Monday, February 27, 2017
Orange County Screenwriters Association
Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

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OC Screenwriters - Articles

Articles

Mark Sevi is a professional screenwriter (19 movies) and scriptwriting teacher.

Feb
26

Cardinal

Cardinal

00016996 01PI admit that I am a sucker for these shows.  A body is found or a person is killed and a flawed detective has to solve the crime.  Along the way will be surprises, twists, solid drama and a killer you probably could guess.

"Cardinal" is just such a series.

Let me also say that 10 episodes can be a long sit.  With ten episodes the attenuation of actual narrative thread is almost always guaranteed.  "Forbrydelsen" at 20 episodes didn't seem long at all; The American version, "The Killing" did.  So maybe it's just the way the story is told.  But I like that I like that "Cardinal" is six.  That means that we won't have to put up with much filler and we'll get more actual connected story.

As mentioned, you know the plot.  Girl's body found.  Old case that was never solved.  Previous detective who couldn't solve the crime the first time around is brought back.  He's bitter, cynical but still focused on the one case he couldn't resolve.

Billy Campbell plays the central character Cardinal.  His newly minted partner is, Kristen Thomson, a Canadian actress who you may know from the series "Flashpoint."

Now all this does seem familiar even though the way the little girl died is quite gruesome however there is a twist.  I won't say what it is or how it all comes out (because I don't know) but the end of episode one had me sitting up straight because the filmmakers just threw a curve that made me pay even more attention.

I read that each ep was budgeted at 1.8 meg and it shows.  Great production values.  It was shot in Ontario so the snow is ass-deep in every scene which adds to the bleakness of the crime and Campbell's character's malaise.  One scene is particular is stunningly shot - I've never seen anything like it before.

"Cardinal" doesn't wallow in the malaise.  There's a crime, new clues and Cardinal is determined to solve it.  There's even a great moment where his superior says (words to the effect) of go ahead and enjoy the moment when you'll tell me I told you so.  Meaning, he's been redeemed on at least a few of his contentions about this crime the first time around.  Great and so human which just adds to the feeling of veracity.  Plus, Cardinal is not exactly in love with the idea of his new partner which we've seen before but the way the relationship is written is fantastic. 

I enjoyed the first episode of "Cardinal."  It was well-written, well-executed and it felt like there was a lot to come soon.  That's why I feel like the six episode arc is going to be great - they have to get on with it not drag the story through the symbolic snow for episode after episode of red herrings and side trips that mean nothing.

"Cardinal" is a Canadian production and those are just getting better and better.  Starting to love their TV stuff more than just about any other country.

I'm hoping that this all bears out my expectations.  I'll let you know if it doesn't.

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Feb
20

The Good Fight

The Good Fight

good fightWhen I grow up I want to be The Kings. As in Robert King and Michelle King who were responsible for the incredible "The Good Wife" and "The Good Fight" which picks up after the main character of the "The Good Wife" (Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick) has left for other pastures.

I'm going to steal this excerpt from Wikipedia to explain the main premise because it covers everything needed to say:

The series follows Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, as she is forced out of Lockhart, Decker, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert-Lurie, Kagan, Tannebaum, & Associates after an enormous financial scam destroys the reputation of her goddaughter Maia (Rose Leslie) and Diane's savings, leading them to join Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) at one of Chicago’s pre-eminent law firms.

The series stars Baranski, Leslie, Jumbo, Erica Tazel, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha and Delroy Lindo, and features Paul Guilfoyle and Bernadette Peters in recurring roles. The series is executive produced by Robert King, Michelle King, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Liz Glotzer, Brooke Kennedy and Alison Scott, with Phil Alden Robinson producing and co-writing the first episode.

109352 1309b copyWhat all that means (basically) is the original show is back but different.  Between "Wife" and "Fight" the Kings did a short-lived political satire show "Brain Dead" which involved alien critters invading the brains of people in Washington and creating even more politically polarized parties.  Hmmm.  Truth is very much stranger that fiction.

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Feb
19

Powerless / Apple Tree Yard

Powerless / Apple Tree Yard

powerlessI have been a comic book fan since childhood when my dad would take me and my sisters to the local drug store to peruse the offerings after church on Sunday; something I'm sure the priests would not have approved of. 

"Powerless" would have been a welcome addition to that ritual although I'm positive it would never have been considered at that time.

The concept is simple: the world has superheroes from the DC Universe and some that haven't been created yet, I'm assuming.  I'm at a disadvantage here because beside the big marque characters I haven't followed a lot of any comic book series for a while.  "Jessica Jones" was new to me although I did remember "Luke Cage."  I can't honestly tell you what DC has been up to - but "Powerless" is a fun step!

In this world, as you can easily imagine, there is a lot of collateral damage in any superhero/super villain fight.  Marvel has already covered this somewhat in "Jessica Jones" a heroine who lives in a post-Avengers battle world where superheroes aren't loved for the destruction they've instigated while saving the world.  Supervillains are one thing, yo; getting to work when entire blocks are closed down due to buildings falling is entirely another.

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Feb
18

Riverdale / 24 Legacy

Riverdale / 24 Legacy

riverdale header3I wonder at times if I would enjoy being a TV or movie critic.  I do like finding gems and telling my friends and students about them.  Shows that inspire me to be a better writer are always a treat.  But then there's the other end of the spectrum so that would all be a wash I guess. 

In the middle somewhere is most of what I end up watching.  Not groundbreaking material, like "Archer" or "Game of Thrones" but well-conceived and well-written like the two shows in this article.  Both "Riverdale" and "24 Legacy" are well-above middle ground though.

I didn't think I was going to like "Riverdale" - it's not exactly geared to my demographic.  But I did.  A lot. 

Re-envisioning the "Archie" comics (or maybe the comics are now like this - I don't know) has the characters of Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, Reggie and others living large in Riverdale: a small town with dirty undercurrent, including big time murders and hot affairs between teachers and students.

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Feb
17

Your Script Sucks - Why Are You Seeking Representation?

Your Script Sucks - Why Are You Seeking Representation?

ranting angry manTHE RANT

Who exactly do you think you are?  Are you a writing genius who has figured out what took the rest of us many months, maybe years to understand?  Has one of your masterpieces gotten so many kudos that you now think you should be elevated to a place that normally takes hundreds of hours to accomplish? 

This is a rant, pure and simple.  You won't learn shit about screenwriting and you'll probably dislike me by the end of this article - if you even get that far.  Fine.  I accept your disdain.

Just don't ask me how to find an agent, manager, production company or anything else until you've written at least three scripts and those scripts (at least one) have gotten a lot of good word of mouth from someone beside your mom.

Deal?

What am I on about?  Simple.  I had a student ask me how to market his/her script.  I stopped what I was doing, blinked three times and had to ask him/her to repeat it. 

I mean, huh?  At the very least, finish a script first then ask me that question.

How in the world can anyone think they're ready to sell anything if they haven't been working for a certain amount of hours to hone their craft?

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Jan
20

Sh*t! That's my idea! What To Do When Hollywood "Steals" Your Baby.

Sh*t!  That's my idea!  What To Do When Hollywood "Steals" Your Baby.

o PICKPOCKET facebookIf you're doing it right as a writer, you're channeling the societal gestalt and the world in general in which you live both locally and globally.  At this moment in time, you're observing the situations taking place societally, politically, culturally, internally, and also exploring the past as things become apparent to you.   Movies and TV are reflections of our world but they also serve to show us truths from the past that cause us to explore further.

This is all to say that what you think is some sort of Hollywood conspiracy is just the hard, cold facts that there are a lot of writers out there processing the same information as you - and then they are writing that information into articles, scripts, novels, etc.  You shouldn't be surprised if more than one person has your idea and has written it.

But you also never capitulate to those "thieves."

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Jan
11

In Praise of - ARCHER

In Praise of - ARCHER

Archer Banner

Admittedly, I'm late to this party.  I've only been watching "Archer" for the last few seasons although I have recently gone back and I am re-watching everything from the first season that debuted in 2009.

How was I so blind?  I heard the word-of-mouth from a friend whose opinion I trust and didn't follow up on it.  I saw the awards, I heard the reviews...I just didn't act on any of that. Damn my lazy viewing spine!  I have miles to go before I sleep and watching a show this terrific should be on everyone's first up list.

And thank god for streaming.  Netflix specifically which has most of the seasons available allowing me to continue to right this egregious wrong.  😀

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Jan
09

Write Your Truths

Write Your Truths

Write Truthfully In Imaginary Circumstances
Explore the Mythology Inside You


inner truthAs a science fiction fan and screenwriter, I often chuckle at the axiom to “write what you know” - as if Isaac Asimov, a rather robust, Jewish man, knew what it was like to be a spinster scientist or a robot. How exactly did J.K Rowling, a then thirty-year-old, unemployed, working-class mother, create a young, male wizard who went to an exclusive magical school in a mythical land?

People write young, old, male, female, alien, king, peasant, and every variation imaginable. What’s their secret? Good research? A keen observational eye? Channeling a secret muse? Yes, and perhaps. But let me share what is really meant by “write what you know”. It means write your truth - write what you already know as a human being.

Are women and men really that different? Don’t we all share the sting of rejection, the joy of love? Emotionally-speaking, isn’t life, in all its myriad variations fundamentally the same for those in the bush and those in the Hamptons? Is the inevitability of a terminal disease different today than it was 100 years ago?

So how to bridge the gap between what we know and what we don’t empirically understand?

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Jan
06

The Mick

The Mick

The Mick banner

It's rare for me to find myself laughing aloud at a show, especially one that's done by a network.  "The Mick" made me guffaw several times.  Yes, guffaw - don't judge - that's the word I want and it perfectly describes my reaction to this delightful new comedy.

"It's Always Sunny in Philladephia" alum Kaitlyn Olson spreads her wings (and if you saw the pilot you'd know just how clever a usuage of a cliche that is) in this excellent and hilarious show from producers/writers Dave and John Chernin who were also a bigpart of "IASIP."

The premise is ridiculous and simple:  Olson (Mackenzie "Mickey" Murphy, AKA The Mick) is trying to hit her millionaire sister up for some cash at a party when the FBI swoops in and arrests sis (Poodle) and her husband.  Mickey is tapped to watch the kids for one night on the promise that sis will give her the funds she denied her earlier.  Unfortunately, Poodle and hubby have to flee the country and Mickey is stuck for a while longer watching the brood.

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Jan
05

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

Cumberbatch Rocks the Free World

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Jan
05

Rogue One

Rogue One

Like Star Wars But Different

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Jan
05

What's Wrong With This Scene?

What's Wrong With This Scene?

Found this article several years ago and I couldn't have said it better.  I see these mistakes every day in my students' work not only when they start but even in experienced students' work. Scriptwriting Clasess

The credits for this article are included below.


This Scene Sucks: 15 Screenwriting Mistakes to Avoid
By: Script Magazine | November 20, 2013
by Timothy Cooper

Please enjoy this scene from my nonexistent, Birds vs. Bees.

I wrote this opening scene specifically for this article, but there isn’t a single error in it that I haven’t read in actual screenplays hundreds of times. I’m serious.

Can you spot all 15 (at least) errors?

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Dec
31

TV - A Vast Wonderland

TV - A Vast Wonderland

television is deadOnce upon a time, television was called a "vast wasteland."  Granted, this was years before PBS and many groundbreaking dramas and comedies but the perception has remained.  And, to be fair, for every brilliant series (like "Game of Thrones") there's double the amount of crap being foisted on the viewing public whether that viewing is online, streaming or on "traditional" TV or cable.

Here's a few new shows I thought would be worth mentioning.  Some are "bingey" and some are being released more traditionally week-by-week.  They also share the fact that it's a pretty disparate list of production entities that have traditionally not been involved in original programming.  This is, in a word, wonderful.  The more the better as far as I'm concerned although it can be a challenge keeping up with them all.

This list, which is simple and by no means comprehensive, doesn't include so many other worthy series but these are just the ones I've been watching lately.

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Nov
13

SPOTLESS

SPOTLESS

spotlessOne the things I absolutely love about today's entertainment landscape is the ability to see shows that we might never have seen given where they were made.

I've always embraced the shows that were coming across from other countries.  BBC America probably started it but Netflix really pushed this effort. This continues with "Spotless" a Franco-Brit combined production that deals with a quite unusual premise but the world set up here slants everything including normally familiar relationships and consequences of those relationships.

The Premise: Jean Bastier (Marc-André Grondin) who owns a business that cleans up crime scenes, gets involved with gangsters after his shady brother Martin (Denis Ménochet) comes back into his life, forcing Jean to use his cleaning skills to eliminate evidence of crimes.

It's hard to describe this show in some senses.  It's well written, acted and shot.  What also works all the time are the relationships which seem both mundane and profound. spotless

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Oct
29

GOLIATH

GOLIATH

goliath"Goliath" is the newest show by super-producer/writer David E. Kelly. 

It stars Billy Bob Thornton and features some great supporting actors like Maria Bello (ex-wife/rival attny), Olivia Thirlby (rival attny), Sarah Wynter (client), Tania Raymonde (hooker/paralegal), and Molly Parker (attny in rival firm.)  William Hurt plays a demonic figure (ala "The Natural") who sits in the dark and uses a clicker to show his anger or disdain for people (you'll just have to see it.)

Kelly tells a personal story of how he promised his kids he wouldn't write any more lawyer shows.  But this isn't like anything you've seen from this prolific writer.  Bad words, drinking, drug use, violence...it follows the trend of the  edgier shows that have been coming out.  It's an Amazon Prime original so they can get away with challenging the audience.

And it does.

Taking place in Santa Monica with locations at the famous dive bar Chez Jay, "Goliath" features an attorney on the edge of slipping away from the legal world until he's approached with a redemption-type case.  The storyline of redemption borrows heavily from "The Verdict" the Lumet/Newman/Mamet courtroom masterpiece that for me never gets old.

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Oct
24

Leah Estrin - A True Pro

Leah Estrin - A True Pro

leah estrin

Event review
byMark Sevi

THE PRO

The first thing you notice about Leah is she is a no-spin zone - the good kind.  Ask a question and she gives you a straight and honest answer.  It's a reflection of her years in the industry reading and evaluating scripts.  But more than that, it's a true reflection of an industry pro; someone who has seen what being disingenuous can lead to - unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings that becomes heartache and heartbreak as you try to navigate an industry (Hollywood) that you don't understand.

She does understand it oh so well.

The amazing thing about Leah is that this honesty can make some people sound cynical and mean-spirited and Leah is nothing of the sort.  She is open, always smiling, always ready to give someone a great tip.  That was abundantly clear at our event before, during and after.   (more after the jump - hit CONTINUED below)

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Oct
12

Westworld

Westworld

160825 westworld s1 key art 1024x374Didn't think I was going to enjoy "Westworld" on HBO. I liked, not loved, the movie although it was sufficiently violent and creepy to appease my young mind.

But the first episode of the series has me wanting more.

You think you know what this show is about: A wonderland of fantasy where any whim can be accommodated. That's about as close to what is presented as the old TV show "Fantasy Island" is to the porn films that use the same title. The movie itself showed/implied a lot of this from what I can remember; the series kicks that theme up several notches.

The show's 1st episode more than implies what that would really mean to anyone wealthy enough to buy a ticket to this world where anything goes; and given what's on the horizon technologically- and virtually-speaking, the thought of this world or some form of it existing is getting much closer which is even more troubling.

westworld 2016 evan rachel wood1Violence in "Westworld" is epidemic. The Wild West is used as a motif purposefully. Blood (faux) flows as "people" (robots called Hosts) get their throats cut or shot in the neck. In one scene, a leering manbot host about to rape a fembot prostitute host in a saloon is shot from behind and his face opens like a squeezed grape. It's a quick image but memorable nonetheless. One hapless manbot gets scalped and although you don't actually see the gruesome details (yet) you are shown the beginning and end, and that he has been bled nearly dry by his tormentor.

Ultra-violent, seemingly senseless gunfights take place in streets as outlaws roar through towns shooting women and men. No children have appeared so far but can't that be far behind given the level of violence that the first 45 minutes has shown. Or maybe not. Even the hint of that particular sexual/violent perversion would cross a line because it would be all too possible here and I'm sure neither the builders of Westworld (nor the producers of the show) want to introduce even the possibility of that. Thanks to them (all) for that small restraint although you have to wonder if they are being true to the themes - would that ever be off the table if this Westworld was real? Let's continue to hope so - I don't want to squirm any more than I already am while watching this.

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Aug
26

The Tip of the Spear - High Concept

The Tip of the Spear - High Concept

Scriptwriting is a fantastic way to frustrate the crap out of you.  Even if you conquer everything - plot, characters, theme, etc. you still may completely miss the mark - selling it - if you don't pay attention to the tip of the spear:

The Concept.  (warning: I'm going to whip this spear analogy to death)

A high concept is (loosely) defined as being "the elevator pitch" - something you can say in a few sentences between floors of an elevator ride.  I say parking lot pitch because it's even harder to contain someone who is searching for their car and anxious to get out of wherever they are - elevators are simple.  Unless the person you're pitching is an action hero and can escape through the roof, they're stuck.  Parking lots not so much - but I digress.

A pitch can also be the logline (I'll give you examples below)

BULL (new series on CBS):  Based on Doctor Phil's early life, a psychologist who is a world-renowned jury analyzer solves crimes every week.

BRAIN DEAD: An alien species invades people's brains in Washington and makes them even more partisan than they are causing even more gridlock in the halls of power.

Columbo:   A seemingly bumbling detective who is actually a brilliant crime fighter, solves the HOW DONE IT instead of the WHO DONE IT.

The concept here is to pitch someone quickly and concisely so they request your script.

This is improved by having a HIGH CONCEPT.  LINK TERMS TO SCRIPTWIKI!

A High Concept is simple.  It is revealed better by example than by endless narrative.  The three shows I mention above give a sense of that.  But let's try to give a narrative definition and then some more examples:

HIGH CONCEPT:  A high concept pitch is a sentence or two of description that invokes either a question (in a good way) or a request to tell more.  When "Lethal Weapon" came out (back in the dim days of film)  it was easy to pitch:  Two cops, one is crazy.  Action ensues.

That "crazy" part make you want to know more, right?  So then this become "The Tip of the Spear!"  Yay - here come the whipping analogy part.

A spear tip is sharp.  It's shaped for optimal penetration (no, I'm not going there, guttermind.)  A spear would be a stick without the tip so it defines the spear as a specific type of weapon.  It's...all right, that's all I got for now.  So maybe "whipping to death isn't quite the right phrase - mildly flogging?)

Point is (see what I did there) without the spear tip (the pitch/high concept) the stick might still be a weapon but it wouldn't be as efficient.

Many think that high concept is new but it's been around since the dim days of any entertainment medium.  Shakespeare was a high concept machine.  Hamlet?  "A Danish prince meets his murdered father's ghost and swears revenge against this uncle who killed his father."

Wow.  Really?  Circa 1600 er, something.

 

 

 

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Aug
19

If You Can't See It, Hear It or Speak it - Don't Write It!

If You Can't See It, Hear It or Speak it - Don't Write It!

See No Evil Know No EvilOne of the hardest tasks I face as a scriptwriting teacher is convincing new (and sometimes vetted) students not to put internal thoughts into scripts.  I call this inner narrative.  This is action or meanings only a reader would be able to glean because there is no way for a director or actor to matriculate that information to the screen.

Passages like: "He remembered his mother who told him always to wear clean underwear" has no function unless it can be tied to the precise moment that is contextualized in your script.

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Aug
12

Is Deception in Romantic Comedies Rape?

Is Deception in Romantic Comedies Rape?

Rape?

I frowned at the students' contention.  Then I started to think about it.  Is it?  Maybe they had a point.

overboardI had assigned the movie "Overboard" to my Intro to Scriptwriting class (Class Info) in honor of Garry Marshall's passing. I needed a romcom and that was the one that fit best when I looked at his filmography.  The discussion was to be about how these types of movies work and when done properly, reinforce the best of what is a fun genre.

The key words here are "was to be."

An interesting and troubling side discussion came up about the sex scene in which Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have (loving) intercourse.  It comes at an appropriate time in the film and it's shot very beautifully and tenderly.

So why could it be considered rape?

The storyline is simple and funny.  Goldie plays a wealthy, obnoxious woman who is married to a vacuous and specious man.  They do nothing positive as they sail the seas in yachts that look like the Queen Mary.  She is not happy, never satisfied and constantly, consistently ultra-critical of everyone and everything.  He hates her (it's obvious) and yearns to be free from her constant screech.

Russell is Joe Everyman, a widower, laissez-faire father with three unruly boys who the school district is about to come down hard on because the boys are quite boisterous, even to toilet-papering the school's principal when she visits to welcome them to the area. The principal warns Russell that he has to get some supervision for the boys or else the next visit will be from social services.

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