Scriptonomics: Replacing Script Readers with AI?

scrby Emily J

Tucked between the myriad of panels and lectures at the recent Story Expo in Los Angeles was a half hour session showing off a new tool for screenwriters called Scriptonomics. Scriptonomics is a website app that writers can upload their feature script onto. The app then analyzes the pages quickly using an algorithm that reads the text and fits the script into a mathematical model to tell you how sellable your script is.

I had so many questions! I may have harassed the speaker a little in trying to understand it, poor kid. Great for LA Screenwriter followers, though, because now you are getting all that beautiful information.

The idea of Scriptonomics is to essentially eliminate the job of script readers in Hollywood. When the app has read your script, it gives you a clear and concise analysis showing your scripts strengths and weaknesses while comparing it to other films in your genre. The makers of the site boast that they are regularly updating the the script database, while also making sure the scripts are relevant. Therefore scripts from the 1950s would not be in the library, but everything from the last ten years is being added so that the analysis can track current trends.

Scriptonomics gives you this analysis for you to submit with your script to potential producers as a selling point. The speaker walked the audience through the site using the film script for THE WATCHMEN. The analysis was definitely accurate with their test script, and the app only takes a few minutes to get through the pages (naturally it was a little faster since the script was already in the database). It all looked very nice, but it did inspire a lot of questions for me.

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First of all, by only maintaining more recent scripts, the app could determine more recent trends like superhero/action films, but not recurring trends such as this summer’s return to character-driven romcoms. Secondly, I was surprised by their choice of script in THE WATCHMEN.

At the end of the analysis, Scriptonomics will give you a Pass, Consider, or Recommend just like any other script reader. Here is the thing though, THE WATCHMEN is a two hour and forty-five minute movie, meaning that the script could be approximately 165 pages long. There is not a script reader in the world that would not have a complaint about that page count, no matter how much they love the original material. Also, the film was not a critical or commercial success, definitely having some script issues. Why out of the thousands of scripts they could have chosen they picked this one, I have no idea.

crWhen asked what the accuracy for the pass/consider/recommend is, we were told 82%. I pressed further. The purpose of storytelling is to emote — things like romance and comedy would be difficult for an A.I. to register as “successful” since their success level is incredibly subjective. According to the site, the accuracy for those scripts is “a little less” than 82%.

I am still incredibly skeptical over whether or not this can be successful but I am definitely going to test it out. If you are curious as well, do not worry about the security of the site. Register your script with the WGA before submitting (they only do English feature scripts at the moment) and create an account with the site. If you decide to end your account, your scripts are removed from the site. No one else on the site has access to your scripts at any time either.

[NOTE: The Scriptonomics site doesn’t appear to be working right now. We tried uploading a script in txt format (the only format currently accepted) and got an error message every time. Let us know in the comments if you have more success! And we’ll let you know when the site is back online.]

The recommended price is $59.99 per script or subscription. The site is currently in “beta mode,” so they have a button for donations, but technically you can have your script analyzed for free right now.

Personally, the site is so new that the idea of handing in an analysis with the script to a producer is not going to hold a lot of cache. That being said, if there is a way to get an early draft analysis before passing it onto friends, a company that does detailed coverage for a similar price, or a script consultant, it does not hurt to take advantage of this technology while you can.

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Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

Story Expo: 10 Ingredients for Success

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by Emily J

A few weekends ago, I was lucky enough to attend Story Expo in Los Angeles. Three days of immersing myself in storytelling, pitching, and the business… what could be better?

The weekend began on Friday with an opening keynote from Arnold Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro is an Oscar-winning producer for the 1978 documentary SCARED STRAIGHT. Considering the expo was primarily focused on screenwriting, it may seem odd to have a documentary producer open the event. However, this is a story conference and as I would quickly found out, that means that the discussion of the weekend was going to occasionally take its audience out of the world of blockbusters and three act structure and into novels, comic books, and most importantly, putting your personal story into your writing.

In this way, Mr. Shapiro’s story was beyond compelling. His career is built around trying to make a difference in the world through his work and he often creates work that touches on controversial and uncomfortable topics in order to emotionally touch his audience.

Throughout his career and in achieving his goals, Arnold Shapiro found 10 Ingredients to Success. The list played out like themes throughout the weekend, as you will see below. They are as follows:

1. Interview Yourself

Why do you want to write or have a writing career?

Jen Grisanti is a script consultant and former television executive, trained under prolific television producer Aaron Spelling. In her seminar TELLING AND SELLING YOUR STORY, Ms. Grisanti implored writers to discover what it is that compels them to write and what they are able to bring to a story that no other writer can. She helps writers answer this question by walking them through the process of of creating a “logline for their life.” She asks writers to identify universal life moments and themes in their own lives (a career change, a new relationship, a moment of discovery, etc.) and says in this you will find where “your gold for your writing lies.” Then all you have to do is place them in the context of a logline with protagonist, inciting incident, plan of attack, and goal.

For Grisanti and her many clients, a writing career is not simply about telling the stories of others (whether real or imagined) but telling your own story through your characters.

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2. Go for the Goal

Set goals and timetables to keep your writing moving forward.

Pamela Douglas is an award-winning television writer and tenured professor of USC where she teaches screenwriting. In her lecture, WRITING EPISODIC DRAMATIC TELEVISION, she broke down goals for aspiring television writers building out their portfolio this way:

6 months = writing an original television pilot

6 weeks = writing a television spec

The reason for the difference is simple, the timeline in television for writing a episode is very quick. As a writer looking to be hired for a series, you need to be able to prove you can keep up with this turn around pace. This also benefits you in having more than one sample ready for submission, and the ability to update your portfolio quickly every year. As for the original pilot, that is the most difficult episode of a series to execute. It often requires a great deal of research, outlining, and more drafts than other episodes, hence the longer length of time to prepare a pilot for review.

Screenwriting career coach Lee Jessup often speaks of a client she has whose goal is to write three pages a day. It is a simple goal that does not seem daunting to a writer, and after a month the writer has a first draft of a full screenplay that is now ready for a first round of script coverage and rewrites.

Whatever length of time works for you works, so long as you are constantly moving and building your portfolio. You cannot call yourself a writer if you haven’t written anything, so set those goals and prove yourself!

3. The Infinity of Imagination

Don’t restrict yourself because something hasn’t been done before.

Two speakers stood out to me with this note of Arnold Shapiro’s. The first is BEGINNING TRANSMEDIA with Allison Norrington. Transmedia is defined by Ms. Norrington as “organic, fluid storytelling that retains relevance and continuity across platforms and is infused with the fun of gaming behaviors.” The transmedia landscape is growing rapidly, and as more modes of storytelling are created, the more opportunities there are for writers to make their mark on it. Whether it is a YouTube series, video games, or character Twitter accounts/blogs, there are plenty of ways to contribute. Do not let fear or the thought that you “only” want to write features or television stop you from exploring other opportunities or ways of telling a story.

Another interesting speaker that I had never heard before was Dara Marks and ENGAGING THE FEMININE HEROIC. We have all heard of the “Hero’s Journey” and its major impact on popular culture, but this was an entirely new way of looking at feature screenwriting. The Hero’s Journey is a very clear structure with commonly used archetypes. The Heroine’s Journey is not rooted in female vs. male protagonist, but looks at “male vs. female characteristics” and how suppressing those different sides of emotions creates the protagonist’s flaws, thereby making a person incomplete until they are able to balance both their male and female sides.

When I talk with writers, I often hear a desire to break away from the three act mold, and usually tell them that the structure is there whether or not you approach the script that way. Ms. Marks’s way challenges writers to look at a protagonist’s journey through mature growth and gender balance. It may be an excellent way for you to unlock your own creativity and approach your writing with a fresh perspective.

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4. Listen and Learn

Become world-centered, not self-centered.

The purpose of this ingredient is to remind writers to go out and experience life, gain knowledge, and listen/observe those around you. Many writers are introverted and prefer to spend their nights staying in and writing, but it is important to walk away from your script occasionally. It is not just about being social/networking and getting your daily dose of Vitamin D. Observing the world around you can help you know what is popular now and will be next, and maybe think of new approaches to storytelling.

Allison Norrington’s TRANSMEDIA lecture provided a way to listen and learn from the audience. With so much of social media allowing for a conversation between creator and audience, utilizing these four ways of listening/observing those who enjoy your work can give the product a more world-centric view. In her lecture, the 4 Levels of Conversation Between Audience and Creators are as follows:

  • Broadcast — Closed storyworlds. Not interaction.
  • Listener — Create a storyworld, you remain the boss but you listen to how an audience reacts.
  • Welcome to My World — Create the world and allow fans to play with it, remix it, and collaborate it.
  • Make it Yours — Allows fans to create cannon as media as they want, then the creator comes back in and uses it/listens to it.

By listening to those around you, you can continue the conversations in these ways in order to not only grow the base of fans for your work but also understand what it is in your writing that people respond to.

5. Selling or Selling Out

How to take notes/collaborate. See the big picture and have a thick skin.

Some of the most fun panels of the event are always those that include professional screenwriters, and for me it is even better when they’re television writers. One of the best was Peter Mehlman, a writer and producer on SEINFELD who did a panel analyzing his work on the series with the episode “The Implant” in particular focus.

Prior to writing for SEINFELD, Peter Mehlman wrote articles for female-focused magazines such as Mademoiselle, Self, and Glamour, which if you see Mr. Mehlman is a little laughable. I do not know how he looked thirty years ago as a writer for these magazines, but today he has Einstein-inspired hair and a fairly casual style. Mr. Mehlman had a lot of unexpected thoughts on the beloved series. For example, he believes the infamous “Soup Nazi” episode does not live up to the hype, and less surprisingly he said “THE CONTEST is out of this world. That may be the best episode of a sitcom ever.”

SEINFELD existed in a time when shows were given more time to develop, whereas today a show can be cancelled after the first episode airs. According to Mr. Mehlman, the room would pitch ideas, then individual writers would take episodes and go off on their own to write the outlines, which would then be passed onto executive producers Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David before the first draft was done, then working its way up through the studio and network execs. This is the typical process for most writers rooms, but in today’s world you not only have executives giving notes, you also have the fans.

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Mr. Mehlman discussed at length how difficult it would be for a show like SEINFELD to exist today, not just because of the pressure to be successful instantly, but also from social media. He stands firm in his belief that, “You can’t have the audience dictating what you’re doing.” You are no longer getting notes from your bosses, you are getting them in real time on Twitter. So whereas in Transmedia you embrace that dialogue, in traditional formats you have to be careful and think about the bigger picture of what your series is working towards.

6. Your Power

Every project carries power to influence. Always be aware of the potential effect. Do No Harm.

In the long list of speakers, one in particular seemed a little out of place: Father Steve Porter and his lecture STORY IN RELIGION. Arriving early Saturday morning I found the priest standing before a group of about twenty people, wearing a Hawaiian-shirt pattern over his traditional white collar. I expected that Father Porter would go over how he analyzes the weekly mass readings to create his homilies, but instead the approach was much broader.

Touching again on the idea of self-introspection, Father Porter spent a good amount of time discussing “guilt.” It began simply with a writer asking a question pertaining to their own script and how to convey the inner turmoil of loss, guilt, and redemption. His response took time to get to as a few other writers piled on similar questions, but Father Porter’s response was ultimately the same each time, “God can forgive you, the church can absolve you, but can you forgive yourself? If you can’t, you’re saying you’re bigger/more important than God.” For some of the writers listening to Father Porter, this may have been a cathartic moment, and for others it was a reminder to maintain a world-centric and not a self-centric view. Either way we were watching a man tell his own thoughts and opinions and seeing the power they have on the listeners.

Not every story has make people get involved in politics or change the world, but the goal of any writing is to make an impact, and Father Porter and Mr. Shapiro remind writers to use that power thoughtfully and purposefully.

7. Your Reputation

Follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

This rule pops up on these lists all the time, but was only mentioned occasionally throughout the conference, and only Mr. Shapiro made it a major highlight. It is one of those rules that we often take for granted without always applying it into our daily actions. You never know who is within earshot in this town, you never know what assistant can halt your career if spoken to the wrong way, etc.

Having been an industry assistant myself, I have plenty of friends who had terrible experiences climbing up the ladder, but you would never know it because they do not burn bridges with any contacts, regardless of whether it was a positive or negative experience. Always try to take the high road and you will go far.

8. Passion

Have laser beam focus and take necessary risks.

The best part of any writing conference is the passion that fills the hall and lecture rooms. Hundreds and hundreds of people arrive from all over the country, sometimes all over the world, to participate in learning more about an art form that has existed since the beginning of humankind. It is fascinating when you think about how much people love to share stories, whether they have been passed down through generations or come from our own experiences.

It is this same passion that led to my sitting down with a small group of writers during the Cocktail Bash on Saturday night. It was supposed to end at 8:00, but as the conversation gained momentum and our group grew larger it was suddenly 11:00. It may not have been the best idea to stay so late when I needed to be up and ready for another 8:00 am panel the next day, but we could not help sharing our stories, journeys, and experiences. There was so much passion for the craft and business in that group, as well as support for one another. I have even kept in touch with these writers since leaving and am excited to hear where their passion will take them next.

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9. Mind Games

Use fear to motivate you. See the glass as half empty.

These last two, particularly their phrasings, were unique to Arnold Shapiro’s keynote. I have heard of setting deadlines, rewarding yourself, etc., but I have never heard of fear! It seemed like a very quick way to make a writer feel defeated. The heart of the rule clicked into place when he reached the last ingredient:

10. You’re on Your Own

You fill in the blank for what you need to achieve your goals. Have some talent. Make it a priority. You will succeed.

It can still feel self-defeating, but at the end of the day whether or not you succeed is all on you. You cannot sell a script you have not finished or sell it to someone you never meet. It is incredibly helpful to have good friends supporting you. It is also a huge help if you are talented and have a marketable idea, but none of these things matter if you are not putting in the work. Do everything possible to chase your dreams, and if that means scaring yourself to do it, knock yourself out.

The weekend ended as quickly as it began, and I hoped that I had gotten a card from every writer I had met and been inspired by while I was there. Through introspection, passion, setting goals (with some fear behind them), and reminding myself that I am the only one who can make my goals happen, I went home with some great resources and ready to write, making Story Expo 2015 a very successful weekend.

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Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

What Can a Script Consultant Do For You?

by Emily J

While attending ScriptFest in Burbank a couple weekends ago, I was introduced to a whole new job position that can be helpful to screenwriters: The Script Consultant. I have worked for production and management companies, but I had no idea how large a profession script consulting is. At Scriptfest you could pay for private one-on-one time with your choice of consultant and talk to them about whatever you want for a half hour. Many of the consultants also led panels throughout the weekend on pitching, structure, the state of television, etc.

As a creative entity in the entertainment industry, you are faced with hiring a lot of people to help you along your way: managers, agents, publicists, assistants, etc. Now they want to add consultants to the list? Typically the idea of continuing to give a percentage of your paycheck away to so many people seems counter productive to me, so these consultants had to win me over a bit.

What is a Script Consultant?

A consultant is similar to a manager. They both can read scripts, give notes, guide you on what to write next, help you with your branding, practice pitching, and in some cases assist with introductions… everything you could ever want. The services of a script consultant will always vary somewhat from one person to the next. Their title might vary as well.

A consultant may recommend you to someone who is looking for writers, though an agent is legally the only person who is allowed to make calls to get you work. Managers are not supposed to make calls to procure work on your behalf, but they definitely do. In fact, most people in the industry will tell you that a manager is there to get you work and pick the right jobs, while an agent is someone who catches all the incoming calls/work.

The difference between a consultant and a manager is that a manager will pitch you for jobs, send you on generals, and can act as a producer on your material (with your permission). A consultant may set you up on generals, but the goal of a consultant is much more personalized. You get a dedicated hour from them, while your manager has sixty other people he/she is representing and may not be able to dedicate as much face time to you.

A manager takes 10%, so they are with you for the long haul, while the consultant is there early on and charges on a per project or hourly basis.

The Costs of a Script Consultant

Consultants are not cheap. Their services start around $200 for a one-hour consult, and go as high as $3000 for an annual fee with unlimited services. Most services are in the $500-750 range for them to work with you on a feature or pilot script. As a struggling or unemployed writer it may not seem financially prudent to spend the money on these services.

Here’s the thing, though: you are not in the industry yet, and there is a reason for that. It may be that the writing is not there, or that you need more time to develop your voice. It could simply be that you have incredibly bad luck and have not had the chance to get your amazing script into the right hands to show your brilliance. If you do not already have representation, there is no way to know what the reason is that you are struggling. A script consultant can answer that question for you.

Again, it is a lot of money so you really need to weigh your options, vet your script, and figure out how much you are willing to pay for when your writing isn’t currently bringing in any money.

I may have walked in unsure of how impactful a script consultant could be, but I left understanding that they are gatekeepers giving writers a reason for their struggle and a plan to fix it. They are not cheap, and you need to do your research to find a top consultant who can really help your writing and your career (anyone can call themselves a “script consultant,” and there are a lot of people out there who are just trying to get your money), but if you have a script that you have vetted profusely but you are struggling to sell, then a consultant is a great way to go.

For more information on script consultants recommended by ScriptFest, please look to the links provided.

Carol Kirschner

Jen Grisanti

Lee Jessup

Steve Kaplan

Jessica Sitomer

Pamela Jaye Smith

Kathie Fong Yoneda

Shawn Tolleson

Ruth Atkinson

Pilar Alessandra

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Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

Twisting TV Tropes: The New Ingenue

Pennyingenue: 1. a naive girl or young woman. 2. the stage role of an ingenue; also : an actress playing such a role

by Emily J

For decades, the role of the ingenue has been a way to introduce a dynamic female character into a series. They come in many forms: A potential love interest (Jennifer Morrison on HOUSE), the control-freak ruining the protagonist’s fun (Genevieve Angelson in BACKSTROM), or the person doing all of the work and getting none of the credit (Penny in INSPECTOR GADGET). Comedy often pushes the boundaries of these common archetypes more than dramas, depicting the trope without criticising the character. Here is a closer look at this common TV trope in the world of comedy to see what is working and what we as writers can build on in creating further well-rounded roles for women in television.

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DET. AMY SANTIAGO, BROOKLYN NINE-NINE

Amy has seven brothers who all became police officers, and she is the first woman in her family to wear the uniform. The series begins with Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) joining the precinct and clashing with the popular Det. Jake Peralta. Amy is smart, hard-working, and fairly OCD. She is not the only girl in the precinct, so while she is very different in personality from her coworkers, she does not act as the odd woman out.

Captain Holt’s arrival is incredibly exciting news for Det. Santiago. She wants to make captain one day and is desperate to follow all the appropriate steps to reach that position. The next step for her is to have a loving mentor guide her. Sadly, Holt is not great with outward emotions. He likes Amy and guides her in the series, but Amy struggles to “read” Holt, making it difficult for her to know if she is “mentee-ing” correctly. All the humor of their relationship hangs on the terrible communication between these two, and while Amy unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) smothers Holt, the uncomfortable love between them never grows old for audiences.

Amy is a love interest for Jake Peralta. Jake was the clear protagonist when the series began, but the more episodes air, the more the series becomes an even ensemble. Jake is now the self-appointed leader more than anything else. His crush on Amy is occasionally brought up from Jake, though he has too much respect for her to do anything to jeopardize their work relationship. The pair is definitely no Sam & Diane, but they are incredibly cute towards one another and the ending of Season Two hints at a positive potential future for them as a couple.

Amy is part of a growing trend in women television roles that began with Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope (which makes sense, considering they were both created by the wonderful Michael Schur). Both Amy and Leslie are high-energy, ambitious, creative, enjoy scrapbooking, and provide a support system to those around them. While Leslie was already aware of her skills and proud to share them with the world, Amy shows a slight obliviousness to her quirks but a higher degree of self-awareness that can get in her own way. The shorter story: Leslie is a confident woman, and Amy is still learning. That is why we love Amy. Watching her learn is watching the process of someone who is so close to fully accepting herself and owning her confidence.

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ANNIE EDISON, COMMUNITY

Alison Brie is an incredibly enigmatic and attractive young actress. On many other series, her hourglass figure would be the focus of many jokes and she could easily have been relegated to love interest. On Dan Harmon’s COMMUNITY, Annie’s attractiveness is used to start a dialogue with Britta, resident feminist, on how/if women use their bodies to an unfair advantage in various situations, and while she has taken on the love interest role with three of her co-stars it is usually fleeting and typically reminds the audience that Annie is still figuring out who she is and who she is attracted to. Annie’s sexuality was discussed early in the series, but in the pilot the focus is squarely on her over-achieving and perfectionist attitude.

Throughout the series she has also taken on the role of ingenue with each of her costars, but this has been especially prevalent as COMMUNITY has been revamped. After Dan Harmon’s return to COMMUNITY in Season Five, the creator changed the setup of the show, allowing his characters to return to college after having graduated and failed in the real world. They form the “Save Greendale Committee,” and while Jeff Winger may be the defacto leader, Annie Edison is clearly the administrative leader of this group. In Season Six on Yahoo!, we are finally seeing Annie come into her own alongside her mentor Frankie, played by Paget Brewster. Both characters are organized, focused, and productive, but Frankie does not own a television set and struggles to keep up with the inside minutiae of this meta-world.

[Check out the Dan Harmon Story Circle, a method for structuring your script.]

Annie has been at Greendale for so long that in some ways she has been stunted. Dan Harmon has often discussed in interviews that eventually these characters have to grow up and leave. Annie came to Greendale because of a pill-addiction, but she was always ambitious for more. Her sisterhood relationship with Frankie appears to be getting Annie back to who she was when the show began, while still maintaining her love of the Greendale world.

COMMUNITY is not a traditional story or sitcom, and continuing the game to keep these characters in this beloved school is growing difficult. It is still one of the best written shows, but it will be very interesting to see if Alison Brie wants to stay in the role after this season, or if Dan Harmon can justify keeping her, as the current season appears to be slowly pushing her out of the nest. Annie’s new mentor is showing her what audiences have been seeing for some time: Annie has already emotionally moved on from Greendale.

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JEANNIE VAN DER HOOVEN, HOUSE OF LIES

If Amy is an aspiring ingenue and Annie has the unceasing soul of one, then Jeannie van der Hooven is the definition of the word. Jeannie, Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), and their two cohorts Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Doug (Josh Lawson) work together in their “pod” to bring in major businesses as clients to the firm Galweather & Stearn (and later on Kaan & Associates). The consultants tell the companies what they are doing wrong and how to improve and take home millions of dollars in billable hours, but what the show smartly does week to week is prove how little these consulting agencies actually do outside of manipulating their CEO clients. It is similar to WOLF OF WALL STREET in tone, but with much crazier and darker scenarios. Jeannie is an ivy leaguer who wants her own pod,  the ideal husband, and one perfect daughter.

In the first season she keeps her private life incredibly private. She is actually engaged and her coworkers have no idea she is even seeing anyone. It is jarring to watch, especially considering how completely in her element Jeannie is at work. She is the definition of a girl being “one of the guys” while still definitely being a girl. Jeannie looked like a rock star at the beginning, crushing it in the male dominated field, and even pushing away the advances of Marty. The end of Season One is somewhat disappointing as the depth of Jeannie’s secrets unfold. She is sleeping with the head of the company, known as “The Rainmaker” as he promises her that he will promote her. It is sad to watch, knowing now that this seemingly strong, intelligent young woman is just as naive and insecure as the women with whom she refuses to surround herself.

JeannieAs the series progresses, Jeannie rises up in the ranks. She uses what happened with the Rainmaker to sue the company alongside her female coworkers, moves on to run her own pod at the company, and ultimately joins Marty in a new venture: Kaan & Associates. From there, Jeannie’s ambition gets the best of her. Jeannie provides information to the feds that puts Marty in jail and leaves Jeannie running the company. When Marty returns, he is out for Jeannie’s blood.

HOUSE OF LIES is a much darker show than the worlds of our two previous characters. Jeannie’s daily situations are much more realistic than those of Annie, who lives for paintball wars and a surplus of frisbees. For Jeannie, the stakes are grounded and real, so her humor often comes from misogyny to fit in with her male co-workers, and making any other female employees feel inferior instead of supported. Jeannie is quick-witted and snarky. It is her shield in a world that is quick to tear her down even when she is the smartest person in the room. She has spent her career fighting for equality in the workplace and against the sexual advances of her coworkers. In spite of this, the most caring and (closest thing to an) honest relationship Jeannie has is with her coworker when she is finally able to break out of the ingenue role and act Marty’s equal.  Unfortunately, Jeannie’s betrayal and Marty’s return means that Jeannie is back in the ingenue seat while attempting to make Marty forgive her and looking for a job outside of Kaan & Associates.

WRITING THE NEW INGENUE

What each of these shows does remarkably well is present us with a common television trope — the ingenue — but display it in a new way without reinventing the wheel. Each of these women is young, still learning, and occasionally misguided by love. None of these characters, however, exists solely as a greek chorus with the potential for the protagonist to take them to bed. For each of these intelligent and ambitious women, the trope is where the humor of their character begins.

As writers, it can often seem daunting to create new, dynamic characters from scratch without visiting traits we have already seen. What these three shows and characters prove (as well as many others) is that these common archetypes are not the enemy. The tropes are not there to box you in, they are there to help get you started. It is your job to twist them, and with  audiences craving more complex females, the trope becomes the beginning of your opportunity to create something as new and fresh as each of these ladies.

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Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

Last Minute Inspiration for Your TV Fellowship Applications

by Emily J

May is a busy time for aspiring television writers. With the deadlines for major television fellowships fast approaching, you are hopefully reading this having already completed your chosen spec script. You have also read as many scripts of your chosen series as possible, and are in the final stages of double-checking your script and application.

You are likely exhausted and terrified that you may have missed something innocuous that could potentially wreck your chances. So for those of you who need a revitalizing jolt of inspiration in the home stretch…

Remember those who have come before you…

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…and maybe accept now that you will never be as talented as them, and that is okay.

Get lots of rest to keep your brain at its sharpest while you check for typos…

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Get a second opinion from a friend…

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Then have a drink to relax…

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Or a bottle for inspiration…

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And if all else fails, cry like there is no tomorrow and throw every emotion you have left into your writing.

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Once you have finally submitted your script at the last possible moment, go outside and remember that the rest of the world exists. Take a deep breath. Feel the sunshine on your face.

…Just do it. Trust me.

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Fellowships are just one of many ways to get your foot in the door. Not getting in is not the end of your career, but simply more time to hone your skills. Good luck!

**Please note that all these writers are in film. In television, Carrie Bradshaw always looks adorable in her underwear when she writes. As you know better than ever from working on your fellowship application, television lies.**

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Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

What Writers Can Learn From Game of Thrones

by Emily J

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article listing Game of Thrones as “overrated.” For the most part, this season has been (to me) surprisingly great and some of the technically best writing the series has had since season one. Then came “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”

Episode six of season five is getting a lot of heat for its final scene, but this episode also epitomizes some of the larger issues with the series as a whole in terms of writing.

So let’s break this episode down in its entirety and see what we can learn from Bryan Cogman’s storytelling.

Breaking Down the Structure

First, here is how the script breaks down:

  • The first twenty-five minutes of the episode goes back and forth between Arya in Braavos and Tyrion en route to Mereen with Sir Jorah.
  • Next is one very “talky” scene between Cersei and Littlefinger.
  • An approximately ten minute sequence in Dorne where Jaime and Bronn find Myrcella (who is clearly in love with her betrothed, Trystane), followed by a fight with the Sand Snakes over kidnapping Myrcella, ending with everyone being arrested by the Dorne Royal Guard.
  • Another ten minute sequence, this time in King’s Landing, depicting Lady Olenna returning to see her grandchildren, followed by the hearing where Queen Margaery and her brother Sir Loras are arrested by the Faith.
  • Finally, a fifteen minutes sequence where Sansa prepares for her wedding, marries Ramsey Snow/Bolton, and ending with Ramsey forcefully consummating the marriage while Theon must watch.

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As broken down above, this episode has five isolated storylines: Arya, Tyrion, Dorne, King’s Landing, and Sansa. Most network, one-hour, serialized shows average three storylines per episode, though this is moving up to four more and more. That is a lot of plot for shows that also have to make room for commercial breaks. Many will argue that the reason Game of Thrones does not follow a standard four, five, or six-act structure is because it has so much story to put into one episode.*

I disagree. If Mad Men, The Good Wife, The 100, and many others can fit four intertwined plot lines into forty-two minutes (eighteen minutes for commercials), that would mean that Game of Thrones has an extra eighteen minutes and could easily add one or two more plotlines.

Plenty of Plot, No Connection

The problem comes in the editing of the scenes. If you isolate sequences as they have done in this episode, then they do not fit together as a whole. Is there a theme tying all of this together? Daenerys would seemingly have the most in common with Sansa’s storyline, but the Khaleesi is absent from the entire hour. Tyrion talks about the politics of the Wall but we do not see Jon Snow at all.

“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” almost feels like a choose-your-own-adventure story. You do not need to follow all of these characters anymore as they affect one another so little. The scene between Littlefinger and Cersei was clearly an attempt to bring the storylines together, but because he ultimately tells Cersei to let the Boltons and Stannis Baratheon kill one another while she stays in King’s Landing, the connection immediately dissolves.

Five One-Act Stories Do Not Make a Five-Act Episode

It is not enough to edit these stories so they take place over the entire hour, you have to also make a complete story, which is often hit-and-miss with this series. We all know three, four, five (etc.) act structure, yet each storyline feels like its own, separate one-act sequence. Sequence Structure: Set-Up, Action, Climax, Resolution

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This is definitely the structure of the King’s Landing story:

  • Set-Up: Lady Olenna arrives and talks with Margaery about the trouble Sir Loras is in.
  • Action: Olenna meets with Cersei in the hopes that she can change the Queen Mother’s mind, but is unable to do so. The hearing begins against Loras, who claims his innocence. Queen Margaery is questioned and corroborates her brother’s testimony.
  • Climax: Loras’s lover is brought out as a witness of Loras and Margaery’s guilt. The Tyrell siblings are arrested.
  • Resolution: Margaery pleads with her husband, King Tommen, for help but he is too scared and overwhelmed to speak up.

Tyrion and Jorah’s storyline does not fully fit this model, as the pair mostly walk-and-talk or sit-and-talk. They come upon the slavers’ ship and talk their way out of being immediately killed. This is not a full sequence. If a BEAT is an action and a reaction in screenwriting, then that is all that has occurred in this storyline. The same is true for Jaime, Bronn, and the Sandsnakes in Dorne.

Sansa and Arya are both given more comprehensive one-act sequences, complete with inciting incidents and turning points. Here is how the structure breaks down for Sansa:

  • Set-Up: It is Sansa’s wedding day and she is planning to remain strong.
  • Inciting Incident: Sansa prepares with a bath, assisted by one of Ramsey’s girlfriends, and stands her ground when she realizes the helper is attempting to scare her. Something is not right with this Bolton household (this is not new information, but it still hits Sansa’s emotional core and goal).
  • Action: Theon arrives to escort Sansa down the aisle, but she remains strong in her decision to marry Ramsey. Sansa goes through with the wedding, escorted by Theon, with Ramsey’s girlfriends glaring from the sidelines.
  • Turning Point: Sansa and Ramsey are walked to Ramsey’s rooms by Theon, where Sansa realizes she may not be strong enough for this marriage.
  • Climax/Resolution: Sansa and the audience’s fears are confirmed as Sansa and Theon do not fight back.

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Hopefully at this point you are seeing the pattern. It is difficult to make a cohesive story when the plots are so disconnected and physically set far apart. The way to bring them together is theme, and since the writers did not have that in this episode, they isolated each point-of-view more than they have in past episodes.

A Note on Sexual Abuse in Game of Thrones

As for the Sansa uproar, I was not remotely surprised it happened, and I was grateful the rape was only audible and not visible as well. The writers definitely have a problem with using rape as a plot point far too often for their female characters.

Equally appalling is the way they use sexual torture as a plot point in general. I almost stopped watching season three when audiences were forced to physically see Theon become Reek. I do not mind departures from the book so long as what ends up on screen is great. For example, the addition of Robb Stark’s love story was boring and wasted time, but the fight between Brienne and the Hound while Arya watches is one of my favorite moments.

In the books, Reek merely arrives in a point-of-view chapter and you slowly realize who he was before. It was incredibly compelling and terrifying. In the series, two naked girls arrive to set Reek free and seduce him, only for it to end with him in a trap where he is “dismembered.” This was absolutely unnecessary to watch. When the package arrived in the Iron Isles, Theon’s family knew what happened, and the audience would have known without watching the previous scene. Besides, have we not learned through decades of horror and psychological thrillers that the scariest things are the unseen?

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If they had not changed Daenerys’s wedding night (which is essentially the same scene as Sansa’s minus Theon) and convoluted Jaime’s entire emotional arc, then maybe what happened to Sansa would feel more necessary to see. Unfortunately, it plays as if the writers are going back to the same well again and again.

Even if this show was incredibly well-structured with the the same complex characters, moments like this would unfortunately still happen as the fantasy genre is filled with rape and torture. We expect more from the current golden age of television, and definitely from the channel that helped create this new age.

Thanks to shows like Game of Thrones, we expect high-quality visuals and production design. GOT has managed to hang onto complex characters, but it is not enough to make up for the clear cracks in the structure. You need all three of these elements to work: visuals, character, story. Whether the final scene of “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” works will be determined by how they handle Sansa for the rest of the season. This season did start stronger than previous seasons, though, so I believe they can pull it off, so long as they start with a strong foundation of structure.

*Three, Four, Five, Six, Whatever-Act structure are ultimately all the same. I’ve talked about this more thoroughly here.

~

Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

The 5 Most Overrated Shows You Are Watching

by Emily J

I can already feel your annoyance with the below list. These are not BAD shows. They are simply getting a lot of hype, and while it is sometimes warranted, there is something lacking in the writing that needs to be discussed.

1. HOUSE OF CARDS

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The first season was fantastic. When it ended, the thought was Where do they go next? Well, season two answered that, albeit in the most convoluted way possible that most people still could not explain if asked. With Season Three premiering a couple months ago, though, it is now safe to say that the writers do not know where to go. While Robin Wright is always compelling and gets better with each year, the writers simply haven’t been able to match what they did that first year. The individual episodes aren’t as well structured, the emotional arcs aren’t as compelling, and now they have reached a place too high in government to build any further. The writers only option is to now write a swift downfall, but with the relationship between Frank Underwood and Claire as it is, why should we even care?

2. MAD MEN

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With only a few episodes left in the entire series and several years behind us, finishing it is really the only reason I stay. I love Peggy, Joan, and Roger like everyone else, but Don Draper has been a let down from the moment he chose Megan. I understand for some people it was later. For others, when Don took his kids to see where he grew up, they believed that was a sign he was finally changing for good. After the first few episodes of this last season, it can’t be denied anymore. Don never learns.

He is still hoping he will find a woman and it will magically change him. He is still incredibly dismissive of what the women in his wife want in general. If he was never going to change, then what are the writers building towards, and more importantly, why did it take this long to get to it? Even if they write an amazing finale as an individual episode, I am not sure that it can make up for the poor seasonal arcs of the past few years.

3. OUTLANDER

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Two words: VOICE OVER. There are times where voiceover makes sense. JANE THE VIRGIN uses it as another character and a running meta-joke, and it is incredibly effective. Other shows use it as a simple introduction. OUTLANDER  uses it for everything. The pilot was a two-hour diatribe. I understand that this series is based on a book and books have an internal monologue that is hard to emulate on screen. The thing is, if you removed the voiceover from the show, the show would still work. All the narrator does is state exactly what we can already see. It feels as if the writers don’t trust the story to stand on its own. That voice over is the biggest, most mind numbing waste, and the caliber of the writers room should be smart enough to know better.

4. UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT

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This is a good show. It is a very quotable show. From the moment it premiered all I have heard is that I “will love it.” I thought the same thing going in, and while Ellie Kemper owns the show, the writing has some issues. First, you cannot help but compare it with 30 ROCK. Kimmy is essentially Liz Lemon combined with Kenneth, and Jane Krakowski pretty much plays her previous character combined with Jack Donaghy. Second, the show really falls apart in the second half of the season. The jokes stop hitting. Hopefully season two will come back stronger.

5. GAME OF THRONES

Before you all throw daggers at me, know that I LOVE this show. I do. I am a huge fan of the books and that does effect how I view the show, but the writing issues are not because they deviate from what has been written, it is because the writers are overwhelmed by the source material and have major structural issues. If this were a series on Netflix it would actually work better because you could watch the episodes in one sitting and that would help alleviate the pressure of the mold. They have a consistent issue after season one with the structure.

Watch the season two finale. Tyrion is on screen for thirty minutes. The moment you no longer see him, it is all about Daenerys. If you have an hour of television to fill, then fill it. SEX AND THE CITY did a better job spreading out four storylines in the time allotted, to be honest (though GAME OF THRONES wins in actual characters and themes; and it’s a tie in time wasted with nudity). Now watch the season five premier. Tyrion has two scenes. Every character in this episode is given a scene that sets up the season long goal, but no one is given a goal for the episode, meaning you can watch the scenes in this episode in almost any order. This is a slower episode structure than daytime soap operas, and while this show is dramatic, it sure isn’t a daily daytime series.

Want something better to watch? Check out Emily’s list of The 5 Best Written Shows You’re Not Watching.

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Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

The 5 Best Written Shows You’re Not Watching

by Emily J

There are so many different places you can find good TV now that many shows get left by the wayside. Below is a list of a few shows with lower ratings than they deserve chosen based on their writing. Not the pretty cast or high production quality, but by how well the words on the page create a compelling television experience.

The Best Shows You’re Missing (In No Particular Order)

1. JANE THE VIRGIN

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Some may argue that this series is successful for a CW show  or simply because Gina Rodriguez won a Golden Globe for her portrayal as the title character, but the fact is people are not giving The CW the respect that it deserves in the post-Gossip Girl era.

If you are all caught up on the show, I recommend going back to episode one and reading the pilot to see how this writing staff masterfully handles the numerous plot lines and perfectly timed reveals. The attention to detail is on par with the first three seasons of Arrested Development. Nothing is ever dropped and you feel as though episodes must have been written concurrently.

2. AGENT PEGGY CARTER

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APC  may have taken a hit due to its sister series, AGENTS OF SHIELD, which may have lowered people’s expectations due to AoS’s poor early performance. APC also struggled to find the right level of post-WW2 nostalgia. But a few episodes in, Peggy Carter found her way in a family-friendly, action-packed series that allowed our heroine to grow and the audience to grow with her. Hopefully ABC will pick this up for another season as we are only at the tiniest beginning stages of what the show is ultimately about.

3. YOU’RE THE WORST

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Last fall, several shows premiered wanting to be a modern day MAD ABOUT YOU, including A TO Z and MANHATTAN LOVE STORY. Unfortunately, these shows failed for two reasons. 1) They were awful, and 2) that mantle had already been handed over to FX’s new comedy about a pathological liar and an overly-honest writer who meet and have a one night stand that accidentally leads to a relationship. The two leads held the show together early on with incredibly fast and sharp dialogue, and as the side characters’ lives were delved into over the first season, the foursome became one of the best written ensemble comedies currently on television.

4. AMERICAN CRIME

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This is an anthology series that unfortunately had an early March premiere date that I believe worked against it. With so many shows coming back from winter break just a few weeks earlier, new series get buried and they never receive the level of advertising attention given to fall premieres.

It’s too bad, because this series is a stand out. The writers are doing a fantastic job of unfolding the story of a murder through the eyes of the family of the victims and the accused. From an intellectual standpoint, this show teaches us more about local government processes than most news program. From a story standpoint, this show goes completely against trend. While many are telling the stories of “Walter White” and “Ray Donovan” types doing more and more horrific things, this story is about all the people surrounding those who would typically be at the center. It is telling multiple compelling stories and relies heavily on emotion. Read the pilot script and see how these writers were able to make simple white pages emote with imense power.

5. THE 100

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Here’s the logline: A hundred years after the earth is filled with radiation from a nuclear war, sending its inhabitants to live in space, the government sends a hundred criminal teenagers down to the surface to see if Earth is habitable again. Sounds ridiculous right? The perfect set up for a sexy Lord of the Flies.

What the writers have wisely done is keep this multi-generational. For a channel that is famous for soap operatic teen shows, The CW is creating an incredibly thoughtful product that you can actually watch with your family. (You may feel awkward for a couple moments, but trust me, you can.) The pilot is definitely leaning heavily into teen soap, but push through. Episode Five left me in tears.

~

Emily Jermusyk is a screenwriter and story consultant. She got her start in high school writing over 150 episodes of a soap opera parodying Knots Landing. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed. Follow Emily on Twitter, and check out her website, Ruining Television.

5 Steps Toward Your Big Break

by Angela Bourassa

I had the privilege of attending Scriptfest this past weekend on behalf of LA Screenwriter (and my own writing career), and I must say the whole event was a wonderful success. There were a few hiccups here and there, but overall, I found the classes, the interactions, and the opportunities to both pitch and network extremely beneficial.

Emily and I will have several articles for you over the coming weeks on our favorite takeaways from the event. Today, I’d like to share the wisdom of Lee Jessup who led a class entitled Screenwriter Business School.

Lee is a screenwriting career coach. I know – it sounds like a made up job. And in a lot of ways, it is. Lee comes from an industry family, and she got her first paying job in film at the age of sixteen. She never expected to coach screenwriters, but after helping out a few friends, more and more writers began seeking her advice. Today, her coaching clients include aspiring writers as well as Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated scribes.

Preparing for Your Big Break

Lee estimates that it takes screenwriters three to ten years to make it in this business once they’ve found their voice. That’s not exactly encouraging news, so what can you do to help speed up the process? Here are five steps. Number one is obviously the most important, but all of these steps should be taken at basically the same time. It’s not a staircase; it’s more like a break dance.

1. WRITE 2-3 GREAT SCRIPTS IN THE SAME GENRE

To become compelling to representatives, you need two to three solid specs in the same genre or in very similar genres. If you have one comedy script, one drama, and one horror, managers won’t know what to do with you. And you probably won’t become particularly adept at any of those genres.

If you’re writing for TV, you need two current pilots (meaning they would work on TV now, not three or more years ago) and a current spec. You should also have three to five ideas ready to pitch at any time.

If that sounds like a high bar, it is. Aspiring screenwriters need to show that they are dedicated, that they take their craft seriously, and that they’re in this business for the long haul.

2. GAIN A PEDIGREE FOR YOUR WORK & YOURSELF

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Get “recommends” from top coverage services or well-respected readers. Win or finish near the top in respected contests like Nicholl, the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, Big Break, and The Launch Pad. Don’t bother with small screenplay contests – most of them are just trying to take your money.

Build your brand. Go to networking events if you live in a production city. If you don’t, build an online presence through YouTube videos, a web series, your own podcast, or a witty blog.

3. READ SCRIPTS, WATCH MOVIES

You write horror movies? You should know all of the current horror movies and be well versed in the classics. Want to write a police procedural? You should watch at least the pilot of every police procedural you can find. Be a fan of the medium you want to be a part of. And read scripts. Try to read at least a script a week. Reading current scripts is preferred, but there is something to be learned from every script. Bad scripts will show you what to avoid. Good scripts will show you what to aspire to.

4. LEARN ABOUT THE INDUSTRY

The closer you get to your big break, the more time you should spend educating yourself about the film industry. Learn the names of the studio heads, follow current spec sales, learn about the most successful screenwriters and the ones who are hot right now. Websites like The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Deadline, and SSN Insider are great for the latest news. Sign up for the daily emails and read them. Within a few weeks, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn.

Podcasts are great for learning about craft and industry news while you work out, drive, or stare at the ceiling. Lee recommends On The Page, Nerdist Writers Panel (for TV), The Spin-Off (for TV), and Martini Shot.

5. WRITE MORE, WRITE REGULARLY

Once you have your two to three specs, don’t stop there. Keep writing and developing as much as possible. If you don’t have the luxury of writing every day or for hours at a time, Lee suggests carving out a schedule that works for you and sticking to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s one hour three times a week or a page a day or ten pages a week. Whatever you can make happen, do it.

6. (Bonus Step!) BE PERSISTENT

It was said several times over the weekend by several smart people: A career in screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint. You simply can’t expect to write one script, sell it for six figures, and move on. There was a time when that was possible, but that time has passed. Your first script won’t be any good. It just won’t. But the next one will be better. And the one after that will be even better. Stick with it, give it your all, and be open to growth, and you’ll do just fine.

This is only the beginning of Lee’s advice. Learn more about her and her services (including a free trial of her screenwriters support group) at LeeJessup.com.

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