Diana Black: Compelling Characters Make a ‘Real’ World

by Diana Black

Lulu: “Honey, so sorry, can’t make it tonight… no, it’s not my, ‘I’m washing my hair’ night …I’m just busy… No, you’re wonderful but.…”

A great story idea, well-written script, skillful cast and crew with an intelligent director and showrunner at the helm – surely the recipe for a winning TV Series, but what ‘essential ingredient’ compels us to ‘tune in’ religiously?

Is it the hooks and plot twists, the lighting, sound, mis-en-scene? What makes the fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, now going into its 7th Season SOOO interesting and compelling to watch? And not only by adolescent nerds but by, for all practical purpose, everyone?

According to A.G. Walton – a contributor to Forbes, who in turn is commenting on the findings of Josue’ Cardona of “GeekTherapy.com”, it’s a range of elements that include the following attributes: intellectually challenging and multiple plots; unpredictable twists; an intricate and elaborate story world, and dramatic events that border on the visceral.

But what of character?

In this epic panoply of political manipulation; one which would be right up there with Rome under Caesar, it is according to Walton, the creation, destruction, and resurrection of archetypes. So what is an archetype and why, having been ‘done to death’ long before Shakespeare took up a quill, are they still so useful?

Aspiring TV and screenwriters may think long and hard before referencing them – the Queen, the Trickster, disgruntled Prince, foul-mouthed Washerwoman etc. But they work, precisely because they’re ‘character’ in a neat package.

We instantly ‘get’ them. They come into ‘our space’ with their over-night bag stuffed with accouterments that we instantly recognize – greedy, debauched, vile, manipulative, pure, sweet etc.

But is that all there is to the Game of Thrones characters? Are they merely just a bunch of one-dimensional archetypes? No – in our jaded world of hardened, cynical ‘little box watchers’– it requires more than that; as the revolving door of short-lived TV shows attest.

The secret to these guys is that they not only shamelessly embrace their archetypal nature, to the hilt, everyone one of them has a level of complexity that makes them seem real and as a result hated, feared, loved, reviled etc.

We’re left seriously wondering what word or deed they’re going to express next. ‘Warts and all’ they reflect us mere mortals – who will no doubt have to deal with the same, albeit modern-day equivalent conundrums, issues, and angst, tomorrow or next week, come Tuesday.

And the moral of my story here is….drum roll…invest like hell in your character/s if you expect your actors to lift them off the page.

The quickest, surest path to having those words and deeds appear perfectly natural and justified is for the writer, as well as the actor, to get under the skin of the character; to become that character, for better or worse.

The old adage still and will forever apply, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black: Characters in 3D

by Diana Black

“No man (or woman) is an island”. If we’re not relying on somebody in our day-to-day, we’re influenced by them – in admiration of them, jealous, shocked, outraged, repulsed, confused, sympathetic, empathic etc….

As creators of characters, why not use these universal human responses to ‘the other’ in your teleplay? Sounds like ‘a given’ BUT… do we want to be that deliberately formulaic in our ‘what if’/ brainstorming session? It stifles creativity, doesn’t it?

We need some form of dynamic interaction (usually conflict) between characters – across the Series arc, within each episode and within each scene. Does that mean we develop the characters on their own first, then set them free to play well (or not) with others, or do we deliberately designate their response to the lead…they hate them, love them, is enraged by them etc.?

Visualize this:

A police procedural… where some hard-nosed Sergeant (aka you as writer) divvies up who’s going to investigate/deal with what and how. We might see the ‘task’ delegated by the Sergeant barking out orders or, police officers (aka characters) stepping up to the plate and taking on their choice of assignment – depending on their past successes or failures (aka the character’s previous experience – wins or loses, with the lead character).

If we map this analogy to its fruition, it might sound something like this, “OK boys and girls who is going to hate [lead character], who wants to fall in love with the schmuck, who wants to be rescued…?”

Well, in a roundabout way, we’ve come to realize we need each character in 3D first (complete character profile – yes???!!) before we can set them free to play. Otherwise we might find the supporting character/s written as falling in love with the lead character but according to the character profile you’ve previously devised , they’re incapable of loving or forming a relationship.

Or, if the profile hasn’t been created, we’ll see inconsistencies across the narrative – in the Pilot and subsequent episodes – because you don’t have a reference frame (aka Bible) to fall back on.

Essentially, the character profile has to be written in full and ring true on the page – consistently. Recall that the choices you’ve made on that Character Profile inform the character’s action and responses via dialogue.

These aspects underlie them and something they can work with or against – IF they’re fully-fledged and intelligent beings capable of modifying their modus operandi if given enough provocation. Or, maybe they’re ‘damaged goods’ – incapable of making an adjustment …their fatal flaw…it all gets back to that Character Profile doesn’t it?

If you’ve done your homework and the characters are 3D and you’ve ensured they define each other, the characters will interact organically and start making their own choices – dialogue and action as if by magic and you’re left in ‘catch-up’ mode sans writer’s block.

To put it another way, if you’ve got a balanced and solid interweave between character strengths, weaknesses and traits – in this way they’ll strengthen and define each other. They’ll be ‘off the page’ and you’ll be simply documenting via the script, all that they do and say.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black on The Pilot Vs. The Series Goal

 by Diana Black

A ‘Strong pilot’ has a ‘Pilot Goal’ as well as a ‘Series Goal’ that is, if you expect to generate interest with your spec ‘calling card’. But what does this really entail? Maybe we need to define what a goal is before exploring the development and importance of such beasties…

For dramatic purposes, a ‘goal’ needs to be a burning desire with the stakes – crazy high – either for an individual Protagonist or an Ensemble. Regardless, it must be achieved…a ‘do-or-die’. It can
take the form of an object, state of being, relationship, or an act of heroism… whatever…

Do we as viewers, want to invest our time in a wimp? Maybe, if they’re seriously compelling to watch. If the goal the Protagonist consciously wants is achieved in the Pilot episode; typically for a
regular U.S. episodic series, does that mean its ‘Game Over’ for the Series?

No. The ‘Tag’ of the Pilot may allude to the Protagonist (or ‘Ensemble’) about to embark on a new
‘adventure’. Alternatively, the Pilot might close with the Antagonist looming or reappearing on the
Protagonist’s horizon… ‘Game on’! Or, the Protagonist might be on the brink of achieving their
desire when the Pilot comes to an end – leaving us with a ‘cliff-hanger’ with ‘will they, won’t they’
buzz going on in the lunchroom the following day – yay!

If it’s a Mini-series, or a Limited Series – both having a relatively short, narrative arc, the ‘Pilot goal’ might be achieved later on. It will depend on how you’ve set up the narrative and over how many Episodes you envisage the Season to run.

Regardless, there’ll be an unconscious goal – the ‘Series Goal’ – alluded to in your ‘Leave Behind’.
It’s buried deep in the Protagonist’s/Ensemble’s subconscious… either driving them in a specific
direction or presenting an obstacle that they must overcome. Their initial failure to recognize and
achieve this subconscious goal relates to their psychological ‘flaw’.

In the ‘Character Profile’ you’ve devised for all of the main characters (You have,yes??!), have you identified for each of them their fundamental flaw? If you’re not sure of the importance of the ‘flaw’ don’t worry. We’ll talk about that in another article soon.

Either way, that flaw has to continue to stymie their efforts to achieve the ‘Series Goal’ until it’s overcome (or they die trying). It’s essentially a thematic ‘issue’ in your story world, which in order for them to ‘grow’ and realize their true potential, they must achieve.

Equally important, is the escalating tension associated with the ‘Series Goal’. Allowing them to
succeed without a struggle and/or considerable risk is boring for us ‘clever apes’ – every story is a
‘survival lesson by proxy’ – so they have to fight for it.

For the Writer, the ‘Series Goal’ must be known and pre-mapped, prior to writing the Pilot in
order to lay down the breadcrumbs associated with it – in the Pilot Episode. In this way the narrative is layered with hidden meanings, which if the Viewer is watching very carefully, will slowly reveal the ‘Series Goal’ but do we want it to be that easy? No… but that’s an upcoming article as well…


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black on Targeting Your Spec TV Script

Enjoy this cool visual metaphor found on the interwebs

 by Diana Black

Is there such a thing as, ‘The’ definitive television series? Perhaps once, in relation to narrative form and length of ‘season’. But gone are the days when series television originated solely from broadcast networks. Now thanks to Cable subscription and the Internet, not only has the viewing platform changed, but also the nature of what constitutes a ‘series’.

In other words, episodic storytelling has evolved. Does it matter? Well it kind of does – to us, as writers of content. You need to know from the outset, what ‘form’ of series you’re writing – Limited, Mini, or Regular series – because that will have a bearing on the narrative arc and on the number of episodes you envisage in your outline. If the objective is to sell it – duh, you need to determine who you’re going to pitch this ‘calling card’ to.

In relation to the narrative arc, think about what you’re trying to say, the intended media platform, and who’s likely to comprise the audience. Hazy generality won’t work here – specific tailoring is ‘mission critical’ if you expect a warm reception… unless you’re into just throwing it against the wall to see what sticks…for shame.

Let’s distinguish between the ‘Limited Series’, ‘Mini-series’ and ‘Regular Series’ – all of which tend to be found on cable and other streaming platforms; as opposed to the typical ‘Network Series’ aired on big networks, which many go on for years.

A ‘Limited Series’ is less than the regular 18ish episodes (network) or 13ish episodes (cable). It’s a way of ‘testing the waters’ – the potential the series has to develop longer legs (more episodes), which of course depends on the ratings. From the suit’s POV, it’s a safer bet regarding expenditure than purchasing its bigger cousin.

A ‘Mini Series’ is a finite entity with a set number of episodes, an ensemble of characters and written with a clear and contained narrative arc in terms of plot. Examples include British productions like the four episode, The Night Manager, and the three episode series And Then There Were None.

A ‘Regular Series’ sometimes known as an ‘Anthology Series’ generally takes the form of 18 or so episodes (network) or 8 to 13 episodes (cable) – often over multiple seasons, in which the lead characters are maintained and new characters introduced into an established setting. The plotting is either ‘serialized’ or ‘procedural’.

Serialized plotting entails a narrative arc across the season such as Breaking Bad and Twin Peaks. In procedurals the regular family of crime solvers deals with a new plot every episode, as on Bones and NCIS.

Are web-series different again? If the narrative is compelling and the characters lovable and worthy of following, it may well run into the ‘20+’ episode range – then it may get picked-up by a 3rd party with lots of moolah.

Of course, there’s one way to determine that whatever you go to market with will be looked on
favorably. Have the property already associated in another form – such as a successful novel.

There isn’t a TV executive alive who can resist the siren call of a project another executive somewhere else has already loved. In fact, sometimes all it takes the knowledge that another professional outlet is courting your work.

Previous success equals leverage. And leverage means power. So get your work out there, and do everything you can to get the word about it out into the showbiz wild as well.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Web Series: ‘SIBS’ Goes Hollywood

by Dawn McElligott

What kind of a show would you and your sibling make?

Last month, real-life siblings, Kimberly and Bryan Scamman answered that question for themselves with a short film entitled, SUPER SECRET CANADIAN SPY MOVIE.

The movie is a version of the first season finale episodes of their web series, SIBS. The brother and sister duo screened the film at a promotional event at the Three Clubs in Hollywood on August 27th.

In addition to free admission, the audience was treated to photo ops with the stars, gratuitous grub, a comedy act, and then, finally, the screening of SUPER SECRET CANADIAN SPY MOVIE itself.

The Three Clubs is a fun, retro lounge on Vine Street where one could easily imagine the original, Frank Sinatra-led, rat pack hanging out.  Danny Jolles from CW’s Emmy Award-winning series CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND, warmed up the audience with some laughs. Well, more than some. Enough for Kimberly to gush, “Danny was a great fit for our content, and we were blessed to have him!”

Kimberly and Bryan pack a punch of pure silliness into their series as only two siblings can. For one thing, their biological bond created greater artistic freedom. For another, they’ve both studied martial arts, lending a physical, bordering-on-cartoonish slant to the action.

The real-life sibs are from a southern California family that moved around often before returning to Los Angeles. Kimberly was born in San Pedro, and her brother was born about two years later in Seattle. Upon return to Los Angeles, Kimberly attended the American Academy for Dramatic Arts in Hollywood.

The academy bestowed its prestigious Charles Jehlinger Award on Kimberly, who’s most recent work has been with the Noise and Vision Production Company and 2 Kings Productions.  Bryan developed his acting acumen by working on such films as HELL HOLE: DARK HARVEST (2016).

The co-creators of SIBS grew up with a love for physical comedy. “We both really loved Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade,” said Kimberly.

The old school influence is most evident at one point in the film where brother and sister enter a bedroom closet to find a secret passageway. This farcical scene combines the wonder of THE LION, the WITCH and the WARDROBE with the zaniness of THE MONKEES. And why not? Kimberly told me point blank, that she has  watching re-runs of such classic TV shows as I LOVE LUCY,GET SMART, and, yes, THE MONKEES has been a lifelong and not-so-secret passion.

Kimberly also gives plenty of credit to Wham Social (@whamsocial) for the-fun filled promotional screening at The Three Clubs and for promoting SIBS in cyberspace as well.

Check out the SIBS trailer:

Lovers of campy comedy can see new episodes of SIBS on Sunday evenings at 8 pm Pacific Time on YouTube

And don’t forget the show’s presence on Facebook

And those interested in knowing more about Wham Social can find it HERE

Can’t forget the credits, yeah?

Created by and Starring: Kimberly Niccole and Bryan Scamman Produced by: Broster Productions Editing and SFX by: Matt Ryan SPECIAL THANKS! Sponsors: Deeva Boutique bit.ly/DeevaBoutique Stephanie Rojas Dominique Rodriguez and Take It From Me Show ( bit.ly/TakeitFromMe )


Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Philadelphia and other points East. You can learn more about her HERE

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Opens Today!

tv_writer_peoples_pilot_smby Larry Brody

TVWriter™ and I are proud to announce that PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017, one of the oldest and most highly regarded writing competitions on the interweb is now open!

The PEOPLE’S PILOT first appeared way back in the summer of 2000, as a semi-annual competition intended to help both new writers and the TV Industry itself. Over the years it has evolved into an annual contest and its categories have changed to match its extended purpose. Yes, we’re all about helping new writers get the acknowledgement they deserve, but we’ve expanded beyond broadcast television. Since last year, the PEOPLE’S PILOT has been doing all it can to improve all electronic entertainment media.

The future of entertainment and those who create it is open and varied. Whether the series you are creating is intended for broadcast TV, cable and satellite TV, home entertainment/video game consoles, Big Media interweb outlets like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, or indie web channels and venues like YouTube, Vimeo, Funny or Die, or the show’s own website, it is eligible for the PEOPLE’S PILOT.

CATEGORIES

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 is divided into 2 prize-giving categories plus a Special Bonus Category with its own unique award – a paying development deal starting with an option. To be more specific, the categories are:

  • Scripted Comedy Series – intended for any electronic platform (including broadcast and premium cable series, internet series, cell phone series et al) of any length of any length required for telling your story
  • Scripted Drama & Action Series – intended for any electronic platform (including broadcast and premium cable series, internet series, cell phone series et al) of any length required for telling your story
  • Special Bonus Category – Thanks to Manner Movie Limited, a longtime PEOPLE’S PILOT co-sponsor, and Global Saga Media Entertainment, both of Hong Kong, all entries in this year’s competition automatically will be considered for the Special International Production Award, which will be given to the entry or entries that the judges deem especially suitable for the global television market.

Episode length, script length, number of episodes constituting the series – all that is entirely up to the creator. Genre too is entirely up to the entrant. In other words, you can write whatever you want, any way you want, featuring human actors, animated actors, animal actors, puppets, you name it, for any audience you want as long as your script is in the English language and standard teleplay/screenplay format (so our judges can read it).

PRIZES

Prizes and bonuses for each of the two regular categories, worth over $20,000, are:

FIRST PRIZE:

SECOND PRIZE:

THIRD PRIZE:

BONUS PRIZE:

  • All entries will be considered for the Special International Production Award, a script development deal with Global Saga Media Entertainment beginning with a $500 option for a qualifying script or scripts. And when we say all entries we mean that even an entry that doesn’t finish in the Top 3 – or isn’t a Finalist or even a Semi-Finalist – will be eligible.

ENTRY BONUSES

FREE FEEDBACK 

After the Winners are announced, all entrants will receive an e-mail containing the actual score given by the judges, an explanation of what its point value means, and the judges’ general reaction to the entry. ($125 value)

FREE STORYTELLING PATTERNS E-BOOK

All entrants will receive a PDF file of Larry Brody’s Storytelling Patterns in Genre Films booklet, a guide to outlining screenplays and teleplays by using established story patterns and essential scenes that is available literally nowhere else on or off the web. (priceless)

ENTRY FEES

PEOPLE’S PILOT EARLY BIRD ENTRY $35

  • June 1 – August 1

PEOPLE’S PILOT SINGLE ENTRY $50

  • August 2 – November 1

PEOPLE’S PILOT DUO DISCOUNT ENTRY $85

  • August 2 – November 1

CLOSING DATE

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 closes at midnight November 1, 2017. You can enter and upload your entries any time until closing. As in past years, we urge you to take advantage of the Early Bird Discount even if your entry or entries won’t be ready until after the discount period ends. Once you have paid, you can upload your submissions at any time until the contest closes.

More PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 info is HERE

The Enter Page is HERE

Email me personally with any questions HERE

LYMI LB

LYMI
LB

 

 

Dawn McElligott: RIVERDALE ‘REVISITED’ is RIVETING

by Dawn McElligott

In an age of rebooting vintage television, the development team for the new series RIVERDALE re-imagined a whole lot about Archie’s Comics for the CW network. Far from innocent adolescent hijinks, RIVERDALE has often been termed as ‘Archie Comics’ Meets Twin Peaks.’ What could have been a blasphemous mischaracterization of the milk shake slurping teenagers appears more as an updated twist on the beloved comic book characters.

The show’s development team includes Archie Comics’ Chief Creative Officer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who created the show and now serves as the Showrunner. Additionally, series hit-maker, Greg Berlanti, guides the show as executive producer along with Sarah Schechter and Jon Goldwater.

As of March 7, 2017 the series was renewed for a second season either in spite of or in light of weekly ratings hovering around 0.4, or slightly more than one million fans, the night it airs. During the week, its numbers improve to 0.8 considering delayed digital viewers bringing the audience to two million.

Various sources state that Warner Bros. TV has made a big development deal with Archie Comics, supplying another reason to stick with its sprouting new project. Surprisingly many viewers and critics have commented that Archie’s character is the least interesting in the show. He is a young man torn between school, a music career and helping his financially struggling father, Fred Andrews. Even an affair with young, hot Music Teacher, Miss Grundy, leaves him lackluster. Some have suggested that Archie Andrews is the cog in the wheel, holding together the town’s more fascinating folks.

The most engrossing character may well be its narrator, Jughead Jones. Jughead is a moody writer for the newspaper at Riverdale High School through the first 12 episodes. His father, FP Jones, is a train wreck of a man, heading up the Southside Serpents gang. Jughead’s moodiness clearly comes from his predictably disappointing family moments.

Jughead’s noteworthiness is due in part to choices made in the show’s development but may also spring from the actor, Cole Sprouse. In a February 2nd edition of Vulture.com, the actor described his interaction with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. ‘When I walked in I asked Roberto if I could read it [the narration} like Rod Serling, he was like ‘Uh, yeah, of course!’ I got a good idea of where we stood then. But when we shot the pilot, I really knew where we stood, in terms of the film noir elements and the darker tone. That’s when I knew this was a show I was really excited to do. Because I had just come off a Disney background.’

Twenty-four year-old Cole Sprouse had played Cody Martin in Disney’s two wildly successful series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY and THE SUITE LIFE ON DECK. Transitioning into an adult entertainer for the young man has been noticeably different from his female Disney counterparts, Britney Spears and Miley Ray Cyrus. Whereas Britney and Miley turned up their sexuality to divorce themselves from the wholesome Disney image, Sprouse agreed to play a character that is sometimes called ‘asexual.’ In the series Jughead dates Betty Cooper, but keeps a wary distance from her, realizing her unrequited love for Archie.

Sexuality is approached quite differently in RIVERDALE. The first episode starts with a redheaded teenage boy, Jason Blossom, driving with a redheaded teenage girl to the river. They appear to be lovers about to go canoeing. We learn later that they are Jason and his sister, Cheryl, (the cruelest girl in town) staging his death and disappearance. Incest and later, eugenics, appear as some of the more disturbing currents to muddy the waters of Riverdale.

When Jason’s dead body appears in the river, we start dredging Riverdale, the town with too many redheads, for answers. The parents in this sad place have about as many lurid secrets as their children. Putting together the parents’ promiscuity and the surplus of redheads, it’s not too surprising when hints are dropped that Archie might be at least a half-brother of Cheryl Blossom. His appearance in a football jersey at a game reminds Cheryl so much of her dead brother, it causes the mean girl to cry.

In the penultimate episode of the first season, Jason’s jacket is found. It yields no clues until Betty decides to search the pocket linings. Instead of putting the jacket on herself, she asks Archie to put it on for the search. Archie is literally wearing the mantle of dearly departed Jason, when a flash drive is found in its pocket linings, containing the video of his own father shooting him to death. Weird!

Women are painted with a fresh brush. Whereas, Veronica Lodge could have been another mean girl, she’s instead looking to make amends for her father’s illegal dealings. She’s still a clotheshorse and has enough sophistication to counter Cheryl Blossom, often beating her at her own game, much to Ms. Blossom’s chagrin.

Betty Cooper is a breath of fresh air. She’s the good little girl who seems to acquiesce at every turn, but by Episode 11 she warns her concern-trolling mother, ‘Alice Cooper,’ ‘Do not push me tonight, Mom, because I will push back.’ Betty wants to right the world’s wrongs, including the alienation of Jughead from his father.

Cheryl Blossom, whose forbearers made a fortune on maple syrup, is the only truly mean girl on the show but her cattiness is explained as a defense mechanism contrived for dealing with a family, no one would want, despite the material wealth. The audience pities Cheryl, FP Jones and especially, Jughead.

Every week this season, surprised viewers have been treated to revilement, pity, prose, exquisitely crafted zingers and plenty of tension, making the show as much of a guilty pleasure as the most tempting malted at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. My glass is raised in the hope that next season brings us even more of the same.


Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Philadelphia and other points East. You can learn more about her HERE