NSI Totally Television phase 2 students on their second boot camp

Michelle Ouellet, Nicholas Carella, Stephanie Ouaknine, Sarah Goodman

Above from left: Michelle Ouellet, Nicholas Carella, Stephanie Ouaknine, Sarah Goodman

Our NSI Totally Television phase 2 students recently wrapped their second boot camp. Before they head off to the UK for Content London, we asked them to reflect on the program and how their TV series are evolving.

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Michelle Ouellet (producer), Ethics 101

Michelle Ouellet

It was great to be back with the other team and staff for phase 2 boot camp with our show Ethics 101. This time we really drilled down into the Canadian and international marketplaces.

Via producer roundtables and case studies we saw firsthand different ways a series can come together from a financing perspective. This was very interesting for me as there are several ways to bring a show to market, largely dependent on the material itself (the type of show/genre, for example), as well as resources the individual producer has.

Everyone’s path is different which was reassuring for me. I think one of the best aspects of phase 2 was getting clear next steps for our show. When we left boot camp we had a clear idea of what we need to do to get our show one step closer to being positioned in the market.

Another interesting and fun aspect of phase 2 was meeting with production companies at their offices. This was an exercise in pitching which is always super helpful. I find pitching a very delicate (and difficult) art form and talking about our project to third parties helped us focus and refine both our pitch materials and the project itself. Questions about where the first season ends or about a particular character’s arc lead to conversations among ourselves about the overall creative of the show.

We also saw which aspects of our show were interesting to people and which aspects need more clarity. Where are the disparities between what we think we’re communicating about our show and what we’re actually communicating? How can we organize our pitch so we put the most interesting aspects at the top of our pitch? Getting to work through these questions was beyond helpful.

I think taking our show through NSI Totally Television was one of the best things we could have done. As a filmmaker and serial entrepreneur it’s my passion to tell stories and create concepts, and I acquired so much knowledge and met so many incredible people. I would highly recommend this program to anyone considering applying.

Nicholas Carella (writer), Ethics 101

Nicholas Carella

We entered phase 2 with a revised pilot for Ethics 101. I was (and am) very happy with the creative aspects of the project.

I was very pleased that phase 2 was more focused on the realities of bringing the project into the market: how to put financing together for a television series, what to do once you have solid creative (like the REAL next steps), who are potential buyers, what’s a strong pitch, etc.

I can say without a doubt I went from being somewhat clueless and afraid to take my project to the market to being on the other side of two successful pitches with established companies (with more to come!)

The industry professionals that were brought in – from active producers, to broadcast buyers, to marketing experts – really painted a picture of the marketplace (and where our show fits) and gave significant feedback on our pitch materials, shedding light on some of the blind spots we had in how we saw our own show.

We were also given a variety of strategies about how to put together the Jenga puzzle that is a television finance plan. This may seem simple, but being armed with [knowledge about] how a show gets financed from the ground up increases my confidence level in a face-to-face meeting with a production company. How do you know what to ask for if you DON’T KNOW WHAT TO ASK FOR?

Going through this program, aside from the knowledge I’ve acquired, has been extremely valuable in terms of industry doors that have been opened for the project. The combination of meeting working decision makers face to face during the program and having been vetted by being selected (essentially being ‘vouched for’ by NSI) has accelerated our development and entree far beyond where I expected to be at this point.

Sarah Goodman (writer), The Golden Mean

Sarah Goodman

I was excited to dive back in our series and figure out the best way to make it a reality. Once again, we met with multiple producers, showrunners, creative executives and streamers – but also production managers and packaging experts. From broadcast to streaming, this is a program with its eye on the international industry, not just Canada.

Our team came to the second boot camp armed with a revised pilot, draft lookbook and series bible, as well as a detailed budget breakdown of the pilot in its current iteration.

Having time to reflect on the series and our strategy since February allowed us to return to the program with fresh eyes and a clearer understanding of the show we want to make.

Pitching the show multiple times, we believe we’ve distilled its essence and found what best ‘hits’ when talking about the show. Whether it’s ‘Jewish Women’s Breaking Bad,’ or ‘Mafia Maisel’ or ‘From matzah-ball queen to mobster,’ the program is a safe space to pitch and keep improving, with constant feedback from our peers and mentors.

Our story editor’s (Noelle Carbone) generosity, brilliance and clarity opened so many doors for us creatively.

Thanks to our mini writers’ room in February, I finished a new draft of the pilot which we believe is a huge step forward. Most importantly, I have a clear idea of who our lead is and why she’s relevant in this day and age.

By pitching continuously we could test drive new title options and see what resonated with the industry folk that heard it for the first (or second) time.

As a writer, we’re not often privy to the behind-the-scenes. It was enlightening for me to be part of the financing strategy, tax credit choices and understanding the various (and often conflicting) paths to market.

This is my message to other Canadian screenwriters: NSI Totally Television is terrific and I encourage you all to apply. If you’ve gone through the CFC television writing program, [the two programs] are complementary and not redundant. NSI Totally Television’s individualized approach and care works for any project and any team ready to move forward.

Stephanie Ouaknine (producer), The Golden Mean

Stephanie Ouaknine

We’ve mentioned this ad nauseum, but it bears repeating: NSI Totally Television is a unique training program because of its extensive roster, year-long length and invaluable ongoing mentorship. One of NSI Totally Television’s unique strengths is its malleability and bespoke approach to every project and team, which is all the more evident in the second phase of the program.

We all suggested which executive producers, production companies and experts we wished to meet with, and NSI is able to make the connections we didn’t have ourselves. This is not restricted to the boot camp days – everyone was available throughout the year which we appreciated immensely.

Our team came into the second phase with the materials we’d worked on since February: a re-broken and, we believe, significantly improved pilot, detailed budget and financing scenarios, as well as a draft lookbook and series bible. We’ve also earmarked some of our development funds to pitch in tandem in Los Angeles prior to attending Content London in December.

Akin to the first phase, the second had case studies, broadcaster talks, market intel and one-on-one meetings with the utmost care and attention to detail. In some of our favourite sessions we had a thorough budget review with a seasoned production manager and frank discussions about executive producers and cast packaging. This stage of boot camp ended with production company generals set up by NSI.

Sarah (Goodman) and I are not precious. We both felt good about making changes to our creative and original path to market. For instance, we realized early on we would be changing the title. Settling on a new one is the challenge, of course, and through boot camp we had the good fortune of pitching the show repeatedly and could take the temperature of new title options.

Connecting with US-based literary managers, packaging experts, learning from CBC Gem and Crave’s strategy and going over our pilot budget line item by line item were all highlights of this second phase.

Programs are as good as the case studies, actionable advice and market intel you receive. NSI Totally Television allowed us to stress-test our development plan, optimize our targets and, of course, pitch non-stop every session.

By honing our verbal pitch and figuring out what ‘hits’ best we can better distill the show and have a clearer idea of what it is, and why the time to make it is now.

While we’ve also received contradicting advice (and we mean total opposite) we realize there is no one-size-fits-all to a greenlight. You’ve got to trust your gut, juggle many balls in the air and shoot your shot. The program has helped me trust myself as an independent producer.

The most valuable takeaway from the program was hammering out a set of concrete, actionable goals – not only for this project, but other ones as well. Through NSI and thanks to it, Sarah and I have developed a shorthand that has led us to working together on various new projects. If any of them move forward, it’ll be due to NSI Totally Television!

I trust you’ll witness our entire cohort urge Canadian writers and producers to apply to this program. There’s nothing like it in (and even outside) the country. It truly prepares you for the international marketplace with a bespoke, tailored way to move forward. Do the thing! And do not hesitate to contact us for more information.

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NSI Totally Television provides customized, hands-on training for Canadian producer/writer teams to develop story ideas into polished packages to present to buyers in the global marketplace. This 12-month distance learning program consists of two phases, each with an in-person boot camp intensive in Toronto. Two teams advance to phase 2 which includes attendance at Content London.

The program has produced 13 series that have been developed: six went to air, one was piloted and another was produced as a feature film which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Both phase 2 projects from the 2018 edition of the program were picked up by production companies for further development.

NSI Totally Television is made possible by Presenting Sponsor Bell Media; Program Partner Telefilm Canada; Supporting Sponsors Super Channel, Corus Entertainment and CBC Gem; and Provincial Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.

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