Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's almost never easy to 'kill your darlings'.

Last week when I wrote about Modern Family's episode 'White Christmas', I had this one special thingy that I wanted to share in my post. I thought that I had to write it in and that I pretty much had no choice.

It was about how I was able to make an educated guess - before I checked the credits - that the episode in question was written by a former 'Community' writer. I thought it was a great 'read' by me so it made a lot of sense to include it in my post.

Yet, when it came to actually writing in this supposedly wonderful observation, I just couldn't make it work. No matter how I hard I tried, the post as a whole didn't work - and I couldn't figure out where the problems were.

It wasn't easy to admit that the biggest problem was with my specific 'darling'. Even though my post and my observations were both about pop culture references, that still didn't mean that they would fit in together.

This whole thing got me puzzled, because usually when it comes to letting go of your stuff, it's not that difficult to edit out parts that don't work. As long as you have written enough to fill up the page, it shouldn't be that difficult to remove at least some of the content.

However, deleting valuable stuff becomes too easily too difficult when you're that invested in your darlings. Many of those supposedly great things that you initially had in mind are genuinely that difficult to get rid of.

After all, those wonderful darlings are usually those things that made you start writing in the first place. It's not that hard to think that without them you feel like you left out something important and that you failed at least yourself.

But that's not how it's really supposed to go when it comes to writing. If your precious things don't work well enough, you should remove them, no matter how difficult it might be and no matter how much it might hurt at first.

In the end, getting rid of your precious darlings will always make your scripts better. It's something that's almost never easy to do, but as long as you're willing to get rid of them, you'll become a better writer as a result.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Enough with the pop culture references already!

As I've written on this blog before, whenever you're making a pop culture reference, there's a good chance that it won't work as well as you intended. In too many cases it will not fit in well enough and will feel out of place.

One of the best examples of this can be found in Modern Family's episode S7E09 'White Christmas', that aired last week. It's rather safe to say that its references didn't work and that they pretty much bombed instead.

In this case we're talking about pop culture references that had to do with a rather well known - if not really that scary - horror movie called 'The Shining'. That film is supposed to be some sort of a classic when it comes to its genre.

The writers of the episode had decided to write in scenes that were meant to be some kind of homages to the film in question. They thought that we as an audience would think that they were really clever.

However, that's not how it turned out to be with the references. Instead of making us appreciate these supposedly memorable moments in film history, all I was able to think was that these writers were just clueless.

The biggest reason that these references didn't work well is that this episode should have had its priorities somewhere else. The writers should have paid way more attention to its storylines that actually mattered.

After all, this was the episode in which the whole family found out that their babysitter Andy was having an affair with Haley. This relationship was going on, even though Andy was already being engaged to another person.

The writers should have concentrated on this aspect - and this aspect only - but that's not what happened at all. Instead of handling the storyline like responsible human beings, the writers took the easiest way out.

They didn't give any credit to the audience and the whole season long story arc was resolved in like a minute with a total cheap-shot. After that they went back to those horrible pop culture references that shows like 'Community' are mostly known for.

In any case, if you haven't seen this episode yet and want to see a solid example on how not to write pop culture references into your show, watch 'White Christmas'. It could have been decent, but unfortunately, that's not how it went.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Modern Family's showrunner shows up.

It's usually been a pretty good thing when Modern Family's showrunner Steven Levitan has managed to write an episode for the show. In most cases I've been pleasantly surprised and have felt that the storylines and the jokes have worked well.

Over the last few years Levitan hasn't written that much for the show, so I was happy to see last week that he had managed to write another episode. I had every reason to think that this would be a pretty good one too.

So I watched S7E08, 'Clean Out Your Junk Drawer' and I have a bit mixed feelings about it. There were things that I liked about the episode - and yet there were also things that at least in my opinion didn't work well enough.

In my opinion, probably the best thing about it was that there were only two storylines. For a change, there were less characters in the episode - which also meant that there was more time to develop the storylines.

The first storyline was about our three couples, Jay & Gloria, Phil & Claire and Cam & Mitchell. They were spending time together in a therapy session after Gloria had managed to win them one from a charity auction.

What I liked about this storyline is that it had time to breathe a bit. The scenes were considerably longer than what were used to seeing on the show. It was great that they didn't need to cut right away to the other storyline(s).

I also liked that the characters talked about their flaws, like what are the things that they didn't like about their spouses. This made me feel that they were trying to be a bit more real and more down to earth this time.

What I didn't appreciate that much is that therapy storyline didn't hit all the right notes all the time. At least the 'comedic' stuff where Jay went to the bathroom to listen to a football game didn't feel authentic. It just didn't work.

At the same time, even though some of the reactions definitely weren't for my tastes - like Mitchell's clear over-reaction to that funny pogo stick stuff, I think the storyline was still somewhat solid and provided good laughs.

The second storyline was about Alex and Haley talking about their relationship situations. Alex was talking about her boy_friend Reuben and Haley was talking about her 'secret' ongoing relationship with the babysitter Andy.

This storyline was about how the girls tried to deal with the fact that they were still clinging to their guys and couldn't let go. Alex kept going out with Reuben because he made her feel better about herself, while Haley still had feelings for the now engaged Andy.

What I did like about this storyline is that there haven't been that many Alex & Haley episodes on Modern Family, despite the fact that these storylines almost always seem to make sense and work rather well on the show.

I liked the chemistry between these two and I liked their reactions. I liked how they managed to talk to each other now that they are both young adults. It was so good that we didn't get those usual one-dimensional exchanges.

At the same time, what I didn't like that much was that Haley is still dating a guy who's engaged. Clearly that's cheating and even though Andy's fiancé is supposed to be some sort of a psycho, that's still wrong and doesn't set a good example for us.

All in all, I have to say that as a whole I was a bit disappointed when it came to the quality of this episode. Some of the things clearly worked, but I felt that the script for the episode was just a bit too unpolished.

In my opinion, considering that 'Clean Out Your Junk Drawer' was written by its showrunner, it probably should have been a bit better. It wasn't as bad as some of the other reviewers have said, but I honestly did expect more from it.

Friday, December 4, 2015

We shouldn't take the audience for granted.

Some days ago I read a blog where some film business insider wrote that it doesn't matter that much whether the writers do their jobs well. As long as you have the audience flocking to see the movie, everything's just fine.

It's not like he was really against good stuff being released, but he wasn't really bothered by the lack of quality scripts that much. What matters is the bottom line, that they make as much money as possible, as fast as possible.

I was honestly pretty bothered and annoyed by what he had said. It wasn't fun to read stuff that was morally questionable at best. Whether the writers care or not, it seems that too many times they can take their audiences for granted.

So after that I felt pretty annoyed and decided to go to another (well known) site, where a film person was reviewing a freshly released feature film. It had gotten good reviews and he had apparently liked the movie quite a bit.

This seemed much better than what I had just managed to read. For a change we had some insider guy who actually appreciates movies and seems to demand quality stuff. It didn't look like he was going to commit those same sins as the guy before.

So things looked pretty good until I got to his last paragraph, where he too said something awful. He said - perhaps accidentally - that 'the best movies are the ones where the writers also care - and not just the audience'.

I mean - as unfortunate as it is - he too was implying that the audience members are going to pay for the tickets no matter what. They will show up and see these films and it doesn't matter much how good or bad they turn out to be.

But what's worse, he was also implying that as a writer you don't have to always care about your work.  Most of the time you can still be 'good enough' if you just phone it in. Apparently only the very best stuff requires that you actually care about your work.

I mean, maybe it's just me, but I have always thought that it's absolutely essential that writers care about their craft. It's super important that you always try your best so that you won't take your audience for granted.

As far as I'm concerned, if you don't care about your craft enough as a scribe and if you're not willing to make sure that your scripts are as good and as entertaining as possible, you really, really shouldn't be a screenwriter.