CLOSE
Original image

Studio 60/30 Rock...? TV Writing by the numbers

Original image

A little foreshadowing for you: The Nov/Dec issue of mental_floss (due to hit newsstands any day now) has a fun Scatterbrained theme: TV

So, to get you all in the mood, I thought I'd ask a professional TV writer some questions and give you a little inside look at what "scribes" actually do"¦ "˜cause you can bet your TiVo it ain't like what you see on Studio 60 or 30 Rock.

Allow me to introduce, then, Aury Wallington, a friend, a colleague, and a really funny writer. She's written for Sex and the City, Courting Alex, Veronica Mars, and just had a new, splendiferous YA novel come out called POP! (Razorbill Books), which you can read all about over at her website: AuryWallington.com.

Go check out our Q&A, after the jump...

Q: A 30-minute network comedy is actually how many minutes minus commercials? How about a 1-hour network drama?

A: A comedy is around 22 minutes; a drama is around 45 minutes. But contrary to the old adage that 1 page of script equals 1 minute of screen time, a 30-minute multi-camera (sitcom) script is usually around 45 pages, a 30-minute single camera script is around 34 pages, and a 1-hour drama script can be as short as 45 pages (Nip Tuck) or as long as 80 pages (Gilmore Girls.)

Q: How many writers are usually on a drama? comedy?

A: Dramas: 6-8, comedies: 10-12, but it can be more or fewer, depending on the show and the show-runner (executive producer/head writer).

Q: How long is your average work day?

A: Dramas "“ 10am "“ 7pm. Comedies "“ 10am "“ 1am.

Q: What's the longest day you've ever had at the studio/office?

A: 31 hours. 10 am Wednesday to 5 pm Thursday

Q: How many days off a week do you get?

A: 2 (weekends), but I work 7 days a week (writing or coming up with story ideas to pitch or reading other writer's scripts on at home Saturdays and Sundays.)

Q: How much money does the lowest paid writer earn? Average? Highest?

A: Staff writers (the lowest position) make $3000 a week. They don't get paid extra for any scripts they write, but they do get residuals. Story editors (the next level up) make $5000 a week, get $20,000 for each comedy episode and $30,000 for each drama episode they write, and get residuals. After that, salaries are negotiated by your agent, and are usually paid per episode as opposed to per week. The executive producer (head writer) of a hit network show can make millions.

Q: What percentage do you give to your agent? To your manager? To your lawyer?

A: Agent "“ 10%, literary manager "“ 10%, business manager/financial advisor "“ 5%, lawyer "“ 5%

Q: How many seasons before a show is considered a hit? Gets to syndication?

A: 1 episode (Grey's Anatomy was considered a hit after only the pilot aired.) 5 seasons is definitely a success. 100 episodes for syndication (although now some shows sell to cable stations with far fewer episodes "“ for example, My So Called Life has aired on MTV and The N, but only had 19 episodes "“ not even a full season.)

Q: How many jokes need to be on every page of a comedy script?

A: 8 (which is the average number of lines of dialogue on a page "“ because every single line needs to be a joke) or: 100%

Q: How many pilots get ordered per season?

A: 100s

Q: How many pilots get greenlit for shooting?

A: 12s

Q: How many pilots go to series?

A: A handful (sorry these aren't exact numbers—it changes so radically every season and depends on each specific network and studio. If I had to guess, I'd say around 200 are bought, 60 are made, and 15 make it on air. But these are wild guesses, and the exact info isn't available "“ I tried my agent, the Guild, and a pal at a studio, and none of them could give me specifics"¦)

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you this Q&A is over?

A: Um, a billion?

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES