Following on from my newsletter two weeks ago about story ideas and pitching, here are some more related thoughts –
Once you’ve written 2 or 3 outstanding spec scripts and people in the industry are starting to take notice of you, you will get a lot of meetings and you need to be ready to take advantage of what these meetings offer.
If a producer / script editor / development executive gets in touch and offers to meet up for a cup of tea and a chat, for a ‘general’ meeting – this is NOT just about a cup of tea and a chat. No script editor is going to want to meet up with you unless they genuinely like your writing and are keen to work with you. This initial meeting will be to sound you out – to make sure you and they are roughly on the same wave-length, that you come across as professional and conscientious but, most importantly, they want to know what ideas you might like to write about, and to see if there’s any common ground between your interests and theirs. So don’t rock up waiting to be impressed. You need to have done your homework, researched the person you’re meeting and the company they work for (and even the companies this script editor used to work for) and have constructive, engaged opinions about the shows made by the company you’re going to see – this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be glowingly positive about every show they’ve ever made.
For a script editor / producer these meetings aren’t casual social events to pass the time. If they want to meet you, they have already made a significant commitment to you as a writer – and you need to make the most of these opportunities. Us Brits like to downplay things and you have to be adept at reading the sub-text of what is said.
GENERATING STORY IDEAS
Above all, you need to go into these meetings armed with ideas that you’re passionate about writing. The industry is hungry for your good ideas and if they are good, companies will commit to them and you will have to be continually creating and generating brilliant new ideas. As professional TV dramatists this is almost as important a part of your work as actually writing the scripts. It’s these new ideas that are going to get you new script-writing work.
Go for ideas that don’t just interest you but impact on you emotionally. Those are the stories we’re all looking for – stories that address what bothers, excites, scares, terrifies, infuriates, overjoys you. What excites and enthuses you? What are your secret passions? What / who do you love (or hate? And why?) Stories that evoke an emotional response. Stories that challenge the status quo. It’s not enough that your story is intellectually a good idea. It has to have emotional resonance.
Think about – why your story needs to be told now. Even (particularly) if it’s a period story. What does your story tell us about the world we live in today?
Don’t think that because an idea came to you easily that you should be suspicious of it. OR conversely if you have struggled working on an idea for years that that confers status on it. The opposite is more often true – the best ideas come quickly and easily.
You will feel / know when your pitch / idea is good. And it will be easy to pitch. And anyway it’s not about the delivery of the pitch, it’s about the quality of the idea.
But you have to put yourself in the right place (mentally and physically) to be open to these ideas. Look outward more than inward.
MAKING THE MOST OF THE OPPORTUNITIES
Sometimes the switch between no success or recognition at all in the TV drama world – and fighting off the meetings and offers – changes very quickly. The industry is quite small and producers and script editors are constantly swapping notes on who’s good. If you get onto one scheme like 4screenwriting you may suddenly find you get all sorts of other offers. You need to make sure you’re ready to take advantage of these opportunities when they do come along. And if you’re putting yourself out there and working hard at writing scripts, generating ideas and meeting people, and nothing is coming of it, then you need to be able to stand back and revaluate why things aren’t happening for you and work out what you need to do differently. Because there is an industry of people actively, hungrily looking for new writers, and if you’re working at it but not breaking through there will be a good reason for it – but perhaps one that the potential employers are too polite / cowardly to tell you. At the same time, you need to be sure that you are receptive to constructive feedback about how you can improve your chances of success.
At a certain tipping point when you have got to know quite a few people in the industry and know who you want to work with and who you don’t, these people will start coming to you with their ideas. Sometimes it’s smart as a writer to be receptive to ideas that companies are bringing to you – this is an advantageous position to start from – when the company is trying to persuade you of the virtue of their ideas rather than the other way round. The company / script editor will already have an emotional / vested interest in the idea and you will be leaping on board momentum that has already been built up in-house without having to initially persuade them of the virtue of your idea. And hopefully the ideas that companies bring to you will already be informed by their knowledge of what is likely to get commissioned at that particular moment.
These documents are very hard to write. They’re a completely different skill to writing a script but they’re really important and as screenwriters you need to embrace the challenge of writing them.
What these documents aren’t about is a detailed chronology of plot detail – we just want the absolute story essentials. Resist getting bogged down in plot when pitching – pitching is about the wider overview, not detailed plot chronology.
They are about expressing the uniqueness of your idea. What is utterly distinctive and exciting about your idea? Why does it need to be made – now? What is the emotional hook of your idea? Why are you not only the best writer for this project but the only writer who could write it? What is the compelling dramatic premise / narrative hook of your idea? Who are the vivid compelling characters at the heart of your story? What are the detailed visual images / tableaus / moments that articulate your idea?
These are the sorts of questions your document needs to address – and the document needs to address them in the shortest form possible. No reader wants an initial written pitch for a project to be 20 pages. Ideally they’d like it to be one page. But if you feel that you need 2-3 pages to do real justice to the idea, then that’s fine. But you should write this document with real economy. There should be no repetition.
The document needs to convey not just your passion / excitement but also the tone / stylistic approach. If you’re pitching a comedy, your written pitch needs to be funny. If you’re pitching a thriller, it needs to be thrilling.
And the way you write it needs to convey how excited you are about the idea. But like the best scripts, all of this needs to be sub-textual. There is nothing more off-putting in these pitch documents than empty promises – assurances that the script will be funny, heart-breaking, thrilling, without any evidence of this in the document. These documents need to deliver not tease. At the same time, these documents aren’t meant to be a complete package – they’re just supposed to pique interest and initiate a conversation and questions about the idea.
As with your scripts, get feedback on your pitches, try them out on people, work on them and redraft them before you submit them professionally. Treat them with the focus and dedication you would a script.
Identify the essence of what is exciting and unique about your idea and keep this at the heart of your pitch. The clarity of the idea is key.
The next newsletter will be on Friday Nov 2nd,
All the best
October 19th 2018