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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I'm working on a glossary for the book. Your comments are solicited.

A story: the most important story in an multi-story episode, which takes up the most screen time

act out: a cliffhanger or emotional whammy that happens just before the show cuts to a commercial, so the audience will stay tuned in to the show

act: everything between two commercials

action: everything that happens that isn't people talking

attractive fantasy: a life situation which the star of a series finds him or herself in that we'd like to be in. Part of the template. (I think I made this term up.)

B story: the second most important story in an episode, which takes up a medium amount of screen time

backstory: a character's personal history before the episode or series begins its onscreen chronology

beat sheet: the whole story of an episode told beat by beat, in order

beat: a unit of storytelling, in which one significant thing happens

bible: a document that theoretically tells you everything you need to know about the show in order to write it, and realistically almost never does

bit: a series of related jokes

blacks: the action description. So called because it makes big chunks of black text on the page, while dialog is nice and sparse.

bottle show: an episode that takes place in a physically restricted set, or on the standing sets, using a limited cast, usually just the series regulars

breakdown: a brief sketch of the episode's stories, showing acts and act outs, teaser and tag.

breaking story: finding the acts and act outs in a story, often done in the room by the writing staff

breaking the frame: drawing attention to the fact that the events are taking place on a tv show, not in real life

bumping: being annoyed by a plothole. "I'm bumping on how they got the jetcopter." "That's what you’re bumping on???"

button: a particularly neat bit of dialog that ends a scene sharply

C story: the third most important story in an episode, which takes little screen time

callback: dialog that echoes earlier dialog, often twisting its meaning into something new

character-based: a drama in which the stories arise primarily from conflicts between the characters. All comedies are character based.

civilian: someone who does not work in show business

clip show: an episode that relies on lots of footage from previous episodes. Used to save money or, more often, time. Naughty, naughty, naughty.

comedy: any series that is supposed to be consistently funny, whether it is or not

comic drama: a genre in which the story structure and stakes are dramatic but the situations and dialog may be played for laughs. Usually single camera.

core cast: the characters who are supposed to be in every episode

couplet: two lines of dialog in a row, in which one character's line neatly answers the previous line. "How do you sleep at night?" "I don't."

demographics: what sort of folks watch the show

dopplering: the sound of an offscreen car going by

drama: anything that isn't comedy or reality. Not to be confused with drama, which is what happens when two people come into physical or emotional or moral conflict, or drama, the genre about emotional angstiness.

dramedy: a comic drama. No one uses this term seriously any more, so just forget it.

echo: a line we've heard before in the episode

ep: an episode. No one can be bothered to write the word "episode" over and over again.

episodic: a show in which nothing that happens on one episode significantly impacts later episodes

expo: exposition, that is, when a character explains stuff the audience needs to know. "So how does this machine work, exactly?"

going to pages: writing the script

gilding the matzah: belaboring a joke to where it's not funny any more. See "German comedians."

Guild: the Writer's Guild of America or the Writer's Guild of Canada. Your first line of defense against producers messing with your check or credit. (Nothing protects you against their messing with your story.)

handwaving: story description that sounds good in a beat sheet or treatment but leaves major story issues unresolved that will cause pain to whatever poor bastard actually has to write the pages

hang a lantern on: to draw attention to a story element so the audience doesn't miss it; also called "hanging a sign on"

hook: a series premise that makes people want to tune in to watch at least one episode

Joss: the dark god of writers. Black lambs are slaughtered to him at the new moon.

laying pipe: giving technical information now so we'll know it later when a story point turns on it

like-a-joke: a comic bit that has the rhythms of a joke, and is followed by laughter on the sound track, but is not actually funny.

negative fantasy: a life situation which the star of a series lives in that we're glad we're not in. Part of the template.

on the nose: dialog that says exactly what the character means. Usually pejorative.

pages: the script

plothole: logical flaws in the story

point of view character: a character through whose perspective the story is told, whether the hero or not

premise pilot: a pilot episode that shows how the core cast first get together or the basic situation first arose

procedural: a drama in which external events provide the stories. Medical, law and police shows are typical procedurals.

pushing: giving the audience story faster than they can absorb

reality show: a show that pretends not to have a script, in order to avoid paying the writer scale. The WGA is addressing this issue.

recurring cast: characters who reappear in the series without being core

runner: a recurring bit of action, like a running gag, not necessarily containing all the elements of a story, and therefore not a C or D story.

scale: the minimum payment allowed for a piece of writing under a Guild contract.

schmuck bait: a promised story turn that only a schmuck would believe will ever actually happen, like the hero dying (or in a science fiction show, the hero dying permanently)

script timing: the process of estimating how long an episode will play on screen

serial: a show in which the plot develops from episode to episode; compare episodic

series regulars: the actors who are contracted by season rather than by episode; compare core cast

serving a character: giving a character something to do in an episode

shoe leather: scene material that exists purely to fill in a plothole

showrunner: the person responsible for all creative aspects of the show, and responsible only to the network (and production company, if it's not his production company). The boss. Usually a writer.

sitcom: a half hour comedy, often three camera, usually one that tries to provide three laughs a minute, which exists solely for the sake of the humor

soap: a character-based drama with a serial plot line. Not necessarily an actual daytime soap opera.

spec pilot: a sample episode of a nonexistent show, written either to showcase your originality, or actually to sell the show to a network.

spec script: an episode of an existing show written to showcase your writing skills and get you a job, not intended to actually be sold or produced

springboard: an episode idea in a nutshell

staffing season: the annual cycle in which shows are optioned, pilots are shot, shows are funded and writing staffs are hired

standing sets: studio sets that stay up all season. Cheap to shoot in. Scenes that take place on standing sets make production managers happy.

subtitles for the nuance impaired: prose inserted into a treatment or script to make sure the reader gets the point. Only considered cheating if the audience couldn't possibly get the point, either. The difference between the reader not getting it and the audience not getting it can be explained by referring to the terms directing, acting, cinematography, editing and music.

tag: the scene or scenes that appear after the last commercial, to tie up any loose ends or, alternately, to untie one loose end so the story can continue next week

taking the curse off: making a story point not feel like a cliche without changing the story point itself

teaser: the scene or scenes that appear before the titles and the first commercial, to "tease" the audience into watching the episode. Normally sets up the episode story but doesn’t have to

telegraphing: giving the audience too heavy a hint where the story will go

template: the deep structure of a tv show. What every episode in the series must do.

templing: when a character puts his fingers together thoughtfully, forming a temple

the long term: next season

three-camera: series shot on a sound stage with three cameras constantly recording the action. Three-camera series are often shot in two performances on a single day. Opposed to single-camera.

tracking: following a character's personal story line to make sure it makes sense by itself. "Josh's story doesn't track."

treatment: a beat sheet expanded and polished for delivery to people who haven't heard the verbal pitch, such as network executives. Often contains subtitles for the nuance impaired

two hander: a scene between two people. Production managers love these

writer: a godlike man or woman, worthy of worship and offers of marriage, fantastic in bed, forgivable in all his or her faults.



In the A story- you should probably say - 'the most important storyline' to clarify that there are usually more than one. You can then extend that to B and C story.

By Blogger Hawise, at 8:10 AM  

In the A story- you should probably say - 'the most important storyline' to clarify that there are usually more than one. You can then extend that to B and C story.

By Blogger Hawise, at 8:11 AM  

Sorry about that- still waiting for the coffee to take full effect.

By Blogger Hawise, at 8:11 AM  

i think Joss is the best and definitely most important one.. writer's pretty good as well

By Blogger Sass, at 5:39 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:20 AM  

the last definition is profound

By Blogger Unknown, at 5:09 PM  

notes: the means by which a higher power (often unimaginative) influences craft. Usually pejorative.

Brief job descriptions of various titles in the writing-hierarchy would be very helpful to us civilians. Co-executive producer (for example) is a senior writer who keeps the production cheap...

By Blogger Scott Ellington, at 9:22 PM  

Hi, is any chance to find out how are TV series produced? I mean an hour episode in USA is supposed to be shot in 8 days. I've just produced a pilot of drama for the major Czech TV station and we have had problems to shot it in 10 days (about 40 scenes, few locations but 12 hour shifts and lots of over-times). I wonder how it may be possible for US crew to manage it in 8 days with its incredibly quality...

By Blogger Vašek, at 8:44 AM  

Well, the American series probably has many more technicians on staff. And access to more concentrated resources in LA. That saves them time.

American producers have also noticed that crews in other countries sometimes take their time doing tasks. American crews try to work as fast and efficiently as possible. That may be part of the issue.

There is also the issue of the talent pool. The best cinematographer in the Czech Republic probably gets snapped up by Hollywood sooner or later. The Hollywood talent pool is always going to be deeper.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:15 AM  

OK, money can be part of the problem. The more stuff you have the more effective they work (in limits of course). Is there any book which describes how the US crews work?
And last thing: I believe there must be some other thing. I don't know how to say... some hidden trick or anything. I mean to achieve shooting an hour drama in 8 days the script must be well structured (in production sense). The hour drama is not 60 minutes long but less than 50. Ally McBeal is about 45 minutes long. Lest take off time for main and closing credits and estabilishing shots etc. and the actual length to be shot for the main unit may be 40 minutes or so. Am I right? Are the some other rules or trick how to simplify the script to shoot? Returning sets are the most obvious ones, but what about some others?

By Blogger Vašek, at 10:45 AM  

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