Ken Levine AKA Our Pal Who Doesn’t Know We Exist, scores again!
by Ken Levine
Recently in a post I wrote a joke that some felt was too insensitive. Was it? You could argue either way. But I decided it was easier to just swap it out for another joke. I could have stayed with it, but in this case figured it wasn’t worth offending some people. I say “in this case” because in other instances I have kept original jokes that was controversial.
But I kept those because I thought they worked and were appropriate and those who were offended were overly sensitive. You can’t do humor without offending someone. I have never however, kept a joke because I thought it would be too hard to replace.
Professional comedy writers learn early that swapping out jokes is just a part of the game. Many young writers are very defensive. They like the joke they wrote, it took forever to come up with that joke, or both. But jokes often need to be changed. And not just because they don’t work. Actors have a problem, the network has a problem, standards & practices have a problem, legal has a problem, the scene changes and it doesn’t fit as well anymore, it’s funny but too jarring, it’s funny but makes the character seem too stupid, it’s too hard to shoot, it’s too similar to another joke, or of course – it’s too Jewish. You get the idea.
Comedy writers need to get in the habit of swapping out jokes. When my writing partner, David and I can’t agree on a line, rather than argue for forty minutes and one team member ultimately unhappy, we just throw it out and come up with something else. It’s easier, faster, and reduces a lot of unnecessary tension.
Well, maybe not your questions, but those from a certain DP for sure. Here’s what he wrote:
I’m working on a half-hour animated show for the People’s Pilot. How should I gauge my Act lengths, or even my script as a whole? I’ve got a few THE SIMPSONS production scripts that I use as a guideline, each one about 50 pages, though that is longer than what most websites say, and longer than past winners I have looked at for the People’s Pilot (they tend to cap at about 30). Is there a general standard on how many pages each act should be/the script as a whole? It feels incredibly hard to tell. And I don’t understand why single-cam vs multi-cam shows should have different script lengths.
3) I’ve read that animated shows/sitcoms are only 2 acts, with a teaser and maybe a tag. That to me would suggest that there is only one commercial break within the meat of the episode (between Acts 1 and 2), and that doesn’t seem right to me. Don’t sitcoms usually have 2 commercial breaks apart from the teaser and tag? Am I crazy, or am I misunderstanding the terms/act breaks.
Thanks for all of your help, I follow TVWriter every day.
And here’s what I’ve got to say in reply:
First of all, thanks for following TVWriter™ every day. Second of all, thanks for planning on entering the PEOPLE’S PILOT. But if you could get, oh, maybe a couple thousand of your friends to do the same, we might be able to sell some advertising and actually cover some of the expenses of producing this site. And then, man, I’d definitely be thanking you bigtime.
(Wait, just kidding. You won’t see any advertising for outside products here no matter how much anyone offers. I mean, can you imagine munchman being able to write and edit this place while feeling beholden to anyone? Right. Neither can I.)
Where were we? Oh, of course. You need some answers. When it comes to the length and formatting of animated teleplays, guess what. It makes no difference. Every production company has its own way of doing things. What they have in common is simply that all their formats are based in some degree on the standard movie-TV script format and the standard live TV format.
If you were writing an episode of an existing show like, say, THE SIMPSONS, since you mentioned it in your question, I’d say to just do what they do, whatever it is. (I used to know, but I haven’t looked lately.) Single cam, multi-cam, single space, doublespace…whatever you’re comfortable with because you’re the creator. You’re the pioneer out there blazing the trail for your idea and you can do it in any way you want. If, sometime in the future, you get a studio or network interested in your show or – glory hallelujah – a network buys it, don’t worry, they’ll tell you exactly how they want it to look. (In every possible creative way as well as in the format, btw, so be prepared.)
That said, I’d suggest that if you use single cam/movie-TV format you should assume that 30 pages is your limit. If you’re using multi-cam/live TV format I’d say you can go up to 45 or 50 pages but you’d better have a lot of stage directions in there eating up the space. Especially since these days the average half-hour animated show runs for only about 15 minutes and a minute per page is still a good although no longer Biblical guide.
(I’m guessing about the running time, based on the fact that THE SILVER SURFER episodes ran 18 minutes and that was 15 years ago when interruptions were fewer and shorter.)
Speaking of interruptions, SURFER had a Teaser, two acts, and a Tag, with commercials between all of those, which means 3 breaks plus, of course, the commercials that came between the opening titles and the Teaser and those that came after the end. These days the number of breaks is pretty much the same, although it may vary depending, again, on the studio and network.
As for how long each act should be, I can only say that on SURFER we tried to keep everything proportionate with each act approximately the same number of pages and the Teaser, by storytelling necessity, probably twice as long as the Tag. I tried to never go longer than 4 or 5 pages for the Teaser and 2 or 2 1/2 for the Tag.
Actually, as I think about this a little more, I’d recommend that you use single-spaced filmed movie-TV format if you can. It’s the easiest for everyone – judges, producers, even agents – to read. The exception I’d make is that if you’re writing an animated sitcom I’d go with whatever THE SIMPSONS is doing now.
Hope I’ve been helpful. Now get to work because, you know our motto when it comes to the PEOPLE’S PILOT (and the SPEC SCRIPTACULAR but that’s not going to be open for several months): Enter early and enter often! (The enter early part is important. Our Early Bird discount price of $35 per entry ends March 1st.
Every January for the past 16 years, people who care about women’s progress behind the scenes in the film industry have restlessly anticipated Dr. Martha Lauzen’s Celluloid Ceiling analysis of the top 250 domestic films during the previous year.
The figures for women, according to Dr. Lauzen, have not improved in the 16 years since she’s published the story. In fact, things have gotten slightly worse. Here’s she has to say:
Anyone advocating for significant change would be challenging the film industry’s dominant ideology and mores. Since executives in even the loftiest positions are under constant threat of getting booted, it seems unlikely that they would take that chance. In addition, it seems that leaders at the various guilds are paralyzed on this issue because they feel advocating on behalf of their female members may alienate the majority of their members who are male.
I spend my time in the blogosphere and I know that the conversation about this topic is different from what it was even five years ago. While people might think that things are changing because there is a robust and clearly visible conversation about women’s issues in the film business, the reality is that this is not true. Nothing is changing and that is so depressing. Talk is not action, and clearly we need action. (This is something that Women and Hollywood is taking very seriously and is looking into how to be more activist about our work.)
Here’s another comment from Martha Lauzen on what needs to happen to see some change.
The vast majority of the public dialogue about the issue of women’s employment in Hollywood has come from grassroots sources, including individual filmmakers, bloggers, and women’s committees at the guilds. There are a few exceptions to this pattern. Amy Pascal referenced the problem in her Forbes interview last year, and the guilds do release their diversity numbers every year or every few years.
However, for the most part individuals at the top of the Hollywood hierarchy have been remarkably silent on the issue. We don’t hear the studio heads, union leaders, or executives at the Academy acknowledging women’s under-employment as a problem and outlining concrete plans for change. In order for the film industry to experience a significant shift, the top players would need to work together in a concerted effort to seek out more women filmmakers and films made by women.
This should be a moment where people realize that something drastic needs to be done, or else I fear that each year these numbers will stay relatively static and that will be the reality of women working in Hollywood. I don’t think any industry should be satisfied when gender discrimination is so rampant that one privileged group — in this, men — get 84% of the jobs available.
The best action-comedy series on TV just got better. How could anybody not love ARCHER now that it’s – MIAMI VICE?
by Andy Greenwald
For a long time The Simpsons was the fastest show on television. A combination of highly caffeinated, Harvard-educated show-offs in the writers’ room and the complete creative freedom afforded by animation transformed what was originally intended to be a straight (if yellow) family sitcom into an ADD-explosion of satire, asides, cutaways, and jokes so in you’d need Professor Frink’s Hoax-a-Scope to locate them.
These days, nearly every beloved (if poorly rated) single-camera sitcom is a cartoon, even if flesh-and-blood actors are involved. The rhythms and possibilities of animation are everywhere: Parks and Recreation has a rogue’s gallery that rivals Springfield’s, and the gleeful 30 Rock andArrested Development treat reality the way bungee jumpers treat bridges. The only thing that separates Community from full-on toon town is a couple of SAG cards — and even that’s not always enough. In response to such wholesale borrowing, actual cartoons had but one recourse: to get dirtier and a whole lot weirder.
Leading the charge on that score for the past four years has been Archer, FX’s martini-dry exercise in spy jinks. Created by Adult Swim veteran Adam Reed, Archer chronicles the willfully anachronistic adventures of the debonair, deeply dumb Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), an American James Bond type whose unflappable commitment to egotistical hedonism suggests a childhood in which he was shaken, never stirred. (This theory is only reinforced by the behavior of his mother, Malory, a gin-dependent ego monster voiced by Jessica Walter who also happens to be the chief of the International Secret Intelligence Service — or ISIS.) Weekly attacks from KGB agents, Cuban agents, and Burt Reynolds are interspersed with deep dives into drug- and sex-fueled strangeness: Secretary Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer), a secret billionaire, huffs rubber cement; HR chief Pam Poovey (Amber Nash) is into tentacle porn.
I watch Archer semi-regularly — along with fellow FX bro-com The League, it’s part of a rotation of entertaining, low-impact shows I tend to fire up on Netflix after a few drinks; it’s more of a chug-watch than a binge. But, until now, I’ve never written about it. The reason being, I rarely had much to say beyond “this is funny.” (Occasionally I would find it “very, very funny.”) This is not meant to be damning with faint praise. Rather, it’s praising with faint verbiage. Some shows are so good at what they do (and what they do is so hugely specific) that it’s hard to find an entry point for a review. For four seasons, Archer ran more smoothly than the break in Sterling’s best tuxedo pants. It could easily have run for four more. But a funny thing happened, something that’s all too common among TV showrunners but all too rarely acted upon: Adam Reed got bored. And because his show is a cartoon, he could grab the eraser and start all over again.
After the status quo–exploding season premiere…, Archer as we knew it is no more. For reasons I won’t spoil, ISIS is gone along with all the show’s go-go trappings of international espionage. Stripped of their mandate and their machine guns, the gang is left with nothing but their lingering resentments, their petty grievances, and each other. Oh, and a gigantic pile of cocaine. Thus, next week, Archerbecomes Archer Vice as Sterling and a very pregnant Lana (Aisha Tyler) begin the unglamorous dirty work of unloading the drugs in an attempt to reclaim their lost money and power. (They’ll form a cartel because, as Malory puts it, “if Mexicans do it,” how hard can it be?)