NSI Totally Television boot camp day 1

Our NSI Totally Television course is underway again and our newest students are here to tell you about it.

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.

And during boot camp, we force the teams to write about their experiences each day, which makes them really happy at the end of a long day of training. ;)

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Jeff Eyamie (writer), Split Level

Above: David Barlow

Whew! What a whirlwind first day.

After introductions and some last-minute arrivals from jet-setters who rolled in from far-flung places like New York, Vancouver and Aurora, longtime writer and educator David Barlow helped each of us dig into our projects.

It began with logline crafting and revising. Of course, this ain’t my first rodeo, but David (Zellis, my producer) and I once again succeeded in having the most succinct logline, proving that there is still much to learn. As the day went on, we tweaked and revised and discussed and elevated, and I think we have a pretty solid grasp of what needs to be in there.

One of the several clips David showed us today was from the first episode of Modern Family, as an example of how to successfully set up the story world, characters, goals, conflict and format of the show. For Modern Family, they did it all in a little over three minutes.

I’ve got some revising to do. Lots of pilot story notes today, too.

We spent loads of time on pitches today which is a definite point of emphasis for me. I loved what David Barlow had to say about relatability and flexibility in a pitch. I’ll be taking a lot away from today. Not the least of which will be that I met a guy who co-created Seeing Things and was a writer on King of Kensington.

We talked about everything from soup to nuts today and it’s all just sinking in. I feel so blessed to be part of this and to have met everyone today.

Tomorrow we meet our story editor, the amazing Jeff Biederman.

David Zellis (producer), Split Level

Today started like any other day: listening to the theme song to Different Strokes on an iPad. It was the first day of NSI Totally Television which I am part of along with Alan Moore doppelgänger Jeff Eyamie.

Our first session started with Canadian TV legend David Barlow who was involved in classic Canadian shows such as King of Kensington and Seeing Things.

I was fully expecting a cynical old salt who had seen too much in the biz and would say clever things to us like “You see, the thing with your scripts is they’re all terrible!”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was personable and gave excellent feedback on everyone’s logline.

Now time to work on the logline with Jeff.

Amit Dabrai (producer), The Hammer

Day one was fantastic with David Barlow giving us insight on the art of pitching and storytelling 101.

We of course learnt a lot of new things along with firm affirmations that we were on the right path in this nascent journey of ours.

Throughout the session, Robert (Eaton, writer on The Hammer) and I were looking at each other and nodding our heads to some of the essential points that David’s presentation brought forward.

We also felt that this was the perfect way to introduce us to boot camp and set up a good tone for the rest of the week as well as a perfect setting for introducing each team in a collaborative environment.

Great start to day one. Stoked for day two and the rest of the week. Now back to budget notes and prep.

Robert Eaton (writer), The Hammer

Fantastic first day of the NSI Totally Television boot camp in Toronto.

NSI program manager Shelly Quade and program advisor Sam Linton set the table for the exciting week ahead. Then the esteemed David Barlow poured out his extensive knowledge and expertise on story and making this thing called TV in Canada.

[He was] incredibly impressive – from his own personal well of experience to nuggets of wisdom he’s gathered along the way.

My producer/partner in crime, Amit Dabrai, and I were enthralled. Already we have some concrete steps and ideas for how to flesh out our cop drama, The Hammer, and take it to the next level.

Some topics: concept, the world, logline, the pilot, pitching, personal connection.

Fave takeaway: look at your personal connection to your show in a deeper metaphorical way to truly understand the essence of your world and lead. Find the universal theme through your personal connection.

It’s funny, I thought I’d already done that but soon realized I didn’t go deep enough. David’s keen insight helped me forge a deeper connection and put it into a very simple phrase that Amit and I can use moving forward – can you go home again?

[It] was just as informative to watch David work with the other teams on their show concepts in this way. Fascinating to watch everyone’s show get clearer and clearer. Looking forward to the rest of the week with all of these creative people.

Josh Epstein (writer/producer), Anything Co.

Things I loved on day one:

  • David Barlow David Barlow David Barlow.
  • A good discussion of The Wire = always useful.
  • The words ‘familiar’ and ‘fresh’, boring separately but awesome together. What’s your new twist on an old concept? Familiar and fresh – slips off the tongue pretty nice too.
  • The questions: will the audience see something about themselves in the show? Asking yourself: how is this about me?
  • That The Godfather and Arrested Development are the same premise: a son who left the family is pulled back in because his father is no longer around. Even the brothers’ descriptions match up.
  • “Take me someplace I’ve never been, and show me something I’ve never seen.” Words to live by … and write by.

Kyle Rideout (writer), Anything Co.

Day one. Check.

Wow. Fantastic. (Trying to think of new words here). Supra-insightful!

My fingers are numb from attacking my computer trying to keep up with David Barlow’s scripted storytelling talk. It was fast. It was a hearty, packed-full talk of:

  • making stories for target audiences
  • learning to pitch
  • compelling loglines – and using emotional, evocative adjectives and nouns in them
  • characters you love
  • researching the broadcaster
  • researching the shows
  • researching my shows
  • researching everything, etc.

Plus, he gave us a great exercise we’re going to try with all our projects: can you tell the story of your series in: one sentence, two sentences; one paragraph, two paragraphs.

This is what he covered and so much more that you NEED to have and work on to get a show on its feet.

Oh yeah. And he mentioned one more thing: luck.

Dale Sheldrake (writer), Murder Junkie

A totally brilliant start to the NSI Totally Television program. David Barlow was a fearless and inspiring guide today into the week’s goals, our own messy project and the grand overview of everything ‘series.’ We officially have our thinking caps on.

The NSI team is incredibly supportive and already we love them.

So much to be done this week and my head is swimming with so much info, ideas and a bit of internal confusion about where to begin. The post-session sit down with a drink was very welcome.

Here we go!

Fiorella Grossi (producer), Murder Junkie

I walked in at the start of the day thrilled. Sam Linton and Shelly Quade made us feel so safe and encouraged us to really explore our ideas and be open to anything this week.

They have been rocks when I felt I was getting into brain overload. David Barlow was brilliant – humble yet so informative about what makes a good show. I loved the way we watched shows that work and he helped us dissect, specifically, what they included and what we need to include in our series idea.

He made the info ‘stick’ but he made it fun.

But writing loglines? Not so much.

David helped us see [that if you] don’t have one, you’re in trouble. My partner and I knew we were in trouble. But all the teams needed help on their loglines so we felt good to be among a group of people who were all talented but also needed help.

Speaking of which: what a diverse, wicked group of participants. So talented. And their projects are so unique that I hope all of us get our shows on air at some point.

I’m leaving, scared to death about all the work ahead of us, but at least now we have a blueprint to help us get the answers we’ve been stuck on. Did I mention loglines are a killer?

Tori Larsen (writer), Flops

The 2015 NSI Totally Television boot camp got off to a great start today with a fascinating and encouraging talk from David Barlow about scripted television.

Specifically, David dove into the tried, tested and true principles of narrative drama and pilot structure while highlighting the importance of being flexible and nimble as we write and pitch. Times – and the industry – are changing.

In workshopping our series logline, we discovered the importance of explicitly specifying genre and tone which could otherwise be misinterpreted to our disadvantage.

We honed in on the idea that Flops is not a comedy, a dark comedy or a drama but a comedic drama – a label with which we feel quite confident and comfortable.

David wrapped up the day with a great reminder for pitching: hook the audience with details about characters, dilemma and emotion. Leave plot out of the equation.

Natalie Urquhart (producer), Flops

So great to meet the other teams and talk story with David.

Working on the logline was incredibly helpful and provided Tori and I with a lot of insight into areas we may need to place more focus.

David’s session was insightful and beyond helpful. It was the perfect way to start the program and get a sense of what is next.

About NSI Totally Television

The program has produced 13 series that have gone into development, six that have gone to air, one that has been piloted, and another produced as a feature film that had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

NSI Totally Television is made possible by Presenting Sponsor Bell Media; Program Partner Telefilm Canada; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One, Super Channel, Corus Entertainment and Breakthrough Entertainment; Provincial Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; and Industry Partner Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.

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