Find out what development execs look for in a TV bible.
Sometimes it can feel as though a television writer actually spends very little time writing a television script. As more platforms become available to sell to, writers are required to create more materials to sell an executive on their show, instead of allowing the script to speak for itself. This can be daunting as you must now potentially create a pitch deck, mood deck, treatment, TV bible, or more. However, the benefit is that executives will develop any script they bring in, changing it to meet their needs.
These additional materials sell them on a fully realized concept in a way that a solitary script may not and it can solidify trust in your vision to bring a series to life. This is particularly true with TV bibles, where you dive into your big, long-term plans and overall vision for the show.
What’s Included in TV Bibles?
Knowing what to include in a bible can be tricky since the industry uses a variety of words for similar things. In this instance, we’re discussing the document that not only shows the long-term plans for the show, but once your show is greenlit, the document will continue to grow with your series as a point of reference of what has happened and the rules of the world.
What Do Executives Look for in TV Bibles?
We spoke with Coverfly’s Writer Development Executive, Geoffroy Faugerolas, and Head of Development, Tom Dever, to find out what executives are looking for in a great TV Bible. These two executives work with writers from programs on the Coverfly platform to assist in honing their materials and introduce them to the industry.
A Deeper Dive…
While a pitch deck may list the characters, the premise, the world, and what happens in the pilot, the bible will include all of those things and dive a little deeper. You should deliver more information about the characters, premise, world, and plot, while also looking ahead. Executives want to see overarching narratives for seasons and how long you think your show will last.
…But Not So Deep That Collaboration is Difficult
When asked what the most common mistake writers make with their bibles, Dever said, “Laying out episode by episode, every single thing that is going to happen. A pilot is selling someone on the endless possibility of a concept and, while it is good to talk about the arcs of individual seasons, breaking down every single thing that happens seems presumptuous and also removes any ability for them to collaborate or develop it.”
What you can do instead of including full summaries of every individual episode, is give a short paragraph to each of the first few episodes of the initial season, focusing primarily on the premise so that the executives can see your story engine in action, while still leaving plenty of room for conversation and development on the specifics.
When discussing how long your bible should be, Faugerolas recommends, “10-12 pages or even shorter.” So keep that marker in your mind. He adds, “If you look at the Lost bible or the Stranger Things bible, you will see that whether or not they reflect what the show exactly is in the end, they’re compelling reading materials; They tease mysteries…leave the reader hooked.”
The Most Crucial Element of TV Bibles
“The engine,” says Faugerolas. “I literally hear this. I have no doubt that someone can write a 10 episode story or have storylines that span that length of time, but there needs to be a clear generator of conflict and purpose at the core of the series that will drive EVERY episode.”
He cites WandaVision as a great, recent example. In that series, Wanda Maximoff’s grief has exploded into a new world. The engine of the episode challenges how she has created a massive and intense distraction instead of allowing themselves to grieve and recover from trauma. While the show was advertised by using classic television sitcom references, those visuals were the icing on a very complex cake.
Dever had a similar answer, looking at the character’s emotional journey and how it relates to the series’ theme. In his experience, executives want “characters that are compelling and have somewhere to go… They also want themes that are universal… they also want a strong hook… and finally, they want a show that has a clear audience.” These elements all point to WHY the audience connects to the show on an emotional level. Not everyone will view a show the same way, so you need to know who you’re writing for and what that audience likes.
Visual Components of TV Bibles
Since the bible is a reference tool that dives deep into both what happens and the overall concept of the show, some writers may include visual references or a “mood board”. These elements are common in pitch materials, or may even be a separate deck, but they are not necessary to include in your bible.
“Anything that can quickly ground someone in the world of the show is going to be additive. If that is images, mood boards, or even a specific font, it’s doing a lot of the work for you. I would err on the side of caution when it comes to actual production design,” says Dever.
And Faugerolas adds, “It’s particularly helpful for period pieces, fantasy, sci-fi, animation…but leave room for other people to interpret your materials.” Though, he also reminds writers that you don’t want to overwhelm executives with all the materials. Remember, you’re trying to keep your bible at 10-12 pages long.
Using a TV Bible in Meetings
Sending a TV bible with your pilot is a great way to solidify your vision to an executive. The clearer your voice to the reader, the more likely you’ll land meetings with people who identify with that voice. It can seem frustrating sometimes, to send out materials to people and companies you want to work with, only to have them not respond to the materials. This is a great thing though! You never want to work with people who aren’t as excited about the series as you.
When you meet with executives the passion you deliver verbally should be felt on the page, too. Everyone in the meeting will know what you’re selling, while also still having room to develop the story, world, and characters further.
The best thing you can do with the materials you deliver is to hook the readers so that they want to be a part of the story. Television is a collaborative art and your meeting should reflect that, giving space for the series to grow in development.
If you’re looking for inspiration on your bible, check out this great piece from Screencraft with links to over 20 series bibles from popular, contemporary series. And consider looking at some of Launch Pad’s success stories to see what working with our development team can do for you and your series.
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