Wednesday, August 01, 2007

For Those Wanting to Write a Scifi Channel Original:

The Scifi Channel as most of you know runs an original made-for-cable movie every Saturday night. What you may not know is that there are certain structural conditions they have in place for screenplays they co-produce and air.

This comes to you courtesy of The Retromedia Forum (see sidebar where I urge all of you to register and join in the fun) and the experience of writer-director Steve Latshaw (LIGHTSPEED, PLANET RAPTOR: RAPTOR ISLAND 2, AMERICAN BLACK BEAUTY ) :

"Actually, based on a conversation I had with their director of development in 2005...
1. They prefer a seven act structure.
2. First act runs around 17 minutes... opens with a 3 minute (3 page) teaser right off the top that features the monster attacking.
3. Remaining six acts run 8-15 minutes. Each act (including the first act) must end with a cliffhanger. They monitor ratings - literally - every minute; any fall off is noted as audience disinterest.
4. Concept must be simple for the monster, story, etc. Don't bog down with excessively confusing plot.
5. Pacing / tone must be immediate and fast. Hit the ground running. They liked the immediacy of series like 24, where everything is happening NOW. High tension, characters in immediate trouble that gets worse. This is very important.
6. No expanded or lengthy "coda" scenes. Kill the monster, heroes left alive, boom, into closing credits. Fast ending.
They used, as a perfect example for tone, an excellent Brit flick called DOG SOLDIERS. They loved that movie."


Just like there are different script structures between theatrical and television, there are different script structures for different networks, just as there will be different script structures for the web. They are all by design.

Edit to add: My buddy, Jeff O'Brien ( INSECTICIDAL) just sent me this:

"A pal who pitched to Cinetel a few months back says they were looking for eight acts, the eighth act being a brief coda - and also that the immediate threat should be taken care of and killed, but foreshadow a greater threat still out there - sequelitis."

FYI - Cinetel is one of the companies that regularly produces these movies for SciFi. Their needs may differ slightly from those of the network - but not by much. Your mileage may vary.


Andrew Bellware said...

Are they still funding Originals? I thought that was pretty much cut off last year. They probably have some Originals they contracted for a couple years ago still in the works but I was under the impression that "The Most Dangerous Night in Television" was moving toward higher-budget studio fare.

Cunningham said...

That may be the company line, but the fact is there are still a lot of prodco's churning movies out under the SciFi blessing:

Nu Image / First Look
American World

They may not be made specifically for SciFi but these companies factor in a sale to SciFi in their business/marketing plans.

Ive had two movies on SciFi (SCARECROW, SCARECROW SLAYER) and they both would have been much better movies if we had followed many of the "rules" SciFi sets forth. They still bought them, but it never hurts your career to have a better presentation of your work if you can help it. If your producer says, "We are actively seeking a sale to SciFi," then it pays for the writer to structure his script accordingly.

Andrew Bellware said...

I was under the impression that the "$750K against $2Mil" budgeted movies which they were doing as "Sci Fi Channel Original Movies" were pretty much dried up.
Which doesn't preclude a producer like NuImage making a straight up sale to the SciFi Channel by any means. But the sales are a lot less money than the $750K they were willing to throw in the pot for the budget on their "Originals".
(Also, I thought that the Asylum product was mostly picked up as a catalog sale but that those movies weren't doing so well with the SciFi Channel ratings-wise.)
But hey, I could be wrong! Heck, I HOPE I'm wrong. I just don't see movies in their upcoming line-up indicating that they're working that way anymore. I could have missed 'em. Or maybe I'm just bitter they didn't buy my last picture! ;-)
I gotta say one thing though. The nice thing about the SciFi Channel is that they're certainly easy to talk to. It's the most accessible network we've ever contacted.

Cunningham said...

I wrote a script awhile back, and the producers took it to Scifi first - who liked it and recommended the project to a company they do business with on a regular basis.

That's the point - know your markets and write your material toward them. I wouldn't write a female-centric romantic thriller and expect to sell it to a prodco whose main output has been to Spike, but I would send it to a prodco whose deal was with Lifetime.

If SciFi is moving to higher budgeted fare - great - but they will still want certain story parameters adhered to because they factor in commercial breaks, etc...better to do it in the script stage then risk a clumsy edit in the broadcast stage.

underdog said...

Thanks for this discussion - all useful as I've been writing a treatment for a Sci-Fi Channel-ish feature but wasn't sure whether there was still a point to doing so or what to do with it. Sounds like the best they could do if they liked something is steer you toward a production co.? Cinetel also says they don't accept unsolicited material, so you'd need an agent or a connection to get it to even them, right? Any of these places worth contacting?

Cunningham said...

Yeah, you have to get a producer interested or have an agent submit to a prodco.

Scifi made the referral because it was easy, but they don't do it for everyone. The producers I'm hooked up with have a track record with Scifi for several movies.

I say go ahead and write it and use it as a calling card for this budget material. Those jobs are getting harder to come by...

Anonymous said...

I have written 4 sci-fi scripts and would like to find an agent who currently looking for projects for the Sci-fi station.

Where can I find a Sci-Fi station agent?

Cunningham said...

This is easy.

Write down a list of the SciFi originals that are like your movie.

Find out who the writers are of those pictures.

Use IMDB Pro or Google or Done Deal and find out who reps those writers.

Send those agents, manangers or lawyers a query letter.

Look on the web for the "Who Sold what" listing for the year. Find out how many scifi scripts were purchased or made. More importantly made, because in terms of specs they are just samples. Most producers will not want to make your spec. They want to hire you to write material they already own.

Unknown said...

Thanks Bill

Unknown said...

Hey Bill

I am seeking a co writer, let's writes some script!

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