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



Baby Name Voyager graphs baby name frequency by decade.

Social Security Administration: Most popular names by year.

Name Trends: Uniquely popular names by year.

Reverse Dictionary Search: "What's that word that means....?"

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Bill Cunningham of DISC/ontent and I think it might be worthwhile to open up a discussion of what comics do for Hollywood in general.

The obvious benefit the movies get from comics is bridging the gap between text and vision. Most people, including studio executives, find it hard to read a script and imagine the movie. Screenwriters spend decades honing their craft to make the movie "jump off the page" into the reader's mind. But there's only so much a screenplay can do. It's extremely difficult to communicate visual style or tone in a screenplay without seeming precious. How, for example, would you communicate the cool retro-futuristic vibe of Men In Black with a page of prose and dialog? Fortunately the comic did that for you.

A comic brings you that much closer to a movie. A comic can prove the concept works. The key to the Hellboy story is that his oversized right hand is the key to opening up the gates of Hell. (More or less.) Written on the page, your reaction might be "that's gonna look dorky." Likewise the cut-off horns. You have to see Mike Mignola's comic to see how Hellboy is, yes, sort of dorky, but that's part of his charm.

I've seen Thirty Days of Night described as a "failed screenplay." I don't know in what way it fails as a screenplay; it would/will probably make a pretty good scary movie. But it certainly communicates a tone, with its scattered, impressionistic art. (A tone, incidentally, which isn't present in the script for the comic, which describes the characters in much greater detail than you can make out from the art.)

Comics aren't a panacea. Comics want to be visual; too much talk and it starts to clutter up the page. You wouldn't want to read a comic book of Clerks. At least, not the Clerks I saw. (If there is a comic book of Clerks -- and knowing what a big comics fan Kevin Smith is, I wouldn't be the least surprised -- I hope it does more visually than the movie does.) I doubt Remains of the Day would work on the page: it's all about the silences, and the minutest details of expressions. That could get precious fast in a comic book.

A lot of people seem to be drawing the obvious conclusion and trying to make comic books as a prototype of their movie. For people who actually like comic books, this must be annoying. A comic book made for a movie is unlikely to use the medium as well as possible, in the same way that a John Grisham or Tom Clancy novel "written for the screen" won't do much with the novelistic form that can't be reproduced in the eventual movie. A comic book made for the screen probably won't change the shape of the frames much. You won't have a big splash page with some inserts, for example, because the writer is thinking linearly. You'll see mostly a grid of linear moments, just like in a movie.

And then there's the habit of stopping a comic short once it's apparent Sony isn't going to buy the movie rights. That would irritate the hell out of me.

Still it's an interesting way to get your idea that much closer to the screen. If pursue it, makes sure it's a good comics idea first. Make sure you're using the medium you're in. Then if you wind up with a successful book, you can adapt it -- really, re-imagine it for the screen.

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I try to make sure my characters' names give a sense of the character. Even ordinary run of the mill names can communicate how old they are. LISA is probably in her forties. ASHLEY is probably twenty. SAM is either ninety, or nine.

You can look up the most common names for each year at the Social Security Administration. Another good place is your alumni newsletter, if you get one.

The nice thing about your alumni newsletter is you also run across some spectacular real names, like the above-mentioned Barnard alumna, Willow Sanchez. I have never met the woman, but she has a wonderful name. If I were coming up with, say, an assistant coroner, and I wanted to give her some character in very few words, I'd give her a name like Willow Sanchez. You just know there's a story there.

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This is just nit picking, I know. But can we all agree that introducing a character by having him wake up late and then run to class is a tired go-to?

Actually, introducing a character by having him wake up at all is a tired go-to.

Ironically, in our first version of the Naked Josh pilot, we had Josh being late to a meeting on campus. (At least we didn't have him wake up late.) Then we scrapped it. It creates a false sense of urgency, but contributes very little to character.

I tried watching the whole episode. I mean, when people borrow the basic concept of your show, you at least owe them the courtesy of watching their pilot. But it was pretty tedious.

I don't think you can get away any more in a pilot with spending most of the episode introducing characters. "Hi, I'm a freshman." "Hi, I'm the girl who jumped off a building." "Hi, I'm the editor of the paper. And you're the teacher who had an affair with a student." These days I think the audience wants you to start your characters off in motion. Just give them interesting stories as if it were a "center cut" episode. We'll pick up who they are from watching them in action.

I'm sure if I'm missing a wonderful show, you'll let me know to keep watching...

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Mark Hand writes
I heard from a producer who worked with Mark Burnett that he says no matter how small the show's budget, it's worth it to spend a lot on your titles. First impressions being what they are, and all. I agree with Burnett, titles are incredibly important.

Specifically, I'm thinking about the two kinds of titles: ones that tell you what the shows are about and the ones that don't. In the old Battlestar Galactica they gave you the premise as a voice over; Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Gilligan's Island did it in the theme song. Speaking of Burnett, Survivor does it with captions. If you think about it, those openers are like public declarations about the show's attractive fantasy: you want to watch this because...

Yet not many shows do it.

I'm wondering what you think about title sequences that tell you what the show's about as opposed to the ones that don't. Or if you have any other thoughts about titles in general.
I don't know how much money you need to spend on your title sequence. But I agree that a title sequence does a lot to set the tone. We've been watching Northern Exposure lately, and the sequence showing the town of Cicely, Alaska, with a young moose wandering around looking the place over, nicely sets the tone for the quirky show. he teaser can't be guaranteed to encapsulate the series; it's just there to hook the audience. A good title sequence tells you what the tone of the show is going to be.

I really like the title sequence to Naked Josh, and not just because my name is there under the words "Created By." It really sets the tone of the show I wanted to write. In some ways, I think it sets a better tone than we achieved in the episodes. It makes the characters feel more like a circle of friends than they actually were.

So, me, I'm in favor of title sequences. Even if I do fast-forward through the endless Sopranos titles, I at least play a few seconds of them every time to remind me of the tone they're going for.

The other nifty thing you can do with title sequences is play with the audience's expectations. If you're going to kill off a main character in your pilot, as so many do these days, be sure to put the character in the main title sequence. Then you'll really sucker the audience. (If you don't, as I gather they didn't do in the Conviction pilot, then everyone knows that character's doomed. No "player character glow" for him!) And of course there's Buffy, "Superstar," where Jonathan has so warped the world by his spell that he's become the superstar of the show in the credits.

So, class: which shows don't have significant main title sequences? If you were designing a main title sequence for them, what would it look like? What does the show lose by not having one?

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

I watched a bit of Julie Taymor's operatic Titus Andronicus adaptation, Titus. I've been pondering her choice to cast the reedy Alan Cumming as Saturninus and give him a little Hitler hair flop. As cast and played, from the git-go we know he's an evil munchkin. So it's hard to understand why Titus Andronicus chooses him over the adorable, deep-eyed Bassianus to be the next emperor.

Now the question is: would it have been better to cast someone adorable as Saturninus, or at least someone strong and leaderly, so we can understand why Titus would choose him? And then we can be with Titus's point of view as Saturninus's evil comes out.

I'm not sure if that would have been better, though. Is the point of the play that Titus makes a terrible mistake based on his blind adherence to old Roman custom, and that is his downfall -- his tragic flaw -- all through the play? He simply does not consider whether Saturninus or Bassianus would make the better Emperor, he just chooses the older son.

If you are telling the story of Hitler's rise, for example... it seems amazing that people would follow the guy. Charlie Chaplin was not the only person to see how ridiculous Hitler was, with his angry yelling and his little mustache, and yet one of the most sophisticated nations fell in love with him. Do you try to cast a charismatic actor, so we'll see what the Germans saw? Or do you cast an actor who will make the insanity clear?

In a B story that we just junked on one of our "Exposure" scripts, we introduced a woman who'd turn out to be a pathological user in the last act. In the first version, it was clear from the beginning that she was a nasty piece of work. In the second draft, we did our best to present her to the audience the way she was coming across to our main character, and only gradually reveal the nasty side.

My question to you, class is: is it always better to save the reveal? Or do you sometimes want to warn the audience in advance that the hero is making a big mistake? And if so, what do you achieve that way?

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Platinum Studios is taking submissions of comics ideas; once the comic's done they hawk it to the studios:
Platinum takes writers' pitches, pays them an up-front advance against sales of the book for writing the script and then they also get a piece of the sale to the studio.
Interesting way to get your ideas on the screen if they are more visual than verbal. And studio execs will happily read a comic themselves.

UPDATE: Here's the URL specifically for screenwriters.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No, not that Bill.

Not that Bill, either. Bill Cunningham.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I have been selected as a panelist in the upcoming Scriptwriters Showcase to be held April 7-9th at the Universal Sheraton.

Thank you for your support -- whether you attend my panel at the showcase and say, "Hi!", publicize it on your sites/blogs or simply tell a friend.

The topic of the discussion will be DVD Extras.

To find out more information, I have a post on my blog providing several links and details.

Thanks again and I look forward to seeing you there (or at the bar afterward!)

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Eric Haney, Command Sgt. Major US Army (Ret'd), has a few things to say about the Iraq War in his interview about The Unit, which is based on his book, which I reviewed a few days back.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

My friend Ezra writes:
It's official... All 14 of the city's key film organizations we invited have now signed on to participate in our Montreal Film Group FILM FUSION event this Wednesday night.

Their leaders or reps will be at the Sala Rossa party to take the stage and share a few words about what their group is all about and how it can directly benefit you and your projects. There will be plenty of mingling time to meet them and some of their group's members too! Plus, there will be loads of MFG members to network with and start planning new Spring things.

The party is proudly presented in conjunction with Telefilm Canada and ELAN (English Language Arts Network).

The MFG now has over 496 members from all sectors of the city's film/TV community. We also now have members in Toronto, New York, LA, Vancouver, Buenos Aires, London and beyond.

Performing live at the party will be the very talented Emily Carr (serious twang!) and the innovative musical creator Danny Lutz (serious grooves!).

Our 2006 launch party at Shaika Café in January was a success and we expect this party to be another energized one too.

Wednesday, March 29th
Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent (below St-Joseph)
Doors open at 7:30PM
Show starts at 8:00PM
$5 at the door
Please note: the festivities will get rolling early.

Bring business cards and party spirit.

See you Wednesday!

Ezra and Val
Ezra Soiferman and Val Lonergan
Co-Directors, Montreal Film Group

Joining the MFG is quick, free and easy.

Film/TV news, member screenings, job postings, resource links & more, check out the MFG website.

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Q. In a showrunning course, we've had quite a few Canadian producers talk about the advantages of filming in Canada because of the province and federal credits. Has this system helped you get your projects done faster than if you were concentrating in the States? One producer said that Canadian writers were particularly valuable.
In TV, I've definitely had a leg up. I co-created Naked Josh after staffing exactly one show. Imagine trying to do that in the States.

There is no real market for homegrown Canadian films in English. There were, I think, seven features (by the WGC's count) in English last year. So my features are pretty much stymied; to get them done I'm going to have to go to the States.

Canadian writers are particularly valuable if you want the credits because then you can use a US director and still qualify for the CAVCO credits, which are a big chunk of change. The various federal and provincial tax credits can add up to a quarter of your budget, so there you go.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

I've been fussing at two separate shows in the past week or so, and both times I hit a wall. I had a really interesting character in one case, and a character in an interesting situation in the other. Somehow they weren't catching fire.

I've cracked both, I think. And the solution was simple enough. I had not put the central characters in dire enough difficulties.

Dire difficulty doesn't necessarily mean "demons trying to drag you to hell." If you are Buffy, that's par for the course. For Buffy, trying to work at the Doublemeat Palace is much more dire. She knows how to fight demons. Make a living on minimum wage, not so much.

If your concept isn't catching fire, maybe you haven't confronted your main character with a serious enough structural conflict. Put him or her in a situation where they are daily facing that with which they have the most trouble dealing. For Raymond, it's his family. For Joan of Arcadia, it's God.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Q. I work for [famous writer] as a personal assistant. There's a job opening up as a writer's assistant on the show. As a super-busy showrunner, when and how would one be most receptive to having a conversation about all this? Should a job switch even be on my mind considering the people I am working for?
The question is: are you learning what you want to learn? And is there a job where you'd learn more? You now know [famous writer]. 6 months might be long enough to consider finding a way to move closer to writing.

The moment you are no longer learning what you want to learn is a good time to consider a new job.

Maybe the way to approach it is to find a time when [famous writer] is obviously procrastinating. Or at the end of the day when things are winding down. Ask for a bit of long term career advice. He shouldn't feel bad about that -- no one wants to be someone's assistant forever, and asking for advice puts him in your shoes. Ask him how he thinks you should handle your career.

Then if he says you should think about being a writer's assistant, there's your opening. If he says "I'd stick with the assistant gig for a while longer," then maybe don't bring it up again for another 3 months.

I'm not sure you ever want to be a personal assistant longer than a year. A writer's assistant, sure, because you're learning writing. An agent's assistant, sure, because you're learning agenting. But not a personal assistant, because you're only learning dry cleaning.

A friend of mine was another Famous Writer's research assistant for years, and she got to meet Dennis and Meg, but it did not advance her career. (He did throw her a script he didn't want to do, which was a backhanded way of giving her $50,000 of other people's money, but it did not advance her career, 'cause he didn't even read it.)
Q. Would you feel "insulted" or judgmental towards someone who wanted to move from being your assistant to the writer's assistant? Would you feel better about tackling this questions during the hiatus (now) or right after the show has been renewed (anytime from now till upfronts)
Hiatus is good 'cause it's theoretical; there's no pressure.

I wouldn't be insulted, no. I might be slightly irritated because I'd have to find a new assistant, but it would make me respect you more for considering your options. Anyway, if I hired someone who wanted to be a writer, how am I gonna be irritated at his wanting to get moving? After all, at some point almost everyone was an assistant. So we know what it's like.

I think after you've worked for someone over the course of a season, they owe you a listen.
Now...if there wasn't a spot on your show for your assistant to move to writer's assistant, would you feel weird about keeping him on as your assistant? In other words, assistant politely puts forwards his intention to work at a new desk, but would still like to stay on the show even if he can't.
Obviously you'd like to move up. Who wouldn't? Why should they feel awkward about that? Unless they're awkward about having people work for them. Equally obviously you're not going to jump out the window if you can't. I'd like one of my shows to go so I can be a showrunner. If someone else has a go show and wants to hire me as SP/ESE, I might do that. I wouldn't be awkward about it and I hope neither would they. Everyone's been up and down in this crazy biz. You take the best job you can get, and when you can get a better job, you take that. Just so long as you're doing your absolute best in the job you're in, no one will mind if you have aspirations. In fact it bugs me if someone in the office doesn't have aspirations. I'm like, why are you here if you don't want to move on up? You're taking the place of someone who does want to move on up, and needs the experience and the credit.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

In Japan, you can now rent a sex doll. A really, really high tech sex doll.

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It's time to talk about Pillow Fight Club again, ye Montrealers, now that things are warming up.

Pillowfight Club is where a random group of people assemble at a given time and place, carrying concealed pillows, and at the appointed hour, start bashing each other with them. You are only allowed to bash people carrying pillows.

San Francisco had thousands of people bashing each other in Golden Gate Park on Valentine's Day. But I think the ideal place would be somewhere there are a large number of businesspeople and tourists to freak out, and not too much car traffic. Like, say, Dorchester Square at 7 pm.

The question is, what date? April 1 is no good because people will think the announcement is a prank. But, let's say, Dorchester Square Park, Friday, April 7, at 7 pm...

[NOTE: previously the time was 1 pm but 7 pm is a better way to start the weekend...]

Tags: Pillow fight!

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We've been pondering the peculiar nature of teen prime time shows. We just watched the first two Dawson's Creek eps, in which 20-year-old actors who talk like 30-year-olds claim to be 15.

Teen shows are generally cast with adults because the laws about hiring minors are tough, especially in the film biz. You can work an 18-year-old all day long and into the night, though you may have to pay overtime. A seventeen-year-old, I believe, maxes out at 8 hours. Much younger kids have to be tutored.

I think most teen shows start at 16 because while an 18 year old can convincingly play a 16 year old, it is all but impossible to find an adult who can play a 15 year old realistically.

On the other hand I'm not sure audiences care. I think that part of the attraction of these shows is the older cast. Adults don't watch DeGrassi much, for example, because it casts actors who really are the age of their characters -- zits, baby fat, awkward mumbling and all. We don't want a really awkward 15-year-old girl, we want Katie Holmes playing an awkward, 15-year-old girl. We don't want a geeky 15-year-old, we want the extremely charming and handsome 21-year-old James van der Beek playing a geeky 15-year-old. The 30-year-old dialog allows adults to watch and care about a show about kids embarrassing themselves; if they talked like real teens, we wouldn't be able to watch, even assuming we could make out what they're actually saying.

[Kids, on the other hand, do watch DeGrassi because they see themselves, instead of older facsimiles of themselves. And it's one of the few shows on TV anywhere that shows kids having the problems they really care about, rather than fantasy versions of their problems. Sample Dawson's problem: first kiss. Sample DeGrassi problems: teen pregnancy, gender confusion, dad's dating again.]

It's all an extension, I suppose, of the fine old Hollywood tradition of indicating the plain girl by casting a hot brunette and putting her in glasses with her hair up.

The age-upwards casting of the shows allows us to feel comfortable with some of the adult subject matter. Pacey's affair with his teacher would seem much more outrageous if Joshua Jackson weren't 20. By contrast, Marisa's drinking is all the more shocking because Mischa Barton started shooting The O.C. at 17. The older the actors, the more we forgive putting their allegedly underage characters in physical, emotional or sexual jeopardy.

Are we moving in the direction of reality? Adam Brody may have been 24 when The O.C. first aired, but at least he's a real geek; and Marisa and Summer are acknowledged hot girls in the show. I doubt you could get away with casting Luke Perry as a high schooler these days, not without serious Botox. But maybe not.

Not sure if there's a screenwriting moral. Just make sure you know who you're writing for, real teens or pretend teens. Either is fine. We know it's TV. But stay consistent.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

I spent the past two days re-revising the Exposure pilot. We'd originally knocked off the central character, but now that everyone's killing off core cast in the pilot it doesn't seem so shocking, and we came up with an interesting story for later for when the girl comes back. So she lives.

It's interesting to me how often you can change early scenes sharply, and the later scenes still play, with a few minor tweaks. It may feel like lazy revising, but sometimes when you don't rewrite the later scenes more than you absolutely have to, you wind up with something stronger than if you rethink and rewrite everything.

For example, I left the scenes where the characters react to the girl's death mostly intact, but now they're reacting to her heart attack. My first instinct was to cut the reactions (we had a minute of nothing but reactions). But now that they're reacting to a mild heart attack as seriously as anyone would react to a death, it tells us more about them. We like them more, I think. And the callous reaction of another character oddly seems more callous when it's to a heart attack than to a death. After all, a death is so scary you practically expect a callous reaction from someone.

This is one of the joys of the performing arts. You change an early scene, and the other scenes will play differently even if their dialog is exactly the same -- because the reader has the early scene in mind, and later, because the actor has the early scene in mind. If you were doing it all yourself, you couldn't just leave the scene alone and enjoy the new way it plays. Sort of like discovering that your lousy K-10 isn't so lousy when the flop comes Q-J-9...

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I read Eric Haney's book Inside Delta Force, which faithful reader Patrick Moss was kind enough to have the author send me. It's the inspiration for The Unit. Interesting to see how it differs from the show.

Haney joined Delta Force at its inception. Fully half the book is about how hard it was to make the cut; Delta Force rejects 95% of Rangers who apply, and making the cut as a Ranger is an ordeal in itself. Then another quarter is about the training.

The rest of the story is mostly the missions that were scotched or screwed up by idiot commanding officers and politicians, along with a few successful ones which, it was apparent to the Delta guys, seemed to have extremely dodgy origins -- like the time he hunted down and destroyed a Honduran guerrilla group only to discover that one of his former Delta applicants was the leader.

I'm impressed with career soldiers -- anyone who puts themselves in harm's way for my sake gets my respect. What I find surprising is how much more career soldiers generally ponder and study the ramifications of the wars they fight than the politicians sending them in seem to do. Yes, they obey orders, because that's the job. But they know when they're being lied to or (literally) misled.

There's an interesting "Talk of the Town" piece in this week's New Yorker, about West Point cadets reading Johnny Got His Gun and Eisenhower's farewell address warning about the military-industrial complex. The piece winds up tellingly:
"That's what we want. Critical thinking is not insubordination."
I wish that were a little clearer in civilian politics these days.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Some readers have asked me about the possibility that Bedford Diaries poached from our show Naked Josh. I haven't seen the show so I don't know if they poached just the concept, or more than the concept. I'll know more March 29 when the show airs.

You can't really copyright a concept. You can copyright the expression of that concept. We would have to show that a substantial amount of the structure of the show is poached, not just the concept.

In the case of Cold Squad/Cold Case, the similarities were clear. Not only was it a squad investigating cold cases, it was a squad headed by (I forget the exact details but let's suppose they were:) a blonde divorcee who used to be a doctor. (Does anyone know what the details were there?) It was also clear (if I recall correctly) from testimony that the US show "creator" had visited the CFC and asked students what shows were good, and had been told explictly about the Canadian show.

What was so shocking to me was that the US show "creator" didn't have the urge to change anything about the original show, and the network didn't seem to want anything changed. That's rare. The urge to meddle is strong. Look at the British and US editions of Coupling and The Office. Personally there's no show I could rip off where I wouldn't change characters, format, tone ... something. You all know how I feel about Meredith Grey.

In the case of Bedford Diaries, I have the impression from what I've heard that the show is more about the students and less about the professor's personal life, for example. If so, they may just have stolen the concept. If on the other hand the professor is still in love with his college crush, or hangs out with a friend who's a bartender, then you start thinking about calling your lawyer.

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My peerless assistant Laurie has revamped my website, Crafty Screenwriting. Now you can read excerpts from my new book as well as my old book.

Feel free to check it out and let me know how you like it.

Thanks, Laurie!

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

KJC just sent me this:
I just read page 6 of next week's TV Guide (March 25-31) where they were discussing upcoming shows. You might find this little blurb interesting.
"The Bedford Diaries Citytv/WB Milo Ventimiglia and Matthew Modine (!) lead an ensemble cast in this dramedy about college students taking a course on
human sexuality. If the creator of Naked Josh is reading this, feel free to begin legal proceedings."
I can't wait to see it.

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Q. Should I be limiting myself to development internships? I haven't applied to any jobs as an assistant only because I don't meet their qualifications e.g. no prior experience as an assistant or in an office either. Would I be wasting my time if I applied for those much sought-after jobs without any referrals and experience? I think people hire more on personality and character because most people can be trained to do their jobs and usually are.
When I was hiring assistants for other people, I looked for someone who seemed intelligent and organized and could learn how to assist.

Obviously typing's a plus. Spelling is crucial. Typo on resume = immediate rejection.

But personally I looked for education and evidence of brains. And panache. I want to work with someone I'm going to enjoy the company of, who can do the job.

Obviously you should pull every favor and leverage every acquaintance you can. And you should be politely perserverent. E.g. the guy who calls once every month or two, at convenient times, will create a good impression.

Enthusiasm is really the most important thing after competence. Willingness to go the extra few miles. That's why internships are so crucial: they allow you to show just how enthusiastic you are.

I don't know anyone who's ever got a job by shotgunning resumes. You hear about people who decided where they wanted to work and found a way to make themselves inevitable. Job boards work. Classifieds are iffy unless you have a way to stand out. The other people who are applying for those assistant positions went to Ivy League schools and have secondary degrees.

I think rather than trying to get a development assistant job, you should try to get a job as an assistant to a literary agent (one who handles screenwriters). You'll learn more about what kind of script gets set up. You'll see more material. You'll talk to more development people. And agents are always cycling through assistants.

In showbiz these days, the agents know everything. The development people know very little. The pay is, I think, slightly better as a development assistant, but it's harder to climb out of the assistant job than it is at an agency. And at an agency, you're more likely to hear about a development exec job you're qualified for than you are working at one company.

Showbiz is all about information. Start at an agency. Get the information. Or as the button says, "Knowledge is power. Power corrupts. Study hard. Be evil."

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Our irregular compendium of posts I think have relatively more signal than noise...

Here's a roundup of some posts you may have missed.

A glossary of tv writer terminology

Springboards

Challenge your core cast's strengths
October 2005: Trust your core cast
November 2005: When your main character lags
November 2005: After the pilot script
December 2005: Second episodes
December 2005: On to our second script
December 2005: Secret, secret, who's got a secret
February 2006: Metaquestion?

Beating Out the Story

How do you get away with plotholes?
Making plotholes fun
Characters and their dumbass mistakes
On characters and the dumbass mistakes they make, part 2
On calling for backup, part 2
What can happen offscreen?
Nothing can happen offscreen
Time cuts
Train wrecks and telegraphing
Second thoughts on telegraphing
Addressing viewer expectations
Tracking expectations
Losing the audience's trust
Fully resolved by first act out?
Suspense v. surprise
Compressed reality
On step outlines
The Sucky Point
Getting past the Sucky Point
Going for the gimmes in the 4400 pilot
October 2005: Writing the pilot
October 2005: Tell your story out loud
November 2005: Write a synopsis to tell a story
February 2006: Episodic vs. serial, again
March 2006: The ole episodic vs. serial question
March 2006: Shifting genres
March 2006: Clever Grey's, or mirrors make you reflect

Scene Work

Have uncommunicative characters explain each other
The cut away from the predictable conversation
The conversation at cross purposes
Format wars
Good playing dialog vs. good reading dialog
October 2005: Fineness in dialog
December 2005: Dialect resource
March 2006: Silents is golden

Comedy

Three Tools from the Comic Toolkit
Where's the comedy?
Comic commitment
Simple plots
December 2005: Comedy screenplay format
March 2006: Comedy is someone else's nightmare

Rewriting

On taking notes
When to pull the plug
The Writer Bomb
September 2005: Rewriting rules of order
November 2005: Rewriting for dollars
February 2006: How much to charge?
February 2006: Rewriting notes

Production

Writing it small
Why our producer doesn't like block shooting
October 2005: Identify the gorilla
February 2006: Editor's cut

The Writing Room

Credit the room, not the writer
Why you must have a writing room
Writing personnel titles
March 2006: Two ways to co-write

Your TV Career

Your foot in the door, or why you should intern
On staffing season
Best Screenwriting School in the World. And it's free, too.
Be a back door man. Or woman
Script coordinator vs. writing assistant
Getting onto a show
Never say "no"
Contests and fellowships
Working with people who can't tell good from bad
Working for less than scale
Why you need an agent, part 37
September 2005: Read for experience, not for long
October 2005: Money and freedom
October 2005: Open-source feedback
October 2005: Don't find an agent in TO if you want to make it in LA
November 2005: Trust your agent
November 2005: Learn from the other
December 2005: The mentor debate
December 2005: Act like you're where you want to be
January 2006: Oh Canada
January 2006: How old is too old?
January 2006: Managing your agent
January 2006: On contract negotiation
March 2006: Talent borrows...

Specs and Pitches

Pitches & Pitch Bibles (Longish post)
Two things any pitch needs to answer
What network do you want your show on?
A few more words on TV spec scripts
Why you must have specs
Why not just write the specs, already?
Network first, or producer first?
Write a spec pilot?
September 2005: How not to date your TV spec (too much)
September 2005: Pitches and spec pilots
November 2005: Spec page count
December 2005: Topicality
December 2005: Surreal killers
January 2006: Spec script title page
February 2006: Tell yourself your story
February 2006: What if
February 2006: Character pass
March 2006: Will they buy your spec pilot without a showrunner?

Bibles and Templates

The attractive fantasy
I just read a bad bible
What is Gilmore Girls's template?
Blowing the template on Corner Gas?
Why Tour of Duty sucks
Character names
Backdoor pilots
Who's core cast?
What's the poster?
Episodic vs. serial
October 2005: Bible is battle plan, not blueprint
October 2005: Procedural vs. character based
December 2005: BBC on templates
December 2005: Diversity pass

Reading TV

Where to find tv scripts to read
More where to find scripts

Watching TV

Watching with 9 year olds
Canadian SF?
More sex please
Car wreck TV
What naughty girls those L Word girls are
24 has jumped the shark
Watching Firefly
Project Greenlight, the fake break
October 2005: TV drama moves to five acts
October 2005: Don't write clip shows
November 2005: It's the audience's show
November 2005: Five acts and weak act outs
December 2005: Write the other half
January 2006: ER pilot
February 2006: I hate Meredith Grey even more

Interviews

Paul Guyot, part 1, part 2, part 3 A "guyot" is an underwater seamount, in case you're wondering.
Shelley Eriksen, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5
Jacob Sager Weinstein
Chris Abbott, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5
September 2005: Stephen Gallagher, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
December 2005: John Rogers, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
February 2006: Ken Levine, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Miscellaneous

Characters in SF&F
Writing Animal Characters
Remedial storytelling, or why Kerry lost
Sheherezade
On telling the truth
Redistricting, a modest proposal. Nothing to do with TV, but I wish someone would pick it up and run with it.
December 2005: Let's put the Saturnalia back in Christmas; or, villains

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Did you like being a development executive? What was your typical day? Is it mainly just meetings, reading scripts, and reading about current events in the industry? I know there are a lot of bad scripts out there, so the job may be tiresome, but what did you like and dislike about the job?
A fella just sent me a slew of questions about my days as a development person. I'll try to answer them all over the next few days.

Before I finished film school, I'd had assorted jobs in the biz. In the six months before film school, I'd tried to be a production assistant in New York. I'd got on a number of commercials, but I'd spent more time looking for work than working. About when I left for the Left Coast, I was starting to actually get calls to work on things. Working as a p.a. taught me very little that I needed to know later.

While in film school, I worked as an apprentice electrician (worked lights) on a few shoots, which taught me a lot about being on a set, and a little about lighting, and revealed that I was too interested in the directing to make a good electrician. I also read scripts for a college friend who was already a development exec at Carolco (having skipped film school, he was ahead of me).

So when I got my MFA, I did not have a lot of really swell experience in the biz, though I might have had more than many of my fellow film school grads. And UCLA at the time did not have a strong industry liaison system; maybe it does now, I don't know.

What I had was a BA in Computer Science, a year spent in France, and a tiny, tiny, tiny award for my student film. (If you apply to obscure enough festivals, you are bound to win an award somewhere.) These turned out to be the ideal qualifications for an independent producer who was looking for an assistant to figure out how to put his voluminous rolodex into a computer, and who was doing a French/Canadian/Israeli co-production. He was one of the hundreds of guys who work out of their big house, making phone calls and trying to package a script, a star, a director and some foreign sales together to make a movie. Occasionally, he did it.

I worked for the guy for four and a half years. I got out of the assistant spot and climbed up one rank to the heady position of VP Production (which was really a development job, but sounded more impressive).

As VP Production, my job was to do everything interesting the producer did not want to do. He was a salesman, not an organizer. He did not like to read scripts, read contracts, or write contracts, so I did those things. I also put together the packages of material we had to deliver to the foreign buyers in order to get paid. He also liked to take me to meetings with agents, directors and financing people. I wound up knowing quite a bit about multi-country independent co-productions. When we did a deal with Disney for one of our pictures, I also learned a lot about working with studio people. When we did a development deal with Richard Attenborough, I learned a lot about working with charmers.

It was a day job because I was always writing scripts on the side, mostly free, sometimes for okay money, once for $800 (it was supposed to be $1000 but I got stiffed on the last $200). It was one of the best day jobs a boy could have, though, since I saw what kinds of scripts we could set up -- ones with hooks -- and what kinds we couldn't -- well written scripts without hooks.

My job was much more varied than your typical development exec. At a bigger company, I would have (a) read scripts (b) told people if I liked them (c) written development notes to writers on projects in development (d) often seen them largely ignored. The terrible thing about development is you are often the person with the best story sense in the room; and you are the person with the least clout. The director, the producer, the star, the studio exec: all these people have to be listened to. You are heard, but even if you are brilliant, often ignored. No one wants to go without having a development exec -- then you'd have to read all the scripts yourself -- but they feel free to disregard their point of view.

I have no idea how you climb out of development into positions of clout, but development has a "path to colonel" just like becoming an agent: you are supposed to figure it out yourself, and if you don't, well, you weren't cut out for more authority.

After four and a half years, I felt I'd learned everything I could learn working for this particular producer, and I quit. I figured I'd try to produce on my own. But that's another story...

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

I was trying to come up with a comedy pitch based on a certain living situation I think will provide comedy. It just wasn't singing to me.

Then, just now walking the dog, I realized that the main character had to be someone for whom that living situation is the essence of nightmare. (In a comic way, of course.) And there's my story engine.

In any pitch there needs to be an essential conflict that will drive the show as a whole. Without it, you're going to be doing heavy lifting just to come up with story pitches. Cops v. robbers, docs v. illness and injury, lawyers vs. crooks, lawyers vs. lawyers, doctors vs. The War, Sam vs. Diane, Dave vs. Maddy ... what is the essential conflict that drives your pitch?

Boy, I've been off my feed all day. And now I feel muuuch better.

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Fred Goss is blogging about his new improvised-dialog show on ABC, Sons and Daughters. Via DMc.

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Just reading The New York Times article about how Walt Disney and other animation artists screened their films without dialog, and then added as little dialog as possible to make sense of the images. The writer says recent animated films have been too talky.

I don't think the image is somehow superior to the soundtrack, as some film purists do. But I do believe that in film, anything you say you should say once. If the image is already saying it, there is no need to say it with dialog. (Which reminds me of the BBC's handbook for writing for radio, Put Down That Revolver That You're Pointing At Me.)

In TV, it's less clear cut. TV used to be "radio with pictures." You can listen to The Honeymooners with the picture off and you won't miss much. Probably not a good idea to do that with The Sopranos, though. The climax of a Grey's Anatomy is often close to wordless, with doctors hunched over their patients. These days TV aspires to be as cinematic as film.

Ideally both soundtrack and image add something unique. Everything should add something unique; nothing should double up. That's how you get a rich show.

But you can still use Walt's trick as a tool to stretch your imagination. Remove your voice over and see how the show plays. Remove the snappy dialog and see if you can say some of the same things with images. (See the quasi-dialog-less Buffy episode, "Hush.")

It's risky to do it in a spec. Dialog reads easier than action. Some readers tend to ignore the action, especially if there's dialog to keep the story going. Better to risk that sort of thing in a free lance episode, where you can warn your story editor in advance what you're trying. And certainly, try it in a staff episode, if you've still got time to think...

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Friday, March 17, 2006

We watched Sunday's Grey's Anatomy last night -- "Band Aid Covers the Bullet Hole" -- a little behind on our viewing.

They did that neat thing that we always love to see, where the character who hasn't been able to deal with something sees someone else with the same problem. Actually in this case, twice. Derek Shepherd ignored his wife, so she cheated; so he has to confront a couple where the wife would rather face imminent death than go back to her pre-aneurysm situation where her husband was ignoring her. Derek hasn't been able to accept that Addison really truly is sorry for cheating on him, so he gets to find out that Meredith slept with George and hasn't been able to get George to accept how sorry she is.

That's always nice. 'Cause we can rarely see ourselves unless we're in front of a mirror.

It's also a neat writing tool. If your character faces a decision and just makes it, it's hard to make that visual and physical. You can give him a voice over, sure, but how much To Be Or Not To Be do you want on TV? But if your character confronts his own story peopled by other characters, then we can see what he's reacting to. And it shows the decision in a more oblique, subtle way that leaves us feeling involved in the decision.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Patrick Moss sends me this link to Terry Gross's Fresh Air episode of yesterday in which she interviews David Mamet about The Unit and The Shield. The part I caught in the car (thank you VPR) was interesting, so check it out.

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Meanwhile, a producer called me this morning to tell me that a story consultant gig on a series in development is a go, and the director on a feature that needs a rewrite dug my notes and my writing sample, and a good friend I've worked with seems to be seriously considering me for a job on his greenlit series...

... one day at a time.

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Well, every now and then you get bad news. One of our shows got the axe at the network.

Oh, sure, we have other places to go with it. We are still planning a run at the US nets. And we have interest overseas. And the axe wasn't entirely unexpected -- we needed to find an overseas sale to make the numbers work and we didn't do it in time.

But still. I'd been having a run of really amazing good luck over the past four years and so I allowed myself to hope with this one. Something I'm normally disciplined enough not to do. Normally I focus on enjoying the work I'm doing -- enjoying the writing and creating -- and take things one day at a time. So it didn't really hit when I got the news yesterday afternoon. I was too busy. It hit towards the end of the evening, when Lisa and I hashed over the creative and political decisions and breezes of fate that contributed to the non-success of the show.

Then we watched Big Pussy get whacked, and that has to make you feel better.

This morning the mourning is (mostly) over and it's back to work coming up with new series to develop, and calls to the agents to push them to get me on the new shows that are being greenlit... no different from what I was doing before, really. Irons in the fire, baby. The writing racket requires either a stoic indifference to fortune, or an ability to pick yourself up when you get smacked off your feet. After the first years of newbie enthusiasm and failure, I got to be quit stoic. But I found I wasn't celebrating my victories. Now I make a point of celebrating all the wins. It means an occasional night of tequila and wine and sadness. But what's drama without conflict?

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Just found out I did not get a gig writing a "New York Jewish comedy" feature because my samples are not New York Jewish enough. This is even dumber than producers nixing a blonde actress because "the character's a brunette." (Which, by the way, I've heard.) I don't even need to add hair color. I went to Dalton, I have a Zabars bag in my closet, and Barbra shot Up the Sandbox in my apartment building. I never pay retail if I can avoid it.

What I don't have is a "New York Jewish comedy" sample. I have written everything from fashion models to flamethrower vigilantes; I just have never written about my overprivileged childhood in New York.

Oy.

It's funny how little producers know about writing. It's sort of terrifying, really.

As my 2-year-old daughter is fond of saying, "Oh well."

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Anyone know anything about The Bedford Diaries, starring Matthew Modine? Apparently it's a show (here's another link) about a hip young professor teaching a Human Sexuality professor.
The seminar, which examines the human condition through sexuality, is taught by controversial Professor Jake Macklin (Matthew Modine, Any Given Sunday, Married to the Mob), who will challenge and inspire his students as they question their assumptions about their own sexuality, life and identity. The themes include sexual responsibility, manipulation, the differences between love and sex, passion and abstinence.

The students' innermost thoughts are told through video diaries they make to fulfill their weekly class assignments.


Interesting. 'Cause, y'know, I co-created a show about a hip young professor teaching a course in human sexuality, called Naked Josh...

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In case you missed it on the front page of The New York Times, the Canadian Screenwriting Awards finalists are up. (The announcement was in very small type. Small, light grey type.) I see that in the comedy category, Corner Gas is competing against Corner Gas and Corner Gas. Well, I for one voted for Corner Gas, so there.

Speaking of which, it was really weird watching Wishmaster 4 for a possible gig last night, and watching Tara Spencer-Nairn with her clothes off, arguing with a demon. I bet she's happy she gets to wear a police uniform on TV these days.

I was sorry to see that Sean Carley didn't get a nom for his excellent Charlie Jade script. I would say the same thing about Denis McGrath, because his bottle/clip show was really terrific, and he had about two minutes to write it in, but I doubt anybody who hadn't watched the show could have understood the script. Or, well, the episode. I guess that's one advantage of writing a franchise show: easy to read the scripts even if you don't know the show...

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Monday, March 13, 2006

I got a nifty $3.49 accessory from eBay that allows me to play my iPod through the car's tape deck. Wayyyyy easier than setting up the iPod to radiate radio. Then, on the way up, I handed Hunter the computer so he could watch Kirk Douglas in The Vikings on DVD on the computer -- using the car adapter to keep the computer powered. And then I realized, hey, who needs that big screen in the parking lot? You can have a drive in movie anywhere you can park! Just run the sound through the car's speakers and play the movie on your computer!

Just be sure you don't hurt the computer should you decide to, um, ignore the movie...

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My very cool actress/director friend Alison Darcy needs a roommate for her pad in the Plateau:
Roommate needed:

Double room, wood floors, one part of room gets a lot
of light, the other stays nice and dark. Quiet. 3rd
(top) floor apartment, great part of the Plateau, five
min walk to metro, 2 mins to laundry and groceries.
Loads of cafes, bars, restaurants all around. Back
balcony. Good vibe.

Looking for a kind, relaxed person who is responsible
and considerate.
Two caveats:
-I'm a smoker, but I also have plans to quit. Recent
attempts however have proved fruitless.
-I love pets but am very unfortunately allergic to
cats and I don't think we're allowed to have dogs
here.

The room is 400$ a month and all bills (hydro, basic
phone, high speed and super duper Cable TV) are
another 100$ a month, although if you're not a
computer user or tv watcher it will be a lot less than
that. It's available immediately or for the first of April,
which ever suits best.

Give me a ring if you're interested at 514-526-9447 or
email me at alisondarcy@gmail.com.
Cheers,
Alison

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

The other day Shelley suggested reframing the show, instead of about a senior ______, rather about some of the junior ______ who work for (and want to be) him. That's been helpful. One way to flesh out a show is to reconceptualize as a different kind of show, while keeping the background you worked out for the old version of the show. Is your show about the senior doctors? Try reframing it as about the interns -- while keeping those great senior doctor characters you built. Is it about detectives? Try making it about their informants, while still using the world you created for the detectives.

On Naked Josh we started with a show about a geeky kid in college. Showcase wanted it aged up. So we made Josh a young, hot professor who used to be a geeky kid in college. We just caught up with the character 7 years later. It worked rather nicely.

Any time you can look at your show from another angle is helpful. What is the co-viewing version of the show? What's the HBO version? It will help you find the place your show really wants to be; and it will give you more richness.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Interesting convo with Shelley a few hours back about co-writing the pilot for Untitled George Clooney Project. In the past the way I've co-written stuff is (a) beat it out at the white board (b) someone writes up the beats into an outline (c) the other person rewrites that (d) lather, rinse repeat till good. Then (e) someone writes up the outline into a script, (f) the other person rewrites that, (g) lather, rinse repeat till good.

Shelly prefers that one person writes acts 1 and 2, while the other writes acts 3 and 4. Then swap. Then swap again. The advantage being that both writers get to a first crack at creating voices for the characters, and you can pick which voices work best. If someone writes the whole first draft, it's hard for the second person to ignore the voices that are already there.

So we'll try it Shelley's way. Always up for trying something new and possibly better. Just so no one asks me to sit in the room typing while my co-writer spouts dialog. I think that tends to ruin the thought processes of whoever thinks slower (and more methodically) than the other.

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We're still trying to figure out if Untitled George Clooney Project is a soap, or if it has episodic A stories with soapy B stories. I don't really want to write a pure soap because you get boxed in by the plotlines, and because it would be hard to take advantage of the very rich territory we're mining for the show. So I've been spending the day coming up with springboards for episodic A stories. The problem is they are all over the place. A show like Grey's Anatomy, or any hospital, law or cop show, has stories that come in the door every episode. Very easy to find closure when people show up sick or injured, and by the end of the ep they've had a successful surgery or they're permanently impaired. Our territory doesn't have that kind of urgency. There is not an obvious immediate antagonist. So, do we manufacture urgency every week, à la, say, _________________, in a venue where the urgency is really more long term? Or do we focus on the quirky characters and their quirky issues, à la Northern Exposure? (No, we don't, we're trying to pitch a mainstream show.) Or something ever cleverer and subtler? And if so, what?

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Shelley and I spent much of yesterday walking and talking, and sitting and talking and (inevitably) drinking and talking at our new show, which we're tentatively callling Untitled George Clooney Project. Talking at the question: what is this show? Who's the lead? Who's his antagonist? Who's his rival? His love interest? Who's the wide-eyed innocent? Who's the Judas? What other character slots do we need to fill? How do we twist the characters so they're not the usual suspects?

We haven't completely answered the biggest question, which is the most important question in series TV: what happens every week? We have story territories, of course. The field we're setting our show in is largely unexposed and rich. But TV audiences like two things: fresh stories, and consistency. The B stories can be soapy and serial. But how do we define what kinds of A stories we'll be telling -- episodic stories, which have to become urgent and critical over the course of a forty minute story, and then resolve neatly -- and, almost as important, how do we define which ones we won't be telling.

Sounds like another day of walking and talking...

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A reader asked what UPCUT TO CU ON: means in the Lost script I posted the link to.

CU ON means CLOSEUP ON. I had never seen UPCUT TO: before, so I looked it up here.
upcut – (v) Chopping off the beginning of the audio or video of a shot or video story. Happens when the editor or technical director doesn't cut to a new audio or video source quickly enough. Opposite of downcut.
In the script, the new scene starts with Jack already talking; there's no hello-how-are-you, gee we are in a fine pickle aren't we. The cut is right to Jack saying "We have to get rid of the bodies." Personally I wouldn't have bothered with the UPCUT:. It's apparent from Jack's line that we're getting right down to business. But David Fury wants the director to shoot it so the editor can easily cut it the way he wants it. If you're writing tv on staff, you can specify all sorts of things you wouldn't specify in a feature script. You can, in fact, specify anything you like. The show's already sold. You're writing a blueprint for the production people and the director. You can say a little or a lot. That's part of the fun of writing TV.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Or something.

/* Spoilers */

Watched The Unit. What a waste of writing talent.

The idea of a top-secret deniable US Army unit is pretty old. My first writing credit was on a piece of straight-to-video called Warriors about a guy from one of those units who goes AWOL. But of course our unit did nasty stuff -- the movie started with a massacre of a Bolivian wedding party, presumably because of something to do with drugs. If your unit is doing legit work, it doesn't need to be top secret, and it can go through regular channels.

Not David Mamet's unit. They do perfectly legitimate work, and for no particular reason, they are top secret and deniable. And one ridiculous thing happens after another.

The Unit goes on a mildly preposterous mission -- to laser-designate a car in Afghanistan that could, obviously, have been laser-designated and destroyed by a Predator drone. By pretending to be "businessmen." Because so many businessmen in Afghanistan are either Caucasian or African-American. Because you would obviously use Special Forces guys who live in the US to do a job like that, instead of the many suberb Special Forces warriors who live there and have developed close relationships with the locals.

Then they go on an utterly preposterous mission: to take over a plane that Arab terrorists have somehow taken over in Idaho. Because it is so easy for terrorists to get guns and explosives onto a plane these days. And passengers are so willing to sit still and be murdered after 9/11. And they rush the plane all on their own. Because the FBI is so willing to step aside when loud-talking Army people say they should. Because threatening to murder them works so well with FBI agents. Because you wouldn't want to use the local SWAT guys, or the FBI's SWAT guys, or even coordinate with them.

Theoretically what's interesting about this show is the lives of the women back home. But we learn nothing about them that we couldn't imagine on our own. Security is tight. The wives aren't supposed to say where their husbands are. That point gets hammered over the head over and over and over. We don't get a sense what these women really might be like because they're too busy Stepfording the new girl.

I had trouble believing any part of this pilot. From the wife who seems to have no awareness of the kind of job her husband has signed on for, or the rules under which he and she will both be operating, to the decision to set the terrorism in the US because, presumably, US audiences don't care about anything that happens beyond their borders, this show felt like amateur hour.

What I missed most was Mamet-speak. I was hoping for some Mamet-speak. Part of the joys of watching David Mamet's work is how he turns ordinary sentences into poetry. How his characters are cartoonish yet believable. This pilot had one non-zinger after another. Lines like "... as if your life depended on it. Because, believe me, it does." Heavy-handed, earnest, on-the-nose, RCMP dialog.

Sorry, PM, but you might want to start hunting for a new job after the overnights come in.

Ah, well. On to 8th and Ocean.

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Spent a chunk of the day not breaking the template of my occult series I can't tell you the name of, and another chunk of the day trying to think of new series pitch ideas, and the best I could come up with was "ER at a vet's office." Which didn't sound very appealing.

But a couple of hours later a really good idea did pop up, which I also can't tell you. (Ain't I a stinker?) So the day wasn't wasted professionally speaking... oh, and found a few more places to put false jeopardy in my zombie horror script, to spice up the first act. And did some research...

... oh, and walked on the beach with the dog and my visiting writer friend Shelley, and pruned the apple tree while the Pikapie wobbled around the lawn poking at new and interesting things. It is so nice to visit Spring in the middle of Canadian winter. March is really when I get tired of sub-freezing weather. It's not the depth of Winter that bugs me, it's the extra month of it.

I never feel quite so content coming up with a good idea as I do when I get ten good pages of script written, but, you know, you need the good idea before you can write the ten pages, so you have to remind yourself that one truly viable idea in a day is pretty good, as ideas go.

Now off to watch The Unit and 8th and Ocean...

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Monday, March 06, 2006

I forget the name of the show, but if you watched the Oscars, y'know that show they're pushing where a team of brilliant doctors fixes the medical problems of some seriously messed up people.

Um, what kind of society is it where people have serious, fixable medical problems and the only way they can get treatment is to win a place on a TV show???

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A few years ago, someone mentioned to me an idea they were kicking around for a screenplay. It was a great, high-concept idea that was screaming to be written. Years later, the script had not been written, nor had a treatment been done, or anything else been put in writing. I contacted the guy, who said he'd be willing to collaborate and write it together, but does not want to write it alone. I have absolutely no interest in collaborating on a spec, since I have my own habits and schedule. But I hate that this concept is not being written. Would I be a complete a-hole by writing it myself and marketing the spec?
Yes, you would. Thank you for asking.

Morally, you're obliged to work something out with the guy. Since he hasn't written the idea, he may not be that attached to it. You could ask him how much he wants for all rights to the idea, and buy it from him. You could also tell him you'd rather write it himself, but offer him a story credit and, say, 10% of any compensation you get from the sale of the script. I've done deals like that myself.

That said, as Denis pointed out, ideas are not copyrightable, only their expression. He owns any characters and plot he came up with, but the logline itself is not protected. E.g. you could do "two lovers meet on Titanic", which may be all you need for your concept; but if one of the lovers is a rich girl about to go into a loveless marriage, it starts to become Jim Cameron's property.

The other question, of course, is how much you treasure your friendship. Regardless what is copyrightable or not, your friend may feel -- especially since you already asked him -- that he owns his idea. If you take it, he may well hate you.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

We just got out here. The sun is warm and bright, melting the snow off the driveway. Got some logs for the fire later, and checked to make sure ABC is coming in on cable. Shelley's made an Oscar shaped cookie cutter for gingerbread cookies. We've put the barley wine in the fridge, and the girls are off getting provisions for dinner.

All is as it should be.

Maybe we will take a walk on the wintry beach, or through the woods with the Bouzou Dog later.

It's nice here.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Q. My new book agent just offered me a writer-agent contract, and there are a couple of things that I wasn't sure about.

1.) According to the contract, my agent collects all the money, keeps his commission and expenses, and then pays me my share. Is that really the way it's done?
Yes, that's how it's done. Otherwise how does the agent keep track of what money you're getting paid and make sure you send her a check?
2.) "Agent shall market all of Author's literary rights in the work, including motion picture, stage, television...."
This is probably standard in most agents' contracts, but you can negotiate any contract. I have different agents for different markets. I have agents for my screenwriting, I have a non-fiction book agent, and I have an agent for the novel I perpetrated about Morgan le Fay. My book agents' contracts all started out including cinematic rights, but I insisted they be excluded.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Q. When will those of us in the U.S. be able to see Charlie Jade, on TV, DVD, or otherwise?
Damned if I know. There are torrents out there, but I know of no sale to the US. Bug the SF Channel!
Q. ... I'm struggling with act structure...
I have a whole section in my book Crafty Screenwriting (click on the cover to the left) about why I think three act structure in movies is overrated. It's available for free on my website.
Q. I will be asking the same question to several other pro screenwriters whose blogs I read regularly. Is that a no-no re blog etiquette?
Feel free. But if you get an answer that makes sense, maybe not so much to keep asking.

Oh, and this is why I'm glad I don't live in New York any more.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Our producer liked our draft of the second script, and thought it was ready to go to the network.

But even better, one of my bestest writing friends took the time to read the draft, and gave us great notes. They were great because they were structural. They addressed not the symptoms but the ways in which the stories were not as strong as they could be structurally.

By structurally I mean how the story is told; how you'd describe the story before you even got to the scenes and the dialog. A character had betrayed our heroine in the past. My friend thought it would be stronger if the character's betrayal was a secret that came out at the climax of the story, rather than being backstory we referred to. Then our heroine has much further to go emotionally: instead of from old hurt to new hurt, from old friendship to new hurt.

Another story, he felt, didn't have enough jeopardy.

Some structural comments mean you have to rip up all your scenes and rewrite them. Some mean you just have to tweak a climactic scene. Regardless, they are the most valuable comments. You wind up with a stronger story, not just better dialog in your weak story.

When you give notes, try not to quibble with the dialog or the scenecraft until you've thought about the story and how it can be structured better. ... And treasure those friends of yours who can criticize your work structurally.

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KJC sends me this link to a Lost script, and wants confirmation on the asterisks and the scene numbers.

The asterisks indicate how this draft differs from the previous draft. Each new draft is printed out on a new color of paper, with changes marked accordingly. This is the "goldenrod" draft, which would come after the white, blue, pink, yellow and green drafts.

If fewer than 75% of the pages have changes, then only those pages are issued; people are expected to slip in the new pages and remove the old pages. That's why page numbers are locked. If a scene on page 42 grows, then you add a page 42A for it to spill onto. Then people can throw out the old page 42 and replace it with pages 42 and 42A.

You don't need to know any of this in order to write a script. The script coordinator does it for you.

I don't know for sure why the script starts on scene 42, but since this is ep. 1.02, it looks like they're numbering scenes consecutively from the start of the season, and ep. 1.01 had 41 scenes.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I like it!

The book comes out in October, but you can read her blog and ask her questions about the art mart.

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Q. A friend has contacted me about a TV show idea. I know nothing about TV, but I told him that it is virtually impossible to get a pilot sold without a showrunner attached. [But] he's trying it anyway. Does he need to write the whole pilot now, or could he take out a pitch as a package with bible, concept, and maybe a scene or two written.
It is not at all impossible to sell a pilot without a showrunner attached. If they love your pilot, they can always attach a showrunner they like. See Shaun Cassidy's WGA interview about The Agency on the WGA site. Michael Frost Beckner sold the pilot, and because he was better known as a feature writer, he took second chair while Shaun ran the show. Other writers have sold pilots; check out Paul Guyot's blog if he hasn't taken it down yet.

However, they don't much buy bibles. They buy pilots. No one in the States much wants to read a bible. A bible is a promise that the show will be like something. A pilot is proof of the pudding.

In Canada, prodcos and networks do buy bibles (I've optioned all my stuff off bibles), but there's government money available to fund development, so people figure why write something for free when a producer can get the government to pay for them to write it.
Q. Yes, but is there any harm in going into a pitch meeting with a bible, and then getting the script done if there is interest?
Well, the most they're going to tell you in the pitch meeting is, "Great. We'd love to see a pilot when you have one."

The worst is they don't dig how you've written the bible (if they even really read it), and now you can't bring in the pilot. Or, even worse, they're iffy about the bible, but you've given them an idea, which seeps into another pitch meeting with someone they know better, and they commission a related (but not identical) idea from him. Now you're really hosed.

So your "friend" will have to write the script.

As a general rule, don't give execs anything you know they won't buy. Unless, of course, it's a writing sample.

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