“WHAT-IF” PHENOMENA

by David Perlis

 

“What-Ifs” are big these days. Maybe they always were. What if we had lost WW2? (Man in the High Castle.) What if plummeting fertility rates threatened our society? (The Handmaid’s Tale.) What if 2% of the human population suddenly vanished. (The Leftovers.) One of my professor’s at UCLA lauded the What-If. “That’s your hook,” he’d say. No arguments here. I’m convinced. But I’ve decided there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Here’s the issue: What-If’s are often about building worlds—but drama is about building characters.

Doing it Wrong

I had high hopes for last year’s The Lobster. From the trailers, it looked right up my alley. Here’s the hook: “What if singles were rounded up, and forced to find a partner, else they be turned into animals?” It’s almost Kaufman-esque with its magical absurdity. I loved the concept—but found the movie a total bore. Why? It spent more time building a bizarre world than it did giving me a character I actually wanted to follow around for an hour and a half. The stakes were high. The whimsy was spot on. But I never felt engaged with this world from the POV of a unique character who helped bring the concept to life. Why was I following this guy, and how did this world affect him in some meaningful way? Frankly, I just felt stuck on the ride, and I wasn’t impressed. Some will be quick to say, “But it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay!” Yup—and maybe if it had characters to care about with unique needs, it would have won.

Doing it Right

I’m a big fan of graphic novelist, Brian K. Vaughn, first stumbling upon his brilliance with his epic space opera, Saga. But before that gem, he wrote a What-If called Y: The Last Man. The premise? “What if every man alive suddenly died—except for one.”

Now your protagonist is clear—it’s the last man! And every protagonist must (absolutely, must!) have a dramatic need. What does our last man want? It’s absolutely brilliant. In a world where he is the only man left, his big quest is to reunite with his girlfriend, who is halfway across the world, and doesn’t even know he’s still alive.

And from this need, Vaughn creates a world that opposes our hero again, and again, and again.

Here’s another What-If, which focuses less on building a re-imagined world, but still creates the right character for the journey: What if the world were literally controlled by evil corporations? (“Dude…that’s not a what-if…that’s reality.” Again, no arguments here—but that’s really another post altogether.) Anyway! Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot doesn’t work because he created a world based around the Evil Corp concept—it works because the protagonist is a socially anxious, schizo hacker, bent on fighting it.

I’ve been slacking on my homework, not having yet watched The Handmaid’s Tale, but I read the book, and I’m just guessing the show has a spot-on start, with the POV of a Handmaid. And The Leftovers? I just re-upped my HBO account yesterday to see how they’re tackling that one. Frankly, I’m not yet sold on their angle (Justin Theroux’s copper, What-his-name), but I’ll give it a chance, and save my praises or my boos for another post, another day.

Here’s your super surprise shocker-ending to keep you all going “ooooo!” I’m working my own What-If. Won’t disclose it here, but just know, it’s an awesome idea—or, it will be, once I find the right character to tell the story. Stay tuned.


David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist doing his best to break into the even Bigger Time. This post first appeared on his very helpful blog.

If You’re a U.S.-Born Poet, This Scholarship is for You

LB’S NOTE: As some of you may know (from clues such as this), I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for poetry. (Notice that I didn’t say that soft spot is in my head, no matter what many people think.)

Because of my love for – and dedication to – poetry, I’m stretching TVWriter™’s mission just a bit by letting all our visitors in on what I believe is a Golden Opportunity…provided that you, like me, not only read poetry but write it too.

Here we go:


The $58,000 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship: Apply Now for 2018

Are you an American-born poet who would like to spend a year travelling abroad? If so, then the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship might just be your perfect opportunity.

The Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship awards approximately US$58,000 annually to a poet to spend one year outside North America, in whatever place the recipient feels will most advance his or her work.

The scholarship is open to all American poets, whether their work has been published or not (though recent recipients have been published poets). There are no age restrictions and poets do not need to be enrolled at university or college. The amount of the prize money is adjusted each year for inflation. In the case of there being two winners, each will receive the full amount.

Applicants must complete an application form (PDF) and there is also the option of providing a brief CV. Unpublished poets should provide a sample of their work of up to 40 typed pages. Published poets can supply one printed volume plus 20 typed pages of their most recent work. There is no entry fee.

The scholarship is administered by the trustees of the will of Amy Lowell at the law firm of Choate, Hall and Stewart in Boston. Enquiries should be directed to the Trust Administrator Laura Reidy via amylowell@choate.com or phone 617 248 5214.

The 2017/18 scholarship attracted 376 applications and the winner was Joanna Klink.  Klink is the author of They Are Sleeping (University of Georgia Press, 2000), Circadian (Penguin, 2007), Raptus (Penguin, 2010), and Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy (Penguin, 2015). Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, most recently Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now and The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century Poetry.

Applications for the 2018/2019 scholarship close on Sunday 15 October 2017. The successful recipient will be announced in March 2018. For full entry details visit the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship website.

Read more about poetry and writing and various writing scholarships and prizes at our source for the info above – Aerogramme Writers’ Studio

Cartoon: ‘Uphill’

Grant Snider knows the human soul oh-so-very-well:

To paraphrase Moriarty talking to Sherlock Holmes about his death: “It’s not the fall that kills you…it’s the discouragement.”

More of Grant Snider’s sensitive perception HERE

Buy his wonderful new book HERE

Troy DeVolld’s Reality TV Pro Tip Grab Bag

by  Troy DeVolld

Hi, all.  Gee whiz, it’s been a while… I feel like a ghost on my own blog.

Thought I’d pop by with a grab bag of pro tips that aren’t long enough for their own features, but that have been hard-won lessons along the way.  Enjoy.

A 44-minute docusoap typically keeps its pace best at 12-15 scenes.  Don’t overload it.  More is not more.  More is too much.

You can’t tell five stories in an episode with a cast of five people.  People can participate in others’ stories, but it’s best to keep to an A,B,C and maybe single-scene D story.  Yes, if you have a one-scene nonsequitur moment that you want to use (maybe because it’s funny), it probably belongs at the top of Act 2.

Get somebody in the room who hasn’t seen the edit to watch down your rough cut.  You know the material and your brain fills in the gaps in logic and story based on that familiarity.  Let fresh eyes that you don’t have to answer to get a look.

Stick up for the show, not just your ideas.


Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy, former senior story producer of Dancing with the Stars, and all-around true master of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

Time to Get Your Script in for the Humanitas Prize Competiiton

The Writers Guild of America wants us all to know that “HUMANITAS is pleased to announce a Call for Entries for the 43rd annual HUMANITAS Prize Awards. The winners will be announced at the HUMANITAS Prize Awards held in February 2018.”

Well, not exactly all of us. The Humanitas Prize has been a profoundly important contest over the years, but it has a catch. A production based on the submitted teleplay “must have had a national release on Television (Broadcast, Cable, Internet and Satellite),” and a screenplay must have been released theatrically in the year of the contest, in this case, 2017.

So, yikes!, yeah, to enter you’ve got to be some kind of a pro. While you’re mulling that over, here are the full deets:

Submissions open: September 1, 2017
Deadline: September 30, 2017
*Teleplay or film must be aired or released between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017.
*Episodes that air AFTER submission period are eligible for consideration and will be kept confidential.

The winners receive both a trophy and a cash prize at our annual HUMANITAS Awards Ceremony, which will be held in February 2018. The total annual amount of the awards is $70,000 and is divided among the following seven categories:

Feature Film Screenplay
Sundance Feature Film Screenplay
60-minute Teleplay
30-minute Teleplay
Feature Documentary
Children’s Animation
Children’s Live Action

Submission Guidelines:

  • Teleplay or film must be aired or released between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017.
  • $100 entry fee per submission.
  • No limit to the number of submissions.
  • Credits must be redacted from script.
  • Teleplay must be written and produced in the English language for U.S. Television (Broadcast, Cable, Internet and Satellite).
  • Teleplay must have had a national release on Television (Broadcast, Cable, Internet and Satellite).
  • Feature film screenplay becomes eligible in the year in which it receives a U.S. theatrical release.
  • Documentary entrants must submit digital content through web-based award judging portal.

For over four decades, the HUMANITAS Prize has empowered writers with financial support and recognition to tell stories which are both entertaining and uplifting. HUMANITAS encourages writers who create contemporary media to use their immense power to:

Encourage viewers to truly explore what it means to be a human being.
Challenge viewers to take charge of their lives and use their freedom in a responsible way.
Motivate viewers to reach out in respect and compassion to all their brothers and sisters in the human family.

“HUMANITAS exists to recognize, encourage and empower writers who teach us how to embrace our common humanity by way of their unique and powerful voices. These storytellers help us to consider our place in the world, and examine our own moral compasses. In this day and age, now more than ever, it is a noble mission.”
-Cathleen Young, HUMANITAS Executive Director

Submissions will be accepted on our website starting September 1, 2017.

If you have any questions, contact those in the know at info@humanitasprize.org or 310-454-8769.

Oh, and as long as we’re talking about contests, don’t forget – even if your television script hasn’t been produced this year, it’s totally eligible for TVWriter™’s very own PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Writing Contest. As long as the script will work as a pilot for any of the currently available electronic media that all of us are so addicted to as viewers.

The place for People’s Pilot 2017 info is HERE

Who luvs ya, baby?

Pioneer TV Writer Susan Silver Talks About ‘Hot Pants in Hollywood’

And if the headline above doesn’t make you keep reading, Susan and we at TVWriter™ are going to feel awfully…cold? Apologies, and now to the main event:

How To Thrive Despite Your Fears
by Jeryl Brunner

We all experience fear and self-doubt, no matter where we are in life. But Nelson Mandela said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Take the barrier-breaking television writer Susan Silver. She was one of the first female TV scribes to find herself in coveted male-only writers’ rooms. The Milwaukee native hit Hollywood and amassed impressive credits writing for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show, The Partridge Family and other hits.

Throughout her life, so many moments filled Silver with fear, which began when she was a child. “I was overprotected to the point of paralysis. Thus, I was fearful of a lot of things,” she explains. “I was called high-strung by teachers, nervous by school nurses, and I was always in tears from slights either imagined or real from friends.”

In her recent delicious memoir, Hot Pants In Hollywood: Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms, she describes being the consummate “scaredy kid” who was afraid of everything. The fears continued to her adulthood. ‘Somehow I overcame my fears,” explains Silver. “Or continued in spite of them.”

But she didn’t let any of that get in the way of her dreams, especially when the odds were stacked against her, just by virtue of being female.

When she was a casting director for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, she desperately wanted to be a writer on the hit variety show. However she was told that wasn’t an option because all the writers were men. They insisted that they would be uncomfortable having her in the motel room where they worked because they needed to be able to “fart and strip down to their underwear.”

Instead of backing down, she found a way to spend time with the writers and soak up their knowledge when they were fully clothed and in their offices. And ultimately she had her manager at the time (the great director Garry Marshall) submit her to be a writer for a new female-focused series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was hired.

Whether she was working as a TV writer or meeting Bill Clinton in the Oval Office during his presidency or approaching Israeli President Shimon Peres in Israel when he was surrounded by guards, Silver always found her inner chutzpah.

Throughout Hot Pants in Hollywood, Silver reveals the innovative ways she was able to get what she  wanted despite her fears. “What gave me the idea that I could accomplish anything, have a life filled with iconic celebrities and success beyond my wildest fantasies?” she asks in the book.  “My scaredy kid still lives inside me. But if you talk fast and carry yourself tall they won’t find out… maybe….”

Read it all at Forbes

Unblocking John Ostrander!

 

Do you recognize this man? How about his name? Does it mean anything to you? Just wonderin’….

by John Ostrander

A sad fact of a writer’s life is writer’s block. That’s when you sit down and look at the blank page or the empty screen and go “I’ve got nothin’.” Some form of that can happen every time you start to write. The really bad version can go on for a long time, maybe for years. Not only do you not have an idea, you feel that you can’t write, that you could never write, that you will never write, and what the hell were you thinking when you thought you could write.

There are things you can do when the malady strikes, some less useful than others. Crying, swearing, cursing, screaming are all options but you eventually run out of energy and then you’re back at square one – the damned blank page or screen.

Not all solutions work for all people and what work’s in one situation may fail in another. That all said here are some things that I’ve tried that sometimes work.

Do not panic! Seriously, calm down. It only feels like life and death. You’ll write again. Relaaaaaax.

Do something else. Staring into the abyss (a.k.a. that blank page or screen) until you’re cross-eyed only hurts your vision. Go do something else. Something physical. I’ve been known to wash dishes when I get desperate. Go for a walk or a run. Don’t read, watch TV, play video games, text or call someone. You’re looking for something that will shift your mind into neutral. Something that will silence the chattering monkeys in your skull.

Work on something else. I generally have three or four different projects working at the same time. If I get jammed up on one, I’ll go to another. If I get jammed on all of them, I revert to the rule above. Play with a cat. If nothing else, it may amuse the cat.

Check the basics. If I stall out on a plot, it generally means I’m making a Writing 101 mistake. I haven’t done the basics regarding plot construction or building a character. I tell myself that I’ve done this for so long that I can skip a step or two. That’s hubris talking and hubris is a lying bastard. Or maybe I’m so late with the deadline I don’t have time for all that. Wrong again. When you’re running late you only have time to do it right once. Take the time. Do the work.

Write about it. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing here. I sat down to write this week’s column and had nothin’ so I wrote this column about having nothin’. A rather Seinfeld column. Seriously though, as a writer you put into words that which exists only in your mind and heart. It’s most likely will be nothing you will ever read again or show to anyone but the physical act of putting words – any words – down can be therapeutic. Yes, it most likely will be crap. Let it be crap. Write it and flush it.

Get paid for it. At one time, I thought I had a serious case of writer’s block. Had it for years. Nothing came, nothing worked. Then Mike Gold offered to pay me for a story (my first printed work, as it turned out). Boy Howdy, that block just evaporated. Funny how motivating a paycheck can be. Knowing someone will give you the real coin of the realm for your writing can be awfully encouraging.

I hope all this has been a little help to some of you but – hey, I’ve got this week’s column so I’m good.

See y’all next week.

Unless I hit a block.


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