Typing Faster

August 8, 2009

What’s Next?

Filed under: Agents, Breaking In, Pitching, ProdCos, Specs, the biz, Working — petertypingfaster @ 12:14 pm

Ten points if you know what fictional character used the title of this post as his catch phrase.

So, friend (acquaintance?) of the blog, Erin, over at No Pants Island, has an interesting post up at the moment. Erin’s just optioned her first series concept to a production company (Yay! Go Erin!), but now she’s wondering:

What’s next?

I’m obviously hoping for the best case scenario; that being, the production company sources interest (READ: $$$) from a broadcaster for Series A, and we’re off to the races on a bible and pilot. They seem confident that this will happen, and they have a strong track record of making it happen (including a pilot they’re shooting for something else right now).

But what if it stagnates? What if nothing happens to Series A, and the option fee rolls in every year for the next four, and that’s it? Today, as I mulled over other projects I’ve sketched out or brainstormed, I wondered: just how many other ideas should I be trying to get out there? How many other things should I be working on?

The upside of this first success is that it’s connected me with an agent – the fabled, magical agent that newbie writers rip yarns around the proverbial campfire about. Though we’re still sealing the deal on this first project, I’m wondering how soon is too soon to be tossing other ideas and work his way. Should I be tossing him work directly at all?

Additionally, should I be giving the company I’m now building a relationship with first crack at whatever tidbits come out of my brain? Or should I be saving tidbits, putting them aside, and working on building Series A and only Series A, until such time as it becomes clear that Series A ain’t going anywhere?

So, to those who’ve been around this block a few times, I ask: how many projects do you have on the go, at any given time?

And: now what?

It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it? Let’s break it down a bit.

1. What if it stagnates? What if nothing happens?

The truth of the matter is, it’ll probably take a lot longer than you’d expect, or want, for things to get going. Development time lines are long in this business, especially in Canada. It takes the stars aligning for a project to fly through development.

I’ve seen projects languish for two or three years, then all of a sudden they gain some traction and it’s off to the races. As a general rule of thumb though, I’d say that if a project hasn’t made significant strides towards securing at least development financing within three years, it’s probably dead. At least at that production company.

Which brings us to…

2. How many other ideas should I be working on?

How many do you have? Some of the best advice I’ve ever received as a writer was: “Never stop coming up with ideas, and never stop writing.”

Personally I try to have three projects going at a time.

  • One is usually waiting for notes from my agent (Don’t expect all agents to want to give notes though. Feel free to substitute writing group, friend, what have you).
  • One I’m currently writing.
  • One I’m currently breaking.

That’s on top of the pilots that I already have in the bank, which I’m in the process of actively pitching.

If my two specs aren’t up to date, then I’ll make one of the projects I’m working on a spec, and alternate it through. Otherwise it’s all pilots, all the time.

I know some writers who juggle five or six projects at once, and I know some that can only work on one thing at a time. Find what you’re comfortable juggling and then start throwing those balls.

3. Is it too soon to toss ideas and work to my agent? Should I be tossing work his way at all?

I’d say it’s never too early to start tossing ideas and work to your agent. An agent wants to make money off their clients as soon as possible. That’s their goal.

Personally, I look at my agent as an equity partner in my career. We’re in it together. We come up with a short term and long term strategy together. What specs I should be writing, what shows and companies I should be targeting. The more communication you have going back and forth, the stronger the partnership will be.

Of course not all agents are like that, so my thoughts may not apply.

As far as tossing work to your agent, it depends on what kind of work it is. The truth of the matter is that most baby writers are probably going to get themselves their first couple of jobs. They’ll get hired because of a personal connection they have with someone, or because they’ve perfected their begging skills.

Definitely keep your agent in the loop with what you’re doing, but don’t sit back and expect him to land you job after job.

4. Should I be giving the company first crack at whatever comes out of my brain?

Depends on the company, what they do, what you want to do, and how comfortable you are working with them. Production companies, like writers, often become known for producing specific kinds of projects. Back Alley Films is known for darker, HBO style drama, while S&S Productions does mostly comedy. I’d tailor your pitches to what the company does well.

There’s also something to be said for casting your net far and wide, rather than sticking solely with one company. The bigger your circle of industry contacts, the better positioned you are when it comes to pitching your next project, or the next time you’re looking to staff.

5. Should you be working on developing Series A, and only Series A?

Depends on the terms of the option agreement and what your agent is telling you. Technically, if it’s a WGC agreement, they should be paying you to develop any further materials. If they’re not paying you until they secure development financing, then I would be tempted not to deliver any materials. ProdCos are always looking to weasel free work from writers, I spent three years doing it myself.

If you simply can’t get the idea out of your head, then by all means work on developing it further. But I’d suggest developing other ideas as well, because you never know how long it’ll take the first one to get going.

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3 Comments »

  1. First time poster, long time reader.

    Thanks Peter; those are some good thoughts. I’ve been leaning on your blog lately for a lot of info and advice, and this definitely helps clear up some of the blank spots. Generally, I’ve found a lot of writers (and other artists) to not be so forthcoming with information and thoughts on how to really build a career for oneself in this biz, so it’s refreshing to get a lot of inside scoop from someone who’s where I’d like to be.

    My only other thoughts would be:

    • You mention pilots on the go – are you a pilot person, rather than a treatment person? I swapped out writing pilots for writing treatments awhile back when someone suggested that they’re easier to sell. What’s your experience?

    • This could be for you, or just generally for any writers out there: on average, how many projects are you optioning each year?

    Comment by Erin — August 8, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

  2. Hey Erin!

    Thanks for providing grist for the ole’ blog mill, and I’m glad to hear that your finding my ramblings helpful! I’m not all that far ahead of you really, as far as the writing career goes. I’ve only been writing full time for about a year now, but before that I spent three years working in a development / producer capacity, so that’s where a lot of my advice comes from.

    Anyways, onto the other questions.

    I focus on writing pilots for a couple of reasons. The first being that in my experience there are an awful lot of producers who don’t know how to read a treatment. Treatments are a pretty weird document to begin with, neither fish nor fowl. I prefer pitch docs to treatments myself.

    The second reason is that I’m more focused on staffing than selling at the moment. It’s a tough road to hoe selling an original concept as a baby writer, but break in and get a couple staff gigs and it becomes a hell of a lot easier. Of course when you’re up for a staffing gig they want to see full samples as opposed to treatments, so it’s best to have a bunch of different samples.

    As far as optioning projects go, I’ve optioned a few projects in the last five years, none of which made it out of development. I’ve known some writers who regularly option three or four projects a year. Of course getting something optioned and actually going into development are two very different things. At my last development gig we made a habit of optioning a lot of projects, tossing them all at the wall and seeing what stuck. If we couldn’t get any development financing then they’d just languish on our slate until the option expires. Not the greatest business model, but one that’s pretty common in the business.

    Comment by petertypingfaster — August 8, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  3. Hi! I’ve noticed the last comment was in 2009 – I couldn’t find your email address to email you directly! I’m considering Meridian and I had a couple questions for you! How can I reach you? Do you still check the comments on this blog? And also, where are you at in your career now?

    Comment by marie — May 4, 2013 @ 6:58 am


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