Here’s a short film that works…because its narrative is unique. And wise.
Yes, it’s all visual. But guess what? It’s still about the writing:
Here’s a short film that works…because its narrative is unique. And wise.
Yes, it’s all visual. But guess what? It’s still about the writing:
This has got to be the most important thing any aspiring TV or film writer will read all week. Well, it made this TVWriter™ minion’s day anyway:
Q: What do producers like in a spec script from someone who is unproven?
Analyst: It depends on the level of producer in question. A low level producer, who is most likely working in the genre space, is likely to be looking for a project that’s in a marketable genre, with a reasonable budget, a premise that’s high-concept enough to be clear on a poster, and juicy roles for actors. One very specific casting trick that’s often used on this level is writing in a strong role for an older actor which is peppered throughout the script but only takes place in one location (this allows for stunt casting, where a name actor works only a few days on the film but still seems like they’re in a prominent role).
On the higher studio level, the level of writing has a much higher expectation. Writers are paid a lot more and the expectation is higher by the same degree of difference. A phrase you’ll often hear is “an original voice”. It’s tough to fully understand what that means unless you’ve worked as an assistant to a producer (or produced yourself). It comes from the numbing process of reading thousands of screenplays, the majority of which blend together. It’s like being a movie buff, where you’ve seen so many films that it’s extremely tough for one to surprise you, and when it does, you recapture that feeling of discovery that took you to the movies in the first place. There are plenty of good writers, but great writers have a distinctive voice to their writing that is theirs alone. At the studio level the script has to be so knockout good that it can go out, get the town talking (everyone’s emailing everyone else saying “have you read this?”) and ideally sell in a competitive situation between several studios.
Q: What makes a great script? The elements that make the one that rises above the rest?
Analyst: The “original voice” part mentioned above is very important, because nothing makes a reader tune out faster than reading a scene they’ve gone through a hundred times and watching it play out exactly the same way it always does. Another critical component is the quality and consistency of high conflict and opposition. It seems obvious, but many scripts have low conflict or generic conflict, and don’t truly put their hero through hell, with antagonism that truly tests them to their core. Looking at the recent Mad Max film released this year, it’s a film that seems tough to string out to feature length in theory (it’s essentially one long car chase, with almost no breaks or down time). The reason it works so well is because it’s always crystal clear what the goal is and why there’s opposition to it (we understand why everything is happening and what the stakes are) and the danger is extremely “real” (at each confrontation it seems genuinely plausible that our heroes may be overcome, because the antagonists are truly fearsome). An original script with a compellingly high level of conflict and opposition will always stand out from the rest.
The Bitter Script Reader’s blog is one of the best resources on the web for aspiring script, um, writers. Here are some examples of why:
I’ve read the feedback on all the online sites, BL, Inktip, ISA, et all, and found none of them seem to be worth the money or effort. So, in your humble opinion, for someone not located in California, what is the best way to approach an agent, manger or producer? Send a logline only? A logline and synopsis? Hold their children hostage? Threaten to send them back if they don’t read it?
If you don’t have feet on the ground in LA, then I’d first try reaching out through any connections you might have through your college’s alumni network. The next thing I’d do is research managers and (assuming your script is low budget enough) smaller producers who might accept queries.
And if I struck out there, I’d probably use the Black List.
It used to be a bad idea to approach managers and producers via email but that’s more accepted now. I say do email or snail mail. The key is to keep it brief. Introduce yourself succintly. Don’t ramble. Don’t give any more information than is absolutely necessary. If there’s a reason why you might be of interest to them, say it here, but don’t take more than two sentences or so to get there. (Example: “I used to be an analyst for the CIA covert ops division, and I’ve brought some of that experience to my spy thriller spec.”)
Don’t send a synopsis. Keep it to a logline. I wouldn’t go into more than a three-sentence description of the story. Hook them, intrigue them and don’t overwhelm them with details. The people you are reaching out to get a LOT of emails a day so if they click on an unsolicited email that’s five dense paragraphs long, they WILL skip it.
I know, I know. The backlog of career questions I’ve promised to answer but haven’t gotten around to yet is almost as big as Donald Trump’s ego. I’m genuinely sorry about not through them all (or even making a dent). I mean, who doesn’t want a chance to tell old war stories carefully making her or himself the hero?
Now that the People’s Pilot Winners have been announced and I have a (very) short breathing space until plunging into the Feedback, let me reach into ye olde emailbag and see what I can say:
I loved Partners In Crime. I thought it had a fun premise and it made me fall in love with San Francisco as kid. …The show was shot well and episodes like THE STRANGLER and CELEBRITY and the last episode aired all hold up pretty well. Its like a time capsule of 1984.
It’s fun to hear stories from behind the scenes as you can tell now that the show and the pilot are different. I also remember NBC not airing the pilot until much later, which buried the premise of the show.
My 2 part question is: What was your favorite episode to work on? Why did Jeannine and Bronsky disappear in the final few episodes?
I would love to get a DVD with some commentary one day, the show is a little odd gem.
I’ve spoken about PARTNERS IN CRIME here before, but your question has pushed some memory buttons so here’s a 4-part answer to your 2-part question. The pilot differs from the episodes that followed because the creator, the late, great Leonard Stern, had signed on to create an hour-long comedy with some action and suspense and did just that – only to have the network idiots at NBC greenlight half a season and promptly fire Stern and his staff, hiring a new group to “fix” something that wasn’t broken by making it “more coplike.”
I was the new Supervising Producer and spent most of my time on the show looking for somewhere else to be. The atmosphere was toxic. The production company was owned by Johnny Carson and had never done anything but variety style shows before, including THE TONIGHT SHOW. No one in the office complex had a clue as to how the series should work, and the secretaries couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to hear their script notes.
The executive producer (not Johnny) was, basically, a scumbag who spent most of his time talking about how good his sex life was with more detail and color than he ever put into any of his scripts, and mocking the two stars, Lynda Carter and Loni Anderson. The two stars were engaged in a ceaseless battle for more and more perks regardless of what those perks did to the budget. The network execs thought those of us who were actually writing the damn thing were being “rebellious louts” (yep, a recently deceased programming executive actually said that) because although we’d upped the procedural elements and stakes involved in the crime of the week we kept trying to keep the original light-hearted, bantering tone – because that tone worked. (And still works today, as witness CASTLE and BONES.)
About halfway through our mercifully short season, NBC brought in the former producer of THE FBI as another Supervising Producer and made it clear that he was the one in charge. His mission was to take out all the jokes and give the two stars (who played normal housewife types who’d suddenly inherited a private detective agency from their mutual dead ex-husband) guns along with a bizarre eagerness to use them. I bailed after a week of deadly dull story meetings and went off to run MIKE HAMMER (which also was funny, dammit, although very few people knew).
So that’s why the pilot was buried, why the two supporting characters you liked – Jeannine and Bronsky, both fabulously, uh, funny – vanished, and I believe, also why there hasn’t been and should never be a DVD with commentary – almost everyone involved other than the two stars is dead, and those of us who remain have very little good to say about it.
Oh, and it’s also why my “favorite episode to work on” is whatever episode was in progress when I left.
Aren’t you glad you asked?
A quick Q & A to cleanse our palates of the bile from the first answer, from Unknown:
How much description is good for narrative lines? My script writing mentor is down on too much use of description and sentences that explain how character is reacting to action. Other scripts such as Sleepy Hollow pilot was so full of description that it was hard to follow. Your opinion? Is it matter of style or is there unspoken rules on this? Seems to be several schools of thought on this.
The first rule of writing anything is that there are no rules. I never regard myself as someone teaching screenwriting. I’m an experienced writer holding workshops for less experienced writers and hoping that by expressing my opinion of what the other writers have put on the page they’ll gain insight into what works and what doesn’t and teach themselves how to create more effective – as in emotionally involving – stories, teleplays, etc.
Over the years, I’ve learned to walk a very fine line with description.
I try to set the scene, as it were (I always wanted to use that “as it were phrase” about something!) so that the various departments – location, props, clothing, and all that kind of thing – know what they have to prepare, and also so whomever is reading my script between phone calls knows where this moment of the story is taking place, what characters are involved in it, and what’s going on.
I also describe major action when it’s called for, or when the scene won’t work without certain things happening.
But I never come and say what any character is supposed to be feeling, or include any description of stage business or of how any line should be spoken. I have two reasons for this:
A thought on the SLEEPY HOLLOW pilot. It was, after all, a pilot. That means it had to be more fully written than a script for an already established series because it had to do everything it could to bring the concept alive for the executives, the actors, and everyone involved in the production. A more novelistic approach is common to pilots…but don’t go overboard, and whatever you do, don’t try to inflict any kind of fancy writing style on the readers. That way lies – well, failure, actually.
And we all deserve the very best chance we can get to succeed, yeah?
Thanks for the questions. I’ll do my best to get to the rest of them in what I’m going to euphemistically call “a timely manner.”
If you’re looking at posts on TVWriter™, then most likely you’re dreaming about getting into showbiz as a writer of, well, of something. Although the following article takes a pretty specific look at comedy, much of what it says applies to dramatic writing as well. So we TVWriter™ minions want y’all to know that we definitely think this little career guide is worth your reading time:
For young, ambitious comedians in 2015, what is a comedy dream job?
If we had asked this question 20 years ago, the answer probably would have been simple. If you were of the performing bent, you’d dream of being “a Leno” or “a Letterman,” or maybe having a long stint on SNL before transitioning into movies. The writers among us would have fantasized about sitting in the writers’ room at one of these famous comedy shows — or, more likely, working on The Simpsons.
But the comedy landscape is rapidly changing. Young comedians no longer have to decide whether they want to be a Leno or a Letterman; they can also dream about being a Colbert, a Stewart, a Fallon, a Corden, an O’Brien, a Kimmel, a Meyers, a Wilmore, or an Oliver — and those are just the late-night shows.
Today’s comedians can also dream about starting their own YouTube channels before transitioning into their own television series, the way Grace Helbig made daily YouTube videos for years before hosting the The Grace Helbig Project on E! (while still making three YouTube videos a week). Or, they can dream about writing or starring in online comedy videos for CollegeHumor, Above Average, BuzzFeed, and other sites known for their hilarious — and viral — comedy shorts.
It is even still possible to write for The Simpsons — although today’s comedians are more likely to dream about writing for Bob’s Burgers, Broad City, or any new project developed by Tina Fey or Amy Poehler.
We are living in comedy boom times, where an explosion of opportunities on ever-expanding cable networks gives us the opportunity to experience a panoply of shows and sitcoms reflecting a diversity of comic voices. Add in the internet and the options to both create and consume comedy form an infinite plane, where browser tabs include everything from Amy Schumer’s videos to Brandon Bowen’s Vines.
What is life like in the comedy boom, and what does this mean for the comedy dream job? Has it changed since the 1990s, when people were, as Above Average’s head writer Celeste Ballard put it, “fighting for the same staff-writing job on Friends?” Are there more dream jobs to go around, or are comedians still chasing the Leno/Letterman apex — and which comedian is currently filling that top spot?
While clicking around the interwebs recently we found this primer for novice filmmakers. And when we say “primer,” we mean “basic.”
And when we say “basic,” we mean “in a webiverse where we often assume visitors to sites like TVWriter™ know way more than they really do, this article is unexpectedly essential to all those who’ve never gone through any form of video-creation process before:”
If You want to start your first film what resources do you need? I am writing just random thoughts. Lets say next week you want to start your first film what will you need. Today you can start filming anytime you want. There are numerous opportunities for upcoming filmmakers and I wanted to discuss here and thats why I ask ,what do you need Start Your First Film? The answer is very simple. Please also watch the following video.
1) A Story/ Idea
Its not at all necessary that you should have a screenplay ready for your first film. This is just an exercise and you are just testing waters. You can make a documentary or a music video where you don’t have to hire actors. Just go out there look what is interesting and related to your idea and shoot it.
2) A Camera
Most of you must be having a digital camera which have video recording capabilities. Other options are your cell phone /ipad cameras. Go out there and just shoot whatever you like. Just keep in mind don’t take every shot more than 15 seconds. There will be some shots which will be exceptions. Follow your gut.
3) A Computer For Editing
These days everybody has computer.So now you have shot your first film and you want to edit it, so transfer your footage to your computer and use Microsoft Movie Maker which comes inbuilt with your PC. For mac users VideoBlend is fantastic option. Try to avoid dialogs or voice overs(for the first film). Follow the instructions of the softwares which are very easy. Hurray you have made your first film.