Tag Archives: writing

2012 Emmy Ballot: Best Writing and Directing

1 Jul

Continuing my series on who I’d nominate for the Primetime Emmy Awards, based on the official ballot (started here with my picks for Best Supporting Actor and Actress), I’m going to move to focusing on ‘Best Actor in a Comedy Series’ and ‘Best Actress in a Comedy Series’ next but I thought I might take a bit of a detour first.

First, though, I’d like to look at some of the smaller categories which, in my mind, probably ought to not be small categories – starting with Best Direction in a Comedy Series.

(Included where possible are links to either clips or more likely full episodes from Hulu! And where not possible more questionable links from YouTube!)

The problem with this and it’s sister category ‘Best Writing’ is that people have to submit their own episode for this honor and the nominations are judged on the strengths of those single episodes. In looking at the list there are a myriad of episodes I quite enjoyed of many series that were left out in the cold – notably the ‘Girls’ episode ‘Welcome to Bushwick AKA the Crackcident’ (Directed by Jody Lee Lipes and written by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner) and the How I Met Your Mother episode ‘Symphony of Illumination’ (Directed, as nearly always for HIMYM by Pamela Fryman and written by Joe Kelly (who it turns out, has no relation to the reasonably prominent comic book writer and ‘Ben 10’ co-creator)

Symphony of Illumination

That leaves me with merely the eligible nominees (available here, as with all the nominees, if you’d like to take a look) and additionally when it comes to Directing, it’s a tough category because one has to weight how much of the direction of an episode is just the vision of the showrunner and how much is an independent view of the series by the director (and furthermore if that independent view is consistent with the internal logic of the series itself)

With that in mind, my nominees for Best Direction in a Comedy Series:

Louis C.K. for the ‘Louie’  episode ‘Ducking’

Louis C.K. is a man who wears many hats in the making of his show ‘Louie’. He directs, he acts, he writes, he edits. And the show, itself has a very strong narrative voice and a very clear look and vision. But that vision, generally, is one of New York City, run down comedy clubs and apartments. For this, the second season finale, Louis took all of those elements and transported them to a USO base in Afghanistan and focused on Louis, secretly, trying to keep alive his daughter’s duckling, packed in his suitcase for luck. It’s a radical departure even for a show that isn’t afraid to make major changes from show to show. It feels somewhat like a grand adventure for a series that thrives on telling small, contained short stories.

Jesse Peretz for the ‘Girls’ episode It’s Hard Being Easy’

‘Girls’ is often an awkward show, by design, but the tone in this episode where Hannah, confronting her boss for sexually harassing her decides to make a move on him is so wonderfully awkward and stilted that I would give a lot of credit to the direction of the scene in question.

Lena Dunham for the ‘Girls’ episode ‘She Did’

That being said, the main voice of all things ‘Girls’ is Lena Dunham and she manages, in this episode to nail what was a very very good scene and one that feels near impossible to pull off. All stories I’ve heard about the making of this episode suggest that the end scene, a fight between Hannah and Marnie, which had been building all season in the background, was filmed in many single takes, taking the two friends all around the set of their apartment, hurling invectives and occasionally toothbrushes at one another. Between being one of the principals of the scene and directing it Lena had a heavy task and it paid off with one of the most rewarding scenes of the season and one that felt like nothing else on televison.

Lynn Sheldon for the New Girl episode ‘Injured’

New Girl – Injured

I would point to ‘Injured’ as turning point for ‘New Girl’ where it truly hit it’s stride. And it’s to it’s credit and to Lynn’s credit that this episode both feels fully entrenched in the universe of the show and yet feels entirely different than any other episode this season, both tonally and in the way the show stretches itself to address a premise that isn’t inherently in the wheelhouse of the pallet of the show. When Nick fears he may have a cancerous growth, his friends rally around him and attempt to both comfort him and get him past his desires to leave it be. The beautiful closing shot, set to Beach House’s  song ‘Take Care’, as well as a beautiful scene on a beach late at night establishes whole different tones and looks than anything else the show has done this season and suggest a show more flexible than previously imagined. I put a lot of the credit for that in the direction.

Michael Schur for the Parks and Recreation episode ‘Win, Lose or Draw’

Win, Lose or Draw (Director’s Cut)

For it’s entire fifth season ‘Parks and Recreation’ was building to this election day episode, where we’d learn if Leslie Knope has won the seat on the City Council that she’d been aiming for since the close of the last season. Parks is unafraid to get sentimental but rarely does it raise it’s stakes as high as they were for this episode. And to properly pull off this episode was to nail the emotional moments that occur as our characters learn the results and for all that went into the acting and writing of this episode, I think it set a different and fascinating tone and feel that I would chalk up to showrunner Michael Schur’s direction.

And finally…

Michael Engler for the 30 Rock episode ‘Hey Baby, What’s Wrong?’

Hey Baby

30 Rock, as much as it succumbs to the occasional gimmick episode (the Queen of Jordan episodes or the Live episodes) is a show that week in and week out generally has very set tone and I think this episode, a special hour long Valentine’s Day episode, managed to subvert that tone in a way that I thought was very effective. There is a cynical element to this episode that feels earned and sharp and the visual tone seems muted by the standards of the series. There were people who didn’t much like this episode but I thought it stood out as a show which is likely a few years past it’s prime doing something different and daring and pulling it off and to do that and to subvert the feel of the show like that is a credit to the director.

And then we come to a slightly easier to argue category – Best Writing for a Comedy Series

David Caspe, Matthew Libman & Daniel Libman for the Happy Endings episode ‘Cocktails and Dreams’

Clip of ‘Dave’s Speakeasy Truck’

Clips of ‘Sex Dreams’

In the best episode, arguably, of Happy Ending’s excellent second season, we’re treated to a main story revolving around Dave’s food truck gaining a level of popularity and the B-list friends that he makes as a result (including guest Colin Hanks) but the real magic is in a series of sex dreams that the cast has about Dave, as well as Penny and Alex have troubles with ‘cleansing’, including a beautiful scene set around Penny trying to hide from Alex. As perfect an episode as the series has managed, very possibly.

Carter Bays & Craig Thomas for the How I Met Your Mother episode ‘The Ducky Tie’

Bringing back a beloved but not much seen guest star is a tricky proposition, as is doing a done in one episode to write that character out of the show’s universe (at least seemingly) but series creators Bays and Thomas did a bang up job bringing back Season One love interest Victoria and teasing a possibility of a romance between her and Ted (in spite of her soon to be engagement) – it brought back all the romantic tension between the two well paired characters and paid off in a heart-wrenching climax that managed to make sense and be painful all the same.

At the same time it also ran a completely off tone and fun B-plot that gives the episode it’s name, wherein Barney is coerced into continuing to wear an embarrassing tie by the rest of the gang which managed to keep the show grounded in it’s usual tone and provide needed comic relief to a story that could have gotten a bit heavy for the tone of the show. Easily among the better episodes of the season, arguably among the better episodes of the series, especially of the last few years.

Louis C.K. for the Louie episode ‘Pregnant’

There are few episodes in the second season of ‘Louie’ that weren’t written at a level worthy of this category and this was surely not one of them and as the single episode that Louis chose to submit it’s a reasonable choice. When Louie’s sister arrives at his door, pregnant and seems to go into labor Louie has to figure out how to get her the help she needs. It’s a strangely effective mediation on the kindness of strangers among other things and it plays, as so many Louie episodes do, as a complete, harsh and effective story.

Elizabeth Meriwether & Luvh Rakhe for the New Girl episode ‘Jess & Julia’

Jess & Julia

Another episode that turned a corner for the series, ‘Jess & Julia’ co-staring guest actress Lizzy Caplan (the titular Julia), managed to make a strong argument for Zooey Deschanell’s lead character Jess as an actual human being worthy of something other than being mocked and laughed at. I thought the early episodes of the show often had Jess coming off as a bit too quirky and unlikeable (not to mention a little too roundly disliked by her castmates) and this episode contrasted her to a character who was very willing to point out her deficiencies and allowed Jess to hit back on a lot of those points, in a way that made the character stronger and more charming.

In addition, this was one of the funnier and more charming episodes of the series to this point – both the lead plot with Jess, Julia and Nick is well played and the B-plot with Winston trying to woo back a past lover is funny and well done as well.

Joe Port & Joe Wiseman (story credit) and J. J. Philbin (writing and story credit) for the New Girl episode ‘Injured’

As mentioned before, I thought this was the ultimate turning point for the series from a good to a great show. And it manages a whole new tone for the series without giving up the humor that is needed for the show to work. Having already explored this episode earlier in the post, I’ll just add that the overall theme of ‘letting go of what scares you’ is handled with aplomb and this is easily among the best comedy half hours of the season.

And finally…

With competition for Lena Dunham’s Girls ‘Pilot’ (which, in retrospect, while a fine pilot, was not the strongest episode of the season), Parks & Recreation’s ‘Trial of Leslie Knope’ and the strongest Veep episode of it’s freshman season ‘Catherine’, the final spot goes to:

Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan for the 30 Rock episode The Tuxedo Begins

The Tuxedo Begins

A broad ‘The Dark Knight’ parody with Jack as the titular hero and Liz as a slowly evolving Joker-esque character mixed with an odd bit of commentary on Occupy Wall Street blended with a subplot about Jenna and Paul’s subverse fetishistic joy in acting like ‘normal people’, I thought this was probably the funniest, sharpest and weirdest episode of 30 Rock this season (and one of the weirdest of it’s entire run) . It felt not exactly like a return to form, because this isn’t really something the series has done regularly, but like a fun shot outside of their comfort zones that managed to work rather well. And I also think that these premises maybe ought to not work, yet do, is another argument for the overall success of this episode, which seems like it easily could have been a disaster.

Next time – I’m going to address Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Guest Actor and Best Guest Actress, possibly with a little assistance (I’d like to think I’ve seen everything worth seeing but I have pretty large gaps in my knowledge of several of the ‘Best Actress’ nominees, it turns out)


Are NaMoWriMo & Script Frenzy Worth the Trouble?

15 Mar

Consistently I question the concept of the two yearly month long challenges that the non-profit ‘Light and Letters’ promotes, National Novel Writing Month (or NaMoWriMo) in November and Script Frenzy coming up in April. And yet the last two years I’ve participated in NaMoWriMo with a lot of enthusiasm. And for two years running I haven’t been sure of the results especially.
To fill you in on what I’m speaking of, for those not in the loop, NaMoWriMo is a challenge to write the first draft of a novel to the tune of at least 50,000 words in a single month. It was created nearly a decade ago and has in the last 3-4 years blossomed into a fairly well known and well talked about internet entity. It’s biggest success story is probably the novel ‘Water for Elephants’ which started as a project for it. It’s open to all to participate and as it’s become a larger deal it’s been able to offer, for verified success in the 50,000 word goal several small thank you gifts, the best promoted of which is the production of a single bound copy of your manuscript.

Script Frenzy is a sister concept, which deals with the writing of, well, a script, be it a screenplay, a teleplay, radio drama or stage play. It encourages people to write 100 pages of material in the month of April and is more targeted at being a contest and a ground wherein people may be judged for their talents, whereas NaMoWriMo is more interested in just getting you on the ground running.

Having participated twice in NaMoWriMo I’m mixed in my thoughts. On one hand, it definitely did make me write more than I ever had previously. On the other hand it made me write at such an accelerated pace and with so little interest in revision (in fact, revision is frowned upon) that I ended up with pieces that I didn’t much like, not to mention in the first instance, wherein I completed the assignment, I was feeling entirely like it was an imposition to continue writing what I was writing.

The problem, perhaps, was that I started with little to nothing, a small hook to hang my story on, and tried to take it and turn it into a novel, even past the point where I decided, early on, I neither liked the story much, outside of base concept or felt much momentum to continue with it.

My first NaMoWriMo had a plot borrowed from what was a small indie blog story at the time, the onstage break-up of the marginally popular indie band Women. They had a large onstage blowup and stories that resulted from that seemed to hint that there were perhaps complicated relationships with all involved. Between that and the general Fleetwood Mac type well documented strife in many bands I thought the idea of having a story where a band breaks up on stage and then we flashback to find out what happened was interesting. And on the surface I still think that’s a solid concept.

The problem, however, was that I hadn’t had the time to think it through. I tried to graft to that story, also the story of someone become an internet sensation through their lo-fi internet electronic project and having to put a band together. This too, was an interesting hook, I thought. And again, I still do. But I had little to no real idea what or how the dynamics of either concept really want and as much as I had an imagined idea of it it never really panned out to anything I was entirely comfortable with.

In the end I mostly tried, in vain, to try and take personal anticdotes and put them on the characters I was creating. I decided, in retrospect, that the problem was that I needed to try and do something more personal, that was deririved from my real life, perhaps.

So, after succeeding, in theory, with the 50,000 words and being unhappy with it, the next year I took a different approach. Given it needed to be a novel and given the weird nature of much of the fiction I was reading at the time, much of it non-linear and expirimental and some of it rather meta, I tried to write a once removed variation on a memoir.

Conceptually the project was going to be me, being interviewed by no one in particular and using that to talk about various experiences I have had. And then, to complicate things, the same interviewer would ask the other particpants in those experiences to tell their side of the story. I thought this was interesting meta concept. And I still do. But I got about 25,000 or 30,000 words in before I just threw in the towel, running out of steam of wishing to exhastively talk about myself and find cute ways to get around telling the facts as straight as if I was writing an actual memoir (and using the idea of the absurdity of self-involvement of writing a memoir for comedic effect at times)

The thing is, at the outset of both projects I had an entirely different story in mind that I had been thinking about for several months before the initial NaMoWriMo attempt and now several years has been rattling around my brain. I’ve pitched this idea to people to varying responses and honestly I like it a lot. But it doesn’t feel like novel to me – it feels like a screenplay.

Oddly, in addition to that feeling, is the fact that I believe I’m a more convincing writing of scripted fiction than any fashion of prose. So, one would believe that I would then be a great fit for Script Frenzy but honestly? I’m not entirely sure that’s true.

Something is keeping me from writing this screenplay and it might be the same thing that hurt the previous attempts at ‘novels’ – I’m not sure I really have what it takes to hit it out of the park. It’s an odd thing, because people will tell you that you should try and that failure is part of the creative process and in theory, I agree. In fact, in reality, I believe that to be the case – but failure isn’t something I’m comfortable with, especially when it comes to things I really believe have merit.

I think, my reasoning, basically, for not writing this script, is that if I write a script, with the plot that I have been massaging in my head for a few years off and on, and it sucks, that that means that it’s dead and those years have thought have been a waste of time. It’s amazing though, how much time I’ve wasted avoiding wasting my time, however.

All of this is to say that I think I tried to use not terribly interesting and well thought out concepts for my previous attempts at making art because I thought that it was low stakes – if the concept didn’t work, well, I just should have tried something that had a little more oompf and really it was just a learning experience. And in the end – it is just a learning experience, in none of these scenarios do I expect to take a story, write it in whatever way in a month and then end up with a fully formed complete idea. But at the same time the fact that it ends up with such a mess and that so much time is put into making the mess then makes it very easy to disown those messes and discourage me from doing something more well thought out and potentially even more time consuming.

I also believe that part of why these contests are appealing is that they force you into a peer encouraged situation wherein you know what you need to do and you know you must write a certain amount every day, every week to make it to the total for the month and for the project. And something about that idea is very motivating in way that self-motivation does not tend to be. Encouragement is something that I have a very small well of naturally and that I need more of and am incredibly poorly equipted to manufacture, it would seem. I’m consistently seeking a creative concept that will attract a groundswell of support that will push me to create something that people will enjoy, which will push me to create more for those people who enjoyed the previous thing and so on.

That said – these competitions seem like the easiest way to manufacture something in the mold of what I’m looking for – you can find, in nearly every internet community, every message board especially, a community of people doing these contests, especially NaMoWriMo. And the push to complete your project can be cheered on by these people – to a point. There is very little individual attention, it’s somewhat a series of small socialistic societies, where everyone is encouraged to do their best and achieve their goal but where no one is celebrated above others.

Perhaps that’s my flaw, perhaps I have a need to be celebrated above others, to be told I am doing something above and beyond, something special that I must continue for the sake of the others enjoyment. It’s an odd idea, because it runs rather contrary to my overall worldview – not to say that I wish to be but a cog in the machine of things but I also do believe in everyone’s individual merits and don’t especially wish myself great fame and fortune. But perhaps that’s a lie. In fact, there’s a case it most certainly is.

Most of my goals and especially the creative goals, require a certain level of skill, if not fame and the best possible result from those endevors is, if not worldwide celebrity, a small scale niche celebration of the ideas and creative energy of the projects and their creator.

I think, on some level, the ideal level of success I could achieve is being a contributing part of something great and perhaps it would involve me being the previously mentioned cog in the machine but being the cog in the machine of something great, that I really believed in.

I don’t know that I ever want to be a great novelist or a celebrated famous writer, to the extent that such things exist outside of a niche these days outside of the crassly commerical likes of Stephanie Meyers or James Patterson, but rather I wish to just become a good writer who is appriciated and involved in things that many people enjoy.

Perhaps this wish is what makes me ill suited for either National Novel Writing Month or Script Frenzy. Their base appeal seems to be that they will help you break through and encourage you to become something great. And maybe that screenplay I’ve thought of is interesting but I’m not sure I want to be the guy who got wrote a pretty good screenplay that got made into a small independant production that faded into the background of the media landscape, there is a lot to be said, in my current feelings of things, about getting in on the ground floor of something grand and interesting and just being an active part, playing my role and being appriciated.

In the end, from what I can tell, the idea is unappealing both from a personal lack of hubris and also, somewhat disassociatively a lack of feeling like I’d be working on something that truly matters.

In spite of all of this, it should be noted, that as April keeps getting nearer, I keep thinking that maybe, just maybe, I’ll write that screenplay. But my better judgment makes me think I’m better off just getting down the basic gist of some television sitcom ideas I have marinating in my head so that they might be presented to some other creative funny types I know and that I might be able to spark a collaboration with. Whatever I do, if I have learned anything, it can be certain I will remarkably overthink it. But as time goes by I get more and more comfortable with my own overthinking.

So, that’s something, right? I’ll think about it and get back to you…