Saturday, January 22, 2011

Writing a Modern Family Episode: Part III hopefully getting it right.

Okay, we have reached the final part of "writing a Modern Family episode".

Instead of revealing the story, I'm asking you to think about three things:

1. What is the funniest thing that could happen if Cameron and Mitchell took Lily for a baby swim?

2. What is likely the funniest thing that includes Jay, Gloria and bikes?

3. What is the funniest and the most dramatic story that would involve Phil as Homer Simpson and his high school buddy as Barney Gumble?

And how could one tie these story arcs together in the end?

So, I thought about Cam as Fizbo the clown.

I thought about Tandem bikes.

I thought about Phil actually showing character.

I thought about Freaky Friday.

I thought about Mr. Bean.

I asked myself what David E. Kelley would do.

I tried to remind myself that life's a laugh and death's a joke.

I read John F. Kennedy's quote about how laughter is the only part of God that we can ever try to understand.

I thought that writing a script really can't be that hard.

I wrote it in three days.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing a Modern Family Episode: Part II - specific problems with a specific episode.

Originally posted by me on:

Well, (continuing on my thoughts) a writer needs to understand that in Modern Family 21 minutes is a really long time and that it allows you to do a lot of stuff.

At the same time it means that what you write has to be well thought out. Otherwise you’re bound to run into serious trouble. The episode 2#11 "Slow Down Your Neighbors" was a rather good example of this.

First (wasn’t first that was introduced) we had Phil and his work-related stuff. I thought it was the worst of the three. It was bad because it was so muddled and the setup was non-existing (without setup there’s no plot).

Claire bullhorning about a speeder leading to Phil’s old work related friend leading to Phil not feeling like telling something to Claire leading to Phil doing something leading to Claire chasing that friend…

That might be okay if we were dealing with a single storyline episode. But to put all that confusion and weak motivation into one of the three plotlines is simply wrong. (even though Avclub gave it an A-)

The second plot was about Jay teaching Manny and Gloria to ride a bike. I don’t have a problem with the structure of this plotline but did any of you think it was a plausible storyline?

Childlike Gloria and a 13 year old Manny not knowing how to ride a bike without additional help? Out of character stuff. This is something that you should definitely avoid.

The third plotline. When it came to the Cam/Mitchell plotline, the doomswitch was the “twist” of the guy actually living in their playhouse.

The premise of the guy “upstairs” itself was hard to swallow but the twist simply wasn’t any good and was a letdown. (nevertheless, funniest of the three because Eric Stonestreet is the funniest guy on tv)

The thing is that if you have to do the twist, it better be something that 1) is unexpected 2) is something that the audience is going to really like and 3) is something that the audience doesn’t recognize as a twist.

Instead it's something different. The moment has to be seen as an awesome and yet as a smooth change in the direction of the plotline. Very hard to do, I guess. But it's not impossible to achieve.

So, what you should be able to do is to have 1) simple, clear setups 2) universal truths about us and about our characters = plausible storylines and 3) twist that won’t be seen as a twist.

My Modern Family script in Part III - coming up soon!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writing a Modern Family Episode: Part I - things to consider.

Well, it won the Comedy series Emmy so let's pay more attention to Modern Family:

Originally posted by me on:

I managed to write a Modern Family spec recently and made some observations about what works and what doesn't work on the show. I thought it would be nice if I'd share them here.

This is obviously not a complete list but I hope the reader nevertheless finds these tips helpful. Crucial points while writing a script in my opinion are:

1) Interviews shouldn’t be used after the cold open.
2) Don’t put too many characters in one place / episode.
3) Cam & Mitch are the funny characters.
4) Avoid story arcs that are too convoluted.
5) Don’t run out of your story too early.
6) Try to avoid storylines that don’t add up & forced happy endings.

1) Interviews are okay and sometimes really funny. However, they mainly serve as expositionary devices. They also slow down the episode and pull you out of the story. So if you use these later in the episode, the chances are overwhelmingly that you’re making a really big mistake.

2) Having too many main characters in the same scene/room is a big problem too. It makes the show feel directionless and even claustrophobic. That’s why I’d recommend to avoid the Dunphy house as much as possible (yikes!).

You should also limit the amount of main characters in your episode to give your episode some clarity. I dropped the kids from my spec script by the way.

Having said that, it’s okay to use guest stars and one/two line part characters. Also, make them go to new places as much as possible – because unlike in the multicam sitcoms – in this format they can and should go.

3) About Cam & Mitchell. These two are the best part of the show. Eric Stonestreet is the funniest guy on tv. Mitch and Cam are believable, relatable, refreshing and charming. In short, they are the main reason that the show won the comedy series Emmy.

If you don’t have them in funny situations and making funny comments, you’re script is toast. The rest are very hard to make funny so pay attention to the gay couple.

4) Convoluted storylines: there was this one episode that looked like it was going to have a solid beginning, middle and an end. However, the episode fell apart when it came to the resolution of the Claire/Haley watching tv in the bed together.

We had two other separate storylines that were going on and then there was this storyline where Haley thought that Claire was talking about herself (mom) and Claire thought that Haley was talking about herself (daughter). It was way too convoluted.

The point here is that you have to keep the storylines simple and straightforward. If you don’t, your script won’t work.

5) Story runs out too early: remember the episode where Mitch dressed as a spiderman at his work? Mitch in the booth wearing the costume trying to hide from his co-workers. Hilarious, absolutely great stuff.

Except that the episode continued for like 7 minutes after the climax. I think this was another of those “Claire has a thing for” episodes. The halloween scene after that at Dunphys’ was painful, miserable and tedious. Avoid mistakes like these.

6) Finally, the most problematic part of the show in my opinion: an emotional wrap in at least half of the episodes that we have seen. It almost always comes out of nowhere.

The characters haven’t learned anything in the episode or they might be at each others throats – but 15 seconds later a voice over or a couch interview or some kind of a montage with music resolves it all. Don’t do this unless you and the characters on the show have earned it.

Part II coming up soon!