When in doubt… lie
by Jason Benoit, Esq.
There are more “experts” in Hollywood than probably any other profession in the known world.
I should probably explain that if sarcasm font existed, the above would be bolded, underlined and italicized in it.
When I’m not writing (or surfing the Internet for cat videos), I work as a coordinator at a television production company so, naturally, we hear a lot of pitches and the overwhelming consensus is that every single person who comes in to pitch a show idea is inevitably a certified expert in whatever they’re talking about. You have an evil twins show? “I have an evil twin brother.” You have a show about working at a brewery? “I once worked at a brewery.” A show about gynecology? “I once pretended to be a gynecologist.”
You catch my drift.
This became a point of humor for me recently when a writer – who has probably sold about twenty different projects (so, let’s just say s/he is prolific) – admitted to the dirty little writer secret: they lie.
Lie about what you’re good at.
Lie about what you’re not good at.
Lie about the things you know.
Definitely lie about the things you don’t.
In fact, I’m pretty sure ‘lie’ is the single commonality every person working in Hollywood shares. In film school my cinematography teacher told me a story about how he landed the gig for Jaws. He got a random phone call one night asking if he knew how to light underwater scenes. But of course he did, right? He tells the producer on the other end of the call that he’s currently at dinner and if he could call him back in a couple hours that’d be preferable. He wasn’t at dinner. Then, for the next two hours he looked up how to light underwater scenes, called the producer back and walked them through how to light the scene step-by-step. The next day he was being flown out to set.
Every network and studio you pitch wants to know two things:
1. That you’re passionate about this project more than any other project you’ve ever wanted to write.
2. That you are indelibly tied to this idea/material.
On the desktop of my laptop is literally a document titled “WBTV DRAMA PITCH OUTLINE”. One of the opening lines for the format of their outlines is why you are the best person to write this show.
In a way, this feels very paint-by-the-numbers for the age old theory that one should “write what you know”. In the most literal of senses.
I have had producers call me up that I am friends with on Facebook trying to get me to write ideas of theirs for the sole fact that I’m ingratiated into certain worlds and with certain people. I think that makes it ring of authenticity. Which isn’t a bad thing, per se. But also the sheer fact that whenever a studio or network invests in an idea you pitch them, they’re all hoping for the big hit. For the lottery ticket. And they want to know that should this thing actually succeed (it probably won’t, most don’t), that you can give them 100 episodes.
A writing duo I know very well are currently writing a new show for an unnamed network. During the process of fleshing out their pitch, they kept being bombarded with this particular note by producers and the studio, “What is season 5?”
They were flummoxed. “Season five?! Are you kidding me? We’re just trying to get to episode one!”
So… they lied. And made up what they “thought” season five would be even though they both fully acknowledged that this particular show reaching five seasons would be a show that’s probably ran its course way back in season three. Does that make it any less of a good idea? No, not at all. It just means there is an endgame. Or, should be one.
It’s amazing how common logic would dictate you’d never start shooting a movie without an ending, right? Yet many times in television there is no endgame. You have no idea how most sitcoms on TV are going to end. And many people would argue most dramas have no clue how they’re supposed to end either. Can we all talk about Lost, for example? It’s called shoehorning, for lack of better phrasing.
But when that executive asks you about season five… lie. Because, after all, you’re the expert of this world unlike anyone else out there.Tags: Film and TV business, Hollywood, Jason Benoit, Television, Telling the truth artfully, Writer