What makes a great pilot?

(Bri Castellini) #1

Two things!

  1. Do you have an example (or a few examples) of what you think is a great web series pilot?
  2. What do you think are the components (get technical) of a great web series pilot?

(further prompts)
How do you capture attention in the first 10-15 seconds? Does that change with genre (sci-fi, comedy, drama, etc)? Should you introduce all your characters, or just a principal one or two? What’s a solid plot action versus exposition ratio?

(Bri Castellini) #2


(Rayne M) #3

I kno it’s a cliche but LBD had a really good pilot.

Starts with the iconic first line of the book it’s based off, so instant nostalgia and connection for people who were brought there for the promise of a P&P adaptation. It’s also jarringly pink as a prop teeshirt so that’s visually interesting even though we’re in a bedroom. There’s obvi tons of exposition which somewhat is helped by being a vlog and therefore more forgiving of expo, but the character meshes expo with fast talking (so it doesn’t drag and we get through it fast) and missing it with scenes and examples and lots of new visual things like title cards and costume theater and bringing in a new character midway through for some extra visual difference from the static frame.

It’s also funny! And the character is funny in the first ten seconds with sarcasm and again multiple times throughout the episode so it proves itself on that ground.

(Bri Castellini) #4

Good call! (psst @berniesu)

I also think it’s a good example of not needing to introduce all your characters at once- you only really get Lizzie and Charlotte, with a quick Lydia bit at the end and almost no mention of Jane. But Jane wouldn’t have moved the story along in the pilot, so the only benefit to introducing her then would have been… to introduce her, I guess, and that’s not a super strong point for that character. So it makes sense they saved her introduction for episode 2, where they really got to explore her without the pressure of setting up the show premise and shoe-horning her in

(Rayne M) #5

that’s true! I didn’t even think about that and then rewatched it and realized I must have counted her portrayal of her mom as the fourth introduced character lol

(Jonathan Hardesty) #6

For me it’s more about how the frame is constructed, how well-lit it is, and how charismatic the actor is in the pilot. Does the pilot move at a good clip? Is the editing more than just cutting when the scene is done? Is the stuff behind the actor pleasant to look at? On a plot and content level I find myself a lot more patient because its a webseries and needs a LITTLE time to get going…but what carries me in the beginning is the technical aspects. If the pilot has a great premise but an un-decorated set, I will move on.

Introduce all the characters at once? Absolutely not. You only need the protagonist of the story in the pilot and let the other characters come as the plot demands. First and foremost in these smaller shows is our relationship to the main character. We need to get who they are in the pilot. The rest can be shunted off to episodes two through the rest.

Capturing attention in the first 10-15, I’m not necessarily a good one to ask for that. Flagon opens on a video game title screen that’s pixelated so it’s using nostalgia as a bit of an attention grab. It’s a strategy that wouldn’t work today. My show about bro sausages always began on an exterior shot of the rundown fraternity they lived in, with a backdrop of the campus behind it. We hung on that shot extra long before diving into the content because we wanted to troll our more impatient audience.

As for webseries examples, I don’t have any off the top of my head, but I’m anxious to see what everyone else comes up with.

(Erik Urtz) #7

This is a tough one Bri… I’m not sure what the best pilot episode I’ve seen is but I keep going back to the first episode of @redshirtjamie’s “I Am Tim” which definitely hooked me right off for the rest of the series.

I highly recommend watching for yourself, as we awarded it ‘Best Series’ the year it came out: YouTube

If I had to say why it works well there would be a couple of actionable points. First it saves its title sequence till the end. It’s essentially a cold open for the series.

It opens with an exciting action sequence, with a lot of energy, great rock music and some tongue in cheek aesthetics that really sell you on the overall concept for the series.

It doesn’t wear out it’s welcome. There is something to be said for ending on a high note and asking your viewer to keep going before they have a chance to get bored.

(Steven Bucky Butler) #8

Here’s a video that almost became a show on Disney XD, I consider it a pilot episode even though ti’s pretty short. ENJOY!

(Carlo Delmar) #9

If you enjoy comic book store drama web series, then you may enjoy Solace.

(Alicia Carroll) #10

I just went to a spectacular episodic section at LAFF and I think it comes down to 3 things.

  1. Point of View/Voice
  2. Character
  3. Structure

The pilots I fall in love with, no matter their budget or production value always stems on whether the voice or point of view is unique. If it feels like something that can uniquely be told in a short-form format or something I don’t see anywhere else, it draws me in and makes me want to find out what other ways they are going to push the envelope.

Second, I need to care about the characters - and quickly. jokes are great and funky formats are great but character is still queen in my mind.

and lastly, I do care about structure in a webseries pilot. It’s sometimes an after thought for some people but I think as a medium, it’s important to tell stories that fit the medium. If you write a half hour pilot and then break it up into chunks - that’s not short form. That’s a show cut up haha. I LOVE when series use the time restraint as a way to elevate the story. And the arc and the payoff are that of any other show or movie just condensed. it’s amazing how much drama you can fit into 10 minutes or how many jokes you can fit into 90 seconds.

After that, performance and direction are important but they tend to hinge on the above elements.

My favorite web pilot at this point is probably Brown Girls. I think it really hits on the above elements. I also loved a few of the Wigs series - specifically Blue and Paloma. High Maintance is an excellent example of voice and point of view because you don’t really get to know the delivery guy outside of his brief interaction with the other characters. The pilot does a great job of establishing the format and structure. And the buy-in is huge for the audience.

At the festival a few of my favorite pilots were Revenge Tour (US), Flatbush Misdemeanors (US), Kiki and Kitty (AUS) and Fresh! (AUS).

(Marc Unger) #11

This is a great topic. I think our series turned out great and our pilot looked great. Very proud of the acting and the writing. But I did have several people tell us that they thought the season got better as it went on. Some of that was because our level of camera improved and the shooters we used were better. But I also think, as writer, I found the voice of the series a bit later and, as editor, the first episode was too “talky” and too linear. You can pretty much just read the logline for www.thespianseries.com and you’ll have all you need to know to go past the pilot episode. However, recently I did a whole new edit and think it improved the pacing a great deal. If anyone’s interested, I can send you the two versions and maybe that will help you in your own artistic muddle.

(Emma Drewry) #12

the one piece of advice Bernie’s given me about pilots and episodes in general was about the goal of any web series episode-- to get the audience to the next one. it seriously changed the way i looked at my pilot and helps put you in the mind of your audience.

(Pablo Andreu) #13

Are pilots even worth it for web series? I guess it makes sense if you want to have something to show when crowdfunding for a project, or if you want to submit to festivals and don’t have the budget for a season. Are there any other reasons I’m missing?

(Bri Castellini) #14

Pilot being the first episode in this case

(Ian David Diaz) #15

Ahh, it all depends on the format I’ve found, my thing (Rebecca Gold the series - Home | Facebook) - is to leave them wanting more at the end, and the script, always be one step ahead of the audience. Yep, old school I know but I think we should all do what we know. Mine’s is not a comedy, which so many are, mines is a drama with a little bit of action - Why? Because doing good action sequences takes up a lot of time and costs, we had very little money. The pilot Ep is so important, why? Because it’s obvious, if you don’t draw the audience in on the first one, they may not come back for another. I’m sure I’m just reiterating what others have said :slight_smile: