Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Nutshell Technique - the screenwriter's friend

So a couple weeks ago my writing group, League of Women Writers, had a guest speaker. Her name is Jill Chamberlain and she wrote a book called The Nutshell Technique. I didn't know what to expect, except one of the writers had heard her speak and raved about her, so that's why she came to speak to our group. I'm not usually one to buy a book with a guest speaker, but after her explaining her method, I was hooked and bought her book that night. She's also teaching a weekend seminar Sept 14 and 15 in Los Angeles, so if you like some of the tips I give here, I suggest you sign up. You won't be sorry! I'll include her website below to find out more.

So Jill started her presentation and told us that some of the things she learned from working with screenwriters were that 99% of most screenwriters were actually NOT telling stories. Oops! Not a good statistic. Most people were having one event, then another event, then another, etc. But what they were failing to do was have those events lead to the next, lead to the next, etc. It turned out there wasn't a connection between beats. She went on to explain that what's key about her technique is the connection between parts. It's not a formula, so stories don't become predictable using her technique. You can use it with other techniques, in fact.

She goes onto explain the basic principles behind dramatic storytelling are: drama, obstacles, choices.

That all stories have a beginning, middle, and end.

They all have a hero's journey, even if it's not the Hero's Journey we've read about in books, such as Luke Skywalker's journey. She just meant it's the one protagonist of the movie. Even if a story doesn't have one protagonist, the writer may know which one is the main protagonist, even in a buddy comedy.

And like many teachers, she explains the protagonist needs a good want.

She also goes into detail about which stories are comedic and which are tragedies, using Aristotle's definition. This means a comedy can be a tragedy and a drama could be a comedy, as far as storytelling goes. That in comedies the protagonist overcomes its flaws and has a happy ending. Tragedies don't overcome their flaw and have a sad ending. I'm not going to go too into detail to explain her technique, because really I can't do it justice in a blog post.

Her book is filled with diagrams that show movies she's used to diagram so you can start to learn what makes those movies strong and how to use them for your own stories. I think it would be nearly impossible to go into detail about the movies she diagrammed. So the best thing is to suggest either buying her book or going to her weekend seminar, or both. I'll include her website so you can find out about her book or her classes. https://www.jillchamberlain.com/ She also does consultations for 1 1/2 hrs or full script consultations. Her prices were really reasonable too.

I've already used it as I started to do my rewrite for my comedy script for the producers I'm working with now. And it really made it so simple! I'm finishing up another comedy and I've been stuck on, and I can tell it will help me with that too. Plus, some of her clients are really successful screenwriters. Because any story, no matter how professional a writer you are, can be tricky if done right. And that's what's great about her technique, is it really seems to be this secret weapon to writing any story correctly, and well.


Monday, August 26, 2019

Guest post #3: Paula Finn

This is the third and final post from Paula Finn's tips from her book, " Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy". As a reminder her book is available on Amazon and through Rowman.com. If you haven't read her other tips, be sure to check out the previous posts. You'll like them! So without further ado, this is what she wrote: 


5) The rules aren’t for them: these writers trust their instincts.

When I asked Carl Reiner if he uses any rules or formulas for joke construction, he responded, “No, I think the seat of your pants. If you’re a real writer, you don’t worry about the technique of it; you go by the seat of your pants.”

Leonard Stern spoke of the undefinable: “There’s a formularization for many jokes, but it’s very hard to explain. Suddenly you have that humorous insight into something. I’ve discussed this very often with Larry Gelbart, who is probably the most gifted writer and satirist by nature. He’s extremely articulate, and he couldn’t stop the flow of humor. He often said, “I wish I could just write this straight, I’d like to see how I think” — because his writing always had that surprising twist. And he himself was surprised by the direction his thoughts took him. So it’s always been hard to define that. . . that odd perception or perspective of life . . . the capturing of a moment of absurdity. I never could define it; I just knew it existed.”
Ken Estin agrees: “I’ve read rules but I never worked that way, and I’ve never known anyone who did. We all just go by what our gut tells us. I don’t think you can do it by mechanical means. You have to do it by instinct, and experience, and intuition — and all those kinds of vague feelings you have as a human being. When I write a scene, I have to put myself in the situation. And although I won’t laugh out loud, I can feel the difference between something that’s funny and something that doesn’t sound quite right. The formulas don’t really work because comedy is based so much on rhythms. Sometimes just the right word is funny, and you’re not sure why.”
And Arnie Kogen surprised with this comment: “The set-up comes before the punch line. That's the rule I use. And you can take that to the bank…whatever banks are left!” 

So there you have it! Some great comedy people with great ideas. Do you follow your gut instinct? Does it work for you? I think I'm more of a rule follower but I can say sometimes I follow my gut too. So maybe I do a little of each. 

Well, hope you've enjoyed learning Paula's tips. And if you have, be sure to buy her book and let her know. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Guest post #2: Paula Finn

So the last post I posted Paula Finn's article on comedy writing tips from the comedy greats. If you missed that, please read it. There are some great tips. So here are the next things she's learned. Again, if you'd like to read more of her tips from the comedy greats, the book is called Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy and is available on Amazon and through Rowman.com.  So here you go, your next tips: 


3) You gotta have heart: the power of drama in comedy.
 When attempting to explain the success of The Simpsons, Mike Reiss feels “The key thing on The Simpsons is you’ve always got to have some heart in there. But not too much…If you throw in 25 seconds of emotion right at the end — if Homer can be a goof the whole show and then suddenly realize he’s been bad — that will be very powerful to people.”
Phil Rosenthal thinks the poignancy of something beautiful expressed by two people “grounds them as characters; it grounds them as believable. Because we’re not just ha-ha funny all the time.”
Currently teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Ken Estin says, “I tell my students that if the show has heart, if it has a soul, if it has those human elements that are so precious to us — it’ll be a better episode. I always thought about finding a really human moment, a really touching moment.”    
And how do writers integrate the drama or emotion with the humor? In David Isaacs’ view, it depends on “whether or not the characters and story have a capacity to deal with real issues and real humanity.” He uses Frasier as an example: “The show Frasier was able to do that because the feelings between Martin and Frasier were so strong, and they were such opposites in who they were that their clashes and conflicts could come down to very real father-son attitudes. You could actually have a moment that was fairly dramatic — not for long — but you wouldn’t worry about getting a laugh.”

4) Even great writers get blocked.
James L. Brooks described his struggles while writing Terms of Endearment: “…I was stuck. I was stuck in my script, and I couldn’t go backwards and I couldn’t go forwards. And I spent every day blushing. I’d literally be blushing...It was just intolerable. And I went out one night, and there was a concert pianist there who did pretty well all over the country, but he had never played New York. And he had a fear of what that would be if he played New York. And I described what was happening to me, the blushing and stuff. And he said, “Oh, that’s a state of shame.” And it helped me enormously that there was a name for it, which meant I wasn’t the only one in the world who ever experienced it. And I don’t know what happened from there; I know I went to Hawaii and had a small room at a friend’s house, and I had the illusion that I had cracked the whole thing. And I had one of the most euphoric moments in my life. It turned out I hadn’t cracked the whole thing. But the feeling that I had cracked the whole thing released me from all the tentacles of that writer’s block.”
               I asked the writers for their strategies in overcoming a block. Hal Kanter said he’d call a friend to see if they could help “prime the pump” for him. David Isaacs’s advice is “Just keep moving forward.” Sol Saks believed writer’s block is usually a lack of conflict, which is the basis of drama: “If you’re writing a scene and you don’t know what to write, the answer to it is, you have no conflict.” And Leonard Stern gives his prescription: “Actually, I don’t know a writer who hasn’t suffered from writer’s block, and the cure is always the same: patience, patience, and then, if necessary…more patience.”

Wow some great tips in here! I don't even know where to begin! As far as writing blocks, I think I follow the David Isaac's rule of advice, just keep moving forward. I believe in just putting anything on the page, even if it's crap. Because half the battle is getting it out of your head and onto the page. Once it's there, you can always edit. 

As far as the power of drama in comedy, I definitely believe in that. My gosh, how many times have you seen something awful in your own life and in the middle of it thought, well to an outsider this sure could be funny. I'm not the only one that does that right? haha I hope not! Since the comedy greats see the comedy in drama, I am pretty sure I'm not the only one that does this. 

Would love to hear if you've experienced either the comedy in dramatic moments yourself or have tips to avoid writer's block. Loving these tips from Paula that's gotten from these greats. Hope you are too!