So, this is BTS #2. Whenever I’m out doing talks, or at conventions, I’m usually collared by someone asking for tips on how to get a TV idea made (and, really, if it was that easy do you think I’d be showing the secret handshake to everyone?) The conversation usually starts with, they’ve got an absolutely amazing idea that would make a brilliant TV series and everyone will jump the moment they hear it etc etc
Most TV writers I know are a hard-bitten, cynical bunch and for good reason. But there is some advice worth dishing out for those people who really want to be screenwriters (at this point I’m excluding the woman at the last talk who said she had a great idea but didn’t have time to write it so could she just tell someone…)
So here you go, a measly four steps to getting your own TV series made. Four simple steps to earning hundreds of thousands of pound (UK)/millions of dollars (US). Easy, right?
1. Get Trusted
What, not come up with a great idea? No. Let’s talk a little about basic human psychology. Whenever someone in TV hires you (and in books, comics, music, and everywhere really), they’re putting their job on the line. The job that keeps their partner with a roof over their head or feeds and clothes their undoubtedly beautiful children. In TV, that usually means giving you anything from a few thousand pounds to earmarking millions if a TV series gets made. If you screw up, if you miss your deadlines, if your scripts suddenly become ordure, if the series flops so badly TV critics are pointing and mocking, that person who commissioned you will be asked some tough questions by the powers above them. They might even lose their jobs. So, as anyone would, they mitigate against this. They say, “But the writer was an Oscar/BAFTA winning screenwriter. Anyone would have hired them!”
Which is one reason why you tend to see familiar names at the top of your favourite shows. If you want to cut the risk factor, hire a seasoned professional, someone who has proven they can take the pressure and do the job. Not just the job, but an amazing job. A safe pair of hands.
How do you get trusted? That’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post. But briefly, get lots and lots of credits. In the UK, write for a soap, get taken on as a writer on another series, write a movie, in the US, get hired for the writers’ room on a show. Build your brand. Publish novels, comics (these actually mean a lot less than you might think – different skill-sets, but they show you at least understand Story). Basically, find some cover for the people who might hire you so they can keep their jobs.
2. Write A Jaw-Dropping Spec Script
What, still no amazing idea? Your spec script is your calling card. You’ve read this on every screenwriting advice site. You know this. It has to be a script that is so good, some producer could imagine going straight to screen with it. It has to be the equal of the work done by those seasoned, highly-feted writers you know and love. If it’s not, the producer will simply revert to those other writers. The people in charge of the money need to know you can do the job. And, as is the theme of the 21st century, good is not good enough. It has to be the best. One tip: aim to write four spec scripts a year. Keep them flowing out there, circulating, so someone, somewhere is always reading your material. There’s a tsunami of writers waiting to break in. Attention spans last days. Even writers with lots of credits can get forgotten. You have to keep stepping up and throwing a punch to show you can do it.
3. Have An Amazing Idea
Finally! But it has to be a particular kind of idea. Too far ahead of the curve and people will be afraid to touch it. (See #1, about people trying to keep their jobs.) But it needs to be fresh. A novel take in an area people understand, so you don’t have to do lots of explaining before you get to the core of your genius idea. In a nutshell: new, but not too new. The TV industry is not burdened with gamblers. (There are numerous exceptions to this, of course. The ground-breakers are the ones everyone remembers, and producers will always say they want ground-breakers until someone, somewhere says they don’t. Break a bit of ground, until you’re in a position to dig up a whole field.)
4. Build Your Family
The TV industry, like publishing, like music, is all about relationships. This, too, ties in to #1. Human nature – people like to work with people they like, and people they trust. Nobody likes to work with a dick, or an incompetent. Take meetings, get on with people, chat, go for drinks. I’d say ‘network’ but that’s too cynical. Just be a nice guy and get on with people and you’ll find a lot of barriers melt away. Neil Gaiman once said, “Be good, be fast, be likeable. Any two out of three will do. Any less, won’t.” That’s decent advice. So, make as many contacts as you can. It’s the easiest way to get your work read. If you’re one of those writers who likes to sit in their room and send their scripts out by raven, trembling at the thought of human interaction, sorry, you’re doomed.
See how easy it is? This has been a longer bit of bloggage than intended. I’ll get into detail on some of these points at a later date. If you want me to pick up on anything specific in the future, leave it in the comments.
In the meantime, I just want to remind you that I have a knockdown special offer running on my ebook of my supernatural thriller The Eternal, for the next seven days. Buy it now before the inevitable movie adaptation: