Free Tickets to “The Raconteur: Writing Prose and Television with Jonathan Ames”

September 14th, 2016 by

The good folks at the Writers Guild Foundation have a special offer for GITS readers for an upcoming event in Los Angeles. Check it out:

Tue, September 20, 2016
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM

As the creator and showrunner of the Starz Original Series BLUNT TALK (which premieres its second season on October 2) as well as the much-missed HBO series BORED TO DEATH, Jonathan Ames is known for his whimsical style of maneuvering flawed yet empathetic characters through their substance-filled misadventures and idiosyncratic lives.

Ames is also known for cribbing elements of his real life adventures into both his television and literary work, which includes three novels (one of which was adapted into the film THE EXTRA MAN), the autobiographical graphic novel THE ALCOHOLIC, numerous collections of essays and memoirs, and monologues he’s staged himself or at The Moth.

On this special night, Ames shares his approach and process to writing his varied projects, how they inform one another, and how he developed his self-referential style. Moderated by Elvis Mitchell, host of KCRW’s The Treatment.

Doors open at 7pm. Event starts at 7:30pm.

The first 10 people to post in comments get a free ticket to the event, courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation. For more information about the event, go here.

Here is a Moth presentation by Jonathan Ames:

For other upcoming WGF events, go here.

Twitter: @WritersGuildF.

One Way to Deal With Peak TV: Watch Programming in Fast Forward

June 23rd, 2016 by

Click on the video below and watch the clip.

Is this how you want to watch TV? 1.6 times faster than normal? May not be your cup of tea, but it works for Washington Post ‘Wonkblog’ writer .

I have a habit that horrifies most people. I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. Four episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” fit into an hour. An entire season of “Game of Thrones” goes down on the bus ride from D.C. to New York.

I started doing this years ago to make my life more efficient. Between trendy Web shows, auteur cable series, and BBC imports, there’s more to watch ever before. Some TV execs worry that the industry is outpacing its audience. A record-setting 412 scripted series ran in 2015, nearly double the number in 2009.

That’s right: 412 scripted series.

This is where the trick of playing videos at 1.5x to 2x comes in — the latest twist in the millennia-old tradition of technology changing storytelling. The concept should be familiar to many. For years, podcast and audiobook players have provided speedup options, and research shows that most people prefer listening to accelerated speech.

In recent years, software has made it much easier to perform the same operation on videos. This was impossible for home viewers in the age of VHS. But computers can now easily speed up any video you throw at them. You can play DVDs and iTunes purchases at whatever tempo you like. YouTube allows you select a speedup factor on its player. And a Google engineer has written a popular Chrome extension that accelerates most other Web videos, including on Netflix, Vimeo and Amazon Prime.

Over 100,000 people have downloaded that plug-in, and the reviews are ecstatic. “Oh my God! I regret all the wasted time I’ve lived before finding this gem!!” one user wrote.

Well, speeding up the programming is one way of handling all of this TV programming. Here’s another suggestion which doesn’t require any special software.

Turn off the goddammed TV! Take a walk! Talk with your family! Commune with nature! Read a book! Or you can live your life like this:

For the rest of the Washington Post article, go here.

Guest Column: “Actually, Feature Film is Devouring TV”

May 2nd, 2016 by

A guest column from screenwriter and TV writer Tom Benedek (Cocoon):

People will say TV is swallowing film. But perhaps it is the reverse. The best TV is becoming more like feature film — evolving into the feature form more and more. With a few differences, of course.

The “one hour” TV shows are not 60 minutes long necessarily. They are more visual, more cinematic, with more evolved design.

If you want your script to move in that direction, let it happen. TV writing can be movie making. The material can dictate the scale, duration, style. It’s not talking heads exclusively.

Hugh Laurie is an amazing nemesis in The Night Manager – miniseries on AMC.
Cast, designed, shot like a motion picture.

The undeniable demand in TV writing – solid character canvas. There must be an interesting set of situations which your characters are inhabiting, struggling with, yearning through. Consider the evolutions of their emotional connections along a time line. Even a spread sheet. One thing about TV, character stories get spread out over time, multiple episodes, seasons, an entire series even. So are a character’s feelings toward another person changing? Do deeds of enterprise impact relationships? In the realm of TV series slow burn dramatics, the audience wants a character to move into a relationship but that person can’t move forward. Until… You’re the writer. You decide.

Have a 1-hour TV pilot concept you want to develop and take to script? Here’s a great opportunity to do that in Tom’s upcoming session of TV Pilot Script Workshop which begins Monday, May 9. Go here for more information.

Video: How a TV show gets made

April 29th, 2016 by

This gives a pretty good idea about how a TV show gets produced.

I worked with my friend Rick Duffield on the Peabody Award winning PBS series he created and ran called “Wishbone”. The first season, they did 40 episodes in 52 weeks. That involved working with children, animals, period elements, and the early days of CGI. Just an insane schedule and to this day, it amazes me that the crew pulled it off.

If you want to write for TV, you’ve got to work well under pressure, understand that rewriting is a way of life, and be able to get along with people really, really well.

For more Vox videos, go here.

There were 409 original scripted series on TV in 2015

December 20th, 2015 by

I’ve noted this trend over the last several years and it continues: The growth of scripted TV. Check out this chart:

Observations:

* There were 133 original scripted series on broadcast networks in 2002 and 147 in 2015, which would appear not to be a significant increase, but there was a dip to 114 series in 2010, so notable growth.

* But that’s nothing compared to the increases from 2002 in pay cable (118%) and basic cable (484%). Those numbers are mind-boggling.

* Then there is online / streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon which have gone from 2 series in 2009 to 44 in 2015 which if my math is correct represents a 2100% increase.

With Netflix budgeting $5 billion on programming in 2016, the trend upward in terms of scripted series would appear to continue at least for another.

Where will we be 5 years from now? Or in the year 2025?

Via Rotten Tomatoes.

Question: Networking opportunities for TV people

December 12th, 2015 by

I received a question via email from someone who works in the TV business as a music composer:

“What are some great networking events, panels, etc for meeting established professionals working in television these days?”

We can expand that to include people who are trying to work in TV.

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m a movie guy. Apart from WGA, Writers Guild Foundation, and various Black List events, I’m short on advice.

Do any of you living in Los Angeles have suggestions about networking opportunities for those interested in TV? If so, please head to comments and opine away!

Free Tickets to Upcoming Event: Sublime Primetime 2015!

September 4th, 2015 by

Once again the Writers Guild Foundation is host to a terrific event for those of you who live in Southern California: Sublime Primetime 2015. Here are the deets:

Thu, September 17, 2015
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM

It’s that time of year again. The Emmys are around the corner and we are teaming up with the Writers Guild of America, West and Variety to gather some of this year’s nominated writers for a fun and insightful conversation on this season’s celebrated shows.

But there’s more! We have VIP tickets available too. These tickets guarantee you a reserved seat among the front rows and admission to an exclusive reception with the panelists before the show.

Moderator:

CYNTHIA LITTLETON – Managing Editor, TV at Variety

Panelists:

JANE ANDERSONOlive Kitteridge
Teleplay by Jane Anderson, Based on the Novel by Elizabeth Strout

ALEC BERGSilicon Valley
“Two Days of The Condor” – Written by Alec Berg

JOSHUA BRANDThe Americans
“Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” – Written by Joshua Brand

SEMI CHELLAS – Mad Men
“Lost Horizon” – Written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner

STEPHANIE GILLISThe Simpsons
“Treehouse of Horror XXV” – Written by Stephanie Gillis

ELLIOTT KALAN – The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Head Writer

CHRISTINE NANGLE – Inside Amy Schumer
Staff Writer

MATTHEW WEINERMad Men
“Lost Horizon” – Written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner
“Person to Person” – Written by Matthew Weiner

MORE to be announced…

Location
Writers Guild Theater
135 S Doheny Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

The good folks at the Writers Guild Foundation are making available to GITS readers 12 free general admission tickets to this swell event.

How to obtain them? Simple. Answer this question: What is your most memorable moment from the 2014-2015 season of any TV series?

The first best 12 responses win a free general admission ticket to the Sublime Primetime event.

For more information about the WGF event, go here.

To become eligible for the contest, post your favorite TV moment from this last season in comments.

Good luck!

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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.”

—-

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.