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Past Meetings

Feb 2015: “Killing the Cat: The RISE of the New Dark Television Hero” with Peter Russell

Screenwriters Association SB

[AT A GLANCE]:

  • Break into the blazing hot television market as a writer, director, or producer
  • Learn a set of creative tools to create the new complexity and ambiguity in character and storyline that today’s TV audience seeks out.
  • Create the daring, original, boundary-bending stories sought out by our expanding, no holds-barred Wild West of TV production, with its rapidly expanding new platforms and studios.  

[ABOUT THE TALK]:

The fashion in TV heroes now is dark and complicated. And that’s fantastic for creators! Sometimes, the lead character is actually an anti-hero! And TV story is getting bigger – just more story for an ever hungrier audience. This talk’s speaker (Peter Russell) recently did a consult where the producer gave the writer a shocking note on his pilot: ‘can you make it longer?’ Believe me, that’s never been a note Peter has gotten before in television. And it’s fantastic news for story creators. This medium is thriving. And freer than ever before. Now, TV’s always been a closed off, hard to enter system. It still is, of course, but it’s as open right now as it’s ever been, because there are so many new venues for TV stories, and the way an audience watches has changed, too!

So – how do you write a great pilot in this market where cats don’t get saved, the hero is ambiguous, and the humor is black? Peter Russell (UCLA’s Teacher of the Year, & Pepperdine University’s Seaver School’s TV Pilot Professor) shows you how and works to quickly shape YOUR pilot characters and ideas in this talk. And he brings his legendary inspiring and insightful teaching spirit here that will leave you energize and super-excited to tackled your project. Bring your pilot idea and Peter will help you improve it during the talk. You’ll learn how to create the ‘permanent dilemma’ at the heart of all great TV story, and how the kind of ‘dilemma’ that TV audiences love to watch has changed in the last five years. Peter and his partner have ‘story-doctored’ in Hollywood for the last 15 years (their latest project is for Brian Grazer’s PELE, slated for release in spring of 2015.)

Using inspiring scenes from TRUE DETECTIVE, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, and the ever-darkening storyline of THE GOOD WIFE, Peter shows you how the greatest story creators exploit this new freedom — even on network TV (which by the way, still pays way better than cable.) Peter also charts one of the biggest changes in TV — the rise of the anti-hero, in stories like the brilliant BREAKING BAD. Peter shows you the suspense devices that Vince Gilligan employs to keep the BREAKING BAD audience on the edge of their seats.

[WHAT YOU’LL LEARN]:

  • How to create the single most important part of your show: fabulous, original characters
  • Why your pilot needs an ‘permanent dilemma’ at its very center.
  • What your show’s ‘hook’ must be (it’s different from five years ago)
  • How the main storylines in a pilot never vary in their construction, regardless of how ‘hip’ the show
  • What those storylines are and how to ‘weave them’ together
  • How to use the deep secret of ‘original theme’ the same way Gilligan, Chase, Fellowes, Pizzolatto, Weiner, and Sorkin do to drive your pilot AND every episode
  • Re-energizing yourself when you lose inspiration. (TV story requires a different energy – learn how to channel it)
  • Using the hidden patterns of your TV genre to leapfrog ahead (there are 13 different TV genres)
  • ‘Do I create a pilot or write a spec of an existing show? The benefits of both.
  • Finding a great story from what’s happening right now in the world.
  • How to find a writing partner

[WHO SHOULD ATTEND]:

  • Screenwriters who want to break into the biggest and fastest growing medium in entertainment today: TV
  • Producers who want to understand how to shape and create sellable stories.
  • Directors, editors, and actors who want to know the hidden secrets of the script they’ve been hired to do.
  • Writers who want to learn the fundamental forms of ALL three major TV story platforms – network, cable, and internet
  • Story creators who want to learn how and why stories sell in today’s market (it’s very different than five years ago.)

[ABOUT PETER RUSSELL]: For 15 years Peter Russell has been a story doctor in Hollywood, working with on projects like The Da Vinci Code (SONY), working for companies like IMAGINE (Einstein), for PARTICIPANT (Food, Inc.), for WALDEN FILMS (Chronicles of Narnia), for CBS Television’s Movies of the Week, for HBO, VIACOM, and scores more. Peter recently helped shape Brian Gazer’s PELE, (coming out in the spring of 2015).

Peter also works with the most talented writers and producers in the business. His knowledge of story comes out of the years spent reading over 7,000 scripts for the studios. As Peter discerned the patterns of great story, he began to share them, and that began his career as a consultant.

In 2004 Peter was invited to have the privilege of teaching at UCLA’s Entertainment Division of the Extension School where he’s taught thousands of students how to tell great cinematic stories. He was named Teacher Of The Year in 2009. Peter was recently been hired by Pepperdine University’s Seaver College to teach ‘Writing The One Hour Pilot’ starting this January for their MFA program.


Peter offers his own classes now at University of Story – not only online classes (where he teaches you personally) but also live in Venice, California. A book based on the story discoveries he and his partner Cecilia Najar have made is coming out soon from a major trade publisher: THE HIDDEN PATTERNS OF HIT CINEMATIC STORY.

For Peter’s own classes, please go to: www.universityofstory.com

Thurs, Feb 12th 2015, 7-9 pm • FREE and open to everyone!
Brooks Institute, 27 East Cota Street, Santa Barbara, CA
(Use the left side door across from Cost Plus World Market)