Another Difference Between TV and Film
He mentioned the voluminous amount of notes he got from everyone involved at nearly every stage of the process, and I immediately thought of watching the episode of Situation: Comedy in which I watched my other buddy Marc getting notes from the network. Just the number of people listening and giving notes made it more intimidating than the film development process.
So I asked him what percentage of the notes he got were actually good ideas. He said, "Surprisingly... 85%." To which I responded that I wasn't surprised, which was not (incidentally) my opinion about film notes. Film notes are notoriously bad, but TV notes not as much so (despite the complaints of many TV writers).
So why is that? I think it largely comes down to a combination of money and numbers.
My friend pointed out that while a film development person slave for years over a given film, and many have only had a few films actually get made in the end. Whereas TV execs make pilots every year. Both pilot scripts and completed pilots that simply are tested and either developed further or dropped. Lots of them. So they have a lot more experience in getting product made and then tested, and thus have a better understanding of what works for their medium. Now at the same time, this might mean there is going to be less originality in the TV format, since they do more of "what works." (I would argue that almost the entire sitcom genre would attest to this.) But at the same time, it is easier to get to know what your audience wants.
So then the questions is, why don't movies make pilots of some kind? For one thing, it costs a lot more to make a film than it does to make a TV pilot. An expensive TV pilot costs maybe 4 million dollars. Okay, I think Lost was more in the $7-12 mil range. But even that would be a very low budgeted film. And while the networks invest in about 30 pilots or so a year, that only adds up to the budget of one or two major motion pictures.
Now let's also look at the other side of the economics. Of those 30 pilots, a number of them go on the air each season. And even TV shows that don't have good ratings still earn some income (even if they aren't turning a profit). So even the losses make some money back. With film, it is true that an underperforming film will also make some income, but a much smaller percentage than what TV shows bring in. And here's the major difference: marketing/advertising. TV stations have a built in venue for promoting their own shows. Films have to pay big bucks to promote in those same venues. So it costs significantly less to promote and market a new TV show, than it does to do the same for a single film.
Yes, by the end of the season, a TV drama series might cost as much as a single feature film. But if it makes it that far, it earned a lot more guaranteed income, and also cost a lot less to market. So the combination of money and time makes it easier for TV development execs to gain experience quickly, thereby making them more adept at giving effective development notes.
Later that day, I grabbed lunch with another friend who covers TV for The Hollywood Reporter and other venues. I mentioned this topic to him. Which led him to another related topic. With so many TV shows leading to movies (e.g. The Simpsons, Firefly, South Park, etc.), he wondered what the potential might be for going int he opposite direction. Launching a TV series with a theatrical motion picture.
T my mind, it comes down to the money thing again. Since it costs so much more to make a feature, it would not likely be worth it, in my mind, It might be interesting to do once or twice, as a marketing gimmick, but I think it would lose its effectiveness very quickly. Plus, what makes TV work is different than what makes film work, except in very few exceptional cases (e.g. 24). Fans are more willing to accept the TV-to-film changes when they are already fans of the show. But if it were a one-off movie setting up a TV series, they would never have the opportunity to get invested in the idea before it changes.
To put it differently, I don't think that many people would have wanted to go see the Lost pilot as a theatrical release.
I don't know that this all adds up to very much practically speaking, but I think it does make for some interesting food for thought and fuel for conversation.
On another note, MERRY NEW YEAR!
Tags: television, film, screenwriting, development