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The TV Writer's Workbook: A Creative Approach To Television Scripts (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 27. März 2007

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Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Ellen Sandler has over twenty years of experience in the TV writing business. She was Co-Executive Producer and writer on the Emmy-winning hit series Everybody Loves Raymond, and has written for over 25 prime-time network television series, including Taxi, Kate and Allie, and Coach. She is a highly-regarded script consultant, and in addition to her Television Writing workshops in LA and NYC, is a frequent featured speaker at schools and universities across the country.

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The Spec Script

No one (I hope) watches television all the time, but everyone watches it sometimes. Television is pervasive and common, in the sense of communal, familiar, and available to all. Television establishes our ethical, moral, social, and, God knows, material boundaries more than any other factor in modern life. More than the movies, more than politics--no wonder you want to write for it. It's powerful!
Because it is common, television is often dismissed as insignificant, unworthy of respect or care. Because it is pervasive it is voracious--television needs material, and it reproduces like an amoeba, constantly dividing and replicating itself to fill the continuing void.

Television needs more, and it needs it now. That's where you come in. Your job as a writer is to supply it with content. This leads to fast, which leads to sloppy, which leads to formulaic, writing.
"It's not brain surgery," you'll often hear people in the industry say about working in TV. As a way to deflate self-importance, it's a perfectly good sentiment, but resist the impulse to use it as an excuse to lower standards; because in a way, when you create for TV you are doing a kind of brain surgery. You are shaping people's perceptions, and affecting their reality.

A career as a writer in Hollywood begins with excellent writing (excellent by commercial standards--we'll get into that in a minute). After that it's about persistence, tenacity, and some luck, though less than you might think. These are not secrets. Everybody knows the rules. The secret is committing to them. That's what makes a career happen.
In order to write for TV, you must get a job. In order to get a job, you must have material to show that you can write. Usually that will be a spec script.

What Is a Spec Script?

A television spec script is an unsolicited, original episode written for an established TV show. No money, no contract, no guarantees. In all likelihood, a spec script will never be sold or produced. What it will be is READ. That's what you write it for: to be read by as many people connected to show business as you can get it to. Everyone counts. You never know who knows someone who knows someone.

There are two different kinds of spec scripts, one for TV and one for film. You write a spec screenplay when you are not established enough to get a deal to write a screenplay based on a pitch. You write a spec screenplay and hold on to the dream that a studio will pay you for the rights to make it into a movie. Or, more likely, pay you for the rights to change it completely and never make it into a movie, but at least you get a check. You can sell a spec screenplay.

A television spec script is different. You don't write a TV spec with the expectation of selling it to the show. It could happen, it has happened--it's Hollywood, everything happens once or twice--and if it happens to you, great! Call your lawyer and make sure you're protected on the back end. (Not as sexy as it sounds, but even more exciting; see Showbiz Meanings for Regular Words: A Selective Glossary.) But what's much more likely, and therefore what we'll be talking about in this book, is that you'll write a spec TV episode to prove that you can do the work. It's a writing sample, a portfolio piece. In film, people are looking for a script, but in TV they are looking for a writer.

Why Write for TV?

I teach scriptwriting classes and when I ask students why they want to write a spec script, I usually get an answer like, "It's fun." Well, that's great, but that won't get you to the end of your script because a lot about writing isn't so much fun. A lot of it is frustrating, confusing, and downright hard.

So they think about it and I hear, "To tell a story" or "To make people laugh." I've even heard, "Because I really, really, really want to." All of those are good reasons to write something, but not necessarily a TV spec script.

The only reason to write a television episodic spec script is: money. When I teach, I usually draw a big $ on the whiteboard and everybody laughs. I suppose because that's what they were really thinking but were afraid to say. Or maybe they were even afraid to think it. Maybe they feel it's not a worthy reason to write. But the truth is that television is a commercial medium and you write it for money.

There's a story about George Bernard Shaw, who in the '30s came to Hollywood for a meeting with Samuel Goldwyn, the head of MGM. Goldwyn wanted the rights to Shaw's plays, but, naturally, wanted to pay as little as possible for them. Goldwyn went on and on about what a genius Shaw was, how much he admired his plays, what a great artist he was, and how he, Goldwyn, was also a great artist and that he, in fact, would rather make a great artistic picture than eat a good meal. Shaw finally got up, thanked Goldwyn for the meeting, but respectfully declined to sell him the rights. Goldwyn was stunned: "Why not?" Shaw replied, "The trouble, sir, is that you are interested only in art, while I am interested only in money."

Form Versus Formula

What writing for money means is that when you sit down to write you have to follow the rules. By rules, I don't mean formula--formula is what makes a writer a hack, and leads to predictable, dull scripts that nobody wants to read past page 8. However, there is form--quite a different thing. Television scripts have a specific form, and you must follow it.

It doesn't matter if you think you know how to do it better or funnier than what's on the air. That's not your job when you're writing a spec script. Your job is to do it exactly the way it's done and still be original. If you follow the rules without originality, your work will be okay but it will not distinguish itself as special.

Yes, you're writing for money, but you are not writing only for money. You must also put some art into your commercial product. It's very unlikely that you'll ever get to write for money if you don't put something of yourself into your script. The richest, most successful television writers I know have all written commercially savvy products from a personal point of view. Creative with the form? No. Creative with the content? Yes.

On any given day on any given reader's desk (or more likely, on the floor) there are going to be three piles of scripts. The piles will look like this:

Pile A, the smallest one, will be, as you probably guessed, the good scripts. The ones with a story we care about, dialogue that jumps up off the page, something very special that's worth noting. These are the scripts that will get passed along with "Recommend" written on the coverage form.

Pile C will be the hopelessly bad scripts--handwritten, incorrectly formatted, offensive, plagiarized, and so forth.

And Pile B, the one that rises endlessly to the ceiling? That is what I call the Big Pile of Okay. Scripts that look like scripts, read like scripts, and might even have some pretty good laughs. There's nothing really wrong with them, but there's nothing really right with them either. This, in my experience of reading scripts (I've read thousands, honestly), and in the experience of everyone else I know who reads scripts for a living, is the category that the vast majority of scripts fall into. I don't think I need to tell you where these scripts are going; suffice to say they are not going on to anyone else's desk.

Once, in an agent's waiting room, I picked up a scratch pad to make a note. As I tore off a page, I saw that the back had printing in the distinctive Courier font on it. These were lines of dialogue! This agent had scripts cut up and made into memo pads! You know those scripts came from Pile B.

But the good news is that many of these okay...

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 46 Rezensionen
13 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Superb! 14. Februar 2008
Von Justine E. Schroeder - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Taschenbuch
I've been using Ellen Sandler's book as a guide for the last few weeks, and I feel I've done much better work in that short time than I did all last year. The book is mainly geared towards sitcom writers, and for those interested in writing a comedy spec, this book is the one to get!
21 von 24 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Not Impressed 3. September 2012
Von Reviewer - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
A fantastic book if you're a complete novice and want to write half hour sitcoms. Utterly useless if you already know what a synopsis is and want to write anything else.
This book includes no information at all about writing an original pilot (the author actually says to just go buy a different book if you want to do that), no information on the 4 act structure of 1 hour shows and barely mentions the structure of half hour shows. The entire advice on formatting consists of 'Buy Final Draft'. Sorry I bought it.
Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein is a much better book. It's clearer, easier to read and goes into much more depth on a range of useful topics.
12 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Great Book 12. Juli 2007
Von LA Mommy - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
This is by far the BEST TV writing book I've ever read and I have nearly all of them. Sandler doesn't just tell you the steps necessary to write a fantastic spec script, like all these kinds of books do, she guides you through the creative process of mining story material for it. And she tells you how to fashion subject matter that has the most emotional meaning for you, the author--which is the benchmark of great writing. It was a concept that until now, that no matter how many books I read, or how many harsh notes from execs I received on all my previous specs (or so I thought, now I FULLY understand their notes!) that I didn't grasp until now. TV Writer's Workbook, has provided the creative lightbulb I needed to get me out of my sucky spec script darkness. Highly recommended!
5 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Simple, Concise, and Filled with an Abundance of Info for Writers/Producers 7. November 2009
Von Infinite Mind - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
If you are serious about writing/producing for TV then this book is a must. What better way to get information from someone who has actually worked in the business and taken the journey many of us are currently forging. I found Ellen Sandler writer/producer of Taxi, Coach, Everybody Loves Raymond, and more to be honest and sincere in her description and advice on what it takes to become success writer/producer in the business.

This book is a rich resource on how to write your first spec script and what qualities besides good writing one should possesses or develop to break through, what often times seems to be a brick wall of Hollywood studio, producers, agents, managers, ect. The content and tone is that of a workbook, however not in a traditional sense, but in a more subtle and simple way. Ellen gives a brief background about how she herself got into the business and then informs the writer of what they need to know about the spec script and how to read to write. She further goes into what you need to do to develop your story, how to make it come alive, and re-edit it until you cant anymore. In another part of the book she focuses on what you need to do when you have your spec script written and gives you sound advice with real world examples on how to break into the door. She offers up helpful tips on FAQ's such as should you move to LA?, the difference between producers and writers, pitching your ideas, dealing with agents/managers, potential salary figures, respecting the industry and business standards and more.

Besides loving the content on writing, I loved the wealth of information contained in the book on such helpful topics as where to get scripts, industry jargon/terminology, bookstores and publication sources for writers, as well as a host of contact information for other beneficial advisors.

Lastly, I love the humility with which this book concludes. Ellen acknowledges here successes and rightfully so, but advises the reader to keep searching and seeking out other advisors and not be afraid to listen to contradictory information, keeping in mind that in Hollywood there is not set path to success.

As a publicist switching careers and having previously written spec scripts I love this book and highly recommend.
10 von 12 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
I can't believe I am saying this, but there are no words for how amazing this is! 19. Juni 2007
Von T. Salisbury - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Taschenbuch
But for the sake of those wondering if they should purchase this or not, I will try to find some. YES, YOU SHOULD BUY THIS! How is that? :) Putting aside the fact that Ellen has written for some of the best TV I've ever watched, I don't see how anyone couldn't benefit from the generous advice she offers in this guide and so inexpensively! Be warned though, this book is not one that you just read. I guess you could, but I would honestly recommend trying the things she suggests. I tried most of her exercises and the differences in my spec script definitely stood out. This book is priceless, in my opinion.
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