Fandom in the Social Media Age – The Numbers, Part Two

In the last post I went through the numbers associated with The100Writers Tumblr account. This time we’ll take a look at Instagram and Vine (shorter discussions) and then Twitter, for which I have charts out the wazoo.

I created an Instagram account for The100Writers on 11/18/14. As of my last day on 1/23/15 there were 514 followers of the account. I fed photos from Instagram to the Tumblr account, which in turn posts to Twitter. Unfortunately, I never really had time to take photos to feed in, so I only used this account 7 times (for 7 photos). Still, in that time a photo of the memorial wall got 176 likes in December, when we had half as many followers. It’s hard to draw many conclusions, but given that the account was only running for two months, I believe we could have gone further with the usage of the account. The official CW_The100 account routinely gets over 2,000 likes per photo. Again, I struggled to find any other writers rooms on Instagram. Not saying they aren’t there, I just couldn’t find them.

Vine was also something I dove into fairly late in the season. I had this idea that we could have fans post Vine videos of their reactions to scenes or to explain why they love the show. I also saw that Law & Order: SVU ‘s Writers’ Room was on Vine, which gave me courage to give the platform a try. This led to some surprising findings…

As of my last day of work, we had nearly 2,000 followers on Vine. We posted exactly one video on 11/5/14, the day we opened the Vine account. That 15 second video played over 19,000 ‘loops’, got 160 likes and ‘revined’ 48 times. In comparison, SVUWritersRoom Vine videos ranged from 2,000 to 33,00 loops over 64 posts for a total of 321,416 loops — most of them landing around 3500-4000 loops each. That account has 1,983 followers, virtually the exact same number of followers The100Writers account has. Further, the SVUWritersRoom appears to have created their account sometime in August (although, it could be August 2013, given that there are “November” vines preceding ‘September’ vines. They may have had a dormant account created much earlier that got most of its use in 2014).

I think it is safe to say that the SVU demographic is far different than ours. It’s impossible to draw many conclusions, because we only posted one vine video, but given that we got 19k loops out of that one, it’s possible more videos = more loops = more followers.

One bit of perspective: The top vine accounts generate MILLIONS of loops per video. So, we weren’t exactly playing with the big boys here. Same with Instagram.

Now… onto TWITTER.

The100Writers Twitter Followers

The100Writers Twitter Followers

The black box indicates the date I took over running the account. 3,201 followers prior to that date — not bad for a show that premiered on March 19, exactly two months earlier. The account really takes off with followers right around October, as the show premiered for its second season on 10/22, and just kept climbing. As you can see here there were 30,433 followers as of 1/20/15. I just check the account for today (1/29) and it’s already at 33,256 — almost a pickup of 3,000 fans in 9 days. The account has been used for retweeting the main The 100 account and livetweeting the new episode, so its still in use, though significantly less since I left on 1/23. Still, the fact that the account is picking up nearly 3,000 followers a week indicates that the existing fanbase is finding the account to follow it and/or new fans are finding the show and then following the account. Given the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, it is a lot of the latter.

If you have a twitter account, you might have fun with the free analytics tools provided by Twitter — The drawback is that the data set tends to be limited to the last 3 months, so I couldn’t get a full picture of the entire life of the account, but here are some stats I find fascinating:

Who are our followers?

Who are our followers?

There’s a lot to look at here, but the main areas that interested me were the locations of our fans and ‘unique interests’ — Clearly those who like drama and sci-fi follow the account. I wasn’t expecting to see that the Top Interests of our fans is… Music. It makes sense though. So many young people are plugged into the musicians who really use Twitter well — Taylor Swift among them, so it follows that would be a top interest for them.

The location data is even more fascinating. Clearly the US is a big chunk of our audience, but look at the UK! The UK is almost as large as the US — anecdotally I can say this is completely true. I got more requests from UK fans to livetweet their episodes than I ever expected. Unfortunately those mid-day tweets for the US fans were sometimes confusing, but the UK fans loved it. The show is a big hit in the UK, and one thing I don’t think writers rooms do particularly well is think globally. So many shows are sold to different countries, but we are so US-centric in our outreach that we forget those international fans who may be weeks or months behind. More than once I got “yelled at” to stop spoiling things for the UK — of course, I always gave spoiler warnings, but even innocuous tweets could contain spoilers for them! It certainly made me more mindful of our foreign fanbase. I will be talking about the international outreach efforts and trends in more detail later, but believe me, there’s a lot to talk about.

twitteranalytics1This is the chart I really wish I had more data for. This was the last 28 days of tweeting. Knowing how many overall impressions our account had over a much longer timeframe would be instructive, not least of which because the last 28 day time period included a 5-week long hiatus. You can see at the beginning of the chart how low the impressions numbers are — so few tweets were sent out and very little engagement. But as we came back from hiatus, the numbers spiked. That huge spike on January 6th correlates with the day we were back in the office and production had resumed on the final episode of the season. It is also the day that Season 2 premiered in the UK. The other large spike on the chart is when our Midseason premiere aired on January 22nd. I think it’s safe to infer that the impressions spiked in relation to those events.

analytics7The good news is I was able to pull a comparison chart from September, before the show premiered on 10/22. You can see the major difference in impressions while we were between seasons, in this month leading up to the return than in December, when the show was on hiatus and then returned.

I had some more charts regarding numbers of retweets, favorites and engagements we had, but honestly, I think this is enough data, save one more graph to get to the point.

I wanted to show a comparison of hashtag tweets for The 100 vs. Arrow and The Originals.  First, let’s look at how many followers each account has, both the “official” account and the writers’ room account for each show (as of 1/29/15):

Arrow CW Account                505, 800+ followers

The Arrow Writers’ Room      83,200+ f0llowers

The Originals CW Account     731,100+ followers

The Originals Writers’ Room  33,900+ followers

The 100 CW Account               68,900+ followers

The 100 Writers’ Room            33,200+ followers

As you can see, The100Writers has a much larger percentage of the official account’s followers than either Arrow or The Originals has.

Now, let’s look at the tweets with the “official” hashtag of each show…

Whole lot of tweetin' going on.

Whole lot of tweetin’ going on.

Surprisingly, The 100 had more tweets than The Originals in the same 30 day time period, though on show nights the tweets for the day of are virtually identical. Both pale in comparison to Arrow, which is our lead-in show.

Why did I choose The Originals and Arrow for comparisons? Let’s look at Nielsen ratings…

First, Arrow’s numbers. It’s in Season 3:

arrowratings

Arrow

 

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

Next, The Originals, which is in Season 2:

The Originals

The Originals

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

And finally, The 100 in Season 2:

The 100 Ratings

The 100 Ratings

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

The Originals and The 100 have similar demo numbers, though The 100 tends to have a slightly larger audience number. Arrow is The 100’s lead-in, so it seemed right to use it for comparison as it almost consistently has 2x the audience of The 100.

What’s interesting is looking at the number of tweets generated for each show in comparison to its ratings and its followers on the official and writers’ room accounts. All three writers’ rooms did livetweets on the night their shows aired, and usually for both coasts. It’s staggering to see the vast number of followers the Arrow accounts have and yet the engagement in tweeting is about twice as much as The 100. You would think with the massive follower numbers, you’d see more tweets, but the number of tweets is consistent with the difference in ratings The Originals has a massive number of followers on the official CW account (which makes sense, because it is the spinoff for The Vampire Diaries which has over 1.2 million followers on its official account) but the engagement appears to be far lower, especially when you consider the percentage of Official account followers to the Writers’ Room account followers. If we assume that all followers of the writers’ room account also follow the official account, less than 5% follow both. In comparison, 48% of the Official The 100 account followers also follow the Writers’ Room account. And given the total number of followers for The Originals compared to The 100, for them to have virtually the same tweet rates on the hashtag that The 100 has indicates that the fanbase for The Originals is less engaged than The 100 fans.

One can even argue that The Originals should have more tweets than Arrow — I mean, just looking at the Official accounts, The Originals has 55% more followers than Arrow, yet it’s clear the engagement with the Writers’ Rooms is a completely different story — Arrow tops The Originals by 41% and The 100 by 40%.

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, those are yet to come. Stay tuned…

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on January 29, 2015 No Comments »

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Fandom in the Social Media Age – The Numbers, Part One

I love statistics. It was, unfortunately, one of my worst subjects when I was getting my B.S. in B.A., but I still love it.

Granted I won’t be doing any 538-style stats crunching here — I don’t have nearly enough data or data points to engage in a deep dive (and if I want them, I’d have to cough up money), but what I do have are raw numbers from which we start our discussion. Remembering, of course, that correlation does not equal causation — just because two sets of numbers correlate does not mean that one causes the other. This is important to remember, because there are so many other factors that go into why the numbers are the numbers.

The first number to talk about is the easiest, because it started at zero. Tumblr followers.

When I took over the reins of the writers’ assistant position on “The 100″ there was no Tumblr account for the writers. In fact, with the exception of NBC’s Hannibal, which posts under the official show tumblr, there are NO WRITERS’ ROOMS ON TUMBLR. If there are, please tell me, because I looked. HARD. Given the demographics of the audience we are trying to reaching it’s actually shocking that more shows aren’t on Tumblr. It’s so easy to reblog fan art and gifsets and post official things like videos or reviews…even when doing the bare minimum in content, it’s a no brainer. Still, no one has ventured into this social media platform. Why?

That’s a question for another day. Today’s question is, how did it go for The 100 Writers’ Room?

From zero to 18k

From zero to 18k

I don’t have a huge basis for comparison, because on tumblr, you can’t see how many followers a blog has. It could have ten or ten thousand, and you’d never know. I’m told anecdotally that 18,000 followers is significant. This screen shot was taken on January 21, two days prior to my last day of work. The account averages anywhere from 100-1000 new followers A DAY, depending on the day. Since 1/21 when this screenshot was taken to today 1/27 it picked up another 900 followers and counting.

You can also see how many posts I contributed — 361 as of two days prior. I added a few more after that, so let’s round it out to 365. A post a day for a year, if we were averaging over a year, but we aren’t. We’re averaging over 8 months. And if we want to get really technical and take out the weekend days and only account for workdays we average over 2 posts a day, nearly 3.

Could I have done more? Most assuredly, but given that I had an actual job to do (taking notes in the writers’ room and, you know, assisting) 2-3 posts a day is pretty damn good for keeping up our presence. Many of those posts were questions I answered from the ask box and I did minimal reblogging — one thing I would change is I would seek out more fan art and quality gifsets and fan videos to reblog in the future.

18,000 accounts followed this one from the time the tumblr was created in June (it was not created on day one, but something I came to a few weeks after I started on the job) until now. Granted, it’s a tiny fraction of the fanbase, but let’s look at Tumblr’s stats on who that fanbase is:

According to an article published by Forbes on 9/27/13 Tumblr users are “a young, bright and tech-savvy group of international users who seek what might seem counterintuitive: Genuine online connection bolstered, not hindered, by anonymity.” Further:

The site has many of the social media trappings you would recognize: comment threads, up-votes, emoticons. But the nature of the language and iconography is decidedly gentler and the premise is unified around one key thing: support for people hurting.

According to Business Insider of 12/13 here are some demographic stats about Tumblr, including our first chart!

Teen Social Network Usage

Teen Social Network Usage

It’s a little blurry because I couldn’t save off the hi-res image that’s on their site (click the link above for a slightly better picture) but I’ll interpret for you:

Teens use tumblr more and for longer than they use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

So, if you are looking to reach an audience and that is your prime demographic for your show, Twitter isn’t necessarily the best vehicle. In fact, I saw many of our twitter followers actually tweet that they only got a twitter account to follow other accounts related to their favorite shows. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there at all!

Now does that mean I’m saying you should get rid of twitter accounts… not at all! Here are a couple of stats from the article:

Tumblr is strong with teens and young adults interested in self-expression, but only 8% of U.S. Internet users with incomes above $75,000 use Tumblr.

Twitter has a surprisingly young user population for a large social network — 27% of 18 to 29-year-olds in the U.S. use Twitter, compared to only 16% of people in their thirties and forties.

Instagram is very female-oriented. Sixty-eight percent of Instagram’s users are women.

I highly recommend you check out that link to BI if you are a total data junkie because the charts and graphs they have on this… just heaven. Sadly, it’s only a two-week free trial to access the graphs, but TOTALLY WORTH IT.

We’ll get to the Instagram and Twitter stats in another post. One of the primary metrics of Tumblr is the reblogs and likes. It’s easy to like a post and super easy to reblog it. Creating content that gets reblogged is key.

Our most reblogged post was a “Script to Screen” from Episode 5 of Season 2 of the infamous “#Bellarke Hug” — it currently has 1,984 notes. Without a point of reference it seems meaningless. Look, we didn’t do Taylor Swift blog post reblog/notes numbers — And we see posts all the time with hundreds of thousands of notes, so just under 2k on one post, isn’t that great. But beyond the number is the conversation it generated in OTHER blog posts. Unfortunately, that’s not a quantifiable number, and we’ll have to save the anecdotal evidence for a later post.

If I could produce a chart for our Tumblr follower trends, it would look a little something like this:

tumblr followers

The numbers here are approximate for each month, save two milestones which were called out in posts. On December 4th, we hit 10, 775 followers. On January 21, we hit 18,000 followers and that number continues to grow without me managing it at all.

There were two huge spikes of followers, first in October/November when the season premiere aired on October 22 and also at the end of December. Over the Christmas holiday break I actually watched as our follower numbers climbed and climbed over a 72 hour period — more than 4,000 new followers gained in that time frame alone. It was insane, and I still don’t understand what spurred the huge follower count in such a short span AND when we weren’t airing or publishing much content. One hypothesis was that young people were out of school and on tumblr passing time and found our feed and started following, but that is still a stunning amount for 3 days!

Again, we’re not here to draw conclusions (yet). These are just the numbers.

And there’s more to come: Twitter, Instagram and Vine.

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on January 27, 2015 2 Comments »

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Fandom in the Social Media Age – Preface

The last seven months of my life have been a whirlwind — I didn’t really blog it before (but most of you already know, so why bother) but I finally got into the writers’ room of a TV show (see last post). The show in question was The CW’s “The 100″, a post-apocalyptic “teen” sci-fi show that is more than you would think it is from just viewing the pilot. The show got a second season based on the fairly strong ratings during its midseason premiere last year, and it now has an early renewal for season 3.

The fanbase for the show has gradually grown all year, and I got a front row seat to the groundswell. Every person who found the show on Netflix, once the first season hit there in October would tweet or post about how they “discovered” this show they’d never heard of, and once you got past the pilot, wow, was it great. Young girls, young guys, older women, and yes, even a few older guys have found the show and have been building a fandom brick by brick.

While that was happening, I was put in charge of the social media presence for the writers’ room of the show, which already had a twitter account with about 3000 followers when I took over on May 19, 2014. I took a snapshot on my last day in the office, the last official day of production on Season 2 which was January 23, 2014.

You might not know it, but I was a business student long ago, and so I love to do deep dives into data points and analytics when the opportunity presents itself (which, let’s face it, screenwriting doesn’t really call for, so I don’t get a lot of chances to play in that sandbox)

Over the next few posts I’ll be dissecting my lessons learned from running the social media for a TV show’s writers’ room — what worked well, what didn’t. And what the changing face of fandom means for TV writers and even more significantly what the “new normal” of interface and engagement between show creators/writers and the fans means long-term for everyone.

Consider this the preface. The warning. Now you know what’s coming. Strap in. There’s so much to discuss…

Posted under analysis, writing

This post was written by Shawna on January 25, 2015 1 Comment »

Over the Wall

It would seem this blog exists in some kind of bubble, which I only manage to pierce in January and then never again return inside until the next time January rolls around…

Hello friends, old and new… here we are again. A new year, a new blog post. It’s how we roll around here.

So, how was 2014? Some bad? Some good? A little bit of both.

I took a quick look at my ‘new year’ post last year at this time and my goal was to get “over the wall” and into a TV writers’ room. I was smart not to specify whether that would be as a staffed writer or as an assistant. Hedging my bets is always wise.

Well, I did it. I got over the wall! As an honest to God TV Writers’ Assistant.

So, on that score, 2014 was pretty good. Mission accomplished!

But of course, that wasn’t my only goal. You don’t know me very well if you thought it was. No, no… I always have far grander goals… like, get hired to write something for money! Pitch a show, maybe even sell a show! Get into the WGA!

We did get hired for one project in February, which then never materialized. That was a major bummer. Then we got more general meetings. More hobnobbing. One meeting led to us to hooking up with apitching a show at SyFy (it didn’t sell, but hey, we pitched it!) Then, on the strength of a project that still hasn’t gotten off the ground, we were asked to write a take for a tv movie. The producer liked our take and paid us to write a treatment! We don’t know if the movie is a go yet, but PAID TO WRITE….

But no WGA membership yet.

So, the 2015 goals. You know they are lofty. Ambitious. But we are determined, my sister and me. We can’t be bargained with. We can’t be reasoned with. We don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And we absolutely will not stop, ever, until… we are staffed.

Staffing. WGA. Let’s go, 2015. We’re ready.

Posted under randomness, writing

This post was written by Shawna on January 2, 2015 1 Comment »

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The Importance of Study Hall

Someone (sorry, don’t recall who) posted an article on Facebook, which I actually read — a rarity! It’s a little bit of psychobabble and some hippity-dippity stuff about why most people don’t find their purpose in life. I think a lot of it was true, but more importantly, it lead me to a realization. I believe I discovered my purpose in life way back in high school.  In Study Hall.

Study Hall was that glorious period of the day where you had no class instruction — you’d sit at a desk or a table (one year my study hall/study period was in the cafeteria) and you’d work on homework assigned in other classes or try to pass notes.  Some would attempt to be disruptive, mostly out of boredom I suspect.  I, of course, like the good student I was at the time would do homework, and prevent myself an hour of lost TV time at home — in my house, you could only watch TV if your homework was done.  Some days, though, I’d have no homework to do.  My time was split between two activities in those cases — reading a book or writing.

I still have those notebooks, filled with scribbles and doodles, but also with stories — stories about my friends, horribly bad poetry, a musical I thought I’d write about Death coming on his white horse and taking the dying to a huge party in the afterlife.  I wrote “Star Trek: TNG” fanfic before fanfic was a thing you posted on the internet.  I wrote an episode of Tom Baker era “Dr. Who” for my friends and I to film (but never did) — it was written in stage play style, because I didn’t know what a screenplay looked like.  The local library didn’t exactly cater to budding screenwriters in Morton, Illinois.  A half dozen notebooks full of dreams and stories and uninhibited lyrical fancy.

What’s interesting to me now, and why it occurred to me at all is I wondered why it seemed so easy to be so creative and prolific back then.  Was it just my youth and my general ignorance and naivete about most of the world? We talk a lot about the intrusion of technology into our lives, but I can get distracted by doing crossword puzzles… no, I think the key to my writing success those many years ago — in study hall, there was nothing else to do.  It was homework, read or, in my case, write.  I wrote to escape the boredom.  I was actually not much different than those kids trying desperately to disrupt the class, to escape their boredom; I just chose to disrupt mine on paper, foraging through my brain for any story that would entertain me for 50 minutes.

So, what did you do during study hall?  Could it have been the way you found your purpose in life?

Posted under randomness, writing

This post was written by Shawna on January 28, 2014 2 Comments »

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Progressions

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do — I wanted to be a screenwriter.  I, of course had no idea how I would accomplish that goal. Once I was settled in my new Disney job (I was transferred cross country, remember) and started to focus on the real reason I had moved, a pathway started to present itself. I enrolled in the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting. To apply I had to write 15 pages of a script.  They were 15 terrible pages as I recall, and thankfully lost in a hard drive crash in 2007.  Still, the program wasn’t exactly rigorous in its standards and let me in.  It was meant as a way for those who could not get into the very rigorous MFA program to get a similar experience and instruction for significantly less money and no degree.  For me, it was a bargain — I had a good office job and could well afford the tuition, and what I needed was some structure to learning what this crazy dream of mine was all about.

The Professional Program, at least when I took it, was two nights a week on campus.  According to the website, I see they now offer an online version of the program, and a TV Writing track, which I am now very jealous they did not have back nearly 10 years ago, but that tells you how much power TV has gained in the last decade — also, how many more jobs are available writing TV than feature films.  The two nights a week were each 3 hours – one night was lecture, which for me was Hal Ackerman, who is still there and who had just written a book, which, obviously, became our text for the class.  The second night was a workshop class of only about 10 students as compared to the 75 or so in the lecture hall.  The first 20 weeks you spent with one instructor and then you were moved to a new workshop for the last semester / 10 weeks of the program.  My first workshop instructor was Tim Albaugh, who is also still there teaching.  Tim was the one who helped me find my writing strengths and weaknesses.  He overlooked the folly in my topic and genre choice for my first screenplay (A Western, about a Chinese Man who moved to Alaska and dealt with hardcore bullying. It was based on a true story but a really poor choice for first script right out of the gate) and did his best to encourage me as a writer.

Sidebar: Speaking of Tim  reminded me of another person who had encouraged my writing at a far younger age.  His name is Brad Keefauver. Brad worked with my mother at the local newspaper office and told her of his love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I remember his very distinctive BSI earring he wore, in part because he was the only man I’d ever seen wear an earring at that point in my life (I lived in a very sheltered midwest town). The BSI of course was for the Baker Street Irregulars, a national organization of which he was a member, having written many pieces about Sherlock Holmes.  He invited my mother to a meeting of the Peoria Sherlock society – The Hansoms of John Clayton.  My mother, knowing what a fan I was of Sherlock stories on PBS (Jeremy Brett was my first Sherlock) took me along, which is where I met Brad and admired his daring choice of ear-wear.  He gifted me a large tome of the Complete Sherlock Holmes, Annotated.  I still own the very large book, which in some years served as a way to prop up my small 13″ television.  Of late, the book has been getting a bit of a workout again, as I pour back through some of the stories and the annotations provided to suss out details from either Moffat’s fine adaptation SHERLOCK or the CBS show ELEMENTARY, a fine show in its own right, honestly, even if it has strayed more from the traditional Doyle tales.

Brad not only introduced me properly to Holmes and the wonders of that world, but within the year he gave me real inspiration. I entered a Young Writers competition at my junior high school.  I wrote a futuristic tale, told as a diary about a young girl named Sari transporting her brothers in an old Yugo across the post-nuclear war hellscape to a launch point to get them off Earth to a space station.  I placed third in the competition. One of the judges was Brad.  Somewhere in a box, likely in my parents’ garage are the encouraging words he wrote. I’ve neither time nor inclination to drive to San Diego to find them (I searched the entirety of my own closet last night, coming up empty). Suffice to say, they warmed my little 12 or 13-year old heart.  It would be many years until I would purse writing as an occupation, but that little ember glowed for most of those years, reminding me that someone thought I had talent.

So, after the UCLA Professional Program, I spent about two or three months trying to finish the second feature I had written for the program in the final semester – a comedy.  I learned quickly that while I had some interesting or quirky comedic sensibility, it was hardly mass appeal.  I grew frustrated with my lack of output.  Here I had been in a program that had required me to produce story, outline, script pages on a weekly basis and that structure was now gone.

I had just started watching this new show on FOX called HOUSE — it’s ratings were okay, but not spectacular out of the gate. I was a huge fan of Hugh Laurie from BLACKADDER and SENSE & SENSIBILITY among other things, so Julie and I were two of the few Americans who knew who the hell this guy was and actually anticipated this new medical show.  Within just the first two or three episodes, we were hooked, and I used to try to come up with great ideas for stories for this character.  It then occurred to me that I might increase my output by branching out to TV writing — I was a product of TV as babysitter in the 80’s and was well versed in all manner of shows.  In some ways, I was more adept with talking TV than I ever was talking film.  By some stroke of Providence, I decided to look at the UCLA Extension classes; I had heard they offered TV writing courses each semester, and as I was missing the structure of the classroom environment for my writing, it felt like a good option.  What sold me on taking the class, was that the entry level TV writing course was being taught by a writer who was working on HOUSE — Matt Witten.

Of course, I couldn’t write a HOUSE spec in his class — it would cause him all kinds of potential problems, so I chose the other show I was obsessed with that year – LOST.  I’m not sure what it says about me that I consistently choose high degree of difficulty for my first attempts.  I guess I like to fail spectacularly.

Six or seven Extension classes later, I got a certificate in TV Writing.  That and a dollar will buy you a scratch-off lottery ticket; it’s worth nothing to say I paid UCLA many hundreds of dollars to learn how to write TV. In the one full year of extension classes I took, I finished three TV spec scripts — the LOST spec, a HOUSE spec, which I wrote in a different class, and a COLD CASE spec.  That output was far greater than what I had experienced in the Professional Program, and I was officially hooked on TV writing.

Why am I telling you this? I guess I’m more telling myself, looking back on my journey to what brought me to where I am now.  At times I feel as if I am so far behind everyone else I know.  It’s folly to measure your success against others, and yet, I cannot help but do so at times.  There are so many factors that play into how quickly or slowly we progress in our careers and in our lives.  Some of us have setbacks, insurmountable obstacles, and others get lucky, are in the right place at the right time, strike up a conversation with the right person, make what ultimately becomes the right friends…none can be planned.  All you can do is try to take advantage when opportunity presents itself, and do your best to dodge the roadblocks.

I hope to take the next step in my progression this year.  I want this to be the year I make it over the wall and into a TV writers’ room.  It’s been a long journey, a journey that started when I was 12 years old and was delayed for many years.  I came into the business “late” by many accounts, but I refuse to be beaten.

Thanks to Kay Reindl’s retweet of Chuck Wendig’s link to a guest post on his blog, I found motivation in Kameron Hurley’s words about Persistence being the key to success.  It is often said that those who succeed in this business are the ones who don’t quit.  I honestly don’t know how I’d quit now.  Besides that, as I once explained to my father, who wondered where my line in the sand was — the point where I pack it in and go back to a nice cushy I.T. job, there is no line in the sand which I can see.  I may take day jobs here and there, but I will always be a writer.  I can never not be a writer.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a new pilot outline to work on.  The machine stops for no one.

Posted under randomness, writing

This post was written by Shawna on January 23, 2014 No Comments »

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Here We Go Again.

New Year. 2014. Whoop-edee-doo!

No, truly I’m excited for the year, just like I was excited for last year. 2013 had a lot going on. Here’s a sample of my year:

* Retained agent (yay! I’m still repped!)

* Went on about 12 pitch meetings for a project, which ultimately didn’t sell

* Went on about  10 general meetings with people/companies which read our scripts and liked them.

* Had one staffing meeting, which, did not result in staffing, but hey. Progress!

* Boss has two tv show projects going, one of which has been announced, another which hasn’t. So that’s two shots at potential future employment!

* Began developing a web series with my sister and writing partner Julie for an established brand. Watch this space.

* Completed writing a multi-platform series (for money!) with Bernie Su though it is clinically dead right now.

* Completed two new spec pilots, started a third.

So, it’s been a hell of a year! A lot accomplished, but yet, it feels like we are back to running the race — staffing looms, so we have the new pilot to finish, and of course other projects we are dying to write.  And here I am, after trying to get the old blog restarted in September/October trying to figure out if I can try, try again.

What choice do I have? Shut it down? Perish the thought…

How’s your 2014 outlook?

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This post was written by Shawna on January 12, 2014 4 Comments »

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Scribosphere Carnival #3 – Criticism

Michael Patrick Sullivan at Red Right Hand is in charge this week, and he’s come up with a very intriguing topic.  In his words:

This week’s Scribosphere topic is how we each take criticism, or how we don’t, who do we seek out to provide it, and what do we do with it once we have it, how we give it, or, you know…whatever.

Let me start with this very important admission: As a kid, I was terrible at taking criticism.  My dad would constantly tell me that I needed to grow a tougher skin because I would inevitably burst into tears at even the smallest bit of criticism, constructive as it might be.  Of course as an adult, I realize that back then I might have also been uncontrollably bursting into tears due to my undiagnosed chemical imbalances, but that’s beside the point.  No, the point is, that over the decades, I have definitely gotten a thicker skin, and now I actually look forward to receiving notes and criticism of my writing.

I think I finally learned how to accept criticism when I realized that I wouldn’t become a better writer without it.  I believe too, that when you begin to critique the work of others, you gain a new appreciation for how difficult it is to be the bearer of criticism.  If you understand the difficulty in taking notes, it makes you more mindful on how to give them.  But, some people do not know how to give a note.

Let’s talk about that…

How To Give Good Notes

It may seem corny or even kabuki, but it does honestly help to soften your criticism with compliments.  Often in my writers groups now, I or others in the group will say ‘skip the compliments’ because we are there to work and we don’t need the platitudes to ease the pain of getting the tough love.  But when you give notes to someone you don’t know as well, and don’t know their level of pain tolerance, it’s a good idea to err on the side of “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  Start with pointing out something good, and make it more than just a surface level platitude — were the characters really interesting? Was the plot intriguing? Did you like the writer’s voice? Was it a quick read? Funny? Exciting? Do more than just say you ‘liked it’ – writers tend to equate that with ‘it sucked’ — specificity of positive attributes will endear the writer to hearing what you have to say, particularly if you can be observant and astute about it.  The less specific you are, the less it feels like you actually read the damn thing.  Note good dialog or a great scene description — give them the page number! Let them know that you read it, you have real notes and you aren’t just placating them with positivity (like, say, your mom or your significant other).

Once you’ve got the sugar down their gullet, it’s time for the medicine.  There’s a way to administer this that causes less pain.  “I hated x” tends to be a bad way to give a note (unless you know the person really, REALLY well). I mean, that’s like stabbing someone in the neck!  Look, you are trying to make this as painless as possible.  We all know there’s some kabuki going on, that we are following a little bit of a script in giving notes, but that’s okay.  It’s what makes it possible for us to really hear the note and digest it.

I tend to start with big, general notes first — structure issues, for example.  Plot. Characters.  Start with the big notes first.  As an inverse to the positive, what gave you trouble? (what did you “bump on” — a common term for something in the script that jolts you out of the reading, making you aware of the mechanics beyond the story; a question, point of confusion, a contradiction)  Once you have your big overall note stated, you can get to specifics — where do the bumps occur?

Now, you may want to give the writer suggestions.  There’s a way to do this, and I’ll address ‘suggestions as notes’ in a few paragraphs.

Sometimes a script is just a train wreck.  It’s not small things, minor fixes — it’s just a hot mess.  Usually the hotter the mess, the nicer you have to be in dishing out the notes.  Because not everyone knows…

How To Take a Note

It’s inevitable.  You’ve read this script for this person, taken the time to read it, digest it, dissect it, figure out what works, what doesn’t, and when you go to tell them the news — they just seem defensive. Oblivious. Angry. In denial.  Any or all of these.

Defensiveness is the worst.  If someone gives you a note, you must fight the instinct to argue it.  Don’t tell your note giver that they are wrong! Wrong! WRONG!! This person has taken precious time to devote to your baby.  You asked them for their feedback.  The proper thing to do is keep your mouth shut, unless the person asks you a question for clarification.  That doesn’t mean you just nod and smile — that’s a sure sign you aren’t listening, another way of being defensive.  It is possible for the note to be wrong.  Very often you’ll get contradicting notes.  The important thing here is to take your emotion out of the process.  Before I go into a meeting or a setting where I am about to receive notes, whether in a professional capacity or in a group of peers, I mentally divorce myself from my project.  I try to imagine that this is someone else’s script, and I am hearing the notes as an impartial bystander.  Sometimes this doesn’t always work (I mean, I’m not made of stone after all!) but it does help.  If the note giver is doing all of the things I suggested above, the process is almost pleasant.  You want to know where the problems are — knowing where you aren’t being clear with story, character, intent will help you make a better script.  Isn’t that what you want? You want these notes! “Give them to me!!”

Okay, sometimes the person giving the notes isn’t very good at expressing themselves.  They say “I hated X.” (and they really don’t know you well enough to get away with that).  They stab you in the jugular.  It’s hard — you weren’t expecting that pain and wow, someone just called your baby ugly.  Take a moment.  Count to three.  Do NOT rebut, argue, cry, laugh or scoff.  Just write the note down.  Here’s the thing — they may not have given you a good note, in fact, it could be really crappy — but generally if someone gives you a note on something, even if the note itself doesn’t make sense, it’s indicative of something.  If you get the note more than once, obviously you need to look at it.

Some people want to give you suggestions.  We can’t help it — we’re writers, we see a problem, we want to help fix it.  Executives love to give you suggestions.  The problem is, their suggestions are usually wrong.  They tend to suggest things that fix the symptom, not the underlying problem.  You have to learn to see the note within the note (yeah, this process gets very Inception-like).  I take all the notes — those I agree with, those I don’t, because hours, days, weeks later, I may read that dumb note and realize it isn’t so dumb.

There’s a way, as the note giver, to provide suggestions, but you can’t just say “you should do Y instead of X.”  That is a sure-fire way to get the receiver of notes to completely shut down and ignore everything you have to say.  You may have the brilliant fix for them, but you know what? It’s their script.  They need to decide what to do.

Instead of “you should have a car chase here” the better way to make a suggestion is “I think your script loses momentum here– perhaps you need some kind of action sequence – maybe a car chase? I don’t know, you decide what it is, but it just feels like nothing is happening.”  Another favorite device is to talk about the “bad version,” a) because it most likely is the ‘bad version’ of something and b) it allows the note receiver to understand you aren’t necessarily prescribing that a solution, just using it as an example to illustrate their point.  There is a rare chance that the “bad version” is actually the right answer, but let the note receiver figure that out.

Wow, I had a lot more to say about criticism than I realized.  I suppose the TL;DR version (too long, didn’t read, for you not into the whole brevity thing) is: Don’t Be Mean. Don’t Be Defensive. Everybody be cool and respect the other party.  It isn’t easy to be on the giving end or the receiving end of notes, but these little tips can help make it just a bit easier for everyone involved.

 

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This post was written by Shawna on October 7, 2013 6 Comments »

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Scribosphere Carnival #2 – Workflow

Jonathan was tagged with starting us off this week, and he’s provided a great topic to explore:

WORKFLOW – Everybody has one, and none are the same. Inspired by a post from John August (referencing THIS SITE), you should explain where and when you write, what hardware you use, what software you use, and what you would change about how you write. Have at it!

Where and when do you write?

I wish I could say that I have a really regimented routine, but honestly, most of the time, I write where and when I can.  I do have a desk which I bought thinking it would really increase my productivity, but in actuality, it more or less has become storage space.  Most of my writing happens exactly where I am now – sitting on my bed (I know, the worst) with or without the breakfast tray I use as a “desk” (right now it’s ‘with’)  I goodly percentage of my writing happens while I am at work and I have some time between projects for said boss — that writing happens in their former nursing chair w/ ottoman which rocks – literally.  That little corner has become my daily workspace.  Finally, I also make a dent in my writing at a little place called Solar de Cahuenga. I used to go here almost daily when I was unemployed for awhile, but I’m back to weekend visits and the occasional late night visit, since they’re usually open until 1 AM.  I love the vibe of the place, and now that I have a laptop with decent battery life again, I am no longer limited to one of the five or six tables which have outlet access (it’s the one thing I’d improve about the place, but then, maybe it would only cause me more headaches finding a table).  There’s outdoor seating, free wi-fi, and a decent menu of food besides the usual coffee bar fare.  I do try not to be a bad patron and I always buy at least a large iced tea (which is strangely addicting) when I am there for an hour or two.  For longer marathon sessions, I’ll buy lunch or dinner.  Back in the day, I’d hike to Solar, but now that employed and likely on a schedule, I drive and park nearby or splurge the $3 for the onsite valet parking.

Sorry, that turned into a bit of a commercial for Solar. But still. Good place.  Good coffee. A lot of regulars.

As for the hours I write, erratic.  If I’m at home, anytime in the evening. If I have insomnia, I might be up writing.  If I’m at work, middle of the day.  If I’m at Solar on the weekend it could be any time or evening on a weeknight.  As I said, no set schedule.  I’d like to say I write every day, but somedays, my brain needs a break.  Still, I’m far more prolific now than at any time in the recent past, so there’s that.

 

What hardware do you use?

Dell laptop.  I’m on my third one since 2005(ish).  I have my iPad which gets used a lot for note-taking and updating Google Docs and some for Final Draft, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

 

What software do you use?

Final Draft for all scripting.  Google Docs for breaking story with my sister and creating treatments/outlines.  Sometimes we transfer to a Word Doc or PDF for distribution, if we are presenting any of those documents to our writers group.  That’s about it.  I’ve never been keen to try any of the fancy pants outlining docs, and I’m not really a notecard person.  We just build outline bit by bit, starting with the structure and filling it in as we go along.  Pretty simple, I guess.

 

What would you change about how you write?

I admire my boss’s workflow.  Of course, writing is his full-time job, so he really treats it that way.  He gets up very early, like 4 AM and he writes for about 4 or 5 hours.  Then he takes a break to actually get ready for the day, particularly any meetings he might have, and depending on if he has deadlines, he’ll be back at it in the afternoon.  I think it’s really key that he does this every day — he writes every day, for several hours before the main day even starts, so if his day is filled with meetings or appointments, he’s already gotten work done for the day.

I, on the other hand, am not a morning person.  I have the tendency to write late rather than early.  It’s too easy for me to make excuses for not having written that day (my day job, other activities which filled the time) and then declare myself “too tired” to stay up and write.  Lately though, I’ve been on a bit of a tear, with real dedication to getting the script written and passed off to my sister for her round.  This has given me more discipline, but it isn’t consistent.  Might be that I get a lot done at work, or I get it done when I get home.  Solar gets used for marathon sessions of several hours when I have work to do.

On a more crafty than logisitics note, my sister and I are ramping up to dual processing -working on two different projects simultaneously, handing each one off to the other when our work is complete.  Ideally we’d be getting twice as many scripts completed in a year, simply because we are each always working on a different project.  We were able to test this out a bit earlier in the year, when we were revising one script while drafting a second.  As I’d finish acts, I’d give it to her for her pass and she’d hand me the revisions she’d been doing, so I can take a look at them and do a pass.  The other advantage this gives us is not getting burned out on a single script quite so fast, since we are always directing ourselves to something else in short order.  What we don’t know if this method will ultimately speed up our processes or slow us down.  Time will tell, but I suspect it will make us faster and give us more routine.  As soon as we “finish” one project (it goes out for reads, etc) we cycle in a new one.  The old one my come back around for rewrites, but it will be done in tandem with something else.  Feels efficient.

 

On an unrelated note, I’m really enjoying Scribosphere Carnival so far.  I’d really like to see other screenwriting bloggers get involved, so if you are one of those bloggers, why not jump in? I promise, the water’s fine.  Don’t make me come over there.

 

 

 

Posted under blogs, writing

This post was written by Shawna on October 5, 2013 2 Comments »

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Scribosphere Carnival #2 – Submit your topic ideas

In keeping with the rules I posted earlier, I get to pick the topic for next week.  You have until Sunday at 2 PM to submit your topic.  Winner gets to go next and post their topic to their blog next Monday!

Let the games begin.

Posted under blogs

This post was written by Shawna on September 26, 2013 3 Comments »

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