Whether you’re an aspiring writer looking to get staffed or an established writer who wants to continuing building his/her portfolio, you need to have that signature original pilot that best showcases your writing. We like to call it your “Stairway to Heaven” or your “Hotel California”. You must keep in mind that, for your original pilot sample, your main objective is not to sell a show. Of course, it would be nice if a network decided to buy your script and develop into a series (which has happened many times before), but you should not let this idea affect your writing. This original pilot is meant to be a writing sample. Your goal is to write a script that people talk about and feel the need to send to others after reading. Execs and agents often refer to these types of scripts as LOUD scripts. Here are some tips on writing a loud original pilot script.
– Find a premise that’s fresh and original. Mimicking what’s already on television will not make you stand out in the writing crowd.
– Choose a premise that has infinite story possibilities. The minute someone gets what your premise is, they should immediately have story ideas running through their heads. Networks crave long-running series like Law & Order, ER, Simpsons and Friends.
– Make the first 10 pages count. Your teaser must grab your readers attention. Execs and agents have a pile of scripts to get through and unfortunately most of them won’t read past the first ten pages if they’re not engaged. It’s not fair to the writer, but that’s the bitter truth about Hollywood. So don’t devote your first pages to establishing setting or back story, get right into the meat of your character and the story. Read “The Importance of a Great Teaser“
– Set up the series franchise. Your pilot script should act as a blueprint for the entire series. It should introduce the premise, characters and structure that will come into play on a weekly basis. Only use flashbacks, voiceovers, or other clever storytelling devices if you envision them in future episodes.
– Give your characters distinct, consistent voices. If a character speaks in slang he must always speak in slang. Once your pilot is finished, go through and read aloud each character’s dialogue separately from start to finish to hear if your voices need tweaking. The read should be able to tell who is speaking just by reading his or her dialogue alone.
– Write what your passionate about. I know this seems intuitive, but so many writers get caught up with what the market is looking for and what is currently on TV or what the budget of their pilot might come out to. When it comes to writing samples, it does NOT matter.
– Don’t hold back too much information. If you’re thinking about dropping a big bomb in Season 5, episode 10, and then everyone will “get it”, think again. When readers are confused by a lack of information in your pilot script, there won’t be a season 1.
– Don’t make the pilot episode all about backstory. The characters should be in motion when we meet them, and backstories should emerge in natural, character specific dialogue.
– Don’t write a pilot that will only be of interest to a limited audience. Tapping into universal themes and future trends will insure more viewers, which, for networks translates into more advertising dollars.
– Don’t be shy. In this racy age of television, bold and daring will take you a lot further than bland. Executives would much rather read an edgier sample that proves you have the ability to take chances and push the envelope. A risqué script can always be cut back. A run-of the mill script will only be indicative of a run-of the mill-writer.
As seen on www.masteringfilm.com