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Is a pilot script needed when pitching? (Readers’ Mail)

Have you ever wondered…
Do I need to write a spec pilot for my pitch meeting?

On today’s Readers’ Mail, we answer this quandary with Jean-Luc’s e-mail:

I was wondering if you could clarify whether a pilot script is needed when pitching a one hour TV drama. I have heard and been told that I definitely need a pilot script AND I have been told that I just need a detailed outline and descriptions of the world, characters, season arc of the TV concept/idea. If the show is picked up the writing for each episode would be done later. I am interested in knowing which route I should take…TV pitch with treatment and pilot outline or treatment/outline and pilot script.
I’m more interested in having the TV show created and consulting (or selling the idea/concept) rather than writing for the series.

You’re asking a lot of great questions about pitching, which could also be phrased another way:

Where is the line between doing work on spec, and getting paid for it?

With rare exceptions, spec scripts are primarily meant to be samples of your work, not sellable commodities.

Keeping that in mind, let’s ask a few more questions:
Who are you meeting with? (prodcos, studios, networks)
What is the meeting: a pitch meeting or more a general?
Why are you getting a meeting with them?

Assuming it is indeed a pitch meeting with, say, a prodco, then they called you in because either:
a) they want to hear you pitch something they know you’re doing/they’re already interested in; or
b) they liked you/other things you’ve done and want to hear fresh ideas.


Is a pilot script needed for pitch meetings?

If you already have one, then that’s that. Maybe they’ve read the spec to said pitched show, and called you in for that. The pitch will then revolve around the vision you’re bringing and future of that world. They’re already interested in the project. It’s now a question of being invested in your version of it.

If you have NOT written your pilot, and are getting pitch meetings for new stuff, then I would not advise you to write a fully-fledged pilot on spec (unless you plan to use it as a sample regardless).
The reason is simple: why would you be doing all this work for free? If the company is that invested in the pitch, then they’ll pay you to go to the next step.
On top of that, there’s probably (hopefully) going to be some back-and-forth between you and the people in the room. It may change your approach to the pilot.

That doesn’t mean you should pitch out of nothing.

Knowing your pilot and world inside-out is an absolute must.
When it comes to content, everyone has their own pitch best practices. You can check some of my “Profiles of Television” interview series with TV writers and development executives to hear how they do it, and what they prefer.
I’ve personally sat on convoluted pitches involving cardboard maps of worlds and season storylines. Those are intricate “Game of Thrones-esque” pitches, and definitely not the norm, but they work when needed.

Ultimately, your job is to convey your show, your story, and your world. And it all starts with the pilot.
That means that, in your pitch, you’ll probably tell what goes on in the first episode. You should know for (at least) yourself the detailed outline. Past that, description of the world/characters/broad season arc(s) are also expected. “Leave-behinds” can be good too, but they shouldn’t be more than a few pages (at most).
Again, the level of details needed is on a case-by-case basis. The person you’re pitching to should know what they’re buying into, and be intrigued about its potential.

Now about your other question —

Consulting for a TV show

I’m guessing you’re not referring to being a technical consultant (e.g. doctor on a medical show), but rather a creative consultant.

With features, you could, maybe (and extremely rarely), sell some kind of concept/draft and walk away. Not so with TV.
It all boils down to this: television writing isn’t about ideas, it’s about executions. Writers are hired because they are either idea machines and/or great at running with ideas, not because of just “one cool thing”. And that’s not even mentioning how difficult it is to sell anything TV-related to begin with.

Where do creative consultants come from? Well, they’re already known quantities. For example, a famed crime author could partner with a screenwriter to sell an adaptation of a novel series. In that case, the author may become a creative consultant (if not more). They could also be a known producer or writing EP. If J.J. Abrams sneezes something, you can bet everyone will bid on it.

If you (who’s reading this) have a question you’d like an answer to, feel free to contact me about it.

Write on.

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