I recently attended the TV/Film Summit, a two-day conference at the Westin by LAX focused on writing and selling for television and film. The days were long (12 hours each!) and jam-packed with quality information from experts Chad Gervich, Ellen Sandler, Jen Grisanti, Linda Seger, Chris Vogler, and Dov Simens. Here are my top 10 takeaways from the event -- i.e., the bits of info that will be forever burned into my brain:
1. In TV, the writer is king. With TV being an infinite experience that stretches over weeks, months, years, there needs to be a built-in story engine. While many films lead to sequels, it's still more of a finite experience with one story, one set of characters and its own beginning, middle, and end. In TV, the story needs to keep going and going, stressing the importance of the writer.
2. Whether you're writing for TV or film, your job is to let people see how you see the world. The more you can tap into your own experiences in order to craft emotionally resonant stories, the better. Jen Grisanti's book, Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story, is an excellent resource in this area.
3. Apparently, when Phil Rosenthal pitched Everybody Loves Raymond, he told execs that every episode should be seen through a very specific prism: Your house is burning down, and your mother and wife are trapped inside. You can only choose to save one. I love this, as it creates a clear, repeatable foundation for conflict.
4. When writing a pilot, it needs to be a prototype of your show. It needs to be THE show, not an origin story. (Write this on a chalkboard 100x, Bart Simpson-style.)
5. TV has 3 seasons: Development (July to Oct), Pilot (Jan to May), and Staffing (April-May-ish to June). Just something to keep in mind.
6. If your concept's not working, go back to your logline or premise line, which really needs to be able to be boiled down to a single sentence. If you can't communicate your concept on the back of a business card, it's not tight enough yet.
7. Studios typically prefer stand-alone shows like King of Queens or Criminal Minds over more serialized shows like Lost or The Killing. Why? Episodes can be watched out-of-order; thus, they can be rerun and syndicated. Syndication = $$$$$$$$$$$.
8. Chris Vogler has a fascinating approach to structure, based around the work of Joseph Campbell. (He's in high demand by Disney's animation department, etc.) Especially if you're writing larger, more epic stories, The Writer's Journey is definitely worth checking out.
9. Dov Simens's 2-Day Film School is a must-attend event if you're considering producing an independent feature. He's a larger-than-life, often polarizing character, but he'll ignite just the fire you need to go out and make your own movie on any budget.
10. It was a joy to meet Linda Seger, who founded the script consultant industry 30 years ago with an ad in The Hollywood Reporter. She remains fascinated by how the industry has grown and evolved, and she's committed to keeping it more cooperative than competitive. (I was pleasantly surprised to hear that it is.) I'm eager to check out her latest book, Writing Subtext.
Follow Abe Schwartz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbeSchwartz