Getting Off The Page and Onto the Couch

Since long before the launch of Couples, the Digital Series on a Couch, I've encouraged writer-friends and clients alike to nurture at least one idea that could be taken off the page easily and cheaply. A short film is perfectly reasonable, but I've advised people to develop an idea that has the potential to be a serial so they can continue writing and producing episodes if the idea continues to inspire them. If you're developing ideas for film or television, bringing your words off the page is not only invaluable to you and your craft, it's kinda the point of the entire endeavor. 

For starters, it's fun to collaborate. I enjoy the solitude of writing. I truly relish conjuring voices and escaping into new worlds I create, worlds where the unpaid bills are addressed to other people. But there's no denying that writing can be a lonely endeavor. There's a point when you need to interact with people in the same dimension. Shooting a short film or web series gets you out of your chair, out of your head, and away from your damn screen. It forces you to communicate with people, real people - not the imaginary ones you've created on Mount Olympus, you control freak. 

Hearing your words in the mouths of others will make you a better writer as well. You should do it as much as possible. Veteran writers learn from the process every single time. Hearing actors read your lines - hell, hearing anyone read your lines - can alert you to awkward phrases or mangled sentence structures that obscure your intentions. When I partnered with the good people at Third Wing Media to rehearse early pages of Couples, I realized I had written some dialogue that didn't fit with the characters I had created. So I cut them. Some day soon I'll use those scenes to invent new characters for the show, straight out of the trash. 

The act of shooting one of your scripts will inevitably lead to new ideas. This is true of life in general: the more active you are the more ideas you will have. Listen to live music, dissect a forg, play ping pong or even its backwards cousin, Gnip Gnop. In general, get away from the damn screen; I'm convinced it's poison. I am hooked on it as I've been hooked on other poisons.  My point is, when you get together with people and go through the process of rehearsing and shooting and editing something, new ideas will be sparked. After shooting our first couple (Doug and Dana, played by Will Blomker and Stacey Linnartz) on Couples, I had new ideas for future seasons. Spoiler Alert: there will be scuba gear involved.

Finally, if you're not able to get past the technology of it all (the camera and audio equipment and the editing of the piece), do everything but shoot it. A simple reading: get the actors, get the director (if it's not you), get in the room, and listen to your writing. I guarantee good things will come from it. If all else fails, you can just do it on your couch. 

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The Birth of A Digital Series

Couples had been in my head for several years before I got it off the page a few months ago. I'd always been drawn to the simplicity of the idea: a therapist's couch would provide a simple, familiar frame for relationship comedy between a married couple. My characters could explore conflicts around parenting, sex, salads, and the best way to load the dishwasher. Universal stuff.

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From its inception, Couples was intended for the Web. I knew I wanted short episodes, micro-episodes even. In part, that was because I wouldn't allow the characters off the couch, and after all, how long can you watch two people on a couch (maybe we'll test that question in future seasons). But the shortness of the episodes also seemed appropriate for viewing on digital devices of all kinds. 

I let the idea sit on my shelf while I wrote the feature screenplays for +1 and The Quitter, but my mind would often drift to Couples. It was a concept that would allow my characters to get off the page easily (any screenwriters reading this will know what I mean); all I needed were a few game partners and I could get it off the ground quickly and cheaply. I already had the couch. 

Somewhere between then and now (closer to now), I met Cameron Bossert sitting kitty-corner from me at Bar Sepia, a beautiful little local tucked away near the Brooklyn Museum. We were both alone. We were both drinking whiskey. It wasn't long before we struck up a conversation in which I heard about Jeremy Rishe and Stacey Linnartz, his conspirators over at Third Wing Media. Soon thereafter I shared my scripts with them and it wasn't long before we talked over a few drinks back at Bar Sepia where we put a date on the calendar to shoot our first couple: Doug and Dana (played by Will Blomker and Stacey Linnartz).

I hope you enjoy watching them struggle to get off the couch.