Hollywood how-to held in Tokyo

U.S. writers, agents tell festival attendees to target TV

TOKYO -- Tastes of "Sex and the City" and TV formats galore made up a "Hollywood how to" staged as part of the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Josh Pyatt, agent at WMA, told Japanese content owners that their TV shows could be worth a fortune if packaged and sold to a U.S. network or cable channel.

A network deal in particular should be the target of any foreign rights holder, he suggested.

Not only do network shows have bigger budgets, which typically trigger 5% rights holder fees, than cable shows the networks commission more too. "There are more opportunities in sales to networks in the U.S. they are broader than cable, which may be niche in terms of geography or demographics," Pyatt said. The channels are looking for appointment TV, preferably with a live component, so that it cannot be Tivoed, big shows and family-friendly, he suggested.

However Pyatt also explained the ever-changing tastes of the networks means that not all high-rating foreign shows can be sold as formats. "Game shows have now run their course, for a while, but a year ago nobody wanted a relationship show," he said.

He pleased his Japanese audience with detailed timetables of the green-lighting process for U.S. TV shows and provided insight into who pays for what and when -- for example, a producer touting a new show will typically pick up the cost of a 3-6 minute "sizzle reel," but if the concept goes any further as a 'presentation' or a pilot that will be paid for by the network. He also explained "sales fees" "packaging fees" and how his agency collects when a network refuses to accept an agency's sales fee.

WMA's Shanghai regional office in Shanghai, China, has made packaging of Asian shows, particularly Japanese ones, something of a specialty. But some in the audience were skeptical how far the process can be pushed as chain of title to much Japanese intellectual property tends to be very tangled.

Darren Star, writer of "Sex And The City," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place" also received a warm welcome, especially from female executives present, after a more autobiographical presentation.

Star, who sold his first show to a network when he was a tender 24, walked them through the niceties of writing spec scripts for existing TV shows, the Catch-22 situation of how to get an agent to represent a young writer and how perseverance can pay off. He also pointed out the peculiar power of screenwriter-producers in U.S. TV and how that contrasts with the lowly status of scriptwriters in the movie business.

But inevitably Star also had to field questions about the development trajectory of individual characters in "90210" and the clothes in "Sex" and "90210."

Having admitted that he prefers writing female characters, Star also explained that to write successfully you have to first entertain yourself. "I could never write 'CSI,' procedurals, cop series, though I enjoy watching them. I don't have that voice. I'm always amazed by someone like Carol Mendelsohn who wrote on 'Melrose Place' and who also writes 'CSI'," he said.