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LB: First Thoughts on the 2016 People’s Pilot Entries

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by Larry Brody

As we used to say way back in 7th Grade at Sharp Corner Junior High School in scenic Skokie, Illinois, “Awriight!”

As in, “I am so damned excited!”

Why? Because it’s one of my favorite times of year, the time when I take a preliminary look at the entries of my favorite writing contest in the whole world and find myself – as always – with a wide grin spreading across my usually dower face.

(Okay, so I’m lying about the “usually” part. And the “dower” thing. But I d have a face.)

To quote myself from last year’s People’s Pilot reconnaissance, “Here’s what I’m smiling about”:

  1. Last year, for the second time in a row, the PP received more entries than ever before in its history. This year, we received exactly as many entries as then, which blows my mind because I thought we would come up short because of such things as the economy, the election, and the fact that there now are so many online writing contests that I assumed the field was way overcrowded and something – like maybe the PP – would have to give. Thanks to all of you who entered and proved me wrong!
  2. This time around, I recognized the names of about 30% of the entrants from previous contests, emails to TVWriter™ and myself, and the various classes I teach. Last year I knew about half of the entrants, at least by name, and while that was reassuring, right now I’m very happy that more/newer newbies to television writing are taking their shot at changing their lives (and the TV biz) via the PP. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: “The next time you hear a network exec or showrunner say s/he can’t find new writers, look ’em right in the eyes and say, “Must be because you’re not looking.” You’ll be the one telling the truth.
  3. Last year, we had two categories, one for half-hour shows and one for one-hours. This year we added a third category, for shows destined to run longer than one hour. 30% of this year’s entries are half-hours, which approximates the percentage of such shows found this season on broadcast, cable, and interweb networks.
  4. This year, 54% of the PP entries are one-hour shows, and 16% are over an hour. I find this significant because it means that new writers are extending the boundaries, with 16% refusing to be boxed into traditional U.S. lengths, instead stretching out in a manner more similar to many U.K. and Scandinavian series. Have their writers been watching and been inspired by those often amazing English, Welsh, Swedish, Danish, and Finnish shows? Considering how xenophobic U.S. showbiz has been in the past, this is an important cultural shift.
  5. Most of this year’s half-hour entries seem to be pure sitcoms as opposed to the dramedies that have become popular recently on so many cable and interweb outlets. I don’t know if this is a sign that the dramedies are running out of steam, nor do I know if that would be a good thing or a bad one, but the writers who entered the People’s Pilot don’t seem to love the funny-ironic, funny-tragic shows nearly as much as so many U.S. critics.
  6. Last year, the largest number of entries in the one-hour category were science fiction and fantasy series, at 20%. This year, in the one-hour and longer-than-one-hour categories, that number dropped a few points to a shade less than 15% and was equaled by entries in what looks to be a “continuing drama AKA soap opera” genre. Until the judges and I have read all the entries, I can’t say whether serious drama or outrageous drama – or something in between – predominates, but in a couple of months, when I’m more informed, you’ll be the first to know.
  7. PP entries in all categories have always delighted me with their fascinating titles. This year, I’m especially looking forward to reading the following, just because of their names. (There’s a lesson there that everyone reading this should note: A good title goes a long, long way to helping your cause.) Here, in no particular order, are the ones that are grabbing me the most:
    WHO NEEDS A TUX TO BE GQ?
    JOHNNY WHOOP AND THE BRAIN MACHINE
    TIL DEATH DOES PART US
    SHADE AND GRACE
    BAD PRESS
    CUTTING HEART
    KICKING & SCREAMING
    DUDU
    NEVADA BLUE
    SWING, YOU SINNERS
    HUNTRESS MOON
    PANDORA’S BOX
    MEPHISTO’S PROTEGE
    GREAT KILLS
    VENOM
  8. As usual, we’ve received some fascinating one-word titles. In fact, fully one-third of the entries had them. Some of the standouts:
    DREAMERS
    VENOM
    SPICE
    HOSTAGES
    MATRYOSHKA
    SNAPBACK
    ICEBREAKERS
    GHOSTWRITER
    SUPERCHARGED
    INCOMPATIBLE
    BREAKERS
    PIZZAZ!
    NIGHTMARE
    EXITUS
    ABANDONED
    TRAFFIK
    CAMELOT
    NEVERMORE
    DUDU
    TECHYCARDIA
    INEFFABLE
  9. My favorite title in the half-hour category is JOHNNY WHOOP AND THE BRAIN MACHINE. In the one-hour I’m taken with SWING, YOU SINNERS. And in the over one-hour category I’m most eager to read SHADE AND GRACE. Not that there’s any reason in the world for the judges to agree!

Our plan for announcing winners remains the same as we say on the People’s Pilot “About” page. We hope to announce Semi-Finalists, Finalists, and Winners between mid-January and mid-February of next year.

And, of course, I’ll probably have an announcement or two between now and then so keep checking back with us. Wouldn’t want anybody to be a Winner and not know it. After all, what good is a victory if you don’t use it to make your big career move? (Or at least rub it into those who didn’t believe?)

Thanks again to everyone for taking part and being so talented! More to come!

LYMI

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LB

Hofstra U. Needs a TV Writing Professor

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Assistant Professor, to be precise, which, of course, all writing should be.  Considering that the location of Hofstra University – Long Island! – is a fave of the Big Money Literary Scene in these United States of A, competition for the gig probably will be fierce. But if you’ve got the cred, this looks like a good one.

Here’s the lowdown:

Faculty Position in Television Writing

The Herbert School of Communication Announces an ANTICIPATED OPENING IN THE DEPARTMENT OF RADIO, TELEVISION, FILM for a FULL-TIME TENURE-TRACK POSITION BEGINNING FALL 2017

The Department of Radio, Television, Film anticipates an opening beginning in Fall 2017 for a tenure-track appointment for a full-time assistant professor to teach television writing. The successful candidate must demonstrate the ability to teach introductory and advanced undergraduate courses in television writing in areas such as: short-form and long-form television formats, series writing, and producing for television and new media. The candidate should further demonstrate familiarity with a variety of genres, including comedy, satire and drama. Professional experience in writing for television and emerging media forms (streaming content, web-based interactive/immersive) is considered a plus.

Ph.D., MFA, or MA with significant professional work experience and ongoing creative production over which they have principal control. Tenure candidates are expected to engage in scholarly research and/or creative activity and be available for departmental service, academic advisement, and mentoring co-curricular activities. University level teaching experience is preferred. Salary range is competitive, with excellent fringe benefits.

Please email cover letter, CV, and the names/addresses/phone numbers of three references to Professor Phil Katzman, Chair, Department of Radio, Television, Film, at rtvfdpc@hofstra.edu. Please submit all documents in .PDF format only.

Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until position is filled.

Hofstra University is an equal opportunity employer, committed to fostering diversity in its faculty, administrative staff, and student body, and encourages applications from the entre spectrum of a diverse student body.

Hofstra University is the largest private, liberal arts institution on Long Island, NY. It is located 25 miles east of Manhattan and includes the following schools: Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Frank G. Zarb School of Business; Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine; Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies; Lawrence Herbert School of Communication; Fred DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; School of Health Professions and Human Services; Maurice A. Deane School of Law; and Hofstra University Honors College.  There are approximately 500 full-time faculty members; 6,900 full and part-time undergraduates; 2,900 graduate students; 800 law students; and 350 medical students. For more information about the University please visit www.hofstra.edu

All in all, pretty damn cool beans, yeah?

As usual, we’re asking anyone who applies to tell us how the experience goes. Nobody’s ever actually done that – tell us how the experience went – but we’re writers; we live in hope!

WGAW November 2016 Calendar

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Click the image above to go to a clickable version of the calendar

Peggy Bechko’s World of Suspense

by Peggy Bechko

Suspense.

That’s the key to a good story. Doesn’t matter if it’s a script or a novel. Suspense is what draws the reader/viewer in and holds on tight.

So is creating suspense one of your skills?

It’s fascinating to watch a real master build suspense and there are many ways. One great example, especially for screenwriters is Alfred Hitchcock. If you haven’t watched his movies you should.

That said, one I’m referring to in particular for his example is a film that wasn’t as well known as his others, called Rope. In it two men commit a murder as the first thing the audience sees, then they hide the body in a big wooden chest in the living room where the pair is about to host a dinner party.

If that set-up doesn’t grab you by the throat you need to check your pulse.

Of course, guests enter the apartment immediately on the heels of the murders stashing the body in the chest. This is true suspense right from the beginning.

The murder might not have been shown, it could have happened off-screen as I understand the original play had it. But Mr. Hitchcock gave it another twist.

Now the audience knows there’s been a murder – it won’t be a surprise at the end – and everyone in the audience is on the edge of his or her seat anticipating when or if the dinner guests will find out they’ve been setting their drinks on the chest that contains a body and that they’ve sat down to dinner with a pair of murderers.

Genius, no? Instead of hiding the fact of the murder and doing the complete set-up with just the dinner guests arriving and the hosts entertaining – saving the ‘big reveal’ for the end the murder was made perfectly plain along with the fact that the body was in the chest.

From that moment on it’s in the air as to what might happen next, where this story can carry the audience.

The imagination of the viewers is set loose like a wild thing. At any moment things can go terribly wrong. It’s like being in on a deadly secret.

Mr. Hitchcock’s brilliance with suspense is showcased in that film. He did what he did with the script because he knew he was exchanging a shock at the end of the film for prolonged, edge-of-your-seat suspense throughout the entire movie. It thrilled audiences then and if you watch it now it’ll thrill you too.

The same thing can be done in a novel as with the script. As a writer of suspense remember not to hold back on information that could create dangerous situations for your characters. Open up. Give that information as soon in your story as you can.

Once it’s out there the reader or watcher with be biting fingernails through your entire story, waiting for ‘the next shoe to drop’, imagining all the ways things can go very wrong and thrilling to your conclusion.

The mystery in that case has become not what has happened to cause the situation, but rather what’s going to happen next!

Seriously. Watch some of Mr. Hitchcock’s films. Steal some of his methods. Then add your own twists for an edge-of-your-seat tale that’ll really get the blood pumping.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.