HOW INDIE TV CAN HELP GET YOUR PILOTS MADE

The TV landscape has changed completely, and that change isn’t over yet. The good news is that the gatekeepers who have kept so many of us from reaching an audience are going down, down, down. The bad news is – well, the only genuinely bad news is that not enough of us creative souls are taking advantage of what’s going on.

What’s that? You think good ole TVWriter™ has gone bonkers? Read this – and, no, we don’t mean “read it and weep,” we mean “Read this and grin, baby, grin!”

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by Dina Gachman

Netflix is buying feature films, Woody Allen is making an Amazon show, and A-list Oscar winners have no problem taking a role in a TV show or miniseries, even at the height of their career. In other words, it’s an exciting time for television. The landscape is changing so rapidly it’ll give you whiplash.

That’s all great news for actors, writers, and producers – and maybe not-so-great news for theater chains, whose owners were recently up in arms about Netflix buying Cary Fukunaga’s feature filmBeasts of No Nation for a reported $12 million. Features and television are experiencing an indie revolution – just look at the Best Picture Oscar nominees this year. The vast majority of the nominees were made outside of the studio system, with Warner Bros. American Sniper being the oft-cited exception.

In television, the traditional process of getting a pilot made is still the norm, but there are more channels, more online platforms, and more opportunities for writers and producers to get their project made than ever before. Going the independent route and shooting the pilot yourself is one option, and the stigma of making a pilot DIY-style is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

“This concept of ‘indie TV’ is almost at a point where we can stop putting it in quotes,” scribe John August wrote on his website back in 2008. It was a prescient remark, and while it hasn’t become the norm, indie pilots are definitely becoming an increasingly common route for creators who want to get their passion project off the ground, by any means necessary. Former House EP Katie Jacobs and veteran indie producer Nick Wechsler (Drugstore Cowboy, Reservation Road, Magic Mike) have recently teamed to produce an independent pilot called Dr. Del, with John Hawkes starring and John Sayles writing. They’ll shoot the pilot on their own, with total creative freedom, and then take it to cable and broadcast networks.

The indie route is what actor/producer Michael Landes and writer/producer Kirk Rudell have taken to get their project Played in front of potential buyers.

They brought a pitch they had developed to the multi-platform division at Fox, which gave them a pilot commitment. Rudell then wrote the script, which is about a pair of con artists – a man and a woman – who pretend to be in a relationship in order to take down their biggest mark yet.

“No writer finishes a script and thinks, ‘I hope that dies on someone’s desk,’” says Rudell, a former Vanity Fairwriter who has worked on shows like American Dad, Whitney, and Will & Grace. “You want to see your imaginary people come to life. So a big plus of shootingPlayed the way we did — the biggest plus, really — was that we actually got to shoot it. Though they had “a much smaller budget” than that of a traditional network pilot, Landes says, “we also had very little creative interference, so that made it appealing to us to go out and do something different.” Landes and Rudell aren’t the only producing and writing team that has benefited from a little creative freedom. House of Cards’ Beau Willimon and Transparent’s Jill Soloway have spoken about the benefits of the creative freedom they’ve gotten from execs at Netflix and Amazon, respectively.

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