Monday, July 28, 2008

Slow News Day

I had the chance this weekend to read the winning spec of the Script P.I.M.P. TV competition. It's a Dexter spec entitled "Slow News Day", written by Ryan Harris & Brian Lubocki. I was interested for 2 reasons, one being that I didn't win the competition and wanted to read the script that did, and second being that I'm currently writing a Dexter spec myself, and have been having trouble with it.

First of all, the script flows, and fast. I read it in one sitting, almost by accident; I just wanted to take a look and read it later but ended up being swept up in it. I like how they made the episode stand-alone, not only from the series, but from the seasons. There's no mention of the Bay Harbor Butcher, the Ice Truck Killer, Lilah or even Doakes. This gives them immense flexibility of storylines since they don't have to fit within any particular timeline, and it gives the spec a much longer shelf life to be used as a sample. Unlike my Heroes spec, which will expire as soon as season 3 starts.

They had only A, B and C storylines, which surprised me. I've been trying to create mine with A, B, C and several runners, but their approach makes sense, since the runners usually have to do with the season arc anyway. As well, the A and B stories were so intertwined that almost every scene with the B story also had the A story plot pushed forward. The A story was a "killer of the week" story, the B story started out as a feud between the police station and the local news team (revolving around the A story) and eventually turned into something more sinister. The C story was the only thing separate, dealing with Dexter's relationship with Rita's family.

I asked Ryan and Brian how they structured the script, since Dexter episodes do not have clear act breaks and the scripts read like a screenplay. They said they used four acts, but with a cold open it seems almost like five, which they deciphered from watching the show and reading the original scripts.

I understand why they won. Their spec is great. It was funny and freaky in all the right places. The dialogue was spot-on for each character. The plot was the exact type of Dexter plot you'd see in the show, and it had a definite Miami feel. The plot twists were fresh and extremely satisfying. I'm jealous, actually. I hope that my Dexter spec reads as well. I'm pretty sure that reading their spec has helped me just as much as when I read the original episode "Crocodile", because it shows how others dealt, successfully, with the issues I've been struggling with in writing my spec.

Congrats, guys!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Writing teams and credit

I'm writing a screenplay with some friends.

My friends Saul and Yoni, for whom I was story editor on a previous short animated film of theirs, came up with the idea. They pitched me the concept, which essentially just consisted of the main villain. I took that idea and created a story around it, with the occasional input of Yoni. We did some brainstorming sessions but the bulk of the writing/creating is mine. I wrote half the beat sheet and took it to my writing group last night.

I can't seem to figure out how to designate credit. Obviously I'm the writer, but how much input allows for credit as a writer? Yoni wants to be credited as a co-writer, though he doesn't know how to structure or format a screenplay and so far the creative process has been 90% me and 10% him. Do he and Saul get a "story by" or "characters by" credit? At what point can someone receive a "written by" or co-writer credit? How much actual writing does a person have to do?

How I think I could work around this situation:

Me: Writer
Saul: Based on characters by
Yoni: Story by

All this depends on how much writing Yoni does after the beat sheet of course, but I'm guessing that it's going to be mostly me doing the actual writing. I do know that some writing teams work in the way where one person writes and the other speaks, or does characters. You have to find that balance, so if I can actually develop some system with Yoni where we are writing it together, then that will make it easier to figure out.

Or maybe I should stop worrying about that and just get back to writing the damn thing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On Networking and Shakespeare

I went to a high school reunion a couple nights ago. It's interesting to see where people have gone in 10 years (yes, I graduated that long ago - I took 4 years off before TV school). Most of us who showed up were drama geeks and were in our high school performance of Midsummer Night's Dream (I was Theseus, because of my manly voice and then long-flowing hair). My friend who played Lysander went directly after high school to USC and studied acting. Now he's starting to get bigger parts, including a role in LOST last season. He said that his friends are starting to get even better roles... some of them are in the show Heroes, for example. As a joke I said well then maybe he can show them my Heroes spec and they can tell me if I got their characters right, and he said "yeah, no problem." So now I'm scared to send him my spec, because the real actors of the characters in my spec were the last people I ever expected to read the damn thing.

Another friend, who played Puck, also eventually went to LA, and studied at AFI. He's now producing a film starring [someone famous]. This impressed me since he only graduated last year. He told me (without me asking him, mind you), to send him something once I've got an original pilot or screenplay.

I've read this in several places recently, but this reminded me that you should network by being passionate and excited about about what you're doing, but that you shouldn't ask people to further your career for you. Be interested in what they're doing (for their sake, and not for what it means to you); natural partnerships will form when people are genuine and enthusiastic. And if you are going to ask people for something, let it be for feedback and not a job. You have to also mind your familiarity; your level of rapport is important when deciding whether to ask someone to even take a look at your material. It seems that your true network forms when you aren't using people for what you think they can give you, but when you develop real and trusting relationships with people. And hopefully some of them happen to also be wickedly connected (compared to you, anyway).