I usually think of gymnastics as simple, straight forward exercises. A couple of innocent standards set up as a chute. The instructor sneaks the rails up. The next thing you know, you are jumping a challenging question without realizing what's been built up.
For the Jimmy Wofford clinic at Eventful Acres last weekend things were a little different. Rod Hisken's huge jumping arena was full of freshly painted white rails and standards, laid out everywhere like an albino logging disaster.
As I rode in I thought: "Uh oh Simon, you and I are going to have to do a lot of thinking today. There's nothing simple about what Jimmy has in store for us today."
I knew that at least Simon would get the benefit of the doubt from the 3xOlympian from his comments at our early morning lecture/ introduction. Jimmy's amazing enthusiasm for our sport and our equine partners was summed up in his response to a question about selecting a young event prospect. "I'm automatically going to like it if its a horse".
Jimmy's message for day one, in fact the message for the whole weekend was to teach us to be intelligent passengers.
The goal of his gymnastic exercises was to allow the horse to jump in a way that simulated his natural balanced jumping style unencumbered by the rider.
Through the wide and low oxer/ bounce line Simon had to reach out to stretch and compress his body horizontally. Though the double bounce/ hogsback line he got to reach up vertically to stretch through his bascule.
I was encouraged to ride with a longer rein. Did I lose Simon out the front door this way? You betcha. Jimmy's solution to keep a steady rhythm, to take my lower leg off to prevent driving.
I struggled to keep my position over fences by stabilizing my body with only my upper leg and without using my hands as a crutch. I was thrilled to find Simon responding to my efforts to find the happy balance between a lighter hand and a lighter leg, by jumping with more freedom through his neck and back in a happy relaxed rhythm.
A lot of scripts that I've been reading lately have included character descriptions that go something like this:
JOHN DOE, think a Bruce Willis type of guy, approaches a woman who looks a lot like Diane Lane. In fact, let's call her DIANE.
I get the temptation to do this, considering the old axiom of "show, don't tell" but this isn't exactly what that means. There are several reasons NOT to do this, but here's the three main ones I can think of:
#3 -- Hollywood is a very small town. If you're lucky and someone high enough up the food chain is reading your script, they may actually know Bruce Willis. They might be his neighbor. They might think he's an asshole and, unable to get that image out of their head, will pass on the script just because of it. (Sorry Bruce, I'm sure you're a sweetheart, this is just a hypothetical.) Or the actor you choose as your role model was just in a stinker of a movie and the idea that this will do as poorly is hard for the reader to forget. Remember, the execs, agents and producers reading your script are HUMANS, with all the same foibles and flaws as the rest of us. Sure, they may LOVE Bruce Willis (who doesn't) and immediately want to keep reading but are you really ready to roll the dice like that on your script's future? If so, you should be living in Vegas.
#2 -- The reality is you don't really want people to THINK while reading your script, you want them to FEEL. Putting a name that they may not even know as a description just pulls the reader out of the script when all you want from page one is to pull them in. Directives like, "think a young Danny Kaye" are distracting unless you are a fairly AWESOME writer and can really slide that in there without it sounding klunky. Again, if you're willing to bet that you are that effen' good while still pitching your first or second script, you might want to rethink your career. Vegas baby, that's the place for you.
And the #1 reason NOT to use an actor as a character description?
It's perceived by many to be lazy writing. If you don't have the imagination or the vocabulary to describe your character in a way that a reader can instantly picture them, then the odds are heavily in favor of the script lacking an interesting character arc or storyline. It's not impossible, but it starts the reader thinking in that direction and it won't take much for them to give up on your script altogether. Studios want to know what character you're selling, not a vague generalization. What does a Bruce Willis type mean anyway? Fast talking from "Moonlighting" days, bigger than life action hero from "Die Hard" or creepy killer from "Day of the Jackal"?
The one exception: If you're writing a comedy and you want to use a comparison, like "JOHN DOE is so smoking hot he makes Edward the vampire look like Edward Scissorhands" or "DIANE is so blonde she makes Tori Spelling look like a brain surgeon". As long as it's true to the rest of the tone of your script, that's the one time name dropping can work in your favor.
It's fine for YOU to have Bruce Willis from "Die Hard" in mind as you write the scenes and dialog, but pull out the thesaurus and come up with a concise, vivid description to show everyone else your character's true identity.
Since the excitement of upfronts is over and the new series for the next season have (mostly) been picked, it seemed like a good time to talk about writing a TV pilot.
The one thing every aspiring writer needs to know about writing a TV pilot is that it will not get made. Not yet, anyway. Embrace that fact and make it your friend because the reason to write one if you’re still trying to get your first break in Hollywood is as a calling card. Proof to agents and producers that you get what it takes to write an episode, get characters, and create dialog. Since you don’t have to worry so much about being commercial (it’s anyone’s guess what that really means anyway), let your creative juices run wild. The sky really is the limit, but there are a few rules to be aware of.
Formatting: The format of a TV pilot is pretty much the same format you use for features. Oh, some networks like the description to be all in capital letters (my personal pet peeve) while others double space everything so it’s a little more flexible but it’s still your basic format.
Page length: One hour dramas this year ranged anywhere from the high 50’s to 67 pages long. Now, I wouldn’t recommend you write 67 pages unless it’s freakin’ awesome, but there is a little wiggle room beyond the standard one page = one minute of screen time. For half-hour comedies, most are around the low 30’s – 35 in regular formatting pretty much topping it out.
Acts: Every pilot needs to be broken out in to acts. For one hours, the number ranges from 4 to 6, depending on the type of show you want to write. Half-hours usually have some kind of opening teaser and then divide into 2 acts, although some go for 3. Some of the pilots for the comedies letter the scenes as well. My advice would be to skip that for now
How do you choose how many acts to use? Watch the kind of show you want your pilot to be, note down how it’s structured, and try to emulate that.
Give your series legs: Always remember that you’re writing a PILOT, the first of hopefully 100 or more episodes of a successful television SERIES. Make sure that it’s clear from the pilot that there are a limitless number of story possibilities in this series. For instance, if it’s set in an office full of whacky characters, it’s easy to see that there’s no end to the stories. If, on the other hand, it’s set in a political campaign, you might have some problems convincing a network executive that you can keep the same tension involved in a campaign up show after show for a number of years. Eventually the candidate has to win or lose, right? This is why cop, lawyer and medical shows are always going to be around. There’s almost no end to the stories that can come from those settings. The trick is to find a new and different spin on those workhorse ideas.
Have characters with… character: Make sure that each character in you pilot (and therefore the series) has a clear and distinct voice. Their dialog is the only way they have of setting themselves apart so make it sharp and unique. It really defines their roles in the series, whether it’s a drama or a comedy, so don’t make it too vague. Great characters that jump off the page are what will make executives want to buy the series. Think about how many police procedurals are on TV; now think about what sets them apart. “Psych” and “The Mentalist” are basically the same idea but with completely different characters.
Set the right tone: Make sure it’s clear from the very first scene what the tone of the show is going to be. Is it dark comedy? Is it warm and fuzzy? Is it cold and analytical or action filled? The tone of the pilot is just as vital as the characters in letting the network know that you have original ideas and know how to execute them.
There are no new series ideas that have never been done before. It’s about the life you bring to it through the setting, characters and tone that will make your pilot stand out as a sample of the kind of work you can do. Make it bold enough AND professional, and it could be the ticket to getting your first writing job.
Recently, I was corrected for correcting a script's format because the writer didn't put (CONT'D) next to a character's name when their dialog was split by action or description instead of another character's dialog. For instance (and forgive the poor alignment but you get the drift),
TOM It was the best of times.
An arrow flies through the window and thunks into the door near Tom's head.
It was the worst of times.
Apparently, it's old school now to include the (CONT'D). Ok, fashions change, times change, whatever. Here's the thing: the reason to put (CONT'D) is so that the director, the producer, the actors and the readers know that it's the same person talking without interruption. It's an easy way to be sure that you haven't skipped a line of dialog somewhere by accident. It also confirms that the writer hasn't made a mistake and accidentally mislabeled a line of dialog meant for someone else. The down side? It forces the writer to type 8 more characters. Wait, that's not exactly right. Most script writing programs do it automatically. In fact, to turn it off is an extra step so the argument that it's more work falls short.
Virtually all of the good pilot scripts that I've read this year include the (CONT'D). As a part of the script format, it makes sense, it helps the production crew and it doesn't cost the writer anything. If there's a reason NOT to do it, please respond and let me know, I'm dying to hear it.
Bottom line, if it's good enough for Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, it's good enough for me.