Thursday, May 5, 2011

TV Development 101

For the last few weeks, whenever someone asks me what I've been working on, my answer is always the same: the TV pilot for Lucy B. Parker, and writing out a neverending stream of checks because I'm in the process of BUYING MY FIRST HOUSE EVER (cue applause and a marching band) and, apparently, when you're a homeowner -- or just a homeowner-to-be-- all you do is spend money.

But back to the pilot...

Although before we do that, let me just say that this is not just any house -- this is A PINK BARN that I am moving into. WITH A POND. AND A SEE-SAW. I can't tell you how much I love this place.

But back to the pilot...

(this may be WHY it's taking me so long to write the pilot...because I keep talking about the barn.)

Anyway, so in talking to people about the pilot, a lot of people ask me "So what exactly happens with that?"...and I decided since enough people seem interested, why not write a blog entry about it? Mostly because it's a little more exciting than reading about the mortgage process.

So this is how it all goes down...

When you set up a project at a network, after jumping around with joy about the fact that maybe you'll make enough money to re-do your bathroom in your new house and/or buy nice patio furniture, the first step in the process is to write a detailed outline of the scenes that will make up the script. The reason for this is because if you're the kind of person who doesn't like writing outlines (ie. me) and likes to say things like "I like to find my way into the story as I'm writing the script" (ie. me), what often happens is you end up with a 150 page script when it's supposed to be 50 because that "finding your way into the story" thing can often take a long time. (ie. me. Except I'm exaggerating about the 150 pages, obviously. It's more like 142.)

So once you're done with the outline and have gone over it 23 times to make sure you got all the typos, you send it to your producer(s) for their feedback. The moment you press "send' you immediately feel sick to your stomach and attempt to figure out how to recall it from cyber space because obviously it's the worst thing ever fact, it may not even be written in english...and you can't believe you actually sent it out. After quelling your anxiety with some sort of carb, you calm down and start working on whatever got pushed aside so you could write this treatment that you didn't even want to write because you like to find your way into the story as you're writing the script.

Finally you hear back from the producer(s), with an email that usually begins "FANTASTIC job...just a few notes..." which, when you print the email out, usually ends up being three or four pages of notes. Including a list of all the typos. After you scrape yourself up from off the floor and recover from the fact that you didn't write something that was perfect the first time out of the gate, you revise the outline per their notes and send it back to them. This process can go on for a while. In my case, it went on for a very, very long while. Partly because when you're writing a pilot, you have to set up the characters and the dynamic between them and the premise of show. In like 49 pages which, when you're not the one writing it, seems relatively easy. But when you are the one writing it? Not so much.

Finally it goes to the network and you repeat the process. Except, this time, when you crumple into the fetal position on the floor after you hear their notes, it takes even longer to get up. But you do, because hopefully you have good producers who remind you that it's called the DEVELOPMENT PROCESS for a reason and who suggest you go eat something sugary and give yourself some time to take everything in before getting back to work.

Then, finally, when the network signs off on the story, you write the script. And because you've taken all this time to outline the scenes, the actual writing of the script comes really easy. Like so easy that you're sure you're doing it wrong...and then, when your first draft is almost 70 pages, you realize you ARE doing it wrong. Or rather, that's a very long first draft which means in the second draft you have to, as Dorothy Parker said, "kill your little darlings" and look at all those lines you think are brilliant and hilarious and start slashing away. Finally, after how many drafts it takes to get it to a place where the pacing is working, and the characters are clear, and there are (minimal) typos, you send it to the producers and go through the process you went through on the outline. The good news is that with each round of notes, the time on the floor and the amount of carbs consumed lessens.

Once you hand the script into the network, a few things can happen...either they love it and have minimal notes, or, in some cases, what becomes clear is that the story you've chosen isn't exactly working so you come up with a new one. (When that's the case, you're allowed a lot more carbs and time in the fetal position on the floor). At any rate, if you're lucky enough to write a script that the network loves, then they decide to shoot the pilot episode. Which means they hire a director, and cast it, and then you do even more work on the script and finally finally finally they shoot it. Then, after that, if it comes out well, and the head honchos like it, then it gets ordered to series.

So right now I'm in the script stage with Lucy. Which has been interesting because a lot of the time stuff that works in books doesn't work for TV. It's been a very educational process (read: many carbs consumed and much time spent on floor).

I will keep you posted.


Redlilocks {Swoon Worthy} said...

Hi Robin, just popped by to say thank you for being my newest follower cuz I'm nice like that - I'd have brought a bottle of wine but wasn't sure if you liked red or white and then I realised I didn't even know if you drank so I thought I'd just bring a smile intead but that might be because I'm mostly broke. So then I read this and loved it!! You are obviously a brilliant writer, very funny - and this is something I've never known about so found it crazy interesting! Wow, how exciting (despite the process) and I really hope you have loads of success with your project! And a new place as well - will you be blogging about it too?

Anyway, I'm a new follower now! xxx

Brain Mechanic said...

fascinating... great post