Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Writing Advice from David Mamet to the Staff of The Unit

I just came across this online and thought it was more than worth re-posting here. It's hilarious and also contains a lot of good advice for aspiring writers.


TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE: THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION: WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU, THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE - THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

(IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why I Hope Dr. Horrible Stays on the Internet

I know the idea of seeing our favorite musical supervillan and his hammer-headed nemesis on the big screen has many people squeeing with delight, but it has me cringing. When I first heard the rumors that Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog might have a film sequel instead of a web one, I instantly began scouring the internet hoping that Neal Patrick Harris's quote was misunderstood or that Joss Whedon had denied it. Surely, someone was mistaken here.

The internet has always been the red-headed stepchild compared to its coiffed, platinum-blonde siblings in film and TV. Dramatic chipmunks and parkour just don't compare to the artistic merits of Transformers 2 and Cavemen the TV show. But the internet is home to more than just rejects from America's Funniest Home Videos. People are telling stories from their backyards and garages, from their apartments and offices. Instead of the financial backing of studios or investors, they are backed by the power of a story to tell, the love of the filmed media, and the help of family and friends.

By no means was Dr. Horrible the first piece of original storytelling content to get noticed on the internet. Felicia Day's web series about online role-playing game, The Guild, is now in its 3rd season and is distributed by Xbox Live and Microsoft and sponsored by Sprint. Dorm Life, a mockumentary web series about, you guessed it, dorm life, went on to be sponsored by Carl's Jr. in its second season. The creators of the strange web video diary Lonelygirl13 were signed by a major talent agency, and Lonelygirl herself went on to have a role on ABC Family's Greek. After the first episode of Red vs. Blue, a series using animation directly from the popular video game Halo, the producers were contacted by the video game's production company to arrange a deal so the series could continue to use game properties without license fees.


But how many people are really aware of any of these series? What made Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog unique was the amount of mainstream media attention it recieved, the sheer number of viewers that went to the site, and the respect it was given in the entertainment community.

In a time where the old models are struggling to survive -- network TV's ratings are flagging and box office draw isn't what it used to be -- the internet is primarily being treated as a marketing tool instead of a new method for distribution. Sure, the producers of film and television are posting content to the web, but they are doing so in hopes of enticing those eyeballs to move over to the TV screens and movie screens that matter to them. Yet, if the current trends continue, soon most television and movie viewing will be taking place on the web. One-third of teens and a quarter of tweens watch TV on the internet, according to a 2006 Mindshare survey. As these internet-savvy kids grow up and more full-length content becomes available online, web viewership can only increase. Eventually the internet will become the primary distribution method whether we want it to or not.

Read the rest of the article.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spoilers for the Next Episode of Glee from Paleyfest


The best thing about last night’s Glee panel is that they showed the 14th episode of Glee that won’t be airing until April. The worst? I have to wait until April to see the 15th episode. Argh!

So how was it? Well, I have to admit that the first 20 minutes or so of the episode had me a little bored. They reintroduced pretty much everything they did in the pilot. Shock of shocks, the Glee club is still “uncool,” and New Directions is again threatened by the principal and the unapologetically evil cheerleading coach Sue Sylverster played by Jane Lynch. The twist this time? They don’t just have to win sectionals, they have to win REGIONALS, or the program will be cut. Whoa, big diff!

But once we got past all the exposition and rehashing, it was a really good episode of Glee. Be prepared for some great one-liners (“Did you know that dolphins are really gay sharks?”) and some awesome performances. I’m going to go into further plot details below, so if that’s all you want to know about the episode, skip the next three paragraphs and go right to my write-up on the panel itself. If you want to be SPOILED!, read on.

Will asks the kids to find songs including the world ‘hello,’ resulting in renditions of the Doors’ “Hello I love You,” Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Neil Diamond’s “Hello Again,” and the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye.” Rachel — pissed at Finn after yet another rejection — chooses to focus on the first syllable with the All American Rejects’ song “Gives You Hell.”

Yes, Rachel and Finn are together when the episode starts, but that doesn’t last long with Sue’s interference. Instead, Rachel has a chance encounter with Jessie St. James, the lead singer for Vocal Adrenaline, the New Directions’ main rival. There’s a love connection made, but because of the team’s concerns about Jessie’s motives (is he just a spy?), Rachel and Jessie decide to date in secret. Meanwhile, Finn realizes that he wants Rachel back, leaving the leading lady feeling torn.

Will’s love life is also in shambles by the end of the episode. Things start off well between he and Emma (including one really sexy almost kiss,) but Emma isn’t quite ready to be intimate (in fact, she NEVER has been) and Will is still a bit of a wreck from his recent divorce. Instead, he ends up making out with the director of Vocal Adrenalin, and Emma has a nasty visit from Will’s ex that makes her question him. The two decide to put things on hold until they can figure out their issues.

In the panel that followed, the cast and crew spilled the beans on quite a few upcoming episodes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Makeover, Makeover!

September 27, 2009.


Wowsers, was that really my last post? And it was on FlashForward? The last THREE were on FlashForward?!

Ha.

Well, kids, lots of things have happened in the last almost-six months.

1) Jul and I now own a condo, have a roommate, and are trying to Craigslist our way into filling the other vacant bed... after living on our own in a two bedroom for a year. It's an adjustment.

2) I've been dubbed "scratch master" at my current job, frequently recording the temp audio for shows when we can't get the actors right away, and even had a paid day of recording work myself, though so far the "paid" part of that is pretty loose. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to get a check cut for voice work.

3) I've had two paid days as a "writer," by which I mean my old company called me in to watch some of the current stuff they're working on and give notes and suggestions. It's awesome work, but I'd call it more pitching than writing. Speaking of which...

4) Jul and I pitched an animated feature to the head of my old company, which is the reason I ended up getting the aforementioned writing work. They ultimately passed on the pitch, but were extremely positive about it and us.

5) The show I'm working on got an order for 5 more scripts! The writers are alternately excited and stressed since we're deep into production on the first 10 right now.

6) Jul got a job assisting the creator and head writer of a fantastic animated kids show!

That last reason, actually, is why I'm writing this, because starting today(ish) Boring Future Generations will no longer be a one man band, but a duo. Jul is going to start posting her thoughts on writing, television, and the entertainment industry in general, just like me!

What does this mean for you, the Reader? Well, the Reader, it means only 3 months between posts instead of 6! Potential public fights when we disagree on random shite! Posts from someone who doesn't have his head up his ass but HER head up HER ass! Singing! Dancing! Synchronized swimming! (those last three ONLY if you went to the Paleyfest panel for Glee) And possibly an annual event with fireworks, but NOT on the Fourth of July. Because let's face it, that's just played the eff out.

Honestly, we don't know what kind of changes there might be. We still want this to be a blog about writing and TV and, you know, us, so we'll just see where it takes us.

In the meantime, in honor of our impending makeover, enjoy this vid: