Typing Faster

February 4, 2011

Joss Whedon’s Top Ten Screenwriting Tips

Filed under: Craft, Features, Joss Whedon, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 12:12 pm

Amazing post over on Danny Stack’s place listing Joss Whedon’s top ten writing tips. Worth a read for any writer, whether or not you’re a fan of Whedon’s work (and let’s face it, if you’re a screenwriter you probably are).

Of particular note for me were:

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

If you can’t finish it, then what’s the point? This is so often the case with new writers I meet. I ask them what they’ve written and they tell me about all these great ideas they have. I ask to read something, and they say they’re still trying to finish all those great ideas.

If you want to write, you need to finish stuff. End of story.

Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

I’m a structure nazi. Nine times out of ten, when I read a script that’s struggling it’s due to structural problems. It might not have a clear through line, it might be trying to juggle too many timelines, either way I’m pretty sure the writer didn’t bother to outline first.

Outline your scripts folks. It makes writing so, so, so much easier.

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

Oh yeah. If it’s good enough for Mark Twain, it’s good enough for you.

The rest of Joss’ advice is equally good. You should head over to Danny’s place and check it out.


September 2, 2010

A Perfect Movie: The Hunt for Red October

Filed under: Features, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 6:46 pm

We all have them. You’re mindlessly channel surfing, lazy, procrastinating, bored. And then you stumble across it. Could be an old movie, TV show, special, whatever. But whatever it is, somehow, someway, it has an inexplicable hold on you. No matter what else you might have to do, no matter how important, you’re going to be glued to your TV until that show finishes.

One of my “I-must-watch-this” movies is The Hunt for Red October. There’s a really simple reason why I can’t walk away from this movie.

It is, quite simply, perfect.

There’s not a wasted moment in this film. Not an iota of fat. It’s entertaining, well acted, and holds up incredibly well considering it’s almost twenty years old. The only complaint I’ve heard leveled against it, and one that I dismiss out of hand, is that some people can’t get past Sean Connery’s *SCOTTISH* accent (really? You’re demanding authentic accents in a thriller?).

It’s also, in my opinion, one of the best written movies. Everything tracks in this movie. Every little thing that happens is set up earlier, and every pay off is great. Ryan’s fear of flying? Paid off with the harrowing helicopter ride into the middle of the Atlantic (also bookended nicely with him sleeping soundly on the flight home). The saboteur? The same seaman who Ramius asks to witness him taking the missile keys from the recently deceased Political Officer.

One of the biggest problems I see in scripts my new writers is a tendency to sprawl. They ramble, explore tangents, and, more often than not, wind up losing the thread of their story. The Hunt for Red October is the opposite of that. It’s relentless in its focus. From the get go the Americans are trying to do one thing, find this missing submarine. While the movie delves into politics and the personal motivations Ramius and his crew have for defecting, it’s all told within the parameter of the search for the sub.

It’s a masterclass on writing a feature length thriller.

Any aspiring writer who hasn’t seen this movie really should drop everything and go watch it. Anyone who appreciates movies and hasn’t seen it, should drop everything and watch it. Even if you’re like me, someone who loves this movie, you would probably benefit from rewatching it from time-to-time.

That’s not something I can say about the other movies I simply have to watch if I stumble across them on television late one night (Roadhouse, I’m looking at you!), but I can definitely say it about The Hunt for Red October.

July 19, 2010

How Do They Find All These Crazy People For Reality Television?

Filed under: Stuff I Like, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 7:00 am

If you’ve spent any time at all watching reality television then you’ve probably wondered where they find these crazy, weird and fascinating people to star in the latest Jersey Shore. There’s a certain train wreck quality to shows like Big Brother that extends, or derives, from the people they choose to appear on the show. I’ve never been able to figure out where these people come from, and even more important, how the hell do reality TV producers find them?

Enter Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post with a handy article called How to find the next reality-TV superstar, an informative, how to guide for the up-and-coming reality TV producer in search of cast for their latest format.

So what do the biggest LA reality execs look for when they’re trying to find the next big reality TV star? What sets the Kate Gosselin’s and Simon Cowell’s apart from the unwashed masses?

…if you happen to know what the word “excesses” means, those are what the Kate Gosselins, Simon Cowells, Speidis, Snookis, and other reality-TV superstars of this world invariably commit when they catch the slightest whiff of a television camera…and yet…it’s not so simple as…[rounding] up a herd of people who, when confronted by a lens, [begin] to effervesce to an extraordinary extent.

Some reality TV stars are not born great – some have greatness thrust upon them…[you’ll wish you] had a buck for every time a producer of an ensemble docusoap got the gang together before the start of taping and “read them the riot act, saying ‘if you want a hit show, you’ve got to give me A to Z’! Because the most successful ones give A to Z.”

But, no matter how brilliant a reality-TV producer might be, in order for a star to really give that A to Z performance that makes all the difference, it’s critical that he or she have been born without the self-edit gene.

“They have to be completely unguarded – if they’re a recessive character, they’re never going to make it to season 4 or 5,” noted Damia Dogan, VP at E! Entertainment Television.

E!’s reality roster includes not only two lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-trashy shows starring the Kardashian family, but also a series called “Pretty Wild,” described by the network as being about three party-girl sisters trying to make their way into the Hollywood social scene. The most interesting of the three is Alexis Neiers, who, when not trying to become a member of the Hollywood social scene, allegedly was moonlighting as a member of The Bling Gang – a group of people who made the acquaintance of Hollywood celebs like Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan, and then broke into and robbed their houses. Which, happily, makes for an even more interesting reality series: in summer of ’09, after the pilot was shot, Alexis was arrested. Her trial was part of the show. This past May, she pled no contest to felony burglary and was sentenced to up to six months in the hoosegow. Everybody wins!

Right, so all you need is a crazy criminal who wants to be a TV star, and is willing to live out their entire life on camera. That’s not asking too much, is it?

May 28, 2010

The 2009-10 Season Is Over and the Numbers Are In

Nikki Finke’s got a great breakdown for the numbers of all the shows that aired this season. It’s an interesting read and I’m going to recreate it here.

First some broad thoughts:

  • I found it somewhat surprising how well reality television continued to perform. The higher rating tiers were dominated by a lot of tried and true reality television formats. It would be kind of disheartening if it weren’t for the fact that…
  • Individual numbers for shows have seen significant erosion. Shows aren’t pulling in the monster ratings that they once were. Even ratings juggernauts like American Idol and Dancing With the Stars saw significant drops in their average viewership. Symptom of a waning interest in reality television or is it just the continuing fragmentation of the viewing population? Your call.
  • It’s safe to say that The Jay Leno Show was an unmitigated disaster. Its ratings were pitiful and it’s easy to see why it was canceled.
  • What’s up with the CW? Their ratings are in the toilet and have been there for a while. That being said the numbers for Dollhouse were right in line with what their own shows average, so why not take a risk on a creatively interesting, albeit deeply flawed show, like Dollhouse as opposed to wasting your time with crappy reboots like the new Melrose Place?

Anyways, here’s the list. Bolded shows are scripted. Shows with a line through them have been canceled or ending this season.

2009-10 SERIES RANKER IN ADULTS 18-49 (rating/share)

1. American Idol – Tuesday – FOX – 9.1/24
2. American Idol – Wednesday – FOX – 8.4/22
3. NBC Sunday Night Football – NBC – 7.2/18
4. Undercover Boss – CBS – 6.2/15
5. The Big Bang Theory – CBS – 5.3/13
6. Grey’s Anatomy – ABC – 5.1/13
6. Lost – ABC – 5.1/12
8. House – FOX – 4.9/13
9. Desperate Housewives – ABC – 4.8/11
9. Two And A Half Men – CBS – 4.8/12
11. The Office – NBC – 4.5/11

11. Survivor: Heroes vs Villains – CBS – 4.5/13
13. Dancing With The Stars – ABC – 4.4/11
13. The Bachelor – ABC – 4.4/10
15. Survivor: Samoa – CBS – 4.3/12
15. Glee – FOX – 4.3/11
17. The Biggest Loser 8 – NBC – 4.2/11
18. NCIS – CBS – 4.0/11
18. Hell’s Kitchen – FOX – 4.0/11
18. The Mentalist – CBS – 4.0/11
21. Family Guy – FOX – 3.9/9
21. Modern Family – ABC – 3.9/10
21. CSI – CBS – 3.9/10

24. The Biggest Loser 9 – NBC – 3.8/10
25. The Amazing Race 15 – CBS – 3.7/9
25. Criminal Minds – CBS – 3.7/9
27. CSI: Miami – CBS – 3.6/10
28. 24 – FOX – 3.5/9
28. NCIS: Los Angeles – CBS – 3.5/9

28. The Amazing Race 16 – CBS – 3.5/9
28. How I Met Your Mother – CBS – 3.5/9
28. Private Practice – ABC – 3.5/9
33. V – ABC – 3.4/9
33. The Simpsons – FOX – 3.4/9
33. Brothers & Sisters – ABC – 3.4/9
36. 30 Rock – NBC – 3.3/8
36. Parenthood – NBC – 3.3/9
36. Rules of Engagement – CBS – 3.3/9

39. Dancing with the Stars Results – ABC – 3.2/8
40. The Apprentice 9 – NBC – 3.1/8
40. Cougar Town – ABC – 3.1/8
40. Bones – FOX – 3.1/9
40. The Cleveland Show – FOX – 3.1/8
44. CSI: New York – CBS – 3.0/8
44. Heroes – NBC – 3.0/7
44. Law & Order: SVU – NBC – 3.0/7
47. Lie To Me – FOX – 2.9/7
47. American Dad – FOX – 2.9/7
47. Human Target – FOX – 2.9/8

50. So You Think You Can Dance – Wed – FOX – 2.8/8
50. Flashforward – ABC – 2.8/8
50. So You Think You Can Dance – Tue – FOX – 2.8/7
50. The Marriage Ref – NBC – 2.8/8
50. Fringe – FOX – 2.8/7
50. Castle – ABC – 2.8/7
56. Accidentally On Purpose – CBS – 2.7/7

56. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition – ABC – 2.7.7
56. The Good Wife – CBS – 2.7/7
59. Romantically Challenged – ABC – 2.6/7
60. Community – NBC – 2.5/7
60. 60 Minutes – CBS – 2.5/7
62. Chuck – NBC – 2.4/6
63. Parks and Recreation – NBC – 2.3/6
63. Cold Case – CBS – 2.3/6
63. The Middle – ABC – 2.3/6
66. Gary Unmarried – CBS – 2.2/6
67. Ghost Whisperer – CBS – 2.1/7

67. Sons of Tuscon – FOX – 2.1/5
69. Eastwick – ABC – 2.0/5
69. Medium – CBS – 2.0/6

69. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution – ABC – 2.0/6
69. The New Adventures of Old Christine – CBS – 2.0/6
69. America’s Funniest Home Videos – ABC – 2.0/6
69. The Jay Leno Show (Tues) – NBC – 2.0/5
75. Numb3rs – CBS – 1.9/6
75. Saturday Night Football – ABC – 1.9/6
75. Three Rivers – CBS – 1.9/5
75. Trauma – NBC – 1.9/5
75. The Forgotten – ABC – 1.9/5

75. Minute to Win It – NBC – 1.9/5
75. COPS 2 – FOX – 1.9/6
82. Ugly Betty – ABC – 1.8/5
82. America’s Next Top Model 7 – CW – 1.8/5
82. Law & Order – NBC – 1.8/5
82. Mercy – NBC – 1.8/5

82. Find My Family – ABC – 1.8/4
82. 20/20 (Fri) – ABC – 1.8/6
88. Hank – ABC – 1.7/5
88. AMW: America Fights Back – FOX – 1.7/5
88. America’s Top Model 8 – CW – 1.7/5
88. The Deep End – ABC – 1.7/5
88. Kitchen Nightmares – FOX – 1.7/5
88. COPS – FOX – 1.7/6
88. Shark Tank – ABC – 1.7/5
95. Dateline (Fri) – NBC – 1.6/5
95. Vampire Diaries – CW – 1.6/4
95. Who Do You Think You Are? – NBC – 1.6/6
95. Scrubs – ABC – 1.6/4
95. Happy Town – ABC – 1.6/4

95. The Jay Leno Show (Thu) – 1.6/4
101. The Jay Leno Show (Wed) – 1.5/4
102. 48 Hours Mystery – CBS – 1.4/5
102. The Jay Leno Show (Mon) – NBC – 1.4/4
102. Past Life – FOX – 1.4/3
102. Miami Medical – CBS – 1.4/5

102. Supernanny – ABC – 1.4/4
102. The Jay Leno Show (Fri) – NBC – 1.3/5
108. Friday Night Lights – NBC – 1.3/5
108. Wife Swap – ABC – 1.3/5
108. Better Off Ted – ABC – 1.3/4
111. Dollhouse – FOX – 1.2/4
111. Smallville – CW – 1.2/4
111. Supernatural – CW – 1.2/3
111. Gossip Girl – CW – 1.2/3
115. One Tree Hill – CW – 1.1/3
115. Life Unexpected – CW – 1.1/3

115. Dateline (Sun) – NBC – 1.1/3
118. Til Death – FOX – 1.0/3
119. Brothers – FOX – 0.9/3
119. 90210 – CW – 0.9/2
121. Melrose Place – CW – 0.6.2
122. Beautiful Life – CW – 0.5/1
122. Fly Girls – CW – 0.5/1
124. High Society – CW – 0.4/1

May 27, 2010

The Footage ABC Cut From the Lost Finale

Filed under: Lost, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 12:18 pm

Courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel.

May 21, 2010

The New Television Finale: How Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos and Lost have changed television

Filed under: Battlestar Galactica, Future of TV, Kvetch, Lost, Stuff I Like, The Sopranos — petertypingfaster @ 11:12 am

Finales are by their very nature incredibly important to how we see our favorite TV shows. They’re the last time we get to visit with characters who’ve become good friends. Finales have been some of the most watched television events in history (just look at the numbers for M*A*S*H*, Cheers, Friends or Seinfeld).

People loved the show’s, and for the most part, they loved the finales. Sure sometimes things didn’t turn out exactly how people expected, but there was never a fan backlash because of it. People appreciated the show for what it was in its entirety, rather than how the finale played out.

I think it’s safe to say that for a large segment of the population that’s no longer the case.

I have quite a few friends who now think that Battlestar Galactica is a completely sh*t show based on how the series finale turned out, and specifically because of the questions it did or did not answer (and to a lesser degree the way it answered them). They’ve let their anger about the finale color their view of the preceding four seasons to such a degree that they insist it’s all crap.

I’ve seen the same thing happen with fans of The Sopranos. The final crash to black is too much for a lot of people to accept. They feel cheated by the fact that they don’t have the resolution that they wanted and / or needed.

And I’m willing to bet that the same thing is going to happen with Lost. From an article in the New York Times:

Among the best evidence that something new is happening with “Lost” is the fact that so many people, if their online comments are true, will be willing to change their judgment of the entire series based solely on how well the final two-and-a-half-hour episode satisfies their need for answers. Forget the first 119 hours — if you don’t tell me what happened to Walt, none of it will have mattered.

Similarly revealing is the carping over whether Mr. Cuse and Mr. Lindelof knew from the start where they were going to take their story. It’s a meaningless question with regard to evaluating the show — all that matters is what they have actually put on screen. But that would mean paying attention to the show itself, rather than your feelings about the show.

I think that the sentiment that it’s not about a single hour of television (or in the case of Lost‘s finale two and a half hours), but the entire 120+ hours that they’ve put on the screen over the past six seasons. At least that’s the way that things worked under the old author-audience relationship, a relationship that the article goes on to question.

The contract between author and audience is being rewritten throughout our culture. Certainly we have always expected the satisfaction of resolution and revelation in our fictional narratives, but we had to let creators provide it on their own terms and then judge the overall result. “Lost” is a sign that that’s not so true anymore, at least with regard to television. Now that the public conversation about how a work should play out can be louder, and have greater impact, than the work itself, the conversation will inevitably begin to shape the work in ways that earlier television producers — or, say, Charles Dickens — never had to reckon with.

“Lost” has turned fans into critics and critics, including this one, into semiprofessional fans, and in both cases you can sense that some exhaustion has set in. The mood among many of the show’s followers as they confront Sunday’s finale seems to be a mixture of regret and relief. Whatever happens to Jack and Kate and Sawyer on Sunday night, we’re getting off the island.

I think there is a sense of relief that the show’s finally coming to an end. I, for one, am kind of glad it is. I can’t help but think that the show’s really undergone a creative decline, and not just in the final season (I’ve been saying that since season 2, and even stopped watching it completely around episode 12 of season 2, before getting dragged back into it by friends and family). It is interesting to see how the relationship between creator and audience has evolved though.

May 20, 2010

Now THAT’S a digital component!

Filed under: Future of TV, Marketing, Stuff I Like, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 6:37 pm

With the announcement of the new CMF guidelines, writers and production companies have been scrambling to come up with the now mandatory “Digital Media Component” of their TV shows. In reality this isn’t a very big change. Broadcasters have wanted producers and writers to come in with a digital component for years now, it’s just that now they’ve actually set those expectations down in writing.

In the four-plus years I’ve spent working in development I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of working on a lot of half assed new media components of traditional broadcast pitches. A lot of the time people will just throw together a crappy website and be done with it. Nothing cutting edge. Nothing interesting. Just do the bare minimum and move right along, after all, no one’s making any money off the web component of a TV show.

But every now and then I stumble across something that’s just plain cool. Something like Top Chef University.

From the Salon article where I first heard about it:

You’ve watched them whip up delectable dishes, and a soupcon of drama, in the Top Chef kitchen. Now, stars of the hit Bravo TV series are ready to school their fans: Pack your knives and go… online.

Top Chef University.com, formally launching this week, is designed to give users the experience of culinary school at their own pace, with 12 courses covering about 60 hours of content.

“It’s so unique because it’s truly a comprehensive program and it’s really the first of its kind,” says Nikki Cascone, Season 4 contestant and one of the instructors.

Instructors were picked with an eye to their time on the show. So, Cascone, known for her pasta, is teaching about pasta and grains. Richard Blais, the chef from Season 4 who favored cutting edge techniques like cooking sous vide, is teaching the advanced course that includes molecular gastronomy.

The program, which costs $25 a month or $200 for yearlong access, begins with the basics — knife skills, pantry stocking — and moves on to stocks, soups, vegetables, proteins and dessert before finishing up with global cuisine and advanced techniques

How great an idea is that? And a revenue generator to boot!

May 7, 2010

Some News Is So Good You Just Have To Share It

Filed under: Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 7:55 am

Stephen King is going to guest star on Sons of Anarchy this year.

How awesome is that?

April 23, 2010

I need dollar, dollar, dollar is what I need. Hey, hey.

Filed under: Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 7:39 am

How To Make It In America gets renewed for a second season.

Which means we get another season of the best opening credits going right now.

March 31, 2010

Democrats Watch More TV

Filed under: Stuff I Like, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 2:17 pm

But Republicans watch more sports.

Not really that surprising I guess, but I found it pretty darn interesting nonetheless (guess that’s what happens when you combine two of my favorite things…television and politics).

“The average TV show will deliver 15-25% more Democrats compared to Republicans,” said Will Feltus, senior vp of research at National Media, which specializes in buying ads for GOP clients. “The moral to the story is that it’s harder to find Republican viewers and sports is good place to find them.”

Most TV formats have largely audiences that consist mostly of Democrats, according to the study, with left-leaning viewers dominating genres like local news, late-night talk shows, primetime dramas and comedies.

If you were to break down the sports people view by their political affiliation you wouldn’t be that surprised either. Republicans watch a lot of golf, football and NASCAR, while Democrats watch the NBA and tennis.

Talk about living up to stereotypes…

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