Although TV and film comedy writer-producer/playwright/baseball announcer extraordinaire Ken Levine’s funny and perceptive blog posts often show up in TVWriter™’s Writing & Showbiz NewsFeed, we haven’t featured him on this site for awhile.
But this one is just too, too, too right on important to let slip by:
A Common Rookie Writing Mistake
by Ken Levine
EXT. HOUSE — DAY
TWO DETECTIVES APPROACH A HOUSE. THEY RING THE BELL. THEY WAIT A MOMENT UNTIL A WOMAN ANSWERS.
DETECTIVE 1: Are you Mrs. Hanson?
WOMAN: Yes. What’s this about?
DETECTIVE 1: I’m Detective Green. This is Detective Brown. We’re from the LAPD.
WOMAN: Oh. Really?
DETECTIVE 1: Yes, ma’am.
WOMAN: Well… can I see some ID?
DETECTIVE 2: Yes, ma’am.
They both root around their pockets and pull out ID. She scans it.
WOMAN: Okay… I suppose.
DETECTIVE 2: You have a daughter named Mindy?
DETECTIVE 1: Is she home?
WOMAN: No. What is this about?
DETECTIVE 2: You’re aware that a student was killed Wednesday night at the Westfield Mall?
WOMAN: Yes, it was horrible.
DETECTIVE 1: A tragedy, yes’ ma’am.
WOMAN: But what does Mindy have to do with it?
DETECTIVE 2: We think she might have a notebook that the victim gave her that might shed some light on just who did this.
WOMAN: Oh my.
DETECTIVE 1: Do you mind if we come in and take a look?
DETECTIVE 2: Yes, ma’am.
WOMAN: Well, Mindy’s not home.
DETECTIVE 1: That’s okay. Can we come in?
WOMAN: I don’t know. Do you have a warrant?
DETECTIVE 1: No, but your daughter is not a suspect. This is just a piece of evidence that might help us solve the puzzle.
WOMAN: Still… I… Maybe I should call my lawyer.
DETECTIVE 2: Seriously, we just want to see if this notebook exists.
WOMAN: Let me call Mindy.
DETECTIVE 2: Fine.
THE WOMAN GOES BACK IN THE HOUSE. THERE’S A MOMENT AND FINALLY SHE RETURNS WITH HER CELLPHONE. SHE PUNCHES IN THE NUMBER. SEVERAL BEATS, THEN:
WOMAN: Mindy, this is Mom. There are two detectives here wanting to go through your room to see if you have a notebook belonging to that boy who was killed at the mall? (long beat, to Detectives) She says she doesn’t have it.
DETECTIVE 1: We just want to take a look.
DETECTIVE 2: Is there anything she’s hiding that she doesn’t want us to see?
WOMAN: (on phone) Mindy, they said is there anything you’re hiding that you don’t want them to see? (beat, to Detectives) No.
DETECTIVE 2: Then can we just look around?
WOMAN: (on phone) Then can they just look around? (long beat, to Detectives) Okay.
DETECTIVE 2: Thank you.
WOMAN: (on phone) Okay, Mindy. I’ll tell you what happened. Bye. (hangs up).
DETECTIVE 1: So can we come in?
WOMAN: Oh, yes. Please.
DETECTIVE 2: Thank you.
WOMAN: Can I get you something to drink?
DETECTIVE 1: No, we’re fine.
THE WOMAN HOLDS THE DOOR OPEN AND THE DETECTIVES ENTER.
Okay, now let me suggest an alternate scene. Instead of the above scenario, you just go straight to this:
EXT. TEENAGE GIRL’S ROOM – DAY
A WOMAN USHERS TWO DETECTIVES INTO THE ROOM.
WOMAN: Okay, this is Mindy’s room, Detectives. But she said you’re not going to find any notebook.
I think you can see what I’m getting at. There’s a rule of writing: Get into scenes as late as you can and get out of them as early as you can.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read scripts from young writers that have versions (usually longer) of the first scene. Let’s be blunt. It’s boring. Nothing happens. People just talk. Often in circles. Or they wait. Or….
NOTE FROM LB: Here at TVWriter™ we think David Perlis should post more. A lot more. For now, though, this short and snappy insight into writing in specific and the film biz in general will have to do. Sigh:
A PARTING THOUGHT FOR MAY, 2018
by David Perlis
I haven’t posted in a while, so until I can sink into a good update, I offer you this brief thought:
The stories we choose not to tell say as much as the stories that we do.
Sorry, Solo. You are the tale we never needed.
David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist This post first appeared on his very entertaining blog.
I’m tired, y’all. Absolutely wiped. This blog was gonna be about something else but then I sat down to write and damn near fell asleep in this Starbucks.
I have agreed to too many film projects, I am working a job where I have more responsibility than ever before in increasingly terrifying areas I feel wholly unqualified for, I am attempting to be a person with interests and plans outside of work, and I am tired.
I get home, and I’m tired. I wake up, and I’m tired. I ride the subway and I’m tired. I go out for drinks with a friend and I’m tired. I’m tired. I’m tired.
Acknowledged but ignored depression symptoms aside, every day I feel like I’m failing someone, because somehow I found myself in positions I never planned on being hired for and they all need me at once. Sometimes I see an email in my inbox or a Facebook message and I am just crushed by the weight of anxiety and exhaustion and I tell myself- tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be able to handle it. Then tomorrow comes and I can’t, but I do anyways (usually) because I’ve promised. I need this. It is a part of the hustle to be in all places at once with at least ten irons in the fire and even if nine of the irons are things you don’t ultimately want to be doing, they are adjacent to what you want to be doing and so you do them in the hopes that they’ll open a door to something more down the road.
Which is the most exhausting part of the hustle- there is no guarantee that any single thing will turn into what you need it to, so you can’t prioritize because each thing, even small things, could potentially be The Thing. The Thing that takes you to the next step, where there’s a whole bunch of other new things that you won’t be able to prioritize because you’re not going up stairs, you’re rock climbing in the dark up a rock wall that’s constantly being rebuilt.
And I am tired. I make a to do list for the week ahead and I feel preemptively exhausted. The hustle must go on, but only if it doesn’t make a husk out of me, because husks can’t be creative and do all the things they dreamed of when they were in school to learn how to write better stories and build better worlds.
Sometimes it’s exhilarating, to have a networking event one night, drinks with friends you want to work with another, three emails in your inbox asking for advice or for you to come on board a new project, a day on set next weekend and a pre-production spreadsheet for another project ripe in your Google Drive. So many cool things happening that I get to be involved with! That my name is attached to and that I’m proud of!
But mostly it is exhausting because sometimes I just want to listen to a podcast and enter data into a spreadsheet, or be told to make X number of calls to people off a pre-made list, or reorganize a storage closet, or file library books back into their shelves from a stack on a cart. Sometimes I don’t want to be in charge of making all the decisions or coordinating all the little pieces- sometimes I just want to be a piece who’s told her basic, banal instructions and can get to work. Sometimes I just don’t want to be in charge.
I started playing D&D a few months ago, and anytime I talk about this with people who know me even a little bit, they ask without fail if I’m the DM (dungeon master, or the person who creates the world and leads the other players through adventure). I’m not, and even as I get more confident as a player, I don’t think I want to be. I understand why people make the assumption I’m either the current DM or the next one on deck, because I’m a psychotic control freak, but I cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to be able to show up to someone else’s home with a case of beer and some sour gummy worms and all I had to do to prepare was throw two sheets of paper and a small bag of dice into my purse before I left. Better yet, I trust that when I show up to my DM’s home, I will have to do nothing but enjoy myself and roleplay as a chaotic neutral germaphobic hafling with a budding drug kingpin career and a problem with authority who names every creature she summons from her Gray Bag of Tricks after herself.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for the opportunities I’ve been given or for the innumerable wonderful projects I have been asked to be a part of. It is an honor and an insane privilege to spend my weekends on film sets and in meetings with other creative people to make new worlds come to life. But sometimes, like today and the past three months, I am tired. That doesn’t take away from the honor and privilege, but it does add a fog that makes it real hard to feel useful or happy.
There isn’t really a solution to this problem, because for now it makes the most sense for me to continue doing all the things and most days I’m happy to be doing them, but my god, the hustle can get so hard to keep up when you’re three years in and you still aren’t verified on Twitter and every day you’re more tired and still broke with no clear way to move to the next stage.
Sam And Pat Are Depressed season 2, coming soon to a screen near you. #ad
Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, Brains, HERE. See Sam And Pat Are Depressed HERE. This post first appeared on her seriously cool blog.
The writer of this article, Julie Isaac, is a friend of LB’s. (Hey Facebook Friends count as friends, right?) Awhile ago, in a meeting, he described reading Ms. Isaac’s work as “transformative.” We didn’t understand then.
Now, after reading this, we do:
Kiss Shy Goodbye
by Julie Isaac
As authors, we want our books to be read. For that to happen, our audience needs to be able to find us. But don’t kid yourself, that’s our job, not theirs. We need to connect with potential readers, and to get them interested in what we have to say. For those of us who would rather write than promote, that can be tough. But it doesn’t have to be.
I remember, years ago, being nervous before doing my first live group coaching call, but I knew the nervousness would pass, and I’d be okay. Not only did I live through it, I thought it was fun.
I wasn’t always that confident. There was a time I was extremely shy.
That’s why I could identify with the people who came on the call, but were too shy to ask a question or share their accomplishments and goals.
Been there. Done that.
And, happily, have left it far behind me.
Being a writer, I had to. Writers are required to balance the inward creative journey with outward promotional responsibilities. Before your book is even written you have to start promoting yourself and building your author’s platform. Then, once your book is published, promoting your book in 1001 different ways begins. And keeps going… and going… and going…
If shyness is what prompted you to look within and become a writer, then it’s been a great gift in your life. But if it’s now getting in the way of your fulfilling your writing dreams because it’s preventing you from stepping into the limelight of self-promotion and book marketing fully and joyfully, then it’s become a problem that you have to face, and deal with.
In my long journey from shy writer to (nearly) fearless promoter, I’ve learned some useful things about the emotional terrain in-between these two energetic opposites, and the mindset you need to have to make the journey.
Here are what I consider to be the four main attitude adjustments needed to turn shy writers into fearless promoters.
Attitude Adjustment #1 Don’t force yourself to do something, when choosing to do it is more empowering
Many shy writers tell me that they have to force themselves to do promotional tasks. The only reason you would ever have to force yourself to do something is that you don’t really want to do it. Unfortunately, forcing yourself to do that thing, anyway, automatically creates resistance, which makes whatever you’re doing—in this case, promoting yourself and your book—that much harder.
If you focus, instead, on the benefits of promotion—on what you want to achieve through it, and why—you’re more likely to feel that you’re choosing to promote yourself, rather than being forced to do it, even if you’re the only one doing the forcing. Feeling forced to do something disempowers you, while making a choice to do it empowers you. The difference between these two—between feeling disempowered and empowered—becomes especially important when the results of your actions affect your livelihood.
All this may feel like nitpicking to you, but mindset matters. Depending upon your mindset, on what you believe and how you feel about whatever you’re doing, the task at hand can be easy or hard. Your mind can be open or closed. Your creativity can be flowing or stuck. And this has an impact on whether your efforts result in failure or success….
A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick
Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.
From high school in Highland Park, IL, to studying at Harvard, Jeff Melvoin found theater to be a strong influence on his creative ambitions. After working for trade publications, Jeff went on to be a correspondent for Time in New York then Boston. He transferred to Time’s Los Angeles office before eventually making the move to television where he landed a spot on the staff of REMINGTON STEELE. He’s been the executive producer for multiple series including ALIAS, ARMY WIVES and DESIGNATED SURVIVOR.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?
I was drawn to writing or to doing something creative as early as elementary school. I would go to the movies and come home and have to tell everybody everything that happened from beginning to end. When I entered high school and life got a little more serious, I thought I was going to be an attorney like my father. I started out in the Debate Club and I had some success there, but I found out I wasn’t enjoying it. Then in high school I fell under the influence of a very powerful and terrific drama teacher. Gary Sinise and Jeff Perry were two of my acting companions while I was there, so that’s just an indication of the level of excellent instruction we had.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
Writing for REMINGTON STEELE. What happened was, when I graduated from college, I did not have the confidence or any basis to start a career in the arts. I ended up back in the Chicago area, living at home for a brief period of time. I put together a resume for publishing and for journalism, because I figured I wanted to make a living somehow involved in writing. I had an uncle in the furniture business and he knew the guy who published their furniture paper, so I got a job working for some trade publications, Fairchild Publications, which published Women’s Wear Daily and a bunch of things. That led to an offer from Time magazine.
At 25 I became a correspondent for Time. It turns out they were trying to augment their ranks with some younger writers. I said, well this isn’t really what I want to do, but I’m only 25, I can do this for five years and quit when I’m 30 and still have my creative life ahead of me. The experience was great. I worked for them in New York. I went to Boston, then I requested a transfer to Los Angeles. They transferred me to Los Angeles, I gave them a good year and a half in Los Angeles and I was approaching my thirtieth birthday, I had a string of good stories for Time and so I left on a high. Then I called a friend of mine and I said, “Now what do I do?” He asked what I wanted to do and I said that I wanted to write scripts.
The way it worked back then was that you wrote spec material for existing shows. REMINGTON STEELE had just come on and I thought it was very clever. I wrote a spec REMINGTON STEELE. They actually bought a scene from it and put it into an existing episode and said if the show was renewed, we’ll bring you back. The show was renewed so they had me work on a script and while I was working on a script, they made me an offer to join as a staff writer.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER?
The business is a lot different now than it was when I broke in. I was every bit as nervous as everybody was breaking in. Breaking into TV has never been easy and writing well has never been easy, but there was less competition. I was lucky enough working on REMINGTON STEELE. It was a show where you could learn and make your mistakes with a kind boss. Where things became rougher and more challenging is when suddenly you’re becoming more of an actual producer and being responsible for other people’s work. That transition was tough and I think is tough for a lot of people.
The biggest challenge was making the jump to my next job, which was co-executive producer on HILL STREET BLUES. I had spent three years on REMINGTON STEELE, but HILL STREET was a big challenge because it was in its seventh year and its final year. We were trying to keep a show alive that had been terrific, but was reaching the end of the road. Making that jump in responsibility and handling the various different creative forces involved, that took a lot. It was trial by fire and you’re always learning.
WHAT CAREER AND WRITING ADVICE REALLY STUCK WITH YOU?
Most everything I learned that’s really put me in good stead in this business, I learned in high school from my drama teacher. She always said, “Play to the one smart person in the audience.” If there’s a choice between just doing something generic and having the specific and really knowing that somebody’s going to appreciate the fact that you actually took the time to find out how people speak in this particular environment or you got the detail right, that was important. In terms of attitude, she would always say that a show, whatever show we were doing, was a gift that we give the audience. I always thought that was a lovely way to think about preparing things and also how you treated other people. She was a stickler for everybody was an equal part of the production, whether it’s the star of the show or the second assistant prop person. Everybody has an equal stake in it. I think that’s important too.
There are so many things that Michael Gleason taught me about good writing and what to avoid. That meant some bad habits were shaken out early, like he wouldn’t allow us on REMINGTON STEELE to have mobsters or psychopaths as villains. Mobsters were too easy and psychopaths, well they can do anything because they’re crazy, so you didn’t have to do human motivation there.
I was very plot oriented, I’d written my thesis on detective fiction and so I tended to be very concerned about all the pieces fitting, but your job is to entertain and pace can cover a lot of problems. Raymond Chandler once wrote that when things get dull, have two men break into the room with guns. I didn’t fully appreciate how wise that bit of advice is, but I remember Michael Gleason once saying to me, “What happened to that little scene in there?” I forget what it was exactly. I said, “I couldn’t make it work.” And he said, “But it was funny. Make it work.” It was the destination, these little side excursions that were as important as the final goal. You just pick up stuff like that.
A friend of mine, John Wirth, who worked on NASH BRIDGES, apparently got this expression from Cheech Marin, which I’ve used often since, “There’s two ways to learn in life, the hard way and the harder way.” There is no easy way, but there are harder ways to learn and try to avoid those and learn as quickly as you can with minimal pain, but it’s going to be painful.
Coming Soon: Jeff shares advice on taking meetings and choosing what to write as your sample, plus what he looks for when hiring writers.
Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.