by Larry Brody
As far back as twenty years ago, when I first started the PEOPLE’S PILOT, people have been asking me not only about the specifics of this contest but about the overall premise from which it originates:
“LB! Dood! Level with me. What’s the point of writing contests? What can they really do for me and my career? Does winning the PEOPLE’S PILOT mean I’m going to sell my series and become rich, famous, and irresistible to the opposite sex? Will it make my mother love me and my father flash at least a half-smile?”
My answer to this question always has boiled down to, “No. Winning this contest – or any writing contest – isn’t going to solve any of your personal problems and in all likelihood won’t make you an A list showbiz legend. You will not emerge with the cachay to swagger or stagger around Beverly Hills with impunity, stoned to the gills.
“But, dammit, it’ll get you on the right track.”
Here’s the thing.
Over the course of my career I’ve written one Acme Ton ‘0’ Pilot Scripts for Big Media TV. You’ve never heard of most of the shows they were for because even though the scripts were bought and paid for by NBC, CBS, , ABC, HBO, Showtime, Viacom, and various other outlets in the U.S. and abroad, the majority of them never made it to series.
Looking back at the whole kit and caboodle, one thing stands out: The scripts that became series and those that didn’t, were, for all practical purposes pretty much equal in quality.
The pilot scripts for Mike Hammer (or maybe it was The Return of Mike Hammer or The New Mike Hammer. It’s hard to remember because there were so many permutations of the Stacy Keach-starring show), Man Undercover (or was it David Cassidy: Man Undercover? That one’s hard to remember because I had a heart attack shortly after we finished shooting the pilot and spent the next several months recovering via various meds and total dedication to pretending that showbiz didn’t exist), or Super Force (which I do remember because it started out as Super Cop but then along came the Robocop lawyers and, oops, back to the drawing board), or any of the others that you, your parents, or your grandparents might have seen were no better than the pilot scripts that stayed on the shelf.
As a matter of fact, in one verifiable instance, they were worse.
A co-writer and I once wrote a pilot for a show about the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to be called Farrell for the People. Wonder of wonders! Miracle of Miracles! The pilot, which was written to star Valerie Harper, of Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda fame, was shot and aired as a TV movie. Its ratings were good. Critics loved it. We, the writers, won a Women in TV & Film Award for our efforts and looked forward to writing and producing many more episodes of the expected series.
But in spite of all that there was no series. No episodes followed.
Was I disappointed?
Nah, not really. I was crushed.
In other words, selling a TV series involves much, much more than bringing a wonderfully written script to the party. The tenor and politics of the times play a big part. So does whether the concept originated with the target network/streaming site or a packaging agency or the production company or the writer, etc.
And, then there’s the matter of the package as a whole.
By which I mean:
- Who are the stars?
- Who will be directing?
- Who will be running the show?
- What company will be producing the show?
- How much does the target network (or streaming site, whatever) want to work with the producing company and the other personnel involved?
- Will the network/site/whatever own the show outright?
- If the network/site/whatever doesn’t own the show, will it have at least a piece of it?
- How big will that piece be?
- What’s the budget?
- The corollary to the budget question: What’s the license fee?
And, perhaps most importantly:
- How brilliant, insightful, and lovable is the lead salesperson on the project? By which I mean the man or woman who hangs with and schmoozes the hell out of the network development people and their superiors from pitch meeting to decision day. Depending on the size of the production company, that can be anyone from the CEO to the writer-creator’s assistant, and, yeah, I’m talking about a downwardly sliding scale.
Pretty damn daunting, right? In my experience, most writers are introverts by nature, and introverts normally don’t do very well in this kind of game.
But the good news about writing contests in general and this year’s PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 is that writing for a contest is a whole ‘nuther thing.
Instead of being surrounded by circumstances you can’t possibly control, of being just a cog in the wheel of the showbiz mill, doing your bit and then hoping against hope that people and circumstances over which you have no control won’t upset everything and fling you down from creator heaven to no-sale hell, your writing talent and skill speak for themselves, with nothing to weigh them down.
it’s all about you not as a fish-out-of-water tactician but as an in-your-element writer.
Your contest entry represents the undiluted best you can do, and regardless of where you place you’ll be able to take pride in the fact that you had the wherewithal to sit down and bring your dream/vision/soul to life for all to read and potentially love.
Even if you don’t win, you’ll be getting vital information about how your measures up in the eyes of judges who are veterans of decades of “TV wars,” who have absolutely no horse in the race but their desire to discover writers who will bring tears, laughter, and amazement to the viewers we, the judges, and you, the writers love. Positive feedback, so you know how to make your script and your writing in general, even better.
(Here’s where I stand up, put my hand atop a stack of bibles of all religions and swear in all directions that my feedback will never – that’s never – be based on what I would have written if I were you, or how I would have developed your premise. My suggestions (I’m trying to avoid the word “notes” because so many writers associate that with so much pain) are always predicated on how you can make your vision, as exemplified by what you’re written, stronger and more effectively than you have.)
And if you do win, not only do you have clear and true reinforcement of your potential and a reason to believe as strongly as possible in yourself, to take pride in your heard work and sacrifice, you also have the opportunity to be mentored by, well, by me, in a way that will help you navigate those rough waters I’ve already described as well as my recommendation to those in the Industry.
Plus you have a solid credit that means Industry folks will take you much more seriously than they would have before our winners were announced. The PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 landing page has a list of the shows former Winners, Finalists, and Semi-Finalists of previous PEOPLE’S PILOTs have been working on. That means something to buyers, agents, managers, et al. And it should mean even more to you.
Damn, did you read what I just wrote? Why couldn’t I speak up like that back when I was writing all those pilots? Why didn’t I have the confidence to dance the dance all through the night?
One reason is that I didn’t have the PEOPLE’S PILOT behind me.
But you will.
PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018
Early Bird Entries Close August 1
Final Closing Date November 1
Details about PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 are HERE