Monday, September 3, 2007

My Dirty Little Secret

I've been a little light on the postings lately, for a variety of reasons.

One of the reasons is that there weren't that many new pilots on television in August and I've been in the mood for fresh pilots as opposed to archival. Plus looking ahead to September and October, I'm going to have my work cut out for me.

And then there's the end of summer thing -- rushing out to enjoy the last dregs before it's gone. Plus school's starting any minute and there are new shoes to buy, after school activities to sign up for and the whole sending lunch every day thing to dread.

But none of those are the real reason I slowed down.

I've been posting less, because I've been writing like a fiend. I had a big burst of energy on the pilot I've been developing. And when I finished my draft a week or so ago, I wanted a break from all things pilot.

I'm pretty pleased with my script. I've been working this concept for a long time. And this is actually the third pilot I've written. But this one slipped out the most easily and has by far the most energy and fun of the three.

Just before this draft, I did some major surgery on the premise and then I cranked up the character to eleven.

My original premise had CSI elements, a single character lead surrounded by a team of regulars and two mysteries in every episode. It's still got the two mysteries and some science, but I've gone from single lead to more of a buddy picture. I've lightened it up considerably, de-emphasized the mystery and added action and lots of humour.

While I’m happy with the draft, I'm by no means done. I particularly want to work on strengthening the first act and by that I mean making it more hooky. So you may note in these pages a new attention to first acts.

Here are a few stats from my script:

It's four acts and tag (I envision the series title before the first act) in 60 pages. The first act is 12 pages long, the second 15, the third 13, the fourth 16 and the tag is 4 pages. The first and second act curtains drop on B-story which is one of the two mystery of the week plots. The third, fourth and episode curtains turn on the A-story.

But here's my big dirty secret: it's a premise pilot. The two lead characters meet for the first time and we see the team form.

I know I know I know. I'm the one who says do not ever write a premise pilot for the Canadian market.

And you know why: you don't want to be forced to air any particular episode first. You want to take best advantage of your launch publicity by showing first time viewers the best episode you've got in the can. And a premise pilot limits you to showing only that episode first.

But I'm not there yet. I'm still selling the series. Using only a script.

And I think this premise pilot is my best hope for selling the franchise which brings together two unlikely people. And you kind of need to know how they got brought together before you settle down to enjoy their interaction.

So there it is. I have preached against the premise pilot for years now and I've gone and written one. It just goes to show, you should never listen to me.


wcdixon said...

What's the as I say, not as I do?

Good stuff.

Jill Golick said...

Actually, Will, don't do as I do. Don't do as I say.

Just ignore the woman behind the curtain.

Neal said...

You write:

And you kind of need to know how they got brought together before you settle down to enjoy their interaction.

It's interesting that you would phrase it with just those conditional modifiers. Why *must* the viewer know how they got brought together in order to enjoy (say) the third show in the series? Assuming, of course, that the third show is entertaining in and of itself.

Maybe the viewer doesn't really *must* know this.

Maybe sometimes the writer gets hung up on the writer's idea of what *must* go on in the viewer/reader's head. Maybe some will wonder how these two ever managed to get together; maybe that notion won't occur to some; maybe it would be possible to put the essence of the meeting into a 10-second scene that would intro every show. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Jill Golick said...

I think, Neal, that you're exactly right. These are certainly the things I've been saying to other writers with my story editor hat on.

But when I was behind the wheel, it turned out that the meeting was part of the story I wanted to tell.

Maybe not as much for the viewer/reader, but more for me. Because to know those moments means better knowing my characters.

In future draft -- especially if I get as far as prep -- I will push all that into the backstory and preserve the other storylines, which I think are very entertaining and will carry the day.

Clearly I posted on this because I need a little therapy. So thanks for feeding in.

blueglow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
blueglow said...

I went from vague notion to sound post in a little less than a year on the pilot I did. the "marching orders" changed at least three times based on percieved trends in the industry -- serialized good, serialized bad, ensemble good, ensemble bad, etc -- but I just kept writing the same script. I think you just let the show be what it is -- this current anti-serialized trend is misguided when you consider what the top commercial shows are -- reality shows that are contests every week that end in cliffhangers that require you to tune in next week.

Jill Golick said...

I like to watch the serialized shows. And audience trends prove they do too (Lost, 24, Heroes).

I just wonder if the Canadian audience will ever have that kind of dedication to a Canadian show. Our shows don't get the promo that American shows do. They don't get the optimal time slots and they keep getting shifted around in the schedule or pre-empted.

blueglow said...

all those things are true but i think what we need to do is not think of the canadian network who comissioned the pilot as the ultimate end user.

what you are saying (that some canadian networks want shows they slot wherever they want to fill airtime) is a depressing reality but if we want the shows we write to accomplish more than line our pockets we have to make the kind of shows we want to watch.

Jill Golick said...

Well said.

Jutratest said...

Great thread, and I'm a little late.

I just wanted to add, if all the networks are asking for one type of show (sunny sky shows), and you are already into a cloudy sky show, keep forging ahead, because at the end of the day your show will stand out amongst the rest who have bent over backward to be sunny!

Just a humble opinion of a newbie.