Local pilot profile: Family Heirloom

 This is the latest entry in a series of profiles of TV pilots that were submitted to the New York Television Festival, an annual celebration of independently-produced TV, by Chicago-based writers and performers.

NYTVF is this October, but you can catch local screenings of many of these pilots before then. For example, Saturday, August 10th at the Public House Theatre at 3pm, four pilots will be screened: Delivery DudesExquisite CorpseB&B, and Family Heirloom, all of which have been or will soon be profiled here!

What is it? Family Heirloom is a scripted sitcom that follows a pair of siblings that own struggling antique store populated by interns, homeless people, and other eccentric weirdos.

Who's involved?  The project came about after Steve Sullivan, producer of last year's NYTVF breakout Shrink, approached writing partners Jo Scott and Jeff Murdoch, offering access to a unique shooting location (the very fancy Stuff in Lincoln Park), if they had any ideas for a pilot.

"After stopping in a few times last summer, and getting to know the owner, I mentioned that I was an independent film capturer of sorts, and she offered up her shop," explains Sullivan, "I immediately got in touch with Jo about a possible Antiques Roadshow spoof concept that would highlight the ineptitude of appraisers using improvisers as the deal-makers. Jo took that a step further and challenged herself and Jeff to write a full 22 minute TV pilot centered on them as sibling shop owners."

Scott and Murdoch worked together to nail down the show's script, "we sat side by side improvising scenes and writing dialogue," Scott recalls, "once we had a script, we had a read-through with friends, got some notes, and incorporated them in a second draft, again, sitting side by side." 

Once the idea was there, Sullivan brought on many of the crew members he'd worked with on Shrink , including editor Matt Rice, director of photography Bryan Sentiere, and musical composer Josh Moshier. Beyond Scott and Murdoch, the cast includes Tim Reardon, Annie Donley, Tyler Smith, and Michael BrunliebMurdoch found that the show's concept is perfect for showcasing the bountiful talents of Chicago improvisors: "we wanted to focus on what most improvisers in Chicago have discovered in moving to the city, a loving family of oddballs and misfits that work so wonderfully together."

How'd it go?  The finished product looks fantastic, with a similar polish that helps Shrink stand out like it does. In what appears to be a recurring theme amongst Chicago applicants, the Family Heirloom pilot was finished the day before the NYTVF deadline. "Matt and I spent 24 straight hours getting a final edit ready to burn and send the day before it was due in New York," recalls Sullivan, "Jo and Peter [her husband] saved us all by picking everything up, packaging it, and speeding to FedEx for overnight delivery the day before it was due."

Thanks to a series of meetings with other production teams, as well as a few Q&As held in Chicago by the NYTVF staff, the Family Heirloom crew were well aware of what was expected of them, Murdoch explains: "when we got down to actually applying to NYTVF Jo, Steve and myself had already had a fair amount of training on what makes a good series."

According to Scott, the addition of such an important deadline made for an incredibly rewarding motivational tool: "when everyone is doing it on their own time and doesn't get paid, being able to apply for something so great felt like a payday." 

Can I watch it?    Though the full pilot is not online, there are plenty of clips up on Family Heriloom's very fancy website, including the one minute trailer embedded above. As mentioned earlier, the show will be part of the free multi-pilot screening this Saturday at the Public House Theatre at 3pm.