LB: ‘Moonlight’ Writer Shuts Down the Hollywood Bullshit

by Larry Brody

As I said on Twitter last week, my Oscar favorite for this year is Moonlight. I’m rooting for it for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, you name it.

In other words, I’m absolutely recommending that everyone reading this post run out and see the film. But if you need further incentive (oh hell, even if you don’t), you should watch this interview with Tarell Alvin McCraney, the writer whose play of the same name is the basis for the film.

McCraney’s been there. He knows.

Troy DeVolld: 2017 NEW YEAR’S SUGGESTIONS FOR REALITY TV

by  Troy DeVolld

Well, here we are, not so deep into 2017.  I’m wrapping up on season three of Vh1’s K Michelle:My Life and looking forward to some new shows and non-TV opportunities the year is already hinting at… including another book.

If you know me, you know what a fan of lists I am.  I keep a list of goals to be accomplished in one year, five, and ten, and I’m also a big fan of making resolutions.

While I’ll be keeping mine to myself, as I usually do, here are a few that reality television viewers and producers might want to consider if they haven’t already filled up on “stop eating donuts” and “spend more time with Mom.”

VIEWERS

In 2017, I will…

… try to remember that reality television, like scripted, depends on conflict as an element of story.

… be skeptical of anyone publicly ranting about how a show “made them look,” while watching shows with a critical eye just in case overly heavy-handed producing is in play.

… write or email networks in support of the shows I like.

… stop blaming reality television for Donald Trump in water cooler conversation.  It’s not like the American Idol judges picked the president, the electoral college did.

… eat healthier snacks while watching The Voice.

… read more articles at RealityBlurred.com and listen to Joke and Biagio’s podcasts at ProducingUnscripted.com.

PRODUCERS

In 2017, I will…

… remember the credo “Everything can be made better than it deserves to be,” while also accepting that you should just do the notes if you can.

… establish style guides and then give the editors a little room to execute.  Don’t crowd ’em.

… think of the post team while in the field as more than the bank from which overdrafts are covered.

… think of the field team while in post, especially when writing massive amounts of pickup material or reviewing content that may not be perfect.

… establish what you expect before something is shot and cut.  “I’ll know when I see it” isn’t leadership.

… spend at least as much time contemplating story as the overall look of the series.  All beauty and no brains makes for a dull show.


Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy and one of the masters of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

Can Writers Change the World?

We Won’t Know Unless We Try

Very Good Words to Use Instead of Very

Does this qualify as a meme? It’s an image, right? With info that’s vastly important to writers young and old. Especially those who don’t know what a thesaurus is:

Found on the interwebs by TVWriter™ pal Brooks Wachtel

What Hollywood Can Learn from Super Villains & Videogames

If you hear this guy say, “Galactus hungers!” sorry, but it’s already too late to run.

Considering the way Marvel’s supervillains have taken over TV and films as well as comic books, these wrong-headed evildoers must be doing something right.

If somebody could just tell us what it is, so we could use the info for the benefit of our own writing careers…oh, and humanity too, of course.

Oh. Hold on. Lookee here – somebody has:

God, we love the great teachers who have taken to the interwebs!

Which reminds us that the following analysis, even though it seems to contradict the above, is also helpful as, um, hell:

Peggy Bechko’s World of Backstory

by Peggy Bechko

Backstory can be a very important part of your novel or script, or it might not be needed at all at times. It depends on the scene and the characters involved. It’s something the writer needs to give attention to and think about.

If the backstory ties directly into the scene then it’s needed and will give the reader or watcher even more to chew on than the action directly in front of them. Or perhaps your story contains backstory that provides the reader information that will result in the reader gaining a deeper understanding as to what is at stake in the story you’re creating. Or, maybe the information in the backstory that’s being provided adds such punch, such power that the scene in question will be greatly diminished by the simple leaving out of that backstory information. You don’t want to leave out important information any more than you want to put in what isn’t important.

This is where the thinking about it comes in. Whether in a novel or a script, are you, as a writer, simply throwing in backstory detail to pad the story? It’s easy to do, and if you find you are doing it you need to go back, review the story and determine what really meaty information you’re leaving out only to fill with unneeded backstory detail. Or have you, as writer, created a backstory you find so attractive and interesting and maybe amusing that you are loath to dispose of it and unable to ‘kill your darlings’? If that’s the case you’re going to have to get much tougher with yourself. Really.

Another question.: are you sure your backstory detail is pertinent to the story? If you have a murder mystery going on and you suddenly begin giving detail about the detective’s 3-year-old daughter, it better have a strong bearing on the plot. Otherwise it’s just filler. And nobody likes filler. This goes back to my original statement that the backstory needs to tied directly back to the scene it’s in or the story overall, preferably both.

The overall take-away here is backstory isn’t always needed. BUT, when you feel it is, as yourself these questions:

1. Would the scene suffer if the information was left out altogether? And are you sure the colorful information you’ve put in gives new life to the scene?
2. Will your reader or watcher gain a deeper understanding (or some kind of understanding) of what the stakes are in your story by virtue of the backstory you’ve added?
3. Finally – does your backstory tie directly into what is going on in your scene at the moment?

Whatever you do with backstory remember to be sparse with it. You don’t have to TELL your readers everything. Some backstory can be inferred. For example, if the main character is an operating room nurse the audience can pick up on the fact that she has a great education, she’s professional, no doubt very clean, Most likely very dependable.

Oh, and backstory is meant to evoke emotions. So don’t hold back.

A final “Oh, and….” Remember I said above sometimes it’s needed and sometimes it’s not? A great example of the ‘needed’ in a recent movie is Dr. Strange. I very much enjoyed the movie. However I hadn’t read a lot of the comics and only knew I’d like to see the movie based on the general story. I wasn’t aware of the cape’s backstory though comic readers were. It would have been great for the movie to have provided just a nod to the cape and it’s attachment to Dr. Strange before the cape beating up on the bad guy scene.

Do some thinking and studying before you toss in your backstory. Make sure it lends your script or novel that extra punch that drives it to the top.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Should You Write a Screenplay or a Novel? How about Both?

by Robert Gately

Copyright 2010-2015 walkieduke from DeviantArt

I don’t believe that jumping genres should be avoided simply because someone out there in cyberspace said you shouldn’t do it. I converted novels into screenplays, and screenplays into stage plays, with pretty good contest results and, if nothing else, it was a lesson and … fun.

I say, if you have the passion to write, then write. If it’s a screenplay I would opt for simplicity and consistency over complexity and inconsistency. In a novel, stick with plot and structure and do whatever the hell you want. In either case, Picasso had good advice: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
For me, I try to follow a couple of rules. First, it’s paramount for me to elicit emotion from the reader or viewer. I’ll try my best to make the reader fall in love with a character. In novel writing I can take my time. I’m not restricted to a page length. In a screenplay I am.

And, second, I try to create a tangible goal for the hero and set him or her on an edge-of-your-seat journey where we can measure the success or failure of that goal at the climax point.

I learned early on, whether writing a screenplay, novel, or stage play, I needed to follow a process, and some rules. This idea of storytelling was taught many years ago, not by a writer, but by a philosopher, physician, scientist, and a student of Plato. Aristotle said, and I believe it to be true, that ‘The first essential, the life and soul, so to speak, of a story, is the Plot,’

I struggled with this notion for a long time. Not to dwarf other important tools of writing such as, dialogue, format, character arcs, and inner journey versus outer journey, etc., structure is what makes a story, a story. If we could master it in our fables, I believe the fear of jumping genres would be just that, a fear that we could overcome with education and go on our own inner journey and just plunge into the belly of storytelling. Of course, it’s not as easy as that.

Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s I always had that hankering to write ‘the great American novel’. Today, when I talk to writers, I usually hear their desire to write ‘the great American screenplay’. So, if you decide not to ‘jump’ from screenplay to novel, fear not. Very few are taking the plunge these days. But if you do it, take comfort in knowing you are among the few who are.

Nevertheless, the passion to write for any genre, whether it be for novels, screenplays or stage plays, requires the same dedication of knowing the craft of writing; it’s just the nuances of each method that needs to be studied and mastered. It’s like going from algebra to calculus. Both require a solid knowledge of basic math, but each has its own format or disciplines, which are not hard to master. But without the basics, you’ll struggle with both.

Even though some pundits tells us to stick with one genre – the one we know or like the best – I broke away from that advice. I wrote my first novel in 1977 with a profound passion to tell a story, but I harbored a secret. I believed that movies provided the greatest power to move the spirit than all other writing mediums.

My life was never the same after seeing “Inherit the Wind”, which was first published as a stage play in 1955, and “12 Angry Men”, which was first a television play in 1954, and “I Accuse” which was a book before Jose Ferrer made it a movie, and “One Flew Over the Coo-Coos Nest”, which was a novel before Jack Nicolson decide to shine in it.

Even my favorite love story, “Somewhere in Time”, was released five years after its source novel titled “Bid Time Return”. That title, by the way, was borrowed from a line in William Shakespeare‘s play “Richard II”, which reads: “O call back yesterday, bid time return.”

It’s not surprising that after I wrote that first novel I tried transferring that story to a screenplay, and I couldn’t understand why I had such a difficult time in crowding my 300 page (double-spaced) novel into a properly formatted screenplay.

I wasn’t restricted by format or page length when I wrote the notorious Beginning (Act I), Middle (Act II) and End (Act III) of my first novel. Each has its virtues, but let’s just say I could take my time getting the reader excited and thirsting for more, or maybe even crying at the end – happy tears, of course, but in the end the tears were for someone the reader has grown to love because … he died. (Spoiler alert).

In a screenplay I had to fit that story-line into a 120 page (with a lot of ‘white space’) screenplay. I couldn’t do it effectively.

The novel was painless in a way because I worked for AT&T and the story was about two guys who worked for a fictitious phone company during the midnight tour and who wreaked havoc on those unsuspecting people who happened to talk on their phones at night. Knowing the nuances of the phone company, and having worked the midnight tour for a few years, I knew what I was writing about, and creating the story line was relatively easy – for the book, that is.

I was told that writing a screenplay was even easier, and all I needed to know was the basics of writing a sentence, or action lines. I wasn’t aware I had to write dialogue more like Hemmingway than Charles Dickens. Well, having finished my last semester of college where I collected a BA in English at FDU, I felt I had all the tools I needed to write my first screenplay. Wow. I was in for a rude awakening.

I became aware of my inadequacies as a writer when I took a two-day seminar given by a guru in the industry. I learned about ‘the new situation’ that should happen 10% into the story. Each turning point had its influence on me as I learned about the ‘change of plans’, ‘the goal setting’, and ‘the Point of No Return’. A major setback occurs at the 75% mark where the hero goes on a fast-paced journey to the ‘climax’ and wraps things up to the feel-good point of that journey.

This pundit had an influence on me, and after the seminar I tried my hand at writing the screenplay that I had such a difficult time with, and the once-difficult-task became effortless.

I also had to manage a family during this time, so it’s not surprising I waited until I did retire in 1998 to write full-time. I became much more prolific than I anticipated, using that structure I had learned, applying it to 2 other novels, 3 stage plays, 11 screenplays, and a non-fiction work that was a memoir of a Pakistani freedom fighter. There was only one non-fiction book I didn’t use this method because it required a chronological approach rather than a thematic one.

Feedback became an important element to my writing. Professional readers are one way to get that feedback, but it’s expensive. As is contests. Still, I don’t think I would’ve finished finalist or better in over 140 writing competitions since retiring if I hadn’t gone to that seminar. In fact, I’ve won 23 writing competitions since the year 2000, mostly for my screenplays and stage plays.

I had the winningest screenplay on moviebytes.com for the longest time. I taught screenwriting at the local community college and I was a screenplay judge for the Temple University senior film project for a few years. Again, I hang the idea that learning plot or structure was the key to the little success I have attained as a writer.

Once I realized I could only dazzle some of the people some of the time in writing contests, I began reading other scribes’ work more regularly. I wasn’t surprised to find out there were plenty of screenwriters who were better than I. But I’m reminded by what Derek Jeter once said: “There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”

So, I continued writing, and I found ways to get noticed. I found my niche and jumped genres, even though the advice from the experts was to stick with one, the one that you’re passionate about. If nothing else, I learned it was critical to understanding the nuances of other mediums.

I also learned if I wrote with the knowledge of structure I could mount a credible story in any medium, and be a good writer regardless if I had credible run-on sentences (Charles Dickens), or lean dialogue (Earnest Hemmingway), or romantically inclined characters (Jane Austen), or converted novels into screenplays (and stage plays), or screenplays into novels (me), or ended sentences with a prepositions (also me).

My first attempt in writing “South of Main Street” was a decade ago, and it was with a subsidy press that went bankrupt before any marketing muscle could be flexed. I sat on the pity-pot for about ten minutes, and then I began writing a screenplay version by the same name and theme, which won the very first contest I entered it in.
Recently, I re-wrote the novel “South of Main Street”, and now in 2016 a trade publisher has provided an e-book and paperback version of the novel on amazon.com. Soon, hopefully, it will be in B&N bookstores. I consider that a measure of success.

I’m reminded, occasionally, what Michael Jordon once said. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed 26 times. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Taking encouragement from the best of the best, I continue searching for new ways to write better. My passion to write, of course, is probably the key. And, if Sheldon Cooper’s mother was here, she would say, ‘And that’s your opinion’.