I am going to interview a top sitcom writer, Ellen Sandler, in these pages in a couple of weeks. What do you most want to know that you haven't seen answered elsewhere
? I'm looking for specific craft-oriented questions, not the usual "how did you get your first job."
Some burning questions:
1. What are the most common story problems that writers beat their heads against the wall trying to "beat out" in the writers' room? Where in the story do you find yourself stuck and how do you get unstuck?
2. Do you watch/care/know anything about Canadian TV?
3. Why are you running around giving speeches and workshops instead of writing sitcoms? Is it just personal choice or also due to a lack of interesting opportunities post-Raymond?
I've written five novels that I will adapt to screenplays. I've bought the screenwriting software and the "How to" books. I'm reading screenplays of films I've seen and liked, including some classics.
What other advice does she have for a novice screenwriter before he plunges into his first project.
What are the most important things that a character in a script needs in order to be believable?
Why do shows that start out being clever and innovative (Lost, Battlestar) end up being so unbelievably bad down the road that it makes one want to cry?
Good recording equipment is cheap. Sitcoms don't need costly effects. How-to knowledge is available for free on the net. It's possible to distribute the final product to millions of people instantly over the internet for exactly zero dollars and zero cents. How do you see such "ordinary citizen created media" competing with the networks in the future?
I have an industry question. How should a beginning writer seek representation from an agent? Having received theatre training, I know there are a lot of etiquette "rules" for young actors who are trying to get representation. What is the process for an up-and-coming writer to contact agencies in a appropriate way?
When doing a punch-up draft, what techniques do you use to generate jokes when they're not just flowing naturally?
- When you realize you had come up with a story in which one of the core cast characters doesn't have much participation, what can you try to solve the problem?
- Today, many shows tend to transgress some of the standard elements of a given format adopting certain characteristics from another one (I'm thinking of shows such as the comic soap Ugly Betty or the procedural sitcom Andy Barker P.I.). What problems may arise when trying to develop multiple season arcs and character growth in sitcoms? Can a sitcom character change one of his defining traits without stopping to be funny?
- What tricks do you use to increase or decrease the amount of beats within a single storyline to make it fit? And what if your different stories (A, B, C...) are deeply intertwined?
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