Hey, film and TV writers—
I’ve gotten several emails and questions from readers with specific questions about pitching projects they’re working on, asking if there’s some way to use Script Notes to really get down-and-dirty, hands-on advice about shaping their TV and film projects. After all, whether you’re a newbie just penning your first script or a highly paid veteran working on your next Oscar winner, writing for film and TV (especially TV) is a highly collaborative process, and it often helps to talk about or bounce ideas off test audiences.
So I am pleased to announce the kick-off of…
THE 2008 SCRIPT NOTES ONLINE PITCH WORKSHOP…
The online forum where you can test your TV and film pitches and get honest feedback from both myself… and your fellow Script Notes readers.
(And by the way, I can’t take credit for this idea myself. A huge note of thanks to and Madeline SmootBuried in the Slushpile, one of the best writers’ sites out there, for giving me the idea… but more on Madeline in a moment…)
Here’s how the workshop works…
You guys, our Script Notes readers, can post your film and TV pitches in the comments section of this blog. Other readers and I will then comment on and critique them in the comments that follow. I’ll do my best to get to as many of your pitches as possible, giving some feedback on each one, and hopefully you’ll get feedback from other readers as well.
(If you have specific questions to which you need answers (such as, “Are the stakes high enough for my main character?” or “Is my main character’s objective compelling enough?” feel free to post those as well.)
Periodically, I’ll then select some of the pitches to discuss in a more specific way in larger posts—what seems to work, what doesn’t work, etc. As we go, I'll also post some tips or bits of advice on each phase.
We’ll do the workshop in three phases, with each phase lasting about two weeks (depending on how many people post): LOGLINES, SYNOPSIS/ELEVATOR PITCHES, and SUMMARY. Here’s how each phase works…
• A LOGLINE is a one-sentence description of your idea – each of these pitches must be one-sentence long (here's a great discussion of one-sentence pitches on Madeline Smoot's Buried in the Slushpile)
• A SYNOPSIS, or what Madeline calls an “elevator pitch,” is a one-paragraph description of your idea (here are two great entries from Madeline about "elevator pitching": "Fourth Floor Kitchenware, Loungeware, and Perfect Pitches. Going Up." And "Elevator Pitches Cont.")
• A SUMMARY, or slightly longer description, is usually about 3 paragraphs to a page (for this, we'll say 250-400 words)
Every two weeks or so, I’ll open the workshop to the next phase of pitches and ideas. Then, in a few weeks or months, we can start all over again.
Now—before we begin—three important rules…
RULE #1: WHAT KIND OF IDEA ARE YOU PITCHING? Aside from your actual pitch—whether a logline, synopsis, or summary—please be sure to indicate what kind of project you’re pitching: a movie, TV show, etc. The more specific you can be, the better: a feature-length romantic comedy (like 27 Dresses, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, etc), a TV sitcom (like Two and a Half Men, Friends, etc.), a one-hour sci-fi series (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, etc.), a half-hour single-camera workplace comedy (The Office, 30 Rock), etc. The more specific you can be, the better! And if you’re not sure, that’s okay, too!
RULE #2: OFFER FEEDBACK, BUT BE NICE. Obviously, we all want and need critical feedback on our ideas. However, please be friendly and helpful in your criticism; this isn’t a forum to get mean or disrespectful of people’s ideas. It’s fine to dislike someone’s idea or their presentation, but tell them that in a way that’s constructive and helpful rather than snarky or destructive.
RULE #3: IF YOU HAVE CRITICISM, TRY ALSO OFFERING SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENTS. This doesn’t just go for the Script Notes workshop, it goes for just about every meeting, pitch, or writers room you’ll ever find yourself in. And trust me—I’ve learned this (and watched other people learn this) the hard way. If you’re going to knock or shoot down someone’s idea, don’t just criticize it… suggest a “fix,” or a way to do it better. This isn’t just being polite, it’s because illustrating another way to do something often helps people realize the idea’s original problem. If you don’t have the perfect fix, offer a “house number,” or bad version of how to improve it. (I’ll often say to fellow writers something like, “It feels like the stakes could be higher. I’m not sure what the exact fix is, but maybe if—and this is NOT the right idea, but just as an example—if there was a ticking clock, like a bomb or a deadline they had to meet, it might heighten the tension and raise the stakes.”)
If you have other questions or thoughts, please feel free to post them below or email me at WDScriptNotes@fwpubs.com.
LET THE WORKSHOP BEGIN! Feel free to begin posting your logline (one-sentence) ideas!
(And again… a huge special thanks to Madeline Smoot and Buried in the Slushpile. I met Madeline Thursday night when I had dinner with Brian Klems and Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest. The annual Book Expo America was here in L.A. last week, and Brian and Chuck hosted Writers Digest’s Books Writers Conference. I hooked up with them for dinner Thursday night and they brought their friends Miriam Hees, who runs Blooming Tree, a small publishing house in Austin, Texas, and Madeline Smoot, an editor at Blooming Tree who writes Buried in the Slushpile, a terrific blog for book-writers. (Writers Digest named it one of this year’s 101 Best Sites for Writers.) I highly recommend checking it out… it’s not geared toward screenwriters, but Madeline gives some terrific advice for all writers in general, and even her book-specific advise applies in many ways to TV and film. She runs a pitch workshop like this at Buried, and it was such a good idea I decided to borrow it.)