ConQnA: Lynnie Purcell

ConQnA #2 features Lynnie Purcell! Lynnie and I know each other from being Just About Write TV recap staff buddies. We’ve chatted about screenwriting a few times and Lynnie was just always super encouraging! Lynnie lives in LA, pursuing her writing, and has written a few books, one of which is available for FREE online right now! Visit her website, check out her Just About Write reviews, and follow her on Twitter!

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ConQnA: Jo Roark

ConQnA kicks off with my first guest is Jo-Dean Roark who recently moved to LA to pursue TV writing!

Jo went to NYU at the same time I did and I got to help out a little on the set of her webseries Dorm Therapy. She’s developing another (awesome-sounding) webseries about a girl who can see the future when she applies make-up. Follow the show accounts on Facebook and Twitter, plus Jo’s own Twitter — It’ll premiere this spring! Jo has been a real big supporter of me, because that’s just the kind of person she is, and I’m really proud of her gumption to just get the work done. Here is her writing journey so far!

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September is Emmys Month at ConStar Writes

It’s September! That means TV IS BACK SOON! YAY!

As I’ve blogged before, summer 2015 basically became a blog hiatus, but during that time, I tried to brainstorm ways to be a more productive blogger. In addition to TV reviews (I’ll be reviewing FOUR shows this season so far! Wish me luck!) and ConStar Clicks, I want to have more original stuff too. I was inspired by the monthly themes over on Girls in Capes, which I thought might be a great way to kickstart more writing. So each month, I will (should, because I like to push myself but also be honest with myself) have a different theme! Hopefully I can add other non-themed posts in there too, but it’s all in the effort to write/blog more.

All of this to say: September is Emmys month!

The Emmys typically look at the work of last year’s shows, actors, writers, and production teams. I want to look at the Emmys in a wider lens than just who is nommed this year and who will be snubbed. I’ll take a look at how awards are made (physically, where do they come from?), black actors and actresses who have been nominated for the Emmy award (perhaps tracking winners and losers), and I’ll revisit my post on The Emmys Need New TV Categories.

This month, also look for:

Want to contribute to Emmy month? Contact me!

ConStar Clicks

The 2015-16 TV season is fast approaching, and with that comes endless articles on various trends and the state of television today. This week’s ConStar Clicks features a few of those articles and a couple of older ones. Click away!

Over on NPR: Television 2015: Five Shows They Will Never Stop Making including: The Adventures Of Mr. Superabilities And Detective Ladyskeptic and Healing Dr. Chilly. 

Another NPR piece: Television 2015: Are We Done Hating Television? which discusses how movie stars are moving to TV, which used to be a shocking thing, as TV was what movie stars did when they couldn’t get movie roles. Now things are different.

Disdain for television is so old and so powerful that HBO used to try to repurpose it into something useful, like fuel made from old French-fry grease. That’s what “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” was.

Another great line:

Disdain for television is so old and so powerful that HBO used to try to repurpose it into something useful, like fuel made from old French-fry grease. That’s what “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” was.

TV NOW: Are You Cheating On Your TV Shows? [Seat 42F] considers the sheer amount of television that is on the air today and the way social media and other factors force us to choose which shows to watch live and which to save for that DVR/Netflix binge

Total scripted television shows rose from 340 shows in 2013 to 371 shows in 2014 and now there will be over 400 shows at the end of 2015 — that is an increase of over 60 additional television shows in the past 2 years.

Also:

It became essential to triage which TV shows had to be watched immediately or LIVE or suffer the repercussions.

An important question is asked: Is TV Writing the Best Job Ever? [Huffington Post]

(and answered by TV writer Jane Espenson, who’s worked for some of the best SFF shows on TV, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once Upon a Time, and Battlestar Galactica.)

This piece on the BBC America Anglophenia blog wonderfully explores how Tatiana Maslany perfects the various accents and dialects she performs so flawlessly on Orphan Black:

In playing these diverse characters, the Canadian-born actress has the Herculean task of defining each individual through speech and behavior without tripping over into Saturday Night Live-level caricature. And that’s not even accounting for the performances in which a clone pretends to be another clone. Nuances are layered on nuances.

If you’ve ever watched Orphan Black, you know those nuances are serious! Also why hasn’t Tatiana hosted SNL yet?!

#ConStarClicks: Learn to Talk Like a TV Writer [GQ]

ConStar Clicks: Learn to Talk Like a TV Writer – GQ

True ConStar Clicks posts are returning in June (if all goes according to plan) but here’s a cool article I’ve been reading (and memorizing) about words TV writers often use in the process of putting an episode together. It seems to be mostly focusing on TV comedy jargon.

Some of my favorites from the piece:

  • Button – I prefer button to blow.
  • Chuffa
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Hanging a Lantern – I learned this on TV Tropes. If you’ve read my About Me, you know I love me some TV Tropes.
  • Schmuck Bait

Click through to find out what they mean.

Quick Update: I Officially Completed My First Spec Script

This weekend I finished my first official spec script! I call it my first official script because I actually sent it out to the Nickelodeon Writing Program. It was due to be postmarked by midnight on the 28th and I arrived at the post office 45 minutes before they closed at 4pm.

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That face on the bottom right says, “Ahhhh!”

Since completing it only a few days ago, I been trying to figure out how I feel. I am definitely glad I finished a script. I have two three-quarters finished scripts (for Parks and Recreation and Scandal) and a finished Castle spec that will never again see the light of day because of how bad it is (it was my first real attempt at script writing ever). So finishing feels… good. I guess. I think I am just trying to be realistic. Cautiously optimistic, maybe? Because having just one completed script isn’t enough. I need to do so much more. Thankfully, since sending my spec in, my brain has opened up a little more with ideas for some of the other (original) projects I want to work on.

But the sense of accomplishment is muted. So here I am making a post about it so it feels more real, feels more like a joyous occasion that I should celebrate. Not many people finish things. I never thought I’d finish anything. But I am finding that once you finish one thing, you start to feel more like you can finish another, and another, and another.

So here’s to finishing the next thing.

Adventures in Speccing & The Trouble with Choice

I don’t really do New Years Resolutions, but I’d love to finish something I write this year. My first challenge? Finishing a spec script. Tis the season for TV writing fellowship submission deadlines and I think I am going to take a crack at actually submitting something. So, right now, I am working on a spec script for the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

The best thing about spec writing? Rewatching a show you love and getting to call it research.

The best thing about spec writing? Rewatching a show you love and getting to call it research.

I’ve worked on a few specs before. I wrote a Castle spec a few years ago that got completed, but wasn’t good story wise and was way too short. I wrote a Parks and Rec spec that, upon reread, felt authentic to the show and actually had some jokes (!) but was missing a third act resolution and pieces of a plot point were done by the show itself after I’d stopped working on it. And earlier last year, I tried my hand at a Scandal spec. It seemed to be going well while writing it during a show hiatus, but once the show returned, a lot of little points I’d thought of were used on the show and plots/relationships/etc were more and more invalidated each new episode. I’ve also written a few short teaser-type scenes for a sit-com pilot and the first few pages of a drama pilot. Again, nothing I’ve completed.

A lot of my scripts have places where I just keysmash the clever things they should be saying and bracket the actions that should happen between the scenes I've thought of.

A lot of my scripts have places where I just keysmash the clever things they should be saying and bracket the actions that should happen between the scenes I’ve thought of.

Even though each script has gone unfinished or left something to be desired, I’ve felt stronger and stronger about my writing after each attempt. But it is time to finally finish something. The point of writing fellowships is to hone your craft, so hopefully, should I finish something and submit it, it is more about the potential within my script rather than how brilliant it actually is, but as with most writers, you want it to be brilliant from the get go.

Instructor feedback from my unfinished Scandal spec. There's hope for me yet!

Instructor feedback from my unfinished Scandal spec. There’s hope for me yet!

I mostly write this so I am putting it out there. Connie should be working on her spec script. I’ve got an A story (recently developed, but I finally feel good about the direction it’s going), a nemesis for the main character (though I’m still working out obstacles), an emotional trajectory, a B-story involving Terry, Rosa, and Gina, and a vague idea for a C-story that maybe should tie into the A-story?

What I’ve noticed is that I am paralyzed by choice when it comes to writing fiction. There are so many paths a character could take, so many ways a character could be, which determines where the story goes. What if I choose wrong? If I pick between two ideas and one isn’t working, does that mean the other is better? Or should I break my brain trying to make idea number one work? I spend a lot of time stuck at the fork in the road and when I pick one, I keep wondering what’s down the other path. It’s definitely a struggle. And that’s all in the outlining. Once I’ve started, the characters start speaking and want to do different things than what I’ve planned, which affects where the story goes and thus all the little pieces I’ve thought of start to fall apart. Hence why I never finish anything. Even if I stop thinking about the road to the other side of the last fork in the road, a new one comes and I become overwhelmed with choice and the fear of missed moments of awesome. Also, there’s the giving up and the getting distracted, and the chronic procrastination, and ooh books! –ooh, new TV shows! –ooh, other ideas I should write! Typical writer problems.

So my goal for early 2015 is to finish this spec script. I bought an iPad around Christmas and it’s actually been helping me to be really productive. I’ve written about 7 pages of notes in Pages solely on my iPad while rewatching the show and on my commutes to work. And I bought Final Draft for iPad, which I think will be a really good way to write while on the go. So here’s to finishing this spec script. Hopefully the abundance of choice won’t be so paralyzing — I can just use those ideas in a second script. This post is to get my feelings out and for you readers to hold me accountable via comments, or Twitter, or wherever you see me lurking on the internet. Because if I’m on Twitter, I’m not writing. (But don’t take away my internet, research spurns ideas!)

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Reaction to an act out I think for my Scandal spec. LOL!

Happy writing!

Are any of you working on some works-in-progress that you’d like completed this year?

Shonda Rhimes is Winning Awards Left and Right and It’s Only the Beginning

Shonda Rhimes to Receive WGAW’s 2015 Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award

Shonda Rhimes has been winning awards left and right recently! There was the Director’s Guild Diversity Award  last year (which got all sorts of controversial press because of Shonda’s statement that she was “pissed off” that they even needed an award for such a thing) and recently the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, which made headlines as Shonda broke the glass ceiling analogy by explaining that all the women who came before her cracked it first. Now she’s set to receive another award: The Paddy Chayesfsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement (isn’t that a mouthful) from the Writer’s Guild of America.

Named after one of the most influential writers in entertainment history, the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement is the WGAW’s highest award for television writing, given to writers who have advanced the literature of television throughout the years and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer. Past Television Laurel Award recipients include Steven Bochco, Susan Harris, Stephen J. Cannell, David Chase, Larry David, Diane English, Marshall Herskovitz & Ed Zwick, Joshua Brand & John Falsey, and, most recently, Garry Marshall.

See the names of those who have previously won this award? All white people. Only two women. Shonda will be the first black women, or woman of any color to receive this award — the guild’s “highest” award. That’s amazing. That’s inspiring. In a world where people of her gender and color are often marginalized, Shonda is not only making strides but giving opportunities to others who are pushed to the side. She’s showing us that you can have black leads and a diverse cast and dominate the ratings (competing even with football of all things). She’s providing  complicated characters of varying colors who aren’t stereotypes but aren’t perfect either. And she’s writing (and/or producing) compelling television that has people tweeting and talking about episodes weeks after they air.

I love that she is getting all of this recognition and while Grey’s Anatomy is in its 11th season (!!), this should still be considered just the beginning of her career. I can see her name being attached to loads of TV shows, even if she’s not writing them, à la a lot of the other names on that list of Laurel Award recipients past.

Shonda’s not a perfect writer. There are think pieces all over the internet with regard to her characters and her writing style, but she hadn’t written TV before Grey’s Anatomy and all writing is a process. I think she is, more and more, realizing her brand and sees what’s working best for audiences and is adapting to it. Rhimes herself, in awards speeches she’s made, has mentioned how competitive she is, so receiving these awards means she’s only going to continue to grow and try to outdo herself. And I am excited to see what she’ll come up with next.

Check the press release here: Shonda Rhimes to Receive WGAW’s 2015 Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award.

Castle 7.01 Review: “Driven”

Castle 7.01 Review: “Driven”

When the news broke this summer that Andrew Marlowe was stepping down as Castle showrunner, I can’t say that I was actually all that nervous. David Amann was already a Castle writer and I just had a lot of faith in the writing staff to protect Marlowe’s project, especially since 1. He’d still be around (he’s writing 7.02!) and 2. His wife still writes for the show. And after that premiere, I feel safe in my faith in the show going forward. Six plus seasons is a long time to keep things fresh—a typical procedural relies to cycling through “ripped from the headlines” cases and replacing the cast when necessary, not Castle. They somehow brought us fresh dynamics to fuel us throughout the season while keeping the characters the same.

The beginning of the episode was stunning. Kate in her beautiful dress reaching towards the flames, then getting doused in water as she waited for the confirmation that Castle wasn’t in the car. (I’ll forgive them for letting Kate stay that close to a car that could explode at any moment.) After the moment of despaired silence, the action kicks into gear as Kate does what she does best, look for clues. I loved the Sergeant who was so eager to help out, especially after Kate’s “he’s one of our own.” Castle has been granted this treatment before, but it’s always so great to hear. Esposito and Ryan are dashing detectives as they start the investigation still in their tuxes, doing whatever they can for two of their favorite people. Our team finds the SUV that ran Castle off the road, just as it’s being flattened—Beckett takes that to heart as she tackles the junkyard employee flat to the ground.


Read more at TV Overmind

Episode 2: A Second Chance at a First Impression

As Fall TV pilots air and verdicts come in from critics and audiences alike, I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how pilots are different from episode 2.

Pilots are written usually by one person (or the initial creative team/duo) and shot early in the year. By May there’s usually a greenlight verdict, when shows can go forward with production of season one. This is when the writing rooms are hired and the creative team proper begins to form.

[This Washington Square Journal article from gives a mini breakdown of the pilot season schedule from pitches in summer to writing in fall to pilot requests in January to pick ups in May. TV writing books break it down better but I couldn’t find a handy link.]

So the writing process for episode 1 sometime in December or so of the year before is going to be different from an episode written by a writing room, sometimes with a different showrunner, and with additional network and studio notes going forward. Most times this coalesces the show into something that gets better and better as the season(s) progress. Though of course, sometimes instead of getting better, a show can get worse for these very same reasons.

In this way, television boldly asks for a second chance at a first impression. This is why characters go missing from pilot to episode 2 or get dropped very early on, why sets look different. TV Tropes related to his phenomenon: Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, Dropped After the Pilot, Early Installment Weirdness. More people are making decisions and this can help or hinder a pilot in the view of the audience.

Pilots have too much work to do. A lot of pilot episodes place a character in a new setting and they must meet their supporting cast and get a feel for the many different problems a character could face in that situation/place. Pilots are about potential. Episode 2, on the other hand, gives you a better feel for what the show will be on a weekly basis. Where the pilot may introduce many different characters and problems, episode 2 can settle and focus on one of those problems, episode 3 another.

Some of the criticism of Gotham, for instance, has been all of the baby villains being shoehorned into episode 1. Sure, it was a clunky way of doing it, but it was about potential. If episode 2 features all of these cameos with little reason for them, then I’d be concerned, but I am hoping that they will take one piece of episode 1 and focus on it in episode 2, therefore giving us room to breathe in the story. Other shows struggle do this as well. Lost was known for introducing loads and loads of characters in its pilot (though it’s pilot is a bit unfair as it was 2 hours long and produced like a feature film), then focusing on one character per episode via the flashbacks.

On the comedy side, I think of the comparisons of black-ish to The Cosby Show. As I state in my black-ish post, it’s a bit soon to be comparing black-ish to Cosby at its height and when comparing pilots, I think The Cosby Show‘s is stronger writing and humor-wise. But I think Cosby brings to mind something that I hope remains true for black-ish. It had really great ratings (of course it is–it has the coveted Modern Family lead-in and a summer’s worth of anticipation), but it wasn’t flaw free and many are concerned about the message it’s presenting about “being black”–a discussion for another day–so they may not tune in for episode 2. The Cosby Show pilot, besides having a different set, also only features four Huxtable children–poor Sondra was all forgot about (ahem, didn’t exist) when Claire/Cliff (I forget which) states that they have four children. I bring this to mind to say that between the writing of the pilot and episode 2, a decision to make the family actually match Bill Cosby’s real-life family make up was made and the show progressed from there and gained additional story potential for it.

Anything can happen between episodes 1 and 2, there’s so much time between them. So if there’s a show you were invested in and the pilot didn’t quite grab you, at least give episode 2 a shot. Things could have changed for the better.

American TV shows might look more diverse, but their writers aren’t

I haven’t posted in a while, but posts like this need sharing as much as possible. We’ve made some strides in diversity on TV, but it’s not nearly enough for it being 2014. Let’s take the diversity we’re experiencing for the new fall season and support it and applaud it so that we see even more increases in the years to come. Definitely check out this article and share it!

‘Castle’ Producer David Amann to Replace Creator Andrew Marlowe as Showrunner – TheWrap

‘Castle’ Producer David Amann to Replace Creator Andrew Marlowe as Showrunner – TheWrap

Wow! Big news for my favorite show!

Andrew Marlowe hopefully feels very strongly about this decision and the team backing Amann, but Lord knows fans will be in an uproar. Seasons past cries of “In Marlowe We Trust” are being thrown back at us as we face the fear of a new showrunner (even one whose been on the show for so long). After some fans felt disappointed by the season 6 finale (leaving Castle and Beckett pointedly NOT married), for there to be a new showrunner will certainly cause more angst and anxiety as we fans wait for season 7 this summer.

Let’s hope that Marlowe’s presence will still be “day to day” as the article says, though this probably also means no more episodes penned by Marlowe and wife, Terri Miller, which is definitely a bummer for fans of their joint episodes. Hopefully more on this as the writers get back to work in full…

 

*I guess this means I’ll have to adjust my “Andrew Marlowe” showrunner category!

A writers’ room of N.Y.’s own – Times Union

A writers’ room of N.Y.’s own – Times Union
Check out this brief article on the lack of NYC writers’ rooms, despite more shows being shot here. I definitely wish there were more opportunities for tv writers in NYC, as that’s where I live. Hopefully we can get more here. Until I can write and produce my own NYC based (and set, because not enough NY set shows are actually shot in NY–those alleys, those fake trains…smh) hit TV series.

But it may spur more studios to at least consider locating their writers’ rooms here, and to hire a more diverse staff—writers who look and sound like New York, and like America.

 

Jeff Povey: how I write scripts for TV and books – top tips and insights | Children’s books | theguardian.com

Jeff Povey: how I write scripts for TV and books – top tips and insights | Children’s books | theguardian.com.

 In TV we have a saying that you get in as late as you can to a scene and leave as early as the moment allows. It’s like going to the worst party in the world. You just spend as little time as possible there. […] A book requires you to think differently.

As someone interested in both TV writing and fiction, this is an interesting article on the differences between both from a writer’s perspective by British TV writer and author Jeff Povey.

Scandal Monologues Are All the Buzz Today

Make Your Own Scandal Monologue — Vulture

Four Scandal Actors Break Down Four Memorable Shonda Rhimes Monologues

Joe Morton Mid Monologue

Tonight is the #Scandal season finale! I haven’t been recapping Scandal lately (busyness–I often don’t get home to watch it live, then had things to do Friday morning, no writing time–and my recap style fit more when the show was a tad bit more serial) but doesn’t mean I’m not still watching it. I’ll watch the finale as soon as I get home late tonight, but ahead of the episode, the internet is giving us loads of Scandal content to get us through the day.

These two links, both from Vulture, are different takes on Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal monologues. One is a monologue generator that I haven’t gotten to play with yet (but Shonda Rhimes has:

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 3.34.04 PM)

and the other is breakdowns of 4 monologues from this season, by Joe Morton, Bellamy Young, Kate Burton, and Jeff Perry. These are fun games but also very useful for me.

Earlier this year I was writing a Scandal spec script for a TV writing class I was taking. I got pretty far, but Scandal fatigue and adding other things to my writing interests put it on hold for a while. But something I was struggling with was figuring out how and where and who to give a brilliant Scandal monologue to. It’s hard work. The obvious choice would be Joe Morton’s character Eli, but he wasn’t quite giving me one. And I was so focused on trying to give him one (because he is my favorite character on the show) that I ruled out everyone else and I think I was suffering for that.

He could still get the monologue, but now I have a new idea! Use the Vulture Scandal Monologue generator! Obviously not to take whatever I get when I play, but I think the generator breaks down the monologues from the show in ways that would be beneficial to me looking at my spec and including one. It starts off with themes and goes from there. Once I break down the theme of my episode (another aspect I was struggling with–Shonda is very theme heavy in her episodes and it’s always good to know what yours is, but I haven’t broken down the theme to go with the plot of my episode), I can use this generator to get a monologue for it.

Sometimes you have to know how to use the fun of the internet to actually do work and understand things that were giving you trouble. I can’t wait to try it. If you use it, comment with your monologue!

I think another brilliant thing I just came up with could be to use all those Buzzfeed quizzes to learn more about your characters, just take them in their voice and use the end result as a way to understand your characters more. Or maybe your character wouldn’t take a Buzzfeed quiz. That’s telling too!

 

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The 6 Most Common Mistakes When Writing Dialogue and How to Avoid Them | Beyond The Margins

The 6 Most Common Mistakes When Writing Dialogue and How to Avoid Them | Beyond The Margins.

TV is all about dialogue. You have to be more concise and judicial about it, but TV is maybe second to plays (or so I hear) when it comes to the importance of dialogue in the medium. This is a great article to take a look at to look at how your dialogue is being presented in your work, no matter the medium or genre.

The Aspiring TV Writer & Screenwriter Blog: Three big myths in the aspiring writer world

The Aspiring TV Writer & Screenwriter Blog: Three big myths in the aspiring writer world.

From fellow blogger, Amanda. Basically these things hold us aspiring writers back: thinking you’re all that, whining instead of writing, and thinking our writing will be a reader’s saving grace after a long day of slush.

Keep working at your talent and be realistic about your skills and you just might beat the odds.

Spec Inspiration: How to Raise the Stakes by Challenging a Character’s Identity

Spec Inspiration: How to Raise the Stakes by Challenging a Character’s Identity

Make the character prove his point. Once your character’s identity has been challenged, make him or her prove that the challenge is incorrect.

This idea might help me with my Scandal spec. I’ve been struggling with giving Olivia more to do. She has some role in the major plots of the episode, sure, but a lot of that is easily delegated. I’m struggling with her wanting something, more than “to clear his name” or whatever the case may be. But this helps.

I’ve been trying to find a way to explore Olivia’s relationship with both Fitz and her dad and by using this idea, I can have one refer/label her relationship with the other, then have her rebel against the idea. Haven’t figured out which way yet.

Shonda used this herself, when she had Cyrus question Fitz’ “balls.” Fitz went off and proved himself and went back to Cyrus asking, “How presidential are my balls now, Cy?” The audience loved it, but it also gave Fitz something to do, something to want in that episode. I need to use it with this one.

More spec updates soon! Once I stop distracting myself with other blog thoughts (new blog coming soon lol).

via How to Raise the Stakes by Challenging a Character’s Identity [Read to Write Stories]

A Brief Update on How My Scandal Spec is Going

A Brief Update on How My Scandal Spec if Going

later:

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Ok. It’s not nearly as bad as that (there’s a vague idea of a plot and characters are interacting blah blah blah), but it’s somewhere in the vicinity. Every time I think I have a handle on my outline, I write to a later scene and everything before comes into question.

Recently I heard the quote that “The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself,” so, in addition to the mentors and teachers telling me to continue to write forward, I’m at the moment resisting every urge to scrap everything I’ve done and just make notes of things that will need to change. That’s the hardest part for me, resisting the urge to start over, but I’m gonna try to just vomit draft this plot and then go back… We’ll see how it goes!

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Adventures in Speccing – Scandal

This year, I’m taking my love of TV and desire to write for it a step further. I am currently an intern at the Gotham Writers Workshop here in New York and we get to take a free writing class. I decided, of course, to take their TV Writing class–10 weeks of learning how to write TV. So far, many of the basics have been covered (for students who had no idea what a script looked like/was formatted like, had never written a script before), but I’m sure I’ll learn some new things that I haven’t learned from extensive reading and googling about how to write for TV.

As you may know, when learning about TV writing, you start off by writing a spec script–a script based on an existing TV show– because 1. you’ll need to be in the habit of writing someone else’s story, you don’t all start off with pilots like Shonda Rhimes and 2. because it’s better to learn and mess up on someone else’s work than on your own creative baby. (This does not apply to real babies. It might often be worse to mess up someone else’s kid when you’re babysitting, so this is a very situational piece of advice.)

If you’ve read this blog before, you may be able to guess that I chose Scandal as the show I would spec. It’s a complicated show, but it’s kind of perfect in terms of the factors that decide what kind of specs you should write. They should be 1. Shows that you know and like well, 2. shows past season 1 but not too aged, 3. shows in the genre you’d want to write in. So I’m attempting a Scandal spec. Yikes!

The first rough thing about Scandal, in comparison maybe to other shows, is how many characters there are. Scandal has 10 main characters this season (as in listed in the main credits every week) and several important recurring characters (like Liv’s dad, whose been in every episode this season, yet isn’t a main character). So one of our first assignments was to create character sheets for each other characters.  It was so much work because of how many characters there are and how little, in some instances, we’ve gotten about them. Displaying IMG_20140201_012858.jpg

Right now, I’m working on my first 7 pages or so. But in order to figure out what happens in those 7 pages, I wanted to have a better idea of what was happening in the rest of the episode. So I turned to Dan Harmon‘s plot circles, because I think they’re a great structural way to look at episodes and plots. Here’s a link. Then, when googling, someone turned Harmon’s circle into a wave, which really helped me visualize the story and act breaks and rises and falls in momentum.

Here’s a picture of what I’ve got so far.

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It’s nice to be able to visualize when act breaks should happen and what should happen in them. Basically, “breaking the story.” It’s tough, but it’s also kinda fun and is further cementing the idea that this is what I would want to do in life. Hopefully my first 7 pages aren’t terrible, according to the instructor. (But if he thinks so, I’ll just ask my fellow Gladiators, you might be able to help me make it even better. My instructor certainly doesn’t watch Scandal.)

Now I just gotta continue breaking the story, adding points to the subplots and think of ways to Olivia more active. Most of my ideas so far have her reacting to other characters, which is fine for their storylines, but she needs to have more agency in the plot, because she’s the main character. So hopefully I can think of more for her to do.

I’ll try to keep you updated! Any ideas, let me know! (Just remember that ideas are not copyrightable, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for stealing them and making boatloads of money off of them. ;-))

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Article Response Essay: In the White Room With Black Writers: Hollywood’s “Diversity Hires”

In the White Room With Black Writers: Hollywood’s “Diversity Hires”.

via IndiesUnchained via WGA

This article, by Beejoli Shah dishes out some of the real workings of what is basically Affirmative Action in the TV writer’s world. She discusses what it is to be a “Diversity Staff Writer” (DSW) on a show and the pluses and minuses that come with obtaining that title. It is a bit of a long read, but definitely worth it. [Below became a long read as well.] There are many great insights in this article, I’ve quoted blocks of text below and appended further thoughts on the issues raised.

Most every writing room has one—an entry level, non-white staff writer, explicitly hired due to their race. (If you’re really lucky, being gay or a woman might just suffice, in lieu of not being white.) […] Perversely, Hollywood’s genuine attempt to remedy the overwhelming whiteness of the industry has instead led to a place where networks pat themselves on the back for hiring a token writer by institutionalizing those sotto voce complaints.

This is going to be a major issue (again) as of this week, since the hiring of Sasheer Zamata to be the first Black Female cast member to be on Saturday Night Live since Maya Rudolph left 6 years ago. It’s great that they’ve hired her, but it was only done so after major backlash after the current season was newly staffed and it is very clear that she is the token; the diversity hire. They didn’t look at her in the pool of everyone who auditioned, they’re looking at her in a pool of other black, female comediennes (an issue which Beejoli discusses further down). They’ve seen her in a pool of people like her and seen her as the best, but she shouldn’t be boxed in to a subset. More on this later.

It will then tack on some extra cash earmarked solely for a diversity hire, so that the studio budget can instead go towards everything that’s “integral” for the show to function.[…] Showrunners don’t have to worry about wasting their studio budget on a token hire that may not be so great in the room, a young colored writer gets a shot at the dream, networks proudly get to proclaim their commitment to diversity, everyone wins!

She kind of make it sound like an internship. The intern is the bottom of the office food-chain (in this case, the intern thankfully gets paid, but the same amount of respect). The show doesn’t really have to put any mental effort into hiring this person (they should, obviously, if they want a person who will creatively contribute, but it can be anyone and they lose no money for the choice).

Beejoli goes on to tell us that not a single new show brought in this season (2013-14), was created by a person of color. And I’m not even sure how many veteran shows are; Beejoli mentions Shonda Rhimes (because how can you not), but the fact that no one can ever name anyone else? That’s a problem. Essentially, Shonda is the showrunner diversity hire. No one has to hire a show runner of color because we already have one on TV.

Fox can guarantee a person of color a job to return to in future seasons, but also cleverly hold a person down at the level of diverse staff writer, even though they may be far too qualified to remain there.

It also seems to me that this could prevent new DSWs from getting work on a show because a show already has one that will remain on staff for that second season, while being paid with the diversity money rather than the regular staff writer’s allocation?

Beejoli says that some shows try to circumvent the issue by allowing “diversities” in traditionally white, male writers that aren’t usually considered diverse. A man reached deep into his family tree to discover he was a part Mexican, while another writer was given the position due to his heart murmur. I have a rare extra superior vena cava in my heart, can that count in my diversity points (besides being a nerdy, black, female obviously)?

there was a known stigma in the TV writing world that diversity hires are never quite as good, so much as they are just there.

This is my fear for Sasheer (I’ll probably post on this more later), but it’s also a problem in other Affirmative Action environments, like schools, etc. There is a lot of fear when being a black student at an expensive, possibly Ivy-league (/quality) school, that the other kids will look down on you because they see you as less intelligent. You got into the school because you are [black, Indian, Asian, etc], not because you “belong” there. And sometimes, when you feel overwhelmed in those environments, you have no one to talk to about it, because then it seems like you really don’t belong there (when in fact everyone feels the same way).

But in practice, the diversity hires are traditionally seen as slightly lower than plain old staff writers. The showrunner had to really want the staff writer there to be willing to part with $70,000 that could be spent on production or a different writer, whereas the diversity staff writer was a free gift from the network.

Like I said, kind of like an intern.

“Do you want to be writing partners? This white male writer not in a partnership thing isn’t working out.” “Listen, you’re both good writers, but he needs you more than you need him. He’s never read you before—he just wants an easier shot of getting staffed, because you’re diverse.”

I feel like this has come up in my life or the lives of my Friends of Color. Where someone attaches on to you because, “you’re black, they’ll let you in because they have to.” I don’t have a specific example, but it’s always strange to think of times when you have more possibility of doing something because you’re a person of color, since usually it’s (/you fear) the opposite. OR, as the article sort of talks around, people look down on you because you got in because you were diverse, but once you’re in, it’s a whole ‘nother set of issues.

“You know, you’re just like that girl from The Office. You could be the next Mindy Kaling!”

Whenever I mention my love of TV and desire to write for it, everyone says, “You could be the next Shonda Rhimes!” Which is cool, I admire Shonda for all that she’s done, but why can’t I be the next… Joss Whedon (another show runner I admire—Agents of SHIELD notwithstanding…) or Aaron Sorkin (without the drug problem).  When it comes from other black people, I think it’s really just them wanting my name to be with hers (or something along those lines, my thought on this isn’t fully formed), but the fact that it comes from everyone who you mention it to… A friend of mine is a black actress who is producing a web series, so everyone says, “You could be the next Issa Rae!” As Beejoli mentions, it’s stuffing us in a “racial box.” She quotes Mindy Kaling herself, who said: “I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in?”

 I was also starting to think of myself as only a diversity writer. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve called my agents to tell them that I heard there’s a diversity position open on a show.

This has been so relevant to my thought processes. When thinking about writing (because I need to sit down and actually do more of it…), I’ve gone from saying, “I should write for [insert show with predominantly white cast/writers]” to “I should watch more black produced shows so I can write specs for those.” And while this is certainly something I should do, because part of my desire to write is to create more content for black people to watch on television, I shouldn’t have to feel like I could only write for the next The Cosby Show or Fresh Prince. And it’s poisonous to think you should only write for diverse groups and then “move up” to, say, network television.

It’s poisonous to think that you should be the “diversity hire” and then “move up” to regular staff writer. It’s putting diverse writers and diverse television shows on a lower rung than the “rest” of television. “Shows with PoC are lesser than network shows without.” Back when UPN and the WB existed, they were looked down upon compared to the other networks, and part of that had to do with their commitment to airing shows with black casts (I say partly because even now the CW is “lesser” than the big 4 even though the CW has long abandoned the WBs diverse offerings). We must get out of this thinking. It’s one thing for the white dominated studios and networks to see the diversity hire as being of less worth, it’s another for it to spread to our own ways of thinking. Then we’ll never rise above the way the system works now. But as Beejoli says, the higher ups aren’t making the change just yet (outside of severe pressure from audiences *coughSNLcough*), so how can things really change?

I think Beejoli’s article is one way. It’s better to go in understanding how things may work, so that if given the opportunity, you can change it. People can band together to make things run differently. The “diversity hires” need to stick together and help everyone realize that there’s more to a person of color joining your writing staff than filling your token quota.

Related links: More Than A Diversity Hire: WGAW’S Female Asian Comedy Writer’s Panel Notes

Lena Dunham Hilariously, Candidly Interviews Mindy Kaling

Lena Dunham Hilariously, Candidly Interviews Mindy Kaling

“Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. “

 

ConStar Watches S.H.I.E.L.D. “The Asset”

I still can’t tell how I feel about this show. I believe it will pick up, but waiting for it to pick up in the way that I want is rough. But I can tell they’re laying some foundations and working out relationships so I’m giving it more time. And it has both the money and the audience to actually give us time to watch it grow. Unlike every other Whedon show. I remember not being sure how I felt about Dollhouse and then episode 6 came along and I was in for the ride.

Why can’t Skye have a tech S.O.? lol I suppose Ward does tech stuff as he showed when he cut off her offer to do some techy bits.

i enjoyed Fitz/Simmons’ outfits. 

I think I’m not alone when I say I’m not a fan of Skye’s double agent act (though most people, from what I gather, are not fans of Skye herself. I don’t quite like her too much either).  I think her cockiness is what i dislike about her. And she’s selfish? Though, perhaps, maybe that’s just in the context of SHIELD. She doesn’t really know or care about these people yet and the show hasn’t given her an opportunity to yet. Maybe she cares about other people on a larger scale? but her cockiness is annoying. I did enjoy her “Nope!” though. Skye’s cockiness drops quick when there are like 5 dudes after her!

Whats wrong with Coulson’s muscle memory? There’s definitely more to this than we know (what happened in Tahiti? Did he actually ever go to Tahiti? What did SHIELD do to him to bring him back?). What are they foreshadowing to be wrong with him? I really want more Coulson. And more Melinda May! She’s definitely my second favorite character and I want to know more about her and her backstory (and why she didn’t want to join in–what happened in her last mission– and does that have to do with not liking being called The Cavalry). More Melinda and Coulson being Agent Bros, please!

Hmm, I don’t know why I wasn’t feeling Skye’s emotional turn around at the end. Her life was threatened in the two episodes before, why was this one so much more traumatic for her? Half of the time she was threatened in the episode, she was being her normal, cocky self. I get that it’s a defense mechanism, given when we could assume about her even before she revealed her backstory, but I don’t feel like we earned that story based on what she went through in the episode. I could get some introspection, but not a full out reveal to Ward about her past. I don’t get if she’s suddenly on their side or if she’s playing the “hide deception in honesty” card as she did with Quinn in the episode. I just don’t think we earned her confession.

I liked the tag more than the episode as a whole. As a non-comic book reader, I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but tweets sort of made me pull it together at the end. I think my problem with this episode is that it’s exposition for Graviton the Villain and exposition can be the most boring part (even in a great story). It’s why I’m giving SHIELD so much of a chance (that’s a lie. It’s because it’s Joss. and because it’s not bad, it just hasn’t really found it’s footing yet, but I know it’s coming), all of these beginning episodes are exposition for something greater to come. I don’t think Disney/Marvel would have greenlit it yet if they weren’t shown a larger, fuller story trajectory that we’re not seeing yet.

I’m interested in seeing how the Graviton arc plays out (as I think that’s what this show really needs, to start showing us it’s arcs. A comic book story, a Whedon story doesn’t work story of the week; those stories are best told in arcs. We’re just getting the seeds right now.

Quote: SNEAK PEEK at Shonda Rhimes – Black Bloggers Connect™ Official Blog

MG Media: How much pride do you take in the fact that your casts are much more racially diverse than most other shows?

Shonda: I don’t take pride in it at all. I think it’s sad, and weird, and strange that it’s still a thing, nine years after we did “Grey’s,” that it’s still a thing. It’s creepy to me that it’s still an issue, that there aren’t enough people of color on television. Why is that still happening? It’s 2013. Somebody else needs to get their act together. And oh, by the way it works. Ratings-wise, it works. People like to see it. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that the world of TV should look like the world outside of TV.

via SNEAK PEEK at Shonda Rhimes – Black Bloggers Connect™ Official Blog.

No seriously. It’s 2013. Why is it a thing to have a racially diverse show and why is Shonda the only really doing it? Other shows that seem like they have diverse casts kind of still have the token minority who support the lead. They don’t really have leading qualities or episodes of their own. And Shonda is right, her shows are super hits for ABC, and yet no one else has thought that perhaps her casting has helped her get her shows where they are. It’s not everything, but it certainly helps widen your audience.