|Laverne knows her stuff|
For more information about EPIX, check out their website http://www.epixhd.com. Ms. McKinnon's bio is at the end of this post.
WHAT BACKGROUND AND SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO GET INTO DEVELOPMENT? PROGRAMMING?
For me, scripted development and programming is all about embracing possibility and realizing potential. I believe the role of a creative executive is to champion, facilitate and edit. A career in development and programming is helped by the following:
- Knowledge and understanding of who’s out there (writers, directors, producers, actors) – not just for their credits but for a personal insight into their unique talents and what helps them to thrive. For example, some writers are great at adaptations while others are awesome at punch-up. The goal is to set the project and the auspices up for success – ask people to do what they are great at and capable of doing.
- A strong list of contacts is essential. This allows you to pick up the phone and get someone to read material, to meet on a project or to attach themselves. If you don’t know the talent you’re trying to reach, you need to know who CAN get you there.
- Analytical skills are a must, meaning you must have the ability to articulate what’s working for the target market and what’s not. It’s not just about personal sensibility, it’s about understanding the audience and helping the writer/producer reach that audience effectively. Going back to the first bullet point, part of the analytical skills is also knowing whether your writer wants possible fixes pitched or not. Everyone is different, so you can’t apply same the rules of development to every project and every writer.
- Married to analytical skills is diplomacy. Always tell the truth and never sugarcoat. But at the same time you need to be empathetic and sensitive. Every one is different. Some people want the bandage ripped off while others prefer to be anesthetized.
- Good taste. I believe if you have good taste, this will ensure the projects you work on will have an evergreen quality and/or a positive, lasting impression.
WHAT MAKES FOR A GOOD PITCH IN TERMS OF CONTENT AND STYLE?
A good pitch is specific and short. Always have a logline that can be used by the producer/studio exec/agent to set-up the pitch – don’t rely on others to come up with the 2-3 sentence logline. It’s what gets you in the door and what will be used by the network executives to sell to their bosses. A good pitch will outline the central concept (and what’s unique about it), the tone, the characters and sample story lines. Be prepared to discuss the pilot story but don’t pitch it out beat for beat.
The style of the pitch should reflect the tone of the piece – if you’re pitching a comedy, it should be humorous. You don’t have to be a stand-up, but it should reflect the humor. A pitch for a drama should reflect its tone. Most executives on the scripted side prefer not to see a demo tape, charts, graphics or music. However this material is typical for non-scripted. Keep it simple and succinct.
CERTAIN PROGRAMS TAKE LONGER TO FIND AN AUDIENCE BEFORE ACHIEVING SUCCESS, LIKE SEINFELD OR THE OFFICE. HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHETHER A SHOW DESERVES A FEW MORE WEEKS?
It’s different from network to network. Broadcast networks have much more pressure because their success is reliant on ratings. They simply don’t have as much freedom to grow a hit. For a premium cable network like HBO or Showtime, a great deal of success is about the positive media attention and opportunities for unique brand differentiation.
PRE-EXISTING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SEEMS TO BE THE BASIS FOR SO MUCH TV THESE DAYS. HAS THE PARADIGM SHIFTED IN THIS DIRECTION PERMANENTLY?
I don’t believe it’s permanent, but what’s exciting to me about the creative marketplace today is that the barriers between feature vs. television vs. stage vs. digital are all coming down. Most creative auspices are now looking at what’s the best platform in which to tell the story versus being exclusive. Guillermo del Toro moves from books to movies to television. There’s a gigantic need for content with the growth of television and digital. Utilizing pre-existing intellectual property is an effective way to keep the pipeline filled. It takes a tremendous amount of care and thought to create a world in which a scripted television series can live. And to have the benefit of tapping into something that has already been created is a Godsend.
ALONG THE SAME TOPIC, WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR CONTENT?
Everywhere and anywhere. I’m a voracious reader, so I’ll read short stories, novels, comic books, articles and essays. I also love to travel, so I love hearing stories from different parts of the world. But it’s not just about the idea, it’s about who’s carrying it across the finish line. A great idea needs to be turned into a great script that can attract great talent. After that, it needs to be well produced. At the same time, you need to figure out how the vision can be sustained once these new personalities enter the mix.
While the content is critical, equally important is the person at the center who steers the project forward, can weather every storm and still see the forest through the trees. How’s that for mixing metaphors?
Laverne McKinnon is Executive Vice President, Original Programming and Development at EPIX where she oversees scripted series, original movies and mini- series, music and comedy events, and documentaries. EPIX is a next-generation premium entertainment channel, video on demand and on-line service which is a joint venture between Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Lionsgate.
Prior to joining EPIX, Ms. McKinnon launched her own production company Shibui Entertainment where she developed and sold drama and comedy projects to HBO, Showtime, USA, NBC, FX and the Cartoon Network. Ms. McKinnon also served as President, Television Production of 50 Cannon Entertainment, for feature film director Mike Newell.
Prior to 50 Cannon, Ms. McKinnon was Senior Vice President of Drama Series Development at CBS where she was involved in such successful series as Without A Trace, Criminal Minds, The Unit, Cold Case, Numbers and the CSI franchise.