I’ve written over 2,000 post on this blog and less than 100 of them have been on TV writing. But that’s changing this year. And maybe Tv writing is the wrong term now that Netflix, Amazon, You Tube and others are creating content.

There are reports showing teenagers spending most of their screen time with smartphones, laptops and tablets —and less than 25% watching content on a traditional television set. I’ve met college students and twentysomethings who by chose don’t go to movies much or even own a television.

It’s like first we had silent movies, then sync sound movies, then television was added to the landscape, then cable, and now we have digital streaming and downloading. Storytelling isn’t going away, but how we tell stories is morphing into something new. And we may not even be able to define it (or name it) until the next iteration comes our way.

But I would to gleam as much as I can from what has traditionally been called television writing. And I hope to start that Monday with an in-depth look at the differences between movies and TV.

Until then I’ve found 16 posts that I’ve written in the past centered around television (as varied as Breaking Bad and The Beverly Hillbillies):

Is Tv the Best Place to Tell Your Story? “[Television is] the natural progression for any indie filmmaker.”— Edward Burns (Public Morals)

TV vs. Feature Films I’ve experienced more heartbreak in the movie business than in the TV business.”—Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad)

How to Create a TV Cult Classic “Would you like to know how to create, write, and produce a comedy cult classic television series? It’s as easy as falling off a log—into a sea of quicksand filled with alligators, piranhas, rattlesnakes…” Writer/Producer Sherwood Schwartz (creator of Gilligan’s Island)

‘Mad Men’ Diet & Workout “I’ve learned that tenacity is a common part of the personalities of successful writers whom I have met.” (Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner)

Netflix + Emmy Nominations = New Order

Filmmaking Quote #36 (Being Platformagnostic)

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

Breaking Bad’s Beginning

Garry Marshall Month (Day 1) 

The Beverly Hills—Ozarks Connection ‘Imagine someone from that Civil War era sitting here in this car with us, going 60 miles an hour down a modern highway…I think that’s where the idea [for The Beverly Hillbillies] came from because in my experience as a Boy Scout in the Ozarks I found there were pockets of historical places where people resisted modernization.”—Paul Henning

Lena Dunham, Sundance & Iowa

Writing Quote #47 (Rod Serling)

Finishing Friday Night Lights

From Wyoming to Sunset Blvd.

The Odd Couple vs. The Odd Couple

Creating I Dream of Jeannie

Scott W. Smith

“During the ’60s and ’70s the mainstream included independent films within its own structure…What happened is in 1979, maybe ’80, I could see something happening where cable was coming up, and video on demand was coming up.  At the same time Hollywood as an industry was beginning to move away from the more independent films and focusing on where the money, which was young people. Which meant you were going to have things like—not so much on story, but explosions and special effects. What I got concerned about is some of the films I like best were the more diverse storytelling. So I thought, well, what could I do? That lead to the idea of a lab. And I got the NEA to give me a grant to start it all. The only thing I could contribute outside of my own time was the property I had here in Utah in the mountains. And so I thought, well, I can give that. But the marketplace was pretty well locked off by the mainstream industry, so there was no place to go. So I thought how can we follow this out and do something more? Maybe we create a festival. And at least create a festival where the filmmakers could come and see each other’s work. I would say in the first year, 1985, we brought maybe 30 films, maybe 10 documentaries. What I loved about this was it was so independent, because that’s a word that’s always meant a lot to me. I think there’s value in that word. Because out of that word comes diversity. And I felt that the most important thing that the festival should have was demonstrating the diversity of film as possible. The first years there was just a few films, nows there’s 12,000 submissions. You worry you get so big that you lose the heart and soul of what you were about in the first place.”
Oscar-winning director/actor Robert Redford 
Yahoo! News interview with Katie Couric 

Two things stand out from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival; first that looking at the list of award winners you see a lot of diversity, and that “Netflix and Amazon dominated this year’s Sundance” according to a Vulture article by Kevin Lincoln. So while there may be a limited release of some of those films it appears downloading and steaming video on demand is a growing market for Independent filmmakers.=

Side technical note: When you’re shooting an interview (like the one with Redford) make sure the talent doesn’t hold a plastic water bottle because they have a tendency to squeeze it a little throughout the interview making that crinkly noise sound when plastic crumples.

Scott W. Smith

Honing Your Craft


“When it comes to screenwriting, it’s the writing. You don’t hear people who want to play professional tennis ask to be introduced to the head of Wimbledon. No, they’re out there hitting a thousand forehands and a thousand backhands. But for some reason, in the case of screenwriting, people don’t think that way.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight)


Today starts a year of touching more on television writing than I’ve ever done since starting this blog in 2008. And while I’ll soon be looking at the differences of writing movies verses writing TV programs this is one area where they share something—a work ethic. (This post is also a nice companion to Screenwriting & a 10 Foot Concrete Wall and ‘Keep Sawing,’)

“I’m sorry if this hurts your feelings, but your first couple of scripts are probably garbage. Whether or not his calculations are accurate, you’re working on your Gladwellian 10,000 hours. You are going to write a bunch of terrible things that no one cares about before The One that gets you an agent, and that One will get you a paid job. The good news is, whenever you have that perfect sample, your agents will send it out to people and claim it’s the first thing you ever wrote, and you will be lauded as a genius. The others will be wiped from your hard drive and memories. I bet you’ve heard lots of stories about people who wrote one pilot over a weekend and then were magically discovered and immediately writing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine — untrue. Writing two half-hour scripts and then waiting for TV stardom is like taking a couple of showers and then signing up for the 200 yard Butterfly in the Olympic Trials. You can get there, but give yourself the space and time to hone your craft.”
Priyanka Mattoo
How Does an Aspiring TV Writer Get Discovered by an Agent?

I should add that when Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hour rule in Outliers (based on the study of FSU professor Anders Ericsson) he was talking about it taking 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert in a certain field. So how does that explain writers Diablo Cody (Juno) and Lena Dunham (Girls)? Both who found success in their mid-twenties?

Perhaps because in terms of dramatic writing the clock on 10,000 hours is running as soon as a child starts watching TV shows and movies—and reading books—along with various forms of writing. At least in Cody’s case she said in interviews that she’ been writing (poems, short stories, etc.) everyday since she was 12-years-old.

So even though Cody’s first screenplay won an Oscar she’d been working at her writing for 15 years—including a four year degree in Media Studies at the University of Iowa. So don’t get too caught up in the whole 10,000 hour thing, the chances are good you have a better foundation than you think.

At the same time, you can’t ignore the time honored tradition of just cranking out pages.

“Heavens, how I wrote! Never was there a creative fever such as mine from which the patient escaped fatal results. The way I worked was enough to soften my brain and send me to a mad-house. I wrote, I wrote everything–ponderous essays, scientific and sociological short stories, humorous verse, verse of all sorts from triolets and sonnets to blank verse tragedy and elephantine epics in Spenserian stanzas. On occasion I composed steadily, day after day, for fifteen hours a day. At times I forgot to eat, or refused to tear myself away from my passionate outpouring in order to eat. And then there was the matter of typewriting. My brother-in-law owned a machine which he used in the day-time. In the night I was free to use it.”
Novelist Jack London (The Call of the Wild)
Chapter 23 of autobiographical novel John Barleycorn

Come on, Jack London started out typing stories at night on a borrowed typewriter. And he was a working class guy without a college degree. So while you’re honing your craft—no excuses.

Related posts:
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic
10,000 Hours vs. 20 Hours “If you invest as little as twenty hours in learning the basics of the skill, you’ll be surprised at how good you can become.” Josh Kaufman
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

‘Keep Sawing’

Starting tomorrow I’ll start a string of posts on Film vs. TV writing, but today I wanted to reflect on Super Bowl 50 and see if I could find any takeaway for dramatic writers.

Payton Manning won his second Super Bowl game as quarterback and it had to be pretty sweet knowing that earlier this year he had been booed by Denver fans, and after an injury one sports analyst said he didn’t except to see Manning in a Bronco uniform ever again, and when he did come back from an injury he wasn’t the starter.

But things change and there he was starting in Super Bowl 50 with over 100 million people watching. Now his two wins as a Super Bowl-winning QB equal his brother Eli Manning’s two wins as a Super Bowl QB.

It made me think about what Payton and Eli’s dad Archie (also at one time an NFL quarterback) told his boys when they hit rough spot in their careers.

“In my first year, I always looked for positive things and kept working, … The good news is the score is always zero-zero when you kick off the next week. I’ve told Eli to ‘keep sawing wood.'” 
Archie Manning 

That’s good advice for anyone—in writing and in life. It’s a good bookend to last week’s quote in Screenwriting & 10 Feet of Concrete. It’s also in the same family as Robert Redford’s quote about “returning to zero.”

P.S. Here’s a mini-doc by Philip Bloom about an artist who works with wood. (Only afterward did I realize that this post is also echoed in the recent post I’m a craftsman…—Lubezki.

P.P.S. And did you know that all the footballs made for Super Bowl 50 were made at the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, Ohio? (And the cows that the hides are made from come from Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa.)


Scott W. Smith


The ESPN Films new doc The 85 Bears premiered a few days ago celebrating the Chicago Bears football team who won Super Bowl XX after the 1985 season. And since this is Super Bowl 50 Sunday, I thought I’d post a photo I took in the mid-’80s of the quarterback of ’85 Bears, Jim McMahon with John Madden (former player, Super Bowl-winning coach, and perhaps now best known as the name behind EA Sports video game Madden NFL).

The two were gathered with many other professional football players for a celebrity golf tournament in San Luis Obispo, California. I was working back then as a photographer for Yary Photo which was co-owned by Wayne Yary and his brother Ron Yary—who was a Pro Football Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman with the Minnesota Vikings. (Ron also played in four Super Bowls.)

It made me think of some other shoots I did with some football greats and they include a video shoot in Dallas with Deion Sanders, a 16mm film shoot in Calabasas, California with Eric Dickerson, and Reggie White in Tampa, Florida. All Pro Football Hall of Fame members. And back when I was a 19-year-old small town journalist, I interviewed Doug Williams who went on to become the Super Bowl XXII MVP.

Good Memories. Looking forward to the Super Bowl 50 game today.

Related post:
Screenwriting & the Super Bowl

Scott W. Smith



I had a slightly abridged version of this quote in an earlier post this week, but thought it needed to stand on its own:

“I’ve always felt that if you put me in front of 10 feet of concrete and said, ‘walk through it’—I’d get through it. I believe it, I really do. It’s just a question of pushing yourself hard enough through rock. I’ve never felt like anything could stop me if I really tried.”
Screenwriter Craig Mazin (Identity Thief)
The Moment with Brian Koppelman

Listen to the entire Koppelman podcast to hear about Mazin’s ups and downs thoughout his career and how he landed a gig co-screenwriting of The Huntsman Winter’s War starring Charlize Throne and Chris Hemsworth.

P.S. Working through a 10 foot concrete wall is also great imagery for a chunk of classic protagonists including Indiana Jones, George Bailey, Ellen Ripley, Jason Bourne, Rocky, Erin Brockovich, Atticus Finch, Norma Rae, John McClane, Virgil Tibbs and, of course, Andy Dufrese:

Related posts:
Emma Thompson on Rejection & Persistence
Perseverance & Persistence
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’
Perseverance (Werner Herzog)
Screenwriting Quote #141 (Melissa Rosenberg) “Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot…”
‘Mad Men’ Diet & Workout “I’ve learned that tenacity is a common part of the personalities of successful writers whom I have met.” (Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner)
Keep the Candle Burning

Scott W. Smith

“I’m a craftsman. I don’t know if you’ve seen Jiro, the movie about the sushi chef… There’s a little bit of that feeling of, ‘Finally I’m starting to understand certain things.’ I’m starting to understand how to use certain tools. And there’s tons of things that I need to learn and that I need to practice and that I need to experiment with. I think in that sense the Oscars don’t really mean much. It’s more that I’m trying to improve my craft.”
Two-time Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Bridman)
Deadline article by Matthew Grobar (12/23/2015)
Lubezki is also up for an Oscar this year for shooting The Revenant

Scott W. Smith



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