The staged reading was an unforgettable night. Congratulations to Jessica and the other finalists — and thanks to KCWIFT/ KCFF for another fantastic event.
The task: to write a dramatic short story about a meter maid in a virtual world in just eight days—or in my case, two—for NYC Midnight’s 7th Annual Short Story Challenge.
The results: my story, “A Metered Response,” has made the top five out of 32 stories submitted. That means I’ll be moving on to the 2nd round, which kicks off at 11:59PM EDT on Thursday, April 11th.
Having to write while at the Kansas City Film Festival will be tricky, but an exciting challenge to have. Thanks, NYC Midnight!
I’m super proud to be the sole Canadian on the finalist list for the 2013 KCWIFT & KC FilmFest Short Screenplay Contest – and for the second year in a row. (Even with a new batch of judges!)
I hope to attend the film festival April 10 to 14 and hob-nob with the exceptional people of the Kansas City film community. Amazing talent there. Last year was a blast!
And again this year I anticipate the staged readings will be a highlight.
In fact, last year the director of opening night’s horror film was there to hear a script by the lovely and talented Amber Rapp and filmed it! Way to go, Amber. She and last year’s winner, KC native Jennifer Friend, will both be screening their finished shorts at this year’s staged readings. Nicely done, KCWIFT: two produced films for the price of one.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, this is my new favourite thing on the internet: the BAFTA Screenwriting podcast. I love that almost every renown writer starts by saying, “I never take structure classes so I probably don’t know what I’m doing, but…” and eventually get around to some off-handed comment about the trunk full of accolades they’ve earned, even Oscars.
Formula writing is not the only way!
But that’s not all the BAFTA Guru site proves. There are many categories here “Inspiring Minds in Film, TV and Games.” Have a look at their entire craft menu.
Even if you’ve never written a kicker, you’ve definitely laughed at one.
In comedy, a kicker is an extra one-liner thrown in after the punchline to get a laugh on top of a laugh. In his book, journalist Mike Sacks has made a solid hit out of chronicling 21 writers at the top of their field. (Or at the bottom of their glass, which is definitely half-full… of hot air.)
And Here’s the Kicker is a striking look into the history of comedy that reveals more than you’d expect: that if you’re really good at writing it, comedy pays well; that many comedy writers have OCD (or like to think that they do); and that comedians’ ‘lucky breaks’ come only after years of working hard on their craft.
As Simpsons’ writer George Meyer says, “I used to berate myself if I couldn’t think of a killer joke for every spot, but I gradually eased up on that. You can’t keep bitch-slapping your creativity or it’ll run away and find a new pimp.”
Sure, there’s “quick and painless advice” for aspiring humor writers and a stellar list of expert-recommended books and shows, but even if you’re the type who’d rather watch the finished product than learn about how the magic was made, Sacks’ book has enough payoffs, kickers and laugh-out-loud anecdotes to reward the effort of reading it.
For one thing, it provides deep insight into how comedic sensibilities have changed over the years.
Start with one of the best jokes Dick Cavett wrote for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show in 1962—a guest intro that went, “Ladies and gentlemen, here they are… Jayne Mansfield!” Follow that with our current love of awkward setups and naturalistic dialogue from Stephen Merchant (writing with Ricky Gervais) in the British Office and Extras, and you’ll see how far we’ve strayed—before circling back around to pay off the setup.
Humor’s a complex task and this is a fascinating history of the genre. From Dick Cavett explaining how his politically-charged humor brought forth the wrath of Richard Nixon to Irving Brecher talking about writing for the Marx Brothers after penning a little something called The Wizard of Oz.
Larry Gelbart describes his start in radio at age 16, what it was like to write for Bob Hope and Sid Ceasar, the thing he hated most about MASH and the woes of creating Tootsie, which was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar despite having too many writers “muddying the vision.”
He says his parents’ comedic sensibilities were very different: “My father would tell a joke like, ‘A bum came up to me and asked for a bite, so I bit him.’ My mother would probably have just made some smart-ass comment like ‘Anybody can be a bum today.’”
Gelbart himself was not a bum, though this quote implies he must have sat on his a lot: “Any day that I don’t get to write something—anything—is a day I have to spend being someone other than who I am.”
George Meyer (The Simpsons) describes his childhood, too: “I wanted to be a priest, then a ballplayer, then a Bond villain. I wanted a lair that was equal parts comfy and death-dealing.” He says he watched a lot of TV as a kid, but it wasn’t thrilling. Then he utters the most profound truth ever stated about the being a kid watching TV:
“It was like a piece of gum that you’d been chewing for a while but were too lazy to spit out.”
As if that’s not enough, there’s Todd Hanson (The Onion), Harold Ramis, Al Jaffee (Mad Magazine,) David Sedaris, Mitch Herwitz (creator of Arrested Development,) Dave Barry, Larry Wilmore (The Daily Show’s ‘Senior Black Correspondent’,) Dan Mazer….
Mazer, co-writer of Borat, Ali G, and Brüno, explains the two keys to comedy. “One is character…jokes are one thing but without a convincing protagonist and somebody you care about, your comedy is on a path to nowhere. Number two is to have a voice. Have an opinion. You should try and say something.” He praises Sacha Baron Cohen’s ability to never break character, even faced with arrest—which on Borat alone was 36 times.
And Here’s the Kicker also trashes any myths about the business being romantic.
Allison Silverman, the co-head writer/co-executive producer for The Colbert Report (who’s also written for Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien,) describes the complexity of her job. “You’re writing on a lot of levels. Stephen Colbert is a person who plays himself. So, as a writer, you have to consider what you want the character to say. You also have to figure out what the real Stephen is saying. And how the audience will react to all of it. And how the guests will respond. It can be overwhelming.”
But as one of the most influential female writers in TV comedy, you can see that she’s up for the task when she describes her typical day on the show. Writing starts at 9:30 after having read the papers and watched news shows. By 1:00 the writer’s scripts are in and editing begins. Final drafts are done by 4:00 and rehearsals starting at about 5:30. Until roughly 6:30 the jokes are refined even more before taping begins at 7:00.
The next day, they do it all over again. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
George Meyer sums it all up when he tells writers to “Experience as much as you can and absorb a lot of reality. Otherwise, your writing will have the force of a Wiffle ball.”
My advice is to absorb as much of this book as you can. It just might be the kick in the pants you need to stop being lazy and start writing funny. Or at least get up for fresh gum.
Can you tell I’m a wee bit excited to learn that my favourite screenwriter has been hired to write my favourite franchise?
Though I haven’t budged from my chair all week, I’ve had a blast using Final Cut Pro to edit short documentary videos like this one for the Westside Community Food Market.
I shot the footage as an informal video test of the Lumix GX1 back in July while I was photographing the Kitsilano market for an iBook project.
It was an honour to get to work on the iBook with the exceptional Dana Wilson and to help promote Vancouver’s food security initiatives and Neighbourhood Food Networks — a myriad of local groups that collectively do amazing work to educate and connect the community around gardening, canning, cooking, the importance of buying local, and much, much more.
After roughly two months of training, I ran my first half marathon last Sunday (October 7th) in Victoria, BC with a time of 2:25. Who says yoga doesn’t train cardio? Unfortunately I accidentally ran that distance (or very near) three times in the span of two weeks, which has left my left calf a little torn up about it. But I shall live to overtrain again, now that I am thoroughly addicted to this maniacal sport.