Posts Tagged ‘comedy writing’

Romancista!

Friday, August 10th, 2012

There are times I wish I could be more forthcoming about the nuts and bolts of the work I do on these overseas jaunts. Often I feel (correctly) constrained from violating client confidentiality, but on the other hand, if the client is talking about me, well, I guess it’s okay for me to talk about me, too. With that in mind, here’s a picture and blog post from the website of Y&R Brazil, the Brazilian branch of the worldwide ad agency Young & Rubican, and that’s who I’ve been working for here.

Quite the art shot, huh? I couldn’t have conceived such an indulgence better myself. And here’s what they had to say about me (how’s your Portuguese? Mine is nonexistent, so I hope they didn’t say I sucked.)

“Romancista, escritor, roteirista de séries de TV como Married with Children, professor da UCLA e fera no pôquer. É isso aí, John Vorhaus é um cara cheio de talento e está aqui na agência para  dividir sua experiência com os Youngs.  Na pauta do workshop Ferramentas Criativas, estão criatividade e storytelling!”

As far as I can tell, I’m a romancista. Well, okay, I’ll buy that… whatever it is.

Apart from imparting my wisdom, I actually carved out a little time for sightseeing, notably from high at0p the Banespa Bank building in downtown Sao Paolo.

And if you get the impression from this that “downtown Sao Paolo” goes a long way, trust me, you don’t know the half of it. Here’s the other half.

And there are at least two other other halves beside this one but, well, you get the idea: big, big city. Skyscrapers as far as the eye can see — and traffic that boggles the mind. I thought we had it bad in Los Angeles, but Sampa teaches me that, really, I know nothing of traffic. But this is a cool place and a deeply vibrant one. As in so many countries, there’s a friendly rivalry between the main cities of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro (which I didn’t get to visit this time, but damn well will next time). It’s clear that if you want to have a professional career in the place where everything is happening, then you have to be in Sampa, just like in America you can love San Francisco or Chicago all you want, but if you really want to be in the center, it’s LA or NY for you. This thought is not lost on Brazilians: hence the sprawl; hence the traffic. Everyone is here because, uh, everyone else is here.

And by the way, while the rest of the world is struggling with recession, depression, concession and regression, Brazil is rocking. Consensus is that this country is riding a rising tide of prosperity. Optimism is palpable. It’s great to see. You almost can’t be here and not be happy about the road ahead. It’s uplifting.

And if you’re not uplifted enough, how about a little sugar to start your engine? What you see here is fresh sugar can about to be squeezed into a cup for your drinking and sugar-rushing pleasure.

And… sigh… there goes my diet.

And… sigh… there goes my visit. Tomorrow I fly home, after a whirlwind week (well, less) in a place I’ve immediately fallen in love with and am already plotting a return visit. This city and country are special, and the people who live here know it beyond doubt. I’ll close this post with a picture of a bunch of people you don’t know, but there’ all my new best friends, and I look forward to seeing them again.

More later,  -jv

Everything Old is New Again

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Well, Campers, here I am in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and I’ve just come in from having a big walk around. I can’t tell you much about Sampa, except that it’s unreasonable large and that parts of it remind me of Tel Aviv (riotous street scene) and parts remind me of Bucharest (a little more attention to smooth pavement, please). What I can tell you about is my inner weather. All day long I’ve been haunted by the (good) feeling that “everything old is new again.” Maybe it’s because I’m on a new (to me) continent and in a totally new (to me) culture, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is really like the old days for me (like 1998, ’99), when these overseas jaunts were still a novelty and the mere act of being in a strange place was enough to get me seriously off. Followers of this blog will know that I’ve lost that feeling from time to time. It’s not that I’ve become jaded, except, okay maybe a little bit I have. Anyway, for some reason this place strips all the jaded away, and I’m walking around with the sense of wonder of a much younger man.

Just in passing today I noted the difference between being younger and being older. I fancy that it’s worth sharing here: Being older means you know more and care less. I don’t know if that’s true or not. It sounds like one of the (many, many) things I say that sounds like it might mean something and then you look at it closely and realize, hey, not so much.

Here’s one thing I know about Sao Paolo: people make eye contact. It’s weird and disconcerting if you’re not used to it, but you can be walking down the street and find yourself being “recklessly eyeballed” by all and sundry. Now me, I’m a reckless eyeballer from way back, but I’m so used to that being a one-way relationship. Here, out on the street, people are checking me out as relentlessly as I them (so much so that I sometimes think they’re flirting which, alas, they are not). I was told that this was the case, but didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own, er, eyes. Why it should be I cannot say. Does it speak to an open and connective society, or just a general prurient interest in one another on the street? Dunno. I’ve only been here a day. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have it all sorted out.

In the meantime, two pictures. This first is from my hotel hallway, outside the elevator.

And that’s good advice, no? Note that this warning has been required by municipal code since 1997. I guess there were a lot of elevator accidents theretofore.

This next shot is from a toy store here in Sampa, and it just tickles me that the game that informed my childhood a damn long time ago is still out there doing its thing, forcing people to choose between the Rota Segura (the safe path) and the Rua do Risco (the risky path). Same as it ever was, my friends, same as it ever was.

For me the Rua do Risco. Always was, always will be. Because everything old is new again, and as long as I follow the unsafe path, no matter how old I get, I will stay new, too.

More later,  -jv

So Long, Sofia

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Okay, it’s not a perfect world. I know it’s not a perfect world because I want to post a farewell blog to Bulgaria and I can’t because my internet connection is sketchy-to-nonexistent. So I’ll write this now and post it later. Maybe at the airport in Sofia. Maybe during tomorrow’s four-hour layover in Paris. Maybe all the way back in LA. Or maybe the hotel internet will miraculously cure itself while I’m out this evening and I can send this missive before I go to bed for the last time here in Bulgaria.

My controlling emotion right now is the same one it always is at the end of a trip: melancholy. I can’t help it. I always know it’s coming and I’m always powerless to stop it. And the better I do my job, the worse the melancholy hits when it hits, because that just means I’ve forged a bond, and bonds are hard to break. If I didn’t get all sloppy emotional, I wouldn’t have such trouble letting go, but if I didn’t get all sloppy emotional, I wouldn’t be as effective. I’m trying to model egolessness and service to the work. I want ‘em to drink the Kool-Aid (even in places in the world where that phrase has no meaning). So I wear my heart on my sleeve, right out there where everyone can see it ticking. That’s part of the melancholy. Part of it, but not all. Another part is the fact of coming down from a high. For the past month I’ve been living in such a state of high intensity, with so much challenging work to do, so many interesting problems to solve. And, of course, I’m the star of the show, the answer man, the focus of everyone’s attention. For an attention junkie like me, that’s hard to let go of.

Is it weird to claim to model egolessness and claim to be an attention junkie in the space of the same paragraph?  I don’t think so. I think true egolessness is acknowledging that you have an ego. If that’s too Zen for your taste, I’m sorry , but that’s the way I feel.

Hey, what goes up must come down, right? I’ve long longed to be the guy who parachutes into new territories and makes them safe for situation comedy. Certainly that’s what I’ve done here, and I think – with all due false modesty – that I’ve done a terrific job. I did what I set out to do. I recruited and trained a team of writers who can execute the full and complete adaptation of Married…with Children, all umpteen-zillion episodes. It’s not Nobel Prize stuff, but it’s not nothing, either. So I take pride. I trained myself out of a job as quickly as possible, always my goal. With all due false modesty, I take pride.

And I pay the price. The price of my melancholy as I stick my dirty clothes in my suitcase and prepare, once again, to turtle aboard the plane for the long ride home. I’ll be glad to be home. Back to my loved one and my loved ones, my ultimate Frisbee, my friends, my California sunshine, my precious and sacred writing days. But that’s for tomorrow or the day after. For now it’s the night the show closes, and, honestly, I don’t know how to have closure.

More later, from somewhere. -jv

From Cold to Stupid Cold

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Well, after last week’s snowluge (that’s a snow-deluge, where the snow gets too deep even for a luge), the inevitable Siberian cold front has moved in and the temperature has plummeted from reasonable single digits (on the centigrade scale) to ridiculous numbers like -10 and -27. See, this is my big problem with the centigrade scale; it makes everything MUCH colder than it has to be. Okay, in fairness, blaming centigrade is truly just killing the messenger, so I’ll let that go. But I’m here to tell you that I have neither the clothing nor the temperament for snot-freezes-in-your-nostrils cold, which is where we’ve arrived at today.

I felt it in the air yesterday when I took my latest sightseeing stroll around Sofia. Highlights included the Natural History Museum, where I encountered this intriguing theory about the origin of the Cyclops myth: It turns out that the bones of extinct elephants littered the ancient Mediterranean world, which, if you didn’t know better (and how could you, since you’ve never seen a live elephant?) you would think the skeletons resembled a hugely over-sized man — a giant. It turns out that elephant skulls don’t have much in the way of eye-sockets, but do have a big, gaping trunk-socket — which, again, could look very much like a single eye hole to a primitive person trying to glean meaning from old bones. One thing leads to an other and voila, you’ve got yourself a cyclops myth. Why those bones should add up to a cranky blacksmith, I don’t know, but then again I’ve never gotten how those random stars of Ursa Major add up to the shape of a bear. Maybe it has something to do with ancient alkaloids.

I did some brief, frigid shopping at the flea market of Soviet-era flotsam, but somehow couldn’t bring myself to load up on looted Nazi swords or medals, be they real or reproduction. Magnifying glasses. I bought some nifty magnifying glasses. I’m exactly that kind of nerd.

High point of the stroll was the exhibit of relic religious art in the crypt of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Here are some shots from there.

As you can see, even after hundreds of years, the colors are still quite vivid. So is, er, the imagery.

That shot was taken from “the Life of St. George,” who, as you can readily judge, had a hard one. I guess once you’ve slain the dragon, it’s pretty much all downhill from there.

Finally I leave you with this proof that time travel exists; how else does one explain the presence of the Bee Gees in 18th century religious iconography?

Rock on, Christ Pantocrator, rock on.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go outside and freeze some bodily fluids. Good times!

More later, -jv

Snow Far, Snow Good

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

I know, I know, more noise about snow. But seriously. I mean… seriously. It just snowed for 36 hours, and you can see the story in this photo essay of the tree outside my window at work.

Okay, maybe it doesn’t seem like such a much to you, but believe me, it’s impressive when you’re out in it. And to think people have historically fought wars in this weather. I don’t even want to walk to the car.

It’s a big deal, this snow. Apparently right now Bulgaria is on Orange Alert, which, I don’t know, maybe means that the snow is about to turn orange. The border with Romania is closed, though I don’t hear anyone complaining about that. You know, I mean, this country is also right next door to Greece, and when I think of Greece, I think of beaches and topless Swedish girls (funny, when I think of many things I think of… never mind). I do not think of snow. No. Not at all. But here it is, in all its gory glory.

I mean, it’s really pretty pretty, so long as you can view it in a dispassionate, super-graphic sort of way (which is much easier to do from behind plate glass or from another continent altogether). But I’m digging it, I am. Mostly because I know I get to leave it in a week or so, so yay. Back to Southern California, where our idea of a brutal winter is a rainstorm big enough to float a trash can or two. My only concern is that the weather may impact my weekend travel plans. I had hoped to check out the Kukeri, Bulgarian carnival celebrations that go back to pagan times. I don’t imagine it’ll be like Mardi Gras (too damn cold to show one’s naughty bits for beads) but it certainly seems worth checking out. On the other hand, I have heard horror stories of being stuck for 12 hours in stopped traffic behind accidents on snowy mountain roads, and I am certainly not up for that.

What I am up for is… chalga! This is Bulgaria’s pop-folk music, mostly limned by women in skimpy outfits and blasted out at 250 beats per minute or some such. Tonight, in the company of local hosts who will (presumably) keep me out of trouble, I shall be venturing into my first so-called “folk club.” I’ve been thinking Bob Dylan. I’ve been told that my thinking is way, way wrong.

Need some chalga? Check it out.

Okay, I’ll close the post with this lovely piece of found art, entitled, “One of these things is not like the other.”

Awesome, innit?

More later,  -jv

Well Now There’s This

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

I think that pictures of snow must be the most boring thing in the world to people who regularly see snow. (I also think that light switches on the outsides of bathrooms are about the worst idea ever). For the rest of us, such snaps have a certain “watching a train wreck” quality. It’s not the beauty we’re drawn to, but the appalling implied chaos. First we have an immediate stretch of  treacherous walking and driving. This is followed by a period of extended slush/muck, during which mud and guck of every unspeakable description seems to leap from the ground onto your shoes and boots, pants, jacket, everywhere; and getting from point A to point B becomes such a boggy slog that you think, “Hell, maybe I’ll just stay indoors today. I mean, really, who needs food?” As snow turns to ice, it’s piled into huge dark mounds by city workers who contribute their own cigarette butts and Dunkin’ Donuts cups to the aggregate, as if out to create a post-modern sculpture upon the guiding artistic principles of chaos and inconvenience. These mounds will linger for weeks and months, until gradually melting away in the spring to reveal lost shoes, mittens, hats and the odd iced animal. Good times.

Yet when it’s fresh, it sure do look purty. So now there’s this.

And if you’re not from snow country, let me just say that the novelty wears off almost the instant it sets in.

I did get in a nice walkabout last night before the weather set in, and captured this picture of The Church of the Holy Blah Blah Blah (sorry, I never was good at tracking facts).

Plus a damned intriguing ghost rider in the sky.

Somewhere in the past week I also stumbled upon Jedi Salad

Made with real Jedis, I suppose.

We close this post with the estimable Plateau of Cheese. You will find it on the map not far from the Jagged Peaks of Tortellini and the Lake of Spilt Milk (over which there is no use crying).

Okay, that’s enough of this nonsense. There’s a world of snow out there just waiting to envelop me in its chilly moist embrace, so I’d better get cracking. You know the expression “Winter Wonderland?” It’s just like that.

Without the wonderland part.

More later, -jv

“Now Saving Bulgaria”

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

For fairly obvious reasons, these weeks when I download my pictures I download them to a file labeled “Bulgaria.” Just now I went to save all my changes and I was informed that I was “now saving Bulgaria.” That made me feel rather good.

But seriously, it’s only a television show.

I had a chance to take a long walk around today, camera in hand. As always, I set out to take pictures of important cultural artifacts.

This has to be important. It is on a very high pillar.

I like to show folks the typical sights of the city, including its streets and sculptures.

Streets.

Sculptures.

But my plan always goes to hell and I end up taking pictures of dogs instead.

(True fact or bar fact: there are more stray dogs in Sofia than people.)

And then things just degenerate into silly sign captures, like this one that, at least, tells it like it is.

And this one that, based on investigation, tells it like it isn’t.

Because that was not one New York tasting hot dog.

And then this one…

…which, to my non-Cyrillic-reading eye, initially struck me as “bimbo outlet,” but I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Anyway, all in all a pretty picturesque and picture-driven stroll around town. My mental map is now good and dialed in. I know where two Subways are (and two metro stations), plus two Irish bars, many Non-Stop stores in case I need a can of peaches at 3 a.m., what looks like the world’s sketchiest Chinese restaurant, plus the National Theater and the National Gallery and this palace and that church and blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, folks. I’d rather take pictures of signs.

More later, -jv

PS: Bar fact, which you knew.

The Jagged Pieces of My Sleep

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Thanks to Dr. Feelnothing, I got my hands on some Ambien for this trip, and so have been taking jet lag by brute force. It’s not a bad way to go — certainly healthier than Scotching myself into a stupor — but it has its disadvantages. For one thing, sleeping pill versus jet lag is a bit of a “clash of the titans” between a stubborn biological clock and the forces of forced unconsciousness, as a result of which, my sleep is a tattered, dream-splattered thing; brief, and not all that restful. Anyway, in the upshot, it’s not quite 6 AM in Sofia, but I’m up and at ’em already. Not complaining! Definitely not complaining. Between yesterday and today I discovered six new challenges of this job (the scope and timetable of it; the present lack of cast for the show; the present lack of set; the fact that I’m expected to teach a five-day, not a two-day, workshop) that excite me no end. Once again I’ve been thrown into the deep end, where the creatures are strange and the water is WARM!

On a note of personal discovery, I just love the found objects of the places I go. The first one presented it to me yesterday morning when I looked out upon daylight from my hotel room window for the first time, and saw this lovely bit:

And you know, it’s not the insects that concern me so much as the etcetera.

I have noted that the difference between myself and normal people is that they take pictures of people and I take pictures of things. What can I say? Things are so amusing!

Anyway, I have no shortage of homework. I have just reviewed the first episode of Married… with Children and noted all the cultural context issues, dated references, and lost-in-translation word plays that make adapting these scripts such a challenge. According to the contemplated production schedule, I only have 119 scripts to go. Fun!

Oh, and not content to do one job when three will do, I’ve just posted a new column on FISH BITES MAN, my soapbox at  EpicPoker.com.    You’ll find it at http://www.epicpoker.com/news/blog-pages/2012/01/fish-bites-man-weaving-tangled-webs.aspx.

If you’re liking these blog posts, be sure to tell your friends, foes, co-workers, dogs, members of Congress, whoever. Remember that whatever my text is, my subtext is always the same: Get them hooked on the drug that is John Vorhaus. Also available on facebook and on twitter @TrueFactBarFact.

More later,

– Johnny Jetlag

See Ya in Sofia

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Hi Campers,

As some of you know, I’ll be decamping this week to Sofia, Bulgaria, where I will be recruiting/training the writing staff of the Bulgarian adaptation of Married… with Children. I undertake this enterprise for Sony, for whom I did similar work in Russia two winters ago. (Why do they always send me places with crappy winter weather? Don’t they have any nice shows in Barbados?) I’m really looking forward to the trip, and looking forward to filling in some blanks in my (and maybe your) understanding of Bulgaria.

Here’s what I know about the country so far.

So… good news… we have nowhere to go but up.

Anyway, right now I have to go pack my mukluks. You can never have too many mukluks in cold climes.

More — well, everything — later, -jv

NOW Pay Attention

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Hey campers,

My brand-new book on sitcom is now available. Here’s the blurb:

Writing situation comedies isn’t really that hard. So much of what you need to know is already defined for you. You know that your script needs to be a certain short length, with a certain small number of characters. You know that your choice of scenes is limited to your show’s standing sets and maybe one or two swing sets or outside locations. You know how your characters behave and how they’re funny, either because you invented them or because you’re writing for a show where these things are already well established. Sitcom is easy and sitcom is fun. Sitcom is the gateway drug to longer forms of writing. It’s a pretty good buzz and a pretty good ride, a great way to kill an afternoon, or even six months.

And now, thanks to comedy writing guru John Vorhaus (author of THE COMIC TOOLBOX: HOW TO BE FUNNY EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT), writing situation comedy is easier than ever. In THE LITTLE BOOK OF SITCOM, you’ll find a whole trove of tools, tricks and problem-solving techniques that you can use — now, today — to be the sitcom writer of your wildest dreams. Ready to write? Ready to have fun? THE LITTLE BOOK OF SITCOM is the big little book for you.

Tell your sitcommy friends: this is an ebook they’re going to want to have.

More later, -jv