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Writing Television Sitcoms
Transcript of Writing Television Sitcoms
Only about 750 mainstream films were produced in 2008 in the U.S.
The odds of your work being produced are greater in television as opposed to film where the director dominates rather than the writer. Chapter 1: The Game Plan A freelance assignment is given by a show's producers to an outside writer to write one episode of an already existing series.
Not as common today. Part Two Comedy writing theory
Premise-driven comedy Putting theory into practice
Real-world dynamics Part Three Getting hired Introduction Basic Facts Chapter 1: The Game Plan Career Paths If you have enough talent, you can get a job on staff.
Given a contract for a limited amount of time (can be anywhere between a few weeks and a few months).
You are working on the series full-time.
If you are well liked, your contract may be renewed.
Most common. #1: Pitch a freelance assignment #2: Job on staff Three ways to get hired... A freelance assignment is given by a show's producers to an outside writer to write one episode of an already existing series.
Not as common today. Chapter 1: The Game Plan Career Paths #3: Writer-producer on a new series Three ways to get hired... To start your career, it all starts with writing multiple amazing scripts and presenting them to possible agents and managers.
Don't rush into things. Chapter 1: The Game Plan Game Plan "Different writers have different strengths." Chapter 3: "All comedy writers share certain creative goals." Putting Theory into Practice Creative Goals: Chapter 3: Putting Theory into Practice Creative Goals: #2: Consistency Maintain consistent levels of humor.
From the beginning set the amount and type of humor.
Maintain amount and type.
Style of humor is dictated by the series's creators.
Identify and consistently reflect that style. Creative Goals: Chapter 3: Putting Theory into Practice Creative Goals: #3: Comedy output Never heard: "Too much humor in this script, make it less funny."
Average half-hour script: Two to four solid jokes per page
Come up with enough terrific humor without forcing the jokes.
"This script is too jokey": Obvious setups/punchlines, not seamless. Chapter 3: Putting Theory into Practice THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO SCREENWRITING How do sitcom writers achieve these goals?"
Answer: The rewriting process.
Always work from a written story outline.
Writer (or writing team) does outline and first draft.
Revisions can continue all the way into production. But...what if you're working alone? I. Emotion-based theories Chapter 2: First, Some Theory Sigmund Freud: States laughter is a "discharge of psychical energy." Laughter relieves the amount of energy put into responding to heavy material.
Dana Sutton: Laughter destroys bad feelings. II. Physiologists' theories Herbert Spencer: "[N]ervous excitation tends to beget muscular motion." III. Evolutionists' theories Chapter 2: First, Some Theory Robert Storey: Mankind exists because of the evolution of laughter.
Smiling (or "bared teeth") during the times of early man used to be a sign of yielding to authority. Laughter was a sign of feeling threatened. IV. Biological theories Laughter is good for the heart, literally! It's said that it enhances parts of the respiratory system. Comedic tension Chapter 2: First, Some Theory In drama, tension is within the resolution while in comedy it comes from the punchline.
It's all about timing. Characteristics Chapter 2: First, Some Theory OF COMEDY 1. Incongruity Join two dissimilar notions together and the incongruity generates a tension just begging for release. 2. Surprise Save the punchlines and payoffs for last. Characteristics Chapter 2: First, Some Theory OF COMEDY 3. Truth Tell a joke that carries a thread of truth, that strikes a chord with the audience, and the joke will seem doubly funny. 4. Aggression Aggressive jokes can pack an extra punch for the same reasons that truthful jokes do—an empathetic audiences identifies with the content of the joke, in addition to appreciating its comedic strengths. Creative Goals: Chapter 3: Putting Theory into Practice Creative Goals: #1: Seamless humor Seamless, not forced.
Dialogue is organic, not one-liners from a stand-up routine.
Don't break the audience's suspension of disbelief for a joke.
Jokes remain true to the show's overall premise.
Comedy should be organic and natural. Characteristics Chapter 2: First, Some Theory OF COMEDY 5. Brevity Humor must be lean and mean, completely uncluttered. Otherwise, the incongruity gets lost, the surprise muddled, the truth diluted. Chapter 2: First, Some Theory THE IMPORTANCE An creates comedic tension. incongruity A twist releases tension. surprise and increase tension. truth aggression brings tension into high release. brevity of tension the mechanics of laughter the mechanics of laughter