This past week, I’ve been putting to use what I taught at my New York Women in Film and TV workshop last week. It was very exciting to see a large group of people creating usable outlines for half hour TV pilots. I use my own techniques when creating. I’m working on a new comedy that is female driven but intended for men as well. Translated, this means the show includes jokes, sex, man trouble, and sports. But these elements are not enough to ensure a great series.
The secret to writing comedy is to have an original dramatic story as opposed to a silly situation. The reason is that in order to maintain the world of a show throughout the first season and ongoing seasons, there must be a “base reality,” that is believable and sustainable, for example, the shared apartment in the TV series, The Big Bang Theory.
The next secret is to identify where the story takes place. Part of what we did in the workshop was to identify this arena. My new character has three basic arenas where she spends time: in school, a local bar, and her apartment. In the pilot, she leaves an old job and begins a new one in a new place. Less is more, so I chose to highlight the school although it only accounts for a third of the stories in the series. The third secret is that once you have the main place in the story, you can now decide on a representative story that also serves to dramatize the “back story” that led up to the moment your pilot begins. In the pilot I am working on, the story begins and ends at school. By making this choice, I then knew which characters I would feature. These would be colleagues and students. Because I had made this choice of characters, it then became clear that my story in the pilot would focus on school rather than a personal or social club. While this seems obvious, often when faced with a blank page, common sense flies out the window and panic sets in. Having a logical method helps you to avoid this and allows you to focus on the quality of the story.
Make no mistake, in the end what counts is the writing. While initially the hardest thing is to get someone to read your work, when you finally do, it must be great. There is so much information that must be conveyed in a pilot in order to create a context that the audience can easily tune in to.
To recap, three secrets for creating a good pilot are:
1. Create a believable situation that can sustain many stories.
2. Determine the primary location where the action takes place, and the right characters will be obvious.
3. Use the previous decisions to help you determine what the pilot story should be.
This coming weekend celebrates our fallen heroes. While the concept of patriotism changes, the idea that personal sacrifice is sometimes required to serve the greater good does not go out of fashion. My beloved stepfather, Al, was a soldier who earned a Purple Heart and other medals for his brave service over three wars. I salute his memory here.
Whatever your politics are. It’s important to give thanks to those men and women who put their lives on the line for us, and all of the fallen heroes who have helped to keep our country great.
Happy Memorial Day!
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz