Herbie J Pilato Reads ‘Write Tight’

by Herbie J Pilato

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our bud Herbie J Pilato is a very picky person when it comes to recommending a TV show, film, or book. And a book about writing? Oh my! But here the dear boy is, returning to TVWriter™ to recommend this one book in particular. Take it away Herbie J!


It’s important to write tight.

Not, “It’s SO important to write tight.”

See the difference?

No need to add the “so” and certainly no need to capitalize it like “SO.”

Whether writing a book, nonfiction or fiction, or a TV show, movie or play, scripted, non-scripted, reality, or documentary, keep your dialogue to a minimum; even your stage directions.

Get your point across with less verbiage.  You know: less words.  In other words, cut to the chase…with each sentence, which each line, with each word.

Certainly, there are moments where it’s important to be generous when writing words, as with poetry, or if you’re quoting some great thinker in one of your books or scripts; or if you have created a verbose or arrogant character.

But in general, it’s best to say what you need to say in a short and sweet way – as a writer, a character, or in real life as a candlestick maker – or even if one of your characters in your TV show, movie or play is a candlestick maker.

Utilize your best judgment and discretion.

Or, just use discretion.

Or, use discretion.

Or better yet:

Use discretion.

You get me?

Here’s a wonderful book to help the cause:

Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean With Precision and Power by William Brohaugh.

Click on the link and order it.

As fast as you can.

Or just:

Order it.

HERE


Herbie J Pilato is practically a founding father of TVWriter™ and right now his official title is Contributing Editor Emeritus. We’re pleased as all hell to have him back today and are sure you will be too. Learn more about Herbie J Pilato HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With BETTER CALL SAUL’s Gordon Smith

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Photo by Arnold Wells

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.

Emmy-nominated writer Gordon Smith credits much of his career success to luck. A friend got his resume to BREAKING BAD just as they were looking for a PA. After landing that job, Gordon’s career grew from working as a writers’ PA and assistant to Vince Gilligan, to landing a position as a staff writer on BETTER CALL SAUL. Now a producer on BETTER CALL SAUL, Gordon signed an overall deal with Sony Pictures TV earlier this year.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I don’t often think of myself as a writer. I went to school for writing at Michigan and then I was in the production program at USC, but I primarily focused on writing and editing. It’s that weird thing in my head that I don’t necessarily think of myself that way, but it plays to my skills in the arts. I don’t think I would ever be particularly well suited for things outside of the arts. Within that discipline, I think writing suits me.

WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?

Usually people want to know how I got my job, because everyone is wondering how you get your foot in the door. Unfortunately, my answer is usually luck, because it was luck. I started as a PA. I got my foot in the door. It’s luck, but I think it really can’t be overestimated how social the industry is, how many things happen because you know somebody and somebody else knows you and you can kinda say yeah, that person is okay, I know them and vice versa.

HOW DID YOU FIRST BREAK IN TO TV?

I was working at USC where I went to grad school. I wrote and edited a short film for a young woman, Nicole, who was a friend of mine and she went on and is very successful. Her first gig was as an intern, I think on MAD MEN, where Genny Hutchison was Matt Weiner’s assistant at the time. They became friends and I had been friends with her, so it happened that when I was looking for a job, she was J.J. Abrams assistant. So I was like, “Do you know of anything?” She told me, “No, but I know somebody on BREAKING BAD, maybe I can get your info there.”

My resume landed in their hands just at the right time when they happened to be looking for a PA. Towards that end, be somebody that other people are willing to say, I worked with this person, I like this person. I’m willing to recommend them. You want someone to be in your corner in that way. You can’t turn the switch, but it can happen if you’re ready and you’re in the right place for it.

WHAT TV SHOWS INSPIRED YOU WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?

In undergrad, I was mostly writing fiction and plays. Theater was especially something that I took seriously. It wasn’t until later that I started thinking about TV as a viable place to express myself. When I did, there were all these shows I loved or felt passionate about and followed. I was a huge X-FILES fan. I wrote a bunch of scalding papers about it at one point. I was and remain a TWIN PEAKS fan. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, I love that show.

My sister has a history of sitting me down and being like, “You have to watch blank.” BREAKING BAD was one of those shows. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was another one. She was like, “You have to watch this. You haven’t. You’re going to and you’ll like it.” She was right.

ANY ADVICE THAT YOU RECEIVED EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER THAT REALLY STOOD OUT FOR YOU?

I think not being a jerk is a big piece of advice. Be somebody that other people want to be around for ten hours a day, every day for eight months, which seems intuitive, but I think people also learn a lesson that the thing to be is the person who fights for their vision, which is important, but you have to balance that against there’s a bunch of people around you who are also fighting for their vision and you’re all trying to be on the same team.

The other piece of advice that I’ve heard Genny Hutchison give many times, and she’s dead on, is to do the job you have. If you are an assistant, there’s a thinking that the way to go is to dress for the job that you want, not the job you have. You hear that, but there is something kind of misguided about it. It works for some, but you may also alienate some people. You’re likely to end up with people who are like, I needed you to do this job. I needed you to get coffee. I needed you to write the descriptions in a line that are going to go on VOD for the episodes, which are evocative enough that they tell you what the episode is, but they’re bland enough that they don’t have any spoilers in them.

Those kind of things, they can be boring or they can be tough. They are actually quite tough, which is why they are sometimes done badly, but doing them well makes people go, “Oh, you could handle that. Maybe you could handle more.”

AS A WRITER, WHO INSPIRES YOU?

Lots of people. I’m inspired by a lot of the people I work with. I’ve been lucky. They’re a great group of people, because they’re very giving with their time. Tom, Genny, Peter, Vince and the people I’ve worked with a long time now have been very supportive and good mentors. I think they’re all really great writers. So I’m very happy and proud to be part of the team.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS IN THE EARLY STAGES OF THEIR CAREERS?

Yes opens a lot of doors. It’s hard to sort of look and say, well, I don’t know if this is worth my time, because your time’s precious. But for a good while, saying yes is going to be way better than saying no. It’s going to open more doors.

I took gigs for a long time that I’m like well, I don’t really love this or don’t know about this. Some web writing gigs, even some projects that weren’t perfectly in tune with my sensibilities with BREAKING BAD or things that I wanted to do, but doing them opened up opportunities. That would be my advice. Say yes to opportunities when they come, because eventually you’ll be able to say no. You’ll get to that point.

Also, keep writing. Keep polishing your stuff. It’s hard to find the time. It’s nearly impossible sometimes, but the more you can keep your head in that, the more you can stay engaged with what you’re passionate about.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. 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.

Web Series: Post Production Fun – @Stareable

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 10
by Bri Castellini

My friends, you’re in the home stretch, but don’t lose steam on me now, because there are still plenty of things to do. However, take pride in your accomplishments — you’ve completed filming a project you wrote! Timing becomes a lot less important now because everything you need to assemble a web series is in the can. You can and should set deadlines for rough cuts and the eventual release dates, but there’s a little bit less pressure. A little bit.

Good reasons to get through editing quickly:

1. It ensures your cast and crew stay excited about the project instead of moving on to other things.
2. If reshoots or ADR (additional dialog recording) sessions are needed, a quicker edit ensures a higher likelihood your cast and crew are still available and motivated to work.
3. It reassures cast and crew that all their (likely unpaid) efforts weren’t in vain.
4. It keeps the momentum from your crowdfunding campaign going.

Good reasons to take your time:

1. Editing is an incredibly tricky and time-consuming process, and the quality difference between taking a day or taking a week to edit a scene can be monumental.
2. It gives your cast and crew time to start working on other projects that might bring more attention to yours when it’s finally completed (i.e. an actor gets a guest part on a major TV show and you can piggyback on that success).

More:

If you’re handing the series off to someone else to edit, make sure you lay out clear deadlines and goals beforehand, otherwise you can’t blame them for taking their sweet time. Try to actually be there while they edit, otherwise meet once or twice a week to review what they’ve done. As always, communication is key.

Will your project need music? For copyright-free songs, check out sites like the YouTube Audio Library or BenSound. In some cases, you’ll need to give credit to the composer, and in other cases, you’re free to do what you like with the music.

If you’re not finding what you need on the myriad of royalty-free music sites online, however, you might need to bring in a composer. Stareable actually already has a great post about how to find and work with composers even if they’re out of state. In general, though, make sure you have a final cut of the scene you want music for (so the composer can get an idea of the rhythm and pacing) and find inspiration tracks for them to base their composition off of.

When you or your editor has a “fine cut” of the series, meaning a mostly-polished version, screen it for fellow crew members so they can provide comments and insight you might have overlooked. If you want, break your crew into two teams, one team who sees an earlier cut of the series, and one that sees a later version so you always have fresh eyes. Don’t show it to the cast yet — with very few exceptions, cast shouldn’t see the product until it’s final.

Once you’ve locked the edit, it’s time to consider what goes at the end of each individual episode. Will you have a full credits sequence, just a list of cast, or will you put credits in the description box of the videos instead? Will you have a preview of the previous and next episodes?

If you’re planning on uploading it to YouTube, you have end screens[a][b][c][d] to contend with, and (at least at the time of writing this column) they have very specific rules: they can only happen in the last twenty seconds of the video, they can’t be shorter than ten seconds, and you can only have four “elements” on the screen at once.

Those elements can be individual videos, playlists, a subscribe button, or a link to an approved third-party website (usually an official site or merchandise store). All of these end-of-episode considerations need to be consistent across all of your videos, and they need to be decided on (and possibly tested out) ahead of your release date.

Once you’ve locked each episode, or put the finishing touches on them, make sure you have copies in multiple places, just in case something crazy happens. I like to pre-upload them to the YouTube channel as private or unlisted videos, but you can also upload the finished files directly to cloud-based storage systems like Google Drive or Dropbox. I prefer online back-ups because if a computer or a hard drive crashes, you won’t lose access.

You might think, at this point, that you’re almost rid of me and my weekly column. Not yet, my friends. We’re close, but we’ve still got a few adventures to navigate together. Next week, we move on to the basics of marketing and social media promotion.

Did I just hear somebody say, “Yikes!?”


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.

What the Latest WGA-MPTP Agreement Means

by Gerry Conway


LB’s NOTE: TVWriter™  has been getting a lot of email asking us – mostly in a more subtle way – what the big deal is about the result of the latest negotiation with the AMPTP and why are we, the members of the WGA, so thrilled about the result.

Good questions, for sure. And my good buddy Gerry Conway has some good answers, right here, right now (and also on his blog, where this short but perceptive reaction originally appeared just a few days ago):


Just got an email from the WGA negotiating committee, and for the first time since I became a member in 1978, I believe the Guild has achieved the impossible– we pushed back against the studios’ greed and intransigence without having to destroy or damage careers and livelihoods in the process.

I became a member at a time when union power in the United States was under assault by the growing countervailing power of mega corporations, and, after 1980, by the resurgent power of a growing anti-worker conservative political establishment. The 1980s was a traumatic time for the WGA, as a series of strikes forced by the studios’ refusal to negotiate fair terms for new media (and even, in the case of VHS sales, refusing to comply with deals they’d previously made) did serious damage to the careers of many writers, actors, directors and craftspeople – as well as to the lives of hundreds and thousands of supporting workers throughout the state. That decade left all the unions in Hollywood weakened and demoralized through much of the 1990s and well into the early 2000s. It took the rise of the internet and the apparent willingness of the studios to try to break Hollywood unions once and for all in the mid-2000s to finally bring writers back together again. The strength the Guild showed ten years ago, and the passion and determination of an idealistic younger generation of Guild members, is why the Guild was able to stare down the studios this year– and force them to blink.

I may be overly optimistic, but I see a parallel between the Guild’s victory over the studios this weekend and the victory of the Democrats over the Republicans in the budget battle, also this weekend.

In both cases the power to force their will upon a smaller, apparently weaker opponent seemed to be with the ruling establishment– the studios in one case, the Republican Congress and President in the other. Yet in the end the power was more apparent than real. Historical forces decide– in the 1980s, history was moving against unions, workers, and progressive politics. In the 2000s, history is moving against corporate economic dominance, wealthy elites, and conservatism. Despite momentary victories– weakening financial regulations, current electoral triumphs– the cultural order that’s held sway since Reagan’s election in 1980 is crumbling. That flush of victory Republicans perceived when Trump was elected may turn out to have been the flush of a breaking fever.

Congratulations to my brothers and sisters in the WGA. May ours be the first of many future victories for workers and unions and people-first policies yet to come.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

TV’s Haught Lesbian Cop Girlfriends

Maggie & Nicole!

 by Kathryn Graham

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

Supergirl is back, and with it Alex Danvers and her hot cop girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer. Last week’s episode featured Maggie a lot more prominently than before: and it is one of the best of the series so far.

I recently rewatched the entire first season of Wynonna Earp on Netflix, and I was struck by the similarities between Maggie and Wynonna Earp‘s lesbian officer: Nicole Haught.

So in honor of these two awesome ladies, I present the haught lesbian cop girlfriends of Supergirl and Wynonna Earp:

Maggie Sawyer
Supergirl
National City PD
Girlfriend of Alex Danvers
Couple Name: Sanvers

Nicole Haught
Wynonna Earp
Purgatory Sheriff’s Department
Girlfriend of Waverly Earp
Couple Name: Wayhaught

And their main character girlfriends:

Alex Danvers
DEO Extranormal Activities Agent (Gov. alien fighter)
Kara Danvers’ (Supergirl’s) Adoptive Older Sister

Waverly Earp
Black Badge Division (Gov. demon fighter)
Wynonna Earp’s Younger Sister

Maggie and Nicole have been important to the growth of their girlfriends (and in Maggie’s case: vice versa). They’ve both got hidden depths and a lot of potential.

They’re both aware of the government’s activities, but they maintain their positions in the police department. That’s cool. That’s fine. Who doesn’t love a hot cop?

But because they are competent police officers, I really want to see them join their girlfriends’ covert ops or at least accompany them on more of their missions.

The love interest thing: it’s great, and it’s important. I love the scenes they have, and these shows don’t have their heads up their asses. They know who they’re representing, and they know how important that is.

Still, most of the time these characters remain only tangentially related to the main story. Kara and Wynonna only care about them because they’re important to their sisters. Everyone else in the main group could kind of care less.

I mean, Wynonna was willing to let Nicole get killed until Waverly said that she loved her. That’s some shit right there.

I’m not looking for more makeout scenes (although I’m never opposed). I want them to have a more well-rounded presence. Most of all, I want them to be in scenes they should be in.

Because before now, we had situations like this:

Alex and Maggie uncover the location of a Luthor warehouse wherein lies the head of the evil organization Cadmus and Alex’s long-lost father Jeremiah. Maggie asks if she should go with Alex to infiltrate this presumably highly lethal box of villainy.

Maggie: Want me to go with you?
Alex: No. I gotta do it alone.
Maggie: No problem. I’ve got super important offscreen things to do.

A similar thing happens in the Wynonna Earp Season 1 finale. Nicole gets shot, but she’s saved by her bulletproof vest. She urges Waverly to go with Wynonna to track down her would-be killer, even though she could go with them.

Waverly: Why don’t you come with us?
Officer Haught: That’s it for me, Waverly. I’m done for. I think… I think the only thing that could save me is a kiss.
Waverly: You just said you were only bruised.
Officer Haught: Now I need two kisses.

Maybe they weren’t included because they’re so badass that if they had gone with their girlfriends to near certain doom, the villains would have just wilted before them.

More likely, the writers didn’t want to work with them, despite the fact they should have been there. If you were capable of helping, would you let the person you love more than anyone go face potential death without you?

That’s what I mean.

I’d be fairly shocked to see what I’m asking for come to fruition. These characters are thought of as love interests to main (but not the titular) characters and not as full cast members. But I’d love to be shocked. Please shock me.

I’d love to see Floriana Lima (Maggie) and Katherine Barrell’s (Nicole’s) names in the opening. That’d mean something. Just not the way Buffy: The Vampire Slayer did it. After urging from fans for years, they finally put Amber Benson (who played Tara MacClay – Willow’s lover) in the opening, only to kill her off that episode.

Tara never became important to anyone except Willow. I don’t want that for Maggie & Nicole.

Buuut… last week’s Supergirl had Maggie bringing her unique skill set to bear to save Alex and spending a lot of time bonding with Kara (even if most of that was spent arguing). This was one of my absolute favorite episodes of the entire series. It had all of the right ingredients: high stakes, ticking clock, strong relationships. Here’s hoping Maggie can continue to work with the main cast, even when Alex is back.

With Wynonna Earp, showrunner Emily Andras mentioned at ClexaCon that Officer Haught will have more of a role, and she’ll have more scenes with Wynonna. She’s hardly in the trailer, so I’m not exactly sold yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic for when the show returns June 9th.

Alex & Waverly!


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

Web Series: Production Problems? Nah, Can’t Be…Can It? – @Stareable

 So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 9
by Bri Castellini

Production is probably the most exciting part of filmmaking, and it’s also where a film or series lives or dies. I’m not trying to scare you, but it’s important that you understand how tenuous the success of your project is at this stage. With that in mind, what follows is a list of the most common problems that might arise on your film set and how to deal.

PROBLEM: Cast member is late
SOLUTION: Utilize the extra setup time wisely. Run lines or rehearsals with other actors, test out more ambitious lighting or camera set-ups, or, if possible, film scenes or angles where the missing actor isn’t needed.

PROBLEM: Cast member doesn’t show up
SOLUTION: Already have a second set of scenes that people are prepared to shoot, and cobble together a new shot list based on who is actually on set and available. Depending on the cast member’s eventual excuse and how many scenes you’ve already shot with them, you might need to consider recasting. Everyone can be replaced. Sometimes, you can even replace them with an extra or a crew member.

PROBLEM: Crew member is late or doesn’t show up
SOLUTION: Always, always already have a backup plan, especially for people you don’t know very well. When shooting the pilot for my web series, Brains, my cameraman didn’t show up after the first day, because he lost his camera and all of the first day’s footage. Thankfully, I had brought my simple camcorder to set to record behind-the-scenes videos, and we ended up using that camera for the rest of the season.

PROBLEM: Not enough extras
SOLUTION: Get creative with the angles you’re filming from. Spread people out to make the room or space look fuller, add lots of movement so it appears busy, or have extras dress up in multiple outfits throughout the shoot, so it doesn’t look like you’re reusing a person. Also, consider changing the location slightly — Rebecca Shoptaw, creator of the show Middlemarch, once filmed a party scene with only one extra by changing some sections of the scene to take place in a hallway leading to the party, and filming against walls to add party sounds in the background later.

PROBLEM: Actors haven’t memorized their lines
SOLUTION: If you’re doing a traditionally filmed show (where a single scene is filmed from multiple angles), either film the actor who hasn’t memorized last, to give them time to practice, or film in small chunks. You’re going to piece together the scene from many takes anyways, so focus on a small section at a time instead of going through the full scene all at once. If you’re filming found-footage style, meaning you can’t cut to different takes during the scene, find somewhere in-world to hide the script, or reschedule the unmemorized scenes for later in the day. In a lot of ways, an unmemorized actor is as bad as an actor not being there at all, so depending on the circumstances, consider recasting.

PROBLEM: Someone has to leave early
SOLUTION: Restructure the day so that the person or persons who have to leave early do all their scenes first. Sometimes, this will mean filming all their “coverage”, or angles where they’re the only ones in frame, and then having a different person read their lines when you get coverage of the other people in the scene. Other times, it means prioritizing your shots, and figuring out what the bare minimum you need to get done is. You might have to sacrifice a beautiful yet complicated setup, but that’s the risk of filmmaking on a shoestring.

PROBLEM: Someone gets hurt
SOLUTION: Stop filming immediately! Bring a first aid kit to set just in case, and if they’re willing to continue working, take a break and have a conversation about what went wrong and how to avoid the safety risk in the future. As someone who shot a zombie series, I am no stranger to injuries on set, but as long as you take as many precautions as possible and are communicating with everyone clearly, everything should be fine.

PROBLEM: You forgot/ran out of craft services
SOLUTION: Pay for delivery or send a nonessential crew member to a nearby fast food chain. A hungry crew is bad, but hungry actors are impossible, and this is a cost you’re just going to have to deal with. In the future, try to plan better by buying nonperishable food in bigger quantities than you think you’ll need. It won’t be the most nutritious crafty (do try and provide people with an actual meal), but it’s better than nothing.

PROBLEM: Your planned location is unavailable or only available for short windows of time
SOLUTION: Once again — this is why you have a Plan B for everything. If it’s unavailable, is there somewhere else you can go? Better yet, can you rewrite/restructure the scene so it takes place elsewhere? If it’s only available for a short window of time, plan a rehearsal beforehand so the shoot itself goes smoother.

PROBLEM: You’re scheduled to film outdoors and it’s raining
SOLUTION: You can go about this a couple of ways. First, could your scene still work in the rain? For my show, we ended up having to film a scene in the rain and it turned out better than the original plan. We just rehearsed all the blocking indoors before heading out. If your scene can’t be filmed in the rain, though, can you and the available actors film a different scene somewhere indoors?

This is an inexhaustive list. Every set is different and comes with its own unique moments of stress. But listen to me: you can do it. There are horror stories from no-budget sets and there are horror stories from multi-billion dollar ones.

Once you’ve wrapped principal photography, your finished product is in sight, but it’s not over yet, by any means. Next week, we get into post-production.


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.

Cartoon: ‘Conversation’

Because a good conversation can be the best story of all. Especially as “reported” by the awesome Grant Snider:

TVWriter™ favorite Grant Snider’s new book, The Shape of Things, An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity will be out April 9th. BUY IT!