Not like that! Like this!

14 10 2009

My first real education in film making (not that I ever make films) came in the form of a Dov SS Simens weekend film crash course seminar. It was good. I highly recommend it. The most important thing he taught me was that no one needs a license to make a movie. But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is the second most important thing he taught me: let actors do their jobs.

On set, everyone has a job to do. The director envisions a project and tries (often in vain) to steer the project in that direction (see? that’s where they get the word). The lighting guys do lighting. The cinematographer does the camera work (yes, I’m drastically underplaying their roles, but I don’t want to get off on a tangent), and the actor is charges with pulling life and humanity out of the words on his/her script.

The writer, often enough, isn’t even there. And when they are there, they should not go around telling people how to do things. You’re stepping on the directors toes by doing that. And you should never repeat a line back to an actor (say it like this: “YOU”RE out of order. This whole COURT is out of order!”). It’s stepping on his toes.

Some actors get insulted by that. Others don’t. Even if they aren’t insulted, still don’t do it. Because all that’s going to happen is they’ll start taking their cues from you, and you’ll be the one doing the performing. They’ll be your puppet. And yes, they may start saying lines just the way you want them, but you’ll be losing out on different, often better takes on your characters.

This is a rule I’ve lived by in scripting, and why I often don’t even go to shoots. However, I’m starting to reexamine my position on this, slightly.

Last week, pretty much because I wanted to get out of the house, I went to a Transylvania Television shoot. They were shooting my material exclusively, and I technically went under the pretense that I’d be available for consultation and rewrites, but I really didn’t expect anyone to want my help. It’s not because they’re rude, but because everyone on this show knows their jobs.

They filmed a couple of short bits with Charles, and though he did an outstanding job, he wasn’t hitting the same tone for the character that I intended. In fact, there was one or two jokes he didn’t get at all. Firstly, that’s my fault. If you have to explain a joke to someone, it’s not funny, or at the bare minimum it’s not clear. Scripting is tough. You can’t really write in the inflections much. And a lot of people in the business frown on even italicizing words. You just have to be as clear as possible, and let the director and actors add their magic.

But eventually it did come up that someone wanted me to chime in on a line. Again, I was very uncomfortable with saying the line the way I wanted it said, but I did tell them which words in the line I’d like stressed. And the line came out better. In fact, the producer said having me on set for that was a big help!

So where does this leave us? To interfere or not interfere? Is it helpful, or stepping on toes. I suppose there’s no good answer; everyone is different. So the answer is, find out who you’re working with before you chime in. Would they find it helpful?

Second, do your job in the scripting stage. Make it as clear as possible. I don’t want to use the term “idiot-proof” but that’s sort of what you have to shoot for. Have someone else read it and give their take, or read it dry. If the comedy comes from the inflection and performance and not the writing, then you’re not really writing comedy, are you? You’re acting on paper.

Third, take some time to have a read-through with the director if you can. He calls the shots on the performance, but if he doesn’t know what the writer is thinking, then that’s information he can’t bring to the set. He might find it useful, and if he doesn’t like you’re take, he’ll have a jumping point to take it somewhere else.

And just to twist the knife, I got a preview of the first bit they filmed, before I chimed in, and while I think people will like it, I know it could have been better if I chimed in at some point. So lesson learned…hopefully.


Transylvania Television and Going For the Dead Baby Gags

4 05 2009

My work on Transylvania Television continues. As of January I became head writer for the show, and as such everything filters through me before it gets to the showrunners. It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of work. Creatively, it’s been going really well (getting hard to dedicated the time, though, but I will press on!), and the script output has increased a lot. We’ve lost some writers, but the team we have now is very talented, and I love their work. it’s a pleasure to do rewrites on it. I’ll have to make a post soon about rewriting a colleague’s work. For now, though, I’d like to revisit an older topic: being offensive.

The toughest thing about writing for TVTV is this edict that we have to be edgy. It was said in the first meeting that we wanted to be an adult show in the vein of South Park. In the year that followed, that didn’t really play out. At least not with me. Edgy is about pushing the envelope on what’s comfortable. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s supposed to “make you think” but it is supposed to make you pause. And being edgy is equal parts of testing people’s sensibilities, and digging on their preconceived notions.

It’s hard to write.

It’s easy to mess up.

Shock is not the same as edgy. Artists make this mistake all the time. They want their audience to feel something, and if they go balls out offensive and illicit shock, then they think they’ve made them feel something. There are two problems with this, however.

One – Shock is the only emotion they ever illicit. They ignore joy, sadness, peace, anger, envy, etc, which are all much better emotions, because those are the ones which have been so dulled with the information age.

Two – Uhh… shock isn’t an emotion, losers. Shock is the lack of emotion. Your brain sees something, overloads, and switches off. Worse yet, is switches the amygdala back to the lizard brain, which turns the viewer into an emotional “fight or flight” personality. I mean, do you get this? Shock actually de-evolves the mind.

I haven’t been writing anything particularly edgy since we’ve started. Oh, I’ll throw in a butt rape reference here or there because it makes me laugh, and that’s fine, but for the most part it’s been all I can do to keep the show from becoming a parody of a sitcom, complete with sitcom cliches.

The reason is because I’m pretty out of practice writing edgy things. Luckily, however, that stuff comes back with practice.

Half the point of a writers meeting is to try to make the other people laugh, even if you’re not scripting, just screwing around. You can tell all the crass and offensive jokes you want around a writers’ table. The easiest way to know if you’re pitching something shocking or something edgy is to gage the reactions. If the immediate gut reaction is uncontrolled laughing, it’s edgy. Put it in a script. If the reaction is nothing, or pensive in some way, shitcan the idea, because you’re not doing any favors.

The main thing, I think, is to explore humor and ideas, and let the filtering be done, by you or someone else, later, because sometimes even edgy isn’t exactly smart.

And, of course, some things aren’t even exactly edgy, they’re just flippin’ funny, like the occasional dead baby gag.

Context is important, though. Dead baby jokes on Friends doesn’t work. Dead baby jokes on South Park are fine. 5/8ths of context is audience expectation.

Real quick update

27 02 2009

One big problem with trying to update something regularly is that if you miss and update, the next update needs to be bigger to accomodate all the information, but that leaves it a more daunting task. Keep putting it off and then the task becomes crushing. So lets skip that and sum up for now.

Episodes 3-5 of LeShoc Goes Online is up, as well as a brand new YouTube channel and I’ m really happy with the progress.

I’ve also taken on two pretty cool jobs at TVTV. One, I’m in charge of the social media aspect, getting people on YouTube and Twitter and the like, which is really interesting and deserves many blog posts all on their own.

The second thing is I’m been promoted to head writer, which is also amazingly cool and needs a post all on its own.

That’s it for now. All is well. More soon.

Part 2 is up! Yay YouTube! Yay Comedy!

12 01 2009

Part 2 is up. Here it is. Please check it out and the other videos. Comment. All that fun stuff.

I really like this one. It’s paced well and is a good follow up. The thing I like the best, however, is that it played better than it did in my head. The delivery was better, but the adlibbing was great. The actor who voiced Le Shoc, Charles Hubbell, improved on it.

This is exactly how things should go when dealing with actors. When I was learning screenwriting and directing a lot of people, including myself, wanted to tell the actors how lines should be read. “Don’t say it like that, say it like this.” The pull to do that is so strong because you wrote it (or you’re directing it), and it’s your baby and you know how it’s supposed to go. But you can’t. You have to stop yourself. It’s not your job; it’s theirs.

The actor’s job is to give you what you want, but also to give the character life, and that means letting him/her do their job. If they don’t deliver the line right, then tell them. You want it more sarcastic. More dire. More passion. Dryer. Whatever. Tell them, but don’t do it for them.

One, it’s rude.

Two, it bites you in the ass. Sure, they’ll deliver the line the way you want it, but they’ll be stiffled from offering new takes that could benefit the characters in ways you’d love but have never dreamed of. You turn them into acting zombies, and that’s not cool.

Let them do their job. You concentrate on doing yours. Write well.

LeShoc Goes Online pt 1 goes online!

2 01 2009

Yay! Part one is here, just in time to ring in the new year.

I liked it!

It’s always weird, of course, when you see something you wrote acted out. It never quite sounds the way it does in your head. Sometimes actors change emphasis or pacing, and it’s grating. Other times they bring such plesant surprises. Either way, it’s a bit of an adventure, and serves to remind us all that no matter what, we’re only part of the creative process, and really, it’s for the best.

Good entertainment is best when it’s a team effort, and nearly everything is.

TVTV Update

24 12 2008

Another quick update on my work on Transylvania Television.

I’m working on two things, and I might even have time to do it now that my job description has changed to the point where I might get some writing time in (assuming I use it to write. I need to investigate ways to crack my own whip).

One is commercial work. A local company who has been good to us in the past wants to include us in their new advertising contract. The guys have made me their go-to guy for commercials…probably having to do with the fact that when TVTV asked, I was the only one who wrote up any commercial pitches. So that’s good, because that could actually mean money into the show.

The second is I’m rewriting the pilot episode. I was actually told not to do this (in the sense of “lets not concentrate on that right now”), but I think I’ll have the time, and I really thing I can give them a script that’s not only more dynamic, punchy, and funny, and not only a better launchpad to a show, but one that can use maybe half or more of the existing footage, which should make it really easy to shoot.

Keep them coming back. Every week. Every day.

21 12 2008

TvTv news.

Here’s the blurb for posterity:


12/13/08: Thanks to the sheer industriousness of the writing staff, we have a new multi-part web episode debuting Jan 1. Matthew Gallagher has translated years of screwing around on the internet and produced a five parter called “LeShoc Goes Online.” The first episode airs January 1st, and we will be releasing a new one every week or so throughout the year starting with Matt’s series. The upshot of all this web production is that a DVD with all the TVTV episodes will be made available mid year that can be purchased via the website or at one of our many convention appearances throughout the year, including Orlando Florida’s own MEGACON!

For just about the past six months I’ve been pushing the guys at TVTV to do these 5-part online episodes. The responses have ranged from “Great, that’s something we’ll toss on the pile when we get rolling” to “Whatever, just write what you guys want.” And yet, I pushed on.

TVTV has great potential, but it’s not getting a lot of attention for television at the moment, so they have dragged themselves, kicking and screaming, to the internet. Initially they wanted to throw everything up against the refridgerator and see what stuck. The point was to get examples up to show people what they could do. I’ve been pushing for a much more focused product.

If you’re going to write for the internet, you have to write for the internet. It’s wholey different from television. The pacing is different. The expectations are different. The possibilities are different. So embrace that. In that vein, I’ve been writing 5-part episodes. Each part is only one or two minutes long. They’re not cliffhangers or anything; just five connected episodes. I wrote them so they could be shot with whatever was on hand, same location, wham bam we’re done. The reason being that we have so little time (and no money) to make product for the show, that we have to maximize our output.

Still, for various reasons, the reception has been cool…until they shot one.

A couple weeks ago they shot my first 5-part series, LeShoc Goes Online. They got everything done in less than seven hours. This week, during our meeting, we all had explicit instructions to keep doing them.

Score one for Team Awesome.

I’m not going to say I know much about internet marketing. In fact, I’m desperately researching on how to get YouTube hits (without being tacky). But what I do know is common sense, and for something as fast-paced as internet TV, you need to have product. It’s more important to have something crazyapeshit  funny, but in lieu of that, you need something that’s at least consistantly funny, and consistant, period.

I really think TVTV has a unique potential on the internet. It can’t be the sitcom we envision for television, but you can actually showcase the TV station aspect. You don’t have to write 22-minute episodes about how people are struggling to put on good programming. You can just slap up the good programming. The YouTube site can BE the television station. So now it’s a fight for branding.

Yay for branding!