Master Class with Meredith Stiehm and Pam Veasey

July 31st, 2015 by

[So as not to bury the lede… FREE TICKET INFORMATION BELOW!!!]

Hey, SoCal writers, the good folks at the Writers Guild Foundation have a terrific event coming up on Tuesday, August 11:

Meredith Stiehm is the screenwriter to thank for some of the most compelling and complex female lead characters in dramatic TV. As the creator of THE BRIDGE and COLD CASE, she deftly humanizes the chilling course of a homicide investigation through her strong, steadfast yet seriously damaged lead detectives. Stiehm’s knack for wielding compassion into tough-as-nails characters comes in handy when writing HOMELAND’s Carrie Mathison, who will continue to receive Stiehm’s magic touch for the Showtime series’ upcoming fifth season.

In this exciting Master Class, moderator Pam Veasey (CSI: CYBER, CSI: NY, IN LIVING COLOR) is on hand to guide Stiehm through her impressive career, which also includes writing and producing roles on ER, NYPD BLUE and BEVERLY HILLS 90210, and her distinctive writing style.

PLUS we’ll also have an EXCLUSIVE Green Room Experience, beginning at 6:30pm, where green room ticket holders can meet and chat with Meredith and Pam for an hour before the event. Green Room Experience ticket holders will also get a front row seat at the event. Only six of these Green Room Experience tickets are available.

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

All events advertised on our “Events” page are open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket – not just WGA members!

Proceeds benefit the Foundation’s library and archive and other outreach programs.

You can purchase tickets here. But in an exclusive arrangement with Go Into The Story, I have 10 free tickets to give away to some lucky writers.

How to win? Easy. Head to comments and simply name your favorite series for which Meredith has written episodes: Northern Exposure, Beverly Hills, 90210, NYPD Blue, The District, ER, Cold Case, Memphis Beat, The Bridge, or Homeland.

Tickets go to the first 10 people to post a comment including their favorite one of the TV series listed above!

When: Tue, August 11, 2015
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM

Where: WGF / WGA Headquarters – Del Reisman Multi-Purpose Room
7000 W 3rd Street – Los Angeles

Thanks to the Writers Guild Foundation for all the good work they do including their ongoing educational outreach.

Showrunner Rules from Jeffrey Lieber: Numbers 261-270

July 16th, 2015 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: 261-270:

Showrunner Rule #261: Write for the episode you dream of. Rewrite for the budget and circumstances you’re faced with.

Showrunner Rule #262: When they hand out ear plugs, things are about to go BOOM. #WeJustHandedOutEarPlugs

Showrunner Rule #263: When forced to cut for time, look at action scenes. Few secs won’t be missed & shorter cuts makes for > energy anyway.

Showrunner Rule #264: On net shows “hiatus” is a misnomer. W/ super short turn around & decisions that MUST be made, its more a ‘half-atus”.

Showrunner Rule #265: The sight of “second lunch” is like a oasis in the desert… and a sign you’re miles from the promise land.

Showrunner Rule #266: Lots of depts promoting your show, some of which may not know what’s up in writers room. Watch/read EVERYTHING.

Showrunner Rule #267: Be there for last catered meal of season. They serve the best food… so you’ll remember & rehire for next year. :)

Showrunner Rule #268: Be loving to rare executive who forgives when you speak out loud that voice that should stay locked in your head.

Showrunner Rule #269: At end of episode pitch, you should be able to easily identify 3 scenes that will comprise the “trailer”.

Showrunner Rule #270: Goal is to deliver the show at budget # – one cent. Over is bad. Under is bad. Don’t use, you lose it going forward.

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 251-260

July 15th, 2015 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: 251-260:

Showrunner Rule #251: By end of season, when everyone’s exhausted… split scripts. 26 pages ‘steada 52 is sweet manna from Heaven. #Amen

Showrunner Rule #252: From temp ADR recorded in editing to one sentence email about new character, never forget: YOU’RE ALWAYS SELLING.

Showrunner Rule #253: Act outs & story lines: you control. Normal human frailty that WILL disturb set: out of your hands & sometimes fatal.

Showrunner Rule #254: Space between WHAT & WHY is the “maddening divide”. Ratings go down, because TOO MUCH experimentation or NOT ENOUGH?

Showrunner Rule #255: Trait of great writer… ability to set written script aside & re-imagine story. Pages ARE THERE, so… no panic.

Showrunner Rule #256: Insist on a NO HEROES policy. Hiding frailties so as not to upset me is 10,000% worse then not getting the job done.

Showrunner Rule #257: If you kill 3 people & have hubris to do interviews about them, know exactly how a lapel microphone works.

Showrunner Rule #258: (Failed) When on set, learn difference in shade between hotel MOUTHWASH & SHAMPOO… else you will have the yuck.

Showrunner Rule #258A: For the record, at my hotel, the mouthwash is greener (in a pickle relish way) and translucent.

Showrunner Rule #259: (also failed) When on set after LONG absence, remind yourself: if U C camera lens & they’ve called action, thats BAD.

Showrunner Rule #260: Filming is glamorous, as proven by sitting in an under-house video village, occupied suspicious rodents & random toilets.

Showrunner Rule #260 (Addendum): Filming is STILL glamorous, as proven by TODAY’s swanky location. #WeFoundItThisWay

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 241-250

July 14th, 2015 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: 241-250.

Showrunner Rule #241: When shooting outside LA, pick cool locations, ’cause given the amount of work, its ONLY way to see your host city.

Showrunner Rule #242: Never think, “Today’s an easy day.” NEVER! If you do… 100% of the time, the TV piraña will jump up & bite your ass.

Showrunner Rule #243: The heartbeat of a script should be obvious by page 5. If it isn’t clear (and subtle is fine) go back and rebreak.

Showrunner Rule #244; Remind regs that while this may be their 80th time doing “this scene,” it is guest casts first. No fucking around.

Showrunner Rule #245 (1of2): TV is truly a “forest through the trees medium”. The little stuff you obsess upon (& should obsess upon)…

Showrunner Rule #245 (2of2): …is so much < important than PRIMAL CHOICES. What’s your drive, who’s your character. Headlines always win.

Showrunner Rule #246: Keep writer close during edit. She/He was on set… knows dailies… will be able to find that “all is not lost” take.

Showrunner Rule #247 (1of 2): Unavoidable tension between writers & episodic director. Former knows show’s intentions and deep history…

Showrunner Rule #247 (2 of 2): …latter wants freedom to do what. Difficult balancing act to make collaboration work for both parties & show.

Showrunner Rule #248: Think of script as “what you’d take in a fire.” Write down what’s ESSENTIAL, everything else will just weigh you down.

Showrunner Rule 249: Let the moon be your inspiration, ’cause you can get pages out at 11PM or 4AM, but 9-6 – the day – never gonna happen.

Showrunner Rule #250: Sometimes key to finding scene is mining early takes… before director started directing & actor abandoned instincts.

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 231-240

March 3rd, 2015 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 231-240:

Showrunner Rule #231: Episode success more bout 1/2hour retention then overall #. Series must get aud to show, writer/director gotta keep’s.

Showrunner Rule 232: In network environ, hafta think bout season 2 DURING season 1. That or resign yourself to hiatus that’s 38 hours long.

Showrunner Rule #233: Every meeting to discuss promotion robs time from writing show to promote. But no promo, no show-mo. So go, yo?

Showrunner Rule #234: 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 #235: Never forget that nothing really matters until the close up. Scenes that SUX in the wide, can sing in coverage.

Showrunner Rule #236: A staff is essentially a tribe. Choose well and survive the barren winter. Choose badly and starve before the thaw.

Showrunner Rule #237 (1of2) Page 42 is darkest moment in drama script. You’re miles away from “layup” cold open scenes and…

Showrunner Rule #237 (2of2) …plot which you and room never REALLY figured out, has just come home roost. #LuvTheGuyOnPage42

Showrunner Rule #238: Best feeling in the wide world, filling that plot hole on page 42 with something you discover on page 51. #TheGuyOnPage51

Showrunner Rule #239: Lead character is defined by X, which is why she does A, B, and C differently than any other character on television.

Showrunner Rule #239 Addendum: Please return to rule #226 as all iconic television is defined by that rule and that rule alone.

Showrunner Rule #240 (1of2): Demand staff ASK FOR HELP. Nothing worse than “me do” writer who insists on writing every word…

Showrunner Rule #240 (2of2): …then turns in shatty draft a day late. Job as producer is to PRODUCE & that may mean assists from others.

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 221-230

March 2nd, 2015 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 221-230:

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

Showrunner Rule #221: 111 comes before 112 comes before 113, which is how you MUST set priority list. Always. and forever: Feed. The. Beast.

Showrunner Rule #222: Empower covering writer to CALL WHEN THERE’S AN ISSUE. Episodes ARE saved with, “So, we may have a problem here.”

Showrunner Rule #223: Single scene locations are production killers. Costs $ and you spend as much time loading in & out as shooting art.

Showrunner Rule #224: Moment your character lets audience know of a decision, arc is over. LOTTA ways to organically keep choice in flux.

Showrunner Rule #225: Feast on mythos like Yogi Bear with a pic-a-nic basket. Mythos keeps the loyal viewer from “I’ll just watch later.”

Showrunner Rule #226: Gotta write scenes for the sets ya built. Only have 2 walls? Limit movement & know you can’t have an angry face off.

Showrunner Rule #227: Cutting dialogue won’t solve board issues. Cutting COVERAGE will. Same scene with 1 less character will save an hour.

Showrunner Rule #228: Giving character NAME in script means better actor. After all, which would YOU rather be… Angry Janitor or Gerard?

Showrunner Rule #229 (1of2): Shows live in 3 concurrent timelines. What’s on the air… what’s being shot… what’s being broken…

Showrunner Rule #229 (1of2): …trick is to be making the same show in all three, even though rules may have changed as lesson are learned.

Showrunner Rule #230: Worst time to cast significant guest role? Pilot season (Feb-Mar), when every actor you want, wants their own show.

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.

ATX Television Festival Pitch Competition

January 9th, 2015 by

I rarely, if ever, promote writing competitions. However this one has come to my attention with a strong recommendation from Kyle Killen, screenwriter and TV writer (Awake, Lone Star, Mind Games) who I have interviewed and met in Austin. The event is the ATX Television Festival Pitch Competition. Here is what Kyle, who is one of the judges, has to say about it:

“In my experience, every human being who’s ever watched television has a brilliant idea for a show. The pitch competition provides an utterly unique opportunity. Not only do you get to battle test that idea, the winner gets the opportunity to present it directly to the people who actually turn ideas into television. If there’s another competition that puts you in that position or offers a learning experience half as valuable, I haven’t heard of it.”

Here is a fun compilation of some of the finalists from the 2012 competition:

Deadline for entries: January 16, 2015.

For more information, go here.

Tom Benedek on Gone Girl, Broadchurch, and writing for TV

January 7th, 2015 by

A guest post from Tom Benedek, screenwriter (Cocoon) and teacher:

Happy New Year. Right after seeing Gone Girl, I found myself getting hooked on Broadchurch, a British TV series available on Netflix Streaming. Gone Girl functions as a mystery during its first half, then at the midpoint, it shifts into a kind of thriller mode with some fascinating, twisted character development. Could Gone Girl be TV? Along the lines of a show like The Affair or, of course, House of Cards – perhaps. Do I want to have this fun couple in my house every Sunday evening? Hmmm. As a movie, Gone Girl spun me around a few times. I will not forget it.

Why did the pilot episode of Broadchurch completely hook me? I don’t usually get involved in this kind of show: it is a straightforward murder mystery. The thing is — it has engaging, likable, yet potentially dark characters. The establishing setups of story, place, people are conventional AND highly resonant, with clear, relatable emotional tugs. Twists of story build emotional contrast almost immediately and yet it feels highly character driven. I will keep watching Broadchurch, catch up before Season 2 begins soon.

More and more feature creators are moving into TV. Along with intense viewership, binge watching, some truly excellent shows, there have been changes in the TV writing marketplace.

TV execs have been raising the bar on pitches. They don’t just want to know the details of the premise, pilot script structure and characters. They expect to hear thumbnail structures for three more episodes AND the season arcs for the main characters.

This means that writer-creators must know more about their shows than ever before — taking responsibility for the concept as a long running TV show. The networks/channels want to see a big canvas. You, the writer, have the opportunity to fill it, truly invest in your premise, characters and story.

TV writing has its own specific structural principles which feature writers can easily grasp. Understanding how to shape a new show and series may be valuable for all your future writing. So please consider my upcoming class TV: PILOT CREATION WORKSHOP starting Monday January 12.

To learn more about the workshop, go here.

Thinking Bigger For The Small Screen

December 2nd, 2014 by

A guest post from screenwriter and educator Tom Benedek whose screenwriting credits include the movie Cocoon.

Happy holidays. Lots of interesting movies opening now. I’m excited! And, on the home screen front, series television continues to bubble excitedly — a lot of interesting TV to catch up on, anticipate, etc..

More and more feature creators are moving into TV. Along with intense viewership, binge watching, some truly excellent shows, there have been changes in the TV writing marketplace.

TV execs have been raising the bar on pitches. They don’t just want to know the details of the premise, pilot script structure and characters. They expect to hear thumbnail structures for three more episodes AND the season arcs for the main characters.

This means that writer-creators must know more about their shows than ever before — taking responsibility for the concept as a long running TV show. The networks/channels want to see a big canvas. You, the writer, have the opportunity to fill it, truly invest in your premise, characters and story.

TV writing has its own specific structural principles which feature writers can easily grasp. Understanding how to shape a new show and series may be valuable for all your future writing. So please consider my upcoming class TV: PILOT CREATION WORKSHOP starting Monday December 8.

For more information on Tom’s excellent class, go here.

How do TV writers write? They ‘break’ the story first.

October 31st, 2014 by

Entertainment Weekly has a sponsored piece of content called “A Day in the Life of a TV Executive Producer and Writer,” featuring Sarah Watson who works on the NBC TV series “Parenthood”. You can read it here. What I’d like to zero in on is this:

Parenthood Writers Room

Notice all those index cards? Watson explains them:

A story is a group effort before the writer goes off to work out the script. “We ‘break’ the story as a team. Break is a fancy word for outline. We talk it through scene by scene and beat by beat until we have a shape for an episode. On Parenthood we use cork boards and colored note cards to track the scenes.”

Index cards! With all the technology we have nowadays, perhaps these simple 3×5 inch cards are the one of the most important writing tools. And not just for TV. Back in June, I featured this interview with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, whose movie credits include Milk and J. Edgar. He is a big fan of index cards:

I was really interested to see the table Lance works on because I interviewed him a few years ago and we discussed our mutual affection for using index cards:

DLB: Then what I do is find the scenes that speak to that, and I put them on note cards. I have this table in my kitchen that’s of a certain size that I think is about two hours. And I start laying out these note cards and if they start to spill over the table, I know I’ve got to cut stuff. I keep doing and doing and doing it, going through it and through it and through it, combining things, telescoping time, combining characters if I have to until these cards fit on this table, then I think, Will this collection of cards communicate the reason for this film? And hopefully do so in a dramatic and entertaining way.

SM: It’s funny that with all the technology available, I talk to so many writers who still like to work with those three-by-five inch index cards. Like we need that tactile experience of working with those cards and seeing the story come into shape.

DLB: You can see it all laying out in front of you. And you’d have to have a massive computer screen to see the entire story. Plus there’s no program I know of, not yet at least, that allows you to take a fine tip Sharpie and scribble something in the corner of a note card that’s already crammed with ideas. It’s collage and art. I don’t know of a program that’s loose enough to accommodate the craft, because it’s still a craft, crafting a screenplay.

Ever since I spoke with Lance, I kept trying to imagine what “certain size” table he has that translates into a two hour movie. Well, there it is in the video. In fact at the 3:40 mark in the video, Lance flat out says about scenes he’s had to cut, “There’s not room. I don’t have any more room on that table.”

Index cards. Tables. Cork board. White boards. Whatever you do and however you do it, break your story in prep. I’m not saying it’s the only way to write a screenplay, but most pro writers I know approach the story-crafting process that way. And every TV writer does. So if you don’t outline your stories, now’s the time to give it a try. Bust out those index cards and break your story!