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



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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Craig Mazin has a gritty post about screenwriting books and the non-screenwriters that write them. I agree with the sentiment. One reason I wrote Crafty Screenwriting was that most screenwriting books seem to have been written in a neverland where the goal is a well-written script. Or something. Having worked for 10 years as a development executive, I noticed they missed important things like the need to have a hook. While anything that gets your juices flowing is worth something, I don't know why people are reading books by people who've never made a living from scripts. I would happily read a book about screenwriting from a producer, another development exec, an agent, an actor or a director, if there were one, before I'd read one by a professional screenwriting teacher. And I've heard the same horror stories about certain screenwriting book writers and the scripts they've perpetrated.

I also agree with Craig's sentiment that you should read and write many screenplays, too, rather than just reading many screenwriting books. The only screenwriting book I think I ever got much out of was my own, by the process of writing it, and crystallizing what I thought I knew.

But then, I'd already read a thousand scripts and had spent years trying to set movie projects up, while writing on the side, professionally. When you're already in the door, it's hard to remember how difficult it can be to find where the door is.

The right kind of screenwriting books are useful. (Craig wasn't saying they aren't, but I feel inclined to assert it, since I've perpetrated my own screenwriting book!) People don't always know where to start. A good screenwriting book can walk people through the process. A good screenwriting book talks about what a good screenplay is, and about writing groups, and where to find scripts to read. In my upcoming book, Crafty TV Writing, I'll talk about how to watch TV analytically, and how to get feedback on your specs, and what the writer's room is like, and who do you send your specs to, and how is TV writing different from movie writing. I tried to write Crafty Screenwriting to be the book I wish I'd read when I started writing screenplays lo these many years ago, and ditto Crafty TV Writing.

Anyway, if I didn't think there was a point to it, why would I have a blog about screenwriting?

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JDC asked me to comment on this. There's some kind of brouhaha over at Zoetrope about using "ing" verbs.

I'm in favor of all parts of speech. "Ing" verbs denote continuous action. Useful when you come into the scene on something that's already started.

Kay comes into the kitchen, where Jay is cleaning the oven.

(Or, as I'd really write it:

Kay comes into the kitchen, where Jay has his head in the oven. Is he cleaning it? A grubby arm comes out, grabs a scrubby, and goes back in again. Yep.)

Without "ing" verbs it's hard to give the right mental picture:

Kay comes into the kitchen. Jay cleans the oven.

On the other hand beginning writers do sometimes seem too enamored of the present participle:

Kay is coming into the kitchen, which Jay is cleaning.

English is an extremely powerful tool, developed and refined over millenia. I wouldn't willingly part with a scrap of it. Or as the bumper sticker says, "Sorry, but my karma just ran over your dogma."

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Wired writes about the underground spread of the Global Frequency pilot....

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CHARLIE JADE SPECIAL EPISODE OPENS A CAN OF WORMS
SPACE Premiere - Thursday, July 28 @ 9pm ET
Repeats Saturday, July 30 @ 7pm ET

(Toronto - June 29, 2005) SPACE presents a special recap episode of the critically-acclaimed Canadian speculative fiction series, Charlie Jade. Airing Thursday, July 28 at 9pm ET, the episode titled "Can of Worms," encapsulates what has happened in the series so far from the point of view of investigative journalist Karl Lubinsky as he recounts how his life, and the world, has changed since he met Charlie Jade. In addition, Karl's musings reveal a startling new twist in the show.

"In response to strong viewer demand, SPACE and CHUM have recognized the pent up interest in Charlie Jade," says Diane Boehme, Executive in Charge of Production and Senior Director, Independent Production. "For those who are intrigued and missed our first broadcasts and want to catch up, this episode will reveal many of the mysteries at the heart of this great new series."
Yes, it's the Charlie Jade recap show. Liked the look of the show? Cool concept? Don't know what the hell is going on? Watch the recap. Inspired by the Lost and Desperate Housewives recaps, but, of course, much more twisted.

Good idea, Denis!

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By the way, I've banned anonymous comments. You have to be registered. However, you can register at Blogger for free. Just go to the comments page and click on the link. You don't have to have your own blog or enter your address or fill out the profile, though it's nice if you do. This is just so I can tell which comments are coming from the same person, and which are coming from different people.

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I'm editing the last chapter of Crafty TV Writing today. I'm wondering how far to go. The previous chapters take you from how to watch TV (yep!) through how to manage a writing room. The last chapter is about creating your own show.

Now that's a bit arrogant, since I've only co-created one show on the air, though I have been commissioned to write sundry bibles and such, and I've optioned some pitches and spec pilots. But someone has to go there. And David E. Kelley wasn't available for an interview.

I'm debating how far to go, though. Just cover the "spec pilot" that you write as a sample, with the off chance it'll actually get bought? Cover actually doing a bible, not that everyone does a bible? (In Canada we do bibles, you might say, religiously.) How much depth? How helpful is it to the beginning or intermediate TV writer to know what's going through someone's head as they're trying to create a show?

You guys are my readership, so you tell me.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ray Kurzweil writes about the tech Singularity. Everything is speeding up, he says, taking after Vernor Vinge, and within our lifetimes our technology will be unrecognizably smart and fast. Beyond that point it is as impossible to see as it is to see beyond the event horizon of a singularity...

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Nicholas Kristof came up with an interesting phrase I think we should all promote: the "birth tax."

Every American born owes $150,000, mostly to China, courtesy of the huge US deficit.

Whatever happened to the Republicans being the party of fiscal restraint?

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Rove is, I think, accusing liberals of treason to hide the real betrayal. Bush has abandoned pretty much everything he ran on. Gay marriage amendment? Gone. Greater security against terrorists? Not interested. Social security? Oh, wait, did he run even one ad about how the solution to social security was private accounts? Nope.

Oh, and there's that little war that Rumsfeld "couldn't imagine" would take more than 5 months, the one with the "Mission Accomplished" photo op a few years back.

So evangelicals have got to be feeling a tad betrayed right now. That's what the Bushies are trying to take everyone's eyes off.

I think the next Democratic candidate has to take the bull by the horns and address the evangelicals: "Look, we're not going to ban gay sex. We're not. We're not going to ban abortion. But neither are the guys you're supporting. They don't give a rip about you. They just use you every election and then toss you away once they're in power. You may not like our values, you may think we're too tolerant. But at least we're going to help you get health care. We're going to protect you from rapacious corporations and corporate fraudsters. We've done it before. At least you'll get that."

It may not get the evangelicals out to vote for Democrats. But maybe they'll stay home rather than vote for big business Republicans who are shamelessly using them and then betraying them.

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The combination of the cable modem being twenty yards away to the studio out back, and only slightly milder back pain than yesterday, means I have had a day mostly without internet. The good side of that is not frittering away my work time, though the treeware edition of The New York Times is almost as good for frittering. The bad are all the tedious little issues that I must either defer or ignore: can't download the right printer driver for the Photosmart 7350, can't look up when you should worry about a tetanus shot, can't use Screenwriter's online reference, what is Atasol and will it make me drowsy, and what exactly is the difference between a mangonel and an onager?

I finished the step outline for Medieval though. 40 scenes, more or less, which is probably about right. I would have preferred fewer but it doesn't feel like too much story; and it's the sort of slowly building thriller piece you can easily drop scenes out of.

I think this will be fun to write.

I'm slowly learning Screenwriter. I want to like it. But it is programmed differently -- for example the locations list is generated on the fly, so you can only eliminate a location from the popup list by removing it throughout the script. Pagination and scene numbering are likewise generated on the fly. The result is a program that takes a little getting used to. Final Draft feels more intuitive. On the other hand, Final Draft is full of annoying glitches. We'll see which I come out using once I've actually written a full script.

Which, if my better half really likes the outline, may be sooner rather than later.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

One of the early problems I had with the Charlie Jade template was the big question: what does he do every week. Now I'm struggling with a similar problem with a series whose template I'm trying to crack. The character is fresh, unique, with a compelling problem. But what does she do every week.

My problem is in this case her journey seems to be inward. The questions she's bound to ask herself are familiar ones: why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? But asking inward questions doesn't seem to suit a series. The SF shows I know are all outwardly directed. Every week, the Battlestar Galactica and its crew fight Cylons and try to get to safety. Every week, Buffy fights vampires and other supernatural evil. Every week, the people on the Lost island try to figure out the secrets of the island.

So, it seems, I need to manufacture an ongoing external issue for my heroine to deal with... or decide that the series idea isn't really right for TV after all.

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DMc's musicals is playing in Toronto. If you're in Toronto, please help Denis support his, well, his next beer or two, and go to his very funny play.
Salivating Dog Productions
Toronto, ON
presents

Pavlov's Brother

by Mark Ellis and Denis McGrath
Based on a Story By Andy Borowitz

directed by Liza Balkan, Stage Managed by Helen Musgrave

Before Pavlov went to the dogs, there was another: his brother. Pavlov
has theories. But Nikolai's the one with the saliva. Experiments
ensue. This hilarious, true(ish) story plumbs one of the 20th
century's greatest scientific triumphs; the experiments that launched
a thousand psych textbooks. 'Pavlov's Brother' is a black comedy about
bolshevism, anti-vivisectionists and gastric juices. From the Nobel
Prize to the Russian Revolution, this is one story of sibling rivalry
and obsession that will condition you to laugh on cue, and leave you
drooling for more.

Based on a story in the New Yorker, from one of the writers of 'Top
Gun! The Musical', Writer/Actor Mark Ellis, and Director Liza Balkan.

Cast: Mark Ellis and Paul Fauteux

General Audience

Venue #4 - Factory Theatre Mainspace / 125 Bathurst Street (at Adelaide)

Thu, July 7 7:00 PM 404
Sat, July 9 11:00 PM 419
Sun, July 10 1:45 PM 421
Mon, July 11 3:30 PM 428
Wed, July 13 7:30 PM 443
Fri, July 15 9:15 PM 458
Sat, July 16 12:30 PM 460

60 Min.

Tickets: $10 "at the door" / $10 in advance / Passes: $6.50 - $7.50

Online ticket sales

Other Ticket Options

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We made the 8 1/2 trek out to East Hampton by way of New York City, and now I'm in my Mom's lovely studio in the woods, struggling with Windows, a cable connection, and a thrown out back. The back is real trouble -- can't straighten up and I have to walk bent-over like an old man. What I learned from my shoulder when I tore my rotator cuff is that pain is not edifying. You learn nothing from pain except that it hurts. Well, this hurts.

Um, what's the technical term for a thrown out back? Google is suprisingly mute. Do situps, or don't do situps? Drink heavily, or not?

Now I'm trying to hook up my own computer to the cable connection, and naturally, rather than providing a page with the necessary information, they have provided a program that does it all for you... except, that it does not do it properly, and being opaque, cannot be fixed. Ah, well.

Jesse, though, is having a blast with all the people to pick her up, and the Bouzou Dog is in the country -- what could be better for a dog?

Now for some codeine, perhaps a swim, and eventually another bash at Internet...

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Why didn't anyone tell me they did sneak previews of Serenity across the US??? Yuh, and cute website, too, with no mention of the movie title.

In other viral marketing news, there are still 80 seeders on TorrentSpy. Seems like a slow way to market a TV show, though. Maybe they should actually air it...

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Going to New York tomorrow, and East Hampton Sunday. Out of town for a week or so. Might be blogging a bit less. Might not. Ya never know.

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Went to the Summer Solstice Camping Event of the Barony of the Dragon Dormant. Alas, we had to leave as the sun was getting low and the lutes were coming out. I have a feeling the bonfire will be superb.

Especially since they brought along a few heretics to burn. For realism.

Actually, while we were there, a few people were wearing garb, but acting forsoothly? Not so much. And this is the second or third time I've been to a Society for Creative Anachronism event where people were basically hanging out in medievalish clothes they made themselves, talking about whatever.

Theoretically, the idea is that every one in the SCA has a persona, and dresses accordingly, and role plays that persona while in garb at an SCA event. Which ought to be fun, since some of them are 15th Century corsairs and a few are Roman Centurions. I have no idea how this works, because I've never seen it happen.

I've been told the Berkeley SCA guys are The Real Thing, and speak forsoothly to each other, and magic happens. But then, people tell tales about Berkeley as if it is the real Magic Kingdom.

Possibly the SCA is just where stick jocks get to pound on each other in home made armor.

But just as in high school, I always felt that the magic was happening Just Around the Corner, I have this persistent feeling that somewhere there is an SCA event where Magic Is Afoot.

I've been at Wiccan events where magic happened. I've been in a couple of live role playing games where I could suspend my disbelief, notably Scott Martin's Imperial Rome game, where we were all in the court of Octavian, jockeying for power, and because no one was allowed to kill anyone, the game was all talk and no rules, and therefore, as much like an evening in the Roman Imperial Court as one could summon up in an evening.

Ah well. One of these days, perhaps, I'll get to go to the Current Middle Ages...

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Off to the Summer Solstice Games of the Barony of the Dragon Dormant.

It's research. Really.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Congress restored $100 million in PBS funding, thanks to all your cards, letters and emails.

We're still spending less on non-commercial TV programming than we do on military marching bands. Promoting culture gets you good value for money, I think. Since we're currently in a cultural war with militant Islam, a little more Sesame Street is not a bad way to spend some of our money.

In other news, the Supreme Court decided that corporations can destroy your house if they can convince a town council that their mall will pay more taxes than you do. Actually, they don't need a reason.

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The truth is out. Here are the original, untouched frames of Tom Cruise using Force Lightning on Oprah Winfrey.

I really must get back to work.

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Had a chat with a producer today. He'd really rather our pitch for our single-camera comedy The alternative were set in some American city rather than Montreal. It's hard to sell a Canadian show outside of Canada.

My response was an impassioned defense of Montreal in particular ("the undiscovered secret of North America) and shows set in the places they are shot in general. If you shoot Montreal for New York, you can't shoot any of the really neat locations Montreal has (Place d'Armes, the waterfront, Silo #5 at night, Beaver Pond on the Mountain). Nor can you shoot any of the really neat locations New York has, obviously, because you're not there. Wouldn't viewers rather see real Montreal than fake New York?

On Naked Josh we fudged it. The US network clearly didn't want us to say the word "Montreal," but some characters had French accents, Eric lived upstairs from Ciné L'Amour, and we shot on the McGill campus. Cars had Quebec plates. Signage was bilingual. Etc.

I wonder if the audience really doesn't want to see a show set in a non-US city (assuming they can correctly identify Montreal as a non-US city), or if this is exclusively an issue for broadcasters and advertisers. Not that it would help if it were.

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I'm seriously out of reading material. I've been poring over the Hammond Historical Atlas for fun. What non-fiction thinky books are people liking? Stuff like Collapse, Blink, The Wisdom of Crowds, that kind of thing. What are you guys reading?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Here is an open letter to the Kansas School Board arguing that they should also teach the Intelligent Design theory that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world. He proposes a fair division of teaching time:
One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
Seems reasonable to me. (Via BoingBoing of course.)

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Alack, the mats were too thick. The Bouzou Dog has been clipped. Except his head. So now, he looks like a mournful goat. Poor thing.




Sketched out the first act of Medieval today. That's the act where I figure out what the story would be if the movie didn't happen. All that damn character stuff. The rest went smoothly. Now I've got about 5 pages of story. More or less the whole thing. I'll put sluglines on it tomorrow in Screenwriter and see how many scenes I've actually got.

But it won't help the dog's dignity...

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Why Television Sucks is back. And she's got a job. And she's reposting stuff. Yay!

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I had a fascinating breakfast with a smart woman who is pursuing an alternate financing model for a certain science fiction show. No, not GF. But she is a player in a position to really truly include video-on-demand as part of a serious financing package.

I think this is the direction TV may well go. No one can make me watch commercials now that I've got my DVR. (There have been rumors about disabling fast-forward on certain shows; but as we say in New York, that dog won't hunt.) On the other hand if Joss asked me for $40 in advance for Season Two of Firefly, I'd fork it over. No one can pirate a show that hasn't been shot yet, so the subscription model for TV, elitist though it would be, is at least piracy-proof. Pre-sell the show to the audience, shoot and release the show, release the DVD at a slightly higher price a little bit later, and there you are.

And low-budget semi-scripted TV for the broadcast audience, I guess.

This meme may be too bleeding edge just yet. I don't want to watch TV on my computer as a two-day Bittorrent download in a four-inch box, I want to watch it on my TV, in my bedroom. The delivery mechanism, both hardware and pipelines, isn't there yet.

But it will get there, I think.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

According to the New York Times, the WGA is pushing to organize reality show writers...

And the following from other coast:
The guild representing Hollywood writers disclosed Monday that more than 75% of the scribes on TV reality shows have signed cards asking to be represented by the union. ... The Writers Guild of America, West, said about 1,000 reality TV writers, producers and editors out of an estimated 1,300 have requested since May 7 to join the union. Guild officials said they had sent letters to all the major production companies asking to negotiate, but none responded.
The LA Times
I'm sure it seemed back in the day that organizing writers would be like herding cats, but we've got a union now. So Lord willing, this will work too.

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Someone on another site was asking how seriously to take reader criticism in a coverage.

My answer: as seriously as you take any other 22-year-old newbie's criticism. 'Cause that's who readers are. "Reader" is an entry level job. My first job in showbiz was as a reader.

A reader may nail a script's problems or he may not. I would spend about 2 1/2 hours per script reading, synopsizing and delivering my august opinion. I doubt other readers spent more. You're not getting paid much, and you're getting paid by the piece. Agency readers are often not getting paid anything at all to take scripts home and cover them.

About 15 years ago, the company I was with submitted a script to CAA. The CAA reader destroyed it. Just hated it. And said so.

Fortunately, we had a relationship with the agent, Marty Baum, where we could say, "Hey, Marty, do us a favor, just read the thing, wilya?"

He did. And loved it. And sent it to Richard Attenborough, who signed on to develop the project with us.

So... whose opinion would you trust? The 22-year-old CAA reader, or the Oscar-nominated director of Gandhi?

So if you get lousy coverage, take it seriously, as you take all criticism. Obviously the reader didn't love it, and that's not good. Figure out what went wrong in the read. But don't take it too hard. You can't expect a recent college graduate to have a subtle opinion. There's no "Hollywood," there are just people in the industry, most of whom want to be somewhere other than where they are.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

FYI, according to TorrentSpy, there are currently 44 seeders and 50 downloaders for the Global Frequency pilot. That means you can download it pretty fast. If you do download it, courtesy suggests you should then upload ("seed") it, keeping the torrent going. Bittorrent will do this automatically if you leave it running.

The network would probably consider file-sharing their unaired pilot to be a copyright violation, but from a moral point of view it's something they tossed in the trash. I don't see how they could argue they've been "damaged" in any way, except that whoever chose not to air it is probably feeling kinda lame right now.

UPDATE: Now there are 80 seeders and 140 downloaders...

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Radar Online hints that Tom Cruise interviewed several starlets for the position of girlfriend before settling on Katie Holmes.

It did seem to make way too much professional sense for the aging Cruise to hook up with a starlet who has not yet broken into the big times. Though someone told me that one reason his posse haven't handled the backlash well is he fired his publicist, the veteran Pat Kingsley, last year, and now his sister handles his p.r....

You can help; buy your Free Katie! t-shirt now.

Happy Father's Day! We had a good one.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

My helpful assistant Caroline has dug up the following contests and fellowships associated with legit organizations. There is also a helpful list at Screenwriter Magazine.

American Zoetrope (Francis Coppola)

Warner Bros. Drama Writers Workshop
Warner Bros. Comedy Writers Workshop

4000 Warner Boulevard
Bldg. 136, Suite 236
Burbank CA 91522
(818) 954-7906

Project Greenlight. And your script gets produced on TV, too.

Slamdance, the "anti-Sundance" festival.

Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences: The Nicholl Fellowships
Academy Foundation
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting
1313 N. Vine Street
Hollywood, CA 90028-8107

The Chesterfield Film Company
Writer's Film Project
1158 26th Street, PMB 544
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(213) 683-3977

Sundance Institute
225 Santa Monica Blvd., 8th Floor
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 394-4662

Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlab Submissions
Attn: Susan O' Leary
10201 W. Pico Blvd.
Building 667, Ste. #5
Los Angeles, CA 90035
310-369-5423

Sundance Institute
Feature Film Program/Sloan Fellowship
8857 W. Olympic Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

IFP/LA Writing Fellowships

ABC / Disney New Talent Writing Fellowship. On the lookout for minorities and women. Likewise, NBC's Diversity Initiative for Writers. And the WGA Writer's Training Program. You have to be a minority, gay, or over 40 to qualify. Some may question just how oppressed gay writers are in Hollywood, but your mileage may vary.

UPDATE: Here's another:

Nickelodeon Fellowship Program (212) 258-7532.

I'm less sure about these:

The Hollywood Film Festival Awards
Not a big film festival, really, but at least it's in town.

Scr(i)pt Magazine’s open door contest, sponsored by Miramax
5638 Sweet Air Road
Baldwin, MD 21013
410-592-3466

Final Draft's Big Break
FINAL DRAFT, INC.
16000 Venture Blvd., Suite 800
Encino, CA 91436
818-995-8995

If anyone's had good experiences with any of these or other ones, please let me know.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Interesting. If you look at TorrentSpy right now, 2 seeders are supporting 143 downloaders.

If you're not up on the Bittorrent thing, allow me a massive geek out here. The idea is that one or more computers have the whole file: the "seed". The seeder sends one of the downloading computers a chunk of data. Then, chunk finished, the seeder sends a second computer a second chunk. Meanwhile, the first downloader uploads the chunk it has to, say, the second downloader, while the second downloader uploads its chunk to the first downloader. The seeder has now uploaded the two chunks once, but both downloaders have both chunks.

And so on: the seeder sends a third chunk to a third downloader, which shares it with the first two, in exchange for the first two chunks. The seeder is only responsible for getting each chunk it has to one downloading computer; the downloading computers copy these chunks amongst themselves. The protocol is careful to duplicate efficiently: each downloading computer asks for the rarest chunk of data from whoever has it. So, theoretically, two seeders would only need to upload half the file each to get all of the file into the common file-sharing ring; after that, they can ditch with no ill effect, because all the chunks of data are in play.

Under the old system (e.g. Napster), a central computer had to upload the file to each downloader requesting it. Under the Bittorrent protocol, one seed can service as many downloaders as there are, with no addition strain, so long as the seeder uploads each chunk of the file at least once.

The original Bittorrent protocol required one computer to "track" all the chunks, but the new (Beta) Bittorrent allows each computer to take no some of the tracking.

This has got to have the Chinese Communist Party having fits, if they get it. It is utterly subversive. There is no central hub you can shut down. The seeder can email a torrent file to a few friends, upload the data file, and then scram.

The Soviet dissidents used to get a copy of a banned book, type up their own copy, and then pass both copies along; this was called samizdat. With a lot of dedication and effort, valued books could slowly print themselves, multiplying at a binary rate. This allows effortless overnight multiplication of very large data files (a book is no more than 300KB; John's pilot is 450MB).

Needless to say this will also be a very good tool for terrorists, fanatics and crooks. Remember when Khomeini toppled the Shah by analog cassette tapes copied from tape player to tape player?

Anything that helps subvert oppressive authority can also be used to subvert legitimate authority. Well, you can't stop progress. Look how unsuccessful they've been at stopping public key encryption.

It's a brave new world we live in. Brace yourselves.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Or, in other words, a good start.

Batman Begins is a really good movie. It delivers the goods not just on the comix, but on the feelings beneath and behind the comics. It updates and upgrades the legend. It makes the manbat into as much of a myth as he deserves to be. Christian Bale is terrific. The supporting cast are impeccable, as you might expect from Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and even Rutger Hauer. Katie Holmes is ... well, she's Katie Holmes, and if I could just get Tom Cruise out of my mind...

Anyway, it's a really good movie. Completely convincing, I felt. It convinced me that there could be a guy who dresses up in armor and beats the crap out of people while dressed as a bat, and that this guy could be scary and smart and deep, not childish and pathological. And it convinced me while delivering action and thrills and glorious spectacle. I wanted to see more of what became of him later.

It made the Serenity trailer seem like a good opening act.

Maybe now they'll let Christopher Nolan remake the stinkers?

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I'm Not Sorry.Net tells the stories of women who aren't sorry they terminated a pregnancy. Thought some of you might be interested.

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I've read the first series of Global Frequency comics, and I'm even more impressed with what John did. The concept of the Global Frequency is really cool, and that's at the heart of the pilot. But too many of the comics seem to be about kill teams going into places and shooting everyone on site. Warren Ellis is particularly fond of people shooting other people's arms off. (His blog used to be Die, Puny Humans, Die so there you go.)

Warren, if you're reading this (and I'm on your list, so thanks): the thinking part of you is more interesting than the angry part. What's cool about the Global Frequency is that it's composed of ordinary people -- ordinary people who are very good at something -- who can do things the government can't. Thinking outside the box. Getting it right with improvisation.

Sending kill teams, on the other hand, the government is very good at.

And many of the plots are unnecessarily farfetched. There's enough government malfeasance in real life without coming up with the notion that the government created satellites aimed at our own cities, just to reduce the population.

Though the concept of dropping carbon fibers from orbit to kill people is neat, in a homicidally geeky way. I would buy that we had'em aimed at China. Would the GF be less willing to save everyone in Shanghai than everyone in Chicago? Warren, pursue your concept a little farther, huh?

What if the GF sent in a kill team to wipe out the dot-com cultists and discovered they were wrong and someone put up a fake website to get their competitors killed? Take it to another level. Crystallize how the ways we live, the ways we think, have changed.

The stories I hope John was going to tell would have been more about the Global Frequency people thinking outside the box -- like the comic where they discover the echo chamber -- and less about the shooting. Shooting people isn't really all that cool. ("Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.") It isn't that interesting to watch. And you can't do it well on TV. I mean, is there anything you can do with shooting that John Woo didn't do in Hard Boiled?

I think it's interesting that a liberal like John would be gung ho for a series about how vigilantes take over where government fails. I mean, those guys staking out the Mexican border are doing just that, right? Where the heros torture and maim prisoners to thwart terrorists. Hell, John, how did you feel about Abu Ghraib?

But I suspect the series would have taken the comics to another level. Certainly the pilot did. Too bad we don't get to see where the five year plan was leading.

I think Warren needs a great editor. A Brian Eno to his David Bowie or his David Byrne. An Ezra Pound to his TS Eliot. Someone to say, okay, this stuff that you do, no one else can do. This other stuff here, other people do it perfectly well. There's no need for you to do it. Technogeekery, big metaphysical concepts -- flock humans, invasive memes, subsonic reverberation -- good. The Global Frequency: powerful and moving. Bang bang: seen it. Angry cyborg supersoldier: saw it on Buffy. (Never steal from the Joss.)

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Interesting article on Military.com about the movement to get rid of "don't ask, don't tell.. The military is discharging roughly the same number of patriotic gay soldiers who want to fight as it is re-drafting retired soldiers unwillingly back into the service. It's becoming harder to explain why anybody should care whether the chopper pilot carrying that bleeding soldier back to safety prefers to kiss girls or guys.

"Don't ask, don't tell" is an interesting policy. It's a typical Clintonian weaselish middle position ... or, it's the perfect wedge ... or, it's a brilliant slippery slope. (No wonder the right wing hates him so much.) Telling people "it's okay to be who you are, but you can't talk about it" strikes me as viscerally un-American. If it's legal to be X, then why can't you tell people you're X? You're good enough to die for your country, but not good enough to tell anyone who you are? It's an illegitimate position from the get-go.

And it occurs to me that Clinton might have meant it to be so, when he couldn't get the military to agree to just full out accept gays. "Don't ask, don't tell" is very hard to go back on. It would be hard now to go back to the pre-Clinton policy where the military was expected to actively investigate and root out homosexuality in its ranks. At the same time even conservatives can see that "don't ask, don't tell" is B.S. It's not a position they're likely to fight for. So over time support for "don't ask, don't tell" gets eroded. At some point they're going to stop kicking people out for talking about what they're already allowed to do in secret.

Which makes it a perfect wedge issue. A wedge issue divides the opponent's base politically. The religious right recoils in horror from homosexuality. The military used to be nervous about it, but right now it's in a shooting war, scrambling to find volunteers. Who's gay and who's not is beginning to look irrelevant to its mission, as people like me believe it always was. When you can get the religious right and the military on different sides, you've won.

Do I think Clinton thought of this a decade or so ago? Everyone knows he agonized for weeks about any big decision he made. Everyone knows he has some of the most brilliant political instincts of anyone alive. That's why the right is so terrified of Hillary. They're sure she's going to reframe all the issues so she's on the side of the majority. As she has been.

I read somewhere that (then Gen.) Eisenhower asked the head of the Woman's Army Corps to find and fire all the lesbians. She responded something like, "Well, there goes the whole motor pool. And, by the way, there goes me."

Eisenhower decided the Army was too busy fighting Hitler to find any lesbians.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Bush buddy at the Justice Department told government lawyers to ask for $10 billion instead of $130 billion in a tobacco lawsuit they've been fighting for five years.
The newly disclosed documents make clear that the decision was made after weeks of tumult in the department and accusations from lawyers on the tobacco team that Mr. McCallum and other political appointees had effectively undermined their case. Mr. McCallum, No. 3 at the department, is a close friend of President Bush from their days as Skull & Bones members at Yale, and he was also a partner at an Atlanta law firm, Alston & Bird, that has done legal work for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, part of Reynolds American, a defendant in the case.
The New York Times
I have almost lost my ability to be shocked by their arrogance. And then something comes along that makes me shocked again.

Interesting that conservatives distrust big government but are perfectly comfortable with big corporations corrupting the government. Funny, huh?

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There's a show I want to write for. It's really cool, and moving, with a moral, thrills, great character, wow.

Unfortunately, I can't.

Not 'cause I'm up here in Montreal with only Canadian credits. Not because I haven't updated my specs. Not because it's all staffed up. Not because I don't know anyone on the show.

I can't write for this show because GOD DAMN IT THEY PULLED THE PLUG BEFORE IT AIRED.

Yes, I just saw the pilot. It is WAY better than possibly all other science fiction shows currently on the air. It has snappy dialog that attains Joss level at times. It has cool, convincing characters. It has situations you haven't seen before. It has weird science. But what's most cool is that it is all about a paradigm for global action that you can love whether you're red or blue -- ordinary people who are extraordinary in some way who are taking responsibility for fixing things that are broken, regardless of consequences, when the powers that be not only haven't asked them to, but would be pissed off at for trying.

And I know the moment John's talking about ... where they're all getting on the global frequency ... okay, I had tears in my eyes. Desperate Housewives doesn't do that for me. Not even Lost did that for me.

John and Warren ... keep it up, and you enter the pantheon.

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IVF kids are taller and have more good cholesterol than naturally conceived kids. The height difference seems related to more growth hormones, not parental size. The study's author thinks the difference is caused by IVF-induced genetic change, not by eugenics.
William Saletan in Slate.


Or maybe it's because their parents are older, and richer, and went to a hell of a lot of trouble to have them.

Is it just me, or are newspapers today fairly devoid of perspective? Is it objectivity when you simply report what other people say without putting it in context or challenging it? Isn't the point of a free press to challenge the news?

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We have been approaching the [Canadian] networks as writers, with the suggestion that if they like the material they can let us know which producers they respect and like working with. At which point, perhaps we would have a much better negotiating position for the option.

Is this foolish? Is it sort of like a man being his own lawyer? Can our inexperience screw up the network courting process? Should we go to producers first and let them sell the ideas to the networks?
As you've figured out, if you bring your show to a production company with a network interested, you can make a much better deal for yourself, but if you take the show to a network before you've got a producer, (a) the network may be less likely to take the project seriously, and might reject it out of hand and (b) the network might stick you with a producer you don't like or who, more importantly, doesn't like you. On the other hand, if you get the wrong producer attached first, he can screw up the submission to the network, or he may be in trouble with the network, and your project can get killed by being associated with him. (Though there, at least, you get a little option money.)

Oh, the humanity.

I prefer to go to a producer I like first. I'm attaching myself to my projects as a showrunner. Bringing a producer on board tells the network that here's a producer who's comfortable with me in that position, and who'll carry the show if I don't meet the challenge. It makes the show easier for the network to say yes to. It allows me to pick a producer I know, with whom I have a good working relationship or at least a good chemistry. Also, because I've got a deal in place with the producer, it makes it harder for the network to reject the goodies I've negotiated for myself.

On the other hand, I would only take a project to a producer after satisfying myself that he is welcome at the network I think is the right home for the show. So there's a bit of touching base before I actually offer the show to a producer. On the show I'm doing with G_______, I actually pitched the project orally at C___, then asked what producers they liked. They were kind enough to give me a list of companies they take seriously. So based on the list and my prior relationship, I offered it to G_______, and then I took it back to C___ as an official submission with an approved producer attached.

Your agent can help here if you don't have the contacts to ask these questions yourself.

I don't feel that networks really love a naked submission. It leaves them too much work to do. Sure, they can send it to their favorite producer, but that's too much of a commitment for a network exec. What if the producer rejiggers the show so they don't like it any more? How do they reject it then? Much better to wait until the project comes in officially.

You can make as good a deal as you insist on, though, whether or not a network is attached, so long as your project is strong. The key to a good deal is asking for low up-front numbers against lots of protections and money later. If you ask for a lot of option money, the producer's paying for it himself, so he's not going to give you much else. But if you go easy on the option money demands, then you can ask for more when the show goes. That's not the producer's money anyway. It comes out of the budget. What does he care?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

You don't see many o'those, what with all the phone calls, but today I got a lot done. Revised Chapter Three of the book. Wrote up my interviews with Jordan Craig and Graham Falk of Untalkative Bunny fame. And, most importantly, wrote up a pitch for a magazine-type TV show based on Lisa's book. Her book just naturally turns itself into one of those shelter porn TV shows, or at least it did once I realized it wanted to. So we spent the day banging out a pitch, which my Toronto agent loves. Having a TV show coming out alongside her book would make a nice synergy, don't you think?

Tomorrow I'm revising my notes on how I'd rewrite a script I've been asked to rewrite. The notes go to Telefilm, which will hopefully then fund the rewrite. This is how scripts get rewritten here in Canada, in case you're wondering. Rarely do producers dip into their own pockets for rewrites. The gummint funds them. I seem to have made it onto the list of Telefilm approved writers, which is something like being on the Network Approved gravy train, but in dollarettes. It means producers come to you.

Also broke the back of a comic horror fantasy movie I've had on the backburner. I'll write up that pitch soon as I'm done with the rewrite proposal.

Feeling much more useful today...

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Who's your favorite development person? You know, who give comments so on target that you want to go rewrite your script right now, for free. The ones you'd want in your writing group, except they don't write.

I'm asking about professional development people (whether currently employed or not) who have not written a produced script or episode of a show, or had a Producer or Executive Producer title. (Dev people sometimes get Co- and Associate Producer credits.)

They deserve some credit, so here goes...

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If, hypothetically, you were trying to download a certain pilot on which they pulled the plug, you could search using Google and the name of the show you were looking for plus "filetype:torrent". But the Googlebot doesn't update fast enough. So you might try ISOHunt, which searches the global frequency of torrent sites. (You might call ISOHunt a sort of global frequency pilot.) And you would find four torrents... of which, supposing you fired up Bittorrent, you'd discover two are working.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

UPDATE: Emily reminds me that one functioning torrent could be on Torrent Spy, though it may not be the fastest one; and Jason points out that the whole thing might be on Usenet at alt.binaries.multimedia, accessible through Mininova if your news feed doesn't carry it. They have a free trial offer of 3GB. But you have to give your credit card info. Which might make you nervous, as downloading an unaired pilot may not be kosher.

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Q. I've been working with a production company that makes a LOT of low-budget TV movies and am trying to help them improve their work, especially on the writing side. One of the problems I have is that, basically, their movies are truly terrible. Bad plots. Bad characters. Bad dialog. Even when they get quality actors, the dialog tends to make the actors come off as idiots. If the actors manage to get a good performance despite all the bad dialog, the plots trip them up.

On one level they know there are issues because a) everyone tells them their movies suck and b) they brought me in to help them. On another level, they seem to have no idea why things are bad, so we' ve been making little constructive headway. They'll proudly show me the script from a new writer they've just brought in and, if anything, it's worse than the others. I've come to the realization that they just can't tell good writing from bad. Any suggestions on how to work with them to overcome these issues? I know I can help them if we can just find a way to communicate, but when I say "black" and they hear "peach" it seems hopeless!
I know the feeling. I've been in those offices too.

It's funny. Everyone in showbiz says "a good script is so important." Producers, directors, actors. And then they behave as if the script is the least important thing. Producers won't spend the money to develop a script before they have the financing, and then when they have the financing, they won't spend the money to develop it because hell, they got the financing, didn't they? Directors rewrite or ignore the script. Actors make up their own dialog. Then the results are bad. And everyone is surprised. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I've heard "the script is the most important thing" from people who make such crap you wouldn't believe.

You may be out of luck. Talk with the last guy who had your job at the company. It may be that they theoretically "know" their scripts suck, but they can't tell good from bad, and they're really not willing to learn. They're just giving lip service. Most producers are salesmen. If they don't have development skills, they can hire someone who does. If they're repeatedly putting out the same crap over a decade, maybe they don't really give a damn. They're just saying they do. And you're barking up the wrong tree.

On the other hand, maybe they've never had someone good. Maybe with passion and eloquence you can take charge of the development department.

Figure out whether your bosses respond better to memos or oral presentations. Make sure when you talk about material that there are no distractions. If necessary get your boss to go on a walk out of the office sans cellular. Get a clear mandate to go and work with the writers on your own. When confronted with a new bad script, argue. Producers are like children: they may not seem like they're listening while they're talking to you. They may just argue back. But later on what you say will sink in.

Then if nothing changes, decide whether it's worth staying. Under a certain level, no one will hold your company's reputation against you. Past a certain age, you become one of the schleps who make films that are not worth their effect on global warming.

Bear in mind there are other reasons scripts get made than simply being good. If a bankable actor wants to do the story, for a producer that is reason enough. If the script has financing attached, that may give the project momentum, which the script you love does not have. Producers are all about elements. It costs money to run a production company. They may be so close to hunger that they are just looking for their next score.

Try to stay away from guys like that.

When I was a development exec, I think I got some stuff done. I championed Barry Schneider's epic adventure story The Sailmaker, which turned into a Richard Attenborough project. I championed Ehren Kruger's Mythic and got it optioned, before Ehren Kruger became a big studio writer. I helped improve some scripts that did get made. But that's because the producers I worked with really did want me to do my job. They weren't just pretending. And I think they had a sense that I was picking good material and giving good rewrite notes. So it's possible to make a difference.

I should add that great development people are even rarer than great writers, because being a great development person requires a profound understanding of how scripts work, coupled with no desire to write or produce (or at least an awareness of no ability). I know a few development people who really nail a script's problems instead of just doing the Truby thing. Victoria Lucas. Jamie Gaetz. Uh, those are the ones I know.

Producers, it really is the script. And that means you really do have to hire a good development person and listen to her.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Q. I am doing a spec for a 30 min sitcom, one camera, no commercials. I tried using the sitcom format in Final Draft. Its weird. The action writing is in all caps, the dialogue is double-spaced.
If it's a sitcom you should use sitcom format. If it's a single camera comedy, I'm no expert, but I imagine you could use regular script format. On Naked Josh, which was a comic drama, we used regular script format, not sitcom format.

I hate all caps. Hard to read. But you have to use the format of the form you're writing in.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

I went into a meeting with a director some time ago not at all sure I could deliver the kind of script he was looking for. I could have told him so. I nearly did. The script he wanted me to rewrite had fairly serious problems -- several movies going on inside it, most of them pretty hokey or more suited for TV. I wasn't positive he saw the confusion; I wasn't at all sure he saw the hoke.

But instead of voicing my concerns, I asked him "What is the heart of this movie, for you?" Then I listened. And then I pitched him back a movie that centered on what he'd just said, ignoring all the stuff from the previous script that wasn't part of what he'd just said was the heart of the movie.

He liked it. We're going to submit the new pitch to the Funding Powers That Be, and see what they think.

Had I opened my mouth first, we'd have got off on the wrong foot, and I might have walked away from a movie that, now that I've repitched it, is actually a pretty cool idea, I think.

So try not to say no. Don't criticize. Just grab the stuff that works and say, "here's what I think you might be looking for."

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Friday, June 10, 2005

I'd be interested to hear your views on reality TV--is it harmful to script writers' chances? Do you think it's changing the rules of scripted TV? Or is it something you don't have time to keep up with since you're trying to keep abreast of what's out there in scripted?
Well, so-called reality TV (really semi-scripted TV; nothing real about it) does not help the employment prospects of fictional (i.e. fully scripted) TV writers. The WGA is trying to unionize reality TV writers, with some difficulty as producers like to pretend that there are no scripts for them, and when shown the scripts, pretend they were written at night by mysterious gnomes who only ask for milk and cookies, and disappear if you so much as thank them. I do know one showrunner who's created and run an RTV show. So in that sense it's just another medium to write for.

Semi-scripted TV is definitely affecting fully scripted TV. Just look at mockumentary-style shows like Trailer Park Boys, which use all the moves and editing techniques of "reality TV." Or, to put it another way, reality TV has shown producers just how little production value they need if the characters and the action is compelling enough. (Some claim Arrested Development is heavily RTV influenced, but I don't see it. It looks like an ordinary single camera sitcom to me.)

I don't watch RTV much at all. I find it mostly too inane, and far too little information per minute. I mean, talk about vamping. Stretch, stretch, stretch, till the material is so thin you could fall asleep. But many writers I've interviewed adore The Amazing Race and other shows. RTV is all about the primal conflicts: competition for resources and mates. And that's entertainment.

In the long run, it's all storytelling. Some RTV shows will continue. Competition-plus-travelogue shows like Survivor and Amazing Race will probably survive. But so will good scripted TV.

Frankly, with new cable channels popping up everywhere, you'd think it would be a great time to be a TV writer. Remember when there were only three networks? You don't? Never mind, you're too young. When you're older you'll understand.

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Jacob Sager Weinstein of Yankee Fog has created a group blog for members of the WGA and her sister guilds, The Blank Page. (A title guaranteed to strike fear into all of us, Jacob!) If you feel like blogging would be a good way to procrastinate, but don't want to have your own, write to Jacob with the last four digits of your SSN (if WGA) or your member number (if WGC) or go 'knock him up' personally if you're English, I guess.

Or you can just go read it.

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Not finding much to watch these days. My favorite shows are in reruns. Okay, there are some eps of Gray's Anatomy I'll watch twice, but how about something new?

What are people watching?

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Craig at The Artful Writer blogs late last night about preferred script format. Seems like a dry issue, but using the wrong script format marks you as an amateur, and it changes. For example, you used to use a (CONT.) or (CONT'D) when the same character speaks after an action line. Otherwise you tend to assume it's the other character speaking. However, this has gone out of style. Likewise, people aren't using CUT TO: much any more. On the other hand the guy he's writing with likes to bold his sluglines.

I'm a huge fan of Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, classic design books that are of no direct use to me because I don't design charts or anything else (you can tell from my site, eh?), because they talk sense. Tufte likes graphic design that simply supports the information it's supposed to present. In other words the design shouldn't make you work for the info. It should smooth the path the info takes going into your brain. (He's also got a neat diatribe called The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint that explains how Powerpoint strips your presentation of information.)

So when it comes to script format, I like a clean format so long as it conveys all the information it should. I liked CUT TO:'s because they neatly separate scenes. I'd even developed a style where I used a CUT TO: when cutting from one locale and characters to another -- i.e. separating sequences -- while eliding it between scenes that flow from one to the next in the same setting. In other words when he goes from INT. to EXT. THE HOUSE, no CUT TO:, but when he goes from EXT. THE HOUSE to INT. THE WHITE HOUSE, a CUT TO:.

I don't do that any more because CUT TO:'s are deprecated these days, and it adds a page or two to your page count. (This last is irrelevant these days. I used to write longer. Now my scripts just naturally seem to come in around 100 pages.) And I don't use character continueds for the same reason, though I think they're helpful. People don't read scripts very carefully, and coming back to the same character without a warning is, I think, jarring. It requires more work from the reader, and one of the two points of format is to communicate what's going on clearly. (The other is to help production managers estimate scene length easily when they board the show. It helps to know that you're only shooting 5 7/8 pages on Wednesday but 8 1/8 pages on Friday.)

I like bolding sluglines, but I've only seen it on scripts that otherwise look amateurish, so I've been reluctant to go there. However, if it takes off, I'm happy, because it accomplishes the separation that a CUT TO: does without taking up an extra line as a CUT TO: does. And I think we can now all get away from the idea that scripts have to look like they could have been done on a typewriter. No one's used a typewriter in what, 20 years? (Except for Joe Esterhazs, I guess. He bought something like 20 Olivettis in case they stopped making them.)

Now if we can just come up with a nice visual substitute for the character continued.

I don't use MORE's and scene continueds. They don't make the script easier to read. They're for production managers and their team, but it's easy enough to develop a habit of checking the next page to see if there's any more scene to shoot. I've never heard of anyone forgetting to do that.

So them's my two bits, Craig.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Do I need to acquire the film rights for a non-fiction novel published this year detailing events in the lives of people that lived a hundred years ago?
Only what the novel made up. The historical facts are up for grabs. Try to find the original sources for the novel and write from those. Dead people have no privacy rights, nor can you slander a corpse. Anything fictionalized is copyrightable, though.

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Unfortunately I was in New York last weekend and missed meeting with the WGC's negotiating committee, who kindly flew in from Toronto to meet with the Quebec membership. But I'd like to second Doug Taylor's point about the biggest loophole in the IPA. (That's the WGC's agreement with the producers; equivalent to the WGA's Minimum Basic Agreement.)

Producers who sign the IPA -- basically all the serious producers -- are obliged to work only with WGC writers. If a writer isn't WGC, the producer is still obliged to sign a WGC contract with the writer. The writer can then join the WGC.

However, if the writer is not in the Guild, nothing prevents the producer from doing the contract through a subsidiary company that is not signatory. The writer can now be paid less than scale, because he's not working with a signatory producer, and has no way to join the Guild and demand scale.

Doug went through that experience with a large production and distribution company up here. He was not Guild, the prodco was WGC-signatory, so rather than paying him scale and doing a WGC deal, the producer had him sign with a "numbered company."

I went through it about a dozen years ago in LA. I had written a script on a project that was being bought, as a go project, by a studio. They had to buy the script, obviously. But I wasn't WGA. So rather than the studio buying the script, a company owned by the studio bought the script -- and presumably assigned all rights to the production entity, which licensed distribution rights to the studio.

Doug asks why the WGC -- and for that matter the WGA -- can't close this little Catch-22. You can't join either Guild without a contract with a Guild signatory company. But the company won't sign a WGC deal with you unless you're a member.

A simple fix would be to allow anyone to join the guild, at least temporarily. It does not hurt the Guilds to have additional members. It only strengthens them. Producers generally accept that they have to sign WGA or WGC deals with WGA and WGC members. Is there some kind of legal reason (ahem, Craig) why the Guild can't allow people in when they have a pending, but uncompleted deal? If there is a cost associated with each member (one that's not already covered by the entrance fee), then the new Guild member could be given a provisional membership that doesn't give him benefits -- other than the obvious benefit of salary protection.

The alternative would be to insist that producers agree not to buy or commission scripts through non-signatory subsidiaries. (The legalese would something to the effect that signatory corporations, and their assigns, are not allowed to receive cinematic or allied rights derived from any script written by a non-member. Or something like that.) But that would require negotiation, while changing our own membership rules shouldn't be anyone else's business but our own.

The loophole doesn't just hurt the wanna-be member, though personally, it cost me around $35,000 at the time. It hurts the Guild, because it allows producers to think they can end-run around the IPA (and in the States, the MBA).

How about it, guys?

UPDATE: Doug talked to the WGC. Their response was a tad defeatist: "We'd have to strike to get this." And of course, no one wants to strike for the sake of non-members. But it's not just for non-members. It's for making it harder for signatory prodcos to hire people off-IPA. And we wouldn't have to strike. We just make it easier to join the Guild. No?

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Here's a pitching festival that looks legit. No entrance fee, and you're not actually pitching in front of your competition, just the invited execs. Note: the deadline is June 10. That's Friday!

Theoretically you can register at the site, but my browser gets an error code when I try. Your mileage may vary.
EIGHT SPOTS TO FILL, FIVE MINUTES TO KILL!
JUST FOR PITCHING!

Hundreds of the most imaginative, young minds in television comedy will be given the chance of a lifetime to premiere their work at an unprecedented entertainment event, where they will pitch their concepts to a carefully selected panel of top-notch television executives from around the world.

Just For Pitching is the brainchild of Just For Laughs, who have created a platform for comedy ideas and proposals to be pitched to a panel of international TV executives. Last year’s panel included executives from CBS, CBC, CTV, NBC, Comedy Central and 20th Century Fox.

Eight will be chosen from hundreds of hopeful young television creators whose ideas will be scrutinized by the expert panel. Participants have a mere five minutes to pitch their concept directly to these television decision-makers in the hopes that they will be one step closer to the road to a development deal.

Entrants must submit a project synopsis no longer than 750 words, by June 10 and are given the option to hand in a clip in various formats. Applications are available on-line at the Just for Laughs homepage at www.hahaha.com.

The Banff Television Festival's Pat Ferns, who launched the public pitching craze in 1985, returns to host this year’s event.

Just for Pitching, the place where television history is made! Live from Festival Headquarters at the Delta Hotel.

Just for Pitching
The Delta Hotel
July 2005
Date and Time to be announced

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Does anyone out there know Graham Falk, genius writer-director of The Untalkative Bunny? I'd like to interview him for my book.

For those of you out there who've never seen The Untalkative Bunny, it is a sweet and hilarious animated series about a bunny who lives in an apartment in Ottawa and has adventures with her equally untalkative squirrel friend. She wanders into places like the Sheep Federation Hotline ("No, don't dip your sheep in honey and mustard sauce!") and is mistaken for a sheep and shorn ... well, it's all in her expressions. It's been on Teletoon in Canada, I think. I really wish it would come out on DVD so I could send it to our friends in the States.

UPDATE: I found him! A friend knew Jordan Craig, head writer for the show. Expect an interview as soon as I can write it up!

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Texas has sentenced a 19-year-old Latino kid to a minimum of 40 years in prison yesterday for helping his girlfriend induce a miscarriage. (Thanks for the link, JR.) Inducing a miscarriage in a hospital is perfectly legal in Texas, if you can find a hospital in Texas that still does abortions, and if you can afford the fees that hospitals charge. But inducing one at home is capital murder. Of course, Texas has banned abortions after 16 weeks in clinics, and no surgical centers perform them.

You can read the full details here.

All you guys who voted for Bush because he'd be more fun to have a beer with and he doesn't look French: mazel tov.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Human Events magazine has published a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Since this is a conservative weekly, you might expect the number one winner would be The Communist Manifesto, followed by Mein Kampf. The ones down the list are more instructive:

#4: The Kinsey Report, which told the world that almost everyone is a little bit odd sexually ... it was much better when everyone suffered alone, right?
#7: The Feminine Mystique, which suggested that not all homemakers were happy...
#10: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money: John Maynard Keynes' 1936 book which suggested that the only way out of the Depression was through government spending... proved, I would have thought, by the WWII boom...

Honorable mentions:
Beyond Freedom and Dignity by BF Skinner: operant conditioning and how it affects everyone.
The Origin of Species: evolution, 'nuff said.
Coming of Age in Samoa: not everyone is as uptight as you are.
Unsafe at Any Speed: Badly designed cars can be dangerous.
Silent Spring: Pesticides aren't good for the environment.
Introduction to Psychoanalysis: There's something going on under the hood.
The Descent of Man: we're all a monkey's uncle.

Pretty much the books that defined the 20th Century, when you come to think of it. I hate communism, too, but it's telling that so many of the books they hate are scientific theories. The implication is that new ideas may be dangerous. Freud may be part hooey, but you don't get to knowledge without allowing a certain amount of hooey. And boy would I not want to live in a world where Rachel Carson had never written Silent Spring, and Ralph Nader had not written Unsafe at Any Speed.

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Just picked up my PT Cruiser. It's got another new refurbished computer in it. This is the fourth refurbished computer that one dealer or another has put in the car. I'm sure this one will blow up, too. No one at Chrysler or the Chrysler dealer seems too put out about the fact that they keep shipping parts which then blow up. Of course, no one at Chrysler has to rent a van for the weekend because my car is in the shop.

If anyone tells you that Chyslers have a good repair record, don't forget this little exception...

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Saw the new exhibit on dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. Now they're saying Apatasaurus never did browse the tops of the trees; supposedly he couldn't lift up his neck very far. And T. rex couldn't run very fast.

I find their evidence unconvincing. No one said Apatasaurus (ne Brontosaurus) could angle his neck up; they said he got up on his hind legs. Which if you look at the way his hind legs are so much longer than his front legs, makes sense. Animals that have short front legs get up on their hind legs to eat. Otherwise you have equal length legs.

Anyway, why on Earth would you have a long neck if not to go high? The exhibit claims it was to reach over into water and eat stuff. But there is only so much shoreline. You can't make a living at the shoreline unless you're small. And an Apatasaur wouldn't want to get too close to the water -- the ground gets muddy and he might sink in. And why be so big at all if you're doing is eating stuff that a wading dino can eat without all the cantilevering? Better to be a hippo. Doesn't make sense.

And sure, T. rex may be heavy like the elephant, and elephants don't move fast. But elephants don't chase their food down, last I checked. I doubt he was much slower than a lion. He certainly had to be faster than whatever he ate, for short sprints anyway.

It feels like a lot of kneejerk backlash. They told us dinos were coldblooded and sluggish and dragged their tails, and then they said they were scary and hotblooded. Now they're back to a middle ground. They've even got computer models of dinos dragging their tails -- never mind that you never see tail marks in trackways. What's up with that, Natural History Museum?

The many new pre-Archeopteryx birds and non-avian flying dinos are way cool, though. And they've got a teeny little shrew that probably knew our ancestors.

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20th high school reunions are great. Everyone looks just like they did in high school, only smarter, sexier and more confident. (Everybody who comes, anyway.) And people are much nicer to each other in high school.

25th high school reunions, alas, we start to look old. Everybody's a little bit wider. You start to see women who need work and some women who have had work -- which, just for the record, doesn't look the same as "young." Some of the men start to look unrecognizable, whether because of hair loss or the widening.

Still, though, people are nicer and more interesting. I was surprised to see how many of the people who were interested in stuff in high school are still doing that stuff. Many of the "public affairs" clique are living in Washington/Baltimore and working for the gummint in some way. Many of the artists are either still artists or running galleries. Me, of course, I'm still writing, in spite of an interlude as a computer scientist.

We're having some classmates over tonight. That should be fun. This is the official reunion after party. It's a perfect high school party, too. My parents are out of town so I'm throwing it in their apartment. (Our apartment, of course, is in another country.) And Steve Hermanos is throwing a wedding reception for his month-old wedding, so it's a popularity contest again with duelling parties. (Naturally we're not invited to Steve's do.)

But it's nothing margaritas can't cure. I've already bought the ice.

And then back up to Montreal again on Sunday.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

...jackets and pants would have labels that tell you whether they're black or just dark blue.

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More controversy over the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. More controversy over the West Side Stadium.

The West Side Stadium's problem is it's a good fifteen minute walk from any subway, and would create hideous traffic on the West Side Highway.

So instead of building a 1,776 foot tall tower at Ground Zero, why not build the stadium there? It's at a nexus of mass transit. There are at least three subway lines within walking distance of it, and the PATH trains from Jersey go there. And you don't have to tear anything down to build it.

I think creating a place of celebration at Ground Zero would be a better thumb in the eye to the terrorists than building another big ole phallus in the sky.

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I love my PT. It's the smallest car we can get two kids and a dog into comfortably. It looks fun. The seats come out.

But the computer has blown up four times now. Each time Chrysler replaces the computer for free because it's under warranty. But it takes a week to get the part. So I have to rent cars or use taxis. I've spent probably seven hundred bucks waiting for the free repairs.

You'd think that there would be something wrong with the car that blows up the computer. Apparently not. Apparently Chrysler keeps shipping the garage lousy reconditioned computers that blow up after a few weeks.

I talked with Customer Service, and their response was basically, "We're not going to do anything except ship you another reconditioned computer. Tough noogies."

I'm not impressed.

I miss my Mustang.

Next time I'm buying a Ford.

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Occasionally producers and directors ask me to recommend young (i.e. cheap, non-union) writers to them.

I'll do it if there's money attached. Working with a producer type gives you experience in writing as a craft rather than personal expression. That's good experience both for working in the biz and learning other ways of thinking about writing, i.e. a new perspective.

But I won't recommend anyone unless there's enough money attached to pay for their time. The big drawback to working on someone else's project is that you get one shot with it. If you spec a script, you can take it to a hundred production companies. If you're writing "with" a producer or director, you can only "take it" to them. If they fail to set it up -- which can be for any number of reasons that are nothing to do with your effort or talent -- the project is dead, and you've lost all your time. If you've been paid for it, that's fine. If not, not so fine.

Producers will then say, "but we have a three picture deal and we can put this project in with it!"

But if a producer is serious about the project, they'll front some money. If they're not ready to front the money, how serious can they be? If they are so sure the project is going to go, then they can give you some money now. If they won't give you money now, it's probably because they're not so sure.

As I've mentioned in my book, the only deal I'd accept -- if the idea was so brilliant it's a surefire sale somewhere -- is for the producer to give (i.e. grant, quitclaim) the writer the idea, subject to a two year option. The producer has two years to buy the script. If they don't, the writer gets the idea, and the script, free and clear. But even there, I wouldn't go for it without at least an option fee comparable to what you'd get paid if you optioned your own spec script.

Thing is, it doesn't cost producers anything to say they can set a project up. It costs them nothing to say "this is a brilliant idea, and I can easily set this up as a Canadian/French/Ukrainian co-production." If all they need to do to get you to write is say stuff, they'll say it. You can only tell a producer is for real when there's money involved.

UPDATE: I agree with Patrick, sort of. First time writers sometimes do have to option their script for no money. But at least then it's their script. I'm talking about a situation in which the producer essentially owns the script because it's their idea. That kind of option never expires.

I disagree with Vince. A "real" production company will hire you for money if they're serious about the project. If they won't hire you, even for a couple thousand bucks, they're not serious enough about the project. If they're not serious enough about the project, then the likelihood goes way up of you, the novice writer, spending months writing a script that gets sent out a few times and then put on the shelf.

Putting an optioned script on your resume is irrelevant, I think. Not just because "option" often means "free option," and therefore it's not much of a feather in your cap. More because personally I ignore resumes. I just look at the sample. Either you can write or you can't. In a TV situation I'd look at staffing experience, but in features, I'd just look at the sample.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

I'm standing by the window in my parents' apartment's kitchen, because that's where the best wireless comes in, from the airshaft. Thanks to DMc, I just downloaded Macstumbler, a handy freeware that tells you which of the 5 wireless networks you can get is unprotected and has the best signal. Very handy.

Went to a couple of art openings today for Lisa's book, and because we know some of the people. Tomorrow is my umpty-umpth high school reunion. Funny to see who we all turned into. A surprising number of them became art dealers, particularly Matthew Marks and, of course, Marc Glimcher.

New York is nicer than it's ever been. A bunch of people offered other people seats on the bus. A woman actually gave us her cab when she saw we had a toddler in a stroller. When New York's at its best, it's a gigantic village.

I'm grumpy because I'm not writing. I'm Being a Writer, which involves a lot of phone calls and refining pitches and keeping after my agents and schmoozing producers and directors, and even tinkering with Gone to Soldiers, but isn't what makes me happy, which is coming up with fresh stuff. I'm jonesing for writing pages. Hopefully something will come through soon. In the mean time, Reunion Weekend.

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Reports of Final Draft's evil are not without basis... they won't tell their secret file format, thus preventing other screenplay programs, such as MMS, from importing or exporting their files. They've obviously been taking lessons from Microsoft!

Some clever hacker could probably easily break their file code, though, which would serve them right.

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AE: How do you deal with network notes that seem wrong to you?

SE: Now that I've been on Kung Fu Monkey, I go, "God, you're right!"

I try and understand that something isn't right for them. Not necessarily the thing they're saying. Something that's bothering them. My job to figure out what it is exactly.

AE: So it's the difference between doing the note and addressing it.

SE: You have to address it one way or another.

AE: How about director and actor notes that seem wrong?

SE: I've had so few. I've seen directors do things that were like a magnificent wank, but, ah, it didn't kill it. They'll say, "I just don't understand the scene." I go away and think about it. Okay. And maybe you come up with something more inventive.

Actors will say: I just don't see how my character gets there. Then it's a case of talking it through. If you can't explain it, something's wrong with the way you wrote it.

AE: What makes a great showrunner, aside from great writing and a vision for the show?

SE: I've worked with Pete Mitchell. I think what made him great was that everybody felt heard. He might not take their suggestions, but you know he heard you. Or you felt that he did. One of my things as a writer is, I'm always saying, I know I can do this, let me have a shot at it. And I want to hear, go ahead, I don't believe you but go ahead. So someone who gives you the freedom to fail.

I think, too, the desire to occasionally socialize. Particularly with younger writers ... the show becomes your life. These characters that you're making up take up a bigger part of your life than your family and friends do after a while. Someone who's that obsessed ... if you keep too much of a professional relationship, you'll distance yourself from the show, and people get invested. I had a friend working on [name of show]. That was a train wreck. It wanted to be Lost but they had to shoot it in a studio. He's reached a point where he thinks it's the best show on television. But it's important to reach that point. Why wouldn't you want to believe that? Part of what makes a good showrunner is obsessiveness about what they do.

It doesn't mean you can't make fun of it. But if you sit around at night in your free hours talking about what if we did this or that ... the show becomes more meaningful. If you come in and it's just a job...

AE: If you don't care, the audience won't.

SE: Yeah.

AE: There seem to be a lot of hybrid genre shows these days, e.g. Lost is a drama/mystery/sf show, Desperate Housewives is a farce/drama/mystery. How important is genre to a television show? Is it risky to have a TV show that crosses genre boundaries? What are the genre boundaries?

SE: I think it just comes down to personal taste ... I'm not a straight up one genre girl. I don't really like science fiction -- I can't get past the silly masks. But Firefly, which was the civil war ... a history show in sci fi world. There's a lot of creativity in that kind of approach. The fact that people don't know what Desperate Housewives is or isn't, gives it its frisson. Just when you think it's going left it goes right. I'm not watching anything that's stright genre. I never liked Law and Order,, or CSI, I think it's death porn. The TV I'm watching tends to mess with genre...

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I've been throwing around the term "core cast," but it's not a universally used term. Kevin Murphy:
Series regulars: People with whom a series has an exclusive deal. Their credit appears in the opening titles of every episode. They may appear in all episodes produced (like Keifer Sutherland on "24"), or they may have a deal to only appear in a limited number of episodes like The Sopranos' Robert Igler or Jamie Lynn-Siegler (even though their name appears in the opening credits)

Guest Stars: These are characters whose credit appears in the body of the show, along with the writing, producing and directing credits. This may be a character who appears only occasionally or a character that's in almost every episode. As a series ages, recurring guest stars may graduate to series regulars... like Kevin "Marshall" Weisman on "Alias."

Special Guest Star: These are guest stars who receive extra favorable credit because of their stature in the industry or because of their seniority on a given series... like Lily Tomlin or Mary Louise Parker on "West Wing."

Co-Star: Often a smaller "walk-on" role, or a larger role performed by an less-experienced actor who lacks the clout to obtain the more desirable "guest star" credit. Co-stars generally make less than guest stars, and their onscreen credit appears in the closing titles... often squished or shrunk in the world of broadcast TV.

There are no hard and fast rules on who is allowed to have his or her own story. Depends on the series. On "Law and Order," the episode is usually all about the plight of a given guest star. On the first season of "Lost," the flashback stories are always about the regulars. "Desperate Housewives" has an enormous cast of regulars, but usually only oneof the four core women is given a storyline.

One nitpick: on L&O, the episode is about the cops helping the plight of the guest star.

I think you can make a useful distinction between the series regulars, and the narrative stars of the show. The stars of the show are the characters who have their own stories. Series regulars appear in almost every episode but don't necessarily have their own stories. (Star characters may or may not be played by bonafide TV star actors; I'm talking about the function of the character, not whether they hired Jimmy Smits or not.) I think the term "core cast" is useful too. Series regulars are on regular contracts, but you don't necessarily have them in every ep. The core cast would be those characters the audience would be miffed if they didn't see'em in an episode.

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