Five pages in 48 hours

The NYC Midnight Madness screenwriting contest ( challenges contestants to write a five page script in 48 hours of an assigned genre using an assigned location. I really get a charge out of this format because I imagine that professional writing assignments would be in the same vein.

What helped me for the most recent challenge was using the techniques I studied with Chris Soth and Steve Kaplan. Perhaps my twenty years of studying the craft of writing helps somewhat, but once I applied Chris’s mini-movie method, and Steve’s hidden tools of comedy, the story itself was a breeze to write. The most difficult part was editing to keep it at five pages.
The rule is that you must kill your darlings, referring to deleting the passages you love the most. Until one is published or produced, one does not have a true sense of which passages are worthy and which must go. So I kept just the bare minimum to tell the story. Now it’s up to the judges.


The Five Degrees of Jokes

I care about jokes because I care about being funny. I must have a deeply rooted problem in my psyche that compels me to use humor as a defense mechanism. I don’t think it’s terribly strange that I do this because I’m also now convinced that laughter is one of the things that make humans human, and helps to bind us together as a society whether it’s on the intimate level of kidding around with a friend, or making everybody at a party laugh at a joke, or entertaining the country with a brilliantly comedic movie. There are many of us, basically, that strive to make others laugh; we all have our own reasons.

I have developed my own comedic style over the years, absorbing what I liked, trying it out on people I know, and adjusting to make them laugh. It was hit and miss. When I started blogging, I worked harder at it because I wanted each blog post to be humorous. That’s when I realized how difficult it was to be consistently funny.

Skip ahead a few years, and I wandered into Chris Soth and Steve Kaplan. I was part of their conversation about how to make a killer comedy concept for a movie, and in it Steve Kaplan presented what he called the five degrees of jokes. Hearing him discuss jokes in this methodical, analytical method gave to me one of the greatest zen-like moments of my life. Suddenly, all the reasons something I said had been funny made sense. I realized I could begin to understand, after forty years of kidding around, what was humorous and why.

Without further ado, here are the FIVE DEGREES OF JOKES:

  1. Pun, wordplay, overly literal
  2. Juxtaposition of the sacred or profane
  3. Reversals of scale (large to small, vice versa)
  4. Improving situation, accidentally makes it worse
  5. Accidentally revealing something about yourself

You should immediately notice that this is not some kind of formula to help you build a joke, like the manatees do for The Family Guy. Instead, this is a simple framework explaining the contrasting elements that shock a person into laughter. The higher degree of the joke, the greater the shock, and the deeper the laugh.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to analyze each degree further, looking at jokes I have made or jokes in popular culture that exemplify it. You can also look to my other blog for a deeper analysis of my psyche and why I think I use humor thus.

In addition, I am attending Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Intensive in Chicago on Nov. 6th. As Flounder once said, “Oh boy, is this great!”


Andrew Kersey, Literary Manager

Andrew Kersey runs Kersey Management, a literary management agency. Andrew was a recent guest on Chris Soth’s “Hollywood By Phone,” which interviews working Hollywood professionals. During the interview, he and Chris discussed how he looks for talent, what genres he prefers, and how one should approach their writing career; this article relates the highlights from that conversation.

Andrew pointed out that it is challenging to make a sale in the spec script market, and that large payouts for spec scripts are rare. When a sale is made, the project can be derailed at any point because of the boom or bust mentality of Hollywood. The approach, therefore, should be to build a portfolio of great writing samples to use as calling cards, develop connections with Hollywood professionals who are a good fit with you for creative development, and work with a manager to develop a sustainable game plan.

As a manager, Andrew’s approach is to help writers hone their pitching skills while developing a sense of the high concepts that will lead to sales. Hollywood is absolutely trend driven, but rather than chasing the zeitgeist, the emerging writer should develop their voice and audience one connection at a time. When creating those great calling cards, hedge your bets by writing scripts that are PG and approach the four-quadrants (appeals to male and female, young and old).

Don’t be discouraged when a script is not picked for a deal, or when it is picked but the deal falters later on. Studios are being asked to spend tens of millions of dollars to develop a movie, and are reluctant to consider a script unless they are convinced it is worthy of such large sums. Every marketable script is an opportunity to develop your career and expand the network of creative connections.

The challenge for writers is to find the networking opportunities that will lead to development opportunities. It’s important to have representation in Los Angeles or New York that is developing connections, mentioning your work, and arranging those initial opportunities. The calling cards can lead to assignments if the pitch skills are there and the creative chemistry is working.

Contests and coverage services serve as an access point for networking opportunities. Resources such as Creative Screenwriting, Fade In, Script Magazine and Script Pipeline provide quality readers that can provide valuable breakdowns of a script to improve it. Andrew often reads for them and, if the voice and craftsmanship is apparent, considers every script as a possible client or a reference to an agent. Andrew prefers to deal with comedy, action-thrillers, and horror.

Andrew looks for succinct and colorful queries: a short introduction and no more than a two-sentence log line. He hopes to be able to envision the finished movie when he hears the log line, and suggests the writer have the movie poster in mind when crafting it.

You can listen to Andrew’s Hollywood By Phone interview at: .

About Million Dollar Screenwriter Chris Soth, of, interviews producers, development executives, agents, managers, attorneys, writers and directors. Live calls are free when you sign up at