“Hindsight”: Lessons Learned in Making & Pitching a 30-Minute Comedy Sitcom
Last January I filmed a half-hour original comedy sitcom with a local comedian/writer/actor Rachel Sommer, during the most bitter winter I’ve ever experienced. It was a blast (a good blast, as well as a wind chill blast) and a privilege to shoot a comedy like “Hindsight”. Comedy is such a privilege to do because when it goes well, you are having the most fun of all on set, and the energy and laughter is contagious.
We shot “Hindsight” very quickly, over the course of 3-4 shoot dates. We had the benefit of an enthusiastic volunteer cast and crew to help us pull it off. Just to point out: with literally no budget, and just the sweat of our brow, we pulled off making a 30-minute sitcom. Is it world-changing? Probably not, but hey: you gots to start somewhere…:)
Rachel and I travelled to Banff for the 2014 Banff World Media Festival in June 2014 and pitched network executives the concept of “Hindsight”. Was it worth the journey? Definitely–but not for the obvious reasons. We didn’t make any big sales, or helpful contacts. It did give us a glimmer into the process of what we needed to sell a script or concept.
The advantage of pitching directly to network executives is that you get to experience an industry’s indifferent shrug to indie talent right to your face. A lot of network execs, when we previewed them the trailer, found it funny and laughed out loud (or maybe they were being nice!) and there was no huge criticism of it that couldn’t be addressed with a few more bucks and an actual crew. However, we did not get any offers for the concept. As one dick L.A. agent said (who at least was frank and honest), “Who are you? You’re nobody!” Then he spent the rest of the pitch session (we had ten minutes per pitch, exactly like a one-sided speed dating session) talking about his son spending the same amount of money we did for his film school project.
Here’s a few lessons I gleaned from the process:
Lesson Learned #1: Network executives are inundated with pitches, so they rely on a series of gate-keepers to sort and filter content for them, of which YouTube, rather than subverting or overturning that system, instead is slowly being co-opted into that system.
Lesson learned #2: Network execs are myopic and incredibly risk-averse, and therefore try to conceive and implement “formulas” for determining “winners” from “losers” because of the great financial risks with producing entertainment. On one end this is evidenced by the scientific approach Pixar has taken with their scripts; from another angle it is implemented by greenlighting “lowest common denominator” projects, i.e. “fart and titty” humor.
Lesson learned #3: Cable and traditional broadcast companies are ALL paranoid of NetFlix, and are engaging in an “arms race” where Netflix slowly but surely produces more of its own original content while existing distribution networks implement their own streaming services while waiting for the day that they don’t need Netflix. The advantage of Netflix, of course, is that it can appeal generally to all audiences whereas it is unlikely that existing distribution companies would collaborate to stream their content without an even more beneficial advertising strategy than exists now. And even if collaborations do exist, these companies would not ALL cooperate under one umbrella streaming service. More likely than not, these umbrella services will be provided by companies like Apple, which seems to be more interested in acting as the solution for distribution problems rather than being concerned about content creation itself — unlike Amazon. However, any movement towards streaming will be determined by how much people are willing to pay for their content — how many baskets they want to put their eggs into.
Lesson learned #4: A content creator probably has a better chance of publishing a book and then selling the rights to turn the concept into a tv show or a movie then actually selling an original script, i.e. “True Detective”. The idea is that with a novel the risk is taken on by another market altogether, but the audience is built-in so the success of making a profit–so the logic goes–is greater, and conversely the risk is lesser.
Lesson learned #5: The Difference between pitching to American producers and Canadian “producers”:
Me: Here’s our comedy concept “Hindsight”!
American producer: I respect you for making this pilot on your own. But who are you? If you’re not the cool kid or a beautiful girl or a football star, and nobody is paying attention to you, then you’re nobody!
Me: Here’s our comedy concept “Hindsight”!
Canadian producer: Did you apply for a grant for this? (with great suspicion) Why would you make a pilot…with your own money…by yourself?!
After that we entered “Hindsight” into the CBC ComedyCoup contest and made it past the first cut, then got cut in the second round. Interesting experience overall–I think their social media concept was well thought-out–but like any other online voting contest, the overall intent of the contest isn’t necessarily about picking the best entertaining concept, and more about advertising CBC. Which, in fairness, they could use every bit of help now that they lost Hockey Night in Canada. Am I being bitchy? Nah.
So What’s Next For Hindsight?
We launched a successful IndiGoGo campaign and raised some cash that will both cover some of our initial costs for making the show, as well as fund potential future projects. The Internet: the new Klondike. 🙂 Stay tuned!