Thursday, July 18, 2013

Walking on Alligators

Walking on Alligators, written by Susan Shaughnessy in 1993, is a book of meditations for writers. I love the title and I love the messages it contains. For example,
"The ark was built by amateurs, and the Titanic by the experts. Don't wait for the experts." ~ Murray Cohen
I have a board on Pinterest of the same title. I post quotes there to remind me that I have not chosen an easy path; it is, however, the path I have chosen, which makes walking on a tightrope of barbed wire look easy by comparison.

I have been challenged to create the following learning contract, but in the process have learned that I AM LEARNING, and facing challenges is part of the process, as it is in every creative endeavor.

And, so my fellow students, mentor and tutors, I look forward to walking this path with you and hope that I may extend myself as a balancing pole when needed and trust that you will do the same when I teeter, for there's only one thing I know for sure as I embark on this exciting adventure, I will surely teeter along the way.



Key research question: What Theories, Practices & Tools for Writing Episodic Television Can Be Learned by Following the Principles of Lajos Egri?


PREMISE/ What is the Foundation of Story?

Rationale: In all my years of studying screenwriting, I have never been asked to set forth a premise before writing a script. Teachers have always focused on the hero’s journey, defining the character’s outer wants versus inner needs, conflict, plot and structure, using tools such as the Beat Sheet to create an outline before filling in character, dialogue and action. Yet, Lajos Egri posits that all great drama requires a unifying premise and that premise will dictate character and story. By questioning writers on the subject of premise and how they use it as a tool, I aim to understand how I can put Egri’s theory into practice.

Deliverables: A 4,000 word research report that will synthesize findings conducted through a) a literature review on the subject of writing for television, b) interviews with professional writers on how they use premise to create character and drive story and c) an online questionnaire to quantify those who use premise as a tool and those who do not.

Indicative Reading List:
Aranson, L. (2000) Television Writing; The Ground Rules of Series, Serials and Sitcom. North Ryde, Australia: Australian Film Television and Radio School
Bhaskaran, V. and LeClaire, J. (2010) Online Surveys for Dummies. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Bic√Ęt, T. (2007) Creative TV Writing. Ramsbury, England: The Crowood Press Limited.
Egri, L. (1946) The Art of Dramatic Writing. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Epstein, A. (2006) Crafty TV Writing; Thinking Inside the Box. New York. Henry Holt and Company
Sandler, E. (2007) The TV Writer’s Workbook; A Creative Approach to Television Scripts. New York, NY: Bantam Dell
Tierno, M. (2012) Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters. New York, NY: Hyperion
Vogler, C. (2007) The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions
Williams, S. D. (2006) The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions

Blogs by industry professionals including, but not limited to: Ted Levin, Ellen Sandler, Alex Epstein, Danny Stack.

Industry: Done Deal Professional, Studio System News, Indiewire, Vulture, Shooting People, Screen Daily.


CHARACTER & STORY/ How is Premise Proven - Within An Episode and Over A Season?

Rationale: Unlike a screenplay, which tells a story in a finite amount of time, a television series tells a story in multiple episodes that extend over a season and, hopefully, into multiple seasons. Whereas a script has the tradition of sticking your protagonist up a tree and throwing stones at him/her before the fire brigade arrives to save the day, at which point the audience lets out a uniform sigh of relief, a television series has to keep the emotional rollercoaster rolling week after week, year after year. By practical examination of one show - BBC America's Orphan Black, chosen because it is a sci-fi action drama, which is the genre of my own idea - I hope to understand the intricacies of how a story is structured over multiple episodes and how it adheres to its premise within each episode and over the season, as well as identify what the buttons are that inspire binge watching. This could be interesting to other writers also wishing to understand how to write episodic TV.

Deliverables: A breakdown of each episode, identifying characters’ motivations, plots and subplots, and how each upholds (or otherwise) the premise, written as a blog post for each episode. A Reflective Report that will include a matrix, with the beat sheet of each show, charting how character and plot weave together over a season.

Indicative Reading List:
Atchity, K. and Wong C. (2003) Writing Treatments That Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry. New York: Henry Holt and Company
Corbett, D. (2013) The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film & TV. New York: Penguin Books
Grisanti, J. (2011) TV Writing Took Kit: How to Write a Script that Sells. [Online] Available from:
Prigge, S. (2005) Created By: Inside the Minds of TV’s Top Creators. Los Angeles, CA: Silman-James Press
Rabkin, W. (2011) Writing the Pilot. Pasadina, CA: Moon & Sun & Whiskey
Schmidt, V.L. (2001) 45 Master Characters. Blue Ash: Writer’s Digest Books
Wilson, J.M. (1998) Inside Hollywood: A Writer’s Guide to Researching the World of Movies & TV. Blue Ash, OH: Writers’ Digest Books
Zizek, S. (2001) Enjoy your symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out. London, UK: Psychology Press


THE ADAPTATION/ The Next Steps – Following Premise and Character – Conflict!

Rationale: With the understanding of how premise drives character and story, I will adapt a manuscript to episodic television. By working with an existing story, I won’t be concerned with the creation of characters, world, etc, but will be able to focus on how to tell the story effectively within the framework of episodic TV. Since the story is a Buddhist work, I will need to ensure that within the teachings of each episode there is sufficient conflict to carry the story forward and thus keep the target audience of 13-17 year-olds engaged.

Deliverables: Scripts for an animated, sci-fi TV series, accompanied by a diary documenting the process in the form of a blog and videos. A reflective paper.

Indicative Reading List:
Smith, E.S. (1999) Writing Television Sitcoms. New York, NY: The Berkeley Publishing Company
Stone, A. A. (2007) Movies and the moral adventure of life. Cambridge. MA: MIT Press
Sedita, S. (2005) The Eight Characters of Comedy. Jacksonville, FL: Atides Publishingv Milham, P. (2011) How to Write Comedy Characters. Amazon Digital Services, Inc.


TV PILOT/ Introduce a Central Character and Core Cast, Establish the Show’s World and Create an Episode Template

Rationale: The pilot script is the selling tool for a TV series. By presenting my ideas for a television show to my tutors, mentor and peers and refining them until there’s a winning idea and continuing to develop this idea into a logline, outline, draft, I will learn the stages of development.

- Logline
- Concept Sheet
- Outline
- Draft
- First Revised Draft
- Reflective Report

Indicative Reading List:
Einstein, A. (2011) The World As I See It. San Diego, CA: Book Tree
Geoghegan, J. and Homan, M. (2002) The Bible for Dummies. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley & Sons
Grant, R. (2013) Writing the Science Fiction Film. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions
Levin, A. (2007) Cloning: A Beginner’s Guide. London, UK: Oneworld Publications
Macy, M. (2009) The Project: The past, present and future of humanity. New York: Eloquent Books


PITCH PACKET/ Achieving the Perfect Pitch

Rationale: In addition to a pilot script, a pitch bible is the standard selling tool for a television series. Writing such a bible will demonstrate that I understand the requirements of the business as well as what it takes to develop an idea. While I understand the challenges of selling a script and the opportunities and resources available to unrepresented/unproduced writers, I don’t know how the system works for television. My research into this area will help in my goal of selling an original TV series. Additionally, as part of my package I want to include strategies for transmedia.

Deliverables: Pitch Bible detailing characters, look + feel, themes and concepts, episode breakdown. Transmedia modules in the form of storyboards, site/story architecture, etc. Case Study Analysis of who’s used Transmedia effectively to extend their prime asset.

Indicative Reading List:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Robert Rodriguez - Shapeshifter

My hero, Robert Rodriguez, is creating a TV network, not just a series, but a network! And it will be in English for the "under-served" Latino audience. Who would have thought? The man who I have worshipped ever since watching that gun-slinging guitar player step through those swing doors ten years ago.

In the DVD special features for Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which he wrote, produced, shot, directed, edited, and scored, he gives tips for cooking and provides the recipe for Puerco Pibil, one of his go-to recipes he cooks up for the crew. Now, that is what I call a renaissance man.

I have particular fondness for Once Upon a Time in Mexico because it was shot in San Miguel de Allende, where I live half the year. For this reason, I recently screened the film for a friend, and, ten years later, it still holds up. Of course, it's always fun to watch a film in which you can spot the locations that you know and love. The denouement in which Johnny Depp is blindly led by a child takes place on the street two minutes from my apartment. I digress.

Rodriguez has continued to be cool. Check out this short film that he recently made as part of Blackberry’s “Keep Moving” project. With an incomplete short film on hand, he called out to fans to "use your creativity and imagination to help complete" the film. What do you think? Indubitably Rodriguez, right?

And did I mention, he's starting a TV network? Que padre!

Friday, July 5, 2013

My Most Valued Film Book...

For this week's assignment, we're to write about our most valued film book. I thought that would be a snap, since no matter how many books there are on creative writing, the subject boils down to learning the "The Art of Dramatic Writing," (note the word dramatic) which happens to be the title of Lajos Egri's seminal book written in 1946. I have read this book every year for the last 15 years and thought it would be my go-to book for this assignment.

However, as I scan my books on the craft of writing -- shockingly only 50 -- I see Syd Field's The Screenwriter's Workbook, which I found immensely helpful in cracking how to structure and write the dreaded second act. And there, right next to it sits The Film Director's Intuition. Drawn by the word intuition, I flip through the pages to discover that it's heavily dogeared. I immediately want to read this again! This book is dense with fabulous information, inspiring quotes from famous actors and directors, and real script analyses. For my fellow students, here's a link; I highly recommend this book!

On the subject of writing for television (since that's what I intend to learn), I am reading Creative TV Writing by writer/director/producer Tony Bicat. I was thrilled to read in the introduction that, although everyone wants "a hit," nobody knows what is going to be a hit, least of all the producers. Bicat goes on to say that, "the format for this mysterious 'hit' changes." I'm further encouraged by his approach to developing said 'hit', i.e. coolly analyse the shows you admire to see how they are written and constructed in order to establish certain principles of episodic storytelling; with the additional suggestion of writing key scenes from the first and fifth episode to understand the process of episodic drama. That he suggests the fifth episode is interesting... something to consider when I comes to plotting (and filming?) my own series.

I would be highly amiss if I did not mention The Guerilla Film Makers Movie Blueprint. I found this book invaluable when I was producing my feature film, which you can read about here. Reading this book is tantamount to attending film school! Here's a link to the "all-new" American edition.


Jones, C. (2003) The Guerilla Film Makers Movie Blueprint. London: Continunuum
Bicat, T. (2007) Creative TV Writing. Ramsbury: Crowood
Weston, J. (2003) The Film Director's Intuition. Studio City: McNaughton & Gunn, Inc.
Field, S. (1984) The Screenwriter's Workbook. New York: Dell Publishing
Egri, L. (1946) The Art of Dramatic Writing. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Telford, K. (1961) Aristotle's Poetics. Chicago: Gateway