Larry Brody: TVWriter University Update for 2017

The University of Tomorrow - Today

The University of Tomorrow – Today

by Larry Brody

Brace yourselves, online learning-about-writing fans, because I’m here to announce some changes in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop, um, thing.

Our various workshops, operating under the collective name of TVWriter University, have been up and running on the web, with occasional forays into the Real World (remember the various Brodystock Summer Intensive Seminars and the Secrets of the Writers Room held at the original Cloud Creek Ranch in Southern California, in Las Vegas, and even in Arkansas?) since 1999 or 2000. (Guess I should keep better records.)

Over the years we’ve altered the formats and added some activities from time to time, and this year the big news can be expressed in one word:

Consolidation.

As of this month, there no longer is a Fundamentals of TV and Film Writing Workshop. Nor is there an Advanced TV and Film Writing Workshop.  At least, not by those names.

Inside, we’re combining both of them into the new TVWriter™ Online TV and Film Writing Workshop. All the reasons for this are presented on its web page (which used to be the Advanced Workshop page) HERE.

Thanks to the current volume of electronic entertainment available to so many more people than ever before, and a more open and respectful attitude from institutions of higher learning, those who are interested in learning the fundamentals of scriptwriting, whether they want to use them for pleasure or profit or, of course, both, have much greater access to the knowledge they need than ever before.

I’m thrilled with this development, and just as contemporary scriptwriters can now take advantage of the fact that the viewing audience is so knowledgeable about video and film “language” and construct stories that shorten or bypass what used to be the standard Act One, now those of us devoted to helping the next generation of writers learn the craft/art/business thereof can jump into more advanced and, I think, interesting storytelling techniques.

I’m not abandoning complete newbies. The new Online TV and Film Writing Workshop is structured so that those who need that info will get it, not only from me but also from their more advanced classmates. And the more advanced writers will also benefit by getting the reactions and opinions of classmates who can remind them that not every viewer – or showbiz executive for that matter – loves, or even understands, the latest in experimental entertainment.

Bottom line, after a fascinating hiatus from teaching for most of this year, in which I re-entered the trenches of production and became far more aware of what’s happening in both the creative and business ends of The Industry here and now, I’m once again ready to pass it all on.

To “play it forward” in, I’m hoping, a more successful way than it was in a certain underachieving film by the same name.

The next TVWriter™ Online TV and Film Writing Workshop starts a 4-week session January 11, 2017. It’s limited to 5 students, so I suggest you shift into gear and check out the details ASAP HERE.

And, while you’re at it, why not take a look at our other offerings, including Larry Brody’s Master Class, which will also be ready to rock in January? Those details are HERE.

That’s it for now, kids.

LYMI

LB

 

 

Peggy Bechko’s World: Tighten It Up!

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by Peggy Bechko

No, not your belly or you glutes or whatever – your script or novel.

Really, let’s trim it down and see how much better it can be.

I know, I know, it’s the holiday season, you’re tired and ready to take a break. Okey dokey go ahead and do that – THEN think about the ideas I’m going to present for getting that writing sharpened up. A break will do you good – then dive in and get to work.

First up. Let’s face it, rewriting is where it really is at. Most of the time the first draft isn’t where it stops. I mean as a writer you no doubt vomited out the first draft – got that story on the page, but that means you’re only part way there.

It’s a marathon to go to polished script or manuscript from rough draft. Sorry, but there’s no way to tell the newer writer how the rewrite process should go. That’s up to every writer, and what it boils down to is, well, just fix it.

So let’s look at how.

I’m going to use the ‘script’ as example and not manuscript only because we’re on TV Writer after all! But it all applies.

First question to ask yourself after completion of a script is whose story is it? You’ve purged yourself of story – got it down on the blank page – so who’s the hero? Truly, now is the time to reread that draft with an open mind.

What if, for example, in the newly released movie, the script for Dr. Strange gave much of the action and dialog to one of the more minor characters? What if the storyline had fixed more on someone other than Dr. Strange? I mean his cloak almost stole the show (but in that case it was a good thing and in small doses).

My point is if you chose the wrong hero you need to fix it. You need to make sure the principal character gets the majority of the storyline and dialog. You’d be surprised how easy it is to mess that up. And Ensemble movies can make it that much more tricky.

Secondly, and you’ve heard this many times before but it can’t be overstated, the consequences, AKA the stakes, need to be high. Life and death high. Death could mean disaster, literal death, or any other failure that has genuine, and powerful, negative consequences. Make sure those stakes are high and don’t let the storyline go soft. And…

In line with the second point, remember the third – make the obstacles worse and worse, harder to overcome, more threatening. Once more, as example, Dr. Strange.

In this one we’re literally looking at the end of the world if he doesn’t succeed. But, a different genre doesn’t require violence or action to keep the stakes high. I happen to be a big action/SciFi/Thriller/Paranormal/horror fan so I write more in those areas.

But if the story you’re writing revolves around romance then plainly you need obstacles that work with your story. An old boyfriend or girlfriend turns up with problems for the main character. A parent dies at the wedding. Any number of life’s obstacles. Just make sure they’re intense and engage the reader/watcher to the point they can’t turn away.

If there are no obstacles there’s no story. Reread that draft and see if the obstacles you’ve thrown up offer your main character some real challenges and doesn’t go off to whimpy-diddles world.

Do another reread with your dialog in mind. As writers it’s easy for us to cause our characters to spit out exactly what they mean in their dialog. But Subtext adds so many nuances.

How many times in life do you say ‘yeah, sure’ when you’re being sarcastic and mean ‘no way in hell’. So it’s okay to do that in your first draft (the on the nose dialog), but think about what you’ve written and how, in places, you can add subtext to that dialog.

Watch a couple of movies you really liked or reread a book and watch for that dialog that isn’t ‘on the nose’ but conveys much more meaning where the people don’t always say exactly what they mean, but offer nuances of what was meant.

The dialog needs to be a bit off kilter yet clear enough so the audience, whether movie or novel, can follow what’s really intended. It can take a bit of practice, and you don’t want to do it through every scene, but it adds so much, makes the characters so much more human, that it will really put teeth into the script.

Finally – let it rest again. Come on, you know you want to walk away from it for a time anyway. Work on something new. Give it a few weeks. I’ll bet when you come back to it you’ll find it’s yours – and yet not quite.

One more run through and now when you rewrite it will be a bit less like, as one writer said, ‘killing your darlings’. It’s a bit more like doing in someone else’s and it can turn into great fun!

Got it now? Rewrite – go for the throat emotionally and turn out a great script.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to have Happy Holidays along the way!


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.

Peggy Bechko’s First Appearance on TVWriter™

by Team TVWriter™

It has come to our attention that 2016 has been Peggy Bechko’s fifth year of writing for TVWriter™. Her first appearance here was September 23, 2012, and inasmuch as we’ve already missed four anniversaries of  one of our 3 most popular contributors, we’ve decided to rectify that situation right now, before we, you know, forget.

Here then is something we think everybody will enjoy: Contributing Editor Peggy Bechko’s first TVWriter™ column, almost exactly as it appeared on what was for LB, Munchman, and so many thousands of TVWriter™’s regular visitors, a singularly wonderful day.

Happy Anniversary(ies), Peggy!


Peggy Bechko: Writing Tips From One of TVWriter™’s Favorite Writers

My good friend Larry Brody, head honcho here at TVWriter™ seems to think my input on writing might be a welcome thing – so I’m happy to oblige.

I think as writers we all hear a lot of ‘tips’. How to do this, that and the other. You know, kind of nuts and bolts sort of thing. I also believe writers get a lot of that basic advice everywhere, so I think I’ll take a different direction and use broader strokes. We’re going to skip the grammar, punctuation, spelling thing and hit on other topics. I mean, English is the basic tool of communication. I hope you’ve learned it. If you haven’t, then do it. Lots of classes and information online and at local community colleges. Enough said on that subject.

So what am I going to talk about here in the way of tips?

1. A writer writes. Sounds simple? It is. It’s also hard. But the fact of the matter is, if you’re a writer you’ll be writing…a lot. I don’t care what kind of a writer you are. This is one size fits all. So don’t talk about it. Do it.

2. Don’t be afraid to shock. Okay, your Mama taught you good manners, you don’t like to make a scene, yadda, yadda, yadda. But, as a writer that needs to be set aside – at least some of the time. In fact, quite a lot of the time. Writing a story, creating fiction, whether screen script, novel or short story, is a condensation of life. There’s lots of stuff in life that’s just shocking naturally. And, really, it gets attention. Doesn’t have to be big shocks, can be small shocking. But to keep eyeballs firmly attached to your work, well, something startling needs to happen. Lunch at the kitchen table with no zip doesn’t cut it.

3. Go to the dark side. Dig deep into your own psyche and uncover the characteristics and traits you really don’t want to show the world. Then put them on full display in your book or screen script. Oh, and you don’t need to let folks know that’s really you.

4. Keep yourself physically fit. Really. No kidding. Get exercise. Move. Do other things you love that involve getting your butt out of your chair in front of the computer. Seriously. If you’re fit you feel better. If you feel better you write better. Try a stand-up desk. Do something! Get moving. If you don’t, you’ll pay the price. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

5. Rethink Normal. I mean what the heck is normal anyway? What was ‘normal’ some time back is no longer normal now. It’s kind of like trying to define crazy. Crazy really is in context to the society in which one lives. Normal is along those lines, but a bit broader. “Normal” weather isn’t ‘normal’ in many places any more. Societal views change with the passage of time. Don’t think you have to be stuck with normal or even that you really know what normal is. Be curious, open, and ready to use whatever you discover to keep your writing fresh and original.

6. Be yourself. Yes, you. Write in your voice. Don’t think you have to imitate someone else. Yes, at times you’ll write parallel to someone else. It’s a weird phenomena that happens. Keep writing and never, never give up.

Now I’m going to take my own advice and go work on my novel, or was that script…whatever…I already took my morning walk.

About Peggy Bechko:

I’m a freelance writer with a special love for fiction by day and jewelry creator by night I share my home in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my husband, three dogs and a bird. You can see my new young/new writer help book called “Out of Thin air” online at http://amzn.to/OUuwT3 and check out my jewelry creations at my etsy shop at
http://www.etsy.com/shop/SilverStreak

Do You Know What Your Screenplay Option Contract Really Says?

Time now for some hardcore advice on the business of show business. And we can think of no better source to turn to than Stage 32:

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Understanding The Option Agreement For Your Screenplay
by Wallace Collins

Many writers dream that someday their story or script will garner interest from someone who wants to develop it into a film or TV project. Usually, the first step is when that someone, maybe a producer or a production company or even a studio, offers the writer a contract known as an option agreement. As with all such matters where art meets commerce, I always advise that if you are asked to sign anything – other than an autograph – you should have your lawyer review it first. Every writer should have a literary agent and a lawyer advising them about their business dealings once they get to this stage of the process, where the creative spills over into the business world.

An option agreement at its most basic is a contract whereby the writer grants someone, for a period of time and for a payment, the right to make a film of the writer’s screenplay. The three main material issues that usually arise in negotiating such a deal are the length of the option period, the amount of the option payment and the purchase price if the project comes to fruition. How each of these issues will be resolved will vary depending on the negotiating leverage of the respective parties (i.e., whether the writer is a beginner or has had prior success in the industry and whether the producer is an experienced player or just a fledgling production company trying to get traction).

An option agreement will designate an ‘option period’ or length of time granted to a producer or studio to commence production of the project. It can range from six months to two years, or longer, depending on the negotiations. Such agreements frequently include additional periods of time for the producer to extend the length of the agreement in consideration of additional payments to the writer….

Read it all at Stage 32

Peggy Bechko’s World: Does Your Novel’s 1st Chapter Explode Out of the Gate?

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by Peggy Bechko

Speaking of books:

The first chapter of your book is important.

Very important.

It doesn’t seem like such a big thing, the first chapter, or does it? It’s the beginning, that which should tantalize your readers, draw them in and hold on tight. So full of promise – what adventure lies ahead?

That first chapter shouldn’t be the thing to set terror fluttering in the heart of the writer, but rather to be exciting, invigorating, fun! That first chapter can lead to so much. It can grab readers. It can hook a bored editor who’s looking for the kind of book you’ve written. It can keep a browser on Amazon reading that Kindle edition and asking for a full sample leading to that coveted sale because that reader is hooked and just can’t stop reading.

So, NUMBER ONE: don’t succumb to terror. Don’t let the white of the screen before you intimidate you.  There are all sorts of warnings out there that are a trap to intimidate writers. “In the beginning,” they say, “grab me from the first sentence!” or “Don’t waste a single word!” or “get it moving, start your story somewhere after the first couple of chapters and skip the intro altogether.”

Heard this? Read this? Between writing coaches, teachers, editors, agents and script readers it feels like all they’re out there to do is to intimidate writers and scare them into giving up before they even start.

Okay, you, as a writer, don’t need all that tension. The truth is, they’re all looking for that great book and you just might have it. So relax. They aren’t actually expecting perfection from writers. They’re looking for originality and powerful. So breathe in, breathe out and get those first words up on the screen; just let the words flow. The bad and the good.

Editing time will be the time to sort it all out. Oh, and by the way, as a general observation, it’s just fine to want to write a book to entertain. It doesn’t have to have a great and deep message or some thrumming theme. Write what your inner writer wants to write.

NUMBER TWO: have a light touch with description. Yes, yes, I know, you can see it all in your mind, every blade of grass, every cricket chirping at a window, every hair on the black dog’s head. Sounds, sights, emotions, textures and colors. The story you’re writing is so powerful you want the readers to be right there with you, to be immersed in the story.

But don’t feel you have to spill it all in those first few sentences in that first chapter. Sketch out the bones with enough details to give it some punch. Your readers don’t want to hear about the weather, every detail of the hero’s street and how long he’s lived there all in the first few sentences.

Readers always trust writers to fill in detail as the story moves forward. What’s needed in the beginning is those few details, just a taste, just enough to give a feeling of place. Then trust yourself to add the needed information along with the forward movement of the story.

Now turn that blank white screen into a writer’s chapter to be proud of.


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.

Posts TVWriter™ Wishes We’d Published First

This week’s collection of recent articles from other websites about TV, TV writing, TV biz, etc., etc. is a mini-class in creating your own animated web series, because for many people this is absolutely the least expensive and most enjoyable way to get a foot in the series TV door. In fact, both our Scapegoat/Editor-in-Chief Munchman and our Beloved Leader LB are doing that very thing now. And if they can, so canst thou.

As usual, the plan here is for you to click on the headlines over the excerpts below and visit the site to read the posts in full…and if anybody asks, tell ’em TVWriter™ sentcha, okay?

Self Producing & Making Your Own Animated Web Series
by Gary Hanna

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You’ve decided to make your own animated web series. Viewers are already asking, “When’s the next video?”

Animating a web series can be hard work. For starters, remaining relevant is a gigantic challenge. You can easily spend months in between episodes, easily killing momentum and people will forget about you.

Obviously, you have to create more content to stay in the limelight. I hosted a Blab chat recently discussing ways how animators can produce more content around their series, but EFFICIENTLY….

Web Animation

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Web Animation is simply animation on the World Wide Web. Actual shows are relatively uncommon compared to webcomics, but the medium itself is pervasive in the form of commercial advertising.Aside from machinima and fanime, Web cartoons are generally in Flash, as is some advertising. Animated GIFs are even easier to make and don’t require special plug-ins, so they’re used by much web advertising and by many forum avatars. However, some such advertising uses dynamic HTML, which just changes the position of an image on a webpage. Animated SVG (scalable vector graphics) is a new technology still in development.The content of Web Animation often varies greatly from animation seen on television. Media classifications usually aren’t a problem and the length of the work can be anything. In addition, Web Animation is also available worldwide….

What I Do as a 2D Animator
by Andy Orin

The creation process behind 2D animation conjures nostalgic images of smoke-filled rooms where animators labored over their slanted drafting tables, flipping between thin pages while sketching a character into life. Those days may be gone, but 2D animators work in new ways to tell stories with their art.

Pencils, paper, and acetate have given way to tablets and digital compositing techniques that can do anything the old-fashioned methods could do while also streamlining the process…

 

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Netflix, the world’s leading Internet TV network, announced today the addition of six new original animated shows that provide best-in-class storytelling for kids of all ages. The new series (LEGO Elves, The Hollow, Kibaoh Klashers, Robozuna, Treehouse Detectives and Super Monsters) will take viewers on wild rides and enchanting adventures that are sure to captivate young audiences everywhere.

Older kids will be met with suspense and intrigue in four new action-packed shows. In LEGO Elves, viewers will be transported to a magical yet dangerous forest as a group of humans and elves team up to protect their worlds from a wicked goblin king. In The Hollow, strangers-turned-friends scavenge through a surreal mystery world as they desperately search for a way back home….

That’s it for now. Seeya next week!

‘Westworld’ and the Writer/Reader Contract

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by Gerry Conway

Read this before we start (and, warning, SPOILERS):

Ready? Okay. I think this critic misses the point, because, like more than a few critics throughout the history of literary (and cinematic) criticism, he/she doesn’t understand the nature of the implied writer/reader contract. That’s not surprising because the concept of a contract between the writer and the reader doesn’t seem to get much attention in academic critical studies, and almost no attention in popular critical writing. As far as I know, it isn’t much taught to aspiring writers, either, which explains so much bad, narcissistic writing.

Here’s the concept, in as simple terms as I can explain it: the writer/reader contract is an implied agreement between the writer and the reader concerning the kind of story the writer is telling, what the reader should expect from that story, and in return for the gift of the reader’s attention, the writer’s implicit promise to deliver on those expectations. To the degree that writer and reader fullfil that contract– the reader, by giving the writer his/her attention, and the writer, by fulfilling the reader’s expectations– a story is or is not successful. If a reader doesn’t pay attention to what she reads, she can’t complain that a story fails. If a writer does not fulfill her reader’s expectations, she can’t claim the reader “doesn’t understand” the writer’s work. Stories are a contracted dialogue between author and audience. Fullfil the contract, everyone’s happy. Break the contract, recriminations follow.

Very often, critics misunderstand or willfully ignore the writer/reader contract, interposing their own preferred boiler plate contractual terms for those the writer and reader have negotiated between them. This makes much critical appraisal irrelevant, especially when writers have negotiated new and novel contractual terms with their readers. For example, in the review above, the critic is trying to impose a more traditional writer/reader contract onto the existing “Westworld” agreement between the show’s creators and viewers. He/she is asking for narrative context to provide insight into plot and character and thus, to develop the show’s themes in a more traditional manner. But, to repurpose an old cliche, the lack of context in “Westworld” is not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s essential to the theme, to the plot, to our understanding of the characters, and it is both an implicit and explicit element in the writer/reader contract presented in the show’s first episode.

Remember, for the first ten minutes of the show, we are led to believe that Teddy is a human guest visiting Westworld, probably on his second visit. We are shown Sweetwater and Dolores from his point of view. We are asked to identify with him as our focal point. And then he’s revealed as a robot, and we meet the first truly “human” character in the park, the Man in Black. The writers are offering us, in the first minutes of the show, a contract to join them in a story that will upend our traditional understanding of character and point of view. Tricks, puzzles, revelations, and time-out-of-sequence are all established in the first ten minutes. (Even the fact that story events will not occur in traditional linear format is revealed in the opening introduction of Dolores being questioned. We don’t know when this is happening, initially, whether before or after Teddy’s death.) Every element that will inform the writer/reader contract is introduced in this first sequence, and in fact, reintroduced and amplified throughout the first episode. The terms of the contract are clear. Anyone who embraces “Westworld” on the basis of the first episode embraces it precisely because of this implied contract. And the writers have consistently delivered on the expectations they promised to fulfill.

(At the same time, though I can’t prove it yet, I also believe the writers are delivering on a number of traditional television serial narrative promises– such as the essential narrative promise to introduce all your primary protagonists and antagonists in your initial episode. That belief is why I don’t consider William’s introduction in the second episode as a narrative error. Usually, introducing a new primary protagonist in the second episode of a serial narrative would be a literary massive fail and a deal breaker in the writer/reader contract – unless that character had already been introduced somehow in episode one. That’s the main reason I believe William will turn out to be the younger version of the Man in Black. Because the writers have consistently upheld their half of the writer/reader contract, I trust them not to break such a fundamental narrative rule– because the only narrative rules they’ve broken so far are the one they broke in the first episode, when they established the terms of the contract they were offering.)

In sum, my reaction as a reader/viewer is the exact opposite of the critic quoted above: his “frustration” is essential to my enjoyment of the story, because that frustration is inherent in the contract I accepted when I decided to continue to watch the series. Distrusting the narrative is the point. Questioning the characters’ reality helps me identify with them – because that’s the explicit offer made in the very first scene. “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” Dolores is asked. That’s the contract the writers offered us: do you want to watch a show that makes you question everything you see?

You bet. I’ll hear that story. Where do I sign?


Gerry Conway, TV and film writer and producer, award-winning novelist and comic book writer, raconteur extraordinaire, and “minor pop culture icon,” has been Larry Brody’s friend for longer than most TVWriter™ visitors have been alive. And, honest to God, Missus God, and any other deity, major or minor, that you believe in, they still hang out together whenever they can. This most excellent piece first appeared on Gerry’s most excellent blog.