Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Get me the Laughs.

Sometimes life gets busy. Super busy. And, well, when you're having this much fun and sleeping this little, sometimes it's tricky to maintain a blog.

Luckily, today we have a guest post from Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis, authors of Show Me the Funny! I'm excited to delve into this book as I revamp the comedy in The Exit Strategy, but first, here's a snippet of what their book is like.

Dialing Up The Darkness

By Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis

In our book, Show Me The Funny!: At the Writers Table With Hollywood's Top Comedy Writers
we asked twenty-seven comedy writers to take a generic premise we created and develop it. We told them there were no limits, no rules and no boundaries. We worried that they would duplicate each other…it’d be like the famous episode where Ethel and Lucy show up to a party wearing the same dress. We worried needlessly. We were excited to discover that every writer, whether a team or an individual, attacked the premise in his or her own unique way. That’s one important definition of a professional. Show Runner for Roseanne, Bob Myer made the story into an episode of a situation comedy. He effortlessly created a network-style story. He began by casting the story in his mind so he could picture who he was writing dialogue for, and to make sure that it would be acceptable to a network…That’s another definition of a professional…he expects to be paid for his work.

Then we asked: “If you didn’t have to worry about networks and executives, how would you darken it?”

Bob gave us a choir boy’s smile. We pictured him with his hand on a dial about to turn it as he asked, “How dark do you want it?” We told him he could make it as dark as he wanted. He went to work with glee turning an average, mid-twenties corporate woman into a drug-addicted private detective. The treat for the reader is watching as he goes back-and-forth between developing the story and explaining his rationale as he builds and deepens it.

When we asked how he planned to get the audience to root for a drug addict, he said: “I think her dependency makes her likeable and she’s funny. And we like funny people…she’s pretty. You like pretty people. But she’s also got a struggle and you’re rooting for her. You want her to survive…you want her to pull out of this. And she’s good enough at what she does and entertaining enough in how she behaves…she can keep her friends strung along, her friends haven’t given up on her yet, and you don’t either. And because of her habit, she’s an underdog…and we root for underdogs.”

With great skill, Bob created a pilot episode in which his troubled detective is headed to meet her “deep throat,” a guy with information that will break her case wide open. She runs home to pick up a few things… a file…a hat…a quick fix, and as she opens her apartment door, everyone she knows is there for an intervention.

As soon as he said the word “INTERVENTION” Bob sat up straight and said, “I’m thinking of pitching it now.”

You can find out more about Show Me the Funny! at www.showmethefunnyonline.com or
www.smtfo.com. And, hey while you’re at it ‘Like’ us at www.Facebook.com/SMTFfans.

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Author Bios:

One out of every 150 people in America bought a copy of a joke book that Peter Desberg has written. Unfortunately, Scholastic sold the most popular one for $1 each, so he still has to work. Counting his five joke books, he has had twenty books published. In addition to this lucrative writing career, he is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the area of stage fright. He has worked with many top stand-up comedians, who are regularly confronted with massive cases of flop sweat. He also has been moonlighting as a full professor at California State University Dominguez Hills for over thirty years.

Jeffrey Davis's earliest memories are of sitting around the writers' table at Nate & Al's Delicatessen, where his father and his comedy writer cronies gathered over corn beef and Doctor Brown's Cream Soda, told war stories, and tried to fix third acts. He began his own career writing jokes for Thicke of the Night. Among his situation comedy credits are Love Boat, House Calls with Lynn Redgrave, Give Me a Break, Diff'rent Strokes, and Night Court. He has also written for such shows as America's Funniest People, America's Funniest Home Videos, and Small Wonder, and has had film projects developed by Bette Midler's All Girl Productions, among others. His plays have been produced in New York and Los Angeles. His most recently published play is Speed Dating 101. He is the Screenwriting Department Chair and associate professor of film and TV writing at Loyola Marymount University. His one night of stand-up at the Comedy Store convinced him that he should stay permanently seated at his desk.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hot Famer's Daughter.

Boy am I tried! [EDIT: That should be tired. But I left it up there just to support my statement.]

It's been a busy life. I saw the most amazing football game of my life on Saturday and had a complete excitement hangover the next day. Literally, my voice has just recovered from the cheering.

I previewed an early sneak of Fox's new show, The New Girl with Zooey Deschanel. Don't ask me how. I'm a paid writer you know. I've been so stoked every since hearing it had been picked up. Zooey Deschanel is a favourite actress of mine, and it's sweet that she and her sister get to share a network.

But I was worried. With all the hype and adorable-ness that is Zooey Deschanel, would the first pilot show of the season disappoint?

September 20th, at 9 pm, get thyself to a TV and flip on Fox. This show wins.

Jess, Deschanel's character, is so wonderfully awkward. Like, really awkward. She's that offbeat kinda-not-cool-but-it-works-for-her character that usually appears as your female protagonist's best friend. Maybe I just love it because she reminds me of me and my girl friends.

The guys are not quite as solid as Deschanel, but I can see their personalities develop. But, so sad, the strongest character of the three in the pilot, Damon Wayans Jr., will be replaced because he already has a commitment on Happy Endings. That makes me UN-happy.

It is funny. The Hockey Player almost missed his bus home because he was trying to stay as long as possible. My only cavaet is that there seems to be a lack of complexity, but pilots usually have to cram in so much they have a unique tone. I am so looking forward to the rest of this show -- and the rest of the fall season.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Big News.

1. I still fit into my high school graduation dress, suckas!

But that's not it...

2. I am about to be a paid screenwriter.

Money. In my Pocket. For words. That I wrote. I am about to get paid. For words.

Here is the story -- I still keep in touch with my old screenwriting professors, and one of them floated an idea by me and asked if I would help develop it with him. Yes and yes. I expected we would meet a few times, spit ball ideas around, and just sort of break the monotony of writing alone by developing the idea together. I was a little nervous about having to be brilliant on the spot with a former professor, but I was excited to work with someone for a change.

It was like a small town Hollywood courtship meeting.

He bought me my drink (lemonade, but I kept it medium, no need to be flashy), and we small talked. We hadn't seen each other since he had given me notes on my TV pilot. And then it got down to business. We would develop the idea together through weekly meetings, and once we had nailed down a treatment, we'd register with the Writers' Guild with joint story credit. Then I'd take our treatment, outline, and beat sheet (yeah, way more prewriting than I ever do) and work out the screenplay. I'd register my first draft with the Guild and get sole writing credit. He'd shoot the script low budget next summer and edit it in the fall.

I was set to go, by this point. The prospect of having my words filmed was motivation enough for me. But then he flattered me even more -- he offered me money. It wasn't an extravagant amount (he's a professor, guys) and at first I waved my hand -- unnecessary, Professor -- but he was insistent. He said, he thought about what he would want in this situation and that the money was an investment in the project that he wanted to do. We reached an agreement.

Guys, I'm going to write a script, and then I'm going to stand in front of a video feed and watch those words. There's going to be a script, and then there's going to be a creative team, and then there's going to be a cast, and then there's going to be locations and sets and a shooting schedule and footage and hours and hours in the editing room.

And then there's going to be a movie.

That I wrote.

And sometime after that, there'll be another. And another. And another and another and another...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

In Deep.

The Hockey Player wasn't wrong when he said writing takes a long time. I started writing The Exit Strategy last late summer/early fall, just finished draft three, and am hoping to get through a couple more drafts before the Nicholl rolls around in May. That's nearly two years, and I have little idea if the draft I send to the Nicholl will be the final draft.

This is why I try to be careful when picking projects. If you're going to dedicate years of your life to a project, you've got to be convinced that 1. this is a project you like enough to get you through those years and 2. this is a project that will help your career. [I fully believe that faith in #2 is more difficult and uncertain than faith in #1.]

There are a lot of stories I could write. But I feel like there are a few kinds of stories I am meant to write. One kind of story that I like to explore is the redemption story. The redemption of people, the redemption of situations, how the bad becomes good. But when it comes to writing the bad before the good, I'm a little squeamish. When I write about the gray areas of life, how do I show understanding without sanction? Shouldn't I raise the stakes? How "bad" am I willing to go? Or am I afraid of the judgment on me if I write something deemed inappropriate?

The problem is, if I gloss over hard situations, if I keep things just partly cloudy, how powerful will redemption be? Isn't it the greater the fall, the greater the grace? If someone is saved from just a slightly harrowing situation, how much faith will I inspire in redemption? Isn't it true that the greater the debt forgiven, the greater love inspired?

Too bad I didn't want to become an accountant instead of a writer.