TV Series Development at UCLA

What is tv series development? And why it could be more useful to you than a tv screenwriting class.

“Tell me about this tv series development workshop you’re teaching. Why would I want to take it?”

Ric Gibbs: Anyone can tell you that the growth in scripted television series has skyrocketed recently. That means the growth in job opportunities for tv writers has been just as strong.

But the barriers to entry are also growing. And the training you need to succeed in this market will not be satisfied by learning how to write a pilot script, or a spec episode of a well known series. That’s not nearly enough training anymore. Producers, studio executives or network buyers – these people want to see the TOTALITY of a series laid before them, if they’re going to take a chance on a newcomer.

This course lays the foundations for creating and presenting an entire tv series. It’s the kind of comprehensive, early-stage development work you should be doing with all your projects, but it’s even more important in tv, where the stories are so much bigger.

The cornerstone to my approach to series development rests on four simple, yet essential elements of success: ideation, world-building, character, and ongoing storylines. No matter what meeting you have, with whatever producer, studio, or network – you will be expected to lay out these elements with clarity and passion.

This particular workshop is very hands-on. I take students through these core elements, combining lectures with writers-room style workgroups – so students can problem-solve their way through all the elements of a complete series. Along the way, I try to include lessons on voice and genre-bending, current trends and so on. But these four elements — idea, world, character, and story — remain the focus of the workshop, because they are what will be expected of writers and producers whenever they pitch.

OUTCOMES FOR THIS WORKSHOP

My goal for students has also evolved. I am less concerned with seeing someone deliver the perfect series pitch within a few weeks. But I am very committed to helping them experience the process of developing an entire series. We tend to focus on adapting existing IP, like movies or books, because that’s where the industry is right now. Almost everything on tv is an adaptation of something else, so learning this skill is just incredibly relevant. I want students to leave with a broad command of the elements of a complete series and a working template for how they are built. If you master that skill set, you can go on to write, produce, develop for a studio or network, even a sales agent needs to understand these elements.

WHY NOT JUST TEACH SCREENWRITING?

We do! And we have been! UCLA has some excellent screenwriting classes. But in my opinion, MOST screenwriting programs put the cart before the horse. I can’t tell you how many students work their butts off to write a pilot script, with no idea what comes next or how to sustain their story.

A great many film schools treat tv writing as some sub-specialty of screenwriting for movies. I don’t find that approach very smart, or successful. Let’s take a step back and look at this term ‘development’ and you’ll see why.

Anyone who produces anything is familiar with the ‘research & development’ department. It’s where creation happens. It’s the incubator where ideas are tried and launched, long before anything gets made. But the one thing all ‘development departments’ have in common, is a clear vision of what they WANT to produce at the end. Maybe that thing is an electric vehicle. Maybe it’s new lens or lighting element. We know what it’s supposed to DO when we’re finished.

Same with television. Our finished product – the series – needs to hook us, intrigue us, compel us to keep coming back. It needs to do a lot of things, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, it needs to keep going. It is an ongoing story.

You will never achieve that, if your development team (the writers) are only trained to build a story that works for 90 minutes. Different skill set. There’s a whole host of mechanisms and story engines that need to be employed to sustain a story for four or five or six years. It’s really night and day.

Demystifying this ‘series development’ process for new tv creators – this has been my mission since I took up teaching a few years ago. And this workshop is exactly the information I wish someone had given me at the beginning of my writing career, twenty-some years ago. It will save you a lot of time, trust me. Some of these lessons are eternal. Others change so fast, it’s hard to even commit them to print. This workshop captures both.

writing team ‘Verde Água’ Lisbon 2019

THE EVOLUTION CONTINUES

This fall marks the third year for my workshop in Television Series Development at UCLA in our Entertainment Studies Program. Courses at UCLA Extension are open-enrollment, making them something of a roulette wheel of talent and diversity. I have had students of every possible skill and ethnicity; from Scandinavia to Japan; from Germany to Brazil, and from more countries than I can remember. I’ve taught shorter versions of tv series development at schools across Europe, from London to Budapest, Lisbon, Paris, Cannes, Italy, and more to come.

All of this has forced a level of clarity upon my teaching that I would never have achieved inside a single university, even UCLA. And it forced this workshop to evolve to include the many insights gained from other prominent programs, especially the DFFB in Berlin and Paris’ renown film school La Fémis.

TELEVISION TRENDS AND CHALLENGES

Anyone working in our business has recognized that television is no longer simply a US centric industry. Growth in original scripted series continues to expand in almost every country, with NETFLIX alone pouring a massive $15 billion into content this year, 85% of that money into original series.

If you spend even a few days at MIPCOM or MIPTV (Marché International des Programmes de Communication) as I recently did, you will emerge with new appreciation of just how diverse and exciting some of these new series can be. How many buyers are chasing new series. And how smart todays writer/producers MUST be to leverage the opportunities before them.

WRITERS, PRODUCERS, AND CREATIVE EXECUTIVES WELCOME

Results from these workshops continue to impress. If you are already an accomplished screenwriter (perhaps in motion picture) you will find a discipline here that will ground your writing and generate rich material for season after season. If you are just beginning to create television, then consider this workshop to be the best possible preparation of the canvas you will need to hold your vision.

I try to meet every student at the level where they can best accelerate and begin to thrive as a creator. So if you have the passion and commitment to enter this arena of television, then this workshop is the one to reach for.

Classes begin Wednesday, September 25 and run through December 11, 2019.

FAIR WARNING: the workshop is limited to 20 students and fills quickly.