Write and Shoot Your Own – But Know Your Audience First!

I make a big point at the end of my book Writing the Pilot (currently available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, soon in paperback) that writing a spec pilot should not be an end, but a beginning. Technology for both filmmaking and distribution is so cheap these days there’s no reason to leave your script gathering dust on a shelf when your filmed show can be grabbing audiences on the web.

Of course finding that audience is always going to be the hard part. One quick shortcut? Find a bunch of viewers who feel like there’s nothing on that reflects their lives and write a show just for them.

That’s what Greg and Jennifer Willits are doing. They’re shooting the pilot for a new sitcom for and about Catholic families.

“There is a lot of Catholic catechesis out there but not a lot of Catholic entertainment. We want to prove that it can be done,” Greg said. “This is going to be a pilot, simply a proof of concept to hopefully inspire others in Catholic and secular media to push the envelope a bit creatively.”

I’ve got to admit, I’m not going to be going out of my way to hunt this down on the web, or to call DirecTV and demand they add Catholic TV to my channel list. But that’s exactly the point. I’m not their audience. They don’t need me to watch.

The Willits figured out who would want to watch their series and then set about writing and producing it for them. And even better, they found a large, wealthy institution that wants to reach the same audience, and seems to be providing the funding.

Will it work? Who knows? But it will have a chance to succeed or fail on its own merits… unlike a script that’s sitting in a drawer.

Make Your Own Pilot — For Free

One thing I try to hit home in Writing the Pilot is that writing a great script may only be your first step — if you want to break through in this insane market, and  be sure to own what you create, the answer may lie in actually shooting your own pilot and distributing it on the web. Well, if you live in Southern California, MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary is making that a lot easier this summer:

In one corner of the 2,400-square-foot studio, a toddler in a polka-dot dress is making her glittery toy unicorn prance in front of a camera. In another, teenagers are filming themselves break dancing in front of a green screen. Meanwhile, over at the equipment center, a couple is checking out a Canon digital camera for a feature-length project.

Museums are normally about exhibiting art, rather than giving patrons the tools to make it. But this summer at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary downtown, a film pop-up workshop is putting all sorts of filmmaking equipment, plus lessons and resource materials, into the hands of the people — for free.

Launched in April and continuing through August, the workshop is largely funded by Levi’s and follows a similar event in San Francisco that focused on printmaking and one in New York on photography. The design of the workshop and its daily calendar were organized by Jonathon Wells, a Los Angeles resident and founder of Resfest, a now-defunct digital film festival.

“This workshop is a funny little thing,” said site manager Dan Connor, who oversaw the New York and San Francisco workshops. “It’s like a secret that’s not really a secret. It’s a strange mix of a cool party that everybody’s invited to but nobody wants to tell their friends because they want it for themselves.”

The workshop is a classroom, a discovery center, a film library, an equipment rental shop, a work studio, a gallery and a playground all crunched into one venue. Aspiring Martin Scorseses can borrow anything from a Canon 8mm camcorder, worth about $50, to a Panasonic AG-AF100 that costs $7,000 to $8,000. The equipment is lent out for 24 hours without charge, although a refundable credit card deposit is required.