Monday, May 4, 2009

Discussing May/June With Andrew Shearer

Greetings, avid Script readers, and welcome to the first edition of the issue discussion blog. I look forward to many insightful, productive conversations as well as the spirited and conveniently anonymous disagreements that naturally follow.

As screenwriters trying to make it in Hollywood, we already know reality bites. Only about five percent of all professional specs that go out sell these days. Audiences are watching movies on smaller and smaller screens with shorter and shorter attention spans. And the traffic out here makes our struggling lives all the more hellish. However, Phil Gladwin’s article Reality Bites: Writers Get Clever inspired me to look at how reality sucks in a newer, more positive light.

Let me be clear that I’m someone who downright loathes reality TV and arrogantly prides myself on having never seen an episode of Survivor or American Idol or the next one of whatever. But while reading Gladwin’s retelling of Jade Goody's story, I actually got caught up in it as a dramatic, true-to-life concept. I enjoyed it on the page before it was ruined by the exploitative presentation reality TV often lends itself to. And that got me very excited. It got me thinking about how we as writers often complain about what’s wrong with current trends and simply stick to what we’re comfortable with. But as Gladwin’s article points out, with the decline of reality TV and the rise of new media, we’re arriving at the next step in our yet-to-be-written history as writers: What will our stamp be on the direction of new media content?

Personally, I’m not that interested in watching a podcast or anything really on a screen the size of a Gameboy. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy writing the content if it’s a good story! It’s pretty exciting too because even writers can do it yourself -- inexpensively. Short films, the kind that go to festivals, cost money (my credit card bill reminds me of that monthly). And they usually require a lot of production. But the kind of new media content intended for the Internet needs only a unique script, a cheap camera, and a couple people willing to get in front of it. Okay, maybe a little more than that. But go watch the shorts on, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s online shorts site, specifically “The Landlord.” Ninety percent of the pie is creativity -- some of their best videos are the cheapest.

Also, take the example in Robert Gustafson’s and Alec McNayr’s article Anytime Creativity Strikes. The idea of a talk show in less than five minutes is immediately interesting simply because it’s never been done. Now obviously, as the article points out, those guys already had access to celebrities which draws audience. The same goes for Funny or Die.

That brings me to my question. What are you watching? Webisodes, podcasts? Are you writing any content for new media? Where do you think is the direction of new media content?


A redneck from Small Town, North Carolina (population 8,000, high school drop-out rate 40%), one day decided to tackle the film industry. Andrew’s film-school short, Son Up, based off his experience teaching at a juvenile hall, ended up winning seven festival awards and made the regionals for the Student Academy Awards. Andrew’s feature script version of Son Up, co-written with Nick Sherman, went on to win first prize at Cinequest. Then one day, the screenwriting gods shined their rarely shown light down from the Heavens and awarded the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship to Andrew and Nick for their feature script, Holy Irresistible. The duo is now repped by Endeavor and Brillstein Entertainment. They have two projects in development and are lucky enough to be co-writing a spec with another writer they’ve admired for years.


  1. I think just like everything else, well-known writers and studios are going to control all of the material.

  2. I always call out my "industry" friends who watch reaility TV. "It's hurting our careers." But I've secretly been watching AMERICAN IDOL this year - and I'm ashamed to say I've been sucked in.

  3. Excellent point. I think the mediums are changing and screenwriters need to adapt to that. It shouldn't be seen as a degradation of our craft. It should be seen as a new possibility.

    Some stories work better as shorts than features.

  4. Another Nicholl winner here with my two cents: I've written for most media - including short short stories, one of which was 64 words long, and still makes me proud. That said, the limitation of new media today is not the size of the screen, it's the time limit. The depth of idea that can be presented in a novel, a full length play or a feature screenplay is lost when confronted by the nature of web content today. Sure, anyone can grab a camera and put something on you-tube; and if you're hysterically crying about Britney, or have footage of a monkey falling off a branch, you might reach millions with it. If you have something to say about the human condition; if you have a serious desire to enlighten as well as entertain - and there are plenty of commercially successful films that achieve both ends - the limitation of net-videos is that you only have thirty seconds before someone's clicking onto the next one. Would your favorite movie - the one that inspired you to change your life - make it under those conditions?

  5. I agree with Arthur, but I also think it's nice to have a revival of the short film form...a unique form that is at it's best when it captures a specific moment in life like a haiku, and is at its worst when it tries to be a mini-feature. Often shorts, especially the really short ones are nothing more than the punch-line to a joke, but some, like Martin McDonagh's Academy Award Winning Six Shooter do end up saying something unique about the human condition...even though it took 30 minutes to do it. I also liked Whedon's Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog.

  6. It's about art, man. Short or long. If it's got it, it's got it. If it don't, it don't. We decide how and where we perceive art. It doesn't have to be in a feature length film. I've heard music and seen images that last no longer than 10 seconds that have utterly inspired me. And boy have I wasted many a nights watching two hour crap films.

    My humble two cents

  7. I totally understand the idea that you should do whatever you can to get ahead, and not be too picky; however, I would argue that, focusing on the screenwriting craft, in order to hone your skills, could be just as valuable a use of your time if that's where you really want to end up.


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