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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cost-effective and Encouraging: Review of Bill Taub's "Automatic Pilot" Screenwriting Text

Second year of medical school is taking up my blogging time! But I thought I'd share with you writers and fiction fans a resource I recently discovered. It's called Automatic Pilot, and it's about how to write the first episode of a TV show.

Next to Syd Field's Screenplay textbook, I'd say Bill Taub's Automatic Pilot ranks as one of the best beginning screenwriting resources I've yet encountered.

Well, stranger, what have you encountered? What does that even mean?”

Good question. I'm not an expert screenwriter, but I am an expert “screenwriter-resources” purveyor, if such a pitiful occupation exists. From college classes to online classes to online resources to books to at least three or four different “screenwriting resource companies”--eh, I've actually spent a few hundred bucks studying screenwriting. (Shivers in shame)

A number of those resources tend to repeat the same basics over again, so I really liked that while Automatic Pilot included the most important fundamentals of screenwriting for beginners, it also delved into TV-industry-niche specifics, a wide variety of structure techniques and suggestions, and Taub's own positive writing philosophy. The strong motivational tone of the book makes you feel like you've got people on your side—because when you're writing for yourself you've got you on your side, Taub might say—and as someone who used to write for a living I found that incredibly empowering. In med school you don't get a lot of time to read, so I bought the audiobook to play while I ate or whatever. Taub's encouragement was, for me, the writerly equivalent of blasting rap music on the highway, or rocking out when you're pumping iron: I got pumped up! There's something to be said for that.

For those of you who prefer more concrete definitions of value, we should probably talk about $$$. Automatic Pilot is actually a compilation of all the resources and reading material from a University class Taub taught/teaches on writing good pilot episodes for television. As you may know, it usually costs more than twenty bucks to access a University-level screenwriting class. Even cheap professional classes online bill as much as $90—I got a discount on a decent “Third Act” class for $45 once, but generally comparable screenwriting classes enter the ring weighing in nearer the hundreds mark.

To give you a more detailed cost-analysis, Hal Croasmun from ScreenwritingU charges $90 for a class that involves about thirty pages of reading material and no feedback from the professor. I'm not downing on Croasmun—apparently he's pumping out writers who make deals left and right—but pointing out, to you, that for $20 or less I can get nearly 200 pages from Taub, all new and unique information pertaining specifically to the TV industry. That's pretty good math.

Automatic Pilot is heavy with repetition, though. That's probably less of an issue in the hardcopy (which I also bought to keep as a skim-able resource), and for some folks repetition's essential to enhance learning, so it's not necessarily a drawback. I found it a bit much sometimes, but on the other hand a lot of the repetition was also a lot of the motivational cheerleading I enjoyed. If you're looking for new plotting tricks and tools to amp up your game; if you're unfamiliar with a lot of TV-writing terminology and structural customs; and if you'd like to tap the brains of multiple TV-writing experts before you start writing yourself into a crash-and-burn, a little repetition and two Red Robin meals is a fair price to pay.

I think, anyway.



What do you guys think? Any other screenwriting resources you've run into lately that you like?

2 comments:

  1. Woah, screenwriting, eh! You must be writing the next Seinfeld as we speak!

    Have you found these resources useful for your novel-writing at all?

    ReplyDelete