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I made a pilot of a sitcom and I’ve had one meeting with one agent in LA who passed on it. How do I get more agents or networks to see it?

I watched 5 minutes of the pilot, and you’re not going to go anywhere with this. I’m being honest. I’m not saying there’s not a kernel of brilliance buried in here that can be turned into a good idea, I’m saying this video is not it.

If you really believe in this, you need to start over, write a new script, shoot it again. Your new script should be:

  • Focused. Your opening scene where characters talk about nothing isn’t sit-com. It may be “short film”, it may be a play, but it’s not a sit-com. Look at any pilot for any produced sitcom that aired. You have 22 precious minutes, don’t you dare waste the audiences time on anything that isn’t moving the story forward. Dialog should clip and be snappy and each character should have a voice. You might have noticed the second half of “sit-com” is comedy. Normally 3 jokes a page minimum. Single-cam sitcoms get a little more latitude, but you have to keep things moving along. People talking about random bullshit because you think it’s character development? We’ve already flipped the channel. (Your sitcom is about people who work in the shop. Why are we not starting in the shop. Why are you wasting our time watching them walk to work? This would be cut on an actual show, we’d open already there.)
  • Toned down for language and content. Can you make jokes about things coming out of assholes funny? Probably. Will ABC put it on in prime time? No. Your language and your tone dictate where it will get shown. Why kill yourself narrowing down your show to 2 out of 500 channels that would even be able to air it. (Note this is more acceptable at the script stage, see http://johnaugust.com/2011/fucki… for more, but I wouldn’t do it in anything you’ve filmed unless you’re really targeting HBO or whatever.)
  • Not so freaking expositive. In the first 4 minutes, you actually bring the whole thing to a stop while the characters say things like “I read the newspaper a year ago and got an idea for this so I opened this shop”. and “i need to pay rent this month, because we have to …” This is like screenwriter 101 stuff, you have to bury your exposition better. If your going to do this, why not just have your characters stop and speak directly to the camera. Giving us background like this grinds an already unfunny show to a complete halt.
  • Has characters who are different than one another. Your three characters all basically sound the same to me, in their manners and dialogue. You could switch their names and roles and it wouldn’t make any difference. You think you could switch Seinfeld and Kramer? You think you can switch Malcolm and Reese? Charlie and Alan? Pick any sitcom you actually watch and look at how distinct they are. You’ve shot yourself in the foot by pitching it as “2 hipsters” because you’ve already basically said these guys act the same. That’s not a sit-com at all. A sitcom is a hipster who works at the shop with his co-worker who’s a Harvard educated tight-ass and they hate each other. That’s a sit-com (if they talk to each other in a funny and clever way, i.e. odd-couple, not just random bullshit and lame insults.) But interchangeable characters ain’t it, sorry.
  • Modeled after something that’s already worked. Do yourself a huge, huge favor. Go find the pilot of any series (anything that made it on the air), that resembles what you’re trying to do. Doing a series in a restaurant or fast food stand isn’t unique, so go find something. Do a breakdown, take a stopwatch and time every scene. Note how many jokes there were, note what happened in that scene with all the characters (very important), how did the story move forward (A plot or B plot). Make yourself a blueprint of how it’s supposed to be done. Then copy it.



Since there was a reply, I’m adding this reply back.
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I don’t want to intentionally make this a debate. This is simply feedback (feedback you’re unlikely to get because people who don’t like it usually will simply say “no” and you won’t know why). If you feel the need to dismiss it by questioning my credentials, that’s up to you. As far as who I am, I have more industry experience than you, and less than Chuck Lorre. More importantly, I’ve been where you’re at right now, so I’m trying to help you along. You’ll notice nowhere in my original comment did I question who the hell decided it was a good idea to give you a video camera and that they should be taken out and shot. In fact, I very explicitly said “try again”. If you want a pat on the back for successfully getting a camera and your friends and putting together a 22 minute short film, then you have a pat on the back. Most people who think about working in the industry don’t ever bother, and you have. On the other hand, now you’ve put your creation up to the harsh daylight, and it looks like exactly what it is — a terrible first attempt which you must learn from and do it again.

You will notice that most film schools put their film program under the Dept of Communication. There’s a reason for that: film and TV is about communicating, about learning a language. If you learned French in class and then flew to Paris, the moment you tried speaking, people look at you and say “Huh?” (or more accurately, “hein?”). “Why?”, you would scream! You studied French, you know exactly what you want to say, in your mind it’s perfect. But when you actually started talking, it came out all wrong. You couldn’t pronounce anything correctly. You fell on your face. So do you jump on a plane and go home? No, you realize that this theoretical knowledge you learned in the classroom that you thought you knew didn’t work out so well when you actually did it. So you try again, you listen to the natives speak, you keep practicing and slowly but surely you get it right — even if it takes years. Do you get the big stupid metaphor here?? You have a brilliant show in your head, but somewhere between your mind and the video you posted, it didn’t work. The communication failed. So listen to the natives speak and try again.

Since you brought up Boardwalk Empire as a model (which btw doesn’t really work because now you’re comparing a sitcom to a drama, but okay), let’s break this down —

Your show: Banh Mi
0-1:35 Intro 2 main characters who discuss TV shows
1:30-2:15 – Intro cook character, discuss dodgeball game, trade insults
2:30 – discover sign on door, eviction notice (inciting incident)
2:30-3:00 discuss guy’s dad
3:00-4:15 history of shop, ends with repeating inciting incident, need customers, but leave for dodgeball game
4:15-5:30 idea of massage, including massage guy
5:30-7:00 idea of putting drugs on sandwich, deal with customer “jonzing for sandwich”
7:01-10:45 – show how badly this shop is run. No sandwiches, insulting to guy, food is bad, insult customer again (But wait! He’s our savior! After him!)
10:46-12:30 Find guy, repeat the situation we’ve just seen about needing someone to save their shop (just to explain it to anyone who hasn’t been watching)

Their show: Boardwalk Empire
0-1:00 – period setting, boats, shows smuggled whisky (obviously during prohibition)
1:30-whisky being transferred to car, they’re headed to NY
2:15 – runs across car turned over, appears to be dead body (intrigue)
2:30 – ambush, “do you know who’s load this is” (apparently someone very important, causes intrigue)
3:00 – flashback, 3 nights earlier, temperance society, intro our hero as a speaker, see woman listening intently, who will probably be important later because the camera keeps focusing on her. Intercut with young man waiting to come interrupt him, an obvious plant.
6:15 – reveal he’s a politician, he lies, and he drinks whiskey from his flask so we know he’s lying about his  prohibition stance

So take a look at the breakdown between what you did and what they did. They establish tone, they show something that immediately gets the audiences attention (whiskey being smuggled), then another interesting event (ambushed, whiskey stolen), then intro our main character who’s interesting because he preaches prohibition and then immediately is revealed he’s 2-faced (so we know the series will be about maintaining two “identities”). We’re less than 7 minutes in and we know what we’re in for, and several things have happened that pushed the story along. Even as “slow paced” as it is because it’s an hour long drama show, there are so many events that give us information and tell us about that world because it’s all important.

Your story show us characters who are clueless, about to lose their business, and you keep demonstrating just what stupid and bad businesspeople they are — and just at the most critical time, your screenplay drops in the “deus ex machina” — a solution to their problems that literally comes walking through the front door. That was lucky, thank God they didn’t have to do anything (except insult him repeatedly, just how all new business partnerships are born).

If these people are so bad at their business, who loaned them money to even open the shop in the first place? What bank even looked at their business plan? What wealthy relative gave them cash (and why is that person not running in and protecting their investment by kicking them out and taking over)? Your characters aren’t even “Beavis and Butthead”/laugh at them stupid, but “You deserve to go down in flames” stupid. And because of that, they’re boring characters with nothing to say, which is why they say nothing scene after scene.

As written, no one (in your audience) wants these guys to save their business — if anything you’ve amply demonstrated why they should be out on their ass. The CPA guy should run away as fast as he can. You violated the first rule of writing, you have no one the audience is interested in, identifies with, or cares about. Tell me, as an audience member, why I’m going to tune in every week for the next five years (the expected timeframe of any new series by the network) and watch your CPA guy try and keep your two owners from torpedoing their own business.

Since I’ve kicked you repeatedly in this post (and I don’t want to be intentionally mean, I really want people to succeed), I want to do something nice. I’m want to give you a few free ideas on how to fix all this, just top-of-my-head ideas to get you started in a new direction, free and clear:

Create a situation where a new owner comes in — maybe the original owner dies and someone takes over, or buys the place, or inherits it. Go find the pilots of WKRP and Moonlighting for examples of kickstarting a series like this. Don’t bother with the “eviction” plotline. (You want to squeeze 100 episodes out of an idea, are they going to be under threat of bankruptcy for the next 5 years?) Make one hipster really good at his job (cooking) but his customer service skills suck and he offends everyone. The other hipster can smooth anyone over but can’t make a sandwich to save his life. They cover for each other. The owner can’t get rid of either of them (and this makes them endearing). Make the owner someone who wants to dump the shop and close it, they have to convince him to keep it open (they have to prove something, maybe get business up, etc). You massage idea is funny as a single line of dialogue spit out as an idea — not as a 90 second drawn out scene. You need a couple of customers who will also be series regulars (maybe someone they like, and someone they hate and tolerate beause they need the business). One of the hipsters should have a girlfriend in the pilot. Drop the drugs in sandwiches storyline, no spitting in food (don’t do anything that your audience would know in real life they’d be busted by the end of the episode — did not one of those customers who got the cocaine sandwiches not figure it out and go the police? No one?). And most of all, for God’s sake, make every line of dialogue relevant to the plot, important to the scene, and/or cleverly funny.

Good luck.