Sunday, April 17, 2011

Killer Serial (Part One)

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

Have you read our Saturday serial, “Flash Ahhhh!” yet? It’s amazingly good. At times. Maybe fewer times than it should be. I like it though. It’s fun to write. Nathan and I swap turns writing it, and we really have no idea where it’s going.

I’m less concerned with explaining what it’s about and more concerned with explaining two things about it. The first is a little history of how it came about. The second is how it differs from the normal writing that I do, and that Nathan does.

Scripts the Early Years – My earliest memories of scripts were these odd pamphlets that we got at school that took a segment of a popular TV show, and transcribed it into a one act play. Our teacher would assign us characters in the play, and if we had a part, we would read it when we got to our part. We would read it while sitting at our desks, so it wasn’t like we were acting, but I became somewhat familiar with the script format.

Speech Class – When I lived in Azle, Texas, I ended up in a speech class right at the end of the year. We were given an assignment to do a fake radio program. But it ended up being a fake TV program, because our teacher taped it and put it on public access. The unfortunate bit here is that the show ran either at the wrong time or not at all that summer, and by the time I talked to the teacher the next year to get a copy, she said the tape was taped over. The point here is that this was the first real time I wrote a script. It’s also the first time I appeared on public access, provided it ever showed. It was me and a kid named James who did most of the work on the writing. I’ve actually written about this in detail, and it’s a great story. Maybe one day I’ll share it. But not now.

Azle, Texas – The next step down this ladder is when my friend Adam, as a teenager, wrote an odd, but very funny, parody in script form of my teenage life called “Azle, Texas.” I have a tape somewhere of teenage Adam and teenage me acting it out. It was 20+ pages, and it uses real names, so the recording can’t really be publicly released. A year or so later, he wrote a much, much longer sequel called “Azle, Texas II.” It was also very funny, and very odd. I only have a printed out script of it. I think he has a copy still. I started writing “Azle, Texas III” but only got about 20 pages done of it. I can’t remember if it was because I wanted to write it, or if Adam wanted a break from it.

Sniffles (sniff) – Miguel and I did a public access show for a while there. A lot of the first segments we did were not scripted, including much of the twenty minute chase scene we did. It’s not that we went long without scripts, or we ever stopped improvisational shooting, but it’s just worth noting. At some point, we tried to streamline our production process, and I became the primary script writer, whether the idea was mine or not.

Denton, Texas – This is where the “Azle, Texas” most closely parallels with “Flash Ahhhh!” Miguel was mildly amused by the whole idea of “Azle, Texas” and we thought to do a parody of Miguel’s college life. Miguel wrote the first few pages, along with details about some of his classmates and sights, sites, and situations that we might touch on in the parody. He handed me the script a week later, and I wrote the next few pages. We would get together about once a week or two weeks to read our part to the other, and hand it off. We really thought we were funny, by the way. I don’t remember why we scheduled a completion time, other than to just complete it. The thing about it is that we planned to do a sequel anyway. He handed the script off to me to finish, and I made the mistake of mapping out the last so many segments. (I’ll discuss the problem with planning later.) Then I set about to finish it in a couple of weeks while Miguel started the new story. Every time I turned around I got distracted. The biggest problem was that it wasn’t always life or other projects that were the distractions. In trying to get through the mapped out ending, the story became complicated, and I kept thinking of tangents. At one point I made the tangents a plot point where minority groups started demanding their own tangent. Sheesh! My last segment of the story ended up being longer than what Miguel and I had written before, and it took me a year to complete. Miguel, understandably, wasn’t too interested in any of it by then. When I transcribed the whole mess into Word files, I wrote a review of it, which basically stated that both halves were funny, but the section I wrote on my own didn’t have the same charm as what we wrote together because one of the fun parts of writing a script serialized is taking what the last person wrote, trying to figure out where to go next, and trying to figure out what kind of mess you can leave the story, and the characters, in for your co-writer to fix.

According To Whim – While it started out as a podcast that Miguel and I did, we soon started doing them with Nathan, who shot a couple of “Sniffles (sniff)” segments with us. Nathan had bought up AccordingToWhim.com, because he likes buying domain names, and because he wanted to organize the audio shows. When Nathan and I decided to do a public access show, it didn’t seem to make sense to use “Sniffiles (sniff)” since Miguel didn’t seem interested in working with us, so we used the title “According To Whim.”

Flash Ahhhh! – Nathan actually came up with this idea, even though I’ve been the cheerleader for completing the project. If you go back and read the first three episodes, you see an approximation of what we wrote back in 2005 and/or 2006. He wrote that first part and asked me to figure out what to do with it. I wrote the next segment, and passed it back to him. I told him how “Denton, Texas” had worked, and I suggested that we do a complete 30 minute show using the “you write part, I write part” method. We even started shooting it. Then he stopped adding to the script. Then I stopped adding to the script. We were planning to write a blog post for every day this year. We were trying to work out how to split the blog posting. It occurred to me that rather than each of us doing seven posts every two weeks that if we did three each, each week, and did a joint blog each week that it would be easier to keep track of. Having done a couple of scripts on the blog before, I suggested that we do “Flash Ahhhh!” as a weekly serial for the year. Nathan agreed. I edited the original writings to have better narrative flow (the way we were writing originally was meant more as a map of dialogue for shooting the sketch) and we started writing the new episodes.

In Part Two, I’ll discuss what I like about writing the serial.

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