October 30, 2011

Revisions and Rewrites, on Scriptchat

So, you've got a script. You've finished your first draft and you have that new mother glow. Congrats!
It's funny, it's moving, it puts you on the edge of your seat, but your job is not over. It needs work. What do you do now?

You follow the wisdom of the Scriptchatters.

Get some learning into ya!

REVISIONS & REWRITES Sunday 9th October

* A revision is tightening and polishing.
* A rewrite is reworking the whole piece.
* After getting structure right, pick each scene apart, one by one. Are there enough conflicts? Forward motion? Is this scene necessary?
* Look at each scene. What HAPPENS, what information is carried? Make a list. (Seriously, do this.)
* Rewriting can be easier (and less overwhelming!) if you make a list of things to accomplish, e.g. character arc – check to see if you have scenes that do that.
* Track the transitions.
* It’s much easier to get feedback at the outline stage! Find holes, make a solid foundation. Save yourself a lot of time and stress.
* Don’t show your vomit draft to anyone.
* Read dialogue aloud for rewrites.
* One method for rewriting is to go back through and analyse one character at a time, focussing on their dialogue, movements, action, arc, etc.
* You can also pick a character and just read through all their dialogue, to see it’s consistent.
* Do a table read for dialogue (you will learn a lot).
* Is your dialogue rich in subtext, or full of painful obviousness?
* Is your exposition neatly packed away or in glaring full-view?
* Assess if you can show through action or the physical what’s currently happening in dialogue.
* Another method of rewriting is removing all dialogue temporarily from your script, read it like a silent film, see if it makes sense. It should.
* And yet another suggestion is read your script backwards, line by line. Do the means justify your end?
* Use a beat sheet. Google it if you don’t know what it is. Blake Snyder was big on it.
* When you get a producer’s rewrites, it’s important to love your core story so much that it doesn’t matter what exterior it wears.
* A strong antagonist makes a protagonist strong.
* Print out hard copy of your screenplay for editing (recycle and re-use!), and mark up with a pen. You’ll miss less and won’t just be shifting sentences about like you would on computer.
* I like writing and editing on paper as well for the fact you’ll edit it again as you’re transcribing it all into your computer. An extra filtration opportunity.
* Before AND after your first draft, write a synopsis. Holes becomes evident. Plus you’ll need it as a pitching tool.
* Instead of editing and editing and shifting bits around, consider rewriting the entire script. May save you time and heartache.
*There are no rules when it comes to rewriting and revisions. Experiment. See what works for you!

Yep, it's a lot of info., but it's a big process and it helps to have a game plan. I'd love to hear if you try out or have used one of these methods, or have a suggestion of another that should be added to the list.

Screenwriters Anonymous - for people who think Courier 12 pt.is sexy.

October 26, 2011

What makes a good pilot? TV Writer Chat juice

So you want to write for TV do you? You sick, sick person. You've come to the right place!
There's a TV boom going on at the moment, and it's an industry that always has jobs going.
How do you get one of those jobs? You write, learn to write good, then send your writing out and hope someone buys it or hires you.

Here are some stellar tips on writing a pilot with a chance of succeeding.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD PILOT? Sunday 2nd October

* A great pilot introduces premise, develops characters, and is also a good stand-alone episode.
* A premise ep. is the origin ep. For example, the first episode of LOST or HAPPY ENDINGS.
* Don’t do a premise ep. unless it can succeed as a regular ep. You want your pilot to give the viewer/reader a strong sense of what every ep. will feel like, and how stories are generated.
* Instead of writing a premise episode, consider compacting the premise into the teaser/1st act of the pilot, or maybe even into the title sequence.
* Even the title can show the premise, like DEATH VALLEY, or LAST MAN STANDING by Tim Allen.
* A good pilot can play anywhere in the series.
* Fish out of water shows tend to have premise pilots, and they hook you. MEN IN TREES, NORTHERN EXPOSURE.
* Sitcom is about an obstacle and how the main character approaches it. The pilot must highlight the main character.
* Most networks/buyers prefer a non-premise pilot.
* Premise pilots are used more in drama.
* Pay TV/cable shows can get away with being more premise-heavy in the pilot.
* Serialised event drama series tend to scare away buyers. Viewers want to be able to jump in and out easily (you remember what it was like if you missed a couple weeks of LOST... Lost is exactly what you were).
* Write a spec script before penning a pilot (a spec being a script of a pre-existing show). Get to know structure.
* Pilot should not only show template for other episodes, but the engine. What drives it.
* Show the fun of the world. Chances are the network will be buying the world.
* Characters need to be great, but relationships can’t grow in one episode. You need to build over time.
* A good pilot teaches the audience how to watch the show. Kinds of stories, humour, cadence...
* It’s hard to sell a spec pilot because networks want a hand in developing the series to their needs. This is where a bible can also ruin you.
* Still, spec pilots are a great way for landing representation and staffing gigs. It just may not ever get made.
* Surprising stories keep viewers coming back.
* A character doesn’t have to be likeable (look at Al Swearengen!) – just relatable.
* One way to make an unlikeable character more likeable is add a character who’s even worse (going with the Deadwood motif, this would be Cy Tolliver).
* You have three acts to suck in viewers. Make your act breaks sizzle.
* Dan Goor recommends always starting with the ad breaks, and figuring out the acts from there when breaking a story.
* Leave audience hanging when you shift to B story and back!
* In pilot, be sure to deliver on the premise of your logline/premise.
* Keep the story simple and the characters complex.
* In TV, the story can always be reworked, but at least one main character will remain constant – that’s what sustains a show (so make your characters solid and interesting!)
* TV loglines need to establish world and characters. Feature loglines establish drive and story.
* Most dramas are now: 6 acts, or a teaser + 5 acts.
* Check out: Done Deal boards.
* Book recommends: ‘The Cheeky Monkey, writing narrative comedy’ by Tim Ferguson, and ‘The TV Writers Workbook’ by Ellen Sandler.

I hope all this info. has gotten your brain even more excited (and not terrified and overwhelmed). I think the moral of this #TVWriterChat is know your target broadcaster. Don't write generic and send your pilot our everywhere. And be honest with yourself that you may never see your show made, but it may get you your first gig.

And don't just send out the first thing you write. It takes years to get good, and employers and agents want to see you are prolific, and your pilot wasn't a fluke. Don't kill your career before it's started by jumping the gun.

Now go, write!

Screenwriters Anonymous - I'll show you my script if you show me yours.

October 23, 2011

Action writing & Dirty Harry on scriptchat

Lights, camera, ACTION! Yes, today I give you the meaty bits from the Scriptchat on action writing. Not a lot of fodder, but quality kicks tuchus over quantity here.

Read on, my swaggering, square-jawed, quick-drawing writerinos!

ACTION WRITING (and Dirty Harry) Sunday 2nd October

* The best action films often have an anti-hero.
* Dirty Harry is a solid example of a well-conceived action film. Gets straight into the action, shows instead of tells, the lines of the hero blur, the antagonist is well-hidden, and there’s no dialogue until the bottom of page 4 in the script.
* In writing an action script, keep action lines short, punch, evocative. Onomatopoeia works: BANG!
* Tough balance between choreographing and keeping script moving fast.
* Action films are very goal-oriented.
* The action movies have a protagonist who is both sides of the coin (good/bad).
* Don’t just rely on car chases and explosions; involve strong characters with goals and weaknesses  (watch Quantum of Solace to see how not to do it).
* Try to have action sequences that illustrate character and further plot, if you can.
* Sometimes the hero is trying to be good but in the end must be bad to defeat the villain.
* Some action movies are: an everyman stuck in a confined environment against insurmountable odds.
* Die Hard II is a great example of contained action. It shows that action can be done on a budget if necessary.
* Star Wars worked because Lucas applied Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.
* Currently, the action genre is ripe for a rebirth.
* Try to write a story where the action is character-generated, not so much CGI and special effects. 

In a few short days I'll share the marrow from the TV Writer Chat from the same day - What makes a good pilot? Oh it's a good one, and you'll learn some gems that could make or break your pilot.

Until next time, watch an action movie, or read an action script, or both. And if you figure out how to choreograph without choking up the page and stilting flow, let me know!

Screenwriters Anonymous - where talking to imaginary people will get you locked up in a writers guild.

October 11, 2011

Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive seminar notes pt 3

Here it is, my lovely lumps of learning!
Part III (and the end) of the notes from Steve Kaplan's Comedy Intensive seminar. By now you probably believe what I said about it being a lot of information and the kind of thing you'll only truly benefit from by being there in person.

It's funny though how one little piece of advice may impact your writing. If you hadn't heard of the straight line/wavy line principle, would you have thought to infuse it into all your scenes? I hope when you've been watching Big Bang Theory or Frasier re-runs you've paid attention and witnessed the straight/wavy balance at play.

Alright, let 'er rip!


* The Greeks developed comedy (and tragedy?) Then the Romans appropriated it, then the Visigoths came and destroyed culture (the bastards).
* Commedia dell’Arte teaches us that a character creates plot, action, and movement.
* There are 8 comedy archetypes in Commedia. They may serve dual roles (in the categories of servant, master, or lover), but they are always the same. Drop the Harlequin in any situation and he will live up to his established nature.
Read up on Commedia and you may learn about character archetypes that you can use in your own writing.
* Characters are a closed universe. Use a small number of people to tell story.
* Have a duo with different character types. One should be smarter, higher status. Don’t fall into the trap of making your characters essentially the same. People aren’t in real life.
* Problems are GOLD!
* Crazy characters are joyful and optimistic. If they’re depressive, it won’t work.
* Groundhog Day has 6 acts. Recommended read: Groundhog Day script, second draft.
* Character needs a big hole to throw themselves into at the start.
* How to create a comic premise:
* Think of something that would not or could not happen.
* Ask yourself, what happens next?
* Once your premise is established you cannot tell another “lie”. Blake Snyder called this ‘Double mumbo jumbo’. If you have gotten your audience to ‘believe’ in a world of aliens, don’t add a talking shark halfway through. Don’t push the audience’s suspense of disbelief too far or you lose them.
* Your theme can be a question. ‘What’s the nature of being a kid?’ ‘How can you play God without becoming the Devil?’ etc.
* Follow the goal! No tangents. And don’t fragment reality for the joke’s sake. Your character is a ‘real’ person so don’t bend them to the joke. Bend the joke to them.
* Want to keep that joke? Simple! Just have another character doing it.
* Your protagonist needs to go through the impossible situation.
* Characters are brought on through theme or need.
* Premise in the engine – it starts everything. Theme is the rudder.
* The BIG DECISION – between two equal choices (two bad or two good).
* Characters determine events and structure. NOT the other way around!
* COMEDY PARADIGM (Comic hero’s journey):
- Man thinks his “out of balance” life is the norm.
- Fate/premise intervenes
- Man attempts to return to his norm, but in the process discovers a new norm; one that’s more balanced.
* Make the story believable for the character’s age.
* Keep friends/allies/the girl close physically. If your protagonist is trying to become the president and trying to win the girl, he should be with the girl and going after her as much as possible.
* Resist turning your protagonist into a true hero until the end (or kill the comedy).
* If a character is acting irrationally (being a straight line – look at Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive seminar notes part II by scrolling down), you need a wavy character present to provide comedy, OR change the irrationality to a human response.
* Steve’s advice for overcoming writer’s block? Write the crappiest thing you know. You can’t fall any further – everything will be better after that.

Well, that's all folks. I hope you've injected your funny bones with all this juice, so you can write something that's not only funny, but well-written. 'Cos I am so sick of inferior comedies I will pay you to make me laugh (at least the $15 at the cinema).
Put something of yourself into your film or TV show. Don't make just another sitcom or blockbuster. Infuse your experiences, parts of real people, your personality and past, and that little something extra that will make people remember your movie long after the credits roll.

Next time on Screenwriters Anonymous I bring highlights from Scriptchat about writing action films, which will be followed by vital advice on writing a good pilot spec script from the all-knowing brains of TVWriterChat.

Until then, get watching comedy and seeing Steve's principles in action. Will you spot a metaphorical relationship, a protagonist who only becomes a hero at the end, or a scene where the familiar is put into the weird?

Feel free to comment and tell me if these pointers have improve your writing or ability to analyse comedy.

Screenwriters Anonymous - where everyone's secretly hoping you'll succeed. 

October 9, 2011

Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive seminar notes pt 2

Hi, and welcome back to the show. In today's Screenwriters Anonymous, we bring you part two of the notes from the Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive.
To read part one, simply scroll.
It's time to get high... on learning.


* Every character has their own point of view (and desires, fears, etc.) – not just the protagonist.
* Protagonists expect each of their actions to work and get the results they need, or at least make things better. So of course there is surprise when this does not occur, and may in fact make things worse.
* We like when characters do mean things, because they’re not doing it to be mean – they’re trying to make their own situation better. (This is important to think about when creating ‘evil’ characters. Plain old nasty villains are boring because their motivations are two dimensional. You must think from the villain’s viewpoint—they are only doing what they’re doing to achieve something for themselves, and they often feel that is the right thing.)
* Your character will be surprised when their selfish action/positive action doesn’t work.
* Their goal is to try and dissipate pain or anger.
* To make a character a better person, give them more skills. It reduces comedy, ups drama, and that’s not always a bad thing in a comedy.
* Cutting through subtext and just being direct can be funny (considering most dialogue throughout a film is subtext).
* Comedy is watching somebody watch somebody else be funny. We live vicariously through the witness to the hilarity (which they may not find funny).
* One character ‘sees’, the other is ‘blind’.
* Two character function types: straight line, and wavy line.
* The wavy line character represents us (and just to confuse you, the wavy line is the ‘straight’ one). They waver about in confusion of a situation with a straight line. They externally express inner emotions and impulses we can relate to.
* The straight line character is usually pretty confident in the conversation/situation. They don’t see anything as being ‘out of whack’.
* Wavy line/straight line are not character types. It switches constantly (watch a Seinfeld episode. George will be the confused one as Kramer explains something odd, then Seinfeld will be the confused one as George rants about a woman, etc.)
* Wavy line is open and vulnerable to the environment. A lot of looking and reacting, not much dialogue. We essentially just witness their exasperation and attempts to understand/find order.
* Once the wavy line character solves the problem, the wavy/straight ends, and wavy ‘comes into focus’ (finds clarity). Then the balance will shift again. You can just keep doing this over and over and it will provide consistent comedy.
* Though the straight line character may possibly be outrageous, it’s the wavy we’re focussing on.
* You can have many straight lines, but only one wavy.
* Straight achieves their goals and expectations.
* Wavy is like the sane person in an insane world. A lot of the humour comes from their frustration, and our empathising with the exasperation.
* Straight is ‘blind’/they create the problem. Wavy struggles.
* If a character stands up for themselves, they become a hero. In a comedy you don’t want this at the start. They’ll lose their underdog status and reach their goal too soon.

That's all for this week. Join us next time for the thrilling conclusion of... The Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive.

Be there, or be, um, somewhere else.

Screenwriters Anonymous - the support group for people who constantly make film metaphors about life.

October 2, 2011

Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive seminar notes pt 1

The following are notes taken at the Comedy Intensive seminar as a part of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Sunday 7th August in Melbourne.
They will give you the meat of what was covered, but to get the full effect you really need to go to one of the lectures yourself, especially for the video examples given and the audience participation. Even if you’re a drama bunny, there’s heaps you can take from this.

It was a LOT info. for one day (so I'll present the notes in three parts), and if you can do the two-day seminar, take it! You’ll learn a lot from Steve and be entertained the whole way through. It's a must-do for any aspiring or working comedy writer. He gives insights that could make or break your script.
You can follow the man himself on Twitter by clicking Steve Kaplan.


* Drama shows what we dream we could be. Comedy helps us deal with who we are.
* Comedy tells the truth about people.
* The ultimate flaw that each human shares: death.
* Humans live in hope & guessing.
* A stand-up comedian is the brave person who gets up in front of strangers and confesses they’re human.
* The hidden tools of comedy are: -Winning (you can win in comedy!), - Non-hero, - Metaphorical relationship, - Positive action, - Straight line/wavy line, - Archetypes, - Comic premise.
* When two characters have the same goal, it makes them clash. This is especially good for physical comedy.
* Your characters have permission to do whatever is needed to try and succeed.
* A ‘call-back’ is a repeat of a previous joke.
* Comedy, instead of always coming from a gag, can come from two characters seeing something/an issue from different perspectives.
* Not knowing is funnier than the 'slap' (keeping characters clueless about certain things makes the audience laugh).
* Your characters needn’t be stupid, just temporarily unaware.
* Indignation can create comedy.
* Take away your hero’s skills and tools – take away their knowing and they lose their power, which is funny.
* “Act fast, think slow” – Buster Keaton’s character comedy advice.
* Play with possibility!
* Follow the character’s reality, moment to moment, bit by bit, for physical comedy.
* Metaphorical relationship – e.g. The Odd Couple are like an old married couple. You can include characters acting almost like they’re little kids, like father & son, sisters, mother & son, Satan tempting. They’re easily identifiable to the audience, even if not consciously.
* Recollect – don’t make shit up! Keep scenes, dialogue and behaviour feeling organic – stay true within the metaphor.
* Realisation, discovery, first perception – these are often funnier than a gag.
* Try playing a metaphor out without going for funny (because it should be funny on its own).
* World view is vital. Don’t think from action, think from a character’s perspective and motivations (i.e. get inside their head, don’t play them as puppet from the outside).
* Love your characters! Don’t condescend to them!! Even if a character is simple, give them power and respect. You can make fun of them whilst being empathetic of them!
* Think of a sequence in your screenplay as a chapter, like in a novel. In Something About Mary, you might have THE PROM, THE FIRST DATE, etc.
* Cliches can come in handy. Instant recognition is good.
* Put the familiar into the weird, not the other way around.
* Then we can empathise with the familiar being stuck in the situation.
* A character must be the master of their own disaster in comedy. Stops them being the victim! Even if it seems others are inflicting the damage upon them, ultimately it must be their own fault.
* And the character must keep getting back up! Remember – hope is what divides it from being drama!
* If you’re showing the worst day of your hero’s life, and why not, you need witnesses, the more the better. Blow up the scale, intensify the embarrassment.
* Take it to the extreme point. Don’t go half-assed. Amping things up creates more drama, more tension, more comedy.

The next installment will be available for your learnage in a few days. Until then, keep writing, keep learning!

Screenwriters Anonymous - where no-one sneers "Ohh, have you written anything I'd have seen?"