Here’s what I’ve been up to . . . what are you watching?

I guess I really do love TV
I guess I really do love TV

Masters of Sex

Ray Donovan

True Blood

Vicious

Covert Affairs

The 100 (in reruns!)

Suits

Graceland

Rush

Satisfaction – I gave up on this one

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

Last Tango in Halifax – I like it but its too heavy for me right now

Series on Netflix and Amazon:

The Killing

House of Cards

Queer as Folk (I could watch this a hundred times – to me, it’s the most romantic and emotionally satisfying show ever to grace the airways)

My So-Called Life

For Research Paper:

Crime dramas from the 1950s through the present: Partial list (on my DVR right now)

Starsky and Hutch

The Blacklist

The Lone Ranger

Mod Squad

CSI: NY

Hawaii Five-O

Knight Rider

Murder in the First

Monk

Walker, Texas Ranger

Matlock

Dragnet

A Networking Story

Hi all,

I’ve been having some good luck with networking lately, and I thought I would share the following emails I exchanged with Manny Fonseca. He’s a weekly columnist for the http://www.thebusinessofshowinstitute.com/newsletter-06-29-12.html#06-29-12-12 . He also mentioned me in this week’s column. If you’re a screenwriter and you’re not reading this newsletter, you are missing out on a valuable opportunity to gain insider knowledge of the industry at no cost.

As far as networking is concerned, I’ve come to believe that there is no one too important to  reach out to, so long as you know how to do it and respect boundaries. Here is our exchange:

Hi Manny,

I love your column and appreciate the time you take to help out those of us trying to break into the business. I particularly love your advice on what not to do when you get an opportunity to meet with mucky-mucks.

I’m a fairly new screenwriter in New York, and have been working hard to master the craft for about three years. My goal is to get a job in TV at the staff table. I’ve applied for the network fellowships and workshops, but know what a long shot it is. Everyone has told me that I have to be in LA to work in TV, and I have taken this advice to heart. I definitely don’t want to die without at least giving it a chance.

A few months ago you mentioned the “living in LA” question in your column, and said something like — if you’re married, and your spouse doesn’t want to move, leave him. Although I know you were joking, I agree that there are worse reasons for separation! In my case it is not only my husband, but also my two teenagers who have no desire to be in LA. I am making preparations to move out there on my own in the fall and give it a shot. If it works, I’ll bring them out there, if not I’ll come home. I’ve worked too hard and love this too much not to take a shot.

My question is, other than the usual approach of meeting everyone possible and attending networking events, do you have any particular advice to hit the ground running? Since I’m leaving my family to pursue my dream, I want to make the best possible use of my time.

Once again, thank you for your time and attention. I’d love to buy you a drink sometime to show my gratitude and shoot the breeze.

Karen

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Karen,

First off…wow.

What does hubby and the kids think?  Or, have you even told them yet?

I shared your email with a couple of friends over the weekend and they were both semi-horrified even going to the joke that my advice “was breaking up a family.”

I’m not like them though…I applaud what you’re doing.  The “what if” is WAY more brutal than the trying and failing thing.  At least with the latter you know now.  Know what I mean?

My advice, although it might be kinda hard, is to try and get an internship somewhere.  You need to have some development experience under your belt and some “street cred.”

The golden opportunities are getting writer assistant jobs, interns on TV shows or working as a producer’s assistant.  Not sure what your background is and what your job history is like, but I’m sure you’re more than capable of surviving out here.

I will tell you straight up…it’s VERY lonely doing it on your own.  Even when you have someone.  My roommate is a very good friend of mine.  She finally moved out here this year and it’s been pretty hard on her.  She sits in the apartment all day with little to do.  She’s working on stuff, but nowhere near the amount of stuff she WANTS to be working on.

Keep that in mind.

As for that drink.  I’m buying the first round to celebrate your newfound road to happiness.  And please know you have a friend and a supporter of the cause.  Get out here and lets make it happen!

Manny

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Hi Manny,

I have to say, it was very classy of you to respond to my email so quickly and generously. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you at all. It means a lot, and gives me so much more courage to network.

My hubby and kids are scared but supportive. We plan to Skype constantly and visit whenever possible. Since they’ve been living with my obsession, too, they know how important it is for me to give it a shot. I think if we weren’t scared it would be weird. But, I believe we’ll get through it and end up together in the same city, hopefully while we reap the benefit of financial rewards through work in screenwriting.

I’m hoping to get some production credit under my belt this summer, and also to finish my original pilot, which will give me three good samples of my work. I also believe there is a good chance I’ll at least get an interview with either Disney, WB or NBC on the Verge. My applications, spec script and reference letters were very respectable.

I’ll definitely need to have paid work when I get out there.

I have a screenwriting blog at http://karenlovestv.com. I’d like to share some of your letter with my followers, along with a referral to your column/newsletter, of course. Would that be alright with you? It’s an article about networking strategies.

I’ll keep you informed and let you know when I’m arriving! Thanks for your support and advice,

Karen


Please, share whatever you like.

Let me offer this true tale.

Be prepared.

I preface this story with the knowledge that I realize that a girlfriend is very different than a husband and kids.  I know this BUT…

Be prepared.

When I came out here I had been dating a girl for two years.  We did all the usuals.  She bought a webcam.  We made plans to Skype.   Text.  Chat daily.

Buy shit happens.  You miss you’re first Skype date and it’s “what happened”. You say working late and they’re VERY supportive.

You miss your third Skype date and it’s what the fuck?

5th and you’re growing apart.

7th and its heading downhill.

Then there’s the reverse.  You’ve just put in a 12 hour day.  You get home exhausted and just want to say hi and go to bed.  You jump on…where the hell are you?  You get this text…”watching blah blah blah, jump on in 15.” and you get resentful.  You don’t want to wait 15.  You want to go to bed.

My point is this…don’t plan anything.  Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.  Come out here ready to work but also prep yourself that it just MAY be one or the other.

What if you make it and they change their minds and don’t want to live in California?

What if you make it and they move but are resentful?

My girlfriend never had any intention of coming out here.  She never thought I’d make it and catered to the fantasy.  She supported the 3-4 month plan and then when I got a full time gig she “was happy for me” but not happy for me.  Know what I mean?

Just be prepared.

That’s all.

M

Checking In

I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like, because I’ve been so busy writing my scripts. Here’s a sneak peek into what I’ve been up to lately, and what I plan to write about in the near future.

  • How many drafts does it take to get to a final product?
  • Writing with a partner – joys and frustrations
  • Getting those applications off and what not to do
  • Nerdist.com
  • What script evaluations teach me

Success

It’s measured in moments. Tiny increments of achievement, over time add up to significant progress. Sometimes you notice them. Once in a while, someone else notices. Most often, they go unrecognized in the daily grind of life, when you struggle at the keyboard to finish a scene, to edit what you wrote yesterday, to elevate the content from the mundane and derivative to something fresh and captivating.

Suddenly, one day, you’ve arrived at a milestone. You didn’t see it or hear it coming, but you felt it gathering. Maybe you weren’t sure what it was, exactly, but you knew things were shifting, you were getting somewhere. In moments of doubt, you wondered if it was your imagination. There’s only one thing to do. Keep writing.

It’s been a few years now, and you are sending out an application, just like the rest of the world of aspiring screenwriters. That most coveted prize of the ABC/Disney Fellowship dangles before you. You know you’re a serious candidate, that you’d be an asset to the staff table, but hardly dare to hope that anyone else will recognize that. There are many gifted people out there. How do you stand out from the crowd?

So, you call on your most trusted teacher/advisor, and ask him to take another look at your spec script, even though he’s already evaluated it several times. And just to be sure, get a fresh pair of eyes to look it over, too. They tell you it’s good, although those words are not usually spoken in the context of the evaluation. Aside from a few suggestions of small edits, they have no notes for me. In fact, they both say they like it better than the show it’s based on. And in that moment you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you can really do it. You can achieve your dream and write for TV.

Now you are ready, and you dare to ask for the letters of recommendation you need to include with the application. It seems incredibly audacious, but you ask the friend in the writers’ room who’s too busy to eat if she’ll take a look at your script and write a recommendation. Since she knows how hard you work, and how much you want it, and also because she’s incredibly nice, she says she’ll be honored. You’ve already received another letter from your first teacher, an award-winning filmmaker. You really admire his work, and the praise in the letter is dazzling. He writes as though you are his equal.

You’re calm. Even though you’ve worked years for this recognition, you didn’t expect it. You know you’re ready to move on to the next level. There’s no mania, none of the adrenalin that accompanies forcing the way through things you just have to have. Your brain buzzes with hope and something else. That feeling that you’ve earned your seat and that it’s coming. Maybe you’ll win the fellowship and maybe you won’t, but you deserve it.

That moment is real success. And no achievement will ever feel better.

THE HUNGER GAMES Movie Review – SPOILER ALERT!!!

I don’t normally like to review movies, because the act of tearing the work apart is about a million times easier than writing a great script, let alone developing it into a film.  On the other hand, as a student of the screenwriting craft, it is very helpful to examine what works and what doesn’t.  In that spirit, I offer my humble opinions, in the full knowledge that I am in no way qualified to pass judgment.

THE HUNGER GAMES left me a little sad and unsatisfied. I was never bored, or even aware of the passage of time, and for the most part enjoyed the overall experience.  Having read the book by Suzanne Collins and loved it, I think that feeling a little let down by the movie is par for the course.  Would I recommend it? I think so.

Although her performance was fine, I didn’t like the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. The way she was written in the novel, she was much thinner, more vulnerable, and therefore appeared to be an underdog. The half-starved, underprivileged girl in the book made a better contrast to the overfed world of the shiny Capitol. Jennifer Lawrence looks like a champion. She’s tall and athletic, strong and well-fed. Saoirse Ronan, on the other hand, would have been fabulous in the role.

Other than that, I liked the casting. Peeta was played by Josh Hutcherson, and although he’s a little small to be believable as a baker’s son and the wielder of great physical strength, he did a great job of convincing me that he was utterly in love with Katniss. I loved Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the drunken mentor, and would have liked to see more of him. The same holds true for Elizabeth Banks, who was wonderful as the flighty Effie. It took me a few minutes to realize it was her, which was fun.

One thing that worked well for the movie was taking the POV away from Katniss and showing us behind the scenes of the production. It was also interesting to see the Districts. The book was written in first person narrative.  When I was reading, I wondered how I would handle the exposition in those scenes where the explanations happened inside the character’s head. There is so much time that Katniss spends alone that I predicted voiceover narration, which would have been difficult to carry off gracefully. Instead, on TV, the host, Claudius Templesmith, announces in hushed tones that the “Tracker Jackers” are genetically-altered killer wasps. I thought the exposition was brilliantly executed.  I personally would have handled it by giving Katniss more time with her allies. I would have put Rue in the tree with her to explain the wasps. I think the movie’s technique was better.

Another thing they did in the movie that worked was to give Katniss a tangible enemy in the form of President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland and his agent, Seneca Crane, whose job was to keep the games entertaining for their TV audience.  With little or no personal interaction, they managed to throw many obstacles at Katniss and made a very worthy team of opponents. As my friend Shawn pointed out, the scene where Snow is trimming his roses of thorns and telling Seneca of his distaste for “underdogs” like Katniss, is a clear example of the rich and careless extravagance of the Capitol, in contrast to the impoverished persecution and cruelty in the districts.

Something that didn’t work so well for me was that Katniss seemed to get off too easily. When she killed someone, it was self-defense or in defense of a friend, or out of mercy. We never got to see her struggle with a decision of whether to shoot an arrow, or feel remorse for the deaths that she caused.  In the movie, things necessarily moved quickly, but the audience didn’t get to experience her struggle enough to suffer along with her. The PG-13 rating makes perfect sense considering the YA novel it was adapted from, but necessitated a lot less blood and gore than was depicted in the book. It felt like the writers were backing off when the going got tough, rather than letting their characters suffer. As a result, the stakes are lowered, making the victories less triumphant.

Another thing they could have done better was the Main Character Arc. Since the story is about exposing the brutality of making 24 kids fight to the death every year, Katniss’ character arc would have been more effective if she had mirrored that journey in some way. I’ve been told that in an Action Movie, the hero doesn’t necessarily need to grow and change, but I disagree.

In my own fantasy script, Katniss resigns to play by the Capitol’s rules as she embarks on the journey by train.  She squelches her own rebellion to gain sponsors and support to win. Once in the games, she faces the dilemma; whether to kill or be killed. She chooses to survive, but experiences the pain of the deaths she causes, and knows that even if she wins the tournament, the faces of the children will haunt her. She curses the Capitol, and gradually, she fights back. The opponent, Seneca, undermines her, refusing to let her win. Haymitch, in his own arc, pulls himself together and fights for the gifts and help she needs. The low point for Katniss is when Peeta is dying, and she blames herself and surrenders the fight. And Peeta, out of love and respect for Katniss, reminds her of all the people in the districts who are depending on her, and helps her get back on track for the final battle at the Cornucopia. But it’s not over. Seneca changes the rules, in a last-ditch attempt to force her to kill Peeta. Outraged, Katniss, on live TV, says goodbye to her mom and sister, and condemns the Capitol. She urges the districts to fight back.  She and Peeta exchange tearful, moving goodbyes and raise the poison berries to their lips. At the last instant, President Snow comes over the loudspeaker and stops them. Seneca has been fired and for the first time ever, they have two winners. The districts cheer as Seneca is dragged off, struggling against the guards. Katniss is victorious.

“Save the Cat” and my new title and logline

One of my favorite pastimes since before I could read was to curl up with a good book. Yup, I was that dorky kid who read at the playground, on the way to and from school, and even looked forward to getting sent to my room because it meant I could read some more. Not surprisingly, I turned out to be a writer. Even then, I knew I’d never regret the time I spent reading.

Okay, maybe I regretted it when I wasn’t picked to play on the team until last. But at least I always had a place to hide.

Today, I find myself reading a lot of screenwriting books. I also read screenplays, and books on organizing (an area of personal difficulty in which I’ve made great strides), and fiction and blogs and websites, and, of course, the trades. And all of it helps me, but none is as satisfying or rewarding as my how-to books on screenwriting.

Once I’d discovered the world of blogging, I noticed that all the websites I liked seemed to reference their favorite authors, as well.  I’d seen the book, “Save the Cat” before, but never paid much attention until it started to show up on everyone’s list. I’ve just finished it for the second time (I always read them twice, then refer back later as needed). I’m so glad I did, because it was incredibly helpful and informative. I especially love the instructions for finding the perfect logline and title.  And the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is pretty cool, too.

Thank to “Save the Cat” I came up with a new log line and title for my drama spec. I’d love feedback whether you like it, or if you don’t. If you watch the show, that would really help, too.

White Collar: Into Temptation

Neal sees a portrait of his former life when he and Peter go undercover and join a ring of thieves led by a Swedish femme fatale.

The first two seasons of White Collar are available on Netflix to stream.

TV’s Top Ten Hottest Couples of All Time

I wrote this up a while ago, but was recently reminded of it when I read a blog by “Bamboo Killers.” Just for fun, here’s my take:

10.       I Love Lucy – No matter how much trouble she got into, Ricky loved Lucy passionately and unconditionally. No Hottest TV Couples list would be complete without them.

9.         Starsky & Hutch – Paul Michael Glazer and David Soul both got plenty of action with the opposite sex, but the chemistry really sizzled during those intense male bonding sessions! Remember the one where Hutch was kidnapped by the bad guys who turned him into a junkie? Luckily Starsky was there to detox Hutch, hold him while he cried and hold his hair back while he puked!

8.         Beverly Hills 90210 – Sorry, Kelly, the real electricity crackled between Brenda and Dylan. I don’t care if she was hell to work with.

7.         Oz – Chris Keller and Tobias Beecher really rocked my world. So what if Keller was a deranged psycho who broke Beecher’s arms and legs? I forgive him.

6.         The O.C. – Ryan and Marissa? Yeah, they were cute, but the real action happened when Marrissa’s dark side collided with the surf-nazi, Kevin Volchok, played by the delicious Cam Gigandet – what can I say, I’m a romantic fool.

5.         Skins – Effie and Cook – Parentless children adrift on a sea of sex, drugs and painful reality, they find each other. Don’t even bother with the cancelled MTV version–it doesn’t begin to approach the mastery of the original BBC version.

4.         Moonlighting – David and Maddie – unfortunately, those incredible sparks never quite ignited once they got together, but before that they sure were hot together.

3.         Cheers – Frasier and Lilith – tricked you again. But weren’t they incredible together?

2.         ER – Dr. Doug and Nurse Carol – When it comes to those two, there’s no such thing as enough.

1.         Queer as Folk – Brian and Justin – they are both incredibly charismatic on their own, but put them on screen together, and this is one hetero soccer mom who can’t take her eyes off the screen!

Why I’d rather write for TV

The topic in the forefront of my mind lately has been the TV vs. Movie-writing debate. At a Christmas party last month, I met several new people, one of whom instantly called me a sellout when I mentioned I want to work in TV.
It wasn’t the first time that had happened, either. In the Big Apple, screenwriters are all about their indie features and much too sophisticated to ever sit down in front of the small screen (unless it’s to watch “Mad Men,” which is politically acceptable). It might be different in LA, but New Yorkers seem to still consider the world of TV beneath them.
Since my blog is called karenlovestv, you won’t be surprised that I don’t feel that way. In fact, I think that it’s very difficult to find an indie feature (or any movie in the theater, for that matter) as enjoyable and well-written as a good TV drama. My current favorites are “American Horror Story” and “Sons of Anarchy.” I’m also a huge fan of “Shameless,” “Game of Thrones,” and am getting into “How to Make it in America.”
Since the casts of those shows include big-name movie stars, I have to assume that much of the world agrees with me that TV is the best entertainment available today. As a writer, I can’t imagine that anyone would prefer to write movies!
I can hear the screams from here. But hear me out…
1. Screenwriting is about saying a lot in a few words, and there is no way that can be done more effectively than in a 45 minute episode. Generally there are three or four story lines, each thematically linked (if it’s good) and emotionally satisfying on its own, telling each of those stories in an entertaining way with a beginning, middle and an end. In and out, quick and dirty. Amazing.
2. All of those individual episodes combine over a season or several seasons to tell your story in its fullest and most satisfying and indulgent way. The writer is the first to fall in love with the characters, and then week by week, gets to see millions of people fall in love with them, too.
3. Writing in a team ensures that the vision of the series is respected, the quality stays good, and no one person is responsible for the brilliance of any particular episode. That means that if you have a good team, the end result is better than any one person could come up with. It’s simultaneously humbling and a great relief. You can roll up your sleeves and check your ego at the door.
4. The better the writing is, the more the director, actors and everyone else involved have to work with. That means, they can see things happening and bring new layers to the story that the writers didn’t even know were there. By doing their jobs, they make you look good. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than hearing dialogue I wrote come out of a gifted actor’s mouth, conveying something better than I intended. To have that happen on a weekly basis?… priceless.
5. To write for a living with a steady paycheck, benefits and great money is something most filmmakers don’t get to experience often. For me, it will be a dream come true. And it will be fun to work with other people who feel the same.
6. What a great example it would be for my kids to have a mom who went after her dreams and used her talents and hard work to achieve them. I believe that just going after them has a huge impact on their lives, not to mention the sense of fulfillment I get from using my talents every day. Way better than Prozac.
So the next time someone accuses me of selling out, I can smile to myself. I know the truth. TV is where I’d rather be.