11 Feb THE FAMOUS FIVE – TELEVISION DRAMA – THE DOCUMENTS NEEDED TO SELL YOUR STORY
There is a fair amount of confusing and conflicting information out there, in Cyberland, about television documents and what it is you, the writer, needs to have ready to show them, the Producers and Commissioners, to give your dramatic ideas the desk space they deserve.
The chances are that you are discussing a Continuing Drama format (a drama of more than two episodes) as this is the area in which most television drama development is invested.
And because the DNA of this format relies on continuing story lines across more than two episodes, you will be required to prove that your idea has series ‘legs’.
Although not all development meetings will result in you needing to provide all of these documents that I list here, it is more than very likely that you will, during the course of your initial conversation and those subsequent ones, be required to produce at least two of them to begin the conversation and one or more to continue it.
Because this is what One pages, Treatments and Bibles are all about – in television drama development they form the language we speak – they begin and continue The Conversation.
You may not be required to produce these in the order in which I list them below; it depends on what stage your project was at when you began your conversation, but here they are in chronological order for clarity sake:
The FAMOUS FIVE:
1/ THE ONE PAGER
The taster. The beginning of a conversation between you and the potential Producer.
It is the page that gives you the confidence to pitch your idea in the first place; because you have the story (or at least the idea of a story) and you have the characters (or at least one or two of the most important ones) and now, it is in the writing of this one page that you were forced to condense what it is you really want to write about.
And the idea still sounds great.
So you use this to tease the imagination of your potential commissioner, or your development executive who has shown interest in you and your work.
The one page will have:
Title: (even if it’s working title)
Genre: (comedy, drama, comedy drama, sitcom, historical drama, fantasy/sci-fi, YA drama)
Format: (number of episodes even though this number will more than likely change as you go through your development process)
The Plot/The Story in Brief
What the story is about. Summed up. No more than 3 or 4 paragraphs.
The Characters in Brief
Introducing the main protagonist or if it’s an ensemble piece – the group we will focus on.
The Subtext/The Themes in brief.
What underpins the plot and what you think the drama is really about.
To really keep you focused and not over write or include extraneous information; the clue is in the name: One Page.
Keep this to one page.
2/ THE TREATMENT
Continuing the chat. Between 4 and 10 pages long, this document is the selling tool vital to ensure the conversation keeps going.
This too, will have Title, Genre, Format and Writer but it will also have:
Logline: The thrust of the story; the area of conflict or discovery, the main character/s in two or three lines maximum.
Descriptive Paragraph: Summarise the world in which your story lives and introduce the characters important to the plotline, that populate it.
Character Biographies: Here you need to give an idea of the arc of the story line for each character and to impart a sense of who they are and what their ‘job’ is in the narrative. I also like to see a paragraph at the end of each biography (I usually highlight this in bold so Producers can easily pick this out) that gives an idea of what this character will learn over the course of their journey across your episodes.
Episode One Outline:
DO NOT go into minutiae of each plot beat – but do map out in broad strokes the story line for this episode. Throw your best stuff at it. Nail it. This has to be really interesting, with twists and enough intrigue to keep your reader engaged. Make sure your story line for episode one tests your characters and develops them via the narrative.
The narrative arc and your character arc should work hand in hand here.
Further Episodes in Brief:
Again, it is not necessary to go into detail here, but do give a flavour of what episode two and three may promise. A Producer will want to feel there is more material to come, but not necessarily need to have this in stone at this point. Their attention will be on episode one at this juncture.
Themes: What is the subtext, or underlying theme? What is the is story really about?
Here is another blog I wrote about Treatments. http://scriptadvice.co.uk/2014/02/the-definitive-guide-treatments-for-series-and-serials/
3/ THE EXTENDED TREATMENT:
Digging Deeper. The producer/s have asked for more detail. This is because they want you to make them feel confident that the characters are detailed and developed enough to pack a good punch and that the story lines are gripping and engaging enough to warrant the number of episodes being discussed.
The actual format and content of an Extended Treatment is not set in stone.
This depends on exactly what it is your Producer/s need clarification on. It could be plot line: so naturally, in this treatment as opposed to your original work, you will need to go into more story line detail. You may be required to work out the story beats for the whole of episode one or be required to do more character detailing (so you will be maybe going into their back story; creating more subtext to add layers of interest).
The Extended Treatment can run up to 12 – 15 pages.
4/ THE SERIES OUTLINE:
Here you talk about the over-view of the series and have a conversation about the early episode; in broad strokes.
This document is intended to give the Producer/s a clear idea of what is in the first episodes. I would caution at this juncture, on going into too much detail. It not necessary to note each drama beat. It is necessary to show the beginning, the middle and the end of each story line as they push through your episode. This is so the Producer can have an understanding of how a storyline is introduced, what the meat of the story line is, and how it concludes across the duration of at least three of your episodes.
How many episode outlines you deliver here, is dependant on the number of episodes in the series as a whole. For example, in a 10 episode series, it is not necessary to outline all ten. In this instance, I would say roughly half of the series arc. So five episodes in total.
If however, you have a structure that involves a story of the week (ie: an A story that resolves in each episode as well as a serial element) then it is not necessary to outline five out of a ten episode series. A Producer would get a clear idea of the format and what to expect from your series if you gave them three clear, engaging episode outlines.
So it all depends on what you are dealing with here.
But suffice to say, the outline should map out in broad, engaging strokes, the content of each of your early episodes in your series.
Remember this is not a dry document. It is meant to entice and engage the reader. Get all your best stuff up front in the first few episodes. Make your reader want to know what happens next. And remember to keep up the subtext driving your characters forward, so this document does not end up in the hell that is ‘X does this, which makes Y does that. Then Z said….’
Avoid if possible, using direct dialogue (although a smattering is not an outright no) in the main, a paragraph per scene is the norm. Keep the scenes descriptive and interesting to read.
This document is usually anything from 10 to 20 pages and often longer. Depending on the episodes numbers being outlined.
5/ THE BIBLE:
The overview plus research, plus detail. A layered and more complex conversation.
Here I do encourage you to go into detail in at least half of the series format. Producers, if they have asked for a Bible are now looking to have the DNA of your series on their desk.
There is no solid format to adhere, but a Bible should contain the following:
Summarise the main through line with an idea of outcome, introducing the main protagonists and their jeopardy.
DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPH AS A TASTER OF WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THIS WORLD:
In prose, introduce your world in a visual, enticing style. Make us visualise the world in which you want us to immerse ourselves. This could be a description of a sequence of scenes you envisage and not necessarily be the opening sequence.
BACKGROUND TO THE STORY:
Where this idea originated; if it is an adaptation, if it is part historical; where you got your inspiration and why you want to tell this particular story. What makes it right for now?
RESEARCH PLUS IMAGERY AUGMENTING THE SERIES CONCEPT:
Any relevant imagery helps here to add to and expand on your themes as well as your text. Attempts to encapsulate your world in imagery and back this up with any facts or research pertinent to the story you want to tell.
The underlying ‘tow’ of the story lines. What is the series really about?
Plus an idea in their biographies, of each of their series story arc (that which will push them through the series) plus their subtext. We need to have both the text and the subtext here as a a quick reference for the Producers.
EPISODE ONE OUTLINE IN DETAIL
Each beat and story line twist needs to be here. Each character needs to have a clear and interesting story line worked through and we need to be able to see how the other storylines weave around through each other. There needs to be a sense of structure and shape to your episode. A clear ending to which you build, via a series of constructed scenes.
THE REST OF THE SERIES EPISODES IN BROADER STROKES
Unless specifically asked for, the Bible need not have detailed breakdowns of each episode. Broad strokes are important to get an idea of the over all shape of the rest of the series, and how the series ends.
Want to learn some more? Here is my ONLINE TELEVISION WRITING COURSE sign up for four lessons on treatment writing, series outline writing, developing character arcs and writing your first 10 pages of your pilot episode. Four hours of one on one Skype time is built in to the course structure. Take the time you need to do this and staggered payments are available. Contact me to register from my site.