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Elephant Bucks: An Insider's Guide to Writing for TV Sitcoms Paperback – May 1 2007
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No more. Sheldon Bull's book, "Elephant Bucks," is just what I was looking for and didn't know it. Sheldon, a real sitcom pro, clearly outlines what you need to do to prepare to write a sitcom episode, then guides you step by step (and his seven step approach closely mirrors my seven step approach to feature writing) as you write and rewrite your spec script. His examples are helpful and really quite amusing, and his style is lean and to the point. He knows what he's doing.
But there's more to sitcom writing than writing. Sheldon takes you into right into the writers room with practical advice that I wish I'd had before I got my first staff job. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Sheldon makes it easy to fit in from the first day.
I'm adopting this book for both my undergraduate and graduate classes. I highly recommend you read this book before you write your first spec sitcom, and, if you've already written one, read this before you submit it anywhere. You'll be glad you did.
Fortunately Sheldon wants to save people some money and has written a book on Sitcom Writing and Lifestyle titled "Elephant Bucks". Sheldon has written for MASH and produced such shows as Coach and Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, then started writing this book after teaching seminars at colleges about sitcom writing. His writing style is very straightforward with tinges of optimism, which is awfully like the experience of meeting Sheldon in person, hard nosed and heartfelt.
His candor really washes over well when he discusses his views on how to break into the field of sitcom writing, and what a person needs to do to ensure a career in such a competitive field. He wants to be responsible for winners and takes great care in choosing what to say. Topics like: How do you break in? How do you stay in? When should you think about becoming a producer? How do you handle the competition and insecure egos? What are shows looking for in a staff writer? What will a pitch meeting and first Outline / Script meeting consist of? How should you react? What is an agent's job? What is the schedule and atmosphere like? What take out foods should I avoid? Sheldon takes the time to give the reader a firm grasp of what they are in for should they decide to pick up the gauntlet.
The other parts of the book are devoted to the stereotypical (a.k.a mandated) formula for a sitcom screenplay. Sheldon goes step by step through the process from outline to second draft by creating a fictional Spec script for the show Frasier. While some might consider this a little constrictive, there are some hints to pick up if you don't take the process literally. I learned some tips about outlining a script which showed me a more narrative approach to scriptwriting and how character's attitudes can punch up a slogging script.
After reading Elephant Bucks I gained a new and stronger appreciation for what goes into making a sitcom. Knowing myself, I probably won't go into television writing, I don't have the ware withal to write all those different spec scripts. And I believe that is the best way to break into the business because it proves you aren't a one hit wonder and that you have the discipline to create this kind of life for yourself. One of the things that kind of annoy me about the age we are living now is that a lot of artistic projects are getting green lighted for their novelty. Innovation is necessary, but first someone has to have the necessary experience to see the void and deal with it appropriately. Otherwise its just schlock. Well, this read was enjoyable, and the search for meaning breathes on for another day.