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Complications Ensue:
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Monday, May 15, 2006

Q. You say I need to watch more TV and watch TV smarter. The honest truth is that I have next to no time to do this. Unless I set specific time aside to just watch, I don't get to. I'm starting to clear my schedule so I can do just that.
Good, because you can't write TV without watching TV. To save time, get a Personal Video Recorder or TiVo; skipping commercials will save you 25%. Also, watch shows on DVD where you can.

Once you've spotted a show you want to spec, you don't need to watch any other shows. You want that show to enter your bloodstream and your dreams. At least until you're done with your spec.
Q. What exactly should I be looking for? I've noticed exactly what you said, that there is not a single scene that goes by without either some kind of foreshadowing, or an argument between characters that moves the show forward or a resolution of an argument that ends up developing in to something else in the next scene. Also I've noticed what you mean by "entering a scene late and leaving it early." But what about the technical stuff like lighting and camera angles? Are those going to be important to me?
No, not the directorial stuff. But you should be looking at everything else. E.g.: How many story lines are there? How much do the story lines interweave? Who are the characters who get story lines? How many of them are there? Who are the characters who are in every show? Who are the recurring characters? Are the plots primarily driven by external events (a previously unseen character commits a crime) or the internal dynamics of the core cast (Ross asks Rachel on a date)? How much of the story is completed by the end of the ep? How much carries over into the next ep? I.e. how serial is the show? What's the hook (what gets us watching)? What is the attractive fantasy (what keeps us watching)? And so on.

Watch the same episode several times in a row.

Watch three episodes from the same show back to back to back.

At the end of each act (at the commercial break) write down what the act out was.

Read the script, if you can find it on the Net.

Try to come at the show from as many different angles as you can. You want to really grasp the show, not just let it entertain you.

Watching a show in order to spec it is work. If you don't do the work, you probably won't nail your spec. And if it's too much work... well, no one's holding a gun to your head and insisting you become a TV writer, are they?



As a follow-up question to this post, what do you do about the technical aspects of the narrative? For instance, I've always been intimidated by specing a medical show like Grey's or ER. Or a law/crime show. Do you research the hell out of something, or do you fake it the best you can? All of those shows have actual consultants, so will people cut you slack if your relationships and story are tight but your technical methods are suspect?

By Blogger Unknown, at 2:23 PM  

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