The best comedy writing starts with characters

Anna Chlumsky and Julia Louise-Dreyfus in "Veep."
Anna Chlumsky does her best to manage Julia Louise-Dreyfus in “Veep.”

Given the many flavors of comedy and personal taste, is it even possible to create something that is universally funny?

The Writers Guild of America’s list of the 101 funniest scripts ever written may be more definitive for some than others, but, if nothing else, the list reflects how broad comic appeal can be.

While the top five films appear to have little in common, at the heart of each lie shared elements of Continue reading “The best comedy writing starts with characters”

Baroness von Sketch: Keen satire, devilishly female

Baroness von Sketch CBC
The award-winning all-female Canadian sketch comedy, Baroness von Sketch Show, examines narcissistic contemporary culture.

While Saturday Night Live, with its skewering political satire, has returned to late-night prominence, another sketch comedy, north of the border, is equally worthy of praise: Baroness von Sketch Show. Launched last year on CBC, the female-driven sketch comedy appropriately won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Variety or Sketch Comedy on International Women’s Day. Continue reading “Baroness von Sketch: Keen satire, devilishly female”

Screenwriting lessons I learned from Stewart Stern

Stewart Stern
Stewart Stern (1922-2015)

I want to preface this post by saying, emphatically, it’s not about me. But, as Stewart Stern would insist, despite my state of denial, it really, really, really is. And that’s why so many are mourning his death this week. You may have seen the headlines about the death of the guy who wrote “Rebel Without A Cause,” but Stewart, of course, was more than a gifted screenwriter. His screenwriting instruction transcended “instruction,” as anyone who studied with him would attest. And it got me thinking about what I learned from his class at TheFilmSchool, because it was unlike any screenwriting class or workshop I’d had, and ever will have.
Continue reading “Screenwriting lessons I learned from Stewart Stern”

Screenwriting development slates and focusing on stories that resonate

Screenwriting development slatesHowever arbitrary, the start of the new year is when we’re reminded to make resolutions, set goals, etc., etc., which, admittedly, prompted me to add a new column to my screenwriting development slate — an addition I expect to resonate throughout the year. Wait — a screenwriting dev slate? Continue reading “Screenwriting development slates and focusing on stories that resonate”

No, data cannot help you write a better screenplay

TypewriterWalt Hickey’s recent FiveThirtyEight blog post, “How Data Can Help You Write A Better Screenplay,” is flawed on so many levels, the key one being predictive analytics does not apply to screenwriting. Why not? Because, first and foremost, the screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and the process of interpreting text to a visual medium reflects a collaborative effort with multiple unpredictable variables — most notably, people: actors, directors, producers, editors, cinematograhpers, sound technicians, more writers, set designers, etc. Continue reading “No, data cannot help you write a better screenplay”

10 — no, 11! — reasons aspiring screenwriters must study screenwriting

10 -- no, 11! -- reasons to study screenwritingYeah, you’ve been writing since grade one or earlier. In college you pulled all-nighters effortlessly pounding out A-grade term papers. Your friends all trust your extraordinary proofing skills. So why bother learning screenwriting when you already know how to write well? Speaking from experience, I can think of a few reasons why studying screenwriting is critical to your success: Continue reading “10 — no, 11! — reasons aspiring screenwriters must study screenwriting”

Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 2

script coverage at the BBC readers roomFollowing up on part one of the “checklist to RECOMMEND,” listed below are key coverage checklist items that, if well executed, will help you avoid the problems with more than 95 percent of the scripts out there. Remember, you are competing with established screenwriters as well as other up-and-comers, so what can you do to get your script closer to RECOMMEND? Continue reading “Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 2”

Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 1

Script coverage: checklist to RecommendScreenplay “coverage” and “analysis” tend to be used interchangeably, but there’s one key distinction:

  • Script coverage helps producers make business decisions; whereas,
  • An industry-level analysis of your screenplay helps you improve material before submitting to producers and screenwriting contests.

Additionally, coverage reports actually are more objective than subjective; therefore it’s important to understand how your writing affects coverage and the steps you can take to get your screenplay recommended to producers. Continue reading “Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 1”

SMASH CUT TO: Another lame transition

Smash cut to a lame transitionScreenwriters are always told to write visually because film is a visual medium, and “SMASH CUT TO” somehow has emerged as a “technique” to convey a sudden cut to a new scene. As Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock would say — actually, he would rightfully dismiss you with, perhaps, a glare, if even that, and move on to higher intellectual ground, where you should be, because SMASH CUT TO, if anything, actually will get in the way of the dramatic transition effect for which you poorly are attempting to compensate. The key to a dramatically effective transition from one scene to the next stems not from terminology, but instead from Continue reading “SMASH CUT TO: Another lame transition”

Recommended comedy book: “The Hidden Tools of Comedy” by Steve Kaplan

Hidden Tools of Comedy by Steve KaplanComedy is the most challenging genre for one simple reason: what is funny to one person is not necessarily funny to another. But that doesn’t make it impossible to write a humorous film or sitcom, because if you understand the foundation of comic situations you can inject humor into whatever it is you’re writing, regardless of genre, especially if you read Steve Kaplan’s The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny. Kaplan is a long-time comedy consultant in the entertainment industry who successfully has distilled his transferable knowledge into what is one of the best comedy books available. Continue reading “Recommended comedy book: “The Hidden Tools of Comedy” by Steve Kaplan”