Thursday, June 30, 2011

More writer panels!

The Nerdist Writers Panel Series is an informal chat about writing and the business of writing.
Proceeds benefit 826LA, the non-profit tutoring program founded by Dave Eggers Held at Chris Hardwick's space at Meltdown Comics!

Sunday afternoons, July 17 and 31

July 17 includes but is not limited to:
Glen Mazzara (Head writer of The Walking Dead)
Norm Hiscock (Parks & Recreation; Kids in the Hall)
David Slack (Person of Interest; Lie to Me)

July 31 includes and is limited to:
Meredith Stiehm (creator of Cold Case)
David Weddle & Bradley Thompson (Battlestar Galactica)
Naren Shankar (Grimm; CSI)

Click here for tickets.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Balancing multiple part-time jobs

The honest (and depressing) New York Times article "Job Jugglers, on the Tightrope" is an accurate depiction of how I balance multiple part-time jobs.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Support RED SCARE!

My dear friend Sam Roberts is the co-writer and executive producer of a webseries called RED SCARE. It's an awesome period vampire comedy (!) - and it needs your help. Check it out:

Click here to back the project via Kickstarter.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

NATPE Pitchcon 2011: Interview w/ Peter Lenkov, EP and Showrunner of Hawaii Five-O

NATPE Pitchcon 2011 took place last week at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. I ended up not pitching anything and attended as press, because I realized I wasn't ready to pitch... and I didn't want to waste an opportunity. I have been super busy on rewrites of my 2 features and also working on some TV pitch ideas, paired with my many keep-a-roof-over-my-head jobs...and Pitchcon made me realize that I need to put some more work into my pitches.

I do have to point out that much of Pitchcon is heavily focused on reality TV. Thursday's first two panels were most enjoyable for me, since they offered some of the only content about scripted stuff.

The first session was with Peter Lenkov, executive producer and showrunner of CBS' Hawaii Five-O. He talked a lot about how this show was unique because of its source material, a hit show that aired from 1968-1980. Peter wanted to respect the original show, but also do something fresh and new. You might think that a CBS procedural is all about weekly cases, but for Peter, it came down to character and figuring out the backstories for these people - and he still focuses on character in the writers' room today. "I wanted to do a premise pilot," he said. "Most networks don't like origin stories. But the value that I could add to this [franchise] was that I didn't know who they were. I could make these people three-dimensional. Why are they so good at their jobs?"

Peter didn't pitch this idea to CBS; CBS already had the idea and then came to him. Still, he did a lot of research and preparation, and had to pitch his take on the show. He brought photos of who he thought the cast should be and came up with rich backstories for each character. "I think it was the easiest pitch I ever had because I was so passionate," he said. "It went really smooth." Over the years, Peter has had both successes and failures. "I learned that I'm only gonna take jobs that I'm passionate about," he said.

Why are networks doing so many remakes? "It's a franchise, it's a brand," he said. "It's easier to sell. [The original] Hawaii Five-O is still playing in repeats, so it's an easy sell to audiences here and internationally." He does acknowledge that some people are turned off by remakes. "There is baggage that comes along," he said. "Why give this one a try? It's hard to win those people over."

Peter said that usually a studio asks for a show bible and about six sample stories - but he did 28 sample stories. "Some we used, some we didn't," he said.

What does he do as a showrunner? "You're sort of running this company. You spend three million dollars every eight days," he said. "You hire a great crew, hire the best writers, deal with talent, negotiate deals, etc. I hire the best people to take care of all that stuff. I don't want to know how much things cost. You get people who are experts. Your job is putting out fires, being with writers, coming up with stories, approving stories."

As a producer, he looks for "something promotable" when he's being pitched to. When he's in the writers' room, he looks for a great story  - solid characters, something you can connect to. He also looks at the size of the plot, how it will advance the characters. He thinks about "what the little stories are, the stories that make us love our characters and root for our characters."

Next up, I'll post advice from producers, network & studio execs who spoke at Pitchcon.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Upcoming writer panels

Nerdist Writers Series

Sun 6/12 @ 5 pm:
Ben Edlund (The Tick; Angel; Supernatural)
Amy Berg (Eureka)
Angelina Burnett (Starz’s Boss; Memphis Beat)

Sun 6/19 @ 5 pm:
Steven S. DeKnight (Buffy; Angel; Spartacus)
Tim Minear (Angel; Firefly; Terriers)
Harris Wittels (Parks and Recreation)
Megan Ganz (Community)

To purchase tickets ($15), click here. Proceeds benefit 826LA.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

What to ask a reader

Chris posed this question to both The Bitter Script Reader and me: Do you have any advice and or sample questions to submit to your 'readers' when handing over your script? Not like coverage or format things, but instead of  "do you like it," more like "if you were on your death bed, tell me something that you normally wouldn't about this script." 

(Here is BSR's take.)

First off, if your friends are facing imminent death, it's probably not very considerate to be asking for notes. Just sayin.

I avoid asking my readers any big questions until AFTER people read the script. I don't want to poison their read; I like to see what they come up with on their own, completely unprompted. Maybe you think there's a character issue, but a reader might love the characters and have plot issues instead. If I have a specific problem I need advice about, I usually wait until after the readers have read the script and have given me their first impressions - and THEN I ask about additional things or pitch rewrite plans. I'm super annoying. My questions kind of vary depending on the script...but I might ask about characters and their arcs, plot logic, predictability, theme, pace, tone, structure and humor.

If someone is telling you "I like it" and nothing else, s/he's probably not a discerning or helpful reader. If you live outside of LA, you may be limited to readers who have very little experience with or knowledge about Hollywood - and that's completely fine, but be aware that you're probably getting what I call "viewer notes." Viewer notes are comments that any casual viewer might say about a show or movie...things like, "I love the main character" or  "I don't understand why Joe did that" or "I totally saw that twist coming." These can absolutely be helpful - but ideally you also want to get notes from people who can think about your script from a place of development. Notes like "the tone was inconsistent," "I don't see a strong theme," "there are no real stakes," or "I think producers are going to put this down at page 20 because they think it's the same as THE BREAK UP." (Sigh.) It may take you a while to find people to give you really great notes - but definitely put that at the top of your to-do list. They're invaluable.

The highest level of notes are what I call "writer notes," which include brilliant suggestions instead of just pinpointed problems. A writer might say, "What if you started act two here instead of here?" or "What if you added this ticking clock here" or "I think you missed an opportunity for comedy here...Zoe should totally do this!" The best note-givers can see potential movies and shows outside of the framework you've already created. They might give you huge, world-altering ideas that you never would have thought of. Sometimes you have to shoot them down and say "that's not the movie I'm trying to write"...but other times, they make you see your script in a whole new way. Sure, you don't HAVE to be a writer to give these kinds of notes...but in my experience, you probably are.

If you want to push people to think outside the box, you might ask your readers who they would cast in the roles. This helps you figure out if your tone is coming across as intended. If you were thinking Ryan Gosling and they say Adam Sandler, you may have an issue on your hands. You might also ask about your reader's favorite part. Sometimes a moment you hate turns out to be what other people like, and vice versa.

Don't ask "is it funny?" unless you want fodder for your suicide note. Generally people will tell you the jokes they found funny - and boy, isn't it the best ego boost ever when someone copies and pastes your dialogue into an email, followed by HAHAHAHAHA. (And for God's sake, if you're reading a comedy script for someone and you think it is funny, tell the writer so. We are very insecure about these things.)

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