|Developing the Web Series Etiquette|
Mildred Lewis and her writing partner Adam Fox collaborate on a web series titled Etiquette. “Both Adam and I were shocked,” Lewis says, “to find out how many people are passionate about etiquette. We saw it everywhere.”
The idea for their series came from a London bookshop. “Adam found this great little Collins Nutshell book, Etiquette, by Martine Legge, while he was on vacation in London. We were already looking for a subject for our first web series. When we looked at the book, we knew we had found our show. HarperCollins UK was kind enough to grant us the rights.”
Lewis says that during the development process, she and Adam “thought deeply about how we related to etiquette. We talked and laughed a lot about bad manners. Then we forced ourselves to think about what good manners should look like.
“These were really rich conversations,” Lewis states, “because we share many of the same values. But Adam's a young Orthodox Jew from North London and I'm a middle-aged black woman from Harlem, so we see the world through different lenses. Hopefully, those differences help us create scripts that connect to more people.”
Writing for a Web Series
We asked Lewis if writing for a web series differs from other screen writing? How does it affect, for example, scenes, beats, pacing?
“Good writing is good writing is good writing,” she emphasizes. “Plot, character, setting, conflict, compelling ideas, engaging emotions all remain crucial.
“However, on the web you're writing for a viewer who is going to have a more intimate experience. Most people watch web content alone, often on small devices. I think of it as the difference between going to an arena for a concert versus listening to a music box. So you have to write more directly to the viewer. Funny has to be funnier! You can't ride a laugh track or laughter in the room.”
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|We originally contacted New Mexico-based film producer Judy Bell about a project she was developing, a film featuring a Native American private investigator. Bell says, “The story, centering on the character Geronimo Jones, was to take advantage of the rich Native culture that is inherent in the lure of New Mexico.” |
The story would also have focused on Santa Fe, the oldest capital in the United States, home of the oldest newspaper, and an old adobe that is the oldest house in the United States. “The rich history,” says Bell, “goes back over 400 years and, of course, much further in terms of indigenous peoples occupying the land.”
Hitting the Wall
Unfortunately, Bell had to fold the project. For a producer, knowing when to walk away is just as important as continuing on. “Life is an ongoing challenge. I've dropped that project for a number of reasons.”
“Balancing an urban Native American against the backdrop of one of the most complex and fascinating cities was intriguing and would provide vast marketing possibilities to promote tourism, the international art scene, and the Indian market.
“But in the end,” Bell says, “this marketing potential is what undermined the project, as the businesses around the plaza - arguably the most popular spot for tourists - do not want filming. It clogs the small streets, often isolates a business entrance for days at a time, and takes up valuable parking space for grip and other production vehicles.”
“Also,” she says, “the marketing ideas I had would have to go through the state and city film and tourism offices, be approved by the hotels, and who knows who or what else, so my creative enthusiasm hit the reality wall and I realized the odds of ever getting into production were slim to none.
“A producer puts everything into believing in and developing a project, and one must be tenacious and persevere. But at some point the facts have to be weighed and a decision made.”
|Sculptor Michelle Millay talks with us about her work sculpting sets and statues for film and television. Millay’s movie work includes Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hangover, Domino, Batman and Robin and I love You Man. For TV she worked on the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.|
Millay designs and creates her own sculptures for some film projects. On others, she works from someone else’s design. “It depends on the art director or who is making the film,” she says. “I've had the opportunity to design off of their ideas, and make maquettes (small preliminary models). Sometimes, Production has a certain thing they want fulfilled for the look they need.”
Millay says she tries to add a little of herself even when an art director gives her the initial direction. What influences her work? “I love classical sculptors,” she says. “Michelangelo, Bernini, Canova, Rodin. Nineteenth century sculpture is my favorite.”
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|We asked Montreal-based storyboard artist Jean Claude De La Ronde why storyboarding (pre-visualization) is so important to the filmmaking process?|
“The storyboards are the building blocks,” he says, “for ‘building a film or any video game cinematics or even TV advertisements from the ground up’. They are literally a crucial visual reference point to all the departments involved in the project.”
Scene by Scene
“A storyboard’s main purpose,” says De La Ronde, “is telling the story scene by scene and helping the director proceed with the multiple camera action sequence. It also helps to establish the proper camera angles to maximize the desired shot/shots sought by the director.
“But it has so much more value in terms of production costs, VFX shots to be done, and other useful information for all the artists that are involved on the project. And it also serves the purpose of letting everyone involved in the project know where we are at, what has been done so far, and where we are headed in the following days of production.”
Storyboards and Financing
De La Ronde says that the storyboard also is an asset when presenting itself to potential financiers who would be interested in investing money in the project. “They have the ability and the chance to visually see how the final product could look like at the end and have a pretty good idea of the story flow and pacing as well.”
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|Picture the scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary, when Mark and Daniel square off in the street outside her apartment. One of Bridget’s guy friends throws open the doors to a nearby restaurant to tell everyone inside, “Fight… a real fight!” |
“The most critical element of any story since the dawn of time is conflict,” states writer/producer Julie Ann Sipos.
She is a widely produced and published screenwriter, author, editor, blogger, digital content creator and part-time professor of cinema and television.
“Being very nice people, we screenwriters - regardless of skill level - like to avoid this at all costs. Unfortunately, lack of some measure of conflict in every moment of every scene - even a passionate love scene, or the uplifting resolution of the feel good story of the year - is the hallmark of the novice writer. (Imagine Rhett kissing Scarlett against the backdrop of Atlanta failing to ignite; or the big on-stage finish of Little Miss Sunshine without the threat of arrest).”
Sipos presently teaches at California State University Northridge. “I teach a technique called the ‘Wa-Do-Gee’ that I in turn learned from venerable screenwriting professor Hal Ackerman. Short for ‘What does the character want and what is he doing to get it,’ the Wa-Do-Gee must be met with direct opposition by another character or event at every significant point along your hero's journey.”
“This metaphorical dance propels every story ever told toward a satisfying resolution. Obviously, in an action piece the conflict builds in a series of ever-louder explosions the hero narrowly escapes; while in a deftly-written character piece, the fireworks are gut wrenchingly subtle.
“Master this age-old storytelling technique, though, and you will master any genre technology may throw your way, now or in the future.”
|Director and writer Choice Skinner talked to us about his award winning short film, about story, and writing for web series. Skinner’s short film A Second Thought recently screened at the SoHoFilmFest. |
Skinner shot the two-minute film on an iPhone during a two-hour ride on a city bus last year. Using the iPhone “…definitely opens some doors and makes it possible to be able to take an idea from conception and bring it to fruition.”
THE FILM STORY
Skinner’s story centers on a young man’s romantic chance encounter with a beautiful woman who shows interest in him during a bus ride. The problem - just moments earlier he received some terrible news. Test results reveal that he is HIV positive.
Skinner says, “I decided to shoot it on an iPhone because I knew I would be stealing shots and shooting it on a bus without permits. I also didn't have the money or the resources to do what I normally would have done, which is hire a crew and shoot on the Red Epic or Canon 5D.”
|Annmaree Bell, producer and founder at Azure Productions in the Sydney, Australia area, is presently developing the feature film Teenage Kicks. Bell says, “The film came from a short film we made called Drowning.” In the short, teen Mik has suddenly lost his older brother. The one solid thing in his life is his best friend Dan. But Dan has a new girlfriend…|
Bell says, “Craig Boreham, writer and director on the short film, spent some time with the characters, and the feature-length Teenage Kicks was born.”
We questioned Bell on what makes a story producible.
“Firstly I look for characters that I want to spend time with. As a producer you spend anywhere from three to 20 years with these characters. You need to want to go on the journey with them. Then I look for the story: are we taking these characters on a compelling story?”
|Toronto-based line producer Susan McGrath talked to us about her work line producing for series television. For the last decade, she has produced, line produced, story produced and production managed series and documentaries airing on A&E, CBC, Court TV, CTV, Discovery, Global, HGTV, History, OMNI, Oxygen, SLICE, SunTV, TVO, Vision, and W.
“The last two series I’ve line produced have been wild and challenging in very different ways. The series I just finished (Never Ever Do This At Home) involved slowly destroying a house over 14 episodes. It involved pyro-technics, a first for me. We were dealing with a 150-year old house, very unpredictable.
|Stories of the Poor|
A woman uses a long stick to pick through garbage in a Nakuru dump site, west of Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, where 800,000 people are crammed into a slum of densely packed tin shacks. Poverty, illness and crime are rampant. The woman, part of the Minyore Women’s Group, searches for discarded plastics and fabrics that can be crafted into sellable items. Any money earned goes to her children’s education.
In the slum of Korogocho, grandmothers gather to learn karate. The skill will help them ward off sexual assaults from young men who believe the older women are HIV-free.
|Makeup artist Natalie Hayes joins us to talk about her work in the film, TV and corporate arenas.|
Communication is Critical
Key for Hayes on any project is communication. “I find that, too often, there is no (prior) communication about lighting.” It’s all about doing good work while being efficient. “It is much easier,” she says, “to make adjustments to the makeup on the front end versus reacting to it later when seeing the talent on camera (and then everyone is waiting on you).”
Hayes says, “Ideally I would be communicated with before applying makeup about what lighting conditions would be, and then I'd be given first glances at the talent through the monitor as soon as they are in the environment so that I could tweak anything necessary before filming began.”
Her reality is often different. “What I usually find is that I'm tied up still doing makeup apps on additional talents/extras when initial shooting begins on talent I’ve already done makeup on. By the time I'm on set and looking through the monitor, I may see some things that could've been tweaked. For example, the cheek color isn't showing up under this lighting, and so the talent looks a little pasty.” The magic word is continuity. “That can be a little frustrating because for continuity's sake, I can't change someone's look after shooting has started. Yet I know they could've looked even better had I gotten to view them and tweak if needed when they first stepped under the lighting.”