Monday, December 10, 2012

Another Modern Family spec script.

I know I was supposed to publish my second Modern Family spec at some point. So here it is:

The characters on the show have always been a bit two-dimensional so I tried my best to make them a bit more believable in this script. Whether I succeeded is of course another story.

When it comes to the script, the Mitchell & Cam storyline is pretty straightforward. So is the one with Jay & Phil going to the charity auction. The Haley & Alex storyline, however, was a lot trickier to write.

Story A: Mitchell's big day in court. Since we hadn't seen Mitchell doing any lawyering before, I thought it was about time. So I gave him a big case, and made him afraid of the whole thing. Closing arguments, huh..

I guess this one was somewhat tricky too, because I couldn't discuss the specifics of the case. I also brought Cameron with him, which I thought wasn't necessarily that plausible, but since Mitchell's car didn't start, maybe it was okay that I kept them together.

I think the storyline is about emotions and not about the actual case or the details. That's why when Mitchell gives his speech, we can't really get to hear what he's actually saying. We simply don't know enough about the case so music and gestures it is.  

Story B: Jay & Phil go to a charity. I can't remember where I got this idea from, but since Jay is so rich, I thought it would be fun if he'd do something with that money.. and be a bit childlike. Maybe he was really missing that one card when he was a kid. Besides it's a charity (to soften the motivation).

I thought it would be best if I'd let Phil join with Jay. The trick is that Claire calls Jay and asks him to look after her husband, because Phil wants to go too and we know Phil. Once they get together and no women are around, Jay tells Phil what's going on. (to get the story straight)

When they get to the auctioning event, there are two 'wants' going on. Jay wants that card and the audience probably wants to see Phil make bids. So I achieved this by creating an obstacle when a business acquaintance of Jay's shows up. For business reasons Jay told that person he's almost broke..

So, we have an obstacle, which is a good thing. Next we get an observation from Phil, who says that he can do the bidding for Jay. He sees the opportunity too, so Phil does the bidding. Therefore Jay gets what he wants and so does the audience. Obstacle, observation, opportunity.

Story C: is the most difficult one to write. It starts on page six and ends on page twenty. So it's the last that gets going and the first that finishes (if the tag doesn't count). It's basically about Haley being a bit depressed and wanting to spend time with her sister.

Haley joins Alex who's acting like a good girl once again. She is doing her 'pick one piece of litter a day' stuff. Haley is sad and says that nothing goes her way in life. Everyone is against her, the whole world. So Alex suggests that Haley could make the world a bit better place, one piece of litter at a time.

The really tricky part here is that there's not that much time for Haley to feel somewhat happier about herself and to believe in what Alex is doing. It wasn't easy to write stuff that culminated in Alex going against her good girl image and fake smoking a cigarrette on purpose.

Anyway, Claire sees this and there's the confrontation based on a misunderstanding. At least the idea is pretty funny. Claire thinking that they smoke and Haley reinforcing the belief and saying that, ahem, 'what they do' is awesome.

This is the first draft, not polished and not really spell-checked, but I guess I can do those things later.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Angus and Charlie said it like it is.

I had decided that I wouldn't write anything about Angus T. Jones calling Two and A Half Men 'filth' and saying that we shouldn't watch it. 

Unfortunately, I then happened to read Ken Levine's completely one-sided post about the issue and decided that I need to weigh in because the whole thing makes me feel pretty mad.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't find some of the comments that Angus has made about his beliefs and religion a bit troubling, because, I think everyone perhaps should.  

Also, I'm not saying that in a somewhat normal situation I wouldn't find him to be a somewhat ungrateful person for making millions from a show and then openly trashing it. 

But we're talking about Two and A Half Men here, the ultimate flagship of lazy, unambitious, crappy writing, a show that doesn't represent any values,  a show that doesn't even pretend that it's trying to make the world a better place.

It's run by Chuck Lorre, the guy who wrote in a  public vanity card (when Charlie Sheen was in rehab) 'jokingly' that he hopes that Sheen dies before he does.

Even only based on that, I think it's more than understandable if the stars of the show at some point simply aren't able to take it anymore. (Sheen called it eight years of emotional oppression)

But what really troubles me is how the media plays this thing. According to them, anyone who walks away from 'easy' money.. ..well, that person can't be trusted.

I mean, why did Sheen walk away from a show that made him millions? Why? He must be crazy.

Now it's the same situation with Angus. He's made millions from the show. Why would he do this? He must be.. (pick your word).

The only person from the original cast who hasn't had enough is Jon Cryer. He plays Alan who is basically a man-whore on the show.

For some reason the media thinks that he is the good guy here. They think that it takes a lot of courage to take the money and not say a damn thing about the lack of morals and the lack of quality on the show.

That's not how it's supposed to go. Right?

Monday, November 19, 2012

A sitcom book that doesn't suck.

Well, I finally decided to write about a book that isn't completely useless when it comes to writing spec scripts. In fact, I would go as far as to say that 'Elephant Bucks' - by Sheldon Bull - is the best how-to sitcom book out there.

There are numerous reasons why the book is better than the rest out there and one of the most important reasons is that the book actually makes sense. By that I mean that after you read it, the chances are that you might start writing and stop procrastinating. At least that's what happened to me.

So, the book has a great section about structure. It gives you seven plot elements that you should think about when you're trying to come up with a story/storyline. (depending on your character, active or passive, these are first goal/problem, obstacle, first action, act break, second problem/goal, second action and resolution).

The reason that this section is so good and helpful is that it concentrates on characters and what motivates them. Nothing is more important than your characters wanting or needing to solve something. If your characters don't have a goal or a problem, they're stuck in a room doing nothing like Penny, Amy & Bernadette on the Big Bang Theory.

Perhaps the most important thing that I learned about structure is the 'first action', which Sheldon calls 'an unwise decision'. This decision is important, because when your character does something, ahem, unwise, that action can develope into an actual storyline - not just into a series of pointless 'and then' scenes that South Park's Trey Parker has talked about.

It is of course up to you to come up with those ideas, but 'unwise decision' is a much easier term to understand than the usual 'inciting incident'. I still haven't figured out what that really means. I don't think there's any reason to make structure intentionally difficult to understand and Sheldon, unlike others, makes it pretty easy for the reader (he really does).

The way Sheldon's book differs from all those others, is that in 'Elephant Bucks', he actually writes an episode with us (Frasier). This is such a simple idea and it works beautifully because we get to read how Sheldon plans his episode and what his thought processes throughout the script are. He goes step by step through those seven plot elements, and voila, in the end it turns out we have come up with pretty good storylines and a script.

Other than that, there's stuff like editing your script and how to rewrite dialogue among other things that are really valuable. Brevity in scriptwriting is usually a virtue, so it doesn't hurt that Sheldon chimes in on that.

I also have to say that there's another big gem in the book besides that 'unwise decision' and that is Sheldon's advice that you should write your script as a drama first. After all, jokes are easy, storytelling isn't.

That's my advice to you too, because if you find a way to tell a dramatic story without threatening the status quo (character relations), you're almost bound to write better scripts than even the showrunners on their shows. If you understand drama and characters, you really don't need to understand much else.

Besides teaching us how to write a script, the book also has a second part which is about landing your job as writer. There's a lot of stuff about being a writer on a show, about agents, how to deal with network executives, what it feels like when you get rewritten and other useful things about how you should prepare yourself when you get your lucky break.

All in all, Elephant Bucks is one the very few books out there that actually makes sense and doesn't confuse you. What more as a writer can you ask for? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Similarities between poker and writing.

Above is a picture of Phil Hellmuth, a rather famous poker player who a month or so ago won his 13th World Series of Poker bracelet. (He has won more than any other person.) 

Now, the reason that I write about this is that poker and writing aren't that different in the end. Both are about understanding structure and about understanding players (characters). If you're not good at reading others or if you don't understand structure, you can't be a good poker player and you can't write good scripts.

Structure is really important for you to understand. It's your blueprint that you build on. It's the most important thing when it comes to planning. It allows you to use the rational part of your brain. It's also something that can be somewhat learned.

For example, in poker structure dictates what you can do. There are strategies that need to be known, like the unexploitable way to play when you have a short stack. Understanding structure gives you ideas and there's pretty much a right and a wrong way to handle certain situations.

When it comes to structure in writing, you have to know a lot of stuff. Like how to use exposition, how to introduce new characters, where the act breaks are, how long the script can go and so on and so on. It's basic and quite simple but not necessarily that easy to master. Structure is crucial to know and there's usually a right and a wrong.

But what is more important in my opinion is one's ability to read. Your ability to read characters and players. Your ability to know where you and others are so that you can react to the situations in hand.

I think this is an ability that you don't hear about enough when it comes to writing. In poker, you hear about it all the time. The best player is the one who makes the best reads. So, why aren't the writers talking about the ability to read characters that much? It might be that the best character reader is also the best writer too.

Phil Hellmuth especially prides himself on his ability to soul read players. This allows him to live in the moment and lets him make decisions based on his instincts. He usually has a pretty good idea on when to call, when to raise, when to fold and when to shove it all-in. This talent allows him to win tournaments quite often.

This reading ability, I believe, is mostly a gift. Some people have it, most unfortunately don't. Without it, you're pretty much lost. Therefore it's more important to be a great reader, because structure is something that you can learn but reading ability is something that you can't.

When it comes to writing, if you know the characters, you can safely concentrate on your plots. After all, character is the plot. So, the better you are at reading characters, the better your storylines, the better your script and the better your ability to write eventually will be.

It's that simple and I guess that's the reason why it's so hard.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Comedy should be taken seriously.

How many times have you heard the words: "Stop whining. Let's just relax and enjoy the show"? I don't know about you, but I've heard those words too many times. Way too many times.

"Lighten up, don't be so serious, this stuff is hilarious". If only it could work that way. If only it could...

"But but but, it's better than 90% what's on tv..." No, no, no.

There are too many shows currently on tv that aren't funny. Critics might recommend these shows and posters on message boards might be extatic over these, and yet the simple truth is that these shows are so bad that I can't relax and enjoy them.

No matter how many people might say otherwise..

For example, a show like 'New Girl' might be popular, but it's not funny because it's so implausible. It seems that no one paid attention - was serious enough - about the premise, characters and the storylines when they came up with the show.

Who thought that a weirdo girl living with three dudes in a high-end apartment would be plausible as a premise? Who thought that these shallow, empty characters would be relatable? Who thought that their non-existent problems would be interesting to the audience?

Probably no-one said, 'let's be serious for a moment'. I wonder what the executives were thinking. Did they think that people like me would like it? I hope they didn't say "this is going to be great".

The problem is that if you don't take comedy seriously, you can't help but to fail. There's no way you're going to create anything meaningful just by doing something half-baked and expecting it to work like magic.

It can only work if there's some serious thinking involved in the process. Even then it might not work, but at least there's a chance. Then I might enjoy it and relax.

When I take a look at a show like New Girl, I can only compare it to Ally Mcbeal. Because New Girl tries to be quirky like Ally, but it doesn't work at all because there's nothing whatsoever to build on. 

Ally Mcbeal worked because it was a serious and even a sad show at its core. It dealt with honest emotions. Even though the show sometimes was pretty absurd, it worked because David Kelley took his job seriously and treated his characters with honor and dignity.

New Girl, however, doesn't. I can't enjoy it, because too many people simply didn't do their jobs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nate Corddry on the cancellation of Harry's Law.

For some reason I managed to find this video of Nate Corddry ranting about the state of television.

I thought it'd be best if I'd share this here too. He's really mad that Harry's Law got cancelled, even though the show got really solid ratings.

Honestly. it's pretty much impossible not to agree with Nate here. Harry's Law was a show that respected your intelligence.

It wasn't David Kelley's best tv series, but every week it had something important to say about us and our society.

Here's for example one closing argument from Tommy Jefferson.

I think Star Trek The Next Generation's showrunner Michael Piller said it best: "If we only think of ratings and money, we lose everything that we are".

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A great Modern Family episode.

So, two episodes of Modern Family aired last evening. The first one, 'Schooled', was very good. The second one, 'Snip', unfortunately wasn't good at all. I'll write about the first one.

There was one thing that didn't work in the first episode, and that was right away when Luke commented how U.S spends China's money. Maybe someone wanted to make a small statement here but nevertheless there's no way that his character would be smart enough to know that. So that was just wrong.. ..even though he was right.

Once we got through the main titles, the episode became funny. Or should I say that it got pretty damn clever. There were lots of great lines throughout the episode, like Cam talking about clowns wearing make-up and stuff. Cam & Mitchell doing those male & female signs was also hilarious. It was absurd, but that's okay, because life's what it is. (too difficult to understand)

The reason that this particular episode worked so well is that all three storylines were more or less about our three couples working together and not arguing with each other for a change. Cam & Mitchell were pitted against the lesbian couple, Claire & Phil pulled it together when it came to Haley going to college and Jay & Gloria were having good time at that baby class.

There have been way too many episodes in which the couples argue with each other with no good reason (manufactured conflicts and drama). That they managed to go against those, I think, learned expectations was so refreshing and made the episode so much better. It made me feel that good things might still happen to Modern Family.

Another reason that the episode was so impressive is that all those storylines were easy to follow. There weren't too many characters in each scene that would confuse everyone from actors to director like the show unfortunately too many times has done. In that sense this episode was simple and let's face it, simple is always good. Simple works.

I guess there was this other thing that was a bit implausible and that was Phil's philosophy book. I mean, does someone actually believe that he would have a book written about his Philisms? I don't think so, but thankfully most of those lines or Philisms were clever and funny. Like the one about william hurt.

Other than that, the other episode got it all wrong, but this first one kinda, almost, disturbed me. Because, I want to be honest here, 'Schooled' had so many good things going on for it, that for a minute, I had to consider the idea that maybe these writers are better than I am.

I mean, the truth is that the minute (okay, make that two) I find that somebody has more raw writing talent than I have, I'll probably quit trying.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Olympic Games, Emmy Awards and doping.

I know that we had the Olympic Games in London two months ago but I guess I could write about it since I haven't seen most of the new shows yet.

In my opinion I think it's suitable to compare Olympic Games to Emmy Awards because in both you're for example trying to be the best. 

In the olympics, you're trying to win a gold medal, or at least trying to get yourself in the top three. At the Emmys, you're trying to win an Emmy, or at least try to get nominated.

If you happen to win an olympic gold medal, by any account you have to be extremely good and talented. Winning any medal or even getting to the finals is very difficult and is a reason to admire or at least to recognize the person in question.

When it comes to the Emmy's, winning usually means that you're good. For example, when David Kelley wins an Emmy, you know it had something to do with quality. Modern Family won this year too, and I guess it won because it was the best comedy out there.

However, being nominated - as in getting to the finals - doesn't mean that much. Even though it should. For example 'Girls' got boatloads of nominations this year, yet the show is not good. You don't make the final eight in the 100 meter dash by being as bad as Girls was.

Of course in sports it's not easy to make it to the finals and the athletes - a lot of them - use performance enhancing drugs. They use them because they make you a better athlete.

However, even though in Hollywood people use drugs, I don't think there are drugs that will make you a better writer. You pretty much have to depend on your talent.  Practice helps, but not as much as people think. You're basically on your own.

It's pretty difficult to cheat in the long run. I don't think there are any frauds among those who have won multiple Emmy awards. Sorkin, Kelley, Brooks and Bochco, for example are all legit. I guess that's a good thing.

But, you know, all that being said, when I watched the olympics I was pretty impressed. I liked what I saw most of the time.

When I watched the Emmys two weeks ago, I didn't find anything that would have really impressed me. It seemed that there's no real competition in the business anymore. Most were happy just to be able to show up.

I don't like that attitude at all myself.

I personally would like to see some real competition at the Emmys next year. But that would mean that we'd have great shows on tv. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.

Monday, September 17, 2012

First season of The Newsroom.

I think there are two kinds of opinions about the first season of Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom. A lot of the Democrats like it. Republicans pretty much all hate it.

I think objectively speaking The Newsrom was in some ways good and yet in other ways not that good.

I'll list things that didn't work.  First of all, the relationship drama was not interesting at all. I couldn't even follow what was going on. The characters talked too fast and basically had only one voice.   

Another thing that didn't work, were those news segments. You have a show about the newsroom and yet those 'live news parts' didn't work. Instead of showing us, The Newsroom told us over and over again.

These things bothered me so much that I almost quit watching after three or four episodes. Almost.

Thankfully, there were parts that worked really well. I think Will McAvoy's transformation from a sell-out newscaster to a fearless truth-teller was really impressive and Jeff Daniels did a superb job playing the character.

I think the best parts of the show were McAvoy's character dealing with situations that happened outside his workplace. For example the opening scene of the series in which he answers to an audience member at a university by telling her that the United States is really not the greatest country on earth.

Scenes like that were really something. They were natural and weren't forced. They told the truth. There weren´t that many of those but each and every one was worth seeing - like Mcavoy confronting a tabloid journalist or him watching tv at home and reacting to a newscaster having 'Bieber-fever'.

I don't think it's really a secret that the media doesn't do its job in the U.S. Therefore it's more than important that somebody tries to call them out on that. I think Sorkin is on a very important mission here, even if the show itself has a lot to improve.

Looking forward to season two.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Premise, characters, storylines.

So, I thought about why I have liked or haven't liked certain shows and decided to write a list based on factors that make me turn on or turn off the television. (mostly I turn it off nowadays)

I chose three factors: premise, characters and storylines. Those should be enough, I think.

There are different kind of premises. Some are more intriguing than others. Simple usually works. Prison Break for example was about a guy trying to free his (likely) innocent brother from jail. A simple premise and it turned out that the first two seasons were pretty awesome television.

Another show that had an interesting and simple premise was 24. At first I didn't believe that it could work but it turned out that I was wrong. Things happening in real time was rather interesting after all. Jack Bauer trying to save the day.

Or how about Lost. An airplanes crashes in to the sea and the survivors have to learn to live on an island that they know nothing of. Simple and pretty interesting.

However, there have been cases in which I have thought that premise was pretty uninteresting and not compelling at all. For example,  Flash Forward had a premise that... ..I mean, wasn't the premise about different people seeing things happening ahead of time and then basically living with that knowledge? Well, I can't remember anymore. It wasn't simple and it didn't work.

Another factor that is important to me are the characters. It's a good thing that they are likable. For example, I have pretty much always liked characters on David Kelley shows. They're likable, interesting and relatable. They're trying to do the right thing. Except for the villains of course, but let's face it, you need them too.

Another example of likable characters is for example The Big Bang Theory. We had the nerds who were intelligent and yet pretty clueless about how they or we are supposed to act in 'our' society. This was a great show until the characters started to change and became less likable.

Characters don't necessarily have to be that likable in order for me to like the show in question. For example, The Shield had a main character, Vic Mackey who in the pilot (I think) shot and killed an innocent cop. Not a good start. But rather quickly the characters became relatable and even though these were so called dirty cops, you were rooting for them.

At the same time, it doesn't really work for me if the characters aren't relatable. For example, I could not stomach Sopranos. I could not understand why someone could buy Tony Soprano first killing some guys and then going to see his therapist and talk about his issues. To me it was just too implausible.

Last, but not least we have the storylines. Storylines are based on characters and the premise, which is something that people in the industry don't pay enough attention to nowadays. (it seems that anything goes) They expect that the show works no matter what they do.

Yet, even though a premise sometimes isn't that great and the characters itself aren't that interesting, the show can still be good. Characters and premise are important but you can still sometimes do miracles if you're a great writer.

Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm for example didn't have a great premise or that likable characters but they were both pretty good shows because both were (Curb still is) professionally written. So it can be done. As long as you know how to tell a story.

But just because Larry David has been successful doing it (I don't have any other examples), you probably shouldn't push your luck. The risk of having no likable characters and no good premise probably won't do you any good.

Well, except in Hollywood maybe. But still, shows are about premises, characters and storylines. If you don't pay attention to the first two, the chances are that you're screwed no matter good you supposedly are as a storyteller.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Macgyver - still my hero.

Lately I've been watching reruns of Macgyver. I hadn't seen the show in years so I was curious whether it had stood the test of time. I mean, I remembered that it was pretty good back then when I was a kid but I wasn't sure what the grown up me would think about it now.

Fortunately, at least in my opinion, Macgyver is totally awesome even today. Or should I stay that it's totally awesome especially today. The show is idealistic, entertaining, well acted and well written, unlike the shows that we have on air nowadays. It's kinda shocking to see difference between now and then and how things have changed for the worse.

It's pretty difficult to say exactly why Macgyver was such a good show but one of the reasons for that has to be that everyone involved apparently really believed in what they were doing. These guys obviously weren't there to make a quick buck. They didn't come up with excuses why something supposedly couldn't be done. They did it anyway, no matter how hard it must have been.

That's basically also what the show was about. Macgyver got himself in trouble in every episode but he never took the easy way out. He never used guns, never lost his hope and most importantly never judged people. He was always there to find a solution to make things right, whether it meant coming up with macgyverisms or talking to people to change their attitudes. 

One of the best things about Macgyver was that the show had such memorable characters. Like Pete Thornton, the always reliable partner and a father figure to Mac. Or Jack Dalton, the lovable conman who always got himself and everyone around him in trouble. But most of all, the show had the most amazing villain in Murdoc, Macgyver's arch enemy who never seemed to die, even when he faced a seemingly certain death.

Of course the most important part of Macgyver was Richard Dean Anderson who played our hero with no first name. I have to give it to him because he was completely believable as Mac. He was funny, serious and optimistic at the same time. He kinda did what Tom Hanks did to Forrest Gump. I don't think anyone else would have pulled the role off. He even did all the stunts by himself.

There are so many good episodes that it's hard to tell which ones are my favorites. Nevertheless, the episodes with Murdoc were always something to look for. I also didn't have a problem with the episodes in which Mac was trying to make the world a better place. Furthermore, one has to give credit to the fact that they didn't shy away from showing Dana Elcar's (Pete) real life illness that gradually made him blind.

It's really a shame that they don't make shows like this anymore. It takes talent and idealism to make a show like Macgyver. In a way I can't help but to think that Hollywood doesn't have what it takes anymore.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Every scene should have a purpose.

Probably the most troubling aspect of The Big Bang Theory this season has been the fact that the girls have gotten individual scenes.

Why, you might say?

Well, I think the most obvious problem with this is that it has gone against the premise of the show. The Big Bang Theory was supposed to be about our four guys and a girl next door.

It was never meant to be about three girls.

The second problem with the girls having individual scenes is that it has marginalized Penny as a character. She used to be part of the gang and the voice of reason when the guys did something silly.

Nowadays she doesn't have a function on the show at all. That's bad too. She's useless even though she shouldn't be.

But the biggest problem I've had with this is that these individual girl scenes never have anything to do with the story.They're like cutaway scenes from Family Guy. They don't serve the story and are completely pointless.

This is so wrong. Every scene is always supposed to have a purpose. There aren't really any exceptions to this rule. 

The fact that they keep doing this over and over again just goes to show that they don't really care about their craft anymore.

If you don't belive me, watch the 'Stag Convergence' 5x22 with and without the girl scenes.

How is this even possible?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another Big Bang Theory spec script.

Here's another Big Bang Theory script that I wrote. This was when the show still rocked (between seasons 2 and 3) and all my friends watched it.

Anyway, let's see what the 'story', or the 'unstory' is.

Cold open: The guys are excited about the upcoming Comic Con. (Morena Baccarin baby!)  However, Leonard thinks that they have forgotten something, he just doesn't know what it is. Others disagree. Penny comes down and tries to help them with this.

Main Titles

Scene A: Howard comes in and sees Sheldon and Raj arguing about the Hulk movies. After they're done, he says that something unexpected has happened and it's possible that they might not get the tickets to the Comic-Con.

Scene B: Leonard shows up with the tickets but is still wondering that they have forgotten something. Sheldon insists that Leonard is paranoid, until Raj figures out that perhaps the thing that they forgot was Penny's upcoming birthday. Others agree. Birthday, of course!

Scene C: Guys try to figure out what to buy Penny. Nobody seems to come up with anything good and unsurprisingly Howard suggests buying erotic lingerie. No deal, and Sheldon is unwilling to pony up the dough.

Act Break.

Scene D: We are shown that the guys are having a Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock tournament to decide who has to or who gets to buy the gift. Then Penny shows up and the guys try to circle around what they're doing.

Sheldon eventually says 'enough' and tells Penny what it's about.. and that it's between Howard and Sheldon, who 'has' to buy the gift. This bothers Penny and things don't get better when 'sleazy' Howard wins the tournament.

Scene E: Leonard of course can't help himself  and goes to Penny's apartment to talk to her. Things don't go that well. Leonard explains the thought process behind the tournament. Big mistake. To make matters worse..

Leonard shoots himself in the foot multiple times. Like that he didn't lose to Howard, Comic-con is only once a year, unlike Penny's birthday and that simple things are hard to remember.. so does that make Penny simple?

Things get so bad that Leonard has to ask if there's even a birthday party the next day. Penny doesn't give an answer. In the end he promises to buy Penny a very expensive birthday gift to make up for his screw-ups.

Scene F: Leonard goes to the hallway, where he sees Raj and Howard. Leonard says that things didn't go well. Howard and Raj have decided what to buy Penny. It's a secret though.

Tag:  A scene at Penny's birthday. Finally we got see what they bought. Leonard has bought expensive jewelry and the guys.. they have bought Penny a ticket to Comic-Con. But where's the erotic lingerie?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

South Park is mean-spirited?

One thing that got me thinking was when an unnamed producer said that South Park is a mean-spirited show.

I thought that hmm.. mean-spirited? Let's see.

The video above is South Park's song about figure skater Brian Boitano.

I know, Brian Boitano might not say or matter that much to you.

Neither did he to me. But then I watched the video below:

I think the question has been settled: not mean-spirited.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Should there be an 'unstory' credit?

One of the thing that has been bothering me for quite some time is the fact that no matter how awful an episode of a show is, someone is usually entitled to a 'story' credit.

Especially on 'Two and a Half Men'. Teleplay by Lee Aronsohn, story by Chuck Lorre.

Even though that episode would have absolutely nothing in it that would constitute as a story, the writer in question gets a story credit.

That can't be right, but that's the way it goes.

A 'story by' credit should mean something. It should mean that someone has written something that not only entertains us but also makes us feel good inside.

But too many times there's no story in the script. There's only that credit.

There are exceptions of course. If someone alone writes the episode, then that person gets a 'written by' credit and teleplay/story doesn't come to play.

There's nothing wrong with that. 'Written by' doesn't mean that he or she is going to tell you a story. It only means that he or she wrote it. It's a neutral term.

Story by credit, however isn't.

So I'm thinking that this problem needs to be fixed. What if we'd come up with a new credit: 'unstory'.

Would that make the situation better?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Obstacles, but not observations and opportunities.

One of the reasons that I didn't like the latest episode of Modern Family (Election Day) was that the episode had too many setbacks. For example, Claire lost her tooth, Cam and Mitchell accidentally left their microphone on, Phil had to do favors to his neighbor and Jay ran into his former girlfriend that he didn't want to meet.

'Election Day' wasn't good because there weren't enough redeeming qualities in the episode. The storylines ran almost purely on obstacles and setbacks that didn't really add up in the end. It was just too obvious and I'm not a fan of writing like this.

If you want to write a script that runs on setbacks and obstacles, you'd better provide something that also counters the negative setbacks with some positive things. That would be something like having solutions, observations or opportunities for the characters. Otherwise your episode is going to be pretty depressing to watch.

Modern Family is supposed to be uplifting but it was pretty depressing to see Claire chipping her tooth and not recognizing the implications of that in the interview. I bet that in real life she would have observed that she had a problem. So that was lazy, one-dimensional writing.

I also didn't like when Cam & Mitchell left the microphone on and started badmouthing a person who was nearby. It just wasn't believable that they didn't observe their voice from the loudspeakers. (I did like when they saw an opportunity to use the mic but the setback just wasn't handled well)

Phil's problem with taking the old-timer to vote wasn't believable either. To me it felt like the obstacles were pretty randomly put together and weren't well thought out. Phil's reaction wasn't that he was going to handle the situation. It was more like him being a passive-aggressive passenger than being someone who saw an opportunity to save the day. It just wasn't good or funny.

The same unfortunately has to be said about Jay's storyline too. His obstacle was his former girlfriend as an official who apparently tried to prevent him from casting a ballot (that's supposed to be illegal by the way). There was no observation and no opportunity here either. Disappointing.

So, how do you handle an obstacle? How do you counter a negative with a positive that the audience doesn't know to expect? Well, I mean, I guess you just have to find a way. If your script has an obstacle, try to make an observation and try to find an opportunity for the characters. It's not easy, but you are supposed to write something that the audience wants to see but nevertheless won't see coming.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

South Park goes Bill Hicks.

So, South Park paid a tribute to Bill Hicks, the late comedian who unfortunately passed away 18 years ago at the age of 32. For quite some time I had been thinking that it would be fitting if Trey Parker and Matt Stone did a tribute to Hicks.

Fortunately I didn't have to wait that long. This nod to Hicks happened two weeks ago and the homage is in the episode 'Cash for Gold', 16x02.

The episode is about our guys getting back at a home shopping network that rips off gullible people. That is because Stan's grandpa buys him expensive jewelry that has no real value.

Once the kids find out that a six thousand dollar necklace is worth only twelve bucks at the pawn show, they think that something has to be done about it.

Cartman, of course, has his own schemes, in which he comes with his own home shopping network and jewelry line. Stan however begins making phonecalls to the network. He demands that the Jewelry Bonanza's Dean no less than 'kills himself'.

How this relates to Bill Hicks is of course that Hicks had his bit about advertisers and marketing people - who should simply kill themselves because they ruin everything that is good about life.

Admittedly that's a pretty tough stance that Hicks took, but he thought that anything should go - otherwise there would be no point to it at all. This is consequently something that Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park believe in too. If there's something that you can't say or do in a cartoon, then the whole thing becomes meaningless.

In theory nothing is supposed to be off-limits.

So naturally - based on that... umm.. principle - in 'Cash for Gold, it turns out that the guy from 'Jewelry Bonanza' does blow his brains out in the end. Not because it was a random act that didn't make any sense, but because the story became better and more meaningful because of it.

Anyway, here's Bill one more time from 'Revelations' (1993); Bill being fearless and honest at the same time. Like the guys behind South Park. We seriously need more people like them.

Ps. There's a meeting at the docks tomorrow.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Classic David E. Kelley character stuff.

The latest episode of Harry's Law reminded why I used to love watching David Kelley's shows back in the day.

Well, to be completely honest, this episode wasn't necessarily that great but it nevertheless had certain elements that other writers and showrunners aren't able to incorporate into their own shows. For one reason or another anyway.

What I mean by this is that Kelley has the ability to come up with ideas that are simple and yet at the same time remarkably effective. His ideas are psychologically axiomatic, whereas others tend to come up with ideas that are convoluted and derivative ..and perhaps even non-existent.

For example, the episode that aired on Sunday had a character who suffered from delusions and was institutionalized. So Harry meets this person, doesn't really want to believe what the guy is saying and even asks whether he has taken his meds as he's supposed to.

Of course this doesn't seem that interesting. That is until the guy tells us that he's aware of being delusional and that, yes, he has to take his medication. But even though he might he delusional about everything else, he's not delusional about this case, he says. So Harry needs to help him, otherwise justice won't be served.

Now, I don't know about you but at least to me this was exactly what writing is supposed to be about. We're supposed to create these underdog characters and 'one time' situations that give the audience a reason to give a damn about the story. There was a rooting interest here and it paid off nicely.

Kelley's Emmy winning series 'The Practice' probably did it better than any other show. I mean, I can still remember the lawyer who could never win a case, the cancer researcher who became an alcoholic after losing his most important trial and the old lawyer who wanted to win one more time before becoming incapacitated.

Those were awesome episodes that I can watch again and again. The premise was almost too simple in these cases. Well, almost. Because in the end there was nothing wrong about making it that way.

The truth is that just because your storyline isn't complex doesn't necessarily mean that it's bad and that it's going to suck. In fact, most of the time it's the other way around. Usually simple turns out to be good, honest, beautiful and real.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Writing another Modern Family spec script.

Well, truth to be told, I didn't feel like writing another Modern Family script. That's because I didn't think I would be able to come up with good story ideas. I also thought that there wouldn't be any point in writing another script because it probably wouldn't matter anyway.

But for some reason (perhaps to prove myself that I could write Haley & Alex) I did write it and what I learned from the experience is that you shouldn't judge yourself too easily. Just because you think you can't come up with anything new doesn't necessarily make it so. I think I actually came up with pretty good storylines.

Another thing I learned from writing the script is that you don't have to write that much every day. In fact, if you write a mere two pages a day - and that's not much - you'll write a script in just two weeks. That's something that everyone should keep in mind if they think that writing a spec takes too much time.

The thing is that I didn't write more than two pages a day. Not even once. The minute I had reached my goal for the day, I closed the screenwriting software. I didn't have to do more than that. (not that I was particularly motivated either)

As usual, I tried to come up with an outline because that's how you're supposed to write your scripts. So what happened was that I really tried to try and I wanted to have some kind of a blueprint to work from. But as usual, I just couldn't come up with one this time either. I just wrote and hoped for the best.

Oh, the storylines. They are (in no particular order):

The first one, is about Alex and Haley getting to know each other better. Since Haley doesn't have anything better to do that day, she joins Alex who has her 'pick one piece of a litter a day' project going on. The twist here is that Claire, who happens to be jogging at the same time gets these two in the act - smoking that is. Except that Alex & Haley aren't really smoking.

The second storyline is about Jay and Phil going to an auctioning event. Claire, who is worried that Phil might make stupid bids, calls Jay and asks him to join and to look after his husband. Jay doesn't have a problem with this - because the audience knows that he's determined to get one specific item from the auction - at any cost.

The third storyline is about Mitchell having his big day at the court. However, he is so worried about screwing up his closing argument that Cameron has to calm him down and make sure that he won't fall apart.

I also have some stuff for Manny and Gloria, but four storylines in one episode is too much, so I had to take that into consideration. Other than that, the Mitchell & Cameron storyline doesn't have any twists so that one runs purely on observations that hopefully make sense.

Anyway, I'll publish the script at some point.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

About scene descriptions and dialogue.

I received a comment, among other things, about me sometimes not using any scene descriptions in my scripts. This got me thinking why I tend to do that and what's the rationale behind it.

So I gave it some thought and I think the reason for me sometimes going straight to the dialogue - and not writing anything that establishes or describes the scene - is because in certain situations it doesn't really matter what the characters are doing.

I guess to some that might sound weird, but nevertheless, what is much more important is what the characters are actually saying.

For example in my Modern Family script, in the very first scene, Cam and Mitchell are having a discussion about doing something. Cameron wants to do it and Mitchell is kinda against it, whatever that is.

So there they are, in their familiar bedroom set, and I go straight to the dialogue without giving you any clue what they are doing there. (I think we can assume that it's just them)

I could and should have described what they were doing and yet I didn't. I simply skipped that part and didn't check back again.

I mean, they might just have been standing there (probably). But they might also have been in the bed. Or they might have been eating something. Or they might have been doing yoga or something equally silly.

Or perhaps the whole thing might also have happened completely off-screen. I don't know.

I just didn't pay any attention to what they were doing because in the end it wouldn't really have made much of a difference here. I only paid attention to make sure that what they said actually meant something.

Scripts are based on ideas - and characters saying stuff is what drives those ideas. Dialogue is what gives your story energy, direction and purpose. Scene descriptions on the other hand... well, don't forget them, but sometimes they just aren't that important.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Celebrity Apprentice 2012.

The new season of Celebrity Apprentice is on and after seeing the first two episodes, I'm not exactly sure what to think of this. This might become a pretty good season, like the one with Bret Michaels, or this might become a really bad season, like the one with Joan Rivers.

One of the biggest problems I have with the 2012 edition is that there aren't that many strong female contestants. In fact, the only ones that I knew of before are Lisa Lampanelli from those Comedy Central roasts and Tia Carrere. The rest of the women, unfortunately I just haven't heard about them before. So that's a pretty bad sign.

The good thing about this season is that there are pretty famous guys on men's team. For example, Penn Jillette, George Takei, Clay Aiken, Arsenio Hall and Lou Ferrigno. In fact, I recognize all of them, since the rest are Michael Andretti, Paul Teutul sr, Dee Snider and Adam Carolla.

After two episodes, it's not that hard to guess who might win the competition. I think just about everyone likes Clay Aiken and Penn Jillette. That's because not only are they both very intelligent and creative, they also seem to be exceptionally nice people.

In Aiken's case, how can you not like a guy who has (besides singing) taught for autistic children? It's hard to think of any other profession that would keep you down to earth like helping disabled kids does. Other than that, Aiken of course is gay, and at least in my book that's a plus.

Penn Jillette is the other person that everyone expects to win. Before this season started, I didn't know anything about him as a person. But then I managed to watch his Apprentice promo on youtube. I just couldn't believe how thoughtful he was and how different his approach is compared to an 'average' or to a 'stereotypical' apprentice contestant.

For example, in that clip he says that doesn't understand people who base their lives on 'winning' and that if he has to hurt another person in order to 'win', he's just not going to do it. He just wants to do good things on the show and that should be enough. This all kinda goes against the premise of the show, so Penn Jillette's down to earth approach makes the show almost a bit tough to watch.

But I'm going to keep watching and I'm looking forward to hearing more gems from Jillette, like the one from the first episode. He said that 'real tough guys are the ones that never let you know they're tough'. That's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard anyone say.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Big Bang Theory's 100th episode.

This screencap is of course from The Big Bang Theory's second season and to be more precise, from 2x17, 'The Terminator Decoupling'. That episode isn't perhaps the best in the series - but just take a look at the picture: Horny Howard trying to get the hot girl.

Pretty awesome in my opinion.

Now, let's flash forward to the one hundreth episode of The Big Bang Theory, 5x13 The Recombination Hypothesis. It's the episode in which Leonard and Penny go out. Well, kinda, because in the end it turns out that it was just a dream.

This 100th episode was supposed to be special - in a good way - but unfortunately it just wasn't. This was simply a terrible episode. It didn't celebrate our geeks, their friendship or their ideals and it didn't take a look back at what made the show good in the first place.

Instead, it did the complete opposite. It promoted almost every aspect of the show that hasn't worked in recent years. Like not having a plot, not having science and not having any enthusiasm in the episode.

It was really frustrating to watch an episode that basically consisted of dick-jokes and Leonard's passive-aggressive moping, 'Lenny' hating his life, hating others and then of course getting in bed with Penny. It was honestly depressing and sad. No jokes, no story, no nothing.

Unfortunately, what's worse is that the Lenny & Penny chemistry-free uncomedy probably wasn't even the worst part of the 100th episode special. Because I think that the worst part was this:

Bernadette and Amy Farrah Fowler talking dirty for no reason at all.

I mean, how is it be possible that characters that didn't even exist 1-2 years ago have now almost taken over the show? This is so wrong and so against the premise. You don't give secondary characters individual scenes. You just don't never ever do that.

But they do this anyway, and now we're supposed to be interested in Amy's smoking monkey, Amy playing her harp, her being Sheldon's girlfriend and her wanting to have sex with Penny (!).

This stuff is so pointless, depressing and weak that I'm wishing that maybe these last two seasons never happened and that perhaps it was just a dream.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Modern Family spec script.

I decided to make my first Modern Family spec script available, so there you are.

Once again it's pretty difficult to tell how good the script is but at least I tried to keep the storylines somewhat simple, logical and straightforward. I also tried to keep the reader interested in what was going on.

Another challenge was how to deal with the information, "who knows what and when" - how to reveal information to the characters and to the audience.

For example, in Gloria's and Jay's storyline about Gloria wanting to buy a tandem bike, I think I had to keep what she wanted hidden as long as possible. If they would have mentioned the bike in their first scene, would anyone have cared about what happened in the next scene? My guess is a pretty solid no.

The storyline about Cam and Mitchell taking Lily to a babyswim was also pretty challenging. Again, I had to keep the Fizbo part hidden. If Mitchell had known about it in the first scene, they would never have gotten to the swimming hall. Of course it's another question whether one finds this storyline plausible.

The third storyline was about Phil meeting his college buddy for the first time in years. His friend used to have a drinking problem so the question was whether he was still an alcoholic. This storyline was a serious one but I thought it was a good idea to show Phil as a real person and not just as a harmless goofball.

Modern Family usually has storylines that in the end tend to converge. The problem with these endings has been that the lessons or happy endings have usually been implausible. So I tried to circumvent the problem by being tongue-in-cheek instead of using voice-overs that wouldn't have worked.

As I said, I don't know how good the script is, but I did write it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Worst spec script mistakes ever: criticising looks.

You might have already read my post about the guy who wasn't able to write a coherent logline (but managed to win a competition). That's probably the biggest mistake you can make based on your lack of intelligence - lack of IQ that is.

However, that still leaves us the mistakes you can make based on your lack of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately this is an area where you can make even bigger mistakes than writing loglines that don't make sense.

I found one when I managed to read a Modern Family spec that boldly went where many hadn't gone before - that is, totally superficial.

It was pretty hard for me to believe what I was reading, but nevertheless, this writer's storylines were all about how someone looks and how the characters would change the appearance of others if they could.

Cameron this, Mitchell that, Jay this, Gloria that, Claire this, Phil that. Looks, looks, looks.

You know, unless the premise of the show is "the fat guy and.." (King of Queens, Mike & Molly), you don't bring up someone's appearance. You may and even should complain about someone's habits, but you don't complain about the looks. Because doing that is simply wrong. It's inhuman.

The whole point of writing is that looks don't matter. It's what's inside that counts.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Modern Family's disappointing third season (so far).

I think it's pretty safe to say that Modern Family has had a disappointing third season so far. I haven't laughed and I haven't been moved. Out of eleven episodes that have aired, only one in my opinion has been good.

There are of course numerous reasons why the show hasn't been entertaining. The characters haven't been particularly likable, there are too many storylines on every episode and the plots don't make sense either. Also, the wrap endings have been almost completely implausible.

Nevertheless, probably the biggest reason that the show lacks in quality is because the creator of Modern Family, seven time Emmy winner Christopher Lloyd, apparently hasn't contributed anything to the show this season.

The only good episode, 'Treehouse', was written by the other showrunner, Steven Levitan. That episode unfortunately happens to be the only one that Levitan has written this season.

To me this shows once again that there aren't that many talented writers in Hollywood. The difference between 'Treehouse' and the rest of this season's episodes is simply too big. 'Treehouse' is such a lovely episode, those others just aren't.

I can't help but to think how much better Modern Family would be if it had more good writers like Levitan. The audience deserves better than this.

Is there any chance that they could work a little bit harder on the show? I mean, they must be aware that things aren't going that well despite the ratings and the awards.