Copyright © 2019 NZWG (New Zealand Writers Guild)

Beginners Guide to the Business of Creating a Series

These are some of the basic first steps when starting out creating a series for Television or Online Platforms.

 

  • Watch Series: Watch everything. Many writers embark on writing for a series without having actually watched the types of shows that are likely to be produced here for traditional broadcast or for online platforms. If you are writing for television / online platforms you need to understand the formats, the way stories are told on television differ from the formula for online platforms - know your formats and know your audiences. Watch great shows. Watch not so great ones. Learn the difference.

 

  • Study The Market: Learn what types of shows are produced for local audiences. The market in New Zealand operates on budgets far lower than those in the US and UK, for example. Most television is funded by New Zealand On Air. Online platforms in NZ are generally lower budget than traditional broadcast and funded in two different ways - Commercial or Funded.

 

  • Practise: Write television scripts for already existing shows or for shows that you have created. Create proposals for your own shows. Every professional working writer has spent many years and many shows developing their craft and you will need to do so as well.

 

Career Check - Local and International Markets

In comparison to other writing mediums, there is a range of paid television/ online platform script writing work available and some writers manage to carve a career from simply writing for television. Most scriptwriters in New Zealand tend to write across mediums – including television, film, theatre, radio, prose, print, new media – as it provides a diversity of income and avoids literally putting all their income eggs in one basket.

 

If you want to have a career in the international market, you will first need to have some credits and accolades that you can market yourself with in those markets. You will also need to secure a US Agent (or UK Agent, depending on the market you are most interested in working in), and get the correct visa or working papers to work in that territory.

Networks, studios and producers will not read scripts unless submitted to them by an agent. Many agents will also not read unsolicited manuscripts. To get an agent you will either need to (a) find an agent that accepts unsolicited submissions and send them your script or (b) get a referral by someone who already has an agent. Check out the website of the Writers Guild in the country you’re interested in submitting work to for information on local agents. If you are an NZWG you can book in a Career Checklist session.

 

In traditional broadcast It is also almost unheard of for new writers to get a show on air in the US, networks will only take pitches from writers or producers with proven track records.

 

Although it may seem like it is difficult to get a show on air in New Zealand, in many ways it is a far more open market than overseas. You will not need an agent in New Zealand and producers will look at material from uncredited writers and if you create your own series it is likely you will get script writing work on it.

 

International online platforms (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc.) are looking of original content, and you can apply directly to these platforms with your materials. You will still need a Producer or Production Company in the Australiasian market to help create the series.

 

Local online platforms (TVNZ on Demand, WatchMe etc) are also looking for original content, you can apply directly to these platforms to start with. As an uncredited writer, creating your online series is a good way to catch the eye of a producer. As the creator you may then be hired to work or write scripts on other shows or they may option and purchase your works for a broader market.

 

Producers and networks are always looking for something new, exciting, different and fresh (you’ll hear those words from them a lot in your career!). Aim to create work that captures their imagination, that tells stories not told before on television and that reflects life in New Zealand.

 

Most producers and some networks in New Zealand will read unsolicited material (this is uncommon overseas), which means you can send them proposals for new series at any time. Any producer or network will prefer to see a proposal for your show rather than just a verbal pitch. You should register your work before you send it.

 

Don’t expect anyone to pay you for developing formats – this is something you will need to do. However, this also means you own all the rights until such time as you sell them.

 

Shortland Street

Shortland Street runs a test kit system. This gives writers a chance to try dialogue writing based on storylines from the show. All submissions are assessed and the best go on to join the pool of writers for the show. The kits are sent out every month or so and test kits can be obtained from South Pacific Pictures. Shortland Street also allows writers to come in and trial for the story table. Some relevant experience is preferred – this includes other script or writing experience, writers with useful life or work experience or a medical background. The trial lasts two weeks, writers take part in story conferences and write a shadow scene breakdown, which is then assessed by the story producer or story editor. Shortland Street tries to recruit new storyliners several times a year.

 

Practical Matters

 

Writing a TV Proposal

 

Producers will normally want to see something in writing, especially from a newcomer. You should not discuss ideas with anybody – ideas are impossible to protect when not worked into any concrete form.

 

Drama and Comedy

A proposal should at the very least:

 

  • Begin with a brief summary (two to ten lines). In addition a log line – the series encapsulated in one sentence – is useful.

  • Explain exactly what it is (e.g. a one hour action drama, a half-hour live action sketch comedy). It’s good to be specific here – a one hour romantic-drama, a half hour period children’s drama, an animated adult-oriented half hour comedy).

  • Give an idea of the audience for the show/the appropriate timeslot.

  • Give some character breakdowns.

  • Contain some story ideas/outlines.

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A more detailed proposal might:

 

  • Outline the premise of the show in more detail.

  • Have detailed character biographies.

  • Contain paragraph versions of sample episodes.

  • Contain a treatment for the pilot script and/or sample scripts from the show.

  • Contain the pilot script and/or sample scripts from the show.

  • Include the underlying work (if it is based on a play, novel or film).

  • Documentary and Reality

 

A proposal should:

 

  • Begin with a brief summary (two to ten lines). In addition a log line – the series encapsulated in one sentence – is useful.

  • Outline the underlying concept for the documentary/reality show

  • Documentary – Should show that some research has been done

  • Should indicate how the story is to be told:

  • whether the show would be best with a presenter or driven by a narrative script revealing the story.

  • do we follow one character or one issue?

  • Give an idea of the audience for the show

  • Back to top

 

Formatting and Presentation

Proposals – Unlike film there is no set format for presenting television proposals. Production companies may have their own set requirements so it may pay to ask them if they have any special requirements.

 

Obviously work will need to be typed – don’t use Courier (that’s for scripts only) – use some easily read font such as Times New Roman, Arial etc. Some writers like to present proposals with spiral binding, a plastic cover and cardboard backing sheet. You might even include some images (on the cover and throughout) if relevant/useful. Ensure the programme’s title and your name/contact details are easy to find.

 

Scripts – If presenting a script(s) with your proposal you should format that as a script – television and feature scripts are similarly formatted. Typically New Zealand scripts are formatted in the following way:

 

A4 plain white paper

12-point Courier font.

Two punched holes (standard).

Two brass paper fasteners – often called ‘brads’.

Writing programmes, like Final Draft, can assist greatly with formatting. Final Draft and screw type brass brads are available from the NZWG.

 

Where Can I Send My Work?

Before you send your work to anyone register it with the NZWG. See Script Registration.

 

Local Broadcasters / Online Platforms

TVNZ + TVNZOnDemand

TV3 + TV3OnDemand

Prime

LightBox

WatchMe

YouTube

NZ On Air is a funder of television in New Zealand but you do not send work directly to them without a producer/network commitment.

 

Producers & Production Companies

A list of Producers and Production Companies in New Zealand is available from the Guild for members only. Please request this from Guild HQ.

Before you send your work directly to any Producer or Production Company you will need to ask if they are willing to receive your materials. Sending unsolicited (unrequested) materials will often end in an upfront rejection.

 

When choosing which producer or production company to approach, see what type of work they are currently producing and ensure they work within a similar nature/genre to the type of project(s) you have. Reality TV Producers may not be as open to receiving a horror feature film - for example.

 

I’ve Sent Out My Work What Happens Now?

If the producer isn’t interested or available to take on any new work, they will let you know. Normally allow about a month for response.

If they are interested they may decide to option the work. They may also ask you to retool the proposal to better suit them/the network/funders or to do some more in-depth development work on the show. In the latter case they may engage your services to do that work by contract.

 

If the series is ‘picked up’ by a network and receives NZ On Air development funding the network may choose to develop the show with you. At some point they will likely bring a producer on board to work with you. They will then apply for NZ on Air production funding. If the show goes into production you may be engaged to work on the show as a writer, preparing storylines, writing scripts, editing.

 

If the series is ‘picked up’ by the online platform, they will develop the show to meet the platforms requirements.

 

The Guild can provide advice on contracts and rates.