If you want to develop with Open TV, you can email me at developer [at] weareopen [dot] tv. If you don’t get a response within two weeks, send it again because something weird has happened!
Right now, Open TV is a part-time operation. My full-time job is as a professor, where I have to write and teach. My heads of production (Stephanie Jeter), marketing (Elijah McKinnon), social media engagement (Chris Walker) and social media analysis (Mark Díaz) all have other jobs. As such, the development process will have inefficiencies, delays and issues that need to be regularly accounted for and fixed.
OTV is not a production company. We advise artists on production by providing limited financing, referrals and free consultation.
WHAT IS DEVELOPMENT?
A project is in development when I’ve met with the artist and we’ve agreed to work towards collaborating on a project. The artist has given me a pitch, outline, treatment or script of their series. Projects in development need funding and a production team before we can enter pre-production. For me, a project starts in development and moves the process never leaving development. In other words, once we start development with you, we’ll always be developing your work, even after it’s released.
Projects in pre-production have secured funding and production team to head into production. This is planning stage. Producers hire the crew, find the locations, organize the shoot and troubleshoot the whole process.
Projects are in production when they are capturing the footage they need to complete the story. Our shoots last anywhere from one day (Let Go and Let God was shot in one day, Nupita Obama in two) to two weeks (for You’re So Talented season two) to several months (Futurewomen, which shot through all of 2015). Productions need at least one person to capture the image, typically a photographer or cinematographer, and often but not always someone to capture sound on location. While I made an exception in our early months (Southern for Pussy), the vast majority of future Open TV projects will be shot in Chicago or developed in Chicago with Chicago-based artists. Series from elsewhere will have to come to me completed or near completion.
Open TV does provide funding for a limited amount of projects on rare occasion. No in-house production budget has exceeded $5,000 and most are under $3,000. Thus, for us to fund projects they must be scaled for a low-budget: small crews, minimal locations and special effects, with collaborators for music, art direction, set and costume design, etc.
Post-production involves the editing of a project, adding any elements that cannot be or need not be captured in production. This sometimes includes the creation of a score or licensing of music, transcribing (for documentary) and assembling the story. Editing can be costly, but happily I’ve had support from Northwestern to train and hire students in editing, and they’ve been doing a fabulous job. Many people underestimate the cost of post-production. I’ve done this myself in the past, and not planning for post can delay a project for years. This is why it is very important to have a doable plan for a project in pre-production.
EXHIBITION AND MARKETING
After we reach a final cut, it’s time to plan release. All Open TV projects screen locally before going online on our site, so we have to plan an event! Events range in size. The premiere for Southern For Pussy attracted around 20 people, whereas our event at Woman Made Gallery drew over 50. Events are also key research sites for Open TV, where my graduate students collect feedback from attendees, either through one-on-one interviews, or recording the conversation or Q&A. When it’s ready to release online Eli McKinnon designs a website for the project and a social media campaign.
MAKING IT THROUGH DEVELOPMENT
In Hollywood, a project’s readiness is only one of many factors in its development. Often times projects need powerful producers or studios attached, fully employed departments for all element of production (casting, costumes, makeup, visual effects, etc.), a built-in audience (franchises), the “right” audience (a desirable demographic), and a story that’s acceptable to LA executives, advertisers and/or the press, all of which are brokered by agents, managers, lawyers and unions.
For Open TV our criteria are a little less complicated. In any given project I look for:
ARTISTRY – AN ORIGINAL VOICE
The first question I ask of a project is whether it is “art.” Open TV is interested in expanding the art of television production, narrative and distribution. My definition of good art is one with a clear and unique vision or purpose. Most of the time this means I want to develop series that would have a hard time getting through the commercial – and in particular, advertising-driven – broadcast, cable and web TV networks because of its subject matter or the identity of its creator (their social/cultural identity and their artistic discipline).
READINESS – A PLAN AND A TEAM
The second question I ask of a project is whether it’s ready. A project is ready when there is a script or plan in place, there’s a team to make it happen and the money to pay everyone who needs to be paid. The script, treatment or outline is most important. Having this is critical for us to understand what you want to do and what resources it will take to do it. I accept scripts in any format. There’s tons of resources for writing treatments, but again, I don’t need formulas. It just needs to communicate enough information to show that you thought about the story and its core elements.
That said, a full treatment for me includes:
* A log line (one sentence description of the series)
* A detailed plot summary (for TV, usually a detailed description of the first episode and an outline of the season, with notes on how things sound/look/feel)
* Character profiles (who are they, what do they do, what do they want, also age/race/gender/sexuality and other key identity characteristics)
It might also include:
* List of locations needed and secured
* Average length of episodes
* List of confirmed or desired collaborators (actors, producers, music, crew)
* Exhibition plans (where/how to do the premiere, release schedule)
* Ideal production schedule (when we should shoot based on where you want to shoot)
* Influences (e.g. this show is Transparent meets I Love Lucy meets Game of Thrones): photography/art that inspires, music that inspires, or a vision statement
After the script/treatment, we set about creating a team. Nearly all video projects are collaborative in some way. You cannot make a show on your own, nor can you make an indie show without allowing other people to influence it creatively. The most important part of the team, I’m finding, is the producer – I’ll get to that in a minute. Depending on the project, more could be needed. If you’re planning a music video or musical, you should secure musical collaborators. If you’re planning a scripted series, you should know the actors who will be in it. Open TV has connections to all kinds of artists and crew, but I find production works smoothly when the core team is familiar with each other, passionate about the project and clear on the vision. We can introduce you to people, but, especially if you’re new to video production, I find it is better to work with as many people you are comfortable with as possible and we can fill in the gaps (particularly if the gap is in more technical crew like editors).
NIC Kay, who developed a docu-series with Open TV, gave me great advice to give to every artist who wants to work with us: make sure your Open TV project is integrated into your existing artistic practice. This is something experienced interdisciplinary artists know; your time and your ability to learn new skills is limited. If you’re a singer, don’t pitch a silent film, but rather think expansively about what video can do for you. You can pitch a docu-series about the making of your next album, a series of music videos, or an animated film in collaboration with a painter you know where you’d supply the music to their images. Think about what you’re already working on and how video can help you develop it further. This will also help clarify the value of it. In other words, if you’re a performance artist with no intention to leave Chicago, maybe you should use your series to make connections with local artists or pitch a local grant-making institution, and not necessarily something you think will get lots of views online. In general, chasing views is a fool’s game. Don’t play it. Be true to your practice and vision.
Build your team from the start. It makes the whole process smoother for everyone. I strongly suggest you write a complete treatment and/or script in as much detail as possible and find a writer/producer/director you trust completely to help you execute the project. That person doesn't necessarily need film/TV experience. They can have produced performances, events, parties. I can mentor a new producer so long as they’re willing to put in the tremendous amount of work it takes to get a project through development. It's most important producers be organized, clear, dependable, passionate about your project and have the time to do it. This is the only way scripted series/films get done: if there's a team in place who are passionate about and 110% on board with your vision.
DEMOGRAPHICS – A CLAIM TO DIFFERENCE
Open TV is not open to everyone. In particular, we only develop projects in Chicago from artists based here. We are not open to artists who get ample support from media industries to make and market series, primarily straight white men, who, study after study shows, disproportionately hold positions of power in Hollywood and art markets.
Open TV develops television by queer, trans, cis-women and artists of color. In our first year, however, I’m finding myself more open to queer, trans, cis-women or artists of color. In this awkward phrasing, race is privileged but I am open to content by and about white people, particularly if they are LGBTQ, represent a range of gender expressions or inhabit some other intersectional identity. When I look at my development slate, I want majority-minority programming but I also want a range of identities, because differences bring out meanings. In other words, I want our audience to compare and contrast our programs and ask themselves why and how race, gender, sexuality, age, class, disability, etc. influence how they interpret programs.