John August Steals My Thoughts – February 11th, 2016

February 8, John August posts about the thesis of a script.

January 28, I post about the thesis of a script.

Only logical conclusion, John August stole my thoughts. THIEF!

Also, I’m as sick as a dog, on about 7 different decongestants and, subsequently, can now see through time.

Lisa-Simpson_I-Can-See-Through-Time

But being so feverish that I’m hallucinating should in no way destroy the credibility of my initial claim.

Yeah, no, not at all.

I’m cool. We’re cool. John is cool. Jury is still out on Craig.

Jury is back. Craig is cool.

Homer-Simposon_Sick-Pepto-Hat

Someone, please send soup.

Posted in Writing

Spec This TV Show – February 4th, 2016

Planning on applying to the upcoming television fellowships? Then you’ve been eagerly anticipating the WB Writers Workshop approved spec list. It’s the most restrictive among all the fellowships, which includes CBS, NBC/Universal, and ABC/Disney. You want the show you spec to be on this list (unless you want to write multiple specs). So, without further ado, here are the approved shows to spec for the 2016 WB Writers Workshop…

…but first my two cents. From all of my unscientific research into the specs that make the cut at the Austin Film Festival, in both the half-hour and one-hour categories, I would recommend choosing a show in its second through fourth season. Why? I don’t know why specs from shows in their 2nd through 4th season do better than first season shows and shows into their fifth season and beyond. I just know that my graphs tell me so, and who doesn’t love a good graph about one-hour dramas?

 

TV Drama Specs 2015
Create your own infographics

And here’s something for all you half-hour writers.

TV Sitcom Specs 2015
Create your own infographics

BTW, I’m no Nate Silver, so take my graphs with a grain of salt. In the list below, I’ll bold shows in their second through fourth season for your reading ease.

Also, you really should check out the A TV Calling blog for another opinion on what would make a smart spec.

Now, without further ado, for real this time, that list…

Comedy
2 Broke Girls – 5th season airing.
American Dad – 11th season airing.
Archer – 7th season premieres soon.
Blackish – 2nd season airing.
Bob’s Burgers – 6th season airing.
Broad City – 3rd season premieres soon. I predict this will be a popular show to spec.

Broad-City_S02_Ep01

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – 3rd season airing. Is it me or did everyone spec this last year?

Brooklyn-Nine-Nine_S3

Faking It – 2nd season just wrapped.
Family Guy – 14th season airing.
Fresh Off the Boat – 2nd season airing.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – 11th season airing.
Last Man on Earth – 2nd season airing. If I were to spec a half-hour, this would be my first choice.

The-Last-Man-on-Earth_S02

Louie – 5th season wrapped summer 2015.
Modern Family – 7th season airing.
Mom – 3rd season airing.
New Girl – 5th season airing.
Silicon Valley – 3rd season premieres soon. I suspect many people will spec this show.

Silicon-Valley_S01_Finale

South Park – 19th season just wrapped.
The Big Bang Theory – 9th season airing.
The Goldbergs – 3rd season airing.
The Middle – 7th season airing.
The Mindy Project – 4th season airing.
Togetherness – 2nd season premieres soon.
Unreal – 1st season just wrapped.
Veep – 5th season premieres soon.
Workaholics – 6th season airing.
You’re the Worst – 2nd season just wrapped. My second choice, if I were a half-hour writer.

Youre-The-Worst_S01_Ep01

Drama
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – 3rd season airing.
Arrow – 4th season airing.
Bates Motel – 4th season starts soon.
Better Call Saul – 2nd season starts soon.
Black Mirror – Xmas special aired in 2014 (?!), 3rd season ordered but no air date set.
Blindspot – 1st season airing. Guessing that everyone that wrote a Blacklist last year will spec Blindspot this year.

Blindspot_Jamie

Blue Bloods – 6th season airing.
Bones – 11th season airing.
Castle – 8th season airing.
Chicago Fire – 4th season airing.
Chicago Medical – 1st season airing.
Chicago PD – 3rd season airing.
Criminal Minds – 11th season airing.
CSI – Series ended 2015.
Daredevil – 2nd season airing soon. I’d been breaking an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with The Punisher but Netflix beat me to the punch (my spec would have been awesome).

Daredevil_Costume

Elementary – 4th season airing.

Elementary_S03_Ep15

Empire – 2nd season airing.
Fear the Walking Dead – 2nd season premieres soon.
Gotham – 2nd season airing.
Grey’s Anatomy – 12th season airing
Grimm – 5th season airing.
Halt & Catch Fire – Renewed for a 3rd season.
Homeland – Renewed for a 6th season.
House of Cards – 4th season premieres soon.
House of Lies – 5th season premieres soon.
How to Get Away with Murder – 2nd season airing.
iZombie – 2nd season airing.
Jane the Virgin – 2nd season airing.
Law & Order: SVU – 17th season airing.
Major Crimes – 4th season premieres soon.
Master of None – 1st season wrapped. Why is this Netlfix half-hour under the drama category?
Masters of Sex – 3rd season wrapped.
Mr. Robot – 2nd season ordered. All the cool kids will spec this show.

Mr-Robot_S01

NCIS: Los Angeles – 7th season airing.
Once Upon a Time – 5th season airing.
Orange is the New Black – 4th season premieres this summer.
Orphan Black – 4th season premieres this year.
Pretty Little Liars – 6th season airing.
Ray Donovan – 3rd season just wrapped.

Ray-Donovan_S2

Scandal – 5th season airing.
Sherlock – 4th season airing in 2017 (SERIOUSLY!?!).
Sleepy Hollow – 3rd season airing.
Suits – 5th season airing.
Teen Wolf – 5th season airing.
The 100 – 3rd season airing.
The Affair – 2nd season just wrapped.
The Americans – 4th season premieres soon.

The-Americans-S03_Ep10

The Blacklist – 3rd season airing.

Blacklist_S03_Ep05

The Flash – 2nd season airing.
The Good Wife – 7th season airing.
The Originals – 3rd season airing.
The Vampire Diaries – 7th season airing.
The Walking Dead – 6th season airing.
Transparent – 2nd season just wrapped.
Turn – 3rd season premieres soon.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – 2nd season premieres soon. Wait a second, another Netflix comedy corralled with the dramas? This has got to be a mistake.

So, what do you plan to spec? Me, I’m going to with an iZombie. Wish me luck.

Posted in Writing

Consumed January 2016 – January 31st, 2016

Wait a second, January is already over?

Jackie-Chan-wait-what

S**t! Time really does fly. Yet somehow I still managed to consume a ton of media. Let’s review.

Television
The Man in the High Castle – This show sure was pretty but I was hoping for something more… just more.

Man-In-The-High-Castle_Juliana-Crain

You’re The Worst – Is the absolute best (and I totally have a thing for Lindsay).

Youre-The-Worst_Lindsay

Maron
Review – Dark and funny in the best possible way.

Review-TV-Show_Andy Daly_Waitress

Portlandia
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
F is for Family – Why is it that animated shows feel more “real” than live action? And yes, you really want to click on that image to see it larger. And yes, men’s toilets really do have that kind of graffiti.

F-For-Family_Mens-Toilet

Rick & Morty
Narcos
iZombie

Movie
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (IMAX) – The laser projector in the Chinese theater is awesome!
Brooklyn – Maybe the best “small” movie I’ve seen in a long time.

Brooklyn_Saoirse-Ronan

Music
Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves
The Very Best of Hinds So Far by Hinds
The Chase by Future Islands – This track makes me anticipate new music from these guys.

Books
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – This is a very good book. I don’t love this book. I want this book to be over. Now. But I will finish it.

Comics
The Walking Dead
Phonogram – The first arc makes no sense to me but I love the 2nd arc so much (I have similar feeling about Brit Pop).

Phonogram_Vol2

See you next month.

Posted in General

The Thematic Hypothesis – January 28th, 2016

I’m taking a break from my pilot, from prepping and strategizing the rewrite, to tackle something that’s come up with a one-hour iZombie spec I’m trying to beat out.

BTW, Scott Myer’s Project Stacking is the best and all of you should be practitioners.

Back to the subject at hand. I was attempting to gather critical mass on this iZombie spec when I thought, “if my scripting is made easier by a strong outline, and a strong outline is made easier by a strong beat sheet, and a strong beat sheet is made easier by a strong concept, then wouldn’t a strong concept be made easier by a strong theme?”

And then my brain when BOOM!

Atom-Bomb-Explosion_Color

Okay, I know someone is thinking, “if theme comes first then the writing gets preachy and didactic” and I’m going to explain how you can avoid that.

(For the record, let me state that I don’t claim to have answers. I’m just willing to keep trying things until I find something that works for me.)

The key to finding a drama-worthy theme that avoids pedagogical writing is to differentiate between General Themes, Moral Platitudes and Thematic Hypotheses.

Now, for some people, when asked “what’s your theme” they’ll answer “um, I dunno, love and friendship and family, but mostly love.” That, in my humble opinion, is a terrible answer. Yes, a work can have multiple themes but “love” is too broad. You can’t do anything of dramatic interest with just “love”. General Themes are worthless.

The next person might say, “my theme is ‘love thy neighbor’.” That is a Moral Platitude that can lead to overly simplified drama. It doesn’t engender conflict, which is the kindling for drama.

But what if I said, “tis better to have loved and loss then to have never loved at all”? That is what I’m going to call a Thematic Hypothesis. That is a potential argument. That can actually be the engine for a lot of great drama.

Imagine a two-hander, a couple destined to be together but they each have very different views on love. One believes that it is better to have loved and loss, so that person has loved and lost a lot. Maybe they’re addicted to intimacy, to the blush of new romance, but nothing sticks. They’re a serial monogamist.

Then, on the other side of this equation is a character that believes that it’s better to have never loved than to feel the sting of loss. They don’t do intimacy. They’re always dumping people the second things get too familiar because that’s the door to love which resides on the same street as rejection and heartbreak.

That is a hypothesis that two characters can argue, and test, and explore. That is a robust engine that can drive a series. As you write, you know that all characters, scenes, motivations must branch off that central thematic hypothesis. If you test everything you write against that hypothesis, your first draft will be very tight.

And that’s what I’m trying to do with my iZombie spec because I don’t have a lot of time to waste flailing about. This spec has gotta be great because this is the year I want to make one of the fellowships, so wish me luck.

Posted in Writing

Rebreaking The Rewrite – January 21st, 2016

Last week I discussed the need for my characters, their motivations and desires, and the theme of the script to sync up. If all those elements are strongly woven from the same cloth, then I can actually start looking at the script and distilling it back to a more basic form. Yeah, that’s right, it’s time to go back to index cards and re-break the story.

tameshiwari

I should be able to use one index card per scene, reducing the conflict to a single sentence or phrase. Think of it as a log line for each scene. If the obstacle/conflict of the scene supports 1) the characters’ arcs and 2) relates to the larger theme, then that index card goes onto the wall. If it doesn’t pass that test, then it goes into a pile on my desk. This is where all the bad scenes go before I kick their butts into shape.

Bruce-Lee-Enter-the-Dragon_Face

With the few “sign post” scenes on my wall, I have a good idea of just how much new writing needs to get done. Next, time to attack a new outline.

Bruce-Lee_Nunchucks

Sorry to do this again but I have to cut this second rewrite post short — the day job requires that I write and post 28 employee reviews of at least 450 words per direct report by E.O.D. (end of day) Friday.

Wish me luck.

Posted in Writing

Rewriting Theme and Characters – January 14th, 2016

Recently I went over this pilot I wrote last year — I always have to put my own work away for a long time before I can dive back into a rewrite… I need to improve that turnaround time — and it’s gonna need a a big rewrite.

Snoopy-Rewrite

What’s the strategy for the rewrite? I don’t have a solid, time proven course of action but here’s what I was thinking:

First, I need to analyze all the major characters, understand their wants, their needs and their objectives, both for the pilot and for the series.

Second, I need to distill the theme of the series and make sure the major conflicts build off of that theme.

Third, I have to make sure that the charters’ objectives/needs/wants support/argue that theme. If they don’t, it’s back to step one so I can rework the characters and theme so that they jibe. I cannot proceed past the third step until I pass this test.

Why? Because if my characters’ objectives and the show’s themes work in concert, the resulting pilot (and series, if I’m lucky) should have a powerful enough engine to support a long narrative journey.

…I’m not feeling so hot today, so I’m going to cut this post short. Part two about my rewrite plan next week.

Posted in Writing

The First Rule of Script Club is… – January 7th, 2016

YOU TALK ABOUT SCRIPT CLUB! Who’s in?

Fight-Club_Think-Hard

Okay, slow your roll. What the hell is this and where is it coming from?

Like all things awesome, this notion arose from the “your peanut butter got into my chocolate, no your chocolate got into my peanut butter” collision of two ideas.

The first was about how much I love my book club. I joined just over a year ago and it’s one of the best things I’ve taken up. I love reading, I love discussing books, and I love the way our fearless leader runs the group.

The second was Scott Myers’ Go Into The Story post about his “1, 2, 7, 14” rule for becoming a better and more productive screenwriter. Basically, the rule is that you must read 1 script a week, watch 2 movies a week, write 7 pages a week, and spend 14 hours a week prepping story. In this particular case, I was thinking about reading a script a week. That’s great but I’d really love to meet with a group of writers and discuss the merits of a particular script.

Then my brain smashed the two together and I came up with Script Club.

Heck, I even know the first script we’ll read: the Black List ranked Bed Rest by Lori Evans Taylor. I don’t have all the logistics worked out — in person vs. Skype vs. message board/group… my gut tells me that “in person” is the way to go but I’ll hear arguments — but I want to get started soon.

So, who’s with me?

Posted in Writing

Looking Ahead to 2016 – January 1st, 2016

Hello 2016!

Last year I had a lot of goals and I tackled plenty of them like a boss.

Bruce-Springsteen_The-Boss

This year I’m looking to keep that momentum going.

On the writing front…
Feature – I started a feature last year and I need to complete a draft this year.
Comic Books – I want to self publish a mini comic by the end of the year.
Pilot – I wrote two pilots last year, so I need to rewrite them. I also need to write a new pilot.
Spec – For the fellowships, I’ll need to write a new spec. I’m thinking iZombie or maybe Agent Carter.

Agent-Carter_Season-2-Teaser-Poster

iZombie_S1_KeyArt

I’ll take a class or two to help with some of the above goals.

I also need to stare down a lot of the fears in my life. That’s why this is the year I hit the pavement looking for a way into a writers room (even writing that, for all of you to see, is scary).

I’m still looking for a sport, something that will hook me on a new activity. I’m still hoping to travel. And I want to get more music back into my life.

Time to stare down those fears.

Posted in General

A Look Back at 2015 – December 31st, 2015

2015 was a hard year. Not a terrible year, but a hard one. And just when I thought it was hard enough, things got harder.

Cow_Chair

But it was not a lazy year.

Hey-You-Writing.jpg

You’re damn right I’m writing.

At the start of the year I had a few writing goals: kick start my writing with a class, take advantage of a writing group, write more. I wanted to push my writing forward. That’s why in 2015 I took two UCLA Extension classes. And why I’m currently in four writing groups (yeah, you read that right). That’s why I wrote two pilots, a spec of The 100 and I started a feature script. And that’s why I wrote two comic book scripts and drafted pitch documents for at least two series. All while holding down a full time job (and then weathering a merger).

Baby_Fist-Bump_Boom

Still, it wasn’t all work and no play.

All-Work-No-Play_The-Shining

I managed to consume a lot of media this year. Here were my favorites…

Favorite Movie of the Year – Mad Max: Fury Road

Furiosa_Rifle_Bad-Ass

What a gloriously bat shit movie about a bad ass woman with a mechanical arm. I know everyone is fanning out over Rey but Furiosa is my kind of lady.

Favorite Album of the Year – Every Open Eye by CHVRCHES

This album makes me want to burst out of my skin in the best possible way imaginable.

Favorite Book of the Year – Mislaid by Nell Zink

Mislaid_Nell-Zink

Funny, touching, insightful and uplifting… and then it takes a totally awesome left turn with grace and aplomb.

Favorite Comic of the Year – DC Comics: Bombshells

DC-Bombshells_i19_p03

Clearly I have a thing for alternate DC universes. Look, the art is awesome, the storytelling elegant and the re-imaginings fresh. Tired of the same old super heroes? Then you need to check out this book.

Favorite Television Show of the Year – Fargo

Fargo_Interrogation

It was a great year for television, I loved both Agent Carter and Jessica Jones, but the Fargo season finale floored me.

Favorite Game of the Year – Fallout 4

Fallout4_Ripley_Greygarden

Ripley, my Vault 111 wanderer.

It is the most awesome game where you can both kill super mutants and collect tin cans.

And that was my year. See y’all in 2016.

Posted in General

Consumed December 2015 – December 24th, 2015

It’s Christmas Eve and I haven’t finished my shopping. So before I’m all…

jingle-mall-riot

Let’s quickly cover what I consumed this month.

Television
Marvel’s Jessica Jones – If it’s the villain that makes a hero great then Jessica really needs to thank David Tennant‘s Killgrave for making the show awesome.

Killgrave_Jessica-Jones

Catastrophe – I declare this the best romantic comedy of 2015. Don’t even try to argue.

Catastrophe_Both-Leads

The Flash
Fargo – Holy s**t! This season was pure excellence. Also, I practically jumped out of my seat when they pay homage to Raising Arizona.

Fargo_Wilson

Moral Orel – The official summary of an episode from season 3: “The episode that hammers the final nail in the show’s coffin.”

Moral-Orel

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Arrow
iZombie
The Man in the High Castle – Looks good, still waiting to get hooked.

davalos_the-man-in-the-high-castle

Movie
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – So… does anyone have an opinion?

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens_Rey-Finn-BB8-running

Music
Muse w/ Phantogram live @ The Staples Center – I’m still amazed that Muse can produce such a huge sound with just three guys. And I love, love, love Phantogram.

Sarah_Phantogram

Books
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – I’m putting this down for a little bit and… no, I will finish this book.

Comics
DC Comics: Bombshells
The Walking Dead – Just got to The Governor. Jesus, he was a big f**king jerk in the comic.

Walking-Dead_Comic_Govenor

That’s all for now. See ya in the next blog post.

Posted in General