Okay…so Kevin Hart is out as Oscar Host because he might offend people and Ricky Gervais is trying to place himself in the running. But of course, the whole point of picking Ricky Gervais would be to get more people to tune in because he would be offending people. I don’t think so and it all begs the question of just what the job requirements today are to host the Academy Awards. I’m not sure anyone is clear on this. I’m not sure there really are any.
Some of those involved in the selection probably aren’t interested in anything else besides “Who’d get the most people to tune in?” America’s interest in award shows has fizzled a lot in recent years, perhaps because there are way too friggin’ many of them. But maybe it’s also because your top movie stars are paid so, so much money (and it’s not a secret) that a lot of people really view the show as a lot of undeserving, easy-to-resent, overpaid people celebrating the awesomeness of each other. Which, of course, it is.
To some extent, the Oscars these days are like watching Jeff Bezos play Deal or No Deal. Even winning the top prize isn’t going to change his life one bit. We don’t have a lot of rooting interest these days for actors, even for our favorites. If your career has been such that you’re up for an Oscar, you’re probably to the point where you’re so rich and famous that it won’t make a bit of difference. I mean, you might get $20 million for your next film instead of $15 million but why should anyone who can’t afford health insurance care?
So maybe what the Oscars need is a host who can puncture all the pomposity and bring it back down closer to the real world. In that sense, maybe Ricky Gervais wouldn’t be a bad choice, just as Kevin Hart wasn’t a bad choice. But then the show won’t so much be about Who will win? but about about Who will Ricky insult? Hell, if all we want is controversy and puncturing, forget about Ricky and bring in Gilbert Gottfried.
The most oft repeated dictum about writing that I’ve heard is: Write What You Know. The question is – what do you know? To take a literal meaning to the question suggests that you can only write within your own experiences which is awfully limiting. I’m a white middle class male and yet I created Amanda Waller who is black, female, and from the projects. What did I know that allowed me to do that? And yet, Amanda is one of the best, most realized, characters I’ve ever created.
My view of Write What You Know is – what do you KNOW as opposed to what you were TAUGHT. What has your own experience taught you to be true? An unquestioned belief, in my opinion, is not worth having. Only by testing that belief – by doubting, questioning – does a belief become your own even if you come to the same belief that you started with. Now it’s your own.
What do you know of life? Not what you were told or taught but what have you experienced? What do you know that is true? That should be in your writing.
For example, take Character. For me, the essence of character is to be found in contradiction. Take a piece of paper. On the left hand side, list a series of attributes. Such as:
In other words, a Boy Scout.
On the right hand side of the page, write down the opposite of what you wrote on the left hand side. You cannot use un-.dis-, or ir-. In other words, no Unfriendly for Friendly. Be creative in your choice of words. With “Clean”, what do you mean? It’s how YOU define the word; it’s what that word means to YOU. How does it resonate? Be creative.
If everything you wrote on the left hand side of the page is true, then in some way, in some place, everything on the right hand side is also true. I have invariably found that the essence of character is found in contradiction. Again, it’s how you define those words. What do you MEAN by them? HOW are they true?
No one is all one thing all the time. Our personal characters are tidal; they ebb and flow. The sea is always the sea but is also always in motion and so are our natures. What is true of us should be true in our characters.
However, we don’t show all those aspects of ourselves every moment of the day or night. Different people, different circumstances, bring out different aspects of ourselves and should do the same with the people we create.
That’s part of the purpose of the supporting characters. Different people in your lives bring out different aspects of your own character. There was this guy I knew many years ago who I just did not like and for a long time I didn’t know why. He wasn’t a bad guy but I just felt uncomfortable around him. I finally figured out that it was because he mirrored sides of me that I did not like, that I was uncomfortable having.
Circumstances and events can also bring out different sides of you. Kim used to ask me how I would react in such and such a circumstance; I told her I wouldn’t know until I got there. We like to think we know what we would feel or how we react in a given situation but the truth is we only know how we think we would behave or how we’d like to believe we would act. You can’t know for sure until you’re actually in the situation.
So – how do we show all these contradictory emotions in a story? First of all, you use one at a time. In a comic, that might be for one panel. Try to use more than one in a panel muddies the story and makes it unclear. One at a time, please.
That said, you can switch to a completely different emotion in the next panel. Don’t try to “transition” from one feeling to the other. I’ve seen inexperienced writers do it; I’ve seen inexperienced actors do it. The ones who don’t do it are people in real life; the emotions flow, one to the next. Something hits you, you react. That’s what you want in your story.
What makes a person or a character react, have a certain emotion, tells you something about them just as it does in real life. What annoys you, either a situation or a person? You can go further – why does that person or situation annoy you? Every writer is something of a detective; you follow the clues to get a clearer picture of the character you’re writing. Do it right and so will your reader. That’s something that you want.
Do you have to create a character this way? Of course not. Different writers have different methods. You can do it completely by mechanics. I was once watching an interview on TV and a writer told his acolytes that the first thing you needed was a good name. I threw things at the TV.
I like stories that seem to emanate from character. Learning something from a well rounded and created story can tell me something about myself or the people around me. It makes, I believe, for a better story.
Writing a better story? That’s the job.
John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared (with lots of pictures even). You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE
The recent attacks on the classic 1964 TV holiday special, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, are wrong on so many levels.
First of all, from a personal standpoint, I AM Rudolph. Although I’ve never had a shiny red nose, as a kid, I was singled out by bullies because I could sing, dance, and act, at a time when those talents for a young boy (or for an adult male, for that matter), were not so widely accepted in the mainstream.
And I also happened to be a cute little kid, who all the little girls liked. So, all the little boys would beat me up. The prejudice/bigoted message/theme of Rudolph can be life-changing. The show certainly helped get me through many rough patches in my childhood (and still does today).
Secondly, the unsettling characteristic behavior displayed by Santa Claus and the Reindeer Coach, etc. that is the source of recent critics is reconciled by the end of the special, as they, and other characters who behaved badly or spoke out of turn ultimately realize how wrong they were.
Thirdly, with all the ignorant, violent, vulgar, and profane language and images that are displayed on a daily basis on the majority of new television programming and in new feature films, for that matter, is considered acceptable, poor little “Rudolph” and the show’s amazing message of love and forgiveness is being attacked?
That is just plain insane. Certainly, every writer should have the freedom to write whatever they want, and I do not sit in judgment of that. But don’t be picking on the animated Rudolph when other animated characters like those on The Simpsons and Family Guy fart, swear and frequently utilize abusive words and display offensive behavior.
Fourthly, from a completely objective and professional perspective of the creative writer’s life, all stories need villains, whether stories are told on TV, the big screen, the stage, or even in a song, whether the material in question is adult-geared or family-oriented.
What, are all creative properties now supposed to eliminate antagonists in storytelling and just have scripts filled with protagonists?
As Macaulay Culkin’s ingenious character, Kevin McCallister says at one point in the classic 1990 holiday feature film, Home Alone, “I don’t think so!”
Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society and author of several classic TV companion books. He has been part of TVWriter™ for 20 years and is Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Herbie J HERE.
Around 49.5 years ago, I launched my career as a professional writer. At the time, I didn’t imagine that nearly half a century later, I would still be doing it. I didn’t imagine that I wouldn’t not be doing it, either. I had a fairly good imagination but I’ve never imagined too far ahead of myself.
Writing was the only thing I wanted to do and I clearly had more aptitude for it than anything else except maybe Hostage or Human Sacrifice. So it was kind of like, “Well, I’ll try this and if (or more likely, when) it doesn’t work out, I’ll figure out a Plan B for my life.” So far, it hasn’t been necessary but I sometimes think, “Well, maybe next week…”
As I’ve mentioned here: When I started out, I did a lot of writing for magazines. For one, I had to write a profile of a famous singer, which I did largely by paraphrasing and rearranging hunks of various press releases that the singer’s publicist had supplied to my publisher. After the piece was printed, the publicist hired me to write press releases and also to write articles about his clients. He gave the articles for free to the magazines which ran them, each time with no indication that the author worked not for them but for the subject’s publicist. Two of those magazines later offered me assignments. It was a more benevolent version of how Washington, D.C. operates.
So it was generally a matter of one job leading to another. The publicist also had me writing jokes and fake anecdotes for his clients to tell when they went on talk shows. Then when his second-in-command went off and started his own publicity firm, that guy hired me to work for him, too.
Amidst all of this, I met other writers and we’d tell each other about jobs we knew that were open or buyers of writing who were in need. I even began to get calls where someone I’d never met before would say something like, “I’m putting together a new magazine and I need a 5000-word article about such-and-such by Monday. Phil says you’re the guy who can get it done for me.”
Maybe ten years ago, I addressed a group of wanna-be writers and I told them what I’m telling you. There was one gent in the first row who had a great deal of trouble grasping certain aspects of this lecture. He kept saying, “You’re telling us everyone thought you were a brilliant writer” and I definitely was not telling them that. If you think I’m telling you that, read more carefully. I am not making any sort of claim or evaluation of the work except one. I am telling you that they found it useful.
To be honest, I never knew if they found it excellent or mediocre or what. There are those who hire writers who will say “Great job” about just about everything they accept because, I suppose, they think praise will keep you willing to do more work for them without asking for more money. There are also those who think the opposite: That if they tell you it’s great, you’ll demand more money. A lot of people deliver compliments the way we applaud performers even if we didn’t like what they did — as a kind of polite obligation.
As nice as some of it may be, never take that kind of thing seriously. A great old pulp magazine writer named Frank Gruber once told me, “There are really only two compliments you can ever get from your editor that are meaningful and certainly honest. One is ‘Can you do another job for me next week?’ and the other is ‘I’m giving you a raise.'”
But let’s get back to the key word for today’s lesson: Useful. The buyers found my work useful. The reason they shelled out money for my writing was that they found it useful….
This TVWriter™ minion admits it: Scrooged is far from his favorite Christmas pic. But it’s a damn sight better than Mixed Nuts or – choke – The Bishop’s Wife.
I always thought I was alone in my opinion of how overrated Scrooged in particular is. Then I saw this:
24 Thoughts We had While Watching Scrooged
by Tricia Ennis
A few weeks ago there was a meme making its way around the Twitterverse. What was the tagline of the number one film the day you were born? This is especially fascinating for me, as this is the year I turn 30 and either fall into an existential crisis from which there is no return or wake up the next morning with all my crap completely together. That’s how it works, right? This is what I’ve been told and the world wouldn’t LIE, right? RIGHT?
Anyway, as a November baby, I get two things in theaters: Disney princesses and Christmas movies, so it should not have surprised me that the number one movie the day I was born was the Bill Murray classic Scrooged, which was released unto the world on November 23, 1988, just four days before I would join it and signal the coming apocalypse bring joy to my family and friends.
But here’s the thing. Even though we’ve existed on this planet for the same amount of time, Scrooged and I have never crossed paths. And so we come here, to this Deja View, in which I attempt to discover exactly what I’ve been missing and see which of us is doing better 30 years on.
1. This movie is already off to an unexpected start … in the North Pole? Is this when we find out Santa is God?
2. Oh, wait … Santa is being shot at. The elves have an arsenal. Santa has an AK-47. I know this is gonna end up being very meta but is there a version of this fake movie within the movie that I can actually watch?
3. And now Lee Majors is here and Bob Goulet is singing Christmas Carols in New Orleans and this movie is officially very 1980s.
4. “Father Loves Beaver” is a show on this network. That is all.
5. Bill Murray keeps a mirror in his drawer to … practice smiling? I think? We’re three minutes in and I think he might be a sociopath.
6. This movie has dropped like a dozen names already AND Bobcat Goldthwait is here and I don’t know why it felt like it needed to convince us it was the coolest kid in the room but, hey …