Creative Spark

May 13th, 2015 by

A guest post from screenwriter Tom Benedek (Cocoon), co-founder of Screenwriting Master Class.

I had never done a workshop with kids before. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sent a request for mentors for the Spark program they run. Wednesdays from 2 to 4PM for 10 Weeks. I said ‘yes.’ Middle School kids are paired with one mentor each to work on film projects. My mentee, David, loves the video game, Crossfire, and wanted to do a show about it. I showed him how Final Draft works and he wrote a script while I sat next to him. We were joined by his friend, Luis, and his Mentor, Jeff, who is a special effects coordinator. Lucky thing. The script David and Luis completed has green screen, a dog, plenty of action. We managed to shoot it around the Academy building in our 3 allotted shooting days of 2 hours each. It was fun. Volunteering is great. Making a film with like-minded individuals – We had a blast. Thanks to Bettina Fisher and the Academy Educational Initiative. And our editor, Kevin!

Here’s our little epic:

Here is a link to Spark.

TV is not TV anymore. It is long-form big screen entertainment – spectacle, indie, domestic drama – whatever you want it to be. You may choose the characters, the setting, the workplace that is in your heart and mind — then transform it into a world of story, a place to explore the depths of human behavior and your own soul. Consider these observations from Russel Friend, Executive Producer/Writer of HOUSE (Fox), Executive Producer/Writer of GLEE (Fox), Executive Producer/Writer of BATTLE CREEK (CBS), talking about how he hires writers for shows he is running:

I looked for scripts that surprised me. Procedurals bored me to tears. Hospital shows, cop shows, obvious shows. Instead, I looked for people who wrote things that nobody else was. For example, Becky Kirsch: I was sent her spec pilot about an 18th Century New England woman locked up in an insane asylum. Nobody was going to make this series. Nobody would probably buy it. But it was wonderful. It was different. It showed me someone who was going to think outside the box. But the writing was also solid, traditionally structured, and so I knew she understood what the inside of the box looked like, too. Again, this isn’t exactly clear advice for how to get a job. What I’ll say is this: every writer has to stand on his/her creative instincts and writing talent, and that means a writing sample should make both of those things abundantly clear. You have to succeed or fail on these things because they are your most valuable possessions as a screenwriter. Write samples that speak to that, not samples that you think will get you hired. The latter ones almost never will.

For the entire interview with Friend, go here.

If you are thinking of writing an original TV pilot, get in touch with your creative instincts and use your writing talent to go from concept to script in my 8 week Screenwriting Master Class workshop that starts Monday, May 18.

Tom is a great teacher and this is a class I highly recommend, one where you can take your initial creative spark and bring it to fruition with a completed TV pilot script. To find out more, go here.

“Twin Peaks”: Deleted scenes

October 6th, 2014 by

In honor of the resurrection of “Twin Peaks,” just announced today, here is a compilation of over 1 hour of deleted scenes from the original series which ran on ABC in 1990-1991:

And while we’re at it:

An Indiewire article from back in April: Why ‘Twin Peaks’ Would Do Better Today Than 24 Years Ago.

Who’s ready for a cup of damn fine coffee and some cherry pie?

UPDATE: Good article by Matt Zoeller Seitz in Vulture: Twin Peaks Helped Carve Out Today’s Prestige-TV Landscape.

Binge Viewing is Forcing Showrunners to Evolve

June 25th, 2014 by

Is “binge-viewing” changing the way writers approach TV series? That is the focus of a recent Variety article. Some observations in it from a handful of notable showrunners:

D.B. Weiss, partnered with David Benioff on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” says: “From the outset, the goal with ‘Game’ was to tell a single, coherent, 70-plus-hour story, with a beginning, middle and end.”

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“Exposition is the writer’s enemy,” says Simon Blackwell, co-exec-prod of HBO’s “Veep,” which posts all old episodes on HBO Go. “It would be wonderful if we could guarantee everyone would binge-watch it, because you have to keep bringing back a plot point for episode 6, which, if people were watching in a three- or four-hour swoop, they would remember from episode 4.”

“Veep” seeks to satisfy sipper and big gulper alike. “We have a story arc for the entire season, but we also try to make each episode make sense in itself and its story to wrap up, yet still pull you into the next episode.”

“Game of Thrones,” with its multiple story arcs, raises transition concerns. “Discontinuities between episodes that used to be minor issues stand out a lot more when you’re rolling right from one episode into another,” Weiss says. “The knowledge that many people will be watching them back to back informs those choices.”

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In the end, Blackwell’s bullishness on binging — “I think it could possibly be a richer experience” — is applicable to all these series. “You’d be attuned to the characters more acutely than if you were watching on a weekly basis,” he says. “You’d be immersed in the world more. Like a bath of ‘Veep,’ instead of a series of showers.”

A 70-plus-hour story, with a beginning, middle and end. How’d you like to have that on your creative plate! More background on this phenomenon:

Are you a ‘bing-er’? If so, you’re not alone. An estimated 70% of Americans are. Is this you?

What TV series do you binge-view and why? How do you see this changing how writers approach TV series? Any residual impact on movies?

For the rest of the Variety article, go here.

“Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery”

June 11th, 2014 by

I was a huge “Twin Peaks” fan, a mystery mixed with a soap opera filtered through the twisted imaginations of series creators Mark Frost and David Lynch. And I still contend that the last act of Season 1, Episode 2 is some of the best 7 minutes of TV… ever.

I mean, we are talking 1990… on ABC, one of the major broadcast networks… prime time… with freaking forward-backward talking midgets.

Nowadays it probably feels pretty tame, but I can’t help but think “Twin Peaks” helped lay the groundwork for other series that stretched what was possible on TV. So yesterday when my Twitter feed blew up with this news, I knew it was blog post bound.

On July 29, “Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery” will be released, the complete series, a 10 DVD high definition collection in Blu-Ray format. Here are a few excerpts from the bonus tracks.

In “Between Two Worlds,” David Lynch interviews the Palmer Family — Leland, Sarah and daughter Laura — about their current existence, 25 years after Laura’s murder.

Locating original picture negative that was thought to be lost, CBS was able to upgrade image quality on numerous shots throughout the TV series for the new Blu-ray release. Notice the enhanced detail, improved color and overall superior quality in these examples.

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s groundbreaking cult phenomenon, TWIN PEAKS — THE ENTIRE MYSTERY, arrives on Blu-ray July 29th with the debut of nearly 90 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The long-awaited missing pieces from the original version of the film is often referred to as the “holy grail” of Twin Peaks fandom, and can only be found as part of this collection.

Presented as a feature-length experience, “The Missing Pieces” has been directed and edited by Lynch exclusively for this release. Capping off more than 30 deleted/alternate scenes is an epilogue providing a fascinating glimpse beyond the cliffhanger finale of the TV series.

Any “Twin Peaks” fans out there? What are your favorite memories of the series?

Trailer for Spanish version of “Breaking Bad”

June 10th, 2014 by

Via Indiewire:

Just when you thought “Breaking Bad” was all wrapped up (other than the Emmys), here comes a Spanish-language version of AMC’s hit drama. Instead of Walter White we have Walter Blanco. Instead of an RV we get a school bus. Instead of Albuquerque, New Mexico, we’re in Bogota, Colombia.

Yet the pork pie hat remains. So does the shaved head, slo-mo shot of explosive crystal, and tighty-whiteys. It’s all the “Breaking Bad” you’ve come to know and love, just in a new language, with new actors, and on a new channel.

Here is an extended trailer:

The series is called “Metastasis” and will air on Univision, Unimas, and Galavision.

Jon Oliver explains “net neutrality”

June 4th, 2014 by

It’s the best new show on TV: “Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver” on HBO. I’ve watched every episode and after a so-so first few weeks, the show has completely hit its stride, and never more so than with this segment on “net neutrality”.

Why is that so great? It’s informative. It explains the idea of “net neutrality” in a way even I can understand. It’s funny as hell. And it sustains its energy for 13 minutes. Think of that: A news segment for 13 minutes? In this day and age of Short Attention Span Syndrome, that is the equivalent of watching the entire 216 minutes of Lawrence of Arabia back when people did have actual attention spans.

The segment is all wrapped up by a call to action: “Seize this moment my lovely trolls; turn on your caps lock and fly, my pretties! Fly, fly, fly!”

Go here: http://www.fcc.gov/comments.

Let the FCC know: Do not allow cable company fuckery!

And if you want to be entertained and informed, watch Jon Oliver’s show. Airs at 10PM, Sundays on HBO.

7 in 10 U.S. TV watchers are ‘binge viewers’

May 1st, 2014 by

Via Worldscreen:

NEW YORK: In a new survey conducted by Miner & Co. Studios, seven out of ten U.S. TV watchers identified themselves as “binge viewers,” defined as those who watch three or more episodes of one series in a single sitting.

The survey found that 17 percent of binge viewers do so on a daily basis, 63 percent weekly and 90 percent on a monthly basis. Of the respondents, 71 percent said binge viewing is “totally normal,” and 59 percent considered it to be a harmless habit. Frequent binge viewers are more likely to associate positive qualities to binge viewing than infrequent viewers, seeing binge viewing as something that makes them the “life of the party” (260-percent more likely), “in the know” (77 percent) and “culture vultures” (58 percent).

Huh. So consumers will watch 3 or more half-hours of a comedy series. Or 2 or 3 episodes of a 1-hour drama. Like they’re watching something as long as a 2 to 2 1/2 hour movie.

Yet another sign that TV is becoming more like movies.

What are your thoughts on binge viewing? Is this something you typically do? If so, why?

For the rest of the article, go here.

Update: “True Detective” primer

March 7th, 2014 by

So I’ve caught the “True Detective” bug. Created and written by , starring and , and directed by Cary Fukunaga, it is some eye-popping, dialogue-rich, mind-blowing, crazy-ass shit. As I’ve been chasing down every article and interview I could find on the HBO series, I thought I’d aggregate them into a sort of primer for readers. NOTE: This is an revised reprint of a post that originally ran February 19, so you can trace the history will all of the updates from that date.

SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT CLICK ‘MORE’ UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO LEARN SOME KEY PLOT DEVELOPMENTS.

(more…)

“True Detective” primer

February 19th, 2014 by

So I’ve caught the “True Detective” bug. Created and written by , starring  and , and directed by Cary Fukunaga, it is some eye-popping, dialogue-rich, mind-blowing, crazy-ass shit. As I’ve been chasing down every article and interview I could find on the HBO series, I thought I’d aggregate them into a sort of primer for readers.

SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT CLICK ‘MORE’ UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO LEARN SOME KEY PLOT DEVELOPMENTS.

(more…)

“The Simpsons” Miyazaki tribute

January 10th, 2014 by

Via Vulture, “The Simpsons” with an homage to famed Japanese animation writer-director Hayao Miyazaki:

An annotated version via Slate:

The episode airs this Sunday.