Friday, November 30th
Thursday, November 29th
I like to give examples of writing solutions from scripts that I'm currently working on. But I'm not currently working on a script, obviously. Just now, when I went to look back at my most recent script for inspiration, I realized that I literally had not opened Final Draft in a month! Holy Cow!
So instead, I'm going to tell you about a recent email-composing experience that I had. Don't worry, it applies to script-writing too. I wanted to express amazement, and I typed, "That's amazing with extra zs!" When I reread it, I felt that the joke was muddy. Since "z"s are used to express sleepy noises, the point of the whimsy was kind of unclear; boredom is the opposite of what I wanted to convey. If I'd said, instead, "he was dozing with extra zs," then at least the thoughts are pointing in the same direction. My joke wasn't terrible, but I feel that it only worked at about 70 percent strength. (I removed the joke from the email.)
Muddy jokes can be hard to catch, since your note-givers often aren't going to bother expressing a little bit of confusion, especially because they're often afraid it will make them look dumb. This is a reason that it can be a good idea to go through your script in a lot of detail with one special and very patient reader. ASK THEM about the jokes -- is this one clear? What did you take the intent to be? And the all-important, "Have you heard it before?"
This can also help you catch other unclear moments that you might not be aware of. For example, I once read a script in which a character exclaimed, "Bread and butter!" for no reason I could discern. It turns out that this is a regional expression, used by kids walking together when they're forced to split, say, to walk around a post. The problem was, the writer didn't know it was regional. Like most of us, she assumed that the expressions of her own childhood were pretty much universal. Readers, if properly questioned, can save you from much embarrassment of this sort.
Strike: A good (if damp) time was had by all at the Sony picket today, and I'll be back at the Barham gate of Universal at 6 on Monday morning. Maybe we'll have another "Cylon doughnut delivery" -- Krispy Kremes delivered in a box decorated with photos of Cylons saying funny things. We have very nice fans.
Lunch: Cup o' Noodles with an added shot of lemon juice. Perfect for a rainy day.
Jane on 11.30.07 @ 11:28 PM PST [link]
Tuesday, November 27th
I have just returned tonight from attending a screening/Q-and-A honoring Larry Gelbart. He's amazing. If you don't recognize the name (although I think you do), check him out at imdb and then come back. He said many fascinating things, but the one that I tucked into my brain for later examination was a statement he made about the version of M*A*S*H that had no laugh track (available on DVD and in broadcasts aired in the UK). He commented that in the no-laugh version, Hawkeye came across as "less of a wise-ass and more of a cynic." Isn't that a fascinating distinction? I've got an instinctive understanding of the two categories, but I'm enjoying trying to articulate exactly what separates them. I think it's that a wise-ass adopts his attitude in part because of the reaction he gets from others around him, while the same attitude is woven deeper into the fibers of a genuine cynic. Yes? Have you got a Hawkeye-character in your spec pilot? Which is he/she, a wise-ass or a cynic? It's fun to do minute character parsings like this, and it can really help you develop and distinguish characters.
At the Gelbart event, I was delighted to run into a number of people I knew including my old boss from Ellen (and colleague from Dinosaurs), the incredible Tim Doyle. Tim is another graduate of the Disney Writing Fellowship, having been part of the program in its very first year of existence. The program has had a fine record of producing writers who go on to have long and creative careers, and I hope to see this tradition continue.
Special thanks today go to Brijanna (forgive me if I have the spelling wrong, as I don't have it in front of me at the moment), who brought sweet treats and an even sweeter letter to me on the line this morning. Thank you, Brijanna (repeat spelling disclaimer here)!
Tomorrow is another Special Event Friday, and this one has me really excited. Here's the official info: "Hollywood Homecoming, an event honoring the veteran writers, directors and stars of yesteryear who helped form and shape the unions we are fighting to protect, will be held this Friday, November 30th, from 10AM-12PM at Sony Studios in Culver City." Doesn't that sound amazing? In LA? Got a lunch hour? Come on by!
Lunch: A post-picket Chicken-and-cheese omelet and a waffle (The #5 at Roscoe's Chicken 'n' Waffles). Brilliant.
Jane on 11.29.07 @ 10:24 PM PST [link]
Sunday, November 25th
First off, I just had a new idea for the pencils campaign -- when you put down what show or writer you support? Put your own name down. After all, you're the generation of writers who are going to benefit from this. It makes perfect sense. Go 'head. Support yourself; that's what you're really doing anyway.
All right. Now down to business. I heard a great line in a Law and Order re-run yesterday. The detectives go to bust a mob guy in the back room of a shady bar. You know exactly the scene, right? They find the guy, the son of an old-time mobster, with his cronies watching television (financial news). Detective Briscoe hauls the head mobster to his feet. As he cuffs him, he says:
"You know, your old man would've at least had a card game going."
Fantastic. The writer, finding himself faced with a hopelessly familiar scene, found a subtle way to make it new while calling our attention to the one missing classic element. And it's funny.
Got a scene that feels familiar? Try mixing it up a bit, and don't be afraid to have a character comment on it. We did stuff like this on Buffy, too, by having some surprising design or lifestyle choices in the demon world -- and having a character notice and comment on it always yielded funny moments.
Strike: I'm trying something new today, a "van loader" shift at WGA headquarters. You get double-credit compared to picketing, so I suspect it's going to be hard work.
Lunch: Sushi at Echigo (the warm rice place)
Jane on 11.27.07 @ 04:15 PM PST [link]
Friday, November 23rd
Hi, all. So did you enjoy "Razor," the new Battlestar Galactica movie? It represents the last bit of Galactica in which I was not involved -- the last bit I can watch as a pure fan. I recommend it -- it's packed with chilling and gradual revelations. Great stuff.
On the writing front, Friend-of-the-blog Maggie has called my attention to Pamela Ribon's fascinating blog. The entry I'm linking to here has a fantastic list of clams and a great discussion that reveals how they sometimes end up in scripts by staffs that know better. I don't know Pamela, but -- Hiya, Pamela! Great work! Her blog looks like a great source of inside info, especially for those of you curious about the room experience. She really captures how in-the-room interactions work.
I'm interested to see that "X is the new Y" is on her list. It highlights the fact that often it's the form of the joke that gets clammy, even though different variables can get plugged into the equation. I was calling these "clamshells" for a while, and it's not a bad way to picture it -- no matter what you stuff in there, from the outside, it's a clam.
In strike news, I continue to buy pencils, and I'm looking forward to another week of picketing. HUGE thanks to Gentle Reader Claire who sent me a care packet of strike snacks and shoe liners. Yay!
Lunch: a variety of snacks eaten at my semi-weekly Scrabble game: brie, Fig Newtons, crackers and chips.
Jane on 11.25.07 @ 07:04 PM PST [link]
Thursday, November 22nd
A long time ago, the readers of John August's wonderful blog collected some questions and comments for me. Due to a miscommunication, I haven't really had a chance to study them until now. Thank you for all the questions and comments!
John-August-reader Drew T. asks a great question. He wants to know if there's a difference between jokes written for half-hour comedies versus those written for hour dramas. And, yes, generally there is. Half-hour comedies favor what are called "hard jokes." Here's an example of a hard joke, which I adapted from an old episode of Family Ties:
JENNIFER: I told you to run a down-and-in. You were supposed to go to the pole and stop!
SKIPPY: I did. I stopped when I hit the pole.
You'll notice that it's very structured, very lean, and it's all about the words. The set-up HAS to have the words "pole" and "stop" for the punch line to land.
The distinction between this and a soft joke isn't as clear-cut as some writers would have you believe. The same punch line, if spoken with a self-aware wince, would be at home in many comedic hours.
Take out the constructed-sounding wordplay to soften it further. Now can you imagine it in an episode of House?
INJURED PLAYER: I was supposed to stop at the goal post but I didn't.
Dr. HOUSE (examining contusion): Actually, I suspect you did.
The simple fact that House makes a dry joke of it makes it softer. This is another example of that general principle which I've laid out before: broadly comedic characters tend to be serious in their intent. More complex, "dramatic" characters are often consciously making a joke. It's my favorite writing irony.
Here's another version in which the speaker is attempting a mild joke, and the joke is, again, softer, more subtle. Can you see this on, say, Friday Night Lights?
COACH: One a' your guys just ran into the pole.
ASSISTANT COACH: Oh, for pete's sake. I told him to stop.
COACH (dryly): Looks to me like he did.
Can you feel the difference between these and the sitcom version? The "ba-dum-bump" feeling has gone away even though the basic idea is exactly the same. Don't be too afraid of certain jokes that you fear might mess with your tone. Content doesn't determine tone as much as you think. Characters do a lot of that. A good self-aware character can soften nearly any joke.
Lunch: turkey sandwich with lots of mayo on white bread. The only way to do it.
Jane on 11.23.07 @ 08:44 PM PST [link]
Monday, November 19th
Happy Thanksgiving! Are you full of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes? I know I am. Mmmm. So sleepy. And there's still pumpkin pie that needs to be eaten! (By the way, the pie is entirely homemade. By this I mean that I mixed the spices and eggs into the canned pumpkin myself instead of buying the pre-mixed kind. So superior.)
So, I was sitting here, slipping quietly into a food coma, and I started randomly thinking about the nature of competitions. Every entrant in the Miss America competition wants to win, right? But do you root for all of them? Do you root for any of them? It's not enough for someone to want something, or even deserve something. To really make us pull for someone, it helps a lot if they've overcome something. If a contestant can weave a compelling tale of childhood tragedy or mild disability, we root for them. We want them to be compensated.
This can tell us writers a lot about how to create characters that audiences root for -- a crucial ingredient in populating your spec pilot. Just making a "good" person or a "deserving" person isn't enough. A person with impeccable morals who has never had them tested isn't that compelling. I've written here before about how Dr. House and Starbuck are both wonderful characters despite not being "likable" in the traditional sense. We understand them, and the tragedies that have led them to be the wonderful prickly souls that they are, and we want them to accomplish their goals as a result.
So give the main character in your spec script something that they want. Absolutely. But also give them a nice juicy obstacle to getting it. The audience will love them.
And allow me to particularly recommend the application of a special case of this -- unrequited love, which instantly wins over any reader/viewer with its power. Got a character who's a hard sell? Having a rough time in the swimsuit competition? Try a little fruitless yearning. Great stuff.
Lunch/Dinner: You know how it goes: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy and an experimental liaison with a broccoli salad that no one liked.
Jane on 11.22.07 @ 05:33 PM PST [link]
Sunday, November 18th
First off, a bit of exciting news. Many of you probably already know this from the Joss forum at fans4writers.com , but in case you didn't, I'm pleased to announce that there will be a special day of picketing and celebration outside Fox Studios from 10 am to 2 pm on December 7th for fans of Joss Whedon and his shows Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and the up-coming Dollhouse. I'll be there; Joss will be there... will you? Come join us! And while you're waiting for the day to get here,buy a pencil, why doncha? I bought 50 boxes myself yesterday, and I plan to keep buying as this thing progresses. Let's hope this thing wraps up before I'm a pencil pauper.
Now, you know I don't like it when the faucet of writing advice stops running, so here's a (very tangentially) strike-related pet peeve of mine. I recall that during the '88 strike, someone had the idea of taking old Mission Impossible scripts and filming them with a new set of actors. Then, the strike resolved, so they ended up hiring a staff and creating new missions after all. I'm not sure how they thought the original scripts, with all their references to enormous reel-to-reel tape recorders and massive house-sized computers, were going to really work anyway without rewriting -- perhaps the original idea was all a ploy to make writers feel unneeded. Anyway, the eventual new scripts reflected up-to-the-minute technology.
Except that they kind of didn't. I distinctly recall the following line from an episode of the resulting series.
TECH EXPERT: I have a theory about videotape.
His theory was that older images could be recovered after they'd been taped over. Really? It seems to me that that's either something that's true or it isn't. It doesn't seem to me like something that the tech expert on the Impossible Mission Force would have a wild hunch about.
If someone in your script has to be tentative about asserting something, make sure it's because that character would actually be tentative, not just because you find yourself at the edges of your own knowledge. It can be very helpful to let the lines blur between the writer and the character -- to think of how you would express something as the starting point for how the character would express it, but this can't be your approach when the character is supposed to possess specific expertise. Besides, I think I'd be more intrigued by what was about to happen if the guy had instead said:
TECH EXPERT: Hang on, guys. Watch this. Here's the thing you never knew about videotape...
Lunch: the "famous tofu reuben" at Factor's deli.
Jane on 11.19.07 @ 04:21 PM PST [link]
Friday, November 16th
I'm back! I hope you all noticed that while I was away, the amazing Pencils For Moguls project swung into motion. This is a chance for you guys to provide a measurable, visible symbol of the thing the striking writers couldn't readily rally or measure in 1988 -- fan support. Buy some pencils! I'm a fan as well as a writer, so I'm going to buy some, too.
Since it's been a while since I answered a question, I'm going to dig into the mailbag today. Dan in Pennsylvania writes in to ask about a technical difficulty that often occurs when you're writing a spec of a produced show with highly serialized story lines, like Desperate Housewives or Lost or Heroes. He's worried that his spec requires that the reader understand the point in the arc at which he's placing his spec. He asks, "Could one actually write in their spec a 'Previously on Desperate Housewives' sequence in order to take care of the exposition."
I've put off answering this question because I don't have a definitive answer. My instinct is against scripting a 'previously' because I'm afraid it'll look like you don't know that's not part of a standard script. It would be great if you didn't have to provide any set-up at all, actually, if you could make things clear enough in the script itself that even a less-than-informed reader could infer what they need to know from the script itself.
But if you really think the story requires set-up, I would recommend keeping it as brief as possible, a little header across the top of the first page (not the title page). Something like:
Note to readers: This episode follows these events... [list].
But that's just my instinct. The only people who really know the answer are the ones who read entries for the Disney and Warner's Brothers programs. The people who run those programs have my email address... so if they want to write in with their opinions, I will report them. In the meantime, good luck, Dan in Pennsylvania. I hope this helps. And buy pencils!
Lunch: nachos and a small Caesar salad at the Rainforest Cafe
Jane on 11.18.07 @ 02:16 PM PST [link]
Thursday, November 15th
WOW. What a turnout today at Universal! Thank you so much, Battlestar fans! Our gate was bustin' with fans and I hear there were crowds at the other gates as well! Nicely done! And I enjoyed meeting all of you!
I'm going to be hard to pin down on Monday -- probably splitting my time between the Universal Barham Gate and the Colfax Gate at CBS Radford where there is going to be a confluence of female genre writers.
Then there is Tuesday, Nov. 20, your last chance to come show your support before the Thanksgiving holiday. This is the big March and Rally on Hollywood Blvd! The plan is to assemble at 1PM at the corner of Hollywood Blvd and Ivar Avenue, with the march beginning at 1:30. This should be something and a half!
I'm about to run out the door for a long-planned weekend trip with my old friends from the Disney writing fellowship, so I'm not going to be posting over the weekend. You'll have to keep an eye on things for me, okay, Gentle Readers? Keep watching UnitedHollywood.com -- I've got a feeling this "Pencils for Moguls" campaign is gonna heat up!
Lunch: cheap sushi. Yuck.
Jane on 11.16.07 @ 04:20 PM PST [link]
Many thanks to the Amazing and Accomplished Ken Levine, whom I'm very proud to call a friend of the blog! Ken actually accomplished the one goal in this business that I most wanted to accomplish: he wrote for M*A*S*H. Ken has been kind enough to put a little piece by me up on his blog as part of the virtual book tour to promote Serenity Found, the book about Firefly/Serenity edited by me.
Thank you, Ken!
Jane on 11.15.07 @ 10:54 PM PST [link]
I've been asked to pass along the information that the fans of the new show LIFE will also be congregating at Universal tomorrow -- at gate 5, also one of the gates along Lankershim Blvd.
This is in addition to these already-established fan assemblies at Universal:
Main Gate -- Battlestar Galactica
Gate 1 -- Desperate Housewives
Gate 2 -- CSI, King of the Hill, Friday Night Lights
Gate 3 -- Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, The Office (optional event for them)
Gate 5 -- Ghost Whisperer, Bionic Woman, Carpoolers
Really, if you're a fan of anything, I think it's safe to say that you'll have a good time and we'll certainly be glad you're there!
Also, another update on what we Battlestar writers will be doing tomorrow -- I'm told now that we will be picketing starting at TEN, not nine, and that the rally itself will start at eleven. Just come on by... that's all it really boils down to.
I spent today at Fox, with some Gilmore alums -- it was simply too hot out in front, so we retreated to a shadier gate at the side -- hi to those of you intrepid enough to find us there!
Lunch: bagel, lox, cream cheese
Jane on 11.15.07 @ 09:17 PM PST [link]
Wednesday, November 14th
Hey! Ron Moore blogs! Go take a look!
Jane on 11.15.07 @ 07:59 AM PST [link]
So many of you have been asking about how you can help. Well, I've finally found a good place for you to start. I suggest you check out fans4writers.com. They've got all kinds of stuff there -- basic info, ways to contribute to the cause, and forums for communication and coordination of activities. There are even forums to help fans of specific shows or creators find each other and work together. You might enjoy the "Ron Moore fans" and "Joss Whedon fans" forums, for example.
ANOTHER UPDATE on "Fan Day" this Friday. I'm told now that the BSG writers will be picketing at Gate 2 of Universal (one of those main gates right on Lankershim) starting at 9 a.m. and leading right up to the time of the "rally". This is a slightly earlier start time than I'd mentioned earlier. Details on this event seem still to be slightly misty, but if you just show up at Universal mid-morning-ish on Friday, I think we'll be able to cook up a good time for you.
Jane on 11.14.07 @ 08:34 PM PST [link]
Monday, November 12th
I read a really good produced script the other day. Some of you may have seen the episode of television that resulted from it, in fact. (It's an Ugly Betty.) In the script, two adult siblings are competing with each other. Early on, we see a flashback to the two of them racing against each other as children. One of them wins and we're told they always won. Late in the script, in order to accomplish a goal, the two adults end up having to race down a street, just as they did as kids. I thought that was pretty well done, reducing the adult competition to something that could be such a direct reenactment of the childhood flashback. This time, when the childhood loser won, I anticipated that we'd understand that things had changed. I felt that was a pretty competent way to tell the story.
But here's what was really well done. The one who lost as a child, lost again as an adult. Instead of an easy lesson, competently taught, we got a genuine surprise and a much more complicated lesson about real life -- if you let the other person set the rules of the game, they're gonna pick the game they always win. Gotta say, I was impressed.
This is a good thing to keep in mind when you're breaking your spec pilots. If an ending seems so neat and tidy and inevitable that you never have to even give it any thought... well, give it some thought. There might be away to twist it, and come up with something more interesting. (And remember, it isn't enough just to have it differ from expectations, it actually has to have something positive to add.)
Strike: The last two days have seen me on the 6 to 10 a.m. shift. The first two hours are cold. The second two, very hot. The transition is instant. Thanks to Sarah and Ashley and Christina and... oh, was it Wally?... and so many other Gentle Readers who joined me on the line. Thanks especially for the fresh-baked pumpkin bread! Whoo! You guys are the best!
I'm changing locations for one day -- Thurs (tomorrow) will find me on the 10 - 2 shift at Fox where I'm reuniting with a few of my old Gilmore Girls colleagues! Come on by, GG fans! We'd be delighted to visit with you!
Then, Friday, it looks like Fan Day, Featuring Battlestar Galactica, will be at the main gate of Universal in the afternoon. That's all I know now... details to follow.
++++++UPDATE -- I'm hearing that Fan Day is now set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the main gates of Universal -- this is the series of gates into Universal that run along Lankershim Blvd. Food drive! Special guests! I'll be there. Will you?+++++++
Also, have you heard about this idea to send (mercifully unsharpened) pencils to the moguls? Of all the fan movements, this one seems to be the one that's catching fire. I like it! If I hear more about it, I'll let you know.
Lunch: poached eggs, rye toast, grilled tomatoes -- a post-picket brunch at Art's Deli
Jane on 11.14.07 @ 01:13 PM PST [link]
Word is WGA might turn Friday into a general fan support day for ALL shows - including Battlestar, but not exclusive to it - stay tuned... (Of course, fans from all shows are always welcomed, but this might have more of a special-event feel to it.)
Jane on 11.12.07 @ 06:24 PM PST [link]
So I did my sign-making shift at the Guild today, in lieu of picketing. Hard work, but fun. Guess who was there, working beside me, wielding both stapler and tape like a pro? Saul Turtletaub. Oh my god. I remember seeing that name on my television screen when I was a child -- Love American Style and That Girl! and Sanford and Son. Wow. Count me as impressed. And he couldn't have been nicer, either -- funny and generous and up-beat. This strike isn't just bringing fans together with writers, it's bringing writers together. I love that.
In other strike news, I'm told that tomorrow the Battlestar staff is being moved back to the Barham gate of Universal. I never even got to see Gate 2! Anyway, I'll be somewhere for the 6am to 10am shift tomorrow if you want to stop by!
And, if you can stand even more of me, check out the new interview about "Serenity Found" from the fine people at PinkRayGun.com! Thank you, Pink Ray Gun People!
All right. It's been a while since I gave any real practical writing advice, and I'm feeling the lack. So let's talk dialogue. Want to move a scene along quickly AND make your characters seem smart? Let them anticipate each other. Instead of this:
I have to ask you something. You and Jeff--
Did you have an affair with him, Kayla?
I... I can't believe you're asking that!
I have to ask you -- You and Jeff. Did you... did you--
No. You're not-- You think I slept with your best friend? I can't believe you!
By having Kayla anticipate the question, the relationship becomes just that little bit realer for me. Couples anticipate each other. The interaction also becomes more charged, since she's more emotional here, more eager to defend herself. She's a more active participant in the exchange.
Anticipation is not always the right answer. It's possible that the whole point of this scene has to do with Dave hearing himself ask the question out loud -- maybe that moment is the culmination of his journey in some way. But in the absence of special requirements like that, having characters get ahead of each other is more than just a fast and elegant way to accelerate a story.
You can use the same trick to elide information that the audience already knows, too. If someone is explaining a established plan to a newcomer, for example, let the newcomer pick up on it and cut them off. Letting characters be smart is a smart choice for the writer.
Lunch: cheese and apples
Jane on 11.12.07 @ 05:14 PM PST [link]
Sunday, November 11th
Friday, November 9th
Strike update. I am volunteering to do a shift at the Guild offices tomorrow (Monday) instead of walking the line. I believe I will be making and repairing picket signs. It sounded easier on the feet, ya know? I have delicate little trotters. Anyway, I'll be back on the line on Tuesday, but in a different location. I'm told that our picketing group is being moved to Universal Gate 2. That's one of the big gates directly off Lankershim -- it's the big time, folks!
As you've probably heard, Tuesday is "cast day," when stars of the various shows are being encouraged to join us on the line. I haven't heard if we're going to be joined by any Battlestarstars, but I'll let you know if I hear anything. It certainly sounds like it'll be worth coming out to visit picketers anywhere in town on that day. (Aside: When I was a very little kid, I had a dream once that there was a special event in my home town in which television stars had been sprinkled throughout the whole town and you could ride around and look for them. Sharpest moment of the whole dream was me spotting a Barney Miller star on my own street. That star? Ron Glass, whom I later got to write for on Firefly. Isn't life wonderful?)
And, as you may also have heard, Friday is "Battlestar Galatica Day"!! Whoo! I'm going to get more details on this, but as of right now, Universal sounds like THE place to be on Friday for Galactica fans. This would be a great way to show your support -- whether you're a fan or not, actually. Let's see if we can beat the turnout from the previous Friday's rally!
UPDATE: The Battlestar Galactica day is tied into a fan convention in Burbank. You can get info about the convention itself here!
Lunch: leftover gnocchi from an Italian dinner I called in. Potato pillows!
Jane on 11.11.07 @ 09:39 AM PST [link]
Thursday, November 8th
Gentle Reader Amanda is working her way along the path toward a television writing career. She found an agent, and now she's written a spec pilot that's been getting some favorable attention. Here is how she writes about her journey so far:
The last few years I've been spending all of my time trying to duplicate the voice of other shows or develop other people's story ideas on features...you know why? Because deep in my heart I felt like there might not be a place for me as an ORIGINAL writer. [The spec pilot] was just a writing sample. I had NO IDEA anyone would be interested in it. Endeavor just told me "hurry up and write a pilot 'cause that's what everyone else is doing".
When I started getting meetings [off the spec pilot], I didn't know whether to laugh or cry! It's been the most validating, exciting time of my life. It feels like I'm at the movies and all of a sudden all the characters on the screen are talking to me. Like what was once a world I was on the outside looking into has suddenly opened its door to me and is saying "Where've you been?" as if I haven't been banging on the door for 10 years!! Strange. And wonderful.
And then, there's the writer's strike. Not my favorite timing, obviously. But I understand it. The bright side is: when else will all of my favorite writers be snuggled up on one city block with nothing better to do than talk to me?! Silver lining! Silver lining!!
Yay, Amanda! Isn't this inspiring? This is why you strive, Gentle Readers! This is why your pour your little hearts into those specs!
By the way, I read something somewhere about how young writers should be discouraged from using the picket lines as networking opportunities. Oh, I disagree. Don't force a script into anyone's hands, but I see nothing wrong with coming out, wielding a picket sign for a few hours, and talking with working (well, you know what I mean) writers about what they do. It's not just networking, it's smart career research coupled with support of a kind that actually means something! Follow ordinary rules of courtesy, and you should do fine.
Strike: Today was the big Fox rally. It was crowded and wonderful and possessed by a unity of resolve such as I've never felt. I was pleased to meet many of you, Gentle Readers! Thank you for coming out! Stay tuned about more possible special events next week!
Lunch: a veggie burger at Houston's in the Century City mall. The best part was the side dish of acorn squash, a personal fave of mine.
Jane on 11.09.07 @ 06:37 PM PST [link]
Wednesday, November 7th
CORRECTION: The 10 a.m. Friday rally mentioned in this post will actually be at Fox Plaza 2121 Avenue of the Stars, Century City
I got a chance to talk today to a writer who recently moved from a very dramatic one-hour drama to one that is much more comedic, and is staffed with lots of writers from the half-hour world. This writer is discovering that their pitches -- even ones that have to do with the logical structure of the story -- are getting shot down if they aren't pitched in such a way to emphasize the comedy of the situation. This is a common feature of comedy rooms.
In fact, I've often seen stories that make no sense defended simply with, "it got a laugh at the table." End of argument. You can't argue with a laugh.
So if you find yourself in a comedy room, adjust your pitching style accordingly. Watch, listen, observe what is being valued in the pitches made by the other writers. Pay attention to what "sells" -- i.e. gets in the script. If the currency in your room is made out of funny, make sure the bet you slide forward is made out of funny.
Strike: many hearty thanks to Friend of the Blog Kate, who came out to march with me today! Also, to Gentle Readers Lila and Megan, who also showed up to march. Megan even brought delicious turkey sandwiches to share. Yay, Megan! Kal-el and Chris also walked with us again. I'm so proud of my crew and I hope to meet more of you on the line! Do not drop by Universal tomorrow, however, as I will instead be at Fox studios - 10201 Pico - for the huge Guild-wide picket and rally starting at 10 AM. It's going to be big and wild and everyone is invited! There will be famous actors and (probably) snacks and (certainly) every writer you've ever wanted to meet! SEE YOU THERE!
Lunch: delicious Megan-made turkey sandwiches
Jane on 11.08.07 @ 05:12 PM PST [link]
Tuesday, November 6th
Hi all! So, how many of you have been singing "Werewolf Barmitzvah" to yourself since you saw it on 30 Rock? I certainly have. It is, as I'm sure you've noticed, available in a full version here. I'm not just mentioning it as a good example of solid comedy, which it is, but because it also provides an excellent example of a comedy writers' room term. Listen to some of the chatter running through the song and you'll hear an exchange that goes something like this: "I don't know if the idea of this song can sustain itself for this long. It seems a little sweaty now." "This whole premise is sweaty!"
"Sweaty"! I've actually been looking for a chance to discuss this term, but I hadn't come up with the perfect way to explain it. Well, here it is. A scene, a joke, or especially a comedic premise is called "sweaty" when the writer has to labor to keep it going, when they have to over-extend a metaphor or make characters say unlikely things to propel a comedic situation. Not every comedy room uses the term, but some do, and it's a favorite of mine. Add it to the little writer-to-English dictionary you carry with you to your first week on a show!
Strike: A hearty thank you to Friends-of-the-Blog Kal-el and Chris, who brought cheese and cold-cuts and crackers and fruit to the picket line today. It was much appreciated by the hungry hungry writers!
Lunch: cheese and cold-cuts and crackers and fruit
Jane on 11.07.07 @ 04:27 PM PST [link]
Monday, November 5th
Another day on the line, Gentle Readers, and I am simultaneously pooped and energized. I came home and napped, woke up at 6, and literally couldn't figure out if it was 6PM or AM. The sky is getting darker, so let's go with PM, okay?
They've got us Battlestarrers at the Barham gate to Universal now, out where Barham meets Forest Hills Drive. It has turned out to be a fun and active spot -- lots more marching and chanting than at our previous location. We've had lots of supportive shouts and honkings from passers-by and drivers -- thank you! We only had one ugly encounter, with a studio driver in a creepy Halloween mask, who treated us to a prolonged obscene gesture. It was genuinely chilling. But mostly it was a great day -- we were joined by writers from Law and Order SVU, from the new comedy Carpoolers, from Bionic Woman, and others, so it was also a wonderful chance for all of us to meet more of our colleagues.
By the way, we may be rotated out of this location at any time -- I'll try to keep you posted on where we are, Gentle Readers.
I've received some questions about what you can do to help us if you live too far away or are otherwise unable to come physically to our sides. Gentle Reader Mike asks, "Do we stop watching the shows? What about the reruns?" Well, I could be wrong but I don't think there's much to be gained through wielding your viewing power at the present moment. Watch whatever you wish. But, if you want to, you might want to watch it while composing a letter in support of the writers to the editor of the Los Angeles Times or any of the New York newspapers. Or while posting a writer-positive comment on any of the web sites that are taking on this issue -- Nikki Finke's column in the LA Weekly, for example. You can also take it upon yourself to educate your friends and family, who may not be getting the full story on what the issues are. If you read this blog, you're probably interested in television writing as a career. I want it still to be a sustainable career when you get here!
Speaking of breaking in, I want to direct your attention back to Chad Gervich's blog, in which he specifically addresses Gentle Reader Betsy, who wrote to me with a question I couldn't answer. His response is loaded with useful tidbits about breaking into the business and I encourage you all to check it out!
I think I have more faith than Chad does in the power of doing well in script competitions. Especially if you count the ABC/Disney and Warner Brothers Fellowships as competitions, I think they can help you get that proverbial foot in that metaphorical door. But don't let that be your only angle of attack -- Chad provides others. This job is volatile, sometimes short-lived, and for most writers not as lucrative as you might hope, but it's still the very best job in the world, and I want to see as many of you as possible getting your WGA cards in the near future!
Lunch: a sandwich and some of that wonderful cheesy garlic bread at The Smokehouse. (We also saw John Stamos and Maura Tierney there, who assured us that the cast of ER would be hitting the line to walk with their writers!)
Jane on 11.06.07 @ 07:55 PM PST [link]
Sunday, November 4th
UPDATE: I am being told that our team might be reassigned to a different and even more remote gate. If you're looking for me and cannot find me, then please, support any writers you do find. Hold a sign, stay and chat... it will be appreciated!
I am freshly returned from the picket line. They have put our "team" of Battlestar writers at a secondary, but strategically important Universal side gate, primarily an entrance to the theme park but also used by productions. Even there, hidden and isolated, I was delighted to be joined by a number of fans and gentle blog readers who found me and then carried signs and endured my foot-sore company for the duration! Thank you! And, as for the rest of you, I would love to meet more of you during future mornings.
And, get this -- pizzas were delivered to me and to the other strikers down by the main gate by the generous readers of Whedonesque.com! Whoo! Pizza! Thank you, my people! You're making this bad sitch a lot more comfortable.
And today's writing advice? Today I offer you this link to "Scriptnotes," Writers Digest's new blog "about the craft and business of writing for film, television, and digital media." It's offered by friend-of-the-blog Chad Gervich, and it looks as if it's going to address a lot of the questions that I avoid about aspects of the job that extend beyond the margins of the page.
For example, Betsy in Los Angeles, who wrote to ask about seeking out production companies versus agents as a way into the business? Well, you might want to direct that question to Chad. I concentrate on helping you perfect that script. Chad is better equipped than I am to advise you beyond that point. I think it's going to be a great resource. Enjoy!
Lunch: pizza with anchovies, delivered specially for me to the picket line. Beautiful! Thank you!
Jane on 11.05.07 @ 03:44 PM PST [link]
Thursday, November 1st
Well, Gentle Readers, today finds me digging around for my sunscreen and comfy shoes, because apparently I'm going to be walkin' tomorrow. I haven't talked about the strike yet here, because I really do want this site to be about the scripts, all the time. But if you're curious, and want to hear more about the issues from people who are more articulate on the subject than I am, I invite you to check out UnitedHollywood.com. And if any of you are in Los Angeles, and want to show support, or just learn more about the issues, please come out and join us. I personally intend to be at (well, just outside of) Universal Studios tomorrow from nine to one, along with other writers from Battlestar, Eureka, CSI and Desperate Housewives -- drop by and say "hi." Or drive by and honk.
Now, of course, I can't write during the strike (other than this beloved blog), but you guys can certainly keep working on those spec scripts, so let's see what I can do to help:
I attended an interesting event this week, in which spec writers got to hear actual actors reading their spec pilots. It was very enlightening to hear the words read out loud, and read well. I've mentioned before that I think this is a mistake if you've written a spec episode of a show that already exists, because it's so crucial not to have another voice interfering with your inner echo of the actual actor. But for a spec pilot, there's no reason not to do this, provided you have access to some readers who can do a credible acting job. In fact, I highly recommend it.
One thing you'll immediately notice is when a line is too long, which is often. You'll be crossing words out like crazy. You'll also notice whole pieces of scenes that can be trimmed away. When you read silently to yourself, your eyes tend to speed up over bits that you know well or that bore you or concern you, but hearing it read aloud forces your attention to those parts and makes you address the problems there -- often with a big red X through the whole page.
You'll also notice awkward bits of phrasing, ambiguous lines and logical jumps that can confuse the audience. If your script is funny, you'll be able to gauge if the laughs fall where you anticipated them.
Give it a try, and don't forget to ask your performers what they thought. Actors are often the ones who catch inconsistencies in a script, since they are the ones most invested in following the logical progression of the characters. And, of course, get opinions from other writers. Because writers support each other.
See you on the line.
Lunch: beef shabu shabu with lots of those tiny clear noodles
Jane on 11.04.07 @ 10:34 AM PST [link]
In a remarkable display of something… Efficiency? Coincidence? Necessity?... two of you have sent in the same question. Adam in West Hollywood says:
... here I am, sketching out ideas for original pilots, and I can't shake the nagging question of whether or not they'd stand out. [...] [S]hould I be writing a pilot that's more shocking instead of more touching or quirky or filled with those emotional character moments?
While, across town, Megan in Los Angeles chimes in:
... my question is whether a family-friendly emotional pilot with a small hook has any chance of competing against a high-concept pilot. (ie. "30 year old former child star moves back to hometown to live with her sister" vs. "girls' volleyball team discovers locker room is a time portal!")
Both gentle readers want to write the less "shocking" spec pilots, but are worried about whether that's the right choice. Well, I hate to disappoint, but I certainly think a strong, unusual, surprising hook helps. I mean, admit it, Gentle Readers, didn't you perk up when you thought about that volleyball team and their time portal? If both scripts were in front of you, which one would you be tempted to peek at? They're a volleyball team! With a time portal!
Remember, just because you pick a more out-there premise, it doesn't mean you have to lose all the great subtle character stuff that you would do in your more standard story. I certainly would like to think that the team captain, traveling back in time to witness her parents' first meeting, would have a lovely emotional reaction to it. Adam is, I think, setting up a false choice when he contrasts "shocking" with "touching". Buffy the Vampire Slayer would've made a great spec pilot if it hadn't already been a movie. The concept - even the title - is manifestly startling, but the writing is subtle and emotional. And touching.
What you don't need, and this may actually be what Adam is referring to when he says "shocking," is to load your story with turns that are surprising because they lack motivation or are extra violent or prurient for no other reason than to get a visceral reaction. That's never a good idea. But coming up with a new and intriguing story hook that makes people curious… that's never a bad idea.
Lunch: believe it or not, that heirloom tomato salad again. But I think this'll be the last time for a while.
Jane on 11.01.07 @ 03:24 PM PST [link]