Thursday, January 25, 2007

The TV Spec Script: 3 - Notes

Well, the notes on my first "Industry Standard" outline came back and generally I'm good to go to draft.

Apparently, I've got plenty of industry and lots of standard.

Which made me a little more cheerful about going to class.

Until I got there and realized I had to give notes to one of the other students.

I'm simply not good at this and then, the story outline I was charged with discussing was in such an embryonic state that to criticize it seemed unfair. And worse, from a certain point of view, part of me wanted to say to the writer: Start over.

Of course, this wouldn't be helpful. Instead, I asked the author where in the development of the story she was. This made it easier for me to be honest about how under-cooked it still was.

However, there were so many specific writing problems and so much to be worked out thematically, it was hard to tell if I was helpful at all.

It makes me wonder if I'll ever be able to give good notes. Unlike many, I simply cannot be cut and dried about what's wrong and what needs to change. 9 times out of 10, I end up in a conversation about character wants and desires and sounding wishy washy about how to follow and explore those wants and needs.

In grad school, Eduardo Machado was famous for giving notes that were hardly notes. You'd get things like "I think you should really figure out what she wants and then write it from her point of view" and "You should write the part that you're most afraid to write. I don't feel that you're afraid yet."

Some in the program hated this. They wanted literal direction about what exactly to write and cut.

For me, generally, I've found that when people do that, they often have some "idea" in their head about how it's supposed to be rather than allowing you to explore and make discoveries that might me more interesting than anyone could imagine. (I've been guilty of this by the way.)

With something like television, a very tight structure must be adhered to, so a concrete course of action - do this, do that - might be okay.

And yet, thinking through the whole idea is more important than ever because of this. You really have to know what you want to say - and use every draft as a sketch toward the finished painting.

Still - on the one hand - when something's not right, you can't tell if it's because the writing is not good (ie, vague) or if it's that way because the writer only knows that something has to be there, but don't know the story they're telling yet and thus don't know what to do.

It gives me sympathy for the advertising creative directors I've worked with in the past. I've walked into offices with ideas in all kinds of different states - some ready to be made, some hardly breathing at all. And I didn't always know the difference.

Yet, those people had to figure out not only what was wrong, but how to fix it - and more importantly, what to say to me that would help me solve the problem.

The best, of course, found ways to get me to solve it on my own. But under deadlines.... whew...

Notes. Ugh.


Anonymous said...

Mal, I haven't been to your Blog for awhile--I was surprised to see you managed the time to go to a class!
anyway, I went to your Shakespeare cowboy and LOVED it. also on your favorites that you made--liked them too--not the Gex Commercial so much, but it's too bad you couldn't do eleanor in the actual commercial! she is wonderful (in both the Shakespeare cowboy reading and the favorites) and the beagle is phenominal!

malachy walsh said...

Re: The Beagle - isn't he?

Anonymous said...

I give...what is an "industry standard outline"?

I took classes at UCLA and was pleased with them. At least it creates deadlines, which I need, and it's always good to bounce your ideas off other writers.


malachy walsh said...

An industry standard outline: 12-16 pages divided in Teaser and Act sections with slug lines for each scene followed by short summaries what's in the scene.

Preferably in Final Draft.

Deadlines are great. Always.

However, many of the students I came across didn't write much. Further, when they did, it usually wasn't good.

Worse, only a few of the students had ever read a script for the show they were writing for. THAT is not good.

Granted, they all had jobs and were working their asses off to try something new.

But I was too, so I'm not too forgiving about repeated empty hands.