“ I have a very low tolerance for bullshit,” states Rabia Khan when we begin our interview. It’s a great start to the next two hours of fascinating conversation as I hear all about Khan, the life that led her into the world of Canadian Film and Television, and her latest upcoming project: The Pilot Project.
But before we jump into The Pilot Project, I want to learn more about Rabia Khan. Born in Pakistan, Khan is a child of the world, having lived in San Francisco, Dubia, and England before moving to Canada. She started her professional life working as a flight attendant in British Airways. “I dress for the airport as though I might crash on an island” she remarks- a philosophy she has carried into other aspects of her life- that is to say, she is always prepared. Yet Khan was not destined to stay in world of air-travel.
“I lived in the Corporate world as well” she adds, remarking on her varied professional career. Her experiences have shown her that all industries always come down to the bottom lines: the consumers needs, and the resources available.
Which brought us to the topic of Canadian Film and Television. The Canadian film and television Industry, which generates two billion dollars annually in Toronto alone, is in an interesting and exciting place. Internationally, Canadian content doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Khan has some strong ideas as to why. “We don’t push ourselves enough”, she explains. “Can you tell me what a Canadian Story is?”
I thought about the question. And I had to say I found a difficult to answer. American film congers up a very specific set of images, as does Indian films, Korean films, etc- but although I have no short supply of great Canadian-made movies that come to mind- I had a hard time conjuring up a general concept of what sorts of films are “Canadian” – without my mind jumping to a series of inaccurate cliches. Khan has a surprisingly response to that.
“There is no such thing as a Canadian Story.” She explains, “What Canada has is a massive collection of human stories.” And when we think about it, Canada is a massive melting pot of diversity, that can pull from the cultural and historical influences of countless places across the globe, as well as from a rich history of the earliest peoples in this country. “I chose to come to Canada, because I could be myself in this country. I couldn’t be myself in my own country. So I am from Pakistan. But if I make a film, I am a Canadian Filmmaker…That’s the best way I can give back.”
Khan continues, “The Canadian industry creates very safe content, because we are pulling from the same sort of grants and funding bodies…But if we look at what the consumer wants and work backwards from that, we can see the desire in the audiences for the type of content that can attract private funding, more risks and ultimately stronger stories.”
The Pilot Project, founded and created by Khan, is a passionate attempt to address the need for bigger, better, bolder, stories within Canada. Now in its fourth cycle, The Pilot Project is a competition open to all writers in Canada who have a strong pilot script. The script is submitted and put through a rigorous set of criteria, if it scores high on all the areas of consideration (Originality, Clear sense of story, defined structure, etc) it moves forward to the finalist round. Finalists get the chance to have their work read by leading Canadian Content generators in the industry, with notable names like Karen Walton, Jeff Biederman, Adam Till and many more. The finalists also get coverage, notes and feedback from the panel, to help take their pilots to the next level.
What is truly special about this particular competition, outside of so many others, is that it is absolutely free. There is no entry fee, no submission costs, and Khan receives no profits from any part of the competition. Neither does the panel. Every single expert reading the scripts is volunteering their time, for no other reason than to help provide guidance and assistance to the next voice of Canadian storytellers.
“It’s all about creating pathways.” Explains Khan. “There are natural storytellers with amazing concepts who have good scripts, and might just not know what to do with the story, where to take it, or how to polish it up to get it the attention it needs. And there is a panel of leading Canadian professionals willing to volunteer their time and expertise to help make that pathway possible.” Khan makes an excellent point. To a storyteller with drive and passion and unsure of how to tap into the world of writing for the Canadian Film and Television industry, the bubble seems unfathomably hard to burst. The Pilot Project seeks to break down that concept- because reaching out and getting feedback from a leading industry professional may only be one submission away.
So, what kind of writers should be submitting their work to The Pilot Project? Khan has a clear answer for that as well. “People who understand the craft, and feel confident in it, and have done their homework. They have a solid script that they feel reflects their ability to utilize that craft. They have a Pilot script for an idea and they think this NEEDS to be on TV!!! We want those people and we want those scripts. We need solid and completed Pilots, though. No treatments, no one pages, no bibles.”
Rabia does make a point to mention that only around 2%-5% of the scripts submitted make it to the finalist level, but says not to get discouraged by that number. “If you don’t make it to the finalist round, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It means keep going.”
The Pilot Project has two categories: 30 minute comedy and 60 minute drama. “It has to follow the format and structure of these two genres.” Khan notes, referring that the complete guidelines, checklist and breakdown for the competition can be found at the-pilot-project.simplesite.com. “Your piece may not be ready to be pitched, or it may need one more polish or set of revisions to hone your craft, but if you have a well structured piece you’ve put a lot of work into, then this competition is for you.”
To break it down for all interested writers:
WHO: Rabia Khan’s THE PILOT PROJECT (www.the-pilot-project.simplesite.com)
WHAT: A pilot competition, where finalists have the pilot read by top Canadian TV professionals, who will give feedback and notes on each piece.
WHERE: Open to all interested writers in Canada
WHEN: Deadline opens April 15 and closes April 18 2018.
HOW: Submit your polished and completed pilot script to
The Pilot Project Submission Page
If you have a concept you love, have strong completed script for it, and are looking for the chance to get honest feedback from Industry professionals, The Pilot Project is the competition you are waiting for. Luck is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet. An opportunity approaches. Get your pens ready.