Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Melissa McCarthy recounts first stand-up comedy gig on 'The Daily Show'

Monday, January 28, 2013

Establishing a writing routine

Niles writes: I've heard writers talk about how important their routine can be since writing is sorta a form of hypnosis. I think Stephen King said that. Obviously he's a novelist not a TV writer, but it's all like the same thing. I'm curious, do you have a routine to help you get into the "zone"? Most fellow comedy writers I know seem to get intoxicated. I dunno about taking up that habit, but I am impressionable.

I think this is the Stephen King interview you're referring to:

Your comedy writer friends are probably just procrastinating, but I have been known to booze a bit at the laptop. :)

My friend Nate recently alerted me to a great essay by Kevin Hartnett called Letters in the Wind: A Writer's Evolution. The takeaway:
I learned that a real writer shouldn’t need a cup of tea at his side or a cabin with a view of the ocean or things just so in his own mind in order to get his work done.
It's nice to imagine yourself writing Oscar-worthy pages in your perfect ergonomic chair, breathing in the salty Pacific breeze, listening to some really rare import record that TOTALLY sounds different from the mp3. Maybe you even have a fancy iPad USB typewriter or a hot housekeeper bringing you tea like Colin Firth's Aurelia in LOVE ACTUALLY...but none of that actually has anything to do with writing. Generally all I use is my laptop...and when I'm working at a table, I also use a bean bag wrist rest (at some point I'll invest in a more ergonomic setup, but I'm not there yet).

You asked about routine, though, which I think is more about regimen than comfort. I don't have a strict time or number of hours I work; perhaps I should (F. Scott Frazier says he writes every single day, Monday through Sunday, 6-12 pages), but right now I still balance writing with blogging, tutoring and script coverage - things that occupy different stretches of time on different days. I personally find it difficult to A) wake up earlier than I really have to, and B) squeeze in a half hour of writing here or there. Instead, I generally write in very long chunks late at night or on the weekends (when there are fewer distractions). When I first quit my assistant job, I felt guilty about not always getting writing done during free time in the afternoons...but if you want to work out in the afternoon and write at midnight, who cares? You have to find what works for you - though I admit that's different from making excuses. If a year goes by and you haven't finished a script, maybe you're the kind of person who needs more strict of a schedule. You might also find it helpful to use fellowship/contest deadlines or writer's group deadlines as motivation (these definitely helped me in the beginning). 

Other options: 

30-minute writing sprints, a la Jane Espenson, who encourages her Twitter followers to spend 30 minutes doing nothing but writing - no Tweeting, no emailing, no getting up for a snack, etc. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sara Schaefer offers advice on writing late-night submission packets

Sara Schaefer, comedian and co-host of MTV's Nikki & Sara (debuting Jan 29 at 11 pm on MTV), has written an extensive, helpful post about submitting a writing packet to be considered for late-night. Here's just one snippet:
I hate to break it to you, but we are all unoriginal. I was shocked to find that almost everyone would make the same jokes OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Some jokes were verbatim, and I’d start getting confused and paranoid that everyone had conspired and written jokes together. Turns out, the first joke that comes to mind about a current event is probably similar to the one everyone else will make (myself included!). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make that obvious joke. Make it – but make it special. Give it a second pass and come up with an alternate angle or wording. A joke may be hilarious the first time I read it, but after reading it 25 times, it starts to sound hacky (even if it’s truly funny!). Try to protect yourself from that situation.
If you want to write for late-night shows, be sure to check it out!

Related post: How to write for late-night television

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Enter J.E. Fishman's 1000-word Cliffhanger writing contest

Thriller author J.E. Fishman is challenging you to a 1000-word cliffhanger project!

WHO: J.E. Fishman, critically acclaimed author, former Doubleday editor and literary agent.

WHAT: Fishman is challenging writers everywhere to create the most suspenseful and thrilling cliffhanger possible in just one thousand words or less.

WHEN: All cliffhangers must be entered on Fishman's Facebook Page by Jan. 31, 2013. The first round voting will begin Feb. 1, 2013. The second round of voting will begin Feb. 9, 2013.

HOW: After Jan. 31, readers will be able to cast their votes for their favorite cliffhanger. Then, the top six with the most votes will move on to the second round of voting, where readers will be able to vote again for the winners.

Third Place: Signed copies of Cadaver Blues (StoneGate Ink, Sept. 2011) and Primacy (Verbitrage, Sept. 1, 2011).
Second Place: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
First Place: Apple iPad Mini

WHY: Fishman wants to encourage writers to push themselves to their creative limit by creating a story readers can’t get off of their minds.

Welcome, new readers!

Happy 2013!

I thought I'd write a little welcome to everyone who is new to the blog. You may notice that I haven't posted very often in the last few months; this is because A) I'm super busy with writing and various day jobs, and B) the vast majority of questions I receive can be answered by old posts. Take a look at the Labels to the right side of the blog for info about assistant jobs, agents, writing programs, etc. (You might also be interested my Top 5 Reader Questions).

If you're new to the aspiring writer internet world, also be sure to check out Go Into the Story, The Bitter Script Reader and the Scriptnotes podcast by John August and Craig Mazin.

If you're a screenwriter new to LA, check out the links under "Events" on the right so you can start attending events at American Cinematheque, the WGA, etc.

Over the next few weeks I'll try to answer some new reader questions!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

LONG BRANCH: a short romcom by Dane Clark & Linsey Stewart

For those of us sad about the state of the romantic comedy, here's a breath of fresh air called LONG BRANCH, written and directed by Dane Clark & Linsey Stewart.

What if your one-night-stand lived two hours away on public transit?

Long Branch from Dane Clark on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Screenwriting lessons from my favorite movies of 2012

I thought I would share a few of my favorite movies from 2012, and how they made me think about screenwriting. Note: This isn't an exhaustive Best-Of list, partially because I still have a bunch of movies to see...and as usual, I'm only focusing on Things I Love. Mild spoilers ahead.

(You can read my thoughts from 2011 here.)

This movie made me laugh the hardest of anything this year. Beyond that, I think it made a brilliant choice: when Schmidt and Jenko mix up their assumed identities, nerdy Schmidt has to enroll in drama class, while "dumb" Jenko has to suffer through advanced science classes. Push your characters into unexpected and uncomfortable situations!
Download the 21 JUMP ST script PDF

I read this book when I was 18, and it really hit me hard. I never thought the movie could make me feel the same way now that I'm an adult - but it did. It's hard to describe or replicate the kind of emotional magic of this film, but I think one writerly takeaway is that the movie gradually peels away Charlie's layers, revealing his past demons, over the course of the movie. If you're writing a character drama, think about that peel-away-the-layers setup. (I actually had similar thoughts about last year's MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE.) Another lesson from PERKS might be that multiple characters struggle, grow and transform. Don't surround your protagonist with static reactors...give supporting characters their own lives and issues.

Cast Rebel Wilson in everything please. Also, I think this movie is a good example of a comedy that's positive and warm-hearted but also very funny. You don't necessarily have to write about awful, mean-spirited people to be funny. I know that people always seem to be looking for "edgy" scripts...but that's not the only kind of comedy. Most of the sarcastic characters in PP are still passionate people who love what they do.

"I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I'm too lazy to stop." I love that Lincoln always speaks in lengthy anecdotes. What's your character's specific and memorable quirk or habit? And although it took Steven Spielberg 12 years to crack this story, I think this movie can teach us something about concept: write about a fascinating person with a compelling, high-stakes dilemma. In a recent Scriptnotes podcast, John August theorized that Black List writer Young Il Kim was smart to write a spec about Hillary Clinton (RODHAM). Remember that you're not just creating a character, you're creating a role. Can you find a protagonist like Hillary or Abe?
Download the LINCOLN script PDF

I thought this move was a clever, insightful deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. After novelist Calvin's dream woman comes to life, he realizes that you cannot have a healthy relationship with a fantasy. A person cannot fit into the box of whatever you want her to be. This is quite literally a lesson in screenwriting: are you creating real, authentic people...or devices that do whatever your main character needs?

I love this movie's quirky tone, and the way Pat and Tiffany are equally messed up; it's a true two-hander. On a structural level, note the ticking clocks and upcoming events of the dance and the Eagles game. It's also an example of a movie in which characters' goals shift: at the beginning, Pat only cares about winning back his ex...but by the end, he aims to achieve something else.

So much to love about this movie! I wish I could find a link for an article about this, but I remember reading that this movie was originally about Felix, before the creators realized that they had a better story in Ralph. Sometimes our scripts evolve into much different stories. Beyond that, I think the biggest lesson here is the dynamic between Ralph and Vanellope (the latter of whom is one of my favorite female characters of the year). Ralph and Vanellope are sort of like offbeat mentors for one another: Vanellope makes Ralph realize that being a good guy doesn't mean stealing a medal, it means helping someone else (I love when Ralph sees Vanellope being treated the way he's been treated) - and Ralph helps Vanellope fight against the multiple antagonists in her world. Ralph also faces an impossible, heartbreaking choice: he has to ruin everything that he and Vanellope have worked on so that he can save her life. Can you give your character an impossible choice?
Download the WRECK-IT RALPH script PDF

For some more screenwriting lessons, check out Vulture's interviews with 2012's top screenwriters on the toughest scenes they wrote.

What did you learn from movies in 2012?