Thursday, October 30, 2008

Should you write a miniseries? How?

Benjy writes: I have what I think is a great idea for a story. It's not a series, it's not a feels like a miniseries to me. How in the world do I go about writing it, and is it even worthwhile to do so if my goal is to get staffed on a show? I could write it and try to sell it, I suppose (rather than using it as just a writing sample) but even then, what's the method of doing that? Do you write the first episode of the series? Write a bible or outline of the entire series? Something else entirely?

Yowza, good question! To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what the answer is, and I open the floor to anybody with actual industry experience with this. But if I were doing it...I think I would write the first episode, and an outline or synopsis of the rest. You must have a pretty strong idea of the rest of the series and the ending to make you think it's a miniseries and not a regular one, right?

Keep in mind that not a lot of miniseries get produced. Everybody raved about John Adams, but can you think of another one? Sometimes I feel like every miniseries that gets on the air gets nominated for an Emmy - because there are only a couple. There just aren't a ton of networks putting them on TV, and I'm not sure that as a beginning writer you want to try it when the odds are against you. As for whether it is a good sample to get you staffed...yes and no. I feel like it'd be as good as a pilot. It will demonstrate your original voice, show you know structure and can write dialogue and character, etc. A spec is the only thing that can show your ability to mimic someone else's voice, which is usually what's wanted in a staff writer. So I feel like having a spec AND a pilot, or a spec AND a miniseries first ep would be kinda equal, you know?

As for how to go about selling it - it's the same way you would anything else. Get an agent or manager. Pitch it to production companies and studios. And I'm sure it would help if you have experience writing for a show. Sounds easy, right? Just kidding. :) This is a huge complicated process, and why we do all the rest of it - networking, writing specs, etc.

Write what you're passionate about. Good writing is good writing. If you write a kickass miniseries, I'm sure people would be interested. But I would think about whether you have other ideas you like too, and whether this story couldn't be told in a more common format.

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Tamaryn Tobian said...

I have no industry experience whatsoever on this topic, but I CAN think of another mini-series that was turned into a show - The Starter Wife.

I say write what feels natural and at the end see what you can do with it.

Jane said...

Or, put a British spin on it and write it for the BBC. They often produce 4 to 6-episode series, and they have an open door policy to read the first 10 pages of anything that's sent to them. Google BBC Writers' Room to find out more.

Benjy said...

Thanks for the advice, Amanda, and thanks for the comments, guys! I already have a spec of an existing show and a couple pilots under my belt, so I think I might actually go through with it and make it a mini series. Even though it sounds like it's a much harder sell, at least I can tell people I have one.

The BBC thing sounds interesting, too. Definitely gonna check that out.


Katie M said...

Don't forget about Battlestar Galactica, one of the most successful recent miniseries-to-series.

J. R. said...

How about a miniseries that won 6 oscars and a Golden Globe? Band of Brothers. It also helps when you have Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg behind you though.

Amanda said...

yes, of course these are good examples - but I don't think any of them started from new writers writing on spec.