Friday, January 18, 2019

10 Years of Bitter Posts - The Puppet and 12-Step Screenwriting

After this blog had been established for a few years, a friend suggested to me that I should find a way to expand my audience to YouTube. At the time, it was enough of a novelty that it wasn't unreasonable for someone with an existing following to have a shot at reaping some extra coin vial ad revenues.

There was just one problem - having been concerned from the start that such blunt criticism could hurt my employability (remember kids, the internet is written in pen), I wasn't keen on throwing all that away so soon and subjecting the internet to my face. In pondering this dilemma, the solution arose initially as a joke - what if I used a puppet and HE became the face of The Bitter Script Reader?

If I thought merely being anonymous added a level of mystique to my writing, speaking through a puppet only inflated that novelty. I don't think anyone would have sat for screenwriting lessons delivered by the "real" me on video - but put that stuff in a puppet's mouth and it becomes almost surreal enough to get the audience more engaged.

We first introduced the puppet in "Shit Script Readers Say," figuring it couldn't hurt to tie into a then-popular internet meme. Alas, I learned very quickly I was no Jim Henson and there was quite a learning curve involved in making the puppet come alive. It's a very subtle thing, giving a puppet life on screen and I came out of the experience with a new respect for real puppeteers.

After that video, we soon transitioned to basic screenwriting lessons. I tried to offer my own sort of MasterClass (before there even WAS such a thing as MasterClass) via 12-Step Screenwriting. It was a weekly series that took you through the broad basics of writing a screenplay, act by act.

I tried hard for this series to be a guide rather than a list of "rules" and mandates that things MUST happen by particular page numbers. Hopefully it was taken in that spirit. I try to be a guide more than a guru. People have told me that this helped them understand some of the basic concepts of screenwriting and I'm always flattered to hear people got something out of this.

For now, the puppet is retired. A big factor was that it was a lot of effort for very little reward. I found it limiting to always have to stick the puppet behind a desk and I feared the audience would become similarly bored too. We considered a couple sketches, more elaborate pieces that would have the Bitter puppet interacting with people and other puppets, but the simple fact was that the effort of producing those videos on a weekly basis was greater than what we were getting out of it.

This reminded me of something that occasionally slipped my mind - my goal was to be a professional writer, with blogging being sort of my side hustle. The more I put into YouTube, the more I was working harder at being The Bitter Script Reader than actually writing screenplays and spec episodes. When I've got something to say, I can dash off a blog post pretty quickly, but a video? That's at least an entire afternoon of shooting and then editing.

If you consider Bitter self-promotion, then then lesson I learned here was to not let self-promotion eclipse the product. As important as it is to market yourself and network with others in pursuit of work, all of it is meaningless without product to show for it.

That's the screenwriting lesson no one ever gives you - you only get to spend each moment once, so make sure you're putting enough of those moments into your pages.

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