Friday, July 14, 2006

POD People

A few weeks ago I went to a WGA event which featured small group chats with producers and executives at companies with PODs (production overall deals).

A very interesting evening, not just because there was free wine and chocolate-covered strawberries. But those helped. Those always help.

The gathering involved the attendees, about 100 of us, grouped into sets of ten and arranged in, well, pods throughout a bunch of multipurpose rooms. Hee! I didn't know buildings that weren't junior high schools even had those!

Every ten minutes or so, a new guest rotated over to our group from the previous group to give a rundown of his or her company and deal and be peppered with questions.

Basically it was speed-dating with development execs.

This was emphatically NOT a pitch festival, though. One of the things I've found most sobering about being involved with the WGA as an associate member (through the New Media Caucus) is that the Guild's always reminding members of the pitch policy when attending events.

Which is, don't. Don't pitch, don't buttonhole a guest, and don't lie down in front of her departing car brandishing a script.

The fact that the WGA feels the need to print this in an event program and mention it explicitly at the evening's start depresses me. I mean, yeah... as with most creative unions (say, Equity), some large percentage of the WGA membership is underemployed or outright unemployed, but still. You'd think professionals would know better.

But everyone as far as I could tell was very well behaved this night. The 11 guests, of which we saw 9, represented a range of companies, from those hooked up with name talent to those behind powerhouse shows like GREY'S ANATOMY, 24, and PRISON BREAK. All were amazingly nice, grounded people, gracious in their answers and helpful in their advice.

And advice is what we all wanted. This was definitely an employment access shindig, after all, and even though no one outright pitched (in my group at least), the clear subtext behind most questions was "What should I write so I can sell my show to or be hired by you guys?" The evening was probably of most use to writers looking to pitch original shows, but there was plenty to make note of even if you weren't yet hungering for a Created By credit.

Moderators in each group kept things moving, and kicked off each new guest's arrival with a round of introductions from the group. This started feeling silly after the fourth or fifth time, as we rattled off our spiels, but really pointed up the diversity of backgrounds and experience of those looking to break into TV.

In my group there was a guy with decades in news, a documentarian, feature writers, writers repped by important agencies who wanted to sell a pilot, and a TV writer with a load of credits in the 90's who had taken a break and was trying to get back in.

This is the competition for TV jobs, remember. Also, during the hors d'oeuvres I ran into a couple of comedy writers who had been on big but cancelled shows and now, thanks to the comedy drought, are scrambling for jobs.

But they're not scrambling. They're writing one-hour drama specs and can bring the funny. Ignore at your peril.

A few points from the night that I thought were interesting:

  • With one exception, every exec said they really wanted to read original material as a sample, spec pilots especially. A few people also mentioned short stories and plays.

  • DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and THE SOPRANOS are played out as specs. Done. Sleeping with Luca Brasi. Not a surprise to those who monitor the suggestion lists on various blogs or who have good intel from their agents, but this was hard confirmation from folks who read specs all day. Those two shows were mentioned by every exec who said they were tired of episodics as samples. GREY'S got a couple mentions too.

  • The development world is desperate for good comedy pilots.

  • Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer pwn procedurals. No company was that interested in developing a procedural because these two guys -- mentioned as a pair in this context by every single guest to our group -- have the genre locked up tight.

  • If you want to pitch/write a spec procedural, make it quirky and character-driven. HOUSE was the example everyone mentioned.

  • My corollary: Don't try to clone HOUSE. Everyone is.

  • Use your spec pilots to push the envelope. Be more diverse than network TV currently is. Go farther in the script than an aired show might do. Better to have someone rein you in than come off thinking that you can't go there.

  • Get a good agent. I mean, duh, but yes.

  • Everyone (these folks at least) is looking for colorful and off-center, no matter what the genre. One woman mentioned vampire lawyers but I think she was kidding. Maybe.

    Whew! Inspired yet? Go write that pilot! Or that spec that isn't about Bree or Tony! I mean it, go. It's going to be too hot this weekend to do much else and you already saw PIRATES. Scoot.

    The POD event clearly was no mean feat to pull off, and the folks behind it are to be commended. Hats off to the Guild's Committee of Black Writers and Committee of Women Writers. Here's hoping they do it again.

    Scribble94 said...

    Great advice. Off to work on my spec pilot!

    kristen said...

    thanks for this. kinda makes me want to write another spec pilot. if only i can stay awake in all this heat!

    Scribe LA said...

    Thanks Kira... great info and perspective, as always. Now, if only I could I get myself to sit down and not see "You, Me & Dupree," maybe I could get some writing done today. Spec pilot here I come...

    Kristen said...

    I don't suppose you have any sample scripts for current 3-camera sitcoms, do you?

    Kira said...

    Sorry, Kristen, I don't. You might check the regular spots: Simply Scripts, Planet Megamall...