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VIDEO PROJECT – Soap Opera or Sitcom
What follows is a suggested formula for your plot, based on conventional dramatic structure with
the genre of Melodrama in mind. If you deviate from this formula, make sure you hit the main
points of dramatic structure in your plot.
A melodrama, in the broadest sense, is a serious drama that can be distinguished from tragedy
by the fact that it is open to having a happy ending. In practice it is a rather pejorative term. In
melodrama there is constructed a world of heightened emotion, stock characters and a hero who
rights the disturbance to the balance of good and evil in a moral universe. The term literally
means "music drama", with music being used to increase the emotional response or to suggest
characters. There is a neat structure or formula to melodrama: A villain poses a threat, the hero
escapes the threat (or rescues the heroine) and there is a happy ending.
A word or phrase is pejorative or derogatory (sometimes misspelt1 perjorative) if it expresses
contempt or disapproval; dyslogistic (noun: dyslogism) is used synonymously (antonyms:
meliorative, eulogistic, noun eulogism). Dyslogisms such as "pea-brain" and "bottom-feeder" are
words and phrases essentially pejorative by their nature. Although pejorative means much the
same thing as disparaging, the latter term may be applied to a look or gesture as well as to
spoken language— in the evocative languages of gesture, it is not easy to distinguish a
disparaging gesture from a dismissive or merely skeptical one, however.
Conventional Plot Structure:
- Exposition - this usually involves characters, often secondary ones, talking about a situation or
circumstances; sometimes describing main characters before we see them. We learn something
about the world of the play and characters who might be at odds.
- Inciting Incident - this is something that brings two forces into struggle or opposition.
Sometimes the incident has happened already when the play begins; other times it happens
shortly after the beginning
- Rising Action - a series of events/scenes that escalate the conflict. We should begin to feel that
a final showdown is inevitable.
- Climax - this is the peak of the struggle or conflict; the deciding battle. One of the forces will
emerge the victor after this, at least temporarily.
- Denouement - a fancy French term for "falling away", or what happens after the climax, when
we learn the fate of both the victor and the loser. Sometimes a resolution, sometimes a temporary
withdrawal from battle. (Think sequel!)
Scenes 1-2 - should provide sufficient exposition to introduce main characters and give us an
idea of potential for conflict or struggle.
Scenes 2-3 - Inciting Incident-- put two sides into conflict. If the conflict is Interior (i.e. one
character struggling with something inside him/herself, some major decision or problem), then
show what sets up the problem.
Scenes 3-4-5 - Rising action scenes; show developments in the struggle. Don't get side-tracked-this is too short a movie to develop sub-plots and complex stories. Remember that in melodrama
we're looking for vicarious chills, thrills & ills-- it's all about PLOT.
Scenes 5-6 - Make a good climax-- something dramatic! Surprises, twists and turns, revelations,
and resurrections all make for good melodrama climax. Remember that in melodrama the good
guys are ALWAYS victorious-- it's a bogus world.
Often, the climax and denouement happen in the same scene—the denouement might be very
short, as in "They all lived happily ever after." But for soap, also think sequel...
Cast of Characters - You should include two or more of the following:
Popular Girls, including the Rich Girl - the usual elitists
The Hick
The new girl - sweet & artsy
Nerds - bright but clueless
Or other stock characters
Your group needs to determine all the details about your set/location, costumes (if any), props,
and MUSIC (Remember that music plays a very important role!)
The simpler the better! You can shoot the entire video on a location on campus that would be
suitable. We can also set up a plain backdrop or set a "scene", using our furniture, faux trees, etc.
Draw a sketch if necessary.
Think of your own wardrobe as your first, best resource. Your
soap is contemporary, set in Jordan, after all, so your own
student clothes (or those of friends) are probably best. Drama
Dept. costumes can be used for things like lab coats, blazers,
or other unusual items. Note any such item and which actor
will be wearing it on your Plot.
Again, you probably have the props you will need already in your
possession. If you don't, list them on your Plot and the teacher will
see if she has what you need.
This is BIG-- don't leave it to the last minute. Start now thinking about
what specific music will underscore your action. Think INSTRUMENTAL-music with singing has to be turned down so low that you almost can't
hear it-- so instrumental can be more effective. If you must use songs,
try to place them in transitional moments or in sections with little dialogue.
Some Important Tips:
- Take short clips, anywhere from 10 to 45 seconds.
- Try not to move around with the camera too much. This isn't Blair Witch Project!
- Have good beginnings and endings for each scene. Keep in mind what came
before and what comes after.
- Stay close enough to your subject for good sound capture.
- Remember that close-ups work best for video-- use head shots whenever possible.
- It's only a five-minute soap!!! Don't shoot 20 minutes worth of tape-- it will take
you forever to edit.
Spec script
In Hollywood, you're already at a disadvantage if you don't know the
lingo. You'll hear the words below all the time, so you better get familiar
with them.
Usually called a "spec," this what the script that you write for a show is
called. If you want to become a writer for a show, you have to prove
that you're a good writer, so you have to write a sample script of a
show that already exists and that people are familiar with . . . a spec
When you write a spec, it's supposed to look exactly like a normal TV
script looks, complete with language, conventions, and stage directions.
It should look as close to professional as possible, as if it were an actual
script for that show ready to go to production. So in order to write a
proper spec, you have to know exactly what a script should look like.
We'll help you with that later.
Set up
This is the unfunny part of a joke meant to set up the upcoming funny
part. Often, one character delivers the set up and another character
gets the punch.
This is the funny part of the joke.
LAVERNE: It's Thursday, we should take the trash out.
LENNY and SQIGGY enter: Hello!
Laverne's line is the set up, and Lenny and Squiggy's entrance is the
Just like a play, a sitcom is usually broken into three acts. The break
between the acts occur at the commercials.
Again, just like a play, there are scenes within the acts. There could be
one long scene or several short scenes.
Cold open
This is that part of the show at the very very beginning, before the
credits begin. Sometimes it sets up part of the overall story, and
sometimes it's an unrelated funny scene. A cold open is also called a
Each show has more than one story going on, there's always the main
plot, but sometimes there are subplots. The main plot is called the A
story, and the subplot is called the B story. If there are more subplots,
there can be C or D stories too. The A story is the biggest and most
important one, and usually involves the main character, while a B story
might be a spinoff of the main plot and involve secondary characters.
Here's an example. For The Drew Carey Show, an A story might be that
Drew won the lottery. A possible B story would be that Oswald and
Lewis like the same girl. A C story might be that Kate has a new date.
They are labeled A, B, or C according to how much of the show they're
This is the problem that is established. In other words, at the climax,
the audience should be asking, "How are they going to get out of this
one?" In a sitcom, there are two climaxes. The first is at the end of Act
1, right before the first commercial (ya gotta keep 'em watching!). Act 2
shows the character trying to get out of that predicament and making
things worse. At the end of Act 2, is the second climax, which is like, "I
would so never want to be in that situation."
Using the example above, a climax after Act 1 might be that Drew can't
find his ticket. A the climax after Act 2 might be that he finds the ticket,
gets to the lottery office, and they arrest Drew for impersonating Drew
Carey (because Mimi stole his wallet and replaced his pictures with
somebody else).
This is Act 3. In one final scene (or couple of scenes), everything gets
worked out for our stars.
Keeping with our Drew Carey example, it might be that Kate's date is
the new guy in Drew's pictures, so the lottery is awarded to him. Then
the girl that Oswald and Lewis liked decide to go with Kate's now
lottery-rich date, and Drew, Lewis, Oswald and Kate are back to the
normal living situation.
Situation Comedy defined:
A sitcom or situation comedy is a genre of comedy performance originally devised for radio but
today typically found on television. Sitcoms usually consist of recurring characters in a format in
which there are one or more humorous story lines centred around a common environment, such
as a family home or workplace.
The situation comedy seems to have originated in the United States, but today they are produced
around the globe. Many countries, such as Britain, have embraced the form and so sitcoms have
become among the most popular programmes on the schedule.
The situation comedy format originated on radio in the 1920s. The first situation comedy is often
said to be Sam and Henry which debuted on the Chicago clear-channel station WGN in 1926,
and was partially inspired by the notion of bringing the mix of humor and continuity found in
comic strips to the young medium of radio. The first network situation comedy was Amos &
Andy which debuted on CBS in 1928, and was one of the most popular sitcoms through the
Situation comedies have been a part of the landscape of broadcast television since its early days.
The first was probably Mary Kay and Johnny, a fifteen minute sitcom which debuted on the
DuMont Television Network in November of 1947.
This type of entertainment seemed to originate in the United States, which continues to be a
leading producer of the genre, but soon spread to other nations.
Traditionally, situation comedies were largely self-contained, in that the characters themselves
remained largely static and events in the sitcom resolved themselves by the conclusion of the
show. One example of this is the animated situation comedy The Simpsons, where the
characteristics of animation has rendered the characters unchanging in appearance forever -although the characters in the show have sometimes made knowing references to this (the writers
have made reference to that by calling The Simpsons a "frozen-in-time" show).
Other sitcoms, though, use greater or lesser elements of ongoing storylines: Friends, a hugely
popular US sitcom of the 1990s, contains soap opera elements such as regularly resorting to an
end-of-season cliffhanger, and has gradually developed the relationships of the characters. Other
sitcoms have veered into social commentary. Examples of these are sitcoms by Norman Lear
including All in the Family and Maude in the US, and the controversial Till Death Us Do Part in
A common aspect of family sitcoms is that at some point in their run they introduce an addition
to the family in the form of a new baby. One exception to this are the several sitcoms starring
Bob Newhart, who insisted that his sitcoms not have babies or children. However while babies
are cute and give adult characters opportunities to act silly, toddlers are of little use in comedy as
besides the difficulties of the "terrible twos" they basically can only look cute and say a few
words - thus most sitcom kids are aged to four or five within two years of their birth - for
example "Andrew Keaton" on Family Ties and "Chrissy Seaver" on Growing Pains. Cases of
sticking with the same child such as Erin Murphy's "Tabitha Stephens" on Bewitched or The
Olsen twins' "Michelle Tanner" on Full House are the exception to the rule.
Most contemporary situation comedies are filmed with a multicamera setup in front of a live
studio audience, then edited and broadcast days or weeks later. This practice has not always been
universal, however, especially prior to the 1970s when it became more common. Some
comedies, such as M*A*S*H, were not filmed before an audience. (In the case of M*A*S*H, the
use of multiple sets and location filming would have made this impractical.)
Specific countries of origin
Most US sitcoms are written to run 30 minutes in length with commercial breaks, leaving about
22 minutes of showtime, although ones made outside the US may run somewhat longer. US
sitcoms are often characterised by long series runs of 20 or more episodes, whereas the British
sitcom is traditionally comprised of distinct series of six episodes each. US sitcoms often have
large teams of script writers firing gags into the script and round-table sessions, whereas the
British sitcom is usually written by two co-writers or is the work of one person.
See also: Canadian humour
Despite Canada's wealth of comedic talent, Canadian TV's conventional sitcoms have generally
fared poorly with both critics and audiences. One particularly notorious example is The Trouble
with Tracy, regarded by many Canadians as one of the worst TV shows ever made. Other
Canadian sitcoms have included Snow Job, Check it Out!, Mosquito Lake and Not My
Department, all of which were mocked in their time as being particularly unfunny.
The few successful Canadian sitcoms have included: Les Plouffe and its English version, The
Plouffe Family, King of Kensington, Hangin' In and Corner Gas.
Canadian TV networks have had much more success with sketch comedy shows such as The
Kids in the Hall, CODCO, SCTV, This Hour has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce, and
quirky dramedies such as Twitch City, The Newsroom, Made in Canada, Trailer Park Boys, The
Beachcombers, and Seeing Things.
One of Canada's most enduring comedic television series airing today, The Red Green Show, is
essentially a cross between a sitcom and a sketch series. Each episode unfolds through short
comedic sketches rather than a conventional sitcom plot, but unlike a true sketch series, the
sketches always draw from a single set of characters and no actor plays more than one role.
A notable Quebec sitcom in recent years was La Petite Vie; one episode of that show holds the
world record for the highest market share ever achieved by a television program.
United States
All in the Family
The Andy Griffith Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Bob Newhart Show
The Cosby Show
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Everybody Loves Raymond
Father Knows Best
Family Guy
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Full House
Gilligan's Island
The Golden Girls
Happy Days
Hogan's Heroes
Home Improvement
The Honeymooners
I Love Lucy
The Jeffersons
Leave it to Beaver
Make Room for Daddy
Married With Children
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Murphy Brown
My Mother the Car
My Three Sons
One Day at a Time
Sanford and Son
The Simpsons
Three's Company
Will & Grace
WKRP in Cincinnati