When writing a spec pilot, how big should the budget be? I realize spec pilots are almost never filmed, so strictly speaking they don't have budgets. But presumably a spec that would be insanely expensive to film would be frowned upon - it would show you didn't understand the TV business. On the other hand, real pilots are getting pricey these days. So, how expensive can your pilot look, and how does that influence how it's written?
In general, it’s a good idea to not make your pilot too ambitious. If special state-of-the-art special effects are required to sell your ending chances are you’re dead. If the reader opens your script and the first page describes the final battle scene from BRAVEHEART he won’t get to page two. If Julia Roberts is required to have a heart-to-heart with your lead don’t be disappointed if your pilot doesn’t go.
Keep your perspective budgets within reason. It does show a greater understanding of the business. And will be easier to film should you get lucky.
Obviously the arena of your pilot will somewhat determine your budget parameters. If you write a sci-fi pilot set in space it’s going to be more expensive than a comedy about a guy in a studio apartment who has agoraphobia.
It’s generally a good idea not to have too large a cast list – both for the expense and the confusion factor. Readers prefer not having to keep seventeen characters straight in their heads. I helped out on a pilot once about two large families brought together by marriage (think BRADY BUNCH times three). Sitting around the table trying to fix this script I had no fucking idea who anybody was, what family they were with, how old they were, and then to make matters worse Alex and Sam were girls and Jamey and Dana were boys.
When David and I wrote our first script it was a spec pilot set in college (I know – how very original). We were clueless. We didn’t even know from outlines so we just started writing. I had bought an old ODD COUPLE script from a used Hollywood bookstore and we used that as our guide. At one point I asked David what page we were on. He said 35 and I noted that “they start wrapping it up here pretty quick.” So we stopped, took ten minutes to think of an ending. The university’s computer system would blow up causing mass confusion and a blizzard of IBM punch cards. We wrote it and fifteen minutes later we were done and in the car heading to El Torito’s to get margaritas and celebrate. I think it would have cost $20,000,000 to stage that scene in 1973. And we’d want to be reimbursed for the margaritas. Needless to say, our script didn’t sell.
The best pilots feature the best characters and most interesting situations. Million dollar ideas sell, not million dollar budgets.
Our exploding computer scene was pretty funny though.
Thanks for the questions. Keep 'em coming.
Thursday, June 26, 2008