Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Write a TV Script


If you need to write a TV script, do not start by writing a TV script. Start by writing a premise.

Here's a short story to tell you what I mean:

The very first time to I sat down to write a TV script, I was an intern at GSD&M. My partner and I had no experience at all writing thirty-second scripts.

The assignment was for a restaurant, which the brief assured us was the place to go for celebrations. So we came up with one idea where a kung fu master takes his two 10-year-old students to lunch after a tournament. Realizing there's only one jalapeno popper appetizer left on the plate, one student tries to grab it. His fellow kung fu student blocks the reach with a wax-on-wax-off move. Then he tries to take it, and the other kid uses some kung fu move to block the reach. This results in a flurry of blocks, jabs, reaching, wax-on-wax-off fist movement over the plate as their master sagely looks on. Then the two kids realize the popper is no longer on the plate, and their teacher smiles and says something like, "He who is not distracted gets the popper!"

Kind of a funny spot, we thought. Might not have been super p.c., but I would have enjoyed seeing that on TV. So my partner and I scripted it up.

And that was one of the most agonizing experiences of my internship.

We debated on whether we should open outside the restaurant, or open on one of the booths. Should the jalapeno poppers be freshly delivered to the table, or should they already be eating them? Should there be a waiter or waitress? At the end, should the teacher say, "He who is not distracted..." or "Lesson #8..." or "You have much to learn..." It took us hours to figure out that script.

But the thing is, we'd already figured out the premise. The creative director didn't need a finished script. He wanted an idea. We gave him five scripts. But in the time it took us to script up five fully-formed scripts we could both agreed on, we could have concepted and written a hundred premises.

A premise is a five- or six-sentence description of what the spot is about, and what happens in it. Keep it loose. But keep it interesting. If it doesn't work well as a premise, it's probably not going to work as a script.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A quote from Samuel Johnson

"What is written without effort
is read without pleasure."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shout Out to Ronny

We don't normally highlight current work on Makin' Ads, but since this great piece was written by a friend and former classmate, we had to give a shout out to Ronny Northrop. Be sure to read Ronny's post on being too old for portfolio school. You're never too old for portfolio school if it can help you create stuff like this.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chairs vs Sophie


Compare these two spots.






Both are from tech giants. Both have great production value. Nice writing. Well-directed. Good-looking film. But there's a very different feel in how we connect with each.

One talks at us, the other shows us.
One tells us exactly what it is trying to say, the other invites us in.
One feels corporate (although it shows humans), the other is human.
One is ye old Manifesto. The other is a story.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Source Materials for my Storytelling Class


This past quarter, I taught a storytelling class at Miami Ad School with some really talented, enthusiastic first-quarter writers. Here's a list of some of the source materials I used as examples and sometimes just stole from to make myself sound like I knew what I was talking about:


On Teaching and Writing Fiction by Wallace Stegner


On Writing by Stephen King


 The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus


Improv Wisdom by Patricia Madson




The Handbook of Short Story Writing, Volumes I and II, by Writer's Digest


Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon


The Moth Stories


This video from J.J. Abrams.

Various lists, such as this one by Elmore Leonard and this one by John Steinbeck

Writing samples from writers much better than myself, including Edward Abbey, James Agee, Sherwood Anderson, Donald Antrim, Roberto Bolaño, Richard Brautigan, Jon Clinch, Mark Costello, Patrick deWitt, A.M. Homes, Dan Kennedy, Chip Kidd, J Robert Lennon, Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell, Tim O'Brien, Helen Oyeyemi, J.D. Salinger, Jim Shepard, Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace.