Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The TV Spec Script: 2 - Fish and water become separated but good

Care for a slushee?

When I've never done something before, I usually find it helpful to talk to someone who has.

I either ask them to walk me through it. Or ask them to point me towards someone who will walk me through it.

This may seem overly-cautious, but honestly, as much as I'd like to be able to produce new, perfect, whole forms the way Zeus was able to produce Athena, well, this is my road.

Which is why I enrolled in a UCLA extension class for writing the 1 Hour Drama.

Plus, I know that as solitary as writing can be, it's more collaborative than one might first think. For television, this is especially so.

I also calculated there would be other beneifts: I'd get to meet more writers; I'd have a bunch of deadlines to work against and be motivated by; I'd get regular critiques - good or bad - of my work, thus encouraging me to constantly re-evaluate my writing with an eye toward improvement.

But even those who recommended taking a UCLA extension course offered some warnings about what I'd also find there.

The biggest warning was about the focus of the students. Apparently, most of the students who take extension courses do so because they have a passing interest in the field they're trying to break into. Abby, a great writer and close friend who did some screenwriting work at UCLA night school, put it this way: "People just don't do the assignments. I don't get it. I mean, why would you pay all that money and not do it?"

Indeed, why?

In any case, my first class was two Thursdays ago on the 11th.

Immediately, I felt out of place becasue when I arrived I didn't find the usual sullen, lonley writer types exchanging anxious glances, but a roomful of 20-somethings deep in conversation about television shows. It was their familiarity not with the shows, but each other, that made me feel just a little alien.

The teacher, himself, remarked on how unusual it was to find a group starting out with such lively talk. "You must know each other," he commented.

Turned out half had had a class together previously.

They also all had an "Industry standard outline". Or, at least, when asked who didn't have one, I was the only one stupid enough to admit to not only not having it, but not even knowing what it was - or at least the "Industry standard" part of the idea.

The teacher immediately looked at me like I didn't belong. I started to worry about it, too.

Then he asked us to pitch our shows - the story ideas we had. I stopped worrying so much.

See, my story idea for my MEDIUM episode was considered good. Then when I heard the ideas from others, I wondered, how could all these people be so confident? I mean, few ideas were clear. And there were only two ideas that were even interesting enough to be memorable.

It didn't help that 5 out of 15 or so people were writing HOUSE episodes and hadn't really worked through the medical gobbledegook yet.

Even more weirdly, several people were writing for 24 and HEROES. Both great shows, but tough to spec since the shows are not self-contained stories. Characters have arcs that just go forever. (Ken Levine does a nice send-up of the 24 spec here.)

I felt the same way about those people trying their hand at LOST (there were 2 of them).

(This is one reason I'm not trying to write a FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - Where do you start? How do you end? What the hell?)

Anyway, the guy teaching the class made some suggestions to all and then asked us to come back with our outlines next week.

I finished mine up and sent it in Friday.

I'll let you know what he thought when I get his notes back.

This should be interesting. Especially starting as someone no-one in the class seems to feel should be there.

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