TV Insights, Observations and Obsessions from the NYTVF
Check out our Q&A series with Fest Founder Terence Gray (and others), designed to provide submitting artists and TV fans with insight to the current development landscape. If you're thinking about submitting to the NYTVF, this is for you.
We sat down with Dan Perlman and Will Julian, multi-year NYTVF Alums and winners of the 2015 NYTVF-Just for Laughs "Stand Up & Pitch Competition to talk about their project, That’s My Bus, and its successive pilot pickup at Fox.
So, you began your project, That’s My Bus, by submitting to the NYTVF-Just for Laughs "Stand Up & Pitch" Competition. Can you tell us a little about the initial creation of the idea?
Will: I had made another pilot that got into NYTVF in 2013, and Dan had seen it. One day, Dan shoots me a text saying, “Hey, I got this idea for a pilot. You made a good one. Wanna meet up and talk about it?” When we got together, he told me he had an idea to do an animated show about a bus driver. Then he took out a stack of notes from interviews he’d done with MTA bus drivers. He also had hours of audio. I thought it was a real fun idea and cool that he’d put that much work into researching it. He generously let me come on board and we wrote the script.
Dan: My friend told me a story about a city bus driver, who stopped driving mid-shift to deal with personal issues, with passengers still on the bus. A city bus driver felt like an interesting protagonist for a series, because they’re constantly exposed to different environments and passengers. It’s unpredictable, but grounded. I grew up in New York City, so it felt personal in some ways. I went and talked to a few city bus drivers who would talk to me and just gathered more info as I started developing it. I’d written a lot of stand-up and sketches, but I’d never written a half-hour show. Honestly, I’d never seen Will’s pilot -- I knew he’d made one, so I hit him up. I figured it was scripted. I later found out it was unscripted, but we were moving well by that point.
Do you have any tips for people polishing their submissions for Just for Laughs? What should they focus on?
Will: Treat it like it’s the first and last time you’ll get to send this stuff out. Pretend it’s going directly to network execs, because in essence - if you can get in - they will see it. And don’t get bogged down by stuff like the budget. Focus on pitching your show. Make the documents look clean and good. And submit PDF’s. They’re shiny and cool-looking and everyone can open it. You don’t want to submit a brilliant treatment and then not get in because someone at Just for Laughs can’t open Apple Pages.
Dan: Know your characters, the core relationships, the world of the show, the tone of the show, the arc of a season, what makes the show unique.
You pitched the show live to a panel of executives at the 2015 Just For Laughs ComedyPRO in Montreal. What was that experience like?
Will: I’ve never done something like that before, but I think Dan and I prepared well. We’d spent hours getting our pitch down, knowing who would talk when, and incorporating some test animation we had done beforehand. Then, as we were doing it, it felt like we had their attention, which made it all the better and gave us some confidence.
Dan: It’s weird, because you’re on-stage presenting to executives, but you’re also in front of a random audience. So, you’re not sure who to play to, but the executives are the ones evaluating the shows, so they’re the ones to zero in on.
You guys are both comedians as well. Did your stand-up experience influence the development of That’s My Bus and other projects you’ve worked on? Did it help you when pitching in front of a live panel of executives?
Will: I think some of the tools you learn as a stand-up are helpful when writing a show. Especially when it comes to not wanting to bore your audience, and keeping things lean and tight. And it certainly helped when pitching in front of a live panel, because we’re used to performing in front of crowds of about 5 people.
Dan: As far as pitching in front of the live panel, I think doing stand-up just made me comfortable on-stage. So that environment felt more natural - making eye contact, fielding questions, acknowledging the audience without playing to them over the executives, at least in that specific setting. And working at stand-up just makes you funnier, so in that sense, it helps every other project you’ll do.
Following your experience at Just for Laughs, Fox ordered a pilot presentation of your series. What did you learn about the development process from working with a network? Any unexpected challenges?
Will: They gave us a lot of control and let us do what we wanted. They let us pick our showrunner, the animation company, and allowed us the freedom to tell the story we wanted to tell in the pilot. Also, Jonathan Gabay and Suzanna Makkos were the ones that discovered us at Montreal and they had our backs throughout. We owe them big time. One of the challenges we faced was accepting and applying network/studio notes. We’d never gone through that process, but our showrunner (Tom Brady) was incredible and helped us navigate that. Also, in the end, pretty much every note we applied to the script made it a better show. I think because the people involved like us and the idea itself, the notes came from a good place.
Dan: We were real lucky with the people we encountered. Tom would, rightfully, always warn us with cautionary tales. There’s a bunch of stakeholders, so you learn a little about the politics of everything, but honestly the network and studio execs, plus, casting and animation companies, just made it an informative, positive experience.
That’s My Bus is an animated project. Can you talk a bit about what the pilot development process was like for an animated concept?
Will: That was one of the most satisfying parts for me personally. Getting to work with Bento Box (who animates Bob’s Burgers, among other great shows) was a thrill. I love all the people there. Working with them also made the whole thing feel like we were just doing something for ourselves, and trying to make something fun. Creatively, with animation, we weren’t constrained by filming limitations, which was fun to play around with in terms of incorporating funny visuals and action.
Dan: Bento Box is the best. The process for animation really emphasizes attention to detail – each background, every aspect of a character’s face, clothing, likeness, every detail in a character’s office, the space, the layout. Then that attention to detail you learn can be applied to other creative areas -- filming live-action, stand-up, writing. It’s a real deliberate, but rewarding process. Then, casting actors and actresses whose voices fit how you imagine the characters, you see the crazy talent of voice-over performers.
Can you offer any guidance for performers and creators who are trying to develop their voice and create something that shows off that voice?
Will: I think developing a voice is something that just takes time. You can’t sit down and just say, “OK, here’s who I am, and I’m only gonna write within these specific confines.” You have to make really bad stuff, and you have to bomb, and you have to fail a bunch of times before you start to feel comfortable. So, my advice is to not overthink what your “voice” is and just keep busy. All that will come with time. It’s still a work in progress for us, and something we’ll always be working on.
Dan: Yeah, write what’s funny to you. If you want to try writing a script, don’t wait for anyone’s permission. Having a visual is always helpful also. I don’t think we would’ve sold That’s My Bus! if we didn’t have test animation. You can explain an idea to someone forever, but people don’t really enjoy reading or listening. Once they watch something you made, if it’s well-executed, then they’ll hopefully get it.
What advice do you have for upcoming comics and writers who are interested in submitting to this year’s Stand Up & Pitch competition?
Will: I would say if you’re going to do it, take it seriously. Don’t just send in a rough draft of your treatment. Hammer it out, edit it, show it to your friends and make it good. Then if you get in, prepare your pitch well. There’s nothing cool about just going on stage and winging it. No TV exec is gonna watch that and go, “Oh, look how chill and nonchalant that person is about this show they apparently care about.” So yeah, work hard and be prepared. Also, pitch a show that you actually want to make. Considering that I came into this project after Dan already had the idea (ok, I’m done giving him credit) I still feel like I’m just a huge fan of the show itself.
Dan: These competitions are good, even if you don’t get in, because I think it motivates people to get their shows, scripts, materials organized and in a better place before submitting. So, why not take that opportunity, why not? And try to consider whatever the obvious questions are that will be asked about your show, any potential problems or holes in it, and try to think about what the answers are.
What's next for you guys? Do you have anything in the hopper that you can talk about?
Will: I’m working on a handful of shows and also trying to do as much stand-up as possible and get funnier. Dan and I have another project we’ve been loosely working on. Also, with Dan, it’s hard to tell if he likes me. I think he does. I certainly love him. All I ever wanted was to hug the dude, and, after we sold the show, I was able to do that. So, whatever happens moving forward, I got what I wanted.
Dan: I’m just doing a lot of stand-up, writing shows. I have a web series, Flatbush Misdemeanors, people should watch. I’m excited about some other long-form scripted stuff I’ve written. Stand-up’s my favorite thing, and I love making shows, so hopefully I can just keep doing those things and growing.
Check out previous downloads here:
Shrink Co Creators | NYTVF Alum Jorge Rivera | No Tomorrow Writers | FLOWERS Creator Will Sharpe | Comedy Central Insights - 5/6/16 | 2016 TV Town Halls Advice | 2016 Bento Box Interview | 2016 truTV - Marissa Ronca | NYTVF Best Comedy Animals Heads to HBO | Q&A with the Jamz | Alumni Q&A (Richard Keith and Erin Cardillo) - 5/29/15 | Alumni Q&A (Damian Lanigan) - 5/29/15 | Chicago Comedy Panel - 5/18/15 | Big Laughs at Just For Laughs - 5/5/15 | Alumni Q&A (Whatever Linda) - 3/27/15 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/27/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/19/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/6/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/30/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/24/14 | Rory Covey of My Damn Channel's Honchos - 4/10/14 | Drama advice from Siobhan Byrne O'Connor - 4/3/14 | NYTVF Alum Danny Abrahms - 3/21/14 | Drama Advice - 3/13/14 | Advice from Chicago - 3/10/14 | Unscripted LA Panel - 2/25/14 | Drama Development - 2/20/14 | MSN Development - 2/12/14 | Casting - 2/5/14 | The Network Development Process - 1/29/14 | History Development - 1/15/14 | Comedy Formats - 3/18/13 | A&E Pipeline - 4/3/13| Fox Script Contest - 4/10/13 | From Film to TV - 5/17/13 | Lifetime Unscripted - 9/4/13