Category Archives: educational

The Write Environment (m/s, 2008)

The Write Environment is a series of interviews with several well-known writers and TV show-runners, where they share details about their respective paths, industry insights, but mostly trivia connected to their most famous works. I only found these 6, although according to wiki, there are more of them.

Because of the format, the original order of episodes does not matter at all. This is how I watched them:

Damon Lindelof

Famous for: Lost
According to Lindelof, what makes a good writer is the ability to translate ideas into stories. Storytelling and scripwriting are the same thing. Writing can be taught. First comes the story (which is also the most important thing), and then a character, one that can create the deepest conflict. Script is always written from the outline; at that, outlines for Lost were very detailed – 25-30 pages sometimes, while an episode on the average is 55-60 pages. It is extremely important to leave “outs”, and not restrict oneself to choices already made. Never say never. “You always have to start with an archetype.” He compares writing for a TV show to ever-boiling stew, with new ingredients being added from time to time, and if some of them do not improve the overall taste, they won’t be added again. New characters are necessary. Comic strips are harder to write than TV scripts. Deadlines on TV are very real. He believes writing block appear where there’s a fear of writing shitty. He fights them by forcing through. He has an impostor syndrome in a light form. His advice: do not write for somebody, always write for youself, for you know your work better than anybody.


Doug Ellin

Famous for: Entourage
Doug Elling procrastinates a lot. Story goes first, but really it’s the combination of story and character. External pressure is important: during 4 years on the show he wrote more than during 18 previous years of free-riding. 4-5 pages a day is a good pace. What makes a good writer is the unique voice. Practice is mostly important, it’s the only way to get better. It is important to figure out the story before writing an actual script. At that, he never operates from a master plan (“uber plan”); more than once he finished the story before the season was over, and had to come up with something else in addition. Entourage is a dramedy. There is no outline. Re-writes on the set are quite common. David Schwimmer is one of his best friends. Producing is easier than writing. One season of Entourage is about 400-500 pages. Some of the stories of which Entourage consists happened to Ellin himself, others were told to him by other industry players. He specializes in dialogs writing. Story is the key.


Phil Rosenthal

Famous for: Everybody Loves Raymond
First there is an idea, and then it’s a lot of thinking, which to Rosenathal equals to worrying. He procrastinates a lot, and only starts writing under the pressure of realization that it has to be done. Half a page a day is quite normal. Stories get born from incidents. The rule of 3 is “setup – setup – punchline”, and not that there should be 3 jokes on every page. Story is always #1 concern. Doing comedy as tragedy might be a good idea. “Disposable entertainment.” Warmedy (“like a large bath of warm crap”). Aspiration to be likable is the death of everyting. You want to be relatable instead. Comedy is written specifically for a particular actor. He decided to end the show out of fear to run out of fresh ideas. Food for the crew is extremely important. Basic structure is: 1) premise (“why is it interesting?”); 2) Act break (culmination, “we’re getting married!”); 3) conclusion (“was it worth it?”).


Sam Simon

Famous for: Taxi, Cheers, The Simpsons
Golden boy; was a child prodigy. Family Guy is a rip-off, although he heard Seth McFarlane is a nice guy. South Park is absolutely amazing and hilarious. He’s not really a writer as most of the story construction happens in the room full of people in a collaborative process. He can procrastinate for a long time, and then write everyting in a day or two. Treehous of Horror was his idea, and he had to stand up for it. Story is the #1 thing, and you also need to love the characters. George Carlin is wonderful. The funniest people in the world are: Jerry Belson, Norm McDonald, Glen Charles, Drew Carrey. Never sacrifice character for a joke, it’s not worth it.


Tim Kring

Famous for: Heroes
Good storytelling ability comes from being observant and having something to say. Kring is the only of these 6 who went to film school (and even then he wasn’t majoring in writing). He always writes from the outline. As it usually goes, a treatment gets more and more detailed with time, and eventually turns into a script. His pace is 6-7 pages a day, an episode is done in a week. When working in a team, it is very important to be able to mimic somebody else’s writing style. Sometimes characters come first, sometimes it’s the concept. He prefers not to have master plan for Heroes, to leave as much possibilities open as possible. Cross-pollination between the writers team and the audience is a curious thing. He has a light form of impostor syndrome. It is important not to be too attached to one’s ideas or characters. One of the best way to go for a beginning writer is to be a writer’s assistant. For the show to really happen and succeed, first an idea should come to the right mind at the right time, then the casting should be perfect, and then the audience should fall in love with the result.


Joss Whedon

Famous for: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doll House, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Whedon is 3GTV, third-generation of TV writers. He loves to have room for pacing. He writes up to 10 pages a day. He’s the ultimate geek (or, at least, was). His influences include: Monty Python, Masterpiece Theater. His father wrote for Golden Girls, The Electric Company. He always writes genre, because there are rules and structure. He loves to mix different genres, because gets bored otherwise. He doesn’t like “reset” kidn TV, and favoures serialized kind. 85 pages for an [episode] is not a lot. Movies is the “answer”, while TV is the “question”. You will be a writer only if you have an intrinsic need to write.


Generally speaking, these interviews are not so important as to how much you can learn from them about the profession, but can go a long way when it comes to encouragement of the beginning writers. Learning that successful and recognized authors suffer from the same fears as you do, that they procrastinate and stress out, but manage to overcome all of those things, can really make a difference, and this is the best thing about this series. And, of course, bits of information about industry’s behind the scenes scattered here and there, scarce as they are, help elaborate three-dimensional image of the American culture. All in all, it was pretty interesting – for me, anyway; I doubt that somebody not interested in becoming a writer would want to sit through 6 hours of basically just talking.

P.S.: I kept the files, and I’m willing to share, so if anybody’s interested, just contact me.

Names and figures

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Adam Ruins Everything (s.01 part II, 2016)

This here is about the 2nd part of the 1st season, which consisted of 14 additional episodes and saw the light of day in the course of 2016. The reason why it should be called the continuation of season 1 and not a separate season 2 (which would’ve made much more sense) is unknown to me.

The show acquired couple of new traits, but on the whole it stayed just as vigorous it has been from the start, a turning-learning-into-fun sort of thing, highly absorbing, and implemented in a absolutely fascinating manner, both from the viewpoint of ideas and that of professional quality.

New things introduced include Adam’s sister, Rhea, and her somewhat shading off effect, as well as new regular section titled Even Wonder Why?, which was used on multiple occasions to tell about a smaller subject indirectly related to the main one (or not). Other than these 2 things there were no format developments, which is normal, because the initial format was exceptionally successful from the get-go, and proved to be quite steadfast, too.

 

Themes of this season’s half can be divided into 2 almost equal parts, one of which is solely American issues, and the other concerns the world in general. Both are interesting enough, although, not by the same token; the american part seems to have grown in comparison with the season’s 1st half.

All in all, Adam Ruins Everything is the best educational project in the world right now – and that’s saying something, because in the recent years the enlightenment is on the huge rise, so the competition is fierce.

Names and figures

Cannabis: What’s the Harm? (Part I) (James Alexandrou, 2011)

Cannabis: What’s the Harm? is a 2-part documentary made for BBC. The essense is in the title – the author tries to figure out if cannabis is harmful, and if so – to what extent. I’ve only seen the first part, because the 2nd is almost impossible to come by; also, there isn’t much point in making the effort. Except for certain curious details, there is nothing here that I haven’t seen or knew before.

One peculiarity of this specific investigation is the British angle, as well as the view of a Brit on the American situation. Another – is that the author tries to present opposite views on the issue without any attempts to influence his subjects, or impose his understanding on the audience, which makes it possible to form one’s own opinion – that is, of course, if there isn’t one already formed. Because if there is, the viewer is likely to accept only certain parts as the confirmation of his standpoint while ignoring those that contradict it.

Generally speaking, if you know a thing or two about the subject, you won’t find anything new here, so ultimatelly, there is no point in watching it.

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Road to the Stars / Doroga k zvezdam (Pavel Klushantsev, 1957)

Doroga k zvezdam is a semi-educational, semi-fictional look at the process of exploration of outer space by humanity, with notes of a soviet standpoint on the matter. It was made few years before the first man actually walked out into space, which makes some of its prognoses all the more impressive.

It is roughly divided into 2 halfs, first of which is dedicated to the origins of the space development, including bits of Tsiolkovskiy’s biography and explanation of his ideas and calculations. This was pretty interesting to me, because I haven’t really reflected much on how rockets work, for example, or the conditions that make travelling into space possible, – that kind of stuff is elucidated here in a simple yet comprehensive way, and can be used as a sort of educational program, even though the science, as well as the engineering, made significant progress since then.

The second part is about the future; the authors look into what lies ahead before the humanity in the nearest decades (and these predictions seem to be outstandingly exact), and even try to reach probable further stages, but this part may be the least interesting, because these forecasts didn’t actually came true, not all of them anyway, so they basically look more like a Jules Verne’s fantasies rather than scietific prognoses.

The animation is mostly illustrative. Special effects look pretty great, especially considering when the film was made. Ideology is almost absent, and those pieces that still made their way into the narrative, are easy to ignore. All in all, it’s an extremely interesting film with great potential to inspire future outer space explorers.

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Super High Me (Michael Blieden, 2007)

There was a movie called Super Size Me, where guy conducted an experiment on himself and was eating only extensive amounts of fastfood for a certain period of time. Super High Me was inspired by this idea: a stand-up comedian named Doug Benson decided to do something similar, only with smoking pot instead of eating burgers and fries.

Under the conditions of the experiment he abstained from smoking for 30 days taking different measurments of his physical and psychological state at the same time; and then he heavily smoked for 30 days, also taking the same measurments. During all this time he was followed by a camera crew, thus this movie.

While it was pretty interesting to observe, especially considering that Benson is kind of funny guy with great speaking ability, the mass fraction of science in the film is not sufficient – not for me, anyway. There were certain points (including comparative ones) showing interesting results, but too concise and too fleeting to satisfy my thirst for knowledge; also the symmetry of the procedure leaves much to be desired – obvisouly it was sacrificed to entertaining quality of editing.

Observation of the test subject were sometimes interrupted with footage about various sides of the marijuana legalization process in the US, mainly in California. Most of them are outdated by now, but still quite interesting – from the historian’s point of view.

Generally speaking, the film is rather good notwithstanding aforementioned drawbacks, and quite fun, too.

Names and figures

Penn & Teller: Tell a Lie

Tell a Lie is somewhat educational show much like Mythbusters, but with a different angle. I didn’t like it very much: is noisy and loud; it tries to be entertaining too hard, which goes at the expense of educational component; the format is uncomfortable, as the mixture of truth and fake made me exert myself, at that, unpleasant sensations of tension surpassed pleasant ones of learning new things; and the core component of figuring out what story is fake and voting for it on the website seem ridiculous in the long run, like voting which fruit fly is dead already as opposed to those that would die tomorrow. Also, some of the “truth claims” aren’t grounded well enough, and therefore seem questionable, like, for example, quadcopters making their own decisions. All in all, I’m really glad it’s only 6 episodes.

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How Drugs Work: Cannabis (Gabriella Polletta, 2011)

This is a part of a miniseries with 3 or 4 episodes in total, the rest of which I probably won’t be watching. It’s dedicated to marijuana, obviously, and related stuff.

I almost liked the visualizations – they are pretty clear, and I haven’t seen anything better, but to tell the truth they are crude and awkward, and could’ve been so much better – it reeks low budget. Large part of the timing was occupied by the observation of the drugged people habits, which was stupid and irritating, because it’s a common place and there is nothing cognitive there at all. Later the film became really silly, especially when they started to tell balls about the Skunk, and how extremely dangerous it was – their rethoric in that part kinda resembles statements of today’s officials about Synthetic cannabinoids – at that I know some of the stuff about the latter to be true, but Skunk is just another breed grown naturally, and its demonization looks weird. Also, this is the first time I’m hearing about it, and as I find myself to be rather well-educated on the subject, I will deem this bullshit until proven otherwise.
(I also undertake the responsibility to find out more about this)

In general, this film feels not like an educational documentary, but more like a bad, unfunny parody on such. There’s probably not a good reason to watch this at all.

Names and figures

Adam Ruins Everything (s.01)

Now, this is something tasty. If anybody ever seen the show about Bullshit by Penn&Teller, here’s the version renewed and updated. Not literally, of course, but these two projects share many things, like critical thinking approach and passion against ignorance, among others.

What Adam ruins is delusions of all kinds, but mostly those that were born thanks to ‘marketing experts’. It’s kinda astonishing how many convictions that we believe to be natural or normal were actually introduced in order for some people to make money. Adam successfully unmasks many of them (and, hopefully, many more to come), and he does it in a manner so adorable, it’s almost impossible not to love him. The contents of the show is not just interesting, it’s extremely useful, even though some delusions are very difficult to die. I learned a lot of interesting stuff about which I had no idea, and the thing with the hymen really blew my mind away.

The form of the show might be even more interesting than its contents. It is a highly delicate compound of fiction, documentary insets and educational efforts flavoured with great deal of talent and mind-boggling enthusiasm. The concept is so original, it’s hard to imagine how it might even work (if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would’ve been full of scepsis), and yet, it not just works, it works amazingly well. Besides those three foundations I mentioned, the format also incorporates vivid images, wonderful camerawork and exquisite editing, as well as many interesting techniques, such as indication of references to scientific research papers right there on the screen, various kinds of animation, and, of course, humor and self-irony. Each episode includes several topics united by a common subject, and also a piece of continious and consistent story featuring Adam and his friends. Scripts are very well-balanced, and pretty intense too, – but I had no trouble of keeping up, even though English is not my native tongue.

Season’s finale must be totally mentioned separately, because it deals with a rather grim theme – death. Notwithstanding generally comical orientation of the show, the approach to this episode was different – the matter was handled with respect and caution it deserves, – and that made me love Adam even more. There should be more people like him in the world.

In short, this is a bright and brilliant show, an absolute must-see for every person on this planet.

Names and figures

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