From Punchline to the Laugh Track: Television Sitcom Writing and Directing Workshop

Universidad Pompeu Fabra

Course Description

  • Course Name

    From Punchline to the Laugh Track: Television Sitcom Writing and Directing Workshop

  • Host University

    Universidad Pompeu Fabra

  • Location

    Barcelona, Spain

  • Area of Study

    Creative Writing, Media Studies, Radio - Television - Film

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course focus and approach:
    This workshop focuses on the notion of television serial fiction, particularly the genre of sitcom comedy. After a brief theoretical introduction (TV theory, theories of creativity in fiction) the course applies a practical approach: students will learn about the subject through the
    development of their creative abilities to write, organize, direct and act in a sitcom scene.

    Course description:
    This workshop provides with basic theory and practical knowledge in creation of television fiction, especially sitcoms. Students will form small teams; each group will complete one sitcom scene through two stages working process.
    Through the writing stage, held in a classroom, each team will develop a script for one sitcom scene, gaining basic insights to screenwriting for television, character development and comedy writing.
    The directing stage will take place in TV studio. Students will shoot their written exercises using multi-camera system, learning how to  operate in a studio, manage cameras and direct actors.
    This workshop will foster collective creativity, communication and collaboration on the common project, as well as critical thinking about the television industry.

    Learning objectives:
    Acquire basic knowledge and experience in creation of screenplays for TV fiction, specifically sitcom genre
    Get to know the way the TV studio functions, master work with multi-camera system and acquire experience in direction of TV shows
    Gain insights to theory of TV genres, particularly comic varieties and sitcom Acquire experience and get to know basic patterns of individual and collective creativity in TV studio work system and environment
    Train creativity, critical thinking and collaborative work through a methodology of projectbased learning than can be applied to any other field. 

    Course workload:
    Theoretical introduction - lectures and readings. Practical part: work in teams under a supervision, developing creative tasks in a classroom as well as in TV studio. Field trip.

    Teaching methodology:
    Brief introductory part of the course will be done through theoretical lectures. Practical part I: group forming for student’s exercises, design of a storyline and development of a screenplay for a brief sitcom situation will be done in a classroom, through professor’s
    supervision and guidance. Students will be encouraged to read their ideas in class, to take initiative and make contributions to the ideas of others, and through this process, develop understanding and acquire skills in screenwriting. Practical part II: direction of a sitcom scene will take place in the TV studio. In this part, students will perform as a professional team, assuming the different roles of a production
    crew, from the technical to the artistic side. Along the different sessions, they will learn by doing in a collaborative, project-based learning dynamic.
    Small number of classes will be dedicated to screenings and analysis of how some of the wellknown sitcoms were made.

    Assessment criteria:
    25% Screenplay for a sitcom scene
    30% Term-project: Direction of a sitcom scene
    20% Class participation and involvement in class exercises
    20% Argumentative paper - Mid-term: Students should choose one sitcom of their preference and argue, in a brief paper, why they consider it is a program of quality, analyzing the way the program is done, its cultural importance or its aesthetical aspect, applying the knowledge acquired during the theoretical part of the course.
    This course will foment skills and practices orientated towards group work, communication skills and collective creativity, since student’s projects will be developed in groups.
    Nevertheless, an individual evaluation will be carried out, according to the development, performativity and acquisition of competences of each student. Therefore, notes for each project need not be shared by all team members.
    A field trip to one TV studio in Barcelona will be organized in the frame of this course.

    Weekly schedule:
    A weekly schedule /or daily schedule, should follow, session by session. The date is not necessary. Reading assignments for the week should be listed in this week schedule. 
    WEEK 1
    Session 1: Syllabus, assessment and readings Introduction to the course requirements and method of assessment Humor. Theory of
    humoristic fiction
    Session 2: Historical perspectives on humor: from Aristophanes to contemporary comedy. Psychological explanations for humor.
    WEEK 2
    Session 1: Television. Television fiction and its role in contemporary society. Genres of TV fiction. Particularities of a sitcom genre.
    Session 2: Case studies and ideal sitcom surroundings. Shared flats (The Bing Bang Theory), family surroundings (Two and a Half Man) and The Office:. From Magi-Com through Sex-Com to My Com: historical evolution of sitcom.
    WEEK 3
    Session 1: Screening and analysis of one sitcom episode in order to familiarize students with a ‘Sitcom Code’ – a key narrative structure to most sitcoms.
    Session 2: Writing for television. Serial narrative patterns.
    WEEK 4
    Session 1 Writing a comedy. Sitcom and situation comedy. ‘The Actcom’ (action based) and the Dramedy (thought based) sitcoms.
    Session 2 ‘The comic trap’ situation as a base for sitcom creation. Establishing of students’ workgroups and creation of basic plotlines for their exercises.
    WEEK 5
    Session 1: The notion of character. Character in screenwriting. Sitcom as a comedy of characters. Character mix, role reversal and other character-based writing techniques.
    Session 2: Character creation for students’ exercises. Role division amongst groups, choice of actors, writers and directors.
    WEEK 6
    Session 1: Scene in a screenplay. What a scene consist of? Particularities of comic scene. Session 2: A visual gag configuration. Elaboration of scenes for students’ exercises.
    WEEK 7
    Session 1: Dialogue. Verbal humor in sitcom: from ‘the running joke’ to the ‘one liner’.
    Session 2: Development of dialogue for students’ exercises.
    WEEK 8
    Session 1: Reading and discussion of students’ screenplays
    Session 2: Field trip to one TV studio in Barcelona
    WEEK 9
    Session 1: Work in TV studio. Getting to know a multi-camera system.
    Session 2: Work in TV studio. Getting to know the television shooting “grammar”.
    WEEK 10
    Session 1: Work in TV studio. Shooting of students’ exercises I.
    Session 2: Work in TV studio. Shooting of students’ exercises II.
    WEEK 11
    Session 1: Final presentation of students’ exercises – term assignment.
    Session 2: Discussion of students’ exercises – term assignment. 

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.


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