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Making TV 101

Have you ever wondered how an idea becomes a TV show? Well, here’s your handy TV primer from the resident TV writer here at PCU. (Don’t look for my show just yet, it’s still in the planning stages, but if you must keep an eye out for it: “Tales from the Sandbox.”)

To start with you have a grand idea, and I do mean grand because all of your ideas are grand, right? Put your grand idea on paper. Don’t keep it locked in your skull rolling around. You can write it out like an essay or a short story, just summarize it from beginning to end. Don’t fully round out the details, that will come later. This idea you just put on paper? That’s your treatment. If you’re not a screenwriter you will need this! (You’ll need this even if you plan on becoming a screenwriter. I usually knock out a short story as my treatment.)

So, next step is (if you’re a screenwriter, if not skip this part) write your script. What? Just like that? No, not really. You have to select your genre and your medium. Genre? Yeah, you know… action, comedy, or sci-fi. Your genre will sometimes dictate your medium and your medium can change with your script idea and length. Right now we’re talking about TV, so that’s your medium. Now, your genre will dictate your length. Comedies are usually 30-40 pages and dramas 50-65 pages, keep in mind that the timing of each page is about 1 minute, give or take. Make sure you have it properly formatted. I recommend Final Draft, as it’s the industry standard and is available in Mac and PC formats. You can save your script as a PDF as well.

One other thing about scripts (and I have read a lot of them by screenwriters with no formal training), punctuation, spelling and capitalization matter!

Now that you have your treatment and your script (you should probably have a show bible as well, but we’ll talk about that in a minute) ready to go, you’ll need to find a way to get it out to Hollywood. There are a few ways to do this.

  1. Pitchfests
  2. Know someone
  3. Get a job in the industry
  4. Produce it yourself
  5. Find a producer
  6. Get representation
  7. Packaging

Pitchfests require money, but they can be beneficial. I entered TftS in the 2015 CINE/A&E Pitchfest and I got loads of great feedback. It was my first one, I hadn’t graduated grad school yet, and I was 1 of 5 selected to pitch in NYC. I happened to have the extra money to travel there. If you have extra cash for pitchfests, FilmFreeway is a great resource.

Knowing someone is easier said than done! But it does happen; especially if you live out in L.A. Finding a producer is along the same lines; easier said than done. However, good news! It’s getting easier. I found a producer through someone I know (which is why I listed these two together).

Getting a job in the industry will lead you to “knowing people”, whether you get a production assistant’s position or an administrative assistant’s position at a studio, you will eventually meet the right people giving you time to build your stock of spec scripts. (Speculative scripts are scripts that all writers write on their own and not under contract. They can be original or they can be an episode of a current TV show. They are writing samples and will reside with your agent or manager, if you have one.)

Getting representation is a double-edged sword here. You have to have work under your belt to get representation (usually) and to get work you have to have representation, unless you have an agent that’s willing to take neophyte writers. It’s tougher to find representation at the larger agencies like William Morris Endeavor (WME) or Creative Artists Agency (CAA) unless you’ve had a hit something.

Producing it yourself is a good option if you have a low budget idea. If you have the next big sci-fi show, it may not be feasible to raise the funds to do yourself. Not to mention, you’ll have to have a budget for production costs including your talent, crew, effects and location. Now, if you have the capital to do this (like you’re a recent multi-million Powerball winner and can do it), great! Find yourself a crew of folks that know what they’re doing and have at it. But if you’re not wealthy there are places to help you along. Indiegogo is one of those places.

Packaging is one of those mysterious things. To package a script you have to attach people and or production companies to it. If you can get your script into the hands of a star or a big name director and they love it, great! Hopefully, they love it enough to sign on. You have the start of a package. If your big name loves it enough to sign on, they will love it enough to help you gather the people you need to complete the package to shop it to a production company, unless you’ve snagged a name that has their own production company with a first look deal. (We’ll get to that later.) Packaging can include any combination of people with titles, i.e. actors, directors, producers, showrunners, or writers.

Shopping involves pitching to production companies; unless you’ve packaged it with a production company attached you’ll most often pitch to a production company first. Pitchfests (as we mentioned earlier) are usually directed at networks like the CINE/A&E pitchfest and the Napa Valley Film Festival. (NVFF had Netflix execs there last year, among others! I was not selected. Boohoo!) When you shop your project, whether you packaged it or not, you have to decide what your show is. Is it a limited or episodic series? How many years do you think you can get out of your show? If you’re not sure, sit down and write out in paragraph form all the ideas you have for episodes. If you can come up with a bunch, fantastic! You may have an episodic show on your hands. If you have something that has a definite time frame, say you’ve done a re-imaging of WWII, it may run better as a limited series. This is important when you’re shopping, because shopping involves pitching and this will be a question that comes up. Be prepared! Also, you need to know to whom you’ll be shopping your show to. Is it going to have mature content? You may want to look into premium cable like Showtime. But if that’s not of interest to you, take a look at Netflix. They are producing a lot of original content these days.

Congratulations! You’ve sold your project. Hopefully, you’re involved in the rest of the process. If not, you can move on to the next project. Make sure you’ve read all your paperwork though. Hire an entertainment lawyer to read over any papers and make sure you’re getting the best deal and have a creator credit!

I hope you’ve learned a lot. If you want to learn more you can head on over to Kitiara Blue Media and contact the proprietor.

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