I’m going back to Square One when it comes to my spec outline for Modern Family. Since there is no textbook for writing this thing, or coming up with an outline, I’m going to go back to the first chapter of Ellen Sandler’s “TV Writer’s Workbook.” When I went through it the first time, I already had the kernel of my idea in my head. Perhaps I have to dig a little deeper to get to what the essence of this show is all about, and how to come up with the right story to display my talents. Someone did give me a note about how the show tends to have a unifying theme or something at the end, though it tends to be poorly constructed…
*Just to touch upon what my teacher said briefly, she told me my idea sounded like an episode of Family Guy (as in, sounded too outlandish). Does anyone remember that there was a hot homeless guy who randomly started living in Lily’s playhouse one day? That doesn’t sound ridiculous to anyone? I mean, I thought it was hilarious, but if Jay donning the characteristics of a cat lady is too outlandish, then I don’t know what isn’t.
Anyway, I’m working on chapter 3 of Sandler’s book, in which she reminds us that an integral step in writing a spec is to read existing scripts and really try to understand them. She provides a nifty spreadsheet in which you note which characters end a scene and how many scenes there are, and who appears in the opener, etc. So I’ll be doing that and charting my analysis here, and then reading this guy’s views on the show.
But in just a week, I’ve really grown to like the people in my class a lot, and I trust their judgment when it comes to story, and The Basic Funny. So I figured I could pitch my story.
So a couple of people went and pitched their outlines. Three had outlines that were basically like “omgwritethisnow!!!” A couple of people needed notes, but they were not too shabby. I was one of the people who gave a lot of notes. Good ones, too. Hell, I was even making literary analogies. Seriously, I was shitting GOLD.
And then for some reason, I felt so confident that I decided I wanted to end the night with my pitch. It’s already like 9:50 p.m., but I’m thinking I can sell it really well.
And so I start. I’m not expecting people to be pissing their pants and laughing, but maybe a little reaction.
In fact, only uncomfortable chuckles sprinkled here and there.
I finish and the teachers (there’s two of them) just stare blankly at me, as in “w…t…f?!!!”
Finally, one of my teachers is basically like, “Well, you understand the structure of the show” but she said it in a way that could only translate to “You are an idiot.” All of my story lines have problems. Now, I didn’t want to get defensive, and there’s 2 reasons for this:
1. The whole “angry black woman” thing doesn’t necessarily go over well with people. Not that I get all ghetto and threaten to whip out my knife and call Jesse Jackson, but let’s face it, people interpret actions differently.
2. When I’m being workshopped, I don’t get defensive. I listen, and take notes. As I learned in college, that’s what you’re supposed to do. So why should I start getting all crazy now?
Once we started batting ideas around, things loosened up a bit. I very graciously took the notes, too, because a lot of good ideas came up, and I was glad to get them. It’s the reason I pitched at week 2, instead of waiting another couple of sessions to go by before my first pitch: writing is done in solitude, but comedy is not. I could hone my outline as much as I want at my desk, but in the end, I still have to pitch it, and take notes; and if I waited, I’d also have a shorter amount of time to write the actual script if I waited. So, in my mind, it made sense for me to pitch it then.
Class was over. I packed up and walked out. All of the people that I started to get chummy with, and make jokes with were all totally avoiding me. Or basically, “yeah, better luck next time…I’m going to go pretend I parked on the other end of campus so I don’t have to talk to you anymore.”
I felt like a pariah, and I shouldn’t have. Hell, I still feel like a big loser. The problem is that I felt like in a classroom setting, it’s OK to try things and to fail sometimes, but it just did not feel like that to me. It felt worse than failure, just because no one in the class knows me, so they don’t understand that I don’t suck. Because I know I don’t suck. But I feel like I suck right now. As much as I know in my head that it would be stupid to let this determine whether I strive to actually kick ass at this whole attempt-to-change-my-life thing, I seriously just want to crawl in bed and die.