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.