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The Making of a TV Show from the Ground Up, Part 3

In my last post, we talked about sales deals and money. In this post, let’s talk a little about what kinds of projects sell for TV and film. I’m the first to admit I’m a newbie to the TV/film business, but I’m happy to share a few things I’ve learned so far!

So, what are producers and studios looking for?

Here’s a great list I found of ten things Hollywood looks for in any story and which I’ve found to hold true:

  1. Cinematic concept that can be communicated in ten seconds
  2. Hero/heroine that a large segment of the movie-going public can relate to
  3. Strong visual potential
  4. Three-act structure
  5. Two-hour time limit
  6. Reasonable budget
  7. Low fat (no unnecessary scenes)
  8. Franchise potential
  9. Four-quadrant (young and old, male and female) appeal
  10. Merchandising potential.

Can you elaborate on that list a bit?

Sure. Let’s break it down by the numbers:

  1. This is the hook. Think of it as a cocktail party pitch. When someone says, “What’s your movie about?” or “What’s your show about?” how can you answer it in ten seconds in a way that makes a person react, “Oooh. Cool! I want to see that!”
  2. The main character has to be relatable, but so do the other primary cast members. How broad is the appeal of your cast?
  3. Internal monologues, that is a character’s thoughts, are super easy to write in a book but nearly impossible to convey on film. Can this whole story be told in a way viewers can see?
  4. There’s nothing magic about a three-act structure, but it makes for a solid story structure, and it creates a rhythm in a movie or TV show that viewers are extremely familiar with and will be comfortable with. If you’re a writer and plan to write for TV/film, you will have to learn it.
  5. Again, some movies get away with running longer than this, but movie theaters don’t like it, and viewers’ rear ends don’t like it…even at home on a streaming service. A script is usually considered to run about one page per minute of movie. So, 120 pages is usually about the max for a script. Side note: I’m a big fan of breaking writing rules from time to time, but you have to know the rules before you can break them in a thoughtful, effective way.
  6. Budget boils down to how much investors or studios are willing to pay to make your film. The more special effects, the more big explosions or chase scenes, the more specific the locations, the more CGI, the more expensive your film will be to make. Most films do NOT have 500 million dollar or more budgets!
  7. Being low fat just means your story or your script is well-written and doesn’t have any filler or wasted time in it.
  8. Franchise potential means, can there be sequels? Can there be spin-offs? Can it be more than just a single, stand-alone project?
  9. Being four-quadrant is all about expanding the audience as much as possible. Niche audiences are fine, but they don’t pay the bills! The bigger, wider, more universal the audience for your project, the better!
  10. Merchandising is the comic books, action figures, T-shirts, Halloween costumes (did you know Disney has made over 2 billion dollars on Frozen Halloween costumes alone?), posters, mugs, any product that sells images, characters, quotes, you name it from your movie or TV show.

Next time, let’s talk a bit about what made my show sell for television!

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