Sometimes there’s a pilot. Perhaps a script. Maybe only an idea. But most often you have NO FOOTAGE WHAT SO EVER to promote a new series or special program. You have to create magic –out of nothing. In the promo world, I am often asked to rise to the challenge of pitching something with little to go on. Big bucks can be thrown at these projects, which are presented at large, highly-publized Affiliate Upfront meetings or before studio’s big decision makers. To achieve a great presentation effectively requires plenty of research… and a bit of ignore-that-man-behind-the-curtain trickery.
CASE STUDY #1: CBS and Paramount wanted to tease a new sitcom. I had a rough pilot script that hadn’t been cast or shot. What to do? Sell what’s on the page: Brooklyn. The 1950’s. A sweet, Jewish grandmother. First, we cast a female to read Granny narrating parts of the script, with some embellishing. We covered it with archival stock footage of New York –brown stones; street scenes; panoramas; kids playing; shop owners; etc.. But there were still gaps to cover the narration. Solution: film sections of a 50’s style apartment– without people. Open on a slow, tight, pan of a living room, discovering a hand placing a needle on an scratchy LP to cue our vintage soundtrack. Dissolve to a scrapbook with generic black and white stills of a family. In between stock footage, reveal a kitchen, moving across a counter with old appliances and kitchen table, set for a meal. End on a hand caressing the scrapbook. Some sound fx, music, a little smoke and mirrors. All producing iconic warm, family imagery. A simple storytelling device evoking the right emotions, pulling the heartstrings. Result? A greatly satisfied client and a series order.
CASE STUDY #2: For one unique television series proposal, I needed to write and produce a 5-minute sizzle with specific rules. Establish the franchise: Star Trek. The setting: a space station in deep space. The characters: all fresh, new faces and no actors inked yet. The trick: depict an exciting, richly detailed, never-before-seen futuristic adventure without showing any recognizable characters and imagery. No Kirk or Spock. Nothing that says: “I’ve seen that before.” I combed through every Trek film and sci-fi movie imaginable, carefully plucking out generic officers, space battles, and other-worldy phenomena. Edited together to look completely brand new. Result: high acclaim for ‘cheating’ and generating lots of positive buzz for a series that eventually lasted seven seasons.
Call them Rip-a-matics or cheats, but they require clever thinking, writing, and imagination. They can make or break a potential TV series launch. I’ve been lucky to help shepherd some good product on their journey to the airwaves.