Bri Castellini: How to Kill Your Darlings – @stareable

 by Bri Castellini

I don’t care how talented a writer you are, how witty your dialog, how ingenious your story weaving- it’s almost guaranteed your scripts are several pages too long. But especially when your story is good and your dialog competent, it can be easy to convince yourself you’ve done enough and you’re ready to shoot. Think again- today we’re talking about killing your darlings.

Defined: a “darling” is an element of your story (usually at a script level, but occasionally is a particular prop or piece of wardrobe) that is disproportionately important to you than the story itself.

An example is a three-page witty dialog sequence that you love because it’s funny and clever but doesn’t actually move the story or the characters forward in any way, or a particular poster on a character’s wall that would be expensive or difficult to attain but is an inside joke amongst the cast and crew.

Defining and deciding to kill your darlings is an exercise in understanding the purpose of every moment, every character, every word, and every beat in your story, but that can be difficult. Let’s make it simple.

Do A Table Read

Because screenplays are mostly dialog, it can be easy to write off long conversations as too long because the individual lines seem short and “it’ll be faster when the actors talk.” It’s hard to actually make that call without hearing those lines aloud, though- there’s a reason even veteran showrunners still do table reads on major network shows. Even if you don’t have all the parts cast yet, get a group of actors and friends together and hear your work, and pay attention to the moments of waning interest. In theory, a table read is engaging to everyone the whole way through the same way watching a new movie is. But if you look up from the page and pay attention to the readers who aren’t speaking, you’ll notice at which points they start to zone out. The sections with the most glassed-over eyes are the ones you should reconsider.

Furthermore, if your script is comedic and you haven’t heard a chuckle in over a minute, something’s wrong.

Cut transitions, intros, and outros

What is the absolute shortest version of your story where it can still make sense and be impactful? Arthur Vincie, the creator of Three Trembling Cities 1, suggests you “cut the first 10 pages out and see if the story still makes sense. About 60% of the time it does; the other 40% usually just require some tweaks.” Obviously not every web series has 10 pages to spare (or 10 pages in an episode), but the point stands- introductions are worthy exercises in figuring out your narrative, but they aren’t always the actual best place to start the story.

In a similar sentiment, Tim Manley, writer and co-creator of The Feels 1, talked about cutting his scripts on our podcast Forget The Box as a reaction to his other co-creator Naje Lataillade explaining the various shots a particular episode will require. Tim recalls that “my brain will trigger- ‘that sounds like a long day.’ And I’ll be like, you know what? The whole scene takes place in one room. And actually I cut the beginning and I cut the end…. But what that actually does is boil it down to the most interesting part anyway. So the constraint, from my point of view, forces us to only do the parts that you really need, and in the end honors viewers time and honors everyone’s time.” And isn’t that how it should be?

Ask yourself: do you need a page of a character leaving one location and arriving at another? Are we learning anything from that, or are you worried people will get confused about where she is? Sometimes, it’s actually better to tell instead of show, if telling takes a single line of dialog and showing is two minutes of screentime.

Combine or cut characters

Alicia Carroll of Fishing explains that her “personal vice is characters. I always have too many. The challenge becomes deciphering which ones are necessary, which ones can composite together, and which ones have to cut.” Especially on a web series, more characters means more people to coordinate schedules with, more pages of dialog leading to longer shoot dates, more bodies to feed and keep comfortable on set, and just generally more variables to account for. And often, that many people aren’t necessary.

Ask yourself- is the purpose of this character to have a world and path of their own, or to move the plot forward in a few key scenes? If it’s the former- great! If it’s the latter- give those key scenes to another character who is fully fleshed out and who is not just a prop in service of your plot- it’ll give more gravity to those moments because the characters are more integrated with the story by nature of the fact that there’s more to them than their main plot significance.

Have someone else do it

Presumably, the reason you’ve been made aware of a “darling” is because you showed your script to a friend or colleague. If you trust them, or have another person you trust, why not give them a go? Give them a new document to cut what they wish, then read over the new version yourself. If you don’t notice something’s gone or it only takes a small rewrite to connect the dots between sections previously separated by darlings, it might be easier to let them go. (shout out to Dana Luery Shaw for suggesting you let someone else do the dirty work)

Save stuff for later

In The Good Place podcast, which I highly recommend, the writers of the show talk about how when a joke gets cut or changed in an episode, it doesn’t get purged from the Earth. Instead, jokes that don’t make it to air end up in the “candy jar,” a document of funnies pitched to dip into when in need of a laugh or some inspiration.

When we talk about “darlings,” we call them that because they’re good, they just might not be good for this particular project or moment. So don’t reject them entirely- protect them and put them in a list of things you want to revisit eventually. That can often help with the sting of killing them- maybe we should rephrase to “gently guiding your darlings to a waiting room because they aren’t needed quite yet.”

Do you have an example of a darling you’ve killed? Or do you have another method for identifying and trimming them? Let me know in the comments!

Bri Castellini: What Is The Goal Of Your Web Series? – @stareable

 by Bri Castellini

You can’t have it all. The Stareable Film School blog has a lot to say about doing each part of production to the best of your abilities, but at the end of the day, unless you’re independently wealthy and a close personal friend of Lupita Nyong’o, you’re going to need to pick your battles. The best way to do so is to define the goal of making your web series and understand the priorities and sacrifices that come with that choice, as listed and explained below.

As always, I’m not saying this list is definite- everyone’s situation and opportunity is different, and maybe you’re the exception to the rule. However, we all need to accept that as indie creators, we can’t do it all, and in order to give ourselves, our teams, and our projects the best chance to succeed, we need to be thoughtful about the way we go about our process.

Goal: Gain an online audience

Prioritize: Story, multiple episodes, marketing, and base competency 9

Sacrifice: Long episodes, multiple locations, large casts, quick results

But Why? Gaining an online audience is allegedly (we’ll get to this) the biggest reason why people make content for the web, for good reason. An audience is validating, raises your profile to decision makers and industry connections, and might even help pay you to continue making the content you love. Building an audience is also incredibly time-consuming, and I’m exclusively talking about the work occuring after the project is already shot. Due to the amount of money and time and favors you’re going to spend just in the marketing phase, I recommend, at least for your first project or two, trading longer episodes with more locations and cast with more episodes, so you have more runway for your marketing efforts to succeed.

Of course, you also need to, as Snobby Robot puts it, ‘deliver the goods.’ So make sure your story is solid and your show is watchable on a technical level. There’s always room for improvement as your profile rises and your resources bulk up, but an audience has to start somewhere.

Goal: Sell concept to TV

Prioritize: Pilot, season screenplay, festivals

Sacrifice: Multiple produced episodes, transmedia, marketing

But Why? Let’s all be real with each other: when we say our goal is to gain an audience, what we really mean is that with enough attention we’re hoping to be the next High Maintenance or Broad City. Fair enough. But if TV is actually your goal, building an audience might not actually be the only (or best) way to get there. With a beautifully produced pilot, a solid season’s worth of scripts, and some festival acceptances, you might not be seen by everyone, but you’ll have a much higher likelihood to being seen by the right people. It’s rare that industry executives browse YouTube in their spare time, but they definitely send emissaries to festivals to check out the fresh meat pre-chosen by festival programmers. And when people with decision-making power do check out your work, they’re far more likely to consume a pilot then they are to consume a 30 episode season, no matter how great the episode 7 twist is. They’re busy people, so make your first impression count, because it’s likely all they’ll see.

Goal: Showcase [insert skillset here] for future employment

Prioritize: That skill, base competency 9, festivals

Sacrifice: Anything that doesn’t immediately serve that skill, marketing

But Why? Even writers benefit from a visual portfolio piece, and certainly cinematographers and actors and directors are hard-pressed to prove themselves without a visual component on their resumes. A web series is a great “show, don’t tell” tool- far more persuasive than spending five minutes explaining that your greatest weakness is that you work too hard. But if the point is to showcase your screenwriting, maybe don’t worry so much about lengthy establishing shots of the beautiful lake and a four-minute single-take tracking shot around the winding spaceship corridors. Instead, tell a great story with compelling dialog and submit to a few festivals in that category so you can add “award-winning” to the beginning of your role for extra resume/reel flavor.

Goal: Make money

Prioritize: Researching brands/partners, versatile script, pilot, marketing

Sacrifice: Multiple episodes, season scripts, full creative control

But Why? From what I understand, the few ways you can make money from a web series specifically (eschewing multiple revenue streams for the purposes of this conversation) are selling merchandise, finding a distributor that pays, setting up a subscription service for superfans (a la Patreon), or partnering with a brand. As such, similar to wanting to sell to TV, you should focus on an amazing first impression (a great pilot) and then building an audience around that content promise to leverage with buyers and distributors. Or if you want to go the true independent route and use that content promise to get people psyched enough to want to pay to make the rest of it, like the creators of Binge. In any case, make a single something great and don’t make more until someone gives you the money to do so.

Goal: Increase representation

Prioritize: Tropes research, base competency 9, marketing

Sacrifice: Large cast/crew, multiple locations

But Why? Often a project comes together because a creator gets frustrated with the lack of representation of some subset of humanity, like Gal Pals 1 and lesbian representation or Sam and Pat Are Depressed and mental health awareness or Binge 1 and people with eating disorders. The thing I want to emphasize here is that there’s a reason traditional media keeps telling the same stories- the people who want those stories have had more experience, have more power in decision making, and have the benefit of being seen as the default, so they don’t have to try as hard. One bad white guy action movie doesn’t immediately flag all future white guy action movies as not worth it, but we all remember the Sony hack 1 and how long it took female superheroes to bounce back from Catwoman and Elektra.

As such, if your goal is to increase representation, you need to first, make sure your story avoids or recognizes certain harmful tropes for those communities, and second, make sure your series is good. Is that fair? Of course not. I wish we were in a world where subpar straight rom coms and subpar queer rom coms were judged with the same scorecard, but they’re not. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be thoughtful and watchable.

Goal: Tell a story you couldn’t tell any other way

Prioritize: Script, actors, project completion, base competency 9

Sacrifice: Marketing, quick results

But Why? There’s a difference between making a show and telling a story. There’s a happy medium, but if your main goal is just to tell a story, tell it! Don’t worry about the rest. It may take longer to get it right- it’s a passion project after all, and passion is rarely an efficient thing to chase- and it may not find a broad audience since the story, not the promotion, was the focus.

Goal: Finish a project

Prioritize: Finishing the project, scheduling in advance, deadlines

Sacrifice: Marketing, base competency 9, ambitious elements

But Why? Sometimes the best way to start your career or the best way to get your groove back in a period of artistic doubt is to just finish something. Maybe it’ll never see the light of day. Maybe it shouldn’t. But finishing something is as worthy a creative goal as anything else on this list, so give yourself permission to chill out. Just finish it, learn from it, and use it as a jumping off point. Rome and film careers aren’t built in a day, but that first day is still crucial.

Are there any goals I missed? Any misplaced priorities or sacrifices? Let me know in the comments!

Web Series: ‘The Most Interesting Man in Studio City’

Nobody at TVWriter™ knows exactly what to say about Douglas Olsson’s new series, The Most Interesting Man in Studio City. Is it a success? A failure? Something in between?

The problem boils down to this: When you create something that’s all about mediocrity and disguise that mediocrity by calling it success, how do you know if it works?

Mediocrity, almost by definition, is uninteresting, yeah? But The Most Interesting Man in Studio City isn’t uninteresting. In fact, there are times that it’s very interesting indeed. Hmm, wouldn’t that mean it was failing?

In other words, man, are we ever confused. So we’re copping out and throwing this one to our visitors. Here’s the trailer. Hit? Miss? Somewhere in between? Take a look and tell us what you think:

EDITED TO ADD:  Looks like somebody has a lot of confidence in this project because from what we can see, all the episodes of TMIMSC have been monetized. You can buy ’em. You can rent ’em. But you can’t watch ’em for free.

Hmm…now that really is interesting.

Web Series: See Episode 2 of ‘My Death Co.’

Last March, we saw the first episode of My Death Co and called it “Possibly the best directed and shot live action web episode we’ve ever seen…and the script ain’t too shabby either.

Last week, the long-awaited (by all of us DeathCo fans at TVWriter™) Episode 2 dropped on the interwebs. It’s every bit as good as the first, and we really think you’ll enjoy what you see:

Pretty tasty, yeah? Now if only creators Shawn McDaniel and Ben Hammond would let these eps out of their clutches a little more quickly, we’d be very happy reapers ourselves.

THIS JUST IN:

We just got an update on the My Death Co release schedule. Here’s what Ben Hammond has to say:

The release of episode two will be followed by episodes three and four in October. Matt McCarthy (Conan, Louie, The Angry Birds Movie) joins the cast for episode three.

McDaniel and Hammond plan to have the first season completed and released by the end of the year and will take it on a larger festival run in 2019. On the future of the series, Hammond notes, “We’ve got our sights set on bringing this thing to a major streaming platform like Netflix or Amazon as a half hour show. We love the compact, more intimate, moments we bring to viewers in a five minute episode, but can’t wait to expand on not only Sam’s character, but the entire world that My Death Co. exists in.”

Glad to hear this, Ben. Really looking forward to more! More! MORE!

My Death Co. on Patreon

mydeathco@gmail.com

www.mydeathco.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mydeathco

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/mydeathco

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/my_death_co

Indie Video: ‘Ernest and Bertram’

In a world filled with reasons to be outraged and angry, the following parody of Sesame Street‘s favorite couple seems to us to have generated much more than its fair share of hate:

Well done, yeah? And definitely in the dog house with PBS and Children’s Television Workshop et al. 

In the spirit of one of our absolutely least favorite offline series, House Hunter, may we suggest a compromise?

What if we say that yes, Bert and Ernie of course are gay – what kid who grew up watching the show could ever think otherwise? – but that they’re asexual homosexuals?

Because what kid who grew up watching the show could ever think otherwise about that either?