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



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Saturday, July 31, 2004

CRAFTY WRITER'S TOOL: UNCOMMUNICATIVE CHARACTERS EXPLAIN EACH OTHER

When you have characters that aren't very good at expressing their feelings, or because of the situation, can't, sometimes you can get those feelings on the page by a cross conversation.

Have the man give voice to what he thinks is on the woman's mind. Have the woman challenge the man because of what she knows is on the man's mind.

If they're two people who know each other well -- or are quite perceptive -- then this can be a good way to get uncommunicative characters to appear to open up.

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Saturday, July 24, 2004

DEEDLE DEE DEE DEE, TWO UNITS

We have one first unit and one second unit shooting. The second unit is smaller and in general is not expected to shoot drama. There is often a second unit director although you can also try to get the episode director to oversee his second unit so the style all matches.

We also have two sets of ADs. One set preps the next show while the other set oversees the shoot of the current show.

This means that there's a limit to how much advanced prep can be done. The HODs (heads of departments) need to know what items they'll be responsible for (set dressings, props, locations) but the ADs aren't really available until their current show is done shooting.

So while we've been working to get the shows written two weeks in advance of photography, they don't really HAVE to be done until one week in advance of photography. But of course at that point they must be as perfect as they can be. Once prep has begun on an episode, changes become progressively more expensive.

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Friday, July 23, 2004

WHY THEY DON'T LIKE BLOCK SHOOTING

Had an interesting conversation with our line producer today about block shooting.

My last show was all block shot. That is, all eight eps were shot in a block of eight. The advantage to block shooting is that if you have one location that's used once in each of eight episodes, you can shoot all eight scenes on the same day. You pay one location fee, and you move the company to the location only once. Saves time and money.

On the other hand most productions don't block shoot. The difficulties with block shooting are several. The actors (and that means the director) have to keep track of where their characters are emotionally in different scenes shot in the same place. That's difficult, and if someone slips up, you may see reactions that make no sense for the season.

Even if you do keep all the details of wardrobe and emotion straight, who shoots the scenes? If you have different directors for the different episodes, you have to bring all the various directors to the location to shoot their separate scenes. Directors aren't going to like that. For one thing, the first director may hog the company's time -- what does he care if the next director doesn't get the shots he wants?

Or, you have one director shoot all the scenes. But directors have different styles. The shots may stick out like a sore thumb in the episode.

You can solve this problem by hiring one director to shoot multiple episodes. I'm still not sure entirely why that doesn't happen. Part of it is you are often working with directors you're not entirely familiar with. You decide as you go along who's going to get more episodes to shoot, and whom you'll send on his merry way. (Directors are almost always men, though there are a few female tv directors.) If you block shoot, you could find yourself stuck with someone you don't like. No one wants to change horses in midstream.

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

TV DIRECTORS

As a story editor, you sometimes have to guard your scripts against directors. The problem is that directors are responsible for making their episodes cool. But they are not responsible for the overall season making sense. Sometimes the cool thing for the episode is not the cool thing for the season. For example, you may need to give a good scene to a weak actor because the weak actor is the character that makes sense. The director will want you to rewrite the scene for another character. Hopefully everyone listens to each other and the best idea wins. ("The best idea wins" is a culture the best showrunners instil in everyone. It's how this show works but it's not true when the culture becomes "cover your ass" or "pass the buck.")

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A GREAT QUOTE

"We always looked like a bunch of middle aged hookers, but now we really do."

-- Lead guitarist of Twisted Sister

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Monday, July 19, 2004

GOOD MEAN GIRLS

Lovely, lovely movie. Lindsay Lohan is convincing. The dialog and characterizations are snappy yet credible, and the movie winds up with a huge heart, without seeming oversentimental. Nice one, Tina Fey.

Meanwhile, Spiderman 2 was such a piece of junk I walked out. How many scenes do we need to see Peter Parker lose in before the filmmakers are sure we get that he's a loser? Too many. I never liked Spiderman the comic, because of all his worrying and whining. He's the superhero you'd never fantasize about being, because his life is such a realm of angst. At least Clark Kent could hold down a job. I was always more of a DC kid. I guess that's not gonna change.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

HEAD WRITER THOUGHTS

I've never been a head writer before. On my previous show, there were just two of us creating and writing the show equally. On Galidor, I was Executive Story Editor, but the other staff writers and story editors were in Los Angeles, and most of the show was written (first drafts anyway) by free lancers. This is the first time I've run a writing room. It's exciting. It's also exhausting.

Writers are not by nature friendly sociable people. Writers are by nature people who observe other people being friendly and sociable and then go home and make fun of them on paper. TV writers have to be much more friendly and sociable than novelists; TV writers have to have the most social skills of any writers alive, really, except for gossip columnists. But they are still artists, full of pride, a little touchy. And when writers are angry or upset, they generally can't concentrate on their work. In fact when TV writers are angry or upset, their being friendly and sociable means they vent like crazy for hours. Often hilariously. But no writing gets done. A graphic artist can do their thing angry, but when the writing staff gets in an interpersonal jam, no work gets done. As Head Writer, I'm responsible for nudging people back to a state where they want to get work done again.

We have pretty high morale in our writing room. I've made a point that we don't talk about what idea came from whom. In a previous situation I worked with someone who always made a point about which idea came from them, and it was a big fat waste of time. I don't believe that the person who first articulates an idea in a writing room has a right to claim it as their own. The conversation that lead up to the idea is just as important, as is the conversation that made the idea into someone worth putting on paper. It's rarely obvious exactly how the precursor conversation contributed to the articulation of the idea. But it's clear that few ideas pop up without some kind of conversation coming first.

What happens when you don't credit individual people with ideas, and don't tell people outside the writing room who wrote what (aside from the first and second drafts, which belong to the credited writers) means that everyone feels good about the successes, and everyone has responsibility for the failures. When someone lays into a script, no one person has to feel singled out for it, so they don't have to take it personally. When a script is praised, everyone can feel good about it. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only sane way to run a writing room.

In particular it is crucial for the Head Writer. As Head Writer you are the person ultimately responsible for what comes out of the writing room. You are entitled to the last rewrite. You should not need to lay claim to any of the good ideas personally because YOU GET CREDIT FOR THEM ANYWAY as the guy who ran the room that had the good ideas. Your name is in the main titles. How you manage to deliver those ideas -- because you thought of them or because gremlins put them in your shoe every morning or because (hopefully) you encouraged the writers to have them and helped select the best ones -- should be irrelevant. You shouldn't need to stroke your own ego.

And just as importantly, if you don't lay claim to the ideas, then you are slightly insulated from your failures, or what producers perceive to be the failures. Of course this is only slightly because ultimately any failure is your responsibility. You are the guy out in front. That's what they hired you to do. But it feels better saying "we failed" than "I failed."

As Head Writer, you can boss or lead. Bossing is no fun for anyone. Leading is much more fun for everyone. And if you're not having fun, what's the point?

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Monday, July 12, 2004

AN EXCELLENT SPEECH BY URSULA K. LEGUIN

Here is a terrific, brief speech about some assumptions that people make about fantasy novels: that the heroes are white; that it is set sort of in the Middle Ages; and that it is about a Battle Between Good and Evil. For more details, read it!

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