Writing Board and Script Breakdowns for TV Specs

Fingers crossed with NBC Writers on the Verge. Juggling work, motherhood and working towards the dream (TV writing) is not easy but no one said it was. I could have submitted earlier, I know, but given the notes I received from my Nick script review, I knew that I couldn’t submit anything less than the strongest script I could given what I knew about it. I had less than a week to do it.  I just made the deadline and even now I’m not certain since it’s entirely an online app.  I’m waiting to hear back on whether I really did or not after my pleas I sent to them.

Lesson learned of the day: Break Down Scripts.  Break down individual sample scripts from the show you are spec’ing (on the left, done in Excel). Three samples are recommended, I do four if I can get them.  There’s always one odd episode that just doesn’t follow the pattern.  How long are the opens, acts, and tags? How many scenes on average does each contain? How many flashbacks or talking heads? How many scenes and pages are devoted for each plot line? Great book to get the step-by-step: “The TV Writers Workbook” by Ellen Sandler. She also has a consulting service and scripts available for download on her site, http://www.sandlerink.com.

Then, make a general notes. Answer each of the above questions (and more as per the Workbook) on average, i.e. on average, how many scenes and pages does each act, open, and tage have?  This was indispensable for me as I revised this week. I should have done this much, much earlier — like on my first revision.  I was so concentrated on notes and flow and all the rest (equally important) that it was only today, after my last revisions, did I realize my first act was way too long compared to the show’s pattern. It was an easy fix but changed the structure of my whole script essentially.

Second lesson: Use the Board! Karen from Nick also emphasized this and although I had boards before, I really paid attention this time. I could because I had my general breakdown with me and my revisions so I knew what to look for. The index cards force you to adhere to the structure as per the analysis you’ve done (see above) and to understand flow. As I wrote out my index cards, I not only cut to the meat of the scene and made sure the scene did what it was supposed to but I could really see the structure in black-and-white (or yellow, pink, green, and purple as it were).  I took out dialogue and scenes and really fine-tuned it. It made for a tighter script with each scene really moving forward the plot and keeping bare dialogue. Since it’s a comedy, one or two funny moments that get the best feedback had to be retained.

It’s Friday. Five pm. Whatever WOV says — or not — it is what it is. I gave every fellowship my best shot. There’s still Fox in the fall. For me, Success = Opportunity + Preparation + 1/2 shot of Luck. Speaking of shots, there’s a martini waiting for me to celebrate!

As flawed as it may be, the Affordable Care Act is a huge step forward to help kids and the uninsured and it’s passed (it’s not Obamacare people; that’s what the opponents labeled it as), Adele is pregnant, I’m celebrating four years with my husband, and my daughter at 14 months astounds and delights me daily. There’s always a reason to celebrate. Cheers to the weekend!


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