Thus concludes my year-a-day look back at ten years of blogging. Here's a post from earlier this year. A popular feature has been advice to young writers who will thank me someday when they win an Emmy. Next January I begin teaching a graduate course in pilot writing at UCLA. Here are the kinds of points I'll be stressing:
At the appointed time he got on the phone and was hugely complimentary. “It’s amazing how you guys introduced the premise and characters and set up the story and it all flowed, it never felt forced. We learned a lot about the characters along the way, and you got it all in in 46 pages.”
I know the appropriate answer would have been thank you and leave it at that. But for some reason I couldn’t do that. What I said instead was this:
“Thank you. That’s great to hear. But… that’s the job. We were just fulfilling the assignment. All of your pilots should come back like that. If not, you’re hiring the wrong writers.”
He laughed and said I was probably right.
The point is, there is a level of craft that should go into pilots. Setting up the premise, introducing the characters, seamlessly weaving in the exposition, setting the tone, being funny, letting the audience know the direction the show will go in – these are REQUIREMENTS.
The trick is to do all of that and have the jokes be better, the characters more original, and the story more inventive than the other well-crafted pilots. What sets one pilot script above the others should be inspiration not professionalism.
Young writers today are being told to write pilots as their specs. The industry is looking for exciting new voices.
What am I looking for when I read a spec pilot? Exciting new voices are nice, but first I’m trying to determine if this person even has a clue. The basics have to be there. Can this person tell a story? Are his characters well-drawn? Are their actions properly motivated? Are the jokes organic to the characters and tone? Do the jokes move the story along? If a writer can accomplish all that and have a fresh outlook that is genuinely funny then he’s hit a home run. But if the execution is amateurish the exciting “voice” gets lost.
Learn the basics.
Master the craft of pilot writing. Yes, they're difficult and the process is time consuming and frustrating. But the good news is you’re competing with lots of people out there whose scripts are a hopeless mess. When I told that network executive to hire better writers, I was referring to YOU.
Best of luck.