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12/21/2006: The Mistakes of Others -- The Greatest Gift of All
Casting sessions are videotaped. The camera is turned on for the few minutes of each actor's audition, creating a fascinating video document of the same few lines over and over with a different actor performing them every time. I mentioned casting tapes to an actor friend of mine who startled me by mentioning that actors would be helped by seeing such tapes. I was startled not because I didn't get the concept. The concept is crystal clear -- see what a producer sees and you'll become better at impressing producers. I was startled because it had never occurred to me that actors wouldn't have already seen such tapes for exactly that reason.
Similarly, I became much more confident about writing pilot scripts after I started routinely reading, every year, every script that the networks ordered produced as a pilot. I could pretend I was the network, make my own decisions about which scripts "popped," which ones had the elements that could make them work as a series --- and which ones seemed to me to have taken wrong turns, and I could think about all of that when I was writing my own.
In both the casting-tape and pilot-script scenario, there is something incredibly helpful about seeing other peoples' mistakes. This is an opportunity you don't often get -- you only see the actor who got the role, the pilot that became a show. But wouldn't it be nice to learn from mistakes without having to be the one who makes the darn things?!
So, after all this time in which I've repeatedly urged you all to read produced scripts of a series, I'm going to expand that mandate. Read specs too. If you're already in Los Angeles, it should be pretty easy to find a group (like The Scriptwriters Network) of writers with specs you can trade and collect, while also getting valuable feedback on your own specs. If you're elsewhere, you might have to find other spec writers over the net, but I suspect that won't be hard. Agree to give your suggestions, and to listen to those of others.
Now read the specs and think like a showrunner. Which ones manage to sound like the show and which ones do not? After all this time that I've warned against building a spec around a guest character, you'll be able to actually see the effect that's created, because I'm pretty sure that *someone* in your circle will have done exactly that. In fact, you will have access to a whole garden of mistakes that you can avoid!
Also, you'll have a better sense of when your spec is finished, since you'll have already scouted the competition and you'll know what you have to be better than.
Lunch: sushi at Echigo -- Mmm!