NICE CHAT WITH TOM FONTANA - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, May 25, 2006

I just had a very interesting interview with Tom Fontana (Oz, St. Elsewhere, Bedford Diaries). I'll write it up and run it by Tom next week, and I hope to get it to you guys by the 1st of June. In the mean time, here are the questions...
How much TV do you watch? What shows? Do you watch shows you enjoy, or shows you may not like but are popular, or shows that you feel are stretching the form in an interesting way?

When you come up with a series idea, do you typically target one network or demographic? E.g. do you decide "this one's for HBO, this one's for CBS"? Or do you go out with multiple versions at the same time? Was there ever a broadcast version of "Oz" for example? Was there ever an HBO version of The Bedford Diaries?

As more viewers use technology to skip commercials, or download pirated episodes, what do you think is the future of dramatic TV? Will we move to a subscription model? Encoded episodes?

Is this the best of all possible ways to develop television shows? Or is there a better way?

What do you think of the move to five act structure on some broadcast networks (e.g. ABC)? Does it change anything fundamental? Or are we just looking at a long tag?

Do you have specific goals for the first, second and third act outs? E.g. there's the notion that the second act out should introduce a major plot twist, while the third act out should generate maximum jeopardy. Theoretically the first act out would establish the problem, though the problem is often established in the teaser. Or do you just go wherever the story takes you?

Do you believe in show bibles?

I've heard that networks often only look at the pilot before they greenlight. Is that your experience, and do you know of anyone who's painted themselves into a corner with a great pilot that doesn't make an easy show to write?

Some shows have been described as hybrid genre, e.g. Desperate Housewives has been explained as a drama, a comedy, a mystery and a farce, and Lost has been described as science fiction or mystery or straight drama. Do you worry about whether a show you're creating is in a recognizable genre? Do you think the audience cares? Did, for example, Firefly fail for genre reasons, or for other reasons.

I notice your credits are all on TV. Do you ever get great feature film ideas? And if so what do you do with'em?

When you’re creating a show, are you analytical about the core cast you need? Do you decide how big a core cast you want and then fill in the positions? Do you try to have a love interest, a nemesis, a mentor? Or do you start with springboards?

If you’ve been asked to pitch a show — say ABC tells you it wants “an edgy detective story” — do you have techniques for coming up with a great hook? Do you look around to see what new trends in society or technology you can base a show on, or try to juxtapose genre elements that haven’t been juxtaposed before? Or do you start with characters?

How far ahead do you arc out your episodes? Do you really know what your 100th episode is?

Do you spend a lot of time on the set? Do you send a writer to supervise the shooting? If there’s an on set writer what are his or her responsibilities?
Wellllll ... talk amongst yourselves!

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2 Comments:

In Toronto, I saw Fontana speak to a room back in his 'Homocide' days --- entertaining evening...the quote that stood out for me was his damning of any tv director that came in and wanted to 'try something different' on the floor or 'put their own stamp on episode' in edit room - and started to rage that on his show... 'director's are guests in MY house', and 'they should behave as such'---

Needless to say, he wasn't big on feature directors 'playing' in tv.
Wonder how he feels about that now, given the current trend in LA these days.

By Blogger wcdixon, at 6:59 PM  

I was fortunate enough to speak with Fontana a couple times and have him evaulate a small thing I wrote - it was a great experience and he came across very genuine, real and funny as hell.

I was dying to ask but didn't, I heard he wrote everything out in longhand . . .

I admire him very much - cool guy -

By Blogger Joshua James, at 7:08 PM  

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