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



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Sunday, April 30, 2006

How is it possible The Dormitory Boys haven't been on Leno yet, Ken?

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[POLITICS] In other news, Bush doesn't veto laws. He just adds a presidential "signing statement" saying he doesn't have to abide by them.

Obviously, y'all Democrats are horrified. But you Republicans: I mean, doesn't this bother you? A President simply deciding that he doesn't have to obey the law? Uh, when you let the man in charge get away with breaking the law, isn't that called "dictatorship"?

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Q. I have begun trying out your recommended "tell your story out loud to others" technique, and I would like to ask for further guidelines on how to do this - especially as you say that this is the most important tool we have at our disposal.

For example, I am wondering how long should my story-telling session to others be? If it is a feature should it be more like 3 minutes or 20 minutes? (In some situations there will simply not be the time to tell someone a 20 minute story without 'stretching the welcome'.)
First of all, congratulations on trying out the technique. It's hard to do, and you're being brave.

I think you should be able to tell a feature story in, oh, 8-12 minutes. Shorter than that and you are probably describing your story, not telling it beat by beat. Longer than that and you're probably getting into too much detail.

Try pitching Star Wars to yourself:
A giant spaceship is chasing this smaller spaceship. And it grabs the small spaceship with its tractor beam and pulls it in. While the soldiers in the small spaceship get ready to be boarded, there's a princess is on the small ship, and she records a message in a little robot that works for her. Meanwhile storm troopers from the big ship are attacking and killing everyone. The little robot has a hysterical friend who's also a robot, who's waving his arms around terrified, but the brave little robot, who talks in beeps, makes him get on an escape pod with him...
You get the picture. Include motivations, dreams, setups, anything that's part of the story:
We cut to the planet surface. There's this kid, Luke, who dreams of being a starship pilot. But he's working on his uncle's farm. He doesn't know what happened to his father, and his uncle won't tell him...
Mostly, though, you'll find that if you're actually telling what happens in the story, instead of describing what the story's like, your natural storytelling skills will give you the right length. If you feel you're stretching your welcome, just omit details and speed up. If they're eating it up, paint the scene. Above all, have fun! If you're having fun, odds are your audience of one will, too. If you're not having fun, your audience probably won't either.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

[TECH SUPPORT] I had problems with Apple Mail 2.0.7 hanging. Wouldn't let me quit (I had to Force Quit), and stopped sending my junk mail to the junk mail folder. Wouldn't even recognize my previous recipients.

Turned out the problem wasn't really Apple Mail's fault. The problem was that the mail server on one of my mail accounts wasn't operating properly. It was glacially slow, but not slow enough to time out. The reason Apple Mail wouldn't quit was it was still trying to download mail from the bad mail server. The reason it wouldn't send junk mail away was that it waits until all the mail is downloaded before doing so, and all the mail was never downloaded.

Now that I have disabled that particular mail account, Apple Mail operates properly. Tragically it's my "@craftyscreenwriting.com" account. But what can you do?

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A. When a producer says all he needs is a polish.
A producer wants me to do a polish of his script. He's got a completed screenplay, but he needs someone familiar with the period and the culture of the time to do a polish on the script for authenticity. How much should I charge?
In my experience, every single time a producer has asked me for a polish, the script always needed a rewrite. Producers simply don't want to pay for rewrites, which cost about four to five times as much as polishes under the current WGC agreement. So they call a rewrite a polish.

Under these circumstances you would probably want to confirm that the producer does indeed have money available before you read the script; otherwise you're wasting your time. Then read the script and see what kind of work it needs.

I put a nifty formula in my book Crafty Screenwriting explaining what I think you should charge as a non-Guild member; obviously as a Guild member you must charge at least scale, or you're screwing your Guild brothers and sisters, and you can, and deserve to, get a serious trouble. A reasonable fee for a rewrite by a non-Guild beginning writer is on the order of $5,000 to $15,000. At those rates you won't get rich but you will have more money in the bank when you stop writing than you did when you began. Just make sure you're only guaranteeing two drafts and a polish at most, or, if you prefer, a six month cutoff date at which they cannot expect further writing services for the price. At less than $5,000, you're probably taking a loss on the script. Which is okay, if you're considering it a learning experience. I once wrote a script for $800. I don't regret the $800; I only regret that I agreed to ghost write.

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[BLATANT PARTISAN POLITICS] Joel, you can ignore this post.

I've been reading a lot about how the Democrats can't win the House this year because House seats are too heavily gerrymandered. 98% of incumbents won their seat again in the last election.

But there are races that will give us the House back -- in 2008. The state assemblies and the governorships. The state governments are where the House districts are gerrymandered. Once the Republicans won the Texas state assembly, they were able to give themselves 7 new safe seats.

Even if the Democrats can't win the House this year, if we pour our energies into the state assembly races, we can win a few. Where we hold (or pick up) a governorship, we can grossly and undemocratically gerrymander the heck out of that state's House seats in our favor. Where the Republicans hold the governorship, we can at least prevent them from grossly and undemocratically gerrymandering the heck out of that state's House seats.

This approach also blunts the local-hero advantage the Republicans have. While most people prefer the Democrats to the Republicans these days, most people like their representative personally, and will vote to keep him on. But most people have no clue who their state assemblyman is, and don't particularly care. I doubt they have strong feelings about their State's Secretary of State either; yet we all know how Katherine Harris in Florida and Ken Blackwell in Ohio made sure that blacks would have a hard time of it voting in the past two elections. If we can convince people to vote Democratic for state posts, then they can vote for their House rep next time, but he won't be around after November 2008.

Obviously, this is an argument for pursuing a 50-state campaign, as many have suggested, rather than only contesting swing states.

The best part of this plan is that if the Democrats win the House through gerrymandering, the Supreme Court will be forced to address the issue. They might actually ban gerrymandering if it turns out to be a tool the Democrats can use successfully as well as the Republicans.

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This is a little presumptuous, but I'm a presumptuous guy, or I wouldn't be in this business, so I thought I'd post the speech I would have given if I had won a Canadian Screenwriting Award on Monday. (I didn't.) I had it all written out on tiny scraps of paper and all:
I'm honored to accept this award. Thank you.

I'm doubly honored because this is the third nomination for our series Naked Josh. I'm not sure which I'm happier about, winning this award, or the fact that this year our show got two out of the three nominations in our class. That’s almost like working on Corner Gas.

I have to share that part of the honor with my co-creator, Laura Kosterski, and our producer, André Béraud, who never accepted less than our best. I'd also like to thank Tara Ellis of Showcase for her outstanding vision in putting her money where our mouths were.

I also feel particularly honored because not only is the Canadian Screenwriting Award given by your peers. But it is one of the few awards in show business that’s based on the work the writer did, and not on what the director and editor and actors did. The Canadian Screenwriting Award is about nothing but the script. Which is a recognition that it all begins with the script. I'm not sure what my point is, but I think it has something to do with a nightmare I had where there was nothing to watch but Canadian Idol five nights a week. And the judges were making up their own jokes.

Finally I'd like to thank you all for letting me be part of our union. In the past few years I've asked the WGC to go to bat for me many times, and each time it's been the difference between a fair outcome and an ugly one. So I am honored simply to be part of this Guild, without which none of this would be possible. Thank you.
And I mean it. Even if I didn't win the award.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

I spent a big chunk of today establishing that the Banff Worldwide Television Festival is hideously expensive ($2100 registration, $650+ airfare, say on the order of $600 in hotels), and probably not necessary for me to go to. While it seemed like a good idea to various people while I was in Toronto, the same people agreed that I could probably accomplish almost as much in another visit to Toronto. (Visit to Toronto: $400 in train fare if I go first class, stay at friends' places, no registration.) While at Banff you can hang out and get drunk with network execs, but I just met with four out of five networks, and it looks like my stuff will be going to some American cable nets as well.

So, not going to spend $3500 to fly to the mountains of Alberta after all.

I'm a little disappointed, but also relieved.

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Well, you shouldn't be. But if you are, check out this Fantasy Novelist's Exam. If you fail, stop writing your script. Actually, even if you pass, you probably ought to stop writing your script, because there's practically no market for it. But at least you won't embarrass yourself!

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

I am yawning in the passenger lounge at Union Station in Toronto. After four days of pitching and meeting (and parties and poker!), I've used up all my psychic energy. I'm not by natural an outgoing person, though I can play one in a meeting. And pitching shows is more exhausting that meetings on projects that are at least in development. You are hoping they will like you and you are hoping they'll like your project, and you're hoping you won't make an absolute fool of yourself or be off-putting in some way.

And then you go, and pitch, and inevitably it feels like an anti-climax, because network execs may tell you which pitch of yours they most like, but they are not going to tell you whether they want any of your pitches or not, even if it were up to them. And it's not. They have to take your pitch to a meeting.

I had more of an impression this time than last that I am coming from a provincial backwater. Montreal may be culturally more sophisticated than Toronto, but Toronto is the hub of the Canadian film industry, and writers and producers and network executives here bump into each other. That probably happens on the French side in Montreal, but the tiny English community doesn't have its own Starbucks. (Note: someone ought to start one.) I may have to come here more often.

Still I think I did good. People seem to know who I am. ("I'm Alex Epstein." "Oh, you're Alex Epstein!") Award nominations and co-creating a show that airs for three seasons help with that. I didn't win, alas, but people seemed to know I was up for an award. This time I was able to see a few people a second time; last time it was all meet'n'greets. And I got to hand out postcards for my book. Some say a book is foremost an excuse to promote yourself. If so, it worked.

We'll see what exactly comes out of this trip. But I think it was worth the effort and expense. (And thank you to my dear friend Shelley for putting me up!) I am starting to feel a little like a part of the creative community here, even if I'm the red-headed stepchild who lives on the other bank of the river.

Next trip: probably the Banff Worldwide Television Festival in June...

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[MONTREAL] According to the press release I just got: Concordia communication students showcase their work at this year's advanced film production screening.

Students in the Film III (Advanced Film Production) course will be showcasing their work at Concordia University's H-110 auditorium in the Hall building located at 1455 De Maisonneuve on Thursday May 4, 2006 . The doors will open at 7:30 pm. There will be a total of nine short films, all of which were produced over the last 8 months and shot on 16mm color film.

The films to be screened are an eclectic bunch, ranging from dark comedy to suspense to musical documentary. The program includes the visually-captivating coming-of-age short, Josh and Elias, featuring music by Montreal artists Jason Bajada and The Adam Brown. As well as Early Bird Special, which takes a peculiar twist in a satire about a jug-band record collector. While the unconventional documentary Dumpster Divers, sings along with tunes on recycling garbage.

The Department of Communications Studies at Concordia University is well known as one of the leading programs of its kind in North America. Many of the student filmmakers in this year's class are no strangers to the festival circuit. Some have already had work in the Montreal World Film Festival and Toronto's Student Shorts. The May 4th premiere is expected to be the start of a lengthy screening run in Montreal and abroad.

For more information concerning the film screening, please contact Emilie Wapnick at (514) 482-9915 or
info@emiliewapnick.com

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Q. When writing a sitcom pilot containing both an A and B story, is it preferable to have the B story somehow connected to the A story (i.e., via theme, plot, location, etc.) or totally unrelated to the A story?
Personally, I think related is more interesting, if you can make it work. You can play one storyline broad and one storyline subtle, and have them reflect on each other. In a drama script, you can counterpoint a dramatic storyline with a comic storyline with the same theme, and shed light on more than one facet of the them.

However, unless you're writing a themed show (such as Sex and the City or my show Naked Josh), you don't have to relate the two stories.

That said you do want to weave the stories together so that they're not doing the exact same thing at the same time: an action beat in one story intercuts with a suspense or dramatic beat in the other story, a slow beat with a fast beat. You'd never cut between two car chases, obviously.

Think of your episode as a fabric. You want to weave the stories together so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The more the stories shed light on each other, the more valuable the overall fabric is. The more they counterpoint each other, the more colorful the fabric is. Be careful your colors don't clash, and make sure you've woven the stories together or the fabric will fall apart. And that's not good.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Has anyone been to see The TV Set? This article makes it sound like a savage-but-true sendup of how good ideas become bad television. It's playing at the TriBeCa Film Festival.

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Q. This may be a loaded question, but what's your opinion on screenplay contests?
My opinion is that most of them exist to put money in the pocket of the people running the contest. Last year I posted the list of contests I think are legit. There may be others. Generally I think that any contest that isn't affiliated with a studio or network is not much use. It is something to put on your query letter, but honestly, what gets your script read is a great hook. Saying you were a semi-finalist at the Austin Heart of Film Contest will not get your hookless script bought.

Just look at the economics. You run a screenplay contest. Top prize is $5,000. You get 1000 scripts and you charge $50 a script. You have raked in $50,000. Like those numbers?

Sometimes I think I should run a contest. But I need my self respect more than I need the money.

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Q. What is the market like for short film screenplays? Are agents interested in them or do they just deal with feature-length scripts?
Directing agents will look at your short film if you're a beginning director trying to break in. But there is no market for short film scripts.

What you can do with a short film script is put up posters at your local film school offering the script to anyone who wants to shoot it. Some directing students are not that anxious to write their own script, and if yours is better than they can do, they may run with it. And then you have a produced short. There's no market for that, either, but you can submit it to short film festivals, and win awards which go on your resume. In other words it's better than nothing and it gives you a story to tell.

(This is less true at some schools, like UCLA, where you're required to write your own scripts, or you were when I was there back in the last century.)

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Q. I have been working on my second novel for a while, but lately I got the hankering to turn it into a screenplay, simply because I feel it has a great message about faith, hope and salvation, through deep despair and global destruction. I began working on a beat sheet as you call it in your book for the screenplay, but I was wondering, do I need to double-space the beat sheet or does that matter?
I just go with the default spacing which is a little more than single spacing. But a beat sheet is primarily for you. It is very hard for someone else to read and make sense of your beat sheet; few can do it. So producers don't buy beat sheets. They buy scripts.

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We had a blast of a game of limit poker, nine of us writers, not to mention bottles of beer, wine, scotch, bourbon and calvados. Few things are funnier than the banter of a gaggle of writers.

Somehow we got onto nicknames, and let it go forth from this day forward that Matt MacLennan is now to be known as "Titter" MacLennan. And Shelley earned the nick "A.J."

Don't ask.

Last night's Writer's Guild party was such a blast we closed down a pub. I'm amazed I managed to stay up all day long, because I had to get up at 8:15, but two network meetings will put a rush of adrenaline in you. Then I dropped in on my agents and pushed them to send my stuff out more places. (Drop in on your agents every couple of weeks. They think of stuff to do for you when you're there that they don't think of when you're on the phone. If you don't even call, well, forget it.) Then I pitched some producers. Then there was shopping for beer.

Tomorrow, more meetings. I feel a bit like a peasant gone to market, trying to sell my vegetables before they go bad. But it's fun, because you get to hang out at the inn and learn all the latest gossip about the King.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

One problem I keep coming up against in my own work and other people's is when the theme is too much in the foreground.

Lisa has a script idea about a girl struggling with some issues about her family. But when she tried to make a script about her trying to resolve her issues with her family, there wasn't enough story, and the story wasn't interesting enough.

What I thought she needed to do was make a story about the girl trying to do something in her life, and her family issues become an obstacle -- a submerged one at first, that doesn't come into the foreground until the climax. That seemed to make a better, stronger story. It gave us something positive to root for (stakes), and it complicated what had been too bald and unassuming a narrative.

Likewise, I had a series idea about a character on a quest some identity issues -- she's more than human. But I couldn't figure out how to make stories out of that quest. What I realized I had to do was give her something else she needed to do, that was at odds with her quest. Paradoxically, by making it harder for her to complete her quest, I made it easier to tell stories about her.

If you think you have a good idea, but the stories aren't coming, maybe you need to move the idea to the background. Make it the secret. The ghost that haunts your character. Make it the obstacle to something your character is trying to do. Often your good idea wants to be in the background for most of the story, not the foreground.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

WANT TO WRITE FOR TV?
Our alumni have been credited on more than 50 TV series

The Canadian Film Centre's Prime Time Television Programme has achieved a high level of recognition and success within the industry as an impressive source for trained writers and newly developed projects for the television marketplace. Through industry driven training you learn to write for episodic television in a collaborative environment, acquire real on the job skills, meet industry contacts and develop and pitch your own original series.

Want to know more?
Don't miss the CFC's Info Soirée!
To find out more about the Prime Time Television Programme, meet alumni working in the industry, enjoy a screening and more!

Monday May 1st, 2006
@ 6:30 PM
O Patro Vys
356, rue Mont-Royal Est
(Metro Mont-Royal)

Please RSVP to Stephanie Socol at 416.445.1446 ext. 216 or ssocol@cdnfilmcentre.com

The Canadian Film Centre's Prime Time Television Programme
Application Deadline: May 29th, 2006
For information visit www.cdnfilmcentre.com

(Fans of Cynthia Knight: Cynthia will be showing a clip of her own work and answering questions at the event.)

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Devon DeLapp is writing about his experiences as a production assistant running all over LA... interesting LA culture notes.

[Someone else wrote and asked me to post his blog recently, but I can't seem to locate the URL. If you are he, please write!]

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[POLITICAL CULTURE] I am living in a very strange country. Strange, that is, if you're a born-and-bred New Yorker.

A group of about 50 Mohawks decided to block the railroad from Montreal and Ottawa to Toronto, to make a point about a land dispute elsewhere in Ontario.

The Canadian National railroad then went to court to get an injunction to remove the Indians.

And I'm thinking, right, that's going to get them off the tracks. 'Cause an injunction is really going to impress people who are ALREADY BREAKING THE LAW. Why don't they just get about 1000 Pinkertons and drag them off the damn tracks? And sue them for the economic damage?

Hell, the NYPD removed several thousand Democratic protestors from downtown during the Republican convention, and they weren't blocking anything, they were just exercising their First Amendment rights.

This morning, the Indians removed themselves. 'Cause, y'know, there was an injunction.

It's weird. It's like living in a nation of ... grownups.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

According to The New Scientist, Philips has patented a system for preventing viewers from fast-forwarding through recorded ads or changing the channel during live ones. (Here's the patent itself.)

If you'd like to tell Philips what you think of this idea, send Gerd Goetz an email. He's head of their consumer relations department.

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On Sunday I'm hopping a fast train to Toronto. (Doesn't have the ring of the last train to Clarkesville, but there's no one to meet me at the station.) If the gods are kind to me, I might pick up a screenwriting award. But more crucially to continuing to have a roof over my head, I now have four network meetings lined up, and a bunch of producer meetings too. And a cocktail party. And a poker game. And a lunch with one of the best writers around.

Should be an exciting few days.

I like to think of Toronto as LA without the nice weather. It's sort of spread out, and people ask you what you "do," so they can figure out, "How can I use you?" While Montreal is sort of New York on a budget: people ask "What do you do?" so they can ask you interesting questions about your work.

I've got four new series ideas I'm pitching -- about six to eight pages on each -- but in each of these meetings I'm going in with a producer I've already got a series with, and we're pitching that. We sent the material to the networks in advance (in one case, months ago), but it sometimes takes a meeting to make it real and get the material read. I could have gone in to the networks on my own, but it's very hard for a network exec to get excited about even the most interesting material if there isn't a producer attached. The most they can do is suggest a producer to attach. It's just a lot to expect them to read something they can't really say yes to. Hence going in with the production companies.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

I got an email from someone asking if I'd like to partner with them to promote their "Click and Copyright" site where, for only $97 dollars, they will file your screenplay with the US Copyright Office. Or $147 for their bonus services. I wasn't too clear on what their bonus services are. But they have obviously Google-bombed their own site because
One of our sites, [snip], provides online copyrighting, (and is number 2 and 3 on google's natural results for the term "copyright your screenplay"
I'm afraid I did not partner with them. Because all you need to copyright your screenplay is a copy of your script, a copy of the Library of Congress's FORM PA, a check for $30, an envelope, and some stamps. Just go to the handy Library of Congress page on Performing Arts copyrights and download the form.

Filing with the US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress is many times more effective than registering your script with either Writer's Guild. It provides a statutory registration, rather than evidence that you wrote the material. Registering your Form PA gives you legal rights that no third party, no matter how well intentioned, can give you.

You can read more at Filmmakerstore, where they seem to be trying to earn an honest buck. I've also written at length about copyright in my FAQ.

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Check out Wordspy's list of the 100 most interesting new words and phrases.

E.g.: retrosexual: someone (usually a man) who spends as little effort as possible on his appearance
male answer syndrome: the tendency of men to answer a question whether or not they know anything about the answer
bigorexia: feeling that one's muscles are inadequate when they are already excessive
man cave: where the man of the house retreats to when stressed, usually storing his power tools...

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On my friend Shelley's recommendation, we rented Once and Again, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick's 1999 series. Very charming pilot. Adorable characters, cleverly written. We get the characters' thoughts through black and white interviews that intercut with and counterpoint the scenes. We wondered instantly where the writers could possibly take the series since the pilot is essentially your basic romantic comedy, and by the end of it, the two adorable people are dating.

Shelley says the series broadens out into the lives of the secondary characters. Not surprised there, because how far can you go with "will they or won't they" if the show is actually about "will they or won't they"? (You can go for a long time if the show is about "will they solve the mystery" or "kooky characters populate a sports bar". That is, incidentally, why you don't want any of your episodes to directly be about the central question of the series, since if you resolve it, the series is done, and if you don't, the episode is unresolved.)

Well, we're certainly going to keep checking this series out...

TWO DAYS LATER: We found it hard to sit through the second episode, which seemed to be about how hard it is for two divorced 40-year-olds with kids to manage dating. Maybe it's because I haven't dated in 15 years, but I had trouble believing it could be that hard. I mean, just tell your kids that mommy's dating and if they don't want mommy to interfere in their dating life when they finally have one, they better be cool about mommy getting some.

But hey, that's me. I've had relationships, I've been married twice, but I never did much dating. If you were going to make a series about me, it wouldn't be about dating.

I guess if you're doing a romantic comedy series, you have to create obstacles, and that means you have to make the characters not that good at getting together. Which, considering they each have their kids only half the time, ought not to be all that hard. You're forced to make the characters a little extra neurotic just so they won't become a happy couple right away and end your series. (In a movie, the end of the pilot would be the end of the movie. You'd just assume they live happily ever after.) So when the guy calls the woman's house, he's actually dumb enough to leave a message with her 11 year old daughter, even though any parent would know the reliability of that message getting through is poor. And they can't find a place to have sex, though they both drive large SUV's. And the guy takes the woman to his favorite dinner place so of course they run into the other woman he's been dating, who he hasn't cut it off with yet. And so on. The stories are cute but they feel like stories that should star twenty-year-olds; 40-year-olds ought to know better.

That's one of the perils of TV being a young writer's game. So many shows about grown-ups feel like they're written about teenagers with adult jobs. Gray's Anatomy is, as someone cleverly pointed out, a high school show set at a hospital. On The O.C., the high school stories are far more convincing than the parent stories.

But on the other other hand, if your characters don't do dumb things, it's hard to come up with stories that can be resolved within the hour. So maybe it's a function of the form.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I occasionally read and critique scripts, and when I do, if the script gets produced, I ask for a Story Consultant credit somewhere in the end credits. A reader wrote in to say that this is unfair because it might make the script harder to sell, and I should amend my critiquing deal to say that if the purchaser doesn't want to give me a credit, they don't have to:
Unless the writer is financing the film, you could be adversely affecting a sale for them. If a producer purchases the property, they may not want your name in the end credits, and the writer may not know better than to sign the contract with you, thinking there won't be a problem.
Of course a clause that says someone doesn't have to give you something if they don't feel like it is legally equivalent to no clause at all.

I was a bit surprised that someone would feel that an end credit was such a burden on a script. The end credits of a movie these days contain hundreds of names, including accountants, negative cutters, and the caterer's assistant. No one seems to think those workers' names are a burden on a movie. Why would a story consultant credit be a burden?

I can't help feeling this has something to do with the overall feeling so many people in the biz have that writers aren't really working, they're doing what they love, and they should be grateful for any opportunity they get.

My feeling, though, is that if my comments, which are based on working in the biz for 16 years, help get a script to the point where a producer would want to buy it, then I should get a credit much as I would get a credit if I were a story editor on a TV episode or a rewriter who made substantial contributions to a feature script. When I do story consulting for producers, none has ever objected to my getting a story consultant credit.

Well, this is why we have contracts... and why I stick with my Writer's Guild. It reminds us, as much as producers, that what we do is actually skilled work.
I'm not a lawyer, but I am a writer, and I'm sure neither of us like to see other writers get screwed (even inadvertantly). Thanks for considering this.
Well, sure. But I think that what I do is valuable, and when I work on a story, I like to get a credit for it, so people know I've done it. The last writer I want to see screwed is myself. And credits are what my career is made up of.

Anybody see it differently?

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I've now had 3 Powerbook Titanium adapters crap out on me. They all break where the computer plug meets the cord.

Can these things be fixed? Seems stupid to lose a whole adapter because of frayed wire.

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Assistant/Atlas has a handy post about the fabled UTA job list, and those who believe and disbelieve in it. If you're looking for jobs in the biz, you may want to check it out.

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I send all my used book purchases to my parents' apartment in New York because the shipping is twice as much to Montreal. So whenever we go visit them, which is about once a month (visitation!), I have a stack of packages waiting for me in my old closet. It's like a mini-Christmas! So now I have a stack of intriguing books on the shelves in the bathroom.

The one I'm reading now is the cleverly titled Complications, by surgeon Atul Gawande, about how a surgeon learns his craft. Gawande has a scary and interesting point that the only way for surgeons to become proficient is (as the little old lady responded when the tourist asked her "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"): Practice, practice, practice. Which means if you are among the early patients he's practicing on, Good luck, Charlie.

Gawande makes the interesting point that studies have shown that the difference between top performers in music and sports and the second-to-top performers is not so much the luck of being born with superb talent as the willingness -- or capacity -- to train. Martina Navratilova crushed her competition in tennis in her day because she was the first woman player to train as if it was a full time job. The other players were practicing by playing tennis. She lifted weights and ran and hired a nutritionist. (She also hired my wife's stepdad as her coach!)

How does this apply to the quirky world of screenwriting? Repetitive exercises will help you in music and sports, but they don't help when the muscles you need to be exercising are your creative ones.

But what will help you is the ability to keep working on a script when you're bored with it. Just because that first flash of inspiration is over doesn't mean you get to send your script out -- or not finish it. There is such a thing as overwriting a script, and you can't make a living if you're never willing to declare a script to be as good as you can make it. But most scripts fail because the writers weren't willing to keep working them till they were. Is that the best joke? Is that line of dialog as distinctive and character-revealing as it can be? Is there a way to make this scene play without dialog? Can this action sequence also reveal a plot point or a character point? Can I do something in this action sequence that I haven't seen in any Michael Bay movie? What if I changed this plot twist to something else -- what's the best thing I could do here that isn't what I already did?

And, most importantly, before you even start writing: have I told my screen story to so many people out loud that I know it off the top of my head, and every scene seems to come in the right place, and my story keeps my listeners enthralled, and I can't think of any way to improve it?

That's what separates the pro monkeys from the aspiring ones.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Silly Pipe Dreams links to five posts on staffing season in this entry. I found out about it because one of the posts is mine! I am honored to be in the written company of Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Jane Espenson and The LA Times.

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Street Wars, the assassination game, is now happening in LA. You get a water pistol and the coordinates of your target. Someone else has your coordinates. The last person still dry wins the prize.

I used to be part of a group that did live action role playing games. Not just the ones you can buy, like Vampire: The Masquerade. We wrote our own. New rules each time. Lotta fun. Lotta work for the players. Incredibly insane amount of work for whoever was mad enough to run the game.

(I ran a game about the night before the battle of Camlann -- Camlann Eve. The Questing Beast was duly captured, but though Ahasuerus knew how to find the Holy Grail and restore Arthur and Guinevere, it turned out he didn't tell anyone because it was of no interest to him personally! Life can be like that.)

We never figured out how to make those games pay, alas. And games that require too much creative effort on the part of the players rarely work out commercially.

Street Wars, of course, is a public version of Assassins, which they started playing at MIT in 1983, though Harpo Marx talks about the game in his autobiography, which could put the game back to the '20's.

I love when gaming and theater blur. On the theater side, one of the most impressive pieces of immersive theater I ever saw was a couple of performances of an adaptation of The Remembrance of Things Past in an empty house on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven in (probably) 1983 or 1984. Basically the playwright (I wish I had saved his or her name) made a play out of all the naughty bits in the novel. Several story lines were unfolding in different rooms. If you wanted to follow a different story line, you had to come back another night. It was one of the few times I've had an experience in a theater space that gave me something a movie couldn't have given me -- the magic of the actors being physically there and creating a sort of ritual space that you are in, too.

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If you're looking for a book agent, Victoria Strauss of Writers Beware has a list of the 20 Worst Books Agents. Apparently, they generally charge fees and have poor records getting books set up at legit publishers.

Real agents charge for postage and copying at most.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

We saw Thank You For Smoking last night, after it was sold out Saturday night. Kids, if you're looking to write a feature spec that sells, take a good smart look at this movie. You can write the next big-budget action adventure with a decent hook and it may well get bought, but you're up against other big-budget action adventures written by top scribes at the top of their craft. And even if you sell your script, and thereby get on the list of rewriters, the odds are your movie doesn't get made.

On the other hand, if you write a script about a controversial subject, with a surprising and fresh point of view and/or a compelling character we haven't seen before, with lots of great character roles, which can be produced for little money, with a title that grabs people, then you are in very fine shape. Thank You For Smoking is the kind of script every producer wants to find. It takes a hot-button subject (smoking) and hits it from an unexpected angle -- a satire about a divorced dad who takes shameless pleasure in doing public relations for Big Tobacco. There are the kinds of well-crafted small roles that pull in name actors -- Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe, Adam Brody -- and because it's a hot-button subject, actors are likely to sign on. The movie's pyrotechnics are all character and dialog. (I particularly liked that all of the characters remain passionately, gleefully and unapologetically true to themselves, and no one does anything stupid except for good character reasons.)

So the moral is: don't write yet another serial killer movie. Write something no one's thought of before. The audience is always looking for something new, and that means producers are, too.

UPDATE: Joe Unidos points out below that the movie is based on a book, and is therefore not a spec. Waaaall, sure, I'm not sure I said it was a spec. But it is the sort of movie you should be writing as a spec. Just because Christopher Buckley specced a book doesn't mean you can't spec a script that's equally clever. Right?

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

[TECH SUPPORT] I spent several hours yesterday getting my new Netgear router working with my Westell DSL modem from Verizon. It seems both devices have the same self-assigned IP range. (With 256 x 256 x 256 x 256 to choose from, that doesn't seem very clever, does it?) But the Netgear people were very nice and gave me free tech support. It was as simple as changing the self-assigned IP from 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.10.1 in the router's basic settings (https://www.routerlogin.net/basicsetting.htm). And now we have wireless in my parents' classic six. Whee!

Mostly, as this is New York, we have been Walking and Eating. Oh, and Buying. I'm not sure where else the day goes. (All right, I also skimmed someone's dissertation on fashion models as research.) But the weather was gorgeous.

Today we're going to the American Museum of Natural History's Darwin exhibit. When they planned it, it wasn't controversial at all...

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

[POLITICS] This is mostly a blog about TV and movies, but it is also partly a blog about politics as story telling, with occasional lapses into pure politics.

Under the politics as story telling department, in the Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan has a smart article called "Not As Lame As You Think" about how the Democrats have learned the art of opposition. Her point is that pundits keep treating the Democrats as divided and leaderless, but in fact they are doing a great job of tearing down the Republicans, and have kept party discipline at least as well as the Republicans. She compares them to the pre-1994 Republicans, who seemed just as confused, and who won the Congressional elections that year in a sweep. However, the story continues to be the Democrats alleged disarray. Worth reading whichever side of the chasm you're on.

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We saw The Notororious Bettie Page. It is not much of a story, or even a biopic; the movie never gets under Bettie's lovely skin.

But what I really liked was the cinematography. The movie, like her films, starts out in black and white. Then as it moves forward in the 50's, it moves into Technicolor, then into the more somber shades that followed Technicolor. What that gave was a visceral feeling of the times changing. We're used to seeing the '50's in black and white, and the '60's in color. It was a neat effect. It may have come up because they were trying to match stock footage of the time, but they got the most out of it.

Gretchen Mol does a lovely job of representing Bettie, but the story makes her out to be a pretty simple girl, notwithstanding some terrible things that happened to her. Without speculating a little more about her private life (hard to do when your subject is alive and born-again), there's not that much story there.

I wonder if Bettie Page really was that much of an icon at the time. She is now. But was she really the "Pinup Queen of the Universe"? It's hard to imagine. Her photos are so tame and the movies seem "all in good fun," which is not really the effect you're going for if you're tying someone up -- or being tied.

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A writer for a magazine called to ask what I thought of the controversy between George Jonas, who wrote Vengeance, and Spielberg, who directed Munich. I gather the film suggests that the Israeli assassins began to feel that killing terrorists was taking a toll on them emotionally and morally; the book does not.

I said that I don't think artists owe a debt to their sources. If Spielberg wants to use Jonas's book to tell a story he wants to tell, even if it's not Jonas's story, he's entitled to. But I think artists do owe a debt to the essential truth. Which was, in this case, that the Israeli assassins were not so much seeking vengeance as trying to put some very nasty murderers out of business by killing them. If the Spielberg movie makes their motive out to be primarily vengeance, then that works artistically but is a minor slander on Israel. Striking back at murderers for the sake of vengeance is acceptable to many people, but few people would argue with self-defense.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

We're in New York so Hunter can spend Easter weekend with his dad. New York is alive with budding leaves and flowering cherry trees, and we're in Heaven. New York has a particular smell after a Spring rain that just makes me happy.

We went to the New York Historical Society -- the American Museum of Natural History was jammed -- and looked at Audubon's original watercolors, then went up and saw paintings of Old New York -- the rocky, muddy meadow called Central Park that Olmstead had to work with, and the fireworks at the inauguration of the Great East River Suspension Bridge (now the Brooklyn Bridge). I love the old names of things -- maps with "Bertholdi's Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World" instead of "Statue of Liberty," and the "Dictionary of Quotations by John Bartlett."

Now we're off to the Bettie Page movie. I feel a little guilty not schlepping down to the Village to see my old classmate Caveh Zahedi's highly rated film I Am a Sex Addict, but mom was cooking filet mignon, and Bettie is sixty blocks closer. We almost never get to see movies at night. Since we're free lancers we do get to see movies during the day, but it's a guilty pleasure and it doesn't feel quite right coming out of a movie into daylight.

Hope you're all enjoying your Passover and Easter weekends...

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Courtesy Neil Gaiman's blog, this article is about the rivalry between two KISS tribute bands whose members are dwarfs.

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The border, that is:
Q. Any advice of how a dual Canadian/British (EU) passports holder can be legal to work in the U.S.?
Actually as a native New Yorker, I don't know anything about getting a visa to work in showbiz. Does anyone want to chip in a comment or two?

You don't actually need a green card to free lance a script. As a free lancer you are not an employee, and who is to say you are not doing the work at home in Canada and only taking meetings in LA? Especially if you are being paid through your Canadian loanout company. On the other hand not having a work permit of some sort prevents you from working at Fourbucks while you're trying to get free lance scripts.

On the flip side, Canada is fairly welcoming, though the process now takes 18 months for permanent residency versus 6 months when I applied in 2000. Presumably it's a function of 9/11 though apparently after the last election there was a flood of applications from scared liberals...

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

[POLITICS] The Moussaoui jury heard the Flight 93 audiotape yesterday. In half an hour, as the WaPo story tells it, the terrorists took over the plane violently, and then the passengers rebelled successfully, forcing the terrorists to crash the plane.

Real terror. Real heroism. I wonder how it compares with the movie.

The only problem with playing it for the jury, of course, is it's clear to most sane people (which emphatically does not include Moussaoui himself) that Moussaoui had nothing to do with hijacking Flight 93, much as he would dearly have loved to have been involved. Even the terrorists knew he was crazy. (It reminds me of an old Batman comic I once had -- the Joker decides not to get in a fistfight with the Dark Knight because "I may be insane, but I'm not crazy!") Of course, he wants to be a martyr, so he's told the jury that he was supposed to have hijacked a fifth plane along with Richard the Shoe Bomber. So we'll execute the crazy would-be conspirator because the real murderers went down with the plane, and we can't execute them.

I wish the people in charge of our response to the terrorist threat had a little more sense of the story we're telling the rest of the world. We're not telling the world we're strong. We're telling the world we're confused, and weak, and scared. A strong country would disappear Moussaoui into an asylum for the criminally insane for the rest of his life. A strong country would make a serious attempt to achieve consensus on Iran, rather than brandishing nukes...

The story Bush Senior told was, "Saddam is a dangerous maniac but we are all of us going to put him back in his house and make sure he can't hurt anyone." The story we're telling the world right now is that we're a herd of stampeding cattle goaded on by ignorant cowboys whose vision is bad and whose word is worthless.

Stories matter because they are how people see the world. They are what people act on. People tend to gloss over details. That's how our brains work. Only schizophrenics get hung up on details. We remember a few salient points. We assume that if you lie about finding mobile biowar labs, you can't be trusted on Iran's nukes.

We act on the stories we believe. We got into Vietnam because the story was that if Vietnam went Communist, so would the rest of Southeast Asia. We got out of Vietnam because the story was that our soldiers were committing atrocities in defense of a corrupt regime that was, ultimately, as bad as the Communists. Both stories omitted important details. But the stories were what moved the world.

Stories are Archimedes' lever, by which the world is moved.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

[POLITICS] According to the latest Seymour Hersh article in The New Yorker, Administration officials are seriously contemplating bombing Iran's nuclear program back to the Stone Age. With, if necessary, nuclear weapons. Because they're afraid if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, it can't be trusted not to use it...

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Q. So this raises a question for me--considering that an excellent movie is a synthesis of excellent writing, excellent directing, excellent acting, etc. Are there any movies that you can tell had a great screenplay, but were poorly executed?
A few, but very rarely, because a great script rarely survives a bad director. Directors generally have carte blanche to hire rewriters, and they have the rewriter take the script off in a direction it doesn't want to go. The result is a mish-mash Frankenstein monster that no one can direct well. It takes a good director to realize that a good script is good the way it is and not have it rewritten to suit his "vision."

I do remember watching Toys and thinking that the script itself was actually quite funny, but Barry Levinson's lugubrious dramatic direction killed the humor.

I also remember seeing Basic Instinct and being shocked that Verhoeven followed the script word for word; possibly one reason the movie is so effective.

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Monday, April 10, 2006


Pillow Fight Montreal
Originally uploaded by Houssein.
Here's Hunter, bashing away at people twice his size and age!
Thanks to Mahalia Verna for the link.

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The WGA has released a list of the "101 best screenplays," which really is a list of "101 great screenplays that got turned into great movies instead of being screwed up by the producer's nephew."

Via Achenblog who makes the dumb comment that "Gee, was it the screenplay that made Casablanca great? I thought it was Bogart." Right. Because Bogart was equally good in The Return of Doctor X?

Actually, he probably was equally good. The difference was the screenplay.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

If you want a dog park in Old Montreal, email Marlene Savard, she's petitioning the City of Montreal for one.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

And here's an article in La Presse about the pillow fight.

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Friday, April 07, 2006


Flashmob pillowfight, Montreal
Originally uploaded by blork.
Ahhhh, here we go.


And Martine tells me that "Francois has posted a video...

Of course I was there, Martine! And so were Hunter, Lisa and Jesse Anne!

Tags: Pillow fight!

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Here are a few lessons I've drawn...

a. Obviously, try to avoid rain. If you decide on a rain date, specify exactly what constitutes "rain." E.g. "if the weather.yahoo.com forecast includes the word 'rain'" ... If you mean "rain or shine," SAY rain or shine.

b. graphic invitations are cool

c. an aural cue is better than a set time. You can tell people there will be a referee's whistle (and then be sure to bring one!), or set the event for when a certain clock chimes, if there is one.

d. encourage people not to be in the area at all until the very last minute. That's the beauty of a flash mob. Also, then no one will feel "gosh there aren't enough people, I'll go home," because no one knows how many people until too late. There were about 12 people in Dorchester Square until the very last minute. Then suddenly there were 50. Then 100.

e. a cutoff time is not a bad idea, so people don't come late. Ours lasted 30 minutes, but it was pretty much done after 15 minutes.

f. after work is a good time. Night is cool for a pillow fight but day provides better pictures.

g. do not wear your fragile #&*)&*)# plastic glasses! Unless you needed a new prescription anyway.

Tags: Pillow fight!

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It was raining, so there were only about maybe fifty of us. Okay, and another fifty who came to watch. And this being Montreal, people kept arriving late and joining the fray. Amazingly the brawl went on till about 7:30 when someone applauded and everyone else applauded and that was that.

The weather could barely have been worse, but the spirit of the people who did come was tremendous. What fun! Hunter had a blast -- he was in the thick of it until the very end.

Next time I'm involved in something like this, for sure we need a rain date. I suspect the turnout would have been much, much better if not for the rain, which really sends people heading for home even if they stuck a pillow in their bag in the morning.

I broke my glasses! Darn it. Ah well, art requires some sacrifice.

I can't wait to see the pictures. There were maybe a dozen or two people there with cameras, plus press.

Really we need to do something like this in better weather, but someone else will have to instigate it...

Tags: Pillow fight!

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Q. Is it recommended/useful to send character and location lists along with specs? (Either feature or television)
Ack. No. Not in a spec.

Production TV scripts often have a location list and/or cast list, to help the Assistant Director. If your script isn't in production, you don't need anything but a title page.

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Now here's a really terrible new idea ... advertisements on DVD that you CAN'T FAST FORWARD THROUGH.

I rented the Brothers Grimm DVD from Zip, and I had to watch the ad for double-sided tape. Twice.

That's really freaking irritating.

I felt like the ants trapped on the tape.

Sometimes I feel like there oughtta be a process where citizens are entitled to punch engineers in the shoulder for every really obnoxious, dumb, irritating idea they come up with.

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Q. In a temporally ambiguous scene, what would you tag on to the slug line? As an example consider a submarine or starship. Probably DAY but more 'what does it really matter'. I've been using '2ND SHIFT' and the like but that's generally pretty useless so I was considering dropping it altogether.
DAY indicates mood and lighting as much as chronological time. So if you want a scene set on the bridge when just a skeleton crew is there (junior officers), and probably the lights slightly dimmed, set it in NIGHT, otherwise DAY. You can leave the time off, but it's a little jarring for the eye used to seeing DAY and NIGHT at the end of slugs.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Q. As far as agent seeking goes, should one seek out different agents to represent interests in Canada and the U.S. (just as you'd have one agent for novels and another for the screen) or is one all you should worry about? I'm thinking primarily of features now.
I have an agent for Quebec only, and agents for the rest of the world.

Generally US agents will not like your carving out Canada for your Canadian agent, because they can at least negotiate those deals for you even if they will generally not find them for you. And they want the 10%. Some have policies about no dual representation. In the case of Quebec, it is such an idiosyncratic little market, no one can convince me they can rep me here from Toronto. And all policies can be broken if there is a strong enough financial incentive. The stronger your career is, the more people will make exceptions for you.

Get the local (Quebec, Canada) agent first and then try to hold onto them when you go looking for worldwide (Toronto, LA) representation. It's easier to get a fait accompli accepted.

At some point I might change Toronto to LA (though my current Toronto agents are doing their best to hustle in LA), but I'd still try to keep Quebec, er, sovereign. Just as all politics are local, all selling is local.

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The link to the WGA's online list of agents on your FAQ:
http://www.wga.org/agency/AgencyList.asp goes to a list that does NOT "indicate which ones take unsolicited manuscripts.
I don't know whether the paper list they sell for a buck still indicates who take unsolicited manuscripts. I've never paid that much attention, anyway. Regardless whether an agent theoretically takes unsolicited manuscripts or not, if your query letter has a hot hook, they'll read your script. If it doesn't, they probably won't. Obviously your chances are bad at the major agencies (CAA, ICM, William Morris, UTA, Endeavor). But there's no reason not to query individual agents at even the medium agencies (Gersh, Innovative, Paradigm, etc.).

That said, if you can possibly get a personal connection to an agent so you can say, "So and so suggested I contact you," that's a big plus. But ultimately it's all about the query letter, and then the script.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Q. What would you say is the best strategy for a Canadian
writer get staffed on a U.S. show?
Move to Los Angeles like everyone else.
I'm Canadian. I've got both feature and television specs. I want to work on U.S. television. I can fly to L.A. for meetings on short notice but can't move down there for longer than a month or so until I have an income of some sort (no Green Card).

I'll have my collection of specs ready in the next few
months and am deciding on a strategy to go out with
them. I just don't know what my odds are of doing so
successfully from Canada. Can I pursue an agent in the
same fashion as an L.A. based writer? Should I try to
get into Canadian television or does that add anything
substantive to my resume if I'm being considered for,
say, Battlestar Galactica or Veronica Mars (to name
two favorites)? Is the path in through features?
There is no path through features. Features is a different world with different skills and different buyers. Learning features will teach you about half of what you need to know to be an effective TV writer, but it won't make you any of the contacts you need.

If you can scrape together six weeks in LA, then your best bet is to send your specs to LA agents and tell them you'll be available in LA for staffing season. If one signs you, be ready to come down and be available for meetings during staffing season. If no one signs you, don't come down. You don't need to be in LA to get an agent, but they won't rep you if you won't be around for staffing season.

You have already missed this staffing season. That is, staffing season is already on and agents are superbusy with their current clients. The best time to get an agent is probably mid-summer, after staffing season is over and not much is happening. However there's very little an agent can do for you until next March, except try to staff you on mid-season replacements.

Sure, get on Canadian shows if you can. Any show experience is better than no show experience. Also, if you can get on a Canadian show, then you'll have some money in the bank.

Being "considered for" a show does nothing for your resume. I was shortlisted for Roswell two seasons in a row. Really, I was. See how lame that sounds?

Odds? If you're seriously asking about odds, you are in the wrong business! The odds are terrible. You have to believe that you're better than everyone else. If you're not better than everyone else, it probably isn't going to work out...

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Kevin Arbouet tagged me with a quiz about the worst things I've written and done. Ken Levine had some very clever answers for these questions but I'm afraid I don't.

I don't remember my worst lines. For one thing, at the time I'm sure I thought they were good lines. But if someone hated them, I probably chucked them and forgot about them. The worst lines of all are just flat dead flavorless lines. And those are hardly worth remembering.

I find that an important part of my process is forgetting. When you're writing, the hardest thing to do is read the script as if it were fresh to you. So remembering prior drafts would just drive me insane anyway.

I am not even sure I can point to disastrous business decisions. There is one person I surely would not ever work with again (a decision I gather more and more people are making as time goes by), but working together we accomplished quite a bit. So I'm not sure that was a mistake from a professional point of view. From the point of view of the deep unhappiness it caused, yah, big mistake. But not professionally.

So Kevin, I can't help you. If I had it all to do over again, I would have jumped right to TV rather than wasting time in features (though that helped me hone my craft). I'd probably have looked for a first job with an agency instead of an independent producer. And I would have tried to keep things platonic with the wonderful lady who became my first wife. The rest of the scar tissue was, on the whole, worth earning.

Of course, if I had it ALL to do over again, I'd have explained the butterfly ballot to the right 274 elderly Jewish voters in Palm Beach in 2000, and we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now...

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Just try to get into this class on how to be a showrunner.

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The Supreme Court decided today not to consider the question whether the US Government can hold an alleged terrorist indefinitely without trial.

85% of US troops in Iraq think they're there in retaliation for Saddam's "role" in the 9/11 attacks.

The Sunni minority in Iraq is desperate to get the US Army to leave Iraq so that the better-armed Shiites, who hate and outnumber them, can massacre them and take their land.

Does any of this make sense to someone?

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Stephen Gallagher has been kind enough to post online his "Dark Matter" pitch, which eventually because the British show The Eleventh Hour. Also some of the documents that led up to the pitch. Just click on the "news" header.

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Over the past few years I've been hearing a lot of: could the characters in this or that show be deeper, like those wonderful Sopranos characters. Could there be intertwining story lines, like on Sopranos. Etc.

Of course the show is brilliantly written. And characters can always be deeper and richer. Of course.

But the thing execs keep forgetting, is that Sopranos is an actual hour show. It airs on HBO, without commercials. Everyone else's hour show is really forty minutes. Yes, there's been the odd 43 or 47 minute Sopranos ep. But they are usually 50 minutes plus. Often they run 58, 59 minutes.

Can't do that on network. Gotta show the commercials.

There is no doubt Sopranos is a great show. But it also has 20%-50% more time per episode than everyone else. Give me, or anyone else, 10 or 20 more minutes, and we'll throw in some neat character scenes and a D and an E story, too.

(Not to mention, boy: to be able to write and cut the show as long or short as you like...)

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

After five days of fuzziness, my brain decided to start firing on all cylinders again some time this afternoon, and I got the first two acts of Exposure's second script revised.

We are also bouncing 750-word series pitches back and forth: a contemporary urban fantasy, a rural comedy, a household comedy, a comic drama. I need new product to pitch, and it's hard to set up features up here. I'm going to Toronto for the WGC Awards in a few weeks, and I want to meet with producers there, and that means having something to sell. Even if I don't sell something, the meetings will remind people I'm alive and well and living in Montreal. You always want to have something to sell when you meet people, just so the meeting's about something. I'm fairly confident about at least placing some of these pitches with producers, whether or not they get set up at networks.

The pitches are 750 words because that's the limit for submitting to the Banff Pitch It! program at the Banff Worldwide TV Festival, which I'd like to go to this year; haven't been before. With too many of Montreal's producers either terminally chintzy or actually bankrupt, there just aren't that many buyers I can realistically go to in my home town. I wouldn't mind reaching a wider audience.

I'm glad my brain has decided to work again. I was beginning to get really depressed spinning my creative wheels without getting any traction. Nothing like writing five pages on a Sunday otherwise full of family activities (dim sum! walks in the park!) to make me feel like a human being again...

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

[POLITICS] I was reading an atlas of world history the other day -- yeah, I read atlases -- and found an interesting thought. One of the striking things about the 7th Century is how little time it takes for the Islamic armies to conquer the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Spain... all areas in the Christian heartland of the time. Only later do they conquer Zoroastrian Persia.

According to this here atlas, what was striking about the Arabs at the time was their tolerance. They forcibly converted heathens, but by and large left Christians and Jews alone. Meanwhile the Eastern Roman Emperors and the bishops in Constantinople had a habit of harassing Christian heretics, of which Syria and Egypt were full. So the heretics had no reason to fight on behalf of Constantinople against the tolerant Arabs. The result was the flowering of Islamic civilization, and so long as the tolerance held, Muslim civilization leapt past the Christians.

Somewhere along the line the Arabs lost their tolerance -- probably in 1200 AD when the Mongols razed Damascus and Baghdad, and made it possible for less tolerant and less civilized warrior groups like the Turks and the Mamelukes to put themselves in charge.

Tolerance is not just a benefit you can afford when you're strong. Tolerance actually makes you strong. It makes your enemies willing to give up fighting you...

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