As more and more people discover my videos on youtube, more and more people are exposed to a fundamentally DIFFERENT style of production.
Different, that is, to what youtube is used to seeing. NOT different to what is normally seen throughout television and feature films.
At the root of most all my videos is a script. Some of the scripts are simple and I bang them out without much thought or rewrite. Others, I labor over for a couple of days, rewriting, editing, and hunting for the funny. The point, however, is that everything comes down to a script. For the sake of this series, I will be discussing dialogue-based videos.
ANATOMY OF A JOKE
Comedy is reliable. In other words, if you can make people laugh, you've succeeded in entertaining them. Which is not to say comedy is easy ... much less that it's easy to write. There are two basic types of comedy that I work with:
1) Traditional, joke-based comedy (check out any episode of Two and a Half Men); and
2) Timing-based comedy (Abbott and Costello, anyone?)
I write mostly in the second category, mainly because I have an affinity for the rhythm and lyrical quality of dialogue (more on that in a bit) but every now and then I'll pepper in more of the traditional jokes.
Whichever you end up writing, one thing remains the same: structure. Everyone has heard the basic structure of story--the beginning, the middle, and the end--but a better example, and more applicable to internet video, is a joke.
A traditional joke is broken up into three parts--the comedic equivalent of the beginning, middle, and end. Those parts are the setup, the bridge, and the punchline. Keep these in mind when writing a script.
What the FUCK is going on here?
AH! What?! Nothing ... I'm not, um, doing anything.
Dude, I totally saw you touching yourself.
I was not touching myself!
Yes, you were! Your hand was on your cock--you were masturbating! I totally saw you.
You THOUGHT you saw me masturbating. I wasn't. I had an itch. On my penis.
Don't deny it, you fucking Jewish bastard.
Alright, fine I was masturbating! But you obviously can see that I'M NOT THAT JEWISH!!!
Hm ... you're right. I thought you people were all about the circumcision.
What can I say, I have the Jewish equivalent of a black sheep penis.
Okay, maybe not the most hilarious example of the the comedic setup and follow-through, but you can definitely see the structure. And I got to write about my penis, so it's all good.
THE SOUND OF WORDS
I said earlier that I like writing timing-based comedy because of an affinity for the lyrical-quality and rhythm of dialogue. When done properly, it achieves an almost unreal sense to it, but musical, just the same.
Recently, someone made fun of my writing. Not what I actually wrote, but how I was writing it. They made fun of me because I was softly speaking the words that I was typing and even from across the room, they could hear me whispering. I was doing this almost subconsciously, but for a very obvious reason--when words don't fit together right, they simply SOUND wrong.
In other words, if you want to write good dialogue, speak it. If it doesn't sound right, then you know it isn't right.
The final part of my writing section here is about formatting your scripts. If you're serious about writing, invest in the right software. There's a free script-writing program called Celtx that I highly recommend, but if you have the cash to burn, get yourself a copy of Final Draft.
Since we're talking about scripting internet videos, I would actually recommend forgoing any fancy software and just type your scripts in Notepad (or the Mac equivalent). This is not to say there aren't any formatting elements you shouldn't be cognisant of.
What I describe here is essentially the "industry standard" of screenplay formatting ... minus all of the indentations.
1) Scene headings (if you think you need them) state whether the scene is inside or outside (INT. or EXT.); a general location (THE BATHROOM); and whether it's day or night (DAY or NIGHT)
"INT. THE BATHROOM - NIGHT"
2) The description or action of the scene is a simple paragraph.
"Krumbine sits on the toilet. He strains painfully."
3) Finally, you have your dialogue which consists of two parts. The character name, typed in caps, and then the actual dialogue.
... I shouldn't have eaten that fudge-dipped ice cream cone ..."
4) Parentheses can be used in between the character name and the dialogue to give a little direction on how the line should be said.
So this is how an sample scene should be formatted:
INT. THE BATHROOM - NIGHT
Krumbine sits on the toilet. He strains painfully.
... I shouldn't have eaten the fudge-dipped ice cream cone ...
Middlebrook pops his head into the room.
Haha! Lactose intolerance is for pussies!
A REASON FOR CONSISTENCY
I tend to take a few liberties with the formatting of my scripts. For the sake of the speed of writing, I'll often use a characters initial instead of their whole name when writing dialogue (example: instead of writing out KRUMBINE and MIDDLEBROOK, I'll simply write K and M).
It's monumentally important, however, to maintain this level of formatting. It's familiar and it's easy to read. I can't tell you how many times I receive scripts in all kinds of different layouts and formats--and I'm telling you first hand, it makes it that much harder to collaborate with people because my first instinct is to rewrite their script.
Check out some of the samples I have linked below ... and stay tuned for the next part in this series, all about how to tape your footage from your script!
TALKING HEADS - FAKING AWKWARD
krumbinesBRAIN - A Personal Reluctance to Getting Personal
Our Zombie Holiday