NSI Totally Television phase two teams on their second boot camp

Our phase two NSI Totally Television teams recently completed their second training session in Toronto and will head to the 2017 Banff World Media Festival in June.

We asked John-Paul Nynkowski and Oliver Brackenbury of Heirloom and Ashleigh Rains and Geordie Sabbagh of A Detective Lives Here to tell us about their NSI experience.

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John-Paul Nynkowski (producer, Heirloom)

John-Paul Nynkowski

The second boot camp was an intense two days focused on pitching and development. Sessions with broadcasters, producers and showrunners gave us great insight into the processes and relationships required to create a successful show.

The various speakers also reinstated the fact that there is no “one correct way” to do things since the process is so collaborative and complex. With every cautionary tale of the challenges that lay ahead for our projects, came a story of hope where circumstance and people aligned behind a project to bring it to life.

The thing that made the greatest impact on our project were the discussions around precisely defining and reaching a target audience.

In times where the means of reaching an audience seems almost unlimited and in constant flux, getting a behind-the-scenes look at successful strategies and aspects of audience reach came as a surprise and was very informative.

We were able to see how the more traditional broadcast models and metrics work to define the success of a show. We were also shown how audience engagement/interaction through social media provides a totally new metric of success and how finding the correlation between the two is an area that can provide a lot of valuable insight.

The greatest takeaway was the need for a very specific target audience. There was also the realization of the necessity of keeping your finger on the pulse and remaining in tune with how your actual audience is developing. This understanding can help you deliver on those elements and allow you to continue to grow the fandom of the show.

These lessons will be crucial to how we prepare ourselves and our story for pitching to execs and broadcasters at the Banff World Media Festival. There’s still a lot of work ahead of us but with the great help from NSI leading up to the festival I’m confident we will have all the tools we need to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Oliver Brackenbury (writer, Heirloom)

Oliver Brackenbury

I was quite happy to make it into the second half of the NSI Totally Television program and, now I’m on the other side of the second boot camp week, I’m feeling even better about it.

As a writer with only amateur production experience, it was enjoyable to learn all that I did in this more producer-themed stretch.

The speakers were encouraging and informative, without being naive or overwhelming, and many left useful materials for later.

It’s hard to know what specifically to recommend to any future students of the program other than to say that it’s worth putting your back in when you re-submit your materials after the first half.

I did a full rewrite of my team’s script and feel that was time very well spent, with no reason to think I might change my mind once I’ve been to Banff!

Here’s hoping my producer and I will one day be able to pay it forward by returning to speak of our own experiences successfully getting a show (or five) on the air.

Ashleigh Rains (producer, A Detective Lives Here)

Ashleigh Rains

My first impression beginning phase two of the NSI Totally Television program was how committed NSI is to developing our teams and projects – and how they are supporting us for the long-term, not just the couple of days we had together again in Toronto.

One of our guest speakers this session advised that we find our people in this community and stick with them. That seems like pitch-perfect advice for this next round of development.

We began the second boot camp with updates on our projects. It was great to see JP and Oliver again and interesting to hear how we all digested the feedback from phase one, where that took us and how we pushed our projects forward.

We were pleased to get a second round of script notes from our script editor who asked us to dig deeper. Here we go again.

The focus of this session was tailored with Banff World Media Festival in mind and how we can prepare our projects for this next step.

We met with executive producers, showrunners, broadcasters, directors, writers, pitch consultants and distributors who all shared their insights on what the market is looking for and how our projects might fit into this landscape.

We also focused on our pitches and how we can further develop and refine them. We had the opportunity to practice our pitches for a new audience and take new risks based on what we learned.

After an intense two and a half days, we have much to consider before Banff. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with NSI again in a couple of months to check-in with the intent of keeping our series moving forward. The process continues but it’s great to know we have NSI in our corner.

Geordie Sabbagh (writer, A Detective Lives Here)

Geordie Sabbagh

Our series made it to the second round of NSI Totally Television. It was exciting because the draft I submitted was a page-two rewrite. Not a complete re-build, but I had to let a lot go that I loved. Everything on the page lives in your head. You can so clearly see the story playing out and then disappearing as you hit delete, delete, delete.

The months in between were really a chance to reconnect with the new direction and the new characters, but with some trepidation. You’re never sure you made the right choices, made the right decisions, took the story in a positive direction – one that means it might have a shot at getting made.

It was a thrill to hear NSI believed it was going in the right direction.

Throughout boot camp we heard various stories about how series got to air – of broadcasters looking for series just like yours, but not quite yours, and others telling you no one was looking for anything at all! A great idea, a great script were no longer enough – you had to have production companies, famous showrunners, actors, directors and preferably a large digital following behind you and your series before anyone will even have a look.

If it was in Swedish, that might even be better. That places like HBO get 60 pilot scripts on one weekend alone (part of me did wonder if these scripts were really the competition. Who submits a script on a Saturday? But I digress). And all these people and companies would have notes and suggestions and your job was to pick the ones that made the most sense and ensured that your script would move forward in development and make it to air.

It was a furious race between hitting the redo and undo button on Final Draft, but there was another note given at boot camp: no pitch is ever successful without passion. If you don’t believe what you are pitching, no one will.

And ultimately, therein lies the rub. You need to be willing to change your story, your series, those voices in your head, but you need to pitch those changes with passion and belief. And so, for me, that was the ultimate lesson.

For every sure thing, there are many more that got rejected over and over again. Think Stranger Things, Mad Men, All in the Family. You will never know what is going to get made. You will never know what notes, what companies, what showrunners will get your series made.

You will only know what you can walk into any room with and pitch like your life depends on it (as it does). And the notes and ideas, even the ones that take a bit of getting used to, that you can sell like they were yours from the beginning – those are the ones you want to listen to. Everything else is just opinion, not a guarantee.

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NSI Totally Television is made possible by Presenting Sponsor Bell Media; Program Partner Telefilm Canada; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment OneSuper Channel, Corus Entertainment and Breakthrough Entertainment; 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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