Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What Do You Like?

I was racking my brain the other day over my current script/story (still in the 'staring at the ceiling' phase) when I decided to take a break and get some food. With food came watching a show to relax. I picked Studio 60 since I love Sorkin's stuff.

This was the show where Danny comes out and admits that he's in love with Jordan.

What I realized, after the show, was that I absolutely loved that episode. So, as I'm prone to do, I dove back into the rerun in my head. Exactly what the hell made that episode so dang entertaining for me? For that matter, what makes Sorkin's work so dang entertaining for me.

I came to the conclusion that it's the characters. They're pretty much people I want to be. They're smart, funny, hip, self-aware (to some degree), opinionated, fair and yet -- still very human.

Let's take Sports Night - the two anchors are very close - can almost suss each other out with only a look. They're always thinking 2 steps ahead, yet they both have their own issues. What makes it really funny is they both know the other's weaknesses and they play off that knowledge.

West Wing - you have most of the staff acting in that same manner. They're all smart, very smart, and yet they all have weaknesses. What's interesting to watch is the banter between them. This is because they all appear to be in on some inside joke that we, the audience, is actually let in on. You feel like part of the group - and, wow, what a great group to be a part of!

Transition to Studio 60 and, here again, we have smart people. On top of things. Snappy dialogue, people that you'd probably want to hang out with - or... even be! They're powerful, or funny, or popular, yet they're not assholes.

The most evil character on the show is played by Steven Weber - and wow is he evil sometimes. Yet, when Aaron takes you behind the curtains to give you a peek at his life, you can see what he's up against. You actually like this guy.

My favorite scene in the recent show I mentioned is when Matt just says to his buddy Danny, "Say it out loud." It's great. The actor is able to portray a momentary goofy "i'm in love" look and his buddy spots it a mile away. He knows what's coming even before his friend. The great part is that we're in on it, too. So we get to go along for the ride. The cajoling that Matt does until Danny finally breaks and admits his feelings to Jordan. There is nothing dumb about the characters or the situation. It's funny because we see the weakness of the character (unable to express his feelings) in a friendly, teasing situation that encourages the audience to participate in the friendship.

The culmination is classic Sorkin-esque dialogue. I mean, talk about melodrama at it's best! Skipping to the good stuff here...

Jordan with a mouth full of food, steps out of the room.

I've been married twice before and I'm a recovering cocaine addict. And I know that's no woman's dream of a man, or of a father. None the less, I believe I'm falling in love with you. If you want to run, I understand, but you'd better get a good headstart 'cause I"m coming for you Jordan.
You should go ahead and chew that sandwich.

He turns and leaves.

Dumfounded, Jordan slowly chews.

This is all setup by the original TWO discussion with Matt, who is teasing Danny. The first with "say it out loud", then again when he pushes Danny into revealing that he's driven by Jordan's house. Matt is pushing Danny the whole episode and this speech delivers in spades.

Can you imagine somebody actually saying this AND getting away with it? I don't know. Around here you don't see many twice married, recovering cocaine addicts in high paying jobs with tons of responsibility. But, here, man... plays like a charm.

One of the things Sorkin does fantastically is the speech. His most famous probably being the "you can't handle the truth" exchange in A Few Good Men. But his speeches are in just about every TV episode he's written and they're in every film he's written. What makes them great is that they are characters spilling emotions on screen. It doesn't feel like acting because, in the hands of a good actor, these people feel so real.

But I've digressed a little... my point in mentioning all this is that, if you haven't noticed, I desperately want an apprenticeship under Sorkin. I love his work, so when I look at what I'm writing, I thought, why not write what I love to watch? It's not the subject that I love, it's the characters. For me, that means writing smart characters. Characters that have emotional depth and yet are willing to share that with others that are close.

These characters are very different from, say, the characters in The Unit. Also deep, also involving, smart and human. But that's not what I want to write. My advice is take a look at the films or the TV that you watch and see what shows really turn you on. What are the characters like? Then look at your own writing and see if you're reflecting those same type of characters. I believe it'll make the work much more entertaining and enjoyable if we want to return to the characters again and again.



Blogger wcdixon said...

very nice analysis...

Sunday, December 10, 2006 at 10:35:00 AM EST  

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