An airplane pilot has to complete a checklist before taking off to avoid crashing and stay in the air. So too,Automatic Pilot is a TV pilot writer's checklist to keep from crashing and stay on the air.
Automatic Pilot is the definitive guide on how to create and write an original pilot. It takes you through the step-by-step process of writing your own pilot script.
It is adapted from Bill Taub's very successful UCLA Extension Writers' Program online workshop, Writing a Spec Pilot, which he has been teaching to students all over the world since 2006.
Up until the series Desperate Housewives, developed from spec pilot, burst upon the scene, and became an instant hit, nobody encouraged writers to write a spec pilot. Since then the floodgates have opened and every writer, including some of the biggest names, is either writing a spec pilot or thinking about writing one.
Like the workshop itself, which crossed borders, Automatic Pilot is designed for writers no matter where they are. Whether you are writing a series about Congress or Parliament, the CIA or MI-5, a family in Bangladesh or Brooklyn, the process is the same. Whether it's a half-hour comedy, one-hour drama, animation, or even a Web series, the steps are the same.
While the odds of selling a spec pilot are slim, the chance your spec pilot will impress those in charge to hire you on staff is a good enough reason to have one. And every writer these days must have at least one spec pilot in their portfolio.
Automatic Pilot is not only an insider's guide on how to create an original pilot, it's an audiobook that will inspire you, motivate you, and help you discover (or rediscover) a sense of freedom and joy in writing, no matter what stage you're at - whether you're new to the writing world or an old pro - it will be something you will return to time and again.
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This is basically a laminated cheat sheet worth of information expounded on by a very encouraging rambler. The content to embellishment ratio is extremely low and a single point doesn't get make that isn't beat into the ground. I can learn more reading a single cockeyed caravan blog post than I got out of this whole book (saving 5+ hrs).
The references were oddly dated - some too precisely dated (as in I can tell the book comes from about April 2014, between the greenighting and pre-canceling of How I Met Your Dad) and some too old to be relevant. The understanding of recent TV is cartoonish, making a big show of how the landscape has changed and how the possibilities are endless, then ignoring the fundamentals of what's really different about the modern/cable approach.
A lot of the facts fired at you seem rather dubious. Netflix was about to go under before their 100 million dollar House of Cards gamble saved everything? really? Shakespeare is invoked as an example of how you should forget thinking in terms of act structure.
This genre (the screenwriting guide) is always tough, with books usually written by the unsuccessful or out of touch. They are usually too prescriptive or too unfocused. This didn't really change my perception
There is only one "character," the writer, whose enthusiasm he certainly captures. It's a pretty over the top performance - think a coked up Ned Flanders with the "dokally"s replaced with Hollywood success idiom.
Disbelief as I watched hours tick by waiting for the intro to end and the guide to start, mirth at the way it just kept going, then resignation. Looking back, disappointment.
The author is fairly pleased with himself for the airplane metaphor, which is too-cute enough to be grating. He spends a lot of time talking about his time on successful shows like Barney Miller and Hill Street Blues, which IMDB has him writing one episode of each, but ignores shows he had more to do with (note: his last credit is pre 9-11). He started in advertising, and it shows.
If there is any audio I've ever listened to that really needs a one page PDF of supplemental material, it's this. As a result while I don't recommend this book in any form, I'd probably go with the print version becauseit probably has "map" pages that can give you the content at a glance.
- Todd C. Murry
Cost-Effective and Encouraging
Yes. Next to Sid Meier's Screenwriting textbook, I'd say Bill Taub's Automatic Pilot ranks as one of the best beginning screenwriting resources I've yet encountered.
“Well, stranger, what have you encountered? What does that even mean?”
Good question. I'm not an expert screenwriter, but I am an expert “screenwriter-resources” purveyor, if such a pitiful occupation exists. From college classes to online classes to online resources to books to at least three or four different “screenwriting resource companies”--eh, I've actually spent a few hundred bucks studying screenwriting. (Shivers in shame)
A number of those resources tend to repeat the same basics over again, so I really liked that while Automatic Pilot included the most important fundamentals of screenwriting for beginners, it also delved into TV-industry-niche specifics, a wide variety of structure techniques and suggestions, and Taub's own positive writing philosophy. The strong motivational tone of the book makes you feel like you've got people on your side—because when you're writing for yourself you've got you on your side, Taub might say—and as someone who used to write for a living I found that incredibly empowering. In med school you don't get a lot of time to read, so I bought the audiobook to play while I ate or whatever. Taub's encouragement was, for me, the writerly equivalent of blasting rap music on the highway, or rocking out when you're pumping iron: I got pumped up! There's something to be said for that.
For those of you who prefer more concrete definitions of value, we should probably talk about $$$. Automatic Pilot is actually a compilation of all the resources and reading material from a University class Taub taught/teaches on writing good pilot episodes for television. As you may know, it usually costs more than twenty bucks to access a University-level screenwriting class. Even cheap professional classes online bill as much as $90—I got a discount on a decent “Third Act” class for $45 once, but generally comparable screenwriting classes enter the ring weighing in nearer the hundreds mark.
To give you a more detailed cost-analysis, Hal Croasmun from ScreenwritingU charges $90 for a class that involves about thirty pages of reading material and no feedback from the professor. I'm not downing on Croasmun—apparently he's pumping out writers who make deals left and right—but pointing out, to you, that for $20 or less I can get nearly 200 pages from Taub, all new and unique information pertaining specifically to the TV industry. That's pretty good math.
Automatic Pilot is heavy with repetition, though. That's probably less of an issue in the hardcopy (which I also bought to keep as a skim-able resource), and for some folks repetition's essential to enhance learning, so it's not necessarily a drawback. I found it a bit much sometimes, but on the other hand a lot of the repetition was also a lot of the motivational cheerleading I enjoyed. If you're looking for new plotting tricks and tools to amp up your game; if you're unfamiliar with a lot of TV-writing terminology and structural customs; and if you'd like to tap the brains of multiple TV-writing experts before you start writing yourself into a crash-and-burn, a little repetition and two Red Robin meals is a fair price to pay.
I think, anyway.
I found the breakdown of A, B, and C plots particularly helpful, too.
Some of the anecdotes are particularly good. The character design advice Taub received from other WGA writers was cool.
Yes, actually. I enjoyed being told to "write what you want to see." There's a healthy laissez-faire attitude about throwing caution to the wind, and worrying about sales later.
- Petre Pan