Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Everybody loves Ellen Sandler!

I went to Ellen Sandler's writing for TV seminar!

Sponsored by the Northwest Screenwriter's Guild, the former Emmy nominated writer, producer and co-executive producer for the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond led us through three sessions of great writing advice, focusing on perfecting dialogue and how to present ourselves successfully in the marketplace.

Her book, The TV Writer's Workbook is a step-by-step guide for anyone wishing to write TV programs.

A writing career is not for the faint of heart, so any reputable advice is always helpful.

Ellen Sandler has been there, done it, worked with the best (and the not-so-best), and is in the position to relate - in a very understandable way for the beginner and the pro - how to do it correctly and how to establish yourself with the industry.

As in every art, craft or vocation that relies on your heart, mind and gut to manifest itself, it doesn't matter how much you want to do it - it matters how much you understand what is expected of you, how the "system" operates, how hard you're willing to apply yourself to write effectively and efficiently and of course how well you work with other people - even those you find difficult.

In TV, you work for other people's shows using other people's money. Which makes you a hired hand.

Get your own show? That's a different story.

As she insisted, your success as a TV writer lies in bringing something of yourself, something real, something you value, something you cherish into the established construct of the characters and program.

As someone who cares deeply about the bond between families and food, Sandler wrote the hilarious "Everybody" episode when Marie made a "healthy" tofu Thanksgiving dinner, only to discover that Raymond had secretly purchased a complete, old-fashioned turkey feast to be delivered and devoured after they were supposed to be finished eating the "fake" meal - after his parents left. But the package arrived while they were eating the fake meal. Ouch!

Guest actors: unlike working in film, the table read for a sitcom is a performance, not a rehearsal. Ellen says that sitcoms have actually fired top theater actors because they don't understand how to do the work.

As my actors learned in a sitcom workshop I did, sitcoms are all about energy. It takes a lot of energy and stamina to work in them. They are a hybrid of theater and film. It's crucial to 1) hit your mark, 2) project your voice and 3) be the character, don't try to "act" the character.

And I'm happy to report I did a bit of performing in the workshop as well - which was fun. I felt right at home and look forward to getting back into acting later this year.

I love taking seminars to keep up with the industry and to hear things I know explained another way, especially by very talented, skilled folks. And I'm always willing to make a fool of myself by getting up whenever a volunteer is solicited for a visual aide.

Something I appreciate about Ellen's book and presentations: she genuinely cares about teaching what will empower and help you in a realistic and down to earth way. She wants you to learn, to understand your obstacles and opportunities clearly, enabling you to pursue your writing for TV goals with a practical, productive -and profitable process.

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