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About a year ago I submitted my pilot script for an American Downton Abbey series to a well known television actor via his sister, who’s a family friend. I’m profoundly grateful to have that opportunity since Hollywood is a very closed system. To get someone to read a script you must have an agent and to get an agent you must have sold something already. There are far fewer opportunities for American writers compared to British ones who can avail themselves of the BBC’s open solicitations. (Could that be part of the reason the Brits produce such quality television?)

On Sunday I met with the sister to hear what her brother thought. I had hoped for specific suggestions that I could use to revise. I’d be foolish to think I’d get an immediate acceptance. Now like me, this woman isn’t a neat freak. (But in my creative chaos I can find stuff.) After sharing some tea and getting up to date on our families, she stood up and said, “Where did I put my notes from my talk with B____?” As I scanned the numerous piles of papers, books, etc. I thought, “Dear God, she’ll never find it.” And she didn’t. Oh, well.

However, she did remember his main comments.

  1. The writing was good, better than most he sees. That’s encouraging.
  2. Hollywood wants Star Wars — in everything. They want Star Wars plots cloaked in whatever genre you’re writing in. Oh, no. Where does that leave me since I have no desire to offer Star Wars with horse-drawn carriages, hoop skirts and top hats.
  3. While the BBC and itv have produced period dramas for decades, it’s not an American genre. B____ did share the idea with some network folks, but they thought “Period pieces are too expensive” and hence not easy to sell. Well, perhaps Mercy Street will be popular and that will change, though I doubt it. Also, Julian Fellowes is supposed to be creating an NBC series set in the past.
  4. To save money, the number of regular characters should be no more than six. I have the family, servants and people who work with the hero. I’ll cut some servants and colleagues. One friend suggested eliminating the servants completely. Hmm. I’ll mull that over and think I’ll keep a few. If I show this to someone else who wants more cut, I’ll comply. But I do like showing the differences between servants in the US and the UK.

There were one or two more suggestions, which I can work on, but this mania for Star Wars vexes me. I had heard the theory that Star Wars’ big profits put an end to the development of sophisticated films, which the 1970s was known for. Now that the latest Star Wars film has broken box office records, I can see that greed gets stepped up. No doubt it’s the buzz in Hollywood and the way to ensure your career is to find the next Star Wars or simply copy the original.

I haven’t seen Star Wars’ latest film yet. I suppose I should, though my pettier side thinks, “Why give them more money and thereby add to the box office numbers?”

 

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Pop Culture Rainman™
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 15:28:21

    Some hopefully welcomed advice from someone who has been working in media for over a decade. Always go through the proper channels. To send your script to the sister of an actor is amateurish and while I’m happy for you that said actor read it, it’s NEVER the way to go. An actor, generally is a paid hire (as opposed to doing double duty on his/her show as producer/investor) and they are never a good entry point. If you are serious about writing for television, you can’t take short cuts and you need to do it properly. Best of luck!

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  2. ladylavinia1932
    Jun 15, 2016 @ 12:39:04

    There are far fewer opportunities for American writers compared to British ones who can avail themselves of the BBC’s open solicitations. (Could that be part of the reason the Brits produce such quality television?)

    I have nothing against British television and especially British period drama. But sometimes I think that Americans must suffer from an inferiority complex. I have come across too much quality American television over the years (including period dramas) to blindly accept the believe that the British are better at such programming. They’re not. Nor are Americans better. I would say that television programming – especially between the two countries – are pretty much even.

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