Interview with Tanja Piller

Tanja Pillar is consultant for this year's submissions for the Story Exchange program. In the interview she opens up about the process of selecting as well trends and challenges in storytelling today.

Lejla Demiri: After reading and analyzing the submissions for the Story Exchange program, is there a specific tendency or trend you noticed resurfacing?

Tanja Piller:

I was surprised by how many comedy formats have been submitted. I’m not sure if one could say comedy is resurfacing because it has never been away but I sure see a trend there. Timely, politically, and socially relevant submissions were also in the foreground.

Lejla Demiri: You have a lot of experience working for broadcasters, have you noticed any pending shifts in the way serial storytelling is being approached?

Tanja Piller:

As streaming services make content available to a global audience, there's a greater emphasis on creating TV series with universal themes and appeal that can resonate with viewers from different cultures and backgrounds.

Lower budgets and shorter seasons. Furthermore, In my opinion, the trend is also going back to being more „gutsy“ again. I hope that recent examples like Netflix’ fabulous “Baby Reindeer”, which I  assume was a bit of a surprise hit, encourages them to continue producing said gutsy series.

PS: The magic word “ever-changing” certainly still applies.

Lejla Demiri: What does the future hold for serialized audiovisual media?

Tanja Piller:

I think AI is here to stay and we should embrace it and try to involve it to simplify work steps but not to replace people and their jobs. Streaming will most likely be dominant in the near future and I can imagine that more formats could turn into short-form formats just because it’s proven the attention span of a younger audience seems to be short(er). It all started with the Skip the intro “button…” 

Lejla Demiri: What advice would you give to young TV series creators trying to break the current market?

Tanja Piller:

Believe in your idea and vision but try to stay with a world or characters you’re familiar with. Doesn’t have to be your own life story obviously but in your own wheelhouse. I can imagine how great it is to think about fantasy and sci-fi worlds, create all the rules of these worlds but unless it’s based on an IP – and even then – it’s going to be a tough sell. Furthermore, know your audience and stay informed with trends and development on the TV and Theatrical market.

Lejla Demiri: How do you recognize a good TV series and is it equivalent to a good pitch deck?

Tanja Piller:

To me this essentially goes hand in hand but obviously if you’ve a good pitch deck, it’s a very promising base for a good TV series. A good pitch deck for me is more like an instrument that creates questions like is this pitch feasible, is the story compelling, does it clearly communicate the concept of the series.

A good TV series I define by: is the storytelling engaging, are their complex characters I like to follow, does the show resonate with me emotionally?  To me it’s always more about the characters than the plot. People usually come back for the characters.

Furthermore, when I put the critically acclaimed aspect aside: Is an audience passionate about the series? Do they talk about it? Does it inspire them? I’ve just finished the fabulous “Dead Boy Detectives” and already saw amazing fanart that was created – within such a short span of time. To me that also makes a good series and I imagine how wonderful – unless they’re too crazed – it must be for the creator if people are so passionate about something they created.

Lejla Demiri: What are you looking for when reviewing a TV series, what makes you the most critical?

Tanja Piller:

Can you already stir my interest with the logline and do I already get an idea what this is really about? Furthermore: Characters, characters and characters. Is their want and need clear and what journey do they go through from the beginning to the end of the season or series (depending on the format)?

I often read character blurbs that describe the character’s traits and habits, which is fine, but I don’t need to know how they drink their morning coffee but said want and need. We can work on everything else further down the line

Lejla Demiri: If you had to find a difference or peculiarity to distinguish the German serial market in opposition to the European one, what would it be?

Tanja Piller:

That’s a tough one because I don’t want to generalize as much but I do believe Germans still love their Crime & Thrillers and Historical Dramas (mostly related to WWII and GDR-themes stories). With the recent report it was also demonstrated – at least when it comes to Streamers – that Germans are still reluctant to watch German Original Productions – I’m always glad when I read of successes that say otherwise like Disney Plus “Deutsches Haus” or “Dark” back then. I feel the Germans audience hopped a little late on the serialized storytelling train and was just satisfied with all their NCIS, CSI and the respective Spin-Offs.

To me it seems like other European nations might be a little more open-minded and not as habitual viewers as the Germans. And I’m just really speaking of the audience because I can tell you as a professional, also from my experience at SKY, that we were open-minded to unconventional stories and storytelling.

Lejla Demiri: You’ve worked on a writers' room for Crossing Lines Season 3 with Showrunner Frank Spotnitz in London in 2014, looking back, what do you wish you did better or what would you keep the same? How did it influence the way you view a pitch proposal? 

Tanja Piller:

I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a great and very rewarding experience, probably one of my favorite work experiences of all time. The writers were fabulous and we got along so well. It was also great being involved to bring all the different voices from the broadcasters/distributors to the table adjusting to their respective needs and representing Tandem Productions.
Frank Spotnitz and the writers had to adjust quickly to a significant change and this worked out really fine – with all parties involved being happy about it.  It changed my view because I also learnt they can be a real fast turnaround (like with season 1) from pitch to going on air. It’s usually not the norm though.
Overall, I love looking back at that time.

Lejla Demiri: Is the priority in discovering new talent more leaning on IP’s or is the trend fading away?

Tanja Piller:

I hope the IP Trend is fading away ;) In all seriousness though, I’ve never been the greatest fan and always been a supporter of new talent. I’m only excited about the new adaptation of “The Neverending Story”, this time delving hopefully really into what the novel has to offer.
I’ve been always looking for new talent at the companies I worked for, in my opinion very rewarding, no matter the risks. And I mean new talent in terms of actors, writers, directors but honestly also production companies.

Lejla Demiri: Any new project on the horizon ?

Tanja Piller:

I’m currently considering – at least for a while – to start something completely new in the music industry and at the same time I’m freelancing for a production company.

I’m also looking for something permanent again – broadcaster, production company or Series & Movies festivals – as long as I can put my skills to use, feel inspired by the company’s profile and am  a contribution for said company.

Lejla Demiri: Where can people find you? 

Tanja Piller:

Currently via Linked-In. 

About herself:

I always fared best when I went by my gut feeling and have/had pretty good instincts if a show was going to work (or not). Not only shows I was actively involved with but generally when I looked at the global market.  That and I would say that I’ve an extraordinarily good nose for story, characters, actors & music – all driven by a great passion for all of the above.