By Lauren E. Smith
Breaking into the business of TV Writing is difficult but not impossible. Drama Scribe Pat Charles can help you create the most important item in gaining entrance into that world – A great spec pilot. Pat has produced and written for the hit series Bones on FOX, FX’s Sons of Anarchy and ABC’s Resurrection. Pat was also accepted into the prestigious ABC/ Disney Television Fellowship in 2008 as well as several other screenwriting fellowships. To date he has sold original cable pilots to HBO and Showtime where he is currently developing. Be on the lookout for his brand new show, The Right Mistake, a drama series that’s being produced by Laurence Fishburne’s Cinema Gypsy Prods and Fox.
What does it take to craft a solid pilot that’s irresistible to viewers and executives? We were lucky enough to sit down with the writer in advance of his class, From Network to Cable: Writing The TV Drama Pilot, (5 Wk) starting March 25th.
1) How did you make your debut into television writing?
I had a Soprano spec and an original that were both well received by friends who were also aspiring screenwriters. I entered a lot of contests and those samples came to the attention of people in the industry. Those specs got passed around by several studio, network and production executives, which got me a lot of meetings and resulted in my first job.
2) You were a Disney ABC Television Fellow. What shows did you spec for your application and what was the fellowship process like?
I had a House spec and an original. There were several interviews and networking functions where the execs got to see you interact with people in different settings. I was only in the fellowship for a short time because I got my first offer as a staff writer two months after starting the fellowship. My situation was a bit different in that I got staffed on Sons of Anarchy, which was an FX show two months after entering the fellowship. My understanding is that the fellows that get staffed now can only work on ABC shows while they’re in the fellowship.
3) How did the job on Sons of Anarchy come about and what was it like working on that show?
An executive – I’m still not sure who – passed my specs to the Showrunner and the EP of SOA and they read it and responded to it. They brought me in for an interview and I spoke about the type of stories I liked to tell. They thought I was a good match for them and they offered me the job.
4) Selling a pilot is hard, let alone selling one to prestigious networks like HBO and Showtime. What advice can you give aspiring writers who are ready to pitch?
Find a story that you’re really passionate about and make sure you know that world and the characters in that world inside and out. You need to be able to be able to paint a vivid picture of your characters, the season arcs and the world where your show occurs.
5) How do you come up with ideas?
I read voraciously – newspapers, books, magazines – and I try to meet and talk to a lot of different people. You never know where a great story is going to come from.
6) You’ve written for Cable and Network. What are some of the differences you’ve experienced?
On cable shows you obviously have more freedom to push the envelope and tell a wider variety of stories while the networks often have to crank out so many episodes that you often need a procedural engine to generate many stores in a short amount of time.
7) You’re a Dad now. How do you balance being a father and a successful TV Writer?
With the help of a very understanding wife. It’s difficult but you find a way to make time for the things that are important.
8) Drama seems to be really popular now, by viewers and writers alike. Why do you think so and why did you select the Drama route?
I think it goes in cycles and I believe that in a few years comedies will be popular again. I’ve just always preferred drama to comedy. It was just a personal preference.
9) What are the essential ingredients that Dramas need to make it an engaging, binge-worthy show?
Compelling characters in interesting situations.
10) You were a producer on Bones. What are some of the differences between being a staff writer and a writer with producing responsibilities? Which do you prefer?
Producer levels writers are usually expected to be more involved in the actual producing of a show in terms of casting, addressing notes from the studio and network, overseeing the shooting of their episodes and editing. It’s different from show to show but in short as you get to the producer level you’re responsible not only for delivering a good script but for helping that script become a solid episode.
11) What are you currently working on? What’s in store for you next?
I’m working on a pilot for Showtime, a feature for a small production company, a spec feature and a spec pilot.
12) What can students expect to learn in your class?
I hope that the students will get an understanding of how to craft a solid story with compelling characters.
We can’t wait to binge watch your new show, Pat! Inspired to develop the next hit drama? Look no further and take Pat’s upcoming class, From Network to Cable: Writing The TV Drama Pilot, (5 Wk) starting March 25th.