Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bill Hicks' last interview.

This is my one hundreth post here and instead of trying to say anything meaningful myself, I decided to post something that in my opinion is pretty awesome and profound - Bill Hicks' last interview.

Even though I'm a huge fan of the guy, the first time I heard about the late Hicks was about five years ago - when I had written a two-part Boston Legal spec, that mainly dealt with the JFK assassination.

I remember checking youtube back then if there was something interesting about the murder that I could find. Naturally there was, lots and lots of videos that I hadn't seen. After all, I had only read those damn books before.

So, one of the first videos that I found was titled 'Bill Hicks on the JFK assassination'. "Bill Hicks, who is this guy?", I was thinking. I had never heard about him before. Was he supposed to be a comedian or something?

Well, it took me like fifteen minutes or so - or was it five minutes - before I understood that this guy had mad insights. Not only did he know exactly what he was talking about, he also managed to be funny as hell. He was super-seriously super-funny.

Of course in today's world 'funny' can mean many things. We pretend that a lot of shows and a lot of people are funny, even though in reality they really aren't. We pretend that they have something meaningful to say - even when they don't.

Bill on the other hand was funny because he was real and what he said was the truth. When he opened his mouth, he did it because had something to say. What he said had meaning. What he said had value.

If you watch his last interview, it's pretty amazing how relevant everything that he said still is. None of the portions feel dated, even though the interview was conducted twenty years ago. In many ways it's one for the ages.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spec script mistakes: outdating your script on purpose.

Probably the very first thing that you learn from tv writing books is that you should never spec shows that have already gone off the air. That is because nobody's going to read your outdated spec. Those scripts are goners.
At the same time, it seems that not enough attention is paid to the fact that just because you wrote a script for a show that still exists - a show that might exist for years to come - your script might already be pretty outdated.

But how can it be so? How can it really be a goner? I mean, it's just a spec and a writing sample from me. It's not meant to be sold. It's meant to be read. The show is still on.

The paradox in this whole thing is that even though spec scripts are not meant to be sold or produced, they're still supposed to be relevant and actual. It's much better if your script is up to date within the show's universe.

Every spec script gets outdated at some point - sooner or later - but there's no point in giving it a short life span. At least when you do it on purpose. The longer you can keep it 'alive' and in theory producable, the better.

Serialized tv shows are admittedly the most difficult to spec and die fastest. It's not fun to spec a show like 24 or Lost or Prison Break. There's not much point in writing a stand-alone episode. You have to write an episode that fits within its current season's story arc.

Therefore, "serializing" your script if you don't have to do it, is probably the worst mistake that you can make when it comes to your script's life span. No matter what you do, don't make your script about something that can't happen anymore.

If you want a good (bad) example, let's take a look at a show like Modern Family that gives you plenty of opportunities to keep your spec fresh and alive. It's one of the safer shows out there. (South Park being probably the safest).

Nevertheless, I managed to read a logline for a spec script that read like: "While Gloria is pregnant, Manny and Jay.." & "Now that Haley has moved out..". Lots of restrictions already in the logline for the reader.

Let's be honest here. This script was filmable for like three months at most when it comes to the pregnancy.. and perhaps for like two weeks before Haley was expelled and came back to the Dunphy house.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't ever do something like this. At least for me it's pretty obvious that the longer I can keep my spec alive, the better. Making it unfilmable right from the start is just...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Best 'Save The Cat' moment ever?

To be honest, I haven't thought this much, but I watched Notting Hill again a while ago and thought that it was a very well made movie. Especially when it came to the script. Of course the acting was good too.

Now, as many are aware, Blake Snyder's Save the Cat book series is about deconstructing movie screenplays. His books deal with the structure of the movies and teach the readers to write scripts themselves.

Anyway, in his books there's this concept of 'saving the cat', which basically says that the audience needs to have a reason to root for the main character(s). There has to be something in the script that makes us interested in them.

It sounds simple, and it kinda is too, but you wouldn't believe how many movies manage to screw it up. Too many times the writers simply didn't get it.

Notting Hill on the other hand does it probably better than any other movie.

What makes this scene so great is that not only does it put Hugh Grant's main character into a tough and an awkward spot, but the way he sorts it out tells the audience that he's a really good person.

I don't know about you, but if I were Julia Roberts' character in that situation, I would be impressed as hell. Maybe it wouldn't make me fall in love with the person in question immediately..

..but it certainly would make me feel good about life - which is exactly what great writing is all about.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Storytelling based on kindness: Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

It's not a secret that John Hughes is one of my heroes when it comes to writing. I'm not sure if I know any other screenwriter who has been able to create as many memorable and relatable characters as he did.

In my opinion, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of the best examples, if not the best, on how to create likable, relatable characters. Both Steve Martin and John Candy really shine in this movie. It's their brightest hour (and 25 minutes).

The movie's storytelling is based on kindness - and yet the characters in the movie aren't nice all the time. In fact, this Steve Martin & John Candy vehicle is especially famous for its scenes where the characters don't act nice at all.

There's for example the confrontantion in the motel room, where Martin & Candy say awful things to each other. They both really get to the bottom of it and don't watch what they're saying. It's just brutal.

There's also the famous scene at the car rental where Martin's character Neal Page goes on an epic tirade in which he mostly uses the f word. The way he treats the chirpy customer service worker is mindboggling.

Based on these two scenes only, you wouldn't think that Plains, Trains & Automobiles could be a heartwarming movie. Nevertheless, it manages to be one and that's because the writer-director John Hughes knew what he was doing.

That is that already in the first scene that we see in the movie, the audience really identifies with the main character. When we see Steve Martin in the congress room, stuck in the meeting, one can't help but to think that we know exactly what he's going through.

The same goes also for us seeing John Candy's character when he apologizes for 'stealing' the cab. In order to make up for his mistake, he wants to provide Martin's character squishies, slurpies and stuff. Save the cat moment, I guess.

From the very beginning, the movie get its right, and the first scene is one of the best opening scenes in the history of movies. It's elegant in its simplicity, but it's also absolutely hilarious in an understated way. It gets the movie going.

I guess the movie isn't perfect, but yet in so many ways it's amazing that it's possible to create an experience like Planes, Trains & Automobiles, a film, that at the same time manages to be not only funny, but also honest and sad.

There are so many things to learn from it - but if there's one thing above others, it is that if you can create characters as immediately relatable as John Hughes did here, then pretty much anything is possible.

Anyway, here's the opening scene.. ..and the rest of the film too. I never seem to get tired of watching this wonderful, kind movie.