After a week of intensive training for our NSI Totally Television students, it’s all over. Here are their final blog posts.
NSI Totally Television is a TV series development training course that connects teams with executives from all major Canadian networks, showrunners, story editors and executive producers. Training takes place over 10 months. Teams pitch their concepts to broadcasters and attend the Banff World Media Festival.
Since launching in 2002, 12 projects have been developed with broadcasters and seven made it to air (including one pilot and one feature).
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Jeremy LaLonde & Jordan Walker, Toronto, ON // Bastards
We spent the morning doing a speed-dating type pitch with five production companies. We spent a decent amount of time getting our pitch down, and both of us have been in pitching situations before so we’re pretty comfortable sitting down at a table and doing that.
We start our pitch off explaining what we’re up to. It was really lovely to know that everyone had heard of Sex After Kids and was intrigued by our upcoming feature How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town. Whenever you can show a track record in a pitch it lets [people] know you can actually get a project to the finish line. I think that is a strong thing to have in your favour.
We felt our pitches came off well and it was a great way to start off a relationship with these people. They all said they’d love to have further conversations with us and see material. So for us it was a big win.
It was bittersweet to finish this first leg of the course today. We’re excited to dive in and rework some stuff but the nice thing about having the feature is it allows us to refocus and come back fresh to [this].
This entire week was a wealth of information and we feel like we’re coming out the other end having a much stronger understanding of how the business of television works, but also how to look at a series in a new way.
[This has been] a hands on crash course that has empowered us to really take our project to the next level.
Liam Brennan, Winnipeg, MB // Recovery
Day 6. This is the end.
After an intense week of polishing, editing, tearing apart and starting anew, and worrying (of course), we pitched our series concepts to five separate executive producers. Some said it was similar to speed-dating: moving from one table to the next around the room in a big circle, continuously trying to sell yourself and get the people across the table to take a shine to you.
While that’s certainly a fitting analogy, I’d relate it more closely to a job fair circuit. These were all companies actively seeking out exciting new projects, which is exactly what we’re offering this week.
However, you learn very quickly that nobody, absolutely nobody, is eager to bring you on board and you really have to impress them with yourself, your project and your outlook in a few short minutes. It’s like chasing a train that’s pulling out of the station – not that I’ve ever done that but I’ve seen it in countless movies.
Ultimately, we completed the circuit in what felt like seconds. All that worrying, waiting, contemplating for what felt as if it were the length of one breath.
My monster didn’t manage to escape its confines and climb the CN Tower but it did storm around the room and make its presence known to everyone inside. I can live with that for now.
I’m headed back to Winnipeg this evening to tuck this monster into bed for a week or so; to let it hibernate before I nudge it awake in an effort to perfect it and protect it against the elements and teach it to defend itself out there in the wild.
All in all, this was an amazing week that was an absolute pleasure to be a part of. Thank you NSI for having us out and giving new talent an opportunity to shine. Hopefully, there’s a second phase in this monster’s future.
Katie Weekley, Vancouver, BC // Recovery
Last night, with the other team with a character-driven drama, we had a huge confessional rant about how hard it is to pitch character-driven dramas. How do you pitch Mad Men? “It’s a guy, who works in an ad agency, and he cheats on his wife.”
Sam [Linton, program advisor] suggests starting with a personal story. I’m going to admit that I’m skeptical. I’ve heard people open pitches with personal stories that really have nothing to do with the project they’re pitching and I find it irritating and phony.
I remember having someone come back and pitch me a second time and the only thing I remember is they used the same personal story which had nothing to do with either (wildly different) pitch!
So I was skeptical. But Liam [Brennan] tells her [Sam] his personal story that he’s already told me and I’m listening, thinking, “Yeah, this is super interesting but I don’t see how it connects to Ronnie and Liner.” And suddenly Liam hits a detail and I can see it, clear as day, the seed that started his whole story. When I look at Sam her eyes are wide open and she tells him he’s got it.
Liam goes away for the night and sends me the new pitch, with the personal story worked in, and of course he’s done a great job and suddenly I feel much better about our deeply personal character-driven story.
And our pitches go well! Our series is nowhere near [ready for] pitching but as a practice with people who really know their stuff, it was a great experience. Liam’s personal story goes over like gangbusters and I see all five EPs jaws drop at the same time.
It’s been a great week. And now there’s a whole bunch of work to do.
Christopher Stewart Sweeney & Jaime Escallon-Buraglia, Toronto, ON // Parental Advisory
Like boxers after receiving several blows to the head, we stumbled into the afternoon sunshine dazed, exhausted and, yet, exhilarated. It’s been quite a ride so far.
We finished phase one of the NSI Totally Television bootcamp with a whirlwind, pitching our episodic comedy about a born-again-dad trying to survive a dysfunctional PTA (Parental Advisory) to various established production companies/executive producers.
We pitched our series repeatedly – trying to remember all our key points while taking in a barrage of feedback from [those we were pitching to]. It became very clear that certain reactions were universal while others depended on who was on the receiving end of our pitches (F.T.C.). That in itself was valuable and helped [make clear what our show is] and is not.
Met with various levels of enthusiasm, our pitch felt closer to what we wanted to get across than when we started. We were very pleased with how it went over. However, as was clearly told to all the teams, there was still some way to go to getting these pitches before a broadcaster – which is what phase two, starting in the spring, is about.
We were all debriefed on our pitches with collective feedback from the producers. Not all good news. There was no sugar-coating where we needed work but it was generally positive and accorded with our feelings and feedback through the week.
Like mentioned above, we are all way closer to the ultimate goal of having a supertight pitch that leaves no room for “no.” We are happy with the feedback and encouraged to keep at it with some helpful guidelines on how to get there.
A little pitch drunk, the teams were giddy and silly during our photo session at the end. It was a bonding experience and made clear what we were told (to some initial skepticism) on the first day: the other teams were seen not so much as competition but as fellow combatants in a shared battle.
A certain camaraderie did develop where people would offer suggestions to the other teams: phrases and approaches to improve their pitches. Not the actions we’d have expected but we [wanted] the other teams to create kick-ass projects. At some point we were probably pitching each other’s projects.
That said, the program only allows for two teams to move forward [into phase two] with their projects after December. A bittersweet quality tinged our goodbyes and good lucks, similar perhaps to the feeling soldiers, about to go over the hill, might feel knowing most of us won’t make it.
Then again, maybe not quite the same. None of us is going to be ripped to pieces by machine-gun fire [and be left] dying in the mud. (At least, we hope not. We should probably check the NSI information sheet on that point.)
Those of us who don’t move on after December will [still] be way further ahead. This week has given all teams an invaluable experience and all are well placed to take this and other projects onward through a, now, much clearer view of the TV landscape.
We are thrilled with the experience we’ve had at NSI Totally Television and are revving up to get ready for the next phase.
We will hopefully be posting more updates in the spring but, no matter what happens, we are a stronger team with a better project and a roadmap to the future.
Cathryn Morris, Vancouver, BC // Fraud (formerly Hood)
Yesterday, day five, I wrote that I might try to condense, for the pitches, the mythic story of coming from Florida home to Vancouver 15 years ago and reinventing myself. I did and this is how it was condensed: “Hi, I’m Cathryn Morris the writer of Fraud and I reinvented myself 15 years ago.”
Then, I went into the spiel my producer, Lara Fitzgerald, and I had practiced: “Robyn Hunter is a fraud. The daughter of con artists, Robyn reinvented herself as a chief fraud detective …,” seamlessly tying together the fact this was a personal story for me.
Then, I thought I’d get very clever and say a joke: “I mean, a failed marriage and a film degree, I had to go home.” This got a frown and a slight, yet kind, reprimand – an executive producer reminded me not to say anything negative during the pitch. Even though all the feelings during that time were resolved and are far in my past [as well as] one of the best things that ever happened to me, [it didn’t occur to me] that it was negative – but one never knows how something like that will come across. Let’s just say, lesson learned.
Much of what I’ve noticed this past week had to do with a variation on this theme: how to translate the story one sees in one’s head to the page so there can be no doubt about its meaning.
From Jeremy’s King Lear/Get Him to the Greek mashup, Bastards; Stu’s [Marks] wanting to tell the story, serially, of his grandfather’s and uncle’s road to understanding in a difficult era, New Wave; Liam’s [Brennan] chance meeting of his girlfriend’s down-and-out father on the street translating into the disappearance and resurfacing of a rock legend in Recovery; to Chris’s [Sweeney] gritty drama about life after the PTA in Parental Advisory (aside: before reading it, I thought it would be a drama about amber alerts – some cop or investigator story about advising parents when their children have gone missing). I have enjoyed each of them for different reasons, and so enjoyed meeting the story writers.
Sam [Linton] coaxing, cajoling and finally pushing us all to find the core, the heart – also known as the foundational idea – of the story got us there (thanks Sam), and I would really like to read the next iteration of scripts after December when it’s all been decided. Meanwhile, happy writing, writers.
Life is about to go back to a normal routine – if normal means a page-one rewrite of my pilot – and that’s just fine.
On the flight home to Vancouver, Lara and I both remarked that it felt like being gone for a month. We’ve truly gone on the hero’s journey, out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary world, crossed the threshold, got lots of advice, been dropped into the belly of the whale and survived only to continue on our road of trials. Not just Lara and I, but all of us.
Lara Fitzgerald, Vancouver, BC // Fraud (formerly Hood)
The climax – pitching our project on the final day – was thrilling, nerve racking and an incredible opportunity.
Once we were there face to face with the top players in the industry, adrenaline kicked in and cortisol began pumping, and I was able to just be me (or perhaps a heightened version of myself) and help pitch our idea without stumbling over words and losing my way. I actually found it both exhilarating and enjoyable!
The photo sessions afterward with the very charming photographer, [Jalani Morgan], who told us he is an editorial photo artist, were a letting loose and group-bonding exercise. We had some raucous laughs. It was particularly amusing when Jeremy [LaLonde] pretended to get ‘very familiar’ with Chris [Sweeney] when he was on his knees posing for our group shot. Saucy!
All in all, the whole week was incredible. Thank you to Shelly [Tyler, program manager], Sam, John [Gill, NSI’s CEO] and Brendon [Sawatzky, NSI’s director of programming], NSI did an effective job of bringing in the most talented and inspiring guests and story editors. I will remain forever grateful.
Stu Marks & Lauren Corber, Toronto, ON // New Wave
Our pitch was written and rehearsed. We were ready to go.
It changed with each production company we told it to. You cut a little here, elaborate there. But when you know your material and your story, who knew pitching would be so fun.
We soon learned how differently companies can respond to the same idea. And we realized we still have a lot to think about. But all in all, it was a fitting conclusion to an amazing week.
New Wave has come so far from the first day we submitted to NSI, and even more since Sunday morning. It feels like a year ago, not a week.
But through the help of some unbelievable experts, and the wonderful input of the other teams, we have so many more tools to work with.
What this week has really provided us with is a trajectory, and the momentum to reach it.
Thank you everyone; we had a blast. See you in Banff (we hope!!!)
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NSI Totally Television is made possible by Presenting Sponsor Bell Media; Program Partner Telefilm Canada; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One and Super Channel; and Industry Partner Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.