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



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Thursday, March 31, 2005

There were maybe seventy or eighty of us last night at Hurley's, drinking to the memory of Robin Spry. You have to have lived a really good life to have that many people care that you're gone. I can't tell you how many people told me he'd given them their first break -- directors, an editor, a producer. There were people from everywhere in the community, from the board of the CFPTA to aspiring screenwriters to set designers to the Elite casting ladies. Everyone missed him. But he was there in spirit -- the spirit of generosity and kindness he showed everybody who worked in the show business community.

Every year I watch the Oscars, I think that winning an Oscar is one thing, but the greatest tribute is the "In Memoriam" montage. If they still care about you when you're no longer famous, then you really touched people's lives.

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In Number 9, Benari Poulten remarks on how fast American Idol held a revote to correct irregularities, in contrast to, say, the uncorrected mess in Florida in 2000 and the uncorrected mess in Ohio in 2004.

I can't remember where it was, but there was an article a ways back on the rather stringent requirements for slot machines in Vegas -- the software has to be registered with the government, machines are tested at random regularly -- as opposed to voting machines, which are unchecked, with secret software, and quite a lot of glitches, all of which seem to help the Republicans. That is, when there are enough voting machines at all, which only happens in white, upper-class neighborhoods.

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An Op-ed piece in the Times suggests beginning Daylight Savings Time in March instead of, say, this Sunday -- even though, he says, this means darker mornings for farmers.

I've never understood why farmers should get special treatment -- has Congress ever tried to save the family hair salon? -- but the "dark mornings for farmers" thing has always struck me as particularly silly. Farmers work for themselves. They get up when the cows get up. If you change Daylight Savings Time, do the cows start mooing sooner?

Oy yoy yoy, people!

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Si vous lisez français, il y a un article sur Robin Spry dans Le Devoir. -- Merci, Martine.

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Some enterprising fellow has put his script for sale on eBay. All rights for the highest bid, starting at $5K.

Oddly, no bidders yet.

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It's frustrating to watch the Schiavo case unfold in the newspapers, because people seem to be drawing moral conclusions from a case that is really about what the facts are.

The facts in question are: did or did not Terry Schiavo want to be kept alive by artificial means if there was no hope of her recovery, and does she have a hope of recovery. Only her husband knows for sure if she did or did not tell him she didn't want to be kept alive by artificial means, and only doctors who have examined her can have a meaningful opinion about whether she has a hope of recovery.

I don't think anyone thinks she should be allowed to die if there were a hope of recovery. And I don't think more than a small minority think she should be kept alive without hope of recovery if she asked not to be.

For my part, I wonder why people who believe in Heaven are so anxious to keep Terry Schiavo from going there. And I wonder how people who object to stem cell research because it's messing with God's domain can insist on keeping someone alive whom God, in the absence of a feeding tube, would allow to die.

And I wonder how people who usually think the federal government should stay out of morality are now trying to get the federal government's mitts on a state case.

But the morality of the case is not really in question. We're just arguing about the facts, and none of us know them.

NOTE: Trev, always good for an intelligent rebuttal, points out in the comments that her parents might also have a good sense of what Terry Schiavo did or didn't want, and that her husband may have a conflict of interest. But still, it's a question of fact. She did or did not want to be kept alive by extraordinary means. Whether a husband or a mother is a better guardian is a matter of custom and law. None of these things really touch on a moral question. It seems to be in the gray area of how much you should err on the side of caution in case when law and court-adjudicated fact point in the direction of death. Arguing about stem cell research addresses a philosophical/spiritual/moral point -- when does life begin? When does human life begin? Is there a difference? It seems crazy that we're spending so much effort on a case which is about facts we can't really know.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Had a great lunch with one of Quebec's best directors, a friend of mine from Charlie Jade. He really likes Unseen. He'd like it to be more Lord of the Rings; it's too Harry Potter, he says.

Well, I only made it Harry Potter because I thought LOTR would be too overwhelming. People want to let me rip, I'm delighted. I can mythologize all day long. I just usually try to rein my tendencies back!

Lord of the Rings? I can get behind that!

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I've been talking with people about Robin Spry all day. There's practically no one in Montreal show business who didn't work with him. A huge number of people - directors, writers, producers, editors - got their start from him. He gave me my first break - and then some more breaks after that.

I'm glad I knew him.

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Robin Spry has a page-long obituary in the Montreal Gazette. You'll need to do the usual free registration thing.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Many of us who worked with Robin Spry will be gathering at Hurley's Irish Pub on Wednesday night, 7 pm on. We'll have our own room. For those of mourning and hurting, this will at least be a way to knit ourselves together.

The latest information I have is that the viewing will be at Alfred Dallaire funeral parlor, 4231 St. Laurent, (514) 277 7778. There will be a memorial service there Saturday from 2 to 4 pm; reception will follow.

UPDATE: This is now planned for 4 to 5 pm.

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I just heard that Robin Spry died last night.

Robin was a gentleman in show business, a rare thing. He had a long, productive career and suffered some awful blows. He built a major production company only to see it go bankrupt, and then had to suffer the government chasing after him personally for the consequences of bad paperwork. But he kept afloat because everyone respected and liked him. Last I spoke to him, about a week ago, he was awash in writing and producing projects.

Robin was incredibly good to me. He optioned Unseen when I was more or less just starting out in Canada, then proposed me for Galidor, which was my first staffing gig. Then he hired me to create a series for Cinegroupe, Robot City, then pulled me onto Charlie Jade. He was incredibly supportive of my writing at every possible point. I don't know where I'd be without his belief in me, my projects and my craft.

I always worried about him. He seemed a bit frail, a tall old man with frizzy mad scientist hair, hardly bursting with health, but then he was very English -- the word "boffin" came to mind -- and you had the hope he could go on being a bit frail for ever.

He died in a car accident last night at three or four in the morning. I don't know if it was another heart attack or exhaustion. I'm sad at the thought that he was driving at all at three in the morning. He should have been resting on his many laurels.

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It's the first rainy day since it's been warm enough to have a rainy day. The snow is melting away in its stealthy way: it doesn't look like anything's happening, but you look out the window a few hours later and there's less snow than there was before. It's not really a downpour, so you can't really watch it happening.

I'm about 25,000 words into the first draft of Crafty TV Writing. That's about a third of the way in by word count, though I have no idea where I am based on the outline. Some chapters may write out longer than others.

It's a different kind of tv writing book, the way Crafty Screenwriting was a different kind of feature writing book, because I'm trying to dig down into my own understanding of the craft and figure out how I do things.

I'm a little tired of writing prose, though, so I think I'm going to take a break for a few days and try to come up with a synopsis of something for Telefilm's Screenwriting Assistance Fund. They were kind enough to fund the feature version of Unseen, after all.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

  • Being captured by the Evil Overlord is one way to learn his secret plans, but are innumerable other ways that are better, and they will be tried first.
  • My weapon of choice will be the one that allows the greatest distance between me and my target.
  • When I am forced to decide which of two identical people is the Trusted Ally and which is the Evil Doppelganger, I will stun them both and sort things out in the brig.
John Van Sickle has thoughtfully provided some advice on what to do when you are the Hero (since you already know what to do when you are an Evil Overlord.

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Friday, March 25, 2005

My mom forwarded me this from a colleague:
"An old Arab living in Wisconsin emails his son, Ali, at college:

'Beloved son. I am trying to dig the garden to plant, but alas, I am old. Can you not come and help me? I know you are busy.'

His son emails back:

'Beloved father. Do not TOUCH the garden. That is where I have hidden the 'thing.' Allahu akhbar!'

The old Arab goes sadly to bed. He awakens at 5 in the morning to discover forty FBI agents surrounding the house. They have shovels, picks, axes. They turn the entire backyard upside down. And find nothing. Irritated, they go away.

Later that morning, the old Arab gets an email from his son:

'Sorry I couldn't be there to help you, father, but I did the best I could from here. I hope your planting goes well. I really am very busy. Love, Ali.'

Now here's the really chilling part... she then emailed me againto say
I mentioned to my colleague that I sent you his joke and said you often put such things on your blog. He came in to ask you to please strip out the header, as he might get in trouble!
What times we live in.

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Interesting article about The Flesch-Kincaid Readability scale. Basic idea is that bestselling writers are, intentionally or not, writing prose that's readable at a fourth grade reading level. Whereas the rest of us are, tragically, writing at an eight grade reading level. Which is, I suppose, why people are reading the bestsellers and not thou et moi.

I ran what I've got of the book so far through the checker, and the results are:

Characters per word: 4.4
Reading ease: 69.9
Grade level: 7.2

Somehow though I suspect that with an audience of writers, an eight grade level isn't stretching it too far...

On the other hand, my novel is a tad easier to read:

Reading ease: 86.9
Grade Level: 3.8 (!)

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There have been some changes to your citizenship agreement. You may want to read the fine print.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

A friend of mine asked me whether I'd consider a writer for a show who didn't have spec scripts.

Not really. Not if I can possibly avoid it.

If you don't have a couple of good specs, it suggests one of two things:

a. You are way too busy to write spec scripts. You've been writing features and tv nonstop for years. Okay, fine, show me some stuff from the shows you've been writing. Or...

b. It takes you too damn long to write an episode of a show. In which case it will probably take you too damn long to write an episode of my show, too.

If you don't have a spec, and only have original work, then all I can find out is that you can write original work. But being able to come up with good characters and a consistent world, while wonderful in its own right, doesn't tell me that you can write my characters and my world. Do you have an ear for reproducing the voices of a character? Do you have a sense for the template of a show, the tone, the what the show does and doesn't do? You might have started off your original script in one direction and wound up with it going in an entirely different direction. That's just dandy, unless you're writing a show that already exists, in which case your inability to hit the mark you're aiming at could be fatal.

Also, if you don't have a current spec, I have no way of knowing how long it took you to write your original work. Whereas if you send me a Malcolm in the Middle spec -- well, who's still speccing MITM? And if you send me an O.C. spec with Alex and Lindsay in it, I know you've written the script this year. So it can't have taken you that long to write it, 'cause it hasn't been that long.

If you want to get hired to write TV, ya gotta have those specs.

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The editorial from the April, 2005 issue of Scientific American is out, and since I can't find the link to it on the Scientific American website, here it is in all its glory...
Okay, We Give Up

There's no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don't mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense, and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there's no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.

In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.

Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that's a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That's what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn't get bogged down in details.

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scienfically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.

Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can't work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers' dollars and imperil national security, you won't hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration's antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that's not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either - so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools' Day.

- THE EDITORS editors@sciam.com

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Naked Josh has just sold to Spain. Since the article mentions 26 episodes, and only sixteen have been shot, that argues strongly for a third season, eh?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I'm starting to interview showrunners for my book. Let's see who will be kind enough to respond!

Who would you guys like to hear from about their techniques and tricks of the trade?

What questions about craft would people most like to know?

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A very cool teaser-trailer for Charlie Jade is now up on the Net courtesy Matt Williams. The show premieres April 16 on Space.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

A friend of mine has a very charming script. A producer wants to show it around town to try to get interest, and wants him to sign a letter saying that if they get it set up somewhere, they're attached, but he makes his own deal on the script.

At first glance this isn't a horrible idea, because at least someone's interested, and their interest separates his script from the slush pile.

But I recommended against it. Any producer who can't afford a couple thousand bucks to option your script, really option it, is living hand to mouth. That means they're not very substantial producers. If the script goes to Warner Bros with them attached, it may get rejected because of the producers. But you can never send it back to Warner without them. So your script is now exposed. Which means it's dead.

That said, I have in the past signed stuff like this, or just made oral agreements to the same purpose. If you can't get an agent to push your scripts around, at least you get some action this way.

But, none of the producers I've allowed to shop my scripts has ever done any with one. So I'm not sure I benefitted...

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I've been sick, so I've been catching up on all my recorded TV. I've been recording every episode of Desperate Housewives because it's the #1 show, so I feel I should watch it; but I don't actually like it, so the episodes build up on the hard disk. I've also been recording Lost, but they've been building up because Lisa hates the show for some reason, so we don't watch it in the evening during our television watching time.

Lost is an interesting show. I like the format, where the events on the island provoke flashbacks to the characters' prior lives; which naturally makes you wonder if the island is some sort of purgatory where the survivors -- if they really did survive the plane crash -- have to deal with their unfinished business. I hope the writers don't go overboard with the buried locked room and the stranded crazy French lady and the monster ... too much mystery and the audience stops trusting you. I hope it's not all mystery for mystery's sake and there is a reveal somewhere down the road that will make coherent sense of the story.

No spoilers, please!

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Just back from the post production party for Charlie Jade. I think this show is going to be something special. Now that all the post is done up through ep. 17, people have finally got to see what Bob's vision was all about. Some of us took it on faith, and some other people kinda fought it tooth and nail while we were down in Cape Town, but now I think everyone's getting it.

The show doesn't look like any other TV show you've seen. Who knows if we'll have a big audience or a small audience, but we're going to have a devoted audience, I think.

Dennis Venter, if you're reading this, Bob was over the moon about ep. 17...

Now all we need is another season...

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Friday, March 18, 2005

There's such a fine line between clever and ... stupid.
Nigel Tufnel in This is Spinal Tap

Okay, at this point, about the only good thing you can say about 24 is that they kill off likable cast members, and no one (except Jack Bauer of course) is safe.

This week's episode (7 pm to 8 pm) completely lost me. This show has gone from piling unlikelihood on top of unlikelihood to sheer preposterousness.

SPOILER CITY

Okay, so five minutes after the lights go out in central LA, they're rioting in the streets, there are fires in garbage cans and they've already tried to loot a gun shop.

Let's forget about "What gun shops in LA are still open at 7 pm?" and ask what idiot figured there'd be riots in less time than it takes a homie to drink a beer? It took hours for the LA riots to self-organize, and that was after an inflammatory jury verdict that everyone had been waiting for. On a day when there's already been a nuclear meltdown, do you really think anyone is going outside after a pulse bomb has blown out all the electronics? They'd be cowering in their basements, if houses in LA had basements.

And then, of course, the defense contractor happens to have not only security guards who are willing to torture a guy, but a 20-man SWAT team on standby in a helicopter which is kept ready to take off, of course, just outside the blast radius of the EMP device. And those SWAT guys are willing to kill someone they know is a counter-terrorism guy and a couple more civilians.

And once the CTU's SWAT guys kill the defense contractor SWAT guys, they leave the head bad guy on the ground next to his gun. Because naturally they wouldn't have checked to see if anyone was still alive so they could get'em to a hospital where they could interrogate them. And naturally they would have left the head bad guy's gun on the floor after he went down when they shot him, as opposed to kicking the gun away from him the way police everywhere are trained to do.

And now we're supposed to get worked up about the idea of a threat to the President -- which was the jeopardy in season one -- when the threat of millions of people dying of radiation poisoning has been averted.

Is it just me, or have all the good writers on that show killed themselves already?

UPDATE: Jeff points out that this is TV and we have to suspend our disbelief that riots could happen that fast.

Sure, Jeff. But the whole POINT of 24 is it takes place in real time. If they put a guy on a plane from LA to NY, he's on the plane for five episodes. Once they start breaking that deal with the audience, they've thrown their whole hook - and format -- out the window. Then they're just a silly action adventure show like any other.

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I just noticed this: EntertainmentCareers.Net is a job board for showbiz jobs. Yes, they're mostly assistant positions, but where did you expect to start? For example, the Gersh Agency was looking for a trainee in February. Gersh is one of the top ten agencies in town, a bit smaller than the majors (CAA, ICM, WMA) but classy; the late Phil Gersh was even remembered at the Oscars. So this site is legit.

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I've been working on my book. Here's a section on the attractive fantasy:

If a hook gets us watching, what keeps us watching?

We watch some shows because the characters are in a situation that we'd like to be in. In The OC the characters have personal problems we can all relate to (romance, family, money), but they're young and slim and beautiful, and live in spectacular houses. Most of us have the problems without the spectacular houses. We feel we could be them; and by watching the show, we get to enter into their lives. We're right there with them.

In E.R., the characters save lives; in Homicide, the characters catch killers. Like us, they worry about making the rent, and falling in love. But their jobs are immediately, viscerally important. We get to step out of our lives and into theirs.

On Sex and the City, four thirty-something women get to live in the most glamorous part of the most glamorous city in the world. They wear fabulous clothes and they have fabulous apartments. (Everyone in New York has a fabulous apartment, on TV, even if they work at a coffee shop.) They not only have time to go out and breakfast, dine and party with each other several times a week, they all like each other enough to do it. Does anyone over twenty really have friends like that? We wish ... and by watching, we step into their world, and they become our friends too.

That's the fantasy that attracts us to the show's world and keeps us coming back to spend more time there. That's why I call it the show’s "attractive fantasy."

A show can also have a "negative fantasy." The characters are dealing with problems like the ones we face but worse.

We watch The Sopranos because our family is just like that, but at least no one's getting whacked.

We watch Oz because at least we don't live in a maximum security ward, where we can be murdered at the first misstep. We can step outside any time we like.

We watch Lost because it's exciting to think about being stranded on a mysterious and dangerous desert island, so long as you know you can change the channel at any moment, and the beast is not actually going to chase you.

Comedy is often based on a negative fantasy. We watch Seinfeld because Jerry and his buddies are just like us, only even more shallow and selfish. On All in the Family, Archie Bunker was a worse redneck bigot than most people's parents, and Edith was much more of a ditz. If we can see the comedy in their lives, we can laugh at our own.

There are often elements of attractive and negative fantasy. In Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, the characters are usually in immediate mortal peril, but they also have skills and powers we don't have. The attractive fantasy is that Buffy gets to save the world; the negative fantasy is that she has to.

What both fantasies have in common, of course, is that everything on TV is exciting. TV is compressed time -- life without the dull bits. Trying to get a promotion in your own job may involve years of work and politicking, much of it irritating or boring. There's no scutwork on TV. On The Apprentice, within a dozen hours, someone is going to win the job and the rest are going to get fired. Immediate gratification or suffering.

You can't really choose whether to have an attractive fantasy or a negative one or not. It's inherent in the premise. But understanding what the attractive fantasy of a show is enables you to deliver the goods for that show. If you're writing an episode of The OC, remember that people are watching at least partly because it's set in one of the beach communities of Orange County. If you're not selling that fantasy at least a little, you're not delivering the goods...

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN' SHOW. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn."
--Joss Whedon, on some damn fanboy site or another


This, from a guy with two hit, long-running shows...

In the end, we all work for the audience.

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Interesting article here about what viewers would pay to watch an hour episode if they had to pay for it. You get the most money if you price it at $.99, just the price of a three minute song. (Damn musicians.)

If TiVo kills off commercials, this may be the direction we have to go with funding TV. Use encryption à la Adobe Reader, and everyone downloads his own copy of the latest episode of 24.

To make it even more interesting, viewers could bid on shows, and the producers could decide what price to sell the episode -- viewers who bid too little don't get to see it, ah well, but it was gettin' kinda lame anyway.

If people are willing to pay a buck an hour for great television -- and based on DVD sales and people signing up for HBO to watch just one show, they are -- then who needs advertisers?

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Jon Deer at Thinking Writer has a very helpful blog. Right now you can read a very interesting post on what kinds of specs you shouldn't write. I'm adding him to my blogroll.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Showed the first draft of Gone to Soldiers to Lisa today, and she got all weepy, which is an excellent sign! Having just read it myself, it has a good first act, I think a very effective third act, and it's got some second act murkiness -- some of the segues don't flow, and the scene order may not be right. This script is all about scene order since we're weaving five time lines.

Lisa will take the next pass, but she's going to get some work done on her book first. So what should I do now?

This is probably the best time for me to work on Crafty TV Writing because people in LA are waiting to see if their pilots are getting picked up. Probably the best time to talk to a showrunner for the next nine months or so.

In the mean time, other things are cooking. I have a terrific director interested in Unseen, I'm haggling with producers for Exposure, and there are rumors of a couple of other gigs in the air.

I'd hoped to get some of the book written before I did the interviews, so I knew what questions to ask. Also I'd been sort of thinking I would write the book on backburner. When I'm writing creatively, I like to have something analytical to write as a way of decompressing -- fruitful procrastination if you will. Stuff to work on when I'm not up to creativity.

But now is the time people are likely to be able to do the interviews, so I have to get into it now...

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Courtesy the ever clever Yankee Fog, here's George Bush singing "Imagine". Creepy, huh?

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Monday, March 14, 2005

Finished Gone to Soldiers today. Well, the first, rough draft. That's a relief. Now I gotta read it. But from now on it's not scary. Even the biggest rewrite is less scary than the first pass of turning steps into pages.

I think it's gonna be a pretty damn good screenplay!

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A young reader interested in TV [who, it later turns out, wrote the exact same letter to every other blogger in the biz] writes in to ask which screenwriting program is better, USC or NYU. He's on the East Coast but plans to move to the West Coast later.
And I tell myself that a solid spec and good people skills are what really matter. But then I read those oh-so-persuasive articles about the SoCal-educated Josh Schwartz wunderkinds of TV. The ones who sell scripts right out of college, and are helming their own shows before they can get rental cars. And it seems they always throw in a "thanks to those Trojans!" shout out.
Now, I don't know what a screenwriting program actually teaches you. Most of what I've learned about screenwriting has been from writing, and from reading screenplays, and from working for producers. What a screenwriting program does is give you time to learn something about screenwriting (people won't get on your case about not having a job if you're in a program) and introduce you to other wanna-be screenwriters who might be your friends later (unless they just become rivals whose every success is a knife twisted in your guts).

When you choose your film school, you're choosing which coast you want to work on, I think. If you make friends in school in New York, they won't be able to help you in LA, by and large, and vice versa. The longer you work in New York, the harder the move to LA will be when you make it, because you'll leave your contacts behind.

So if you plan to work in LA, and you're planning to go to film school, go to film school in LA.

The only reason not to start in LA is if you are in fact a New Yorker. In that case, while LA has most of the creative industry, New York has free meals at your parents' apartment and hugs from mum. I'm a New Yorker and I still went to LA, because I didn't know anyone in NY in showbiz.

More usefully, go to LA and get a job as an assistant for a literary agent, i.e. one who reps screenplays. If you can't, then get a job as an unpaid intern until you're worth paying money to. Do this at more than one agency.

Read all the scripts that come in -- most of them trash -- and read all the scripts that the agent is representing --most of them trash, too, but figure out what the difference is between represented trash and unrepresented trash. Grab all the hot scripts that are making the rounds in Hollywood that haven't got produced yet. I think you'll learn a good deal more about professional screenwriting at an agency than you will at film school. And it won't cost you a dime in tuition. And, you'll know a literary agent for when your scripts are good enough to represent.

You can also do this as an unpaid intern to a development exec, if you can't get a job at an agency, but really, the agency is better. Agents know more people. And if you get put on the phone, you'll wind up talking to thirty development people a week, if you're at an agency.

You will make far more useful contacts at an agency than in a film school. Most people who are going to film school won't stay in the biz. The ones that do are not necessarily going to help you. It's hard for a feature writer to help another screenwriter -- any job I give you is a job I don't get myself, so I'm only going to do it when I've got so many projects I can't take another one, or when it doesn't pay enough, or I don't trust the producer, or it's not Guild. In other words, it sucks. (In the world of TV it's different -- I can give you a free lance script on my show, when I have one, and vice versa.)

THE BEST WAY TO LEARN THE BIZ IS TO BE IN THE BIZ. I don't think my movie education really began until I started working. I learned a few things in film school, but I'm not sure they were worth the three and a half years that school kept me from having a full time job in the biz.

Oh, and all the Josh Schwarzes of the world -- they all have relatives in the biz. USC is where the showbiz kids go. So I guess getting to know them isn't a bad idea, because their parents can give you jobs. While you're in film school, you can become their friends, which you can't in the real world, because they won't talk to you in the real world. If you're willing to cleverly and evilly curry favor with the spawn of the rich and powerful, USC might be worth the tuition. But it's a long shot, because they already have friends. UCLA (where I went) and NYU, not so much.

Now: an important caveat. I have never taken a TV writing class. I have NO IDEA if you can learn TV writing in a class, or if you will make any useful contacts. Maybe you can. Certainly TV writers can help each other out in ways feature writers really can't. The real question is: have your professors staffed TV shows? If so, they probably know stuff. If not, then maybe not.

But I do know that what gets you on TV shows is kickass spec scripts, and a friendly agent. So that gets back to the idea of working for an agent, and reading all the spec scripts that come in the door.

The best time to go to film school is after you need to go to film school. If I had gone to film school after 5, 6 years in the biz, it would have done me a lot more good. I learned a lot about filmmaking from making my student film, but as a calling card, it was useless. Had I known about screenwriting what I knew after five or six years -- hell, if I'd known about screenwriting what I know now -- when I went to film school, I would have come out with a kick ass film, and got hired all over the place.

Don't waste your shot at film school going when all you need is a foot in the door. Save it for when you know some stuff, but nothing seems to be clicking, and you need to step away from the day-to-day of the biz to get a leg up. Then you'll really maximize what you learn there, and maximize the opportunity it provides you to work with people, get free equipment, and so on. Also, if you go in knowing something, your professors will concentrate on you and not the other people.

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Good article in the Times about how tv writers improvise the season endings.

The best generals have detailed plans -- and then improvise according to the opportunities that show up. So do the best writers. It's crazy to start writing the season without a plan. But the plan may turn out to feel forced, stilted, lame, contrived ... and then you have to improvise. Characters who might have got killed off live. Characters you planned to keep around get tiresome. Actors refuse to continue to play villains -- they want to play nice people. Etc.

One of the fun things about television is you can improvise. By the time you know what's wrong with your movie, you've shot it already. On tv, there are all the upcoming episodes.

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

dear sir and madam

i wish to register my disenchantment
in the strongest possible terms
at my current predicament.

you have placed me under arbitrary arrest
in a cell barely twice my height
with walls I cannot climb
they taunt me
you have left me thirsty and hungry all at once
and no one brings me a meal.

will you not take pity on me?
will no one listen to my cries
how can i make you
understand?

i am exhausted, and my
body is much too small
and i am not entirely sure
how it works.

will no one even bring me sleep?

i am

yours very truly

&c.

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God damn but it's slow. We watched the opening titles at 1.5 speed and they still seemed slower -- and longer -- than titles today. There are shots in the title sequence that don't even have titles over them!

I could cut 5 minutes out of an ep, easy. Maybe 10 minutes. All those establishing shots. All that wasted air time. Crockett and Tubbs are in a car, talking. Then a shot of the car driving. Then a shot inside of the car, talking again. These days you'd run the dialog over the shot of the car driving without even thinking about it.

And the dialog! On a slow dialog show today, the dialog is 50% faster. On an ordinary cop show it's twice as fast. And then there's Gilmore Girls with its 77 page scripts for its 40 minute shows. Yow.

TV these days is much more demanding. I don't know if viewers are watching any more carefully, but there's a lot more for them to watch. More in the frame. More plot. More dialog. It's just a much more dense medium.

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Watched the second ep of Miami Vice. In the pilot, Tubbs and Crockett don't get their man, one of Crockett's old partners turns out to be a traitor, and Crockett turns out to be a divorced guy with a drinking problem. In the second episode, they run into an FBI informant who may have gone over to the other side, and winds up murdering a suspect and then killing himself.

Whoa. The fuss was all about the linen jackets and the bright colors. Who knew that Miami Vice was the prototype for dark, messed-up cop shows about dark, messed-up cops?

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Saturday, March 12, 2005

The new issue of Canadian Screenwriter is out, and there's a fun article by Vern Smith on Canadian science fiction shows, in which yours truly has quite a few quotes. Okay, I'm allowed to rant. In brief.

I'm going to see if it can go up on the Net somewhere -- it's not on the WGC site.

I should state for the record, since the article doesn't make it clear, that I didn't originate Charlie Jade, it was Bob Wertheimer's vision. My story editors, Denis McGrath and Sean Carley, and I, did our best to put that vision on the screen.

It was sort of odd pontificating about Canadian screenwriting because I have mixed identities. I was born in New York, and I'm a US citizen. I'm also a Canadian immigrant and a devoted Montrealer. I consider myself, in no particular order, a Montrealer, a New Yorker, a Jew and an American. I don't consider myself a Quebecois, really; this city feels too different from the province, which is more insular and francophone. On the other hand if Quebec split (ayn kaynhoreh), I'd stay here.

I'm not sure I have a right to call myself a Canadian yet. But I think I have a right to call myself a Canadian screenwriter. I'm writing stories about Montrealers and Montreal for the Canadian audience. The Canadian government supports my work. I try to develop the Montreal creative community and I'm evangelical on the subject of promoting Montreal's culture -- I'm sort of plus Catholique que le pape about Canadian shows that try to copy American shows. I'm even a card-carrying member of the Liberal party. And I don't plan to move back. Oh, there's always the vague possibility that a show could take me to LA, but that's true for any Canadian screenwriter, and less so for me than for most -- I did my time there.

If I were a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong, I don't think anyone would begrudge me the right to consider myself Canadian and Chinese. I'll always be a New Yorker, even if I can't imagine making a home there. Our New York friend Michele was recently overjoyed because she was able to wangle an application to the right nursery school. Apparently the parents need to write an essay on why their child should be allowed to go. When borders are this fluid, identities are fluid, too. Yikes.

Anyway, it's a fun article. And it's always nice to be quoted.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

I just watched Hotel Rwanda and it is a powerful movie. As with all good movies about atrocities, it only shows you the barest sliver of what really happened, because any more and you couldn't sit through the movie. But that sliver is enough.

It is particularly compelling because you have no idea going in what happened to Paul Rusesabagina's family. You can guess that he might have survived because it is his story and because they didn't tell you up front that he died. But his wife? His children? His nieces? His cousins? You have no idea.

It is a compelling story of the power of good even in the face of great evil. And it is a compelling story of how society can utterly break down.

As it happened, I was watching Breaker Morant before I left, on DVD. I found it harder to watch, although the only atrocity is a miscarriage of justice, because from the beginning you know that it is a matter of grave importance to the British Empire that Morant and his mates be convicted. And therefore you know where this must go.

I know I'm criticizing an officially great movie, but I think it might have been an even better story if it only gradually became clear that Morant and his mates have no chance at all. If, at first, they think they only have to prove that they did everything under orders, and justice will prevail. And slowly, they, and we, see how the cards have been stacked. I don't think we should know until the third act that the Powers that Be have foreordained the outcome.

It's easy enough to do. The first prosecutor is ordinary; he's replaced with a super-prosecutor from London. The judge is at first fair, then begins overruling the defense's objections as it becomes clear that they might pull out a victory.

If nothing hangs in the balance then all you have is how the guys live through the mess. That's a story, too, but why not give them more to react to, give the movie more to work with, give us something to root for. Otherwise all we have to root for is that they die like men, and that is not much to root for.

The more hangs in the balance, the more dramatic the story.

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Not even the best impresario in the world can produce a rabbit out of a hat if there is not already a rabbit inside the hat.
Boris Lermontov in The Red Shoes

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Craig over at The Artful Writer asks if writers and other culture-makers are too quick to deny any responsibility for the effects on culture of the movies they make. He's talking about whether the FCC should be able to censor basic cable, which is a big issue these days because cable is not, technically, a public transmission (cable cables are private), but obviously an awful lotta the public have cable.

I think this raises an interesting question, but isn't quite the point. Yes, absolutely, culture-makers have a deep responsibility for the dreams we insinuate into culture. When we make smoking look cool, people start smoking. When we say the individual is always smarter or better than the establishment, we encourage people to be mavericks, but also encourage people to disregard the laws that make us safe.

But that doesn't mean government should get to censor us. Responsibility means we're supposed to behave, not that a schoolmarm in an office tells us how to behave. Where there's censorship, there is no responsibility -- writers and directors will just try to get anything they can past the censor, because it's not their responsibility any more.

If you want people to behave responsibly, you have to treat them as responsible adults.

I agree with the V-chip. Parents should have the ability to block their kids from seeing stuff they don't want their kids seeing, without being required to just turn the TV off. But there, the government isn't regulating the shows, it's just requiring a mechanism to allow parents to regulate the shows. If cable boxes need to be programmable so that you can't get Showcase or Fox without a special code, that would be fine, too.

But adults shouldn't be forced to watch stuff appropriate for kids just because there are some kids who could conceivably watch the channel, too.

Anyway, how can the government decide what's responsible programming and what's not? I think it's responsible to allow my 9-year-old to watch Saving Private Ryan. His mother and I have decided that he's capable of understanding that while it's appropriate to say bad words when people are shooting at you, it is not appropriate to say them in school or in front of adults. I don't let him watch the later Rambo movies, because I think they glorify violence and I don't think he'd be immune to that. Should someone in an office who doesn't know him be allowed to decide otherwise? Someone appointed by Jerry Falwell?

Suppose someone decides that teaching evolution is irresponsible?

I agree with Craig that too many filmmakers believe that, as artists, they have no responsibility but to, say, "the truth." But artists are exactly who create society by creating its defining myths. We have as much responsibility as anyone else, except that because we have more leverage, we ultimately can do more damage or more good.

But that's not the same thing as believing that government has the right or responsibility to rein us in. That's for repressive societies. In a free society, we have to rein ourselves in.

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This interview with Kevin Bacon about The Woodsman really gives you a sense of what a crafted, passionate actor he is. It wasn't a role he was looking for, he wasn't even reading the script looking for a part, and he fell in love with it. It's fascinating to hear what it's like for him to work with a character he doesn't like and wouldn't ever want to be.

Of course few actors are Kevin Bacon, but it's something to aspire to.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I'm watching pilots of various series on DVD to see how they work, and also to see what series I might like -- hard to judge a series on a loose episode.

I've also found that Zip.ca is the ideal way to rent things I've heard of that I may well not like. The faster you send something back, the more movies you get to rent for your $25 a month. (UPDATE: Though I can't recommend Zip any more!)

I've been sending a lot of stuff back really fast.

I rented Dark Shadows because I'd heard it had vampires. Little did I know that it takes 70 episodes to reveal that it has vampires. We only only watched about 6 minutes of it -- a silly argument between two people we didn't know, which took all the six minutes to reveal that one of them had been "snooping around," though we didn't know about what. That was enough of that. I was relieved to see from the site -- Dark Shadow.com, natch -- that contemporary reviews thought the show was boring too. Viewers who liked it apparently liked the archness and the lame production values. I suppose the same goes for Dr. Who.

Watched the Miami Vice pilot. That was more interesting. Cop shows are dark now, but then cops were heroes and they always got their man. (I think.) So it must have been exciting when in the pilot, Crockett and Tubbs don't get their man. It's Chinatown, Jake. It must have been interesting to have a divorced cop who drank too much, whose ex-wife accused him of being not much different than the guys he chased, "You're all players."

Some aspects of the pilot are weird. The show can't seem to decide whether it's goofy or dark. The story line is dark. There's a partner who gets blown up, another close friend who's crooked, etc ... but then there's Philip Michael Thomas playing a very annoying, weirdly goofy character with multiple accents and an overreaction to the alligator, yes, alligator that Crockett keeps in his boat.

My memory was Tubbs stopped being so goofy and annoying. They went for glamour and slickness and darkness, and stopped trying to be funny. That's the template I remember.

Funny how, in memory, the tone of Miami Vice seems so clear, but from the pilot, it looks like they were flailing.

Couldn't help a few story editing notes. Next time you're going to blow up someone's partner, don't have him tell the hero about his pregnant wife. It's a dead giveaway, like the guy in the hero's platoon who shows the hero a picture of his kid. Have them get in a fight. Then the hero can feel guilty that he got in a fight with his partner the day he was killed.

Also, it would have been far more interesting if we had not known that Tubbs was a legit cop from New York looking for revenge up front. It would have been far more in keeping with the show (i.e. the show that MV later became) if we hadn't been sure until after Crockett finds out he's not who he says he is.

But I guess the ship has sailed on that episode...

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Not the cheeriest movie I've ever seen, but all the Ginger Snaps movies are dark. The first one used an interesting metaphor -- Ginger is a late blossoming 15-year-old girl who doesn't understand the changes happening in her body -- the natural ones, like menstruation, and the unnatural ones, like developing rather nasty canines and hair in awkward places. The sequel starts with her sister, bitten by the wolf, cutting herself obsessively -- which adolescent girls do, but not usually because they're trying to see how far the supernatural infection has gone.

This one didn't have much of a metaphor. It's just a scary, sad story of a fur trapping post in the Canadian West in 1815 which is surrounded by werewolves -- and as it happens, riddled with them.

What I didn't like about this one was it felt like it was on train tracks. From the moment the historical Ginger's bitten, you know where this is going to go. There is no native shamanism that can stop the plague. No silver bullet, if you will. It's all heading towards the change.

It doesn't help, of course, that the werewolves are some of the least convincing monsters I've seen -- this is a Canadian budget after all -- but more than that I'm missing a point to it all. What is the movie really about? Where's the metaphor?

What's the point of making a supernatural movie if you're not really talking about something else -- something metaphysical? Oh sure, there's an annoying preacher who's ranting all the time. And the trading post is built on land the Indians have recommended against building on. But those felt like random story elements. I never really felt the movie added up.

Ah, well. Glad to see someone in Canada is able to make a sequel.

Are there any werewolf movies with happy endings?

I guess Wolf with Jack Nicholson is pretty happy. And fairly convincing, too. I particularly like how Michele Pfeiffer, hired to play The Girl, instead plays a very specific breed of smart but slightly spoiled rich girl who were common in my high school. There, going wild is a plus -- it makes more sense than living in the glass and steel cage of modern life. That's a metaphor I can get behind -- even if I prefer my water in a glass.

I prefer it when there are two ways to go -- a happy and a sad ending -- and the flaws of the protagonist and the efforts of the antagonist send it in the direction it goes. Inevitability, but only in retrospect.

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My extremely helpful assistant Caroline dug up the site that I had not been able to find. This site lists the most popular first names for each decade. It is particularly helpful when you want to give a feel for how old someone is. For example, Mildred really is a good name for someone born in 1900. Not so likely for someone born in 1960, who is extremely likely to be named Lisa. Mary and Linda might have been born in the 1950's. Ashley is the number 4 name for the 1980's, while it jumped to #1 in the '90s, Lord help us.

Of course the site is also useful to come up with obscure names. Just look at the bottom of the list...

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You're probably reading John August anyway, so I don't really need to post this. And he's actually just referring to Wordplayer, which you're probably also reading, though maybe not, because it's not conveniently arranged as a blog -- instead it's a mass of forums.

BUT.

Here is a fun little story about how the screenwriter strolled onto the set and saved everyone millions of dollars. 'Cause he knew the script and no one else was minding the store.

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Malcolm Gladwell's Blink talks about how we make snap decisions -- how often they're dead on, and the situations in which they're not. He moves gracefully from a psychologist who can tell in 15 minutes if a couple will stay married for the next 15 years to the Amadou Diallo shooting to the election of Warren Harding (who looked like a president even if he wasn't good at it) to the failure of New Coke. I have no idea if it will help you in your screenwriting or even in your life, but boy, what a fascinating book.

Erudition, yes, that's the word I was looking for!

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Lisa is currently rearranging the bookshelves. I know, it's midnight. But we just got home, and we had a room built for the baby, and now there are bookshelves without homes, and there are yards of books on the floor, and she loves to decorate. So I'm blogging.

No, she isn't manic-depressive. She's amazingly sane. She just likes to decorate, is all. And I made her promise that the bookshelves would find a home, since now that we have the room, we don't need the bookshelves to make a sort of alcove for Jesse Anne.

Anyway... I was thinking out loud about the effect the Internet, Netflix, Amazon, blogs, y'all, are gonna have on the Red States. I mean, how do you keep them down on the farm when they can rent Last Tango in Paris on DVD, just to check it out, and if they don't like what he does with the butter, they can pop the DVD back in the mail That Very Same Day and in a couple more days they can have Season One of The Patty Duke Show, complete? I mean, it's all very well and good to pass hysterical legislation against gay marriage now. But after a few more years of Will and Grace, isn't it going to seem just, well, hysterical?

And that, my dear, is why they are getting so panicked, says Lisa. Their world is coming to an end. They are feeling assaulted on all sides. So they're fighting a last ditch effort to slow down the pace of Blue. An a mighty last ditch effort it is, too, but it will all be in vain, because their leaders are interested only in abolishing the right to declare personal bankruptcy, and their kids will be all, like, whatever.

(And by the way, let's give a hand to the genius who painted the Republicans Red, the old inflammatory color for portraying communists, while the Democrats got the color of the sea and the sky. (Probably a Yale man. No one really likes crimson, anyway.))

So have faith, dear people. Just keep making the movies and the tv shows that casually accept all sorts of twisted weirdness: men who love men, and black people with corner offices, and women who fight back. Keep on doing it, and if we can't get them, we'll get their kids. After all, forty years ago, for a white man to kiss a black woman on television, they had to be inhabited by incorporeal aliens who controlled their brains. And now the President's doing it on C-SPAN.

PS: Interesting rebuttal to all this from Trev. See comments!

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I'm back from a long weekend in New York, and my PVR welcomes me home with a week of taped shows. Well, not entirely. I'm not sure how I managed to have Their Eyes Were Watching God taped twice. And The OC is a rerun -- even if it's the fabulous Hollywood episode from last year, "We've got the rights to do Golden Girls as a movie. Only we're going to make them young. And hot."

But there's 24.

Is it me or is 24 getting cheesier?

Of course the pulse bomb takes ten minutes to charge up.

Of course Jack can't disarm the bomb by simply shooting the crap out of it with his 9mm.

Of course there's another mole in CTU.

Of course the terrorists have yet another catastrophe planned for the same day!

Boy, some days it just doesn't pay to get up in the morning, does it, Jack?

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Here is a neat new website. Survey Monkey is the Evite of surveys. You do all the survey design at the site, your respondents click on the link, and Survey Monkey tallies the results.

It's got to be better than the Electoral College, anyway.

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I see that Laura Kosterski (my co-creator) and I are nominated for a Canadian Screenwriting Award for our "Naked Josh" pilot. These are the Writer's Guild of Canada's awards.

Well, shucks. That's nice!

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

I walk past cathedrals surprisingly often. There's one a block from our place in Montreal, and there's St. John the Divine just a few blocks from my parents' place on Riverside Drive in New York.

I keep thinking how all that stained glass sort of goes partly to waste, because you can only see it from the inside, and only by day. Imagine how beautiful it would be if cathedrals lit their stained glass from the inside. It wouldn't take more than one floodlight per window, and it would be a sort of beacon for people who generally stay out of cathedrals, to remind everyone that the cathedral is there, in case it has become part of the background.

Imagine Notre Dame at night, lit from within...

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Henry Holt, my publisher for Crafty Screenwriting, has just told my book agent that they want to publish Crafty TV Writing. Whoo hoo! It's particularly cheery because Holt was getting out of the business of publishing how-to books; though not a complete surprise, because the first book has done fairly well for them.

So that's a cheery bit of news!

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

A reader asks how I get past the page-40 sucky point.

Simple. I just keep writing. I tend to turn off most of my critical faculties when I'm writing a first draft. I don't turn off the part that tells me whether a scene is good or bad. But I rarely second guess my outline, which I've pummeled a great deal before starting to write pages. I just try to get the script done. Then I can go back and rip it apart again -- after I've seen what works and what doesn't.

I think the 40 page sucky point has more to do with the process of writing than a habitual flaw in my outlines. It's just the point where you've exhausted your initial blitzkrieg, and now you're in the slog of winter war. Once you get past the halfway mark you can start to feel you're on the home stretch. But around page 40, all you can see is miles of second act steppe, with nowhere to get a warm bowl of soup.

It's important to be willing to rip things up if they don't work. But it's much more important to finish things. If you don't finish things, you don't really know if they work or not, or what kind of fixing they need. So I just keep writing until I've written FADE OUT THE END. I make a point of not reading the script before then. Oh, sure, if I realize as I'm writing a scene that I need to set something up earlier, I'll put the setup in. But that's surgical. I won't read the first 40 pages as I'm struggling with page 41. That way lies madness.

Then there's about a week where I'm afraid to read it. Then i read it, and start the long, long process of tinkering and rewriting and tinkering and rewriting. But there, at least, I have a completed screenplay, and I know I'm going to keep making it better, so emotionally it's much easier.

That's me, anyway. The key for me is having a detailed outline you feel confident in when you start -- even if you no longer feel confident in it once you're into the second act -- and just proceeding on faith until you've got a draft.

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My initial impression was that you can't get a network to look at your series pitch unless you're an Exec Story Editor at a minimum. But Joanie at Why Television Sucks is writing about getting hired by the network to turn inexperienced writers' stuff into good TV. Which suggests that, even if they won't let you showrun your series idea, they may buy it from you and hand it off to someone with more experience. More info if and when I'm able to scare up some answers on this intriguing question...

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Friday, March 04, 2005

I hear rumors from two reliable sources (DMc and Lisa) that West Wing has recovered. It's writing to its template again -- stories that could only happen on West Wing, as opposed to stories that could and have happened on every John Wells-helmed show ever written.

Well I guess I'll have to start watching again.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Some screenwriting books are full of Turning Points and Flex Points. Someone ought to mention the Sucky Point.

I find that around page 40, a rough draft screenplay always sucks. I'm bogged down in second-act-iness, the plot hits snags, everything slows down, the premise begins to feel preposterous -- no matter what it is -- and voilà. Suckage.

I'm a big believer in finishing what I start, so this has never stopped me from getting through a screenplay, and many of them have turned out fine. But around page 40, they always suck.

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A guy I did a screenplay evaluation for is now working with a producer on his utterly charming dog movie. Good on ya, Adrian.

Where I think a lot of animal movies fail is in not making the animal characters distinctive enough. It's not enough to make your dog character doggish. He has to be a very specific dog. Just because you're writing a dog doesn't let you off the hook for creating a distinct character. Is he an excitable dog? A stupid dog? A lazy dog? Does he like other dogs or is he wary of them?

What you do next depends on whether you're voicing the animals or not. If you're not, just be careful to make the animal convincing as an animal. Stanley Ipkiss's Jack Russell terrier, Max, in The Mask, is a very believable Jack Russell. They do jump and bounce around. They are fiercely loyal, and utterly brave.

If you're voicing the animals, then they should be real characters. They should have real personalities. When you read their dialog, it should sound like dialog from a specific person. If you read Winnie-the-Pooh, you'll notice that Eeyore isn't just a mope -- he's a mope with a very specific voice. You can't help feeling that A. A. Milne had a mopey friend of his in mind whenever he wrote Eeyore.

If you're going to treat the animals as people, then you have to write them as specifically as you write people.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Apparently, according to this CBS news story, Oscar winning actors live 3.9 years longer than non-Oscar-winning actors...

...while Oscar-winning scribes die 4 years sooner...

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As you know, I think you should query first, and only write the screenplay if you've had good luck with the queries.

A reader writes in: "How do I introduce my screenplay if I haven't written it yet? Your example in the book -- "I have just finished polishing blah blah blah..." -- isn't so. Do I lie, and pray they don't notice the two-month lag before I send it? (Lying is not my preference.)"

Well, that is true. Not that lying, in Hollywood, is a big mark against you, so long as you do it charmingly. But you don't have to say either way...

Dear Ms. Wise:

In my comedy, End of the World, a bicycle messenger and a pizza delivery girl find themselves in a conflict that may mean the end of civilization as we know it. May I send it to you? I'm looking for representation.


...or some variation thereof.

I suppose you could come clean and just say, here's my hook, would you like to read the screenplay. I have no idea how people would react to that. It might very well work.

On the question of email vs. paper querying: you can probably use email, provided you make very clear your email is a query, and not spam. I'd make sure the subject line is something like Query -- . If your victim, er, target, er, intended recipient is open to queries, he'll read it, and if not, no loss. If you aren't clear that the email is a query, you'll just irritate.

The drawback to email is that it is a matter of a few keystrokes to delete an email unread. Paper mail will almost certainly get opened and at least glanced at by someone.

If you can find the eddress of the hungriest young lit agent, by all means use their eddress, rather than the overall agency email.

If you're basing your screenplay on other work by yourself, it's not really worth mentioning, unless you can say it's based on your "bestselling" novel or your "hit off-Broadway play". If your book, for example, is unpublished, then you're just telling the potential reader that other people have already rejected the idea.

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Again, I think you can get away with not having the characters call for backup if you address the plothole. You don't need an ironclad fix; you just need to signal the audience that you're aware of the plothole and you've done something to address it. After all, no story is completely ironclad, and people do stupid things in real life all the time.

For example, as one reader writes, have the radio be on the fritz earlier in the show. Or the good guys know that the building is being monitored for radio signals; they don't dare draw attention to themselves. Or they have to be very, very quiet, because they are hunting rabbits. So long as you've addressed it, the audience won't feel you're being lazy.

Of course, the audience will tolerate plotholes if you come up with something really entertaining and clever that depends on the plothole. In the cast of this week's 24 though, it was the usual running around with guns and knocking people on the head with them.

I wonder if, as the another reader points out, part of the enjoyment of the show is being one step ahead of the hero. Do we really enjoy the suspense that comes from observing the clues the writers have intentionally or inadvertently left for us. Certainly the "victim-cam" shot that tells us our hero is being stalked creates suspense. Do we really want David E. Kelley television, where you never know what's going to happen? Or do we want to, say, see it coming several acts away that Luke and Lorelai are going to wind up at a school performance of "Fiddler on the Roof" listening to some romantic song and feeling romantic about each other?

Suspense or surprise?

Personally I think I enjoy surprise; suspense makes me squirm. But I prefer to write suspense, and I think it hits the audience harder than surprise.

The best is when you develop suspense, but then surprise the audience with how it turns out. The O.C. does that, but only for the minor stories. The big stories are often silly and soapy and ham-handed. The little stories, like Marissa and Alex's lesbian romance, are often nicely turned and surprising. Just when you think Marissa's not going to be able to tell Summer, she does. And that's neat. Maybe that's what I keep watching that show for.

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