What Gangnam Style Tells Us about Writing

Gangnam Style by Psy became the first YouTube video to cross the one billion view threshold, making it the most popular viral video in history.  In case you’re not familiar with this sensation– What’s Gangnam Style?

According to Wikipedia–

“Gangnam Style” (Korean: 강남스타일, IPA: [kaŋnam sɯtʰail]) is a K-pop single by the South Korean musician PSY. The song was released in July 2012 as the lead single of his sixth studio album PSY 6 (Six Rules), Part 1, and debuted at number one on South Korea’s Gaon Chart. On December 21, 2012, at around 15:50 UTC, “Gangnam Style” became the first video in the history of the Internet to be viewed more than a billion times. As of December 25, 2012, the music video has been viewed over 1 billion times on YouTube, and it is the site’s most watched video after surpassing Justin Bieber’s single “Baby”.

There have been pages and pages of analysis as to the odd-ball video’s popularity.  My take comes down to one word– Enthusiasm.

Psy is a short chubby guy with very unsophisticated, slightly awkward dance moves.  But he sings his songs and repeats his moves with absolute conviction and, most important, with wholehearted energy and individuality.

What does this song and dance video have to do with writing?   Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best–

“When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it.
Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful,
and you will accomplish your object. “

Does everything you write and the way you approach your writing have this crackling enthusiasm, passion, and authenticity?

Can you make everything you do in 2013 reflect your very own unique take on Gangnam Style?  If you do so you will be much more likely to succeed and to have more fun along the way!

SOPA

Although this website is not dark in protest of SOPA I stand with those who are!  Here is why–

http://mashable.com/2012/01/17/sopa-dangerous-opinion/

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Writing for the Web – From the UK

This excellent report from a BBC Writer’s Room roadshow in Northern Ireland in January was filedSophia's Diary by John Fox for Screenwriter’s Goldmine. It outlines the elements of the acclaimed internet drama, Sofia’s Diary.  Here’s what John had to report from the conference:

Nuno Bernardo, from BeFilms, created the original Sofia’s Diary in Portugal, an online drama with videos, blogs, interactive text messages, message boards and a TV show. It was a huge hit in Portugal and went on to spawn versions around the world, including the UK. Recently, he has created a new show Flatmates. This is for an older audience, but works along the same lines.

Nuno is also working on other drama and non-fiction projects.

If you haven’t seen Sofia’s Diary, here’s (part of) the UK version:

http://www.bebo.com/sofiasdiary

Nuno comes from a marketing background and this was his starting point for Sofia’s Diary.

He realized the teenage audience was becoming increasingly difficult to reach, especially through TV. Teenagers are increasingly more interested in the internet – as both a channel of entertainment and information (music, gossip sites, blogs, etc) as well as a way of communicating, through messenger services such as msn.

What sets internet use apart from TV is the interactivity between users. This is also borne out by the fact that teenagers are the heaviest users of text messaging. (Nuno quoted a figure of 200 texts a day for some teenage groups.)

From this, the idea for Sofia’s Diary was born.

The interesting thing from a writing/storytelling point of view is that it was is about creating a whole virtual world for the character and audience, and making a lot of this real time.

This included –

  • Phone texts, sent directly to subscribed users, telling them about something that had just happened (and sometimes asking for advice).
  • Internet diary blogs, updated every day at 8:30pm. These constituted -a daily experience- for the character, and always left a problem for the next day while asking advice –  for example: I’ve just found out that my boyfriend kissed my rival. Should I forgive him? Users were then invited to leave responses on message boards. This created debate amongst users, with the characters also joining in at times. Read the full story »

Great List of Original Online Content

860181962_7aa9182419For those of you interested in developing your own original series– Here is a great website that lists all original scripted content on the web.  Watch comedy, drama, sci-fi, thrillers, etc. developed exclusively for the web.  Link to the site:

http://slebisodes.com/Web_Series_Guide/Web_Series_Guide.html

Photo attribution HERE

Beyond Lemonade – Logo Proposal Meetings

2136953861_1b91ecbba2We all know a great logo when we see one.  Creating one is a different story entirely.  It has take me several month to go through the logo process and come out with something I am very excited about in the end.

The first step in the process was an RFP (a Request for Proposal) sent out to three different ad/branding agencies that FremantleMedia was interested in working with.  This was done out of London because FMX, the Fremantle Digital Division, has its offices in London.  I helped prepare a document which would be the basis for the creative input to each agency.  This document detailed the basic story arc of the series, the main characters, the location of the series, tone and style of the series and the intended audience.  We got back several pitches detailing different logo ideas from each company.  (See the article on each company’s pitch and what I learned about pitching from the other side of the desk).

The next step was choosing an agency based on the ideas submitted.  We choose the agency with the most enthusiasm and best visual understanding of the series.  I helped prepared a set of notes detailing our feedback on their designs and selecting a specific direction from the ideas and color palettes they submitted.

Two important factors in our selection process was concept (the central idea, emotion and tone behind the logo) and execution (the actual artwork itself).  It’s not very different from the challenges of telling a great story.  A logo is a kind of short-hand visual story.  It should convey the essence of the brand, idea or item in an instant.  Every web series needs a good logo.  It is the quick visual identity of the show and it marks it as your creative vision.

Here a few guidelines about what constitutes a great logo (adapted from The Logo Factory design articles):

1) Uniqueness
Your logo should be able to stand out as completely ‘yours’. It should be unique to your show and give a quick visual sense of what your show is about and what its style and tone are.
2) Timeless
Every few years there’s a trend, or fad, that new logos seems to embrace. A few years ago it was the ’swoosh’ – which made logos all hi-tech and ‘internety’. The latest design logo trend is so-called 2.0, a technique that (like a lot of design trends) can be traced back to Apple Computers. Take your logo, add a ‘gel’ treatment, give it glassy reflection at the bottom and you’re all set. Instead of trying to be hip or trendy go for something classic and classy that will stand the test of time.
3) Adaptability
Over the life of your company, you’ll want to plaster your logo over everything you create for the show or send out about it. That’s the point of having a logo in the first place. In order to do this, you’ll need a logo that’s adaptable to every occasion design gimmicks like lens flares and drop shadows can render your logo impractical for many of these uses over a variety materials. For exmaple FAXes, embroidery, newspaper ads, invoices, letterheads, collectable products etc. Your new logo has to work on all of them across a variety of surfaces. You’ll need a quality black and white version that can reproduce as a halftone grayscale, or in the cases of low-resolution BW reproduction, a stylized linear version.
4) Scalability
When using your logo, you’ll need to be able to use it small. Really small. Postage stamp size small. It’s always the simpler logos that stand out when viewed from a distance. Cluttered logos aren’t recognizable at this scale.  When it comes to scalability, the text portion of the logo is the most important, as that’s the piece you want people to remember. Elaborate fonts or text doesn’t read very well at half an inch high.
5) Color is Secondary
Colors are extremely important. Using consistent corporate colors will become part of your brand – that’s understood. However, when it comes to the design of your logo, color must always be secondary. A logo that requires color to ‘hold’ the design together is fine when reproduction is optimal – websites, 4 color process printing and what have you – but even then only if the size is appropriate as well. Logos that rely too much on color tend to blend together when used small (see above) and unless the contrast between the two colors is pronounced, will be a grey mess if used in black and white. As for low-resolution reproduction (FAXES, checks or stationary, etc) you can forget about readability completely – logos that use color as a design cornerstone usually come out as black blotches on a FAX transmission and with all their money, banks still haven’t figured out how to print a decent check.

1) Uniqueness

Your logo should be able to stand out as completely ‘yours’. It should be unique to your show and give a quick visual sense of what your show is about, what its style and tone are and what audience segment your are appealing to.

2) Timeless

Every few years there’s a new design trend, or fad. A few years ago it was the ’swoosh’– which made logos all hi-tech and ‘internety’. The latest design logo trend is so-called 2.0, a technique that (like a lot of design trends) can be traced back to Apple Computers. Take your logo, add a ‘gel’ treatment, give it glassy reflection at the bottom and you’re all set. Instead of trying to be hip or trendy go for something classic and classy that will stand the test of time.

3) Adaptability

Over the life of your show, you may want to plaster your logo over everything you create for the show or send out about it. In order to do this, you’ll need a logo that’s adaptable to a wide range uses.  Design gimmicks like reflections, lens flares and drop shadows can render your logo impractical on a variety materials and surfaces. Your logo should work on FAXes, embroidery, newspaper ads, invoices, letterheads, collectable items (like coffee mugs, pens or shirts etc.). You’ll need a quality black and white version that can reproduce as a halftone grayscale, or in the cases of low-resolution black and white reproduction, a stylized linear version.

4) Scalability

When using your logo, you’ll need to be able to use it small. Really small. Postage stamp size small. It’s always the simpler logos that stand out when viewed from a distance. Cluttered logos aren’t recognizable in small scale.  When it comes to scalability, the text portion of the logo is the extremely important. Elaborate fonts or text doesn’t read very well at half an inch high.

5) Color is Secondary

Color is extremely important in depicting tone and style. Using consistent colors will become part of your show’s brand – that’s understood. However, when it comes to the design of your logo, color must always be secondary. A logo that requires color to ‘hold’ the design together is fine when reproduction is optimal –but logos that rely too much on color tend to blend together when used small.   Unless the contrast between the two colors is pronounced, will be a grey mess when used in black and white (on for example an envelope). As for low-resolution black and white reproduction (FAXES or checks, etc) you can forget about readability completely when color is key the the logo’s readability.

All those concerns were key to our final design decision.  We are very excited about the choice to make the logo look like newsprint origami.  Origami was a great direction to take because it symbolizes moving from something flat and static (a piece or paper or newsprint) and turning it into something original, creative and dynamic— a unique piece of art.  That is in essence what our characters are doing with their lives on the series.  They are moving beyond their troubles and set-backs to create something bigger, bolder and more audacious than what went before.  Newsprint was appropriate because our main character is remaking an out-moded newspaper into an online journal sharing stories about women starting over.

The logo we came up with could be animated at the beginning of each episode.  It can work in color, in a black and white grayscale and in a more stylized graphic version for use on smaller items like on pencils or as a piece of jewelry, like a brooch.  I will unveil the final design in the week or so.  Watch this space!

Top Photo Credit HERE

Beyond Lemonade – Keys to Pitching

293193656_c399040e87It’s rare for a creative person to be on the other side of the desk— evaluating pitches instead of doing the pitching.  I had that opportunity this week when we were hiring people for some creative elements for my online series.

Here are six lessons I learned sitting on the other side of the desk.  I also had the realization that at one time or another I have made all these mistakes myself. What an eye-opener to see how those missteps look “from the other side.”  Here’s what I learned:

1. Be Authentic. Don’t try to second-guess what the producer wants.  It is impossible to inuit someone else’s taste.  Don’t make stereotypical assumptions. Instead, offer a fresh take on the core idea that reflects who YOU are. When you pitch be true to the sensibility of the project, but bring something unique and original to the table.  The lesson here is be yourself and speak with an authentic voice that ADDS something to the project.  Demonstrate that you have a clear point of view and can make a real contribution.

2. Get to the Point. It’s always great to do your homework and research whatever element you are pitching.  But avoid the temptation to over-explain or simply show off your background knowledge.  Don’t get into research unless it has a clear correlation to something specific in your pitch.  You run the risk of telling the producers what they already know when you include too much extra information.  Instead, get right to the heart of what it is you are pitching.  Show don’t tell applies here.  Show you’ve done the research by the quality and specificity of what you pitch.

3. Stay on Target. Make sure everything in your pitch reflects the core idea of the project.  Beyond Lemonade is for and about women over forty.  Several of the pitches included default ideas that missed our target completely.  I say “default ideas” because most online projects are aimed at a younger audience.  The ideas pitched might have worked in the usual situation but weren’t appropriate for and didn’t reflect our unique audience.  Be meticulous in each and every element of your pitch.  Make absolutely sure that everything in your presentation reflects the core idea at the heart of the project.

4. Ask Questions. Be certain you have all the information you need to pitch. If you don’t understand something, ask. Intelligent questions convey interest and enthusiasm.   A few pointed questions can also help you tailor your pitch to the unique circumstances surrounding the project.  Be judicious and stay on point.  Don’t waste  time with irrelevant questions.

5. Be Enthusiastic. Only pitch those projects that really excite you.  If the project is not for you then pass and concentrate on something else that is more your style.  If the project is your “dream job” then let it show.  Communicate why the project is in tune with your unique sensibilities or interests.  Enthusiasm is infectious and really can’t be faked.  Show up in person.  No one can sell your pitch better than you can.  Don’t “phone it in” on any level.

6. Take Direction.  When a producer asks for an adjustment, get to the bottom of what is missing (or wrong).  Ask, “What would adding (or subtracting) this address for you?”   Don’t fixate on the literal detail the producers are questioning.  A literal fix often doesn’t really address the underlying problem.  It’s your job to discover what is actually at issue and fix that.  Be creative.  You are being hired to be a problem-solver.  Solve the problem in a way that expresses the talent and insight you bring to the table.

Developing Beyond Lemonade had been an exciting and revealing process on so many levels for me.  Having evaluated these pitches will change forever my view of the pitching process.  I know it’s not just me.  A Fremantle assistant who had aspirations to act was invited to help the director casting another Fremantle online project.  Seeing the auditions from the director’s side of the table was a real eye-opener for her.  She told me it completely turned around her view of auditions.  Here is the final take-away.  The person on the other side of the table REALLY wants you to do well.  They WANT you to be the answer to their prayers.  They are on your side.  Only you can mess it up for yourself.

The photo at the top of the post is attributed HERE

Beyond Lemonade – Preparing the Sales Deck

3748835100_544e0bc2fc_bI had a call with London on Monday to discuss the PowerPoint/video sales presentation needed to sell the show and concept to potential sponsors. This week I am writing the first draft of the narrative for the slides.  Next week, the London office will be in LA with a variety of logos and design documents to choose from.

What do you need to sell a show and website?  Here are the key questions you need to answer in such a presentation:

Who are you and what do you bring to the table?

Who is your target audience?  Why will they watch your show?  Facts and figure about your audience demographics and their buying power go here. What do you have to offer that your audience isn’t getting elsewhere?

What is the show’s concept in a nutshell?  Who are the characters and what kind of story are you telling?

You will need 3 minute trailer that gives sponsors a taste of the style, tone and the production quality of your episodes.

Next comes a summary of specifics: How many episodes are you planning?  How long will each episode be?  How will the series unroll and  over what span of time?

How and why must this concept live online (why can’t it be just a film or TV series)?  What makes the show particularly an Internet series? How is it interactive?  How does it exploit the unique qualities of the web?

Why would potential sponsors be interested?  How do their needs and target market match up to yours?  What are the variety of ways a sponsor might participate in or support your show?  How does your series fit into a targeted sponsor’s overall strategies or strategies on the web?  You need to do your research here and know the brands you are approaching, so you can respond knowledgeably to their needs.

No matter what kind of show or project your are pitching you will need to answer these basic questions.

Beyond Lemonade – Great Story Advice

fremantlemediaLast week I had a fascinating conversation with one of the chief creative minds behind the success of FremantleMedia.  I am very blessed to be able to call on the talent, savvy and incredible depth of knowledge that has made Fremantle a creative and commercial powerhouse around the world.  Here are the three key takeaways from my recent conversation about Beyond Lemonade:

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The Importance of a Central Image

My creative mentor asked me what central image encapsulated the entire Beyond Lemonade project.  As we talked, the image of an ordinary woman (my Central Chacracter – Lydia), who has largely remained in the background and who now finally steps into the center of the room.  The central image is moving from the sidelines to center stage.

The death of her larger-than-life husband forces our protagonist, Lydia, to decide:  What comes next?  Her financial and personal circumstances are greatly reduced.  Will she will use the resources she has left to live modestly, conserving her dwindling capital, and retire cautiously to the sidelines?  Or will she stride to the center of the room, bet everything on herself and finally claim the spotlight.  Will she have the courage to re-imagine herself and relaunch her dreams?   You bet she will!

Recently, a Fremantle dramatic heroine has done just that.  After the death of her parents, Susan Boyle could have simply faded into the background in her small village.  Instead, she takes a huge risk.  She steps on stage to initial ridicule and the snide dismissal of those who only see her as a frumpy, quite ordinary middle-aged woman.  What could she possibly contribute?  Then Susan opens her mouth and sings with all the pent-up talent, energy and passion inside of her.  She claims the spotlight and goes on to break every Billboard sales record on the books.  And who drove those sales?  Women just like Susan!

Beyond Lemonade will be the story of another woman who emerges from a personal loss with greater strength and the determination to finally take a chance on herself, risk it all and claim her place at the center of the stage.

The Danger of Too Much Plot

When I asked for advice based on the company’s experience with other online dramas my creative mentor warned me about the trap of too much plot.  There is a temptation, he said, especially in writing short-form episodes to keep the plot moving at too brisk a pace.  The worry being that without enough action the audience will be bored.  He cautioned that plot should not hurry the story along at the expense of character.

Specifically, he recommended the audience have an opportunity to see the character in moments alone. That is a missed opportunity evident in many television and film dramas.  It can be incredibly revealing to see how someone acts when they believe no one else is looking.  When a character is alone the character is often at his or her most vulnerable.  He warned me that those scenes often wind up on the cutting room floor and that I need to defend their importance.

Too much plot also doesn’t give the drama time to breathe or unwind naturally.   My mentor specifically referenced Chekov.  Find big drama in small moments:

“After all, in real life, people don’t spend every moment in shooting one another, hanging themselves, or making declarations of love. They do not spend all their time saying clever things. They are more occupied with eating, drinking, flirting, and saying stupidities. These are the things which ought to be shown on the stage. A play should be written in which people arrive, depart have dinner, talk about the weather, and play cards. Life must be exactly as it is and people as they are… Let everything on the stage be just as complicated, and at the same time just as simple, as in life. People eat their dinner, just eat their dinner, and all the time their happiness is taking form, or their lives are being destroyed.” – Anton Chekhov

The Trap of Too Much Set-Up and Wrap-Up

The final point was another lesson from Chekov.  My mentor told me that Chekov often deleted the first scene of his play and the final scene of his play in finishing the draft.  The audience feels as if it has stumble upon a life already in progress, jumping immediately into the story and the character’s predicament.  And, at the end, the audience believes the lives of the characters continue and nothing is conclusively concluded with a final story-ending cherry on the cake.

Virginia Woolf mused on the unique quality of the endings of a Chekhov story in her book, The Common Reader :

“But is it the end, we ask? We have rather the feeling that we have overrun our signals; or it is as if a tune had stopped short without the expected chords to close it. These stories are inconclusive, we say, and proceed to frame a criticism based upon the assumption that stories ought to conclude in a way that we recognise. In so doing we raise the question of our own fitness as readers. Where the tune is familiar and the end emphatic—lovers united, villains discomfited, intrigues exposed—as it is in most Victorian fiction, we can scarcely go wrong, but where the tune is unfamiliar and the end a note of interrogation or merely the information that they went on talking, as it is in Chekov, we need a very daring and alert sense of literature to make us hear the tune, and in particular those last notes which complete the harmony.”

Chekov seems to me to be a wonderful icon for the new digital short-form story.  He wrote small dramas (suitable for a small screen) filled with big emotions.  His work has the sense of being fluid and alive, a momentary flash of life, with no ponderous explanations or conclusive endings.  Instead, a sense of life continuous lived and glimpsed only in part.  Lessons I will take to heart!

After all, in real life, people don’t spend every moment in shooting one another, hanging themselves, or making declarations of love. They do not spend all their time saying clever things. They are more occupied with eating, drinking, flirting, and saying stupidities. These are the things which ought to be shown on the stage. A play should be written in which people arrive, depart have dinner, talk about the weather, and play cards. Life must be exactly as it is and people as they are…Let everything on the stage be just as complicated, and at the same time just as simple, as in life. People eat their dinner, just eat their dinner, and all the time their happiness is taking form, or their lives are being destroyed.
– Anton Chekhov

Beyond Lemonade – Positioning

These last few weeks I’ve been working on a Project Document.  This is the document that explains the concept, characters, marketing and branding to anyone who works on Beyond Lemonade or provides services to the project (writers, producers, production staff, ad agencies, web designers or PR people).

One of the documents I had to prepare was positioning the online series in relationship to other programs on television (there’s just not enough online to compare yet).  This is a chart I created to position the show in terms of drama and comedy.  Below is text expanding and amplifying the chart.  I found this really helpful for me too.  Being specific about what a project is and is not helps hone in on tone style and content.

Beyond Lemonade DramaComedy Grid.001-001

Authentic Drama
Our touchstone drama examples for Beyond Lemonade are Brothers and Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Big Love and The Sopranos.  All of these shows feature strong, clear, distinctive female characters with complex emotional lives.  The settings these touchstone characters find themselves in are very different, what they have in common is the deep, rich and often conflicting relationships each woman has with family and friends.  The women in Beyond Lemonade also struggle with the opposing loyalties, the difficulty of balancing life, love and work and the powerful emotions that draw them together and force them apart.
Our drama is about active vital women.  They seize control of their futures and relaunch their lives.  They all face daunting circumstances but they do so with energy and optimism.  They aren’t passive, depressed or weak.  Each of these women believes their best years are still ahead of them.  This is a drama filled with hope and not soap.
Humor from Character
Our touchstone comedy examples for Beyond Lemonade are Sex and The City, Drop Dead Diva, Rosanne and Ellen.  The comedy in all of these shows comes from the clarity of each woman’s personality and her very specific attitude toward life and love.  What unites all our touchstone women is a clear-eyed, gutsy honesty about themselves and their relationships.  The women in Beyond Lemonade also can laugh at their individual and collective flaws and foibles.  No matter how appalling the dilemma, our characters lighten their situation with a sense of shared humor.
The comedy in Beyond Lemonade is not based on situations or circumstances that are camp or highly stylized.  The comedy is not forced or laugh-track fake.  Our characters find humor in realistic situations and relationships.  The extreme over-the-top characters or circumstances of Cougar Town, Ugly Betty or Desperate Housewives don’t apply.  The situations are funny but not far-fetched.

Authentic Drama

Our touchstone drama examples for Beyond Lemonade are Brothers and Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Big Love and The Sopranos.  All of these shows feature strong, clear, distinctive female characters with complex emotional lives.  The settings these touchstone characters find themselves in are very different, what they have in common is the deep, rich and often conflicting relationships each woman has with family and friends.  The women in Beyond Lemonade also struggle with the opposing loyalties, the difficulty of balancing life, love and work and the powerful emotions that draw them together and force them apart.

Our drama is about active vital women.  They seize control of their futures and relaunch their lives.  They all face daunting circumstances but they do so with energy and optimism.  They aren’t passive, depressed or weak.  Each of these women believes her best years are still ahead of her.  This is a drama filled with hope and not soap.

Humor from Character

Our touchstone comedy examples for Beyond Lemonade are Sex and The City, Drop Dead Diva, Rosanne and Ellen.  The comedy in all of these shows comes from the clarity of each woman’s personality and her very specific attitude toward life and love.  What unites all our touchstone women is a clear-eyed, gutsy honesty about themselves and their relationships.  The women in Beyond Lemonade also can laugh at their individual and collective flaws and foibles.  No matter how appalling the dilemma, our characters lighten their situation with a sense of shared humor.

The comedy in Beyond Lemonade is not based on situations or circumstances that are camp or highly stylized.  The comedy is not forced or laugh-track fake.  Our characters find humor in realistic situations and relationships.  The extreme over-the-top characters or circumstances of Cougar Town, Ugly Betty or Desperate Housewives don’t apply.  The situations are funny but not far-fetched.