NYTVF SCRIPTS: Notes and Advice
NYTVF Scripts is accepting original, half-hour comedy series as well as hour-long drama series scripts for consideration by broadcast, cable, and platform buyers.
Want to get your script in front of decision-makers across the television and digital landscape? Need advice to make your script stand out? Well, we have got the post for you!
We reached out to 2017’s NYTVF Scripts winners for advice on how to find inspiration and make your script stand out.
Jonterri Gadson – Winner, Best Comedy Script (tie), Blurs
Andrea Janakas – Winner, Best Drama Script, Fragile State
Elizabeth Stamp – Winner, Best Comedy Script (tie), Maternal Instinct
So, how do you push yourself to meet deadlines and have the most polished script possible?
Jonterri (JG): I set deadlines for the treatment, beat sheet and an outline before I start the script. The dreaming it up part is easy. I have to push myself to finish the script by rewarding myself, like, I have to get a certain amount of pages done before I can watch an episode of whatever show I'm binge watching at the time. I keep telling myself to keep going just to see what will happen if I don't quit.
Andrea (AJ): I’m a Virgo, so I was born putting “self-imposed deadlines” on myself. I literally entered the world on the exact day and time I was supposed to. That aside, I find that it helps to create deadlines for yourself even when there aren’t any hard-and-fast deadlines breathing down your neck. If someone says to me, “get it to me whenever,” that makes me nervous. So I’ll almost always suggest a time frame that’s realistic and work from there. If I do get a deadline that’s like — WHOA that’s really soon! — I just have to prioritize my schedule and compartmentalize my mind. That may mean no socializing 'til I’m done with this project and prioritizing my other projects to make room for the one that now needs my full attention. You are your own business. And you need to do what’s best for your business. And that means managing your time and your headspace. But don’t forget the self-care part in the process. Meditate for 10 minutes. Clear your mind. And then get to it!
Elizabeth (ES): I’d like to think that I have this amazing internal drive to get stuff done and make it perfect, but unfortunately that is not entirely the case. I’ve been part of an amazing writers group for over three years and we push each other to meet deadlines and make things better. I always want to make my scripts the best they can be for myself, but also to make my group proud. Texting my writing group to tell them that I’d won Best Comedy Script at NYTVF was an amazing moment because they’d been with me throughout the entire script, reading every draft, and helping me find my voice. Writing can be very solitary, so I think it’s critical to find a community that can give you honest feedback and encourage you to keep going.
What are the most important elements to include when writing a pilot episode for a television show?
AJ: I write mainly one-hour (drama, crime drama, and sci-fi), so for me it’s always writing a great intro to my protagonist, keeping the flow tight and getting under the skin of the reader in a way that they can’t stop turning the page, and putting in some great 180’s – meaning the reader thinks it’s going one way, and then holy shit we’ve just flipped everything on its head. And above all, make sure it has heart. Doesn’t matter how dark it is.
ES: When I first began writing, I was really focused on the world of the show, but as I’ve written more scripts I’ve come to see that it’s all about characters. A pilot needs to set up the world, of course, but it’s even more important to really show who your characters are and how they interact with each other. It’s the interesting relationships between the characters that will make people want to see more of the show, not the fact that it’s set in an underwater mall or a nudist colony on Mars. (Even though those would both be awesome.)
Where do you get your ideas for story plots and characters?
ES: Everywhere. I’ve taken things from my life or the lives of my family and friends, articles I’ve read, things I’ve seen while walking down the street. I’m also a freelance journalist and I’ve gotten ideas while interviewing people for articles or researching a photo caption.
AJ: I studied Journalism in undergrad, so most of my story ideas and characters come from the news, articles, books, and other research. I absolutely love to dig into a project and compile research to make the story as authentic as possible. My family would say that they pitch me ideas all the time — which they do! And every so often, there’s a golden nugget in there. So, be open to all forms of inspiration whether from your mother, the internet, or that strange Friday night you had.
JG: Most of my ideas come from paying attention to things I have an emotional reaction to. I try to figure out why something bothers me or excites me and what the root cause is, and then I give that to my characters. I make lists of things I love and things I think are funny and then I let those things live in the character's world. I like to give a character a problem and then ask myself where the worst place to have this problem would be and then put them there.
What is the most challenging part about writing a script?
JG: Fighting insecurities in order to finish it. The fact that it doesn't just come out perfect is soul crushing, because you know what you want it to be and you know it's not coming out that way. I've learned to put a lot of faith into the revision process.
AJ: The fear that goes along with creating anything. You have an idea. You are super excited about it. Everyone else is excited about it. And then you have to go to your lonely room and actually write the thing. It’s anxiety-ridden. It’s terrifying. What if everyone hates it? What if you’ve exposed every part of yourself and it was all for nothing? What if you’ve been isolating yourself because of that “deadline” (see above) and now not only does your friend/girlfriend/spouse hate you, but your script is on the nowhere train? Sigh. We’ve all been there. You can win a million awards for your writing but you will always feel the same when embarking on your next project. Hello, fear. How’s it going? Make friends with it. And then kick it to the curb and let curiosity lead the way.
ES:Besides sitting down, shutting off Twitter, and actually writing, I’d say the hardest thing is getting rid of something you love when it isn’t working. Sometimes I’ll write a joke or a scene in an early draft and become really attached to it, but once the story and characters are more developed it doesn’t work. I’ll find myself doing all sorts of mental gymnastics to make it fit, when really it just needs to go.
What is the best note you’ve ever received on a script?
JG: Make something big happen in the first three pages.
ES: It was a note I got from an executive during NYTVF, actually. He told me that I could push my script further, which was great to hear because I’d certainly gotten notes before that I’d gone too far. (Some people really did NOT like the idea of a mother murdering people.) I think that for writers in the beginning phases of our careers, it can be easy to worry too much about writing what you think people want to see or what will work for a certain network and that can make a script less interesting and unique. I felt that note really gave me permission to lean into my voice as a writer.
Original ideas are tough to come by these days. Do you have any advice on making your writing stand out during a time when everyone seems to be creating work?
AJ: In one of my favorite books, BIG MAGIC, Elizabeth Gilbert states, “It might have been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you!” This is so true. Sure, there’s been cop dramas and medical dramas and legal dramas. And there’s been time travel, aliens, and UFOs, Oh, and don’t forget family dramas. So many family dramas! So the question isn’t “how do you come up with original ideas?” The real question is “how do you lend your original voice and infuse your feelings and experiences into the idea?” That’s how you stand out. That’s how something is new and fresh and different. It’s because of you.
JG: Draw from your own personal experiences. My best advice is to ask yourself what you're most afraid to say and then find a way to say that thing. Chances are, everyone else is afraid to say it too, but we all need to hear it. Be the first to say it. And if you aren't the first, find a new angle to approach the subject from.
ES: Cultivate a unique voice and a specific point of view and make sure they shine through in your writing. You don’t have to write what you know, but you should still find a way to make it personal somehow. It’s that personal connection that helps make something we’ve seen over and over feel new and different.
Find out more about NYTVF Scripts HERE.
Check out previous downloads here:
2017 Intern Bullpen | Top 10 Reasons to Submit to the NYTVF | Past Scripts Winners Part 2 | Past Scripts Winners Part 1 | Past JFL Winners | 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