“Character drives TV”

October 28th, 2014 by

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

“Character drives plot.” We say it over and over again in every film script workshop we do.

Same goes in TV writing, naturally. Plot, story are crucial in television, too. But it is all about that family of characters.

Example: I keep watching Homeland for the characters. It is easy to argue that the stories have gotten weird AND over-familiar –  but I still enjoy the characters. So I keep watching – anticipate potential shifts in key character relationships as those familiar thriller CIA/terrorist plot tropes unfold.

Job #1 in TV series creation is an engaging family of characters with personal stories, built-in emotional conflicts which can be mined, explored, pushed into new territory incrementally.

Concept, the world of the show is just as important. BUT any world may do if the characters are great, if their attitudes to plot elements are full of life and human truth. That familiar world becomes fresh through the lives of dynamic, engaging characters.

Home screens get larger. More movie talent moves into TV. More channels seek better shows. Feature film evolves – influenced by the impact of the medium.

So — understanding TV, how script structure, plot, character differs from features is valuable. If you are interested in writing a pilot, please consider my upcoming class TV: WRITING THE ORIGINAL PILOT SCRIPT one week class starting Monday, November 3.

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.

Please do join me for this fun and exciting class.

For more information on this exciting class, go here.

Writers Guild Foundation event: “Sublime Primetime 2014″

August 6th, 2014 by

For all you TV writers in and around L.A., a special event coming up on Wed, August 20, 2014:

Just like every year, we’re joining forces with the WGA-West to bring you a panel full of Emmy-nominated writers. This event sells out every year, so be sure to get tickets fast.

We’re offering $20 early bird tickets through August 7th  – after that, the price will increase to $25.

But there’s more! We have six VIP tickets available. These tickets guarantee you a seat in the front row, and admission to an exclusive reception with the panelists before the show.

WGF sublime primetime 2014

Here’s who’ll be joining us this year:

Alec Berg – SILICON VALLEY
Michael Jann – THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON
Eric Overmyer – TREME
Holly Schlesinger – BOB’S BURGERS

…But keep checking back, because we’ll be adding new panelists soon!

Arclight Hollywood
6360 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

For ticket information, go here.

But check it out: As an exclusive offer to GITS readers, our friends at the WGF have made available 20 free tickets!

How to win: The first 20 people to head to comments and post their favorite current TV series (anything that has aired in 2013-2014) will qualify for those free tickets.

NOTE: If you have won a Go Into The Story contest or giveaway during the last year, please don’t enter this. Let’s spread the wealth to lots of people, okay?

Thanks once again to the Writers Guild Foundation for their generosity. And, of course, for producing yet another quality evening with writers… for writers!

Good luck!

UPDATE: Would those people who have posted in comments and would like to attend the event please email me ASAP. I need your full names so I can pass them along to the WGF and they can put you on the guest list.

Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber: Numbers 221-230

August 1st, 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 211-220:

Showrunner Rule #221 (1of2) Page 42 is darkest moment in drama script. You’re miles away from “layup” cold open scenes and…

Showrunner Rule #221 (2of2) …plot which you and room never REALLY figured out, has just come home roost. #LuvTheGuyOnPage42 :)

Showrunner Rule #222: Best feeling in the wide world, filling that plot on page 42 with something you discover on page 51. #TheGuyOnPage51

Showrunner Rule #223: Every meeting to discuss promotion robs time from writing show to promote. But no promo, no show-mo. So go, yo?

Showrunner Rule #224: When you have 3 clues to get you to the same plot move, cut 2. TV is the most efficient art form since the haiku.

Showrunner Rule #225: Make peace with casting Game-O-Chicken. Actor WILL appear on the day, though your introduction may come AFTER action.

Showrunner Rule #226: Lead character is defined by X, which is why she does A, B, and C differently than any other character on television.

Showrunner Rule #226 Addendum: Please return to rule #226 as all iconic television is defined by that rule and that rule alone.

Showrunner Rule #227 (1 of 2): Demand staff ASK FOR HELP. Nothing worse than “me do” writer who insists on writing every word…

Showrunner Rule #227 (2 of 2): …then turns in shatty draft a day late. Job as producer is to PRODUCE & that may mean assists from others.

Showrunner Rule #228: When shooting outside LA, pick cool locations, ’cause given the amount of work, its ONLY way to see your host city.

Showrunner Rule #229: Never forget that nothing really matters until the close up. Scenes that SUX in the wide, can sing in coverage.

Showrunner Rule #229A: If you happen to be an actor who is “saving it” for the close, WARN ME. It’ll save everyone 4 hours of sheer panic.

Showrunner Rule #230: A staff is essentially a tribe. Choose well and survive the barren winter. Choose badly and starve before the thaw.

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.

Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber: Numbers 211-220

July 14th, 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 211-220:

Showrunner Rule #211: Hire actors who play objectives not attitudes. And double hire actors who know how to shift tactics mid scene.

Showrunner Rule #212: Pick audition scenes < 2 pages, ’cause actors have it tough & learning lines just to be judged is a BRUTAL life.

Showrunner Rule #213: If there’s a holiday on Friday, Hollywood shuts down on Thursday… at lunch… if not before. ‪#Happy4thofJuly‬

Showrunner Rule #214: (1of2) Production trumps Perfection. Meaning… get your LP, PD and Other PD the damn outline and script EARLY…

Showrunner Rule #214: (2of2) …so they can work. Holding material for fear of being judged, means every decision gets made in panic mode.

Showrunner Rule ‪#214A‬: Rule 214 is super dooper helped when executives understand/appreciate rule 214. If they don’t… its some badness.

Showrunner Rule #215: Writers are like dogs, hard to teach new tricks once old & well trained/scarred by their owners in the puppy years.

Showrunner Rule #216: No matter how much you TRY to communicate to staff, you’ll forget something vital; like one of the sets burned down.*

(*Please note, no ACTUAL set on my current show burned down during the writing of the last tweet. Or if it did… I don’t yet know it.)

Showrunner Rule #217: Significant upside to location based show is that you’ll invariably get more done from hotel room than from office.

Showrunner Rule #218: Judge room by how fast/well story is broken compared to lone writer. Great rooms 1/2 the time. Bad rooms never finis–

Showrunner Rule #219: In case you ever wonder why you do the job (w/ the hours and disappointment), look around…

Nola Street II

Showrunner Rule #220: When on location, before going to sleep, figure out how shower works. Not something you leave for Monday at 5:15AM.

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.

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.