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It's all about the craft

I don't mean boats or ships, or even space ships. I'm talking about the craft of writing. Sadly, a lot of folks in the US don't read books, but they're still exposed to writing, both good and bad. When you see a movie or sit down in front of the TV, chances are good you're listening to something someone wrote. With a few exceptions (e.g., un-reality shows), TVs and movies have script writers. Even if someone else lays out the plot, the writers put the characters' words on paper.

But the guy leaning back in his sofa with the remote in his hand, and the woman slipping off her shoes as she stares up at the movie screen probably don't even think about the writers. They just let themselves get immersed in the story as it's interpreted by the director and the actors. Because unlike novels, movies and TV are very much corroborative story telling. They just work better when all the collaborators know what they're doing.

I just finished watching the premiere of The Big Bang Theory. One reason I love that show is the writing. The actors are all good, but the dialog sparkles! It's nice to see a show where the writers' contribution is so strong and so obvious.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of the reverse. Take for example Stars Wars: Episode 1, The Phantom Menace. That movie started with a cast of well established characters, an already hooked audience, and a workable plot, but the writing stank! Listening to that dialog was worse than coming home from a vacation, not knowing the power was out for a week, and opening the fridge

Of course, I love writing books because then I don't have to collaborate, but I do like watching shows where people are good at collaboration.

So, what's your favorite example of a movie or TV show where the writing stands out, in a good way or a bad one?





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Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
tracy_d74
Sep. 24th, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
Glee. Damages. (When I have watched The Office, I liked it.)
karen_w_newton
Sep. 24th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)
Interesting. I love Glee but I never even heard of Damages. Do you know if The Office is truly scripted? I know some "mocumentary" style shows often give the actors guidelines but not an actual script to memorize.
tracy_d74
Sep. 24th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Oh! That is a good question about The Office. I'm not sure. Damages comes on FX. It stars Glenn Close and a host of other people. Very clever plots and dialogue. And Glenn plays the ultimate can't figure out if she's good or bad character. I LOVE characters like that. I think it only comes on in the Spring season...or at least that is what it has done in the past two years.
karen_w_newton
Sep. 24th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
Once cable entered the picture, the "new season" became a splintered thing. Not all shows start their new shows in September! It's confusing, but not entirely bad if one wants to avoid reruns..
peadarog
Sep. 24th, 2010 08:42 am (UTC)
I keep hearing good thing about The Big Bang Theory, but have yet to watch a single episode... Must fix that.
mtlawson
Sep. 24th, 2010 10:37 am (UTC)
The one really objectionable episode was the one where there's a visiting physicist, and they kind of wrote her to being a slut. They really need more well rounded female geeks, but the show is good otherwise.
peadarog
Sep. 24th, 2010 10:55 am (UTC)
I think I'll give the first series a go if I can find it cheap.
karen_w_newton
Sep. 24th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)
You really should!
jongibbs
Sep. 24th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC)
Hey! Some of us liked The Phantom Menace :P
karen_w_newton
Sep. 24th, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
OK, everything was good except the script. -)
mtlawson
Sep. 24th, 2010 10:33 am (UTC)
"Why don't we just unpause it?"

"Because I accidentally loaded a program to use a screwdriver on the space station and it will start to twist."

karen_w_newton
Sep. 24th, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
My husband and I are still chortling.
lmlawson
Sep. 24th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC)
Love The Big Bang Theory! Last night's episode was great--we couldn't bring ourselves to delete on the DVR, so we can watch it again before next week's episode.
karen_w_newton
Sep. 24th, 2010 11:57 am (UTC)
Sounds like a good idea to me! I don't dare get a DVR. I would never get any writing done!
misha_mcg
Sep. 24th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
These may seem like silly examples, but I admire the writing on The Daily Show and Colbert Report. Writing snide, witty, hilarious content seems overwhelmingly difficult to me. They are somehow able to write things so that the audience can laugh even as we all cringe at the grim realization that this stuff is TRUE and bad and real.
karen_w_newton
Sep. 24th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
I agree with your choices! The writing is wonderful. I find it interesting that they both puncture hypocrisy so well from different angles. Stewart hits it head on, and Colbert sneaks up on it by pretending a sympathetic viewpoint.
misha_mcg
Sep. 24th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
Totally. They're both amazing in their own ways.
paulwoodlin
Sep. 24th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
I've come to like "Colbert Report" more than "The Daily Show." When TDS is hot, it's roasting, but when it's not, it's pretty immature. But CR is more consistent, and it has "Tonight's Word" which is my favorite bit of comedy since Bob Newhart woke up from one TV show in bed with his wife from his previous TV show.
misha_mcg
Sep. 25th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
I think I prefer TDS. I just like Jon Stewart's blunt-ness. He asks politicians questions that no one else dares to ask them.
paulwoodlin
Sep. 25th, 2010 02:33 am (UTC)
That's when he's hot, I agree. I just don't think he's consistently on top of his game. But I suppose no one is.
karen_w_newton
Sep. 25th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
>since Bob Newhart woke up from one TV show in bed with his wife from his previous TV show.

I still remember laughing so hard I almost fell out of my chair!
paulwoodlin
Sep. 24th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
All hail Joss Whedon! Buffy, Angel, and Firefry blew my mind with the dialogue and the interconnections between seasons and episodes. I think his shows were the most unified series I've ever seen.

After my brother set me down in front of "West Wing," I had a physical sense of shock when I realized that I liked a show more than "Star Trek." (this was before I watched Whedon, too; DVDs play havoc with media time lines). Snappy, smart dialogue at its best. Seriously, I felt a weight on my chest.
karen_w_newton
Sep. 25th, 2010 02:06 am (UTC)
I find it interesting that all the examples are of shows or movies with good writing. I'm wondering if the bad ones just don't stick with you.
paulwoodlin
Sep. 25th, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
If I'm watching a TV show with bad writing, I usually turn it off before I've watched enough of the show to comment upon it intelligently. I do remember watching a pretty bad slasher flick, "Jason takes Manhatten," but my strongest memory was of my high school friends loudly heckling the movie. I was afraid we'd be kicked out, until I realized the sparse audience enjoyed my friends more than the movie and no one complained.

However, I have ocassionally run across reruns of older TV shows I enjoyed as a kid and now cannot fathom why. "Hogan's Heroes" and "The Jeffersons" just didn't hold up as well as "WKRP" or "MASH."

And when I rewatch "Star Trek," (by which I mean all five series) I've noticed I don't care much about the episodes in which the solution is purely technological, as opposed to shows in which the solution is psychological. In the former shows, the dialogue is reduced to techno-babble and the actors just phone it in.
karen_w_newton
Sep. 25th, 2010 03:03 am (UTC)
My contention on STAR TREK is that once they made the transporter able to reproduce a human being at will, like printing another copy of a Word document, no one on the show ever needed to die. Once that point was reached, most of the tension went out of the stories.

I think the original series holds up pretty well, especially when compared to its contemporaries, like Bonanza. It's most glaring weaknesses (female crew members in skirts too short to sit down in?) were mostly imposed by the network.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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