For the past decade or so, writer-producer Troy DeVolld has been a pivotal presence in the world of reality TV…and a frequent contributor to TVWriter™ as well. Thanks to this podcast, we now have the chance to listen to this master storyteller spin what could be his most exciting tale yet – his life:
If you’re writing for TV, you know you’re a professional when you realize that your goal is to create scripts that aren’t just for reading but for shooting. Most of us find watching our work being shot both exhilarating and frustrating. Here are some tips for surviving a situation that, if you’re lucky, will endure for the rest of your professional life:
by Mark Sanderson
If you’re blessed enough to actually sell a screenplay or get paid for an assignment job, your script will move into the important development process where hopefully your project marches toward production. This is your opportunity to shine as the ultimate collaborator and team player and you should do whatever it takes to move the project closer to the ultimate goal of production. It’s not the time to be precious with your material or a diva that bristles at the necessary changes. You want to stay involved in the development process as long as possible to help build your reputation and show your producers and director how vital it is to keep you around.
I’m blessed to have collaborated with many of the directors of my assignment screenplays because of my close working relationship with the producers. When the script finally hooks a director, the producer receives suggestions on how best to shoot the film given the director’s vision and the budget. That’s when I meet with the director and we discuss the requirements to push it closer toward production. Most of the directors I’ve worked with are veterans of the business, some with hundreds of hours of TV or dozens of films to their credit, and it’s in my best interest to listen and learn. Some of the directors have also been writers, and I’ve been fortunate they have respected that I wrote the screenplay and allowed me to do my job as they do theirs.
I’ve been lucky these directors never dictated to me what they needed as if I was an assistant, but treated me as a full collaborator. We discussed the issues and I was given a chance for my input, and then I went off and made the changes under the agreed deadline. The producers allowed this process to happen and it showed their respect for the role of the screenwriter on their project. I’ve been lucky, as this might not be the norm in Hollywood and your first time out may be different. If you do get a chance to work with directors, savor the experience and learn all you can from them as mentors.
Working with directors is an invaluable experience because you’re allowed to collaborate with the person whose job it is to put your words and story onto the screen. Give the director what he or she needs to make the film and you will be remembered as a vital part of the production. At this point in the process, you’re doing production drafts and the script becomes more of a technical document as everything is about making the script ready for the first day of shooting and beyond. Working with directors will help you become a production savvy screenwriter as you learn the realities of filmmaking, how to stay out of the way of the story, and how not overstep your responsibilities as the screenwriter.
Are you one of those writers who feels tortured by inner demons and write to expunge them and illuminate the darkness of their souls. Yeah, mate, us too. But just in case you need further validation, HAPPYISH creator Shalom Auslander shows us that we aren’t alone:
by Eric Volmers
Shalom Auslander was at his home in Woodstock, NY when Showtime president David Nevins called to talk about developing his new show, Happyish.
He asked Auslander, a TV newbie, where he planned to set up his writing room.
“I said ‘I’m in the writing room, what are you talking about?’” says Auslander, who was giving a masterclass at the Banff World Media Festival Wednesday morning. “He was surprised but said ‘Oh, so you just want to do it yourself?’ I said I think that’s probably the best for this stage of it. He said ‘OK, fine.’ So they really did embrace the process.”
It’s a trend in premium TV, where network brass take a hands-off approach and allow creators to offer very personal, singular visions.
Happyish, about the mid-life malaise of a depressed ad executive played by Steve Coogan, is Auslander’s first foray into television. He was used to the much more solitary pursuits of writing short stories, essays, memoirs and novels and contributing to public radio’s This American Life.
Writing has always been a personal endeavour for Auslander, a “survival mechanism” and “tool to get through life and laugh at the darkness.”
When he first considered writing something based on his past life in advertising, he initially envisioned it as prose of some sort. But he realized that advertising world, with its commercials and powerpoint presentations, would work best in a more visual medium.
Still, Happyish isn’t really about advertising. It seems to belong to the same TV club as FX’s Louie in presenting angry, unhappy and occasionally unlikable people for laughs. Coogan plays Thom Payne, an ad man who feels increasingly hostile towards a younger world he no longer feels a part of.
While the series originated from a dark place, it also hit by tragedy early on. Initially, it was being developed as a project for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in 2014.
by Herbie J Pilato
Except for the overt, excessive, grotesque, and bloody violence that pervades and apparently has to be part of every movie-going experience today (drama or comedy, horror, adventure or otherwise), everything visual about SPY is beautiful, including it’s dynamic leading leading, Melissa McCarthy, and her co-stars Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Jason Strathram, Bobby Cannavale, and Peter Serafinowicz.
Unfortunately, their beauty gets lost each and every time one of them opens their mouths.
As a result, what could have been one of the most perfect adventure-secret agent feature films this side of the best of James Bond on the big-screen is instead disturbing.
“F-this,” “F-that,” “Mother-f this,” “Mother-f that.”
But for real? Are they kidding? Or should I say screenwriter/director Paul Feig…is he kidding? How many millions is he making off of regurgitating common, street words?
Beyond the offensive and unnecessary barrage of f-bombs, however, the main characters frequently break-character as much as some of the dead extra characters break wind and die.
How many millions is Feig making off of presenting indistinguishable characters that speak lines that any other indistinguishable character on screen could speak? Or how many millions is he making off of frequently and consistently sacrificing a character just for the sake of a joke? Or to have one character blur into the other, appearing constipated at every turn?
I had a challenging day before I went to see this film, and I specifically chose a comedy to help brighten my night.
But that didn’t happen.
I laughed out-loud over a few scenes, but I didn’t laugh enough. In fact, I found myself cringing.
The hardest part of viewing and listening to this movie?
Walking out of the theatre, and noticing three feet beside me a young father and his little son who could not have been more than nine-years-old.
They walked out in silence, neither knowing what to say to the other.
I was sadder leaving the theatre then when I first walked in.
Herbie J Pilato is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about him HERE.
Inasmuch as we seem to be featuring good ole timey values today, it seems appropriate to talk about a new value and its place in the pantheon of things. (Similar to the interweb of things except not.)
Stay with us now because this is cool:
by Rick Falkvinge
The copyright monopoly is based on the idea of an exchange. In exchange for exclusive rights, the copyright industry supplies culture and knowledge to the public. It turns out that the entire premise is a lie, as untethered creators are racing to provide culture and knowledge anyway.
The copyright monopoly was reinstated in Great Britain in 1710, after having lapsed in England in 1695. It was enacted because printers (not writers) insisted, that if they didn’t have exclusive rights to boost profitability, nothing would get printed.
(Do note the difference between books getting written on one hand, and getting printed and distributed on the other. It was printers, not writers and authors, that drove the reinstatement of the copyright monopoly through the so-called Statute of Anne.)
The Parliament of Great Britain accepted this premise, and thus, the social contract of the copyright monopoly was formed: “In return for providing the only service that can make culture come into being for the benefit of the public, the publishers and distributors are awarded with time-limited exclusive rights.”
Note the very important assumption here: if the exclusive rights – the copyright monopoly – don’t exist, there will not be any culture. This is the contract which governments have been acting on ever since: in exchange for providing a magic service that calls culture into being in the first place, the publishers have enjoyed exclusive rights that allow them to punish and withhold.
The social contract between the public and the copyright industry is, that in exchange for exclusive rights, the publishers will make culture available, being the only ones who can supply such availability of culture.
It turns out the entire premise is bullshit.
With the advent of the Internet, we see that people are creating despite these exclusive rights, this monopoly, instead of because of it. Millions of creators – millions! – have publicly renounced their already-awarded exclusive rights by publishing under a Creative Commons license.
By Kelly Jo Brick
Be authentic. That was a major theme of PURPOSE: The Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit presented by Variety, where industry leaders gathered to share their perspectives on family and faith-based entertainment. Speakers including Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, David Oyelowo and DeVon Franklin repeatedly focused on authentic storytelling and creating projects that resonate with viewers.
Faith has long been part of film and it’s no secret that there’s a large market for faith-based projects, in fact over 225 million Americans self-identify as Christians. These people are hungry for content and eager to engage through social media with those who are creating this content.
In a story-focused session, panelists further echoed that audiences don’t want to be preached to. People want to relate to what they see. Producer Cale Boyter (Same Kind of Different As Me, The SpongeBob Movie: The Sponge Out of Water) reminded attendees, “You gotta entertain people. You gotta take them on a ride. You can’t make them feel like they’re in Sunday school.”
Stories can move people in a positive direction without being heavy-handed and the overwhelming key to creating interest in a faith-based project is making sure your project is commercial. Fill your story with character, conflict, journey and triumph. Most importantly, be authentic and passionate as you do it.
David Oyelowo often found that the faith based projects coming his way often tended to be about a person who has it all together, preaching to someone who doesn’t. These stories didn’t really connect with him as a performer. Although Oyelowo did stress that, “These films work when there’s a conviction in storytelling.”
Oyelowo spoke of his upcoming thriller, Captive, as an example of how a faith-based film can, “Go to the mossy dark places where real people live, to find the light.”
Traci Blackwell, SVP Current Programs for The CW also suggested that there’s a way to tell these stories that’s not on the nose. You can mesh a broad audience with a faith-based audience. Shows like Jane the Virgin and Supernatural both have faith-related elements within the stories they tell, but they’ve also been able to connect with a wide audience base. Blackwell believes that success, “All starts with what’s on the page, the words and the characters.”
With a concentration on developing authentic stories, creators can not only reach these enthusiastically supportive audiences, but they can also continue to bring other friends and circles into the viewing experience by telling good, compelling stories.
Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey were very encouraged about the current state of the faith-based entertainment marketplace, believing there are enormous opportunities for telling good stories. Burnett encouraged those in attendance to, “Go after things. Dream Big. Be Bold. Be willing to trip over.”
Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.