Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Big Bang Theory - writing a script.

Here's a link to one of my Big Bang Theory scripts:

I have to say that I wrote a complete synopsis of this episode and thought about posting it here. But then I read it again and had to conclude that reading a synopsis is like watching paint dry.

The thing is that a script isn't about what it's about but how it's about it. So I thought that posting the synopsis would serve no purpose because it wouldn't answer the question of "how it's about".

You have to read the full script if you want to both know and feel it. (what and how)

Anyway, some brief observations about my two premises that were:
1) Sheldon wants to get Leonard Nimoy to give the guys a lecture.
2) Howard and Raj fight for the same girl.

In hindsight one should see that the first one had its own set of potential pitfalls. It was doubtful that you could actually get Leonard Nimoy to guest star in the episode in question. Another problem was that episodes with stars playing themselves usually aren't good.

Therefore, a relatively safe solution to this problem was that we wouldn't get to see Nimoy (not Sheldon and not anyone else either)

But this created another problem. If the plot hinted too much that we were going to see Nimoy and that in the end it wouldn't happen, the audience would have been very disappointed and would have felt cheated.

So even though the episode was going to be about Leonard Nimoy, at the same time it couldn't be about him. It had to be about something else that the audience would find more interesting than Sheldon meeting Spock.

I hope that my "Sheldon with kids" is a twist that the audience would appreciate...

When it came to the other storyline, it had to be as simple and straightforward as possible. So what it meant was that the storylines had to be well integrated. The whole second act happens at their university and only two sets are used - the university hallway and the lunchroom.

Hopefully I managed to fix most of the problems that I had while writing the script. For example, the first draft had the girl also in the second act but I changed it, so that instead of Howard meeting the girl, he only tells about the meeting.

Other than that, there's a lot of stuff going on in the script. Maybe even too much and it's hard to tell whether the first act works. But at the very least I did my best to have the episode based on character and truth. And I think I made (or kept) the characters likable too.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Big Bang Theory's staircase problem.

May I ask you to to take a look at the picture above? It has Penny, Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard in it. Nothing special there, right? Standard stuff?

Well, to be exact, no. Because this picture from an earlier season is something that we haven't seen on the show in a long time. (for example not once after 16 episodes this season)

You might say that, "so what, what's the deal here?".

The issue here is that in my opinion the picture and the moment above defines the show, its universe and its laws perhaps better than any other from the series.

"But how and why?"

Well, the thing is that the staircase and the hallway in the picture might be the most important setpiece on the show. It is the place between the geek world (Sheldon's and Leonard's apartment) and the normal world (Penny's apartment).

The place in the middle, is where both worlds meet.

It's the place where Leonard and Penny first kiss (not drunk). It's the place where Sheldon manages to apologize to Penny. It's where Penny starts crying after being such a failure and it's also the place where Raj turns his pelvis after Penny hugs him.

(in my opinion one of the funniest and sweetest moments on the show)

It's the place where both groups have to make compromises in order to understand each other better. Our geeks trying to figure out normal life and relationships while enjoying their nerdy lifestyle. Succeeding, failing, making us laugh. Things like that.

Or that's how it used to be. Unfortunately, it hasn't been that way this season at all. This original good stuff has been missing. Lots of other things have changed too and not for the better.

For example, as you can see, in this picture the guys are still friends, probably ready to do something interesting together or at least having a common goal or a problem.

On the show however, they basically aren't friends anymore. They also don't seem to have tasks or challenges as a group either.

Well, they do hang around together, but usually with the weakest amount of motivation that you could think of - like in the university lunchroom, usually arguing about stuff that makes you wonder why they spend any time together at all. Or doing something else that makes you question their friendship.

What was so good about the staircase, (the entrance and the floors) was that everytime our geeks went up and down, they were functioning as a group and that their bonding and friendship was understandable and logical. It simply made sense. It was about strong motivation.

They might have had their disagreements, like about Middle Earth festivals or paintball sessions, or about wearing costumes to Penny's party, but it was still all good. The staircase signified their friendship better than almost anything else (including the livingroom table).

It gave the show energy, direction and balance. It made you feel comfortable and safe. And most of all, it gave the series meaning and purpose.

But that was when the show was at its best. During the first and the second season. When The Big Bang Theory was still both fresh and funny. When it was so full of actual promise. When it had almost gotten up there.

That's why it's a real shame that we haven't seen those walks anymore. It might be the single biggest reason that the show isn't good or funny today.

Is it too late to change the course? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Nevertheless, that picture, moment and scene above should remind us all what the show is really about.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making pop culture references count.

If there's one thing that really separates bad writers from good ones, it is the way one deals with pop culture references.

In short, pop culture references aren't supposed to be empty, pointless, random or forced.

Instead they are supposed to have a context, sound natural and have a point. A good writer also knows that sometimes you need to hide your references.

Because it's not really about the reference. It's about the situation itself.

Doesn't seem that hard, right?

Depends really on who's writing the reference. It can be really good. It can be really bad.

Family Guy has made a virtue out of making empty, random and totally pointless references. The show is basically nothing more than flashbacks and cutaways to some 80's incident or person. No need to respect a show like that.

Nevertheless, one of the worst, if not actually the worst reference ever, was the reference in one of Community's episodes. An empty, random, pointless, out of the blue reference of one character saying "I love you" and the other one saying "I know". (Star Wars)

The fans of the show say that Community is about some clever meta-level stuff. But you don't have to go further than that to understand that there really is no there there.

No cleverness, no point, random, no context. It's just there in the open. Empty and tired.

But "I love you" - "I know" isn't necessarily a bad reference itself. You just have to know how to use it.

For example, how would 30 Rock reference it? Well, I would think that it would involve an exchange of thoughts between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. Perhaps they would be drunk... and the following lines would be said:

Liz Lemon: "Oh Mr. Donaghy, you are such a wonderful person" (beat)

Jack Donaghy: "I love you too, Lemon" (beat) "I'm sorry, I meant to say I know".

Or you could switch and first say "I know" and then "I'm sorry, Lemon, I meant to say I love you too". Depending on which one would give it a better flow.

In any case, notice how the reference is consistent with Alec Baldwin's character. It's natural, it has a point and it's not completely obvious.

You didn't notice it? That's why it's a good reference.

Hot shows that really aren't that hot.

I don't know if there's a better example of cluelessness in the screenwriting "business" than the following one.

Not naming any names but there was a discussion about what tv shows are the hottest for a "spec" writer. A guy supposedly in-the-know said that those are Modern Family, Community and Parks & Recreation.

Obviously Modern Family is one. Emmy award for best comedy series and also a pretty big ratings hit. So no problems there.

But what on earth are Community and Parks & Recreation doing on this list?

When you think about writing a spec for an existing show, you have to think about three different things:

1) Is the show a ratings hit?
2) Does the show get awards or at least nominations?
3) Do showrunners like this particular tv-series?

So "Community" is the big thing right now? Online raves about it. Film school enthusiasts can't seem to get enough of the show.

Here's the reality check:
1) Community gets horrible ratings.
2) It doesn't win any awards or even get nominations.
3) Showrunners do not apparently think much of it.

One that I know called it simply "a tired show".

Steven Levitan, a showrunner for Modern Family said that Community "has some strong dialogue", which in reality means that it doesn't have character or storytelling strengths. So I guess it's not that good.

But the "online" loves it. And the film school people...

As for Parks & Recreation, it didn't get ratings, any awards or nominations and in fact, wasn't even on. Yet it's a "hot" show.

Somebody is simply not telling the truth here.

The hot shows to spec are still those that get awards or the audience. These are shows like 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family... perhaps even 2 1/2 Men.

Oh, and South Park. Let's not forget that one.