Not that I need a break from Hot Docs yet, if ever, but there is a lot going on this weekend, and Sue and I were delighted to be invited back for our fourth time to cover the Toronto Screenwriting Conference.
The conference is always amazing, and Sue and I start with the best of intentions of covering as much of it as we can, but we always get distracted by making notes for our own writing, and then, hoping to find time to implement them.
This year is no different as the TSC has a fantastic lineup of speakers, as people travel from all over the continent to hear things that will fire the imagination, and make their own writing even stronger.
In all honesty, it’s amazing that Sue and I aren’t running a couple of television series even now. We’ve made notes, learned, and just need to make it happen.
This year gets underway with Glen Mazzara with a talk about the anti-hero on television.
He has served as exec producer on Life, Walking Dead, The Shield, and is currently the showrunner and exec for A&E’s Damien.
In the course of his talk, he traces the rise of the anti-hero from Hill Street Blues, MASH through to NYPD Blue and beyond into The Sopranos when the anti-hero truly became front and center. He goes back even further, tracing the creation of the anti-hero, the modern american myth, back to its beginning at the hands of James Fenimore Cooper, and traces it through the modern television age.
He’s funny, well-spoken, and knows his subject matter intimately, it makes for a great start to the day.
He highlights the continued impact of the anti-hero and how it’s been entrenched in television and mass media. It’s a fascinating talk, and highlighted immediately why I love this event so much.
After catching up with a number of our friends, we move into the next session which ends up being a bit of a fan boy moment as it’s off to the Intensive Writer’s Room with our friend Emily Andras who did amazing work on Lost Girl and the new series Wynonna Earp, and a cast of writers as they create and break down a spec script for fan favorite, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
They talk about the way a story breaks down, how the television writing room is a collaborative effort. The spec script, sees Buffy in the modern day, 2016, (ignoring the comic book canon, but hey, this is a spec script), and then through a confluence of events and time travel via a spell, ends up back in high school. And in this case they talked the fine line of walking the spec script, fan fiction line. Xander has died in the present day, but through the confluence of events rockets her back in time to the classic series, and she must confront her guilt over the loss of her best friend, and whether or not she can change it.
Talk of the writers’ room is involved and informative, as Emily shares moments and the dynamics and hierarchy of the room, including gems like you don’t always have to talk in the writers’room, and three times is the limit of sharing an idea. If the idea is shot down a third time, let it go, as Emily says, don’t be afraid to kill your babies.
There is also a discussion on how the format for storytelling on television has changed, it used to be a teaser and four acts, and is now, a teaser, five acts, and an occasional tag.
This one ended up being full of laughs, and a lot of fun seeing one of my favorite television writers taking on one of my favorite television shows.
After lunch, and a pair of interviews, one with Glen Mazzara and the other with our friend Emily Andras,(watch for those later this week!!) we settled into hear Jen Grisanti, who had been working with studios since 1992 and is the wiring instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, speak about Writing a TV Pilot That Sells. Is there a connection to the subject matter that makes the room as full as it is? There must be because the room is left with standing or sitting on the floor room only, Jen has a full house, and everyone was eager to hear what she had to. There is a flurry of activity as pens are swirled, and keys are tapped.
She promotes a number of tools that will have worked for her in developing and implementing writing. She talks about a Story Line Formula which breaks down to a)Trigger incident, b) dilemma, c)action and d)goal. From there she discussed how the series, pilot and episode can break down into trigger, dilemma and pursuit. Why do you want to tell this story and What is the WHY that is fueling your character toward the WHAT? What event forces your character into a dilemma? It comes down to causality for the events and the characters, as well as what the central characters want.
It ended up being a very informative session, and as always happens in these conferences, halfway through the morning, my brain starts crafting its own ideas and my own fingers begin typing out new story ideas.
After that we had a chance to chat with Jen about her work, her enthusiasm for writing and pilots, and her eagerness to help others tell their story. A number of people, not just Sue and I walk out of these sessions revitalized, making notes not just about writing but about how we are going to tell the stories.
This is a great conference one that fires the writing bug within me, and I cannot wait to see what we learn and see tomorrow.