Sunday, August 06, 2006

Unsolicited material

First off, the runthrough went great. The cast was sensational, and the show is less than four hours. More work to be done but at least I didn’t have to get out of town under the cover of darkness.

Now to the real post:

A question from reader Jeff about unsolicited material, in this case pilot ideas with outlines. He asks:

“How would I, without connections in the television industry, go about pitching these ideas to networks and cable? “


First thing you should do is document on paper every facet of your idea. The more detailed the better. Then register everything with the WGA. Go to their website (listed in my links section) for instructions how. I’m not saying that people in Hollywood would rip off your idea, I’m saying they’d steal your girlfriend too.

Jeff, on the major network side, unsolicited material is a very tough sell. They rarely if ever consider it. However, with NBC snooping around internet TV sites, they may be relaxing that policy. And if one does it, the others will. But assuming at the end of the day networks say they want to look outside the box but then buy the box, more important to them than ideas are the people who will execute them. Usually writers have to be on network shows for a few years before invited to pitch pilot ideas.

That means you may have to team up with an approved writer or producer. And in all likelihood they will try to give you a buy out – a one time payoff, then tell you to go away, with no further involvement or credit. Is that okay with you? (It probably depends on how much of a payoff?)

Finding producers or show runners who will want to be attached to your project is another whole bailiwick. Connections, luck, legwork, luck, perseverance, luck.

But here’s the good news: Cable and the internet. The old rules don’t apply. No rules apply. There are so many specialized cable networks and internet services these days that they don’t have enough product to fill their schedule. (Proof of this is that there are FACTS OF LIFE marathons.) You probably won’t get rich. And your show budget may not be as high as a dinner for two at Appleby’s, but at least you’d make a sale. And from there, who knows? You could be sitting on the next DATE MY MOM.

How you get to the people in charge of programming these networks? See: how to find producers and show runners.

Jeff, if you had asked me this question five years ago I would have said you had no shot. But in today’s Chicken Little marketplace this may be the perfect time to beat the odds, sell an unsolicited pilot, and maybe even be allowed to stay with it. Best of luck. And I’ll be watching ANIMAL PLANET looking for your name.


Anonymous said...

Great advice, Ken. So timely, especially for me. I'm smack dab in the middle of directing the pilot for an original online sitcom I wrote. We’re filming on the set I built in my garage with a cast and crew who love the project enough to work for wine, spaghetti, and coffee the next morning - hey, take it easy, our budget went into the set and equipment. And bottles of water. Lots of water. I can shoot the parting of the Red Sea with all the water we got.

Online, Chris? Dude, you’re insane. You’re wasting your time. Who the hell’s gonna see that? Oh, I don’t know. Only everyone who surfs the half dozen major video aggregators online. Little sites with names like YouTube, iFilm, and MySpace.

Ken’s right. Times are changing. Not that Hollywood will change, per se. The large budgets will most likely stay where they are. But there’s a whole new distribution channel for up and comers to test their work. In essence, the Web has become a proving ground, really. It’s the minor leagues of Hollywood. A place where people can hone their craft and get ready for the show. Or wind their careers down while eating out-of-date peanuts and hitting on the chick at the beer counter. Least they didn’t have to move to Hollywood to find out that was as good as it was gonna get.

Whatever, Chris. You’re crazy. Maybe. And if I am, who cares? Gimme the straight-jacket. I’ll put it on myself. And make sure it’s an XL. No, XXL - I'm claustrophobic.

Anonymous said...

For the love of God, man. It's AppleBEE's.