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



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Monday, October 31, 2005

Today wasn't really bad, except that calls I hoped would happen were put off, and some calls that happened seemed to promise mirages. And Lisa hated some pages I wrote. And the Pikapie did her best to run out into traffic. I knew that you had to watch kids, and I'd noticed that she is not very good at responding to the word "No!", but I'd never seen a child toddle with such determination in the direction most likely to get her killed as fast as possible. Whee!

Nothing bad actually happened, she did not really get close to a moving car, and I think she did not much like the speed at which she was yanked back to the curb, or Daddy moaning in pain from his bad arm afterwards, so maybe she will pick up a small hesitation the next time. (I won't count on it, either.) But nearly getting your child killed does put a damper on your day.

I don't know how the parents of soldiers manage it.

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I just do. It made me cry and all, the way "Puff the Magic Dragon" still does.

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Apparently the WGC has changed the rules on clip shows. Now, if you write a clip show, you get a percentage of the all-important Production Fee proportionate to the amount of live footage shot. So, if 50% of your show is clips, you only get 50% of the Production Fee. That can really affect your mortgage payments.

This is particularly unfortunate because clip shows are harder to write than regular shows. You have to work the clips into the episode in some way that excuses your reusing old footage, and, hopefully, sheds new light on it. So story editors usually get stuck with writing clip shows, because free lancers don't know the show well enough.

There's a good argument for the change. Under the rules, producers have to pay the production fee to anyone who wrote the clips in question, also in percentage proportionate to the amount of clip footage used. So if they had to pay the full p.f. to the writer of the ep, they'd wind up paying well over 100% of the p.f. on the ep. Which is arguably unfair.

A better solution is not to write clip shows. But that's like saying, "Don't run over schedule and over budget." 'Cause that's why you usually need a clip show. You've run out of time.

Well, now you know.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

On our way up from New York back home to Montreal, we visited Storm King. It's an estate of rolling hills, lawns and trees, and huge sculptures from the 1960's -- all those big structural statements, arrangements of pipes and blocks and so on. In the city they would seem sort of beside the point -- the city itself is an arrangement of blocks and pipes -- but in the countryside, in the blazing fall foliage, they were remarkable. The place is arranged so you are always coming over a ridge and discovering something new in the valley or at the top of the next ridge. We got there much too late -- it wants a day, and we only had an hour, thanks to utterly inadequate signage -- but it was worth the detour. And the Pikepie had fun beebling about on the grass. Truthfully she is happy everywhere. It's nice to take her places where she can amuse herself in nature...

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Showcase keeps putting "Next Week on the L Word" right after the last frame of the episode. That means you can't really absorb the emotional meaning of the ending. It also makes it hard to avoid "Next Week On." I don't watch "Next Week On" because I already plan to watch the show. I don't want to know how it's going to turn out. "Next Week On" is more likely to make me miss the show than see it -- sometimes "Next Week On" has something obviously dorky and I think, "oh, don't need to see that."

So, Showcase: wouldja please cut to a commercial? Just one commercial, at least? Thanks.

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A visit to a dear friend of mine yesterday put me in mind of the old story: The jazz band flies into Nowheresville, Wyoming, in the teeth of a snowstorm. And there's no van to pick them up, and the town has no cabs. So they have to hoof it down the road through the snow to their hotel. Ten miles, in their second-best shoes, down a gale-swept road, and night is falling and their feet are freezing. And they come to a small farmhouse by the side of the road. Smoke is coming out of the chimney, and the light inside is warm and inviting. They're drawn to the house, and they peek inside the windows to see the farm family: Mom and Dad sitting on the couch, Mom knitting and Dad reading. The kids are laughing and playing a board game on the carpet in front of a fire, while Grandma's sleeping comfortably in her wing chair. And one jazz musician turns to another and says: "Man, how can people live like that???"

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The Chicago Sun-Times writes about a Radar Magazine article exposing just how much of reality shows is fictionalized. They talk about Frankenbyting -- editing what people say so they appear to be saying something they never said or meant -- and adding sounds to imply o.s. characters (oops, participants) were having oral sex when they weren't. They even hire actors to dub in things they didn't say.

What I found remarkable about America's Next Top Model was what wasn't faked. On Season One, when Adrian won, there was nothing faked about her reaction. I've never seen anyone so happy. It was the reaction of a girl who had never won anything before in her life, who just got handed the keys to the castle. It was Cinderella when the Prince shows up looking for the girl who fits the glass slipper. If you want to see what thunderstruck looks like, that's it.

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I'd like to hear a little more from readers about this move to five act structure. (Especially since WriterAction doesn't let members of sister guilds participate. Not very neighborly, eh?)

How do you experience a five act story differently?

Are there more "soft outs" (act breaks that aren't cliffhangers or heavy emotional moments?

Does it feel like a longer story?

What are the flavors of the different outs?

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

...is an entire pier off 52nd St. in Manhattan packed with art that, by and large, does not suck, all under ten thousand bucks. (Affordable is a relative term, obviously.) There's a woman who's doing old style Japanese woodcuts in homage to Hokusai. There's Steve Curry, who did the striking picture of the Afghan girl for Life. There are funny little hanging things and enamelled bottle caps and animal trophy heads made out of plush fabric, and polished wood burls from Tennessee. A few things I wouldn't mind having though nothing I absolutely had to have. And considering how modern art has largely banished beauty, that's a big plus.

Next year, Lisa should be a panelist there!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

DMc has noticed that shows like Lost are going to five acts. It certainly feels that way sometimes. But maybe what we're seeing is just metastasizing teasers?

As for comedy, yes, I think it's all three acts now. Not so much to squeeze in another commercial, but to accommodate more story. Three acts just feels more natural. The old two act shows really drag when you watch them now.

UPDATE: Several readers write in to say, yes, some shows are going to five and even six acts. YIKES. I guess I'm going to have to change some language in my book, aren't I?

I wonder what this does the "flavor" of the act outs? Where is your "moment of greatest jeopardy" (normally act three out)? When do you upend the plot (normally act two out)?

I have to say, the script we're writing now works rather well in five acts, as the tag has gotten a little bit long. Four acts with teaser and tag don't have to be much different than six acts without teaser or tag.

This may seem fairly petty or arcane to you if you're new at this, but a lot of learning to write TV is learning to write within a specific structure of acts -- four for hour drama, three for half hour comedy. (Used to be two for half hour comedy.) If this five act thing catches on, it will require some retraining.

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Checking out a certain agent's website, I was surprised to see this:
5. In consideration of Agent's services, Client agrees to pay, by certified cheque or draft made payable to Scammo Entertainment Inc. [not its real name] an administration fee of $53.50/month to remain on the roster...

7. A one time start up cost of $107.00 is required upon signing of this agreement. Several hours will go into preparing and requesting several necessary documents and information and this cost is to be used for that purpose. In other words, the Agents time involved. All monies to be paid in American currency. The initial payment pertaining to the first signing must be in the form of a certified cheque or draft made payable to the full company name.
In my strong opinion (and that of the WGA), it is NOT KOSHER for an agent to charge fees. Charge for copying scripts, maybe. Charge for mailing scripts, uh, okay. Maybe. I paid those when I was just beginning. Charge for being your agent: just say no.

If they can't make a living from 10% of what you make with their help, you do not need their help.

The agent in question also claims to be a successful Canadian country music artist. I guess every singer-songwriter needs some way to make ends meet.

I love these numbers, though. $53.50, huh? Is that a round number in dinars?

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Q. I am currently being pursued by Yersinia Pestis [not her real name], a Toronto-based agent. I am an American and currently have an agent representing my work in fiction and comics; however, I do not have screenwriting representation (thus, Yersinia's interest in me). I was wondering if you were familiar with Ms. Pestis and, if so, could pass along your opinion of her. Because of her location, as well as the fact that she is not a WGA signatory, I am inclined to pass on her offer of representation.
My first question is: is Ms. Pestis WGC-signatory? If she's not signatory with either guild, forget it.

My other question is: how on Earth is a Toronto agent going to get you work or sell your material? You're not Canadian, so she can't get you any work in Canada. The Canadian film and TV industry depends on government subsidies for "Canadian Content" output. If you're not Canadian or a permanent resident in Canada, you're useless to Canadian producers, except as a paperweight. And she's in Toronto, so how's she going to get you work in LA? Agents sell to people they have lunch with. Occasionally my Toronto agents will go to LA. But I'm not holding my breath for them to sell me in LA. It can happen when people are high enough profile, e.g. you have just made the highest grossing Quebec film ever and Ho'wood wants to know who you are. Then you go down to LA with your agent and take meetings. But it's rare. Not you-actually-see-some-net-profits rare. But rare.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In the first season, I could relate to the women, they were quite
similar to me and my friends. We don't have quite as much drama as
they do but their lives seem to parallel ours. Some of us are
executives, some are artists, there's a "shane" like friend (not in
"butchness" but in the love'em and leave'em kinda way). And the
problems they faced seemed "real" to me and my friends who fell in
love with the show.

During the second season the writers seemed to have decided to throw
in everything but the kitchen sink. Jenny's storyline was nothing but
annoying. I know strippers who are lesbian, not one of them uses
their job to purge some childhood trauma. In fact, they are mostly in
it for the money and the power trip. One of them told me that she
liked dancing since she had all the power in the room when she was on
stage.

There were complaints during the first season that not a lot of
"butch" women were portrayed on the show. Ilene Chaiken defended
against this by saying that it was a story about 6 friends, and their
lives, and wasn't meant to be a representation of every facet of
lesbian society. NOW... on the third season, they have abandoned that
and are going to introduce a Female to Male transsexual. I've been a
lesbian in Atlanta (the gay mecca of the South) for 15 years and I've
NEVER meet or heard of a FTM tranny. Let alone have it be so
convenient that Jenny (the "new" lesbian) be the one who gets involved
with her. I think I would have less of an issue with it if one of the
more established as lesbian characters were given that story line.
Give me some emotional reality, some angst about being attracted to
someone like that when you don't define yourself as anything but a
lipstick lesbian who exclusively dates your own "kind" or woman. That
kind of thing. Not this instant meet Jenny at the bar (in IOWA!) one
night and run off to LA to live with her crap.

It just seems that they've decided to throw in every damn thing they
can think of instead of following the premise of the series which is
the story of the 6 friends. Most of the plot lines were are
preposterous. They've managed in 2 seasons to have one character
(Marina) attempt suicide, and then it was revealed that she was
married to a male "Count". Plus it was totally unbelievable the Jenny
didn't run to the hospital when she heard the news. Shane and Jenny
had to take in a roommate in order to make ends meet but are
constantly wearing new clothes and doing things like going on cruises
(Olivia cruises are NOT cheap). Dana changed from being a kinda goofy
I-don't-have-a clue lesbian who was basically a good egg to being a
sex crazed and conniving cheater who gets dumped and moves on without
a batting an eyelash. Mark would have gotten his ass KICKED for
filming any of my friends. The whole Jenny/Shane/Carmen thing?
Unreal. Yes, the lesbian community is incestuous but friendships (of
many years) have been killed over a woman. Not made stronger by it.
The whole sex on the toilet thing... DISGUSTING. And the hits keep
coming... one stupid plot line and after another.

My friends and I have discussed this, and we all agree, there's plenty
of drama in "ordinary" lesbian lives without the circus freak show
aspect the Chaiken and company seem determined to pursue. For
instance, they could have explored Jenny coming out to her parents and
then dealing with her childhood abuse through resolving the issues
brought up within that dynamic. But.. no.. they had to give her the
latest traumatic acting out de jour... she's a cutter.

They could dealt with the drama of having a woman who's firmly
established as being lesbian finding a guy attractive and her dealing
with not only an erotic attraction to him but also being attracted the
ease with which "straight" people are accepted by society.

They could have taken longer with the Dana being gay but having to
stay in closet for her career's sake plot line.

There's many stories that they could have done, however, all of those
stories require strong writing and while I think it was present in the
first season, it was sadly and noticeable absent in the second.


I've noticed a number of shows that seem to lose faith in their main characters and their template. The OC jumped the shark for me when it stopped being about a poor kid, Ryan, dealing with the problems of a bunch of rich kids, and started being about characters coming from everyone's past, and fugitives on the run from 20 year old bombings and the like. It seems to me if you were honest about it, you could stick with Ryan and the rich kids and never run out of material. But once you go for the flash, your show gets hooked and it's hard to go back to good story telling. Whereas if you trust your characters, like Gray's Anatomy does, you discover they're much more interesting than they were when you first wrote them.

I hope we keep trusting our characters on the show we're creating now...

UPDATE: Welcome, Television Without Pity readers (and thanks to Writergurl for the many new visitors!). If you're interested in posts about writing and watching TV, here is an index of some of my best, I think.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Mr. McClellan added: "It would be unprecedented for a sitting president to release deliberative decision-making documents while they [sic] are in office. That is unheard of. It would have a chilling effect on the ability of the president to continue to receive sound and open and candid advice from his advisers."
THEN DON'T NOMINATE YOUR ADVISERS TO THE SUPREME COURT, BINKY!

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Another military blogger has been terminated and forced to recant:

For the record, I am officially a supporter of the administration and of her policies. I am a proponent for the war against terror and I believe in the mission in Iraq. I understand my role in that mission, and I accept it. I understand that I signed the contract which makes stop loss legal, and I retract any statements I made in the past that contradict this one. Furthermore, I have the utmost confidence in the leadership of my chain of command, including (but not limited to) the president George Bush and the honorable secretary of defense Rumsfeld. If I have ever written anything on this site or on others that lead the reader to believe otherwise, please consider this a full and complete retraction.

So are they all, all honorable men.

During the Stalinist purges, scientists forced to incriminate themselves as British spies would sometimes attempt to make their confessions so ridiculous that, assuming they weren't murdered, and assuming the purges ever ended, someone might eventually notice and set them free. They would confess to revealing the formula to sulfuric acid, or water.

While I can understand that the military hates to be busted about the failures of its mission in Iraq, are we really going to win the war by forcing our soldiers to lie about how it's going? I have read many places that the Tet Offensive was a military disaster for the Viet Cong -- but that the US Army had lied so many times at that point that no one would believe it when it told the truth about winning Tet. If the US Army won't let soldiers tell the truth about Iraq now, how are we supposed to believe it later?

Via Kung Fu Monkey.

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If you're in Montreal, then don't miss the funeral march through Old Montreal Saturday night. Last year it was spectacular. I saw several hundred goblins, wraiths, wights, ghosts and other undead marching to the tune of an undead Dixieland band.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Senator Hutchison [R-Texas] said she hoped "that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars."
Is irony utterly lost on these people?

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Chris C writes in:
"Maybe we should post the script on [a] blog and get people to tell us what they think."
Well, aside from the likelihood that someone might steal your idea and write it up better than you (you can copyright your script, but not the idea behind it), the problem is that most people are not qualified to read a script. Hell, most people in the industry don't know how to read a script. And you're going to revise your script based on the last guy to read your blog?

I do suggest that if you don't know anyone in the biz who can read your TV spec, you find the most intelligent person on the relevant Television Without Pity forum and ask him or her if they'd be willing to read it for you. But then you've at least established that they know what they're talking about.

All feedback is useful, if you know how to use it. If someone has a problem, there is probably something wrong with your script, though it's not always what they think is the problem. But most people's suggestions on how to fix your script are crap. Most people do not know how to write or edit a script. Sorry, but it requires years of application to your craft, and a bit of talent too. And most of the people who have both talent and craft are too busy writing and story editing for money to chip in their $2,000 worth of advice for free on the Net.

That's why I wouldn't be interested in "open source filmmaking."

But hey, if it's fun, why not? And I could be wrong.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

We've turned the corner so many times in Iraq that we're just circling the block.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

As the girls repeatedly plunge into problems more or less entirely of their own making, I'm wondering ... is The L Word a comedy in dramatic clothing?

I'm not sure that "problems of their own making" is a great definition of comedy. But it is hard to feel too badly about people who are floundering in their own quagmires, unless they're hurting innocent people--

--must, must avoid political parallel, down boy--

--whew! And it is hard to avoid sympathy for people who are suffering in spite of their every effort. The Grapes of Wrath, serious drama. Cain't much argue with a dust storm. And it is hard to feel too mournful for Jenny in her efforts to define herself while sleeping with whoever crosses her path. Or for Bette, when she goes out of her way to piss everyone around her off.

I heard once that Chekhov considered his plays comedies, and produced them as such. If you've ever directed them (I directed one Chekhov scene in a class once), you notice how they start out as almost nothing at all, but build as you work on them with the directors ... into broad farce. His characters are fundamentally ridiculous people in ridiculous situations. Too bad most directors never get the memo...

Now all we need is a laugh track. Just like the on that worked so well on Sports Night.

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We are watching America's Next Top Model as, uh, research. (I have a weird freakin' job. But I love it.)

Anyway, this is a hysterical show! Omigod!

I could live without the boring talk at the end ("One of you will be sent on your merry way") with all the drawn-out drama. But the personalities in conflict are fun. And the insights into the girls.

I'm pretty thrilled, because we're in this territory for Exposure, and this show is opening up a lot of possibilities for me, when I was already seeing tons of possibilities...

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This morning I had a needle stuck in my shoulder and a bunch of gook injected. It's called a "distensive arthrogram," and Lord willing, it will open up my frozen shoulder a bit. I am pretty sure more painful things have happened to me, but having things stuck where they don't belong adds a whole new level of conceptual pain. I think you could hear me yelling a block away. I hope I didn't scare too many of the clinics customers away. Remind me not to get another frozen shoulder. Please.

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We had a fun get-together at the bar of the Cinémathèque Québecoise last night, a passel of us writers and directors and editors and that. Montreal doesn't have the same showbiz whirl that LA does, not just because there's so much few show people here, but because our show people don't hang out with each other. (Many people have confirmed this impression of mine, so it's not my deodorant.) When people knock off work, they go home and spent time with their family, just like recently fired bureaucrats. Charming, really. But it makes it that harder to keep creative projects in the province. Writer and directors don't hook up, so they have to take the train to Toronto. So every now and then, out of sheer loneliness, I throw one event or another. They're always fun. I wonder when someone else will organize one?

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Every now and then, someone hires me to read their script and give them a critique. Can't tell you how many times the solution -- after I've broken down issues with the main character, his goal or problem, his obstacles or antagonist, the stakes and / or the jeopardy -- is to tell the story out loud. Over and over. Without notes.

I've said this before, in both my books, but the scripts keep coming in where it's obvious the writer has never told the story to anyone, he's just sat down and written it out on paper. He hasn't even read his story out loud to anyone with notes. So I'll say it again. Telling your story out loud, without notes, is the single best storytelling tool anyone has. And everyone has it. Everyone knows how to tell a story. They just forget it the moment they start putting words on the page.

We tell stories all the time. Stories about friends. Stories about why we're late. We tell our friends what's going on with us. Not to mention the standard stories we tell over and over: how my wife and I met, what was wrong with my first marriage, that time Gary Busey insisted on taking me to the Club Supersexe so I could tell him what his character was all about.

Everybody understands what a fun, interesting story is. And everyone knows how to embellish a story so that it gets more interesting in the telling.

Do that when you're coming up with a screen story. Don't write stuff down. Get the story up on its feet. Tell it to friends. (Non-writer friends, or they may steal it, if it's good.) Tell it to waitresses. Tell it to your auto mechanic. Tell it to your kids.

If they're bored, then your story is boring, or you're presenting it in a boring way. Fix how you're telling it or fix it. And tell it again.

Nothing will streamline your story faster. If you can't remember how to get from one bit of plot to the next, that's because your plot doesn't flow properly. Make up something that flows better.

The problem with writing down stories is they get set in concrete. You don't question their sequence. You don't have to remember the next step. It's right there. If a step is boring, you can just blip over it. Telling a story out loud forces you to keep it simple, keep it clever, and keep it flowing logically.

This won't work with fancy art film narrative techniques, a la 21 Grams. But even in those films, there's an underlying story of what actually happened. That story still needs to be interesting. Tell that story out loud, and then bust up the narrative later once you know what it is.

Telling a story out loud is scary. But there is no more powerful storytelling tool. That's why TV writers always have to pitch out loud, over the phone or in person. It keeps the story alive. If you're scared, shouldn't you be more scared of telling a bad story? Get over it!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Andrea Levin of the New York Sun has accused The Sundance Channel of airing a whole slew of one-sided anti-Israel documentaries in this article. There is, for example, a documentary about how humiliating it is for Palestinians to go through all those checkpoints, that somehow forgets to mention the repeated suicide bombings of civilians that make the checkpoints necessary.

Personally I'm not fond of the self-destructive Israeli policy of building settlements in the occupied territories, but I also feel that there is a left wing habit of holding Israel up to a much higher standard than any other nation. I see college kids demonstrating here against the Wall, which separates Palestinians from their own fields, but I don't see anyone marching against the genocide in Darfur, or for that matter, anyone marching against the suicide bombers. One of the most effective ways to lie is to tell a small truth out of context.

A parallel thought: I know, when I watch TV, that I'm watching fiction. But I also have trouble differentiating fact from fantasy. I often catch myself assuming that a certain "fact" asserted in a fictional show is, actually, a fact, because it sounds like one. If some character asserts that, say, one-tenth of the population is gay, in the context of a crime show, I tend to assume that the factoid comes out of real research. Or that we're losing X number of acres of the Amazon per minute. Or that there's an X percentage chance that a world-killing asteroid will hit in the next hundrd years. Whereas, in fact, writers make stuff up like that all the time. I know I do.

I used to work for a fellow who told the most outrageous fabrications all the time. The weirdest thing was when we were dealing with someone else who was, to me obviously, telling an outrageous fabrication of his own. My then boss became incredibly gullible when he was dealing with other fabricators. It's hard to keep a skeptical mind all the time.

I guess that's the principle behind Goebbel's Big Lie technique. Tell a lie, tell it loud enough and often enough, and people will tend to assume that at least some of it is true...

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Writing the pilot is the toughest part of writing television. You're writing an episode, creating a template, and setting the tone for the show. You're creating the voices for the characters. You're teasing the audience, giving them a sense of what the show's going to be like.

You're creating the show. And, oh, you don't have a writing staff yet. And if you get it wrong, you won't get a writing staff, or another episode to make it right. This is it, baby. This is where you prove that you really have a good concept -- or not.

Yikes.

What is the hook? The pilot has to sell that.

What is the attractive fantasy -- what is the wish fulfillment your show gives the audience, if any. (Not all shows have it. Oz has a negative fantasy; so do most comedies.)

Who's the central character?

What happens every week?

Who's core cast and who's just recurring?

By the time I get to writing a pilot, I've already written what amounts to a show bible. That's just me; other writers with more impressive credits don't do that. (It's also the Canadian TV system, which seems more oriented to written pitch bibles than the US does.) I've got a dozen pages of sizzle about the show, descriptions of characters and possible springboards for episodes.

The moment you start writing the pilot, you start realizing that some of the stuff in the pilot won't work. The character you might have thought was central may not work. Another character may come alive and insist on more attention. You have to trust yourself. No one ever won a battle without a battle plan -- but smart generals are ready to change their plans when obstacles or opportunities demand it. Same with writing a pilot...

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Here's a little more on Sorkin's new show. The article claims that with Desperate Housewives doing so well, TV execs are paying more attention to spec pilots. I have no idea if that's true, but it makes sense that in a spec pilot, a writer has more chance to get his vision on the page undiluted before other people weigh in. He can work the kinks out (or work more kinks in) and find what he really wants the show to be before bringing it to anyone's attention. So they ought to pay more attention, anyway.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

I bought an iPod basically so I could listen to Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys out loud, so I wouldn't read it too fast... if you see a boy with those silly white earphones and a big shaggy dog who's getting a longer walk than usual around the Old Port, that'd be me.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Gazette has a writeup about Bon Cop / Bad Cop, the bilingual French/English buddy cop comedy I worked on this summer. Should be a fun movie, eh?

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Got an email from Julie Goes to Hollywood, who seems like a fascinating person who's had a charming life, unless it's the other way around. After chucking what some might consider a glamorous career as a foreign correspondent, she's got another blog about being a peon in Hollywood.

And with all the flood of blogs, I'm wondering why we're all doing it.

Okay, I'm doing it to (a) crystallize my own thinking about how TV works, which then (b) goes into my book (c) which the blog also promotes. And I get to (d) meet fascinating people over the net. And I get to (e) give something back. I mean, I wish I'd had all those blogs in my sidebar to read when I was first getting into the biz. All there was, was Adventures in the Screen Trade, from William Goldman who, let's face it, did not have a tough time breaking in.

One of the frustrations of blogging is meeting all these fascinating people who do not live close enough to invite to a dinner party or a poker game. After five years in Montreal, I still know more people I'd like to eat food with outside Quebec than inside it. I wonder to what degree our virtual lives get in the way of our physical ones.

On the other hand, without the blogs, without email and cheap long distance phone calls, I might simply not know anyone anywhere.

At least I'm writing TV -- a job in which you work with the production people and get to snoop around the set. If all I did was write film scripts and occasionally meet with directors, it would be a lonely, lonely career.

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How about Corner Gas?
I think you probably could spec a Corner Gas to show to Canadian producers, writers and network execs. Not everyone's seen it, but anybody doing comedy should have by now. And, Corner Gas has a clear template -- it ought to be easy to get it right. So yeah, go for it.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

... the White House stage-managed a videoconference between the President and some soldiers, where the President was to ask them questions about the war and get honest, unscripted answers. Only the White House turned on the satellite feed a little too early -- while the President's people were still coaching the handpicked soldiers on what they were supposed to say to the President.

Oops.

Just once, I want to hear Scott McClellan come back from something like that and say, "Well, I guess I'm just a lying sack of s***, aren't I?"

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Joshua James of The Daily Dojo writes in:
Someone wrote in to state ... that there are loads a places to workshop a new play and very few places to workshop a musical.

This is untrue, in my experience as a playwright. In fact, the reverse is true. I speak as a New York playwright who's also worked in more than a few theatres and programs as intern, director, anything and everything. There are many awards for the struggling composer (such as the one Jonathan Larson got before Rent) and fellowships and all one needs to do, to check, is get a current copy of The Dramatists Sourcebook, and source my claim. In fact, may of the places the author mentioned (Long Wharf is one) also workshop new musicals.

In short, there are many, many places where one can workshop a musical (the Hal Prince Musical Workshop in nyc is one, where I used to work - Denver Center for Performing is another, a big regional one) and fewer that do straight plays.

Why is this? Economics.

Musicals make more money than plays, easier to tour, and soundtracks make almost as much money as the musicals do. Theatre producers are desperate for hit musicals, just one can make you rich forever (Urinetown put the NYC Fringe Festival on the map and they still make money off of it), get you the house in the Hamptons and get you all the cool invites to high society you would want.

Now it may seem otherwise because there are less new musicals than there are new plays, but the reason for that is that musicals are much harder to write, not only do you have to have a good book, you have to have a good score and good lyricist - it's hard enough to write a good play, now add two more difficult creative disciplines, and may I add that from what I've witnessed, quite a few composers are very difficult to work with, and try to make the whole thing seem like a fun experience worth a hundred bucks a ticket (Hard to do without a really good hook - it's one reason they keep pirating films, hoping to score another Producers) and more expensive to mount - but to state that there are more opportunities to workshop new plays than musicals is, in my experience (and many of those folks who work in that industry) patently untrue. There are many, many opportunities for a commercial musical (if you can come up with it) - much more than a play.

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I'm responding to your a post - unfortunately, I do not have a blogger ID or I would comment there...
You know, guys, you can sign up for a Blogger ID without signing up for a blog. You have to tell them, really, VERY LITTLE to get a blogger ID so that you can comment. You do not need to have a blog on Blogger. In fact I'm fairly sure you can register your non-blogger blog in your Blogger ID. It's a pure formality, like registering to read the Washington Post.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Lisa E writes in comments on the last post:
OK, here's my impresaria fantasy:

There are many places to workshop a straight play: Long Wharf, Eugene Oneil, Actors Theater of Louisville, Playwright's Horizons, et al. To my knowledge, there's no good place to workshop musicals. I suspect that many would-be musical writers/composers work in other genres (Fringe Festivals, etc) because they have no venue to create a "real" musical.

What if you had a one-month workshop where a group of selected musical writer/composers could workshop their shows? You could have an agreement with an orchestra that's in its "dark" season, and audition a group of actors/singers, who would work on multiple shows. THe chance to hear your words sung by real singers, accompanied by a real orchestra, would be an amazing thing for show creators.

As Alex noted, the Fantasticks didn't require anything fancy -- it actually started as a summer theater project at Barnard College. I saw A Chorus Line at the Public Theater -- it was a nearly blank stage, with some dancers in leotards. We think of Andrew Lloyd Webber as being the creator of overly lavish productions, but his first hit -- Jesus Christ Superstar -- had minimal technical requirements; you could do it on a blank stage and it would still be great.

I think that if writers/composers had a reasonable chance of mounting their shows, we'd see a lot more creativity in the genre.

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I'm blanking on the line in this week's Grey's Anatomy, but Meredith Grey says something about how she's "fine," and Dr. Bailey explodes about her "fineness," and Bailey's line was in no way correct grammatically, but it felt very real. It was basically a bunch of words around a conceptual core, which was the word "fineness." If I had to rewrite the line it would be something like, "Oh, you've been parading your fineness all over the hospital," but that's too grammatical already.

Dialog sounds written when it's too grammatical. I think when people talk fast, they tend to decide on a word they want to get to, a word that sums up their point, and then they fill in the path to that word with whatever words come in handy. They make nouns out of verbs and verbs out of nouns because they're not about to take the time to reformulate the sentence in their head so that the word they want to use is in the right place. I think we have an idea what word we want to stress, and we build up words around it so that the stressed word is the core of the phrases we're going to use. But really we're just after the stressed word.

I'm gonna have to dig up that Dr. Bailey quote, or at least get me some coffee...

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rather than investing in Lord of the Rings, Lisa suggests, you could fund a musical theater workshop with a real orchestra. Broadway is dying for inventive theater. The only fresh stuff it gets comes from London, where the British government subsidizes the arts. Rather than throwing money at a big-money "sure thing" (which is, of course, not at all a sure thing), throw a little money at a lot of small shows. The Fantasticks didn't rely on having an actual helicopter on stage. Why not use the money to promote small homegrown shows? (And keep my friend Denis in beer money?)

I'm paraphrasing, of course, because I'm hoping Lisa will just post her thoughts herself...

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Crafty TV Writing:
Thinking Inside the Box

A professional TV writer's real-world guide
to getting paid to write great television

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Years ago, I was working with a producer on a script written by the intended director. The script was a mess, but the producer knew it, and so I went to town on the script. Made sense of the plot. Made sense of the characters. Amped up urgency. Came up with clever plot twists to replace the predictable and cliché. Took it from a truly awful script to a not-at-all-bad script.

And the director threatened to quit the show if we didn't go back to his terrible script.

We shot his script.

A few years later, same thing, only this time the script wasn't that bad, and we didn't go back to the director's bad draft, he just wrote a new draft. Or maybe a friend of his did, I forget.

In both cases, the director was the one in control of the show. Directors usually are, once they're on board. I wasn't entirely wrong to do what the producer wanted -- after all, he was paying me. But I was wrong in not buddying up to the director. Since I didn't give the director what he wanted, I was wasting my time. (Except, of course, for the paycheck.)

Always identify the 500 pound gorilla on the project. Never write a draft behind the gorilla's back. You'll get paid, but the gorilla will chuck your script out no matter how good it is. It's not his vision. It's your vision. He wants his vision.

The gorilla is not always the director. It might be the producer. It might be a star. It might be a studio or network exec. It's up to you to identify the gorilla.

Oh, by the way, the terrible script we shot? Unreleased for the better part of a decade.

Doesn't matter. Being right, and a token, will get you on the subway, if you don't drop the token.

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My dear friend C reports that if you are lucky enough to reside in Montreal, you can get a grant for writing a short film (not a feature) from SODEC (la Société de Développement des Entreprises Culturelles), even if you have no feature credits. (I always mispell it "SODEQ," but apparently the Q is understood.)

You can also wangle some dollarettes out of the Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Quebec, but only for "an artsy, 'auteur,' cultural project. Not something commercial... God forbid." She adds: "Of course, only a small percentage of the $ goes to English-language projects but at least they give you feedback and it puts your name on the map with them so maybe they'll take you more seriously the next time around."

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The province of Ontario is now investing in stage musicals. At least, they're investing in Lord of the Rings onstage. Oh, boy. That's just what we want. Politicians as impresarios.

I'm sure, though, that they're making the decision on a sound financial basis, and this is in no way a wild gamble with taxpayer money, whose only guarantee is that the officials involved will have box seats to hand out to friends.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Serial Assistant just got a job as a writer's assistant, and in this post, he explains how he dunnit.

Via You're Entering a World of Pain, another assistant's blog about, as you probably assumed, showbiz.

Boy, you kids. Why, back in my day, we had to walk five miles through the snow to even get to read a blog about how to break into show business... And not only that, we have to make the snow first. None of that fluffy CGI stuff...

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Is this a weird promotional site for a movie, or what?

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After everyone's glowing reviews -- glowing in the way that embers glow -- I took my time watching the Commander in Chief pilot. The show so quickly betrays the truth of the main character -- or any main character -- that it became unwatchable.

The driving question is: the President is dying. Everybody wants the Vice President to resign so they can get a Vice President that the President likes better.

I'm sorry. People are asking a politician to resign her office because it's the right thing to do. Someone who suffered through an election campaign. Someone with the strength to win a campaign.

Are you kidding?

I know there are mitigating details in there -- she's not a career politicians, whatever -- but those just make the story more ridiculous. This woman actually asks her kids what they think she should do. Like it's a serious question.

It's like The West Wing, if Aaron Sorkin had never read American politics, and didn't have Dee Dee Myers and Peggy Noonan -- real Washington insiders -- on staff.

The reason I'm going to watch a show called Commander in Chief is because I want to get a sense I'm peeking into a world I've never seen before -- a real world, full of life and death decisions. That's why I watch Grey's Anatomy and Over There. But if they're just going to make it up ... what's the point?

UPDATE: And, hah! This just in. Steve Bochco is going to run the show. Rod Lurie gets to keep his credit, but he's not in charge of the show any more. This tells me that Geena Davis has too expensive a deal to just kill the show. They have to keep it going somehow. So, bring in the biggest hired gun you can find...

UPDATE AGAIN: Jeff points out below: "The show's the highest rated new series of the season..." Which goes to show you: I don't know what the audience wants to see; I have opinions about how to tell stories. It may be that seeing a soft-hearted tough-minded Geena Davis as President is what people want to watch, and they're not that worried about whether it's realistic or not. After all, West Wing was always about too-good-to-be-true Democrats struggling against too-good-to-be-true Republicans, not the real nasty mess Washington really is. C-in-C doesn't float my boat, but then, I'm not a Desperate Housewives fan, either. Jeff is, along with millions of other people.

These are the sorts of things that make network execs sometimes seem thickheaded, when really they are almost always very smart people dealing with problems and data that you, the writer, will never have to deal with directly.

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Joss Whedon talks about how he shot Serenity in L.A. in this L.A. Times article. Supposedly a lot of people (powerful ones like Jodie Foster) are rebelling against shooting out of town because it strains their marriages. (It's sweet, people in LA caring about their marriages.) Methinks the LA Times doth protest too much, but still, it tells you a bit about the biz.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

I'm not a fan of docs; I'll only watch one if it's highly recommended, or my friend Doug Pray directed it. But y'all documentarists, here's a thought: tens of thousand of people from New Orleans are making new lives across the country. Take, say, a New Orleans football team that's now scattered to the winds. Follow what happens to its members. How do they adapt? What's it like to be a southerner in Ohio? Society changed what all the GI's came back from Europe in '45. How will Louisiana change when people have seen the rest of the country? How will the rest of the country change?

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... continues to tell strong stories with good characters. I'll keep watching.

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THE SCREENPLAY LAB will present a screening of the Emmy nominated "THE INSIDE PITCH" on Sunday, October 16th at 2:00pm at the Raleigh Studios in Hollywood.

Afterwards, Christopher Lockhart, ICM exec and THE INSIDE PITCH co-host, will host a PITCH-IN - the event that served as the inspiration for the TV program - where he will listen to pitches and offer feedback. ICM Senior Story Analyst Jason Patti will join him.

The event is free but reservations are necessary.

For more information...

Via Two Adverbs

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Friday, October 07, 2005

I've got some ideas for a Veronica Mars spec but I'm worried that VM has too narrow an audience to work as a spec. So: how do you feel about speccing a small audience show like Veronica Mars or The Wire?
Question isn't how big the national audience is. The question is how big the showbiz audience is. I'd guess Veronica Mars is a good show to spec. If you've been reading around, you've seen Joss Whedon rave about it, and so do John Rogers. If they're watching, other writers are watching it too. Also, it's structurally a good show to spec. It has an uberplot, but it's fairly episodic, so you can slip an episode into the chronology more easily. It doesn't require technical know-how like CSI does. You can show your chops without overdoing the research.

The Wire, on the other hand, is critically acclaimed, but I don't hear people talking about it so much. Other good choices would be Entourage, I think, and Rescue Me.

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I'm looking to break into the television biz, and was wondering how you felt about contacting production companies directly and asking about internship/assistant positions. It seems as if these types of positions aren't directly advertised, and since I don't have any good contacts in the industry, I felt like my best bet might be to cold-call people. On the other hand, I can see how this might seem intrusive and annoying and turn people off. Would you be willing to tell me how you feel about cold calling? Is it an acceptable practice in the industry? And, if I do contact companies, is there an optimal time in the production cycle to do so?
Well, if you cold call them and they're annoyed, you haven't lost anything, have you? Because they didn't know you anyway.

You can always call people and offer to intern. What's not to like about someone offering to work for free? There is little point to calling and asking about paid assistant positions. The odds are poor you'll hit just when they're looking for an assistant -- though it can happen -- and the odds are poor they'll pick you over someone who knows someone they know.

Good luck!

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The guerrilla must move among the people as the fish swims in the sea.
Mao
With current troop levels, it's pretty clear that there is no way our troops can pacify Iraq, if pacification involves eliminating the insurgents from the cities. As happened in Vietnam, we are pursuing a losing strategy because no one is willing to accept the consequences of abandoning it.

A little while ago Slate recommended the "ink blot" strategy: pacify a small area completely, and then spread out from there. As you develop effective government and society within the pacified region, the people outside the pacified region start ot see the advantages.

The drawback is, you abandon the unpacified region completely. There aren't enough troops to keep a presence there and clean out the pacified region.

A more radical strategy, which has been effective in anti-guerrilla campaigns in the past, though no one actually likes it, is to create new population centers, and forcibly move people there. This is the "strategic hamlet" notion of Vietnam, which the British invented back in the Boer War. The "concentration camps" of that war were just that, camps where they concentrated the Boers, not extermination camps. Nonetheless, a lot of Boers died being moved by the British troops. On the other hand, the Boer insurgency lost, because they ran out of people to swim among.

It's not necessary to forcibly move people, though. Suppose you were to establish strategic hamlets and then let people apply to live there. Start with the troops themselves. Only Iraqi Army troops and their families are allowed to live there. Government officials and their families. People with a serious stake in the government winning the insurgency.

Then, slowly, build out from there. Rather than spending $70,000 to fill a pothole or two in Ramallah, spend $70,000 to build a house or two in New Medina, Iraq.

I'm talking gated communities where insurgents aren't wanted, where everyone knows everyone else and they're all on the same side. You're a Wahabist from Syria? Back of the line, bubbie.

What would happen, Ins'allah, is everyone who isn't actively against the government will want to move to safety, and eventually only the guerrillas will be left in the abandoned old cities.

Yes, it's expensive. But it's not as expensive as what we're doing now. I'm pretty sure you could rebuild every building in Iraq, aside from Saddam's palaces, for the $500 billion we've spent there. And Iraq has a lot of desert you could build on.

Of course, to do that would be to admit defeat in our current strategy. But sometimes in order to win, you have to admit you're losing.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Part two of The New Yorker's article "Coal Train" begins with a weird little italicized paragraph
(An armadillo is a van sent out on highways to replace train crews whose regulated hours of service have run out. Dick Eisfeller makes and sells Warholian movies of freight trains. Scott Davis is an engineer, Paul Fitzpatrick a conductor...
It reads like a "previously on."

Gee, now that The New Yorker has them, maybe I should have a page at the beginning of my new book:
Previously, in Crafty Screenwriting:

You need a hook. A script is an element in a package. A story is a character with a problem, opportunity or goal, who faces obstacles and/or an antagonist. He has stakes to win, and faces jeopardy. Get stories by paying attention or stealing. Tell your story out loud. Three act structure is overrated. Only write what you can see or hear. Direct camera, but don't get caught at it. Lose the Rubber Ducky. Drama is conflict. All drafts are first drafts. Genre is the goods you must deliver. Spend a week on your title. Find the truth. Don't write from hunger.

Or would that be giving too much away?

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Jennifer Shiman has a new installment in Bunny Theatre. Now you can watch The Highlander, in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies.

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Got an email the other day from someone who's pitching the head of drama development at one of the top prodcos in Toronto, L. L felt that her template would get old fast. Without giving anything away, it's "every week, the staff of [venue] deal with the outrageous demands of [clients of venue]" Our pitcher writes:
But aren't sitcoms like a Cheers about the characters' wants desire/conflicts and template is secondary? ... This is simply a template like the West Wing's President has to deal with some issue that ties into the characters around him as they resolve the issue together. Am I way off? Or did she not get it?


First of all, if you're dealing with a smart person (and this particular head of drama development is Very Smart), and the Smart Person isn't getting it, then there's something wrong either in your conception or your presentation.

Second, my interpretation of this is that the problem lies in the difference between procedural and character based shows. In a procedural, we're watching to see how interesting characters deal with extraordinary problems. In character based, we're watching to see how interesting characters deal with ordinary problems. In other words, in a procedural, the problems are inherently interesting. A locked room murder is inherently interesting. A deteriorating medical emergency is inherently interesting. In a character based story only the weirdness of the characters makes a particular problem worth following.

West Wing is procedural. The characters are on the same side, but they're at odds with the world. Every week they deal with huge policy issues that are innately interesting; their arguments about how to deal with those issues bring the show to life.

Cheers is character based. The characters' problems are ridiculous and generally of their own making. They're the sort of problems ordinary people have every day, except the characters are handling them much less competently than ordinary people would.

In this particular case, the template is indeed going to get old fast, because it's "about" the special outrageous requests. And L is right that outrageous anything gets tiresome after too many weeks. (Who can stay outraged that long?) The template should be "a kooky bunch of misfits try to deal with the demands of running a [venue]." The outrageous requests are just some of the problems they face. Extortionate plumbers, power outages, riots, greedy management, etc. are your story springboards; the stories are really about how the characters are at odds.

I recommended she rethink and repitch as a character based show...

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

According to Variety, Aaron Sorkin is going out with a spec pilot -- a behind the scenes show about a Saturday Night Live type program. Sports Night, if you will, at a variety show.

You'd think that the more successful you get, the more you'd be willing to write on spec. After all, when you write on spec, you get to make the show exactly the way you like it before anyone else meddles. The more successful you are, the more likely someone will actually buy it. Most of us, though, as soon as we can get paid to do stuff, go for the money rather than the freedom. Partly that's because the more involved the network is in development, the more likely they'll support it getting on the air. Partly because so few things get on the air that you need the development money to stay afloat. (And when I say afloat, I mean, afloat in a styrofoam chair in your pool in Bel Air. But you knew that.) But partly it's because we've had enough rejection, thank you, and enough risk, and now we'd like to know we're getting paid for stuff. But there's a creative cost for that.

I think the trick is to keep a good mix of commissioned stuff and original stuff going. All commissioned stuff makes Jack a dull boy. (Though writing other people's stuff can be creatively engaging too.) All original stuff makes Jack a poor boy unless Jack is phenomenally lucky...

The other trick is to make sure you spend a lot less than you make. The more money in the bank you have, the more you can write what you want. The more you write what you want, often, the more people like it. One of the most lasting bits of screenwriting advice I ever got was from my teacher Sterling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night). "Don't get divorced," he said. He stopped writing original specs after his first alimony payments kicked in. Keep your annual nut below what you can make in 9 months, and you will always have 3 months available for creative thinking...

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This week we've been working up breakdowns for a conference call with the network at the end of the week. Scary and exciting: if things go the right way, we may have a show in development at the network shortly. Moreover, the direction in which the brave and encouraging network people have asked us to take the show is much more challenging, both for us and the audience, than what we'd first pitched. That makes it harder to write, and much more exciting to work on. We're really pushing the envelope here.

As we're getting down into the acts and act outs of the stories, we're discovering all sorts of things about our pitch. Some stories turn out to be smaller and shorter than we'd hoped; they become B stories. Some core cast generate stories less well than we'd thought, and others more so. That's why the pitch bible -- even the show bible -- is no more than a battle plan. Once the enemy starts shooting at you, you have to improvise. Doesn't mean it's not worthwhile having a plan; without a plan it's all just confusion. But it does mean you have to be willing to go with what's working and drop what's not.

Now that we've got our stories broken down, we're writing them up into a leave-behind for the conference call. I never like to send paper before a call. Nothing on paper reads as exciting -- or as emotionally clear -- as an oral pitch. So we'll hold the leave-behind till after the meeting. That way we can also edit it based on the conference call...

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Sunday's episode (was it Sunday's episode?) really failed. Plot lines I didn't care about. Legal maneuvers that made no sense. Lack of commitment to basic character logic. (Why would Allen Shore allow his murderer ex-client to hang around the office? Doesn't he have the authority to kick him out?) Quirky character stuff that added up to nothing. An uninteresting new core character played by a bad actress given bad, earnest, on-the-nose dialog.

I think it's a sign of desperation when shows start bringing in too many new characters. You have to be able to trust your core cast to carry the show. It's easy to bring in new people, but your audience has no one to hold onto, no one to care about, no one to turn in to see.

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Warning: purely political post. Feel free to ignore.
Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.
George Will, in today's Washington Post
I think we can all agree that Harriet Mier's principal qualification for the Supreme Court is having been Bush's lawyer. I can see why someone elected to the Presidency by a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court would want a loyalist on the Court. I just don't see why the Senate has to consent in this case.

I don't subscribe to the notion that the Senate is obliged to accept the President's choice unless he or she is grossly disqualified. I doubt that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they gave the Senate veto rights over appointments. To my mind, the Senate ought to be able to reject anyone who's simply inappropriate -- for example because they are a crony appointment. Look where the Senate's rubber stamping got us with Brownie.

I also think the new tactic of stealth appointees is bad for the Republic. Don't want the Senate to find any gross disqualifications? Pick someone with no record. Do we really want people with no record, either as a judge or a legislator, interpreting our laws?

Miers should be struck down not on partisan grounds -- apparently she was Harry Reid's idea, of all people -- but because the Court deserves better. I don't like Roberts' politics, but at least he's worthy of the court.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lee Thomson has thoughtfully rescued Javier Grillo-Marxuach's response to David Fury's comments in Rolling Stone about Lost from the great bitstream flush. They amount to a window into the Lost writing room, and by extension, all writing rooms. Y'all read it now, heah?

Expounded on further over at Dead Things on Sticks.

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So far, the subtitle that most represents the book -- I'm not saying it's the catchiest, just the most accurate -- is:

CRAFTY TV WRITING: How to think like, write like, and become a television writer
By the author of Crafty Screenwriting.

Can anyone make that sing?

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It looks like, yes, President Bush has indeed stabbed the conservative right in the back with his Supreme Court nomination. I thought he might.

Bush campaigned hard on a platform meant to appeal to evangelicals, but he has never lifted a finger on their behalf as president. The closest he's come is approving some stem cell lines and not others. The one place he could easily have repaid the fundamentalists for their support would have been the Supreme Court. But, in the end, he chose to serve himself and his friends.

This leaves an opportunity for the Democrats to pull evangelicals away from the Republican Party. The message should be: the Republicans are not really your friends. They use your code words and they get you to work for them. But they are just using you. True, we are not going to ban abortion. But they're not going to ban it either. We are not going to institute school prayer. But they won't, either. What we are going to do is help educate your kids and get you better health care.

For this message to work, it's not necessary that evangelicals vote for the Democrats in vast numbers. It's only necessary that some do, and that a few more choose not to vote. If the Republicans don't get huge percentages among evangelicals, they lose.

And they deserve to. Obviously I don't agree with the Christian right. But I sympathize with their feeling that they've been betrayed. They totally have been.

So have the neo-cons. The Bushies aren't really for democracy in Iraq -- that would require a much bigger military commitment. Probably a draft.

So have fiscal conservatives. The Bushies aren't really for lean government. They spend money like a drunken sailor. They can pretend to cut taxes all they like, but it's not really cutting taxes when you just add to the national debt. That's like saving money by putting everything on your credit card.

So have national security hawks. The Bushies have done nothing about Iran. Nothing about North Korea. Nothing about securing container cargo.

The Bushies have once again proven that they're Crony Republicans. They aren't for any of the things they ran for. All they really are for is no-bid contracts for Halliburton. And it's time someone got the message out.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Not loving Threshold, though everyone else seems to. It feels like science fiction written by people who don't like science fiction. They're chasing after a science fiction MacGuffin, but they could be chasing after airborne Ebola, or some Al-Qaeda plot, or anything else from 24. There is nothing intrinsically interesting for me to chew on after the episode is over. I want my science fiction to be about something. What is human? Are we more than the sum of our urges? What profit a man if he gain the world but lose his soul? What price progress? This is sort of like a malevolent Andromeda Strain, but with a lot of grim-jawed operatives, guns and data mining. In fact, it feels a lot like ...

...E-Ring. I like the foreign locales. What bothers me rather deeply is that all the episodes seem to be about us violating international law to grab bad guys. This last episode had two stories about us ignoring our allies to break laws in their territory. In the A story we're kidnapping a bad guy in Uzbekistan without talking to the Uzbeki government. In the B story we are sabotaging a "French protest vessel" in Italian waters.

In other words, the audience is supposed to applaud the use of US military force against peaceful protestors from an allied nation, in the territorial waters of another allied nation. The French government actually did this, of course, when it blew up Greenpeace's boat Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand. It was considered shameful, not just criminal.

As Joseph Welch said to Joe McCarthy: "At long last, senator, have you no shame?" I feel that is how we are forcing even our friends and allies to feel about us: "At long last, America, have you no shame?"

Only I feel less and less like saying "we" these days.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Neil Gaiman, heard on the radio, talking about his new novel, Anansi Boys:
People always used to tell me, "Don't make things up. You know what happens when you make things up." And I didn't, then. But now I do. It involves a lot of international travel, and not having to get up early.

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The Times has an article on product placement in TV shows. Not that it's anything new, of course. But it may become more important. People can't skip past the product placement the way they can the ads. As we move towards a TiVo world, networks are going to have to replace ad revenue with something, whether it's DVD sales or pay tv or product placement or ... ?

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Okay, I'm working on some new taglines.

CRAFTY TV WRITING: How to Get Your Words on the Air

CRAFTY TV WRITING: Writing TV Shows That Get Made

CRAFTY TV WRITING: How to Write, Watch and Think about TV

CRAFTY TV WRITING: How Professional TV Writers Think About TV, and How to Get to Be One

CRAFTY TV WRITING: How to Think Like, Write Like, and Get to Be a Professional TV Writer

CRAFTY TV WRITING: How To Make a Sackful of Cash and Have Actors Suck Up to You and Make Directors Your Bitch

Whoever comes up with the one we use gets a free signed copy of the book. Okay?

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Lisa finished her book last night and sent it in to her editor. Whoo hoo! How to Buy Art is a handbook about how to buy all sorts of fine art (paintings, prints, photos, sculpture, Native American, carpets), for people who can afford the real thing within reason, but don't know how to be sure they're getting the real thing. How do you tell who's selling real contemporary art and who's selling tourist souvenirs? How can you tell when an "antique" carpet is a new carpet that's been aged with a belt sander? When is African art legit and when is it illegal to own? Why is a photograph printed by the photographer worth so much more than the same photo from the same negative printed by his assistant? How can you find art off the beaten track?

Coming in October 2006 (!) from Random House.

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Today, my terrific intern told me he'd run out of things to do, and was there anything else he could do?

Thaaaaaat's how you get ahead in showbiz, folks. I've had half a dozen interns and none of them has ever asked this question. Hell, a lot of them don't even ask questions.

The point of an internship is to prove that you're worth hiring. Showing that you're entrepreneurial is a big step in that direction. Not to mention, being entrepreneurial is the only way you get ahead at any level in show business. Whether it's writing spec scripts, or going to parties you don't really want to go to, or cold-calling people, or sending thank-you notes ... just always come back with more than is asked for and more than is expected.

Good on ya, Laurie!

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