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.
Bicât, 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:


  1. Looks good Lorraine,

    It's clear, and I like how each section has a reading list and rationale, really shows that you did your homework, and understand what is required of you for each step.

    Perhaps you were confused in the beginning, but I think you know where you're going, what you want to achieve, and how you will do it, and that to me is the bottom line. Good work

  2. Absolutely, this is taking shape towards a highly structured an in-depth personal journey. It would be clearer to us though if you include which case study you will work through to understanding the role of the controlling idea, and why you have chosen this particular one. Naturally, different writers and directors appropriate this concept in different ways.

    Likewise, your adaptation depends much on your starting point - the source material - and why you have chosen to adapt it. Who would be right to direct / produce? Will you be looking at legal implications / optioning etc?

  3. I've added the case study that I will work on. The adaptation is a work experience project, over which I have no control other than as the writer, possibly the social media consultant. However, if I'm successful in contacting an author whose novel I've wanted to adapt since reading it in 1994 I will change projects.

  4. The image at the top of this post reminds me of a Cocteau play where the actor playing the lead appears in front of the curtain as the audience is still settling into their seats (before the play has started) and says: "[N]ous jouons très haut et sans filet de secours. Le moindre bruit intempestif risque de nous faire tuer, mes camarades et moi." (Jean Cocteau, Orphée, Paris, Stock, 1927, p. 7.)

  5. "We perform at a great height and without a safety net. The slightest disturbance may result in the death of myself or my compatriots."