Now Reading: Brian Koppleman on screenwriting, Jack Dorsey, network TV shows

‘Now Reading’ is a collection and sharing of online stories and is meant for minimal consumption by the few readers of this blog. Topics include books, food, culture, photography, media and technology … there are no rules. Have a story to add? Share it in the comments.

Brian Koppleman’s six-second screenwriting crusades

Brian Koppleman, a successful screenwriter who wrote “Rounders,” “Oceans Thirteen” and other films, is on a social writing crusade of sorts.

Koppleman doesn’t believe that all that much mystery exists in his line of work. He views it simply as a vocation, one that can be viable and fulfilling if approached through an honest process. He utterly disregards the idea that there is a “code” to writing films and that what he does is the kind of thing you can pick up from the systematic pages on an instruction manual.

Too many writers, Koppleman believes, are trying to back their way into a Hollywood hit, beginning with the desires of the movie-making machine and then bending a narrative around that spine. This process is backwards in Koppleman’s view.

Koppleman began utilizing Vine – an app that allows a user to upload six-second videos that can also be disseminated through Twitter – to record bit-size bursts of screenwriting wisdom. Like this beautiful bit on honesty.

It’s a little unclear if Koppleman is doing this for his fans or himself. He has declined the opportunity to write a book of screenwriting advice, because that would contradict the very message he is trying to convey (listen to that Vine linked above again). With no tangible gain, it feels as if Koppleman is helping himself – by releasing these frustrations and disagreements with industry trends – just as much as he’s helping anyone who may stumble by one of his Vines.

Whatever the case, I’m glad he’s doing it, as many of Koppleman’s tips on screenwriting can be applied to any kind of writing, really, such as his insistence on beginning the writing process with a “truthful” story or true intentions.

Give Rachel Syme’s story in the New Yorker a read. She did a great job with it, and Koppleman is an interesting character.

The New Yorker on Square CEO Jack Dorsey

One other New Yorker link to share today is a profile of Jack Dorsey, one of the co-founders of Twitter who was portrayed in Nick Bilton’s book excerpt to be a conniving, insecure and, at least in Twitter’s early days, incompetent business leader.

I don’t know how much of that is true or not – Dorsey denies some of the dirty pool deeds that have been ascribed to him – but that’s irrelevant here. I mention it only because D.T. Max’s story depicts Dorsey as a very competent and successful leader of Square, his new business that is striving to reimagine the way people pay for things (literally – Dorsey wants to eliminate the cash register).

There are many interesting things within the piece, and I was sort of surprised by Dorsey’s earlier failings at Twitter given that he comes off as a brilliant (which was never disputed), inspiring and disciplined leader of Square.

Ever since he was a kid in St. Louis, Dorsey’s mind has been fascinated by systems and networks, which now reveals itself in the way he views cities and the millions of people who move throughout them daily. He has an intellectual knack for tracking this movement, and it provides one form of context for how he might be the flow of information throughout a virtual world.

I loved this little saying from Dorsey: “Constraint inspires creativity.”

In a world that can seem limitless due to the type of things Dorsey creates – social tools – he sets a framework and works within that to devise his next transforming service.

Fall TV shows and new network strategies

I thought this New York Times article on the Fall TV lineup and how television networks are trying to be more creative with their strategies for launching new shows was interesting.

The most successful and tried strategy for launching a new show is relying on a lead-in from an already successful show – placing the new product directly after the one viewers have already proven to love, hoping some of that established audience sticks around and gives the new show a try.

But there are only so many known commodities in network television, which means there are only so many time slots directly behind those successful shows to slot new ones. Networks are introducing more new shows than they have those cushy slots for, meaning some have to rely on an organic audience immediately, which is sort of nuts considering how shows are evaluated immediately at their launch.

If a new show doesn’t show promise within a few episodes, it may be canceled without completing the first season. Networks cut their losses and move forward as quickly as possible. This raises two questions that I don’t necessarily have answers for but am intrigued by:

1) How does that evaluation process change the way shows are written? If you’re writing a script, can you afford to look beyond, say, the first three episodes? You know you have to grab an audience or else viewers will never see your eighth episode. So what do you do?

Do you force action/drama too early? Do you cheat characters by not allowing them the appropriate amount of time to develop? It seems like a compromised writing process, but maybe that’s just the nature of that kind of writing and that business. I’m not sure – just an observation.

2) At what point do networks quit taking risks on new shows that they can’t slot in behind an already successful show on the viewing calendar? If there’s a high probability those shows are going to be hits, are there better ways to spend the resources currently allocated for shows that are in much riskier time slots (like something going against Monday Night Football?)

Is the future of network television creating a couple sure-to-be hits per season, and then spending the rest of your money creating digital-only shows for Netflix, Hulu and other companies that serve the on-demand, tablet-viewing audience as more people prove they like those devices and consuming content that way?

I don’t know if that strategy sort of strategy would work, but it’d be an interesting experiment.

Email: Twitter: @TMitrosilis

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