March 27, 2012

Story consultant Jen Grisanti on Scriptchat

We'rrrrrre baaaaaack! Miss us?
Shoosh, it's rhetorical.

In this fresh Screenwriters Anonymous, we get down and dirty with Jennifer Grisanti: story/career consultant, writing instructor for WOTV @ NBC, blogger for The HP, author of two books - 'TV Writing Tool Kit' and 'Story Line', and studio exec for 12 years. Jen worked at CBS/Paramount, and other networks her whole career. Keep reading to check out the advice she dispensed so kindly to the gentle folk of Scriptchat.

SCRIPTCHAT Sunday 4th March, 2012
Guest: Jen Grisanti (in her own words... give or take a little editing)
* I would say to stand out with the writing programs, you have to write from your truth. It will separate you.
* To pitch - Start with series logline, pilot logline (A Story), themes, concept, character and synopsis.
* I think that the way you stand out as a writer is that you also know when to use your own story in meetings.
* My favorite type of clients are the ones that are ready to do the work and put in the time. I love working with every level.
* Building your portfolio to support the end goal of what shows you want to staff on is crucial to your success.
* Yes, they will remember the story that you tell about YOU. So, make sure before going in that you have the right stories.
* My brand is all about learning how to add fiction to your truth in your writing so that we hear your voice in your story.
* Write the shows that you are the most passionate about. Your passion will show up on the page.
* Recognize that when you go to a meeting that the executive wants the meeting to work as much as you do.
* Write flawed and complex characters. The shows that are working the best have leads that are FASCINATING.
* For novelists, I either work on story development or on adapting their novels into a pilot or feature.
* Start your story with a powerful dilemma, have a goal stem from the dilemma, connect obstacles & all is lost back to goal.
* Good shows to spec/fav sitcoms - Big Bang, Parks & Recreation, Community, Episodes, Nurse Jackie, The League, Modern Family, Raising Hope, The Middle.
* It's too late to write 30 Rock or The Office.
* I've worked with over 400 writers since I opened my business so yes, I definitely work with writers that over-analyze. It is my job to help them to simplify.
* You further your career by building your writing portfolio and building your network.
* I think that short teasers help some of the time. I don't think they make a big difference though. A strong concept will sell.
* I believe that it is great to have a strong brand. For someone with no connections, focus on building your portfolio first. Then, go out an build your network.
* Fav dramas - The Good Wife, Homeland, Shameless, Covert Affairs, Mad Men, Luther (yes, I love LUTHER!) Also love CASTLE, WHITE COLLAR and SUITS.
* I believe that you need 4 solid scripts. 1 or 2 current specs and 2 originals.
* I have a FREE Storywise Podcast on iTunes & my website and a FREE video blog on YouTube.
* To know what the market is looking for, all you have to do is watch the trades. Record the pick-ups & you will see who is looking for what.
* When you're writing specs, get a produced episode, study the format, watch how they write toward the act breaks...
* I've had plenty of writers tell me that they were going to spec TRUE BLOOD but none wind up doing it!
* You should never write a spec for a show that isn't officially picked up for season two.
* I am seeing a trend toward wanting to find the next HOUSE or X-Files. There is a need for this genre.
* I would say that there are slim chances of selling a spec pilot without a rep.
* It is hard for a newcomer to sell a spec pilot but not impossible. It has been done.
* I would say more people use pitch documents now versus bibles. In addition, bibles are briefer than they used to be.
*A Pitch Document is one or two pages. It lists the logline, the concept, the themes, the character, the show synopsis & briefs for the first 13 episodes.
* To get a chance on writing for a show, you have to be better than the working writers the producers already know.
* I'd like 2 see a half hour comedic sci-fi series.
* Great ideas will sell. This is the bottom line. The writer is now the entrepreneur. You can work without reps. It is just much harder!
* We are doing the TV Writers' Summit in London in June and maybe Australia in September.
* My preference is that you write a pitch document at the same time you write your pilot. It helps to organize.
* You must have a pilot to get an agent. In my experience, you need 3-4 strong scripts.
* John August's Library has a great formula for a pitch document.
* A working writer can pitch an idea without writing the pilot first. New writers CAN NOT.
* Are there age barriers when trying to get writing work? My feeling is that age is a barrier that we put there. In my opinion, the older you get, the better you write.
* The pilots you write get you representation. The pitch documents help sell the show.
* I would agree that it is much harder for new writers to sell with a pitch document. It is easier if you are a proven entity.

You can follow Jen on the Twitter at JenGrisanti

Coming up next time on the blog are meaty bites from the Scriptchat starring Bitter Script Reader. Yes, he's a script reader. No, we don't know his secret identity. And yes, he may be bitter, but he knows a lot about what to (and not to do) when screenwriting, how to raise your chances of achieving the almighty 'Recommend'.

Y'all come on back now, y'hear! 

Screenwriters Anonymous - it doesn't have an urban edge just because you wrote it at Starbucks.

February 20, 2012

#29scenes Day 20

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 20 scene idea: *A man avoids his fiancée who is ovulating and trying to fall pregnant*

Click clack click clack!

February 19, 2012

#29scenes Day 19

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 19 scene idea: *A high school girl discovers one of her bullies crying in the toilets, and against her better judgement, asks what's wrong*

As usual, you could take this in a lot of different directions. But move the story along, and peel back the layers of characters a bit at a time.

February 18, 2012

#29scenes Day 18

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 18 scene idea: *A young girl and her little brother discover their mother sleeping with a man who is not their father*

Try capturing the scene from the kids' point of view.

February 17, 2012

#29scenes Day 17

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 17 scene idea: *A woman tries to escape a blind date with a needy man while he does everything he can to make her stay*

By reversing yesterday's situation, you will get a whole different dynamic. Have fun with this one and make those characters work hard to get their way!

February 16, 2012

#29scenes Day 16

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 16 scene idea: *A man tries to escape a blind date with a hideous woman while she does everything within her power to make him stay*

You have dual character objectives to play with here, make them both work hard to get what they want!

February 15, 2012

#29scenes Day 15

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 15 scene idea: *A teenage girl meets her father for the first time*

Haven't been participating in the challenge? Doesn't matter! Give this scene a go. You really have nothing to lose, and the results may surprise you.

February 14, 2012

#29scenes Day 14

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 14 scene idea: *Two men arrive with flowers at the same woman's house on Valentine's Day*

Happy Venereal-disease Day!
As promised yesterday, here is the scene written by The Bourne Identity screenwriter which yesterday's challenge was based off:


Darkness. The sound of wind and spray.

The darkness is actually water. A searchlight arcs across heavy ocean swells. Half a dozen flashlights - weaker beams - racing along what we can see is the deck of an aging fishing trawler.

Fishermen struggling with a gaff - something in the water -

A human corpse.

So, how did your scene compare? Did you capture a similar poetic brevity, or did you take a different tact? Look back at the scene you wrote yesterday and see where you could improve it.

February 13, 2012

#29scenes Day 13

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 13 scene idea: *A fishing trawler travelling at night discovers a dead body in the water*

Think brevity; you're almost sketching using light and shade without filling in all the lines.
Tomorrow I'll share with you how Tony Gilroy, the writer of The Bourne Identity, wrote this scene. You can compare your handiwork to his.

February 12, 2012

#29scenes Day 12

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 12 scene idea: *A woman discovers she is dating her new best friend's husband*

You get to play with a big character arc in this scene. Think about how much the protagonist has to lose, and what she'll do to get what she wants. Does she want the husband? Is she lonely and desperate to hold onto her new friend? Does she not want to be caught out and have her reputation ruined? You decide!

February 11, 2012

#29scenes Day 11

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 11 scene idea: *Character A tries to get Character B confess a secret without using words*

You can use dialogue, but not as a part of Character A's objective.

February 10, 2012

#29scenes Day 10

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 10 scene idea: *Character A walks in on Character B sniffing Character A's shoe*

Remember: there may be more conflict to be had in this scene by not having the characters address the issue directly.

February 9, 2012

#29scenes Day 9

29#scenes writing challenge

DAY 9 scene idea: *Character A fantasises telling Character B a painful secret. Juxtapose with the reality of the confession*

Try to break the clich

February 8, 2012

#29scenes Day 8

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 8 scene idea: *Character A confronts Character B about a letter they found*

February 7, 2012

#29scenes Day 7

Naughty me, forgot to post yesterday's challenge! Serves me right for being busy.
I hope you wrote a scene anyway!

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 7 scene idea: *Your character realises they're at the wrong funeral*


I'd love to hear if any of you have tried your hand at one of these scene ideas and how you went!

February 6, 2012

Screenwriting teacher Richard Walter on Scriptchat

Do you go to UCLA? I didn't think so. But wouldn't it be nice to hear the thoughts and advice of a seasoned UCLA screenwriting teacher? One who is a screenwriter himself, and has also written books on the subject such as Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing and Essentials of Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing?
Well then you're in for a treat! Meet Richard Walter.

SCRIPTCHAT Sunday 22nd Jan, 2012
Guest: Richard Walter
* The two biggest mistakes writers make: 1) We write too much. Too many scenes, too much dialogue, movies that are too, too long. 2) We show our scripts before they’re ready.
* Prematurely shown scripts get stale in a hurry.
* Every word of dialogue, and every other sight and sough in a script must MOVE THE STORY FORWARD.
* Trim, trim, trim. When in doubt (about any word of dialogue or anything else), throw it out.
* Ask yourself: If a particular bit was missing, would it be missed? Would the scaffolding of the plot/story fall down? If so, it was needed. If not, not.
* It’s okay to overwrite on early drafts, so long as you don’t show others until the script is pared and pruned.
* Have a writers group – pals you can show early drafts to. Notes are helpful!!
* Common mistakes: being too on-the-nose, too textual, and insufficiently subtextual. The idea is to imply rather than express.
* Raise the stakes as high as you can raise them.
* Don’t tell the reader/audience to feel – MAKE them feel! Make it come out of sight, sound, action, and dialogue, not the writer whispering clues and cues to the reader.
* People who get depressed are people who feel their feelings passionately, and that’s a good sign for writers.
* Make the audience laugh, cry, whatever – as long as you don’t make the audience BORED.
* The score shouldn’t stand out – it should support the story, not be the story.
* Don’t START with the theme when you’re writing. You’ll end up preaching. It should come after story and surprise you.
* Including coverage with your script can make your script look old.
* Film school is now the #1 way to break into the industry.
* If you want to get staffed on a TV show, move to LA. Write features? It’s actually an advantage to be from somewhere other than LA or New York.
* The three big rules of writing at UCLA: Don’t. Be. Boring.
* It’s important to outline, but once you start writing the script, throw away that outline. Stay open to surprise.
* If you’re not married to writing blockbusters, there’s never been a better time for writers. Production costs for indies are crashing, and there’s worldwide distribution at every internet port.

You can follow Richard on Twitter by clicking richardwalteruc.

Next time I invade your knowledge banks with the recent TVWriterChat about fellowships. Until then, don't go changing, but feel free to edit at will.

Screenwriters Anonymous - the first rule of Write Club is you talk to anyone who'll listen about Write Club.

February 5, 2012

#29scenes Day 5

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 5 scene idea: *Your character walks into a job interview only to discover their arch nemesis going for the same job*

Would you take this the drama route or the way of comedy? Either way, have fun with it, build that tension!

February 4, 2012

#29scenes Day 4

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 4 scene idea: *Character A tries to get Character B to admit they're lying*

Think subtext! You'd rarely tell someone to their face you know they're lying. You'd try to hint at it, or trick them, or make them think you're cool with what they did. Character A has made their bed and there they lie, and Character B wants to gently tear the sheets off and expose the truth and Character A for who they really are.

Get at it!

February 3, 2012

#29scenes Day 3

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 3 scene idea:
*Character A divulges negative information about Character B to Character C, not realising C is in love with B*

Tappa tappa!

February 2, 2012

#29scenes Day 2

#29scenes writing challenge

DAY 2 scene idea: *Character A wants to ask a favour of Character B who is angry at them*

Get writing!

February 1, 2012

#29scenes Day 1

Hello February and hello screenwriters! How are your new year's resolutions going? If you're wavering, struggling to motivate yourself, or feeling overwhelmed trying to write a big script, I have a challenge for you.

I'm calling it #29scenes (Twitter hash).

The idea is simple: every day over the next 29 days of February, you write a scene. "That's not hard!" you proclaim. Then why haven't you been doing it?

It helps to have others in the same boat as you. I keep being intimidated by all the screenwriting learning I do (3actssubtextconflictbrevityincitingincidentpg15everywordmovesplotorrevealscharacterkillmekillme), so what I need is to just work on my scene-writing to get comfortable with it. You only really learn when you do, and there's far less pressure with a two-page scene than a 119 page feature that's meant to compete with every brilliant script ever written.

You don't have to write a scene for a project you're working on. This is like exercises in screenwriting class. And just like a screenwriting teacher, I'm going to suggest some scene ideas for you, based off a central conflict. One every day. 

DAY 1: *Character A tries to tactfully dump Character B, who is preparing to propose*

It can be any genre or style. My only suggestion to try writing outside your comfort zone, or flip a cliché on its head. Subvert the paradigm, man. Yeah, right on.

If you miss a day here or there, don't stress out or give up. You're doing this for you, 'cos you want to be a professional and proud writer. Baby steps, once scene at a time...

See you tomorrow with a new scene idea!

January 30, 2012

Multi-cam shows on TVWriterChat

Good morning, afternoon, and evening. How nice of you to drop by! Tea?

This week's Screenwriters Anonymous detoxification is focussed on writing MULTI-CAM TV (as seen on television). It comprises two TV Writer Chats, the first one shorter to avoid double-ups.

So step into the parlour, it's time to watch some TV.

TV WRITER CHAT 14th December, 2011

* Once you’ve sold a script, you’ve sold the copyright and your vision. Producers now own it and can make any changes without the writer.
* Single-camera shows will still be in three acts but the script may not show the breaks.
* Some single-cam scripts look like a short film (e.g. Entourage).
* Single-cam shows can tend to be less jokey and more dramatic. Where a multi-cam often ends on a comedic note, single-cam can end on a dramatic or comedic ‘button’.
* Single-cam shows have more scenes, because they’re not so restricted by locations and sets.

TV WRITER CHAT 18th December, 2011: MULTI-CAM TV

* Double-spacing and act breaks often make multi-camera scripts longer than single-cam.
* All action is in CAPS.
* Multi-cams are written a little more like a play.
* The writing schedules for multi-cam shows are often crazy; it’s hard to have a family and write on such a show. Some days you can start at 9am and go until 6am the next day!
* Most multi-cams state which characters will be appearing in the scene under the slugline.
* It’s more set-up -> punchline.
* Scenes are lettered, not numbered, as they coincide with the studio camera points.
* The faster/earlier you do your set-ups, the faster you’ll get events in motion and have more room for story conflict to evolve.
* Multi-cams tend to have more twists/reversals/complications.
* They have a comic rhythm, a certain cadence you can follow like a beat.
* Most writers consider multi-cams harder to write.
* This type of show is generally given less time on air to find an audience if they don’t rate well immediately (Big Bang Theory is one of the exceptions to this).
* One method you can use to write a multi-cam: start with a premise line before outlining – a cause & effect statement that tells the A-story as a set-up, turn, turn, then major turn.
* The live taping of multi-cams makes the schedule very strict. It’s also more gruelling because of network approvals in between, punch-ups, etc.
* This type of script format takes longer to learn.
* Watch shows, read scripts, and study what happens in the A, B, and C strands!
* Multi-cam shows can be easier to break down ‘cos the format is so strictly established. You can know where the marks should happen.
* Look at the story points at the end of each act break. This will give you an idea of the formula a show uses.

Well look at the time. Our session is up for today.  Come back next week when we present the brain pickings of screenwriter, author, and UCLA teacher, Richard Walter. It's a must-see episode!

Screenwriters Anonymous - it's like 7 Minutes in Heaven except it's you at a keyboard for 70 years, alone.

January 24, 2012

Sitcom writing on Scriptchat

Oh, it's you again. You left your wallet here so you'd have an excuse to return, didn't you? Well, welcome back! I promise I didn't lick all your coins.

On today's Screenwriters Anonymous I relay to you the meatiest bits of the Scriptchat guest-starring writer John Vorhaus. John has written for Married... With Children and Head of the Class. He is the author of 'The Comic Toolbox', 'Creativity Rules', and 'The Little Book of Sitcom'. This man knows his stuff.

11th December, 2011
Guest: John Vorhaus 

* Characters are sympathetic monsters. Sympathetic because we like them. Monsters because they don’t always act in their own best interest.
* Biggest mistakes: writing characters from the outside in, constructing characters according to template instead of heart.
* John’s favourite character flaws: going too far, innocence/naivety/obsession.
* “The trouble with too far is you never know you’re going ‘til you’ve gone.”
* Characters who go too far are well-intentioned, therefore ‘sympathetic’ – they just lack limits.
* Michael Scott in The Office goes way too far trying to validate his self image.
* Ask yourself what choices your character must make. Test them by putting them in a situation as a writing exercise. “How would this person cross the street?” Play with the characters before you really try to write them. Don’t use these scenes in your script unless suitable.
* Villains in comedies should be likeable. Villains elsewhere can be unlikeable. e.g. Hannibal Lector.
* Protagonists must be likeable and relatable. Otherwise no-one will come along for the ride. This doesn't necessarily mean they should be nice (look at Al on Married... With Children. What a jerk! But we love him.)
* It’s easy to like a flawed anti-hero – we can relate.
* You can have a more likeable sub-character to act as the viewer’s window in, to make the flawed anti-hero more likeable.
* Antagonists need goals (and love!) too.
* Antagonist’s job: put pressure on the hero, bring him/her to truth.
* Strong supporting characters: more exaggeration, less self-awareness, very strong comic perspectives, and repeatable “bits”.
* John isn’t a fan of unity of opposites + archetypes when crafting characters. “Have the characters be who THEY want to be, not who YOU want them to be.”
* Good writing = honesty + style.
* John says screw character bios! Put your characters into stories, see what they do. That’s where the real learning lies.
* Give your character a strong early choice to define them (the viewer can see the cut of their jib early this way and have a handle on who this person really is).
* The best way to get constructive feedback is find a writer you trust and do the same for him/her.
* If you don’t know writers, join a meet-up group.

If you want to learn more, you can check out John's books and follow him on Twitter at @TrueFactBarFact

The next post will come very soon, with tasty treats from the TVWriterChat about mutli-cam TV shows. It will be awesome from multiple angles.
Please don't hit me.

Screenwriters Anonymous - your IMDb profile can't save you now, mwa ha haaa!

January 8, 2012

Thrillers on Scriptchat

Roll up, roll up, and welcome to the latest session of Screenwriters Anonymous, where the screenfreaks and word geeks dwell. Today's confessional is about THRILLERS. It should be... thrilling*
(*no responsibility will be taken for dad-grade puns)

This is a bit of a long one, but pure gold if you're getting into the lucrative and exciting field of writing thriller films. Enjoy the knowledge!

THRILLERS 4th December 2011

* Thrillers were well-repped in 2011 sales. Thrillers and comedies were the big spec sellers.
* They are the only movies than can look dirt cheap and make millions.
* Thrillers work ‘cos sets and props are relatable to our real lives.
* They are more action-oriented and often more violent than straight suspense.
* Competency of Main Character is important. In horror, the MC is unprepared. In a thriller, they are better equipped to face the situation.
* Increase intensity with each scene.
* Thrillers are usually more about plot than character.
* Spec thrillers too often focussed on characters and become drama. It’s a difficult genre to balance.
* Thrillers are more about feeling the plot twists than thinking them. You don’t want your audience cerebral, you want to take them along for the ride.
* Suspense is more passive, thriller more active.
* A story about avoiding a bomb blast = suspense. A story about diffusing a bomb = thriller. Getting chased = suspense. Chasing = thriller.
* A good thriller is more story, less gory. Implied is more powerful than shown (see the end of Se7en). Thrillers don’t rely on special effects – they rely on the audience’s imagination.
* Stakes. Conflict. Tension. Power on both sides (hero’s side and villain’s side).
* Natural dialogue, relatable characters.
* Keep ‘em guessing, hide your misdirection. TWISTS!
* Have a dramatic question to frame each sequence, along with an overarching dramatic question for the film.
* A good thriller just stops short of revealing too much in each scene, Each scene builds like a house of cards to the finale.
* The opponent preys on the hero’s psychological weaknesses, big-time.
* A good Main Character is one you never quite trust. Are they good or bad? It creates a great guessing game. Look at Leo’s character in Shutter Island.
* Allow the audience to share a secret with the protagonist. When the protag. conceals or lies, the audience is complicit. Shutter Island is filled with great examples of this.
* Main Character must have doubt in themselves.
* A good thriller will pass ‘the piss test’ – the film should make you need to pee (but dare not leave the screen). Don’t give the audience any chance to go to the toilet.
* A solid Main Character has a clear goal, and the ability to follow a string of actions to achieve it. They use their flaws as an advantage.
* The hero must be smart, but the villain must be smarter.
* Most thrillers are justice vs. injustice.
* The best thrillers save some innocent victims, and punish the smart people. Mercy then mercilessness. A glimpse of order in the universe, that the good will be saved, only to be dashed violently, and chaos returned.
* Leave your viewers with new questions as you answer old ones.
* Thriller recommendations: Zodiac, Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hot Fuzz, Sneakers, The Game, Stakeout.
* Other recommendations: Documentary – ‘Terror in the Aisles’.

That's all for today, folks. Next time I'll feed you the hot bites from the comedy Scriptchat starring writer John Vorhaus (Married With Children). Delicious.

Screenwriters Anonymous - for people who have worse carpal tunnel than professional fluffers.