripts for what became “Mad Men”, and “Breaking Bad”, were both passed on by networks for being too obscure, dark, or politically incorrect. It wasn’t until executives at AMC chose to plant their flag with a more shocking approach to storytelling, did they go back to the “round file” and pull both of these masterpieces out of the garbage pale. They understood that today’s audiences were sophisticated enough to appreciate the realities of what our society truly used to be, and the dark possibilities of what a life spiraling out of control may become.
When Producers and Studio Executives look for stories and concepts, they’re hoping to find one of two things; A subject we haven’t explored before that is compelling to witness, or a story that delivers a new shocking or clever angle on a subject we’re familiar with. Look at your world. Look at those around you living extraordinary lives. Read. Research. Question. Create. In that process you may just find the premise of a beautiful film, or captivating television program. And when you do, Write, as Mr. Brazil implored. And get it out there! Its not “who you know”, but more specifically, “who gets to know your work”. Push your written work on others with good taste in entertainment, even if they’re not writers. People love story and know a good one when they hear it.
When you’ve crafted your pitch, be it an idea for a documentary-series, or a narrative for a feature film, its time to put on your armor and move it to market. This business is a subjective and speculative process. That doesn’t mean its unfair and impossible. It means that you have to do the work to find the recognition of the right company that will connect with your project that happens to be right for them. Bolster your connections with Producers by making contacts through the TV Writers Vault and other methods such as film festivals and industry mixers. It only takes one right set of eyes on your pitch to gain the traction needed to go the distance. Search out companies that produce within the niche/genre of your pitch, and build relationships. Often its not YOUR pitch you will sell to a buyer, but the pitch you BOTH develop after your nucleus of an idea sparked their vision of possibilities. They want your creativity, and collaboration is key. If its not this project, it will be the next. Making connections for new writers has been a foundation of service at the TV Writers Vault, and that resulted in shows discovered and produced for broadcast on networks including; Lifetime TV, A&E, Discovery Channel, SyFy, UKTV, OLN and others globally. Even for those not selling shows, many are making connections with Producers who like the way they cook up ideas, or the way they develop a concept. Its a process, and sometimes, something, somehow clicks along the way.
Let me at last give you a bit of fodder for the fire, and share what I feel are the most viable project-types, or the most viable “approach” to any concept or story you’re pitching. In any genre of entertainment, its always about “story”. I don’t care if its a reality-based gameshow, or a documentary on efficient methods of accounting. Story is what carries us through. Documentary Style reality shows are the hottest genre in TV right now, in part because they’re cheap to produce, but mostly because of the stories we’re able to witness in another life we would otherwise never get to experience. It carries us into new worlds. Humor is as important as Drama, and so Characters are the most critical element. Watching a great docu-drama today has the same addictive fascination factor as the Sitcoms of yesteryear. Families, or groups operating together as a “family” type of unit, always delivers great content, IF you have great characters involved. In film, look for the untold and extraordinary sides of subjects that explore the human condition. High concepts are great, but human inspired stories will always elicit more of an emotional connection with any Producer that reads your pitch. We want to be moved. We want to have someone to root for. We want to witness the impossible. Audiences give movie makers a willing suspension of disbelief. Take advantage of that by making strong choices in your story and pitch. Don’t pitch what is probable. Pitch what is possible.