This week Mark Thompson, Talent Coordinator for Our Cartoon President, came to talk to my SVA class about writing for animation. Their writer’s room has nine writers. In a typical meeting, the writers brainstorm and then go off to work on the assigned episode by themselves, and then will be reviewed in the room.
A big takeaway for me is that the story structure of Our Cartoon President follows the kind of story structure used The Honeymooners, The Flintstones , Family Guy and The Simpsons. The hero gets in a bad situation, makes a bad decision as to how to fix it, things get worse, and then the problem gets solved. Watch a few of these shows and see for yourself.
This holiday season is all about the retelling of wonderful stories, some of which are based on historical truths. Tonight, is the 6th night of Hanukah. The story of the holiday is one of heroism, and one that is intended to inspire hope.
The other Hanukah story, not told so often is the story of Judith, a heroine who saved her village. This story so inspired me that I was inspired to write a novel, The Book of Zev.
A good exercise is to think of your favorite religious stories and rewrite them using the characters in your current TV script or screenplay.
I hope that you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. I went to see family in Massachusetts. There were four children between the ages of two and four that I got to spend hours with. Watching them play and studying how they make up stories is very humbling. It’s clear to me that we are born with natural talent and it is through practice and application that we refine our natural abilities into a craft. I practiced my craft by attempting to be a little kid and to see holiday proceedings as they would. I mentally copied their speech patterns and listened to the responses that they got. One major takeaway from this practice was to see how unconcerned they were with time and with the mechanics necessary to win the game they were playing.
Interestingly, this is exactly the way I teach my students to create their first draft: not to worry about how characters win, or how long it takes. By focusing on the character and what he or she wants, and who and what is in the way, a good story with the sound structure is easily formed.
And at my SVA class this week, we were fortunate to have Sarah Babineau, VP of Development for Comedy Central, visit our class to discuss how to create comedy for TV. An important point that she made was that the best shows are ones that are created from love and personal connection rather than trying to think about what will be “salable.” Another important point was that selling comedy is all about the writing which has to be super funny, socially relevant, provocative and personally relatable to.
Writer’s write, so let’s all get busy and make 2019 are best year ever!
Time moves so quickly these days, and the Thanksgiving Holiday is upon us!
On Tuesday of this past week, I had the pleasure of giving a talk on Using Loglines to Correct Story Structure for a wonderful group of New York based female directors, Cinefemme. It’s such a pleasure to work with talented, ambitious and highly functional women!
In another life, I was a cook and prepared many Thanksgiving dinners for many families and witnessed the intense family dynamics which can emerge under the pressure to be thankful and happy. As writers, we must always remain detached and take notes.
Holidays are also fertile ground for character development. One of the techniques I use when developing new characters is to imagine what their Thanksgiving celebration would be, or if they even have one. I’ll set a timer and write for 10 minutes using the “5”W’s” (who, where, what, when and why) to guide a mini-essay or scene.
Try it. Here’s a template:
When ___________ (main character) celebrates Thanksgiving, he/she goes _____________(Where) to be with ______________(who) because__________(why) and they do ____________(what)?
And at the celebration, what happens is: (write one or two sentences).
I repeat this formula for the villain/obstacle and get good insights. Try it and see.
I also love to watch holiday movies on the holiday and here are five of my favorites:
I’m happy to report that my NYU class, Writing The Screenplay in Eight Weeks is sold out and there’s a waiting list! Meanwhile, I’m learning how to act. My acting teacher suggested an exercise to improve our dialogue “chops” and I was amused that it was similar an exercise I’ve used for years. I’ve included a written version here and hope you enjoy it!
The Overheard Conversation: How To Strengthen Your Dialog In One Easy Exercise
I was getting my hair cut, and sat next to a colleague who teaches drama,
and has written several scholarly books on the topic. Before leaving the
salon, I asked her what was the one thing she thought any screenwriter
should do to improve his or her dialog.
“Become a lurker,” my friend said without hesitation, and held up a pad that
contained a hastily scrawled account of my own conversation with our mutual
Hair God while my hair was being cut. I was surprised that my speaking
voice on the page seemed clipped and terse, compared to Jeff, a strikingly
handsome gay man with a Mohawk and a distinctive southern drawl.
My friend nodded and said, “I always carry a pad and pen, so whenever I
have an opportunity, I practice writing down real people talking. By recording
the conversation, I can make the connection between the way words sound
when being spoken and the way they ‘read'”. Jeff came over and said, ”
What are you two beauties chattin’ about here?'”
“You, ” We said in unison.
“Oh pshaw, darlin’ there is NOTHING interesting about lil’ old me.”
My friend and I shared a smile. Nothing interesting??? The attempt to render
spoken dialog into written dialog will help train what I call your “ear-to-hand”
coordination, and as you practice you will soon see that you can now hear
your imaginary characters more clearly, and your sense of scene structure
Here’s the exercise:
Step 1. Find a place where you can easily overhear a conversation, such as
a hair salon, a bar or restaurant. Locate potential victims and get yourself
Step 2. Using paper and pen or pencil write as much of the overheard
conversation as you can, and trying to be a little subtle is recommended.
Step 3. Put your work away for fifteen minutes, and then reread it, aloud, as
if you had created the scene yourself.
Step 4. Set a timer and write a brief scene where one of the two characters
you have just eavesdropped on is very late to a meeting and the other
cannot just leave. The inevitable argument that will arise will give you a
structure for exploring the way each of these “voices” might respond-gold
for us writers.
To recap, listening to real people talking and recording their spoken words is a great way to improve your dialog.