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



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Friday, June 29, 2007

How is it possible that TRANSFORMERS is not playing out here?

UPDATE: Fine, so it hasn't opened. Why have all these people already seen it then? Rogers can't have that many personal friends.

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Before I left for the City, and then the Country, I attended an industry screening of a 3D short of a local spectacle which is a sort of Cirque du Soleil with spectacularly trained horses and riders.

After the showing, we all talked about 3D, and the producer who invited me said all the studios are shooting in 3D now. Which was something I had not heard before. (Have you?)

Is 3D back? It was big in the 50's for a few years when studios were trying to figure out what they could offer the audience that TV couldn't. Unlike Techniscope and Cinemascope, 3D didn't stick. It came back in the '70's and 80's (Jaws 3D!) but it has never stuck.

Now the studios are worried about DVDs and illegal downloading. What can they offer that viewers can't get at home? 3D rears its head again. (See this post about Disney offering Meet the Robinsons in 3D for a premium price.)

I thought this show was interesting because one of the problems of watching acrobats in a recorded medium is that we're so used to seeing spectacular things on the screen. To see an actor or horse rider perform something astounding in person is breathtaking, but on screen it becomes just another stunt. I wondered if the 3D experience might help convince the audience of the reality of what they're seeing; at least until we get used to seeing Die Hard movies in 3D, that is.

I did notice that the 3D effect was similar to the Imax effect in that the very short film seemed satisfying in its length. A 40 minute Imax film doesn't seem too short, because of the awesome amount of information on the screen.

I was not completely convinced, in the end. Movies don't feel flat to me; I'm used to interpreting them as visions of 3D worlds anyway. Even without stereoscopic vision, I have perspective to rely on, and depth of field, and occasionally smoke and fog. I know how far away things are.

On the other hand my mom told me that when she saw black and white films as a girl, she felt she saw them in color. She was used to adding the color back in, just as I'm used to adding the depth back in. Now that we're used to color, we don't add the color back into black and white. If we got used to seeing movies in 3D, would we lose the muscle that adds the third dimension to our viewing experience.

I'm not sure what the third dimension adds. Color really does add more information, and makes what we're seeing seem more real. Watching a movie in 3D just felt odd.

Maybe the problem is technical. Depending on where you are in the cinema, you'll experience a different degree of stereo separation. There is one spot in the cinema that gives a "normal" stereo view -- I'm told it is as far from the screen as the diagonal drawn from corner to corner of the screen. Everything else is out of kilter a bit. You might wind up with too much stereo separation, which makes everyone onscreen look fake, like a doll rather than a person. The only way to solve that would be to give every viewer VR goggles to view the movie in, and that's prohibitively expensive as yet.

But maybe the problem is that we really don't need 3D that much when we're sitting watching something. Sure, when we're catching a ball, we need stereo vision. But watching a story unfold -- I just don't know what it gives us. Probably someone will come up with some clever unexpected way to trick our stereoscopic vision for some artistic effect. But will anything solid and lasting come of it?

What do you think?

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Another extremely valuable book about editing is Walter Murch's In the Blink of an Eye. It's based on a lecture he gave about editing. It must have been a rather long lecture. It's a slim book, but it's quite meaty. More nuggets:

a. It is the job of an editor to present the director with a different version of the film than the one he envisioned. That puts the director's vision into stress, making him question it. If it's a good vision, the director will know why his version is better. If not, the conflict between the editor's new proposal and the director's vision causes a new, better version to come out.

b. Your relationship with your film when you see it on the small screen of the Avid is not the audience's relationship with the screen in a movie theater. So you may stress about things that the audience won't. Murch will sometimes cut out little tiny paper people to stick at the bottom of his screen, to remind him of the relationship of the audience to the thirty foot high screen.

More to come, I'm sure, as I go through the book.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Friend o' the Blog Kody Chamberlain writes:
I just sold my first film to Paramount without a script, or a comic.

I had pitched a high concept story idea to Ross Richie at Boom Studios (comic publisher who also sold TAG to Universal, the freelance gig I did with Keith Giffen) with the intention of doing a graphic novel or miniseries of the story. I worked my ass off to build a strong hook and rough direction for the story and dropped it in his email box.

He loved the premise and the concept and insisted we pitch it as a TV series instead, and we could still do the comic whenever. So I said sure thing and he sent it around to a few contacts and got some strong early hits. Ross had a few meetings set up with film studios about various other projects and dropped the concept for my project idea in a few of the meetings. Before I knew it, Paramount made us a pretty strong offer. Cut to a few meetings later and we closed the deal.

So there's proof of the power of a strong hook, and I thank you, sir, for offering up the advice on building a strong hook and insisting that it deserved more attention than most people give it.
See the Variety article about it.

Way to go, Kody.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Couple of nice posts in If This Is LA, I Must Be a Screenwriter:
The Backwards Read:

What you do is go through your script scene-by-scene, starting with the last scene and moving towards the first.

This allows you to really view the scene as a separate entity, and make sure it contains all the drama, action, suspense, conflict, and character it needs, without any reliance on the other scenes.

Later, when you re-enter the forward world, you can check for flow and all those lovely forward-looking things.
And:
Going to Extremes:

I was struggling there for a while, trying to come up with an Ugly Betty story that was actually interesting. Then I got an idea, but when I outlined it... lame alert.

Then last night, I decided to go through every story point and just brain dump 4 or 5 ways to take that point to the most melodramatic, off-the-wall, crazy ass extreme. No censoring, no thinking "that'd never happen". I just wrote.

Guess what, gentle readers?

You got it. I came up with a whole barrel full of really cool ideas that are going to help make this the best never-to-air Ugly Betty spec script I have ever written.
Good point. Your spec will never air. So take it to 11.

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When I read a book about filmmaking craft, I'm happy if I can get one or two nuggets of actual craft information out of them. Most are filled with anecdotes.

I'm really happy about The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. Michael Ondaatje interviews Top Editor Walter Murch, editor of the movie adaptation of Ondaatje's book The English Patient at length about his craft.

Even the anecdotes are instructive -- you can draw the moral yourself. For example, he talks about the scene where the Nazi interrogator cuts off Caravaggio's thumbs. In the script, Caravaggio says "don't cut me," but the Nazi does. Murch decided that it was precisely Caravaggio's fear that led the Nazi (who despises weakness) to do it. So he chooses a take where the Nazi hasn't yet made up his mind to actually cut off Caravaggio's thumbs -- he's just thinking about it. Then Caravaggio says "don't cut me." The Nazi ponders this. Then Murch picks another take of Caravaggio saying "don't cut me," this time more plaintively. Which leads the Nazi to decide to do it.

The doubling up of the dialog, the choice of the takes, creates a dramatic decision that wasn't necessarily there in the script. In the script. the Nazi could well have come into the room planning to take Caravaggio's thumbs. The editing makes more of a meal of it.

(Of course the screenwriter could have come up with this -- if he had looked at the scene not only from Caravaggio's point of view, but taken a moment and considered what the Nazi's personal trajectory is in it. Always look at your secondary characters and see how much you can make of their story.) And
In the original filmed version [of The Conversation], when Harry decodes the tape he's made of Ann and the young man, Mark, he immediately uncovers the line, "He'd kill us if he got the chance," then goes to return the tape ot the Director. As an experiment, we divided the scene in two. In the first part we had Harry working on the tape in a routine way, without uncovering the key line. The next day he goes to deliver the tape to the Director. But the fact that the Director's assistant - a very young Harrison Ford -- seems a little too anxious to get his hands on the tape gives Harry -- and us -- pause. Harry takes it back to his studio to listen to it more closely. Now we have the second half of the scene where he uncovers the fateful line -- which now has greater meaning in this new context.
That's the sort of editing that makes the screenwriter look brilliant, and feel awfully stupid for not having thought of it himself.

Murch talks at length about framing, and where the eye is. He says he needs to know where 99% of the audience will be looking when he cuts. If he wants a smooth cut, he makes sure there's something to look at post-cut in the same spot the audience was looking -- say the top-right corner of the frame. If he's editing a fight, or wants a jarring cut for another reason, he makes sure the eye is jerked post-cut to another part of the frame.

He talks about how, when there's source sound -- a loudspeaker playing music, say -- he likes to record the source in the location, and then double it up with a clean track of the same music, so he can mix it up or down depending on how much he wants the effect of the music and how much he wants the effect of the music being played in the location. And
The general tendency in The Godfather is to play big scenes in silence and then to bring in the music afterwards. For instance, the kiling of Carlo, Michael's brother-in-law, at the end of the film has no accompanying music. In a so-called normal film you would have dramatic murder music, but we had only that sound of Carlo's feet squeaking on the windshield as he's being choked to death. Then his foot smashes the glass and you're left with the image of his foot sticking through the windshield and the sound of the gravel crunching as Michael walks back to the house. Then the music comes in.
He also talks about how the audience accepts sourced music more easily than soundtrack. They don't feel as manipulated by that opera aria playing over the scene if they can see that the character is listening to the aria on a radio.

Murch talks about how sometimes you can replace a great deal of sound with one particular noise that brings in associations. For example, if you have a woman calling from a phone booth near a gas station at the side of a highway, he found, too much traffic noise just makes it hard to hear her dialog. But the sound of a wrench dropped on concrete 50 feet away makes you feel the location, and add the traffic sounds in your head. A mass of people walking doesn't sound loud, even when it is loud; but add a far-off voice shouting, even faintly, and you suddenly feel the crush. A desert sounds like nothing, but add a few insectlike clicks, and now you have the desert's silence, which is not the same as nothing.

Murch likes to cut down a film way past the point where it might later end up -- cut a two and a half hour film down to 90 minutes -- just to see what that will open up. You can then add the things you truly miss back in. But you've discovered that there are shots and even scenes you don't really need. This happened to us on Sorry: we had a good 6 minute cut, but our editor's girlfriend thought it was boring, so he cut it down to 3:30. That did damage to the story. But it gave us the impetus to play the sound of one shot over the image of another in a bunch of places, which took the picture down to 5:30. We might not have discovered those without the 3:30 cut.

Murch talks about various darlings he has had to kill -- for example, a scene that resolved a secondary character's story too well, giving the film a kind of faux resolution that took the steam out of the eventual main character's resolution. He likes to leave a scene before the audience can absorb all the ramifications, so keep the audience involved in the story. He talks about cutting on fricatives -- s, f, th -- because the mind seems to pause on them, allowing an easy cut. He talks about editing dialog scenes with the sound turned off.

And (talking about recutting Touch of Evil according to Orson Welle's original notes), Murch explains that if you remove the soundtrack music, the timer bomb we see is scarier. We know that the bomb won't go off while the opening credits music is playing. Take away the opening credits and their music, and we don't know when the bomb is going to go off.

There's a lot in this book that isn't craft. He covers a lot of esthetic distance -- what was Beethoven's great breaththrough, for example, and why people are posed that way in Egyptian paintings. There are anecdotes about this project or that, and a huge side dish of Michael Ondaatje talking about his own novel-writing craft. It's a fun read. But the book is definitely worth it for the nuggets alone.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

This is something I need to flesh out a lot more, but I may as well start here. For an exercise for my two day workshop in PEI, I asked people to come up with story arcs for season two of Friday Night Lights. We talked about whether, for example, Coach Taylor and his wife might have marital problems, especially since he just accepted his dream job out of town and Tammi Taylor refused to move.

Various writers talk about letting their story lead them. All they're doing is following the natural story logic of what they have so far.

This is honesty in storytelling, and it's often refreshing. You can't foist an unnatural ending on a story or the audience will call bulls*** on you. You couldn't, for example, start the season with Coach Taylor back in Permian coaching the team as if nothing had happened.

But story logic is only one of three criteria for where you can take your story. There's audience expectations. The audience also knows that the show is about high school football, and the star of the show is Coach Taylor. So while the writing staff can plot two or three episodes around whether Coach Taylor will return, we know that he's going to return. The episodes can be about why he returns or how he returns, but don't expect us to get too invested in the question of whether or not, because we know the show is on broadcast TV and we didn't read that the star was leaving the show.

There's also audience satisfaction. This is trickier. While there's a lot of drama to be wrung out of a bad marriage, one of the things I think a lot of my friends like about FNL is Coach Taylor's marriage to Tammi. They love each other. They fight, but they love each other. I think any story arc where their marriage wound up on the rocks would be a big turn-off.

As you plot your spec, think about what the audience finds satisfying about the show. Think about what their expectations are. And make those work with the story logic.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007


Certain people are outraged that Angelina Jolie is playing Marianne Pearl,, the wife of murdered journalist David Pearl. Marianne Pearl, you see, is Afro-Cuban on one side, and Dutch on the other. And therefore, since she is "of color," only an actress of color should be allowed to play her. They have invoked the blackface performers of the 1800s and 1900s, as if Jolie is playing Stepin Fetchit or claiming to know nothin' about birthin' babies.

Marianne Pearl is, apparently, fine with being played by Angelina Jolie, as I suspect a lot of women would be. So far as I know, her story has nothing to do with her "race," whatever that is. Her story is about how her husband, Daniel Pearl, was beheaded by fanatic Muslims in Pakistan.

The argument is not, of course, whether Angelina Jolie looks like Marianne Pearl. She doesn't, particularly. To my eye, Marianne Pearl looks a good deal like Minnie Driver. The argument is whether Angelina Jolie has the right to play Marianne Pearl.

To me the outrage seems racist. It harks back to the old Southern attitude that any African ancestry at all made you a Negro. Sally Hemings, Jefferson's slave/mistress, for example, was only one quarter Black -- a "quadroon" -- and therefore must have looked a bit more like Gwyneth Paltrow, say, than Thandie Newton; but to everyone at the time, and to posterity, she was Black.

The outrage also seems canned: it feels like it's coming from people who are just looking for an opportunity to stand up and feel insulted and be quoted in the paper -- a characteristic that seems to run through every ethnic group.

Can anyone give me a convincing artistic or moral reason why only African-American people should be allowed to play characters with any visible percentage of African descent?

And if so, how far are you willing to take this? Should Japanese actors be allowed to play Chinese characters, or vice versa? Should only full-blood Native Americans be allowed to play full-blood Native Americans? Exactly how much Native American blood entitles you to play Geronimo?

UPDATE: We just watched SELENA, the biopic of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, the Tejano singer. Apparently there was a fuss over Jennifer Lopez's starring role. Lopez, you see, isn't Mexican-American. She's Puerto Rican. (She nailed the role.)

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Friday, June 22, 2007

SODEC is holding another "Sprint for your Script / Cours écrire ton court" competition for Montreal-based young creators. (Young means up to 35.) Goodies galore.
COURS ÉCRIRE TON COURT ! will give the selected screenwriters the benefits of taking part in truly unique scriptwriting workshops. In the charming atmosphere of the Old Dawes Brewery at the Guy-Descaries cultural complex in Lachine, between mid-September and mid-October 2006 they will be paired off with advisory screenwriters whose involvement is backed by SARTEC and CBC Television. The writers will participate in intensive individual and group work sessions and discussions.

When the final drafts of the screenplays are completed in October, a five-member panel made up of Télé-Québec and SODEC representatives, a screenwriter representing SARTEC, a director and a producer, will select the winning scripts for:

· the SODEC/Télé-Québec/Kodak Award consisting of a $55,000 investment in production by SODEC, $2,000 worth of Kodak movie film and a broadcast license from Télé-Québec as well as the $5,000 screenwriting award from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec;

· the SARTEC Special Mention consisting of a $1,000 prize for a French script;

· the $1,000 CBC/WGC Prize for the Best English Script.

In addition, the finalists’ seven scripts will be read publicly by professional actors at a reading sponsored by Christal Films, which has agreed to distribute the film made from the winning script theatrically. [snip]

This contest is only open to screenwriters and coauthors who qualify for SODEC’s assistance program for young creators. (For program details, visit SODEC’s website at www.sodec.gouv.qc.ca )

Proposals must be submitted by individuals, not companies. Only one entry per person allowed. Proposals may be submitted in English or French.

Writers must:

• Be between the ages of 18 and 35 (not have turned 36 at the time of submitting the script);
• Have embarked on a professional writing career (high school, college and university undergraduate and graduate students are not eligible);
• Have had a drama script produced and publicly released or broadcast (proof required);
• Have lived in Québec for at least two years;
• Be available between September 12th and October 22th, 2006;
• Send SODEC all the required entry material.

N.B.: Writers who want to direct their own film must have at least one professional credit as director of a film that was publicly released film (i.e. festivals, broadcasters, museums, etc.; student and Kino screenings do not count).
Check out their site. Deadline for applications is August 15.

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Q. I'm intrigued by the concept of retroscripting, whereby my improv trained actors would use the script as more of a loose road map, or just go by an outline without a script at all. If the actors were just changing some lines from an existing script, I don't suppose writing credit is necessary, but what if actors where working without a script or with a partial script?
Normally I wouldn't expect to give improv actors script credit. The writer is providing the narrative framework for the improv; and then the writer is also refining the lines the actors improv. I haven't heard of any instances of actors getting script credit for improvising their lines, even if those lines are then written down.

But then, I'm a writer, so I would say that.

Has anyone heard of actors getting script credit for their improvs? When there are actual writers involved in the show?

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

There's nothing as effective as hearing your dialog read out loud for telling where it's not working. Reading it yourself is helpful, but you won't really find out how they sound to someone reading them on the page, without the benefit of your brain.

The best way to hear your script is read aloud in person by actors. If you have good actors, and especially if you know enough actors well enough to cast them right for the parts, some of the magic of the movie will happen in your living room -- or not.

Of course, you may not know actors. Most people don't.

Another way to hear the script read is through TriggerStreet. Writers gang up over a free Skype line to read each other's scripts. Writers are not as good at reading as actors are. But then you can pay them back by reading their scripts. As opposed to feeding your actor friends and feeling guilty you're not paying them union rates.

Now, there's a new service. The good people at iScript will read your script out loud, and send you an mp3 of the recording, for $175. They were kind enough to do one for me. The reader was clear as a bell, and beautifully articulate. She put enough performance into the dialog to get the lines across, without getting heavy into "acting," which might have overwhelmed the reading. She didn't flub her lines, either, which is more than I could manage myself; they go through the recording to edit out any flubs. You can choose a man or a woman as your primary reader.

I was pleased to hear that the dialog worked -- the lines read the way I want them to, even when there are no stage directions.

Now bear in mind, you're not getting a dozen people performing your script as if it were a radio play. The same reader is reading the girl and the guy and all the stage directions. The service is reading your script out loud, not producing it.

The iScript people suggest that you can also offer the mp3 of your script to someone who might want to read it. That way they can "read" it in their car. I'm not sure how well this would work in practice. My script ran 97 minutes. (Pretty much exactly its page count, by the way.) Most studio execs are chatting on their cell phones all the way home. Would they listen to your script in the car instead of calling? Or in the bath? While cleaning? I don't know.

I do know that I probably read a script in 20-30 minutes, so 97 minutes is a long time for me to spend reading. But I know other people who spend 2 hours reading a script. So this might be ideal for them.

Check it out!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

When dealing with two part epsiodes in television... do you find each episode have all the structural/episodic beams of one episode in each (same story, obviously), or do both episodes have one episode skeletal structure divided over two episodes...?
They absolutely have to work as episodes. What if the network changes the time slot and half your audience misses one of the episodes? What if someone catches only the second episode? What if they catch the first but they have to be out of town for the second? What if the episodes are aired out of order by the network?

Personally I think that even in a miniseries, you ought to be able to tell a coherent story, with a theme and a dramatic resolution. That frees you to change the theme between episodes or nights, if you feel like it, because you've already told one good story and now you're telling another.

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Rooftop Films and the IFC have a new short film every day all summer. Check'em out!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There's an open comedy series pitch at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. Anyone can apply, and you don't have to go to freakin' Banff to participate. If you're in the neighborhood, and have a 750 word comedy pitch, go for it. The deadline is June June 22 June 29.

And check out the festival site to see when the ten finalists actually pitch on stage on July 19!

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Conventional wisdom says not to introduce new characters in a spec script. Or does it? Barring the obvious "long lost brother comes for a visit" or "high-school reunion" standbys, and also assuming we're not writing a "murder of the week" show, is it a bad idea to create a new character for a spec script? This is assuming that the character in question actually adds something to the existing story of another character, rather than hijacking the story and making it entirely about the guest star.
So long as the story isn't about them. Even in character-based shows, you will often have to introduce new minor characters to keep your story moving along. Just don't let them hijack the episode. It's about the core cast, and then the recurring characters, and your new day players are just there to pump the gas.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

I don't get it. Yet. But I'm willing to invest some time and effort because after all this is David Milch.
Yep, that's how I feel, Jill. Lisa and I watched the JOHN FROM CINCINNATI pilot. Well, I watched all of it. Lisa fell asleep.

I am all in favor of pilots in which a mysterious stranger shows up and supernatural powers manifest. And it's interesting when the mysterious power is not instantly reducible to a canonical character -- vamp, vamp-killer, angel, demon, werewolf, alien, Endless. And I never get tired of hearing portentuous dialog like "The end is near" thrown away with no one really listening.

While dysfunction is the essence of drama, on the other hand, I am not sure I need my tv families to be so heavily dysfunctional that they go around yelling at each other all the time. That's not singing, that's shouting.

I don't know where this is going. I trust that it is going somewhere. I am not sure I will like where it goes -- I'm sure my sensibility and David Milch's are at opposite ends of various spectra. But pay cable is the medium I'm working in, so I will be sure to stick with this show for a bit, at least. And if you're interested in a show that pushes the envelope along various axes, you will too.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Q. Love your book (Crafty Screenwriting), love your website!

Perhaps, since I've never read your Crafty TV book, my questions may seem dated. However, in the hopes I wouldn't come off as a fraud by creating a "fake" blog, I write you now and hope that your answers are the usual sage advise that are prevalent on your site. [... followed by a bunch of questions]
C'mon, guys. If you like the blog, do yourself a favor, and buy the book. The books are filled with what I know about screenwriting, organized in a coherent soup-to-nuts structure. In the books, I develop my concepts in detail. In the blog, I just refer to them.

If you can't be bothered to read my books, let alone buy them, please don't ask me to answer questions that the book answers.

As for creating a "fake" blog, don't be shy. You don't need to create any sort of blog to sign up with Blogger.

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A fellow wants me to look at his script that is based on a true story about himself, with himself as the main character.

Although the impulse to write about yourself can be strong, I recommend you suppress it, at least until you've written a bunch of screenplays.

It is very hard to write about yourself. To you, you are obviously an important and compelling character. But in a screenplay, you have to make us care about the main character, you can't take it for granted. It's much harder to remember that when it's about you.

When yo're writing about yourself, it's hard to give yourself interesting flaws. We all like to think that we're good, nice, kind people. Good, nice and kind are not dramatic traits in a movie. You will be tempted to give yourself an above average sense of humor. But humor tends to deflate whatever is going on. (Partly why the line "just kidding" is so annoying wherever it crops up in a screenplay.) You will not want yourself to make dumb or foolish or reckless decisions; but characters need to.

You don't have a story. You have a life. A life is not a story. A life is a mixture of many stories. It is harder to separate yourself from your own life; whereas if you are telling a story about something else, it's easy to identify and delete the events and characters that don't belong to the story.

When you write about yourself, it is extremely hard to remember that the you in the screenplay is not you, it' s a character with your name. And that character has, and needs to have, a life of his own.

Most importantly, when you're deciding to write a story of your life, it is very hard to evaluate the question "why do we care?" Obviously you care about what goes on in your life. But, though I am sure you are a good and kind and nice person with an above average sense of humor ... we probably don't.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Q. Do you use the OED ? or do you have another dictionary you prefer ?
Why, I do indeed use the OED. It's sitting open on a tansu in the entryway.

I used it a lot when I was perpetrating my historical novel. You can use the etymologies to see if a concept is anachronistic or not. For example, if you're wondering if "colonialism" is anachronistic in 5th C Britain, it's not: colonia is Latin, and it meant exactly what it does in English.

However if I need a quick definition I Google it.

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Q. I was wondering how much a producer / creator / writer of a series makes when he sells a 10 part series to the sundance channel - like slings and arrows for example. I imagine everyone gets a piece of the pie, the production company, his agent, etc...
How long is a piece of string?

SLINGS & ARROWS is a Canadian series created for The Movie Network (which I'm creating a show for); it later aired on Showcase. How much the creators might have made for a US sale depends on their contract. Their deal might provide a bump in compensation if there's a US sale, or they might only have a share in net profits (aka "monkey points"). Or, if Mark McKinney and Co. are very clever indeed, they held onto a piece of the show, and are now frolicking in a field of mink.

... Though the Sundance Channel probably does not pay very much for a license fee.

What you get depends on how badly they want the series, how much they want you, how much you've been paid before, and the budget of the series -- which in turn depends on the network it's on and how many territories are presold.

To get a bit more specific, on a show with a budget of $1M an episode, the writer of record of an individual episode might see around $30K as a script fee. The creator gets a small percentage royalty on each episode's budget; and the showrunner gets a weekly salary in the middle to high four digits, or a flat fee per episode that amounts to the same thing. If you are all three, it can add up to very nice, put-a-down-on-a-condo numbers, though probably not enough to be considered rich in LA.

I have no idea what US showrunners and creators get, but it's probably on the order of three to five times more, that is, put-a-down-on-a-house-on-Laurel Canyon type numbers. (Though if you're smart, you'll buy a condo in West LA instead, and stay solvent for the next five years even when you're cancelled.)
I saw a chart that gives an idea how much a cable network like sundance pays per ep.
You did? Where? What do they pay?

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Bob Harris has a lovely exegesis of the Sopranos finale, totting up all the ways the last scene implies a Catholic mass for Tony...

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Friday, June 15, 2007

If you're into art, check out the forum Lisa (author of THE INTREPID ART COLLECTOR) is moderating at the Affordable Art Fair. It's called "First Steps: Beginning and Developing Your Collection" and it's on Saturday at 2pm. Panelists include the sage Ed Winkleman; Bloomberg art reporter Lindsay Pollock; and Tom Delavan, editor at large of Domino magazine and art fair impresario.

The Affordable Art Fair is on at the Metropolitan Pavilion and adjoining Altman Building, 125 West 18th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), New York City. Hours are 12noon - 8pm.

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More of my guest lecture:

CS: How do you choose your projects?
AE: I write whatever I love that I think I can sell. I think, "Do I wanna write that?" Then I think, "Can I sell that?" Then I think, "Aw, crap. Well, what CAN I sell?"
CS: Have you ever adapted a short story?
AE: Sarah Polley apparently did a nice job with Away from Her.
CS: Brokeback Mountain, too.
AE: In a way I think a short story might be better fitted for adaptation into a novel. You'd have to throw less stuff out. A movie is fundamentally a short story, not a long story.
CL: I would like to know if you can have more than one POV in a script.
AE: Multiple POV's are novelistic. I’d try to keep to one POV unless there’s a specific reason. For example, a big exception I would say would be romantic comedies Then you normally have two POV's, of the two lovers. Example, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. And then there are movies like TRAFFIC, BABEL, with multiple story lines. Obviously that requires multiple POVs. But within the one story ... I wouldn't go there. Unless your story REQUIRES it, e.g. to impart one bit of info the hero doesn’t know.
CL: Are there rules you can't break?
AE: "There are no rules. But you break them at your peril." The best art films only use art techniques (i.e. techniques that break the “rules”) because they are justified ... required by the story.
JM: Alex, you mention that the age of the writer does play a role in being hired for rewrites. How about tv?
AE: TV is a young man's world, but mostly because of the hours ...
AE: TV staff writers work really long hours. Older guys wanna get back to their kids. A dear friend of mine once jumped off a show because she wasn't seeing her daughter enough. I think most of the age discrimination is really self selection. The older you are, for example, the less crap you're willing to swallow from idiots.
CL: Is the movie biz really in trouble and how can they get out of trouble?
AE: Oh, Lordy, if I knew the answer to that ... The much bigger question is what will happen to broadcast TV. Check out my interview with Tom Fontana on my blog.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Writers like to write serial shows, on the whole, because telling a serialized story allows you to add another layer of story. Each episode tells a story, but the episodes together tell a bigger story.

Network execs, on the whole, don't like that. In spite of the success of shows like 24 and LOST, what broadcast execs want is a show like HOUSE, where you can tune into the show in the middle of the season, and know exactly what's going on by the end of the teaser.

In reaction, when we're asked "is your show episodic or serial," DMc and I like to hold up VERONICA MARS as a paradigm. Each episode is largely self contained, but moves the overall story forward.

So when we actually saw Rob Thomas (creator of VERONICA MARS) giving a talk at Banff, DMc asked him about his thoughts on episodic vs. serial.

Rob busted out a factoid I'd heard before, but which really hadn't sunk in. When people say they watch a show, on average, they watch one out of four episodes.

One out of four.

It's a shock, because when I watch a show, I really want to see every episode. I missed maybe one or two FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTs last season, and I was really unhappy about it. One out of four? So the average audience member is really not that involved in the season arcs even of a soap opera like FNL; they're just going along for the episodic ride.

Rob said if he'd been able to do a fourth season of VM, he'd have made it entirely episodic. No serial story at all. That was a shock.

Lucky me, pay cable doesn't have the same problem. I don't have any factoids to marshal, but the pay cable audience is naturally much more devoted to the shows they're watching, since they're paying for them. And the flip side of that is they need shows that will provoke people to subscribe, so they need the show to pack as much meaty story goodness in each episode as possible. The additional layer a serial show gives you helps a lot there.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

And in an hour, we'll see how we did when the winners are announced.

And over the next week or so we'll see how we really did, when producers and networks do or don't ask to chat with us about our show.

The last time I pitched here, I tried hard to say as much as possible about my show -- to answer every conceivable question in the four minutes allotted. Consequently, when the questions came, I didn't have answers for them.

What we tried to do this time is flesh out about half of the aspects of the show really well, and leave the other aspects for the inevitable questions. So for example, we didn't include any story springboards in our pitch; but we had them ready when Rob Thomas asked for them (as we knew one of the judges surely must).

(It is very cool to be pitching a high school show to Rob Thomas.)

Our friends say we had a very solid pitch and made the show really clear, and it's a good show. I hope we did. Fortunatley, there is nothing I can do about it either way. Which means I can go and have a drink now.

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(Spoilers, but if you haven't watched it yet, what in the name of Dog are you waiting for?)

One thing I haven't seen discussed in the various discussions of the Sopranos finale -- maybe I just missed them -- was the nature of Chase's non-ending ending. What was interesting from a craft point of view was how Chase built your expectations that something terrible was going to happen. The lingering shots on the various patrons in the restaurant -- each a character in his own right, though without the lingering shots they would have been unexceptional. The trouble with Meadow parking, which felt like a buildup but was pure red herring. The guy going into the bathroom, and we're thinking there's a gun in there, though really, people go into the bathroom all the time.

So it is not merely that the storytelling cuts off. It cuts off precisely when something would need to happen according to the conventions of onscreen narrative.

For me the finale was hard to watch because it was so disjointed. It felt like every story line of the past few years had to be referenced, purely so they could be unresolved. We need to see Sil in a coma purely so he can neither die nor pull out of it. I found the ending unsatisfying emotionally but I can dig it as experimental story telling. The bulk of the episode I found just hard to watch because so little of what happened was actually a story.

Or so it felt to me at the time. I was pretty tired when we watched it.

To tell the truth I've been turned off of the show since the beginning of this season. It's felt to me like the nihilism got cranked up to 11, to the point where I simply haven't enjoyed watching the show. It makes me feel awful about the world, and I don't need that. (DMc will, I know, mock me for this.) So possibly I was not as involved in the finale as one ought to be in order to fully appreciate it.

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Ken Levine ponders If The Sopranos Had Been On a Major Network:
They would want the following changes in the last scene. Meadow should drive a Ford because that’s who is sponsoring. She should have no trouble parallel parking because Fords are easy to parallel park. The restaurant must be TGI Fridays – also a sponsor and much more colorful. The threat should come from a singing waiter wearing a straw hat, suspenders, and hundreds of fun buttons. A secondary threat should be an Arab terrorist with a scar. The Arab should pull his gun. The waiter should point his banjo (which is also a semi-automatic rifle). It looks like Tony, Carmela, and A.J. are done for it. Final commercial break. We come back just as Meadow bursts in the door with an Uzi and blows the bad guys away. Meadow, it seems, has just come from dance class and is wearing nothing but a hot leotards. Tony says, “That’s what I get for going to Fridays on Tuesday.” The family shares a laugh. Meadow sits down. Everyone hugs and declares their love for each other. Carmelo calls out, “Can we get ANOTHER waiter?” They laugh. One more hug. Long fade out, as music swells – Dino’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”. Fade out. Your local news is next.

So if you’re still pissed at David Chase for the way he really ended the series just think of the alternative.
Read the full (and funny) post here.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I've had just about all my planned meetings here at the Banff Worldwide TV Festival. The only thing that remains is the small matter of Shelley Eriksen and I pitching our high school show at the Youth Pitchit! session in front of a couple hundred people. (If you're here, come vote for us! Even if we suck.) I've been pitching our show retail all festival long and the response has been great.

I think I can tell you now that I'm creating a show for The Movie Network called THE FALLEN. They've ordered three scripts, for starters. I don't think there is a better job in the world than creating a show for pay cable, except running one.

I'm still putting irons in the fire, 'cause there's always 2008 to worry about -- and 'cause I'm here, and what else am I supposed to do with all these irons? But I'd say my summer, at a minimum, is booked up. And that is good.

It's that stage of the festival where I've bumped into most of the people I know, so now I can relax and stretch my fingers, instead of roaming around feverishly. I think I might even hit the hot tub at the hotel later. After the cocktail party, of course ... to slip out early would be shirking.

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Q. What is the difference between a bible and the television business bible to submit to producers? Our writing community has been great supplying templates but it's to the point, they are all different. What is a writer to do for television?
Can you clarify the question?
What is the differences in the outline format for creating a television series bible (creative) as compared to a television series business bible?
What is a television series business bible?

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Q. For the purposes of practice only, I chose to write my own installment to the X-Men movie series, proceeding directly from the end of the third film. I chose this project because I thought that my familiarity with the characters would allow me to focus on other aspects of the screenwriting process with which I need work. Anyway, long story short, I finished the screenplay and was astounded with what I had. It turned out to be much better than I ever thought it would be.

I understand what you said in your books about writing and trying to sell screenplays for already-established (and big-budget) film series, but I was wondering if you can think of any innovative way that I might be able to get my screenplay into the hands of someone that might find it interesting. I thought that an agent would shy away from it, and sending it to a production company would probably get it tossed immediately into the trash can, but I am pleased with the story and would hate to not give it some kind of a try.
There's an odd difference between the TV biz and the movie biz. In the TV biz, writers are supposed to do exactly what you've done: spec an unsellable writing sample of a famous franchise. Had you written a spec episode of HEROES, you could now send it to an agent.

There is really not that much you can do with a spec X-Men script. An agent will be disinclined to read it because she can't sell it. A producer would be seriously disinclined to read it because they can do nothing with it. Any producer associated in any way with the X-Men franchise would treat your script like a jelly donut powdered with weaponized anthrax.

Why? Look no further than the recent silliness of Rebecca Eckler suing Judd Apatow because she wrote a novel about her pregnancy that also included a friend with kids, and she thinks he stole her plot.

So what to do? Pat yourself on the back for a good script, and now write something original that you can actually sell. Keep the sample handy for the future. If someone likes your next script and wants to see if you have range, you can show it to them then.

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One of the hardest things in editing a comedy is to trust that the jokes you laughed at originally are still funny. After you've seen a joke ten, twenty times, you start stressing about the delivery, about the cinematography, the choreography, and everything else. And then you want to cut the joke.

It's important to remember your original reactions, so that you can remind yourself that yes, this is funny. The most dangerous thing is to start cutting things that seem obvious or boring or unfunny to you after you've lost all taste for them. You may find yourself cutting the meat.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

It's midafternoon here in Banff, and I'm already exhausted from all the schmoozing. Granted I was up late last night watching The Sopranos (smuggled in via DVD since none of us were going to be around to watch it in its regular programming). And then I woke up early, kinda stressed out. But fundamentally I find nonstop mingling exhausting. I have a limited amount of energy for meeting even people I know and love, which exhausts itself rapidly. (Writing tends to replenish it.)

The meetings are good, though. I had a nice chat with TNT and a great meeting with Canadian Learning Television, meetings I probably owuldn't have anywhere else. But the unscheduled meetings are just as important: just bumping into people and reminding them you're alive.

<'scuze me while I stifle a tired yawn.>

This afternoon is light, but after coming all this way I don't feel right about napping. And I probably can't concentrate enough to write something creative. So I will press on.

14 hours going to parties and shaking hands and eating is, amazingly enough, hard work.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

More of my guest lecture via chat:
BS: Dynamic sex scenes that aren't boring or porno?
AE: Okay, dynamic sex scenes...
AE: ... long pause...
CS: Hmm, what ARE you thinking?
AE: You can have a sex scene so long as it is REALLY about something dramatic. It is part of the story. HOW do they have sex. What are they getting from each other? What are they not getting from each other? In other words it's a dialog scene in sign language; not an action scene. Actually, John Rogers on his blog Kung Fu Monkey made the brilliant observation that even a good action scene is not about the action, it is a "suspense scene that is RESOLVED by the action." Likewise sex scenes: what is resolved? What is unresolved? What does she want than he doesn't give her? What happens when he gives her what she wants? What's the aftermath? Otherwise if all you want us to know is that they’re having sex, cut away after a sentence or two.
CL: But what if the movie is a simple, boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl. You're in the boy gets girl scene, they are in bed, they're happy--how do you make it tense? Or the sex scene in Don't Look Now. It just seemed like a steamy scene.
AE: There is no such thing as a simple boy meets girl story, or we would stop telling them! The answer is that they are in bed but they are NOT happy. Or, they are happy but they're afraid it won't last...
CL: OH, wait, a light is coming on.
AE: It's like any dramatic scene. The moment everyone is happy the movie is over, unless the moment he is happy he loses his soul and becomes a demon...
CL: Heh!
AE: ... or they are happy and OH MY GOD THERE'S A GUY IN THE WINDOW POINTING A GUN!
CS: I know a few people that happened to!
AE: The gun thing or the demon thing? ... But frankly I prefer when there's an edge to it. Even if someone’s going to shoot one of the lovers, let them be having incompletely satisfying sex. Otherwise we know something bad is going to happen because the happiness is so boring.
RG: so keep the sex scenes until the end so everyone is happy?
AE: You can have a sex scene, just not everyone is getting what they want.
CL: So there is always a subtext, yes?
AE: Look at Friends: Rachel and Ross got together, but that wasn't the death of the series because Rachel still didn't think Ross was cool... and Ross still didn't think Rachel was smart. So the show wasn't over. There are a million things that can be going on WHILE they're having sex... emotional things... dramatic things. 6:20:01 PM
CL: How do you show those emotional things without spelling them out?
AE: Spell them out!
CL: Really? Wait, no, you don't mean the girl should say, "I hate it when you don't talk-" Or do you?
AE: "She's lost in passion ... but he seems like he's just trying to get her there, he's not into it at all."

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

More of my novel class guest lecture:
CL: In your book, you talk about finding the outward signs of the inward experience. Can you say more about this? Is this the same as show don't tell in a novel?
AE: Even more so in a script. In a novel, you can tell us what a character is thinking. In a film, you are really only supposed to show us what an actor can act. "He's puzzled." You can't say, "He was puzzled, because that directly contradicted what she'd told him on Saturday."
AE: Ideally you write a line of dialog so it can only be read one way. But un-ideally, you can't. For example, if someone is being dryly sarcastic.
AE: Most of the time a line of dialog is happy, it's obvious.
AE: The only time you should be writing (happily) is when it's not obvious.
AE: (Happily) She's dead!
AE: (sadly) I just won a million bucks.
JM: LOL:
AE: I have a section in my first book, CRAFTY SCREENWRITING, about how and WHEN to give stage directions.
CL: I've been nagging at the class to clip their dialogue to make it sound more realistic. Can you give some words of wisdom about dialogue?
AE: Say it out loud, of course. There is nothing like your ear for telling when you've written bad dialog. Tell ya a trick though: have people speak ungrammatically. Real people don't form their sentences before they speak. The words come tumbling out ... and halfway through a sentence it become the end of a different sentence.
CL: But you don't want to have ums in there, right?
AE: Um. Well. I don't write ums unless they're sarcastic.
AE: "That car is, um ... lovely."
CL: Yes, but sometimes dialogue for a play sounds good for a play but rotten for a novel. How can you train your ear to tell the difference..
AE: Play dialog has nothing to do with movie dialog. Plays are rituals. They're not realistic. Not meant to be. Plays are autre chose.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

I saw my rough cut last night. I was pretty sure the film would hold together, because I knew the script did. I was not too worried about whether it would all cut together because I had coverage for all but one scene, and a framing device I could always go back to it. My big question was running time. I had a 7 1/2 page script and a hard 6 minute limit from BravoFACT! I did my best during the shoot to keep the actors from getting pause-y, and 45 seconds a page is not unreasonable if you keep a sense of urgency in the scenes.

I was really happy in the event to see that the rough cut came in at 6 minutes exactly. We'll be trimming from there, so we won't be in the awkward position of wanting to do a 6 minute cut for Bravo and a longer, funnier festival cut.

Simon Webb, our editor, one of the best in Quebec, did a really great job. Not only does the cut move well. He also introduced some freeze frames and wipes that really add to the rhythm and tell the story more clearly. My notes were on the order of "hold on his reaction a hair longer" and "I think there might have been a take where Nick did this really funny thing..." and "trim the second sentence there, we don't need it." It's such a pleasure to work with crafty professionals.

I'm looking forward to seeing anothe cut this evening. I just couldn't be happier with the film. The actors are just brilliant -- human and real and even touching while saying some utterly ludicrous things.

Okay, I do have one quibble. The Red Rock M2 depth of field adapter threw anything that was not in the middle of the frame into soft focus. My fault for being too nervous to watch the dailies until the end of Day 2. (I did ask various people to check, and they told me everything was fine. As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify.") Either we put it on wrong, or it's crap. I don't think the softness will hurt the piece -- our exteriors look fine, and for the last day I yanked the adapter. It's only really annoying to me in two shots, and I doubt the audience will care.

But that is a quibble. I am thrilled with the results, and I hope you'll get to see the finished film at a festival near you some time this year.

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More of my guest-lecture by chat:

BS: Hi Alex. What do you consider the most important thing when you develop your characters?
AE: What do they have to do with the story? Is this character the main character, the antagonist, the intimate opponent, the sidekick, what?
CL: Do you mean how they move the story forward?
AE: If they don't help or get in the way of the hero, they're gone. A story is: a. A compelling character -- someone we care about -- b. with a problem, opportunity or goal c. who faces obstacles and/or an antagonist d. if he or she succeeds, there's something to win (stakes) e. if he or she fails, there's something to lose (jeopardy). So, anything that isn't part of the story as defined above, doesn't belong in the movie.
RG: Do you have a pat formula?
AE: Nope, no pat formula. My schtick is "tell your story out loud." That's my formula. I don't have formula, just process.
BS: What does that mean, tell our story out loud?
RG: say it out loud..hmm okay can you explain a little more?
AE: I mean this: before you write anything down on the page, tell your entire story...
CL: You mean say the story out loud? Even as a novel?
AE: Yes. Tell it over and over again. Tell it to anyone who will listen ...
CL: What are you looking for, glazed eyes, interest?
AE: Tell it LIKE A STORY you would tell someone. It will help you make a much more interesting story. If you are boring your audience, you'll know. If you are boring yourself, you'll know. The moment you commit something to the page, you lose half your storytelling skills. There is no more audience, really, and when you're bored you can just "blip" over the boring spots. When you're telling your story out loud you will instantly know when it's not making sense; and when you're bored, or they are, you'll come up with something better... THAT'S my pat formula.
CS: when you commit something to the page, you lose half your storytelling skills?
AE: Yes. You know when your LISTENER is bored. But when someone reads something on the page they have time to come up with something nice to say.
CL: Ha!
BS: How do you keep the interest going when the less active scenes come along?
AE: You keep interest going by not HAVING less active scenes ... in the sense of, don't have any scenes where nothing's at stake.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

A UCLA novel writing class interviewed me via chat. I thought you might find some of the interview interesting.


CL: You've done adaptations of novels--can you talk about what you usually end up cutting out--how the shape might differ?
AE: I'm adapting a novel right now. The shape is going to be different because they are different media. The novel, for instance, isn't just about the A story. It's about [hook deleted] ...
CL: The A story? Do you mean the main story?
AE: ... but the novel is also about his childhood, and this odd assortment of people he's accumulated at his workshop ... a second family really. I cut almost all the past out. I cut lots of the quirky characters out, too.
CL: Ah, I see. So you picked out the storyline that is the most movie like.
AE: A novel can be many stories interwoven. A movie USUALLY wants to be one story told straight ahead.
AE: I try to figure out WHAT IS THE MOVIE? The movie is about [hook deleted]. I cut anything that wasn't that movie. Really cut out isn't what I did. What I did was to re-construct a movie story using the novel as source material... I thought "what are the characters I need to tell this story?" A lot of characters didn't make the cut, because they weren't about that story. In other words you rethink it for the new medium. Now that I’ve streamlined the story, though, I’m finding it a bit too streamlined, and some of those quirky characters and some of that past that didn’t seem to belong at first are working their way back in. But not because they were in the novel; because I need them for the story I think we’re trying to tell in the movie. You look at the novel, figure out what the story you want to tell is, and from that, figure out what movie tells that story. In other words you take a step away from the novel and then take a step towards the movie, you don’t go straight from the novel to the movie.
CL: Do you follow a three act structure, or a Truby structure? Or is this the wrong question?
AE: Personally, I don't use a three act structure any more. I find three act structure is not useful because how can a story not have a beginning, middle and end? I used a 7 act structure on this one. I find that if you can fill seven acts with twists and turns you have a movie... Possibly this is because of my TV writing experience of late, where I'm writing 5 acts. And it’s easier to keep 1/7 of a movie in your head than 1/3 of one. Check my book CRAFTY TV WRITING for how acts work on TV.
RG: Alex, when you are adapting a move from a novel how long does it usually take to write the screenplay? How many revisions do you usually do?
AE: I like to spend 6 weeks working up the story outline, and 6 weeks writing the first draft... then tinker tinker tinker. I’ve got something that looks like a treatment now, after only two weeks, but I'm working on it and pitching it and testing it and showing it to a few cronies and the director and the producer, to see if that really is the absolute best treatment I can do. If it takes too little time, I'm suspicious I can do better.

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I am pleased to report that I passed my Canadian citizenship test. Actually, everyone in the room passed their citizenship test. Do you know when Nunavut joined the Confederation? (Hint: April Fools.)

The much scarier test is afterwards, where the nice lady asks you all sorts of questions about where your kids go to school, and whether a loft is a suitable environment for a kid, and what was your first job in Canada (VAMPIRE HIGH!), and can you prove you're really a professional writer? Fortunately I keep my beloved Writer's Guild card in my wallet -- usually the only thing in my wallet that serves no actual purpose beyond making me feel proud, and giving me 5% off on ViaRail -- so I was able to prove that I am in fact a professional writer.

Another reason not to work non-union!

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fellow scribospheroid Fun Joel would like it to be known that he is getting paid to write a script!

Now he has to buy all of us a cheezeburger. Them's the roolz, Joel.

May it happen to you.

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Lisa and I just spent a delightful couple of hours watching KNOCKED UP. (Research. Really.)

This is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long, long time. It's packed with odd yet truthful characters. There isn't a clam in the script. No forced embarrassment, no lame-o contrived third-act misunderstanding. Just a really sweet, funny comedy.

And guys? Take a date to this movie. You will totally get lucky.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007



Operation First Casualty is political theater by returned Iraq War veterans re-enacting some of their daily experiences back in Baghdad: taking sniper fire, rounding up suspected enemy sympathizers, containing a riot. Personally I happen to support the Iraq Veterans Against the War, but as this is not a political blog, I am including the link because it is interesting to see what they are trying to do theatrically, and what their audience's reaction is.

I very rarely see theater that moves me. Every now and then someone puts on Shakespeare and manages to get the actors to understand what they're saying, and that always works. But too often when I psych myself up to see new theater, it lacks the essential magic of theater. It's just a story badly told, often without much of a plot. Since the invention of the recorded moving image, I think, theater needs to justify itself.

I think it does so two ways, both of which have to do with the actors actually being there in the spot. Theater can more convincingly have something take place "nowhere." Arthur Miller's AFTER THE FALL, about his relationship with Marilyn Monroe, takes place in his memory, and in his home during his marriage, and various other places, all of which are the stage. In film you'd have to shoot the actual places, which would have a solidity his memories don't have on stage.

In theater, it also matters where you stage it. In film, it does not much matter where the screen is set up. A screen in Chicoutimi isn't much different from a screen in Westwood. But in theater, staging a patrol taking sniper fire in the streets of New York is not at all the same thing as doing it in a safe theater environment, or in Kansas City. The actors really are there in the flesh, right next to the audience. Nothing is separating them but a convention.

I continue to hope that one day I'll figure out how to put the magic of theater on the page, and then I'll write a play. For the moment, all I can do is watch.

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Apropos controversy over the recent MPAA announcement that gratuitous smoking will now be part of the criteria for earning an R rating, Craig Mazin blogs:
Anyway…the operative question is simply this: do parents want their unaccompanied children to see a movie that glamorizes smoking?
When we created our series NAKED JOSH, we had a discussion about whether the characters would smoke. And they were, for sure, the kinds of people who would smoke. A lot.

We decided not to let them smoke. I didn't want to be responsible for any kids picking up a cigarette because Eric, who is cool, smokes. (We did do one story where a hot girl tries to get him to start smoking again. He wound up dumping her.)

Not glamorizing smoking is an easy choice for me, because it seems to me so morally clear-cut. (Like not working non-union, for example.)

I also think writing smoking into a TV show or movie becomes a crutch. It gets in the way of a good story. Instead of acting, actors wave around a cigarette. Instead of coming up with clever and original -- perhaps thematically ironic -- business, writers stick a cigarette in the actor's hand. Cigarettes are not only toxic. They're boring. They are so last century. If you want a character to have a neurotic quirk, come up with something original.

I'm all for the MPAA narcing on gratuitous smoking onscreen. Considering how little they narc on horrible behavior -- driving dangerously, shooting people, punching people -- this is a small step in the right direction. I agree with Craig: I don't want my kids getting hooked on smoking because the cool villain smokes. And if it's a restriction on creative freedom, I think it's a mild one that can only encourage deeper, truer creativity.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Alex, I'm curious about your RotK change. Going back to the books, I've always felt that the denouement in the Shire was off, though I understood what Tolkein was trying to say about the soldiers coming home from the big war to a place that would forever feel a little smaller to them (and then effectively acting out the war in miniature). So I agree that dropping that whole section out would make for a more compelling story.

But what about the final ship out to the Western Lands? The sorrow in that ending makes me tear up when I read it (and did in the movie). Would you still jump ahead to that, or would you just end with the return to the Shire?
Me, I'd skip the ship to the West. That's elegy. My posse don't do elegy.

Seriously, the ship to the West is cool. But I would go out on the big emotional moment, which I think is the return to the Shire -- made bigger because of the (necessary) decision to ditch the Scouring of the Shire. I think I'd have them show up at the pub, and they get affectionately joshed for their weird costumes, and no one really cares what they were up to in the outside world, they're just glad to have them back. And Sam finally has the courage to talk to to Rosie, and what could be better than a pint at the pub, and maybe Frodo walks out of the pub and looks around at the Shire in the moonlight ... and smiles.

What more do you need after that? Tell me you're not crying already.

I guess the key point is that once Frodo comes home, his story is over. He has done what he needed to do. No jeopardy. No stakes. No opportunity / problem / goal worth mentioning.

And once the story's over, roll credits.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

In today's Playback:
Amaze Film and Television is looking to expand its presence south of the border with help from its new partner, Toronto- and L.A.-based Blueprint Entertainment.

[snip]

They hope to take a new feature, Medieval, into the U.S. The horror/comedy is currently in development with writer Alex Epstein (Bon Cop, Bad Cop) and is set to shoot next year on a budget in the $20-million range. John Rogers, the writer behind Hollywood fare such as Transformers and [movie I would not have picked as John's other credit], is on board as story editor.

"I think this is a project we're going to take south of the border first, as a studio picture," says Lawrence.

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