The following is an article shared with my supporters through Patreon. But it may be of interest to those of you who are writers and artists. It shares how I took a little 12-page script and developed it into a full-bodied 4-episode TV series ready to be marketed. For more information about our work or how to support us through Patreon, go to www.patreon.com/bearclifton
I hope you each had a great Thanksgiving. It was 93 here that day, making it one of the strangest Turkey-Days ever. As some of you know, though Janis hates facial hair, I am legally, technically, prenuptially, maritally, and farcically allowed to have a beard in the winter beginning on Thanksgiving. But I threw Jan a bone: if it ever gets above 70, I have to shave. Well, you can see what a fine kettle of fish this is. Last year I snuck in a goatee during a January cold snap, but my prospects are looking grim so far. Greater love hath no husband than this…
As another sign of my love for my woman, I sent Janis back out East for 12 days during Thanksgiving, to replenish the part of her that needs green. So what did I do with all that time? I wrote a 50-page episode of “Tinkerville”, bringing me up to 4 completed episodes for this 1-hour TV drama series I’m creating.
As my Patreon supporters, you get an inside look at some of these projects I’m developing, so let me give you a bird-eye view of how “Tinkerville” came about. Here’s the “logline” of Tinkerville:
Inspired by “It’s A Wonderful Life”, Tinkerville is an hour-long family drama that follows the adventures of Jonathan Tinker, a powerful angel who goes incognito as a school maintenance man in a suburban town to protect a junior high boy named Josh who will save the world as an adult.
So how did this project evolve? I’ve long had the thought that “It’s A Wonderful Life” left a lot of untapped material to be explored. The idea of an angel that can “tinker” with a person’s sense of reality (as Clarence did with George Bailey), so that they can see their lives differently, opens the door to a lot of story ideas. (A few movies like Family Man have mined some jewels from that vein.)
Hold that thought.
A year ago last October I entered a short script called “Turbo Jam Boosters” into a $1,000 “Write A Script In A Week” contest about a junior high boy, Josh, who feels left out in his family, and so he acts out by deleting his older brother’s senior project. My script won that contest, which was a cool way to begin my writing sabbatical. (You can read the script by going to patreon.com/bearclifton and viewing this article.)
During the fall and early winter I went on to other projects (writing the movie screenplay for “A Sparrow Could Fall” and writing the purity devotional “Train Yourself To Be Godly”.)
But as we got into the meat of winter, with the inspiration of my goatee, Tinkerville began to take shape in my mind. I began to walk around and get to know Jonathan Tinker. (Some people write stories by writing – I write by walking and thinking and dreaming, sometimes for weeks first before I put down a single word. Then when I write, it pours out like a waterfall.)
It dawned on me in the dreaming phase that the short script I had written would mesh perfectly into the pilot episode I wanted to write. In the short, Josh manages at the last minute to retrieve his brother’s deleted project with the help of two friends. In the pilot, guess who helps him get the project back? You got it – Tinker.
In the pilot, Tinker has just moved in to the town, and I have Josh and his buds secretly come to his house to vandalize it, before Tinker tinkers with them. The idea was to have Tinker befriend Josh, and to have him and his friends and family become recurring characters.
WRITING TIP: DISCOVER YOUR OWN WRITING STYLE. Some people write stories by writing – I write by walking and thinking and dreaming, sometimes for weeks first before I put down a single word. Then when I write, it pours out like a waterfall.
I was very pleased with the pilot episode I wrote, and I sent it off to one of the top five screenplay contests this summer – the Austin Film Festival – and it was selected as a top 20% finalist for the TV category. So I know I’m “onto something.” (Again, the pilot episode can be viewed at the Patreon website.)
To actually sell a TV series in Hollywood, you need to be able to produce what’s called a “Bible” for your series, where you describe:
- what it’s about,
- who the main characters are,
- what the arc of the entire first season is meant to be,
- where your series might go with future seasons
- why would anyone watch this series.
I began to play around with a “Bible” for Tinkerville, but still didn’t fully know what I had on my hands. I knew that I wanted Tinker to only act “simple and innocent” in front of people, but unlike Clarence in the movie, I wanted Tinker to actually be a powerful, high-level angel. I wanted him to be in command of situations, and have some authority about him.
And I knew that I wanted him to use his power to help people in the town see their lives differently and change for the better. Which suggested to me that the show would include a lot of independent episodes which didn’t necessarily fit together. Josh would pop in now and then to give some continuity, but that was about it.
WRITING TIP: TO HELP YOURSELF WITH YOUR STORY, CONSIDER WRITING A “BIBLE”.
Most people say that you shouldn’t write more than a Bible and a pilot for proposing a new series, because chances are if your series is “picked up”, a showrunner and team of writers will take over and actually write the series. But I knew as an unknown writer that I would need to write some more episodes of Tinkerville, if only to demonstrate to myself and others that I could write episodic TV. And besides, I needed to explore the direction the series could go in.
So over a monthlong period in early-spring I wrote out two more episodes of the show. For years, I have carried with me the idea for a movie about a man who’s seven years into his marriage, and his marriage absolutely sucks and he’s convinced it’s all his wife’s fault. Through a bit of magic, he goes back in time to the day he proposed to his wife, and he is allowed to undo it all, and go on to marry someone else. Seven years later, he ends up in the same place. With a lousy marriage. Meanwhile his “former” wife is enjoying a spectacular marriage with his best friend. The lesson of course is that all along, it was his fault, not his wife’s.
Well guess what? Guess who sends the man back in time to learn this lesson? You got it. Tinker. And “Seven Year Itch” became the second episode.
I also finished a third episode which I called “PC Land”. Logline: When Tinker is suspended for using “hate-speech”, he gives a merciless superintendent a frightening taste of what happens when political correctness runs amok.
Slowly, the Bible was taking shape in my mind, but I still was missing a common thread, or “arc” to link all the stories together. I decided to take a break from T-ville and give some time getting the Train Yourself Ministry website up and running. (You can view the website here at trainyourselfministry.com).
WRITING TIP: DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE BREAKS FROM YOUR PROJECTS. IT SHARPENS YOUR CREATIVITY.
Fast-forward to putting Janis on the plane a week before Thanksgiving. My goal for that week was to finish the Bible, but to do that I needed to develop one more episode. Janis and I had watched the second season of “Stranger Things” a couple weeks earlier, and two ideas took shape in my mind: 1) that Tinker needed to be a part of a larger angelic community and 2) that he needed a nemesis.
The famous screenwriter Aaron Sorkin says that in every good story you need “intention” and “obstacle”. You need a main character whose intent is to do something big, and then you need to put something bigger in his or her way to muck up the works. Tinker had no adversary.
But of course, every Christian knows that the spirit world is comprised of angels and demons. I didn’t have to look any further than the real Bible to figure out the missing piece to the series.
So in the fourth episode – which I wrote the week before Thanksgiving – it all came together:
We learn Tinker’s true identity. That his true name is Prince Catharnoch, and he is a high angel, or seraphim, with powers as great as they come.
We learn Tinker’s backstory. That during World War II, not only were humans fighting, but there was a great battle in the heavens as well. And as angels fought for the defense of the earth, Prince Catharnoch went toe to toe with one of the great demonic angels, Melchorn. Catharnoch won his battle, but at great cost, being seriously wounded in the combat. When we first meet Tinker, he is just returning to earth after all these years, having largely recovered from his injuries.
We learn Tinker’s mission. Tinker doesn’t show up to do rehab. He is given a critical assignment: to protect a young teenager, who as an adult will do something great to save the earth. His name? Josh. Suddenly, Josh isn’t just an add-on to the story, but a critical part of its core.
We learn Tinker’s obstacle. Melchorn has learned that Catharnoch has returned to earth, but he doesn’t know where yet. And so he is searching far and wide for him, sending out lesser demons as scouts and spies. Tinker must purposely restrain his use of his power, lest he betray his identity. He knows he is not yet ready to face Melchorn. Furthermore, he fears what Melchorn would do to Josh should he learn his destiny.
All of this is made clear in episode 4: “All For One And One For All”.
WRITING TIP: DOES YOUR STORY HAVE INTENTION AND OBSTACLE? Aaron Sorkin says that in every good story you need “intention” and “obstacle”. You need a main character whose intent is to do something big, and then you need to put something bigger in his or her way to muck up the works.
And with this episode completed, I now had all the raw material I needed for my series “Bible”. Which you can view by clicking here.
So what now? It’s time for this little piggie to go to market. As with all my projects, it remains the longest of long-shots. Breaking in past the gate-keepers of Hollywood is such a wisp of a dream. But it does happen. Click here for a story about an unknown writer who just a few years ago sold a Bible and a pilot, doing much as I am trying to do. (It’s part of a 7-article series for anyone who wants to read further.)
I believe in the story I have created here. I think it is highly commercial and highly entertaining. It has some Harry Potter/Stranger Things mystique in its DNA. It’s faith-friendly, which represents a massive audience out there that Hollywood often overlooks. It’s also family-friendly – it’s the kind of show that an entire family would sit around and watch together, and how many of those shows are around today?
So pray for us often if you would please. Pray that I would have wisdom to know where and how to hobnob in this wonderland called Hollywood. If you have thoughts, or connections or ideas, I’m open to them all. Sometimes projects gain attention because somebody has a relative who knows a waiter whose big brother is best friends with a producer. And suddenly that little connection leads to a relationship where projects can be shared (i.e. pitched, is the buzzword.)
And as always, thank you for your patronage, which is helping to make this possible. Right now, the money you’re giving represents six or seven days where I’d have to go out and do background work, and every one of those days is a day where I cannot write or network.
Time and money isn’t necessarily on my side, but knowing that you’re there with me, and that God is superintending the whole dream is more encouraging than I can describe!
Talk again soon. Don’t hesitate to drop me a note with questions, comments, encouragements, etc. You can “tinker” with me whenever you want!