It is a long held maxim at film and television programs that the only way to teach television is to teach screenwriting. This makes a good deal of sense, since the producers of a series are (for the most part) the writers of that series. So why not start with the basic skill required for success? This was the case at Northwestern University when I earned my MFA, and remains the thinking today, decades later, at almost every major university, including UCLA.
But this thinking is flawed. Or, at the very least, it is an incomplete answer for the demands of a medium that is growing in sophistication and volume with each passing week.
It is no great observation to point out that scripted television is the fastest growing segment of the media universe. Despite proclamations that we have reached ‘peak television,’ scripted shows continue to grow in number each year and ORIGINAL SERIES (i.e., series that remain exclusive) have become the lynchpins of every major streaming service. Just consider the outsized impact that a single ‘must see’ series like THE HANDMAID’S TALE has on subscriber sales. It’s huge. A single hit series like GAME OF THRONES can drive subscriptions for months around its newest season.
While reviews for Zoe 2018 are mixed (some are even poor!) I believe this is a film that has been sadly underestimated. Its ratings have been skewed by a small number of cranks on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ who must have been expecting Terminator, instead of the beautifully nuanced, impossible love story presented in ‘Zoe.’ Most of these online complaints focus on whether singer Christina Aguilera deserved her turn as an actress. To be generous, this is a pretty dumb reason to condemn a movie. Especially one that deals so affectively with profound questions of what constitutes actual consciousness? As well as the love, loss, and inevitable pain of this human experience.
It is no coincidence that Ridley Scott is a producer on this movie, because it is cut from the same rich fabric as Blade Runner (both the original and 2049) and explores many of the same themes and moral complexities evident in Westworld’s superb first season.
Beginning in September, I will be teaching a brand new class for UCLA Extension: Television Series Development Workshop (FILM TV X-423).
We’re going to learn how to create an industry-ready tv pitch in just 10 weeks. Here’s a quick look at the course (2 min):
We will be learning to create the same caliber of professional presentation that I use (and hundreds of other WGA writers and producers use) to sell our shows to networks, every season.
This course will take you from raw idea, through world-building, the creation of complex characters, backstories, and ongoing conflicts – to the kinds of visual elements and high quality presentations that buyers want to see.
And we’ll do it all as a workshop, with help at every stage, and no soldier left behind.
I cannot think of a more valuable skill in media than learning how to package and present your vision to the people who can make it happen.
It addition to myself, we will have two major players as guest speakers to help guide us on our path: Lee Aronsohn, creator of ‘Two and Half Men’; and Bad Robot’s Senior VP of Television, Matt King.
This class will rock. This class WILL sell out. Do not pussy-foot around or this ship will sail without you. Registration is open now. Click here to join us.
See you in September!
Next month (April and again in June) I am teaching a class in Story Analysis at UCLA Extension. Teaching has given me a chance to revisit some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in 20+ years of screenwriting, and foremost on that list are the principles of CHARACTER.
Although screenwriters and many development executives tend to focus a great deal on concept and plot, every story is about SOMEONE. Even if that someone is a dog (Marley) or a pig (Babe) or a robot (Chappie) it is a story of someone’s transformation. Because transformation is what great stories are all about.
“I started here. I believed such-and-such. Something unexpected took me away from all that. It forced me to do what I had not done before. It forced me to become who I was not before. I am not the same person now, I am new.”
This basic story, what Joseph Campbell called the mono-myth, is the template that underlies every well-composed drama: The going out, the adventure, and the return as someone new, someone changed.
Whether that person’s transformation is one of character, or of circumstance, or fortune, or understanding – (more…)