Rip-a-matics: The Fine Art of Cheating.

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.

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