Peggy Bechko: Tighten It Up

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by Peggy Bechko

Yes, writers, there it is. Almost every writer’s writing needs to be tightened, but when it’s your baby and you’ve written it, you, as the writer, frequently hesitate to do what needs to be done. So right here, right now, I’m going to spell it out for you.

Yep, you have to tighten it up and here are some ideas on how to do that.

1. Every Word Counts – how often have you heard this? It’s true. For novelists and even more so for screenwriters. Look, it doesn’t matter how many words you’ve actually written, just be sure every one is necessary. Check out those adjectives. Think about the adverbs. If you’re adding a character you better be sure that character is absolutely essential on many levels. If describing a location choose the words that make the reader feel he or she is actually there. Everything works together to move the story forward and to capture the reader or watcher. Don’t ramble, just don’t. Review, edit, and cut ruthlessly.

2. Think About Language and how things change. And about how the world around us changes. This isn’t the 1980’s when the web didn’t really exist. Now you have a lot of competition for your attention out there – and the attention of anyone who might come across your material to read. So modern writing has changed greatly from that of 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Everything seems abbreviated. Think twitter, facebook and other social media. Think the succinct advertising messages you’re bombarded with. Then translate that into how you write. Leave out the fluff and go for attention-grabbing. Show the reader the adorableness of puppies at play, don’t tell him about it. Strengthen your language.

3. Think in Details and Skip the Generalities.

Don’t: He jumped into a car and drove away.

Do: John flung open the door to his new Ram Charger, jumped in and peeled rubber out of there.

Remember what will really stick in a reader’s mind, whether novel or script are the little details that strike a chord with them.

Don’t: The dog ran down the stairs after the ball.

Do: Mary’s pug bounced down the stairs in pursuit of the red tennis ball.

When getting into a story people crave those details. The lack of them causes a disconnect with the story. So don’t skip the details.

4. Give Up The Qualifiers. Really, just toss words like ‘practically’, ‘almost’, ‘nearly’, ‘sort of’, ‘my thoughts are’, and their ilk. Stop it. Now. Seriously. Why would you think for a moment your readers would want to read stuff like: Joe was nearly exhausted and verging on the suicidal so he believed it wouldn’t be long before he checked out, permanently?

Oh, for crying out loud. Keep it simple and make it strong: Joe was exhausted. Suicide was his only out.

Uh huh, now that’s a line.

5. Ponder Cause and Effect. In life there’s cause, then effect. You know, house burns down then people mourn the loss of their effects (hopefully not a loved one). Earthquake happens. People start cleaning up the rubble. So your story needs to be peppered with questions that need answers. Curiosity is the key to dragging people into and through your story. If your questions are interesting enough people will read on or keep watching if it’s a film.

To accomplish it consider tossing the effect out there before the cause. Like – Mom and Dad are crying on the front lawn as the remains of their home smolders behind them. Immediately the image brings the questions. What happened? What caused the Fire? Did Granny leave the fat on the stove? Are there kids? Are they all right? A pet? Anyone get killed? Where are the firefighters? And more deeply, was there a cause beyond simple accident? Did someone have a vendetta against this family or a member? This back-tracking can add up to a very engrossing story.

Consider these five points when you go to tighten up your writing and remember method and style are always changing, evolving. A classic like Little Women reads nothing like Airport out of the sixties or The Da Vinci Code or Ender’s Game. Movies move ahead from Some Like It Hot through Lord Of the Rings through Taken and Avatar and Horns and the broad spectrum of movies along the way.

Cultivate a feel for the communication of our day and develop your own voice. There lies the path to success.

Wanna read some scripts? Check out Drew’s Script-o-rama http://bit.ly/1DZY4dD

Wanna read some novels? Try your library or borrow from a buddy or check out BookBub.com and get a good deal or even some freebies.

And don’t just sit there, tell us what you think about this article – comment below.

Make Your Characters’ Motivations Clear…and Do It ASAP!

This could be one of the most important writing tips you read this year.

Or, you know, not. (But we think it is.)

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by The Bitter Script Reader

I pulled out my bluray AIR FORCE ONE this weekend and watched the film for the first time in what has to be at least ten or fifteen years. You might be asking, “Bitter, why on earth would you own THAT film on blu?” It’s a fair question. Even I have considered it a so-so film.  It’s about as good as any “DIE HARD on the President’s Plane” could ever hope to be. And next to OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and WHITE HOUSE DOWN, it really looks like a masterpiece.

(As to why I own it: It was part of a two-pack with one of my favorite movies, IN THE LINE OF FIRE. Both movies together for $4.99. I’d have paid that much just for IN THE LINE OF FIRE, so it basically was a freebie.)

I decided to watch with director Wolfgang Peterson’s commentary on to see if he addressed something that’s been under my skin since my first viewing – the really shitty motivations of the Secret Service turncoat played by Xander Berkeley. For those who haven’t seen the film, it involves terrorists disguised as a media crew taking over the President’s plane. Obviously, a major plot question the screenwriter was faced with was “How does this crew actually take over the plane?” It’s hard enough to hijack a commercial jet. How the hell do you mastermind a takeover of the aircraft of the most powerful man in the world, which has to be one of the most secured vessels on the planet?

The film opts for probably the most obvious (but most plausible) avenue – one of the Secret Service agents is a collaborator with the terrorists. He takes out three of his fellow agents, which clears the way for the terrorists to get to the plane’s armory. I can’t blame the film for wanting to get to the fireworks factory as soon as possible, because there are indeed some wonderfully tense moments. For any of its flaws, you have to love a film where Gary Oldman gets to chew the scenery as a bad guy, and this was when Harrison Ford still could play an intense ass-kicker in his sleep. (I teed up the next joke for you, so go for it.)

But the film never even attempts to give any motivation for WHY Berkeley’s character would be working with these Russian terrorists in their plot to hold the President hostage, a plot that necessarily requires the deaths of several, if not ALL of the people he’s been working alongside for many years.

It doesn’t help that Berkeley’s performance is pretty terrible. I’ve seen the guy do good work in other projects, so maybe he was directed this way, but it amounts to him alternating between bland expressions (when other characters are watching) and instant evil sneers (the instant that character turns their backs.) It’s about the same level of directing as Homer Simpson assuring people that the audience will understand that the dog in his movie is evil so long as you do a close-up of his eyes shifting back and forth.

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A Look at the Writers of LAST MAN STANDING”

It’s all about experience…or is it? We don’t know about you, but we found this an interesting and ultimately very sad story:

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by Paul Brownfield

When the writers of the ABC sitcom “Last Man Standing” broke for lunch one recent Friday, five of them took their food to Ed Yeager’s office on the lot here.

Mr. Yeager’s office is unusual, in that half of it is dressed as a tiki bar (for post-taping drinks). Elvis and Rat Pack memorabilia further bring out the retro theme, while the couch, where Sid Youngers was seated, was adorned with a homey, “Roseanne”-themed afghan.

Former stand-up comedians, Mr. Youngers, 57, and Mr. Yeager, 58, got their start on that ABC sitcom, which ran from 1988 to 1997 and is now chiefly remembered as one of the last socially aware sitcoms built around a genuine standup star, Roseanne Barr. Inside the TV business, “Roseanne” is equally recalled as an exemplar of the sitcom’s Versailles period, a time when writing staffs were large and the jobs flowed. “Roseanne” didn’t have a writers room; it had joke rooms and story rooms, the better to accommodate Ms. Barr’s habit of bringing writers on as quixotically as she fired them.

In a way, that profligacy still reverberates. Five of the writers on “Last Man Standing” once wrote on “Roseanne.” One of them, Miriam Trogdon, is now part of a writing team with her own daughter, Gracie Charters, 26.

“Last Man Standing,” which stars Tim Allen, is in its fourth year. It is the sort of multicamera, middle-of-the-road sitcom that the broadcast networks now schedule almost without telling anyone, lest they appear fusty-branded compared with the trendsetting shows on streaming services.

For the “Roseanne” 5, however, it is a plum gig.

Last Man Standing” isn’t typically on the Emmy radar, but it is likely headed to profitability in syndication and could run for years to come — no small feat in today’s climate for network comedy. The show features a more cantankerous spin on Mr. Allen’s persona. This sitcom dad, Mike Baxter, is the marketing chief of a sporting goods company whose traditional attitudes are held in check by the women who rule his household as well as a liberal son-in-law. As part of his duties at the company, Outdoor Man, Mike has a video blog on which he not only mocks climate change fears but also extemporizes on a patriarchal America that has lost its way.

While dismissed as ho-hum by critics, “Last Man Standing” has earned praise from conservative blogs as refreshing, and its ratings, which creep up to eight million viewers when DVR numbers are factored in, are considered solid. But perhaps the most unusual aspect of “Last Man Standing” is the composition of its writing staff of 15, a number of whom are closing in on 60. Given various revolutions in the TV business, these writers feel fortunate — if not surprised — to have landed jobs actually writing for a multicamera sitcom on a broadcast network.

Take away the multicamera kingpin Chuck Lorre’s four CBS sitcoms, led by “The Big Bang Theory,” and network schedules are noticeably bereft of a form that has kept the “Last Man Standing” writers employed — and well-paid — for decades.

“I would say as a young writer, there’s definitely sort of this fin de siècle feel about everything,” Ms. Charters said. “People have this attitude that TV is going to be over. And it’s kind of depressing.”

Joey Gutierrez, 51, whose credits include “The Drew Carey Show,” said he felt “lucky that I’m still doing it after all this time.” He did note that there seemed to be more older writers now than when he started, which he attributed to the need for multicamera veterans on family sitcoms produced for cable channels like Disney, TV Land and Nick.

“But it also gets harder and harder to get jobs, too, in that not only has TV comedy been shrinking, but you get more expensive,” added Mike Shipley, 50, who has written for “My Name Is Earl.” “People have to really want you in particular.”

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Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie #89

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Chapter 89: Game-Changer
by Leesa Dean

So, big news in the internet world this week.

First: Woody Allen partnered with Amazon Studios to do his first tv series. Which means it’s gonna be on Amazon Instant Video. Which is a game changer. It’s big. And says a lot about how things have been shifting in the world of tv.

It’s a big deal that Allen’s doing a tv show. Since there are cable networks that would have given him complete creative control (HBO comes to mind), it’s incredibly interesting that he chose Amazon. And it says a lot about the value of streaming internet networks like Amazon and Netflix vs. cable and network tv, which both feel like dinosaurs right now. HBO was incredibly smart to expand HBOGO as internet streaming service independently (in a few months, cord cutters will be able to pay for HBO without signing up for cable tv). The internet is where the action is.

And almost to punctuate the significance of all this, Amazon won a few trophies at the Golden Globes including best TV series for it’s original program Transparent and best actor in a tv comedy (Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent). That is HUGE. It not only was Amazon’s first-ever Golden Globe, Transparent was the first online series to win a best series award.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you’re a writer or director and not doing something on the web (and no, looking at porn and cat videos doesn’t count), you’re gonna get left behind.

“wax on wax off” (Lessons learned in the entertainment industry…on accident)

Chapter 1
by Carl Charroux

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In case you can’t tell, Carl’s day job is as an actor. Some guys have all the luck, right?

In the 1984 movie The Karate Kid”, Pat Morita was supposed to be teaching Ralph. Macchio karate, but all summer the karate master had the kid doing chores- painting stuff, waxing the car, etc. These tasks were secretly teaching the “Kid” karate moves, and when his lessons actually began, he found them relatively easy.

I’m going to share some of my “wax on wax off” moments I’ve had over the years with you in a series of articles.

Remember, there is NO one way to achieve your goals in this business, I don’t pretend to know how to get it done. I’m just sharing some of my experiences that hopefully you can relate to.

My goal as an actor was to be the next George Clooney. Like every other actor, I knew I had the “chops”, but I just needed someone to give me a shot and see how good I was.

I decided to shoot my own short film. What did I need to do?

  • Write it
  • Cast it
  • Direct it
  • Shoot it
  • Edit it
  • Distribute it

Step 1 – write the script. Since I was an actor and had read tons of screenplays, I was very confident about this. This process did not take me long and I was very happy with my script.

Next step was to cast it. I created character descriptions and posted them on a casting website. I also contacted friends who I thought were strong actors that would be great to work with.

A couple of friends volunteered to be readers and film the auditions and we were ready to go.

As a writer, remember when I said I was happy with my script? Well, the audition process was one of the most gratifying and devastating experiences I’ve had as an artist.

Hearing your words read out loud and acted for the first time is an amazing experience. There were times when I was so excited and proud it brought a tear to my eyes.

But then there were the other tears (not really). But I was not happy about things I was hearing and felt my stomach knotting up each time an actor read on of my bad scenes or lines.

So, after the auditions I reviewed the tapes over and over and here are a couple of my major findings.

The first lesson I learned was the redundancy in my writing. I didn’t repeat words, it was ideas and emotion that were being duplicated and triplicated.

And it wasn’t in my writing as much as I wrote my script without including or thinking about what power an actor can have on the script.

An actor’s facial expressions, body language, and any other factors they bring to the scene can change the scene incredibly.

I was using three lines to say something, when I needed one because of the additional nuances the actor brought to the scene.

I didn’t need entire exchanges to get the point across in the scene that I was going for because the combination of the prior lines and the actors made it clear what I was trying to accomplish.

It was frightening. I started to think I was born too late in life. I would have been an amazing writer…for radio. I wrote too many words, and made my characters repeat themselves so many times, you might have thought I was afraid the audience didn’t’ hear them the first time.

This all came down to confidence in my work. I felt like I needed to hammer anyone who read the script over the head with it to make sure they got it.

Watching the tapes, I realized how the actors made me a much better writer, if just trusted them, trusted myself and the trusted the audience.

For early drafts of my script, I now have 3-5 actors read the same scene. Each actor can bring something new or different to the scene that can be so helpful and save you a lot of time and in my case (probably only in my head) embarrassment.

The next thing I noticed was the actors were sort of dangling at the end of the scene. I know, such a technical term to describe their state, but something was off.

While watching the audition tape with one of my actor friends, he made a comment about the auditioner’s lack of strong choice he made in the scene. I agreed. What could be a strong choice I asked myself, and then it hit me.

I wrote scenes with an objective to support the story, but I ignored the actors. I was not concerned with clear objectives and strong obstacles for them to support the scene.

These are the staples for all actors when reading a scene. The objective can be physical, emotional or any state you want it to be. So can the obstacle. It can be a scene partner, themselves, etc. And these conflicts are the wax on wax off moments that get the actors to perform tasks that add up to make the scene and the story work.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed and learned from the mistakes I’ve made. Next time I’ll share some directing and editing stories that have helped me as a writer.

 

BOJACK HORSEMAN & the “Male As Default” Problem In Comedy Writing

No, no, no. We aren’t saying BOJACK HORSEMAN, one of the most enjoyable series on Netflix has the “default male” problem, we’re saying that the creator, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, has come up with one of the most ingenious defenses of such a charge – if it were to be made – in years.

And that, boys and girls, is how we weasel our way to:

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Boring Old Raphael
by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Anonymous asked: rewatching s1 for like the 100th time–at what point does all the brilliant animal sight gag stuff (eg the croc wearing crocs) get added? is it like, we need to have a croc wearing crocs, where can we fit this in? or do you start out by needing someone to guard the food and say let’s do a crocodile–hey, he should wear crocs? or some kind of total afterthought, or something else entirely? thanks. love the show, my favorite of all time.

Hello! I am going to answer your question, and then I am going to talk a little bit about GENDER IN COMEDY, because this is my tumblr and I can talk about whatever I want!

The vast vast vast majority of the animal jokes on BoJack Horseman (specifically the visual gags) come from our brilliant supervising director Mike Hollingsworth (stufffedanimals on tumblr) and his team. Occasionally, we’ll write a joke like that into the script but I can promise you that your top ten favorite animal gags of the season came from the art and animation side of the show, not the writers room. Usually it happens more the second way you described— to take a couple examples from season 2, “Okay, we need to fill this hospital waiting room, what kind of animals would be in here?” or “Okay, we need some extras for this studio backlot, what would they be wearing?”

I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that the croc wearing crocs came from our head designer lisahanawalt. Lisa is in charge of all the character designs, so most of the clothing you see on the show comes straight from her brain. (One of the many things I love about working with Lisa is that T-Shirts With Dumb Things Written On Them sits squarely in the center of our Venn diagram of interests.)

Now, it struck me that you referred to the craft services crocodile as a “he” in your question. The character, voiced by kulap Vilaysack, is a woman.

It’s possible that that was just a typo on your part, but I’m going to assume that it wasn’t because it helps me pivot into something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year, which is the tendency for comedy writers, and audiences, and writers, and audiences (because it’s a cycle) to view comedy characters as inherently male, unless there is something specifically female about them. (I would guess this is mostly a problem for male comedy writers and audiences, but not exclusively.)

Here’s an example from my own life: In one of the episodes from the first season (I think it’s 109), our storyboard artists drew a gag where a big droopy dog is standing on a street corner next to a businessman and the wind from a passing car blows the dog’s tongue and slobber onto the man’s face. When Lisa designed the characters she made both the dog and the businessperson women.

My first gut reaction to the designs was, “This feels weird.” I said to Lisa, “I feel like these characters should be guys.” She said, “Why?” I thought about it for a little bit, realized I didn’t have a good reason, and went back to her and said, “You’re right, let’s make them ladies.”

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