Sightlines Journal, Issue 1, 2015
For contractual reasons, this production cannot be shown. However, the screenplay is available for download at the link provided.
Authors: Marilyn Tofler & Jeremy Stanford (screenplay) and Marilyn Tofler (research component)
Screenplay (46kB PDF)
The television pilot, Best Intentions, aims to explore whether a strong comedy television pilot displays material that cannot be demonstrated within the script alone. There is a gap in research into what makes a successful comedy television proposal and also what makes a strong comedy television pilot. Worthy comedy projects may slip past the notice of television executives who are unable to make the leap to envisaging how a screenplay and project will be realised on the screen.
Australian satirist, John Clarke, previously made a very low budget pilot to get his brilliant series, The Games (1998, 2000), greenlit by the ABC. In 2007, Peter Moon and I would use this same method of producing a brief pilot teaser to successfully get Whatever Happened to That Guy?, an 8 part comedy series, commissioned by Foxtel Comedy Channel. Australian comedy export successes including Wilfred (FX, 20112014, SBS, 2007, 2010) and Lowdown (ABC, 2010, 2012) would be unlikely to have been commissioned without the inclusion of their pilot episodes.
The addition of a pilot or mini pilot episode that features a sample of major characters and situations may allow television executives to see first hand how a script is to be played out on the screen. The addition of a pilot episode with the written project proposal may enable television executives to get a clearer picture of tone, directorial technique, humour and actor portrayal of character, all of which may not be able to be gathered from the script or written proposal alone.
Subsequent research I am conducting includes Television Comedy Development Not Only for Laughs. This traditional research will analyse best practice for Australian television comedy development, using the case study of Best Intentions television series proposal and pilot along with an analysis of executive interviews with television comedy commissioners, producers and state and federal screen industry investors. This industry practice will also be contextualised within the broader history and theory of Australian television comedy.
The Best Intentions television pilot accompanies a written television project proposal and was pitched to producers at production companies and television comedy commissioners. A number of these television commissioners, producers along with decisionmaking development staff at Film Victoria and Screen Australia have been interviewed about the role of the television pilot in the pitching process, attributes sought for successful funding, and insights into what television networks, funding bodies and producers look for in a project. This will form part of subsequent traditional research output.
- Does the Best Intentions pilot give the viewer an idea of the tone of the Best Intentions television series?
- Does the Best Intentions pilot give the viewer an idea of the directorial technique of the Best Intentions television series?
- Does the Best Intentions pilot give the viewer an idea of the humour in the Best Intentions television series?
- Does the Best Intentions pilot give the viewer an idea of the character portrayal of the Best Intentions television series?
- Does the Best Intentions pilot show material that cannot be demonstrated in the script alone?
This research addresses questions relating to best practice in comedy television project proposals and asks whether a television pilot can show material that cannot be demonstrated in the script alone. In doing so it creates a new benchmark for research into comedy television project proposals.
The recorded work was screened publicly at the 2014 Sightlines: Filmmaking in the academy conference, presented by the Screen Cultures Research Lab, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University
by Andrew O’Keefe
The Best Intentions pilot is an interesting pitch document for a television project and clearly showcases the level of talent involved, however, does it display material that cannot be demonstrated within the script alone and is it a successful approach? Given the critical resurgence in fictional television and the financial resources required in the production of quality television series (or, in this instance, a mini-pilot) this research is both relevant and timely.
The Best Intentions mini-pilot, for this viewer, places the potential series in the broader comedy genre with a strong fish-out-of-water thematic. This summary is read only from the minipilot and, if it is correct, then it is successful. Indeed the minipilot delivers on a number of fronts.
Arguably, the most important element for television audiences and their financiers is cast and here the mini-pilot delivers in a way that no other format can. The actual cast playing the characters onscreen is surely the most effective method of replicating the feeling and tone of the potential series. For a time-poor executive, one assumes that this approach would be favoured. The script alone cannot deliver this.
Whether or not the tone of the finished production can be delivered by the screenplay alone is arguable. In this aspect the writers have done an excellent job with the writing and the tone jumps off the page. The written action and dialogue sets the pitch of the performances very effectively. It would be difficult to stay true to the writers’ intentions upon directing passages like “Saskia beams madly” and “they’re bursting with excitement and pride” without aiming for larger-than-life performances. This may not be the case with all television series however. True Detective comes to mind as an example where the pacing and mood may not be as prevalent in the written form. Perhaps the tone of comedy is more effective on the page?
The series seems to question whether an individual’s ethics can survive against the excesses of peer pressure. The mini-pilot only hints at this longer form theme whereas the traditional method of a television series “bible“ is the document that outlines that journey on paper. So, on that front, the mini-pilot has an apparent weakness and should form be part of the package and not be the package in itself.
The form of the mini-pilot needs to be scrutinized when compared to the value of a full-length pilot. The mini-pilot can only hint at the journey the characters will take across an episode, let alone across the series. A full-length pilot, however, delivers the experience of an entire episode, possibly including the completion of a standalone subplots or a major character development. The mini-pilot is restricted here. This merely suggests that further research may need to consider the differences between pilots and mini-pilots. The larger body of research that this paper is based upon will likely be beneficial to the Australian film industry and I look forward to being exposed to its further discoveries.
By Lyndsay Duthie Programme
Leader for Film & TV University of Hertfordshire, UK
Best Intentions is a commercial proposition for a prime time sitcom. It taps in well to the social pressures of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ and has some clearly identifiable themes. It has real potential as a series and achieves its aims as a pilot to give a flavour of what you would see over serial episodes.
The pilot successfully establishes the queen bee character. It effectively plays with stereotypes to act as shorthand to bring the protagonists to life. This is not a negative as the familiar is important in the language of sitcoms. The actors are well cast and pitched well.
The start was softer than the pace of the rest of the piece. It could have maybe benefitted from a scene beforehand something along the lines of ‘ It’s your birthday darling – you have to go to this! They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to welcome us.’ This would quickly let the audience in on the tension from both mother and daughter attending this event. This would give better clarity and avoid it taking too long to understand the setup.
Clearly the mum character has to decide as the series progresses whether to join the horrible tribe or be an outsider and make life more difficult for her daughter fitting in.
It is a good moment when the mum is looking like she is seduced by the over the top gift of a new car. To develop this scene further it would have been interesting if the mum had got in the car as if she was about to do the ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ thing but then got out of the car the other side, as if she has come to her senses just in time. This would allow the pilot to show how the series will pan out as the mum faces various dilemmas as she tries to fit in.
The series explores current social issues, particularly on living in suburbia. It is clearly recognisable as a middle class world where materialism has high value for some. To explore this further we could have seen the mum pull up in her old Toyota to understand the significance of her status in the tribe on the outside. Will the series tackle the mum trying to teach her daughter good values versus trying to fit in?
There is no innovation as such as ‘Best Intentions’ follows the sitcom conventions but perhaps wisely to make these quick, identifiable connections with audience. There are no real surprises as it plays with stereotypes – but this works well.
It is not an artistic piece but it is shot, lit and edited well.
In summary the pilot clearly sets up the characters and plot line. It is engaging and fun. The audience can play with the ‘what would I do in this situation’.
There is plenty of scope for storylines and clearly can see how this can be a returnable series. In the end the script is the ‘be all and all’! A pilot brings it to life effectively but you risk turning commissioners off if you create the pilot at too early a stage before shaping and dialogue has begun. That said ‘Best Intentions’ is pilot ready and has all the ingredients needed to make a successful splash on our screens.
Author response to review
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