At the beginning of the summer, ABC Family started re-running Switched At Birth from the beginning. I learned sign language as a teenager and used to be somewhat involved in the Deaf community, so a show with a lead character who is deaf drew me in. But it’s also just a good show, with interesting things to say on a lot of issues. One of which is finding your identity as an artist. The other lead character, the hearing one, is an artist but hasn’t yet found her voice. Instead she finds artists whose work she admires and makes something in that medium. It’s her own work, expressing what she’s experiencing, but in someone else’s style. When a curator told her her work was derivative and lacked voice, she got offended. But, he tried to tell her, this is how young artists work. They develop technique so once they find their passion, they know how to express it. Just like every other art form.
Recently I attended an uncle’s wedding in Washington (well, two uncles. Big, gay wedding. It was fabulous) and was discussing the song “Royals” with one of my cousins. She said they hadn’t heard it yet on the East coast, but between my “cooler” radio stations and the fact that I work for the music department at CBS, I’ve now been deemed an expert in music trends. So she sent me a song by a friend of hers and asked for my advice. It’s a nice enough song, but it reminded me of Eminem’s “I Need A Doctor,” which is fine except the friend needs his own voice. And I looked up the video of “I Need A Doctor” to send back to her, hearing it right next to this other song was striking. The melodies and vocals were similar, but beyond just being more polished, Eminem was really singing about something. He had a message and it was very important you hear it. He didn’t sit down to write a song. He sat down and wrote a therapy session.
And that’s when it hit me, what Switched at Birth was really talking about. We all have to write spec scripts of existing shows (mostly for the contests now, but still) but everyone wants pilots. And they’re looking for what your pilot is about. I thought about something we discussed in a UCLA Extension class recently, about branding yourself. You have to find the interesting stories about you and make sure you’re memorable. You have to find a pithy way to define yourself. (I hate this, incidentally. Defining yourself. I don’t like to define my favorite foods.) And really the question is, “what are you about?” And chances are, that’s what your pilot will be about. That’s what ALL your pilots can be about, because you will be ever-changing. (That was last night’s class.) Not that every story is an autobiography, but once you’ve honed your craft and found your passion, every story can be about something. And that, right there? Will sound like your voice, which is the most valuable tool you have. That’s what people will pay for.
So what are you about?