Pulling Back the Silver Screen – A Breakdown of the Best Podcast I Just Found Out About

Well folks, sometimes you write a whole blog post about the best podcasts for aspiring comedy writers, then the universe goes along and shows you how wrong you are. Since I last wrote about the five podcasts that’ll make you a funnier, better person, I’ve found out about the coolest resource in TV writing I’ve ever come across. So as penance, here’s a breakdown of the whole damn thing!

Children of Tendu

With 13 episodes and a rootin’ tooting’ Christmas special, the Children of Tendu Podcast is literally designed to give an in-depth look into the absurdly obtuse nega-zone that is TV writing. And you couldn’t have better hosts for the journey.  

But who are they?

This ain’t some college student ranting about what he’s read in a book — Children of Tendu is hosted by two writer/producers with a combined forty years of experience in television.  Javier Grillo-Marxuach has worked on shows such as CHARMED, LOST, MEDIUM, and MIDDLEMAN (of which he was creator). Fellow host Jose Molina has an even longer resume, having written for LAW AND ORDER: SVU, DARK ANGEL, WITHOUT A TRACE, AGENT CARTER, SLEEPY HOLLOW, FIREFLY, and more. 

With such extensive resumes, it’s safe to say that these guys know their shit. Here’s what they talk about:

The Episodes

Now with links!

Episode 1: Your First Step in a Much Larger World

In the opening podcast, Jose and Javier lay the groundwork for the rest of the episodes, as well as talk to writers with absolutely zero experience about what they should be doing. 

Episode 2: Agents – Who? Why? and How?

The duo talk about the importance of agents, as well as how to get them!

Episode 3: Staffing Season

Javier and Jose demystify the crazy time of the year in which episodes are picked up and writers are hired. 

Episode 4: The Writer’s Room — How Do I Work This?

So you’ve been hired as a staff writer! Congratulations! Now welcome to the bottom of the totem pole. Here’s how you make your way up.

Episode 5: Your First Script on Staff: Surrender Your Ego

A coming-of-age tale that explores what it’s like when you’re given your first big task as a staff writer — write a damn script!

Episode 6: Showrunners Special

Featuring the creators/showrunners of CW’s ‘Reaper’ and current show runners of ‘Agent Carter.’ They talk show running, challenges of being a woman in Hollywood, and more!

Episode 7: What Do All Those Producer Credits Mean?

Breaking down the oddly-titled track that writer’s follow from staff-writer to EP, particularly talking about the division of labor and time at each step.

Episode 8: Mo Producers Mo Problems

A solid fellow up to episode 7, this podcast goes more in depth about the type of work that a writer picks up as they become more producorial (I swear that’s a word).

Episode 9: Your Showrunner and You

An explanation of the auteur that is the showrunner, covering everything from what they do to how to avoid the mistakes that rookies make when dealing with them.

Episode 10: Nerdist Writer’s Panel Crossover!

Jose, Javi, and Ben Blacker chat with two veteran writers from Star Trek: The Next Generation, covering everything from their glory days in the writer’s room to mentorship in Hollywood. 

Part two HERE

Episode 11: There’s a Lot of Good Stuff Here…But We Do Have Some Notes

Tackling the writer’s bane that is the network note, and going into detail about the relationship between writers and their studios/networks.

Episode 12: So You Wanna Write a Television Pilot

The gang explores what it’s like to write a pilot, and the zany journey from the written page to the produced piece. 

Episode 13: Our Spine Tingling Season Finale!

A real-time Q and A with fans of the podcast, be they aspiring writers, producers, executives, or more!

Episode 14: Christmas Special

Wherein Jose and Javi return one more time to delve deep into their psyches to talk about their writing processes .

But I Want More!

That’s all for now, but I’ve heard whispers that they’ll be starting a ‘Season 2’ of the podcast sometime in the near future. Only time will tell. 

So what are you still doing here? Get listening!

What do you want out of another season of Tendu?

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5 Comedy Writing Podcasts That’ll Make You A Funnier, Better Person

The Best Way to Expose Yourself

Unlike the way the homeless guy you keep running into at subway stations does it, there is in fact a good way to expose yourself in this life. Comedy podcasts – and they are legion – are a great way to fill what would otherwise be dead air in your day with humor and insight. Like with most things, if you inundate your puny little brain with enough input, some of it starts to stick, whether you like it or not.

I’ve gathered together a list of the cream of the crop, the best of the comedy ilk, in order to saturate your gray matter with a heaping helping of ha has. Download an app like Podcast Addict (Play Store) and download gigs up to your gills — some of these ‘casts have a backlog of episodes stretching into the hundreds. All the images below are links too, so don’t be afraid to dive right in!

GRANT’S TOP 5 COMEDY WRITING PODCASTS

Drumroll please…

5. Scriptnotes

hi

Click the pic to go to the official site!

Chaired by two established members of the Hollywood screenwriting, Scriptnotes is a great guide into the mind of two writers of various types of feature length screenplays. Your guides for the journey are John August (BIG FISH, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, CORPSE BRIDE) and Craig Mazin (HANGOVER 2 & 3, SCARY MOVIE 3, 4), and they guide well, doing everything from breakdowns of iconic scripts to hosting challenges for their listeners to write the strongest first 3 pages of a script possible. Not necessarily tailored towards comedy (Mazin’s more of the guru in that regard), it’s still an immensely useful resource from any budding writer, comedian or no, who wants to put their material on the screen.

4. Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank

Clicky clicky click for Ari’s site

Hosted by the no-holds-barred Ari Shaffir, the Skeptic Tank is a helluva podcast, that ranges from specifically comedic topics to the absolutely bizarre. However the comedic moments really shine, particularly, when he breaks down existing comedian stand-up specials. Here’s one he did with Joe Rogan, a breakdown of his special Shiny Happy Jihad

This episode is literally 5 HOURS LONG, and is an amazing collection of insights into the mind of a professional stand-up. Ari and Joe go through the special bit by bit, analyzing everything from the origin of the jokes through their refinement and eventual delivery. The banter in between isn’t half bad, either. And this breakdown is just one of 5 in an ongoing series that Shaffir is working on with fellow stand-ups.

Bonus: if you like stand up and Ari’s style, here’s a talk he did specifically for amateur comedians

3. Harmontown

Harmontown is now in session, bitches

Featuring ‘Mayor’ Dan Harmon and ‘Comptroller’ Jeff Davis, Harmontown is a hilarious mish-mash of onstage riffing, improvised rapping, and thoroughly calculated D&D adventures. Between Harmon’s years in joke and storytelling for TV, Davis’ improv talent, and the slew of amazing guest stars they get on, Harmontown is a podcast that always has me grinning and giggling.

There’s nothing quite like listening to a drunken Dan Harmon get even drunker as he plays his perennial D&D (and now Shadowrun) character Jim Nightblade alongside his wife and friends. For the Harmonites and Community-addicted out there, it’s only $5 a month for a membership that nets you the video and live casts as well as access to Dan’s personal blog.

Double Bonus: Dan Harmon’s now-defunct Tumblr is a great and insightful read for the insatiable fan and student of comedy (and life)

2. Nerdist Writer’s Panel

Also featuring the catchiest intro-jungle in podcastdom.

“It’s the Nerdist Writer’s Panel and it’s hosted by Ben Blacker where he takes a bunch of writers and he asks them lots of questions…” So goes the quick musical intro to each episode of the NWP, a show you’re familiar with if you read my recent breakdown of their ‘TV execs’ episode. I really can’t rave enough about this one. The episodes range from between one and two hours, usually staying on the shorter end of that spectrum, but they’re packed to the eyeballs with insider info and really enlightening stories.

As this one is geared towards writers (duh), it’s hard to beat. The Nerdist as a company has a lot of access, and after so many episodes of the Writer’s Panel offshoot, Ben Blacker’s got some real street cred of his own. A recent episode was a reunion of some of the Friend’s writers. Hearing the behind-the-scenes action that created one of the most successful sitcoms of all time is exactly why this podcast is one that should be in your pocket, like, yesterday.

1. The Joe Rogan Experience

“Train by day, Joe Rogan podcast by night — all day!”

Number 1 on this list is the podcast that got me into podcasts, and one of the first in the industry to really rise to fame. Started 5+ years ago and featuring an impressive oeuvre of over 600 episodes, The Joe Rogan Podcast is, by my estimation, the best podcast in existence. As a longtime entertainer and commentator, Joe is constantly hilarious even while taking part in thoughtful conversations.

With a standard podcast length of 3 hours long, and guests ranging from Neil Degrasse Tyson to MMA fighters to Bill Burr, JRE hits an amazing cross section of the human condition, and exposure to that is important to a comedian. Even if you’re only in it for the jokier casts, Joe has had dozens of comedians on, and his favorites (AKA his close friends) have been on plenty of times themselves. Joey Diaz, who Joe Rogan describes as the funniest person on the planet, is a personal fave.

As the title of this post says, this one will also make you a better person. Rogan is amazingly insightful, humble, and egoless, with a tireless work ethic. Most people could benefit picking up a couple of traits from Joe. Given his time in stand-up, TV, and commentary, he’s an ideal role model for comedians and people alike.

So check this shit out!

Did I miss one of your favorites? What comedy podcasts are you listening to?

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Nerdist Writer’s Panel Podcast Breakdown — a Summary of the One Episode Every Writer Should Listen To

The Gates of Development Heaven

In a rare glimpse into the minds of the decision makers at the networks and studios, Ben Blacker of the awesome Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcast got to sit down with three development executives for an amazing 2-hour brain pickin’ podcast. You can download the podcast directly from here, but should you be pressed for time, I’ve broken down the 100 minute discussion into more bite sized pieces here.

Plenty of budding writers end up either working closely with development executives, or being one of them themselves. Especially for those of you who crave a more steady employment than the job-to-job uncertainty of professional writerhood, development could be the route for you. I’ve broken down the key points for writers that the podcast hit upon, but I’ve also included a bonus section at the end for the would-be executives out there. (Don’t forget the little guy once you’re buying scripts!)

The Actual Cast

The trio of heavy hittersthat Mr. Blacker got onto his podcast are:

CBS’ Brian Seabury Drama

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 6.18.38 PM

Sony’s Chris Parnell (less evil than pictured)

HOLY TRINITY OF

DEVELOPMENT

Caitlin Foito (much harder to track down)

For Writers

As people who live inside the meeting room, these execs know what they want, what they like, and have plenty of experience with hearing a writer pitch. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Pitch like you’re dying to tell the story

Passion is infectious and highly visible. These executives WANT to see you get too damn excited about your project, like you can barely spit the words out for all your glee. You still want to practice your presentation of course, but if you’re bursting at the seams with excitement, odds are they’ll be too. If you act like you’ll write 100 episodes with or without them, they’ll want to hop aboard.

  • Execs get most excited for material that’s brought to them outside of any sort of mandate

This sort of follows from the passion thing noted above, but these executives are inundated with agents passing along material that’s toe-ing the line. “We need the next Homeland” is a phrase that’s been spit a lot over the past year, but by the time you get anything like that in front of them, it’ll be stale. If an agent passes along a script simply because of how awesome it is, however, that’ll pique their interest every damn time.

  • It’s harder to sell now than ever…

To quote one of the execs, “writers are gold right now,” but that’s a curse and a blessing, because there are so many good writers out there trying to make a living doing great TV shows. Only about 3% of pitches make it all the way to the pilot shooting stage.

  • BUT there’s a niche for EVERYTHING

No longer can you bring something to an agent and have them say “there’s no place for this.” With the advent of so many content distribution channels, there’s a niche for everything, which is exactly why the quality of your writing matters now more than ever.

  • It all comes back to CHARACTER

This is advice you’ll hear a thousand times, but it bears repeating. The best drama, comedy, and intrigue come from compelling characters crossing paths. Even if you’re writing an everyman sort of character, they need a weakness, a compulsion, something to separate them from the pack. Especially in a sitcom. Speaking of…

  • Sitcoms are very cast-dependent

Imagine Pawnee without Nick Offerman’s transcendent Ron Swanson

The good news: Networks shoot more pilots for sitcoms than for dramas. The bad news: they do that because it’s so hard to make a good sitcom stick. So much of that comes down to the cast. Sitcoms like Parks and Rec survive so long because, besides being funny, they’re filled with heart, and their characters have chemistry across the board. But even as a writer, this isn’t out of your hands! The better the material you put onto the page, the more a strong actor can work with. On your (/our) end, it all comes down to the script, baby.

  • The Big Secret: Development executives are on your side!

One point that all three of the execs on the panel hit was that, when you’re starting a pitch, the development person you’re pitching to wants to be moved. They would love nothing more than for your pitch to be the greatest thing they’ve ever heard. And given that they hear hundreds of pitches, they know a by-the-numbers pitch when they hear one. This brings me all the way back to the first bullet — be passionate about your script. It’s infectious (and you want to infect the shit out of those with the power to buy your script)!

B-B-B-BONUS SECTION: For Aspiring Development Executives

This is what it’s like in development offices

So maybe you never wanted to be a comedy writer and just stumbled upon this blog by chance. If so, welcome! Tell your friends.

Anyhoo, here are some of the tips from the NWP podcast that could serve you well in your journey into the Hollywood elite:

  • Take work off your boss’ desk

Whether your last name is Smith or Spielberg, if you want to be an executive, expect to spend some time working at the desk of an existing player. It’ll give you the chance to learn the ins and outs of the industry and their job in particular as you set meetings, talk their contacts, and monitor (snoop on) their phone calls.

How do you make the most out of this experience? Make yourself invaluable. Anticipate your boss’ needs and figure out how to make your life easier. They may never want you to leave! But be sure you do (once they can hook you up with a kush gig at Disney).

  • Cultivate patience and understanding

How very zen of you. Especially when scripts are being sold, from July to October, you’ll be listening to all kinds of pitches. The execs in this panel pinned the number at somewhere near 350, meaning you’ll be doing a solid 3+ every single day. So turn on your ears, build your patience, and try to keep your active ears to the ground about what people are buying and selling these days.

  • Learn to give a good note

So you’ve bought a pitch and are moving forward on a project. The writer turns in a pitch and — uh oh — it’s shit. Or somewhere less than perfect, which is likely where it’ll be. Remember that us writers are fragile creatures, and it’s easy to break our wills. There’s a tragic moment in Harmontown when Dan Harmon gets notes from an exec. If you’ve ever tried to write something in your life, you’ll realize how crushing it would be to get some of the feedback he received.

So, as you should be striving for in life, make your notes as concrete as possible. Writers spend a lot of time getting to the ‘note behind the note’ AKA ‘WTF does weird mean here?’ A question well-stated is half answered. And remember to be gentle, for the love of God. If it takes about 3 extra seconds to phrase a question in a less condescending way, consider it the best investment you’ll ever make.

Hope this breakdown was enlightening! If you have another other podcasts or presentations you’d be interesting in reading a breakdown of, put the below!

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The Myth of Writer’s Block — 3 Ways to Manufacture Motivation

Hello again, boys and girls. Today I’d like to rap a bit on a topic that’s always been close to my heart — writer’s block. Particularly, why it’s a load of crap! Or at least, how the mere existence of the term is something people use to fall back on when they’re feeling less-than-motivated. But without contributing anything I’d just be bitching, so at the end are three tips guaranteed to help the words flow when you’re feeling funky (pro tip: it works for pretty much anything, not just writing!).

Let’s get started!

Writer’s Block, Schmiter’s Shlock

How many TV shows are currently on the air? In 2014, a whopping 187 TV shows were in production at some point. All of those shows had writers. How many of those lavishly paid individuals do you think got to take a day off because they just weren’t ‘feeling it?’ If you guessed none, you were probably right (unless they faked the flu). 187 shows means 187 teams of writers working on runs of up to 23 episodes per season! You know how they did it?

They came to work.

The World is Run by Those Who Show Up

I love that quote, because damned if it ain’t the truest thing in the world sometimes. Have you ever gone to a meeting where only two or three people cared enough to be there? You could be setting an agenda for an entire year, and still most people can’t be arsed to call an Uber and show up to a meeting. There are scores of comedy writers trying to find success in their craft, and the one thing universally acknowledged by professionals is to write every day. It doesn’t have to be great, or even good. Ernest Hemingway famously said:

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and you definitely can’t write a spec script without putting words on the page.

Nick Santora, Creator of CBS hit SCORPION, spent a week of 12-hour days writing one of his scripts. And he was a lawyer at the time.

The great book ‘How Google Works’ talks about how their ideal employee, the smart creative, has a bias towards action. When you’re planning a project or developing a pilot, it’s so easy to get bogged down in the what-ifs, but all that’s really important is that you do something. Ideas are a dime a dozen — execution is where success lives.

Manufacturing Motivation in 3 Easy Steps!

Whether you’re Hemingway or Hammurabi, at the end of the day, we’re all human. So why not take advantage of your human nature to help build some motivation when you’re feeling sluggish? Here’s a couple of tips on how.

  1. Create a workspace only for writing

    Your brain has a little thing going for it called state-dependent memory, which basically means it can retrieve memories best when you’re in the same state as when you learned the info. Ever walked into a room and forgot why you came in there? Your

    Hemingway taking advantage of state-dependent memory

    Hemingway taking advantage of state-dependent memory

    brain is great at sectioning off the universe, so why not create a space that just screams ‘WRITE!’ Create a space dedicated to writing so that your brain instantly goes into writing mode when you plop down there with pen and paper.

  2. Listen to something on repeat

    Remember Pavlov’s Dog from high school psych? He associated food with a bell, so all Pavlov had to do is ring the thing to get the dog salivating. Find a song (or short playlist) that you don’t mind listening to on repeat, and keep it on loop as you write. Before long, you’ll hear the first few beats of the first track and immediately get into the groove. I work best with orchestral music, like movie scores (or personal fave Two Steps from Hell that I’m listening to as I write this), but find whatever works for you and embrace it!

  3. Block out a writing time – and keep it!

    This is one you’ve probably heard before, but it’s so important that it bears repeating. Just like the previous two tips, this is all about creating a rhythm and pattern so that your body knows exactly when its time to write. Some people work best in the mornings, some in the evenings, some in the mid-afternoon, but clearing your schedule for even an hour to get your thoughts flowing is vital to building the writing habit.

A Bonus Tip

One last tip, at least one that works for me, is to write the early ideas on a piece of paper. The computer is way too linear of an input system for the nonlinear, scattershot bullshit that the brain likes to pull when conjuring up ideas.

How do you manufacture motivation?

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The Satirical Miracle — Why 2015 is the Best Year Yet for Comedy

A Comedic Resurrection

The year is 2014, and the sitcom is dying. Commercially successful but critically panned shows like THE BIG BANG THEORY rule the airwaves, and the epitome of the flipside of the commercial/critical coin, COMMUNITY, is on the verge of cancellation (again). Then the news finally comes in — NBC has dropped the beloved Dan Harmon sitcom.

Yet, barely 24 hours later, an unlikely hero, Yahoo Screen, picks up the show for a 6th season. Not satisfied with simply acquiring a new show, Yahoo then upped the ante by increasing the per-episode budget of the show.

Photo credit: rantlifestyle.com

A mostly unheard of distribution platform outspending a TV network for a killer sitcom? Whoulda thunk? Anyone?

If you’re scratching you’re head over what’s going to happen between TV and digital distribution over the next decade, then you’re like just about everyone else I know. However you don’t have to be a fortune teller to be able to know one thing: the need for quality content is growing rapidly. And who’s going to be there to create it?

Y – O – U

A Multi-Platform Comedic Revolution

“C’mon man…Star Lord!”

No matter what brand of funnies you write, there’s a niche for you in the growing, content-crazy world. You want to write for TV? Netflix is leveraging $1.5 BILLION dollars worth of debt to create new content. That’s enough to buy a couple dozen private jets. The alphabet soup of networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FX, and HBO) have already bought 42 sitcom pilots this season — and it ain’t over yet.  Any show made by any of these companies, once picked up, won’t just need one person. They’ll need a TEAM of writers, jokesters, to put together every single episode. So why not you?

Say features are more your thing — and why shouldn’t they be? Tentpole comedies have all the glitz and glam an aspiring writer can hope to be a part of. Maybe you’ll write the next GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (~$333m domestic gross), LEGO MOVIE (~278m domestic), or 22 JUMP STREET (~192m domestic).

Maybe you’re more interested in stand-up comedy. These days, plenty of stand-ups have podcasts, from the uber-popular Nerdist or Joe Rogan Experience, all the way down the line. There are no barriers to entry, and its pretty damn easy to monetize — a good way to make cash in between the plethora of open mics that are popping up all over the US.  Get to enough of those, and maybe Netflix will use some of its billions to produce your special — as it’s done for Chelsea Peretti, Patton Oswalt, Bill Burr, Iliza Shlesinger, and more!

Maybe you want to be write or host a late-night show? We’re at a tipping point right now, with a changing of the late-night guard. New hosts Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon have been crushing it in their particular positions, and longtime occupiers of the hosting chair David Letterman and Craig Ferguson are making way for Stephen Colbert and newcomer Jason Corden, respectively. Like with sitcoms, all of these changes mean one thing: the need for scores and scores of talented writers.

So How Do I Get in There?!

The best thing you can do to get in any writer’s room, open mic, or producer’s office is to WRITE WRITE WRITE. It’s the most trite advice and you’ve heard it a million times, but no one’s going to want to read your stuff unless it’s great. And it’s not going to be great until it’s been shitty a good couple (hundred) of times!

So start small — a sketch, a joke jotted down in a moleskine, a short script, a blog — but no matter what you’re doing, keep writing! We live in an information age, and these days people have instant access to most anything except an awesome, novel story, especially one with that makes them laugh out loud!

As the blog continues, I’ll be doing my best to figure out how to break into the world of comedy writing, breaking down scripts, seeing what networks are buying, and riffing on anything else that may be relevant to the scores of people like myself who want to make a living writing comedy.

What’ll you be writing in 2015?

 

 

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