Sunday, March 13, 2011
Open letter to anyone producing a sitcom pilot
For those of you lucky (or unlucky) enough to have your pilot ordered you are now in the toughest part of the process – casting. These are the most crucial decisions you will ever have to make on your project. Everything else can be fixed. Scripts can be rewritten, scenes re-shot, set dressing changed. Even your premise can be altered. But if your actors suck you are dead.
The only thing worse is that the actors suck, you get picked up anyway, and then you are dead and sent to a hell reserved for Hannibal Lector and the guy who created WINDOWS 98.
So may I make one suggestion? It sounds incredibly obvious but you’d be surprised.
HIRE FUNNY PEOPLE.
This is not as easy as it sounds. Sorry you waiters at the Cheesecake Factory but there are not that many really funny people out there.
And there is the growing ham fisted network interference that attempts to take the casting decisions right out of your hands and give away your prize parts to old retreads or J. Crew models. More important than comic chops to these networks are good teeth and breasts that test well.
But that’s not what YOU should be looking for. You want people who are funny. And beware. There are enough good actors in Hollywood who are skillful enough to know where the jokes are and how to get them. You can be fooled. So don’t just go by the reading.
Go by the look, the attitude, their body language, their voice. They are intangible qualities but you can spot them right away. Just look at the cast photos of PARKS & RECREATION and THE OFFICE. Then compare them with say the Americanized version of COUPLING.
Good rule of thumb: if someone walks into your office and you immediately want to write a new half page of dialogue for him or her, that’s who you hire.
And as for the network battles? Sometimes they’ll be won over too. Laughter is a great selling point. And then there will be those times you’ll hear, “Yeah, he’s funny but…” Just remember – there ARE NO BUTS. You can be diplomatic, praise them for their choice of actors but suggest they might be even more wonderful in that exciting new procedural pilot they have where a special team solves crimes by looking at cremation remains. But at the end of the day you want the funny choice, even if he’s not known. Sometimes it’s BETTER that he’s not known.
Producing a pilot is like one man facing an army. There are constant battles and it’s always hard to know which ones to fight. But this is the big one. Fight to the death for funny.
Just imagine SEINFELD with William Devane as Kramer and Kim Ravers as Elaine.
Best of luck with your project. I'm not going to hope it's good. I'm going to hope it's close to your vision.