Screenwriting : Features vs Pilot Scripts by Michelle L. de La Graza

Features vs Pilot Scripts

How many of you write features over pilot scripts? Or pilot scripts over features? And why? I'm new to the scriptwriting industry and curious.

Zlatan Mustafica

Up to this point I have solely written features and aim to do so going forward as well. I feel my focus needs to be on one medium to start with since I don´t live in the U.S and it´s hard enough to break into or get noticed by the industry as it is. So one step at the time for me, small steps. It doesn´t mean you can´t do both. :) Start working on an idea you have and see where it leads you, what it would be most suitable for, TV or the big screen. And then you write, write, write...

Jody Ellis

I've written several features. Just starting my first tv pilot. It's a different format and different style of writing, so I kind of feel like I'm re-learning the whole process. Edited to add: As far as the "why" of it, I am ultimately interested in selling my work or at least getting a job out of someone seeing and liking my work. Tv is a hot commodity these days, so I want to learn how to write for tv.

Michelle L. de La Graza

I can relate to what you said, Jody Ellis. I've only been writing seriously for a few years (fiction novels), and decided to try my hand at scriptwriting. However, after an introductory class to scriptwriting, I found it easier to write a pilot than a feature. But the two different platforms (novels and scripts) are worlds apart, and I'm discovering television and features have their differences, as well.

Devon McBride-Wilson

I like writing television pilots and television spec scripts a little more, but mostly because I've watched a lot more tv than movies. As I specialize in animation and live-action kids' media, television is a lot more receptive to that kind of content, too. I write both, however. It's good to diversify, even while staying within one's wheelhouse.

Jody Ellis

Yes, television and features are very different. Standard feature format is 80-120 (90-100 these days) with three acts. Pilots, you need your teaser, acts 1-4, no more than 60ish pages and then a separate bible! I think it's more work than a straight up screenplay, at least I'm finding it to be so far!

Tarus Rhinehart

I started writing pilots first. I have a few ideas that might work for TV vs. as a feature. I always wanted to work on television side of writing. The idea of working on a story for a length of time is appealing to me. There is a rise in the demand for pilots these days thanks to Netflix, Hulu, & now YouTube developing shows now and I am trying to either make a sell, land a job, and/or find representation. So right now, TV seems to be where it's happening at but if I thought of a good idea that would make a feature, I certainly would try to work it out.

Michelle L. de La Graza

Jody Ellis: I wrote a mini-bible for one project, and I'm drafting another for a separate body of work. However, since I'm a plotter-planner, I tend to write notes for myself, which I've found helpful in the bible drafting process. But there are so many different thoughts on how, when, and/or why a bible is written these days, it's hard to decipher what one may want. Now, I can honestly say, I'm enjoying getting my feet wet in the scriptwriting world, but I still have a lot of growth to undergo. Devon McBride-Wilson: Agreed. diversity is good, and I have enjoyed the small breaks from novel writing. However, I'm not sure I could write animation or kid's media. That is a whole other world in itself. :)

Michelle L. de La Graza

Hello Tarus, how long have you been writing pilots? Like you, I do want to try to write a feature some day, but for now, I'll stick to pilots then work my way up from there in skill level. :)

Jody Ellis

Most of the articles and info I've read suggest writing the pilot first, then the bible. This is because you don't really need the bible until/unless your pilot is being shopped around.

Tarus Rhinehart

@Michelle, about 2 years. I have one I finished and have been revising over that time and 2 others that are a work in progress. I feel what you are saying about working your way up in skill level. I feel like I'm still in the learning process of writing a script of any kind and I found that a pilot script is an easier learning tool for me.

Dan Guardino

I only write screenplays for feature films. The biggest reason being there are a lot more potential buyers out there making movies versus a much smaller number making television shows. Plus television is more often than not done in house.

Chuck Dudley

I write both: -ABC, NBC/Universal, CBS, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros, Sundance, HBO, Nicholls have various submissions. Some annually and an original pilot or feature length screenplay is required. And just as important: You will be asked "so what else do you have?" - best to have as many samples of your writing as possible. Good luck and keep writing!

Anthony Moore

I write features. In the past I used to write short stories and novels and found that writing features suited me because I could share my vision of a different world in a contained framework of beginning, middle and end. Pilots are too constraining and I don't like the idea of continually leaving loose ends just so Ill have something to write into later episodes.I've done it before, it's just not my prefered style of writing.

Michelle L. de La Graza

Hello Anthony, I kink of like writing arcing stories that have sub-conflicts each episode that lead up to the main plot of the intended season. But who knows, since I'm new to the industry that may change. :) Chuck: I've looked up some of the names you listed before and found that many of them do not have an opened submission call (except once in a blue moon) which is okay for me at this point since I'm working on my writing portfolio. Like you, I'd like to be able to come to the table with more than one or two items to show. Plus, I figure the more I write the better my understanding of the flow will become.

Jorge J Prieto

I'm love writing features. Why? A beginning, middle and end. Plus and I didn't say this: "the only difference in movies, your heroes heal and in television they keep on bleeding." I bleed along with my characters in feature, so until I learn to separate myself from them totally (if there's such a thing) I'll continue writing features. Follow your instincts.

Cherie Grant

I'm about 50/50 with pilots and features. I do prefer pilots though. My dream would be to work in television over film.

Dan Guardino

Chuck. You named a handful and maybe there are a few dozen more but that doesn't compare to the hundreds, if not thousands of people that make feature films. Television is a tiny market by comparison and is mostly closed to outsiders.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

I write features. TV is very tempting... but features you can write from anywhere in the world and if someone is interested in producing it you might have to show up in L.A. & take meetings or Skype. For TV you have to be prepared to move to L.A. and work long hours in a writers room. If I was a young writer I might consider it... but at this point in my life, I'd rather work from home and be close to my family.

Jody Ellis

even if a network purchases a pilot, it's not likely the original writer will be hired to work on it. My boyfriend is dealing w this right now. They are trying to negotiate with the network that he be brought on as a writer (most networks have a stable) and if that miracle came to be he'd take a sabbatical from his job and fly back and forth during the 20 weeks of creating the pilot. If he ended up getting hired permanently then we'd consider moving, or at least buying a place in LA and going back and forth.

Frances Macaulay Forde

Some features are made from very short scripts, or short stories, or even based on a poem. If the writing appeals to the reader (Producer or Director) they will engage you to expand or contract the length. Concentrate firstly on great characters who tell a fantastically strong and interesting story. Don't worry about the 120 pages rule - these days it's more often (I've been told) 50 - 90 pages... so long as every page is well written. (Naturally, if you're entering a competition or you know the reader's submission requirements - you need to write to their rules.)

Mark Proulx

I learned to write features and develop them almost exclusively because I have stories that can only be told in one, longer movie. In fact I seem to be geared that way. I found my niche in working full length features. Only recently I accidentally wrote a six-page horror short because someone asked if I could. I pitched the idea to a producer who called me yesterday and he is considering doing it as a means to "warm up" to doing a feature he wants to do.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

That's great news Mark.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

@Jody... My fingers are crossed for your boyfriend. That would be so cool. It's a foot in the door.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

If you are a good writer with a compelling story and interesting characters that is all that matters. However according to a Post that Dov SS Simmons put on his "No Film school Blog" a few weeks ago and was posted on Stage 32. The long term $$ returns are much greater now writing for TV(Network, Cable Netflix, Amazon etc) But it is up to you. Just FYI. I will continue to write for both because I am a writer and I love telling stories.

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