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?

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

Troy DeVolld’s Tips for Climbing the TV Success Ladder

by  Troy DeVolld

As a newbie to television seventeen years ago, I used to come in for a 7pm to 3am night shift in the late afternoon. When a producer asked me why, I said, “Because otherwise, you’ll never know who I am.” So began three straight years of employment.

A large part of success is hitting that sweet spot between simply busting ass and staying visible. Take cues from your superiors. If your boss is brassy and bold, he or she might enjoy you meeting them at that vibration. If your boss is super chill, take note of that and adjust your approach accordingly.

There’s also a third approach, which is figuring out who you are in the menagerie and playing that part well. I’ve been the “adult in the room” guy fairly often, balanced against bigger personalities and younger hires with a load of enthusiasm, but maybe in need of reassurance.

Personally, that’s how I like to staff. Kind of a rainbow sherbet of types. I don’t just want yes men/women, and I don’t just want bulldozers, as both types are valid and work just fine.


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?

The Most Complete Review You Will Ever Read of ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’

We’ve presented one view of War for the Planet of the Apes, and asAs longtime fans of writer/critic/thinker John Kenneth Muir, we’re very happy we found this one to pass along as well:

The Films of 2017: War for the Planet of the Apes
by John Kenneth Muir

(Spoiler Warning: Details of this film are extensively described below).

It is a welcome surprise to report that the new Planet of the Apes franchise has gone three-for-three in terms of quality.

This saga — consisting of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes(2014), and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) — has proven to be a dramatic high-point of modern, reboot cinema.

In short, all three of these science fiction films are better, merely as stand-alones, than we have any right to expect, given Hollywood norms.

But the most delightful thing about the trilogy, as proven firmly by War, is that the series also coheres beautifully as overall tale, or large-scale narrative.

War for the Planet of the Apes not only dramatizes a satisfying and emotional story about Caesar, with resonant, and powerful characters all around, it also weaves the whole saga together in a successful, artistic manner.

And then, finally — with laser-like focus — it aims that saga straight on course for the 1968 Planet of the Apes film, which is set in a future 2000 years hence.

But here’s the thing of import:

I did not hope or expect for War for the Planet of the Apes to fit so ably into or establish the continuity of the original Apes franchise.

I did not even know, at this point, that I wanted such a thing.

I suppose that I am jaded or cynical enough about Hollywood, at this point, to have given up on that particular dream of an Apes continuation.

Yet War for the Planet of the Apes succeeds in forging that link, and it does so in ways that appear unforced, effortless, and smooth.

So War for the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable standalone adventure, a brilliant apex for the reboot trilogy, and, finally, the “perfect” bridge between the 1960’s and 1970’s Apes chronology, and this 21stcentury one.

To complete and contextualize the Gospel of Caesar — which is really what the three films amount to — War for the Planet of the Apes relies on antecedents such as the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, and the film, Apocalypse Now (1979).

But what truly makes this 2017 film remarkable, I believe, is not the “origin story” of the Caesar’s apes arriving at their home (a Garden of Eden beyond the Forbidden Zone-like desert), but rather the film’s sad, haunting commentary about the way that man loses his supremacy of the planet.

We live in an age of so much shouting, don’t we?

So much blind, stupid rage, and hateful yelling. It is an age not merely of hatred, then but loud, noisyhatred.

In War for the Planet of the Apes — as though punished by God for his wicked, savage tongue — mankind irrevocably, permanently goes silent.

This is apt punishment, given the nature of the film’s humans, particularly the villain played by Woody Harrelson.

I found this “fate” to be a terrifying but appropriate justice for man; for so foolish and self-destructive species.

With this film, the war is over, and man goes into that good night without even a whimper of protest.

We did it, finally, to ourselves.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best franchise film of the summer of 2017, and one of the best pictures I’ve seen this year. It is the origin story of a people (the future apes of the Schaffner ’68 film) and simultaneously a poignant elegy for the human race….

Read it all at John Kenneth Muir’s blog

Peggy Bechko on Writing Without Boundaries

Um, it’s a map, without borderlines. Get it? An outline without boundaries.

 by Peggy Bechko

All right screenwriters, TV writers and writers of all stripes. Have you ever thrown all concepts of structure to the wind, all outlining directives out and just written something on the fly?

Really. I recommend it. For a while forget the novel ‘structure’, forget the 3-act structure. Forget all those rules and directives you’ve been told and have been following.

Just sit down with an idea and write…and write…and write.

Complete a short story, a script, a novel without restricting yourself.

Result might be great! Could be crap.

But here’s the thing. It’s a very freeing thing to do. I’ve done it many times and many times from that effort sprang a published book or in a couple of cases an optioned script. Yes, I had to go back to tweak the said piece of writing.

I had to do a thorough edit and find all the places that things kind of went off on a track of their own. But the core was good. It was solid and the story great. And I was winging it the entire time through the first draft. Whohoo!

Only notes I had were ones I’d made along the way that let me keep track of characters, what they were doing, their appearance, their goals. No outline other than a rough sketch of a story idea that evolved as I wrote. Writing this way made the characters clearer in my mind. The story fell into line with what was, for me, amazing ease. This is the ultimate spill your guts onto the page with no restriction.

In the end it might not be something you can use. But, then again, it just might. And writing like this is a way of breaking all the rules and opening up new gateways for yourself. It’s a draft after all. And remember the first draft is usually (I know, some say always) garbage. But the first draft really is the place it all begins. It’s where the story is hung from sturdy limbs. And the characters step out from cardboard cut-outs into real live people with pasts, problems and desires.

Seriously. When we begin writing at the start of our careers we look for all kinds of tips and hints. We might hook up with a mentor. We search the web now for all sorts of tips from all sorts of resources. After all that, sometimes it’s best just to take our idea, sit down and write!

All the help you got from a mentor, all those tips and helps you collected before will come together as you write.

It might not be the best way to go for every project. It would probably trip you up if you’ve been signed on to write for a series on TV or maybe a series of novels since a formula will be in effect. It might make you nervous, typing those first words onto a blank screen without an outline or whatever method you’ve used to prepare.

And I know a lot of writers will gasp in horror. (Am I looking right at you, TVWriter™ Bossman Larry Brody?) But, take it from me, writing like this can be an amazing tool.

When you’re done, when you reread, the flaws will jump out at you. After that, I’m willing to bet molding the story into the form it must have to succeed will be an exciting adventure.

Go ahead and try it. And don’t forget to leave some comments on how it went and what you think.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

John Ostrander: Hokey Smokes!

by John Ostrander

On Friday I learned that one of my childhood heroes died. June Foray passed on at the age of 99.

Ms. Foray was a voice actress working in animated features all her long career, as well as in comedy shorts and appearances on Johnny Carson and with Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, and Frank Nelson. She was the voice of Grandmother in Mulan, of Betty Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmasand, most important to me, she was the voice of Natasha Fatale and Rocky the Flying Squirrel on the various Rocky and Bullwinkle shows created by the legendary Jay Ward.

Rocky and Bullwinkle had a huge impact on me as a kid. All of Jay Ward’s stuff had a combination of sophisticated and low-brow humor. There were elements of satire combined with a lot of really bad puns.

Originally, the dimwitted Bullwinkle was the sidekick to the plucky hero Rocket J. Squirrel but the moose became the main character and Rocky became the plucky sidekick. As a kid, that irritated me. Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Bullwinkle but Rocky was my hero. He may have been small but he was clever, he was courageous and he could fly. If anyone was going to get him and Bullwinkle out of the traps devised by Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, it would be Rocky.

I identified with him, so it bothered me when his BF took over the lead billing. I saw it as sort of an act of betrayal. Stupid, I know, but that’s how my kid’s brain saw it and some of that brain still rests inside me. (They talk about “primal lizard brain;” I’ve got “primal kid brain.”) It didn’t seem to bother Rocky, though. Of course, it wouldn’t. He was not that kind of guy to hold a grudge.

I got the Rocky and Bullwinkle comics when I was a boy; they were oversized and cost a whopping 25 cents when everything else was a dime. But they delivered. They had the same skewed sensibility as the TV shows did. And they sort of had the voices; when I read Rocky in the comics, I “heard” June Foray’s voice. The animation was always rudimentary on the shows; it was the writing and the voices that truly made the shows live. When I heard June Foray had died, for me that sort of meant Rocky died as well.

Ms. Foray got a lot accomplished in her life. She helped get the Motion Picture Academy to create an award category for Best Animated Feature in 2001. She has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

One last thought struck me the other day and it’ll make some of you crazy but here goes. June Foray voiced Rocky; June Foray was female. Could Rocky have been female all these years? Rocky wears the sort of flying helmet and goggles I’ve seen on pictures of Amelia Earhart. Bullwinkle is frankly too dim to notice. So – maybe.

Either way – Rocky is still one of my heroes. And so is June Foray.


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

Find Your Story – and Stick to It

by David Perlis

Find your story and stick to it ~ Not So Anon

That’s the moral, and it’s what I’m trying to remind myself as I move forward on my new project. These things always sound easy, but without a Post-It on every surface of your abode, reminding you what your story’s heart is, you may find yourself with great plot and great characters, but they’re bound to fizzle out at some point. That’s what I think, anyway.

I like examining Breaking Bad. (By the way, my exhibits are almost always Breaking Bad. It just works, man.)

Breaking Bad sets you up with some pretty brilliant stakes: terminal cancer on one end, and the threat of prison on the other. Not a lot of wiggle room for good things to happen here. But how Vince Gilligan and his writers deal with the cancer part is what I find really interesting. Do they give Walt life scare after life scare with his diagnosis? Do they bring in his ex girlfriend whom he left at the altar to be his head doc? Accidentally give him an infected blood transfusion, or mix his chart up with someone else’s? Does Walt have an allergic reaction to the meds, which leaves him in a wheelchair? I admit, all of these things sound a bit “jump-the-sharky,” but they would definitely ratchet up the drama.

Nope. Instead, they hardly address the cancer at all. Sure, a few scenes in the early episodes, ’cause you can’t not talk about it, but the writers (being pros) knew what this show was—and more importantly, wasn’t—about.

It’s about reaching the breaking point. It’s about our ability to justify the unjustifiable. It’s about doing the wrong things for the right reasons. It’s about our need to be important. To be respected. To be good. It’s about every man being capable of absolute evil. It’s about “turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.” (Which was how Mr. G. always pitched it.) It’s not about overcoming cancer. Walt’s diagnosis in ep. 1 was a great catalyst for morphing him into Heisenberg, but that’s all it ever needed to be.

Now, if you were in Breaking Bad’s writer’s room, would you have intuitively left the cancer thread by the side of the road way back when? I know I wouldn’t have. Long story short: That, Mom, is is why I’ve got “Ignore the cancer” Post-Its papering my toilet tank.


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.