#MondayMusings – Put It All Online

google-video-ETBScreenwritingEvery new media mimics what has gone before until it discovers its own form.  The films that followed live theater were created with a single static camera.  A single long shot replicated the audience’s perspective in viewing a stage show. It was assumed that was the perspective an audience would want in viewing filmed entertainment.  Finally, filmmakers realized they could move the camera and create an entirely new perspective and viewing experience.

Most online series are presented in episodic form, just like television.  If you create 22 or whatever number of episodes of bite-sized narrative, each is doled out, one at a time, over weeks and months.  Why is this a good idea?

No one likes to wait.  The Internet is the most impatient medium ever invented.  Going online is all about instant access all the time.  Why not put up a whole series (all episodes) in one shot?  Then the audience can view as much or as little of the narrative as THEY want exactly when THEY want to view it.

They won’t have to wait.  They can sample the series in order or out of order or however they like. Why do we think audiences have the patience or the attention span to come back to very short narrative snippets over time?  Isn’t this just the automatic mimicking of an old medium– episodic television?  Is that one reason why so many narrative series in this new medium fail?

Third Cocktail Question

cocktail-party ETBScreenwritingFinishing up with the third cocktail question: “Would you like to hear a great idea for a movie?”  For some reason, when people know you are a screenwriter they feel compelled to tell you their story or ask your opinion on their idea.

As you are listening, realize you are sitting in the place of a beleaguered studio executive.  What can you learn from this experience?

Always listen to the idea carefully because it’s a great opportunity to learn two of the most valuable lessons about pitching.  Pretend you listen to screenplay ideas for a living.

First, notice the person isn’t nervous.  They are simply sharing something that they are interested in and feel  passionate about.  They are hoping you will like the idea but the fun is in just communicating the it.  That is the greatest lesson of pitching.  Don’t go into a pitch meeting with the expectation or desire to sell the pitch.  Just enjoy sharing your story.  That goes a long way in eliminating nervousness.  Have fun.  Make it fascinating cocktail conversation.

Second, keep it short and punchy.  You want a strong opening, a series of interesting complications and a satisfying payoff.  That’s it.  Any more than ten to fifteen minutes is overkill.  Einstein once said”  “If you can’t explain it briefly and simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  And he was talking about physics!  The best thing you can get anyone to say in a meeting is: “Tell me more.”  Then you have permission and the interest and attention to elaborate.  You don’t want someone looking at the watch and thinking:  “Get to the point already.”

Isn’t that what anyone wants in a cocktail conversation:  A fun story that is mercifully short.  Get in. Get out.  Leave them wanting more.

Three Cocktail Questions

kurt_vonnegut ETB ScreenwritingI have a theory that every professional gets asked three annoying questions at a cocktail party.  These differ by profession.

If you are a screenwriter the questions are some variation of:  “Where do you get your ideas?”  “How do you find time to write?’ and “Would you like to hear a great idea for a movie?”  If we move past the irritation these questions turn out to be quite profound.

The first stupid question:  “Where do you get your ideas?”  is both a mystery and a terror.  No writer knows where inspiration comes from and every writer is terrified the spigot might somehow get turned off.

Inspiration is a gift pure and simple.  No one can control a gift.  It is given or not.  You can’t necessarily can’t earn it. And you probably don’t deserve it, in the grand scheme of things.

That leads me to Samuel Johnson, who wrote the following words in his diary on April 3, 1753, while working on his Dictionary of English.

“O God, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labour & in the Whole task of my present state, that when I shall render up at the last day an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Kurt Vonnegut said once that he used the passage himself as a sort of writer’s prayer to say before work ,http://www.theparisreview.org/viewinterview.php/prmMID/3605

INTERVIEWER
That seems to be a wish to carry his (Samuel Johnson’s) talent as far and as fast as he can.

VONNEGUT
Yes. He was a notorious hack.

INTERVIEWER
And you consider yourself a hack?

VONNEGUT
Of a sort.

If you’ve got a writer’s prayer or a way you cross your fingers, knock wood or seek the writing spark, please send it on!   Genius or hack all writers are nervous about the gift of inspiration– and what they do with it.  Including me!

Tomorrow: Stupid Question Number Two