Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

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  • Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

    Hello everyone:

    I'm finishing up a big sci-fi epic with my manager who loves the world and characters and sees it as both a feature franchise and (because of the current landscape) a potential TV series. If neither of these options pan out, it might be necessary to write the novels first, though that is not the goal.

    I'll be creating a few prequel pitches as well as sequels. It's ambitious and will most likely require a package deal of some sort since it's not an existing IP, but reads like one.

    The feature is almost ready and will go out to a very limited number of executives-- at least that's the plan. Will probably take a visionary director to attach for it to go anywhere, so unfortunately I'm trying to realistic.

    So now I need to determine the best approach for a pilot. I know this is difficult to help with since you've no idea of the scope and scale of the project, but I'm looking for a way to strategize what should be in the pilot and what to leave out.

    Is the best approach to reduce the spec's story to the first half and opening up the world? I could easily do that in a dramatic way, but there's no way (that I can see) to reduce the entire story into the pilot. It's already condensed at 125 pages.

    I haven't written a pilot before and am currently reading Small Screen, Big Picture to help better understand the differences between features and pilots.

    If you have any suggestions or advice that I should consider I would be grateful.

    thank you,
    FA4
    Last edited by finalact4; 04-10-2016, 01:10 PM.
    "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

  • #2
    Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

    Hello, FA4

    TV series and Movies are different things and as you know sometimes don't translate well into each other.

    You've got to figure out what your story engine is, both external and internal. The impression I get is that external it would sort of a Fugitive or Walking Dead thing, with the purpose of.... finding a safe haven where a cure for everybody can be devised?

    With the few elements known, I think your should try for a Hybrid sort of Pilot, where Young Woman and Renegade Smuggler meet at the end of Act One, or Two, then the rest would play like a typical episode: Escape Powerful forces.

    Backstory would be weaved into the episode(s)--including Flashbacks, if needed.

    Check, among others:

    http://www.amazon.com/Automatic-Pilo...ords=bill+taub

    http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Pilot-...william+rabkin

    Congratulations on getting such interest on your story.

    Cheers,
    Roy

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

      Originally posted by finalact4 View Post
      In a future decimated by Plaque, a young woman whose blood holds the cure for humanity, must trust a renegade smuggler with ulterior motives as they flee across a violent Wasteland pursued by powerful forces who aim to use her blood for themselves.
      Plaque, causing tooth decay? Or Plague, disease? Why's it capitalized?

      For a moment there I thought of Van Damme's Cyborg. Good times!

      Good luck with this!
      Results posted for the Halloween 2020 contest
      in Writing Exercises forum

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

        Originally posted by finalact4 View Post
        Title: Wasteland: The Sixth State

        Logline:
        In a future decimated by Plaque, a young woman whose blood holds the cure for humanity, must trust a renegade smuggler with ulterior motives as they flee across a violent Wasteland pursued by powerful forces who aim to use her blood for themselves.
        I don't have any advice on this, but given the amount of shows that are out that were once movies I'd say check out how they did it.

        Your log-line however, sounds a lot like this show..

        Z-Nation:
        Three years after the zombie virus has gutted the country, a team of everyday heroes must transport the only known survivor of the plague from New York to California, where the last functioning viral lab waits for his blood.
        "We're going to be rich!" - 1/2 hr COMEDY written/directed/edited by me, I also act in it.
        SUBTITLED
        Episode 1 (Beef pills)
        Episode 2 (African commercial)
        Episode 3 (Brenda's rescue)

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

          Originally posted by dpaterso View Post
          Plaque, causing tooth decay? Or Plague, disease? Why's it capitalized?

          For a moment there I thought of Van Damme's Cyborg. Good times!

          Good luck with this!
          LOL-- maybe I need new glasses. It looked like a G. My mistake about capitalizing the name of a disease, guess it's not a proper noun.

          Thanks for the call out-- always appreciate the help.
          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

            Originally posted by RG55 View Post
            Hello, FA4

            TV series and Movies are different things and as you know sometimes don't translate well into each other.
            Yes, I know this to be true. In this case the world is sufficiently large to create many stories and/or prequels/sequels. This logline is simply the engine for this installment of the story.



            You've got to figure out what your story engine is, both external and internal. The impression I get is that external it would sort of a Fugitive or Walking Dead thing, with the purpose of.... finding a safe haven where a cure for everybody can be devised?
            Yes, that's exactly the drive in this installment. .
            With the few elements known, I think your should try for a Hybrid sort of Pilot, where Young Woman and Renegade Smuggler meet at the end of Act One, or Two, then the rest would play like a typical episode: Escape Powerful forces.

            Okay, I hadn't actually thought of the typical episode of "escape powerful forces" so that's very helpful. I like it. So the end of the season would be the end of my feature-- I like that, too. Leaves a lot of room to develop the other world factions over the course of the first season that will open the door to the following seasons.

            It's not easy getting your head out of the feature aspect of writing where is seems a one page scene in a feature can become more developed in a series. Everything is so tight in a feature. Features seem to move faster. It's compact. TV seems to allow for the characters to breathe more and come into their own. Their psychological wounds rarely get resolved and continue to haunt them over the course of the series.

            I should be thinking in a five act structure, right? Should I open with the teaser of the past annihilation of the world? I have a strong, visual 4 page prologue in the feature that could represent an opening teaser. After the pilot the imagery of the prologue could become the opening credits of each episode without the voice over.

            As I'm reading the Falling Skies pilot, they have a scene with children being helped by a psychologist-type character where the children's drawings depict their horrifying memories, exposing the day the world was invaded. We very much ump right into the story after that.

            But in The 100 we hear Clark's voice over explaining the structure of their future society (Extant does this too), which is more like what mine does

            Game of Thrones opens with the White Walker scene, which doesn't come back around for several episodes but is clearly the over arching series' story engine that "Winter is Coming."

            Personally, I see a serialized show like Game of Thrones, with potentially each season becoming an anthology piece that either ties the future, presence, and past together or an on going series that flashes back and flashes forward like what LOST did. But I could be wrong as I'm not experienced with writing TV.

            Do you have a suggestion on a targeted page count for the pilot? 45 to 60? And what considerations should I have with respect to network vs cable? Would the act structure change? Page count?

            Should I avoid showing blood spilled? More implying and cutting away from it? So it could go to both networks and cable? I'm not sure which approach to hit.

            Right now it's pretty much a PG-13 feature, targeting a 4 quad audience. It has humor and moments of levity in it, similar to what you'd find in Guardians of Galaxy, Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

            Thoughts?


            Backstory would be weaved into the episode(s)--including Flashbacks, if needed.

            Check, among others:

            http://www.amazon.com/Automatic-Pilo...ords=bill+taub

            http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Pilot-...william+rabkin
            Will check them out, and thanks for the help it is most appreciated and has alleviated the anxiety I was feeling.

            Congratulations on getting such interest on your story.
            Cheers,
            Roy
            Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that anyone is interested in this project yet, it's just my manager and I planning our approach. Since almost everything in the feature world is driven by either superhero IP or other pre-existing IPs we know the feature will take someone special who can see opportunities outside what everyone else is doing and take a chance on an original spec with franchise possibilities that no one's heard of before. I fully understand that it's a lot less risky to invest is something that already has a strong following.

            Almost everyone has pointed out the difficulties in creating an IP that doesn't already exist and trying to sell it. I wrote what I wanted to write and not what the industry was buying per se. Good or bad I'm not sorry I went this route, because I'm writing what I love.

            Since I haven't sold anything, that's important to me. And the way I figure it, someone has to be the first one to break through and sell a franchise that isn't based on a pre-existing IP-- I'm hoping that is me. I honestly believe (maybe it's naive) that someone will. And to anyone else trying, I wish them good fortune as there are an infinite amount of original stores to be told.

            Thanks so much for the help RG55, it's got me excited to start and motivated to finish it.
            Last edited by finalact4; 04-10-2016, 12:57 PM.
            "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

              Originally posted by Mpimentel View Post
              I don't have any advice on this, but given the amount of shows that are out that were once movies I'd say check out how they did it.

              Your log-line however, sounds a lot like this show..

              Z-Nation:
              Three years after the zombie virus has gutted the country, a team of everyday heroes must transport the only known survivor of the plague from New York to California, where the last functioning viral lab waits for his blood.
              Hey Mpimentel, thanks for weighing in.

              Sounds similar. I think mine is quite a bit different. But I'd love to see Z-Nation. Looks like it's on Amazon. When I have a chance I'll have to take a look at it.

              It kind of reminds me of Pincusion written by John Raffo several years ago-- terrific story. Would have made a great feature, I think.

              Thanks again.
              "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

                Originally posted by finalact4 View Post
                Hey Mpimentel, thanks for weighing in.

                Sounds similar. I think mine is quite a bit different. But I'd love to see Z-Nation. Looks like it's on Amazon. When I have a chance I'll have to take a look at it.

                It kind of reminds me of Pincusion written by John Raffo several years ago-- terrific story. Would have made a great feature, I think.

                Thanks again.

                Yeah I'm just going by logline, so the devil is in the details your story even with a similar premise could be totally different.

                Basically they have this guy who is immune to zombie bites so they are transporting him to the lab and en route all these different entities try to kidnap him (sometimes they succeed) in order to get the cure themselves and capitalize from it.

                Anyhow, yeah check it out sometime, its not to discourage you from pursuing it, on the contrary you can learn what worked from that show and what did not, and make your project that much better because of it.

                In any case, good luck man, seems like you have a few different directions in which this can work, and hopefully it works in all directions.
                "We're going to be rich!" - 1/2 hr COMEDY written/directed/edited by me, I also act in it.
                SUBTITLED
                Episode 1 (Beef pills)
                Episode 2 (African commercial)
                Episode 3 (Brenda's rescue)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

                  Forgetting the concept and world for a minute, you need to find the series engine, as RG said. What basic idea will generate stories week after week for several seasons? What you described -- the fugitive on the run and ticking clock -- are not story engines. They're plot devices.

                  Some examples to help out. On Game of Thrones, the story engine is the pursuit of the Iron Throne. On The Walking Dead, it's trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. On any procedural, it's finding the the murderer/criminal/whoever and bringing them to justice.

                  I think with yours it'll be along the lines of trying to save the last remnants of humanity before everyone dies off. You can see how that might play out from pilot to series finale.

                  Taking this a bit further, I've found Javier Grillo-Marxuach's concept of the operational theme to be very helpful...

                  http://okbjgm.tumblr.com/post/778240...n-and-theme-vs

                  I think once you figure out this part, you can come up with a story for the pilot that will ring true to the world and characters you've created, but will actually be different from your feature. You might have to just forget the feature altogether and start breaking a new story for the pilot. While you're doing that, you'll have an eye toward what might happen over the course of a season. Most likely 10-12 episodes in your case.

                  Whenever I write a pilot, I'm always mindful of how things will transpire over the first season, and when I'm done, I get to work on a bible that has anywhere from 3-5 seasons beat out. Some here might disagree with having that much, but the execs I've pitched like hearing at least the major beats and character arcs for how the series will play out over that long a span. Especially if it's serialized.

                  The thing to keep in mind is that you're creating storylines and character arcs that won't wrap up neatly at the end of the pilot, or even the first season. You want your audience to come back week after week, or to binge watch five eps in a night, so you're constantly having to keep things moving forward. It's very different from a feature, where your protag accomplishes a single goal and that's it.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

                    Yes, I can see it can go in many directions. The first season may be you movie (which I suppose ends with HER becoming the new Healer). But what about the next 5 seasons?

                    "Psychological wounds that don't heal"--yes, typically when they do, the Series ends, or at least changes focus (and often fizzles out).

                    Putting the two things together, you need some psychological wounds (the internal) that won't heal for quite some time--the internal engine of the story(ies). Read those short books and it'll be clear.

                    OK, some thoughts based on my interpretation of things--not as absolutes.

                    Choose visuals over Voice-over.

                    Teaser plus 5 Acts seems OK. For Prime Cable you wouldn't need it, but it's good to write something that can be put in Network style if needed.

                    Put the blood (and nudity) in; if it goes Network, it can be toned down.

                    I try to keep page count at 60 or less. Sure, they can gladly read a 70 pages pilot if one is Aaron Sorkin, but if not...
                    Of course, since you need a lot of world-building, it may take a lot of pages...

                    I like humor. How you can use it in such a grim concept and not have a clashing of tones I don't know.

                    BTW, if the virus kills every living cell, it wouldn't have cells to replicate in and would also die out.

                    Whenever you feel anxiety, drop me a line and I'll try to alleviate it :-)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

                      Originally posted by docgonzo View Post
                      Forgetting the concept and world for a minute, you need to find the series engine, as RG said. What basic idea will generate stories week after week for several seasons? What you described -- the fugitive on the run and ticking clock -- are not story engines. They're plot devices.

                      Some examples to help out. On Game of Thrones, the story engine is the pursuit of the Iron Throne. On The Walking Dead, it's trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. On any procedural, it's finding the the murderer/criminal/whoever and bringing them to justice.

                      I think with yours it'll be along the lines of trying to save the last remnants of humanity before everyone dies off. You can see how that might play out from pilot to series finale.

                      Taking this a bit further, I've found Javier Grillo-Marxuach's concept of the operational theme to be very helpful...

                      http://okbjgm.tumblr.com/post/778240...n-and-theme-vs

                      I think once you figure out this part, you can come up with a story for the pilot that will ring true to the world and characters you've created, but will actually be different from your feature. You might have to just forget the feature altogether and start breaking a new story for the pilot. While you're doing that, you'll have an eye toward what might happen over the course of a season. Most likely 10-12 episodes in your case.

                      Whenever I write a pilot, I'm always mindful of how things will transpire over the first season, and when I'm done, I get to work on a bible that has anywhere from 3-5 seasons beat out. Some here might disagree with having that much, but the execs I've pitched like hearing at least the major beats and character arcs for how the series will play out over that long a span. Especially if it's serialized.

                      The thing to keep in mind is that you're creating storylines and character arcs that won't wrap up neatly at the end of the pilot, or even the first season. You want your audience to come back week after week, or to binge watch five eps in a night, so you're constantly having to keep things moving forward. It's very different from a feature, where your protag accomplishes a single goal and that's it.
                      Ah, yes, I see your points well and excellent advice. The examples of GOT and TWD are very good as I can grasp what you're saying well.

                      You've got the story engine of the series right, I think, too. It's very much about man surviving despite our nature to destroy ourselves. As the fall of man is begun by man's raping and exploiting of the world itself.

                      With each antagonistic force there are mistakes they will make because they are driven/motivated by things that are not altruistic, but rather a means for the individual to get a head somehow. An opportunity for social commentary on where we might be headed as species.

                      I think my biggest concern is being able to let go of the feature. I suspect that might be a natural inclination to want to cling to, but I'll do what you say and hopefully come up with an exciting pilot outline and spec.

                      I'll take a look at the link you've provided and thank you very much for offering your insights, most appreciated.
                      "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

                        Originally posted by RG55 View Post
                        Yes, I can see it can go in many directions. The first season may be you movie (which I suppose ends with HER becoming the new Healer). But what about the next 5 seasons?
                        I have five concept story seasons two of which go back to an earlier time and one that happens just before this story with the same characters and two that follow up this one.


                        "Psychological wounds that don't heal"--yes, typically when they do, the Series ends, or at least changes focus (and often fizzles out).
                        Got it. Understood.
                        Putting the two things together, you need some psychological wounds (the internal) that won't heal for quite some time--the internal engine of the story(ies). Read those short books and it'll be clear.
                        I was careful to give every major character a wound and a motivation or goal, and a character arc that can be extended over time. Also as the story unfolds and new experiences happen to the character, new wounds are realized.

                        Think Tris in Divergent, after coming of age, she becomes terrified of letting anyone get close to her, especially Four, because "she kills everyone she cares about." As more deaths occur, the wound grows deeper until she can ultimately forgive herself which is Tris' internal struggle.


                        OK, some thoughts based on my interpretation of things--not as absolutes.

                        Choose visuals over Voice-over.
                        Yes, the visuals of the opening prologue are strong visuals that have smooth transitions and are filmic. .
                        Teaser plus 5 Acts seems OK. For Prime Cable you wouldn't need it, but it's good to write something that can be put in Network style if needed.

                        Put the blood (and nudity) in; if it goes Network, it can be toned down.

                        I try to keep page count at 60 or less. Sure, they can gladly read a 70 pages pilot if one is Aaron Sorkin, but if not...
                        Of course, since you need a lot of world-building, it may take a lot of pages...
                        Yes, that's always the challenge when creating a big world, even in a feature.
                        I like humor. How you can use it in such a grim concept and not have a clashing of tones I don't know.
                        Well, it isn't outright comedy, but more levity that arises directly out of character traits. It isn't all over the place and most characters don't have it. But they are moments designed to lighten the tone and reveal character relationships and give us a reason to fall in love with a character. And it makes their death or painful moments more emotional because hopefully we've come to care deeply about the character.

                        It's more like when C3PO and R2D2 are playing chess with Chewie and Chewie gets pissed off when R2 makes a move... C3PO says, "he made a fair move, screaming about won't help you," and Han says, "it's not wise to upset a Wookie," and C3PO reples, "no one worries about upsetting a droid," and Han says, "that's because droids don't pull a man's arm off," or something to that effect and C3PO says, "R2, I suggest a new strategy, let the Wookie win." That kind of stuff.

                        BTW, if the virus kills every living cell, it wouldn't have cells to replicate in and would also die out.
                        Not this virus.

                        Whenever you feel anxiety, drop me a line and I'll try to alleviate it :-)
                        I appreciate the offer and will take you up on it, should the need arise.

                        Thanks, Roy, for taking the time to help me. I'm glad this board is here. There are so many, including you and the others who have dropped in to help, that are willing to help others. I am grateful for you all.

                        Best,
                        FA4
                        Last edited by finalact4; 04-10-2016, 01:02 PM.
                        "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          The problem with converting features to series.

                          It's not easy to make work. The problem lies in the distinct natures of the two different mediums. Features rely on genre, story and one or occasionally two characters. Series rely on a family of characters and genre. I wrote a blog post about this recently but from a sitcom perspective. The theory holds true for hour length as well, I think.

                          A feature is going to spend about two hours dealing with the most important event, or series of events, in a character's life. A series is going to spend tens of hours telling dozens upon dozens of stories about a group of characters. The Walking Dead, Lost, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Star Trek (take your pick), Battlestar Gallactica, Lie To Me.

                          Outlander feels closest to your series in terms of character, but there are lots of characters that we stay with episode to episode. Weeds kept the family together for most of the series even though they ended up moving around a bit.

                          The struggle that I've seen feature writers have when turning to TV is making this shift. The primacy of that big important story and a single main character in features becomes second nature after years of feature writing. Popular TV shows always construct a type of family, whether it's a real family, a work family, or a family of friends. Even Last Man on Earth ramped up pretty quickly from Bill Hader to six or seven characters.

                          So this seems like it might be the biggest challenge for you since you seem to be focusing on two main characters. I'm sure you have other characters, but will they be recurring from week to week and season to season?

                          HTH,
                          Just my 2 cents, your mileage may vary.

                          -Steve Trautmann
                          3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Advice on Converting a Feature to a Pilot

                            I like to break things down to the rudimentary level so I can grasp what I'm doing in blunt fashion:

                            From that mindset it's this for me: You're writing the first act of a film large scale. What would it fit feel like to write the first act of a feature with a hook at the end [Q: "would you like to know more"]? I'm sure you can imagine that. For me, when we dumb it down, that's what makes sense to my brain -- if you've never written a pilot.

                            Beyond that. Yeah, engine, like was mentioned. And lots of set-up that implies years of story/drama/conflict.

                            Raise the central question of the show, but don't answer it. You have 5 years to explore it.

                            Good luck.
                            DOPE CITY

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: The problem with converting features to series.

                              Originally posted by KitchonaSteve View Post
                              It's not easy to make work. The problem lies in the distinct natures of the two different mediums. Features rely on genre, story and one or occasionally two characters. Series rely on a family of characters and genre. I wrote a blog post about this recently but from a sitcom perspective. The theory holds true for hour length as well, I think.

                              A feature is going to spend about two hours dealing with the most important event, or series of events, in a character's life. A series is going to spend tens of hours telling dozens upon dozens of stories about a group of characters. The Walking Dead, Lost, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Star Trek (take your pick), Battlestar Gallactica, Lie To Me.

                              Outlander feels closest to your series in terms of character, but there are lots of characters that we stay with episode to episode. Weeds kept the family together for most of the series even though they ended up moving around a bit.

                              The struggle that I've seen feature writers have when turning to TV is making this shift. The primacy of that big important story and a single main character in features becomes second nature after years of feature writing. Popular TV shows always construct a type of family, whether it's a real family, a work family, or a family of friends. Even Last Man on Earth ramped up pretty quickly from Bill Hader to six or seven characters.

                              So this seems like it might be the biggest challenge for you since you seem to be focusing on two main characters. I'm sure you have other characters, but will they be recurring from week to week and season to season?

                              HTH,
                              Agreed. Show us the cast of characters we'll be seeing each week and show how they all serve a different purpose moving forward.

                              You almost have to think 'ensemble' even if it focuses squarely on a main player.
                              DOPE CITY

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