We’re about two weeks away from this year’s deadline for the Digital Open Call and we are very excited to see what producers are pitching us this year. I’m already getting the regular queries via email and voicemail and without making any judgements you guys, let’s just say that some of your inquiries made me want to reach out and offer some words to the wise.
A lot of projects cross our path and sometimes they’re awesome. “Many of times” they’re…well, let’s just say they’re pitched in a manner that hides their potential. Now while there’s no telling what our panel of Vulcan judges will think of your ideas, I love you guys so here are some tips to make sure your proposals don’t raise Spock’s “illogical” eyebrow and blank stare.
1. Writing Is Everything, And Then Some
We make our judges read a lot of proposals (It’s OK we send them to Red Lobster after. OK we don’t but hey, Applebees is a fine establishment.) Reading is not fun if it is inconcise, or humorless. Write your draft a million times over if you have to, you’re looking for clarity not a Pulitzer. This means that while you might think your language simplistic all your judge is thinking is, “thank heavens, I understand this!” So just when you think you’ve got it, make your brother the accountant read it. If he gets what you’re pitching, you’re probably OK.
2. A Social Issue Alone Does Not a Story Make
Our open call exists for those ideas that the mainstream ignores or finds “tedious,” we get it. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore story! Story is still Queen over here so ask yourself before you pitch your web series or game, or anything in between, is there enough here to keep people coming back after one week, two, three, four, five, six? Because at a minimum that is your task, to entertain and bring new chapters into your vision for six weeks straight. A good story will always do that, no matter the medium.
3. I’ve Already Seen That Soap Opera, Trust Me
My mother indoctrinated me into the Soap Opera Mafia a long time ago, from Dallas to Passions I’ve seen most of them (although I missed the whole Dynasty thing somehow.) What were we talking about? Yeah, a soap opera is not an automatic hit on the web. Same rules apply if you just add the word “black” in front of “soap opera.” That said we are not against the narrative style at all, we just want you to know that we’ve been pitched a gajillion web soaps, yes a gajillion.
4. Think Web Interactive Not Just Web TV
If your project universe (all the ways your project reaches its community) asks nothing of your audience, you’re heading down the wrong path. The most basic thing you’re asking from your audience is a comment, you want to inspire people to say something. This inspiration cannot come if your content doesn’t provoke. This is not a prodding for gratuitous provocation, but it is a warning that if your idea wants nothing more than to be seen you should probably be asking more from it. “I saw your little video, now what?” (That’s what an unimpressed person would say, not me. I’m very impressed that you’ve read this far, actually.)
Pet Peeve: “I’m going to utilize Facebook, Twitter…etc” is not a social media strategy. If you find yourself spitting off social media sites like a pez dispenser, pause, delete all except one and ask yourself why you want that one to work. Then you might have an idea about how you might make it work.
5. A Web Series Without A Potential Community is A Solution Without A Problem
So who’s been dying to engage with this project you’re pitching? Oh, your mom…and? Oh, your best friend…and? Oh, all the black atheists online? Well, congratulations you just might have an idea. The trick here is not to know with absolute certainty that your project is a hit, but to convince our judges that there is a hunger for your idea somewhere very specific. For example, we had no idea our episode of Black Folk Don’t: Do Atheism would be such a hit, but in retrospect we should have. (Where else are black atheists going to gather, church? No, the interwebs.) So find your project’s “black atheists,” and display them proudly in your proposal. (Clarification, I’m not saying make a project about black atheists. I’m just saying those folk go hard online, therefore they make the perfect potential audience for a web interactive proposal.)
Because you’re such a trooper getting this far. Here’s a video.
6. Push It…
Salt N’ Pepa were not kidding. This is crucial. If we were looking to duplicate the ideas we see on television we would not be running this open call. We’re looking for new voices, fresh perspectives, and producers who can deliver on original projects that no one else even dares consider. (Either because they’re too sane, or too scared.) So yes, bring all your ridiculous aspirations to the table because you really never know. Just because you’ve never seen a project like yours doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong right here on blackpublicmedia.org.
7. …But Be Real
That said, at the end of the day you’ll only have $20,000 and six months to turn your brain waves into real world objects. That’s not Hollywood money, so you’ve got to be smarter than the average bear in how you plan to use it. But like Salt N’ Pepa say in that same song “Now wait a minute, y’all. This dance ain’t for everybody. Only the sexy people. So all you fly mothers, get on out there and dance. Dance, I said!”
And there you have it. Here’s hoping that was useful. If it wasn’t you should probably stop reading this. (Seriously, it’s over. You can get back to the Internet Cats.)
If you’re just itching to get at those guidelines and complete the application, here’s a quick link.