Flash Frame Visuals Academy of Film & Television

Flash Frame Visuals Academy of Film & Television
Flash Frame Visuals Academy, Bangalore, India

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Writing for Television

Flash Frame Visuals Academy of Film & Television

Bangalore, India

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Twitter : @flshfrms

Writing for Television

Television is no longer the ugly stepsister of the entertainment industry. Of writers making money in show biz, the Writers Guild of America reports that 30% more earn their income from television than from features. With expanding markets in network, cable, and syndication, the trend is likely to continue. But while television may look like film shoe-horned into a small, black box, in reality it's a unique medium with rules of its own.
FFVA students working on a script
Unlike features, television spec scripts are not written to be sold, they're written to sell you. Every spring, network TV Shows find out whether they've been renewed, and new pilots are ordered. The Powers That Be on each series then have a feeding frenzy, reading spec scripts from writers as they decide whom to hire for staff and freelance jobs. The process is the same for cable and syndicated shows, at slightly different times of the year. If you want to break in, the first thing you have to master is the art of the TV spec.
Rule #1 - Design your calling card
Choosing a series to spec is critical. You should pick a show you love to watch, one that's critically acclaimed and popular as well. Liking the show makes it easier to write, critical accolades encourage others to read it, and the longer it stays on the air, the longer you can use it as a sample of your writing. Television doesn't have the same shelf life as film; your spec becomes stale within a year after the show goes off the air.
The biggest decision you'll make is genre. First, of course, is whether to write for a sitcom or a drama. But even within sitcoms, there are the "brainy" shows, like Frasier, and the zany ones, like 3rd Rock from the Sun. A good spec for one won't get you in the door at the other. As for dramas, it's a smorgasbord: sword and sorcery, medical dramas, soft series like Providence, rough-edged stories like NYPD Blue. The narrower your focus, the better; most producers want to read a spec that's in the same ballpark as their show. So if you want to be hired on, say, Charmed, don't write a Law & Order script. But don't write a Charmed script, either: legally, producers can't read a spec for their own series.

 Rule #2 - Learn the structure
Besides being shorter than feature films, television shows structured around commercial breaks. For hour-long dramas or action-adventures, the stories are built in four acts, often with a teaser and tag. Each act needs to go out on a strong hook, especially at the half-hour mark, when viewers are most likely to change the channel. Most hour-long shows weave together three plotlines: the A story, which drives the bulk of the episode; a B story, featuring supporting characters; and a C story or "runner," usually lighter in tone, that serves as comic relief.

Sitcoms have two acts, usually with a laugh-out-loud teaser to draw the audience in. Tragedy is easy; comedy's always been tough. Structurally, there's more variety: Friends, for instance, uses the A-B-C formula, while Everybody Loves Raymond generally involves all the characters in one central story per episode. The only way to know is to watch and analyze the show you're writing for. Standard television format can be learned from books -- The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier is the most complete -- but the best way is to get a copy of a produced episode and follow it exactly. You can purchase actual scripts online at Hollywood Bookcity. You may also find scripts which can be downloaded from the Internet, but these are usually transcripts, not shooting scripts, so don't trust the format.
 Rule #3 - Capture the vision.
Writing for television is always about fulfilling someone else's vision. The trick is deciphering what that vision really is. Joss Whedon developed Buffy the Vampire Slayer not to showcase a "monster-of-the-week," but to explore the high school (and now young adult) experience; emotional traumas are as important as vampires. Do the research; watch the show; read everything you can find on it. Avoid common "first script" mistakes, like focusing on supporting or guest characters. If your "Ed" isn't about Ed, you're in trouble.
A Talk show production by FFVA's Television students

Rule #4 - Learn to take notes.
In addition to death and taxes, TV writers face one more certainty: notes. Television is a collaborative medium, so start now by joining a writers group and sharing your work. If you make an honest effort to correct the flaws in your own scripts and to be constructive when critiquing others, you'll find the training invaluable. Plus, like every business, the entertainment industry is about who you know. Developing a circle of friends now means you'll have a network of contacts later.
 Rule #5 -- Do it again.
The moment someone -- agent, development executive, or head writer -- reads your spec script and likes it, their first question will be "What else have you got?" If you don't have a second script, or even a third, you've missed your shot. Besides, with every script you get better. Soon you'll be taking the television world by storm.

Multicam setup @FFVA
What is a Spec Script?
What is a “spec?” Spec is short for speculative script. It technically refers to something you wrote on speculation (sometimes referred to as “wrote on spec”) – which really means that you wrote the script for free. You hope that you might later sell it or get hired for a writing job because of it, but to have the chance of either possibility, your only choice was to write the script.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Content 'affects' vs Visual 'effects'

Flash Frame Visuals Academy of Film & Television
Bangalore, India
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/flashframe.visuals
Twitter : @flshfrms

Content ‘affects’ vs Visual ‘effects’

While flipping the pages of Times of India newspaper on May 10, 2012, I came across this article ‘Give comrades B’wood’. Thinking it to be a usual routine content talking about Russians love for Hindi movies, I was about to skip it, until an interesting line just caught my attention. It was a quote from one of the Moscow resident who said ‘I like India films because they are sentimental (read story/human connection), unlike Hollywood flicks which are all special effects’.

Don’t get me wrong here. My intention is not to say that Bollywood rules over Hollywood or vice versa. The point that I am trying to make here is the fact that there still exists audience for whom what matters more is the story, the content to which they themselves are able to connect to.

That is exactly what I am going to talk about in this blog, which reads ‘content affects vs visual effects’, which also means making a right choice between the ‘affect’ that your story or content will make as compared to solely depending on visual ‘effects’ to grab the audience eyeballs.

FFVA student with storyboard
Lets say one wants to make a film. But basically who is your target? It’s no one else but the hundreds of strangers sitting in a blackened room, elbow to elbow, for two or more hours, with their eyes fixed on big screen, investing all their possible concentration. How you think you would be able to compel such immense mental and sentiment attention from the audience? Only if your audience is able to connect to the story, relate to the situation your protagonist is being thrown into, the way he overcomes his conflict situations…in short the journey through which you take your audience through.

Robert McKee has rightly said that the audience must not just understand your story, it must believe. Audiences are rarely interested and certainly never convinced when forced to listen or believe or sync into the scenes or even the story. The best example I can think here is Ra.One (Hindi flick). They made the protagonist do every possible bizarre thing, used the best of visual effects and tried to convince the audience that he is the next big thing in the town. But it flopped big time. 

Reason being the story, that had not just few but many flaws which audience were too clever to find out and preferred to stay intelligent still than to believe in their fake gimmick. And that’s the truth. Intellectual analysis and technology, however heady, will not nourish the soul.

Mckee has also mentioned that the more beautifully you shape your work around one clear idea, the more meanings audiences will discover in your film as they take idea and follow its implications into every aspect of their lives. The audience needs to be taken to a limit where all questions are answered and all emotions satisfied..the end of the line! Deep within the protagonist the audience recognise a certain shared humanity. The unconscious logic of audience is like this’. ‘This character is like me. Therefore I want him to have whatever he wants because if I am in his place, I’d want the same thing myself.  And this is definitely not possible only if you depend on VFX.

Next coming to the special ‘effects’… Well, I have nothing against them. Infact they make a very strong source of entertainment for the audience. But the whole point is the way we used them.
Going back to the origin of special affects, the fact is that the history of special effects begins even before the invention of the camera itself. During the 1700s, magicians utilised many techniques to perform optical illusions and astound their audiences. These techniques formed the foundations of special effects.
The greatest changes in the revolution of Special Effects happened in the 20th century, with computers.  Computers helped revolutionized the world of Special Effects in movies. 

No wonder we could even build and resink the "Titanic". So definitely special effects too are important, provided if they are being used at the correct place at the right time, and not simply imposed of audience just like that. Imagine titanic with no love story. Similarly movies like 300, Matrix, District 9 are definitely unimaginable without effects. But the success secret is not just that. They have the most powerful storyline, the screenplay and the way they have juxtaposed effects with the content is truly appreciable.

Storytelling is the backbone of a film - FFVA students during a shoot

So for everyone who thinks that ‘scriptwriting or story is a small thing and anyone can do it’ and its sufficient if they know special effects…well you are highly mistaken. You cannot underestimate your audience for they are too intelligent to figure out that you are trying to compensate your story weakness through your effects, which will never last forever. Time to get your thinking caps on, work on some real good stories, and trap your audience in not just the effects but your film too.

Just an observation: Looking at the Indian and global film industry, we still have best of the technicians and VFX artists who are doing a commendable job. But there are very few who can win hearts only through their stories. So you mind bringing in some change?

References : 
Ra.One Image - Google 

Article written by 
Aditi KK 

Flash Frame Visuals Academy of Film & Television
Bangalore, India
email : aditi@ffvacademy.com