Kelly Jo Brick: – Advice From Emmy-Nominated Writers

Photo Credit: Michael Lynn Jones / WGAW

Sublime Primetime 2017
by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild of America, West, the Writers Guild Foundation and Variety, hosted several of this year’s Emmy-nominated writers during their annual Sublime Primetime event. Moderator Larry Wilmore led a stellar panel of writers including Matt & Ross Duffer (STRANGER THINGS), Jo Miller (FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE), Gordon Smith (BETTER CALL SAUL), Lena Waithe (MASTER OF NONE) and Steven Davis & Kelvin Yu (BOB’S BURGERS) in a discussion about breaking in, the process and ideas behind their nominated episodes, chasing trends and the delicate balance of blending humor and activism.

These Emmy-nominated writers shared with TVWriter.com the best advice they received as they were starting out.

KELVIN YU – BOB’S BURGERS – You have to get a lot of bad writing out of your system as fast as you can. There’s a certain perfectionism and a certain ethos of letting perfect get in the way of good that stops people from that first step. So write something and make it as bad as you can possibly make it, like just literally get it out. Barf it out of your system and then write something again and imagine that it’s maybe just 4 percent less bad and then the third thing will be 4 percent less bad. It’s not ever as bad as you think it is. That’s the truth that you need to keep telling yourself.

STEVEN DAVIS – BOB’S BURGERS – To keep writing. To lock myself indoors. To not show stuff to people right away. To enjoy writing. Do it for lots of hours and to truly just write and write and write.

LENA WAITHE – MASTER OF NONE – The best advice was pretty simple, it was to be great. That was from Gina Prince-Bythewood. I used to be her assistant. She was like you gotta be the best to really break through all the clutter. It was a simple piece of advice, but it was very layered. Over the course of time I started to understand what she meant, like honing my craft, studying television and really trying to be a master at it. Work so hard that you shine and people can’t look away. That’s the advice I give now to people, it’s just to be great.

GORDON SMITH – BETTER CALL SAUL – Be passionate. If you love it, if you love what you’re doing, that’s going to come through. It’s going to separate you from just something that rounds the bases and is technically proficient. There’s a lot of technique you can learn and practice, but the thing that’s going to make your thing stand out is you.

JO MILLER – FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE – Use your own voice, even if it sounds like nobody else. Especially if it sounds like nobody else. Don’t try to imitate somebody else. Say the things that are important to you, even if you think nobody cares about them. Only think about what’s important to you to say, that’s where your best writing is going to be.

MATT DUFFER – STRANGER THINGS – For a while you’re taught, especially in school, how to follow certain structure acts and structure breaks. That really held us back for a while. All of us have seen so many movies and have watched so many television shows that we sort of know the rhythm. You don’t need to make it be mathematical, because it shouldn’t be mathematical. Those rhythms will kind of reveal themselves as you’re writing on your own.

ROSS DUFFER – STRANGER THINGS – For us, the most helpful advice was not to overdo the writing. You can tell a simple story and you don’t need a lot at the end of the day. That was an important lesson for us.

Other highlights from the evening:

GETTING THAT FIRST JOB

Just get in the business. Take an internship, get an assistant job. One of the biggest challenges of breaking in is knowing people and finding people who trust you enough to recommend you. Just get in the industry and prove that you work hard, give it your best and show that you are someone people can count on.

Film school works for some, but not everyone. If you’re a comedy writer, get your material on Twitter. Always keep writing and don’t be afraid to write something to make on your own.

THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF WRITING FOR TELEVISION

TV shows are living, breathing things. Sometimes creators go in thinking this is what it is and then an actor comes in and can lead to things changing and growing in unexpected ways. Don’t be so locked in on where the story is going. Leave space for actors to walk in or for a writer who has a big pitch, because if you’re so blocked in on the idea you have, there’s no room for that magical creative fairy dust to come in.

GETTING YOUR WORK OUT THERE – WRITING THE SCRIPT THAT GETS ATTENTION

There’s so much clutter. There’s a lot of mediocrity. Work on your script until it’s amazing. They don’t care where you’re from or who you are. If you have something that’s amazing and great and phenomenal, that’s like gold.

Also be you, because you’re not going to be great unless you care about what you are doing to the exclusion of all else. Don’t try to be what you think somebody else wants.

You have to be willing to walk away and say no. Don’t chase the trends, you’ll write something you’re not passionate about and it will show. Write something you want to see. That’s what opens doors. Everyone is looking for great material.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. 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.

Larry Brody’s Poetry: ‘The Scientific Method’

Ah, the wonders of quantum mechanics! Gotta love entanglement theory, amiright?

NOTE FROM LB

Recently someone asked me about my wife. He wanted to know “what kind of person” she was. For me, being a writer means – among other things – always trying to use the fewest possible words, so my reply was brief. “Her hobby is quantum  mechanics.” Which immediately brought to mind this related contemplation:


The Scientific Method
by Larry Brody

“The observation of a phenomenon

Alters that phenomenon,” so say the

Ph.D.s. “Anything that can

Happen, will. Light behaves like a wave,

Or a particle, or neither, or both, and

Life flows, or spurts, or neither, or all.”

To those who say you can be all you want,

Benevolent laws of nature say, “Amen.”

To those who say to abandon all hope,

Malignant orders say, “You bet!”

In a time—all times and none—and a

Place—all places and nowhere at all—with

Nothing—and everything, lest we forget

—To believe, I find strange comfort

In this new truth: I am at the mercy of the atom.

Quantum physics reigns.

###


Larry Brody is the head dood at TVWriter™. He is posting at least one poem a week here at TVWriter™ because, as the Navajo Dog herself once pointed out, “Art has to be free. If you create it for money, you lose your vision, and yourself.” She said it shorter, though, with just a snort.

TVWriter™ Don’t-Miss Posts of the Week – October 16, 2017

Good morning! Time for TVWriter™’s  Monday look at our most popular blog posts of the week ending yesterday. They are, in order:

Peggy Bechko Goes Web Surfing with the Writers

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

The #1 Skill You Need To Write For TV (Besides Fantastic Writing)

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With SUPERNATURAL’S Davy Perez, Part 2

11 TV Writing DON’Ts!

And our most visited permanent resource pages are, also in order:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Writing Contest

The Logline

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: Rules

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: Enter

Major thanks to everyone for making this another great week at TVWriter™. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed and re-read what you loved!

John Ostrander: The Ultimate Illegal Alien

by John Ostrander

I’m indebted to Fox News anchor (and blogger) Todd Starnes. About three weeks ago – okay, I’m late to the party again – he posted a commentary entitled “Superman defends illegals against angry American.”

In his complaint, Starnes gripes about a scene in the most recent Action Comics where “Superman comes to the rescue of a group of illegal aliens – under attack from a white guy wearing an American flag bandana and waving around a machine gun… Instead of rounding up the illegals and flying them back to where they came from, the Man of Steel snatches the white guy and with a menacing look snarls, ‘The only person responsible for the blackness smothering your soul – is you.’”

This upset Mr. Starnes no end and has provided me with grist for this week’s column.

I could start by pointing out that the incident is fiction (or fake news) and that Superman is not real but I’ll give Mr. Starnes the benefit of the doubt and assume he already knows that. Although the guy is the host of Fox News and Commentary so maybe one shouldn’t assume. But we will.

 

Superman stops the assailant from killing these people (the alleged illegals). And this is a bad thing – because? Maybe Mr. Starnes is conflating the First and Second Amendments in the Bill of Rights and suggesting that the use of the machine gun on illegals is an expression of free speech.

Okay, I’m joking. Sorta.

This is what Superman does. This is what Superman is supposed to do. Defend people (and they are people) like these. Would it be better if he let them die at the hands of this asshole no matter how good of a reason he thinks he has? That is Superman’s job. Deporting them afterward? He’s not I.C.E. – that’s not his job. He has no legal status to do that any more than I do or Mr. Starnes has.

What I’m really indebted to Mr. Starnes for is his observation “Clark Kent is technically an illegal alien – a native of Krypton.” (Okay, technically Kal-El is the illegal alien.) Supes came to this planet, this country, in a rocket and was found by the Kents in a field who then adopted him. No border guards or checkpoints. No visa. No green card.

Who better to symbolize what an immigrant, legal or otherwise, brings to this country? Kal-El’s strengths, his abilities, his character has immeasurably aided his adopted country. He represents Truth, Justice, and the American Way in all the best senses. He is not a rapist or a drug dealer or a terrorist as some would have us believe. Superman represents the best of immigrants, legal or illegal – and us.

So, thank you, Mr. Starnes, for this timely reminder. The Man of Steel is indeed an illegal alien. We should try to make him the face of the illegals and remember not just his powers and abilities but the fact that he also from small-town America and that Superman is a good man.


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

Remembering ‘Ren and Stimpy’

Ren and Stimpy was the father of all the wonderful, outre, weird, delightful, and magnificently written and produced animated series that have made TV, in all its formats, the joy to watch that it is here in TV’s “Golden Age.”

In all likelihood, without R&S and its producer/co-creator (with the equally brilliant but perhaps not as deranged Bob Camp), Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman, among many other current offerings. simply wouldn’t – as in couldn’t – exist.

So we at TVWriter™ are over the moon at learning that a documentary about our favorite childhood television memory is on its way:

Visit www.renandstimpydoc.com and nab an advance copy of the film and some really cool swag.

Laura Conway: How & Why to Make a Web Series – Part 1

EDITOR’S NOTE: Toldja TVWriter™ would have more from Laura Conway. Welcome to the first in Laura’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular interweb series hit.


Choosing the Script to Get Your Web Series Rolling
by Laura Conway

I’m not a professional writer. I never went to film school. And I write and produce my own web series, The Vamps Next Door. Guess you could say I’m a perpetual amateur running amok with a camera. It’s my strange kind of hobby and, for a raving writer like myself, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re a new writer and it’s your first time producing your own script, all these words are for you.

I’ve been writing stories ever since I could write and I write comedy because I love making people laugh. But seven pilots and six screenplays later, sure all that writing was fun, but something was always missing. There was no audience laughing. If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Every new writer should make a web series. Even if no one watches it. Even if no one likes it. Even if it sucks so bad that your only viewer is your mom and she says, “good job, honey.” Why? For me, because it makes me a better writer. Because it teaches me about filmmaking. Because there’s nothing like the thrill of seeing my words on paper come to life. Or the pain of my words’ death. It happens. A lot. So don’t let the fear of fucking up stop you from fucking up… and learning something great in the process.

You’re not gonna believe this, but when you make a low budget web episode, your script becomes three different stories. What you wrote, what you shot and what you edit. It’s just shocking that they are not the same things. So pucker up and kiss your vision goodbye. Now put away the tissues and get over it because, although the finished episode won’t quite match your vision, the good news is that in a collaboration, talented actors and a good director can make that vision even better. Everything else is a lesson learned.

The first step is writing a script to produce. All of my TV pilot scripts are written in 1/2 hour format or one hour format, but a low budget web series is just for the web, which means shorter episodes that cost less to make. Before I knew better, I shot 1/2 hour “TV” scripts. Then I split the video into four parts after I already shot it.

I learned the hard way that my half hour scripts with eight characters, an A Story, a B story, and maybe even a C story, don’t split well, it makes the pace slow and hard to follow. Try either converting one of your half hour scripts into something shorter or write new, shorter scripts just for your web series.

I’m a DIY kind of girl who learns things the hard way so here’s my…


Hard Way Lesson #1: Keep your first web episode down to a 5 minute script because it’s your first web episode. You’re going to make mistakes and be better the next time. Save your money and make those mistakes on a one day shoot instead of a 2 or 3 day shoot. Don’t believe me? Check out Season 1 of The Vamps Next Door. I wish I had re-written that half hour script down to 5 minutes.


On the bright side, here’s an example of a 7 page, 7 minute, single spaced script for a web episode I wrote and produced called Vampire Virgin. I took two of my best characters and wrote them just an A story that was 7 minutes long with a beginning, middle and end so that it could stand on its own.

It took me and a small crew 8 hours to shoot it and the total cost for this episode was $1500. It would have cost less, but I absolutely had to rent the bloody, dead body props, and as you can see, they were totally worth it. Here’s the episode:

Or you can watch it HERE

Stay tuned for the next installment about how I make my budgets (and how I blow them) and how I finance my projects.


Laura Conway is the writer and producer of The Vamps Next Door web series, directed by Phil Ramuno. Subscribe to the Vamps’ YouTube channel to get notifications about new episodes.

Star Trek: The Original Series Story Editor D.C. Fontana Speaks!

Back in the day when Our Beloved Leader Larry Brody was breaking into the biz one of his early mentors was his still very good friend Dorothy Fontana, known best by her oft-seen D.C. Fontana TV byline on everything from ST:TOS to The Six Million Dollar Man, Kung Fu, The Streets of San Francisco, Logan’s Run, The Waltons, ST: NG, The Silver Surfer, to just about 2 million other great shows.

There’s no question that Dorothy is one of the pioneering and genuine greats of TV writing. Talk about knowing your stuff! It’s always a treat to hear what she has to say: