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Friday, September 02, 2011

Spec Script 5: The Speccenning

Alright folks,

Here we are, breaking ground on a whole new monolith: The Spec Script... *thunderclap*.

Now, I'm sure most of you, by now, know what a Spec Script *thunderclap* is:  it's a marketing tool.  Primarily, it's a platform for you to a) show that you're really good at mimicking the voice/tone/etc of a showrunner b) show that, while doing all these things, that you're also a kickass storyteller/dialogue...ist(?).

The base rules are actually pretty simple:

1) You're not there to re-invent the show.  You're not there to make the show 'better'.  You're there to write a baseline episode of the show.  Find the showrunner's formula, follow the formula, love the formula.  You can do amazing things inside the formula, but you gotta stay inside the lines here.

2) The story you write is never about the side characters.  Let me repeat that.  The story you write is NEVER about the side characters.  If you're writing a Castle spec and you've got a great idea for a Lanie Parish-centric episode (Lanie's the coroner on the show) then you better find a way to make it a Castle/Beckett-centric episode post-haste.

3) Don't introduce new elements.  This is not the time to introduce Castle's long-lost half-brother.  You can have plot-incidental characters (as long as it doesn't break rule 2) but things that break the world of the show are a definite no-no.  Basically, if you're not sure if something counts as 'safe' to use, watch the show. If said 'thing' pops up in at least 3 episodes over the season then you're on pretty solid ground.

There are more 'rules' that tend to come up during the process but I find that, as we're starting out, these 3 are a good starting point.  They give you a nice big playpen to start out in.

Of course, the biggest question on the horizon here is:

What spec are you going to write?

Personally, I'm of the mindset that -- while you can write ANY show you please if you put in the time to research it properly (and don't let anyone tell you differently!) -- my best scripts have come from writing shows that I genuinely like.  Obviously, it's a lot easier to write characters that I've been actively internalizing for X number of seasons -- and having the benefit of already knowing (at least instinctively) the structure/flow of the series episodes doesn't hurt either.

That said, writing a Spec Script *thunderclap* for a show that you already know can lead you into a whole other set of problems -- not the least of which can involve the taking of 'shortcuts' (character, plot or otherwise) that may hide, until it's too late, real problems in your story; things that you skim over because they 'read true' to you but actually make no sense to someone who's never seen the show before (or only seen an episode here and there).

Anyways, I've decided to try something rather interesting:  I'm going to do a Spec Script...  ...  ? ... *thunderclap* for a show that I love... but for the recent American version instead.

I'm going to try and tackle a series 6 BBC America episode of Doctor Who.  From the ground up, step-by-step, here on this blog.

Of course since getting your hands on a series 6 script is next-near to impossible -- let alone one written by the showrunner Steven Moffat -- we'll have to start our research by going back in time a tad.  If you've been following along long enough, you'll know that I happened upon a rather fantastic script site not too long ago and it just so happens that it's got some Doctor Who episodes from series 4 up there. (Thanks Lee!).

Now, the main problem here is that none of the ones available are written by Steven Moffat.  This makes things harder... but not impossible.  Essentially, we have to go back in time a tad... to a whole other series -- a series called Press Gang.  It's a series that isn't quite similar to Doctor Who.

But that's okay, for now.

What we're looking for here, at this stage, is trying to get an idea of Mr. Moffat's pacing, use of language, written cadence, flourishes, etc.  What kinds of decisions does he make?  How does he structure an episode?

The benefit of looking at something like Press Gang is that it was his show.  The scripts you're reading are him being him, writing in his own voice.  You may not get a whole lot of stuff out of reading these scripts but it's the little bits that stick with you when you're in the middle of writing limbo at 3am and bashing your head off the keyboard, wishing you weren't such a talentless hack.  (or maybe that's just me...)

So, if you're up for it, here's a bit of homework for you (and me):

Go here.  Read as many of these scripts as you care to.  See if you can start to notice any patterns emerging.  See if you can start to notice his 'go-to' beats.  How he structures a scene, how much detail he uses, what he leaves to the imagination, what he spells out.

Where his strengths lie.

Maybe you'll see all that and more, maybe you won't.

But you ALWAYS get something new out of reading a script you haven't read before.  So, hell, give it a go, eh?

Have a great weekend!  See you on Monday.

Cheers,
Brandon

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