Turin 2020 – Torino Film Industry
Industry Report: Series
Netflix explains how to present TV series projects in Turin
Director of Talent Development for Netflix International Originals Christopher Mack reveals how to write the perfect pitch at the Torino Film Industry
Every new series they launch is made available in 190 countries and is subtitled in 32 languages; their feelers are always out for new writers and filmmakers hailing from all over the world and in possession of brilliant stories, whom they can then teach to write TV series. Their objective: 5 million subscribers by 2025. But the reality is: “we don’t have enough writers, so we’re investing in training to help participants understand how to create content, as well as holding workshops like this one”, explains Christopher Mack, Director of Creative Talent Investment & Development at Netflix International Originals, during a masterclass organised by the Torino Film Lab, which is unfolding within the wider Torino Film Industry event.
Christopher Mack has been in the business for 25 years, having started out at NBC California (“in the year they snapped up Friends and ER”) and spent a period of time working for Warner Brothers (where he worked on Smallville 2 and Half Man Show). Before he runs through his various bullet points on how to create a good pitch document to present to Netflix, Mack reminds attendees that an idea for a project should always offer something that can’t be found on local TV channels: “hot topics, but those which aren’t spoken about elsewhere. From family scandals through to teenage sex, and reinvented genres, “like the fortuitous Korean zombie drama set in the future, Kingdom, which was also a huge success outside of Korea”.
It isn’t important for shows to make it big in the US, but they need to do well in their country of origin, “because our business model is aimed at increasing subscriber numbers in our many different countries, by ensuring the content speaks to the viewer’s own experience”. Furthermore, Mark reveals, using the example of Breaking Bad, which was the point of reference for the entire masterclass, “at Netflix, I discovered that, contrary to popular belief, characters are more important than plots. Our involvement depends on how much we understand the characters and their motivations: Breaking Bad is an iconic series which explores the change taking place within a character, which gives us the opportunity to approach the story from his particular perspective”.
As such, a good teaser - on which the audience’s decision whether to watch a programme or not often depends, a choice which is made unconsciously in the first 5 seconds of viewing, “as it is when we meet someone on a blind date”, stresses Mack - should give an idea of the character, their main conflict and the world which surrounds them. “What’s important is how proactive the hero is in reaching her or his goal. And on this subject, pace is crucial: each and every scene should have an emotional drive which carries the story forwards, otherwise it’s pointless. And it’s important to include cliffhangers (a plot device which sees an episode end at a point of climax) to ensure the audience are left on the edge of their seats, struck by an emotional punch which resonates with both the character and the viewer”.
These, therefore, are the guidelines (‘reduced’ to seven points) for a good pitch document, which should be roughly ten pages long and should contain: 1. Answers to key questions about the story: explanations of the themes, as well as the plot, which should also clarify who the characters are, what they want and why, what they do to achieve this, what stops them and with what consequences; 2. An overview, or a good synopsis which helps conveys the genre of the work, the key conflicts unfolding within it and why that story needs to take place within a particular location and temporal setting, and which is, first and foremost, concise (a so-called “elevator pitch”, which should only last as long as an elevator ride); 3. The world in which the story is set, which should feel authentic and favour immersion (“audiences don’t watch series to learn things, but it makes them happy if, at the end, they feel they have,”); 4. The tone, that is, the particular atmosphere to be conveyed to the audience; 5. A description of the characters: how is their background incorporated into the series? What is the catalyst, the event which triggers a shift in their moral compass? (“often in big films, the change is both external and internal, and this results in layered characters; Die Hard is a classic example of this”, Mack points out, also citing Netflix’s recent hit Unorthodox (the story of a Hasidic Jew who flees Brooklyn and makes for Berlin in order to escape an arranged marriage. She’s taken in by a group of musicians but her past catches up with her – read our review); 6. A season summary, or rather a summary of the characters’ ‘journey’ through key emotional turning points; 7. Potential future episodes.
(Translated from Italian)
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