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Execution in the World of Make Believe

In the realm of film and television, one would assume that ideas, concepts, premises and visions fantasies are the key element, the backbone, of the business model. While ideas may be the spark that fuels the fire, they aren’t enough to put money in anyone’s pocket without follow-through, hard work, tweaking, and the collaboration of a small army of professionals.

Consider the concept of a pitch meeting: a writer walks into an office armed solely with his an idea. In a best-case scenario, the producer or developmental person likes the idea, and, assuming this person is in a position to make decisions, asks them to do a treatment or a short narrative detailing the project.

A friend of mine recently pitched an idea to a major cable network. The network liked it and asked him to present a more-developed presentation and submit a treatment.

So how did my friend handle the preparation for the pitch meeting/ treatment?

He worked for hours laying out possibilities for exactly how the show would be structured. He looked at other shows on this particular network. He studied the number of commercial breaks during similar shows. He learned how many segments their shows were broken up into. He figured out how many locations the network used per episode. He went through sample scenarios for various episodes, writing jokes, and key phrases crafted to seem like off-the-cuff, improvisational comments during the meeting. It wasn’t enough to simply see the show in his head, he needed to convey it in a concrete manner that the network could understand.

His entire approach to the meeting was, for the most part, pragmatic and calculated.

My friend didn’t depend on his great idea carrying him through the meeting. At the end of the day, he realized he would have to transform his idea into something concrete. If his idea gets picked up as a pilot, his focus will move further away from the world of ideas and more into the world of executing.

A pitch or a treatment is an early step in the developmental process, but these things are not in and of themselves, a commodity. The difference between a pitch and a TV show, or even a treatment and a TV show is the difference between a crudely-drawn sketch of the Empire State Building and the building itself.

But it doesn’t stop at a well received pitch and treatment. The writer has to next jump through a few more hoops. They have to present an outline for a script and receive, respond to, and incorporate notes from numerous sources into a revised treatment. Then and only then will the writer be finally asked to submit a script.

If the script is good and liked by the right people and it undergoes another process or re-writing and feedback an order to produce a pilot may be issued. The tweaking and feedback sessions become more frequent and the intensity increases during this period.

Let’s say my friend’s pilot gets picked up and the show becomes a series. He’ll next have to focus on getting things done and delivering results.

My friend was smart. He realized that although he may be a creative person in a creative industry, creativity alone is not enough.  Even in the world of make believe, you still have to translate vision into action.



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