Saturday, May 23, 2015

I'd like to see a good lawyer show on tv again.

It's not exactly a secret that I have been a fan of numerous television shows that were created by David E. Kelley. I loved watching Picket Fences, I loved Ally Mcbeal, I loved The Practice and I also liked watching Boston Legal too.

All these shows had something to do with the law and how the justice system is supposed to work. Even though Picket Fences was also about other things and Ally Mcbeal was partly a romantic comedy, all these shows were shows that you were able to take seriously.

Nevertheless, after Boston Legal went off the air in late 2008 and after the cancellation of Harry's Law in 2012, there haven't been any lawyer shows on television that have been worth watching. Unfortunately all of them have been pretty horrible.

I have tried watching shows like The Good Wife and Franklin & Bash, but to be honest, there's really no reason to waste your time watching them. You won't learn anything about anything. What's even worse, these shows aren't even entertaining.

One of the biggest reasons - if not the biggest reason - that all the current lawyer shows suck is that none of these people who are making these shows actually have a clue what they are doing. They simply don't understand drama.

The truth is that making legal stuff entertaining isn't that easy. It's not easy to come up with a good lawyer show concept because jurisprudence by default isn't that interesting. You need writing talent in order to make the audience care.

I mean, it's not compelling tv when nothing's at stake. It's not good television when the characters aren't taking their jobs seriously. The audience doesn't care when our protagonists grandstand instead of defending their clients like there's no tomorrow.

Instead of having shows where both sides have equally strong arguments, we have shows where there aren't any real arguments. The cases aren't believable or meaningful. They aren't important and most certainly they aren't well represented.

Instead of these lawyers giving us well thought-out closing arguments full of soul, substance and entertainment, what we get is stuff where the characters mainly show up in the courtroom, smugly spout a few random lines and then leave. 

That's not how it's supposed to go. As unfortunate as it is, long gone are those days when the cases would actually make you think and even consider your views. Gone are those days when you were on the edge of your seat and couldn't wait to see what happens next.

In any case, even though the last few years haven't been kind to lawyer shows, that doesn't mean that things can't get better. We just need to have the right people making these shows -  talented people who know what they're doing and actually care.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

How to be truthful and kind at the same time.

So how can one be both truthful and kind as a writer and as a human being? It's not always easy and sometimes you unfortunately can't be both at the same time. In my opinion, here are at least some of the things that you should usually consider:

1. Be informed and know how things really are.

One of the things that I have learned over the course of years is that I need to do my due diligence. If I want to be truthful, I need to know what I'm talking about. This means that I need to learn and pay attention to the subject matter in question.

The more you know, the easier it becomes to give an opinion. Also, being an 'expert' on something makes you more relaxed and less emotional. The more you know, the more people are likely going to respect your opinions.

2. Try not to get personal - get rid of your ego.

It's not exactly a secret that the bigger your ego gets, the worse your behavior in most cases is going to get.  The best way for things to stay at least somewhat professional is to be constantly aware of our weaknesses and flaws.

In all fairness, sometimes it might be somewhat understandable that things get a bit personal. That means that you won't be particularly nice about the things that you're saying. In these cases, you should make sure that what you're saying is the truth.

3. It doesn't hurt to be funny and entertaining.

The best get-out-of-jail-free card is that you keep the entertainment values high. Nobody likes a person who doesn't have a sense of humor. It sure helps to keep things positive when you manage to entertain your audience at the same time.

For example, Bill Hicks was able to get away with just about anything. Very few people think that the things that he said were actually mean. He was brutally honest but since he managed to also entertain us, he was able to win us over.

4. Defend those who deserve it.

When I write a critique of a television show, I'm thinking about the folks at home that deserve to be entertained. If the show isn't any good, my responsibility is to be completely honest about it.  I'm supposed to inform you what's wrong and why.

I'm not supposed to defend those people who are responsible for producing those shows. They get paid no matter how bad those shows are. I'm suppose to defend those viewers at home (millions). Nothing is more cruel than sucking up to those in power for access.

5. Easy targets are sometimes too easy.

If I wanted to, I could write every week about all those terrible shows that are genuinely beyond awful. Since there are only a few quality shows on television at the moment, there are like hundreds of bad shows that I could critique all year long.

Yet, I don't think there's any point in that. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel. It gets boring really fast and nobody likes a person who keeps repeating the same thing over and over again. Don't be too negative when it's not required.

6. Say it like it is.

Many times I'm afraid of writing because I'm worried that I'm not being nice enough. I'm afraid that people are going to get mad at me. I kinda feel that I should keep my mouth shut so that nobody would have negative feelings towards me.

Yet, once I've tried my best to be truthful about the subject matter in question, it becomes usually apparent that what I wrote might have some actual value. It doesn't look as bad as I thought it would look and it's not as personal as I thought it would be.

7. Don't expect to be rewarded.

Finally, this is a thing that can't be stressed enough. Whenever you say something to anyone, no matter how well you said it and no matter how truthful and kind you were, don't expect that they should now give you something back in return.

The biggest reward for being a truthful and a kind person in all its simplicity is that you are an honest and a kind person. If that doesn't pay you off at some point in life, then so be it.  In many cases however, good things will eventually happen to you.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Modern Family: uplifting jokes save an episode.

One of the things that I have tried to teach to anyone who reads this blog is that you shouldn't pay too much attention to your jokes. Instead, when you write scripts, you should pay a lot more attention to your storylines. 

If your storylines don't work, no matter how much and no matter how hard you try to 'fix' your script by making your jokes - funny moments - funnier, you can't make your episode as a whole work.  You need to fix your storylines first so that your jokes have the chance to work.

Nevertheless, there are situations where your storylines are almost good enough. They should and could be better, but your script includes elements that aren't completely hopeless. In these cases it might come down to how good your jokes are.

I think Modern Family's episode S6E22 is a good example of this. Even though there are pretty obvious story-logic problems especially with the episode's main storyline, in my opinion the episode was still surprisingly enjoyable to watch as a whole.

I mean, when it came to the flaws, there's pretty much no way on earth that Alex or Sanjay (where did that guy come up from?) would be crowned the valedictorian based on who runs 1 mile faster on a race track. The setup was convoluted to say the least.

Also, there were other minor problems too with the storyline that included Cameron & Mitchell taking part in a gay rally. I still haven't really figured out what happened in the opening scene in which a gay couple taunted Cam & Mitch.

Yet, for some reason this episode had a pretty uplifting mood and it didn't take itself too seriously. In my opinion the jokes - or should we call them funny moments - were likely the best that we had seen this season. They were genuinely hilarious and in character.

For example, I don't usually laugh out loud, but I got a good chuckle out of Manny's interview where he said that Gloria had better become a U.S. citizen - before Jay goes to play harp with Hendrix. This was a funny moment and I couldn't help but to laugh.

I also found it funny when Alex and Sanjay started the race and refused to finish it. I thought it was hilarious when Dr. Patel mentioned that they paid 1200$ to have a 1 hour skype conference with Usain Bolt in order to prep Sanjay.

These weren't malicious jokes and perhaps the best thing about the episode - despite its structural shortcomings - is that it managed to stay tongue-in-cheek and likable. Even the usually annoying characters, Cameron & Mitchell were bearable this time.

In any case, the main storyline wasn't that bad. In the end Alex and Sanjay decided that perhaps they should start dating in order to see where things would go. This was a nice moment that helped me to forget that the episode had problems elsewhere. It felt almost real.

All in all, Modern Family's S6E22 could have been better when it comes to its storylines being plausible. Fortunately it had other redeeming qualities that made me actually like the episode as a whole. It was uplifting - and as far as I'm concerned, I'm happy with that.

Friday, May 1, 2015

It's Okay to be a "Self-Taught" writer.

One of the things that have bothered for years is the idea that it's not realistic to become a writer unless you were specifically trained to be one. If you didn't go to college to learn screenwriting and drama, the chances are that you can't become a great writer.

This is the point of view that is shared by at least some people in the academia. If you didn't learn drama the way they did, there must be something wrong with you. If you're trying to do it your way, well, things don't look too good.

Now, in my opinion there's nothing wrong in general about getting educated. I'm not a person who's against learning stuff. In fact, I think that one of the most important aspects of being a human being is to get educated and to become an informed person.

At the same time, when it comes to a thing like learning drama through formal education, I'm not someone who thinks much of it. In my opinion there are many aspects that speak against that. I don't think that people should go to a school to become a writer.

So what are the reasons that a person shouldn't go to college to study writing? After all, it's hard to think that studying something that you're interested in could actually be a bad thing. It sounds weird to say the least. 

In my opinion one of the problems with learning and teaching writing in general, is that it's difficult to learn if you don't have enough talent to begin with. You need to be talented as a writer, otherwise there's not that much that can be done.

Secondly, if you are a gifted writer, why would you go to a writing school in the first place? If you have the talent, shouldn't you be writing already? You aren't really looking for advice on how to understand drama, are you? You already know, that's your gift.

What's worse, even if you did go, what are the actual chances that the people who would be teaching you would actually know enough to help you? Screenwriting is one of those crafts where it's easy to point out the mistakes, not what to actually do.

Teaching writing is really that difficult. The fact that it's hard to give clear instructions and that there aren't that many 'rules' makes writing so difficult compared to other crafts. That's something that every aspiring writer should take into consideration.

For me it's always been pretty obvious. I have never seriously thought about going to study writing. I have never seen the point in doing that. My intuition has told me that it wouldn't lead to anything good and that it wouldn't really make me a better writer.

In my opinion, the truth is that most of time we as writers are on our own. If we can't figure out most of the things by ourselves and if we need someone to tell us what drama is about, we're probably not supposed to be writers.