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.