Sunday, May 24, 2009

Adventures in pilot writing

This post might be totally uninteresting, but maybe readers who are currently writing pilots will learn from some of my struggles.


Ryan writes: How is your drama pilot coming along?


(btw - thanks for the kind comments, Ryan!) As for the pilot: Eh. It's okay. I started it last fall, then took a break and wrote a feature (of which I recently finished a much-revised second draft), and now I'm trying to revise the pilot simultaneously. Problems I'm running into:


Both my leads need work. Even though it's a character-based drama, I started with the concept, the WHAT and not the WHO - and now I kind of have to go back and figure out who these women really are. Also, when you have a character who is stoic and professional and not very funny, it's harder to fall in love with her.


The two leads go from hating each other at the beginning to wanting to move into together at the end. They're big arcs with big character growth, and it takes a lot of work to make that believable.

The whole pilot story happens as a result of a death - and it really brings down the tone. It's hard to write jokes when everyone's grieving - unless you want it to be pretty dark (which I don't). I'm not quite sure of the tone yet. I'm aiming for something like Brothers & Sisters or Gilmore Girls, but a) the story might better lend itself to a Weeds/Six Feet Under kind of thing, and b) the tone I'm probably most successful with is a kind of romcom "clubbing Juno" style (someone else's words). Color me disappointed that Samantha Who just got cancelled.


But...pilots are hard. There is so much to think about. I feel like maybe in another draft or two I'll have something worth reading.





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14 comments:

Ryan Canty said...

hey amanda!

you are quite welcome--the comments. i came to your blog via alex epstein's crafty screenwriting/tv writing blog...

i do love your site...this is probably one of the FEW places ill get some honest info about trying to break into the industry...

your pilot: well, keep at it. i am sure you will find what you need to make it very strong.

i know how you feel...i started working on a pilot for an idea i have...we'll see where it goes.

add to that and starting a couple of tv specs (one for DAMAGES--i LOVE the show...my friends who are already IN LA wish me good luck since it's a show that's hard to get, tone, etc. but i watch the show religiously and I think I can come up with a VERY strong spec; the other spec...i'm not sure--i'm not a fan of procedurals, so that's been difficult) and working on a feature film idea or two...

and i'm sure you can understand how difficult it is to write...

but keep at it...:)

p.s. once again, thanks for the disney fellowship info....it was quite helpful. i am going to apply...and keep writing as always :)

Sorry, No More Blog said...

Ah, pilot writing. Pilots are like open ended features. You have to establish a world and characters but also tell a story that does not wrap up all the loose ends. If you managed to crank through a feature, I'm sure you'll crack the pilot. Good luck!

Kevin said...

Don't forget Desperate Housewives. They did death in the pilot and were able to come off pretty funny.

GregM said...

Good luck with your (new) pilot; I really enjoyed your previous one.
Was sorry to see "Samantha Who" go since I have a friend who works on it. Was particularly sorry to see "Reaper" go since I specced it.
Ah well, onwards and upwards.

Monsterbeard said...

Clubbing Juno!!!!!

What what!

I wouldn't worry about Samantha Who. Everyone is still trying to make that new SATC, and that's the exact tone you're working in, so that's like two steps forward.

Neil said...

God, I'm having the same problem. Got a pilot about a man who has visions of people being killed, then another one of someone who WILL be killed. So has to stop it. The guy gets utterly messed up by it. In this ep, the woman who is killed is brutally raped first. How the hell do I have comedy in something like that?!

My pilot needs work!

Dan Williams said...

With a romcom, they start out not liking each other for a reason. At the midpoint, they learn they are wrong and that's when they change. But another person gets in the way, keeping them apart.
But this doesn't last. And in the last Act they overcome something together, falling in love. It seems to me that weak romcoms only have one of the leads changing, but strong ones have both changing as in "Pride and Prejudice" and the second pair of characters in "Much Ado About Nothing."

Angela said...

Hi Amanda,

The post isn't uninteresting at all, I love to see how different writers try to put a story together, I often struggle with sorting out characters at the beginning, I have a great concept for them, then realise they're just cardboard cutouts and really need some work!

Thanks for sharing!

Angela :)

http://agalaxyofdreams.blogspot.com

Numb Frog said...

How safe should you be with your pilot script? Should you make it hard R if it calls for it and if NBC buys it, you tone it down or do you have to make it already ready to go on network TV and not cable?

Amanda said...

Numb Frog - This is just my opinion, but I think you should do A) what fits your pilot best and B) what demonstrates your personal voice best. If you're really dying to write a provocative premium cable show, I feel like watering it down for network TV is going to result in an inferior pilot. But then again... there are more total staff writer positions available on network than premium cable...so maybe your entire portfolio shouldn't be "hard R."

Amanda said...

Of course, I'm advising against watering it down BEFORE NBC decides they want it. Once people are paying you, it all changes.

cind said...

thank you for posting this. I'm working on the first draft of a pilot right now, and I'm getting frustrated because it's clearly not my best work. i have the WHAT, and the WHO -- but what's hard to piece together is the intersection of the characters and concept. I'm having trouble balancing finding the right balance for place as a character. I've been kicking myself about it even though I know first drafts are never close to perfect -- but it's really helpful to read about your process to be reminded that this is totally normal.

Kristan said...

Whoa, no more Samantha Who?!?! I thought it was just gone till Fall... Excuse me while I go cry.

...

Good luck on your pilot! I'm kind of struggling with the same thing (trying not to be dark despite sort of a depressing premise/start) for my novel.

Jeff said...

Amanda,

When you're writing the pilot, should you have just the pilot figured out, or should you have roughly sketched what the first few eps are going to accomplish, or the whole season? Basically, how far ahead are you plotting?