Friday, December 06, 2013
New York Film Academy has an interesting infographic that shows jjjjust how few women there are in film. And yet, half the audience is women.
|Plus ça change...|
Saturday, November 23, 2013
At MIGS, I attended a superb talk by Ian Frazier (@tibermoon
) of Bioware, on how next-gen consoles are going to affect game design. The core of the talk was how their capabilities (e.g. second screen, ability to share pictures and video) will magnify the 8 Drives to Play
8 drives, you say? What are these eight drives? Ian crystallized them as follows:
1. Feel It
(Escapist Immersion) –
Losing yourself in a fantasy world where everything is more compelling than it is here in your life. Contrast
is all about escaping into a fantasy world:
AC4: Black Flag lets you be a pirate. Arrrr!
Another way to phrase this might be "Put Me In a Story." Games don't just tell (or show) a story. They put the player in a story which he lives through. So Far Cry 3 puts you in the story of an innocent California boy who becomes a badass. Spec Ops: The Line puts you in the story of Captain Walker's descent into madness. (I think I know why they call him Captain Walker
. But I digress.)
2. Learn It
(System Mastery) –
Learning how the game's different rules interact with each other. Discovering the synergies. Figuring out how to build your character. Understanding what's important and what's not. You feel smart when you figure it all out.
Civilization is all about system mastery. Also, Starcraft. Also, chess.
3. Beat It
(Skill Mastery) –
Win the game. Beat the boss. The harder the game is, the more powerful your triumph. Shadow of the Colossus.
4. See It All
Exploring the environment. Climbing to the top of the mountain to get the view. Discovering the secret passages and the hidden rooms. Meeting every boss.
This is another drive that Contrast plays to. Also, Far Cry.
5. Help Your Friends
(Cooperative Play) –
Playing as a team. An innate human drive since we were chasing mammoths around the mountains. Army of Two exists entirely because of this drive. Also, football, soccer, lacrosse, crew, etc.
6. Crush Your Enemies
(Competitive Play) –
See them run before you. Hear the lamentation of their women.
Mortal Kombat. Also, boxing, tennis, ping-pong, poker, and fairground pie competitions.
7. Impress Everyone
I'm riding a feathered rhino! And you know how hard they are to get! Some WoW players live for this.
8. Build Something
This is the drive at the heart of Minecraft (though peacocking is there too, online). Also, Lego, Lincoln Logs and the Erector Set.
Hunter loves when an RPG gives him a house that he can decorate. He spends a lot of time putting stuff in his house and arranging them just so. Strange, because he has no interest in picking his clothes up off the floor in his actual room.
Different games play to these drives in different amounts. COD multiplayer is all about Coop Play and Crush Your Enemies, but not so much Build Something. Contrast is about Feel It and See It, but not about System Mastery -- its mechanics are quite simple.
I'm not sure exactly where the drive to feel like a hero lives in this list, though it's obviously key to many AAA games. ("Do you feel like a hero yet?" asks Spec Ops: The Line.) There is also the completionist drive -- gotta catch'em all -- that sends people across Renaissance Florence rooftops collecting feathers for the sake of, well, getting all the feathers.
Of course, there is also the drive to keep pressing the lever that gives you a hamster pellet -- the drive that keeps you playing a game long after it stops being fun, the drive that drives old ladies to sink their piggy banks into one-armed bandits in Vegas. Since Ian is a good guy, and not evil, he doesn't include it in his canonical list, though I'm sure he's aware of it. We all are. This article from Cracked
is intended to be humorous, but it is dead on.
If you're designing a game, you should make sure you know which drives you're playing to. These are the goods you're delivering.
If you find this sort of thing interesting, you may also want to check out Jon Radoff's analysis of game player motivations
, which builds on Bartle's division of players into explorers, killers, socializers and achievers
Thursday, November 21, 2013
What can be said, however, about the story is that it is excellent in its ability to wrap so much punch into such a tiny package
. The game is fairly short, so Compulsion Games didn’t leave themselves much room for error. Thankfully,Contrast
does more to deliver an emotionally engaging story than most games even come close to in play-through times that are three times as long. Themes of abandonment and relationship dynamics are conveyed subtly and with a delicate touch. Control, sacrifice and power within relationships, be they personal or business, are also themes that are met head on. What’s excellent is that the messaging is reinforced not only by cut-scenes, but by gameplay as well, similar to past indie darling, Limbo
. Many of the puzzles find Dawn and Didi fixing or restoring something, and in doing so, the player brings them one step closer to fixing and restoring Didi’s family. By the end, Contrast
comes full circle and delivers an experience that is both touching and bittersweet. Truly outstanding work.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
Q. I wrote a screenplay based on [famous film franchise]. I plan to send a query letter to the star of the [famous film franchise] movies. Should I also send it to the director of the [famous film franchise] movies? If so, should I do it simultaneously, or should I wait to see if I hear back from [star] first?
This is not how it works. Studios, producers, directors and stars will not even read your script based on their franchise. They might have similar ideas for a sequel to you, and they don't want you claiming they stole your ideas. If they want a sequel, they already have writers working on it. They will not, barring the Rapture, option a spec sequel.
What you can do is take all the derivative material out of your spec sequel, and make it unique and fresh and new. You can't option a Bond spec, but you can write a spy movie, and if it's good enough, and fresh enough, someone may make it in spite of its similarities to the Bond franchise.
(In extremely rare circumstances, someone might even decide that your spy movie would make a great Bond sequel. But the idea has to come from them.)
Your best bet is to be original. Hollywood is not going to turn to someone new for the same old ideas. They already have people they can count on for the same old ideas. You have to bring something new to the party.
Saturday, November 02, 2013
Q. I'm writing a script that features a real rock star (playing himself) as a fairly significant character. I have 3 or 4 other rock stars making appearances as themselves too.
I would assume it would be hugely obvious to anybody reading it that the rock star I picked is a placeholder, and if he isn't available/interested, then we could always cast Rock Star B, C D or E.
Is this troublesome or limiting in any way? Would people not be able to figure out it's a placeholder and say ahhhhh forget it your idea hinges on getting this specific guy?
Or should I ditch using a known name of a real rock star and make up a fake rock star character? In my mind that would water things down too much.
You shouldn't use the name of a real rock star unless you actually have that rock star on board. And, really, even then, you shouldn't, unless you're writing a documentary. It's your job as a writer to create a character
. If you write a script for Lady Gaga to play herself, people are going to bring their own ideas of who she is. Better to invent a Lady Gaga-esque character that you have made distinct and fresh and clever and above all, interestingly flawed
. That brings the character to life on the page, and gives Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta something to play on the screen.
(Because, of course, almost all rock stars are already
consciously playing a character who is a version of themselves. Who's Lady Gaga when she's at home?)
The way you've phrased your question, it sounds like you just want "a" rock star in your movie. That is the very definition of "watered down."
Always create characters, even if you're writing real people.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Q. I wrote a script called "LIVING NIGHTMARES" several years ago and had it registered with the WGAw. Found out recently that AMC ripped the title for one of there own films. Called the Writer's Guild to see what they could do and was told that it's perfectly legal for companies to rip the title of your work. Talk about some B.S.
Yep. Titles get recycled all the time. Especially titles like yours, which are based on extremely common phrases. "Living Nightmare" gets 714,000 Google Hits.
(I assume that your LIVING NIGHTMARE was not a remake of the 1977 critical hit NAZI LOVE CAMP 27, which was also released as LIVING NIGHTMARE.)
So if you can't protect the title to a produced movie, you definitely can't protect the title to an unproduced script.
My question is how Disney prevents people from releasing their own movies called SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. I think that might have something to do with trademarks, or possibly just having a massive legal department. (UPDATE: See RJ Reimer's excellent explanation in the comments for how studios regulate the re-use of titles. Thank you, RJ!)
But there have been other SNOW WHITE movies. You can make one, too.
By the way, registering a script with the WGA gives it no legal protection whatsoever; it just provides evidence should there be a lawsuit. If you want legal protection, register your script with the Library of Congress, on any day the government is not shut down.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Q. If you wind up as a staff writer for a television show, how do you handle things like health insurance and taxes? I would guess the first one might be easier with the Affordable Health Care Act in play here in the US, and I know the WGA offers insurance after you earn a certain amount. But how do you actually live and get covered? Is it doable? For some of us with pre-existing conditions, that's a Real Thing To Worry About.
The WGA has a very, very good, gold-plated health plan. So good that people continue to pay their WGA dues even when they haven't written anything in years, just so they can buy into it.
Q. Taxes. As a contractor, you're responsible for all of that stuff on your own. I assume there are oodles of accountants specializing in helping people in the entertainment industry, but can you give me a thumbnail sketch of what it's like? Do you get to deduct things like cable TV if you're a working TV writer? Is the tax burden better or worse than if you were a traditional employee?
Yes. There are oodles.
You can deduct quite a bit. Cable bills. Computers. Movies you go to. Lunches. Books. I am not an accountant, and this is not accounting advice, but there's a reason so many of us have loanout companies.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Q. What if a producer just wants to option my film idea? I.e. I have the one pager and he loves it and has initial interest out there and he wants to keep shopping it around with me?
You don't get paid for an idea. Sure, Joe Eszterhas optioned a napkin for $4M in the 90's after BASIC INSTINCT, but then the napkin film did not do as well as BASIC INSTINCT, and it is no longer the glorious 90's, age of the ridiculous spec sale. Anyway, you don't. You give the producer an informal, or formal, right to shop the idea, with the understanding, or written agreement, that you are attached as the first writer, at a reasonable (e.g. Guild minimum) writing fee.
Generally speaking, your right to write the film stops at either a draft, or two drafts and a polish, depending on your clout. After that, the producer can take you off the project.
A typical deal for a pro writer might be a Right of First Refusal to write two drafts and a polish for scale (or scale plus X% if s/he's an overscale writer), plus a hunk of money if the film goes into production (say 2.5%-4% minus what he's been paid already), plus a ROFR to write sequels/prequels/spinoffs/TV and/or passive payments in case s/he isn't the writer of the sequels/prequels. Plus monkey points
If you are a beginning writer, the producer may offer you only the production bonus, intending to give the idea to someone else to write. Don't accept that. The whole point of you shopping your ideas is to get to write them up. Vastly more films get developed than get made.
In the case of a one-pager, you're probably better off with, at a minimum, a written one-page deal letter clarifying that it is your idea and the producer is attached to it in the event he sets it up (finds development financing) within X time period. After that the producer is no longer attached, and any creative ideas the producer may have contributed are your property.
All of the above is technically redundant since you own the idea and a producer's doesn't own his notes once he gives them to you, but having it all on paper clarifies things for everyone, and if the producer has different ideas, you want to know them now, rather than later when he attempts to tie up your project without paying you.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Tim Kreider writes in today's Times
about all the people who write him asking him to contribute writing to their website for free. (He probably got paid a little for the article.)
In the Middle Ages, writing was not something you did for a living. Writers were noblemen or clerics; someone was already feeding them. They wrote for fame, or to scratch an itch, or to praise God, or to argue that someone else was praising God the wrong way.
Then the printing press came along and you could actually sell books. (I have no idea if it's accurate that Gutenberg had a side business in pornography, but I hope so.) And copyright laws eventually made it possible to protect your content.
The internet has the lowest imaginable threshold for entry. So lots of people with paying jobs are also creating content (essays, short stories, YouTubes) in their spare time and throwing it up there for all to see. Twenty years ago it was difficult and expensive to make a short film, even a badly made one. Now it's easy to make something
And many of the somethings go viral. And people make money off them. Get a million hits on YouTube, and they'll send you a check.
Suddenly professional writers and filmmakers are competing with myriads of amateur writers and filmmakers.
They're also competing with promoters. A lot of viral content has funding behind it. Lonelygirl15 turned out not to be a lonely girl in a room but a group of people who wanted to sell a series.
The paradigm has changed. You're now expected to give it away, in the hopes that this will vault you to a position where you can now sell your stuff for a whack of dough. Of course, for most people, the second part never triggers. There's no "path to Colonel," as they say in the Army.
To be sure, there never was a path to Colonel in content creation. Aspiring TV and feature writers always had to write spec scripts. And Stephen King wrote a lot of unpublished novels before Carrie
got bought. J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter
on the dole. Aspiring game writers are expected to program up something in Unity or Twine, so have a portfolio to show when Rockstar posts an opening.
But it does feel like what used to be a pyramid has shrunk its middle, so its base is impossibly wide, and the top quite pointy. The middle seems to be disappearing. There's room for star journalists, and free Huffington post contributors, but no room for journeymen. Right out of college, my Mom got a job at a local paper. "There were a lot of cars parked outside the Murphy's last night," the editor would tell her. "Find out what happened." That is no longer a job.
(I realize how ironic it is that I'm writing all of this on my blog, which I write for free. Though people keep offering to buy ads on it.)
The middle is disappearing in features, too. There are so many $100,000 features and $1M features out there that you can no longer sell a $3M feature, I am told. $2M to $8M is a no-go area.
Nobody makes a living making hundred thousand dollar features, or even million dollar ones. I have one friend who works as a P.A. to support her directing addiction, and another who works as a production manager. Of course they'd like to break out of the low budget ghetto. But the next few rungs on the ladder are missing. How do you jump from $100,000 to $10,000,000?
You win something at Sundance, of course. If you can become a star, you can vault. Until then, you have to keep giving it away.
I'm not saying this is a bad thing. The new paradigm has mobilized a lot of talent. Annoying Orange
is way funnier than Two and a Half Men.
It had to be. It had to promote itself.
(Though the lingering death of journalism does create public policy issues. Democracy becomes corrupt in the absence of muckrakers, and no one can afford to do a three month investigation on the if-come.)
This process has been going on for a long time. Before recorded music, if you were semi-good, you could become a traveling musician. You could make a living, of a sorts, playing to crowds of 40. Or, at least, you could eat.
That living hasn't existed for a long time. Instead you play to crowds of 40 to get exposure (and learn your chops) so you can play to crowds of 10,000 for money.
But it does feel like the change has accelerated. There are some pockets where you can still make a living without making a fortune. Games, for example. While the indie game world is full of opportunities to make a game for nothing in the hopes you'll have a hit on Steam, no one asks a writer to contribute barks to a AAA game for free. TV, too, is a process where professionalism is too important to give up. You can make a living as a TV writer because TV is a beast that eats scripts. A TV show doesn't depend on one viral episode. It depends on consistency, both creatively and in production.
But if you're thinking of getting into the rest of the content business, there's the old joke about the jazz musician whose doctor tells him he's only got a year to live. "That's cool, man," says the jazz musician, "but what do I live on till then
You need a plan for how you're going to live.
That can be a day job in
the biz. For years as an aspiring writer my day job was development executive (another job that I think the industry has shed).
Bartender works, but there's the risk of waking up 50 and realizing you're a career bartender. (So then you write a blog about it, and it goes viral, so you get to adapt it into a bestselling book...)
"Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free" is good advice, but it becomes a problem if you are the cow.
The center cannot hold you. What you gonna do?
Saturday, October 19, 2013
|Mein Novel ist in German gepublished!|
My novel's out in German
So for all of you German speakers who are reading this blog in Google Translate, now's your chance!
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Hey, guys, maybe one of you who is a gamer can help.
For my MIGS talk, I need an image of an NPC follower in his underclothes. You know how, in some games (I think Dragon Age: Origins, but not II), you can remove your follower's garb to the point where they're wearing nothing but their Fruit of the Looms? I need a good quality JPG of that.
Can any of y'all help?
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Q. Does someone who traditionally writes in novella format have any place in television writing? I’ve learned a lot about the differences, and I’m eager to see if my own style of writing can be adapted to the far more fast-paced scripting I am learning. Since you’ve written both for television and your own books, what are the biggest speed bumps you encountered, transitioning from one format to another?
There's no hard and fast answer. If you're a writer, you're a writer, and you can adapt your muse to different media. But certainly each medium has its strengths and weaknesses, and so do writers. If your gift is to delve into the deep thoughts of a character -- well, that's something TV is very poor at. Actors convey feelings well, but not thoughts. TV is very good at showing the dynamics of a family (whether kin or a family of choice) and characters making emotional choices.
TV has demands novella writing doesn't. You can polish and rework your spec pilot for a year, but spec episodes get out of date fast, and if you should be hired, you better be able to bang out a sixty page script in a week. A couple of times I've had to write a script in a day. That's not pretty, but you can't be precious. If the production meeting is Tuesday morning, the script better be there Tuesday morning.
Speed bumps? There's a learning curve to any medium, and in TV, there is a whole industry to break into. If you work hard and thoughtfully, and if you like writing what people like seeing on TV, and if people like you, you'll probably get in. The key, as in any new field, is listening -- to what's said, and to what's not said -- and carefully applying it to your work and your processes.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
On the 22nd, I'm moderating one of the IGDA Montreal's roundtables
, on "Women Characters in Games: Getting from Yorda to Ellie." Should be interesting. Here's the long version of the topic:
Some game critics say that women characters in games have too often been either helpless objects or ass-kicking men with boobs.
Is this still true? Is there something about gameplay itself that gravitates toward masculine characters? Do gamers really not want to buy games with real female characters, or do marketing people only think so? Are we missing opportunities to tell compelling stories that will attract lots of players?
What could change — in our approach to game narrative, in marketing, in the structure of game teams, in hiring, in game culture, in the game media or elsewhere — for us to do better?
If you're coming, here are some interesting links...
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
How did I not think of this???
Saturday, October 05, 2013
Writing ruins you for most TV.
So, Hunter is re-watching, and I'm watching, GAME OF THRONES together. And the rap about GoT is best summed up by this fake book cover:
I've heard a great deal about how many main characters die in GoT. And yet, 19 episodes in, I can't say that I've been shocked by anyone's death so far. Sure, some people have died, sometimes suddenly. Some important people have died, important in the sense that many fictional people would have considered them important to, say, the balance of power.
But no really great characters have died. No one has died who, in dying, would have left Westeros a less interesting place. No one with a really interesting character flaw, for example; no one you could get a lot more stories out of.
This is a cable show. So likable and good characters are not immune from fatality, any more than a certain adorable teacher was immune in BUFFY. But really fun characters are, as far as I can tell, still immune. And "really fun characters," of course, in a cable show, often includes "really atrocious people."
I called out my guesses for who I was sure would make it to at least episode 30, and Hunter did not contradict me.
Writing TV kind of ruins you for watching TV. We watched a SLEEPY HOLLOW episode, Lisa and I, and the moment we were told in Act 2 that the [entity] could only be killed by fire, we knew that it was going to be the convenient trunkful of [inflammable substance], shown in Act 3, that did for the [entity] in Act 5. And so it was.
That's one reason my writer friends watch so much BREAKING BAD. They're sometimes surprised.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Q. I am an emerging writer-director in Central Europe. I have an American-style script I would like to direct. How do I go about getting a US agent?
It's always going to be hard to get a US agent if you are not in the US. Theoretically it could all be done with a PDF of the script, a Vimeo of your director's reel, and Skype. But agents like to sit down with you and see how congenial you are as a person, which is an important part of being able to sell you.
I think to get an agent if you don't live in LA, your best bet is to try to hook up with agents at a festival at which you have a film playing. American agents come to some overseas festivals (Cannes, Milan). If you can get something into SXSW, or Tribeca, or Toronto, or Newport Beach, you can probably meet some agents there.
You're always going to be better off meeting an agent when you have a story: your film is in competition, your film won an award, your film is in theatres. (I went to TIFF when BON COP / BAD COP was still in theatres. That was a good TIFF.) Because they need a story to sell you
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Q. Do you plan on attending the American Film Market in Santa Monica in November and do you recommend it to other young writers and filmmakers?
Film markets, as distinct from festivals, are generally not for writers or filmmakers. They are for producers to sell their product to distributors. Sometimes producers bring filmmakers along as decoration for a project they're trying to finance, but filmmakers have no real serious reason to be at a market.
The last time I went to the AFM, I was working for a producer, and we were selling our movies to distributors. There were no directors there who were not also producers.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Q. I have a producer interested in my script. I want to direct. I've directed a few short films.
The film could be made for $10-20M as it's a commercial style high budget film. The producer agrees.
But he is a not a big fish either. He's got one film greenlit, but no producer credits.
He has sent me an Option Purchase Agreement for $1. Purchase price is $50k + 5% of producer's share of proceeds and another $50k for the directing. Would you say that's reasonable for an unknown author + first time directing?
He doesn't want to sign a directing agreement yet; he says that a simple paragraph in the option is enough.
The thing he has mentioned though, is that he would bring an experienced co-director on board - what I'm worried about is that once he does that, he'll just kick me out.
There are a number of things wrong with this situation. One, nobody is going to fund a debut feature for $10M except in exceptional circumstances. E.g., you are an award-winning director of commercials with hundreds of well-known spots under your belt; or, your father is Francis Coppola; or, Tom Cruise is in love with you and is willing to appear in the picture. A $10M film requires bankable stars. The agents of these bankable stars will resist putting them in a movie with an unproven director. Distributors will also resist making financial commitments on a movie directed by an unproven director.
Normally a feature debut is more like a million-dollar budget, though it can vary from much less to a bit more.
Hence, the "experienced co-director." There are very few "co-directors" in the world, and they are usually brothers. The producer intends to tell everyone that the "experienced co-director" will do the real directing. At some point they'll make a deal with you to buy you out so they don't have to give you a directing credit, because an "experienced co-director" isn't going to want to share credit with you after he's done all the actual directing.
A producer who has one picture "greenlit" but no credits ... that's not very convincing. How do you know the film is actually greenlit? How do you know if the producer is the prime mover in the picture, or is just one of many producers?
A $1 option is not very good, obviously. It means the producer does not have any money to spare, and/or does not have that much faith in your project. He's willing to throw it out there and see if anyone's interested, but he's not willing to invest money in it. However, I wouldn't rule out a $1 option. A feature debut is always a difficult proposition for the producer. Assuming you really believe the producer has the clout and enthusiasm to get the picture made, a $1 option could conceivably be worth agreeing to. However, option renewals should not be free. If he hasn't advanced the project after 12 months, he should either have to pay some money (even $500) or return it to you.
$50K is a reasonable purchase price for a script by a non-union writer, and $50K is a decent salary for a first time director, but neither are par for a $10M movie. There should normally be some sort of escalator. For the script you should get 2%-4% of budget on the first day of principal photography, split with the other credited writers. (Plus the 5% of Producer's Net, assuming there is any.)
The producer is correct that you don't need a full directing contract, just a Right of First Refusal to direct in the option agreement. However, the ROFR can't be subject to this or that (e.g. "subject to approval by the investors"). It has to be an absolute ROFR, or it won't mean anything. (I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.)
You also want a ROFR to do at least the first paid rewrite, at union rates. Or whatever rate you're willing to rewrite for. The producer will ask you to rewrite endlessly for free, on the grounds that hey, it's a feature debut. You might decide that's worth doing, IF the producer is for real and your directing is for real, and you have faith in the producer's notes. But when a producer pays for a rewrite, he's really going to focus on giving you the best notes possible, whereas when he doesn't, he might try out half-baked ideas on you, because it doesn't cost him anything.
(I don't advocate rewriting for free when you're only the screenwriter, unless you're just starting out. Some feature screenwriters live off rewrites of their own optioned work.)
The key question: have you shown this script around to other people If you've shown it around and no one else is interested, you might take this deal. If you haven't shown it around, you might shop it a bit more and see what the interest level is elsewhere.
It's tough when you get enthusiasm from someone but no money. Sometimes you have to take these crappy deals if they're the best on offer. But don't be in a hurry to lock up your project for a buck unless you really believe this guy is gung-ho on putting you in the director's chair -- which he's already told you he's not.
Also, consider putting this project aside for a third feature, and go write something that can be made for a million bucks. A million dollar budget script with a great hook and great execution, from a director with some short films people dig, is a very plausible proposition for producers and distribs.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
I watched most of SEX AND THE CITY, and I marveled how those girls screwed up one relationship after another, some of them with pretty decent men. (Aidan, for example.) I asked Lisa about it, and she said that, for a woman, part of the fantasy is that, if you had Aidan, you wouldn't push him away.
So I'm watching Season One of GAME OF THRONES, finally. The first time through I couldn't bear watching it because it was too obvious from episode 1 or 2 that poor Ned was an idiot who was going to pay the price for being honorable in the wrong situation. Weirdly, now that I have seen enough spoilers to know how Season One ends, I find it much easier to watch. But I'm enjoying it in the same was as one might watch S&TC: boy, if I were Ned, I could manage things better.
I don't think we only watch because we identify with the hero. I think we watch because we separate ourselves from the hero. We think, "I may be a romantic idiot sometimes, but I would at least wait to see if Juliet is really for sure dead before stabbing myself." Or, "No, you old fool, keep your kingdom and let your daughters have it when you're dead." Or (my favorite): "Now that the witches have said you are destined to become king, avoid becoming king as long as possible: you cannot die until you do!"
You watch BREAKING BAD, as somebody said, to get to say, "Walter, no!" and "Jesse, think!"
When you write a script, don't just track the characters' emotions. Track also the audience's emotions. Make sure they get to have some fun ones. Fun emotions may be exciting negative ones or reassuring positive ones, or both in the same piece, but make sure they get to have'em.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Q. I'm applying to a TV fellowship. I specced a and just received a request for a spec pilot.
I have a traditional sitcom in the same tone. Or I could spend the weekend writing up an edgy family drama idea I have, similar in tone to the ? Is the genre too different than what they might be expecting?
You really have two questions. One, should I go with the polished script, or the unpolished script I suspect will be better.
The other is, should I go edgy or trad?
For a fellowship, edgy. They want to find a diamond in the rough, not a really nice polished piece of coal. Showing that you can take risks and execute on them is more important than showing you can nail down every last joke.
If you were applying for a job on a trad sitcom, they might be more concerned about whether you can nail down jokes.
For the "how do I spend my weekend?" question, it's easy: spend the weekend writing up the new idea. Then see if it seems better than what you've got polished. Sometimes you can bang something out fast that's better than something you took more time on, just because it's a better idea. Of course, most of the time, it won't be.
Always send you your most impressive, freshest writing. Most people reading you have read a lot of polished stuff. Send something that can stand out -- but stand out for fulfilling its promise. A half-executed good idea is no better than a well-executed weak idea.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Well, the 7th Annual Writer Mafia Party at TIFF was a success. I left around midnight, but my spies tell me there was still quite a crowd there at one in the morning.
Parties at TIFF are strange. Theoretically they are showbiz industry parties. But when I go, there are an awful lot of people I've never seen before -- and whom my friends have never seen before. I guess they are in the great Canadian marketing industry. Which is fair, since TIFF is a promotional event.
So, we instituted the Writer Mafia Party, where we don't buy your drinks or offer you free food, but you'll probably know a lot of people. I think it's one of the most fun events at the festival.
(I have tried over the years to take pictures of the WMP. It is really hard to take a picture of a party that looks like anything!)
Tonight I'm premiering a new short, WINTER GARDEN, at the Elgin. It's part of the Stage to Screen
program, celebrating the Elgin's 100th anniversary -- it's the oldest continually functioning theatre from the vaudeville epoch in North America. There are six of us emerging directors, each with a film shot entirely at the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres. Everything from a post-apocalyptic folktale to a silent film in black and white, to the death of John Dillinger to... my little supernatural tale.
My other 2013 short, ROLE PLAY, premieres at the Vancouver International Film Festival
on October 2.
Come to the Elgin tonight, if you're around. Should be a good program.
Friday, August 23, 2013
I loved John Badham’s I’LL BE IN MY TRAILER: THE CREATIVE WARS BETWEEN DIRECTORS AND ACTORS. It’s been one of the most useful books I’ve read about directing actors for the screen. Badham, of course, is the veteran director of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, BIRD ON A WIRE, WAR GAMES and yards of other films and TV. I had the pleasure of working with him on a project about Paul Watson, the rogue environmentalist/pirate. If anyone’s qualified to do a nuts and bolts book about directing, John Badham is your guy.
In his upcoming book ON DIRECTING (pub date September 1), Badham expands his survey beyond dealing with actors to the rest of directing, from why you don’t want to shoot a master shot of an action sequence (your editor will chop it up anyway), to how to use storyboards, to the need for a point of view in your camera placement.
No one can teach you everything about directing in a book. Actors need different things from their director. Directors have different cinematic styles. ON DIRECTING acknowledges that, but still gives you lots of useful tools and nuggets of information. How to deal with an actor who is creatively blocked. Why you need to slow fast action down, and how to do it convincingly. How to deal with actors who want to do their own stunts.
And it’s not all Badham’s knowledge. Badham has interviewed director and actor friends, and the book is filled with insightful quotations.
My only complaint, really, about this book, is that I wish it were a lot thicker. It’s 240 pages long, convenient for throwing into a backpack. I wish it were two or three times as long, because there’s so much to learn from it.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Q. I would be interested in your thoughts on submitting to the WGA's Black List.
It began as a survey. In 2005, Franklin Leonard surveyed almost 100 film industry development executives about their favorite scripts from that year that had not been made as feature films. That first list - many of which have been made since - can be viewed here. Since then the voter pool has grown to about 500 film executives, 60% of whom typically respond.
Over 200 Black List screenplays have been made as feature films. Those films have earned over $16BN in worldwide box office, have been nominated for 148 Academy Awards, and have won 25, including Best Pictures SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and THE KING'S SPEECH and five of the last ten screenwriting Oscars. A complete list of Black List films is below.
Now they seem to have added a moneymaking side to it, where you can submit scripts for money.
In October 2012, we extended our mission further by allowing screenwriters from the world to, for a small fee, upload their scripts to our database, have them evaluated by professional script readers, and subject to that evaluation and our recommendation algorithm, sent to our - at present - over 1000 film industry professionals. You can begin the process of being discovered here.
This is not the same as the Blacklist. This seems to be a script reading and evaluating service, using the Blacklist brand. There's nothing wrong with using a script reading service, especially if you don't have friends in the biz who can give you honest feedback. But it probably won't get you on the Blacklist. You get on the Blacklist by having your agent send your superb script around, and having development execs love it and send it around to their development exec friends. You can't buy that service.
I would be careful of any script reading and evaluating service that says it can help you break in. I would use a service to get good feedback so you can make your script better. I think the way to break in is still to query agents
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Q. I am considering script consultants to look over my screenplay, and I noticed your services. Should one register their script with the WGA before sending it to any paid script consultants?
Q. Or, is this done after you have gotten notes and completed any changes you might make as a result of the notes?
No need to wait. No matter what changes you make to the script, it will likely retain many of the same characters, plot twists, scene order, chunks of dialog, etc., so that if someone poached a later draft, they would be using copyrighted material from the copyrighted draft.
Though, in general, very few people poach scripts. Really, very, very few.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
I'm pretty thrilled with the game. We got a slew of "Best" awards at E3. People seem to dig the story and the key game mechanic, where you can become your own shadow and run along the shadows on the walls.
If you're at PAX or Gamescom, check it out. Coming soon to a PS4 or PC near you!
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
I note that in 2006 you said no one writes/uses series bibles anymore and also went on about show runners, etc. In this day of so many cable networks, Netflix, etc., all competing for original content would you say that maybe that has changed? I had read a while back that Netflix was actively soliciting for more new content. I am wondering if all these competing networks may have opened the gates a little to let in and review new writers. I also want to ask if there are accomplished and well known show runners who may be looking for new things and how would we find them.
I have written a series bible and a pilot episode with a professional writer who has done a lot for other writers, but has no screen credits. I am satisfied we have everything properly formatted.
I have a connection with an agency through the family and have been told they would look at our screenplay when ready even though they do not work with unproven writers. I am preparing for an alternate course if they can not do anything for us.
First of all, you have an agency to go to, so that's a good first step. If they think they can sell your stuff, they'll take it on.
Yes, there are more networks looking for material. However, they generally still want an experienced showrunner attached to the material. Otherwise, who's going to run the show? They don't want to buy an idea, they want to buy an idea along with someone to execute.
I still don't think anyone buys bibles as such. That's because a bible is just a bunch of promises. To see if the show works, there has to be a pilot script. In certain cases (e.g. Canadian TV, animation), an experienced writer can sell a pitch and then get paid to write a pilot.
You have a pilot script, so if you get an agent, she can go out with it. If you sell it -- a long shot even for an experienced writer! -- they'll still put a showrunner they trust over your head. But you get a pretty decent payday even if all you do is share a Created By credit, and get royalties for each episode, and demand to be on staff.
How do you find a showrunner? Your agent approaches showrunners who have production companies, and who are looking for material. It's her job to know who these are.
It's going to be hard to approach showrunners without an agent. But you can try. Look up the credits for a show you like. Find out who the Executive Producers are. See if there's a production company associated with one of them. (Often there's an animated logo for the production company at the end of each episode.) Google that production company. Find out their contact info, and contact them.
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
(I'm particularly thrilled that they called out our story.)
Contrast (PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Release: Fall 2013
What It Is: Compulsion Games' platformer/puzzle hybrid, where shadows paint your surfaces in a 3D world inspired by the film noir of the 1940s and the 1920s vaudeville theater scene.
Why You Should Care: One look at Contrast's visuals is enough to garner interest. Still, Contrast isn't looking like a one-trick pony. Not only does the gameplay look varied with the main character's 2D shadow ability being used in different ways such as to transport her around the 3D world, but the story, which focuses on a girl named Didi and her imaginary friend, Dawn, is more mature than you'd expect. It centers on Didi's strained relationship with her parents. This promising title could be the next indie darling, and so far it's looking anything but conventional.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Vulture.com has a really terrific New York Magazine
piece interviewing Damon Lindelof about writing blockbusters
. Lindelof has some interesting things to say about his work on WORLD WAR Z, where he took an over-the-top third act and brought it back to something human. One of the interesting things he says is that, if he'd been the previous writer, he would almost certainly have written an over-the-top third act, and he explains why. "
"It’s hard not to do it, especially because a movie, if properly executed, feels like it’s escalating ... Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world. And when you start there, and basically say, I have to construct a MacGuffin based on if they shut off this, or they close this portal, or they deactivate this bomb, or they come up with this cure, it will save the world—you are very limited in terms of how you execute that. And in many ways, you can become a slave to it and, again, I make no excuses, I’m just saying you kind of have to start there.
“It sounds sort of hacky and defensive to say, [but it’s] almost inescapable,” he continues. “It’s almost impossible to, for example, not have a final set piece where the fate of the free world is at stake. You basically work your way backward and say, ‘Well, the Avengers aren’t going to save Guam, they’ve got to save the world.’ Did Star Trek Into Darkness need to have a gigantic starship crashing into San Francisco? I’ll never know. But it sure felt like it did."
Where it gets really interesting is when the interviewer proposes he Hollywood up the legend of John Henry, Steel Drivin' Man. Of course John Henry has to be childhood friends with the inventor of the steam hammer. Of course they have to be in love with the same woman. But if it's a blockbuster, there have to be stakes
. What is John Henry driving the steel for? Lindelof starts small, but by the end of it -- say he's channeling Writer C in the eventual arbitration -- well, read the article.