Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Game, TV, and Screenwriting Blog

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Spoilers, obviously.

There's been a lot of back and forth about the latest rape in Game of Thrones: whether it was a rape considering the Ramsay Bolton-Sansa Stark marriage was arguably consensual; whether Sansa is a "strong woman"; whether the showrunners are putting rape onscreen gratuitously; whether it's "realism" or sexual assault porn or whatever else.

I have another issue with it. The rape seems to me the least interesting choice for both Ramsey and Sansa's characters. Ramsey is a vicious bastard because he's a bastard. Marrying Sansa strengthens his claim to be a legit nobleman. It could have been interesting if Ramsey actually treated Sansa decently because she is the only woman whose opinion matters to him. He's a sadist, sure, but he wants to be legitimate.

And then, of course, the show has some suspense. Can he keep it up? Or will he revert to habit?

Likewise, it could have been more interesting if Sansa had seduced Ramsey, owning her power and position, rather than just waiting for him to rape her. After all, she knew she was marrying the guy, so the sex can't have been a total surprise. Why not show some agency?

The rape is predictable and adds nothing to the story. Other choices might have added something new, and fresh, and compelling.

Is it gratuitous? The best sex scenes, like the best action scenes, are dramatic. They reveal character. They are about the characters trying to get what they want. If there is no change in the relationship, and no revelation of character, then the sex scene is gratuitous.

By that standard, Ramsey forcing himself on Sansa isn't, strictly, gratuitous. It changes the relationship. But he's done far worse things (torture, mutilation, treachery, hunting people down for sport) and Sansa has had worse things happen to her (murder of her entire family). The rape reveals nothing new about either character. A scene of aftermath in which Sansa reveals that she was raped, and what it means to her, might have been more revelatory.

But then, HBO's business strategy is not necessarily to make the best TV shows, but to make must-see shows that can't possibly be on network TV. From that point of view, we're talking about the scene, so it's all win for them.


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Monday, April 27, 2015

So Austin Miller of The Art of Writing asked me a bunch of questions about Compulsion Games and We Happy Few...
Q. From the little I've been able to see (the masks, the irony, the drugs etc.) Happy Few seems to have a more "critical" voice to it, as if it has something to say about society and the way we live. Do you care to indulge us as to what that might be?

A. Sure! We Happy Few is inspired by, among other things, prescription drug culture — the idea that no one should have to be sad if they can pop a pill and fix it. It’s also about Happy Facebook culture: no one shares their bad news because it would bring everyone down. As a culture, we no longer value sadness.>

But hey, the narrative is much more than its theme. As Sam Goldwyn used to say a long time ago, “If you want to send a message, there’s always Hotmail.” We have other themes in there, like “what is truth?” and how people remember things that never happened, and how the heroic choices sometimes look like the cowardly ones, and how people can talk themselves into anything, and other subtexts and allusions and other good stuff in there, and we’re putting more in there every day, consciously and unconsciously...
More at


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Sunday, April 19, 2015

I'm rewriting a script of mine for a producer. I always felt the script was a little soft -- too much travelogue, not enough story. As usually happens with some time away, the script's weaknesses are so much more in evidence. Time away is almost as good at giving you perspective as a great writing partner.

So, it's back to index cards. Just because you've written the whole script doesn't mean index cards can't help. It's hard to restructure a script with script pages. Even if you have that much floor space, you can't physically see the whole thing. So I generate index cards and start marking them up and moving them around...


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Monday, April 13, 2015

On Contrast, we had the pleasure of working with the immensely talented, and tiny, Teale Bishopric. She brought our heroine Didi to life with her voice. She was such a pleasure to direct.

And now she's up for an ACTRA Award for Outstanding Perforance in a Video Game, alongside a whole bunch of industry veterans in AAA games!

At videogame dev conferences, I keep hearing how the voice acting process works in many AAA games. The actor isn't allowed to see the script until he's in the booth. Partly that is because of fanatic secrecy, partly because the writers wrote the script the night before.

This makes it very hard for an actor to do their best.

Guillaume, our studio head, and I, knew that a great performance from Didi would make the game, and a weak one would break it. So we rehearsed with her twice. I'm sure her father, Thor, who is a fine actor himself, rehearsed her a few times as well.

We also rehearsed all the other actors. We even got both Vanessa Mitsui and Elias Toufexis in the booth for the Kat/Johnny scenes, because we wanted the arguments to feel like real arguments. Sure, a good director can act the lines with the actor in the booth, and if I'm there in the moment acting with the actor, then I can tell if the performance is where I want it to be. But having both in the booth is more fun, and frees me to listen, and I think the performances show the results.

Yes, it takes time. And money. But actors love to rehearse, and if you give them the chance to rehearse, they will do whatever they can to make one happen. Rehearsing will save you time in the studio, which is far more expensive than rehearsal time, and you will get a much more human and compelling performance.

By the way, I don't really like to feed the recorded performance of one actor to the other, as sound engineers will offer to do, because I don't know how much time they're going to need, and the recorded performance will either cut them off, or give them a longeur to overcome. But I'm the writer, so I know what I want the lines to sound like, and I did some training as an actor, so I can modulate my own performance. If I want the other actor to get angry, instead of asking for an angrier reaction, I'll be more provocative. If I want the other actor to slow down, I'll slow down. Usually the writers are not the directors. And there's your excuse to take acting training.

Anyway, we're all so thrilled for Teale, and we hope she wins a shiny statue!


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Monday, March 16, 2015

What I been working on...


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Friday, March 13, 2015

If you're looking for the perfect place in LA to leave the distractions of life behind and finish that screenplay/novel/short story/what­have­you, enter now to win a FREE 6 month Membership to t​heOffice.​

TheOffice​is a quiet, communal workspace on 26​th Street in Santa Monica (across from the Brentwood Country Mart). There are 26 ergonomic workstations in the room equipped with Aeron chairs, wifi, a reference library and all the coffee & tea you can handle. Charter and current members include JJ Abrams, [etc.].

The contest is free to enter. Deets at t​​ Deadline is April 15. Submissions to:

This is almost as good as a free membership to My Father's Office, a fine Irish pub on Montana in Santa Monica. But they don't have Aeron chairs.


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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Back in my days as a development exec in LA, I nearly worked with both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. I was working for an Israeli producer out of his house in Tarzana; we were trying to make co-productions, to pick up enough money from this country and that to patch together a budget. Shatner signed on to be the star of our action movie, Warriors. We met him up at his house in the hills, and he had some really excellent points about his character's motivation. I went off and rewrote the script, and it was a lot better, and then foreign buyers nixed Shatner as the lead -- we literally could not finance a $2M movie with Shatner in the lead. So we had to apologize to Captain Kirk and cast Gary Busey.

That was before Free Enterprise, in which Shatner discovered that he could play a pompous buffoonish version of himself to great hilarity, which gave him Denny Crane, his brilliant Boston Legal character, and he became a star again.

The Gary Busey movie did not turn out brilliantly. I am not 100% sure Busey ever actually read the script. I'd guess he did not read it before we started shooting. But that's another story. (Actually Gary Busey is a whole flock of my stories.)

Later, we had a movie about the Israeli air strike on the nuclear reactor in Baghdad. Saddam was about to get the bomb in 1981 and the Israelis flew a bunch of F-16's across Jordan and Iraq and blew it up. They did such a good job of flying literally under the radar that the Iraqis thought it had to be the Iranians, until the Israelis admitted it.

Hollywood Pictures, a Disney film label, optioned the project. Soon, Leonard Nimoy wanted to direct it. So we had a lovely breakfast up at the Bel Air Hotel in Stone Canyon -- it's a series of bungalows nestled among trees -- and it was the first time that I'd realized that Leonard Nimoy was an old Jewish guy. He had smart things to say. He grokked the project. He liked my rewrite of the script.

And then Hollywood Pictures got excited about Jan de Bont, a Dutch cinematographer who wanted to direct, and they jettisoned Nimoy. I never felt that de Bont had any particular emotional attachment to the project, like Nimoy did; he just wanted to direct and here a studio was offering him a movie. Two years and $600,000 in rewrites later, Hollywood Pictures pulled the plug on the project. We had various conspiracy theories about why the only film label in town with no Jewish execs would do a movie about the Israeli Air Force; we found it interesting that they pulled the plug shortly after Disney successfully bid for Israel's second (or fourth, or something) broadcast TV channel.

So we never got to work with Kirk or Spock. Damn it.

It's interesting that in all the mourning for Mr. Nimoy, I don't hear the name of the guy who invented Spock, Gene Roddenberry. Nimoy so thoroughly inhabited the role over the years that we forget that Roddenberry invented Spock and the whole Vulcan species. It was Nimoy, though, who invented the Vulcan salute. It's a rabbinical gesture; the hand forms a "shin," the W-shaped Hebrew letter which stands for "El Shaddai," the Almighty: may God be with you.

"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory," was Leonard Nimoy's last tweet, and it is true, and profound. And it made me think of Roy Batty dying on the rooftop of the Bradbury building, saying words that David Peoples wrote and Rutger Hauer rewrote: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. I've seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain."

I have something in my eye.

I wish there was a Vulcan "rest in peace."

May God be with you on the next step in your journey.


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Thursday, February 26, 2015

We'll reveal quite a bit more next week at PAX East, but in the mean time ... welcome to Wellington Wells. 


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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Q. ... although the Avengers did have killer dialogue, my problem with the plot was that all the action felt contrived - some really flimsy excuses for the heroes turning against each other, all the bad guys dying after they took out the controller, and so on.
Well, the heroes turning against each other was the answer to generations of fanboys' "do you think Hulk could beat Thor?"-type argument, so it was brilliant to have those entirely concocted fights in the movie.

The movie was an entertainment, eh? Audiences come to movies for multiple reasons. One is story, sure. But the other is spectacle. The pod racing in Star Trek I was gratuitous and sort of pointless, but the intended audience (kids who buy branded merchandise) ate it up. 

Yeah, all the bad guys dying was convenient, but I think a the audience can figure out that without the controller, the aliens would eventually have been hunted down and destroyed like the orcs after Sauron's demise. No one wants to see a mop-up operation. Much, much better to end the movie with the superheroes getting shawarma. 

I mean, a movie is a movie. I know you can't hack a computer or a network the way they do in movies, but it would be really super boring to watch real hacking, so I don't care. 

I think a good rule is you can do something convenient in order to avoid something boring


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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Q. I'm an aspiring author working on a novel, and have been doing so for some time. Recently a mass-market summer blockbuster was announced with several plot and thematic elements - and even one of the main character's names! - virtually identical to those in my drafts. What should I do? Should I scrap it immediately?
My immediate reaction is that if your story is so close to a recent blockbuster that you are thinking of scrapping it, you may not be leveraging the medium. A novel can have more going on than a movie. It can expand and contract time. It can get into the characters' heads. It can have a cast of thousands. It can talk about society.
Q. Alter it to be less like the movie? Wait for the film to come out and get a consensus of some kind? If so, is it better if it's a classic, a bomb, or decent and forgotten?
Well, a bomb, certainly, has less of a footprint. Our last game was known for its "shadow physics." There had actually been an unsuccessful game called, I think, Shadow Physics. But it didn't work well, I gather, so there was room for ours.

However, I'd consider writing something else that's fresher. If your novel is too similar to a summer blockbuster, that suggests to me that your plot is not spectacularly fresh, "a very ancient and fish-like smell, a kind of not-of-the-newest Poor John," as Shakespeare had it. Very few summer blockbusters have clever plots.

To get attention in a crowded market, you really need to do something that no one else has done well recently. For example, George R. R. Martin took the Tolkien tropes, took out most of the magic, and added outlandish sexual misbehavior.

As I keep stressing: your movie or novel or game has to be clever and original. Just because there are hugely successful unoriginal movies/novels/games out there doesn't mean you'll get rich writing one. Those things are commissioned by people with lots of money, and they have marketing budgets. 


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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Q. I have read from multiple sources that producers and such are more interested in reading pilots over specs of existing shows in the past few years. Do you know if the paradigm has shifted this way?
This has been the case for a while now. Showrunners often want to see a spec script (to prove you can write their show) and a spec pilot (to prove you have an imagination and a voice). 
Q. When writing a pilot, is it okay to use curse words, even if you're planning on showing the script to execs for more "family-friendly" networks like NBC, Fox, etc.? Or should I avoid cursing to make my script more accessible?
You should ideally have a different version for each network, to take advantage of their mandate. So if you're submitting to a broadcast network, your script should not contain the F word, and if you're submitting to HBO, it has to. 

Walter White, you are ... despicable!
But it goes far beyond that. If you're submitting to broadcast, your main characters must be fundamentally good. (They can be good but irascible, à la House. They can also be selfish if it's a comedy.) Your villains must be fundamentally bad.

If you're submitting to HBO or AMC, then your main character should be despicable either visibly (Tony Soprano, Walter White) or internally (Don Draper).

If you're submitting to Lifetime, then your main character must be a woman.

If you're submitting to FX, your main character probably should be a man.

I forget which kid's network it was, but there was a time when you could not have too much slime.

Gone are the days where you wrote one pilot. Every network is looking for something particular. They often don't know what it is, and it changes all the time, but you can't submit your HBO pilot to ABC Family and get much traction, or vice versa. 

However, the spec pilot you write to get hired on someone else's show can be more outré than the network. An HBO-style pilot can get you hired on an FX show. The goal of a spec pilot to get you hired is to be memorable and outstanding. The goal of a spec pilot to get set up at a studio is to be memorable and outstanding, and fit a network's mandate closely.


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Sunday, February 01, 2015

We watched JENNIFER'S BODY last night. Starring allegedly superhot Megan Fox and the radiant Amanda Seyfriend, this movie was marketed to the male horror film audience, and flopped.

It's actually a really intelligent, alarming movie. It adds nifty lore to the horror canon, and it is an insightful movie about a relationship. But the one thing it is not is a movie for young male horror fans who think Megan Fox is superhot.

JENNIFER'S BODY is a movie about frenemies. Amanda Seyfried is "Needy," the dorky childhood BFF of high school boy magnet Jennifer. (You can tell Needy is dorky, because she wears glasses. Only in Hollywood is the dorky girl played by Amanda Seyfried.) Then something happens to Jennifer, and Jennifer starts behaving, well, evil.

But they're still best friends, right? And Needy can't just give up her best friend forever, right? It is an insightful, brilliantly observed portrayal of a relationship. Sure, Jennifer may be evil, and super scary. But she still loves Needy. And Needy still loves Jennifer, to the point where people accuse them of being lovers. (They aren't. No wonder this flopped.) Which means there is a strong character/relationship reason why Needy can't Just Go to the Police.

(Every horror movie needs a good reason why the hero/ine can't just go to the police, whether it is Because She Is In a Cave, or Because There's Only One Way Out of the Valley, or Because They Are In a Simulation, or Because She Is A Wanted Criminal etc. Hopefully it is not Because the Police Don't Believe Him/Her, cuz that is boring and lame.)

You could consider this a movie about what happens when girls' urges for boys get in the way of their friendships. In a way, it's a horror take on Mean Girls. I think the best horror movies take something true about people's relationships and make it graphic and scary. They take something that would require a delicate novel to convey, and turn it into something you can watch in two hours and get it.

The movie also has fun inventing horror lore. Jennifer is not a vampire, and she's not a succubus in spite of the poster. She's something else.

In retrospect, it's easy to figure that boys were not going to recommend a chick movie about two childhood girlfriends torn apart by their attractions to boys. And girls were never going to go see a movie that claimed to be about Megan Fox being a sex demon.

A lot of beginning screenwriters figure that they can come up with something that mixes genres and get the audience for both genres. The reality is closer to only getting the intersection of the two genres: in this case, female horror fans. The genres are there for a reason.

The flip side is that, if you are marketing a movie that mixes genres, be up front about it. THE DESCENT did all right because it never suggested it was about anything but a bunch of women trapped in a cave system with some nasty critters. Based on the marketing, critics and viewers thought JENNIFER'S BODY was a terrible movie. Roger Ebert said it was "Twilight for Boys," entirely missing (I feel) the main thrust of the movie. Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie 42%.

Also, if you are making a movie that might confuse audiences, budget accordingly. The makers of THE DESCENT did not cast name actors. So the movie cost less to make, so "success" had a much lower threshold.  JENNIFER'S BODY actually grossed $16M in the domestic box office ($31M worldwide); but for a studio film, that's a horrible flop. THE DESCENT grossed $26M domestic, but for an indie film, that's a huge hit.


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Q. In the FAQ section of your site, you mention that it can be a little more difficult for older people to break into TV writing. I just turned 29-years old and am considering going into television writing. I know I am probably at a disadvantage compared to, say, people fresh out of college who are looking to break into TV writing. 
My question to you is this: How much of a disadvantage, if any, is my age? I'm still willing to "rise through the ranks" and take on W.A. and P.A. jobs before becoming a Staff Writer and working my way up. But I know those types of jobs typically go to early- to mid-twenty somethings.
It depends what you've been doing for the past nine years. I started writing TV specs in my thirties and didn't get a TV episode on the air till my late thirties. On the other hand, I had a feature film credit, and a couple dozen feature specs, and I'd worked in indie features for years. If you started breaking into TV writing from being a TV agent, likewise, then 29 is not old at all.

Or, if you are Don Draper, it's not unreasonable, either.

If you were actually a soldier, cop, trauma ward surgeon, lawyer, or rich dilettante who solves crimes for the police, then you could parlay that into being the baby writer who actually knows something about the procedural world.

If you were, on the other hand, an accountant, then you would be, yes, a bit behind. But 29 is not outrageously old, if you're willing to pay the dues and work the ridiculous hours. I continue to think that the real issue for aging writers is not actual prejudice, but an unwillingness to eat all the crap sandwiches you have to eat to break in, or even stay, in the biz. (If you're successful, you get more bread to spread the crap on, which makes the sandwiches much tastier.)

There are also areas of TV where older people are more welcome. Kids' programming, ironically, is a haven for older writers, because they have kids.

But 29, for a writer? Not horribly old. (For an actor, 29 is horribly old. All things being equal, do not attempt to start an acting career at 29.)


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Have you ever considered the possibility that print shops, email sites, the WGA/WGC, coverage services, et cetera, even the copyright office, steal non-copyrightable ideas? I recently joined Zoetrope Virtual Studio and realized that people just put their (albeit bad) screenplays up for everybody to read. If I wanted to, I could write ripoffs of these unproduced screenplays and get off scot-free. Likewise, agents can share ideas with their (other) clients, managers (especially the ones who are producers) can just steal stuff. Hell, what if an agent or a development executive or producer is also a screenwriter? It's not unheard of for production companies to do this, but what about other parties? All you need is a logline. Dinosaurs fight Nazis on the moon. Now you can write that screenplay and I can't complain about it.
I don't think print shops steal scripts. (What's a print shop, Grandpa?) I would be stunned to hear that the WGC or WGA registration services, or, Lord knows, the Library of Congress steal scripts. I would be stunned to hear they even read them. And there's no percentage in an agent stealing a script when he could just offer to represent it; and a producer won't steal a script when the writer would probably be only too happy to option it for a buck.

But writers? Especially non pro writers?

I have often wondered about sites like Zoetrope, where bazillions of nonpro writers post their loglines, and read other people's loglines. If you've got a really great hook, the only thing keeping other writers from stealing your hook is the knowledge that you've already written the script, so they're at least six months behind you. Is that enough? Usually it is. But if they have access to your script and find out that you've done, in their opinion, a really terrible job delivering the goods on our hook, they could poach it.

When I was teaching a writing seminar, I came across a script with a brilliant title and hook, but which I felt didn't deliver the goods on the concept. At all.

I'm not a thief, so I optioned the script and got some producers to hire me to rewrite it. But what if I had read the script on an online forum where there was no evidence that I'd read it? What if I dumped the title and wrote another script, with an entirely different plot that, I felt, delivered the goods? Legally, I would be free and clear. You can't copyright a hook.

Later on, the guy refused to re-option the script, so while I got paid for my rewrite, the project is dead. So I paid a price for being honest.

I've never posted my loglines on a site. And I recommend you pitch your script idea to anyone but fellow writers. It's too easy for a writer to "forget" where they got the idea.

However, I think non-pro writers generally have much more anxiety about their ideas being poached than pro writers. If you have a really great idea, odds are, no one is going to steal it; you're going to have to ram it down people's throats. It's all very well and good to think up "snakes! on a plane!" But then you have to deliver the goods. That is, as we say in computer science, non-trivial. A great hook is worth money, but only if you figure out how to deliver the goods on it.

What I was suggesting about agents is that maybe one of them represents Joe Bigshot and Joe Schmo sends the agent a really great hook. If it's the agent's policy to reject any and all queries from schmos, then the agent can tell Joe Bigshot the hook and have him write it.
I am pretty sure this doesn't happen. First of all, you won't be submitting your script to Joe Bigshot's agent; or if you do, he won't read it. He doesn't want to rep a "baby writer." Secondly, Joe Bigshot doesn't want to write your script. Assuming he's not busy with paid assignments, he's got a backlog of ideas he thinks are wonderful. It would be rare indeed to find a pro writer who not only would be willing to steal an idea, but who also likes your idea better than his own.


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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

It turns out that people named Elwood are, per capita, disproportionately farmers. Also, Mavis. If you're Mavis, you're probably drawn to the field, relative to if you were, say, Mitzi, in which case long rows of numbers might appeal. Stuntmen are disproportionately named Alex.

I love having my prejudices confirmed.

(Of course, farmers and stuntment are more likely to be named Mike, or John, than Elwood or Alex. It's just that Elwoods tend in the farmerly direction.)

Careful about using this in a screenplay -- these names are, after all, stereotypical. You can, of course, use it to subtly play against type. Elwood could turn out to be a blues musician. There is a fairly well known Adele who is not an accountant.

But you can name someone Mitzi, knowing that the name will carry a certain amount of baggage. I like to use ethnic names to suggest that minor characters are ethnic without having to say they're ethnic. If I name someone Dr. Takata, I don't have to say he's Japanese. (Nor does the casting director have to cast someone Japanese. On Charlie Jade, "Karl Lubinsky" was a Black actor, Tyrone Benskin.) So along those lines, if I name someone Mitzi, it puts some nuances in the reader's head without my having to say she's an accountant, or from New York, or has probably been to some bar mitzvahs in her life.

Good writing is about packing details into a few words, so any website that helps you do that is useful.


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Sunday, January 04, 2015

About five, six years ago I started to get into videogame writing. It seemed really fun — you get to play in much bigger sandboxes —  and video games were getting to have better and better stories, and Montreal's a big gaming hub. Oh, and, it's getting harder and harder to set up a feature film these days.

Lisa was very encouraging, pointing out that I have a degree in computer science, and that can't hurt. And I had a summer job for two summers programming for an educational computer game company on a 128K IBM. (Yes, that's "K." Some of the newer computers had as much as 256K of RAM, if you can imagine that!)

It wasn't until I'd been working in the business for a while that I put together just how much of my life I've been playing and even designing games. I was a D&D fan at 15, and drew lots of dungeons in my spare time, when I wasn't playing cardboard-chips-and-dice wargames. I was in a live-action role-playing group in LA in the '90's, and I even wrote a one-night LARP that came off pretty well, I thought. I just hadn't been writing or designing games on a computer

One of the nice things about being a writer is that you get to use all sorts of odd experiences — the odder the better, really. At the time, spending a month writing a LARP about the evening before the battle of Camlann seemed like a huge waste of time. Fun, yes, of course, but time I could have spent writing something useful. A novel, or something. It turns out to have been preparation for my narrative design career. 

In the game I'm writing now, moreover, I get to use all sorts of odd bits of history and cultural trivia that seemed kind of useless but fun at the time. ( The execution of Admiral Robert Byng pour encourager les autres! The expression, "Don't be a big girl's blouse"!) 

Point is, some of us have a voice in the back of our heads telling us not to waste time. Do useful stuff. Write, and if you're not writing, read or watch stuff that is relevant to your writing. (I certainly do. Your mileage may vary. Contents may have settled. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.) If you're a TV writer, there's no point in reading a history of the War of the Roses, unless you think you might one day get a gig writing on The Tudors. 

But over a long career, a lot of that wasted time becomes brain fodder. Grist for the mill. It comes back to haunt you, in useful ways. 

In other words, don't be afraid to do fun and useless things.

Which is why it's totally a good thing that I somehow spent 290 hours in the last two months playing Europa Universalis IV. Right, Lisa?


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Monday, December 08, 2014

... or rather, framing the cops-and-grand-juries issue.

(This is a post about political story-telling. If you only want to read about screenwriting, please skip it.)

It has come to everyone's attention that cops are killing a lot of black men. The Black community has been up in arms about this for years. (And their arms have been up. "Don't shoot, it's just a wallet!") Lately, though, a lot of white folks have noticed.

On most days that end in the letter "y," the right wing is not particularly interested in what black people are upset about. But now it's upset about this, too. Glenn Beck and George W. Bush find the Eric Garner non-indictment unfathomable.

I wonder if this is an opportunity for protestors to reframe the issue. It is statistically true that cops kill black men in disproportionate numbers. But there's another fundamental issue here, one that even white people who don't care about black people can get behind. Cops don't get indicted for killing people. Not even when a cop jumps on a non-violent guy selling loose cigarettes, puts him in a chokehold, and suffocates him, on video.

I don't think this is a racism issue. Yes, Staten Island is pro-cop. But, as FiveThirtyEight points out:
Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.
Comparable figures for cops:  80 out of 81 grand juries did not bring an indictment.

Is this racism? Maybe there's racism in there, but I think the phenomenon is way too consistent to be racism.

I think the problem is that prosecutors are on the same team as cops. Cops bring in perps; prosecutors indict them. What prosecutor wants to incur the resentment of a police department he has to work with every day? Much easier to go before the jury, allow the cop to testify, don't cross-examine him or the exculpatory witnesses, cross-examine only the witnesses who testify that he did something wrong, don't say the public deserves to see this go to trial, and just ask the grand jury to vaguely "do the right thing." If the prosecutor doesn't want an indictment, the grand jury is not going to bring one in.

We need special prosecutors for cops, like we used to have for Presidents. The Special Prosecutor law passed after Watergate made clear that the US Attorney General could not be relied on to prosecute his boss, the US President, who could fire him at will. Police forces have Internal Affairs cops, who do nothing but investigate bad cops, because ordinary detectives are not going to investigate their buddies.

I think we need special prosecutors who are called in when a cop needs prosecuting. Prosecutors who do not, on a daily basis, work with that police department. It doesn't need to be a full-time job; they could be called in from another city in the same state.

Instituting a law like this wouldn't stop police racism. But it would allow police at least to be held accountable when they kill people.

Framing the issue this way would bring in the majority. Obviously, Black people are exercised about racism, but white people typically aren't, or only theoretically so. White people tend not to see a lot of racism going on, or downplay its effects. White people are not that upset about cops pulling over people for Driving While Black.

But framed as a police state issue, this could get a lot more traction.

The reason I bring this up in this blog is that how you frame an issue is a story-telling question. What story do you want to tell?

If the story is "cops are killing black men," then it's a Black issue. Some white people will get upset about it. But maybe not enough.

If the story is "cops are killing people and prosecutors won't indict them," then it's a universal issue. Everyone is scared of cops. I'm scared of cops. Not because I'm a lawbreaker, but because they might think I am, and they've got guns and permission to use them. They are the embodiment of the state monopoly on violence.

Also, it's easier to insist that a justice department hire one special prosecutor than that they attempt to hire cops according to racial quotas, even assuming that would reduce police killings of unarmed civilians.

Obviously, it's up to Black civil rights protestors to decide what story they want to tell. But the more their story works on white fears of government oppression, I think, the more traction they'll get. 


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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Let's say I've written 20 originals and 22 adaptations, yet despite all statistics, I still can't find a WGA/WGC signatory agent. What's wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? I am not this person, but it's interesting to think about. Is it a lack of a hook or an interesting concept? A lack of lucid thought? A need for more proteins in the diet? What?
If someone wrote to me to say they are this person, I'd ask:

a. Do your scripts all have strong, fresh hooks? When you recount said hooks to friends/strangers, do they say "I would totally watch that," or do they just smile vaguely?

b. Do they have strong stories? (A compelling main character; an opportunity/problem/goal; obstacles/antagonist/flaws; stakes; jeopardy)

c. Do they have fun roles for actors to play?

d. When you pitch their stories to people, do people seem interested all the way through?

e. Do they fit into an established genre? Do they fit into a section of a video store or Netflix? Or are they all arthouse?

f. Are you approaching agents at your own level? I.e. there's no point for a baby writer to hit up CAA.

g. Do you live within driving distance of LA or New York? It is hard to get representation if you don't.
However, if these are features we're talking about, then it should not be impossible -- after all, the agent is selling the script, not you.

 I mean, one possibility is you can't write worth a damn. However, even if you can't write worth a damn, if you've written 20 original scripts with strong stories, you ought to have an agent. If the story is good, and the hook is good, a badly written script will still sell.

 I'm not sure what to do with the "adaptations" part of this question. Do you have the rights to the material you're adapting? Is the material (or at least the author) you're adapting already really successful? The answer needs to be "yes" to both. If you don't have the rights, the script is unproduceable. If the material is not successful, then who wants to produce an adaptation of it? Unless the author is famous -- e.g. you have the rights to a long-lost Philip K. Dick short story, or an unpublished Stephen King manuscript.

 There is no set number of scripts you have to write before you get an agent. But most pro writers get one pretty soon. I had one for my third script, looong before I was making a living writing.

If you are writing and writing and not getting an agent, then I would say maybe you are not learning enough from your writing. Either you're not seeking out good feedback, or you're not taking the feedback to heart. Practice only makes perfect if it is mindful practice.

I would also suggest writing in a different medium. Maybe screenplays are not your forte? Why do you ask?


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Saturday, November 29, 2014

If you go to a game convention, and even more to at a game awards show, the ratio of men to women is appalling, a sea of men punctuated by a few women.

It's peculiar, because no one I know actually wants the game industry to be so ridiculously masculine. (Not to say no one wants it; only no one I know.) Everyone thinks, in the abstract, that it would be good to have women environmental artists and animators and programmers and designers. However, it's rare to find a company that is more than 15% women. The games industry is as much of a meritocracy as any creative field can be. People hire the people they think are best, and the people they think are best tend overwhelmingly to be men. No one is willing to hire a less-good programmer or a less-good environmental artist simply because she's a woman.

On Contrast we had two women on a team of ten: our concept artist and our animator. Now we have two women, our concept artist and our lead programmer. At one point we had a woman environmental artist. In almost any other field, that would be considered a sexist workspace. In games, we're considered fairly pro-women. (It helps that our last game starred two women, and passed the Bechdel test.)

How did this come about? The conventional wisdom is that when games started, you had to be a programmer. People like Jordan Mechner made their own games, which meant they had to be programmer, graphic artist, animator and storyteller; but above, all, programmer.

The thing was, there were vanishingly few women programmers. In my Intro Comp Sci class at Yale -- the one required for the major -- we had 60 students, of which three were women.

Why was that? Because in most universities, you were expected to already know how to program if you wanted to take a programming class. That meant either that you happened to have a great computer lab at school (as Bill Gates did), or you had a personal computer. But personal computers, such as the TRS-80 (affectionately known as the Trash-80), were marketed to boys.

So girls arrived in Comp Sci 221 and all the boys already knew how to program, and they were left behind. And then they didn't go on to make games.

What's mysterious to me is: why did women continue to drop out of computer science?

Personal computers really hit around 1985. Oddly, that's when there were the most women computer science majors. There are now many fewer, as a percentage -- even though pretty much every middle class kid has access to a computer, and the Internet does not ask whether you're a girl or a boy.

Is it that games is, outside my happy little indie company, a truly sexist, female-hostile world? Or is it just passively hostile, bro-culture? Or is it that until recently most games were built for 14 year old boys, and girls didn't come into the business to make games because no one was making games for them?

At MIGS this year, Manveer Heir gave a passionate speech about needing more women and minorities in games. Our game designer, said, "Okay, I agree, but what am I supposed to do about it?" He's a white bro dude. The best answers I could come up with is: (a) Go out of our way to find great women candidates for jobs, and then hire the best person. (b) Make games that women dig, which will inspire women to join the industry.

No one's going to hire someone who's less good, just because they're a woman. But I think it's legit to look a little harder to find women candidates. And it's just good business to make sure your games reach both halves of the human race.

What do you think?


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

  1. What if they’re right?
  2. What’s the problem behind the problem?
  3. Is there a short-term solution with long-term benefits?

  4. Everyone has a motivation. What’s theirs?
  5. Is it a disagreement about the script or miscommunication between me and them?
  6. Did I express this as clearly as possible?
  7. Don’t expect anyone to know the script as well as I do. That’s my job.
  8. Are they seeing the big picture? Take them through the falling dominos.

  9. What can change? What can’t?
  10. Am I standing up for myself or just being defensive?
"I found this scrawled in a notebook. A list I wrote of ten things to remember that I made while waiting to go into a notes session with some studio executives and my producer. Shared in case it helps anyone in some way..."


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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nate Silver is a baseball stats geek who turned himself into one of the most accurate interpreters of political polls. He nailed the 2008 and 2012 elections while Republicans were deluding themselves over "skewed polls." I wasted nearly as many hours reading his columns during elections as I have recently enjoyed wasting playing Europa Universalis IV.

Silver has expanded his site FiveThirtyEight to cover Big Data analyses of politics, economics, science, sports and culture. Walt Hickey recently posted an analysis of spec scripts. Which genres of scripts get the highest ratings? The data come from The Blacklist, a site that offers evaluations from pro script readers for a fee. They're the people the exec will give your script to first. What do the Blacklist readers like?
First-time writers tend to go one of two ways, said Kate Hagen, a former reader who now oversees the hundred or so readers at The Black List. They write a deeply personal, pseudo-autobiographical screenplay about nothing in particular. “Everybody basically writes that script at first,” Hagen said. “You have to get it out of your system.” Or they swing for the fences and go in the opposite direction, thinking, “I’m going to write a $200 million science fiction movie,” and plan an entire universe and mythology. Those scripts, Hagen said, tend to fail for entirely different reasons.
However, Big Data are not necessarily useful to a screenwriter. If you consider the odds against becoming a professional screenwriter, you'd be mad to try. But, "never tell me the odds." I don't think I know any pro screenwriters who took the odds into consideration. We just kept writing, and got enough encouragement (words, followed by checks) to keep at it. It takes heaps of arrogance to figure you're better than the other ten thousand would-be writers. But then, a screenwriter is someone who creates people, families and worlds, so a certain megalomania is practically a prerequisite.

I would be very wary of Big Data. If you think you're a comedy writer, you should write comedies. Your first will be terrible. Possibly your first ten will be kinda bad. But that doesn't mean you should write dramas, on the thinking that dramas "do better." The question isn't whether dramas do better; the question is whether your drama will do better.

It won't. If you don't love what you're writing, no one else will love it either.

By the same token, don't avoid science fiction because it doesn't "do well." The first script you write isn't going to do well anyway. You're still learning your craft.  Write that science fiction script. Hey, a vampire script got me into the UCLA MFA program. (It was terrible! But, I guess, promising in some way. And here I am.)

In fact, the flip side of it is: if you are, at heart, a comedy writer, then you are not likely to write a better drama than writers who love drama. But you might, with practice, write a better comedy than other comedy writers. If what you love is SF, then you're more likely to break in with an SF hook that no one else thought of, than with a drama that you wrote because you thought you ought to.

"Write what you know" doesn't necessarily mean "write stuff about people like you." It means "write stuff you know in your heart."

On the other hand, stretch your muscles. Don't write drama because it "does well." But do write a drama because it will force you to write strong, dynamic, dysfunctional relationships -- that you can then put into your comedy scripts, which need heart, too. Write a drama because a great science fiction movie isn't just about the science fiction -- it's about people, in strong, dynamic, dysfunctional relationships in a science fictional world.

By the same token, if you're a drama writer, try writing a comedy. Maybe it will loosen you up. Can't hurt to try. My creative writing professor, Kenneth Koch, made the very good point that no one is born with a certain number of words. You won't run out. So rather than dithering for a month about what to write, write something.

You level up by finishing missions, right?

The reason people call this sort of writing expedition an "exercise" is because exercise is what makes your muscles strong.

What you can use the Big Data for is to get insight into the minds of script readers. If they find most SF scripts annoying, make sure that you're not falling into the same errors. Make sure your SF script has characters and heart, not just whizbang.

This gets back to "addressing notes." All feedback is valid feedback, and you ignore it at your peril. If script readers don't like something, there's something wrong with it. They are often wrong about what is wrong with it. But if they think something is wrong with it, you better fix what is wrong with it, or you're not going to go very far with it.


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Sunday, November 02, 2014

“The single-most important thing was the art of working in the studio system,” Nolan told me of his experience with “Insomnia.” “It takes time to learn how to take notes. In the corporate structure, the people giving you the notes are not responsible for the final product. You are. It’s not their job, it’s yours. When you’re taking notes, it’s possible that you’re having an interesting conversation with a very smart individual and everything they’re saying is correct. But they’re wrong. So you have to go back and approach it from a different angle.” He continues to treat executives as, essentially, representative filmgoers. At a development meeting — at, in other words, a conference-room table — before “The Dark Knight,” he had to explain the Joker’s motivations. “Execs are very good at saying things like, ‘What’s the bad guy’s plan?’ They know those engines have to be very powerful. I had to say: ‘The Joker represents chaos, anarchy. He has no logical objective in mind.’ I had to explain it to them, and that’s when I realized I had to explain it to the audience.”
Via DMc

And so occurred the fabulous "some men just want to watch the world burn" speech.

Notes can be excellent. There are two kinds of notes: notes from people who understand story, and notes from everyone else. Everyone else can often include people with power over you and the money to fund your thing.

If someone who understands story gives you notes, then you might benefit from executing them.

If your note-giver is not someone who understands story, then executing the notes might make your script worse. The solution is not "doing" the notes but "addressing" the notes. . "Addressing" the notes is harder. It means finding out where the gap occurs between your vision and the reader or viewer's experience. Note-givers usually focus on where their experience is bad. "This scene is too slow; trim it down." The scene may be too slow, but maybe it's because we don't care enough about the main character; making him more compelling 20 scenes earlier fixes the scene. Or maybe it's because the scene never really gets to the meat of the drama. Sometimes it needs to be longer, not shorter, to build up steam.

Unless you are independently wealthy, your creative career will always depend on your ability to address notes successfully, without always executing them as is.


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Saturday, November 01, 2014

I've been having a bit of back and forth with a pro-Gamergate colleague, and here's my take, fwiw.
But [Gamergate] isn't, and has never been about [harassment of women]. That's the point. You're making it about women game developers feeling safe, but that has nothing to do with gamergate's positions. Gamergate has condemned harassment from day one, and has never wavered. But I don't think you'll ever understand that until you do more research, because it's easy to buy in to the world view that gamergate is a misogynistic movement. It fits the narrative you more generally associate with (as I do too).
My problem is there seem to be two groups of people who call themselves gamergaters. One is a small group of people who'd like games journalism to be more, y'know, like journalism. The other is a vast warren of trolls [hmmm, what's the noun of congregation? a grunt of trolls?] who jumped on the bandwagon in order to harass women.
[Philip Wythe's article on The Flounce, "Harassment, Abuse, and Apologism: Sanitizing Abuse in Social Justice Spheres "] is interesting because the "neckbeard, virgin gamer" type harassment is being thrown around so much yet isn't getting reported on. Do you not understand why that is a problem? If social justice (and by extension the gaming media) continues becoming the bully, then it will lose all the momentum it has begun to achieve. That's what this article is about.
I take your point that if games critics want social justice, then mocking gamers by using social stereotypes is not OK. But getting the majority to feel victimized is always the first page in the right-wing playbook. I mean, why now? Folks have been calling gamers neckbeards and virgins since -- well, at least the 70's? D & Ders didn't have a big social reputation at my high school. Any why, particularly, aim at "social justice warriors" mocking gamers, when almost everybody mocks hard-core gamers.

I suspect that what's really going on is that young, socially inept gamers now feel their "gamer" identity is threatened by soccer moms who play Farmville at the field. And they're transferring that fear onto a small number of "social justice warriors." (People who make that an insult worry me. It's like people who use the word "feminazi.") Because obviously they can't do anything about the soccer moms, who either don't even know they exist, or cook dinner for them.
And, I think, gamergate may be the tipping point in the industry for that, because people are sick of being bullied by having their identities attacked.
Really? I think mainstream society is always going to poke fun at geeks. When I was an active witch, neo-pagan geeks were always complaining about portrayals of witches in the media. C'mon, guys, you use the word, people think of you in a pointy hat. Bondage geeks complain that people (especially Jian Ghomeshi) don't understand that it's all done with carefully negotiated consent.
  What seems to have got 'gators up in arms are some silly articles about "gamer" as an identity being "over." The very premise of the articles is ridiculous. They remind me of the sort of "trend" articles the New York Times prints whenever a reporter knows three friends who are doing some new thing. The NYT had an article about how beer bellies were becoming sexy. Um, what?

"Gamer" will be an identity so long as people self-identity as gamers, the way "queer" will be an identity as long as gays and lesbians share political needs.

I don't believe there ever was a "conspiracy" against the "gamer" identity. I know journalists, and they talk, and they're usually desperate for something to write about. If there were 10 articles, I can believe a few emails were passed around, but that's in the nature of a meme. A meme in the sense of "what are we going to fill our column inches with this week?" That's laziness, but that's not Dr. Evil. I don't believe a meme is the same as a conspiracy.
Your sympathies are important (no one disagrees with you about creating great work environments for [female] developers), but compassion has to go to both sides...
Okay. Good point.
  But I think Gamergate projected a heap of frustration onto a tiny number of previously unknown people. Who ever heard of Zoe Quinn before? That was not constructive. The real question is not "what do we do about some minor female devs and/or anthropologists whom we feel insulted us," but "how do we deal with our precious identity being submerged in a vast welter of games that are not made for us."

If that's a real question. I mean it's not like we're never going to see another Grand Theft Auto game if Zoe Quinn gets her Kickstarter funded.

And, in return, the 'gators riles up a bunch of trolls, who in turn got mainstream feminists like Joss Whedon to come down on the whole Venn diagram with mockery.

Which, in turn, solidifies the gamer identity by defining the social borders better. The quickest way to answer the question "who are we" is to create a ruckus that crystallizes everybody into "us" and "them."

Kai Eriksen wrote a fascinating sociological book (that's not an oxymoron) called Wayward Puritans. His theory was that the Puritans were used to being an out group. But then they came to the New World where they had no neighbors to compare themselves to. (The Natives didn't count, obviously.) They had no "us" and "them."

So they created the witch trials, so they'd have a "them." It was subconscious -- Cotton Mather really through he was fighting the Devil -- but deep down they needed an enemy.

#Gamergate might have accomplished a subconscious purpose. I submit to you that a bunch of white, male, socially inept kids had "gamer" as an identity. Then along come soccer moms who play "Farmville" and call themselves gamers. And people make games about coming home and discovering your sister is a lesbian in the 90's. And the game press jumps all over these games, which are not actually very good games, because lesbian content practically guarantees a good review. (When was the last time you read a seriously negative review of a lesbian-themed film outside of the gay press and the Westboro Baptist newsletter?) And you hate Gone Home and you don't want people who like Gone Home to call themselves gamers, because "gamer" is your identity.

Or even worse, you proudly self-identify as a geek, and now all these mundanes come along and say, "Hey, we're geeks too!" And they're better looking than you, and go to the gym, and really spend very little timing geeking out. Where previously nerds were proud underdogs, now mainstream society fawns on Bill Gates and cosplay has its own reality show. Your culture is not your own any more.

So, you, as a group, pick a fight with some women developers and feminist intellectuals. There's no point picking a fight with Kotaku or Ubisoft, because they won't pay attention. But if you hurl abuse and death threats at some women (or give other, crazier people who share your politics the excuse to hurl abuse), you will provoke a lot of people to come to their defense.

In short order, you and your buddies are the laughingstock of the Internet. People are calling you neckbeards and virgins, and making memes, and #Gamergater becomes an ironic Hallowe'en costume.

But all that, perhaps, is full of win. Your identity is secure. Once again, it's clear who is "you" and who is "them."

The point of #Gamergate, subconsciously, was to provoke a witch hunt. But not against feminists. Against themselves.

Deep down, perhaps, the point of #gamergate was to provoke a witch hunt in which they were the witches. 

Now, I have no idea if the above is true, and it's unfalsifiable if it is. But I think it's an interesting way to look at it. A retcon, if you will.

And that's my take on #Gamergate after my conversations with my articulate colleague.


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Friday, October 24, 2014

I want to send one of my stories (6 page of containing outline, show summary, story headlines, characters directions and derivations, show themes that lead the entire series ) a "Tv concept idea" contest in L.A. 

I get some script consulting about it such as " it will be not a bad idea for TV " from a reputable blogger .He says that the core idea is interesting and the concept has some potential for future episodes, but the only thing is my language barrier . 

I know my english as a second language will not be sufficient to write in english like an american fellow even I know all about TV show business ; ... Would you suggest me to get another idea from another guy of business or stick the consulting and suggestions of him ? at least before sanding my outline for the contest. 
I am also work for TV time to time in my country, I know everybody says lots of things, usually of non sense to make money esp. in this business. 
I want to learn what is the criteria to have "story by" credits, especially on tv. ...
Realistically, the only way for someone to sell a TV concept if English is not his or her first language is to make the series in his own language and then sell the format. For example, the Israeli series PRISONERS OF WAR (חטופים) became HOMELAND; the Israeli series בטיפול‎ (IN THERAPY) which became IN TREATMENT and a dozen other series in different languages; the Dutch series BIG BROTHER which became a metastatized cancer afflicting the entire television medium.

If a paid evaluator says "This will not be a bad idea for TV," I think they are maybe taking your money. That's about the smallest possible thing someone can say about a TV concept. On the rare occasions I read something that really could work, I say, "I think this really has a shot."

(Though generally when I'm evaluating other people's material, I don't say whether it's good or bad; I generally say how to make it better. I don't think it's helpful to say, "This stinks." If you want me to tell you if it's good or bad, you have to ask. The truthful answer, however, is usually, "It's not good now. If you do everything I tell you, and do it well, then I think you have a shot.")

The criterion for getting a guaranteed "Story By" credit in the US under WGA rules is to have written the first draft of the pilot. ("Story by" is the irreducible minimum credit for the original writer.) If you're not a native English speaker, or Vladimir Nabokov, the odds are they won't let you write any draft of the pilot; and they won't read your spec pilot, either. However if you write the pilot in your native language, and sell the format, then you can negotiate something like a "Based on the series PRISONERS OF WAR created by Gideon Rafi."


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Monday, October 06, 2014

So, Compulsion Games will soon be hiring a community manager. This is a full-time contract job in our Montreal office keeping up with the people who play (or might play) our games. That means writing back to gamers when they have questions, posting on forums, responding to posts on forums, tweeting and generally making us look awesome. It's about engaging with our community to better understand what they think and feel about our games and help us make better ones. 

There will be some dealing with the game media. There might theoretically be a bit of game writing, if you are so inclined, but that's not the priority. 

The ideal person is witty and irrepressible. S/he plays a lot of video games and likes to talk about them. S/he probably reads the game press (Kotaku, RPS, etc.) S/he understands social media. We're not looking for a degree in marketing, but we would be impressed by your clever and provocative Twitter feed and your mob of followers. 

Compulsion is an indie game company of about a dozen really dedicated developers. Our previous game, Contrast, was a PS4 launch title, passes the Bechdel test, and is shortlisted for 10 Canadian Video Game Awards. Our new game may blow your mind.

If you think you might be the right person for this, email my buddy Sam Abbott at


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Saturday, October 04, 2014

A reader writes:

Q. I'm wondering how fast I should write screenplays if I want to be successful. I want to hit that sweet spot. I understand that pieces of string come in varying lengths. My first took me two months, my second took me two weeks, and my third has taken me two months already and I'm only on page 19. It's probably just a bad story idea and I should probably move on, but I know that in TV writing you are forced to do things you don't want to do. 
I've got several non-starters like this. If I were to force myself to finish any one of them, do you think the material would come out best if I went with a fast (2 week), medium (1.5 month), or slow (>3 month) speed for the first first draft? By "best" I of course mean most sellable. I understand that you offer no guarantees, etc. You have advised to plan for a better story in advance, but I do indeed feel pressured to tell a certain (original) story a certain way and would like to just plow through it, I'm just unsure of the speed guidelines.

Every writer is different. Robert Towne takes a year to write a script. I have no idea how he manages to spend a year on a single script. I'm assuming a lot of golf is involved. I usually write a feature first draft in about 24 days. I spend time conceptualizing and outlining, then I write the first draft pretty fast, and then rewriting takes however long it takes. Years, sometimes, with long gaps in between while producers look for money or I wait for perspective.

Both my wife and I find that having a completed script makes rewriting much easier and less stressful. She calls her first draft the "vomit" draft because she just wants to get it out of her system, and it doesn't look pretty.

Joss Whedon writes all the fun scenes first, then writes the scenes that connect them.

If you're on page 19 after two months, something is wrong with your outline. Go back to index cards, or better, go back to telling your story out loud.

The amount of time you spend on a first draft has nothing to do with how sellable the script is. The script is sellable if it has a great hook and good implementation. The hook is in the outline, and the implementation is in the first draft, and the second, and the third, and so on.

The key is that you don't climb a mountain. You take one step up. Then another step up.

You don't write a script. You write an outline. Then you write pages. By pages, I mean scenes. You only write one scene at a time. 

Look at the scene you're writing. Who wants what? Why does the other person not want to give it to him? What does the first person say or do to try to get it? What does the second person want? Why won't the first person give it to her? What does she say and do to try to get it?

If you can answer those questions, you ought to be able to write the scene. If you can't answer these questions, there's why you're hung up on page 19. 

Sometimes the reason you can't write the scene is that it's boring and doesn't need to be in the movie. Skip it and see if you miss it. Maybe you're telling it wrong. Maybe find another way to present the story elements in the scene. Try writing the scene as a silent movie. Try writing the scene as a phone conversation. Try writing the scene as a scene from a novel. Try having one character refuse to talk. Rewrite the scene as the couple arguing while they're at a cocktail party. Try having the scene happen offscreen and we only find out about it in a conversation with third parties. Try writing the scene with a different outcome than you expected and see if that feels more truthful. Rewrite the scene as all subtext, with everyone saying exactly what's on their minds. Now rewrite with no one saying any subtext at all -- they're refusing to talk about what they mean and want, and talking about anything but.

Get some actor friends to do an improv based on the scene. If you don't have actor friends, do it with your own friends. If you don't have friends, take each person's part and see what they say.

Why does that scene need to exist? How does it move the plot forward? How does it reveal character? A scene should ideally do both. If it's sagging, it's probably either not moving the plot forward, or you've written it so that the characters are saying and doing the things any normal people would say and do, rather than things only those characters could say or do.

I'm a big believer in finishing scripts even if they feel like they suck. Around page 40, they almost always do feel like they suck. But I would never write a script without writing a solid outline first. That's like getting in the car and driving without a destination. You think you're going to wind up some place you never expected, but you usually end up at the supermarket.

Good luck!



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Monday, September 22, 2014

Let's suppose two characters are talking. We go in close on their hands. One character speaks.

Is that line of dialog O.S. (offscreen) to make clear that we're not seeing her talk?

  • SALLY (V.O.)
  • (holding out the ring)
  • Take it. Please.
Or not, because at least part of her is on screen?

  • (holding out the ring)
  • Take it. Please.
How would you format this, fellow pro monkeys?


Yeah, yeah, I know. We're not supposed to put in camera direction in scripts.

However, in this case, I'm the narrative director of a video game, and I'm writing a cut-scene that will be pre-rendered. (It'll be generated in the game engine and then treated in various ways.) We need to know how much facial animation we'll have to do, which means I need to write in the camera direction so we can determine whose face is on screen, and for how long. There isn't going to actually be a director as such -- just a narrative director and an animator (plus a game designer and a concept artist, and several programmers and environmental artists).

In a movie script, it occurs to me that (O.S.) is the wrong way to go because a sloppy production manager might think the actor doesn't need to be there.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ingrid Sundberg has posted a nifty color thesaurus on her Wordpress blog. Here are her colors of red:

ῥοδο-δάκτυλος Ἠώς? Find it here.
Handy, huh?

There are a few misspellings, and a few colors readers might not recognize (admiral blue?). But most of these are quite accessible.

Also handy if you're reading YA novels and you're not quite sure what "teal" looks like. Or if you run across this:

A tl; dr
tl; dr
Check it out.


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