How to Write a Television Series

Originally published on FilmDungeon.com on 24-12-2007

As a lifelong devotee of the moving image, I developed the idea of writing screenplays. What better way is there to get your break into movies when you’re a non-professional that wants to be a filmmaker? I had already written a movie screenplay. A low-budget horror-comedy comparable with Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste. The problem with actually filming it was that a considerable budget was required. I am from the Netherlands where even renowned filmmakers struggle to get another project done. So who was going to invest in a cult film with a microscopic target group and an inexperienced director?

It was time for a strategy change. TV-series are the next best thing. And being the creator of a TV-series is what many would call a dream job. So would I. You get to write and produce a mini-movie every week, and when successful, you can continue it for as long as a decade. So I decided to start the creation of my very own TV-series. I already knew my subject. Or concept if you will. Now I needed some ideas on how to craft my screenplay.

To get this done I bought a book: The Sopranos – Selected Scripts From Three Seasons. This is an extremely useful book for aspiring TV-writers. But knowing the show is probably a prerequisite. It describes the process of writing a series. The creator of the show, David Chase, explains how he came up with the overall theme of every season. Then, together with his writing team, he started working on the individual episodes. Every episode has three or four storylines. One major storyline called A. Then there are smaller ones called B, C and sometimes D.

Once the storylines were decided, the actual scenes were described. The five example screenplays in the book are in between 35 and 80 scenes long, and approximately 60 pages (1 hour of TV). When the scenes for every story were decided they are sequenced in a logical order. Then the episodes were divided among the writers. They had approximately two weeks to come up with the first draft. Then the show’s creator read it and gave the writer feedback on what he liked and didn’t like about it. Then the second draft was written and this process continued till the final draft was ready for production.

A great benefit of this book is that it contains five example TV-plays. If you need direction on the format of a TV-screenplay, all you have to do is check out one of these. After finishing the book I was ready to start the creation process of my very own TV-series. First a lot of research had to be done. I collected newspaper articles and started reading books on my subject. I started shaping my fictional world by describing the characters, their life stories and their personality traits.

The research and preparation took me a whole year. Of course I did it all in my spare time. I also had a day job to keep going. After this year I was ready to write an actual episode; the pilot. I wanted to do this in one go, because I thought it would make the writing process easier. So during a holiday in Crete I wrote the pilot script. It was certainly fun to do. But finishing the script was a weird sensation. I was proud that I had not given up, and had now completed it. But I was also wondering if what I wrote was actually any good…

Update 2021
No, that pilot tv-script I wrote is not very good. However, I haven’t lost my passion for this writing business. I recently decided to give it another go. That Bad Taste like script I mentioned earlier, I have decided to rewrite it. And it will be in English, so it is fit for international audiences.

Will it ever be a movie? Small chance. No one will want to produce it, that’s for sure. It’s too weird and has no commercial appeal I think. But if I ever get my hands on some money that has no immediate purpose, I might produce it myself. It has the potential to become a fantastic amateur cult movie.

And I would put it straight on YouTube when it would be done. It would be a lot of fun to make for the voluntary or underpaid cast and crew, that’s for sure. So I take another advice from David Chase, don’t stop believing!

Wat ik gemeen heb met Donald Trump

Gelukkig heel weinig, maar sinds gisteren één ding. We zijn allebei permanent verbannen van Twitter.

En net als Trump, beweer ik ook volledig onschuldig te zijn. Een verschil is dan weer dat dit in mijn geval echt zo is en dat Trump dit alleen maar denkt in zijn narcistische brein.

Wat is er gebeurd? Anderhalve maand geleden kon ik niks meer met mijn Twitter-account. Er stond dat ik bepaalde regels had overtreden, maar niet specifiek welke dan. Ik ging in beroep tegen de blokkade.

Lange tijd hoorde ik niks en gisteren ontving ik deze e-mail:

Hello,

After investigating your appeal, we have determined that your account posted content that was threatening and/or promoting violence in violation of the Twitter Terms of Service. Accordingly, your account has been suspended and will not be restored.

You can learn more about suspended accounts here: https://help.twitter.com/managing-your-account/suspended-twitter-accounts

Thanks,
Twitter

WTF? Ik heb iemand bedreigd? Dat lijkt me toch stug of ik heb een gespleten persoonlijkheid zonder dat ik het zelf weet. Ik ben even door mijn tweets van het laatste jaar gegaan en dacht nog, misschien kun je deze retweet beschouwen als een oproep tot geweld?

Maar Twitter zal toch wel begrijpen dat dit een onschuldige parodie is op Return of the Jedi?

Toen ging ik op zoek naar ‘lotgenoten’ en vond ik op Reddit de mogelijke dader van mijn block:

The origin of Threat Destroyer comes from Threat Slayer which happened notably in 3rd November 2017. Threat Slayer is a rogue Twitter user who managed to exploit Twitter’s reporting system for tweets containing words relating to threats, namely “kill you” or “just die.” The reported tweet is then sent to Twitter’s automated review system and is automatically detected as a violent threat – and that makes the posting account suspended and cannot be appealed – what a god he is.

Een kwaadaardig algoritme heeft het gedaan! We leven in gekke tijden.

Ik houd er een gek gevoel aan over. Echt een big deal is dit natuurlijk niet, al ben ik wel ruim 4000 volgers kwijt. Wat me meer dwars zit is dat ik vals beschuldigd ben en gestraft voor iets dat ik niet gedaan heb. Ik kan me nu een heel klein beetje voorstellen hoe het moet voelen om op te draaien voor een misdaad die je niet gepleegd heb. Kortom, ik heb enige empathie. En dat kunnen we van Trump dan weer niet zeggen.

Update 28 april 2021

Hello,

After further review, we have unsuspended your account as it does not appear to be in violation of the Twitter Rules.

Your account is now unsuspended. We appreciate your patience and apologize for any inconvenience.

Please note that it may take 24-48 hours for your follower and following numbers to return to normal.

Thanks,
Twitter

Er is gerechtigheid!

Hunter S. Thompson in de jaren ’80

Generation of Swine is de in 1988 verschenen bundel columns van een van mijn lievelingsschrijvers; gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson. De 100 columns verschenen allemaal in de San Francisco Examiner in de periode 1985 tot 1988. Over Thompson schreef ik eerder o.a.:

Hunter S. Thompson in 1970 – Decadentie en verderfelijkheid in het Zuiden
De Hunter S. Thompson kronieken
Hunter Goes to Hollywood: Hunter S. Thompson Triple Bill

‘I have spent half my life trying to get away from journalism, but I am still mired in it – a low trade and a habit worse than heroin, a strange seedy world full of misfits and drunkards and failures. A group photo of the top ten journalists in America on any given day would be a monument to human ugliness. It is not a trade that attracts a lot of slick people; none of the Calvin Klein crowd or international just set types. The sun will set in a blazing red sky to the east of Casablanca before a journalist appears on the cover of People magazine.’

Zo denkt hij dus over zijn vak. Desondanks is hij er verslaafd aan en met name aan politieke verslaggeving. En dus reist hij door het land van hotelkamer naar hotelkamer om de realiteit van zijn tijd te beschrijven in zijn kenmerkende stijl. Het is de tijd van zure regen, AIDS, een seniele Ronald Reagan, een evil George Bush, Miami Vice, Gorbachev en Thatcher. Veel columns gaan over de midterm verkiezing van 1986 en zijn daarom inhoudelijk minder interessant, maar door Thompson’s waanzinnige pen toch zeer de moeite: ‘German politicians were not the only ones worried about the bent legs of Ronald Reagan last week. There were sounds of babbling and scrambling all over Washington, as many gentlemen of a distinctly rodentlike persuasion either quit or got pushed off the Ship. The Reagan Revolution was beginning to look like a secondhand Studebaker with bald tires.’

Andere columns zijn meer tijdloos: over een ontsnapte walvis in de Sacramento river, de Chinese minnares van Richard Nixon, het journalist-in-de-ruimte-programma van NASA, en uiteraard over zijn geldproblemen: ‘By the time I started having trouble with the hotel accountants I was not in a mood to be reasonable. The government of Tanzania was offering me $1000 a day to go there and help exterminate a herd of “killer crocodiles” that was threatening to turn the Ruvuma into a river of bones and blood, but day after day I was forced by a strange chain of circumstances to postpone my departure from San Francisco.’

Het is interessant om Thompson te lezen in tijden van fake news. Gonzo – de journalistieke stijl die hij heeft uitgevonden – is een subjectieve manier van verslag doen waarin de feiten puur in het hoofd van de verteller tot stand komen. Bijvoorbeeld in deze passage: ‘I could see the C.B.S. man through the warped convex glass of the peephole, and I yelled at him “Get away from here, you giddy little creep! Never bother the working press. Spiro Agnew was right. You people should be put in a cage and poked with sharp bamboo sticks.”

Het lijkt net of Spiro Agnew (vice president van de door Thompson gehate Nixon) dit echt gezegd heeft. Agnew was inderdaad kritisch op de media, en in die zin een voorloper van Trump, maar tv-mensen opsluiten in kooien is puur de interpretatie van de schrijver. En met die methode zit hij vaak dichter op de waarheid dan met conventionele journalistiek.

Generation of Swine is 300 pagina’s gevuld met dergelijk gebazel en pure waanzin. Komt het in de buurt van zijn jaren ‘70 verhalen, zoals het legendarische Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Zeker niet, maar Thompson heeft hier nog steeds het Gonzo-vuur en voor de liefhebber van zijn vreemde, maar vaak verbazend accurate beschrijvingen zeker een aanrader.

Script Idea: Masters of the Underworld

Type: Limited Series (9 episodes, 50 minutes)
Screenwriter: Jeppe Kleyngeld (episode 1 till 3 and stories)

Tagline: An unknown assassin is taking out bosses of the powerful crime organisation that rules over Devlin City. They must find out why!

Short Story (First Volume): Devlin City, early nineties. In a depraved American city, a sinister and powerful crime syndicate controls everything. One day, a mysterious masked killer shows up and starts killing leaders of this group one by one. Is this the beginning of the end for the Outfit? And what is the identity of this crazy assassin? Find out in Masters of the Underworld: Volume I.

Episodes:
VOLUME I
Episode 1: The Great Valuation
Episode 2: The Outlaws of Delacross
Episode 3: Two Godfathers
VOLUME II
Episode 4: The Silenced Minority
Episode 5: Billy, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Episode 6: The Legend of Nino Lugiere
VOLUME III
Episode 7: Los Scorpios Rising
Episode 8: At the Gates of Hell
Episode 9: Final Devlin Wars

Episode 1: The Great Valuation
Peter Whitehouse, a city journalist who wastes his time writing about new entertainment venues at a paralyzed newspaper, falls in love with prostitute Mireia. He wants to declare his love for her, but fate intervenes. Bad men, who just got word about a mysterious killer who caused a bloody massacre at a funeral attended by their fellow gang members, are out on a night drinking. They end up at Mireia’s place of employment where things go violent very fast. Mireia escapes and runs to Peter, but the gangsters are quickly on her trail. Will she end up like so many victims of the all powerful Outfit? Or can she escape with Peter and start a new life? Find out in the first episode of Masters of the Underworld. Only on Netflix/Prime/HBO.