Julie Livingston: 3 Rules for Writing Workshop…And Life

NCIS-Gibbs-Rules

by Julie Livingston

So here I am. Finally settled in L.A.. Well, settled-ish anyway. I’m actually moving again in a couple weeks, but that decision was motivated more by my personal desire to live in a neighborhood where no one pees in the produce section of the super market than anything professional. Workwise, after the initial flurry of activity of having a manger and then not having one, things have been fairly quiet. Hollywood hasn’t exactly been beating a path to my door. The phone isn’t ringing off the hook with job offers and pilot deals. Fortunately, I’m not sitting around waiting for that to happen. I am doing what I always do when I’m not sure what else to do, I’m going to school.

A few weeks ago I started the UCLA Professional Program For Television Writing. It’s a year-long intensive in which students essentially get all the writing classes they’d get in the MFA program without all the theory. And so far, I have to say, it’s awesome. There is something truly exquisite about geeking out over the thing you love with other people who love it as geekishly as you do for six hours a week. I am impressed with how smart and experienced my fellow students are and inspired by the sacrifices everybody has made to be here, but the thing really solidified the belief that I am in the right place is the set of rules set out by my teacher, Rick Williams. No one is more surprised than I am that my favorite part of the program so far is the rules, but these rules are not about page counts or act breaks. They are instructions on how to be a person who creates and guidelines to becoming someone people want to work with, which makes me feel they are worth sharing outside the ivory tower.

Rule Number One:
Attendance Is Mandatory. You must be present, not just physically, but mentally too. Like everyone, I sometimes struggle to put away my cell phone and let go of the distractions of the day, but I know I owe it to my classmates to try. Television writing is, after all, essentially a team sport. I get that. But to be honest, my real motivation to follow rule number one is selfish. I generate more ideas, make better jokes and generally have more fun when I am fully engaged. So while I hope my classmates feel like it’s a benefit to get my full attention, truth is, I do it as much for myself as for them.

Rule Number Two:
Invest In Your Classmate’s Success. This one is HUGE. In the someday land of real TV, shows are usually written by a room full of writers. They work together to create character arcs, break stories, write jokes, but to earn a spot in the sandbox, you first have to demonstrate you understand the game by playing alone — or as LB one once told me, “Before you get to do it the easy way, you have to do it the hard way,” which means as you work to establish yourself in the business, you must do alone what might otherwise by the work of a half a dozen people or more. One of the great benefits of a program like mine, or a class, or a writers’ group, is that it is an opportunity to draw on other people’s insight, experience and sense of humor to make your work better. No one can (or will) do the work for you, but ohmigod, what a difference it makes to have other people lend you some brainpower. Working on each other’s projects is really gratifying, and in my experience, it is usually a whole lot easier than working on your own. More importantly, working on other people’s projects makes you care about those projects and those people. Assuming everybody does their part – comes prepared, participates actively, gives feedback constructively — you become a de-facto writer’s room, which is, by definition, an organism that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Then, theoretically, at some point down the road, when one of you makes it into an actual writer’s room, that person looks to the people who sweated alongside her in the trenches of anonymity to become her comrades in the ranks of the gainfully employed, once again proving that helping other people is also a way to help yourself. Which brings me to Rule Number Three.

Invest In Your Own Success.
There’s way around it (at least none I’ve ever found, and, believe me, I’ve looked), if you want to do this thing, you’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is. And by money, I mean time – and money. Writing is a greedy time-eating beast. There, I said it. And Rick says it too, although he phrases it somewhat more delicately asking each student to make a commitment to, “prioritize our work.” Ass, meet Seat. And while he stopped just short of suggesting we withdraw from society completely, Rick didn’t mince words in explaining that a fairly unavoidable part of saying, ”yes” to your own success is saying, “no,” to pretty much everything else. Maybe not forever, but definitely during the large swaths of time when you are what he calls, “on script.” “No one will ever care about your work more than you do,” Rick assures us, and even in this early phase of the journey, we all know it’s true.

In the months and years ahead, I imagine there will be any number of concepts and constructs I will struggle to understand, so it’s nice to start out with a few basic principals that instinctively make sense. Knowing there is unfamiliar territory ahead, it is comforting to know I have already have a basic roadmap and three simple rules to guide the way: Show up. Be nice. Work hard. 

Looking for a TV writing/producing gig in Oklahoma City?

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We’ve got just the thing for you.

KFOR-TV, the Oklahoma City NBC affiliate, has a job opening for a writer-producer who can create, write, produce, and edit the station’s entertainment and news promos, including radio spots and web ads as well. Whomever gets the gig will also be part of a team that writes publicity and sales materials and takes part in the daily operation of  the station.

In other words, these guys are talking total immersion here, a chance to do it all. And, yeppers, that often means the pay sucks, but you never know. Look at all the great talent that’s started in Oklahoma and become Hollywood stars. (You know, like Will Rogers and, um, erm…we’re thinking, we’re thinking!)

Anyway, it’s a gig. In showbiz. Beats Taco Bell, right?

Get all the info and apply HERE. Tell ‘em TVWriter™ sent you. Or don’t. Whatever. We just want you to be happy, y’know?

 

Peer Production: PIVOT POINT

Who says that the interwebs can’t take on traditional genres and do just as good (or bad?) a job as network TV? If you’re a cop procedural fan, then this is the series for you. Every beloved writing and directorial cliche, plus a dash of interweb tastelessness to add “realism.”

And you thought we automatically loved every web series. Ha!

Of course we could be wrong. Have a look for yourself and let us know whatcha think:

 

Really. Let us know!

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 4/22/14

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Frank Spotnitz (X FILES) & Nicholas Meyer (HOUDINI) have created the ultimate crime series: FREUD: THE SECRET CASEBOOK. (That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it’s being set up in the UK, which means that most likely the show will take its sweet time coming to where we in the U.S. can see it without doing something illegal.)
  • Pivot TV has announced a whole passel of new shows for, you know, “younger viewers,” as in the same obnoxious demo that all TV shows these days are made for but presented as though only Pivot is doing this. Yer Friendly Neighborhood munchman is especially interested in FORTITUDE, created and run by Simon Donald (LOW WINTER SUN). (Cuz it’s set in – get this – “the Arctic town of Fortitude…surrounded by the savage beauty of the polar landscape,” and if there’s one thing this munchy one loves its looking at barren wastelands for at least an hour a week.)
  • Speaking of barren wastelands, Pivot also has LEADER TOWN, an animated comedy about an American family trying to fit into a Russian town, created and showrun by THE SIMPSONS’ Jeff Westbrook. (Warning note: This particular wasteland is a moral-ethical one. The town is where “the world’s deposed ex-leaders…live out their lives in luxury using their ill-goten gains.” Oh well, if there’s one thing THE SIMPSONS writers know about it’s…yeah, you guessed it, moral-ethical dilemmas.)

Peggy Bechko: Character Motivation – The Wounds That Don’t Heal

motivationby Peggy Bechko

Have you considered what motivates your characters? What their background is? Whether it is your hero or a villain or some other character in the piece he or she has been affected by life. We’re all bombarded by tiny wounds, hurts and influences (sometimes large ones) throughout our lives. Your characters should be no different.

Think about it. Everything that happens, or we cause to happen defines us. Painful things even more so. They influence character. Whether focused on one ‘big one’ or a culmination of multiple lacerations (death by a thousand paper cuts) those things can chip away or blast away at a character’s self-worth, or can elevate it to the point of ego-mania.

So think about this; what kinds of events can come together to form this mudball of experience?

Well, there are literally thousands, and of course much depends on the grounding the character already comes equipped with, but understanding what or who has contributed to that ‘mudball’ can certainly help you as the writer move the story forward and without doubt does the same for your reader (of script or novel).

The obvious is something physical. Like a deformity or a scar or some disability that’s in your face. Such a thing can cause a character to feel alienated, alone, like he or she will never fit in anywhere. It can be very demoralizing and have great ramifications on the character’s self-esteem and undermining confidence. It can also cause a character to reach heroic heights while overcoming that physical ‘wound’ that’s carried. Which way would the character go?3399402-877974-dog-needs-a-meal-a-hungry-puppy

Another is mistakes. We’re human, we all make them but some are huge and some are every day. If it’s big enough or the character self-centered enough on a tiny mistake, it can be devastating. Guilt because of a bungled surgery can set a doctor character on a new path. A mistake that crashed the computers at work can make a worker fear for a job. A mistake or failure that affects someone else directly can make a character a target for revenge. Mistakes are a huge issue.

So is trust – when it’s misplaced and results in betrayal by another character. If it’s a real betrayal of trust it can send the character off on a trail of vengeance. Even if it’s not for that matter, if it’s perceived it’s dangerous. Is it a friend? A loved one? An acquaintance at work? Does it result in anger and the desire to strike back or more like a crushed feeling of disappointment that makes the character who was betrayed feel worthless?

How about injustice? It’s everywhere. Someone serves a long prison sentence for a crime he or she didn’t commit. A worker is blamed and fired for something someone else in the office did. A character’s dog is accused of biting someone it didn’t and is put down . How has the character reacted? How WILL he react?

Have a character who was rejected? Left at an orphanage and abandoned? Perhaps she is just an outsider in her own family with siblings that abuse her and ignore her, making her ‘odd man out’. A husband left in the lurch with a couple of kids by a wife who runs off with another man. A stalker who gets the brush off from the object of his desire.

All of these and many more feed into a character, created the person just as they do in life. Think back over yours. What were the influences good and bad? How do you think you might have changed had things been different?

Use it, use it all and your characters will burst into full life and give your reader whether script reader or editor a ride of a lifetime.

United State of TV: Binge watching brings us all together again

Binge watching as an activity that brings people together? When the reason certain of us here at TVWriter™ do it is cuz we can only enjoy ourselves…um, alone in the dark? Scary!

binge watchingby Doug McIntyre

Let me say upfront, I watch my share of television.

I’m not one of those people who shun the small screen for more exalted intellectual pursuits like re-reading the collected works of Flaubert or writing office emails in haiku. My television viewing habits are pedestrian and prolific.

I’m in the Time/Warner web so I have my Dodgers. It’s me and Vinny now through October.

I’m also good for five to 10 episodes a week of History Channel’s “Pawn Stars.” Granted, there’s not much history in “Pawn Stars,” but I feel better about my family after watching these people hate on each other, and I have to have my Chumlee fix.

I also watch “American Pickers” and like most Americans have questions about Frank and Mike’s sexual orientation.

Throw in “SportsCenter” on ESPN and NBC’s “Nightly News with Brian Williams” and that pretty much covers my TV viewing habits.

None of the shows I watch are particularly hip or cutting edge, but neither am I. They provide the kind of mindless distraction I require after a long day toiling in the opinion mines.

As a child of the ’60s and ’70s — OK, part of the 50s as well — I was practically weaned on television. “Captain Kangaroo” and Chuck McCann’s brilliant kid’s comedy shows were must see TV in our house.

Christmas morning 1967, my brother, sister and I stood in our bedroom slippers and robes, slack-jawed in front of the glowing, kaleidoscopic box in the corner of the den. Color TV! Santa had brought color TV into our lives! It was like God had come to our house.

In the age of 6,000 channels, it’s hard to remember when almost all cartoons were seen on Saturday mornings and only on Saturday mornings. If you missed your favorite show, you’d have to catch it in reruns or it was gone for good.

Today TV is portable and downloadable, and that means you watch it on your own time.

Read it all