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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Yeah, but what's it About?

My heart skips a beat, my mind races - even among friends I can feel my hands starting to get sweaty. I'm coming up blank and feeling the hot rush of blood to my face as I stammer and think, forcing myself to say something.

This is a show I've been working on for months, researching, crafting...

Yeah, but what's it about??

My friends are trying to help, the smiles on their faces let me know this is something they've endured themselves... but still - dammit! Why can't I just articulate it? Where are the words to sell my own friends on my great idea - this fantastic show that I know is in there.

Peter laughs and tries a different tack: What HAPPENS every episode, what's the engine? What's the franchise? I start to explain my story - he stops me. Uh-uh. C'mon, one sentence. What's it about? What happens every episode? Reflexively, I start into my story again - stopping myself this time. What the hell? Elize chuckles too.

What the hell is a story engine? Something that drives your franchise? Okay... How do I make a story engine? You need a hook - a 'holy shit' moment or a 'oh, wow' moment that will play into every episode. My brain's going numb, trying to process new information while still churning away at the old query. Why is this so hard? What are they expecting me to say?

Only 'what happens' - what it's about.

Simple question. The simplest question... and yet for some reason that question hits my cortex and goes fractal. What happens? Everything happens - cool shit happens. Cool people do cool things.

That's nice but why would I want to watch that? What makes your show better than all the other shows?

Then, lifting their beer with a grin the coup de grace is delivered: And why are you the one to write it? The ONLY one who can write it?

Oh shit.

Welcome to the real world, baby writer.

I've been up trying to figure out how to distill what I have into a kernel - a seed - that will take root in people's minds. To figure out that hook that will have heads nodding and people understanding what I'm trying to say as I say it... to be honest, it's kind of freaking me out a little bit - the idea that I've spent all this time reading and crafting and writing this pilot... and I can't even articulate what the show's about.

How the hell does that even happen? I guess you have to go into it with a clear vision of what you want, what it will be and do your best not to muddy the waters. Which, incidentally, is kind of what it feels like right now - I have this idea of what it is but almost like the more I think about it the more sediment gets kicked up.

Maybe I'm tripping myself up, grasping at straw that hasn't grown yet. Maybe the simple answer is 'I just don't know right now' what every episode's going to look like. What the engine is going to be. Why it's not 'just a movie'.

For sure, the one definitive answer is that until I can answer that question - in a heartbeat, with a smile -- let alone all the questions that are sure to follow - this baby's not ready to be born.

Though I swear I felt it kick.



Rich Baldwin said...

There often comes a time for me when I have a story I want to tell, and don't know what it is but *do* know how to tell it. If you're in that space, then I'd say write a couple episodes and see what you get. And if you still aren't sure what you've got, but you know that you nailed on the page what you wanted to show, then show the episodes to some friends and ask them all what it's about.

Trevor Finn said...

Sounds like Peter had the same comments that we did. You definitely have to figure out the engine, what kinds of things happen every episode, how you would spec it if it wasn't your show. It would probably help for you to map out at least the first season (though having an idea where the 2nd could go could be a good idea). If you feel a fantastic show is there, then it is. You just need to do a bit more digging.

I do think that the hook or "holy shit" aspect is more of a series wide thing, though. It's what gets people to tune in every week. Basically what would make you want to see your own show? Like, really want to see it? It has to grab people and pull them towards the timeslot (hence "hook"). Hooks are often twists on "regular" concepts. Like True Blood - vampires have been done. But they haven't been done where they've "come out of the coffin" and are trying to live alongside humans, and are now targets of human racism. That's a hook because just the unique twist of the idea makes you want to watch it.