I don't make posts like this very often, but I figured the insanity that I put myself through was worth one. After all, writing a spec script in a weekend is something I would strongly urge against. A good story takes time to craft and you're setting yourself up for failure.
So why did I do it?
Absolute necessity. My life has been kind of a hectic mess lately. A lot of good, a lot of bad, and a lot of me scrambling to keep up with it all. As a result, things fall through the cracks more often than I'd care to admit. So when I realized that the deadline for the Universal Animation Writers Program was mere days away, I absolutely panicked. I don't write specs often. The only one I had ready to go was a less than stellar attempt at a What We Do In The Shadows episode that was also written out of necessity. Looking at the requirements for the fellowship, I had to write another spec. A truly terrifying prospect for me.
Luckily for me, my absolute favorite animated show, Bob's Burgers was on the list. But I didn't have an idea for an episode that hadn't already been done. Scrolling through the episode list with concept after concept took up most of my first day. Nothing at all worked. I was frustrated and on the verge of giving up. So I did what I always do when I'm stressed and feeling low: I went to my office to fuck around with my Legos. I had to toy with the idea of letting this fellowship deadline pass and to try again next year. Not something I wanted to do at all. My career has yet to start and I want to be as pro-active as possible. All of these thoughts swirled in my head as I played with my little Lego Pirate diorama. It didn't even hit me until after nearly an hour that the answer to my Bob's conundrum was right in front of me.
It hit me like a brick to the head. It was an idea that practically wrote itself. Who knew that Bob's and Lego could go hand in hand so well? Maybe the thousands of people petitioning for a Bob's Burgers Lego set, but that's completely beside the point.
I rushed to twitter to run the concept by people I trusted. The results were clear. The idea worked. I had to write it.
With only a weekend to write, I had to fall back onto all of my analytical skills and my knowledge of story structure to build a frame-work for myself to go from. That meant that I needed to spend at least half a day binging Bob's and figuring out what makes the episodes tick.
And that brings me to the reason for this blog post.
I created a structural guide for how a Bob's Burgers episode functions. I unashamedly love analyzing things for structure and use it constantly in my own work. Although I often break my own rules, which infuriates me endlessly, it's a great thing to fall back on when I need to wrangle my unwieldy ideas back in. So creating this guide was nothing new. While I wrote it for myself, it felt like an absolute shame to not share it.
I could talk a ton more about how great my spec was and how I somehow managed to make the deadline with something I'm proud of, but I don't want to toot my own horn any further than I already have. If you want to read the script, you're more than welcome to reach out to me and request it! You can be the judge of how "killer" it is or isn't. Instead I'll just leave you with some well wishes for your writing and get into the structure of an episode of the best animated show on TV. I recommend watching an episode while you read this breakdown.
The show begins!
Family Shenanigans bring us into the episode with context.
A – Story
Return to stasis as a family. A reflection of the beginning.
And that's it! That's what my feverish weekend with the Belchers yielded as my own structural guide to writing an episode of Bob's Burgers. If you're reading this because you're planning on writing a spec, please don't take it as the hard-and-fast truth. This is just one guy's interpretation of a show he has nothing to do with. But if you ask me...it's pretty damn close. Hopefully this helps someone in their writing adventures! If you need me, I'll be in the office playing with Legos while I try not to explode from stress.
P.S. Forgive the weird numbering. Weebly doesn't make this easy.
As a long time fan and student of comedy movies, I’ve seen so many off-beat team comedies that I absolutely love and adore. During a meeting of the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Project, I realized just how intimately I know and understand these films, and thus I present to you my pretentiously titled unified theory of team movies.
Here are some examples of the greatest team comedies out there. Great is subjective, but I love them so, whatever. Here they are.
Balls of Fury
The Longest Yard
Some of these aren’t traditionally “team” as they are much more about one man preparing to face the big game, but they have a lot of people rallying around them that essentially function as the team in question.
While all of the ones that I’ve listed are sports comedies (including Beerfest, because drinking is a sport if you’re doing it right), this category of film applies to much more than just this type. It also heavily applies to heist films, and to some extent ensemble superhero pieces. They all focus on a group of people teaming up to prepare for one big game with one main character as the point of view and focus. In heist films, the big game is the heist. They’re no different!
Using the films on my list, I’ve come up with a unified theory of team movies. It includes the common character types that they all hold, the structure that they all follow, and the emotional journey that the hero must go on.
Note: This is not a mandatory guide to follow. It’s simply an analytical tool that breaks down these movies in a general sense. All of these break from the form in one way or another and those moments are what make them unique and memorable. Use this only to get yourself unstuck on the structure of your own piece, not as a plug and play guide.
Let’s dig in!
The common denominator of all of these films is the premise. You meet someone who could be totally incredible at what they do, but life has gotten in the way and now they’ve got a big problem that needs solved. The “big game” comes into their life as a solution to their big problem, but they’re initially reluctant to go on that journey.
Over the course you take them from washed up weirdo to realizing the potential that they always had inside of them, with a big team of people around them. It’s heartwarming stuff and has MAJOR comedic potential throughout with physical humor and emotional humor inherent in all of it.
What makes this premise work is the cast of characters that work around the main person with a problem.
The Players On Your Chess Board:
I know that saying “the team” would have been a more fitting title for this section given the sports of it all, but I like chess so sue me. The chess metaphor works better anyways because you have enemies in all of this! There are people working counter to the goals of the main character and the team as a whole, and they absolutely must be overcome. So badaboom…chess board.
When you boil down these movies they all have a very similar cast of characters that serve a super specific role in the plot. I’m listing them in order of their relevance to the plot in the hopes that if you read this list, you can understand the implied structure of it.
So that’s your chess board and all the pieces. I’ll now break down my theory of the structure in the shortest way possible.
That’s it! That’s all. That’s my entire Unified Theory of Team Movies. They all fit this mold with some variations. Heist films match it, superhero ensembles match it, and all of these wonderful sports comedies match it, with a decent bit of variation. They make changes to the expectations of all these scenes, they change up small bits of formatting, but this is what they all do to make it work.
I contest that any team movie at all could be viewed to fit this mold. Use it as you will for inspiration on your story beats, but do not use it as a hard and fast guide.
P.S. You’re Beautiful