Here’s one of those Friday Questions that is (a) the most frequently asked, and (b) worth an entire post. So here goes.
Hi! Big fan! So I'm 17 and I really feel like I have the ability to write my own sitcom, this may be a stupid question but once I have a finished screenplay of my pilot, how do I actually go about getting it on air?
The sad truth is, Janine, it’s next to impossible. But that doesn’t mean the script can’t help launch your career. So read on.
First, it’s very difficult to get networks or studios to even read unsolicited material. They’re protecting themselves against lawsuits. And even if you’re lucky enough to get an agent or manager, networks generally won’t consider original material from writers who don’t have a track record. But hang in there because there is good news later in this post.
It’s possible that a producer will respond to your pilot and he can get it up the food chain and possibly into production. But, in a case like that he will probably offer to just buy the script from you, pay you off, and then he will own it outright. He will then hire established writers to run with your show.
Is that a good thing? Well, considering how few shows get on the air and become hits, yes. You could walk away with $5000 or $10,000 and the project could go nowhere. You come out smelling like a rose. But what if it turns out to be that rare exception? What if it turns out to be the next FRIENDS? Everyone will make a fortune but you. Yes, it's a problem but a nice problem to have.
Now comes the good news part.
You can make the pilot yourself. You could shoot it on your iPhone. If you could find ways to make it for very little money (use actor friends, edit off your laptop, film it in your house or a location owned by a friend) you can put it up on YouTube. If it’s good it might get noticed. BROAD CITY began as a web series. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson created and starred in it. A few years later Comedy Central came calling. So Ilana and Abbi completely skipped the network submission process. There are other examples as well. And even if a network doesn’t want to pick up your pilot, if you’ve impressed them they might be willing to consider something else, or putting you on staff of a series.
The other good news: Original pilots are now what everyone demands as a writing sample. So you may not get your pilot produced, but the script could be your golden ticket to staff work. Networks tend to only work with writers who have had a few years of experience. (Well, that or actors who have no experience and don’t know the first thing about writing a pilot but the network wants to be in business with them. That’s another way to get your script produced, Janine. Become a star.)
If you think of your pilot as a writing sample then anything good that happens to it beyond that is gravy.
But I would tell you this: Your next pilot script is going to be better than this one. And the one after will be better than both of them. If I were you I would concentrate most of my time and effort on writing more scripts. The better you are as a writer the better your chances of grabbing that brass ring.
Good luck to Janine and all the Janines out there.