Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Q. If a person sent you an NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement], in the body of an email, and you were asked to email back "I agree" as the sign that you read and understood the particulars.... what do you think of the validity of that exchange?
Legally, I believe, even an oral agreement is binding. An email agreement is an agreement.
However, an email is just a text file. Any text file can be edited in a text editor. What happens if one of you alters your copy of the agreement? Then it's "he said, she said."
That's why Adobe PDF software enables cryptographic signatures on documents. An encrypted "signature" at least prevents tampering with the document.
In real life, people rarely forge documents. On the other hand, you keep reading about people who do. I'd stick with actual signatures.
(I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.)
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
I listened to Neil De Grassi Tyson's podcast on NPR. He describes the work he did before going on Jon Stewart. He analyzed how long Stewart lets a guest talk before he busts out of a joke. Then Tyson practiced talking in a rhythm that would get out a complete thought in less time than that, so that he would always have made a complete point before Stewart came in with the joke.
He goes on to talk about how people compared Larry Bird as a "student of basketball" to Michael Jordan, who's a "gifted athlete." Of course Michael Jordan works really hard, and smart. No one who comes across as gifted does so without also working hard at it.
"A line will take us hours, maybe
but if it does not seem a moment's thought,
our stitching and unstitching is as nought."
I recently completed the first draft of my first action screenplay. Some of the action sequences take up two-and-a-half pages of (two-lined) description. With no dialogue in between that. I use the 'montage' approach in the way you described in "Crafty Screenwriting". Should this be avoided this at any cost?
Why, no. Movies often have two-and-a-half-minute sequences where nobody says anything. And the screenplay should create the experience of a movie. So QED, scripts can have three pages without dialog.
Of course it depends on the genre. THE AVENGERS is all about action with snappy banter. But if you are telling the story purely visually, well, that is what movies are supposed to do!
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Some games are just too much fun.
CRUSADER KINGS II is a turn-based strategy game in which you play a succession of heirs to a dynasty. Your dynasty keeps going until you hit 1453 -- or, far more likely, it dies out. Having only girl heirs can destroy your dynasty. Having your rulers die before they have kids at all is entirely possible, too.
It is an immensely complex game. You have councillors. They may like you. They may not. They may plot against you. You have vassals. They probably will plot against you. You have neighbors. They will attack you when you're weak and suck up to you when you're strong.
You can play an emperor, a king, a duke or a count. You can try to build your count up to be an emperor. That's almost impossible, but a boy can dream, can't he?
I played the Bagrationi dynasty, rulers of the Kingdom of Georgia. My first three kings did pretty well, expanding from four counties to maybe a dozen. I took two Christian counties back from the Muslims. Some of that was the doing of the Dukes of Kartli, also of my bloodline, and therein lay a problem: they all thought they'd make better kings than I. They were always waiting to overthrow me.
Then my last King had only a girl child. No sons. Then he died of the pox, leaving me playing a 2-year-old princess. None of her vassals liked her: on top of being a minor, and a girl, she was also a coward. (All the characters have a slew of virtues and vices you can do nothing to improve.) The duchess of Kartli (the duke had died in my prison) forced me to accept electoral succession; then a cousin got himself elected to the throne.
My now-demoted duchess saved her gold up until she was 16, and hired four thousand horse archers to take her throne back. She threw the amiable usurper in prison and put her brother on the throne. (I forgot to mention: seven months after the succession crisis, my deceased King's Queen had a boy. If she'd just done that a year earlier, there would have been no succession crisis.)
That was about four in the morning. CKII is as addictive as CIVILIZATION, another game I have banned myself from playing. Turn-based strategy means you can fuss endlessly; there's never a good reason to stop playing. (Well, had I kept playing, the Mongols would have swept the Bagrationi from their throne well before 1453. There's no beating the Mongols.)
But CKII is to CIVILIZATION as DARK SOULS is to SKYRIM: you will eventually die. The fun is in staying alive as long as you can, and doing as much as possible, with the game actively trying to kill you. You don't play CKII for the graphics. It is all maps, numbers and sound effects.
But I found CKII to be one of the most immersive games I've played. The game mechanics are really well thought out. They recreate the travails of being a feudal lord. You struggle to find councillors who are good at what they do; when you do, you can't always use them. I had a courtier whose stewardship, 16, was significantly higher than my current steward, whose stewardship was only 14. Unfortunately the current steward was the red-bearded Duke of Kartli. I really did not want to offend my most powerful vassal by giving some courtier his job. So he stayed on, and the talented guy had to wait years -- until the Duke rebelled against me.
I knew I wouldn't be able to get to sleep with the game merely paused. So I deleted all my saved games. And threw the app in the trash. And deleted the trash.
Now I can get some work done.
Wait ... that wasn't actually the app I trashed ... I think it was just the shortcut.
It wouldn't hurt if I played just a little bit more... would it?
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Larry Zerner, a copyright attorney in LA, has laid out very clearly why you want to copyright your screenplay, not register it with the WGA.
The problem with the Script Registry is that many writers are using it as a substitute for registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. As a result, in the event that their work is infringed, the writer will almost certainly lose thousands of dollars. And, in many cases, a writer who only registered with the Script Registry will be precluded from filing a lawsuit because the economic realities of litigation.
Read the rest on his blog.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Friday, February 21, 2014
... Jim Henson used to say about the ancient-but-still-edible vaudeville schtick that was the heart of THE MUPPET SHOW.
According to the NY Times
, Adam McKay, director of ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES, has replaced all 763 jokes in the movie so that the studio can re-release it. The movie was shot improvisationally, so he has the outtakes to make a new, raunchier (not, he says, necessarily better) movie with the same plot.
Post production has got orders of magnitude easier. It helps when your movie has already grossed over $123 million and you can afford it. But this sort of thing is only plausible when it takes only a few keystrokes to move a sound effect. When I was in film school, everyone spent months building their sound tracks for their short films. Now I go into a room with the mixer and we do the sound effects while we're mixing the movie.
One thing I learned shooting my last short, WINTER GARDEN, is just how good actors can be at improvisation. I had a cast of veterans, headed by Enrico Colantoni, and they did all sorts of fascinating things in rehearsals once we got through the script and got into improvs. It's easy to see that shooting with a digital camera gives you more takes. It's surprising and fun to see what possibilities that opens up. Additional takes are still not free -- the clock is still running. But if you can add a few more takes, that means you can shoot the script pages, and then fool around for another take or two. Sometimes you'll find something amazing. Something you might catch a really great moment.
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
I'm very pleased that my short film ROLE PLAY will be screening at the Rendezvous du Cinéma Québecois, at 21h45 on Friday, February 21. It stars Juliette Gosselin (right) and Kat Garcia.
Did you ever write until 1 am, and then have trouble getting to sleep?
|Not the "Flux" I'm writing about.|
There have been assorted studies that show that the relatively blue screen of a computer tricks your brain into thinking it's daytime. In fact, at 6400K, your computer screen is even bluer than sunlight, which is about 5600K. So when you finally close the computer, you're still in daytime mode. It takes a while for your brain to get into night time mode.
The nice people at Flux
have written a free app that will change the relative color temperature of your screen so it's warmer -- anywhere from 5600K down to the 2700K of firelight.
(It has absolutely no relationship with Aeon Flux, whose picture is to the right.)
I tried it last night. I only put the color temperature to 4500K because otherwise it seemed just a bit too orange. (The FAQ
says it takes some getting used to.) But I did feel a whole lot less wired when I finally stopped working around 11 pm.
The only odd feature of the program is that it depends on your location to determine when to turn the lighting of your computer down to night mode. So the transition happens automatically at sundown. In the depths of winter, I don't particularly want to feel sleepy at 5 pm. But it shouldn't take long before they allow you to set the timer manually.
Check it out.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Hunter bought me Stoic's Banner Saga
for Christmas. It is a lovely, lovely game. It's set in a Viking Fimbulwinter world where you must fight obsidian robots called "Dredge" as they swarm across the land. But there is a rich mythology behind them, and their invasion is not what you might think at first.
The game makes the most of its Kickstarted indie budget. (They asked for $100K. They got $725K.) The music is majestic, Viking horns and drums. The visuals are stylized. Outside of combat, you're in a 2.5D world. Cut scenes are stills of the characters. Travel is a tiny line of animated characters walking across a highly stylized landscape. The credits say the world is inspired by the artwork of Eyvind Earle (Disney's Sleeping Beauty
), but I prefer it to his work.
The game has consequences. Characters can die because of your choices. Your daughter can die. Your whole world can die.
To keep your clan alive, you sometimes have to be a bastard. Trusting strangers can get your people killed. Not trusting strangers can get your people killed. Hard to know which is which. So you really feel like a leader of men.
Combat is turn-based tactics, à la XCOM. I love turn-based tactics. I like being able to think out my moves.
What makes a great indie game? Totally delivering the goods on a game that is conceptually fresh but of limited scope. Taking advantage of your limitations to do something new. The stripped-down art style -- the 2D, only half-animated travelogue, for example -- creates a mood that 3D might not have done.
The mythology in this game suggests that there could be a sequel. I'm ready.
I really enjoyed this game. (Thank you, Hunter!) $25 on Steam. Worth every penny.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
I reviewed Avi Shavit's book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel
on Goodreads. If you're interested in a new book trying to make sense of Israel, its peoples and the pickle it's in, by a prominent peacenik journalist, read my review. Nothing to do with screenwriting, so I won't post it here.
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Q. I am writing to inquire as to how it would be possible to track down the complete series of NAKED JOSH in any visual media format, for purchase. The production company tells me that DVD release is, of course, driven by consumer demand. However in the absence of reruns, Netflix, or the like, it is difficult to see how the series might be brought to old and new viewers. It is one of the very best series produced in Canada of the past decade or so. Television for grown-up viewers. When one considers some of the schlock that's readily available via DVD, VOD, etc, it is unfortunate that a quality production remains in limbo. I'm only one viewer and consumer, but I for one would happily pay for the privilege of revisiting "Naked Josh." If you can offer any direction, I would be entirely grateful. I of course fully understand that much is out of your control even as creator.
Yes, marketing has always been one of the places that Canadian showbiz traditionally falls down. Maybe people would like the show if they knew about it, right? They certainly can't like the show if they don't know about it, can they?
You could, for example, release the pilot on YouTube for free, and see what kind of views it go. Or you could release the whole thing on iTunes, which wouldn't cost very much. Or if Apple charges too much, maybe Amazon would be willing to put it up there. Certainly Netflix ought to be willing to do a deal.
Or what if the network put all their archived content up on their own site, with ads? And then if something really got a lot of views, they could then have the proof of concept to license it to Netflix or sell it on DVD.
One almost gets the impression that the Canadian networks would prefer if they didn't have to distribute any Canadian content at all.
I don't know why you can't get NJ on Netflix or DVD. But thank you for pestering Showcase. Maybe you'll put a bug in their ear, who knows?
Friday, January 10, 2014
Before being a famous singer and Neil Gaiman's main squeeze, Amanda Palmer was a professional living statue. She made enough money to support herself while doing gigs for even less money than you make for standing around covered in paint. She also learned how to ask people for money in a way that gave them something worth more than money.
As I'm fond of pointing out, quite a few enormously successful people went through periods of being huge flops. Stephen King wrote ten novels that didn't sell before he wrote CARRIE. Andie MacDowell, I seem to remember, lived in a car with her mom.
More interestingly is the lesson in asking. People have become very bad at asking. (Not you, dear blog readers. You are still very good at asking.) For one thing, the skill of calling someone on the phone, rather than texting them, has gone out the window.
But there is a weird human truth: if you can get people to do something for you, they often like you better. That's right. They become attached to you. (I believe it has something to do with cognitive dissonance.)
Also, if you get someone in showbiz to do something for you, then you can figure out a favor you can do for them, and now you can call them a friend.
Anyway, no one gets anywhere in showbiz without help. So you should start practicing asking for it.
That doesn't mean asking total strangers to work for you for nothing. It's the people you already know, a little. And you should not ask them, ever, to do anything you can do yourself. Only those things that only they can do for you. Like give you advice. Give you a contact. Teach you how to do something. Explain what you are doing wrong.
It's a lot of work being a good mentee. But most successful people are willing to mentor, if you learn how to ask.
Sunday, January 05, 2014
I'm starting to feel about Peter Jackson the way I feel about George Lucas and Woody Allen. He made a couple of really great movies, but now that he answers to no one, he's become self-indulgent and a bit tedious.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG has a little bit of a beginning, but ends abruptly -- about where you might put the end of the second act if the three parts of the trilogy were, in fact, one eight hour movie. That seems to be how PJ has conceived of the Hobbit series. He has padded out the book, which was much shorter than LOTR, with the beginnings of an invented love story (no women in the original) and a gratuitous social-justice story, all to make it slosh into movie theatres in three consecutive waves.
I hope someone out there is working on a Phantom Edit.
I had originally heard a rumor that one of the Hobbit movies was going to be a prequel. That could have been challenging. What section of the vast body of Tolkien's Middle Earth history do you pillage? Do you tell how Smaug took over the Lonely Mountain? That's kind of a downer. Or do you tell one of the stories from the Silmarillion, none of which is much fleshed out? There is The Quest of Erebor, Tolkien's posthumously published tale of what went on behind the scenes during Bilbo's adventure; but it's more or less the same story told from another POV.
However I figured if anyone could do it justice, it would be PJ.
The movie isn't so bad. There's a lot of fun stuff. It's just that things go on too long. Chase scenes go on too long. Dialog scenes go on too long. And instead of making one really amazing 150-minute movie, this is the chest and belly of one monstrously long beast.
At a Roman triumph, they sent the famous general down the boulevard on a chariot, and all Rome applauded him. Meanwhile, a slave was put on the chariot to tell him, from time to time, "Remember, you are only human."
Or as Aaron Sorkin put it, "If you're dumb, hire smart people. If you're smart, hire smart people who disagree with you."
(So, what adventure recently blew your socks off?)
Friday, December 13, 2013
I've been writing a lot of emails lately. I spend a lot of extra time on my emails -- I rewrite them a few times so I'm sure they communicate what they're supposed to, and hopefully so I persuade people without pissing them off.
My take on arguing by email is that it's just as convincing to say "I feel" or "It seems to me" or "My take on this is" as it is to say "it is this way"; however, "I feel" takes the sting out of my statement. Hey, that's how I feel. You may feel differently. That's beautiful, man.
Also, I ask a lot of questions. "Are you really sure this is how we should approach this?" is the polite cousin of "We shouldn't do this." But "We shouldn't do this" provokes an immediate resentment on the part of someone who disagrees; while "are you sure?" solicits his or her opinion, which is always flattering, and frames it in a way that he or she really has to look at his or her own thinking: am I sure? Am I really sure?
Asking gets the reader on your side; stating invites pushback.
Even when I'm talking about facts, I'll tend to say, "As far as I can tell," or "if I understand this correctly" rather than just writing "It's 98."
In a world where people break up by text, I get a lot of half-baked emails, mostly from younger folk. The writers don't put themselves in my shoes. Sometimes they piss me off without meaning to.
Take the extra minute to revise your emails. Then wait a half hour, and then revise again. Never send an email after 6 pm if you can send it in the morning; you may be able to trim a lot of anger and confusion in the morning.
Ask rather than stating. Make clear you know it's your opinion.
Often the most convincing way to present your argument is by avoiding making it an argument.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Neil Gaiman: “You get work however you get work, but keep people keep working ... because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you."
Or tweetable: "Pleasant. On time. Talented. Success requires two out of three."
And then there's the Iron Triangle of Project Management: "Fast - Cheap - Good. Pick Two."
Words of wisdom.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Diane Wild's TV, Eh?
blog has gone down for the count. Too bad. It was a great resource for those who cared about Canadian TV. If only some Canadian networks had, y'know, clicked on that "Donate" link.
But one gets the strong impression that Canadian networks regard commissioning Canadian content as a tiresome chore; and government seems to be listening. The CRTC came around to Montreal for a "flash conference," where the question was raised, "Hey, Devil's advocate, but if we can't regulate Netflix, how is it fair to regulate the networks?"
Which the small band of creatives at the session suspected might imply, "We are testing the waters for deregulating the networks, but we want to make you feel as if we're listening to you."
To which some stalwart creatives said, "But you ought
to regulate streaming video." And, "If we don't regulate the networks, there will be no Canadian programs at all." And, "If the Canadian networks don't make any Canadian content, why exactly should we protect them from competition from the American networks?"
Lisa said, "One day you're going to wake up and they're making Anne of Green Gables
set in Connecticut. By then it will be too late."
The rest of the crowd at the hearing was Concordia students. Their overall reaction was, "What's TV, grandpa?"
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?