Dena Hysell | VP Development Slate of Eight Productions
We’re privileged to have Dena Hysell, Vice President of Development for Slate of Eight, LLC with us to shed some light on the process of development at a leading production company. At the center of any production company is the person responsible for bringing new projects to the table, while overseeing creative development, as well as marketing strategies. At Slate of Eight, LLC it’s the Vice President of Development.
TVWV: Thanks for sharing time from your busy schedule, Dena. How’s life at Slate of Eight Productions?
HYSELL: Fantastic. Very busy since it’s pitching season in television right now, but everyone at the company loves the work – so no matter how busy it gets, it’s still a lot of fun.
TVWV: What got you into the industry?
HYSELL: I got into the industry in front of the camera, and a couple years ago realized that there was far more creativity happening behind it – so I transitioned into producing.
TVWV: Can you share with us your daily routine as a VP of Development?
HYSELL: Meetings, meetings, meetings. reading, reading, reading. Rolling calls. I have between 2-4 meetings a day with executives from other companies to pitch our projects, and follow up on projects we’re currently working on. Then I have to make sure I always have new projects coming in to have new things to present.
TVWV: What do you feel is the single most important element that a project needs to go the distance with a network?
HYSELL: A hook and an engine to drive it. You have to remember that networks are looking for projects that will be on long enough to go into syndication. So you have to have a strong hook for the world and character, but there also has to be something driving it as a series that is sustainable.
TVWV: How do you see the role of reality-based television in 5 years? Expanding, or imploding?
HYSELL: With the creation of more and more cable stations, I think it will continue to be a staple in those arenas. Reality television is simply cheaper and faster to produce, so it works for them. On network, however, I think it will definitely implode and we’ll see fewer and fewer, especially as network comedy figures out a new paradigm.
TVWV: How much of Hollywood is “idea driven”, and how much is pre-packaged formula?
HYSELL: It’s a combination. Everyone is looking for something that is the next original idea, while having enough elements to it that make them feel comfortable taking a risk.
TVWV: Can you describe the differences between producing for a cable network, versus a major network?
HYSELL: You definately have more creative freedom at a cabler, but you have a better resource base at a network. It’s all about finding the correct home for that particular project.
TVWV: When taking a meeting with a Writer or Producer to discuss potential projects, what are some things you’re hoping to find in that person or project?
HYSELL: A great idea brought by a person who is creative and collaborative. Too many people are so tied to their original take on a project, that they have a hard time working with producers. It is our job to know the marketplace, what is selling, and how to craft a project to keep your creative vision but still be able to get a network or cable network to buy it. If you’re that locked down to not making any changes, then don’t work with a producer.
TVWV: What do you look for in a great scripted project?
HYSELL: A great central character that is in a situation that is unique. I think USA’s new show Psych is a great example of the type of creativity I am always looking for. The character is someone we haven’t seen before, the situation is unique, and it is a new take on a current marketplace trend.
TVWV: What do you look for in a great reality-based project?
HYSELL: A big idea that is unique. Nothing that feels exploitive.
TVWV: How many projects do you have your hands in at any given time?
HYSELL: Eight. We built it into the name of the company. That way it’s enough to have diversity in the slate, but all of them get enough attention from our staff.
TVWV: Without giving away any confidential information, can you give us any insight into new projects you have on deck?
HYSELL: hmmm….not really.
TVWV: What percentage of your day is spent managing current projects, versus generating new ones?
HYSELL: About 80% current, vs. 20%new. I am lucky to have an amazing story editor who helps me source new material. Everyone in the company can bring in new material. Advice for all writers – never underestimate the power of assistants at companies. They have their bosses ear directly. (and, btw, if anyone is ever mean to my assistant, I will not work with them.)
TVWV: Is it easier for a writer to break into the industry with a reality-based concept, or a scripted show?
HYSELL: Definitely reality. In features, scribes can sell a spec screenplay, but in television the risk the network runs of putting an entire show in the hands of a newbie is much higher. Most people who sell pilots have written on other shows, often working their way up from writer’s assistant.
TVWV: What do you see as being one fundamental difference between a professional writer and an amateur?
HYSELL: Professional writers understand the fact that writing ends up being a collaborative process. Amateurs think that their ideas are untouchable. Professional writers know that Hollywood essentially functions as a brain trust, and embrace that concept.
TVWV: And now, the most important question- With your busy schedule, do you actually have time to even watch TV? If so, what are you hooked on, and why do you watch it?
HYSELL: I watch at least one episode of everything that is on the air. I watch all the pilots that are shot, and don’t make it to air. I read all the pilot that go to script, but don’t get the pilots ordered. I’m not hooked on anything right now, but I have high hopes for the new season coming up.