Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Craig Silverstein, Part 2

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

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From making films on VHS with his middle and high school friends to being the creator of Nikita and TURN: Washington’s Spies, writer Craig Silverstein shares his experiences and insights from being a showrunner and what he looks for when hiring writers.

TELL US ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM BEING ON STAFF TO CREATING YOUR OWN SHOW.

In my case it was working my way up and learning the ropes and experiencing production, which I was very lucky to get to do and to have really encouraging showrunners.

By the end of the second season of The Invisible Man I had directed an episode. From going from just being a staff writer, I became a Co-Producer by the end of the thing and they let me direct once.   That was about the best first experience that I could have had.

From there I had kept going up and then when you do your own show, it starts with a pilot. So you have to do that. And my friend Dave, who was actually that guy from Ithaca that I drove out with, he had an idea for this thing called Town of Tomorrow and we developed it together into a pilot called, Newton, while I was working on a show called The Dead Zone.

We sold it to UPN and they picked it up as a pilot and that’s the thing that really put me into another category because the script became very well known. The pilot wasn’t good. We screwed up the pilot.

So how do you transition into that stuff? My experience is, you make mistakes. So I wrote a pilot script, figured out how to do that and then screwed up the pilot. I kind of trusted all these people who were more experienced than me to do their jobs and when they didn’t, I was kinda like, “Oh, my God.”

I had the wrong, trustful attitude going in, so in my next show, Standoff, I fixed all the mistakes and the pilot process went well, so it got picked up to series. Then I screwed up the series. The way I hired writers, the way I ran the room. Different things. It wasn’t bad, but I definitely made mistakes and I learned from those mistakes and applied them to the next thing, which was Nikita. And now I know how to run a series. That’s how it happened for me.

WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING TO HIRE A WRITER FOR YOUR STAFF, DO YOU PREFER TO READ ORIGINAL WORK OR A SPEC?

Definitely original. I want to hire someone to write like them, not like me. How they are at mimicking someone else’s voice or show is less interesting to me because I actually want something that is a little bit of outside of myself, like I wouldn’t have gone there. And so I need to see their original voice.

I also need to see how they would structure something given no parameters. You know how an episode of whatever is supposed to break out if you study it. I like to see how in their pilot or feature, they can structure. When I hired this guy, Albert Kim, for Nikita, his script that I read was a pilot called How to Cheat. It was a romantic comedy. It had nothing to do with action, spies or anything like that, but I came away going this guy knows how to structure a script and structure a scene. That’s more valuable to me. You can teach all the rest of the stuff.

BEYOND THE WRITING, WHAT ELSE MAKES A POTENTIAL STAFF WRITER STAND OUT TO YOU?

That’s a very intangible thing. For me it’s just an energy between two people. It’s sort of like if someone is going off and off and off about themselves, that’s kind of a warning sign.

I think that I can also sometimes tell now who really wants not just a job, but wants to work on this show. There is that difference and you can see it.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?

I think it is, “How did you get your start?” The thing I always say is, “Do you have your script together?” Because a surprising amount don’t have a script. They want to know where to pitch, but you have to have the paper, you have to have that. It has to be good and so it’s sort of like you have to have your sample. You have to have that original pilot or that feature. That is key because everything flows from that. It’s still all about the script.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS LOOKING TO MAKE THEIR START?

I always feel like to really love your characters and to write from your heart and your gut and not so much what you think. Don’t write with a reaction in mind, what you think someone else is going to like. There’s always going to be somebody who can come along to help you shape it and tailor it into something.

Write alone, but don’t be alone. Try to have friends and live your life because that stuff ends up creating more for your writing but also, it’s your thing to get your script around.

Didn’t read Part 1? It’s HERE


 

Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.


 

5 Tips for Building Better Cinematic Suspense

Cinematic suspense, whether the final product will be on TV or in movie theaters, starts with the script. So remember to add the following mix to what you’re writing ASAP: (Yes, even to those that are defined as camera techniques. After all, it’s the script that tells the director to use them)

suspense

by Caleb Davis

If you are like me, then you appreciate a film that is so suspenseful it quite literally brings you to the edge of your seat. It’s in those moments, when a film is not a series of shots but rather a cohesive, frightful and nerve racking story, that it has accomplished its goal of creating suspense.

What are common filmmaking techniques for creating suspense? I’ve listed out my favorites below. Use these tips and examples to help improve your film’s suspenseful edge.

Tip #1: Give You Character Breathing Room

Many films today utilize a fast cutting routine of quick edits and spastic pacing that encourages a quick cheap suspense. For deeply suspenseful editing, try giving your characters a few extra seconds of screen time. Create a slow, methodical pacing in your scene, showcasing close-ups.

If you are in the process of revealing an important plot element, or simply establishing the anxious nature of the character surrounding their situation, allow the shot to linger before cutting away. The longer you hold on your character, the more anxious the audience will become when the stakes get high.

Tip #2: Time Your Reveal

Suspense in film is based around the anticipation of an upcoming event, and how the story unfolds in the attempt to get there. As you decide where to place your reveal, allow your cuts to build without becoming too hasty. As we can see in this example from The Dark Knight, music plays an important role in building the tension until the reveal.

Read it all at Premium Beat

A Few Thoughts about TRANSPARENT

Hey, we understand that Amazon’s TRANSPARENT is a big deal show. Critics love it. It makes us feel. But when all is said, is TRANSPARENT really a sitcom? Is it – wait for it – funny?

transparent headerby Ken Levine

Emmy voting has begun.

TRANSPARENT is a wonderful show. It is filled with rich characters, novel situations, tremendous heart, superb performances, inspired writing, and it courageously tackles a delicate subject with compassion and conviction. It’s far and away the best new show of the current season.

But I’m not voting for it.

Why?

Because it was submitted as a “Best Comedy” candidate.

I’m sorry, but TRANSPARENT is not a comedy. There are humorous touches, but it is a deeply affecting drama. It’s like a rightfielder winning the Cy Young Award for Best Pitcher because he’s got a good arm and throws accurately from rightfield. He’s not PITCHING. Or a girl from Italy comes to the U.S. on a work visa and wins Miss America.

If TRANSPARENT was vying for “Best Drama” I would vote for it in a second. I would cheerfully vote for it over MAD MEN. And sorry Jon Hamm, but I would vote for Jeffrey Tambor. I’d also vote for Amy Landecker, but not if I have to judge on the basis of comic chops.

Just because TRANSPARENT is a half-hour doesn’t make it a comedy.

The objective of a comedy should be to make people LAUGH. And yet, that goal is viewed as being almost unimportant. Comedy again gets no respect. It’s lightweight, frivolous. Anybody can do comedy. So to gain respect, comedies must now be dramas disguised as comedies.

Here’s the dirty little secret: Anybody CAN’T do comedy. Writing comedy is HARD….

Read it all at Ken Levine’s blog

Diana Black on Building Dramatic Conflict and Tension

tennis hell

The Tennis Match
by Diana Black

Humans tend to thrive on conflict; without a ‘them’, it’s harder to define an ‘us’. A tennis match or a TV drama; it’s all the same for the observer – how to win and how not to lose – Survival 101. The most memorable of battles are not the slam dunk variety. We want ‘blood’ with a ‘fight to the death’ between two equally matched rivals. We sit on the sidelines with bated breath; licking our slavering chops at the smell of victory or, succumbing to despair with the smell of defeat. No one wants to be a loser.

The classic example of a prelude to the ‘Tennis Match’ comes from Edward Albee’s Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf(1962). For the illiterate among you, spend a few moments of your precious time viewing the late great Robert Burton and Elizabeth Taylor at their best and most vicious in the characters of George and Martha; the film version directed by Mike Nichols. It’s an ugly yet breath-taking example of just how nasty it can get when the gloves come off in a toxic relationship.

Martha: I looked at you tonight and you weren’t there!… I’m not gonna give a damn what I do…
George: You try and I’ll beat you at your own game.
Martha: Is that a threat, George, huh?
George: That’s a threat, Martha.
Martha: You’re gonna get it, baby.
George: Be careful, Martha. I’ll rip you to pieces.
Martha: You’re not man enough. You haven’t the guts!
George: Total war?
Martha: Total!

And then he wins, delivering a crushing defeat, albeit a necessary one in order for them to ‘move on’ psychologically; yet they love one another.

As writers – even those of us who are nice, fine-and-upstanding people – we have no choice but to put the characters through hell. The viewers, en masse, a primitive and ghastly lot, don’t want to see a quick fight. No, no, no… the characters must suffer a terrible defeat or after going through hell, be gloriously triumphant.

That means, like George and Martha, it’s ‘game on’ for young and old – quite disgusting, yet people pay big money for such a voyeuristic experience.

What of the ‘ball’ in the tennis match? For your TV Pilot to be received favorably, ‘it’ must never be dropped, not ever. The ball is the energy level you’ve maintained via the dramatic tension you’ve created (or not) with both characters ruthlessly determined to get their objective – one way or another.

You may have created dramatic tension via plot twists, oscillating the characters and the audience between hope and fear, or revealing character in a way that the viewer or gatekeeper never saw coming.

It could be as a result of the vile tactics used with no qualms, scene-by-scene, until the battle is resoundingly won; unless you have a character in self-destruct mode. Verbal manifestations of Kapow!, Zap!, Crunch! are hurled at the other; even when delivered with a gentle voice and a smile.

Neither gives a damn about the other because they can’t afford to.

They may consciously know that to win means getting ugly and some will struggle with the cruelty of their actions but they’re driven all the same till the bitter end. Or, totally incensed and on a rampage, they’re unaware of the carnage until it is too late.

It’s your choice as the writer but such had better be there or your chances of getting that TV Pilot green-lit are slim to nonexistent.

There – do you feel the tension?  (“We call it development hell.”)


 

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer. TVWriter™ is proud to call her a member of our Advanced Online Workshop.

Diana Vaccarelli sees BANSHEE

BANSHEE

by Diana Vaccarelli

A coworker and I were discussing television and what shows we love to watch. He highly recommended Banshee on Cinemax. After hearing his enthusiasm and love for the show I decided to sit down and watch a few episodes one afternoon.

The series centers on an ex-­convict and master thief who as he assumes the identity of the new Sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania. Calling himself by the sheriff’s name, Lucas Hood, the protagonist continues his criminal activities while bringing his own brand of justice to the small Amish town.

The pilot starts with a man leaving prison. He searches for his lost love, Anna, and finds her  hiding in Banshee, PA, married and with two children. Feeling angry and hurt, he goes to the nearby roadhouse for a drink – well, lots more than one drink – and meets the newly hired Sheriff, Lucas Hood – who hasn’t yet checked in and not only isn’t known by anyone in town but hasn’t ever been seen by anyone.

Before not very long, a group of thugs enter the bar and demand money from the owner. The new sheriff fights them, and our lead tries his best to help, but the sheriff is murdered. In the heat of the moment, our protagonist decides to assume the identity of the deceased, and from that moment on, he is the one and only Sheriff Lucas Hood.

“Lucas Hood” is portrayed with high energy and intense anger by Anthony Starr. Starr’s performance is simply brilliant and has kept me engaged episode after episode. Watching him perform this role, I have felt solidly connected with the character and no matter what’s going on I find myself rooting for him to succeed against all odds.

Now that we’ve talked about our hero, let’s talk about the continuing villain of the series, Kai Proctor, who has everyone in Banshee tightly under his thumb. Ulrich Thomsen portrays Proctor with a kind of grace and elegance not often seen in a baddie. He shows us the character has positive feelings as well as negative ones and is especially impressive when he comes to the aid of a group of Amish people who are being harassed.

TVWriter™’s Beloved Leader, Larry Brody, has talked to me about his problems with Banshee. Particularly problematic for him is the idea of a “mail order sheriff. Not only does that aspect of the series not bother me, I actively like it because what we end up with is a show where not even the viewer knows the true name of our hero. This is a new take for a television series, which already brings it up several notches.

I also like the gritty camerawork and realistic violence. They remind me of old Scorsese films like Mean Streets and Goodfellas. This aspect, combined with the unique hero, brings us 180 degrees away from the typical, Law and Order style police procedural.

If you’re looking for something fresh and often fascinating, I highly recommend Banshee. Lucas Hood is truly a Robin Hood for our times.

Web Series: CLASSIC ALICE

Classic Alice Capture

This web series reached the 1,000,000 views mark a couple of weeks ago, and it deserves every one of them. Here’s why:

Find out all about CLASSIC ALICE HERE