Shut Up & Do The Right Thing!

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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

$15 For 12 Hours Work? Wuu!

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After being delighted with myself and pumped after job number one (rocking out my gym as the new, unpaid DJ), it was time to rush home and get ready to start my second new job of the day, I was putting in the double shift already! Job number two involved me being a Shamwow salesman, although the version I am selling is the Super Shammy if I am to be technical (same product, different name). For those you don’t know what the Shammy is, watch this video again to refresh the cockles.

On the way to the fair, where we would be selling the Shammys (although I was told I would need to do very little, they will sell themselves!) I was given my sales spiel to learn off and filled in on what the job would involve. Basically, there are festivals, fairs, carnivals every week where people set up stalls and stands selling different products. There are usually fun fair rides there as well. Wear what I want, outdoors, get a bit of a tan, free ride on the big wheel, it was sounding like the greatest job ever already! All I would have to do is stand there, let the Shammys sell themselves by giving people a demo run through and the commission would be filling my pockets to the brim. I was pumped.

However, and there is always a however it seems, once we got to the festival, I saw it was not as glamourous as I had imagined. For anyone in Cork, I would describe it as being a hybrid of Funderland (but smaller) and the Coal Quay (but worse, if possible). For everyone else not familiar with either, it was like a really crap carnival. And it was then when I remembered who worked at carnivals… carnies! Wuu huu, my dream of becoming a carny had finally come through! (Although technically I was one before when I made wax hands for people in an amusement park in Ocean City but thats another story).

Coincidentally enough, I have recently (well, recently-ish, I wasted 2 hours over Christmas and I would not recommend you do the same) watched a documentary on carnies and their daily lives. Highlights include incest, lack of teeth, and a version of English even more hubbula hubbula than mine.

Carny!

Carny WorkmatesThese people were not to disappoint. Characters like those above were floating about in the shadows, more behind the scenes folks. A few dodgy stares, and hubbulas were given until they realized you were one of their own for the next few days and they welcomed you into the family. The other sellers were a bit more upscale. As we set up our stall, I noticed the people to our right were selling shoes. Shoes that looked like they were all well worn in, but not in a vintage way, they looked dirty and second hand, but still expensive somehow. When have you ever gone to a fun fair with the intention of buying shoes, that are more expensive than ones in regular shops, and look like the seller just walked through a field in them, took them off and put them in front of you?!! The stall behind us were selling water bottles that sprayed you in the face as you took a drink, which was not a joke bottle but meant for practical use. The competition did not look great. Super Shammys were kings of the carnival it seemed. I could see the envy and respect in the eyes of the other carnies.

At least the banter was good with the other carnies. One older lady, who liked to rub my stomach as she spoke to me, freaked me out that she wouldn’t stop, asked me “Where did you get that accent from?” Eh, my Mum. This confused her no end, so she decided to pinpoint different countries, spot the odd one out… “Are you from Australia?” No. “England?” Nope. “Liverpool?” Ha, how did you guess that was the country I am from?!!!

Another carnie folk gave me an authentic Irish ornament she had made and was selling for an extremely high price, it is too weird to describe. Well, it is literally two small hazelnuts on top of each other with a leprechaun hat on top. Not too weird to describe actually at all, just plain weird and I had no idea how it was remotely “authentic Irish”. I’m sure she made a fortune from them.

Our stand was set-up, my sales pitch was down, the sun was shining, the carnival had just opened, 30, 000 people were expected over 4 days, if I sold 20 a day I would be making over 100 bones and at times you might sell 20-30 in an hour, I was pumped. Next step was just to wait for the people. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. And no-one showed up. I did two demos for people, who turned out to be carnies from other stalls, and at the end of each pitch they asked if they could have them for free, in return for a slice of pizza and my palm being read. No thanks, and bob hope!

Apparently, now and again, between the really good shows, there are these off kilter, bad ones where not many people show up. But you still might sell 20 in a few hours at least. And at other times, there are really slow shows where you might only sell 20 in a day. And then there was this time, described as “The worst and biggest joke of a show I have ever done or seen”. Which was great seeing as it was my first day, but at least not really too unsurprising for how my luck has been. I made no sales in 5 hours, it was horrendous. The season pro in charge, that I was working for, also made no sales in 5 hours, so at least it wasn’t just me. Still though, this did not console me in the slightest. It was a great feeling going home that night, knowing that after working a total of 7 hours that day, I had made no money, whatsoever. In fact, I had a net deficit of money for that, after splurging out on lunch, ha.

The next day, the outlook was that at least it could not get any worse. How could you do worse than no sales. I actually thought of plenty of ways of doing this, ha, but thankfully none of them happened (e.g, while giving my demo, I would spill coke all over someone watching it, and have to give them free shammys to make up for it). About an hour in to the shift, I made my first sale. Strangely enough, to two guys about 15, God only knows why they bought them but I didn’t care. In the next 4 hours, I sold one and a half more (buy one, get one free, would you take half the price for just one, sold). The place was still like a ghost town, so nobody was around, it was horrific!

Seeing as 30, 000 had been promised, I had been upgraded to using a microphone headset as well to broadcast my booming sales pitch. This back fired slightly, when after one guy walked away, who had presumed and insisted that Scotland and Ireland were the same difference, I forgot about the microphone being on and called him an ape. Luckily he was all talk and I had the carnies to back me up, ha. We stick together.

At the end of the two days, I had to count my money and tot up my total. It took me all of 5 seconds… 2 and a half sales, I made a grand total of $15 for a total of 12 hours work, including both jobs. Actually, now that I think of it, seeing as I spent $15 each day on lunch, I came away with a net total of -$15. I wonder how much I will have to pay out when we get our bonuses.

Here’s a cool remix for the gym which I stumbled across while getting ready for my DJ set. Black Hole Sun (Chew Fu Remix) by Soundgarden