Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Between Two Worlds Part One: TV Writer, Shawna Benson (The 100, Emma Approved) Guest Post

It's no secret that I absolutely love television. But until the fall when most of my favorite TV shows return, it can be easy for my newer readers to forget that aside from reading and revising my manuscript, watching TV and writing for TV are also passions and aspirations of mine and many of my readers.

So what better a reminder than to get back to the basics of what this blog is all about and give you Hollywood the Write Way, take you inside the writer's room of a hit TV show?

The CW's The 100 to be exact (Season two premieres October 22nd). Not only that, our guest writer, Shawna Benson also works on the hit series, Emma Approved which I know all of you book nerds love! Below is how Shawna landed these incredible opportunities and how you could too. Stay tuned for more from Shawna in part two! Readers, writers, TV lovers, dreamers... this one's for you.

I know you.

I’ve been you…hell, I am you. And I know what you’re thinking – what in the name of Hades qualifies her to write a guest post for this blog? I’m not sure I really have the answer to that question, since I’m wondering that very same thing, but I was asked to write about my experiences working in TV and digital entertainment, and here I am. Perhaps when this is over, we’ll both know why I’m here writing this…

Television and digital (online) content. So similar, and yet so different, still. They are like two cousins – same family, and yet, if you got them together at a family cookout you might wonder what the hell the two have in common with each other. That one over there has red hair! The other went to USC while ginger boy barely got through community college…

The fact is, it’s all entertainment, or scripted content, in my case. My day job is that of the Writers’ Assistant on CW’s THE 100, but I also moonlight writing freelance episodes of Pemberley Digital’s EMMA APPROVED, with my sister, Julie. The two jobs share a lot of the same qualities – breaking story as writers in a group, for example, and yet due to their very different budgets and production schedules, moving back and forth between the two worlds can be challenging.

I started this by saying ‘I am you.’ Until this year, I was in exactly the position of every other person who is looking to break into the industry and just not making a dent. I won’t bore you with all of the various stops and starts on the long journey I’ve had thus far (but rest assured there are going to be stops and starts on your journey too – just like rush hour traffic on the 405); suffice to say, if it weren’t for those stops and starts I wouldn’t be where I am now.

You’ve heard before that one of the most important things you can do to establish a career in this industry is to make connections with as many people as you can. You never know which connection will be the one that helps you make progress toward your goals. In getting my job on THE 100, it was invaluable to have made friends with other writers, one of whom my sister and I had known for a few years and who became the Writers’ Assistant for THE 100 in its first season. She was promoted to staff writer and needed to backfill her position. She reached out to those of us who were friends to see if we knew anyone, and I offered myself up for the job, much to her enthusiastic approval. She put in the word for me, and here I am, sitting in the writers’ room, taking notes and gaining invaluable experience on a network TV show. A connection I made years ago with a fellow writer paid off in ways I could never imagine when I forged the friendship.

The work my sister and I are doing on EMMA APPROVED is also the result of relationships. Many years ago I was enrolled in a UCLA Extension Class learning to write TV scripts. A fellow classmate and I became very good friends and our friendship continued long after the class was over. We’d often discuss our scripts as we worked on them and swapped material. He decided to make the jump into developing content for the web, and I continued on my path to writing TV pilots and specs. He and I even collaborated on a multi-platform series I pitched to him after he’d had some critical success with his first self-produced webseries and was getting doors opened to him to pitch new series around town. We sold the pitch and then even resold it, though sadly the project never got made.

While we wrote that series together, he told me about another project he was working on – a modern day retelling of PRIDE & PREJUDICE he was working on with Hank Green. He had no idea if it would be successful, but he was excited to be trying something new in the medium. From that, Bernie Su created an internet success in THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES, a webseries that not only attracted a legion of fans but even an EMMY award! When Bernie set out to develop EMMA into its own modern adaptation, I expressed to him my appreciation for the work he had done on LIZZIE BENNET and that Julie and I would love to work with him on EMMA. When the time came that he needed new writers, he reached out to us, and we joined the team, breaking story with the other writers and writing episodes. Once again, a connection made years ago resulted in a job.

So now you’re thinking, ‘well that’s all nice and good, but what if I don’t have those kinds of connections yet?’ We all have to start somewhere. If you don’t live in Los Angeles, making connections within the entertainment industry can be really difficult, but not impossible. Leverage alumni associations of your schools, whether it is high school or colleges. Very often you can find others that attended your school and are very open to talking to current or former students of their alma mater. The internet has made it so much easier to find others with common interests and goals, as well as mentors. Websites, such as The Blacklist can be a great place to connect with other writers. They host writer run blogs and user forums, as well as provide a service to have your work seen by those in the industry and by other writers. Surprisingly, LinkedIn has become a more useful site among industry professionals. I’ve recently made connections with a few other writers’ assistants via the site – there are also discussions forums there which may be useful. Twitter is probably the most immediate and useful interface you can have with other writers. It’s easy to start following writers you like and admire, as well as find those who are trying to break in like you to form a network, including in person or virtual writers’ groups.

If you live in Los Angeles already, you are probably already attending industry events. The Writers Guild Foundation hosts many great events as well as maintains the fantastic library at the Writers Guild. If you can’t attend their events, they’ve recently started releasing some of their previous panels via a new podcast on iTunes. Another great event which serves as a podcast is the Nerdist Writer’s Panel hosted by Ben Blacker. Every month at Meltdown Comics, Blacker brings in writers of TV, film and comics to talk shop. Attending live is a great way to ask questions and meet writers (and network) at low cost. Other great podcasts include John August and Craig Mazin’s Scriptnotes and The Children of Tendu -- two television writers Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina joined the fray, dishing out actionable advice to aspiring TV writers. All are free resources you should take advantage of.

If you have a keen interest in writing your own series for the web, I recommend getting on the Tubefilter mailing list. Tubefilter hosts events which focus on the good and bad of traversing the digital landscape while networking with others who are interested in being their own producers.

I got so long-winded, I’m splitting my essay into two parts. Come back next week when I dig into the differences between working in TV and digital (web) content. Should be a doozy…

Shawna Benson is a writer and a writers' assistant. She aspires to be more the former and less the latter in the near future. She lives in Hollywood with her sister and writing partner Julie and their adopted canine son Gideon, who is a jerk.

For more from Shawna Benson, be sure to visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

This Week On Syfy's Face Off: Season 7 Premiere

Photo Credit: Brett-Patrick Jenkins

Season seven of Syfy's Face Off premiered last night and I have a feeling it's going to be one of my favorite seasons yet. Why? It's theme is "Life and Death." I repeat. Life and Death. An entire season that zeroes in on mortality?

Yes, please!

So right when we meet the artists of season seven, host, McKenzie Westmore tells them that fourteen of the sixteen hopefuls will make it onto the show as what should be their first challenge is actually their final audition! Ah! So close and yet so far away! Challenge number one? In four hours, create a character that represents life or death while incorporating their own style.

Life was my favorite theme this week. Easily. Some say death is more interesting but this week, life won. My favorite Life makeups go to Dina, Rachael, Keaghlan, and George. I don't think it's too early to say that Dina is going to be a favorite of mine this season. Her art speaks for itself. My favorite Death look hands down goes to Damien. Wow. George and Barry were impressive as well but Damien really blew me away. What a piece of work! Amazing. I also really liked Doc's makeup even though I think it played more towards showing off his talents than the theme at hand.

So how'd they do? Exactly as I expected! Congrats, Dina! My favorite! She won the first challenge! So cool! Also, I loved the comments made by the judges and agreed with their elimination choices wholeheartedly. It also must be mentioned that due to Ve Neil's work schedule on the set of The Hunger Games trilogy, Lois Burwell (Lincoln) has been brought on as an additional judge and I can't say that I was familiar with her name before but after looking at her resume, I am certainly familiar with her work and love it. I also loved her comments on the show so I am very excited to see what else she's got to say this season.

Great premiere! I'm excited! Are you excited?!

Did you prefer Life or Death in the season seven premiere of Face Off? Who was your favorite makeup artist this week?

Face Off airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Syfy.

Itching For Books Blog Tour Review: Extraction by Stephanie Diaz

Extraction by Stephanie Diaz
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: YA Sci-fi
ISBN: 9781250041173
Source: Netgalley
Add it to Goodreads

"Welcome to Extraction testing."

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life.

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon's lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet's leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers—and that means Logan, too.

Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don't want her running—they want her subdued.

Immediately, I was drawn into Extraction by the concept and I am so glad that this book did not disappoint because the story here means everything. Yes, there are familiar elements that might stick out due to the setting at hand but I don't read nearly enough stories set in space so I was fine with, heck embraced the familiar. Diaz gives us what we expect and makes it her own in the most delicate ways and I love that! Great world building here. It really needed to be solid so the story itself holds up and it does. Talk about intense!

I was also very dedicated to these characters from page one and I was very excited about discovering how these characters would get from point A to point B, how everything would play out. To me, it was clear what would happen but Clementine had to get to a place in her own head space where she uses fear to push her forward. That, for me, is when the story really deepened. The matters of the heart. Of human will. Sure, her life changes when she's picked for extraction but that is just the beginning.

Talk about a rude awakening for Clementine to long for being saved and getting a spot at the Core where citizens are safe from the poisonous moon, only to find out what she does. Not only is Clementine on a mission to save herself and desperate to save those she loves (up until the very last person in her corner, Logan), she stands for truth and has to learn how to navigate that in her new home.

Clementine comes across the good and the bad... the very, very bad in a place she didn't think could have any negatives. This brings me to a place where I want to point out that when Clementine stands up to a slime ball named Sam... that moment was glorious! Go, Clementine! Anyway, what I love about this world is that these people grow up in a world that always makes individuals question themselves as worthy enough for extraction but we watch Clementine break out of that mold and it's like she's being reborn. It's beautiful.

I don't want to say too much about the book because I enjoyed jumping right in only having read the synopsis. I will say that Extraction is a solid debut with great characters, imagery, action, pacing, etc... and Diaz gives readers plenty to be satisfied with and much to anticipate in the sequel. I am looking forward to the stakes being raised so much higher in the sequel, Rebellion which releases in February. There's so much to work with here, especially with the way Extraction ends. It clearly sets up for a lot so I can't wait to see what comes next in this story. I read Extraction in two sittings and am sure that you'll find yourself in a similar situation! So go get Extraction today!

My Extraction Playlist With A Twist:
Who I'd Like to See Score the Extraction Soundtrack

If Extraction were ever adapted into a movie, here is a list of composers who'd be first on my list to approach to create the score (with one of my favorite pieces of their work in parentheses).

1. Alexandre Desplat (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Soundtrack)
2. Philip Glass (The Hours Soundtrack)
3. David Wingo (Take Shelter Soundtrack)
4. Anthony Gonzalez & Joseph Trapanese (Oblivion Soundtrack)
5. Fall On Your Sword (Another Earth Soundtrack)

Extraction by Stephanie Diaz is available today.

Be sure to visit all of the Extraction tour stops, listed here!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Face Off Returns Tomorrow!

Face Off is back tomorrow with season seven! SEVEN! Can you believe we are already at season seven??? It feels like just yesterday I was tweeting about the series premiere!!! Seven is my favorite number so I think I'm going to review each episode of this season. I typically don't make an effort to regularly review shows in the summertime but I'm going to make an exception, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here's a trailer for what we can expect this week!

Will you be watching?

Face Off airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Syfy.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What to Watch This Weekend: Netflix Edition #17

On the weekend, I recommend movies, documentaries, and/or TV series that I found through Netflix or started watching because it was conveniently on Netflix and I had been meaning to get to that movie/documentary/TV show for some time. If you have any recommendations, feel free to leave a comment!


Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead

Two men whose bodies have been trashed by steroids, obesity and illness, document their rigorous healing path in a bid to regain their health.

I put off watching this documentary for a very long time and even started it once but turned it off after just a few minutes. But then one day my mother asked if I had seen this and then I knew it I had to get back to the doc and finish watching. I'm so glad that I did!


This fascinating documentary examines the life of performing killer whale Tilikum, who has caused the deaths of several people while in captivity.

If you haven't seen this documentary by now, where have you been? It's time to watch it. It's time. I was wondering how a doc about dolphins could be interesting and boy was I in for a rude awakening. Educate yourself. Watch this film. Well worth your time.


Much Ado About Nothing

In Joss Whedon's modern take on the Shakespearean comedy, Claudio's love for the beautiful Hero makes him a target of his friend Benedick's mockery.

Joss Whedon and Shakespeare? Yes, please!

"What To Watch This Weekend: Netflix Edition" 2014 Posts:
June 27, 2014
July 4, 2014
July 11, 2014
July 18, 2014
July 25, 2014

"What To Watch This Weekend: Netflix Edition" 2013 Posts: