With the arrival of the Golden Age of Television, many indie-slanting stories are finding a home in episodic series. And if you’re one of these independent filmmakers with a hot series concept, you might find yourself in the least “indie” situation possible: pitching a network executive. But don’t be intimidated — as more and more non-traditional TV formats become runaway hits, networks’ doors are wide open to new ideas and innovative visions. If you can find a way onto the network exec’s couch, the following tips — culled from recent industry events, like the IFP’s Screen Forward, as well as personal experience (I attended the 2015 Sundance Episodic Story Labs with my TV series,Degenerates) — will be your lifelines:
1) Define the format. As Filmmaker reported from September’s IFP Screen Forward Conference in 5 Tips on Pitching Web Series, defining format is crucial when pitching a long-form series. Is your show a drama or a comedy? Half-hour or one-hour? Limited (mini) series or ongoing? Open format (it’s serialized) or closed format (it’s procedural)? Yes, it feels yucky to confine your uniquely beautiful world into such rigid categories, but this is the language of network television. Meet the execs halfway by learning it. Then, if your series really does transcend these rigid boundaries, you have the vocabulary to explain how and why your series needs to blur these lines.
2) Define your personal connection to the material. This is another tip from Pitching Web Series, but this tip will ring true in anything you pitch in your lifetime, from a non-fiction book to a Broadway musical. Producers and network execs want to know why you’re the only person on Planet Earth who can tell this story. What happened in your childhood or what defining life experiences have you lived that make you able to come at this story from a personal point of view, enabling you to personally relate to these characters? Yes, you wrote a compelling pilot, but network execs need to know that you have seasons and seasons of additional material in the same vein that you’ll be able to tap into as the series progresses.
3) Talk about your characters as if they exist. All too often, pitch noobs will go into a meeting talking about their “main character” or their “protagonist.” “But she’s not your “main character,” she’s Jessie Oberlin. Or whatever her name is! Use your characters’ names as if they’re real people to explain the way they behave, and then use anecdotes to illustrate how these qualities come to bear in their lives. So if you describe Jessie as “feisty,” go on to explain how “most girls try to make themselves smaller when they find themselves next to a manspread on a crowded subway, but Jessie is the kind of girl who takes up more room when she’s stuck next to a guy like this.”
Always use the present tense to talk about your characters, especially if the show is historical or autobiographical. Eschew sentences like “Jessie will be the kind of girl who marches to the beat of her own drummer.” Jessie already is that kind of girl because she already exists and she’s vibrant and real in your mind. Another no-no: “Jimi Hendrix was a bit of a rascal.” Jimi is a bit of a rascal, if he’s the one you’re writing about, because he’s relevant and his story is unfolding now, in real time, not 50 years ago…
Read the rest of this article from Filmmaker Magazine.