Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why are so many television shows so bad?

It's not exactly a secret that when it comes to television, most of the shows that you see on tv aren't good at all. Most of the shows don't have good things going on in them and there isn't anything in them that could keep us entertained.

The biggest reason that these shows don't work is because they aren't about anything real or meaningful. The premise and the basic idea in them isn't strong enough, so that the series could have something to build on.

Especially when it comes to most comedies that are out there, it seems as if the writers behind these shows had no clue how to write good stuff. It's as if they had no clue about how storytelling is supposed to work.
 
Nevertheless, when it comes to creating good stuff, it shouldn't at least on paper be impossible to pull off. Even though it's not easy by any definition, creating good shows should be doable, as long you pay attention to the basics.

Unfortunately, when it comes to this creation process, most of the time producers and writers don't seem to pay attention to these things. It's as if they had no idea about the craft and about how they're supposed to do their jobs.

For example, when it comes to creating a solid premise, they simply don't spend enough time coming up with a decent idea for their series. They don't pay enough attention to their idea, so that they could have a premise that might actually work.

When it comes to creating likable characters, they don't seem to think that those things are needed either. They seem to think that you don't need to have likable, honorable characters that people could actually root for.

When it comes to writing believable, storylines, they also don't seem to think that you need to worry about those things. Writing about stuff that has to do with substance, idealism or things that matter isn't important anymore.

Instead, these writers and producers try to obfuscate and throw off their audience. Things like spamming weak jokes, obsessing with empty popular culture references or using ridiculous amount of swearing is the way to go.

For example, 'comedy' shows like Community, Family Guy and Rick & Morty are pretty much all about using pop culture references. They're all about catering to the lowest common denominator with their pointless references.

When it comes to the overuse of 'jokes', pretty much all the multicamera sitcoms are guilty of this. Showrunners like Chuck Lorre are known for using jokes as a crutch when they have no clue how to make their storylines work.

In order to throw off the audience, if these showrunners can't come up with a solid storyline, they try to write in as many jokes as possible. By doing this they try to confuse us, so that we wouldn't notice that there's no real story in these episodes.

Still, perhaps the most heartbreaking of these cheap stunts has to be the overuse of cursing. This kind of behavior is especially true on HBO, where there are no limits on how much profanities or cursing you're allowed to use.

In reality, the only thing that a supposed 'comedy' series like 'Veep' has going for itself, is that it's completely filled with profanities. This Emmy winning comedy series that has unlikable characters and weak storylines has nothing else going for it.

In that sense, when you consider all these things, it shouldn't really surprise anyone that there are so many bad shows out there. It shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider how disrespectful most of the writers and producers are towards their craft.

In the end, the truth is that when it comes to creating quality shows, it's about paying attention and respecting the basics. It's about having a solid premise, having likable characters and making sure that you write storylines that make sense.

It's not about ignoring the fundamentals of storytelling. It's not about ignoring the basics and thinking that as long as you just write in pop culture references, spam jokes and swear, things are magically going to work.

Unfortunately for us, as long as these writers and producers keep trashing their craft, things won't change. As long as they think that it's okay to cut corners and that you don't have to take your job seriously, we're not going to get better shows on tv.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What should we think of the 'Zootopia' lawsuit?

A couple of weeks ago I read about a lawsuit concerning Disney's animated film Zootopia. I read about how a writer claimed that Disney had stolen his idea for the film and that the company should have to pay punitive damages as a result.

According to this writer, Disney had stolen the title of the film, 'Zootopia'. The company had also stolen the basic premise and the basic character designs in the film, which the lawyer for the plaintiff tried to argue in court.

When I started reading about the case, at first it seemed like there was a decent case against Disney. As long as you focused on the company stealing the title and you had your focus on the character design, it seemed like the writer was on to something.

However, once you dug a bit deeper and started to pay attention to the case a bit more, things started to get more complicated. Even though there are a lot of similarities, these similarities tend to be too generic and even deceptive.

When it comes to the original film, 'Zootopia' (2016) is an animation that tells a story about a hillbilly bunny called Judy Hopps. This bunny, who becomes a cop and moves to the big city of Zootopia, is what the movie is about.

When it comes to the film, at least 80-90% of its success has to do with our likable bunny. Bunny Hopps is the biggest reason that the movie works so well and that it was such a success both critically and at the box office.

Almost every emotionally meaningful story beat in the film is derived from this character. The character's idealism and her underdog situation is what makes the story work and what makes us care about what happens in the movie.

What this all has to do with the lawsuit is that in the plaintiff's treatment, 'Zootopia' apparently isn't about the 'Bunny'. In the plaintiff's version, the squirrel (that isn't even a cop) doesn't seem to be at the center of the story.

Instead, the plaintiff's version revolves more around the 'fox' character that we see in the produced film. This character (a hyena in the plaintiff's concept), isn't that likable and isn't someone that you can easily relate to.

The big problem with this is that if the plaintiff's story had a protagonist that wasn't particularly likable, that concept wouldn't have worked. There were going to be so many problems with the story, regardless of how the treatment would have looked on paper.

Incidentally, Disney admitted that they tried to write a script that revolved around the 'fox' character. They spent almost a year writing different drafts and tried everything to make the story work and to make it worth producing.

Eventually, they gave up and decided that the movie simply shouldn't and couldn't be about the Fox. They decided that they needed to start from scratch and thought that the film should instead be about the Bunny character.

What this means is that if Disney actually did steal the concept or the treatment from plaintiff, in that case they also ditched it. Even though the concept might have worked in theory, when they wrote the script, it didn't work anymore.

As a whole, when it comes to this lawsuit, I think it's safe to say that it doesn't seem to be completely outlandish or frivolous. It seems to be likely that Disney in some ways tried to 'steal' the concept from the writer.

After all, the company is infamous for having stolen other people's material over the decades. They have clearly played fast and loose with copyrighted source material before (for example The Lion King / Kimba The White Lion).

Still, even though this wouldn't be the first time that they stole from other writers, when you consider what we know about the case so far (possibly different, unlikable protagonist / other stuff), the lawsuit is walking on a fairly thin ice.

As far as I'm concerned, even though I don't like siding with a corporation against an individual, in this case one might have to. It might be that in this case the writer didn't create a concept that was strong enough to be protected by copyright laws.

In that sense, if Disney took the idea and made it work, that isn't automatically their fault. It isn't automatically their fault if the plaintiff didn't come up with a story that was good enough and if the story didn't have merit to stand on its own.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Why is writing movies harder than writing for tv?

A couple of days ago I read some articles, in which television writers compared movie screenwriting to television writing. They wondered why tv writers aren't usually good at writing movies and why it can be so hard to transition to films?

These writers had their own theories about why this tends to happen. According to them, writing for tv was either too lucrative, or they thought that since they had somehow 'mastered' the art of tv writing, they were now 'too good' to write movies.

Not surprisingly, I didn't find these explanations to be particularly convincing or plausible. None of these writers, in my opinion, had the insight or the courage to admit why transitioning to films is so incredibly difficult.

In reality, the biggest reason that most television writers can't switch to writing films is that most of them just aren't good enough as writers. Most of them don't have the talent to write full length movie screenplays.

As far as I'm concerned, writing film scripts is a lot more demanding than writing television scripts is. Whether we like to admit it or not, it's a lot more demanding in almost every aspect that has to do with the writing process.

For example, movie scripts require a lot more ideas than your average episode for a sitcom or for a drama series. You need to come up with a lot more ideas that have to do with your premise and your characters throughout the length of the screenplay.

With movies, you need longer arcs that require more thought than those vignettes on tv shows. A twenty minute sitcom episode or a forty minute drama episode simply isn't as demanding storywise as is a full length movie screenplay. 

When it comes to this writing process, we shouldn't also forget that most television writers in the business aren't actually that experienced either. They haven't mastered their craft, even though they might think that they have done that.

As unfortunate as it is, the truth is that most of these writers did not create the shows that they have been writing for. The overwhelming majority of these writers were not in charge of creating the characters in the pilots of their respective tv shows.

This means that there's a very good chance that most of them have no clue about creating original material from scratch. They don't know how to create original material that would be good enough to be produced on its own.

In that sense, whenever I read someone writing about how they don't write movies for this and that reason, we should take their explanation with a grain of salt. There's a good chance that the person is not being honest about the issue.

At least in my case, the reason that it took so long for me to write a movie script is that it was really that difficult to come up with one. It was that hard and I knew that there was a good chance that I wouldn't be able to write one.

It wasn't because I thought I had more important things to do than to write movies. It wasn't because I was 'too good', that I had 'mastered' the art of television writing or that I was somehow above writing film screenplays.

On the contrary, it was because I was afraid that I was going to fail as a movie writer. It was because I was scared to death that I wasn't good enough, that I didn't know what I was doing and that I wouldn't be able to take my craft to the next level.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What kind of screenplay did I manage to write?

Before I started writing my very first movie screenplay, I kept thinking what my strengths as a writer were. I kept thinking what are the things that I'm good at and how these qualities could be used in the writing process.

After all, if I wanted to write a quality screenplay, I would have to concentrate on my strengths instead of my weaknesses. If I wanted to write something that had any merit or value, I had to know what were the good things about me as a writer.

So when it finally came to deciding what I should write about, I knew that I would have to write something that I felt relatively good about. I had to choose a genre that would reflect my values as a person as well as possible.

Not surprisingly, since I'm a pretty big fan of animations, I thought it would be a good idea to give an animated screenplay a chance. I had been writing a lot about these movies, so I wanted to see if I could come up with a script myself. 

The decision to write an animated screenplay wasn't actually that difficult. Especially knowing that most animations manage to cheer me up and put me on a better mood, I thought it would make sense to write a script myself.

When it comes to writing the script, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I was influenced by other movies. Popular films like 'Amelie', the recent 'My Life As a Courgette' and 'Shaun The Sheep were the ones that influenced me the most.

For example, when it comes to 'Amelie', I liked how the main character in the film was so creative and proactive. I liked how Amelie was trying to do the right thing and how she was a character that you were able to root for.

When it comes to 'My Life As a Courgette', I liked the themes in the film and how well the animation in it was done. I appreciated how well the theme of being an orphan was handled and how the movie was able to convey real emotions.

When it comes to 'Shaun The Sheep', I absolutely loved how the writers were able to come up with an 80 minute movie that had zero dialogue in it. I found this to be awesome and was really impressed with how many good ideas the movie had. 

So by mixing these three movies, I wrote an 'original' script that revolves around themes and ideas that these films represented. The script, currently titled 'Valerie and The Girl', is some sort of a synthesis of these movies.

It handles themes like compassion, transformation and coming to terms with change without being judgemental and without being mean. It tries to take the best aspects of those three movies and comes up with a story of its own.

When it comes to me borrowing stuff, my script, like in 'My Life as a Courgette', is about a young child growing up. The character not having a father in her life is one of the overarching themes in the screenplay that plays throughout the script's length.

Like in 'Amelie', our main character is an active protagonist that tries her best to change things for the better. She not only wants to help others - including her new friend - but she also wants to know what happened to her father.

Like in 'Shaun The Sheep', in its current form the screenplay doesn't have any written, intelligible dialogue in the script. Every single scene in the screenplay runs on the strength of the characters and the overarching storylines that are in it.

As a whole, when it comes to the script, I'm fairly confident that the story and its characters feel authentic and respect the reader. I'm relatively confident that the story feels original and doesn't seem too much like the movies that it was 'based' on.

After all, if I managed to do those things, that would mean that I wrote something good. It would mean that I have a certain understanding of what storytelling is about and that I'm capable of writing original characters that you can relate to.

Still, regardless of how good the screenplay turned out, when it comes to this project, I did my best to come up with a good script. I tried my best to write a screenplay that would reflect my values and my strengths as a writer.  

Whether I actually managed to write a really good script, I don't know. That, after all, takes a lot of luck of and is something that cannot be controlled, no matter how hard you're willing to try and no matter how talented you are as a writer.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

'My Life as a Zucchini' is a solid animation.

Like many others, if I have to choose between watching a live action movie or an animated film, it's usually an easy decision. In most cases I'll watch the animated film, because it's much more likely to put me on a better mood.

After all, when it comes to animations, you don't judge characters in them the way you judge actors in live action movies. There's no prejudice involved with animated characters, which makes watching them so much easier.

In that sense, it wasn't a difficult decision to give a chance for a French animated film called 'My Life as a Zucchini'. This is a movie that was nominated at this year's Academy Awards in the best animated film category.

In essence, the movie tells a story about a young boy called 'Courgette' (Zucchini). Once he becomes an orphan, he is moved to an orphanage, where he meets other kids who haven't been fortunate in their lives either.

Over the course of the film's one hour length, the animation deals with all kinds of issues that have to do with the main character's situation. There's stuff about abandonment, friendship, acceptance and making the best out of what you have.

When it comes to 'My Life as a Courgette', very likely the best thing about it has to do with how simplistic and how down to earth it is. The themes in it are clear and there isn't anything in the film that doesn't belong to it or that feels forced.

Unlike in most movies, almost all the characters in it are likable and relatable. Every person in the orphanage, including the personnel, are characters that you can relate to and who are trying to work in the best interest of the kids.

When it comes to the animation in the movie, the stop motion technique works really well. It's a real pleasure to watch these characters and how the makers of the film have managed to make them so lively and full of emotion.

These high quality production values also apply to the voice acting. Especially when it comes to the original French version of the film, you can't help but to fall in love with these characters and how authentic they sound.

If there's anything in the movie that could have been better, I guess it has to be said that the ending for it was a bit lacking. The movie should have gone a bit longer so that the last fifteen minutes of the film could have had a better flow.

At least in my opinion, the last phase could have used a couple more extra scenes that would have made the ending more satisfying. There was something missing from the script that made the finale a little bit underwhelming.

Still, despite these fairly minor flaws in the film, it has to be said that I'm glad that I managed to watch 'My Life as a Courgette'. It's good to notice that movies like these exist and that they're not all the same old, same old.

As a whole, even though the film doesn't sugar coat things and doesn't shy away from real stuff, it manages to entertain. It manages to give you hope and makes you feel that just because things aren't going your way, life can still get better.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ideas vs. execution in quality screenwriting.

When it comes to ideas and execution in screenwriting, there's an age-old saying which says that 'good ideas are a dime a dozen and it's the execution of your idea that counts' when it comes to writing a good screenplay.

According to this saying, no matter how good your idea is, your idea is just an initial premise and only the first step in the process. Executing it doesn't guarantee that your premise will necessarily lead to anything good.

I've been thinking about this idea vs. execution thing especially after managing to finish my very first movie screenplay. Why is it that the execution counts so much and why your initial idea doesn't necessarily mean that much?

Very likely the best way to answer to this question is by saying that 'a good idea' really is just the first idea that you need for your story. In order to write a solid screenplay, you need to come up with a lot more 'good ideas' before your work is done.

By that I mean that any good screenplay is going to have at least a couple of dozen solid ideas in it. These solid ideas are what keep the story and the characters going and that keep the audience interested in what's going on.

It simply isn't enough to think that one super special idea is going to be all that it takes. It's not enough to think that just because you managed to come up with a 'great' idea, you can now start slacking with your project.

On the contrary, you need to have a lot of ideas and you need to have a good judgement about how to execute them. You need to be able to figure out which of your ideas make sense and which aren't good enough as a whole.

At the same time, when we're talking about how important the execution part is, this is not to say that having a good first idea isn't important. I'm not saying that you can slack with your premise as long you're willing to execute your script well.

As unfortunate as it is, when it comes to most screenplays, the basic idea in most of them just isn't good enough. The 'ideas' that they're based on aren't solid enough and don't have enough potential to become quality scripts.

In reality, if your premise and your idea isn't good enough, no amount of 'hard work' is going to save your screenplay. These 'weak premise' screenplays are never going to work, no matter who is going to be in charge of writing them.

In that sense, even though it's true that your 'great idea' by definition isn't all there is to the process, it still counts. That's why you should always make sure that your premise does have enough merit and that it's believable enough.

After all, by making sure that you have a good premise, it's going to be much easier to start developing your screenplay. If you're willing to pay attention to the basics, it's much more likely that your script as a whole has more potential.

In the end, when it comes to this whole thing, the truth is that it pays off if you manage to come up with a solid, workable premise. It pays off far more often if you're willing to come up with a premise that people might actually get interested in.

As long as you're smart enough or lucky enough to get a solid premise, there's a much better chance that you'll create something good. It makes the writing process a lot more tolerable and a lot easier as a whole.

On the other hand, if you're not willing to pay attention to your basic story idea, you're going to be in big trouble. If you're not willing to make sure that your story idea makes sense, things are not going to work out for you.

In that case, all that hard work with the screenplay will likely be in vain. Instead of creating something solid, you'll end up working with a script that doesn't have enough merit and doesn't have what it takes to keep us entertained.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What is the most important rule in writing?

Even though there are a lot of good rules when it comes to writing, some rules are more important than others. No matter how good you are as a writer, some of these rules are so important that you should almost never break them.

For example, when it comes me, I pretty much always try to obey the rule of 'finish what you start writing'. No matter what happens, I try to get the task done, so that I could feel better about myself and that I could move on to something else.

Still, even though this 'finish what you start writing' is a super important rule, it's not the most important rule about writing. Writing and managing to finish your screenplay is only the second most important part about writing.

At least in my opinion, the most important rule about writing has to do with 'publishing' and 'rewriting'. No matter how good you are as a scribe, you should never publish stuff without rewriting it - unless you absolutely have no other choice.

By that I mean that it's almost impossible to ever get everything right in your first draft. It's pretty much guaranteed that every single time you will make some fairly big mistakes that you won't be able to pick up right away. 

When it comes to rewriting and getting things right, there are no quick fixes for it. It always takes time and you need to be able to clear your mind, get a fresh pair of eyes and more or less forget what you managed to write earlier.

Writing good stuff simply isn't about who's the fastest writer or who's the first to get certain amount of words on paper. It's not about rushing to the finish line and thinking that being fast makes you somehow special as a writer.

On the contrary, writing good stuff is always about being aware of your flaws and being aware of you making mistakes. It's about being aware of your weaknesses as a writer and knowing where you're likely going to go wrong.

Especially when it comes to me, I have too many times published scripts and articles without thinking them through enough. I have written them in a hurry and thought that there was no difference whether I gave them another look or not.

If only I had understood earlier that I didn't have to publish everything right away as a writer. If I had only understood that writing is so much more about rewriting than it's about being fast, things would have been so much better.

As a whole, even though it's obviously important that you almost always have to 'finish' your projects, that itself isn't all there is to writing. It's not the only thing that matters and counts when it comes to creating quality stuff.

On the contrary, being too content with having finished your first draft doesn't mean that your job is now done. It doesn't mean that you have figured everything out and that you can now start slacking with your project.

In reality, writing your first draft is only the first part in the writing process. It's only the first step, and in most cases you have to do a lot of rewrites before you can be certain and confident that your script is in good shape.

In that sense, there is absolutely no shame in not getting everything right the first time. There's no shame in admitting that you made a lot of mistakes in your first draft and that you still need more time to get things figured out.