Making a Sellable Pilot, Part 4: The Business
This is the last part in my series of articles about making a sellable pilot presentation. The one I made was called Talk Show the Game Show.
Earlier in the week, we talked about pitching, shooting, and cutting. Today I'll hand out a few things I've learned about what happens after. Next week, maybe we'll cover how to rebroadcast Cleveland Indians baseball games without the express written permission of Major League Baseball. I'm pretty sure it's easier, cheaper, and approximately as lucrative.
Chapter 4: Don't Make These Mistakes!
Guy Branum once told me that I did more to make the TV version of Talk Show the Game Show a reality than anyone, including his representation. Of course, people will say all kinds of flattering things about how valuable you and/or your friendship are to them when you're being left out of a business deal.
Tip 1: Get it in writing
I've made this mistake before. I probably make it about once a year, in fact. Never on this scale though - usually it's for some kind of already cheap short film where the director/star/sound recordist/writer takes their low res sample copy and splits.
If you need to draw up a quick deal, I like the Shake app for iOS - you tap in some basic terms and both parties sign on the screen or via email. It's great for quick jobs and sometimes, like having a slate on set, it lends an air of realness to the proceedings that help a client to focus.
When problems do arise, an editor often has pretty good leverage. I have had to withhold projects, drives, or high-quality outputs until the paycheck comes through. Of course, in this case, I didn't do that because I thought this project was my project, and we all got paid when we sold a show. With a contract, everyone's intentions would have been made clearer.
Sometimes, when the other party still withholds payment and nobody ever gets what they want, I turn those projects around into other projects, like visual effects demos, or a series of educational essays.
Tip 2: If you do get fired, stop working
A few years back, after assembling the first cut of a movie, the producers said that they were out of money and that they would take over from there because it would be cheaper not to have to pay me. That's pretty solid logic. It wasn't until the Xth phone call for Avid tech support that I had to remind the producer-turned-editor that since I don't work for him, I don't work for him.
I shot a second video with Guy and made plans for third. In my book, that almost made us friends!
Kidding again. I guess. I didn't really think we were going to be actual friends, but "business associates" seemed achievable. I admire Guy's drive to actually make things. It's not an entirely common quality even among people who nominally work in showbiz, and it's a stronger indicator for me of a possibly successful partnership than just being pals. I still believe in TSGS as a project, too, and I'm excited to see how it will be condensed for a 22-minute format.
You know what? A better tip here would have been on how to not get fired. Like "be indispensable" or something. Perhaps a lot of people could have made this show, it's just that they didn't. Until they did. TV, it seems, doesn't play by all of the same rules as modern art.
Tip 3: Don't work for free
Man, I'm bad at this one too. I can divide almost everything I've worked on into one of two piles: projects I'm proud of and projects that paid me. I'm trying to find a bridge between the two, and I thought producing something myself might have been the answer. Maybe one day it will be!
I borrowed all of the equipment we shot this pilot on from a production company that I freelance for. I also asked them for a quote on the job. If someone wanted to hire that company to use the same equipment, provide the same amount of crew, with the same me running the show, their producer's "conservative" estimate is nearly $9000. Hell of a freebie.
No money changed hands on this production, just occasional handshakes and promises. The good news is, it's all tax-free!
I hope you have found each article of this series to be in some way genuinely helpful. Or funny. Or at least not too boring. Parts of this final entry, I'm sure, will come off like sour grapes, but I mean… Yeah. Of course.