There is an old saying in the media business that everyone has an idea for a TV series.
Typically, the creator of the idea is convinced their idea would be a huge hit, making millions of dollars internationally. Of course, with the money comes fame, travel –you get the picture. But, is a great idea all that is required to create a TV series? Unfortunately, an idea is only the first step in a long, hard, difficult process: understanding this process is essential if you want see your idea on TV screens worldwide.
To begin with, before you pitch your idea to a network, production company or production executive, you require a “one pager”, a succinct description of your idea. This description should describe not only the idea, but identify the audience (target demographic), why it will find an audience in the crowded TV landscape and describe why huge money should be invested in your idea. With this in hand, you are equipped to at least pitch the project to decision makers.
So, is that all there is to getting your show on air? Hardly! Let’s suppose an executive/production company/studio is intrigued by your idea. What is next? This is where the really hard work starts.
Almost for certain you will be asked to produce a pilot. Experienced executives know that a great idea on paper does not necessarily make a great TV show. Who pays for the pilot? You do! It would be extraordinary for a first time producer (you) to receive upfront money from the broadcaster to make the pilot. This is where the real challenge starts.
Suppose you have a digital camera, editing software, a basic lighting package and a crew of volunteers. Ask yourself the question: will you be able to create a pilot with the production values required to be a broadcast ready product? This will be what is expected.
But there are other challenges as well. Suppose you do create a great pilot and a studio is interested in broadcasting your TV show. You will need to:
Submit a chain of title document (when you came up with the idea, who else was involved in the creation of the idea and why you have the rights to the idea).
Create a production budget. This will have to be in a standard budget format that spells out the costs. You will not be able to use deferrals (promise crew members they will receive compensation in the future if they work for free) because experienced executives know unpaid crew members have no loyalty to the project, causing potential production problems.
Generate a financing plan (for the number of episodes required) that is acceptable to the broadcaster.
Sign legal contracts with every crew member, specifying the terms of their employment on the project and a clause that states you own the intellectual property and any ideas they contribute are owned by you.
Submit scripts for approval. The broadcaster will have creative control over all aspects of the production.
There are dozens of other documents – and conditions – required before your TV show can be broadcast. These include: releases from anyone who appears on camera in your production; releases from property owners if you use their property during filming; rights for any music used in your production; proof of insurance; and releases from companies if you use their logo or signs.
So, as you can see, the process of getting your project on air is complicated. And the cost of generating the contracts and release forms is very high. What can a beginning filmmaker do to overcome these barriers? Knowledge is the key.
Once you understand what is required, you can generate the necessary paper work, forms and obtain the required permissions. You can save legal fees by using industry standard contracts and having the contract vetted by a lawyer, instead of having the lawyer prepare the contracts from scratch.
Is there gold at the end of the rainbow if you have a great idea and the skills to produce what a broadcaster requires? Absolutely! But as you will discover, the path is difficult and the financial reward elusive. But speaking from experience, there is no greater accomplishment than seeing your idea shown on TV screens all over the world!
Need to understand more about the business of film? Go to our workshops page to learn about the low cost courses we offer on how you can get your project from idea to distribution.