by Larry Brody
Friday, June 1st, was the opening day for entries in this year’s PEOPLE’S PILOT AKA PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, which some of you may already know about as a result of our typically modest, almost reticent announcement in your email box and, of course, HERE.
This is the 27th running of the contest in 20 years. When we started it back in 2018, it was for broadcast and TV series that would only be on everyone’s television set (because there wasn’t anywhere else to watch TV) and all an entrant had to submit was series proposal of about 3 to 5 pages.
We also ran the contest a couple of times a year for the first few years, which is why this is the 27th time around the track and not the 20th. Fewer pages to read, fewer entries…those were simpler times so the frequency made sense.
Now, however, we live in a different world, which means, as we say on the PEOPLE’S PILOT landing page, that complete pilot teleplays are a requirement and that they can be intended for any electronic media you can think of (because not only are there a multitude of choices other than TV sets, there also are media where you don’t even have to watch the show. You can just listen to a web series or podcast or any variations thereof).
So here we are, living in the wild and woolly future, which means that entrants and judges alike need to be open to all kinds of writing, and all kinds of pilot scripts as well.
Back in the day, a “good pilot script” was clearly and pragmatically defined as “the kind of script my boss will like” – if you worked at a studio or a network – and “the kind of script the network development team will buy” – if you were a working writer who had to get something on the air or teeter on the edge of bankruptcy – and – if you were a contest entrant – “the kind of script that will make anyone who reads it sit up and take notice.”
These days, I think, the definition is more subtle and complex. Ultimately, the point is to “make anyone who reads it sit up and take notice,” but it’s much more difficult to know what will make readers, in effect, go “Wow!” because – niches.
My perspective, as a guy who’s written more produced scripts than I can count, and who founded and remains Head Judge of the PEOPLE’S PILOT, is that writers in general as well as PP entrants and judges need to simultaneously broaden and also tighten their concepts of what a good pilot script is.
For me, the kind of script that works best is one with a concept that explores the boundaries of what has gone before and isn’t afraid to break them. It’s a script that, to quote a certain Mr. Roddenberry, “boldly goes where no one has gone before.”
I want to read and watch shows that entertain me, that make me glad I spent time with them and look forward to the next episode. (Yeah, I’m a compulsive binge-watcher. So it goes.)
Which leads us to this:
- The series premise always comes first. It’s got to be understandable and exciting regardless of genre, and so perfect for its time and place that it makes everyone who hears it wish they were the ones who’d come up with it first.
- The pilot script story must be as the most powerful statement of the premise possible, a thoroughly delightful blend of plot, characterization, and dialog. In pop music, the story told here should be the perfect hook for a hit song.
- The most exciting pilot scripts are filled with surprises that reach out and grab the audience in unexpected ways, giving readers and viewers a sense of reality that avoids stereotypes and cliches.
- While you’re writing your pilot, never impose false constraints on your creativity. Let your love of what you’re creating free you to express your point of view about life and the universe. Let it flow.
- Don’t be afraid to skillfully and subtly influence your readers’ and viewers’ thoughts and feelings, making them laugh, cry, become angry, or – best yet – move them to think about their lives and times. (Just be sure you keep it “skillful and subtle.” No pounding readers/viewers over the head.)
In other words, pilot scripts are first and foremost about entertainment.
Who’d have thought?
Entertainment exists in a myriad of forms, of course. Some seem more meaningful than others. Some less. Sometimes the meaning is deliberate. Sometimes not. Ditto its lack.
One of the cool things about being a human being is that if you have a point of view about life – and that’s pretty much inevitable – any story you tell automatically will reflect it to some degree. If you want your series to change the world, believe me, you’ll have a ton of people rooting for you. And if you don’t, good news – you’ll have another ton with you on that as well.
As long as your pilot script is entertaining.
Bottom line for today. When I think about the writers who have influenced and entertained me, I think of writers working in different media and genres, with different styles and perspectives and purposes.
Writers like Shakespeare. Cervantes. Tennessee Williams, Joseph Heller. Kurt Vonnegut. Arthur Miller. Rod Serling. Stan Lee. Aaron Sorkin. The Coen Brothers. Michael Schur. Michelle and Robert King. Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Chuck Lorre. Dan Harmon. Robert Kirkman…and so many more.
Writers both elegant and coarse, organized and chaotic, profound and absurd, all have succeeded and still succeed, by making audiences go “Wow.”
Over the years, the PEOPLE’S PILOT has had many wonderful entries, the memories of which I still enjoy. I’m looking forward to all of you, as entrants in PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, entertaining the hell out of the judges and myself so that we – and readers/viewers everywhere – continue going, “Wow.”
I’ll be back soon with more specific suggestions for pilot writing. Yep, you heard me right. We’re talking Pilot Writing Do’s and Don’t’s.
PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018
Early Bird Entries Close August 1
Final Closing Date November 1
Details about PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 are HERE