PITCH WORKSHOP: The First Entry!

I am pleased to announce that we have our first entry in the Script Notes Pitch Festival!  A big round of applause—and a thank you—for going first goes to E. Daniels, who posted the first one-sentence pitch Thursday evening.

Just as a quick refresher… we’re in Phase One of our Script Notes Pitch Fest, where you all are invited to post one-sentence (“logline”) pitches of your movies or TV shows here on the blog, then readers and myself will give feedback.  The idea is NOT to be judgemental, but to help one another whip our pitches into shape and make them as strong (and sellable) as possible.

So without further adieu, let’s take a look at E. Daniels’ one-sentence pitch.  E. Daniels writes…

“Each episode finds our twenty-something heroine vowing that today, unlike all the other days, she will quit her job!!! …just as soon as they validate her parking.”

This is a great TV series pitch with which to begin our festival, because it’s got some strong things going on, and some things that can use improvement.  First, the good things…

WHAT I LIKE A LOT:

•  E. Daniels’ pitch taps into a personal, emotional dilemma that millions of people experience every day… the desire to quit a frustrating, unfulfilling a job, but the inability to do so because you’re totally dependent on it.  Everyone on the planet has gone through this… the feeling of being trapped in a job or relationship but not being able to quit.  This gives E. Daniels’ pitch an important element necessary to virtually any pitch – relatability, or the ability to let audiences relate to the story and character, to see reflections of their own lives.

•  E. Daniels has also given the pitch’s main character a “want,” an objective, which is the first step in kicking off any story.  Characters with strong wants and objectives are forced to act in order to accomplish those wants, and its that action that creates story.  So whether you’re pitching a TV series, a movie, or a novel, it’s imperative to know what your main characters want; only by understanding this will we understand your story’s narrative engine.  (Having said this, I have some thoughts on this particular want, which we’ll discuss in a moment.)

SOME THINGS I’D IMPROVE A BIT:

While the pitch definitely has strong relatability, it also lacks the specificity it needs to really bring it to life, to allow us to see the character and her world in our heads.  In other words, IT’S TOO VAGUE.  Here’s what I’d work on…

•  Give us some more info about our “twenty-something heroine.”  While this is only a one-sentence pitch, it’s still important to bring your character to life as much as possible… in as few words as possible.  Give her a name and a few choice adjectives.  For instance, rather than “twenty-something heroine,” which is fairly nondescript, say “Tara Stone, an impetuous 26-year-old clothing designer…” or “Free-wheeling 25-year-old Rita Webster, who dreams of being a decorated Air Force pilot…” or whatever info you need to give us.  Whoever she is… BRING HER TO LIFE FOR US.

•  While I applaud the fact that you gave your heroine (who, for the sake of discussion, I’m going to call “Tara”) a want, I’m not sure you’ve given her the kind of want that can propel a television series.  While all stories are driven by a character with a strong want, it’s usually tough to sustain a series when your main character wants only one tangible thing… like Tara’s desire to quit her job.  

This kind of singular objective is great for propelling one episode, or a movie, or a novel… but it’s tough to sustain a serialized story—like a TV show—with this.  A) It means your main character is driven by the same objective week after week, and it’s tough to keep audiences interested in what is—essentially—the same story (or same story engine) week after week.  B) In the world of television, these singular wants feel false and “cheat-y.”  After all, if we’re following a woman trying to quit her job week after week, we know she can never ACTUALLY quit her job… because it ends the story.  So we’re aware from the beginning that we’re watching something very finite, or we’re going to be strung along on the same repetitious journey for weeks on end.

(A handful of TV shows DO work by giving characters singular, tangible goals.  Each episode of 24, for instance, finds Jack racing to stop a calamity and stop a very specific villain.  But not only are these shows few and far between, they’re rarely successful.  24 is an anomaly, and most of its copycats have failed miserably.  Remember THE KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY, about a gang of misfit thieves planning to burgle Mick Jagger?  How about THIEF?  Or HEIST?  The robbery theme aside, these shows all centered on characters working towards a single event—which is why they’re often called “event dramas”—and most are miserable failures.)

I’d give Tara some larger “life goals” that can not only drive her through the series as a whole, but generate episodic stories as well.  On FRIENDS, Joey wanted to be an actor and Monica wanted to be a chef… both goals that would take years of trying, fighting, and figuring things out.  More importantly, the characters on FRIENDS had enormous emotional goals… falling in love, figuring out their places in the world, etc.  These emotional goals helped spawn smaller, weekly storylines like going on dates, trying a new job, moving to a new apartment, etc.

I’ll give you some examples that will—hopefully—apply to this particular pitch in a moment, but first, I want to tie this into my next note…

•  Give Tara some relationships.  (I know I pound this notion a lot, but I stand by it.  There’s nary a story on this planet that’s not about one thing: RELATIONSHIPS.  RELATIONSHIPS RELATIONSHIP RELATIONSHIPS.  Giving your main character relationships is important for many reasons…

A)  Characters don’t exist in a void, so we only ever truly get to know them by seeing them interact with other characters.  Tara—no matter how compelling you make her—will never be interesting on her own… she will only be interesting in the context of other people.

B)  Relationships bring the world to life.  We all have different kinds of relationships depending on where we are… are work relationships are different from our family relationships, which are different from our romantic relationships, which are different from our friendships.  So when your series is set in a specific world—and yours seems to be set in the world of Tara’s work—you should populate it with those appropriate relationships.

C)  All good stories (or for that matter, pieces of art in ANY medium) work because they reflect the lives and experiences of their audiences.  So by giving Tara relationships that reflect the real world, we—your audience—are able to see reflections of our own lives in Tara and her life.  If she has a tumultuous relationship with her mother, we see aspects of our own relationship with our mom in that… if she has a loving, supportive boyfriend, we see our own romances… if she competes with her brother, we recognize our own sibling rivalries.

D) Lastly, TV shows, especially, are deeply grounded in their relationships.  A movie, for instance, can often succeed with weak characters and relationships but a very strong plot.  Not
so with a television show, which needs to bring audiences back week after week.  And while viewers obviously want strong stories, what really attracts them is relationships… returning each week to a world whose characters’ lives reflect their own.  When you think of WILL & GRACE, for example, you may remember a few favorite episodes, but what you really home in on is the indissoluble bond between Will and Grace… their love for each other, their disagreements, their support, etc…. and the antics of their friends, Jack and Karen.

This is why the “wants” of most TV characters are concerned not with singular tangible wants, but with their relationships with other people.  For example, while Charlie and Alan on TWO AND A HALF MEN want tangible things in each episode—to score with a particular girl, succeed at work, etc.—their overall wants, the wants that propel them through the series, have more to do with being good fathers to Jake, finding female life partners, etc.

Anyway, all of this to say… I’d swap out Tara’s want of quitting her job for something more relationship-based.  Maybe something like…

“26-year-old Tara, an impetuous assistant at Moshman Designs, attempts to navigate corporate politics, sniping co-workers, and a micro-managing boss as she struggles to succeed in the cut-throat world of graphic design.”

Or…

“As 24-year-old Tara knows, it’s not easy being the world’s greatest undiscovered opera singer… especially when your boss thinks you’re his girlfriend, your co-workers don’t trust you, and your only friend is the 15-year-old copy boy.”

Or…

“Incorrigible Tara longs to quit her job and start her own dance studio… but quitting your job is never easy, especially when you’re boss is your father.”

(I’m not saying any of those are brilliant, or the story you want to tell, I’m just saying they tap into a bit of the same want and conflict, but they also flesh out the world and give a sense of Tara and her relationships.)

•  If possible, give us as much info as you can about what kind of series you’re pitching.  Is it a one-hour drama like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES?  A single-camera comedy like EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS?  A half-hour multi-cam like RULES OF ENGAGEMENT?  

And, if you can, give us a title!  You may change it later, but a title helps establish the tone and gives us a bit of a visual image to wrap our heads around.

For example…

“EXPOSED BRIEFS is a single-camera comedy that follows the misadventures of Tara, a young paralegal who dreams of becoming a big-shot lawyer… if she can just convince the alpha-males at her father’s law firm to give her a shot.”

Or…

“INSEAMS, a one-hour dramedy, chronicles Tara, a seamstress in a floundering dress shop, as she juggles a domineering boss, back-biting co-workers, and a freeloading boyfriend as she struggles to quit her job and make it as Chicago’s hottest new clothing designer.”

Anyway, E. Daniels—I hope this is helpful!  Again—thanks so much for posting… and for the rest of you, keep the loglines coming.  You can post in the comments section below this post, or back in the original entry.  And feel free to post your thought on E. Daniels’ pitch as well!

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2 thoughts on “PITCH WORKSHOP: The First Entry!

  1. Tanya

    E. Daniels:
    I know I’m a bit late in the workshop, but I wanted to respond anyway. 🙂
    Your pitch really stimulates interest for me, and once it turns more relationship-driven as Chad suggests, it will only add to the intrigue. The sitcom Just Shoot Me is a great example for a series chock-full of relationships and conflicting personalities in a work setting (although relationship ideas and dynamics in general can come from any series).
    On a more specific note, the can’t-quit-job theme reminds me of a character from the Canadian sitcom style animated series, 6Teen (I’m an animation fan). The series follows six 16-year-olds hanging out in the mall, one of which goes through a different job each episode due to his irresponsible nature. Though the want is reversed (can’t keep a job versus can’t quit), the central idea is similar. I agree that this sort of tangible want is too singular for a whole series to revolve around, but if the idea is executed well, I believe it could work as a secondary story for a minor character, as you mention in your comment, especially if it increases the humor.
    Thanks for listening, and good luck with refining your pitch!

  2. E. Daniels

    When writing loglines, is it ok to say "it’s ‘The Office’ meets ‘Samantha Who?’" Will it seem unoriginal to reference two already-existing shows?

    Also, I totally get your point about not being able to keep the premise going — I sort of stumbled across that when writing the pilot. My next question, then, is do you think that premise could work as part of an ensemble? Could we have a lesser-used character spend the entire series trying to quit – as "C" stories, or do you feel this still wouldn’t work? My writing partner and I brainstormed about 50 reasons why someone couldn’t quit their job and they are quite funny, execution willing. What are your thoughts?

    Thank you for responding so thoughtfully to my pitch! I really appreciate it!

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