Thursday, June 12, 2014

Slate

For those of you not in the film/TV industry let me explain slates. There are two types of slates in this world. There are the clappers with the Director, DP, shot, take, angle...etc...

This is not the type of slate I am going to be talking about.

Slate is also a code word for the stuff in development. There is never just ONE project in the pipe. Because really if we just made one film, one TV show, one of anything at any time--there would be exactly one hour of television a night on each channel and there would possibly be a single film for the summer movie market.

To make more than one thing at one time, studios have a slate of films. Generally--well ok there is no generally in this. There are just lots of things. I would say there are probably at any given time 10-12 films in progress at one time. As for TV think about it like this: in a given pilot season 300 pitches for shows are heard, 70 scripts are considered and 7-10 pilots get made. Then roughly 7-8 pilots get picked up to series.

And that's just at one studio.

When I was in school, my first TV professor gave us one interesting piece of advice. He told us writers in the room needed to sit up and pay attention to this. We were to never, ever have just one project in the works. Okay so I am exaggerating this. Slightly.

His theory is based on this. When you go to pitch a show, that you love, that you think is the bomb dot com, the network execs will probably hate it. Clearly, because I used the outdated phrase, bomb dot com to describe it. They will then ask this question:

What else do you have.

Because we are writers and not all of us are Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins---although to both of their credits they have very successful other series. I am also a fan of both. Take that for what you will. But they have no need to write ever again. Which as a writer is a sad thing to think about. Never having to write again. Never getting to sit down and try to write before a deadline, only to really shove it into a week of coffee and caffeine filled days where you walk around like a zombie.

We are not just a hit show. Or a hit book. Because what we hope might be a hit-anything, most likely won't be the next flash in the pan and so we must go back to the drawing board. Again. Return to the white page. Again. Stock up on coffee for that week of hell that is no longer known as finals week.

In that meeting where you've suddenly been asked to share something else, it is not suggested that you spitball. TV People can smell bullshit from a mile away. If that was true, there would be more hit shows.

What should happen in that meeting, is that the brilliant writer pulls out two or three other pitches for shows. These may not be the dog and pony shows that TV pitches have become, but they should be well thought out, interesting, and as complex as that first idea. In some cases that idea may already have an outline or possibly even a script.

Why am I telling you this? Because Gretchen, this blog, in case you forgot, is about your book writing. It is not a place where you come to write about well this film/TV stuff.

I work on multiple TV projects at once. I work on multiple books at once. I have my serious book and my fun book.

This week I was trying to explain the idea of "the fun book" to a friend. I described it as writing down time. My friend, to her credit, did not laugh outright in my face. Oh she did chuckle and laugh and then ask if I was serious.

I was.

I write things for fun. I started writing because it was fun. This does not mean the "serious book" is not fun for me to write, but I have to be one point for that book. I have to think critically about that book. Is the plot there? Was that line really needed? How many more windows can I find to show off my characters?

That kind of writing is fun but really exhausting.

"Fun writing" is just fun. It's like doing NANOWRIMO. You write like a bat outta hell and you do not care what you do, you just do it. It's like living in a pair of Nikes---yeah that joke was weak. Who cares, fun writing time!

The important thing to remember is that your next anything is just around the corner and while you shouldn't abandon that serious project, it's good to start percolating the other ideas. You never know when an agent may say, hmmmm I like it--don't love it--what else ya got? If you stare at them like the men who stare at goats, you will get the same response.

Nothing.

This is why I like multiple projects. Now not all of them are at the same stage. Some are just jotted notes on postcards. They are such because I was an idiot and went out without a notebook in my purse and my phone was dying. Some are chapters---or a couple thousand words. The key thing I think to making a slate work, is not having every project at the same stage of development. That will hurt you and turn out nothing good.

I like being able to bounce from project to project. It keeps me writing, motivated and happy. Being happy may be overrated to some people, but I see it as an essential part to life. If you can't laugh, why go on? This is coming from a kid whose had well over 40 surgeries I have learned to laugh and giggle at the drop of a hat. I am a pity laugher.

But serious question time:

Do you have a "slate" of projects? Or are you a single project type of person? Tell me more in the comments.

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