“Reverse Engineering Success” Notes

“Reverse Engineering Success” Notes

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Our latest “Reverse Engineering” workshop with Paul Foley provided important insight into today’s market.  Paul covered these three main themes.

Nothing Starts Until You Write It

  • New material will set you free. The more you write, the better and easier things will get. There’s a reason pioneers had 19 children. You won’t feel so precious about every project if you have a plethora of them.
  • Write the same way if you are making a lot of money or if you are writing for free. Just write. And never stop. You have to become a well-oiled machine.
  • Write something great. And then reach out to your network to read. People are always looking for great material. They’ll champion your script if they like it. In fact, you’re doing them a favor by introducing them to something great.
  • Representation is not magic. They can only present the magic that YOU create.
  • Whatever form your piece is in (novel, pilot, feature, etc.) it can do you no good unless you finish it.
  • People want to buy passion. If you write with passion, they can tell.

The Industry Has Shifted

  • Original material is better than a spec. Focus on that.
  • Networks are looking for WORLDS – think cops, westerns, rap music, zombies, small town football, think about unexploited/untapped worlds that you know. What were the things you wanted to write years ago but couldn’t because advertisers would be scared? Drugs, homosexuality, religious cults — it’s all fair game now.
  • There were over 400 scripted shows on air last year. Look at all of the networks around — there are so many more than just the big four. Think about all of the smaller networks you can sell to.
  • Watch and read as much as you can. The market is constantly changing so it’s best to focus on trends of shows. What shows are on their 6th season and why? What shows got canceled only a few episodes into their first season run? Research, study, and then write strategically.
  • Binge Watching is not going away. Think about how you can make your show binge-watchable. (Usually the last ten minutes of an episode is setting up for the following ep.) And even if the show lands on a network that debuts one episode a week, after the season run, it will be available for the audience to binge later…that can build your fan base between seasons 1 and 2, and can even help get you renewed.
  • Not all networks break for commercial. Think about the potential networks your show could be on. NBC will have commercial breaks, but Netflix doesn’t. Consider writing two versions to diversify where you can sell to.

Pitching Your Series

  • You have to write your script. There is no conversation without a pilot.
  • Buyers need the series to be as fully-realized as possible. They don’t have time to develop the series with you. You have to do the work on your own.
  • If you can’t fit your show idea on to a flash card, don’t pitch it.
  • If you can’t explain your show in one word, don’t pitch it.
  • Show Bibles are good to have. And they’re a good exercise for you. The process of coming up with 13 loglines for a season will help you visualize your series arc. So even if you don’t share the bible in your pitch, you know exactly where the story goes and that you can sustain it for a series arc.
  • Sizzle reels are another tool to illustrate your world and tone. It’s something that lets them not read.

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