In partnership with the Academy Education and Nicholl Fellowship Programs, the Writer’s Guild Foundation presented on March 19th, Day One of their WGFestival for 2016. For this full-day event, the festival focused on the business of screenwriting and the career paths within the trade. During this crash course on the business, each guest offered their unique perspectives and experiences in the industry. Here is our report in a nutshell on how the day went.
New Spaces in Distribution
The New Spaces in Distribution panel was moderated by the head of UCLA’s MFA writing for TV program, Neil Landau. He was joined by Amy Aniobi (“Silicon Valley”), Chuck Rose (“The Art of More”), John Strauss (“Mozart in the Jungle”), and Katie Elmore Mota (“East Los High.”) Online streaming services dominated the conversation. Crackle has no development budget and they focus less on traditional procedurals and more on unique, original content; Hulu always wants more than a pilot; and Netflix wants it fully baked, a complete package. Proof of concept (i.e., a pilot, another episode and a show bible) is a vital selling tool for many online streaming sites whether it be a pilot. A sizzle reel can still be effective but big money spent must be shown on the screen and it can work better for comedy, but you better make them laugh.
The panelists also suggested that “New Media” is obsolete, and all that remains is content, content, content. With 400 shows being produced, it’s hard to get good writers. It’s important to find your authentic voice, and write with the new kind of “binge” viewer in mind to break through the noise.
Transitioning Between TV and Features
Dan Pitre moderated an excellent discussion between Kay Cannon (“Pitch Perfect,” “New Girl”), Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich,” “Party of Five”), Larry Karaszewski (“People vs OJ Simpson,” “Ed Wood”) and Roberto Orci (“Star Trek,” “Hawaii 5-0”). Here’s what they had to share:
- Failure in one form will lead to opportunities in another.
- Social media gives TV the communal viewing experience that formerly only movie theaters enjoyed.
- Voice is the most important thing – a unique voice will make your career.
- Don’t write what they want, write something good.
- If they don’t want your work, then move on (to a new project, a new career) or put it in the drawer and hope they come around to wanting it.
- Feature scripts are a great way to break in as they feed the hunger for new voices.
- Let the project determine the format.
- Go out and make a movie; don’t ask for or wait for permission.
- You want to be treated like a producer, act like a producer.
- “Let’s play that out” – always be open to running with suggestions and notes and following them through – that way the idea can be proven good or bad.
- Better to have a piece of something than all of nothing.
- As a way to break in, target actor’s production companies with your script.
Some of our favorite takeaways were from the Pitching panel with Matt Dy (Director, Austin Film Festival – Screenplay and Teleplay), Christopher Lockhart (Story Editor, WME) and Edward Ricourt (Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” “Now You See Me”).
- Pitch the story, don’t tell it.
- Pitch it like it’s just a story you know.
- Pitch in the present tense.
- Pitch yourself as well as the story – why are you the best writer for this.
- Start the pitch with a logline.
- Elevator pitch – be careful with overloading details.
- TV pitch – ALWAYS stress the characters.
- Film pitch concept, arc and sometimes theme (though theme can be better left to the reader/listener to decipher)
- The more specific the better – general is vague and confusing .
- Frame it, contextualize it.
- Add actor names for your roles.
- Back pocket the theme – have it ready in case it’s needed.