TVWriter™ Don’t-Miss Posts of the Week – March 27, 2017

Time for TVWriter™’s  Monday look at our 5 most popular blog posts of the week ending yesterday. They are, in order:

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

8 Tips for Writing for Children’s TV Shows

More Aliens than Asians on Screen: White-Washing Ghost in the Shell

LB: 3 Shows I Just Can’t Watch Anymore

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon

And our 5 most visited permanent resource pages are, also in order:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

The Logline

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED SECOND SEASON ARC

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT

The Outline/Story

Major thanks to everyone for making this another great week at TVWriter™. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed and re-read what you loved!

Web Series: ‘Unicornland’

Unicornland is both a funny and serious look at sex. Unlike most web series about anything – especially sex – the show is actually mature. Yes, for reals, about grown ups having, you know, sex.

Truth to tell, Unicornland is more mature than our first paragraph. Definitely something to see here.

Something very good.,

Stareable, our fave website devoted to web series, gives Unicornland 5 stars. But we here at TVWriter™ believe it’s a better series than most of the 5 star shows out there.

Unicornland on Stareable is HERE

The entire series is HERE

2017 WGA TV Writer Access Project Honorees

We would like to be saying, “This just in from the Writers Guild of America, West,” but, unfortunately we’re a couple of weeks late in relaying what this genuinely important WGAW announcement.

The Diversity Department of the Writers Guild of America, West is pleased to announce the honorees for the 2017 WGAW TV Writer Access Project, a program designed to identify excellent, diverse writers with television staffing experience.

Qualified WGAW members were invited to submit their work in one of five diversity categories: minority writers; writers with disabilities; women writers; writers age 55 and over; and LGBT writers.

Scripts, which underwent two rounds of judging, were read and scored on a blind submission basis by WGAW members with extensive television writing experience, including current and former showrunners and writer/producers.

The honorees, which include four minority writers, four women writers, and two LGBT writers, are listed below.

Drama:
– Adrian A. Cruz
– Rachel Feldman
– Sharon Hoffman
– Peter Hume
– Donald Joh
– Tonya Kong
– Zak Shaikh
– Mollie St. John
– Ben St. John

Comedy:
– Hilary Weisman Graham
– Eddie Quintana

Congrats to you all from TVWriter™!

Honorees are now participating in WGAW workshops that will teach them more about careers in television, and the Guild also has made their work available to showrunners, producers, executives, agents, and managers.

For more about the program and how you can become involved with it, CLICK HERE. Tell ’em TVWriter™ sent you…but please don’t say we were late.

Our apologies for not getting this out when it was hot…but it’s still meaningful for us all.

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 3

Money
by Bri Castellini

Money can’t buy you love but it can buy you camera equipment, fruit snacks, and fake gun props. Even the simplest project requires start-up cash, so what follows is an exploration of the most common financial options as you go forward in your independent filmmaking journey.

Option 1: Crowdfunding

Let’s just get this one out of the way. Crowdfunding is a full time job from the moment you think about starting a campaign to the moment you finish sending out the final perks. There have been a handful of massive success stories for independent, unknown artists, but it is by no means a sure thing.

General tips:

  • If you’re going to commit to crowdfunding, commit. Have a detailed plan for when you’ll update your social media with new pleas, when you’ll announce pertinent production information to backers, and when you’ll send out all the extra rewards for donors.
  • Pick the platform best-suited for your particular needs. My top two picks would be IndieGoGo, for their flexible fundraising option (meaning you keep any money you raise, regardless of reaching your goal), or Seed&Spark, for their filmmaker-centric platform, which allows people to “loan” you things like props, equipment, and locations instead of donating money for you to purchase them yourself.
  • Try to offer intangible but personalized “perks” for the different levels of donations. Things like social media shout-outs, a personalized thank-you video from the cast and crew, or access to secret behind-the-scenes material don’t cost anything to provide, which means more money from the campaign can fund the production itself.
  • If you’re going to offer physical perks, like posters or t-shirts, make sure you’re actually making a profit. If a poster costs $11 to print and $6 to ship and you’re only asking for $20, you’ll end up with $3 per poster for your production budget. Is that really worth it?
  • Build as much of your team, cast and crew before you launch the campaign, and insist that everyone involved. The more people you have promoting your campaign, the more likely you are to create a groundswell of support.

Option 2: Grants and Festivals

Another route might be to get funding from an individual source. While there aren’t many web-series specific grants, at least not in the US (yet another reason to move to Canada!), there are some, so get Googling. Plus, plenty of contests and film festivals have screenplay categories, so once you have a script, submitting it on its own might get you some cash or other prizes useful to production. You can also use those laurels when approaching other fundraising sources.

General tips:

  • Make an account on FilmFreeway or WithoutABox and start searching for screenplay contests. These sites make it super simple to submit to multiple contests and festivals without having to redo your application each time.
  • Figure out what sets your script or team apart from the crowd, because many grants have specific qualifications for consideration. For instance, are you a minority writer or director? Do you have a female cinematographer? Is your script about mental health, or does it promote a political cause? Are you a student filmmaker? Find your niche and work it.
  • Submitting to grants and festivals comes with an up-front fee, usually between $10-$60 per submission. Keep in mind that these can add up and don’t guarantee a return on investment.

Option 3: DIY

This route is isn’t mutually-exclusive with the other options. You should consider this to supplement funding or as a fallback fundraising method.

General tips:

  • Use your script breakdowns to make a budget template. Find price quotes for different props on Amazon, for different locations on Yelp, etc, and add it all up to give yourself an idea of how much you’ll need, best case scenario. Then do that same exercise but for the worst case scenario that still allows you to make your project.
  • Cut as much from the script as you can without sacrificing the story or the heart. We talked last week about all the “realistic rewrites” you’ll end up doing as you start to take stock of your available resources, and this is round two. If something can be cut, cut it. Sometimes this means whole episodes are either condensed, combined, or discarded entirely. Be ruthless, because you literally can’t afford everything you want.
  • Beg, borrow, and steal. Post on Facebook to see who in your existing network might have a fake gun, or a sweater vest, or an empty living room to loan you. If there’s a free option, use it. Those options might not always be the ideal ones, but they’re the cheapest, and if you’re smart, creative, and focused on your ultimate production goal, they’ll work just fine.
  • Don’t forget about the basics — food and water on set (a necessity whether or not you’re paying your cast and crew), transportation to and from shooting locations, and general contingencies.

Even the simplest, most straightforward production will cost you something, and it’s important to be realistic with yourself about what you can and cannot afford. In any case, you literally cannot move forward with your web series before knowing what your money situation is.

Now that all that gross finance talk is out of the way, it’s time to expand your team! The next two weeks will explore hiring the rest of your crew and casting the characters who survived your realistic rewrites.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.

More Aliens than Asians on Screen: White-Washing Ghost in the Shell

by Kathryn Graham

This month, Ghost in the Shell will be released with Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, cast as Japanese character: Major Motoko Kusanagi. This is a process known as ‘white-washing’: Hollywood’s long-standing racist practice of casting white actors as characters of color.

In the 1930’s, we had ‘yellowface’: ‘Predictably, Asian Americans actors would spend most of the war years cast as sinister Japanese, often in films now viewed with some embarrassment. There were still “good Asian” roles being written–but they were restricted to Caucasian actors while Asian Americans played the villains.’

In 2017, we have white-washing, which is not the same thing, but still casts white people in roles that should have been Asian roles. The result: there are almost no roles for Asians on screen even in stories where the characters in the source material were Asian.

Chloe Tze: The University of California School of Journalism put out this study. There was a report that said less than 4.5% of Asians were on screen in speaking roles over the span of six years. So we’re not represented. You’re more likely to see an alien on screen than an Asian female. (Queer Women of Color Panel @ ClexaCon 2017)

NPR: Hollywood Has a Major Diversity Problem Study Finds

Why? There’s a whole raft of reasons why, but here’s a small snapshot: Writers aren’t writing roles for people of Asian descent. In the rare cases when we are, they’re being given to Caucasians.

When asked about the controversy surrounding her casting, Scarlett Johansson told Marie Claire magazine:

“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

But, much as I love ScarJo, she is playing a character of another race, which is a problem precisely because there is so little inclusion in Hollywood. Kusanagi is a distinctly Japanese name. This is a Japanese character.

She’s right that there is a dearth of films with female protagonists. The same NPR study above shows that only one third of female characters on screen have speaking roles (let alone leading roles). Combine that with the incredibly low instance of Asians in speaking roles, and despite her intentions and her personal desires, Johansson has usurped a role where an Asian woman should have been cast.

But this is more on the casting director than it is on the actress. So, what did Steven Paul, a producer on the film, have to say about this choice to white-wash the movie?

“I don’t think it was just a Japanese story,” Paul told BuzzFeed. “Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That’s why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.”

Basically: this story isn’t focused on Japan exclusively, so therefore we cast a white woman as a clearly Japanese character.

Is anyone buying this?

This isn’t a new defense of a white-washed movie. M. Night Shyamalan said the same thing about his choice to white-wash the Asian cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

“Here’s the thing. The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It’s intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No that’s just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that’s what’s so beautiful about anime.” – M. Night Shyamalan

I mean, who could tell that Aang was a Tibetan monk, Katara and Sokka were Innuits, and Zuko was Japanese? Anyone with eyes. Anyone who watched the show. And also…

The creators of the original cartoon: Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino.

The thing is: Avatar was not an anime. It was an American cartoon in the vein of anime. Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino had a blueprint for how they created their characters – and that blueprint was distinctly based on Asian culture. It’s not like Shymalan had to guess. His excuses, like always when a movie is white-washed, don’t hold water.

Even though the creators of Ghost in the Shell back the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson, and even though I doubt these decisions were made on purpose to harm Asians, the impact stays the same: another clearly Japanese character will be played by a Caucasian actor. Regardless of intent, this film is now a part of the history of American white-washing.

It’s worth thinking about this both if you’re considering seeing this movie and when you sit down to write your own stories. What are you doing to combat this? Are you writing Asian or Asian American characters into your shows in an ethical way? Are you bolstering stories by Asian creators? Informing people about this issue? Sharing this and/or many other articles?

Update: For a spot of good news, Disney looks to be doing it right with their upcoming live action Mulan movie! All-Asian cast and a female director? I’m in.


Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about Kate HERE

TVWriter™ Don’t-Miss Posts of the Week – March 20, 2017

Time for TVWriter™’s  Monday look at our 5 most popular blog posts of the week ending yesterday. They are, in order:

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon

BritBox is Here!

Kate G Sees THIS IS US – Season Finale

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon: Part II

And our 5 most visited permanent resource pages are, also in order:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

The Logline

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT

The Outline/Story

TVWriter™ Writing & Showbiz News Feed

Major thanks to everyone for making this another great week at TVWriter™. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed and re-read what you loved!

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon: Part II

Ethics of Storytelling at ClexaCon: Continued from Part 1 

About that writers’ room, how does that factor into ethical storytelling? What is the role of a showrunner? How much do an author’s intentions and opinions matter? And is anyone on TV writing queer female characters ethically?

Ethics in Storytelling Panel

Dr. Elizabeth Bridges – Literature Professor & Writer – The Uncanny Valley

Gretchen Ellis – Linguist, Storyteller, Critic – The Ranconteur

Heather Hogan – Senior Editor Autostraddle.com

Moderator Question: TV relies on a collaborative writers’ room, so what kinds of problems does that lead to?

Elizabeth

This is another one where I’d like to bring in a historical perspective because I think that obviously television is a collaborative medium. There is no such thing as the singular auteur, artiste that makes television because there has to be a writers’ room. There have to be different people contributing. Editors. Actors. You name it.

There was a panel at ATX called ‘Bury Your Tropes’. I found that really disappointing. Javier Grillo-Marxuach was the only one who had anything progressive to say. Everybody but Javi on that panel stuck with this idea of the ‘singular artistic vision’.

This idea of artistic integrity is rooted in the idea of the artist that we inherited from the Renaissance. That’s when the artist was the painter, the sculptor, and that’s when artists started signing their name to works. That’s when we developed this idea of the artist with a singular vision with a divine gift from God, and that’s where we get our idea of the artist.

Fastforward to 2016 or 2017, and these showrunners have inherited this idea of the artist, and they see themselves as these folks with a divine gift and singular vision. They probably don’t say it like that in their minds, but that’s the cultural idea we have.

Heather

I mean they do say it. I mean even Rothenberg was: “Well I thought I was going to do it differently.” You see that in writers’ rooms, especially when it’s a male showrunner, like: I thought my thing was going to be so different from the other 175 lesbian/bisexual characters that were killed.

Then when you have women showrunners like Ilene Chaiken (Empire), their whole thing is ‘I’m a lesbian so I can kill whoever I want’.

Elizabeth

Still the trope.

Heather

Right? Then you have Ryan Murphy who’s the combination of both of those things. ‘I’m a gay man so I can just piss on literally everybody.’

Gretchen

We see artists say it all the time. They say: This is my story, and I need to tell it. I need to be true to my story. I need to be true to my vision. I have a lot of very choice words I won’t say here for people who say that. Because it’s nonsense.

You are crafting a story for an audience. You are making a story that people will watch. Especially with television, the point of television is to make money for the network. This isn’t just: I am an artist painting my work of art that hopefully one day will end up in a museum.

They’re creating media that exists to entertain and interact with the audience. In terms of that, they’re imposing a vision and a perception of art that doesn’t fit in this medium. Film and television are not the same as a single person creating a single work of art.

We cannot allow that conception to continue because it ends up with: they believe they don’t have to listen to their audience or even people in the same writers’ room.

Heather

Very simple solution to this problem is to put queer people, people of color, trans people, and non-binary people in your writers’ room. You need more than one black woman in a writers’ room because black women are not a monolith. You need a variety of voices.

Elizabeth

That’s what I mean about this model of the artist. Because at the ATX panel we had Ilene Chaiken saying: It’s okay because I’m a lesbian. No it’s not. So not only do we have to have this diverse team of people working on these projects, but then there also has a be a different model for how art is created.

Frankly, the one we inherited as the singular artiste is not a feminist model. So we need something that is truly collaborative. When you’re talking about something like One Day at a Time, I think we see the results of that. It’s been pretty successful.

People look to the person who authored a book or the showrunner to have an opinion about their own work. Back to literary studies, there’s this concept called the ‘death of the author’. It came along in the 1960’s – 70’s by this literary critic named Roland Barthes.

He talks about this idea that the opinion that an author has after releasing the work to the public is irrelevant because it’s just another opinion. What really matters is the response of the reader or the viewer because that is where the interaction takes place.

That’s where this dialogue takes place. It was meant for viewers. It was meant for readers. It doesn’t matter.

We can go back to JK Rowling talking about Dumbledore being gay. It’s like: That’s great. Where is it in the text?

Heather

The thing that’s made that infinitely worse is Twitter because a writer can just get on immediately after and say: ‘What I meant was…’ But you’re all: ‘Hey, that’s nice, but what I saw on my television was another lesbian getting shot with a stray bullet’.

Gretchen

On some level, I can acknowledge that you didn’t mean it the way I heard it, but this is how I heard it whether you meant it that way or not. What I want from you is to say: I am so sorry. I will do better next time.

From showrunners who did that, their reaction is: Let me explain to you why you should not have felt that way.

Heather

The other problem is, of the people who are watching your show, maybe half a percent are watching you on Twitter. So the cultural impact is there regardless of whether or not you apologize, because now it’s out in the wide world for people who are not part of the conversation. All they’re seeing is more dead queer characters.

The cultural impact goes so far beyond fandom. That’s the impact that really matters in a broader scheme because that impacts the people who are making legislation that is coming back to affect us.

To me the most remarkable thing to come out of Lexa’s death was the fact that places like Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and Variety started paying attention and writing about this thing and interviewing queer people and calling it out as a problem.

In terms of Bury Your Gays, one of the huge successes around the movement around Lexa is there is no showrunner on earth can be like: I didn’t know Bury Your Gays existed.

So if you’re doing it, you’re doing it purposefully, knowing it hurts the community, and you’re doing it knowing the backlash is coming your way.

The justification for so long was: Now we have so many characters, and marriage equality is a thing, and Obama’s going to change the world, it’s not like we’re ever going to get Donald Trump as president. Now you’re doing it knowing that the political situation is as dire as it is, so you’re putting active harm into a world that’s not the same world it was even just six or eight months ago.

Elizabeth

I would like to remind everyone that all of those deaths (of queer female characters on television) were being written while marriage equality was being celebrated. Just think about that for a second.

I think right now in time, a showrunner would be hard pressed to kill a character and not have it fall into the trope. I don’t know how you could do it right now. Maybe when there’s more parity, when there’s more representation, when it really is ‘any character can die’.

Heather

(Jokingly) What if a straight white guy with a vision does it though?

Audience Question: Have you seen a show or somewhere on TV or a movie where they did it right?

Gretchen

Wynonna Earp.

Heather

Carol.

Gretchen

I actually think that up until the last, there are some episodes where it’s better or not, but I actually think Sanvers on Supergirl is amazing.

Elizabeth

First half of the season, yes.

Gretchen

One of the best written stories, especially about an older woman coming out. That was so well done.

Heather

One Day at a Time. Orange is the New Black still deserves your support because it’s telling a lot of stories of women of color. May and Sadie both mentioned Transparent. That show, it’s complicated. You can read a lot of great criticism from trans women at autostraddle, but it’s doing some special stuff.

Gretchen

Steven Universe.

Heather

Steven Universe is doing it the best.

Gretchen

Hands down, Steven Universe is doing it the best right now.

Question: Are any of these stories doing this across intersectionality (queer women of color, of different religions, etc)?

Gretchen

Steven Universe and Orange is the New Black, I would say. Then One Day at a Time because it’s about a Cuban family.

Question: Speaking about ethics in storytelling, what’s your take briefly on subtext?

Elizabeth

Once I had ‘text’, I could never go back.

Gretchen

In some ways there’s not a lot of excuses now for subtext. Compare Steven Universe to Legend of Korra. Legend of Korra existed in a time when it was not acceptable to show woman loving women stories on television, so it had to be subtext otherwise they would have literally not been able to make the show that they did. Legend of Korra then, I think, actually opened the space for a show like Steven Universe.

But now that Steven Universe exists, there’s no excuse to go back. It’s that step. Once you take a step that something can exist as text, there’s no excuse for subtext after that.


Back to Kate G: Friggin’ brilliant, right? Check out their sites for more in depth discussions and resources on all of these things. A big thank you to ClexaCon for hosting this panel. More articles from the front lines at ClexaCon to come!

The Uncanny Valley

The Ranconteur

Autostraddle.com


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE