It NEVER gets any easier.  Inevitably, the jubilation of convening with your fellow writers and hashing out a terrific story is extinguished by the prospect of having to actually write the damn script.  You sit down, type FADE IN and then…What?  Oh, you know what the scene is going to be (You just broke it the other week) and you can imagine the great version (Not the actual words, mind you, but the reactions of people who read it or watch the finished product.  Best Scene Ever!), but actually realizing it to its fullest potential…now that’s where things get sticky.

I once worked with a writer who would force out a first pass, no matter how half-assed, just to get something down before returning to it for countless rewrites, revisions that – in theory – would develop and improve on what he’d written. Sure. And I once worked with another writer who’d always tell me: “Shit don’t take a good buff.”  In other words, you can polish that half-assed pass all you want but, in the end, all you’ll end up with is a polished half-assed pass.  Which is why, when I sit down to write a script, those first few lines have to be tight.  I’ll work through a variety of false starts – a dozen, often more – before finding the right opening exchange, then develop the scene from that promising beginning.  I’ll pace (or drive or shower or eat or feign interest in the conversations going on around me) and run the scene in my head, over and over, building the beats, the dialogue, the set-ups, the pay-offs until, satisfied, I’ll finally sit down and actually, physically, start writing.  And, once I have it all down, I’ll re-read and reconsider and revise and rewrite and, once I’m satisfied, I’ll move on to the next scene and repeat the process.  Then, the next morning, I’ll start from the top: re-reading, reconsidering, revising and rewriting – all the while reflecting, with a certain wistfulness, on how nice it had been to sit in company and create something.

So, today I completed the Tease of episode #2 and I’m at the point where I’ve gone over it so many times I can almost recite it by heart.  I pushed ahead and wrote the first two scenes of Act I, hitting and surpassing my “5 pages a day” target.  It’s interesting how the characters seem to take on a life of their own on the page.  It’s early and, as much as I struggle to maintain quality equality, I already do have my favorites.  I think the key, as I progress through this first draft, is to find those unique instances of humor in each of the crew members because humor, I’ve always felt, goes such a long way toward humanizing characters, making them a little vulnerable and, thus, so much easier for the viewers at home to connect with them.  I think back to my time on Stargate and characters like Jack O’Neill, Vala Mal Doran, Rodney McKay, Eli Wallace – even Teal’c, Ronon Dex, General Hank Landry, Todd the Wraith, and Richard Woolsey.  All funny in their own distinct way.  It’s just a matter of finding, and drawing out, those distinct instances in each.

July 30, 2014: Fade In…humor!

What do you think?  What humorous instances endeared you to a particular Stargate character?

28 thoughts on “July 30, 2014: Fade in…humor!

  1. Not a humor-based endearment exactly, but…

    I liked that Jack O’Neill had his idiosyncrasies; for instance, in his speech: “Oh, for crying out loud!” Or in his love of cake. Or his intolerance for scientific gobbledygook. These were consistencies you could count on, and they made him very real for me.

  2. because humor, I’ve always felt, goes such a long way toward humanizing characters, making them a little vulnerable and, thus, so much easier for the viewers at home to connect with them. I completely agree! A little funny quip makes all the difference.

  3. Well…just about everything Todd did endeared him to me 🙂 , so I’ll choose another character – Woolsey.

    You know that episode (I’m tired and can’t think of the name) when Atlantis was taken over by those horrid bores, and MacGyver and Woolsey came to the rescue? Woolsey just stole the show, and just thinking about it now has put this stupidarse grin on my face. 🙂 I really need to watch that one again.

    If I can remember its name. 😛


  4. See, this is where I say something witty about a character I love, several in fact, to show off my knowledge of the show and I find myself drawing an absolute blank. Oh, it is all lurking inside my skull, but I won’t think of specifics until about two in the morning. Stupid brain.

    I agree, a dash of humor is key, like a spice to bring out unique flavors. I suppose “back story” would be the texture? Dialog the presentation? Gah, see what your foodie ways have done to me?

  5. I always found Teal’c’s lack of understanding of human idioms amusing. “Undomesticated equines could not remove me.” Still cracks me up!

  6. My favourite bit with Vala was the time she tried to game the personality test, and just couldn’t understand why that wouldn’t work. Made her a combination of naughty and ingenue, characteristics that remained in her makeup throughout her stint.

  7. I enjoyed McKay and Sheppard’s banter. I also kind of hoped that, one day, Ba’al would get O’Neill. Not attack him, but just tell him off in a way that would leave O’Neill stunned. He was supposed to be smarter than the other System Lords, so he should have had that opportunity.

    Have you ever been very in love with your work and felt completely crushed when colleagues told you it was crap? Maybe some time in your distant past when you were still learning? How did you deal with that? I think every writer has a moment when they are impressed with themselves, but other people, not so much.

  8. I loved Teal’c s “Indeed.” Also the scene in Atlantis where McKay is wearing the shield and he and Sheppard are fooling around with it made me love them, “In-vul-ner-able!” I think appreciation for humor is why I love outtakes and blooper reels so much, you see the humor behind the scenes and somehow it makes the characters they play richer.

  9. Congratulations Joe! I am wishing to watch your new science fiction tv show, answering your question: my favourite characters are Jack O’Neill and Rodney McKay I enjoyed very much with their funny scenes.

  10. Teal’c’s “a jaffa walks into a bar” joke in Seth always makes me chuckle. Perhaps it was the look of polite befuddlement and discomfort on the parts of his teammates that made it work so well but I love his full belly laugh at a joke that proves while the particulars are cultural, humor is truly universal. Cracks me up every time.

  11. I loved Jack O’Neill’s irreverence towards authority and danger, injecting sarcasm and humor into just about any situation. It’s actually how I carry myself, for better or worse. I’ll find the humor in anything and use that in an attempt to lighten the mood. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, but it is what it is. That’s what drew me to SG-1 initially. And I stayed for the explosions.

  12. Good blog indeed. To fight the white sheet of paper fear, I begin to write no matter what.
    Humour humanizes character: agreed.

    “What humorous instances endeared you to a particular Stargate character?”

    Todd by far, followed by Rodney.

    But for humour as a trait the best are Jack O’Neil or Vala Mal Doran (in this order or reverse). How great they were !

    Can’t wait to see what you are cooking for us !

  13. My (hopefully quick) thoughts on humour, and what personally works for me…

    1. Why does Woolsey tickle me so much? Because he plays it so damn straight! He’s so serious, so ‘humourless’ on the surface, that the funny just ‘pops’ with him – whether it be an expression, a great line, or just body language.

    2. Which brings me to the actor him/herself. If I see an actor trying to be funny, the funny just falls flat (*see Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, and most of the modern-era cast of SNL). For instance, some actors can deliver a line with a smile on their face, and it’s funny because the actor is reacting to what he’s saying in character (I think Joe Flanigan was very good at this). However, sometimes you can see the actor smiling, not at what he’s saying, but at himself, as if he’s the funniest actor that ever graced the face of the earth (*See Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, et al.). I find actors who do that very annoying and unfunny, and in some ways even repulsive.

    3. Which brings me to my last point – pairing the actor with the right humour. When a writer understands the actors he’s writing for – their strengths and weaknesses – I think he’s better equipped to write witty bits that fit not just the character, but what the actor himself can deliver effectively. I think Stargate Atlantis is a perfect example of how pairing an actor with the right sort of humour for both himself and his character worked brilliantly – Sheppard with his snark, Sheppard Jr. (a.k.a. Todd) with his snarky black humor, Woolsey with his deadpan, often ‘unintentionally’ funny, lines, Ronon with his one or two word grunts, and Teyla, who often said sooo much with a roll of the eye or tilt of the head. Yeah, that was a great cast right there, and some great writing, too. Lots of understanding about what the actors could, and could not, do.

    Okay…now I gotta get to work!


  14. It’s not just humor, it’s getting a peek at something they keep in the third dimension of their personalities, off-plane from the parts of their characters that demand they have a role in the story. That part happens to often be humor.

  15. The ep that got me hooked on SGA was “Michael,” all that great fight choreography, the big twist, it’s one of my faves. “Harmony” is my funny fave ep.

    Hm, if you’re stuck on a scene then apply chocolate liberally. Good food fixes everything.

  16. For me it was a bit more about the delivery than the actual joke or funny comment. When an actor is so in tune with their character that they can blurt out a line and you get that feeling of “That’s so (insert character name)”, you know they’ve been well written and acted.

    But, the one that really stands out to me because it’s such a departure for his character is when Teal’c tells the Jaffa joke. I love that scene. It’s hilarious to me. So much unspoken, yet so much conveyed. Great stuff.

    And now for something completely different:

    Something I read a long time ago that has stuck with me for over a decade is something called “Time to Crate” or “Start to Crate” with respect to video games. From the website:

    “All games contain crates, therefore all games can be judged empirically on those crates.

    Games can be rated and compared based on the shortest amount of time it takes a player to reach the first crate, which represents the point where the developers ran out of ideas.

    This number is measured in seconds and is called “Start to Crate” or “StC”. The smaller the StC, the worse the game.”

    Is there something analogous to this in the writing world? Are there “old stand-bys” that writers run to to fill time or use as a punchline or whatever that, once you see them, you know they ran out of ideas?

    -Mike A.

  17. It’s not just a funny line. Sometimes it’s a situation. We were watching one of the Netflix shows recently. In the show, a mime got shot and the mime stayed in character. That was an 😆 moment. We are sick people. 🙁

    How did the funeral go gforce? Hopefully, everyone behaved themselves.

  18. I thought my new cutting boards shouldn’t have a grip side because that’s half the chopping surfaces, but I only paid 1.99 for four of them so I can’t complain.

    I sandwiched two of those cutting boards over a chicken breast, grip side in, to hold it still for butterflying. Wouldn’t you know it? I ended up with the most perfectly butterflied chicken breasts in the history of forever.

  19. For Jack O’Neill it was the dry humor, the random things that would come out of this mouth, the well placed shoulder shrugs.
    For Rodney the rambling, face talking, arrogance that made him my favorite charter. There are so many lines. One of the first that came to mind was the Mensa test question that came into play in one of the earlier eps. Sheppard looking at the puzzle states that this was on the Mensa test, and Rodney’s reaction is something along the lines of “you took the Mensa test…WHEN?!?” He had perfect timing for asking the wrong question or using an out of place statement.
    For Ronon it was random one liners he would have. The two that come to mind are the rebuttle to Rodney’s Batman and Robin comment with “more like Fatman” and the time when I think it is Carson that kill the wraith that chased after Ronon and Ronon asks who killed it and Carson say I did and then Ronon hugs him. Totally awesome!

  20. I must say the irrepressible ad-lib humor by RDA. He had some many one off zingers. I particularly like when he was haranguing Anubus’ First and ended with “Well spank me and call me Rosy.” I was watching not to long ago an earlier episode that made me laugh constantly. (Guess i will need to rewatch the series to find the ep.) I loved the cheekiness in Vala and her teasing of Daniel. It was one of the best non-relations relationships I can think of. When Ben Browder’s character visited Atlantis for the first time and stuck a lemon under McKay’s nose, I laughed and yelled “YES.” I liked the way you developed Woolsey from a number crunching pensile geek to an endearing respected administrator with a wry Bob Hewhart sense of humor.

  21. Woolsey was always a favorite, especially when he was in those typical Woolsey awkward moments (trying to shake hands with the wraith, getting sent to the wrong transporter station but not noticing until the doors had already shut).

    I also enjoyed the Jack/Daniel and Shepherd/McKay banter.

    The humor of the show was what hooked me and kept drawing me back.

    I haven’t been commenting much recently because I’ve just been too busy. Since I got back from Europe, my work has been in headless chicken mode and I’ve been trying to finish my data gathering for my GPS paper due at conference in September. Add in college visits with my daughter Jackie, and a visit to the big Oshkosh airshow with my son David (I’m typing this from a tent on the airfield campground), and you could say my activity cup runneth over.

    So maybe I can get back to some blog updates sometime in late September.

  22. I also think immediately of Teal’c’s Jaffa joke in Seth but there are so many moments in the show. Vala removing treasure in the episode where they get trapped in a museum, Brayt’ac’s “Now we die” answer to Jack asking “What’s the plan?” in the season 2 opening. Anything Rodney and Zalenka. Harry Maybourne in most of his episodes but especially “It’s Good to be King”. Cam and Vala at his high school reunion. Rodney passing out in the gateroom after taking too much of the wraith drug. I could keep typing because there are so many more…

  23. I’m just trying to get caught up here, so I’ll have to pass right now at thinking of humorous moments, but I do want to say that all the years I’ve been reading your blog, you’ve given me a tremendous sense of gratitude for everything that goes into producing a show that we see on-air — every aspect of it.

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