“Dammit, Why Didn’t my PEOPLE’S PILOT Script Make it to the Semi-Finals?”

Tuesday, the day TVWriter™  announced the Semi-Finalists in the 21st running of the People’s Pilot Contest, this site  had more visitors and page views than ever before in its decade-and-a-half-year-long history.

Just short of 80% of the visits/views related to the PP, and for the first time, one post, “PEOPLE’S PILOT Semi-Finalists are Here,” had 33% more visitors than our landing page. In fact, 4 times as many people visited that post as actually entered the contest.

So I guess that means you’re interested, right? For which, btw, I’m very, very thankful.

And what you seem to be most interested in right now, judging not only from page views but also from the emails we’ve received about the Semi-Finalist selections, boils down to “Why did some entries make the Semi’s and others not? What did we do wrong? What did we do right?”

Major concerns. Proper questions. And while I can’t answer regarding the specifics of any individual entries, I’m more than prepared to make some general observations about how things went down – and are continuing to go down as we enter the Finalist and Winners phases – this time around.

Firstly, I think it’s important than everyone who comes to this site, whether you entered or not, know that this really was the best crop of entries we’ve ever received. The level of writing has gone up with every running, as has the ingeniousness of the series concepts themselves. This was an extraordinary bunch of entries, and as far as I’m concerned, every single one of them could become a successful TV series.

Inevitably, however, some were more impressive (I’m loathe to say “better” because that could lead to an endless discussion of the very definition of the word) than others. The entries that became Semi-Finalists were stand-outs, and, because all writers need to know what works in order to make it work for them, those stand-outs had the following in common:

  • Great characterization – interesting, believable “people” from the largest to the smallest roles
  • Great dialog – interesting, believable and clever speech with varying speech patterns depending on the character
  • Fast-paced stories that didn’t feel like “pilots” per se because they did much more than introduce us to the characters and setting they plunged us into a problem and/or a need and made us care about solving the problem and/or fulfilling the need
    (Special note: The most successful of the Semi-Finalist scripts began with at least 5 pages it was impossible to put down, and the majority of those both the protagonist (s) and the main problem were introduced by the fifth page
  • Streamlined teleplay format that gave us all the information we needed in order to go with the flow, and did it so tightly that every page was clean, simple and a pleasure to read

Another way to look at this is to talk about what didn’t work, as in, “Why didn’t certain scripts make the cut?” So:

  • The most common flaw in scripts that didn’t make it in this running of the contest was the lack of a central problem for the protagonist (s). Even comedies need stories, as in situations in which the hero has to rise to occasion in order to succeed because if s/he doesn’t there’s going to be hell – maybe personal, maybe professional, maybe literal – to pay. The scripts that didn’t work had events and incidents…but no forward drive
  • The second most common flaw was too much talk. As in long speeches. And long scenes. Good writing=strong cutting.
  • A sitcom that isn’t funny isn’t a sitcom (“Could be shorter, could be funnier” was the most common complaint about sitcom entries)
  • A drama without conflict isn’t a drama (“Could be shorter, could be angrier” was the most common complaint about action/drama entries)

A couple more suggestions:

  • Format-wise, when in doubt go with master scenes instead of giving us individual shots – it’s so much easier to read
  • Do everything in your power as a writer to make the reader turn the page – don’t count on something being intrinsically interesting, write it so it’s even more interesting

And a final thing to remember (I have to say that to remind myself that it’s time to stop because I keep thinking of more to say…sound familiar?): Good writing and a good script aren’t the same thing. When friends and family read your work, they’re going to be mightily impressed by your ability to communicate and turn a phrase. When pros read your work, they’re going to take that ability as a given, so the only things that can impress them are characters so interesting (and funny, if it’s a comedy), and events so exciting that they can’t stop themselves from reading through to the end.

Next week: The SPEC SCRIPTACULAR SEMI-FINALISTS, and the burning question: “Dammit, why didn’t my Spec Scriptacular script make it to the Semi-Finals?”

If you’ve been reading closely, you probably already know the answer.




Breaking the Sitcom Story

Yes, sitcoms have stories. At least, they’re supposed to.

This is the second part of Ken Levine’s class in Comedy 101. You probably should read the first part before venturing further.

How we break a story – by Ken Levine

Comedy 101 continues.  Here’s an inside look at the thought process that goes on behind-the-scenes when plotting a half hour sitcom. But first – did you do your homework? You can watch the episode I’m discussing here. Do that first. Then come back and look behind the curtain.

Quick disclaimer: The way we plotted shows back then might be a little different than today. The importance we placed on certain aspects like character motivation are less of a priority on most of today’s sitcoms. Not all but a lot. But the more you’re exposed to dramatic structure the better storytellers you’re going to become. And even if you have no desire to write, you’ll still gain a greater appreciation about what goes into telling a good story.

Here’s how this episode came about. At the start of the season we put together a list of possible story areas. We compiled as many as we could and during the season we just kept adding to the list. Probably 70% of the ideas never get used. But we had some for each character, many for the Kim-Mike relationship (that was our money), some for the office, some for home.

Read it all

Ready to write that sitcom spec now? Yeah, us neither. But Mr. Levine makes it sound so damn easy…

The Language of Creativity

But…but…but we barely speak, you know, English:

Yikes! Dept: Tina Sellig & students, looking way more creative than we ever could. And that’s just appearances.

Tina Seelig: On Unleashing Your Creative Potential – by Jake Cook

Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” As we enter adulthood, we tend to self-select in, or out, of creativity. (We’ve all heard someone say, “I’m just not a creative person.”) Stanford professor Tina Seelig argues that such hard-and-fast distinctions are both inaccurate and untrue.Dr. Seelig’s latest book, inGenius: Unleashing Creative Potential, offers insights and tips from a career spent teaching both creativity and entrepreneurship. I sat down with Seelig to discuss her own rather unusual career path, the overlooked importance of physical space for big ideas, and tips on how to live a more creative life.

How do you approach the idea of creativity?
When we go to school we’re taught different “languages.” Like the language of math or music or the language of art. When you want to express your creativity, you have to figure out what language is best for what you’re trying to express. One of the things most helpful for people is having as many languages available to them as possible and then pick the ones that are the most appropriate at that time…

Any creative hacks that work for you?
One trick that has helped me: before I go to sleep at night I give myself the challenge of thinking about a certain topic I want to work on for that next day. Then I get up and write for three hours on that topic.

I rarely go to sleep without giving myself something to noodle on. Somehow there is some sort of subconscious processing going on and I usually wake up with a bunch of really good ideas.

Read it all

This article is so helpful that we’ve decided to get back into bed and reprogram our creative brain by giving it a big problem to work on while we sleep. Hear that, brain? HOW MANY ANGELS CAN DANCE ON THE HEAD OF A PIN? – THE MOVIE. We need the full screenplay when we wake up. Go!

YouTube Ratings, Statistics, and Other Awesomeness

More than you ever thought you’d want to know about what’s on YouTube, who’s watching it, how many people are watching it, how many people used to be watching it, how it compares to everything else on YouTube in terms of being watched…well, you get it now, right?

This site is:

  • Highly Recommended

In other words, VidStatsX is an awesomely helpful site for anybody into peer production, viral video, and all that neat stuff.

Go there. Bookmark it. Now.

A Lesson in the Creative Side of TV Production

Actually, every side of TV production is creative. Except network meetings, that is:

An oldie but a goodie

Comedy 101 by Ken Levine

Haven’t done this in awhile but several of you have requested it. Today I’ll show an episode of our CBS show ALMOST PERFECT and tomorrow I’ll walk you through the thought process on how we broke the story and why we made the decisions we made.

A quick refresher on ALMOST PERFECT. It’s about a high-powered woman in her 30s (Nancy Travis) who is a writer on a TV cop show. On the day she gets the job of her life (showrunner) she meets the guy of her life (Kevin Kilner) and both are a full-time job.

Final note: the show starts 25 seconds in. Enjoy and we’ll see you in class tomorrow.

See the video so this will make sense