Screenwriting : Nothing Unique by Michael L. Burris

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Michael L. Burris

Nothing Unique

So I'm back. New computer, new digital world (for me) and hopeful new attitude. I've been working on some pitches and wondering about the question; What makes it unique or different? An approach that is what I think reality based and practical caused me to come up with the answer of nothing. Nothing because it has come to my attention in today's world in order for something to seem to sell it is much like many great works already out there. So my dumb logic is pitch with references and similarities to what is already great and successful,. The work is not unique or different but know and stress the tones like many greats that have come and went or are current. It is my belief all successes have tones from various greats of the past or current successes no matter what the work, be it television, movies, music, transmedia, etc. Anyway peace out and luck to all with your endeavors. Hope everybody gets the chance to option some stuff out there.

Bill Costantini

I can understand where you're coming from. After all, drama has a structure that is rooted in Ancient Greece, and most following works have a similarity which reflects that structure: here's a protagonist who is trying to get something, and here are the conflicts that the protagonist faces in getting that something, which then leads to a climax. But on the flipside is this...while most new stories have that DNA in them, every new story also tells a tale in a new way. That's what makes the new story unique and fresh. It's a new journey on a similar path, but with new characters; new settings; new themes, struggles, twists, conflicts and endings; and a new voice in the new writer. So I think that's where the real difference is for today's writer who is telling that type of tale. Even though a new story might have some old DNA in it, it's still a unique newborn baby. Good luck with your unique newborn babies - no stale or worn-out diapers, please. They deserve better! And congrats and a shout out to Aeschylus, who won first prize in the Athens Drama Competition in 472 B.C. for The Persians. Way to go, bro! (Better late than never, right?) Edited to Add: if you're looking for new ideas based on old themes, all you have to do is read newspapers/news web sites or watch the news. There are so many new stories everyday in this wild, exciting and crazy world of ours, it can make a writers "Idea Notebook" get filled up pretty quickly.

Fiona Faith Ross

You ask "What makes it unique or different?" MLB. I was pondering a similar question recently, and I think I've found one possible approach. John Truby's "story design". In his book "The Anatomy of Story". Hopefully, it will show you the path to finding the unique or different in yours. I find the concept extremely useful.

Fiona Faith Ross

Nice observation, PZ.

Melissa Willis

I'm no expert, but here's what I've found: There is nothing new. There's only a new take on an old story. Remember, no one has heard your original voice, your story, your perspective. That's how things become unique. I think the hard part is setting it apart and making it stand out from what's already been done. And that's where the pitch comes in. That's why it's so important. I'm afraid I haven't found the secret to that yet, though! You could also argue that it doesn't so much need to be unique as it does relatable, where you can really touch your audience. Ideally, a combination of the two.

Michael L. Burris

All good comments and perspectives yourselves. Maybe the key is having passion but realizing the perspective of who you are pitching to is more than likely humdrum no matter how contagious you try to become with the idea. That kind of supports my logic and theory to "nothing unique" because if you keep hitting those tones and elements of past or current successes of what already has been done it might make more sense in the humdrum and reality of all that is heard daily. Once you get that hook or non chalant occasional nod from them then maybe you highlight why it will work, enhance and have it's own voice within the common voice of successful media of it's form. Heck if I know but it's where I'm at in preparation for things to come anyway. Again good luck all.

Michael L. Burris

Good advice Peter, I have four sitcom pilots in mind right now (Close to "pitch" ready). They are finished but need a rewrite. I have one sitcom four show series done too. A couple of them are close to ready with show bibles, outlines of ten episodes, theme song lyric, etc. Maybe my attitude is a bit defeatist at times and perhaps it is my audience perspective that creates my attitude because I've seen what was great seedling and pilot pitches that just didn't seem to resonate once aired. No authority but I get some insider stuff on what is optioned, etc., in one of my closed groups I'm a part of. There are times I think I know exactly what I'm doing then those where I feel foolish on my own concepts as well. Ironically I really do like to go to the beat of my own drum when in the creative process and I guess my vision of mass media and ways to be successful veer from the norm sometimes. I've been doing this stuff for just a bit over five years and have seedlings for about ten sitcoms, four movies (one of which is a trilogy or perhaps four movie package). I've written maybe a half of dozen pilots (One written out to four episodes), a couple of movies, some sketch and some commercials. My personal situation caused about a six-month hiatus from doing the grind work and just now starting to get back into the swing of things. I never give up it's just looking at where to evolve right now and best instinctive approach to take. My logline skills are par at best (know they need honed) and really is a starting point to getting any idea packaged once written well. I create a bible first when doing "pilots" with a weak logline in there somewhere. Perhaps my post was more about just putting out some feelers seeing what happens with opinion. Thanks for the time you took for the advice. Most advice has some golden nuggets when really taken in even if the processing takes a while.

Regina Lee

Quoting the OP: "So my dumb logic is pitch with references and similarities to what is already great and successful,." I haven't read the entire thread. In my experience, studios/networks like to place bets on projects that are "similar" to or evocative of "great" and "successful" predecessors, just like the OP said. A chief reason why? Because they have seen a clear demonstration that there's an audience for that type of material. They NEED that audience to show up so that they have a shot at being profitable. Common sense, yes? And yes, we are in a post-modern society, and a lot of stuff has already been tried.

Bill Costantini

Mike - no disrespect intended, but I think if a writer approaches storytelling with the attitude that "nothing is unique", then that writer is doomed to write just that: nothing unique. But if a writer approaches it with the attitude of "I'm gonna tell a familiar story but with these unique characters and make it memorable," then that writer has a better ability to make that story less "ho-hum" and more memorable. I think all artists struggle with creating something that's original at times. Writers can have a really hard task in creating something that is familiar, yet different. The way we do that is with unique characters who partake in human experiences that everybody knows. Like Joyce said about Hemingway, "he has reduced the veil between writing and life, which is what every writer strives to do." Hemingway's stories about life's experiences weren't unique subjects, either, but his characters and their experiences told through his insightful voice and their unique eyes sure were. That's what we should all strive to do, too. And producers want that, and in bulk, or else they wouldn't be looking all the time and by the dozens for it. As an aspiring sitcom storyseller, your task of creating characters and their experiences - memorable or "ho-hum" - is unique to you, and those results will only be determined by your own passion and imagination used in creating memorable characters in familiar situations, combined with your own insightful understanding of human experiences. That's the not-so-magical formula that all creative writers use. And I hope I'm not off-base in my interpretation of your recent posts, but you sure sound like you're struggling with the whole juxtaposition/conundrum/hair-puller of "same, yet different." If I am, I apologize in advance. Good luck, bro.

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