Here are this week’s Friday Questions. What’s yours?
Gareth Wilson asks:
Actual working screenwriters seem very skeptical about the relevance of film school to screenwriting employment. I gather that a diploma from even the best film school is meaningless when trying to get work. So is it possible to design a course that actually teaches you to write salable scripts, and what would it look like?
It really all depends on who your teacher is. My partner, David Isaacs, teaches screenwriting at USC and is terrific. USC has a very prestigious program but if David were teaching at the DeVry Institute I would say go there instead.
To me the real value in going to a noted film school is that they provide better networking opportunities when you get out. The UCLA, USC, NYU, Yale, Harvard, Northwestern mafias do exist.
As for a class teaching you how to write salable scripts – at the end of the day you have to have the talent to write scripts anyone would buy. Courses can provide the guidelines but ultimately you’ve got to have the chops.
If I may be immodest for a moment, I think the best single course for learning how to write sitcoms is my Sitcom Room seminar that I offer every fall. It’s the only course that really simulates what a working environment is like and gives you a chance to write for actors then see your work performed. To my knowledge it’s the only class like it. There’s only so much theory you can digest. You learn by being given a solid foundation and then asked to do it.
Ger Apeldoorn queries:
Joe Keenan once said, that although the farces were hammered out in the room just like any story, he preferred to take them home to work out the plot points. Are there any other things that are hard to do in a room?
Uh, yeah. EVERYTHING. Breaking stories is particularly tough. The good news about doing them in a room is you get different ideas. But the bad news is often times these ideas coming from every direction only creates more confusion.
For the same reason, it’s often hard in a room to write a detailed argument. Too many voices. Can you imagine room-writing an episode of WEST WING? Heads would explode.
Who decides on which pilot to pick up? What happens to the ones that were not picked up? Just shove into the dark space of pilot black hole? And will TV networks ever air pilots that were never picked up for us (the audience)? At least show it online. I would love to see it.
Network top brass make the final decisions. You’d think they would simply pick up the best shows, but it’s much more complicated than that. Other factors include testing, commitments, whether they own the show or not, license fees, desire to be in business with a certain piece of talent, target demographics, need, time slot, compatibility with other shows, trends, etc. There’s a lot of horse trading that goes on behind-the-scenes.
It used to be if a pilot didn’t get picked up the network would gladly sell it to another network. They are then off the hook financially. But when NBC picked up THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN after ABC passed and it became a big hit, ABC was very embarrassed. So for a long time if a network passed on a pilot they would rather just eat the cost then chance that someone else could turn it into a big hit.
But that was in a different economy. Today networks are again happy to have studios shop failed pilots around. Recouping their investment is worth more than possible embarrassment.
There was one case where David Frankel took his failed pilot, sold it as a short film and won an Oscar for it. And from time to time in LA, a small theater will stage failed pilots as if they were one act plays.
You’re welcome to come by the house and I’ll show you my failed pilots.
Liggie wants to know:
Friday question, professional advice edition. How do you prepare your voice for the long baseball broadcasts? I've started a job in the travel industry where I have to talk for four hours straight (ticket counter, line organizer, direction giver), and my throat's shot when I go home.
First, learn how to use your voice. Learn how to breathe and how to speak from your diaphragm and not your throat. The best vocal teacher in Los Angeles is Darlene Koldenhoven (I know. Great name, isn’t it?).
Protect your voice. Avoid loud rooms and clubs where you have to shout to be heard. Don’t have dairy products before a broadcast. It causes phlegm. So stay away from ice cream.
Air conditioning is also an enemy of the voice.
If possible, do some vocal exercises before your shift. Always have plenty of water. Stay hydrated. Keep your vocal chords lubricated. Hot tea and honey is also good. Alcohol is not.
Suck hard candy. That’s what Vin Scully does.
And finally, relax. Tense voices are strained voices. Here again, breathing is key. Pace yourself, do the necessary preparations, breathe right, and you should be okay. Unless you’re calling hockey. How does Doc Emrick do it???