Monday, 28 January 2013

Book review: Scriptwriting 2.0, Writing for the Digital Age

Marie Drennan
Scriptwriting 2.0: Writing for the Digital Age is a textbook "for those looking to explore online series." The cover says it was written by Marie Drennan, Yuri Baranovsky & Vlad Baranovsky. I've been looking forward to reading it for months, but before we get into the text, I need to clarify a couple of points.

If you're looking for free-flowing whimsy, Yuri Baranovsky-style, or the story about the duck and the rabbi, you've come to the wrong place. It’s also not a pop-up book about dinosaurs, despite an earlier report to that effect. This is a textbook. The cover is determinedly youthful-looking, but there is a School Ma'am element of sit-up-straight about it. The good news is that it jumps right into the business at hand; no waste, no fuss.

Second, the title. I assumed it meant there was a pre-existing book called Scriptwriting 1.0, but no, the "two" is intended to invoke the history of web development. When I asked the editor, Gay Pauley, about it, she said:
"Believe me, we went back and forth with the title (and this title is better than others that were proffered!)! The reference is not that specific—it simply refers indirectly to “web 2.0” and other “new” online technologies."
So, if you're technically-minded, the "2.0" came from the same place as the "II" in dBase II. And if that went over your head, accept it as a flattering reference to your youthful innocence.

Possibly the best (most practically helpful) part of the book is that it concludes with the full screenplay for Leap Year, Season 2, Episode 1.
For those who don't know, Leap Year is a successful web series, written by Yuri Baranovsky and Vlad Baranovsky, directed by Yuri Baranovsky, produced by Wilson Cleveland, and stitched together by the prolific team at Happy Little Guillotine Films.

Leap Year is a Silicon Valley dramedy series about the founders of the "Skype with holograms" startup, C3D.
Just to round things out, I have included the video of Season 2, Episode 1 of Leap Year at the end of this post. Now, to the book. ________________________________________________________________________

Scriptwriting 2.0: Writing for the Digital Age is a textbook. There's no way round that fact. It's a textbook about screenwriting and filmmaking, one which assumes no previous knowledge and which is clearly intended to be consumed over one semester. It consists of 150 pages (plus the screenplay at the end), and is divided into ten chapters.

Chapter One sets the scene, and introduces the three writers. Most of us are familiar with the work of Yuri and Vlad Baranovsky. If not, you should read this interview with Yuri, from last year. 

The paragraph dealing with Marie Drennan is actually a review of how the teaching of screenwriting-for-the-internet has changed over the years. There's nothing about the person at all. Some internet sleuthing tells us that she gained an M.A. in Radio & Television from San Francisco State University in 2001, that she is currently employed as an Assistant professor at that university, that she is an irregular Twitterer, an inconsistent blogger, and that her taste in films ranges from Metropolis (1927) and Network (1976), to The Princess Bride (1987) and Shaun of the Dead (2004). Oh, and in her spare time, she plays drums and electric guitar.

Chapter Two talks about ideas, how to get them, how to turn an idea into a premise, the Central Question, characters, antagonists, and the story world.

Chapter Three addresses basic three act structure, under the labels The Setup, Rising Action and Resolution. Chapter Four touches on the basics of Dialogue. Chapter Five gives some tips on Revising and Polishing your screenplay.

Chapter Six is labelled 'Episode 2 and Beyond.' It includes notes on extending a single episode into a web series. Chapter Seven discusses screenplay format. Chapter Eight is about Copyright. Chapter Nine is about gathering a crew and editing your film. Chapter Ten is about the audience: Creating a Brand, Growing Your Audience and Maintaining Your Community.

You could think of Scriptwriting 2.0 as a technical counterpart to the Viki King book, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, but with a webseries in view, rather than a feature film.

If you are just starting to learn about screenwriting and filmmaking, absolutely from scratch, this is as good a book as any.


Ed Love said...

It doesn't seem like much of the book is specifically for online web series. Or is that just a misinterpretation of mine? I hope so!

Henry Sheppard said...

A number of web series are referenced throughout the book, as practical examples and illustrations of various points.

But, no, it is not written for people who are familiar with short filmmaking, who now want to expand their screenplay into a web series.

Marie Drennan said...

Hi, Marie Drennan here! What a fun blast from the past, seeing those vintage band photos and link to the blog I kept from 2007-2009. Hadn't come across those in a while!

For those interested, the book is indeed a textbook, or was when I (an real actual School Ma'am!) conceived it and pitched it to an academic publisher. There hadn't yet been a book for teachers/students/classes in scriptwriting for web series, so I got it in my head to write one. But Yuri and Vlad really made it come alive, and I hope it's useful for folks outside of class.

Thanks for the review. Write like the wind!