Diana Black Continues the Hero’s Journey

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The Hero’s Journey in Episodic Television – Part 2
by Diana Black

As we established in Part I, ‘normal’ life – taking the kids to school, fixing the plumbing…yet again, or attending/hosting the obligatory ‘Happy’ Holydays – rarely provides an opportunity for heroism or maybe they do; depending on your relatives. Let’s hope we don’t have to put our lives on the line (or the children’s) when we take our beloved little sub-units to school…too horrible to contemplate.

To recap, how can we walk the path of the hero and experience pain and triumph? By proxy – through watching someone else suffer or succeed. Caught up in the narrative, at some subconscious level, we’re still back in that primeval forest, slaying the dragons of uncertainty about ourselves and the world around us – will we survive? In this way we get a ‘survival lesson’ for free.

We’ve already explored this via the big screen, by mapping the journey of Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, but is the ‘Hero’s journey’ likely to be the same animal via that little box in the corner? Or via other media-viewing platforms; many of them hosting the television program peppered with sponsored advertisements? Hence, the importance of awesome, nail-biting cliff-hangers just prior to Act breaks.

But there are two issues here. So far we’ve only explored the heroic adventure in relation to ourselves, but what about ‘the’ hero/heroine in that television program? Can they undergo the heroic transformation in episodic/serialized television…well not really…so why not?

Let’s recap the structural road map of the hero’s journey – perhaps it offers a clue as to why this isn’t feasible in episodic television. Recall we see the hero in his/her ‘normal’ life. Then the inciting incident calls the hero to action – they’re dragged kicking and screaming because they‘ve no desire to undergo an inner transformation; in their mind there’s no need for it. However, they’re not given a choice…fate has anointed him/her for the task. They devise a plan to address the situation… it fails.

Girding their loins, they try again and even with help/back-up, they still fail with one obstacle after another making their life hell. Yet there’s no getting off the roller-coaster at this point. When everything is going to ‘hell in a basket’/ the ‘all is lost moment’, the hero/heroine reaches a crisis point. They’re confronted with the need for inner/spiritual transformation – that is, if they’re to be successful. This generally requires sacrifice – death of old self or death – all in the service of others/the cause.

We’ve or (they’ve) reached the climax of the narrative, the hero/heroine prevails/triumphs – either alone or with help. Then the denouement – we see the hero/heroine alive, but changed forever –older, wiser or perhaps damaged, but now living or perceiving their life differently in some profound way.

So, what’s the problem with this in relation to our television hero/heroine? If we stumble upon the pilot episode and love it, we’ll be like Sam and stay the course – remaining faithful and forgiving by not missing a single episode, so there’s no problem – for the character, us or the commercial stakeholders.

But what about the viewer who stumbles upon the series midway? If pandering to their primeval brain that wants a ‘survival lesson’ via a heroic transformation, the new recruit will be sadly disappointed and thinking wtf? And what about the ‘suits’, how do they recruit and keep lots of new viewers who’ll begrudgingly watch the commercials in between Act breaks; all because they’re emotionally invested in the character/s? This is what makes heavily serialized programs problematic; leading to the rise of DVD sales with the enticement of binge viewing; in order to get these guys up-to-speed.

So as television viewers, we must make a pact and fall in love with the character as they are, not for what they could become. Hence those characters have to be thoroughly engaging – bad-ass/ adorable/whatever, but worth emotionally investing in.

The only alternative to that is to switch channels. However, our primeval brain still wants to via proxy, to accompany ‘a hero’ on ‘a journey’ and learn from them, so flipping channels isn’t the answer.

Thus television characters that we love or hate don’t tend to grow and transform – the emphasis is on the adventure/criminal case itself – a marketing strategy to extend the life of the series, especially on commercial-dependent networks and aspiring television stations. Our hero/heroine is just fine as they are. This is also the reason behind ensemble casting – there’ got to be someone in that ornery bunch that you like and identify with, isn’t there!


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer. TVWriter™ is proud to call her a member of Larry Brody’s Master Class.

Writing About Writing About TV

Gather ’round, aspiring writers about TV writing, we at TVWriter™ are proud to bring you this truly intellectual discussion about the kind of thing we do right here every day (till we get a gig writing actual TV, in which case, “Whoa, Nellie!”)


 

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by Linda Holmes

It was years ago that TV critic Alan Sepinwall said something to me that I’ve remembered ever since and that he doesn’t remember saying: that writing about television was shifting its focus from what is said before shows are on to what is said after shows are on. It made sense to me, since my career writing about TV started with writing recaps of shows I used an actual VCR to record. With tapes. I didn’t get screeners, I didn’t get advances — I just taped things, and then I wrote about them. I think now, that shift is so obvious that it’s taken for granted.

This came up again recently when Quentin Tarantino sat down for a long and searching interview with New York Magazine. After he expressed, among many other things, his affection for the departed HBO drama The Newsroom, interviewer Lane Brown mentioned the show’s mixed reviews. Tarantino’s response, in addition to wondering whether anyone reads TV criticism, included: “TV critics review the pilot. Pilots of shows suck.”

There’s plenty of room to debate whether anyone reads TV criticism anymore (or any other criticism, for that matter), but the other part of the response suggests it’s maybe been a while since Tarantino did. (In fairness, he’s busy.) While looking at pilots is certainly part of what lots of critics do and a bad enough pilot, or particularly an actively off-putting or offensive pilot, can get your show written off if it’s bad enough, criticism of television has long since become — particularly in the case of anything with any ambition — much more about the visit and revisit and re-revisit. There are shows that don’t get that treatment, but The Newsroom did. Whether you think its reviews were fair or unfair, they were not, in the main, the result of nobody reviewing anything after the pilot.

Writing about TV is in a weird place, for some of the same reasons TV itself is. “Here’s a new show; they sent it to me in advance; here are some thoughts including whether it’s good or not” is still part of the picture, just like the traditional fall rollout of broadcast network shows is still part of the cycle of TV. But just like delivery has changed and content has changed, writing has changed, too. And that traditional vision, in which your task is to generate a single review of a new show based on a pilot and then perhaps to do a remembrance when it ends, is entirely incomplete.

As shows have gotten more serialized and more complicated, and as online writing has provided a lot more space, the practice of writing about every single episode of a show has gotten more common. Shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad have been proving grounds for people who built audiences by breaking down metaphors, commenting on form, dissecting story directions, and generally working alongside viewers who want a more thoughtful experience out of watching television.

Of course, even that has gotten trickier to do. Early in this series, we talked about how the full-drop model, in which seasons of shows are released all at once, complicates public conversation. It complicates criticism, too (in a way that, were it true that TV critics just review pilots, it wouldn’t). Just now, The New York Times is posting two-a-day reviews of the episodes of the new Netflix show Narcos, because … it’s as good a method as any.

Well, wait. Technically, those aren’t reviews; they’re recaps, and if you want to get a weird and surprisingly boisterous argument going that’s of interest to a tiny number of people, get the TV critics of your acquaintance to reach agreement on how different those things are and how you tell them apart. (Spoiler alert: they won’t.) For me, recaps are a little more driven by the structure of the episode and the commentary follows that structure, while reviews are structured more like traditional cultural criticism. But there are countless gray areas and countless writers where “recap” and “review” both seem like reasonable labels to attach to their work. Of course, I came up writing 15-page scene-by-scene epics about episodes of Survivor that didn’t publish for four days, which is the kind of thing that simply wouldn’t/couldn’t happen now. At the time, people sort of went with it. You will now typically be asked at least once why a piece is so long if it runs past about 500 words, and the actual answer I would have given then – which was “…For pleasure?” – would not suffice….

Read it all at NPR

More Great TV Writing Career Advice from Ken Levine

More wisdom from an excellent writer who keeps on keeping on inspiring. (For reals. We mean it. Honest.)


 

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Another writing secret to success

by Ken Levine

As if you’re not already bombarded with enough of them. But if you’re an aspiring writer, versatility could give you a big leg up.

The style of BIG BANG THEORY is very different from KIMMY SCHMIDT and VEEP is a different style from either of them. So is SHAMELESS. So is LOUIE, not to mention MODERN FAMILY (which I just did).

There are lots of comedy writers who are one trick ponies. They can write the shit out of BROOKLYN NINE NINE but would be buried trying to write THE MIDDLE. You might say, “well I like BROOKLYN NINE NINE better. It’s more my sensibility.” And that’s great except what if the only opening was on THE MIDDLE?

So can you write a good episode of 2 BROKE GIRLS (assuming that’s even possible) and a good episode of EPISODES?

In a very competitive field you do yourself a big favor by being able to answer yes.

What this unfortunately means is extra work on your part. Don’t just write your one spec pilot and wait for offers. It’s still helpful to write scripts for existing shows. It’s still a big plus to have both a single camera spec and a multi-camera spec.

Being a “funny person” is not enough. I would hope that aspiring comedy writers really study different shows. The tone and storytelling of NEW GIRL is miles apart from the tone and plotting of MOM. You’ll be miles ahead of “Mr. Funny Person” if you learn them….

Read it all at Ken Levine’s great blog

Larry Brody Reads “Shoot Like Tarantino”

by Larry Brody

tarantinobookThe Good and the Bad:

As a loyal member of the Writers Guild of America, West, I’ve never let myself get too attached to Quentin Tarantino because for all his brilliance as a writer and director (and I really do think he’s brilliant) he’s also a great danger to all the professional TV and film writers out doing their thing these days.

He’s a danger because he refuses to join the Guild. And, you know, if enough brilliant writers never join or secede from the WGA it’s going to hurt all TV and film writers where we live: In the departments of health care benefits and that very scary “P” word – pensions. It’s a studio contribution problem. If studios hire more and more non-members of the Guild to do their things, employer funds that are the basis of our benefits will dwindle, and you knmow where they can lead.

But in spite of the dood setting such a bad precedent, I decided to sit down and read Christopher Kenworthy’s new book about him. It’s called Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling, and it’s damned good.

As in helpful.

Even inspiring.

Kenworthy doesn’t mess around. He analyzes the techniques Tarantino uses as a director and explains how all of us can use them as well. Yes, even as writers because elements like, oh, dialog and characterization, begin on the page. And he does it clearly and concisely, like – well, like a very good teacher, dammit, and not just a worshipping fanboy.

Check this thing out, gang.

ASAP.

Shoot Like Tarantino at Amazon

 

 

 

How to Market Your Film on a Small Budget

Hard as it is to make your indie film, having a completed work doesn’t mean your job is over. Oh, no, kiddo – you gotta sell it. As LB puts it, “No matter our job description, all of us in show business are salesmen.” Here are some excellent thoughts on getting over this all-too-often heartbreaking obstacle:


 

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by Johnathan Paul

Marketing your film is one of the most important aspects of the filmmaking process. Your film can be the most important independent film of the last decade, but without a good marketing strategy, you’re going to hamstring its potential. So, let’s look at some simple and easy ways to market your film on a small budget.

1. Create a Marketing Materials Packet

You’re going to need marketing materials. This means you’re going to need to have a concrete brand for the film. Then you’ll want to build your materials from that branding. This includes cover images and profile images for all of your social media platforms, a movie poster for your film, and the imagery for your website and Facebook page.

As Charles Judson at Indiewire shows in his piece on marketing materials for film, there are countless small pieces of material that you’ll need. If this is something that you have no experience in doing on your own, try to reach out to a local artist artist.

2. Utilize the Internet and Social Media

The easiest way to build your audience is to use the internet and its main outlets, those being a personal website and social media platforms. First, let’s create a website for your film. For that you’ll want to use WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix. I preferred to use WordPress for my film’s official site, because it gave me the most flexibility.

Next, you want to utilize social media and its many platforms. For my film, I use Facebook as the primary launching point, then I use my personal Twitter account as a secondary site to keep content rolling. Find out what works best for you. That could be any combination of platforms including Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, etc.

3. Generate Press Releases….

Read it all at Premium Beat

Peggy Bechko Ponders Character Development

Pondering-Questions

by Peggy Bechko

Characters and character development, we all think a lot about it and them. The people who populate your script or novel must be real. They must have flaws as well as commendable attributes.

I think we all know the parable of The One You Feed. If you don’t, here it is:

An old grandfather told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment. The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and bravery.”

The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”

Okay, got it? Now, how does that apply here? Think about the characters you create. If you imbue them with too much evil; anger, jealousy, greed and resentment and couple that with incredibly cocky, curly, apathetic to what others may feel and a gigantic chip on his or her shoulder, well you may have gone too far. It would be hard for a reader or watcher to want to dive into your story and go along for the journey. It doesn’t matter if the character has a good reason for being so extreme, the reader/watcher is going to give up.

The same applies for the other wolf. A character completely without flaws, so filled with love, joy, hope, kindness, empathy and heroism that he or she fills the boat with saccharine goodness is probably going to sink it.

So, which do you want to feed, and how much?

A strong character, a good character, even a great character must be an amazing blend of strength, talents, failings and flaws.

That makes this tricky business. This brings up your story and your backdrop. When you decide on the stakes in your story, make them high. A situation that is dire, whether emotional or physical, even if the character is basically unlikable, can still cause the reader/audience to root for the character and become involved with the story.

And don’t forget to give that character endearing qualities such as wit, humor, feistiness. How many times have you watched a movie or read a book wherein you weren’t too fond of the characters actions, perhaps that character was manipulative, selfish or even occasionally mean and yet have been drawn in because you enjoyed the humor or admired that character for standing up for what was right or what was wanted.

So the above parable applies in the writer’s world in that there is a balance and going beyond that to tip it can totally destroy what you’ve built. People, every one of us, have flaws. Minor and major.

Make your hero or heroine complex. Choose the right flaws. Don’t be the writer who rushes your character development because you think you have such a great story and are so eager to get words up on the blank white screen before you that you just slap something together choosing one from column A and another from column B.

It’s all too easy to miss the depth you need in a character using that method. Remember when your characters have negative traits it is the Why lurking behind them that creates a compelling character. The character you create might be irrational or irresponsible, or hypocritical or works insane hours to the detriment to family and friendships. But at the core of it is the why.

Think about it. Dive deeper. Create a stunner of a character and you’ll create a stunning story.

 


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™.  Learn more about her HERE. And don’t forget to visit her sensational blog, where this post was first published.