Friday, August 12, 2011

What's the best scriptwriting program? What's the best sitcom format?

Back from Dallas where it's not 112. Travelogue to follow next week. Here are some Friday questions asked while I was away.

Purplejilly gets us going:

What do you think about script writing software? Do you use it nowadays? I've heard several people make comments like 'don't even bother to write a script if you aren't using XXX brand softwriting script and know it inside and out.' What's your opinion on this?

I use either Final Draft or Movie Magic. Both are fine. Both have their quirks. Definitely use a script writing program.

On CHEERS, before there were these programs, one of the assistants created a program just for us. At the time it was revolutionary. Now it’s archaic. For action lines hit Alt+Cnl+2+L. For characters hit Alt+Tab+Esc+5+N, etc. There was a glossary and a format sheet and you had to set up each scene separately. It probably took longer than if we carved the script on sandstone, but again, at the time we thought this was AMAZING.

Today I can’t imagine writing a script without modern software.


Alejandro wonders:

Do you prefer any sitcom format in particular? I mean single cam, multi cam, mockumentary, animation? Or do certain projects depend on specific formats to work?

Depends on the project. Imagine MASH shot in front of a studio audience? I like aspects of each format. It’s nice to have the freedom of single camera, to not be chained to one or two sets. On the other hand, with a multi-camera show you get to actually hear the laughs, which to me is the comedy writer’s crack. And in animation you really have a lot of freedom. It costs just as much to draw a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium as it does a kitchen, even a nice kitchen.

Family shows are interesting in that you can do them in practically any format. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND worked extremely well as a multi-camera show. THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY are stand-out cartoons. And MODERN FAMILY has the single-camera and the mockumentary form covered brilliantly.

Generally, I’m not a huge fan of the mockumentary format just because it seems a little gimmicky and is getting old. But if the writing is good like in MODERN FAMILY, THE OFFICE, and PARKS & REC, it doesn’t bother me.

The best mockumentary episode I think that will ever be remains “the Interview” episode of MASH. And that was done in 1975.

DyHrdMET asks:

Was the Dancing Homer episode the only time you let your two careers (play by play and writing) cross? I remember that you played the play by play announcer in that episode.

No. I’ve done voiceover play-by-play for probably fifteen shows and movies. You’ll hear me from time to time on CHEERS and FRASIER. Surprisingly, on FRASIER, I play the voice of the Seattle Mariners.

Last year I did a MODERN FAMILY and was amazed by how many people recognized my voice. 

Generally, I would get called in to be a baseball or football announcer for some show. I’d go to the recording studio, lay down the track, and leave. Then a year later I’d get a residual from say MAJOR DAD and think, “Why am I getting money from MAJOR DAD? Oh right. Voice over.”

It's a great gig.  A lot of money for fifteen minutes work.  Only trouble is, I could go two years between gigs. I think I was smart not to quit my day job. 

And finally, a couple from my favorite liquor, Johnny Walker:

The behind the scenes books seem to paint Sam Simon and George Meyer as the real creative forced behind The Simpsons. Did you get a chance to feel out Meyer's contributions?

Yes. George Meyer is one of the funniest human beings on the planet. I don’t think there’s a person who has ever worked with him who would disagree. And he’s a great guy (which is good because otherwise I'd hate him, he's so damned talented).

Also: Did they ever start giving the writers a decent wage?

Yes. After the first couple of years. SIMPSONS writers are now getting much more than show jackets. I think that was the main issue we fought for in the most recent WGA strike. 

What’s your question?

23 comments:

Adam Ruse said...

I'm currently writing my first sitcom pilot and am using Celtx. I'm finding, although it is free and easy to use, it does have many limitations, such as labeling scenes with letters, adding acts in etc.

I should probably fork out the money for a better program like Final Draft...

Mac said...

Thanks for another (as always) informative and entertaining Friday Questions.
That's so cool to hear about George Meyer. I read an interview where he said the main topic of conversation in the house when he was growing up, was "which family member ruined the holiday?"

JazMac said...

Re: scriptwriting programs. Although I'm currently writing a novel with it, not a sitcom, the program called Scrivener is wonderful. Developed by writers, it has amazingly useful features, is intuitive, has fiction, non-fiction, play and movie script formats. And is inexpensive. Joe Bob says 'check it out.'

Tom Quigley said...

Ken, I once wrote a spec FRASIER that I showed around to a few agents where Frasier and Niles attend a Seahawks game (not because they were Seahawks fans, they could have cared less about the game, but for the shmooze factor going on in the private luxury suite they were in). If I'd known you were doing play-by-play/stadium announcer voiceovers on some shows, I would have included a few more lines in it for a stadium announcer-- not that it would have gotten either of us any additional work (the spec ultimately didn't for me) but it would have been fun to know who exactly I could have had in mind for such a usually unnamed character part.

Cap'n Bob said...

Couldn't care less. The correct phrase is couldn't care less.

Chris said...

Economically, how have writers fared under the strike-negotiated WGA contract vis-a-vis streaming media?

Are they making any real money from that or do the terms so favor the studios that it's made no difference?

John said...

Not that it's a factor anymore -- since the networks have pretty much outlawed theme music for TV shows -- but back in the past some shows like Cheers would pretty much stick with the same orchestration of the show's theme song for the entire run, while others like MASH would tinker with the theme music every couple of years. Was changing up the music the call of the executive producer? Network exec? Musical director? Show runner(s)?

Also, Ken, have you ever taken a premise created for characters on one show that might not have been used and tweaked it to fit characters on another show?

Mac said...

Cap'n Bob - Stephen Pinker, in "The Language Instinct" would disagree. "Couldn't care less" is British in origin, while "Could care less" is thought to have emerged around the early 60's from the New York Jewish community.
Pinker explains how both are valid yet mean different things. "Couldn't care less" means "I don't care at all, so it's not possible for me to care less." "Could care less" means "I do care a little bit, but it's possible for me to care even less," the subtext being; "If you keep talking about it, you'll exhaust what little caring I already have." Pinker argues that it's one of those sarcastic phrases
associated with Yiddish speech patterns, also (he posits) the origin of "Tell me about it," which of course means “Don’t tell me about it, because I know about it already.”
Pinker's case is that the stress patters and intonation applied to "Could care less" are what renders it logical, which is why it's sometimes seen as illogical when written down.
Anyway, maybe can Ken can clear it up - he's the words guy.

cadavra said...

Okay, maybe it's just me, but I write in plain ol' Microsoft Word. Preset the tabs for dialogue, action and characters and off I go. Never felt like I was missing something or doing it wrong.

Mac said...

Or even, "maybe Ken can clear it up..." That last sentence was definitely illogical.

Breadbaker said...

I met George Meyer on my first day of freshman week in college. My initial reaction was "there must be a lot of really funny people here; I think I'll just shut up." What I didn't realize for awhile is that I'd met the funniest one right there that first day.

purplejilly said...

Mac, thanks for that explanation of the 'could care less/couldn't care less' - that makes perfect sense! I've always had trouble with that particular phrase, and your explanation now clears it up! I couldn't be happier! (or could I??)

Mac said...

purplejilly - glad to have been of service! I knew I'd find someone who appreciates my collection of linguistic theories! I can usually empty rooms with that stuff.

Cap'n Bob said...

If some esteemed institution has endorsed "I could care less" I believe it's another example of catering to what's incorrect rather than demand correct usage. Like saying, "Everyone should get their shots," instead of "his shots." Or the rampant misuse of the -self pronouns. I guess I should just give it up.

Rich said...

The word verification for this post was "pussi." I know. You could care less.

Tom Quigley said...

Cap'n Bob: Regarding your comment -- I probably could care less...

But I don't care at all...

jbryant said...

I'm willing to accept Mac's explanation for a correct usage of "could care less," but I still think the vast majority of people who use the phrase do so in a context in which "couldn't care less" would be the correct choice.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks, Ken!

Anonymous said...

Becky Asks...
What was Alan Alda like in person? Hawkeye Pierece was my first character crush as a 10-year-old girl and I've always wanted to know what the actor was like as a person.

Thanks!

Troy Johnson said...

Hi Ken. Really enjoy your blog. I'm an aspiring comedy writer, living in Kirkland actually, and was wondering about Universal's "Writers on the Verge" and WB's "Writers Workshop" programs. I sent in a spec script to both and was wondering how they weigh the applicants. Based only on the spec? Or thickness of resume? Location? Or just if the script is solid and moving to L.A. isn't a problem then all good?

Thanks,

Troy

Anonymous said...

While the idea that "any further narrative on that subject will exhaust what little interest I have left" is an interesting twist I'd never heard, 19 times out of 20, including Quigley's use here, they are referring to something they do not care about one iota, and some sort of exhuastive conversation about said subject would have to be at hand (which it was not here) for even the possibility of the alleged yiddish idiom to be in play, at the very least. The Cap'n is correct, though the extra info from Mac was interesting.

Amit said...

Literal ,Scrivener,Montage (Mac only),Celtx etc. are some best script writing software.All these are more of versatile software to write various types of work. You can use it to write stage play, screenplay, comic script and etc with scrivener. A script written with Literal writing software can be exported as final draft format.

Dacey said...

Recently i am using Literal which i found the best writing software that are required for quick writing as well as for effective writing