Here are a few sitcom pilot scripts traps I’ve experienced myself, and some potential ways to escape.
This is not an exhaustive list of traps by any means. And I am writing from the perspective of a first-time sitcom pilot script writer. Here’s a little background, and then I’ll go over some traps and escape plans.
I managed to finish writing a draft of my sitcom just after my second son was born. I guess, because, I’m a crazy person. It was a challenge to keep within the required script length, as I’ve only previously written full-length feature scripts. At the time of writing, I have actually completed three drafts.
Trap: Your Story Sucks
However, I have run into a problem. I think, fundamentally, I have a problem with my story. It feels a bit overdone. Unfortunately, I didn’t resolve this problem before I wrote the script. It didn’t seem too much of an issue then, but I realise now that it is.
Before you begin writing your script, make sure you have really worked on the story as much as you can in the outline stage. Work out your script on 3×5 note cards.
It’s also easier to fix a story at this stage as it’s only about 2 pages or so, rather than a 30-odd page script. It’s the age-old way to fix a script, before it’s written. Get feedback from someone whose opinion you trust. You need someone to be completely honest with you, rather than just saying “yeah that’s great.”
Is it too late, and you’ve already written the script? You’re creative, go back to the drawing board and start over. What you’ve written doesn’t have to be completely thrown away. You might have some good ideas, jokes, character moments, etc in there. But you probably should still go back to the note card stage
Trap: The execution of your script sucks
I’m also not fully in love with the way I executed the script. It doesn’t feel genuine or honest to me. It feels as though I am trying to mimic someone else’s comic sensibility rather than using my own. Granted, I feel I’m still finding out what my comic voice is, but something doesn’t ring true. Some of the script works, some of it doesn’t.
But sometimes, it’s still easy to gloss over and you can think that the story is in place. Perhaps I needed to rely on my second pair of eyes more, in the form of my wife? Still, fixing a 30-odd page script, is much easier than fixing a 120-page feature film script.
Trap: The jokes are lousy
You wrote what you thought were some killer punchlines, but upon review all you can think is; “urgh, what was I thinking? I’m just not funny anymore.”
Hold your horses there. It might not be because you’re not funny anymore. You can put placeholder jokes, or what John Vorhaus author of The Comic Toolbox calls “joke-oids” in your script. They look like jokes, but aren’t funny yet. Often they contain the raw material of a joke that a rewrite and polish can bring alive.
I’ve put the third draft of my sitcom pilot to one side for now. It needs an overhaul storywise. Whilst the third draft was the tightest, it seemed to lose its way somewhat. I need to have a rethink about what the story should be, and how to execute it. I also need to spend some time thinking about my sense of humor and if I’m trying to put a square peg in a round hole, and trying to do something that’s unnatural. That’s what it feels like right now.