Yes, it’s true. Jeff James, continually procrastinating writer, has actually produced new work! Specifically, Episode #9 of The Leet World.
To be completely honest, I actually finished the script about a month ago, but I haven’t talked about it for a few reasons. First off, I wanted to wait until the episode was actually released. However, that happened on February 1st, and here it’s two weeks later and I’m just now writing about it. Can’t really explain that part, except that I did kind of want to wait a little while to see what people thought of the results. Most people seem to think I did a good job, so I guess it’s about time I talk about it.
In any case, I’d like to share the episode and talk a little bit about the writing process. If you’re completely new to the show, however, I’d recommend watching one or two of the previous episodes since the first part of my episode resolves a cliffhanger from the first half of the season.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the show, go ahead and check out the episode:
The final version you see there is about 85%-90% stuff that I wrote. The Player/hat love story (which is *great*, by the way) is the biggest addition they made, and is a joke I couldn’t even have come up with in the first place since I had no idea there was a freakin’ snow man on the map. There are also a few line tweaks and improvs here and there.
If you’d like to know more about the episode and my writing process, continue reading…
In fact, the original script I wrote was much longer than it should have been. They try to keep all of the episodes under 10 minutes to fit within the time limits imposed by YouTube, because a huge number of people follow the episodes on there instead of the main website. Any longer than that, and the episode has to be split in two, which just annoys Nick to no end.
A few of the scenes I wrote were cut before filming, but two scenes were taken out after the episode was mostly finished. Here they are:
The first scene is from the start before they actually go to the office. I was always pretty sure this scene would be one of the first ones cut, so I wasn’t too broken up when it was taken out. The second scene would have shown up later in the episode, and I was mildly disappointed to see it go. I originally wrote the second scene because Eddy and I felt like Leeroy didn’t have much to do in the episode, and the phone-call I originally wrote for him didn’t quite work. However, I also found some other good spots to add him in, and I think he ended up getting a decent amount of time in the final product.
I’d also like to share one of the scenes I wrote that didn’t get filmed:
INT. CORTEZ’S CUBE
Satisfaction for The Customer Line, this is Cortez.
[Hello. I used one of your hair products and now I can't stop speaking Japanese...]
Uh… Computer! Translate his words!
I, YOUR HAIR, STOPPING THE FACT THAT IT CANNOT… NOW YOU SPEAK JAPANESE!
Excuse me, sir, while I transfer you…
(Cortez hangs up.)
Now… that scene got deleted for several reasons. First off, I think the joke doesn’t quite work. It sounded funny in my head, but it’s mostly just weird and would be difficult to get across in an actual filmed version. The other, more relevant reason it got deleted is that Cortez already had several scenes in the episode and my script was too long.
The writing process for this episode was fairly straightforward. I’ve been involved in The Leet World as the site’s webmaster from fairly early on, and it has been really exciting to see the work my friends have been producing and the huge response their shorts have gotten. After it became clear that they really were serious about making this show and were going to keep doing it, I started getting interested in the possibility of writing an episode.
I’ve been interested in writing for TV for a year or two now, but I haven’t actually managed to write a spec script for a show. I’ve started a few, and I’ve got a few semi-decent ideas for specs, but nothing that I’ve been able to complete. The great thing about The Leet World, though, is that even though it’s a web series, the guys have been taking it very seriously and treating it like a television show.
They could have made shorts that were nothing but strung together gags and still could have found a sizable audience, but because they’re all consummate craftsmen who care a lot about their work, they’ve made a show that I think actually translates fairly well outside of the gaming community. In fact, I’ve never actually played Counter-Strike: Source, the game that the show is based on. I’ve occasionally watched Eddy and the guys play it, but not as much as some other games they used to play.
In any case, because they’re treating it like a TV show, I could come in and write an episode for them and it simulates a lower-pressure version of submitting a spec or writing for a staff. It also (in retrospect) felt pretty great to write something knowing it would get produced. I haven’t had that luxury since 2003 when Knifepoint got performed at SU.
It was also a great learning experience to write someone else’s characters knowing that if I didn’t get it right, I’d get thoroughly re-written and/or the ravenous hordes of Leet World fans would let us all know we missed the mark. Considering the fact that very few of my lines were changed, I think I did a fairly good job of finding the characters’ voices.
Also, one of the nicest things about writing the episode was that it really felt like a collaboration with Eddy and the other guys. It wasn’t just me disappearing somewhere and writing my episode. I talked with Eddy about the direction the show needed to go in and his expectations and ideas for the characters.
I ran almost all of my ideas past him to make sure that what I wanted to do would work within the scheme of things, but it never felt like a one-sided collaboration. He and I would talk on chat or on the phone and spitball ideas back and forth until we came up with something good.
He also suggested several scenes for me to write. For example, the funeral scene, which was the first thing I wrote, was a suggestion of his. Once he read that, he told me he thought the poem was a great joke and that he thought it’d be cool if it came up again later in the episode.
I spent a decent amount of time brainstorming ideas and writing a bit of an outline because I’ve learned from experience that even the simplest piece of writing turns out better when you’ve outlined it. I could bullshit essays in college and high school without an outline and usually come up with decent product, but I quickly figured out that if I try to bullshit a script the results are messy and unorganized.
Most of the actual writing was done in one night, however. I was spurred on by a conversation with Eddy where he told me that they were hoping to start filming within the next week, and I decided then and there that I had better stop procrastinating and start producing, since the last thing I wanted to do was flake out on writing the episode. I knew that if I didn’t come through with a script, it’d be a pretty big deal to them and I wouldn’t get a second chance. I ended up spending about 6-7 hours on a Sunday night writing the script, which ended up being about 14 pages long.
When I was writing, I decided to play with Scrivener to see if I liked the working style. I definitely like the concept behind keeping your screenplay modular and easy to reorganize, but some of the features in the program weren’t quite intuitive enough for something I was trying to write quickly, so I basically just kept the concept of a modular screenplay and wrote most of the script using Google Docs. I may try Scrivener again sometime soon, although I’m sure the free trial has run out by now.
When I talk about keeping the script modular, what I mean is that I didn’t actually write it in order. I wrote the scenes I knew how to write first, and then filled in the parts in between as they came to me. I also wrote scenes and moved them around a lot until the order felt balanced. The basic metaphor, used in Scrivener, is of writing all your scenes on index cards and attaching them to a cork board. If a scene works better earlier or later in the script, you just pull it off and reorder the cards. The funeral scene was the first thing I wrote, and then the scene where Cortez answers the phone came next.
While I was writing I was trying to keep in mind a few different story threads. In spec-script parlance, I was trying to do justice to an A, B, and C storyline (at minimum). I’d say the storylines are something like:
A) Everyone has to work in a call center. Hi-jinx ensue.
B) Ahmad is using hax.
C) A Mysterious Caller keeps calling until he reaches Cortez.
After the changes they made in the final version, Player gets his own D story with the snowman and his hat.
Once I sent the first draft to Eddy and the guys, the rewriting process started pretty much immediately. Since I kept the script in Google Docs, I rewrote scenes as new ideas came to me and the guys chatted me with feedback. I ended up rewriting and changing scenes in pretty much real-time as Eddy chatted me with his feedback, which was a great way of working and really added to the feeling of collaboration. It gave me a bit of an idea of what it would be like to work with a writing partner on a script.
After I had done the rewrites they asked me to do, it was pretty hands-off until the final episode. I think the final product turned out pretty great, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to write another episode sometime in the future. Hopefully soon I can apply what I learned from this experience on writing a spec script for a national TV show so I can start entering contests and thinking about getting an agent. Beau‘s already got an amazing Office spec script. If you haven’t read it, ask him and I’m sure he’ll let you read it.
Anyways, it’s getting late, and I’m way past due for bed. I’ll try to share some pictures of the duplex I just moved into sometime soon.