Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber: Numbers 201-210

July 3rd, 2014 by

Jeff Lieber is a screenwriter and TV writer. His movie credits include Tuck Everlasting and he is currently an executive producer of the CBS series “NCIS: New Orleans”. On Twitter (@JeffLieber), he has run a series of tweets called Showrunner Rules. For background on Jeff and this Twitter series, go here.

Today: Numbers 201-210:

Showrunner Rule #201: Don’t HOVER over your staff. They need to know its safe to talk… and vent… and worry… even if its about YOU.

Showrunner Rule #202: With every day a script/outline is late… quiet panic sets in. Same exact script ON TIME, gets 1/2 the notes.

Showrunner Rule #203 (1 of 2): Don’t let day end without stepping into every writer’s office and checking in. So they know…

Showrunner Rule #203 (2 of 2): …you haven’t forgotten them and you know they haven’t dipped into “what are we doing” despair.

Showrunner Rule #204 (1 of 2): Let the impermanence of white board be an analogy for the process. Words written easily unwritten or changed.

Showrunner Rule #204 (2 of 2): Also, when you post picture of the board online, make sure to blur so there are no spoilers. ;)

Showrunner Rule #205: Stories are all LINEAR (A to B to C to D) but you’re in control of order in which you REVEAL STORY (B to C to D to A).

Showrunner Rule #206: Little things matter a lot. Doing notes in BLUE instead of RED makes ideas feel like collaborations not edicts.

Showrunner Rule #207: INS/OUTS of scenes are opportunities for character amidst gack. If 1st line is plot, rethink.

Showrunner Rule #208: If you see the typo in this tweet in less then 3 seconds, you have what it takes to be a script coordinator.

Showrunner Rule #209: Figure out which phone calls don’t REQUIRE you & delegate. 15 minutes you save is 15 minutes you need… to pee.

Showrunner Rule #210: Never be shocked when smallest detail comes your way. Does character X wear her watch on left or right hand?

Here is Jeff’s bio:

One day in 1986, after blowing up a glass beaker in a lab in high school, Jeffrey Lieber’s science teacher, Dr. Nagoi, turned to him and said, “Jeffrey… you be an actor… you be a writer… maybe have a family… but please, dear God, don’t be a chemist.” And it was those words that launched a journey that has ended up with Mr. Lieber becoming a screenwriter, showrunner, blogger, father and husband (Credits? Go here). Every day, while pursuing his passions, Mr. Lieber takes a moment to stop and thank Dr. Nagoi for his sage advice.

You can follow Jeff on Twitter (@JeffLieber).

For all of the Showrunner Rules, go here.

Hey, TV writers in L.A.!

July 2nd, 2014 by

I’ve got 20 free tickets to give away to this upcoming event:

The Writers Guild Foundation is hosting an awesome all-day television writing event and WGA Archive exhibit devoted to television writing from 9am to 6:15pm on Saturday July 12th at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Click on the WGF link for more information and to find out who will be there (hint: Franklin Leonard, Dan Harmon, Jane Espenson, Veena Sud, David Shore, Dan O’Shannon, and more!).

Franklin will be doing a ‘fireside chat’ from 1:30-3:00PM, plus there will be lots of panels throughout the day. Here is the scheduled list of panelists:

  • Brad Bell (HUSBANDS)
  • Jane Espenson (HUSBANDS, ONCE UPON A TIME, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER)
  • Jeffrey Glaser (Executive Vice President of Current Programming at 20th Century Fox Television)
  • Oliver Goldstick (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, RAVENSWOOD, UGLY BETTY)
  • Jennifer Gwartz (Chief Operating Officer Lin Pictures, Executive Producer VERONICA MARS, Co-Executive Producer PARTY DOWN)
  • Dan Harmon (COMMUNITY, RICK AND MORTY, THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM)
  • Steven Hein (VP PRODUCTION FOX DIGITAL STUDIOS)
  • Cody Heller (DEADBEAT, WILFRED)
  • Jay Kogen (MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS)
  • Brett Konner (DEADBEAT, WILFRED)
  • Terri Edda Miller (CASTLE)
  • Lanny Noveck (Television Literary Agent ICM)
  • Dan O’Shannon (MODERN FAMILY, JERICHO, FRASIER)
  • Jan Oxenberg (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, PARENTHOOD, COLD CASE)
  • Erica Oyama (BURNING LOVE, CHILDRENS HOSPITAL, NTSF:SD:SUV)
  • David Shore (BATTLE CREEK, HOUSE, LAW & ORDER)
  • Veena Sud (THE KILLING, COLD CASE)

Here’s the giveaway: Each of the first 20 people who go to comments and post their favorite TV series (current or past) will receive one free ticket to the event. Either you have to live in Southern California, plan on being in L.A. on July 12th, or know someone in L.A. who you can give your ticket to as a gift. It’s a nifty deal as tickets are $65.

First 20 people. Go!

For more information on the event, go here.

UPDATE: If I have emailed you, please respond ASAP so I can lock down the list of winners. Also:

mrbarnard1
JayFrosting
spnfan01

If you want your free tickets, you need to email me ASAP as I don’t have any of your contact information. I need that to pass along to the Writers Guild Foundation so they can get the tickets to you.

For those of you who did not hear from me, if people in the first 20 don’t respond by midnight PDT tonight (Thursday, July 3), I will drop them from the list and move on to others, so there’s still a chance for you.

The Small Screen Keeps Getting Larger

May 13th, 2014 by

A guest post from screenwriter Tom Benedek (Cocoon):

It was nice to have a job. I managed to hit the marks as requested by the producers and finished my TV assignment last month. Right now, I am waiting for some more notes. So I am back in my own projects — picked up my spec feature to work on, but, simultaneously, I am preparing a TV pitch to take to a producer next month. Initially, I just need a strong world of story, A plot and main character. But, I keep asking myself about the implications these elements need to offer for further development — into hours and hours of shows, if I am so lucky!

One of the amazing things about brainstorming TV show ideas is that it forces the writer to approach the story from different angles relative to feature writing. The same general directions – but certain specific angles of plot and characterization are just more critical.

Some TV show concepts are sounding more and more feature-like. Big story hooks but the issue of building out the structural consistency of every episode remains crucial. Still, and perhaps most importantly, the ongoing character relationships must be vibrant and need to offer potential for continuous renewal of minor conflict development.

TV is home and it is always there, for better or worse. The joys of television – knowing you have many hours of engaging viewing on a show you love vs. finding a feature gem on Netflix or even a movie that is kind of fun – just okay. Hey, I am looking forward to Godzilla for a break from those trenches of writing and watching on the home screen.

As that home screen gets larger, as more movie talent moves into TV, its influence will grow. And movies will morph perhaps. So — understanding TV, how script structure, plot, character differs from features is a worthwhile thing.

If this interests you, please consider my upcoming class TV: PILOT CREATION WORKSHOP starting Monday, May 19.

Here’s the link.

It is an 8 week class TV script writing workshop. We will study 9 great pilot scripts, examine their structural fundamentals, as each students builds out their series concept, outline and then writes their own 30 minute or 60 minute original pilot script.

Writing an original TV pilot is a great thing to do right now. It is fun. It is challenging. It is a great creative endeavor, writer marketing tool, means to representation and jobs. Manager, agents, producers like to read 30 page or 60 page scripts. Spec pilots sell. They get made into shows. They lead to jobs – in TV and in features.

If you have a TV idea that you wish to workshop and build out to script, please do join me for this fun and exciting class.

For more information, go here.

Working with Paddy Chayefsky on his only sitcom pilot

April 28th, 2014 by

“There are no rules. Work however you guys like to work. After four hours, I start to fink out… We start tomorrow at 11:15.”

Imagine you and your partner are young TV writers. Now imagine those words cited above being said to you by none other than Paddy Chayefsky, arguably the greatest screenwriter of his generation, winner of three Academy Awards for Marty, The Hospital and Network. And here, you have been tasked by NBC to work with Paddy on his return to TV, writing an original sit-com pilot.

That was the experience of Elias Davis and David Pollock in 1974, and Pollock has penned a wonderful piece in this month’s Written By magazine which you can read here.

By the way, I did some digging and if you are up in the Midwest, the Wisconsin Society Historical Archives reportedly has a copy of the pilot episode of the TV series “Your Place or Mine,” co-written by Elias, Pollock and Chayefsky. For more information on that, go here.

“Twitter has democratized the process”

April 18th, 2014 by

Did you see this?

How a Middle-aged IT Guy From Peoria Tweeted His Way Into a Writing Job on Late Night With Seth Meyers

Bryan Donaldson lived in central Illinois nearly his entire life. He was born in Michigan but moved to a tiny town north of Peoria when he was just 4 years old. Now 40, he and his wife own a house in East Peoria with a big backyard, where their preschool-age daughter likes to play, and a side deck, where Donaldson likes to grill.

If he sounds like a regular guy with a regular job, he was — at least until a few months ago. He worked in IT for 20 years, the last ten of which he spent at an insurance company in nearby Bloomington. “Just a nine-to-five corporate job,” he says. “I supported their Linux and UNIX systems.” Today, he is guy with a decidedly not-regular job: He is a staff writer on Late Night With Seth Meyers. How does one make the leap from being an aging IT guy in Middle America’s emblematic town to becoming a comedy writer at 30 Rock?

Donaldson’s journey began on Twitter. In October 2011, he started posting a few jokes a day under the handle @TheNardvark. It was just his outlet for HR-unfriendly cracks that he couldn’t make aloud at the insurance company — often deadpans about family, marriage, and aging. “When I pick my daughter up from day care she screams ‘DADDY!’ and runs towards me for a hug and it’s like be cool bitch you look desperate,” he tweeted last May. “My wife and I use the pull-out method of birth control where we pull out our phones and ignore each other every night,” he offered a few months later. “My walk of shame is stumbling back to my desk like a newborn foal after sitting on the toilet so long that my feet fall asleep,” he wrote in January 2013.

Twitter loved him — his follower count quickly grew to five digits (it currently stands at 40,000) and individual tweets regularly racked up huge share numbers. The “DADDY!” tweet, for example, got 1,200 retweets and 2,500 favorites.

One of Donaldson’s longtime followers is Alex Baze, head writer and producer for Late Night With Seth Meyers. Last fall, when Baze began hiring for the writers’ room in anticipation of a February premiere, he had the notion of looking beyond the piles of packets coming from managers and agents and scouting for raw talent on Twitter. “If I go to somebody’s Twitter, I can see what he’s been doing the last two years — you get a much more complete sense of how he writes,” he says. “It’s like you get to flip through somebody’s comedy notebook.”

Seth Meyers felt the same way. “Twitter has democratized the process,” says Meyers. “We used to look at smaller samples, now you can look back and see what a person thought was funny for the past calendar year.”

Twitter has democratized the process. For writers, we would behoove ourselves to see social media as a distribution network. If you create content and you dump it onto any popular platform — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, whatever — there’s a chance your creative expression may end up in front of a pair of eyeballs which can make a difference in your life.

Now before we go any further, we need to remind ourselves of a few things:

* The odds against financial success in the entertainment industry through any sort of avenues including social media are astronomical. You cannot go into any venture thinking you will succeed because the chances are significantly more likely you will not.

* The only chance you have for possible success is if you (A) have talent, (B) demonstrate that talent on whatever platform you choose, and (C) have that special something that catches people’s attention. Like this young woman from Finland who made a video for YouTube in which she impersonated what foreign languages sound like to her:

This video has been seen over 11 million times and as a result of it and other social media events, she (Sara Maria Forsberg) has managed to parlay the attention into this:

She was interviewed on British BBC radio[10] and Finnish public radio YLE,[11] and Swedish TV[12] in which she confirmed that she was contacted by a The Ellen DeGeneres Show producer.[1] She was a guest on the show on April 7, 2014.[13] She has been given a job within TV commercial production in the USA, worth around $400,000.

This in a little over one month since she uploaded her video.

Again social media = distribution network.

As for Bryan Donaldson, good for him. Here’s hoping he can rise to the occasion, working in a pressurized situation to generate comedy material night after night for a network series, surrounded by talented writers who while on your team are also competition. A TV writers room is a lot different than sitting at home composing humorous tweets.

But more power to him for embracing the Spirit of the Spec and putting content out there to see what happens.

For the rest of Donaldson’s story, go here.

New TV initiative between FOX and the Black List

April 8th, 2014 by

Today from the Black List:

Fox Broadcasting Company has partnered with script site The Black List to help discover aspiring television drama writers for current and future FOX productions. The Black List will solicit scripts to be evaluated by its community of industry professionals and readers, sharing with FOX a short list of writers to consider for a drama script deal or drama staff position.

Interested writers can submit material starting today at www.blcklst.com/fox.The submission window will be open now through May 1, 2014 at 11:59 PM PT. A complete list of rules, additional information and submission guidelines can be found on the site.

The Black List is an online community where content creators can find scripts to make, and writers can find producers, studios and networks to produce their scripts. Since launching in October 2012, The Black List has hosted more than 12,000 screenplays and teleplays and completed more than 16,000 script evaluations. Dozens of writers have found representation, sales and options, via the site since its launch. At any given time, The Black List hosts more than 2,500 screenplays and teleplays for perusal by thousands of film and television industry professionals, ranging from agency assistants to studio and network heads.

“As we build a year-round slate of high-quality programming, we are constantly looking for fresh new voices that break out of the pack,” said Terence Carter, Executive Vice President, Drama Development & Programming. “Given the Black List’s impressive track record in features, they are the perfect partner for us as we seek out new drama talent.”

“FOX is a longtime forward thinker in the broadcast entertainment world. It’s a natural partnership for us, and one that we expect to yield exciting new voices that we can enjoy on a weekly basis,” said The Black List founder Franklin Leonard.

In addition to Fox Broadcasting Company, The Black List is currently partnered with WIGS, the Writers Guild of America, East; the Writers Guild of America, West; the Writers Guild of Great Britain; the Sundance Institute; Warner Bros. Pictures; TNT; and TBS.

And the beat goes on. A set of links for all of the Black List initiatives:

Cassian Elwes / Sundance Film Festival – Black List

Hasty Pudding Institute Screenwriting Fellowship

TBS / TNT – Black List

Walt Disney Studios – Black List

Warner Bros. – Black List

WIGS

And now you can add FOX to the list.

“It’s a great time to think about original TV scripts” – Tom Benedek

February 19th, 2014 by

A guest post from my colleague Tom Benedek:

I am in the middle of a writing assignment – a one hour spec pilot script based on a true story – for an independent producer. If we get it right, there is a great marketplace for this hard edged, character driven, topical project. There are all those cable channels which already have one hour dramas – and all the cable channels that want to establish a foothold in fictional TV. I have to be optimistic in the writing phase!

Driving home last week, I started wondering if I had anything from the past — a feature script, pitch or outline that might work in TV. I managed to find one in my writer’s trunk, not the Toyota’s. It’s a pitch which didn’t sell. I did many long and detailed outlines for it. The problem as a pitch – too many characters, too many plotlines, and a main conflict which seemed vague for a feature film. In TV today, all these weaknesses may be strengths. Additionally, when I was pitching it 12 years ago, the subject was a bit taboo. Today, the question is more about whether anyone else has this idea in development already.

I am still writing feature scripts. But we all know that TV matters more than ever before for screenwriters – as an aesthetic standard and as a marketplace. Netflix released the second season of House of Cards lasts Friday and the “watching the box” series binging phenomenon is in a phase that is amazing.

As screenwriters, whether we watch a lot of TV or not, it is important to recognize that audiences are conditioned by TV viewing — and feature film storytelling may never be the same.

Understanding TV, how script structure, plot, character development differs from feature length movies is a worthwhile thing. If this interests you, please consider my upcoming class TV: PILOT CREATION WORKSHOP starting Monday, February 24.

It is an 8 week class TV script writing workshop. We will study 9 great pilot scripts, examine their structural fundamentals, as each students builds out their series concept, outline and then writes their own 30 minute or 60 minute original pilot script.

Writing an original TV pilot is a great thing to do right now. It is fun. It is challenging. It is a great creative endeavor and writer’s marketing tool. Managers, agents, producers like to read 30 page or 60 page scripts. Spec pilots sell. They get made into shows. They lead to jobs – in TV and in features.

If you have a TV idea that you wish to workshop and build out to script, please do join me for this fun and exciting class.

Go here for more information on Tom’s TV workshop.

Writing a TV Pilot

July 10th, 2013 by

Tom Benedek with a few words about his upcoming Screenwriting Master Class TV pilot workshop:

I just completed a feature script. My agents seem to like it. My producer is very happy. Surveying our list of prospective submissions, as I raise a glass and pinch myself, the “What next?” of things feels quite daunting. It has always been that way. There is a difference now though. The vision of a golden road for my script is blurred and indistinct. I always anticipate bumps. Yet I always have had some vision of that probably illusory pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In the land of feature films, there are obviously prospects, the potential for triumph. Currently, more so than ever, it is an intense and massively arid battlefield — empty of fluid and simple ways forward. This will get better. Maybe my script is good or great enough to makes its own path. I will persevere and we will see. Onward…!

Which leads me to my own personal “What next?” — I have been working on a TV pilot idea with another writer. I took a deep breath after finishing the feature and now have plunged in. The other writer has completed some pages off conceptual notes. Now I am melding it all together into an outline.

We already have 30 pages. (The other writer kept at it while I worked on my feature.) So now it feels like it is just a matter of structuring a complete outline, focusing the coordinates of what the show really is(never easy), and then writing those pages.

That original TV pilot script will enter a different battlefield. TV’s new golden age is in full swing. It is still hard to sell things, to get scripts into production. However, there is a vibrancy that is worth venturing toward – if you can embrace TV and its formats.  Who is in favor of the mini-series? One hour shows? Half hour shows? 12 episode cable seasons which arrive quickly announced after months of waiting? Homeland, Mad Men, Americans, Portlandia, Parks and Rec, etc.?

Whether or not you love it, TV matters for screenwriters – as an aesthetic standard and as a marketplace. It. TV changed movies in the fifties, TV on demand, cable, entire series on DVD(in those box sets – as long as that continues) force cinema to evolve again.

It isn’t just competition for eyeballs. It is how the eyeballs are conditioned to respond to filmed entertainment. The bar has been raised. The character detail in cable series schools viewers to eventually expect a bit more in theatrical films. Stupid, simple, fun movie-movies, need to be better, more precise, a bit more complex perhaps. Old school movie-movies may win out sometimes. But long-term, the influences of cable, of quality TV, have to influence audiences.

So, understanding TV, how script structure, plot, character differs from features is a worthwhile thing. (I am having some fun mapping out ours.)

Next week, as I work through my own TV pilot script, I will be presiding over a workshop: TV: PILOT CREATION WORKSHOP at Screenwritingmasterclass.com. It’s an 8 week class to outline and write an original 30 or 60 minute pilot. Weekly Writing Workshop Skype teleconferences. Weekly Lectures with TV script fundamentals defined and explored. Online Forum Discussions.

Do consider joining me. It will be interesting.

For more information, go here.

Writing the 60-minute spec pilot

June 22nd, 2013 by

Tom Benedek has some thoughts for those of you interested in writing TV:

The original TV pilot script vs. the spec feature. Spielberg just bought a one hour spec pilot that people in the business were flipping over. This used to only happen with feature scripts But now spec pilot scripts have come of age and are in the game to stay.

Everybody wins with this. Markets widen as these lines blur. Now a word from your sponsor: My one week original TV pilot script intensive starts next week. There is a lot of fascinating and perhaps essential material to learn there. I believe it helps to be fluent in both areas TV and feature writing. Soon, a theatrical feature script may immediately serve as the pilot for a series — going from big screen to smaller screen in weeks or months. Stories are stories. The hunger for filmed entertainment only grows. Important to acknowledge: Film scripts are not exactly like TV scripts in certain specific ways.  As the synergy between the mediums heighten, home screens get bigger, TV shows may be more like movies. People settle in for the best episodes as if they are watching a great movie. Understanding film structure may help you to write a great TV episode. Still, the pilot script is different from a feature script in many ways. Understanding those differences is crucial. So please consider joining  the class. It starts Monday at Screenwritingmasterclass.com

ONE VERY SAD NOTE: The class includes interviews with a group of wonderful show runners. Very sadly, earlier this year, one of the “stars” of the class — Henry Bromell passed away suddenly.

Henry stood for story, character, great television. He was an incisive and witty person who brought it all to his writing. His last job was as a showrunner on Homeland. Before that, he had worked on Northern Exposure, Homicide, I’ll Fly Away, many other excellent TV shows. I had known Henry for quite a while. Our kids went to the same elementary school. My brother, Peter, was his agent for many years. For the interview, we sat in his amazing wall-lined office in Santa Monica and talked way longer than the planned interview time. Wonderful guy. Writer’s writer. Henry inspired me greatly that day. He will be missed. Thanks again, Henry.

For more information about Tom’s class, Writing the 60-Minute Spec Pilot, go here.

Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber: Numbers 191-200

June 21st, 2013 by

Jeff Lieber is a screenwriter and TV writer. His movie credits include Tuck Everlasting and he is currently an executive producer of the USA Network series “Necessary Roughness.” On Twitter (@JeffLieber), he has run a series of tweets called Showrunner Rules. For background on Jeff and this Twitter series, go here.

Today: Numbers 191-200:

Showrunner Rule #191: Strange phenomenon that actors net/stud casting directors consider “gets” are known by general public as, “Wait, WHO?”

Showrunner Rule #192: Best moment in script is invariably dialogle-less. It’s the look, clue, image that ties whole episode together.

Showrunner Rule #193: Identify that moment on set when fixing a performance in post is more efficient then fighting to get it on the day.

Showrunner Rule #194 (1 of 3): Ideal staff = 3 people who can write the crap out of the show… 1 person great at covering set…

Showrunner Rule #194 (2 of 3): …1 person who can warm up cuts… 1 person who keeps room on task… & 1 person who just makes you laugh.

Showrunner Rule #194 (2 of 3): Everyone else… is gravy.

Showrunner Rule #195: Even when not ur FAULT, ur PROBLEM. 6 rainy days means 5 dropped strips? U get paid 2 figure out how 2 get’m shot!

Showrunner Rule #196: U gunna have to write the @#$@$@#$ finale. Cause its your show, sure, but also… cause everyone is running on fumes.

Showrunner Rule #197: If your agents are spending the day trying 2 get a rise outta someone else’s agent… make someone else’s agent yours.

Showrunner Rule #198: Can’t establish every color for character in pilot. Gotta get all the blue filled in before grabbing the red crayon.

Showrunner Rule #199: Procedurals tend to have A, B stories & a C runner. Soaps, maybe A-D (w/ an E runner.) Have an F story? You F’d up.

Showrunner Rule #200: 200 of anything… is probably enough. So, onto something new… soon. (Thoughts? Suggestions? Complaints?) — J

Here is Jeff’s bio:

One day in 1986, after blowing up a glass beaker in a lab in high school, Jeffrey Lieber’s science teacher, Dr. Nagoi, turned to him and said, “Jeffrey… you be an actor… you be a writer… maybe have a family… but please, dear God, don’t be a chemist.” And it was those words that launched a journey that has ended up with Mr. Lieber becoming a screenwriter, showrunner, blogger, father and husband (Credits? Go here). Every day, while pursuing his passions, Mr. Lieber takes a moment to stop and thank Dr. Nagoi for his sage advice.

You can follow Jeff on Twitter (@JeffLieber).

For all of the Showrunner Rules, go here.

Coming up soon: My interview with Jeff.