Pulitzer prize winners, Larry David, and I suppose all those who have a clue about the art of writing, this may not be the post for you. Anyone with a clue. However, if, like me, you were fairly clueless until recently about writing, you might get a few tips from this blogaduu. Finally, finally, after months of knocking on my door, looking for a chance, this post is getting the nod. Big day. Most of this might all seem pretty obvious, but when one chooses to, 99% of the time, ignore the obvious, it can seem revolutionary, once spelt out for you.
Around this time last year, I began to think about writing a sitcom pilot for a college style idea which I had. Not actually write it, just think about writing one. Eventually I wrote the pilot by November last year, roughly. I like to mull things over, think them through. Looking back, I was completely clueless, as to how to approach the sitcom writing. Two feet, head first, jumped in, going in blind, swinging like a drunk man, throwing jokes and structure around with absolutely little to no meaning. This time around, I am as clueless in one sense, but at least have more structure and advice to nudge me in the right direction. Hollywood has provided one source of help at least for free if nothing else. One might say that it is serving its purpose well.
First time around trying my hand at a sitcom pilot, I thought my knowledge of viewing every episode of my favourite sitcoms would put me in good stead to make my own. Surely. To accompany this cast iron theory, I even read a screenwriting book, for the movies I would write and star in after the sitcom, just so I had all bases covered. Started off by making a loose episode outline for myself, while half drunk on a plane. Logically, the next step was to fill it up with scenes of differing lengths, most of which did not really seamlessly gel together as they should, and off I went with it, delighted. Pilot in hand, line up the bids. Looking back at it, I may have mostly been happy with my great name for the show. Surely that alone would get it made!
Surprisingly, I got a bit of good feedback for the pilot. Thumbs up, pat on the head, ruffle of the nicely combed hair, and a bit of stage progression, as in it was passed up a level in a department. However, that was more or less as far as it got with the television stations I submitted it into. Should’ve really thrown the towel in then, pr***s. Shattering my dreams. Might as well give it another go, plus, this time around, I had my blog to work with, the sitcom would write itself! All I had to do was pick three stories out, A, B and hopefully a C, link them somehow, and write them down. My pilot! Happy days! Should take a few days max.
So, for the past week, I have been formulating and developing the pilot episode over in my head. Start off by introducing the characters to the audience, work in their back story, build it up nicely, few jokes along the way, and good to go. I had the blog to back it up, momentum was building, they could reference the blog if needed. Dumb as a mule, so I was.
Somewhere along the way, I made a call to my helpful guide in L.A, to tell him all about the great progress which I was making. “Stop, you need to listen to me, here’s what you must do” I was told. Started off by informing me mainly of the what not to do’s. My week of work was immediately crossed out and had to start afresh. Thank freddie funk it was, seeing I was going down the wrong path completely. And then what I should try to do. Firstly, and this is key, it is not a pilot episode which I am really looking to write. I do not want to bore any reader with character introductions, background stories, build-up or any of that. I simply want to impress the reader enough with my writing, so that from that one episode, or first 10 pages, the reader will ask to see more, meet me, or at least be offended enough to take notice. I do not want to be just another quaint script in front of someone, that they will forget about within 15 minutes hour. Key one was to stand out, don’t hold back.
The following metaphor sunk in with me, so I will re-use it now. If my blog, full of stories, were to be the ingredients, and I was to bake a cake out of them (sitcom series) what I wanted to do was pass around the best slice of the cake to people, something that they will want more of. Not the first slice, or the last one, but the best one, so I should fill that up to the brim with the best I could deliver. No point in holding back, this was the one to get your foot in the door. Shove as much good stuff in. Just make it all work well. The best slice of the cake!
My original idea was kind of scrapped (first episode, the pilot of me arriving in L.A etc) and a whole new approach had to be taken. Being honest, initially my brain stopped churning for a while, annoyed that I had used it up and then discarded all the good work we did together. A few days I think I felt my brain was close to bursting, literally, and I was covered in frogs at the time. (Twitter reference about a dream, follow on!).
Instead, it is now time to push boundaries. It is far easier to tone down than it is to tone up, as the skinny girl said to the fat girl in the gym (don’t worry, that will not be used in the script, ha). Every scene needs to serve a purpose, what is the objective of the scene, does each scene have an element of high conflict (all straight out of a book, but good to be re-told at this time). This raised the bar even more – to be clever, make sense, push boundaries, obviously make people laugh, and all within the time schedule for a sitcom. Once again, like breaking L.A, it sounded almost too easy.
Thankfully, I have a good few stories that did not make the blog cut. They will now be highly useful for the new approach. Or at least give me food for thought to go along a certain line or angle for the story. I also spent far too much time last week thinking up of a clever name. Absolutely pointless if the rest does not deliver. However, I think I now have both for the show, the name, and also, the outline of the episode that I am writing is coming together. As in today I was able to write out the gist of 17 scenes, all of which linked and were what I was looking for, wuu duu! (I wrote this a few days ago, a new approach again has been developed!).
All I need now is to fully develop it, along with dialogue, and I will be flying. Again, almost too easy. Sure. I have miles to go, but getting there slowly. It is all about the threads coming together in the end, A, B and C. Highly funking frustrating to do, but now that I think I have one cleverly worked out, highly satisfying!
So, up to this point, I had more or less written a few days back. Since then, the writing has been frustrating in the main, pretty good in the minor. However, at least now, I have figured a way out to stop my brain from exploding. My problem has been transferring the brilliant scenes and story line, from my head, to paper. Dumbly, I was more or less, going from the scene in my head, straight to what the characters were saying. For some reason, only today, did I start writing scene snippet outlines, which makes the whole thing far more do-able.
After studying individual episodes of different sitcoms for guidelines, I now have a few structures in place. You would be amazed at how short some scenes actually last in a few sitcoms, but which are vital and brilliant to the story line, all of which is tough to get down. One last thing, and I’ll finish on this, is the tough part of narrowing down what to leave in. Like this post, initially there was no structure. Rambling on, with snippets of humour. Every line of this sitcom has to be funny or necessary. Otherwise it is chopped. Which is tough to do. Cutting frivolous dialogue has been a big challenge of late. All about discipline!
Thats it. I was going to give one last point about how useful it is to always have a notebook with you for ideas or dialogue, but I have already said above that would be my last thing, so I won’t.
Hopefully this songs will buck you back into life…
The Turning (Chew Fu Refix) by Oasis
And one from the latest Heineken ad…
Just A Friend by Biz Markie