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FEATURE FILMS VS SERIES: WHAT’S BEST TO DEVELOP YOUR IDEA?

Possibly the million-dollar question for a screenwriter today

An article by Kit de Supervivencia para Guionistas

Considering the bloom of the audio-visual industry and the active role platforms play in the creation of content it is very possible that you may have asked yourself if it is better to write a feature film rather than a series with the idea you have in mind.

The reality is that they are very different formats, but the reason to doubt is glaring. Those who have stayed long enough in this industry will know that it is not enough to have a finished script. It is not even enough to have a good script. It’s necessary to go out and pitch it. For those who are not aware, pitching it is the act of going to the market, have meetings with executives, apply to competitions and calls (such as those of Filmarket Hub), travel to festivals, in short, meet whoever can produce our script. It is precisely at this stage that a screenwriter encounters the harsh reality that, before his story comes to light, he will have to travel a long and winding road. A path during which perhaps he’ll realise he should adapt his work, one in which he’ll have to make concessions and partner with producers. Again, a path where as a screenwriter, you may realise that the format you have chosen is not ideal for your project.

Sometimes, this is because the format used does not correspond to or does not work for the good of the story. On the other hand, sometimes it stems from the market’s interest in another format, no matter the script’s contents.

This can happen to us in two ways. Either we have a story that we want to bring into a television format. We stretch it to fit in 4, 6, up to 8 episodes when it lacks the material to truly fit. We do not even consider 10 or 13 episodes anymore, as we know that today the market is looking for series with fewer chapters. What can also happen is that we have the script or project of a feature film, and yet the story is rich enough in sub-plots or the worldbuilding universe it proposes to expand and become a series.

First of all, in order to choose correctly the format and develop his or her story, the screenwriter must take into account what he or she wants and intends from that story. What do they want to say? Forgetting the public and the market for a moment as an exercise is an interesting starting point. It allows the author to find the real answer to what they want to do with that story. Secondly, it is worth taking the time to wonder whether one would invest time in watching that story. After all, one should never forget that we are authors and as such, we have our own vision, and it is this which will help us make a unique project.

Once we answer these initial questions about the story we want to tell and in what format we want to structure it, we need to do some research. By research, we mean whether there are similar stories that have already been told in recent years. It is not uncommon that (with so many writers creating content) the story we have happens to be very similar to another that has recently been announced or released. In that case, sometimes we have to let that idea rest for a few years before we can retake it. Additionally, we have to investigate what the market is looking for. What stories and formats are receiving more attention and being produced? For instance, last year, there was a demand for TV series of fewer episodes and shorter formats (series of 20 min or even 15 min). It is no secret either that, in terms of content, stories with female protagonists hold a special interest. So, taking the time to do a market reading can help us understand the best way and strategy for our script to become a reality.

The second question worth a Million dollars will then be how to access that information. How to know what the market is looking for? The market is not a person or an entity but a series of trends and demands. The important thing is to be in constant contact with him as his demands and trends change very often and quickly.

There are several ways to access this information. One of them is to attend and participate in co-production markets. To name a few examples: Connect Fiction, Series Mania and the San Sebastian Festival are some of them. At these events, you will get in touch with all sorts of producers and executives and meet them, your first reaction should be to get an idea of what they’re looking for. What they seek is what “the market” seeks.

Here our recommendation is to listen and ask questions. Obviously, as writers, the first thing we want to do when we get to a meeting is to pitch our idea. However, we have found it to be more efficient to ask the producer or executive what they are looking for before you present your story. This information can help you refocus your pitch, and strengthen aspects that match what they just told you they are looking for or, it will give you an idea of how to rework the story you already have.

Another way to gain information on what the market is looking for is a document called a brief, where a search or a series of specific searches are written down as a reference.

Markets, Festivals, and Calls often reflect (based on their pitch contests) what the market is interested in, which is why it is crucial to participate in them.

We wish to insist on the importance of keeping in touch and staying informed. This research can be a key part of it and aid you to define the format in which you will develop your story. Besides, writing the script of a feature film and the script of a pilot are two completely different activities as of their respective structure, and in the case of a TV series, they also require a bible to accompany the script of your pilot. This aspect should not be any less important when making your decision.

As a final note, if you have already developed your story in one format or the other, it can only be beneficial to keep an open mind and remain predisposed to possible restructuring requests that may arise from an interested producer or executive in the history that you have created.

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