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
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
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
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
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
HYSELL: A big idea that is unique. Nothing that
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
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
TVWV: Is it easier for a writer to break into the
industry with a reality-based concept, or a scripted
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
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
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.