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



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Thursday, August 31, 2006

My ex-friend Anne the Painter once said, "I love paint! I'd eat it if I could."

I feel the same way about words. I'd eat them if I ... yeah, well, sometimes I do have to eat them.

The Online Etymological Dictionary is a nifty Web tool for those of you who want to know where a word came from but don't feel like using the magnifying glass on their Compact Oxford English Dictionary. (You do have the Compact Oxford, right?)

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Gemini nominations are out. As DMc points out, these are like the Emmies, but not. Nonetheless I was chuffed that the series I co-created, Naked Josh, is up for Best Comedy Program or Series, along with noms for:

Best Production Design or Art Direction in a Non-Dramatic Program or Series
-Mario Hervieux - Naked Josh II - "Baring it all"

and

Best direction in a Comedy Program or Series
-James Allodi - Naked Josh II - "Fake It Till You Make It"
-Jim Donovan - Naked Josh II - "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Lover

Meanwhile, the insanely great Michael Filipowich is nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series for his work on Charlie Jade, and Patricia MacKenzie for Best Supporting Actress. Isabelle Levesque got a nomination for her editing work, and Stephane Landry for his Visual FX work. I never got to work with the sound guys, but they got a nom too.

Go teams!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I finished reading my rough draft of The Alternative, in the process moving around some scenes, cutting a bunch of them, and generally trimming it down from 127 pages to 115.

There are some lines that made me chuckle, even though I wrote them. And some funny-awkward situations. And, in the last few pages, I found myself caring very much that Kiki gets what she's looking for. And the ending made me happy.

So, in all, I think it does not suck. For a first draft, that's all you can ask.

Now I'll probably try to get a few reactions from friends...

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Lucie Laurier
... Or, possibly, the problem with the marketing campaign in ROC is that it did not include a carefully leaked Youtube video of Lucie Laurier's nipple "accidentally" seeing daylight during an interview. (The link is to an article, not to the Youtube video. Sor-ree!)

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Bon Cop Bad Cop held at #3 in the Canadian box office, in its fourth weekend in Quebec and its second weekend in the Rest of Canada. That's beating Snakes on a Plane (2 weeks), Beerfest (1 week) and World Trade Center (three weeks), among others.

It is a silly movie. But I'm proud of it.

And now I would like to point out the direct relationship between marketing dollars spent and receipts. BCBC got $1M in promotion throughout Quebec (pop. 8 or so million) and $1M in R.O.C. (population 25 or so million). Opening weekends were 1.4 million in Quebec and 350,000 in the Rest of Canada.

In other words, where Alliance spent three times as much money per capita promoting the picture, we got four times the opening.

I am sure the argument for spending less promoting the picture in ROC is that Canadian movies in French do much better in Quebec than Canadian movies in English do in all of Canada. French movies made in Quebec have climbed to 27% of the French market; English films languish between single digits and decimal points:



But maybe there is a self-fulfilling prophecy there? If they actually promoted English language films, instead of merely making them ... in other words if people actually knew what they were about and when to go see them ... maybe market share would go up?

Two weeks prior to the opening in Quebec, you could not avoid knowing about Bon Cop Bad Cop. I turned on French radio maybe four times, for maybe ten minutes each driving to pick up my daughter from day care. I heard stuff about Bon Cop twice. Once was an ad, once was a talk radio guy saying it was the "must see movie of the summer." Bus ads? Everywhere. Posters? Everywhere. Humongous posters in the multiplexes? Check. Trailers, ben oui.

Two weeks prior to the opening in Toronto ... zip. If you'd been to a movie, you'd have seen a trailer. Otherwise, crickets.

Maybe Telefilm should spend a little less money helping fund movie production, and a little more money promoting movies that have been made?

Advertising.

Just putting it out there.

(And here's James Oregan on the same subject.)

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Got an email from a producer interested in one of my TV projects. She had some questions for me. I was tempted to email back and answer the questions, but I quickly decided that it would be more fruitful to call back. I want to establish a relationship; I'd never met her. So I called.

Particularly in TV, but in film as well, you're not just selling your material. You're selling yourself. You always want to be selling. That doesn't mean faking; faking will haunt you later. But it does mean letting people know your good points in case they don't already know, or have forgotten, how wonderful you are. You can't depend on your agent to do that for you.

Your work has to be good. But the work is only half of it. Life is short and people want to work with interesting and fun people. Just appearing agreeable doesn't leave much of an impression.

If someone already likes a project of yours, you want to give them additional reasons to want to work with you. I mentioned various projects I've been doing with various people (= credible people like to work with me!). I talked about the Toronto Film Festival parties I've been to (= I'm part of the social whirl!). I discussed networks the project might be right for (= I know who the buyers are, and what they like!). I tried to give a rounded impression of myself as a credible pro tv writer, and also give throw out a few hooks for future conversations.

You can't Always Be Closing because you may not know what you're eventually selling to someone. But you want to turn every chance encounter into a conversation; and you want to turn most conversations into relationships. Always be giving people reasons to give their business to you instead of the next guy, in a positive, efficient way.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

I don't read my screenplays as I write them. I avoid reading what I've written for fear I'd get depressed or get hung up on sections that don't appear to work, and I wouldn't finish the draft. I'm big on closure; an unfinished screenplay isn't worth the magnetic media it's printed on.

The next step is a big long read. It's a long read because I can't help editing as I read. If it were someone else's screenplay I could read the whole thing and get a sense of what needs to happen. But it's mine, so I try to fix little things that can be fixed as I go through.

I'm also uploading the screenplay into my brain. Not the outline, but the screenplay I already wrote. The outline doesn't really have tone. Tone is something that exists in scenes, not in plot. An outline is mostly plot. So now I've got tone. I'm trying to get the whole movie into my head so I can see how it works.

(An outline is, strictly, story, and a story can have tone. But it's the bones of the story, not the story itself.)

So far, there's some good stuff here. I hope it holds up!

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Friday, August 25, 2006

I asked in an entry a little while ago: what do you call it when you trick the audience into expecting something will happen, and then you withhold what they're expecting?

Piers suggested the excellent "shoe trick." As in, you drop a shoe, and then they wait for the other shoe to drop, but it never comes.

But Piers' suggestion brings to mind a more self-explanatory term: the shave-and-a-haircut trick.

(No Toon can resist the old 'Shave-and-a-haircut' trick.)

You set up the audience's expectation with 'shave-and-a-haircut,' and they're just waiting for 'two biiiiiits.' But it doesn't come...

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

I am not very good at vacation. Partly it's that I need a few hours every day to write. If I don't get a little writing done in a day, I get cranky. Partly it's that vacation is largely group activities and I like at least part of the day to be my own. It is fun to go kayaking. It is fun to walk on the beach. It is fun to teach archery. It is just that at a certain point in a day I reach my sell-by and I want to hide. After about five days on vacation I just want to get back to work.

I think most of the writers I know are like that. We can be social, but then we hit our sell-by. Lisa and I greet every Sunday night with a little fillip of joy that Monday is a school day. (Somehow being alone together is as good as being alone.)

I really have to learn to enjoy vacation better. It's a downside to being a creative free lancer. When you're not hired to do something, you have to scramble to make things someone will option or buy. When you are hired, it's something you're creatively jazzed about, with a terrible urgency to it, so there's no time to slouch. I really enjoyed the last few days in South Africa, coming off a four month gig, but had I stayed there another few days I might have started to get anxious to get back home and start looking for the next gig.

I did finish the rough draft of The Alternative last night. I haven't read it yet. That's the big scary daunting task of today, if I get some free time. Parts will work and parts will not, that I'm sure of. I think the overall story works, but I'm not sure about the pacing. It is hideously too long at 127 pages (for a romantic comedy!) but that will come down fast. I'm guessing I'll end up with 110 pages. The movie should really be about 97 minutes long, I'm guessing -- a romantic comedy can wear out its welcome -- but it's a fast talking movie so 110 minutes is probably right.

And now back to work before the kids wake up!

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I hope everyone's enjoying the last week of (Canadian) summer vacation!

[Link updated to Eepybird.com website.]

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Q. Concerning the narrative toolbox, what's your word on writing dialogue for chatty improv-ish shows like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? In Sunny, the characters spend most of their time bickering and speaking over each other. Would you try and match their natural interruptions and pauses word for word or write a script with complete thoughts and let them make it magical on set?
Personally, I try to recreate on the page the experience of seeing the film or tv show. So when I want snappy overlapping banter, I'll write in lots of interruptions, generally using dashes liberally.

Then, if they want to improvise on the set, they can, but they have an actual script to fall back on.

I don't trust actors to write good dialog, myself, having so much experience of actors coming up with terrible dialog. Left to their own devices most actors will sound like uneducated Southern Californians, regardless where they are actually from. They will also forget the narrative point of the scene, along with any setups or payoffs you may consider important.

If you're a writer-director you can write it however you like and then make it magical. But if you are not going to be on the set yourself, I wouldn't count on someone else delivering the magic.

Anyone else disagree?

Bear in mind, of course, that other people have other methods; this is just mine.

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If you ever run out of interesting New Yorker articles to read -- the kind where you think, "Hmmm, I didn't think I wanted to know about the half-mile-long trains that lug coal across the country, but this is an awfully interesting article," well, check out the many books of John McPhee. He's written a lot of those articles, and he's terribly good at getting you interested in whatever it is he's interested in. Such as how the Icelanders stopped a lava flow, or how the Mississippi River would really like to change its course drastically, or how one fellow still makes birch bark canoes...

I found McPhee because the blurb on the back of Charles Mann's 1491, a really brilliant read, compared Mann to Jared Diamond and John McPhee. I already worship at the brain of Jared Diamond, so off I went to the library for McPhee.

I'm off on vacation at my parents' place, hence the spotty blogging. It turns out I still sort of know how to play tennis. And I am getting lots and lots of advice on how to raise my daughter.

Lots.

And lots.

Meanwhile writing has kind of slowed to a crawl, which drives me a bit batty. I don't even know how Bon Cop Bad Cop did in its opening in the Rest of Canada. Though the massive spike in blog hits on Friday suggests it did not do too poorly...

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Okay, so "schmuck bait" is the term for teasing the audience with something that is not really ever going to happen. Uh-oh, what if Rachel moves to Paris and never comes back to Ross? Uh oh, what if a sniper blows Jack Bauer's head off?

I've also seen it used in a different way in a Buffy script: Giles works a flashlight, poking about in the mist-shrouded, schmuck baity cemetery.. Here, we're expecting something is going to leap out and attack him. But nothing does.

Is there a term for when the informed audience is sure something is going to happen, and you toy with their expectations? For example, I'm at the point in my romantic comedy when the heroine is kissing her ex-boyfriend at a party. The audience knows that this would be the worst possible moment for the adorable guy she just met to bump into her, therefore that is what is going to happen.

Naturally I have to punish those smart-ass know-it-alls for getting ahead of me. What I'm going to do is toy with the audience, giving Kiki lots of opportunities to ruin her chances with adorable Art by being seen with dreary Zell. And then have her busted after all, but not how we expected her to be busted.

What do you call that? Maven bait? Kolboynik bait? Wisenheimer bait? Ganzer knocker bait?

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Q. A manager is interested in repping me. I have two main concerns: that she would be due her fee in the event of a sale one full year after our contract expires, and that she wants to option to attach an Executive Producer to be named later.
Meaning herself. Managers do that.

She should only be due her fee after termination if the sale results from a submission she made. In other words if she sends out script A to company X and you sell it to company X six months after termination, she gets her fee. If you sell script B to company X or sell script A to company Y, she doesn't get anything. Often it takes a while for a signed contract to come through even after the sale is essentially made. A year is grabby, I feel, but that does seem to be the standard.

There should also be language that if you've gone 4 months without a "bona fide offer," you can cancel the representation.
Q. Should she sell a script of mine, would she negotiate on my behalf, or would I have to pay an agent an additional 20%?
You'd have to have an agent or lawyer negotiate the sale for you. Managers cannot legally negotiate for you, though in practice they essentially do. Agents get 10%. A lawyer gets 5% unless you can get him to work per hour.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Jean Yoon clarifies:
The problem it seems is that OSX records how many times you validate the program and will stop the program from being installed more than twice. If you encounter a hardware problem, and your HD is replaced, and/or other accidents ensue, then OSX will record those installations, and will shut down further attempts to get FD back up. In my case, my HD was replaced, the program needed to be re-activated, then when there appeared to be corruption problems and I deactivated the old program, and tried to install the latest version, that's when the problem arose. This activation problem has nothing to do with Final Draft's records - as far as FD is concerned, I have two credits to my account - this is a problem with software incompatibility. Both OSX and Final Draft have security features, which overlap and ultimately conflict.
Well, you can always go back to FD 6, I guess, if this happens.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I was struggling with a character in a scene the other day. Lisa asked, "Well, who would he have to be to win a Best Supporting Actor nomination?"

Wow. I was just trying to figure out what he'd do in that scene. Not win the actor an Oscar.

But anything that gives you new perspective on a scene is worth checking out. And it's a worthwhile reminder that, as far as each character is concerned, they are the star in the movie about themselves.

Doesn't mean you want the secondary characters to take over the scene. You might need to figure out who they'd have to be to win a Best Supporting Actor nom, and then dial it back to whatever's appropriate to your story.

But if you're struggling with a scene, and it seems boring, this might be a handy tool to try on the problem.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

The Net is making use of the 650,000 user records that AOL leaked, and then tried (hah!) to retrieve from the public. It's interesting to read the stories that come out in these search records. There's the woman who searches for "curb morning sickness" and "foods to eat while pregnant"; then, later, "you're pregnant he doesn't want the baby" followed by "can christians be forgiven for abortion." Then "abortion clinics charlotte nc" and "high risk abortions." Then not another word about pregnancy or abortion.

It's amazing how a few artless words convey so much sadness.

And, in between, there are all the other searches -- for "yoga and christianity" and cuisine tips -- that remind you that life is going on while the story is unfolding.

It's always useful to check out how stories come through in other media. This is a strange and unintentional medium, but still, you can put together the stories if you're willing to sift a bit.

What techniques can you pull out of this? A few offhand words in a screenplay can convey a whole world of character. Instead of having someone talk about his "wife," have him talk about his "second wife." Don't make a big thing out of it -- just let us know there's more story there. (And when the network executive says, "I want to know more about his second wife," just say, "Good!")

You can check out and search through the user records at Splunkd.

Boy, I'm glad I don't use AOL.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

... is the hobgoblin of little minds, said Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Note: he did not say that "consistency" was the hobgoblin. Only foolish consistency.) I thought of that the other night as we watched When Harry Met Sally -- about as perfect a romantic comedy as you could ask for.

Shortly after Harry and Sally finally hook up, and Harry bails on her the following morning, we get Harry and Sally's voice overs as they're going through their lives and trying to convince themselves everything's okay. It is the only time in the movie we get a voice over.

It works just fine.

I mention this because there seems to be an attitude out there that if you use certain techniques -- voice over, or flashbacks, or, I don't know, musical arias, you have to use them in a consistent way. If you're writing a TV show, if you have a voice over in your pilot, you have to have it in all your shows; if you don't have a voice over in your pilot, you can't have one in episode 5. Likewise if you plan to use a voice over on page 60 of your comedy, you have to use it a couple of times earlier.

Phooey. All of these things are tools in your narrative toolbox. If there's one place in your script where a voice over is the best way to communicate something that's going on -- say your heroine has just been shot and she's blacking out and you want to show us her last few thoughts -- then use it.

TV is more problematic. Of course when you're writing a spec script you need to hew as closely as possible to the style of the show. So that means that yes, if you are writing a spec Grey's Anatomy you need to put in that pretentious, silly Meredith Grey voice over. And if you're speccing CSI, you might not be able to get away with a voice over, even if it's perfect for what you want to do.

But if you are not writing a spec -- if you are staffing or even free lancing a show, or writing a feature -- go for it. The audience understands voice over and flashback and jump cuts and all the other narrative tools you do. Narrative tools no longer need to be explained or justified. Just use whatever seems best to you.

The only criterion you have to satisfy is that you should never use a narrative tool just for the sake of showing that you have it. It has to serve the story.

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Jean Yoon writes:
If you, or anyone you know, is using Final Draft on Mac, do not to update to the most recent version 7.1.2 and certainly do not to update their OS to the most recent 10.4.6.

The more up-to-date Final Draft 7.1.2 will lock horns with the OS 10.4.6 and no more screenwriting program. There's some sort of security function in Final Draft that is incompatible with OSX 10.4.6 and it becomes impossible to authorize the new program. It just quits during the activation process and shuts down. I spoke with some Final Draft people who said they are working on the problem, and will be developing some kind of a patch. But who knows when that will be. Hell, maybe never...

The disturbing thing about this problem is that once you've tried to install FD 7.1.2, you are not able to get the older versions of the program to run either. Or at least I haven't, even after hiring a mac specialist and repeated contact with Final Draft people. As near as I can understand, some new security feature in OS 10.4.6 actually shuts Final Draft down... I think, 10.4.2 is okay, but you'd have to check with FD.
I have to say I have not had this problem. I have been happily using 7.1.2 without the slightest problem for months now, and I am upgraded to the current Mac OS, which is actually 10.4.7.

Has anyone else had this problem?

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Many people, including my wife and my agents, consider me a pretty prolific writer. I guess by comparison with some I may be. But I know I could get more done, if I could focus better.

I spend a lot of time at my desk. And I bang out a fair number of pages. Under pressure I can write twelve pretty good pages in a day (with a good outline), or double that number of spotty pages. Without pressure I still get five to ten decent pages in a work day, in spite of interruptions.

But I know that I interrupt myself. I'm not even talking about blogging, which is arguably a form or work, or paying bills, which has to get done. I mean reading newspapers online. Blogs. Fussing in the kitchen. Sometimes I'll write a line or two, then fuss, then come back to the scene, and immediately go back to fussing. The house gets clean, but the scene doesn't get written until later in the afternoon when I realize that my daughter's coming home and I've done very little and I better get something done.

Contrary to what some writers would ask you to believe, my mind is not working on screenwriting, so far as I can tell, when I am not actively pondering a scene. And I spend a lot of a work day not pondering the scene I'm on.

So then I hear about the various wonder drugs they give to kids today, and how they help you focus. On the other hand I also hear that while you become terribly focused, you may not actually be creative. You're just focused. You might empty out that closet you've been planning to organize. But screenwriting? I don't know.

And then there's the overal question of: if I drug myself in order to achieve a more successful, socially acceptable personality, am I still me? Am I me, only better? Or am I someone else?

I used to be mildly depressed. At least, I was grumpy all the time, and I eventually decided that maybe I was really just mildly depressed. So I tried St. John's Wort, an herbal anti-depressant. Presto, no more grumpy. I decided that Grumpy was not me, and if herbs could help a chemical imbalance straighten itself out, then why not?

Eventually I realized that the problem wasn't so much chemical imbalance as some deep problems in my marriage. Since my divorce, and especially since my remarriage, no St. John's Wort, and no Mr. Grumpy either.

Go figure.

All of which is to wonder: am I managing some kind of ADD, or is this just my creative process? [Or, as DMc so kindly proposes in the comments, is it just laziness?] Or is it ADD and part of the creative process? Should I find a way to focus up and buckle down better? And are (properly prescribed) chemicals a legit way to achieve that focus?

What's your perspective?

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Damn it, all the shows people are talking about are on specialty channels. Three Moons over Milford on ABC Family, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia on FX, Brotherhood on Showtime. Everybody's got a tentpole show that demands you sign on. Meanwhile, on broadcast, there's the Battlestar refresher / clip show.

I have to choose between a $1200/year cable habit or stick with Zip.ca -- a mere $300/year mail-in DVD habit. (UPDATE: Though I finally had to terminate my membership.)

I would, on the other hand, happily pay a buck a show to watch what I want to watch. I just don't want to have to sign up for the Family Package solely to check out what happens when the Moon splits in three.

And I don't feel right pirating shows. I had the opportunity to watch Season Six of Sopranos pirated, but in the height of irony, I could not enjoy the experience. Somehow immorally watching horribly immoral people did not work for me. Go figure. Yet I had no real qualms watching a download of the show about the minister who has chats with Jesus. (Being as it was cancelled and all.)

Phooey.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I'm torn between considering the Baby Name Wizard Name Voyager to be a hugely charming waste of time, or a valuable tool for choosing age-appropriate names for your screenplays.

(Parents, you can also use this to make sure you don't name your kid something that's going to seem overexposed or worse, old hat.)

A tool. Yes, it must be a tool. I better go back and use it some more.

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This may seem like small potatoes to y'all, but Bon Cop Bad Cop made it into the North American box office top twenty this weekend -- with a release in Quebec only.

As I told Bill Cunningham (who kindly shot me the ScreenDaily link), it just goes to show: if you flail around madly enough, sooner or later you hit the piñata.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

If Craig can crow about Scary Movie...

Bon Cop / Bad Cop broke the box office record for the biggest release in Quebec history last weekend. Not just the francophone copies; the English copies did good business, pulling in about $11,000 per screen. Which is particularly awesome since it bodes well for the release in the Rest of Canada, especially as anglo audiences even in Quebec tend to ignore anything with any amount of French in it.

The big tell will be la deuxième weekend, of course. Combien of that audience do we keep? Est-ce que nous avons des legs? Well, whatever sera, sera.

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Q. A show I'd like to pitch to, Stargate: Atlantis, is shot in Canada. I've been told that not only location shoots take place there, but there's a whole studio for the show, complete with large stages and the works for the show to work out of. Though nobody is certain, it's believed that the writers work out of that studio as well, and this makes me wonder, what might producers in that situation do when staffing season comes? Would they return to LA for meetings, or do they expect people who want to pitch during staffing season to go to Vancouver?
Word I've heard is it's pretty hard to get in the door at SG. They are one of the most successful Canadian shows, and they live and work in their own little bubble. I don't know if they even go to L.A. I've asked three sets of agents to try to get me in there to pitch, and nothing. Rumor is that even if you get in as a free lancer, they tend to cut you off at outline.

There must be some people with better information that I have. If you know something, please feel free to chip in.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

We just watched Animal House for the first time in, oh, ten years, and boy that movie holds up. Brilliantly silly script, brilliant performances, great dialog ("Hey, you f***ed up! You trusted us!"), great soundtrack.

On the other hand we tried to watch Caddyshack the other day and couldn't get through it. A lot of comedies from the seventies and eighties fall flat, others survive.

What makes a movie work then and flop now? What's different about the movies that hit then and still work?

A lot of the ones that fail seem belabored and slow, while His Girl Friday's pace certainly helps it now. The Marx Brothers work great, W. C. Fields seems like an artifact of another time.

Is there any way to divide up comedies that still work and comedies that don't?

And while we're at it, did Abbott and Costello know what they had when they came up with "Who's on First"? Did they know they had a classic, or did it just seem like a gag that might be good for a few laughs?

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Kids show host Melanie Martinez has been fired by PBS because, years ago, she performed in some suggestive spoof ads about sexual abstinence. The spots were taken off the Internet by their creators years ago, but of course, you can never really erase anything off the Internet:




I guess the parents who complained are worried that their toddlers will fire up their computers and search for their favorite kiddie show host on Youtube, and win up asking for a new toy just like hers for Christmas. Or, worse, ask what the pink thing is for.

(As a parent, I find that 99% of my urge to restrict my kids' exposure to sexual content is the fear of having to explain what he's doing to her.)

Our society is such a bizarre combination of out there and prudish. You can win an Oscar for your movie about two gay guys up on the mountain, but Peter Jackson, er, Ang Lee better not ever try to make a G-rated movie, because (biology to the contrary) sex does not exist in the same universe as kids. You have to decide ten years ago whether you're going to do edgy stuff, because somewhere down the road the prudes will get you fired off your kiddie show because of something you did in an entirely different context.

If you think PBS's behaviour is as clueless as I think it is, there's a petition to sign over at Technical Virgin.

And while we're at it ... what did Paul Reuben's behavior in a movie theater in Florida have to do with his ability to host Pee Wee's Playhouse?

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Showrunner and author Lee Goldberg says the best possible thing a fellow can say about another fellow's book:
Alex Epstein's CRAFTY TV WRITING is a terrific new book full of great advice about the craft of episodic writing and insights into the business of television (and I'm not just saying that because he quotes liberally from me and this blog). If I didn't have a book of my own, SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING, to recommend, this is the one I'd tell every aspiring TV writer to buy.
As you might expect from someone who's run shows, Lee has many other smart and useful things to say in his book and his blog; check'em out. Lee's book and the WGA brochure Writing for Episodic TV were the two books I read down in Cape Town when I was running the Charlie Jade writing room. I got Lee's book by download, through Amazon.

Thanks, Lee!

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Friday, August 04, 2006

This article in Scientific American talks about how chess masters perceive the board differently than novices -- in chunks, not pieces, the way you and I see words, not bundles of letters.

I think I do that, in my field. When I have a screenplay in my head, I sort of "feel" it. I don't think in terms of beats, though beats are what I write down. I think in terms of story structures. In other words I don't see a beginning, a middle, and an end; I see a beginning-middle-and-end that all go together. If you're doing it right, the end has its seeds in the beginning, and the beginning defines the end, so you can hold it all in your head more easily than if you're doing it wrong. Comedians do the same thing. Ken Levine wrote in one of his posts about how Jim Brooks would come up with entire pages of dialog on the spot. It wasn't that he was having one insight after another. He had ONE BIG INSIGHT that gave him the whole run of jokes.

The article also mentions the notion that it takes 10 years to master any craft, whether science or chess or writing; but it's 10 years of "effortful" study, not just doing it. Most people learn how to do something well enough, and then stop learning. You're not really trying to learn to drive better every time you sit down at the wheel; you're just trying to avoid another fender bender. Your mind is not really engaged.
The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

According to this view, the proliferation of chess prodigies in recent years merely reflects the advent of computer-based training methods that let children study far more master games and to play far more frequently against master-strength programs than their forerunners could typically manage. Fischer made a sensation when he achieved the grandmaster title at age 15, in 1958; today's record-holder, Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, earned it at 12 years, seven months.

Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.


Are you writing like that? Writing well enough, but not striving to erase your flaws and leverage your strengths? Five years ago my character work was weak, so I challenged myself to write more character based material. Now my stuff is mostly character based, and I can't stand to even watch procedurals any more.

What are your flaws? What are you doing to fix them?

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bon Cop is getting pretty good reviews everywhere. Here's Brendan Kelly in the Gazette. And he even mentions the writers!

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The extremely crafty Jane Espenson, whose very craft-focused blog is my #1 blog reading, had some very nice things to say about Crafty TV Writing today.

Thanks for the kind words, Jane! And thanks for reading the book!

If you're new to the blog, please feel free to check out my Blog Fu: a selection of my favorite screenwriting posts. I'm particularly proud of my interviews of writers such as Tom Fontana, Stephen Gallagher and John Rogers.

Or, you can just browse down the page.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I sold my Mustang. That's right, the one in the picture where I'm so happy. And that is how happy a Mustang convertible makes you -- if you don't have to transport your wife, two kids, and a big shaggy dog. If you have those, get a PT Cruiser.

It is, by the way, JUST FINE in the winter. They have superb heaters, these convertibles. You just need winter tires (provided). Lotta people think convertibles are only for places where it is warm and sunny all the time, but the top does, in fact, go UP, providing the exact same amount of warmth and dryness as a thin steel roof.

By the way, if you're living in LA, and sick with alienation -- get a convertible. People will talk to you on the street. Just be prepared to hit the gas if they get a little too intimate.

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Bon Cop Bad Cop Poster
Lisa and I walked up the red carpet last night into the Montreal Opera House and got to watch the official premiere of Bon Cop Bad Cop, a movie I rewrote a summer ago. It was fun. The audience laughed in the right places, and the thriller parts were energetic. Patrick Huard was charming and funny and Colm Feore was perfect: relaxed as an actor playing an uptight character. Watching Colm Feore play an uptight cop stoned out of his mind (they've been caught in a burning marijuana plantation) ought to be worth the price of admission.

Of course, some of the things I rewrote out of the script got re-written back into it. Some of the things I liked had to be cut for production. Filmmaking is not a perfect art. So half of me enjoyed the picture while the other half grumbled at some of the choices. I doubt there's a writer in the world who doesn't experience that watching a movie he worked on.

Everyone's big question is how the film will do. In Quebec there's been a huge marketing push, and many of the funniest performances are the ones in French. It ought to do huge business here. But how will it do in R.O.C. (the Rest of Canada)? I didn't notice ads for it when I was in Toronto. If there is an appetite for a bilingual buddy cop comedy about hockey murders, this film ought to hit big. But you never know what the audience wants until they turn out.

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