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Who Hates Whom / Bob Harris

Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up A Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris

"The geopolitical equivalent of scorecards that get hawked at ball games. Only Bob could make a user’s guide to our increasingly hostile world this absorbing, this breezy, and—ultimately—this hopeful."
~ Ken Jennings, author of Brainiac


Jane in Print
Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, edited by Jane Espenson

Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie and including Jane Espenson's short story, "Georgiana"

Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly, edited by Jane Espenson and Glenn Yeffeth

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Jane in Progress


Wednesday, January 30th
No Drumroll, Please!

Periodically, I talk about "clams," overused jokes that should be excised from your writing. I'm talking about (singsong) "Awkward!" and its sweaty companions "That went well" and "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," and so forth.

There's a related phenomenon that has bugged me for a long time, but that I haven't commented on before. These aren't overused jokes, exactly, but overused timing devices that get built into jokes. Look at this line, which might well occur in a sitcom spec script:

She was, how shall I put this, a well-rounded applicant.

Believe it or not, the thing that bugs me here isn't the punishing use of "well-rounded." I'm numb to that. What bothers me is the "how shall I put this." That little phrase is there to time the joke, to delay the punch so it lands harder. It drumrolls the joke instead of throwing it away. Since this little phrase is never used (at least never in comedy scripts) by a character genuinely searching for the right word without a comedic payoff, it always feels like a self-conscious request for a laugh. No! Don't beg!

Other examples, identical in intent, include "what's the word I'm looking for," which seems to me even more blatant, and "how you say," which is reserved for characters with thick foreign accents. Oh my.

A similar device, used more by pundits than sitcom writers, is to claim "pun not intended" immediately before or after cracking a pun, thereby calling attention to it. I've got nothing against a clever pun, but I think they're best dealt smoothly from your hand and placed softly on the table without fanfare.

Lunch: Ribs USA. Have I told you about their French fries drenched in hot-wings sauce? Go there at once.

Jane on 01.30.08 @ 12:08 PM PST [link]

Monday, January 28th
Petty Force

Another action-packed day on the picket line today, Gentle Readers. I was at my new default location, Fox, which was also home to the SAG/WGA Unity picket today. What a mob scene! Speeches! Writers! Dogs! Wind! Batemans!

The wind was fierce, snapping Joss Whedon's picket stick and sending the sign whipping backwards where it narrowly missed taking out 20 plus or minus 5 percent of the staff of Numb3rs.

I had a long and interesting conversation about comedy with another former colleague. We talked a bit about the comedy gold that comes with smart people acting stupid. Thinking about it later, it seems to me that the key concept might be "pettiness." The whole idea of focusing on something small, especially in the face of larger problems, is funny and identifiable. It's hard to find a comedic supporting character of the Frank Burns or Ted Baxter variety who isn't petty. But often the best moments of comedic leads, who have to be more likable, come from this same trait, as well. Frasier's need to appear sophisticated, Jamie's desire to be liked by her neighbors on Mad About You, Jerry's every move on Seinfeld... they came out of a highly focused need that from the outside appears petty. It's not an alienating quality like jealousy or meanness. It's highly identifiable and the nature of what prompts the pettiness tells the audience huge amounts about the character.

If you're struggling with a comedy script because you're having a hard time making a central character both flawed and likable, ask yourself the question, "What would make this character act petty?" It's a variant on "What do they want?" that could put you on a humorous path.

If you want more comedy advice, I've got the place for you. I hear that "Teaching Thursday" over on the Warner Brothers' picket line is a huge success so far. Here's an update from the organizers:

For our second Teaching Thursday hilarity will ensue! It's MULTI-CAMERA COMEDY DAY! Not sure how to write for geeks when you're tragically hip? The cool kids from "The Big Bang Theory" have answers! Want to know how to get your own personal studio audience? Writers from "The War At Home" know! And remember: If it rains on our heads, it's tragic. If it rains on yours, it's comedy gold!

The usual disclaimers:

If you're a writer for a Multi-Camera Comedy (or have been one) and want to show up, please know:

No one will solicit you to read their brilliant spec script. No one will ask for your phone number or email address. No one will expect anything of you other than your ability to answer some story/structure/dialogue questions.

If you're an aspiring who wants to take advantage of getting some truly great advice from the folks who have lived, eaten, breathed it:

Definitely join us -- all you need to do is pick up a sign! What you should not do: solicit the writers to read your brilliant spec script. Do not ask for phone numbers or email addresses. Do expect brilliance, because that's what you'll get!

MULTI-CAMERA COMEDY DAY: Thursday January 31st, 9 AM-12 PM, Warner Bros Gate 2.

I won't be there for this event, although I plan to join in when and if they conduct a "light drama" or "vampire slaying" or "spaceship" day.

Lunch: sushi at Echigo again. Warrrrm rice.

Jane on 01.28.08 @ 05:49 PM PST [link]

Friday, January 25th
Playing Your Way Into Television

Want another way into the business? I now know of two playwrights who were -- get this -- invited into television.

One of them was a colleague of mine from the ABC/Disney writers' program, and the other was a young woman whom I met the other day on the picket line. Both of them were young playwrights recruited into television without them reaching out for it -- someone with television connections attended a play and then things happened.

I don't think this happens a lot, but it is certainly illustrative of a larger truth -- if you want to write, go out and write. Write spec scripts for contests, look for writers' assistant jobs, absolutely, but if you can also establish yourself as a respected writer of plays, short stories, novels, non-fiction books, essays, reviews, recaps, comedy pieces, columns, profiles or as a journalist, you will doing yourself a tremendous favor when it comes to making an impression in Hollywood. You probably won't get recruited, as my two examples were, but then again, it's certainly more likely than if you're not out establishing yourself as some kind of a writer!

Lunch: quesadillas

Jane on 01.25.08 @ 12:42 PM PST [link]

Thursday, January 24th
Go, Boss, Go!

All of the scripts for Buffy were written in Scriptware. I don't even think Scriptware exists any more. At any rate, they certainly don't answer when you send them email asking how to convert old Scriptware scripts into Final Draft. But, I was able to figure it out on my own, with a minimal mangling of formatting. I now have a complete archive of all the drafts of all the scripts that I wrote during the Buffy years. Yay!

The format-mangling is substantial enough that I'm going through all the scripts and correcting the bits where dialogue has been formatted as if it's action and vice versa. This is allowing me a chance to re-read all the old drafts. Fascinating.

Some of what I'm finding pleases me. You know how I like to say that you can convey the depth of a character's emotion by making them suddenly inarticulate? Here's an example I like:

Yeah. Look, I'm not...
...with the words, but there's something - something's always been there. Between us. In the back of my mind.

Some of what I'm finding displeases me. Here's a joke that goes on exactly two words too long:

You think I still dream of a crypt for two with a white picket fence? My eyes are clear.
(tries a little joke)
Don't care for picket fences anyway. Bloody dangerous.

Don't you think that joke is so much better without the "bloody dangerous" explanation? A vampire doesn't like picket fences. That's plenty clear, doncha think? Sigh.

Remember, if you read your own work and find things like this, mistakes that now seem obvious, it's a good sign. It means you've learned something in the time in between.

In strike news, my boss, the amazing Ron Moore, has written this excellent piece which appears at UnitedHollywood.com. Go read!

Lunch: Acapulco (the chain restaurant, not the resort city). I had a wonderful tortilla soup and fresh guac made tableside -- Acapulco is stepping it up, people! But every time I go there, they're vacuuming! What's with all the vacuuming, Acapulco?

Jane on 01.24.08 @ 09:06 PM PST [link]

Wednesday, January 23rd

So, I was discussing the idea of an analytical approach to comedy with a writer on the line the other day and he directed me to this profile of George Meyer from The New Yorker in 2000. It's a look at a writer for The Simpsons with an approach to comedy that is fascinatingly analytical. Look for the bit where he talks about jokes "skipping a step." It's kind of revelatory.

I know I'm going to be thinking about that insight for a long time and trying to apply it to my favorite tv lines.

If anyone has ever made you feel bad about approaching humor analytically, this piece will make you feel better. Heck, I dare say it'll make you feel funny.

In strike news, the fine writers at Gate 2 at Warner Bros. have come up with an interesting idea, and I've been asked to help spread the word. The concept is "Teaching Thursdays," in which writers of various genres join the line on Thursdays, making themselves available to discuss story, structure and everything in between to aspiring writers if the aspirings would be willing to come out and pick up a sign. I'll let the organizer explain:

For our inaugural Teaching Thursday we thought the best way to kick it off would be with blood, guts and glory! Yes, it's MEDICAL DRAMA DAY! We will have writers from hit medical shows at your bidding! Not sure how to structure HOUSE? They'll have answers! Not sure what story has NOT been done on ER? One of their writers will probably know! Not sure where your patella is? Look it up or ask a GREY'S or PRIVATE PRACTICE writer...

If you're a writer for a medical show and want to show up, please know:

No one will solicit you to read their brilliant spec script. No one will ask for your phone number or email address. No one will expect anything of you other than your ability to answer some story/structure/dialogue questions.

If you're an aspiring who wants to take advantage of getting some truly great advice from the folks who have lived, eaten, breathed it:

Definitely join us -- all you need to do is pick up a sign! What you should not do: solicit the writers to read your brilliant spec script. Do not ask for phone numbers or email addresses. Do expect brilliance, because that's what you'll get!

MEDICAL DRAMA DAY: Thursday January 24th, 9 AM-12 PM, Warner Bros Gate 2.

See you there!

Sounds like a great idea to me.

Lunch: left-over Persian food mixed with some leftover sloppy-joe meat. Not bad!
Jane on 01.23.08 @ 06:31 AM PST [link]

Sunday, January 20th
Frenzy Corrected

Ooh. Ask, and I shall receive. I posted confusedly yesterday about ScriptFrenzy, and who should come riding to my rescue but C. A. Bridges, the Webmaster over at fans4writers. Here is the inside dope on ScriptFrenzy, per C.A.:

ScriptFrenzy takes place in April. The object is to write a 100-page script in a month. The people who started it up are from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which happens every November and requires you to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. The point of both is to encourage people to prove to themselves that they can finish a script or novel. Quality is largely optional, although several NaNo novels have gotten publishing deals.

Both events are a lot of fun - I've done NaNo 5 times (with varying degrees of success) and ScriptFrenzy once - and it can be a great way to get a taste of working on an insane deadline, always a valuable job skill. Also important to would-be screenwriters: if I recall correctly last year ScriptFrenzy participants got a special price on copies of Final Draft.

Possibly best of all, from both events, are the forums. Hugely popular during the events and a great way to get information.

So there you go! This sounds like a worthwhile way to both encourage yourself to meet a deadline, and to make valuable connections. I approve. For more info go to scriptfrenzy.org. (Note the ".org" ending.)

Lunch: Udon noodle soup with mentaiko

Jane on 01.20.08 @ 11:14 AM PST [link]

Saturday, January 19th
Even Worse Than Jumping the Shark

Mailbag! Thanks to Gentle Reader Joe in San Jose, who enclosed a letter of strike support. Adam in West Hollywood wants to know what's on my Tivo -- right now, a lot of Keith Olbermann and Project Runway, actually. Did you see the dress made out of candy? Fantastic. I want food-clothes! Peggy writes in to inform me about a script-writing event called scriptfrenzy, but it seems it was in November. Oops. Mea Culpa all over that one. Can you write me about it again next year, Peggy, and I'll check it out? Oh, and how lovely -- I have a letter here from Patricia Fass Palmer, who was our producer on Gilmore Girls and now counts herself as a "Gentle Reader" -- whoo! That makes me incredibly happy. Thanks, Patricia!

Strike Update: I'm sure some of you are wondering about my reaction to the DGA deal. The answer is that I have none. I haven't heard enough yet to make up my mind about whether or not this deal will form the basis for a good deal for the writers. I don't really think any of us has had the time yet -- or access to enough well-informed analyses -- to state with certainty that the deal is overwhelmingly good or bad. And this is a decision we certainly do not want to make with haste, not after we've invested this much time. So, please, be skeptical of anyone who is stating anything with absolute certainty this early.

Do you know that juries who do an immediate straw poll after they adjourn to the jury room are less likely to ultimately reach a verdict? That's because once people have expressed an opinion, no matter how tentative, they feel obligated to defend it, and they get entrenched. I think we need to keep that in mind for a little while, as we watch the analyses roll in. If we act like drowning people lunging for a raft, we could be fooled into reaching for the shark. Take a breath, think, research... then make up your mind.

Lunch: sushi at Echigo. They can substitute a tuna roll for that crab roll I don't like? Really? I had no idea.

Jane on 01.19.08 @ 09:37 AM PST [link]

Wednesday, January 16th
Investment Pays Off

I've been looking over past entries from this our shared blog, Gentle Readers, and I've noticed that I've talked a lot about making sure that, as often as possible, your jokes are used to express character. It occurs to me now that there's no reason to limit this idea to jokes. You may find yourself writing the dourest darkest drama unleavened by any humor (although I hope not -- everything's better with some funny in it), and you should still make an effort to make sure that the lines your characters speak are constructed to illuminate who they are.

In order to accomplish this, it helps if all of your characters have attitudes, actual opinions about what's going on in the story. Got a character who isn't invested in the story? How about making him SO uninvested that he's advocating not going on the adventure at all? Now he's got a positive agenda, something to argue for, not just against. ("Hey, guys, if we call off the assassination, we can still get to the park by the third inning...")

Got two characters who don't have opinions about the A-story? Maybe they could have an unrelated B-story conflict that makes them instinctively take opposite sides on some A-story issue. Again, you're finding a way to make every line they say reveal something about what's going on with them.

By the way, that's a great rule of thumb for any scene... if a character doesn't have a logical reason to take a certain action or advocate for a certain position, then give them an emotional reason. Like, for example, antipathy toward the hero or a desire to sleep with the villain or an unconscious identification with the victim... find a way to keep them invested.

Characters who care deeply, even if it's for bad reasons, are going to make every scene about themselves. Which you know, if you've ever been in the middle of a group of people who think every scene is about themselves, is very, very good for drama.

STRIKE NEWS: I'll be picketing at my new usual location tomorrow: NBC Burbank, but at a special time. I'm going to be there, I believe from 11:30 to 2:30 with the Women of Sci Fi! This is an amazing group, and if you can stop by and walk with us, I think you'll be inspired. UPDATE: I think now that I will actually be there from 10 to 1, due to a conflict with another obligation. Come early to see me, or later to see the rest of the Sci Fi group.

Lunch: scrambled eggs with a chopped-up potsticker and crumbled Doritos scrambled in. A triumph.

Jane on 01.16.08 @ 08:46 PM PST [link]

Monday, January 14th
FNLy Enough

A Friend-of-the-Blog is writing a spec pilot that he described as Friday Night Lights in a _____ (noun omitted to protect his idea). He recently asked me a question about plotting this pilot. He wanted to know how much plot to put in those first few pages versus how much pure character development. As I think about this now, it occurs to me that there's no reason that those of you writing spec pilots can't take advantage of the same system I recommend for those of you writing specs for established shows. By which I mean: look at an example.

If you want your pilot to have the feel of Friday Night Lights... why not look at the FNL pilot? How did they establish the mood, story, characters when they were at square one? There's nothing wrong with learning from those writers who've gone before you. A quick look at ebay reveals there's a copy of that very script for sale, and that's after a two-second search. For all I know, the script, or a transcript, is available elsewhere on line for free.

Want your spec pilot to have the mood of House? Grey's Anatomy? Ugly Betty? I would highly recommend taking a squint at those shows' pilots. Maybe you'll like what you see, maybe not, but you'll certainly learn a lot from contemplating why those shows' creators made the choices they did in introducing their premises and characters. Don't lift scenes or words, obviously, but check out where they start their story, how early they establish back stories, how soon the central hook of the show is made evident... all that good stuff is right there to be studied.

Lunch: a chicken salad sandwich from that cute little grocery store in the canyon on Beverly Glen.

Jane on 01.14.08 @ 04:42 PM PST [link]

Sunday, January 13th
Kitty Was a Light-Weight

Reading a spec pilot can be hard work. You have to figure out a lot - What's the tone of this? What's the heart of this story about? What's going on? And who are all these people? As a writer of spec pilots you want -- you NEED -- to make the reader's job as easy as possible. One of the ways you can help is through the way you name your characters.

I hate picking up a script and realizing that I'm going to have to keep Mike, Bill, Jim, Tom and Greg separate and distinct in my mind. It's just so much easier if I'm dealing with Graydon, Javier, Mr. Vargas, Squeaky and Security Guard. Don't you think?

Obviously, that was an exaggerated example. But tagging characters in a variety of ways will help make the names more memorable. If it's done with a light hand, giving them names that help us remember some characteristic of theirs will really help make it easy on your reader. The bad guy host in The Running Man was named Damon Killian. That is debatably a bit too much, but, geez, it sure makes it easy to remember he's a bad guy.

For a much subtler approach, look at Pride and Prejudice. Who's more level-headed? Kitty or Jane? Who's the prude? Georgiana or Mary?

The ironic name can also work, of course, since irony is another grappling hook that memory can seize onto. "Harmony," one of our great Buffy characters, was an ironic name long before we revealed that she literally couldn't carry a tune.

There's a reason that soap opera characters tend to have names like Harper and Ridge and Skye. They have an awful lot of people running around, and they need to be able to hook into them with a memorable name. Take a cue from the soaps. They've been around, what, a hundred years now? They must know something.

And yet, if you're interested in the adventures of two guys named John, check out this. The amazing John Hodgman and John Oliver (you know them both from The Daily Show among other things) are going to be playing Scrabble for charity later this week. You can help them reach their goal!

Lunch: left-over pizza. Onion and double-pineapple. I've started ordering pizza with no cheese and extra sauce. It's actually great.

Jane on 01.13.08 @ 09:53 AM PST [link]

Saturday, January 12th
Suspicious Advice

Gentle Reader Richard writes in from London, asking about the prospects for British writers attempting to break in the US feature or television writing business. I'm sorry, Richard, but I just don't know. I can give writing advice, but Getting A Job advice isn't really my field. I can tell you, in general, that I don't think US show runners would have any cultural concerns about hiring a British writer. We could easily remove all those extra 'u's and the jokes referring to famous soccer players. The fact that I've never worked on a staff with a Brit writer makes me think that this is unusual, though. Now, I have the notion that feature writing is a more international game. Certainly there are successful feature writers who don't live in the US, after all.

Richard also asks about the kind of jobs an aspiring screenwriter might do here in Los Angeles. As I've discussed before, the job of Writers' Assistant is one of the very best ways to work yourself into a writing gig. Look to this blog, the entries of Oct. 12th and 14th of 2007, for a detailed discussion of the joys and perils of this job. Note to Gentle Reader Megan in LA -- these entries should also address the questions in your letter -- thanks for writing.

Obviously, Writers' Assistant is a very hard job to get. That's why I recommend applying to any fellowship or contest for which you're eligible. That's how I got my start.

Richard, you may also want to consider trying to establish yourself overseas. If you had an agent there in London, and maybe a TV gig or a bit of BBC radio play writing, it would help make you salable over here, I would think.

But again, I want to remind all the Gentle Readers out there that this isn't my area of expertise. I'm here to talk about nuts-and-bolts of screenwriting, and anything I say about job-getting should be viewed with suspicion.

ALSO... thanks to Gentle Reader Lilia who sent me a strike/holiday gift, and to Doria for the holiday card! I'm still sorting through piles of recent mail, so don't worry if you haven't seen your letter referenced yet.

Lunch: scrambled eggs with onion

Jane on 01.12.08 @ 06:18 PM PST [link]

Wednesday, January 9th
Sending In All the Ninjas

Vegas mission complete! All the leafleting that needs to be done is done. Thanks to those who came out and apologies for any missed connections.

And now... the mailbag! I haven't gone through the accumulated letters for a while, so if you're waiting for me to post, referencing something you sent, you might have to hang on as I work my way through the pile. First off, I'm tickled to see so many letters of strike support mixed in with the holiday greetings. Loyal Reader Ingrid checks in, as does Paul in Surrey and Maribeth in San Francisco. Maribeth urges me not to worry that frivolity on the picket line sends the wrong message. That's good to know, since I'm hearing that delightfully frivolous plans are being made by the "Women of Sci Fi" group with whom I sometimes guest-picket.

Michael in Connecticut points out that labor unions are the reason we have weekends off. Ooh. Is that true? I suppose it must be. Nice. Now I have something to say to all those people who go read articles about the strike and then post comments saying "unions are bad for America." Is that right? Have a good weekend, Dude?

And... finally... actual writing advice! Man, it's been a while!

I was thinking today about a certain temptation of writing. Sometimes you make things easier for your protagonist, when what you're actually doing is trying to make your own writing job easier.

Sometimes two crises come to a head at the same time in a script. Maybe an A and a B story both require action from the hero. Maybe an emotional crisis and a professional one happen at the same time. It can be tempting to arrange events so that the protagonist can deal with one crisis and then move onto the other one. You can even rationalize it by thinking of it as a "one-two punch." She's still reeling from being dumped by her boyfriend when the monster attacks... that kind of thing. And sure, that might work fine. But it might also come across like one of those fight scenes where the ninjas wait and attack the good guy one at a time for the apparent convenience of the good guy.

So try letting your hero deal with everything at once. It can be tricky writing this kind of scene, but it has tremendous potential to be a stunner, full of energy and humor and action.

If one of the crises requires a quiet, private moment, you can let the character -- instead of the writer -- be the one to say, "hang on, let me kill this thing first." Having a character arrange this instead of circumstance, helps you, as the writer, be invisible. When things get too neat by your design, that when the reader of the script sees your giant hand reaching down and moving the checkers around.

Lunch: the buffet at Bellagio. Amazing. I had pasta and yams and noodle-salad and ceviche and sushi and cucumber-salad and pickled stuff and fish and flan.
Jane on 01.09.08 @ 03:35 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, January 8th

Thanks to all the fans who showed up yesterday at the Wynn to help with the leafleting at the Consumer Electronics Show! I'm truly touched. The event itself was the strangest thing. Hold out a piece of paper and whisper "WGA," and members of the press will actually come over to you, saying, "Can I have one?" It was like we had coupons for free tiramisu. The public/media is interested, I will say that!

We only handed them out for a short while, but we gave away a surprisingly large number of fliers. (Right up until casino security "asked" us to leave. But what the heck, at a certain point in one's life, I think it's important to start getting thown out of places.)

Today, we're going to try giving away some more at the Convention Center. If you want to join us, the plan is to meet at the entrance to the North Hall at 11AM. But, as we learned yesterday, these plans are dubious in their doubtfulness. Things are fluid but fun here. If you can't find me, I apologize.

BTW, the fliers are very simple little informational sheets that just lay out the basics of the dispute. The idea is that the sorts of press representatives who cover new consumer electronics are going to be interested in the "new media" issues at the heart of the dispute.

Coming soon: writing advice. I did not intend this blog to turn into a strike diary, and I still do not. We'll be back to my regular prattling (Blah! Parentheticals! Blah!) again in no time!

Lunch: poached eggs at Jerry's Famous Deli
Jane on 01.08.08 @ 08:19 AM PST [link]

Monday, January 7th
another update

Time AND place wrong? I'm amazing. Go to the alsace ballroom, but then follow signs to "Showstoppers". I'm there right now. (Unless you're reading this later.)
Jane on 01.07.08 @ 04:59 PM PST [link]

New Time!

I've just been told that tonight's leafleting event will begin earlier than previously thought. We willl be assembling outside the Alsace Ballroom at the Wynn in Las Vegas at 5 PM, not 7. Spread the word!
Jane on 01.07.08 @ 01:42 PM PST [link]

Sunday, January 6th
More On Vegas

I'm still finding out more about what's going on in Las Vegas this week. But I have found out that I will be at the Wynn hotel and casino tomorrow night (Monday), from about 7 to 8 PM, in front of the Alsace Ballroom, handing out leaflets to members of the press there. Fans, Gentle Readers, Friends and Fellow Writers... want to come by and stand up with me? Please do! Because if you don't, there's a good chance I'm going to be there all alone!

UPDATE: Mark Verheiden, fellow Battlestar co-exec producer will be joining me in Vegas! Come check us BOTH out!

Jane on 01.06.08 @ 09:04 PM PST [link]

Refreshing News

Interesting! It looks like there will be some Las Vegas strike action going on at the Consumer Electronics Show there this week. I'm gathering info and will post it here, so refresh me as if I were Nikki Finke to get the latest news. I think I'll head out there myself to be part of this interesting event, and I urge those of you in the Vegas area to come on out and join us!

More to come...

Lunch: turkey stuffing, mince meat pie
Jane on 01.06.08 @ 06:51 PM PST [link]

Saturday, January 5th
Everyone Expands Over the Holidays

I have an interesting announcement today, Gentle Readers. Disney/ABC, the people who run the writing fellowship, are expanding. Wait-- the people aren't expanding as far as I know, but the fellowship is. They are currently accepting applications to the 2008 ABC/DGA Television Directing Fellowship. Applications and detailed submission guidelines can be obtained at the Disney/ABC web site. The deadline for submission is February 29, 2008.

Are you more of a director than you are a writer? Here's a test. Look at your hands. Are you making little "V"s with the index and middle fingers of both hands and angling them around like alien eye-stalks? If you are, you're a director. (Really, they do that all the time, those directors.) Go apply!

Lunch: spaghetti and cheese sauce, just like my mother makes it. Because it was made by my mother.

Jane on 01.05.08 @ 05:11 PM PST [link]

Thursday, January 3rd
Go On, Hit 'Em Over the Head. It'll Be Okay.

I saw Walk Hard yesterday and really enjoyed it. It does a great job of poking (affectionate) fun at some of the clunky hallmarks of biopic screenplays, like their constant need to keep stating everyone's age and re-establishing what year we're dealing with.

It also goes in for some delightfully overblown teeing-up of its big moments. In the obligatory first-time-in-a-recording-studio scene, our hero is told, over and over again, about how there's nothing he can do in this moment to save himself from failure, how there's no way that he can possibly pull out a last-minute performance that will turn his life around, how there's no possible chance... etc... etc. It's a great skewering of a classic screenplay mistake. It could be taken as great advice.

However -- get this -- I implore you to ignore it. In my experience, you are far more likely to make the opposite mistake and let a big turn in a script happen with too little fanfare than with too much. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps too many screen-writing teachers have been making you write those spare, clean, objective-sounding stage directions that don't allow you to drum-roll a good story turn.

Obviously, I'm not asking you to go nuts here. Don't have characters actually seriously say "nothing could possibly go wrong," or lines like that. But don't be afraid of letting the drama of a story turn play out. Let the stage directions help the readers understand what the characters expect out of the moment, so that the surprise of the turn will land. And then let the characters react to the turn. Don't be afraid of hitting it too hard. You certainly might do so, but it's an easy matter to dial that back during a rewrite. And that's a far easier correction to make than trying to figure out why the turn doesn't feel as significant as you hoped it would.

Lunch: that crazy cheesy garlic bread at The Smokehouse. Yum.

Jane on 01.03.08 @ 04:56 PM PST [link]

Tuesday, January 1st
A New Page for '08!

Ahhh! I'm back, Gentle Readers, and happy to be so. You know those vacations that leave you less well rested than you were before? I had one of those. TWO bouts of food poisoning on one trip? Really? That's not right.

But I'm back and I'm in fightin' form and ready to blog!

First, let me call your attention to tvguide.com again, as they're doing another poll of viewer support for the strike. I think they're expecting to see the support numbers slipping. I think they're wrong. What do you think? It's easy to register and vote on their site.

Moving on! Here's a neat bit of writing vocabulary for you. I recently heard a new one. How cool is this? I am told by a writer in a certain sitcom room that in his room, a "fly chamber" is when there's a tiny element from a past draft completely ruining your present script, a la Jeff Goldblum in THE FLY.

This is significant, of course, not so much for the terminology itself, although that is delightful. Many rooms, like isolated islands, develop dialects incomprehensible even to their nearest neighbors. The term is more notable for serving to call attention to the phenomenon itself. I often think the worst enemy of a well-written second draft is a first draft. You end up bending scenes to try to retain stuff that worked, and you also overcompensate for stuff that didn't work by going too far the other way. For example, if the first draft of a scene was too sentimental, you might rewrite it too hard-edged to avoid getting that note again.

Often, the key to a good rewrite is a clean new page.

Lunch: a very nasty airplane lunch that seemed to be cheese and too-salty ham in a hot-dog bun. Oh, dear.

Jane on 01.01.08 @ 09:24 AM PST [link]


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Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program
UC Berkeley
Jane recommends you also visit BobHarris.com



January 2008

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