The pilot process.

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Louis C.K.

Mar 23, 2006, 11:53:36 PM3/23/06
to moderated.alt.comedy.standup
Someone on the other crazy newsgroup asked me about pitching and
selling a pilot. I gave a long winded answer because I can't get any
work done. What I wrote answers lots of questions I've gotten here
before so I'm reposting it here for you folks who can't stomache the
unmoderated group...

So here's a rough outline of how it works, taking a show from pitch to

The first step is to meet with a development executive at the network
or studio and pitch them the general idea of the show. Usually you do
this with several companies over a week or so, sometime in July or
August. Then the agent fields the offers from the interested people,
and you weigh the offers and decide which network/studio to go with
according to three criteria: Who really gets your show and will let
you do it without fucking it up. Who is actually most likely to pick
up the show. Who is paying you the most money (the worst reason to go
with anyone). If no one has made an offer, you just go fuck yourself.

If you have sold your show to a studio, you now go on another round of
pitch meetings with them in tow, to sell the show to a network. If you
are able to sell to a network, then you start working, now for both
entities. (In my case, I sold the show to HBO Independant Productions,

which is making the show for HBO, which are a lot of the same people,
so my life is easier. )

Then the agent makes your deal and you start working.

The first thing you have to do is come up with the general story line
for the pilot, which you pitch to the executives, first studio, then
Once the story is basically agreed to, you write an outline, which is
just a blow by blow description of each scene in paragraph form, which
should include all plot points and any funny details or jokes you
already have. You then pass the outline in to the studio, which gives
you notes. You take their notes and re-write it and if they are
satisfied, you pass it in to the network. They now give notes which
you re-write the outline with and then pass it in until the network and

the studio are both happy. When that happens, it's time to write the
pilot script. So you go off and take as long as you need to churn out
a first draft. I think this took me a couple of months. Only about
three days were spent actually writing. The other fifty seven were
spent driving myself nuts while ruminating about what the show is and
how to do it. That's me. Some people write every day, just pounds and

pounds of words. I do a lot of work in my head and then just shit it
out like fast diarreah.

Okay, so you now have a first draft and you give it to the studio.
They read it and then you get their notes. The same thing happens now
that happened for the outline only often it takes longer. Unless you
wrote a good outline. What I mean is that, if you really tackle to
story and get it right in the outline, sometimes the script is a lot
easier. In any case, you go back and forth between studio and network
until everybody agrees that the script is in good shape. Unless no one

agrees or it is not in good shape. Generally, this is the first
failure point for most pilots. The writer, studio and network bat the
script around and it gets re-written to death, while other pilots are
clicking along and improving. You will start to notice that the
executives you're dealing with are showing less and less interest and
often you'll just suddenly stop getting calls and your agent will say
"Yeah... um... I think it's time to move on."
BUT if your script is good, if it stays hot and people like it and you,

it'll be decalred finished and passed in to the network for
consideration for pick up. In other words, the executives you've been
dealing with at the network, who are development people, will now give
it to the top executives, Les Moonves, Kevin Reilley, whoever. In my
case, Carolyn Strauss and Chris Albrecht. They read it and sometimes
they have notes. If they have big notes, like they think there are
essencial flaws in the script, you're sent off to re-write yet again an

dthey read it a second time. Sometimes this is a good sign because if
they just don't like it, the project will just die there. If they are
giving you notes at this point it's becaus they think it's worth
wasting a little time on it.
So you do another rewrite and pass it in. Now it's time to break out
in hives and hit your children for no reason, because you have to wait.

Your script is now finished and on a very big and important desk with,

depending on the network, LOTS of other scripts that have been through

all the same shit. This point is usually reached, horribly enough,
right before the hollidays. The network presidents take a bunch of
pilots home to read over the hollidays, while you spend the hollidays
not knowing your future. It's torture.
And the Hollidays, in Hollywood are a LONG FUCKING TIME. These people
go away from about Haloween to New Year.
So now you hate all of life and it's about the second week in January.
People you know are starting to hear that their pilot has been picked
up by the network you're with. And you haven't heard. You spend HOURS

on the phone with your agent and friends, trying to read tea leaves
that aren't there. You run into someone that tells you they just had
anal sex with the network president who told them that he is definitely

picking up your show. Then your agent calls and tells you they're
OR you get a call from your studio executive who tells you that,
congratulations, they're going to shoot your pilot.

Now it's time to actually make the pilot. Holy mother fucking shit.

You have to do the following things as every pilot in the city is doing

them simultaneously: Find a studio to shoot in. Cast your pilot. Find

a director. Get back to work on the script because now that it's being

shot people have a LOT of notes that they held back before, when it was

just a pipe dream.

If you are a strong enough and experienced enough writer, you are the
show runner. But if you wrote the pilot but are a novice, you are also

going to have to find a show-runner. In my case, I needed to find a
show-running partner because I starred in the show as well as creating
it, so once we started shooting I would not be an effective full--time
show-runner without some help.
So you are trying to get the best actors, director and writer in the
world at the same time that everyone else in town is trying...
Okay, so casting. First you have to hire a casting director. There
are only a few good ones and everybody wants them. you have to meet
with a lot of people who tell you some ideas of who they might cast in
your show. If you click with someone you hire them (if you can) and
start casting. You see thousands of horrible actors and hear your
pilot script read over and over and over and over again. At the same
time, offers are going out to very big named actors, none of which you
think fit the parts at all, but you are told they will help your show
get on the air. (In my case, HBO doesn't give a shit about that, so we

were able to cast people according to their funninness and acting.
Hooray for me) At one point you're told that your pilot is going to
star Brendan Frazier and Jody Foster. At the last minute they both
pass and you end up with Kirk Cameron and Shelly Biglachnataps. The
way the casting works is that you make usually three top picks for
every part in the show. You now take these people to the studio and
they decide if they like your choices. If they do, you take those
three folks now to network. THey sign what is called a test deal, which

means they make their acting deal before the network even sees them.
So yo uhave to negotiate a deal with three actors per part, even though

only one of them will be hired. So the three actors (per part) go to
the network and audition for LEs moonves or whoever. He/she/they pick
one person and you are cast. OR (and usually) they don't like any of
them and you have to start all over again and now time is fucking
running out and every good actor is already on a show.

Alright, so you cast your show and you hire a director, also very hard
because there are maybe one of those that are good and he's working on
something else.

All of this hiring and setting up takes place over February and March.
Some pilots spin out and crash because a good cast or showrunner was
never found. So that day in Janurary, when you got the green light,
goes from being the best to the worst day of your life.

But if you survive all of that, you shoot your pilot over some week in
March or April (we shot ours in April)

The pilot shoot week breaks down like this:

Monday: table read. The network and studio come and watch the actors
read the script. Then they give the writers notes. Sometimes the
notes are staggering like "We don't know if the main point of the story

is really that good or funny." And you have to insanely re-invent
everything. This is probably not going to be a television show now.
Just the worst week of your life. SOmetimes cast members get fired
after the table read, and you now have one day to cast a part that took

you a month to cast before. But if the notes are minimal and
everythign looks like it's basically working, you do your re-write
happily as the director rehearses with the actors.

Tuesday: Runthrough: The show is acted out on the stage for the writers

and the studio. the same thing happens as monday, you get notes. Then

you give the director and the actors notes and go rewrite as they

Wednesday: Runthroug: Now the network comes and watches the show on
it's feet. They give notes and you rewrite and rehearse again.

THursday: the cameras are brought in and you block the show for them,
as the director decides how to shoot each scene. The actors should all

be pretty ready at this point and the script should be stabalized. If
you are still rewriting and casting at this point... you're pretty
fucked. But it happens.

Friday: bring in the audience and shoot the show. Some pilots take
hours to shoot because no one has worked together, one or more actors
are bad, and the network AND studio are giving notes after every single

take so you are doing every scene several times just to placate people.

They give the audience pizza but they still leave ande you end up
shooting in an empty house for half the night. This didn't happen to
me fortunately. We shot the Lucky Louie pilot in about two and a half
hours (actually we did it twice)

Okay, so now the show has been shot and people get drunk.

THen you start editing which is a long and difficult process. The
director edits first, then the showrunners. You pass in your edit to
the studio, get notes and then the network. Then, when the pilot is
totally edited, you wait. How you wait differs from place to place. I

did a pilot at CBS and we had to wait while they tested the show. They

do all kinds of screwy marketting experiments and they show the pilot
to a test audience. You are given elaborate data according to the test
and you often have to re-edit the pilot to adress the testing data.
(HBO doesn't test their shows, so i got to skip that this time)
Finally, someone takes pictures of the cast looking desperate as they
all sit on the same easy chair, and the pilot is complete. It is put on

the desk of the network president, along with elaborate reports and
photos of the cast, along with every other pilot that made it that far.

you wait and you wait. If it's a network, you wait until the
"Upfronts" when they announce their schedule in new york. SOme people
are told the day of the announcement that they are or are not going to
series. When I did the pilot at CBS, we were told we were in the
running until the last second. Someone from Warner Brothers called me
literally an hour before Les Moonves made his announcement, to say he
wouldn't be mentioning "Saint Louie" although we were strong contenders

for mid-season (obviously that didn't happen either)
HBO doesn't do up-fronts and they don't do marketing research. It's
just two people, Carolyn Strauss and Chris Ablrecht, who watch their
pilots and then mull it over for a while and then decide. In our case,

we were brought in about two weeks after we'd passed in the finished
pilot, to meet with Albrecht and basically defend our thesis. We told
him what we learned from doing the pilot and how we intended to execute

a series if he gave us the chance. We left that meeting having NO idea

which way he would go. About a week after that, I was picking up my
daughter from her daycare when my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was
someone from HIP calling to say "HBO has ordered twelve episodes of
Lucky Louie"
Now, you think making a pilot is hard, try doing it twelve times in six




Mar 24, 2006, 12:48:03 AM3/24/06
to moderated.alt.comedy.standup
...and I thought I signed that post.
One of the few times I checked the other group in the last while and
found industry related info.
great insight.


Mar 24, 2006, 2:10:35 AM3/24/06
to moderated.alt.comedy.standup

Louis C.K. wrote:
> Someone on the other crazy newsgroup asked me about pitching and
> selling a pilot. I gave a long winded answer because I can't get any
> work done. What I wrote answers lots of questions I've gotten here
> before so I'm reposting it here for you folks who can't stomache the
> unmoderated group...


How much coffee did you drink before you wrote that?
It sounds like all those business people are sapping your creative
energy. Put them all out of your head!!!
You should have a contest in here. We could all throw out ideas for
a new episode,,even though we havent' seen any of the previous ones.
The winner could win something,,,something great.I don't know whats
great to win, because I never win anything.
Let's see, my first idea is that you put on some expensive skin cream
you ordered from the internet,,to fix a blemish,,,and it blossoms into
hundreds and hundreds of giant red spots all over your face and body.
The kids start screaming when they see you. ...ok, I have more.

Henry Coleman

Mar 27, 2006, 1:18:57 PM3/27/06
to moderated.alt.comedy.standup

You had alot of people you know as the cast or so it seems, did the
network approve them upfront of did you have to push for replacements.

I know HBO is pretty liberal but how many scripts changes did they give
you on average. And the changes become less and less as the amount of
episodes shoot increased.

Last Question

Since this is a industry of recycling faces, meaning you see alot of
the same people just at different positions in different places, where
most of the people in the "chain" you spoke of old friends and how much
of basic human relationships helped the process of making sure your
project made it to the end of the line.

Based on the post you made it seem like it was all machinical writing,
emialing, and phone calling. I know the process is alot more passion
filled then that. I would guess.

Thank You
Henry Coleman

Doug Doane

Mar 31, 2006, 10:10:10 PM3/31/06
to moderated.alt.comedy.standup
It's your history of such lengthy details like this over the years has
made me one of your biggest fans. Wonderful read. Thanks Louis.


Sensei Ern

Apr 7, 2006, 11:23:17 AM4/7/06
to moderated.alt.comedy.standup
Louis, the last time I responded to you, I gave you an unintended
backhanded slap, for which I am still remorseful. So, it is with
hesitation I even reply.

With the pain in the rear that doing a show for a network is, why
bother? (For the money, of course.)

Why hasn't anyone put together an internet TV network? It seems it
would be less expensive, and there would be less hassles. Less money
incoming, of course, but there are millions of people on the net. I bet
a well done show on the interenet could get more viewers than MSNBC.

Bandwidth is a problem, for peons like us. But, a disgruntled
millionaire TV exec could set up something with the bandwidth needed.

Heck, if I could get the other $995,000.00 I need to be a millionaire,
I'd put it together. I could sell shares, if anyone is interested in
the new interent TV network.

Apr 19, 2006, 12:37:42 PM4/19/06
to moderated.alt.comedy.standup

Sensei Ern wrote:

> Why hasn't anyone put together an internet TV network? It seems it
> would be less expensive, and there would be less hassles. Less money
> incoming, of course, but there are millions of people on the net. I bet
> a well done show on the interenet could get more viewers than MSNBC.

My guess is that the issue is advetising. It would be harder, if even
possible, to sell local advertising, so that all advertising would have
to be national. I'd think that national ads would be a much harder
sell than local ones.


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