I flew to LA with my writing partner a while back to pitch an idea for a Web-based TV show. More about that here, but suffice it to say that despite it being politely rejected almost immediately, we got some good advice and I had probably one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had in my career as a writer.
My partner and I vowed to get back on the horse, and saddle up we have.
We’ve spent the past few weeks tearing out virtual hair out to re-craft a treatment for our story, one that reads “funny” immediately, as opposed to one that relies on gobs of wacky backstory to explain itself.
Or, in our case, gobs of wacky backstory delivered by me in a nervous monotone, too scared to look at the development exec but too proud to look at the floor. This results in a flat delivery from a bald guy in a necktie with a thousand-yard stare that would make the Son of Sam say “C’mon man, lighten up, jeez.”
So yeah, the two things I learned were: you got to SELL the funny, right there on the paper. And during the pitch, lighten up a bit your damn self.
That’s what a story treatment is, as I understand it: a two-page document that encapsulates the spirit of the show and all its characters, written magnetically and simply for people who are, in all actuality, too busy to read it themselves. Here’s one for “Freaks and Geeks,” a doomed and fantastic TV show that was also too smart for its audience. We’ve been pretty much using this as a Bible, really. The series Bible itself is pretty fascinating, too.
And that “as I understand it,” that’s the doozy right there. I didn’t even THINK about any of this stuff before January. January, 2007. So yeah, I have no idea what I’m doing. We’re just winging it here. Totally making it up as we go along. It’s terrifying and frustrating when there’s nobody to turn to, but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s jsut awesome enough to make everything turn four inches tall except us and this towering pile of golden copy … which will become compost in 24 hours. You gotta kill your darlings, man, and today’s golden egg is tomorrow’s shit-smeared goose fetus.
People have been saying to us “Why don’t you guys just make it yourselves and put the thing on YouTube? You know, generate some buzz?” And those people, they have a solid point. But I mean, look. I’m not an actor or a director. Yet. I just got into this in January, and my partner, he’s not a seasoned pro, either. We don’t have a camera, editing software, any of that stuff. But we got laptops and meager enough connections to pitch through. So to our way of thinking, why work for free when you can try to get paid along the way to developing it yourself?
I mean, shit. YouTube and the rest of Web 2.0 is making a lot of money off the great mirage of user-generated content. And to some extent, that’s fine. I mean, I don’t get a dime for this blog. But one day people are gonna realize it and say “man, we’re a bunch of suckers.” And how awesome would it be to get paid for writing now, rather than later?
That mindset, I think has been my greatest helper AND hindrance in my writing career. On the one hand, I get paid. Sometimes. On the other, I might not go out on limbs that I should.
Anyway. After working as an extra for my friend Meredith’s stellar Web-based TV show ‘Defenders of Stan’ this last weekend, my beat got turned right around. Please, if you have a few minutes, go check out the shows. They’re only 5 minutes apiece and they’re AWESOME. And you know what? These guys are just DOING it, for real, seat of the pants, not holding their breath for a damn thing, and it’s working out well for them.
That’s right: they’re becoming very successful by simply doing the exact opposite of what my partner and I think is a good idea.
So we started writing scripts this week. We’re moving forward again, and CHRIST is it ever cool. I forget, on a weekly basis, how much I love writing. Maybe blogging makes me a little tired sometimes. It’s a freaking treadmill. But just WRITING, creating stuff, making jokes, telling stories … there’s nothing like it in the world. One of my writing partners and I cranked out two 5-minute scripts this week. They’re rough. They might not be funny, and they probably completely suck. Just pixels on the hard drive, knowing you put in a solid couple days and made yourself laugh doing it … again, nothing like it in the world.
Now I’m exhausted and giddy. I’ve been consuming bourbon and coffee in a 1:1 ratio all night and it’s time to lie down and let them fight it out. Tomorrow, we’re going to talk. We’ve yet to cram these tattered little rags with stories on them into a real story structure, but I feel awesome all the same.
Now if I could just get PAID to feel like this …
This link will take you to a pretty awesome tutorial on the basics of story structure for Web video. It’s a fascinating read, and goes a long way toward explaining why some short films are worth re-watching and forwarding to your friends, and why a LOT of “user-generated content” in the video-sharing world completely blows.