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A whole buncha notes from Shonda Rhimes’s Masterclass on screenwriting for TV

The best Masterclass I’ve watched to date. Shonda’s lessons are practical and detailed and really get into the nuts and bolts of how to create a TV show, how to pitch it, and how to write scripts.

Mini 2018. USA & China drag global sales to a marginal drop
Saturday April 20, 2019

Mini Global performance in recent years was better than the global industry but in the 2018 was down 1%, with sales at 360.034. Disappointing performances were registered by the USA, China and Italy. In the recently published study, focus2move team projects volumes at 400.794 by the 2025.The post Mini 2018. USA & China drag global sales […]

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If you haven’t heard of Shonda: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and a grip of other network hits.

Highlights from The Bitcoin Standard by Saifedean Ammous
Monday June 10, 2019

The book’s basic message is that the world’s current financial system is damaged beyond repair, and bitcoin represents one of the best available methods to fix it. It’s a fast read [Amazon link], relatively light on statistics and academic research, somewhat heavier on prescription and generalizations. I would break down the book contents this way: […]

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Here are some edited and simplified notes from the course. Most notes are verbatim, even if they aren’t in quotations…

Notesies

Understand the difference between procedural and serial shows (procedure is like Law & Order; serial is like Breaking Bad)
A movie has an ending; a TV show could go on for 7 years
When deciding on an idea: “It’s like a song that you can’t get out of your head”
The key is “compelling characters with compelling dilemmas”
For Grey’s Anatomy, the a key was finding the sort of gut wrenching cases that center each episode, that people would talk about over dinner the next day
Plan as much as you can upfront – especially episode ideas; once the show gets going, you’re not gonna have time
For every one of her shows, the title came at end; usually they’re written and shot as “Untitled Shonda Rhimes project”
“I don’t think [the name] matters” – that’s left to the marketing gods
Even character names change due to legal clearances (her broader point is, “don’t get too attached to any of your ideas”)
The key for her characters is to act and sound TRUTHFUL
Characters are like a band – it’s not individual perfection but group harmony
For the main character, you need them to have a confidant, and you need someone to tell them when they’re wrong
The importance of specific and small character details, like each character in Greys Anatomy having a favorite drink
in GA, she used Wizard of Oz tropes in a rough way (Izzy wanted a brain, George wanted courage, Christina wanted a heart, etc)
What makes a bad pitch: No structure, No sense of arc, Too much stuff / too long
The best pitches focus on character – Why do we care about this or that character?
Paint the picture, but don’t get too specific – let their imaginations do the work
Have a clear way to market the show – eg, Grey’s was “Sex and Surgery” (from Sex and the City)
A 1 hour drama has 5 acts~55 pages
Sometimes an opening teaser
Act 1 – introduce characters and world in an exciting way; present problem; setoff A and maybe B stories
Act 2 – things escalate, expand world, meet more people
Act 3 – the center, middle 11 pages, things start to peak, worst / exciting, start a ticking clock (or Act 2)
Act 4 – story turns in different direction, in procedural it’s a new piece of evidence, or ticking clock, or real character reveals
Act 5 – moment of victory, reveal / cliff for next ep
Each act should end make the viewer lean forward, end on a “wow” moment, each act break should “turn the story”
“You don’t want a flat show” – have plenty of ups and downs
There is usually an A story, a B story, and a C story (the “runner”)
A is usually but not always bigger than B; C is very minor
A story – usually 2-3 scenes an act
B story – one scene an act
C story – 3 scenes total in episode
If you make it about character, people will buy anything
Stuff that gets cut is usually from Act 1 and 2 – the setup stuffShow a person’s emotional reaction instead of hearing them say what they’re feeling / thinking
Shonda tries to limit stage directions, emotional reactions, let actors do the job – give them room for interpretation
I can tell in the writers room, if there are a lot of fights about a scene…that scene’s interesting and it’s gonna work
Episode 2 is Episode 1 all over again; this helps you build trust and familiarity
Make the studio your partner, not your keeper – include them in the creative process
Get to know your line producer well; let them know what you do and don’t know
The set is all about the CREW – it’s their team, their domain, their expertise
Shonda’s routine
Only checks email once a day
Closes her office door when she needs to focus
No emails or phone calls after 7pm
Writes on weekends – writes every day
Wakes up at 5am (!)
If you’re not the showrunner, you’re working for someone else – even if you’re the creator

Vietnam, CoderSchool, and bringing Silicon Valley to SE Asia
Tuesday June 04, 2019

I’m a big fan of Austen Allred and the work Lambda School is doing in America, training new software developers and giving them life changing career opportunities. I especially think the income share agreement (ISA) model is a great idea – where new students don’t need to pay for Lambda School’s class costs until after […]

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Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more advice or notes on writing and screenwriting, here’s an even longer blog post.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.