Female ensembles: The reason why GLOW and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK SEASON 5 rule

Jenji Kohan, showrunner of Netflix’s well-established ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK and new show GLOW, had a pretty good June. OITNB’s season 5 was its best season yet, and GLOW was a brilliant debut from creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. Here’s why female ensembles were the key to both shows being so extraordinary.

GLOW cast

Get Writing! Spark your inspiration…

We’re finally into summer and there’s no more need for warm-ups. Which means it’s time to get to the real writing. You’ve been here before—the start of something new—but you’ve always arrived with at least one idea at boiling point, ready to spill over onto the page.

But what if you face the blank screen or empty page and there’s no sign of inspiration?

Brutal truth? Too bad.

WW diving

The sun is shining, so dive into some awesome new writing!

Writing isn’t a desire, it’s a practice. There are fun aspects to it, which without a doubt improve it, like daydreaming about winning Oscars, reading the new Leigh Bardugo Wonder Woman novel (which isn’t out until August 29 so mark that day off for some serious not-writing), watching the new season of Orange Is The New Black (it’s SO GOOD), and probably Wonder Woman again because it rocks… All of those things (and any you’d like to add to the list) are great for studying plot construction and character development. You gotta read and watch and consume to learn and get inspired. But.

Nothing is as important as getting the words. on. the. page.

OITNB Writing

Put the words down, baby. Drop ’em like they’re hot. It’s the only way to be a writer.

We’re not total tyrants though; we’re here to help!

So, here are three metaphorical matches for you to strike and spark your inspiration.

It’s been fifteen years and she doesn’t look any different, except for the fact that the last time I saw her, she was dead.

“Whatever you do, do NOT eat—” “…oops…”

Either I die. Or they all die.

In a future post, we’ll get into some hints on how to keep the story burning.

For now… get writing!

Get Writing! Attack the block…

Writing is awesome. Of course it is. But it can sometimes feel like heavy lifting—of complex emotions, intricate plot, grounded characters—so it’s always good to keep those creative muscles warm.

SPN Chuck

Even if you don’t have a project you’re working on at the moment, keep writing. And if you are working on a project but you’re having trouble lifting (AKA… writer’s block), here’s a fun exercise that should help keep those muscles loose. In either case you might think that you don’t want to write something random. But here’s the thing: you never know when those small scenes could develop into something larger, or even solve that pesky plot hole.

Your mind is constantly working on story, behind the scenes of your everyday thought processes—that’s one of the cool things about being a writer, everything you do counts as part of the writing process in some way—but in order to make it real, you have to put it down on paper, or get it on screen.

So here’s a way to stay loose, or attack the block:

Try writing a couple of characters you know and love—either your own, or some from your favorite TV show, movie or novel—and make them argue about something. Anything. Debating the merits of a Caramel Macchiato vs. a S’mores Frappuccino (too close to call, right?), who’s the best superhero/YA heroine/character in Star Wars Rebels (Hera, obvi), who would win in a fight between C3-P0 and TC-14 (trick question, they’re classic droid OTP material)… you get the idea. Characters you love, arguing about anything.

Whoever and whatever springs to mind RIGHT THIS SECOND…. go!



Editing your short film

Once you’ve got all your shots in the can, only one step remains: edit that sucker!

This step is many things: daunting, exhausting, thrilling, exhilarating. It’s where your movie becomes the movie it’s meant to be.

Assuming you’re all digital and not piecing together actual strips of celluloid, editing falls into a few key stages.

  1. Watch all your footage. How long this takes depends on how much you shot. You’ll want to check out every second of every take, and make notes on things that worked or didn’t work (e.g., your actor did a great reaction 3m 42s into take 5, their co-star delivered the perfect line in response 3m 50s into take 8…). Make these detailed notes, with the times of the things that worked (or didn’t work), so that you have a complete list of every shot, and which moments you might want to use. See you in a couple of months.
  2. Assemble. Not like the Avengers. This can be the most painstaking stage of all. This is you putting together your assembly, or rough cut. Mashing together different shots to see what works. It helps to be ultra-organized here: go line by line, reaction by reaction. Re-watch your clips for each beat, note down which parts of which shots you want to put next to each other, and away you go. Try out those combinations. If they don’t work, try different variations. (Yoda will be ok with all that trying, we promise). As you put your clips into your editing software, and then cut the small snippets of each one as you construct your movie beat by beat, you can mess with shortening them, intercutting them differently, experimenting with shots from different angles… Some takes are faster than others — you can see what speeds work, and adjust the clip lengths. Maybe that long pause that seemed to work on the day doesn’t now that it’s in context — so you can edit it down and make the scene fly. It’s mind-bogglingly slow and detailed work, but it’s fascinating and thrilling to watch your story coming together.

    External monitor

    Connecting an external monitor so you’re not looking at your clips in a little 3×2 inch box is extremely helpful…

  3. Continuity. You might be putting together your favorite shots to construct an argument that’s happening — but then you notice your actor’s hair is different (maybe they brushed it behind one ear in one shot, and the other ear in a different shot), or they’re leaning forward in one moment, then leaning right back the next. It’s not just about being guided by the best performances — you have to make sure the visuals flow and what’s happening matches up from shot to shot. So if your actor leans forward from one angle, you might cut to the next shot from a different angle that shows them continuing to move — this gives your movie flow and a good kinetic energy. The audience may or may not specifically notice, but they’ll certainly feel it. Watch out for cups moving around the table if the actors picked them up during the scene, or glasses getting more or less full, or any prop/furniture movement. There are a million details, and you need to see them all.
  4. Audio. Be prepared to separate your sound from your visuals. You might need to take a line from one take where you’re looking at actor A, and lay it over the reaction shot where you’re looking at actor B. Or take some “room tone” from one take, and lay it over a gap in another take where you had to cut out the sound of someone banging into a table. You might need to take dialogue from an entirely different moment and lay it over a shot where it doesn’t belong in order to create a beat that wasn’t there before. The possibilities are endless. So play with it. Have fun. Editing is where your movie is truly written, so embrace the “anything can happen” feeling!
  5. Polishing and cleaning. Once you have a rough cut, with your audio cut together too, you need to embark on the next phase: cleaning everything up. This means fine tuning each and every transition from one clip to the next to make sure your movie is tight and flows cleanly and dynamically. You’ll also work on your audio, adjusting the EQ, dealing with hiss or other extraneous noise, increasing volume in a quiet take, or reducing it if people start shouting and making the sound distort. It also means adding sound effects, e.g. footsteps, doors opening, cups clinking, background ambient noise, etc. Whatever you need to add that extra dimension to your story and evoke the world that your characters are living in.


    Audio clips for days… Editor’s sanity not pictured.

  6. Color Correction. Technically part of the cleanup, this is a step unto itself, as you adjust exposure, shadows, color, saturation, in order to make your image rich and dynamic. You can really give your scenes life, warmth and a cinematic feel with this step.
  7. Music. If you need music for your movie, this is the time to add it. Once your picture is locked, sound cleaned up, color corrected, you can add the soundtrack.
  8. Credits. It’s up to you how and where the credits go, but they should be unobtrusive in the sense that they must fit your story and your mood. They can be simple, or they can be David Fincher in Seven-style insane (and awesome). Whatever works for your movie.

Watching your clips, cataloguing them, then piecing them together into a rough cut which you then fine tune, while you get all your audio clips cleaned up and in the right place, can take weeks, even for a 10 minute short. It’s all about making each moment sing, about doing your story justice, and making sure you do your actors justice too. They’ve worked hard for you — you need to choose moments that show them off.

Editing is where it all comes together, and the true identity of your movie becomes clear. What you thought it was, what you thought you shot on the day… that all falls away. You work with what’s there, and what’s there will tell you what works. It’s incredibly thrilling and fulling. And never more so than when you screen the finished product for the first time!