All TV Shows Need Writers

TV reality is really fiction. Ain’t no such thing as wingin’ it before the cameras anymore. Case in point:

The Secrets of a TV Quiz Question Writer
by Siobhon Smith

Q: How do you write questions for some of TV’s hardest quizzes?

A: Ask Jo Dean.

For 20 years she has been a question writer on TV quiz shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, The Weakest Link and – her current job – Eggheads.

She got into the business of question-setting after taking part in a pilot for a new quiz show – as a contestant.

Dean was approached by the producer who – impressed with her knowledge – suggested she try her hand writing some questions for the series.

A day in the life of a question writer

In her current job on BBC Two’s long-running Eggheads, Dean explains that one writer will aim to write around one show per week, which amounts to 70 questions.

“I try to focus on a category a day, so I’ll think, right, I’m researching history today,” she says.

“I find sports is really challenging and we have a guy in the question team who is really strong on sport, so he might swap me for arts and books.

“So you can write to your strengths. I’m a big fan of musicals so, for me, those questions are really easy. And I need to remember that a lot of people don’t like musicals!”

Lisa Thiel on Eggheads – probably answering one of Jo Dean’s questions (Photo: BBC)

Shows like ITV’s The Chase have nearer to 200 questions per show, and a team of around 20 writers.

Dean estimates they are more likely to have a daily quota of around 30 questions.

How hard is too hard?

Questions go through several processes before they are approved to be used on any quiz show.

“Gauging the level is difficult,” explains Dean. “It’s quite subjective depending on an individual person’s knowledge.

“But over time, you get a feel for what people tend to know. You’ll realise people are better at countries in Europe than countries in South America, generally.

“With music, for example, you might think something is really obvious – a pop question from the ’80s. But you get a 70 year old and they haven’t got a clue, but they might love a classical music question….”

Read it all at INews UK

@Stareable – Yep, Pre-Production IS a Thing

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 7
by Bri Castellini

We’re almost there, folks. Almost to the actual shooting of your web series, with someone calling “action!” and “cut!” and good-looking people bringing your words to life. But we’ve got one more step: pulling together everything you’ve done and everything you’ve gotten during the first six steps of this process and making a plan of action. That’s right, it’s officially pre-production time.

Technically, most of what we’ve talked about so far in this column has been pre-production, since pre-production is literally everything that happens before a camera starts rolling. Semantics. Onward!

LOCATIONS

By this point, you should have your script, your people, and your equipment, so the final piece of the puzzle is determining where in the world you’re actually going to film. In order to find these places, you’re going to have to location scout, or go to a series of locations, take pictures, and make decisions. Bring at least one other person along on these excursions, and if possible, bring the director, the director of photography, and the sound person, because all of them will provide valuable insight beyond how something looks in frame.

A few things to keep in mind when location scouting:

  • How easy is this location to get to? How close to public transportation is it, or is there sufficient parking availability?
  • Is there ambient sound that will cause problems? This means everything from crowds to a refrigerator you can’t turn off, to traffic, to a construction site nearby.
  • Is there enough space for the camera and crew? Remember, there will be quite a few people behind the camera as well as in front of it, all of whom need to be hidden from view. Sometimes these problems can be addressed if you’re able to move the furniture around to accommodate, but if the space isn’t yours, ALWAYS ASK.
  • Where is the nearest bathroom? This is especially a concern for outdoor shoots.
  • Is there another area nearby you can use for “holding?” Holding is just an area, preferably away from where the actual filming is taking place, for cast and crew to hang out when they’re not needed. Even during breaks, try to take them away from set, otherwise you risk production design or continuity.
  • Will this location be available again for reshoots or for multiple shooting days? You’ll frequently end up filming multiple days in a single location, so you need to make sure a location is available for as long as you actually need it.How much control do you have over the space? Can you control lighting/rearrange furniture/put up posters and set decorations? Can you redirect traffic or tell people in other rooms to pipe down? Does one need licenses or other approval for outdoor scenes? Do they need to be prepared to lie to cops? The more control you have over the variables, the better a location is going to be. Otherwise, you better be good at improv.

SHOOTING DAY BREAKDOWNS

You’ve already made breakdowns for your props, characters, and locations, so now it’s time to do one last round. This time, you’ll be breaking down your script into filmable chunks. I’d suggest starting by breaking the scenes into locations, then breaking those down by which actors need to be there.

I polled Twitter for the average number of script pages different web series creators ended up shooting, per day. The results may surprise you, because they definitely surprised me. In general, on a traditional feature film shoot, you can expect to shoot 5 pages a day. This accounts for all the lighting changes, filming angles, and takes.

However, according to Twitter, the average web series shooting day (at least for low-budget, often vlog or found-footage projects) is closer to twenty. Kate Hackett, creator of the award-winning series Classic Alice, told me she averaged about sixteen pages a day, and RJ Lackie’s award-winning show Inhuman Condition averaged closer to forty.

Keep these things in mind when you go about planning your own shooting days, and make sure that you leave yourself enough time for actors to mess up, for multiple takes, and for more complex set-ups like stunts, motion shots, or changing locations midway through the day.

Then, once these are done, make “shooting scripts,” or scripts broken up by shooting day. That way, actors can focus on memorizing those particular lines, and your crew gets a better idea what they need to be prepared for, instead of needing to jump around the full season script.

SCHEDULING

It’s time for the absolute worst part of any film project! Some have compared scheduling cast and crew for low-budget film shoots to herding cats, but I bet those cats don’t all work retail with alternating shift schedules and no flexibility. Some suggestions:

1. Ask for actors’ schedules as far in advance as possible, especially if you’re shooting in the winter or summer, when people are likely to be going on vacation. This will give you a general idea of their availability.
2. Have three different schedule plans based on your shooting day breakdowns, but only share the preferred one with the actors. Don’t give them a choice — tell them “these are when we want to shoot these scenes. If you have conflicts, let us know.” People are less likely to flake if they feel like there’s only one option, but if there are unavoidable conflicts, you have an alternative to offer without fuss.
3. Send out the final schedule, including who’s on set, how long the days will be, what scenes will be filmed, and the complete shooting scripts as far in advance as possible. Then, a week before each shoot, email the people involved to remind them, and again the night or days before.
4. Seriously, remind people CONSTANTLY, because they will forget.

Purchase, steal, or borrow the rest of what you need for props, wardrobe, and equipment. Remember to write down everything you spend, whether it’s food for a production meeting or a set of fake throwing knives. Knowing what you’re spending the most money on will help make smarter financial decisions in this production and all future ones. Pro tip: most of your money will go towards food.

My friends, with all this complete, you are now ready to go into production! The most exciting and terrifying part of any film project. Next week, we’ll go over the basics of production, how to prepare and run your set, and the week after that, we’ll go through the most common production disasters and how to solve them.


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: ‘A Book of Poems”

If you don’t believe that an artist can be a poet via pictures, then you’ve never seen Grant Snider’s work. Check it out:

See what we mean? We really think you should spend some as much time as you can at Grant’s Incidental ComicsLook around. Enjoy. Buy a poster. Better yet, buy his new book!

Web Series: ‘Ask Will’

William Shakespeare his very self writing a romance advice column? If that isn’t a high concept – for writer-viewers anyway – nothing is.

Can we say that this is “cute” without that sounding negative? Because Ask Will really is cute:

Find out more about Ask Will HERE

WGA Negotiations Update: Striking a Pose

by Mark Evanier


LB’s NOTE: This article written by the legendary Mark Evanier is the most enlightening discussion I’ve seen yet of the current state of the contract renewal negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP. Things are getting heated, gang. And Mark is here to tell us why:


very few years, the contract between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires and a new one must be negotiated. Sometimes, the negotiations are simple and sometimes, they are not. When they are not, it is because someone at the A.M.P.T.P. — or at at least one of the member companies that comprise the A.M.P.T.P. — decides he or she can be a hero and advance his or her career by engineering a deal that pays the writers less or at least denies us cost o’ living increases.

I joined the W.G.A. on April Fool’s Day of 1976 so I have been through many of these and sometimes been fairly close to the negotiations. It is my observation that these dust-ups are never about what’s “fair,” at least from the Producers’ standpoint. And when they say things like, “The business is hurting…everyone needs to understand that and accept some cuts,” that is always, 100% of the time, horseshit. For them, these dickerings are only about one thing: Getting as much as possible. The less we get, the more they get.

Whenever Renegotiation Time rolls around, my guild assembles something called the Pattern of Demands — a wish list of things we’d like to discuss. Many times, it is a waste of time because the studios simply refuse to address anything on our list. Their negotiators literally end the meeting if our reps bring out the list. One of the Producers’ lawyers in years past liked to say things like, “We are never going to let these sessions be about what you want. They will only be about what we are willing to give you.”

If anyone does look at our Pattern of Demands, they’ll see items about increased compensation but they will also always see issues that are not directly about money. We want our work to be respected more. We want to be listened-to more on creative matters. We want minorities (including older writers of any color) to be given more consideration. We want our credits to be protected and so forth. Call these the non-monetary issues.

There are people in management at the studios who care about such things but we tend to not negotiate with those folks. The people we deal with only care about the money and with keeping as much of it as possible for their employers. If they address the non-monetary issues at all, it’s because they think they can trade one of the unimportant non-monetary issues for an important monetary one. In the ’85 negotiations for instance, the Producers demanded a change in credit procedures that would have gutted the WGA’s ability to control who received screen credit. They didn’t really care about that. They just wanted to be able to say, “Okay, we’ll drop our demands about credits if you drop your demands about money.”

Because we care (somewhat) about the non-monetary issues and they don’t, sometimes that works. Indeed, in ’85, they dropped those demands but in the same bargaining sessions, we accepted for other reasons a lowering of the fees we were paid when films or TV shows we wrote were put out on home video. The former cost them nothing. The latter cost us billions. From the Producers’ standpoint, that was a wildly-successful negotiation. That year, I don’t think they ever even listened to anything we had in our Pattern of Demands.

Even factoring in that our brief strike that year cost them some cash, the guys who engineered that deal for them were superstar heroes. It was like they’d made a dozen movies as lucrative as Star Wars or Titanic. Each time we embark on a new negotiation, there’s someone there who dreams of doing that again….

Read it all at News From ME (Mark Evanier’s truly enlightening blog)

John Ostrander: Sidekicking Around

by John Ostrander

Holmes and Watson. Lone Ranger and Tonto. Batman and Robin. Lucy and Ethel. Hamlet and Laertes. The list of heroes and their BFFs is long and overall an honorable one… and usually necessary.

A sidekick, at base, is a supporting character and a supporting character’s main function is to bring out aspects of the protagonist. In most cases, the sidekick is there so that the protagonist isn’t constantly monologuing. Granted, Hamlet is a champion monologuist but when Laertes is there he can be engaged in a dialogue. Holmes needs Watson so the reader can see how brilliant the Great Detective is. Whatever his other character traits may be, Watson’s prime one is to be surprised and amazed by Holmes and, in that, Watson represents us, the readers.

There are many different ways of interpreting a sidekick. Watson, for example, can be Nigel Bruce’s bumbling Colonel Blimp character or Jude Law’s testy and acerbic put-upon friend or Martin Freeman’s occasionally explosive but loyal best man. In the Harry Potter films, Ron Weasley, in the first film, is at one point both brave and self-sacrificing. In later films, however, he becomes cowardly and mostly comic relief, very like Nigel’s Bruce’s Watson.

Robin falls into a strange category of the child or teen sidekick. He was originally introduced to lighten up the Dark Knight Detective and, again, to give Batman someone to talk to rather than himself. Robin humanized the Bat. His popularity gave rise to a whole slew of child/teen associates such as Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Speedy, and Aqualad. Later, these five went from supporting characters to central ones when they formed their own super-team, the Teen Titans (later, just the Titans when they all outgrew their teenage years).

The original Robin, Dick Grayson, later grew out of his shorts and tights to become a full-fledged hero of his own, first as Nightwing and then later, briefly, actually taking Bruce Wayne’s place as Batman before reverting back to Nightwing. There have been other Robins since then, including one – Jason Todd – who was killed by the Joker. Don’t worry; he got better. The role is currently being filled by Bruce’s son, Damian. I believe he died as well at one point but is also now feeling better.

Moral and ethical questions have been raised about the whole idea of the adult hero having child/teen sidekicks. The lifestyle, after all, is inherently violent and rather dangerous. Frederic Wertham, in his suspect 1954 treatise Seduction of the Innocent, postulated Batman and Robin were gay which, given those times, was thought to be profoundly deviant. Wertham was blowing it out his ass but the damage was done at the time. Still, one can see that it was a dangerous life style to include the kids in. The questions remain.

For me, I’ve sometimes identified more with the sidekick than the protagonist. I love Holmes but I’ve always identified more with Watson (except for Nigel Bruce). Batman (and Bruce Wayne) is difficult to like but Dick Grayson (especially in his adult incarnations) is someone with whom I can more easily relate. I think sidekicks are designed that way. They put more human into super-human.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Diana Vacc sees “Prison Break” Season 5 Premier

by Diana Vaccarelli

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

April 4, 2017 was the day Prison Break returned to our screens after a seven year “hiatus.” 

Fox television has brought back the infamous brothers Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows. If you weren’t a fan, or if you were but life has gotten in the way of your memory, I’ll try to catch you up, or at least remind you of where we left off. As in:

When last we saw Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows, they had broken out of prison and gone on the run, just in time for Michael to die from a terminal illness, the tragedy ending with a touching scene where Lincoln and Michael’s wife and son mourned at his grave.

Now, however, with the show becoming as popular as ever thanks to Netflix, the show has returned with fan faves Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell reprising the leads. How does a dead man return to life? In TV there are two usual ways – supernatural intervention ala a little show called, aptly enough, Supernatural and new info giving the mourners the wonderful formerly missing fact that whaddaya know, Michael is alive after all and being held in Yemeni prison.

Which means – oh, how did you guess? Now it’s up to Lincoln to break him out – again.

THE GOOD:

  • Writer/Creator Paul T. Scheuring brings us an episode full of intrigue that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I loved the scene in which Lincoln literally digs through Michael’s grave and discovers that only Michael’s jacket and pants remain. The body is gone.

    In another well written scene we find Michael in the prison and Yemen, only to hear him state that he doesn’t know Lincoln and is not Michael Scofield. As he walks away, the look on his face tells us he is lying, trying to protect his brother, although we don’t yet why and what or whom from.

    My favorite scene by far in this episode, though, is when Michael’s son asks his mother Sara what his father was like. The dialogue here is extraordinary and sensitive as Sara talks about her late husband as though he was the hero of a fairy tale.

  • The performances of all the actors are brilliant. Each one seems to genuinely become each character, giving us the souls of everybody we meet.

    Dominic Purcell brings makes the moment when Lincoln falls to the ground in tears, begging Michael to tell him what is really going on truly heartbreaking. And Wentworth Miller shocks us with his perfect – and in its way horrifying  response, demonstrating that he has become a far different – and much colder – man than the Michael we loved all those years ago.

  • By going international in scope, the writing exceeds my expectations. I love how Prison Break is now focusing on contemporary world events, especially with respect to the war against terrorism.

THE BAD:

  • The premier episode left many questions. Lots of blanks to be filled. After having been let down by so many recent series that never delivered the answers to questions raised in opening episodes, I’m concerned that viewers may never get the satisfaction we need…and that I believe all viewers deserve. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for lots of new information in the nine episodes of the show that remain.

THE REST:

  • As things stand after the opening, this revival may well be the best TV series opener in years. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and if the writers deliver this new version of Prison Break could well become not just must-see but iconic television viewing. I hope you try out the show and join me as a fan.