I have a few more pilots on this DVD a publicist was kind enough to send me. CANTERBURY'S LAW is "centered on Elizabeth Canterbury (Margulies), a tough-minded defense attorney who isn't afraid to push boundaries in order to protect innocent clients."
Um... isn't that SHARK? But without James Woods?
I'll also pass on the new Jimmy Smits vehicle, CANE, 'cause, as DMc so aptly put it, zzzzzzZzzzzzzzzzzzzZZzzzzzz.
As I recall from reading DESPERATE NETWORKS, CSI was picked up because a network exec asked a showrunner about the new Tony Danza vehicle, and got the response, "Isn't it enough with that guy, already?" That's how I feel about Jimmy Smits. Isn't it enough with that guy already?
I checked out SWINGTOWN, but couldn't find a reason to keep watching after the first act. Suburban swingers in 1976. I care why? If you're going to create a series about 1976, shouldn't it bear some relevance to now, possibly by providing counterpoint (are we more truly liberated now? and yet more puritanical?). I didn't see what that was going to be. I have limited time. Click.
On my DVR: CHUCK, JOURNEYMAN (though it may stay there; I dunno), MAD MEN, JEKYLL, HEROES, 30 ROCK. And October 5: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS!
How is it, of all the networks, NBC seems to be doing the best work?
I watched the LIFE pilot. It's a strongly written procedural, created by Rand Ravich, the core of which is a cop who just did twelve years for a crime he was framed for. Now he's doing his best to be all Zen about what was done to him -- cops don't have good experiences in prison. He got a huge settlement but he's back on the force, though no one knows why. And some on the force are still out to get him.
Damien Lewis (Capt. Winters from BAND OF BROTHERS) brings to life a fresh and intriguing character who feels real and fleshed out. The Zen isn't played for cartoon contrast, but as a person who's really trying to make sense out of a life that hasn't made a whole lot of sense. Likewise there are moments where his prison experiences work for him, helping him connect with suspects and witnesses; and other times those experiences and the emotions that come with them get in the way. And Lewis carries the show convincingly.
Like so many shows these days, this is your basic episodic procedural, but with an über plot which, I am sure, each episode will forward juuuuust enough, VERONICA MARS style.
I won't be watching LIFE because I just don't care about cop shows. Lewis's character is very clever, in his irregular way, and the episodic performances are lovely. I just don't need to see crimes solved, no matter how cleverly, and no matter how compelling the performances by the episodic characters. But if you like cop shows, try this one out.
LIFE airs after THE BIONIC WOMAN on NBC and Global on Wednesdays at 10 pm.
In this charming pictures by Carlos and Jason Sanchez the nice man is giving the little girl some presents.
In a windowless attic room. And that's her backpack. And she doesn't look that happy to be getting presents; she's wondering what's on the card.
The photo is called "The Abduction."
The Sanchez Brothers currently have a really disturbing exhibit you ought to go see if you're in Montreal. It's of posed large-format photographs, and it's at the Parisian Laundry. There's a picture of a way-too-young beauty queen, and a lovely white building in the snowy woods that turns out to be a crematorium. Some of the pictures don't set off your alarm bells until you see the title; others are immediately upsetting, like the body being dug out of the mudslide, and the dogs snarling.
I find the exhibit intriguing because many of the photos are staged. Most photography is meant to be documentary. The photographer is only meant to be choosing the frame and the exposure. If he moves items in the frame for a better composition, he's cheating.
Then, of course, there are art photographs whose elements are arranged, but with no pretense otherwise: still life photos, abstracts, surreal collages, etc.
The Sanchez Brothers belong to a tradition that originated in Vancouver about thirty years ago, where the photographer stages and then shoots the scene. He has to imagine the scene, cast and costume the actors, rig the lights, direct the emotions and only then start shooting. If it's effective, it can feel like the photographer just happened to be there at the right time and the right place. Or it can raise disturbing questions like, What is the photographer doing there? And why isn't he calling the police???
We just bought this Amy Stein photograph, of a girl facing a bear that has just appeared next to her swimming pool. It feels entirely like the photographer lucked into an amazing shot, except she would have to be about three feet behind a bear, which seems unhealthy. In fact the bear in the photograph is stuffed and mounted. (You can get away with that in a still!) The photo is even more striking in person. I would buy one of the Sanchez Brothers pics, too, because they're going to be famous soon. But I don't think I could have their quietly alarming pictures up on my wall!
What's real? What's staged? Can a staged photo get to a level of truth that a documentary photographer will never see?
Used to be, when you called a producer or an agent, their assistant not only put the call through, but listened in on the entire conversation, so he would know what follow-up he needed to do, and could double-check later with his boss to make sure things got done.
Since the Blackberry epidemic, it seems to me that many producers, and possibly agents, are managing their office remotely. That means you may be talking with the producer on his cell phone at MIP and shooting him emails at the airport, and he may be responding from the plane.
Problem is, his assistant may not have access to all this back and forth on a regular basis. It's not hard for information to get lost. It may even get lost while your exec or producer is at the office. I have more than once had to remind network execs that they actually have a copy of the script we're talking about, which they thought they were waiting for me to send.
Solution: always copy the underlings. If you are delivering a script, copy the assistant; now he or she knows that his or her boss needs to read the script, and can remind him.
If a check is due, you might want to copy the business affairs guy, so there is no argument later on about what was or was not delivered.
Theoretically, writers are artists and producers are businessmen. But this is show business. You have to expect that your producer has a strong artistic side. You have to behave a lot more like a businessman. You have to understand contracts, you have to be a bit of a salesman, you have to make sure you got a signed copy of the contract back, you have to dot all the i's and cross the t's. Or have very, very good people working for you.
Q. Given the plethora of web serials I wonder if you could speak to the difference in structure and story when writing a web serial vs breaking up a TV script into 3-5minute chunks and calling the result a web serial. In other words, if I can't sell my idea to television producers and want to go it alone, how might the script change?
I certainly don't think you can just break up a TV script and call it a web serial. For one thing, in a serial, each episode has to work on its own in a satisfying way, with a satisfying conclusion. TV acts just have to keep you hooked.
More crucially, I think what makes a good web serial is probably not the same as what makes a good TV show. It's a smaller picture, with less resolution, almost always being watched by a single viewer, probably usually at the office. That makes for a completely different dynamic. For example, comedy is at a premium. Subtlety is not.
A lot of web serials seem to have gimmicks. The LonelyGirl15 phenom, for example, only worked because people were wondering if she was a Real Girl or not.
I'm not sure most successful web shows are serials, actually. 30 Second Bunny Theater and Têtes à Claques are one offs ("anthologies" in the parlance). Can anyone point me to an artistically and commercially successful web serial?
Q. I was wondering if you could post some of your old scripts on the site, like some other writers do? It's helpful for us [aspiring] monkeys to see how the pro [monkey]s do it.
I'll ask some of the shows I've worked on if this is cool. Bear in mind none of the scripts I've written for TV are solely my own work. Everything I wrote for NAKED JOSH had the heavy involvement of my co-creator and my producer. Everything I wrote on CHARLIE JADE was trying to follow Bob's vision. So I don't feel creative ownership of the scripts. If God willing the show I'm writing now goes, I'll eventually post some of my scripts.
In the mean time, check out these links to downloadable scripts:
Not Even Slightly Evil Dennis writes in from Cape Town that Charlie Jade airs in the UK on FX starting 5 October:
Apparently there’s posters all over the show, lots of positive buzz, a magazine (SFX) gives it a 5 star review together with a free DVD of the first ep. Also appears the DVD is available for pre-order on Amazon.uk.
Well, Stephen, now you can check out the show that Slightly Less Evil Denis and I did in 2004.
(Just for the record, we arrived in time for ep 9, and didn't hit our stride till ep. 12. Our best work was eps. 17-20.)
I'm working on a spec pilot for a one-hour drama. It's got kids as regular cast members. Is this a problem? The show is going to be a serious procedural with major character-driven arcs. This is not "Seventh Heaven." What do you think the youngest age should be for these kids?
There are, of course, shows starring nothing but kids. Lots of shows have kids as regular characters. Kids are harder to work with than adults, but they are not a production obstacle. (And you can pay them in peanut butter and jelly!)
That said, the younger they are, the less time they can spend on set, but more importantly, the harder it is to get acting out of them, and the less they can contribute to the story. Unless there's a good reason for it, I'd stay away from child characters who are younger than 8. (Which means they'll be played by stunted ten year olds.)
The real pain is animals. Anything you want a dog to do, except run out of frame, requires specific training. Hard to do on a TV schedule. And cats? Forget it.
Telefilm Quebec has a new program for emerging writers and writer-directors. It's short on money but long on advice and consultation; as I understand it, it's there to help you workshop your commercial thriller idea into a script. Check it out; the deadline is October 11.
Kevin Falls' new show JOURNEYMAN has a premise with some potential for good or gloppy science fiction. A San Francisco reporter (played by Lucius Vorenus, er, Kevin McKidd) begins inexplicably traveling back in time. Not far. Just ten or twenty years. And when he goes, he disappears in the present. Immediately. As in, raptured out of his speeding car.
This brings up obvious questions. How? Why? And what is he supposed to do about it?
And why the specific times and places, where he runs across certain specific people?
I'll talk details after the warning below. But I found the way the premise is structured well-crafted and intriguing. I'll be going back for a second bite, for sure.
JOURNEYMAN premieres Monday (tomorrow) at 10 pm on NBC and Global. Okay, so watch it, and come back to this post, k?
Journeyman belongs to what seems to be almost a genre these days. He's an Everyman Character with a Supernatural Issue who's caught up in Something Mysterious That's Bigger Than Him. He is simultaneously trying to get to the bottom of the mystery (series arc) while solving individual episodic mysteries. Remember that show last year where the guy kept waking up on the same morning, trying to avoid being framed for murder? You can probably name a couple more. Oh, LOST, for example. Oh, and X-FILES.
Sometimes the character has a superpower he exercises intentionally or unwillingly, sometimes just a problem caused by supernatural forces. The character solves episodic mysteries, but the ongoing questions of How Did I Get This Power and Why and What Am I Supposed to Do With It? keep you hooked on the continuing serial story. Hopefully.
The prototypes for this kind of show didn't always have the Big Mystery arc. I don't remember there being an überplot in TRU CALLING; Tru just found herself a day backwards in time, trying to save someone from becoming a corpse. And in JOAN OF ARCADIA there wasn't an unfolding mystery. It was just, God wants you to do thus and such this week, and the cleverness of the show was how that would turn out in an unexpected way.
The pilot handles this rather nicely.
First of all, kudos for putting some serious heart into the core of the show; that's going to keep us coming back even if the story department loses control of the conspiracy arc. The heart of the show isn't that he's being used in a pawn by, probably, Future People with Supertechnology. (I don't know this, I'm just guessing because someone seems to be sending Dan Vassar back to specific parts of time.) The heart of the show is that Dan lost the love of his life, then stole his brother's girl, who had been madly in love with him all along. Now he's got a kid with her, he loves her, and he's being sent back in time to when the love of his life was still alive.
And he can sleep with her if he wants to. And oh, he wants to. But he can't. ... Can he? Is it cheating if Present You sleeps with your Then Girlfriend back when you weren't even dating your Present Wife?
Oh, and then it turns out that Present Deceased Girlfriend is really still alive, and is involved in the Mysterious Organization that is sending him back in time.
Ouch. That's personal, yo.
As for the conspiracy arc, you get just enough to know that it's going to make sense. They know exactly when and where he's going to be. Which means they presumably know why. But are they sending him? Or are they just following him? And how are they doing it? And why him?
I imagine we won't know the answers till at least the Season One finale, and presumably not all the answers until the series finale.
The website describes the show as "Dan Vassar travels back in time and helps people." Fortunately, it seem to be more complicated than that, since he gets at least one person killed.
Which is an interesting take on time travel. We've seen Marty McFly change his present circumstances by interfering with his past, and the various Enterprise captains interfere with time constantly (to the point where they made the amusing "Trials and Tribble-ations" DS9 ep). What's new is that there is an organization that is apparently tracking these changes and making sure they happen according to plan. How's that supposed to work?
And there's that beautiful moment where Dan, having just turned down sex with the lost love of his life, Past Livia, runs into Future Livia in the hallway. And he knows he's being set up for this, and she's in on it, he puts it together right quick, and asks, "What if I get it wrong." And she says, basically, "You're supposed to."
I bet she knows what happened in Tecumseh, too.
While the episode hits the obligatory note of the wife doubting his sanity, it doesn't waste too much time on him trying to convince her, or her trying to convince him. She jumps right to the intervention. And when that doesn't work, she's ready to end it, until he rather neatly turns her around.
It's always a sticky point in the narrative, when the hero has to tell his main squeeze/sibling/parent the supernatural truth. That secondary character has to doubt his sanity because she'd have to be crazy to believe him without proof. But the audience knows he's not crazy, so we're hoping the screenwriters don't hang out here.
I think the solution is to pack that argument with as much revelatory insight as possible. Show us what sort of people the hero and his significant other is, and what their relationship is. Is she willing to trust him? If not, is it because he's let her down before? (There's a hint of past substance abuse in JOURNEYMAN.)
Does he trust her enough to tell her? And if not, what does that tell us about the relationship?
Then get on with it. She believes or she doesn't believe. Just tell us which and get the hell on with the story. We've seen it so many times before, you can get away with some serious shorthanding. We'll get it.
(Oh and please, don't let all the hero's problems derive from his kneejerk unwillingness to trust his wife with the crazy truth, 'cause that's lame. Though I had an enlightening conversation with Lisa. It turns out that if she explained that she had traveled in time, but in no other way seemed crazy, I would at least consider the possibility that she might have traveled in time. If the situation were reversed, she would figure I was nuts.)
I liked how Kevin Falls handled his revelations in the pilot. I'll be watching the second episode rather closely to see how he keeps it up.
How much are we going to find out about the Mysterious Organization in each episode? I'm guessing very little. I'm guessing it's 95% the episodic story.
The überplot is another sticky issue. How much revelation do you dole out in an episode? Too little and the audience feels cheated. Too much and you have to keep complicating the hidden truth in order to keep your show going. That's where X-FILES wound up getting damn silly.
So here's why Journeyman is particularly interesting to me. I'm developing a contemporary urban metaphysical. I have an Everywoman character with a Supernatural Issue. And beyond the episodic stories, there is an überplot, with a hidden truth she's trying to find out. And a Mysterious Organization. My entire first episode is basically, "Am I crazy"? And I'm wondering how much truth to dole out.
Fortunately, because my network is fond of limited runs, I can measure out the truth in precise doses. I'm writing for a certain number of seasons. I know what revelation my heroine gets at the first season finale. And I know how many episodes I need to get to the series finale, which I also know. If the show goes, I have the liberty to write to that conclusion. I simply have to figure out what revelations want to happen where along the path. There's nothing easy about that, but it's a much saner environment to work in... and you know, I feel blessed.
If you want to see what happens when you try to produce a 1980s sitcom in the Naughties, check out BACK TO YOU. It's James Burrow's new sitcom, a vehicle for Kelsey Grammer (CHEERS, FRASIER) and Patricia Heaton (the wife in EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND). The jokes are not necessarily predictable, but unsurprising and unrevelatory. Grammer's character, a pompous girl-chasing blowhard with heart, has no real edge. Neither does Heaton's. It's the kind of show where if you actually do laugh, you hate yourself immediately afterwards.
Also, it's a premise pilot. The show was very much showing that. Do we really need everything explained to us? The BACK TO YOU pilot, as far as I'm concerned, is Exhibit A for why we don't love premise pilots any more. The premise is that Grammer's character worked with Heaton's character, then went on to greener pastures, then screwed up and returned to Pittsburg. So guess what? We need a scene of them in wigs, working together. Then the scene of Grammer screwing up. Then a big scene of Grammer returning and meeting everyone.
Oh, come on.
(Oh, and, we heard "Come on" a lot. There were a LOT of handles in the dialogue. Look! Come on! And a lot of sighs. Boy do I hate sighs. They just let all the air out of a scene.)
SEINFELD'S famous rule was "no hugs, no learning." There was an awful lot of learning on this episode, and even a hug.
So: if you'd like to see a lot of VERY talented people deliver an overcooked burger on a stale bun, check out BACK TO YOU.
BACK TO YOU premiered Wednesday on Fox and Global.
... oooh. I am afraid that it does not look specifically too good. The trailer has a distinct videogame look and, er, so does the acting. I didn't go see THE POLAR EXPRESS because the animation looked awful (and it didn't look like it had a plot); this looks like that animation, but with equally wooden live characters.
I'll grant you Angelina Jolie does look sexy with a tail (okay a pigtail), but the hero looks like he's been directed by Uwe Böll.
Granted not everything Neil touches turns to gold... oh, all right, I'll probably go see it. But then I'll need a lot of Laphroiag.
A few days ago, Craig Mazin blogged that he's not taking a possessory credit on his new film, which he's writing and directing. Because, as he points out, the film isn't "by" him. It's by him and everyone else who worked on the film.
The "A Film By" credit has become meaningless. It doesn't mean you did something special beyond directing. It's part of the DGA contract -- you can choose not to take it, but they have to offer it to you for directing. So everyone takes one, except a few really cool directors who don't need the ego boost.
If you think about it -- and the WGA agonizes about it -- the possessory credit is an insult to everyone else who worked on the film. Either the writer or the producer started with an idea. The writer invented characters and story. The editor shaped it. The production designer gave it a look. The composer gave it a sound. The actors interpreted the characters and gave them life. At a minimum, any film is "by" all of these people. Unless you did all of those things, it's not a "film by" you.
But no one really thinks about it. (Except the WGA, which agonizes about it.) Directors get to have their name on a picture twice for doing the same job. Whoo hoo. They can pee higher on the stick, because they brought an egg crate to stand on.
Bravo to Craig for skipping the credit. Boo on the directors who take the credit after they're brought on at the last minute by a producer who developed the project with three writers and another director who had to take another gig.
UPDATE: Craig differentiates between "A Film by [name of director]" and "A [name of director] film." I think that's fair. The film is not "by" Craig Mazin. But the "A _____ Film" sounds to me like it is a film "from" Craig Mazin, which it is, if he had a major hand in it. The latter credit isn't exclusive -- it doesn't imply it can't also be a [name of producer] film as well.
On the other hand, I still think it's an unnecessary credit. You direct the film, you get a director credit. You wrote and directed the film, take both credits. What's the problem with that?
This morning Russell Smith in the Globe & Mail has an interesting column about U.S. cultural quirkiness, which riffs off an article by Michael Hirschorn in this month's Atlantic. It's interesting because, of course, quirky for quirky's sake has traditionally been a Canadian film and tv development ... uh ... quirk.
I can't help wondering if the whole Quirky Art thing is a residual impression, like the raft of "alcohol-infused incest and abuse in a small dying fishing town" movies that DMc and I like to rail about. Slings and Arrows isn't quirky -- it's a straightforward comedy about quirky people, just like, say, 30 ROCK. Corner Gas, ditto. LITTLE MOSQUE, ditto. DE GRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION is not quirky at all, is it? (I dunno, I don't watch it.) WHISTLER? Not quirky. I could go on.
And the last small dying fishing town movie I saw was the adorable LA GRANDE SEDUCTION which was about a small town trying to snooker a Big City Doctor into moving there. Nary an incest or an abuse in it. All the drunkenness was happy funny drunkenness.
In fact, since I moved to Montreal in 2000, I have not run across any serious quirkiness in either the TV or film industries. TRAILER PARK BOYS is, sure, about very quirky characters. But it is not a quirky show. It is a mock-documentary that uses classic story structure. The Boys want something. They concoct a dumb scheme to get it. Complications Ensue. TPB is, essentially, a cross between THE THREE STOOGES and I LOVE LUCY, updated via THIS IS SPINAL TAP.
There are art films, of course, but I would call Atom Egoyan cerebral, and Denys Arcand a tad bombastic. Not quirky. The Coen brothers are quirkier than Atom Egoyan, and Oliver Stone or M. Night Shyamalan can give Denys Arcand a run for his bombast any day.
Is it possible that Canadian storyteller, in fact, moved on from teh quirk years ago? And we're too Canadian to admit that we have, like the man who claimed to have been turned into a newt, "got better"?
UPDATE: Bill Cunningham comments:
If your show has quirky characters then by definition it is quirky. You can't separate character from setting and say it's not quirky
I disagree. Let me try to clarify.
30 ROCK is a sitcom. All sitcoms have quirky characters.
But they are going for the laughs. The jokes are not quirky jokes. They're mainstream jokes. Funny jokes, often, and even when they're not funny, they're meant to be funny.
Whereas what Denis is irked at, in his comments below, are quirky show: rather than going for the laughs, they are going for the chuckle. Sometimes the squirm. They'll settle for an intelligent nod. They're either afraid of going for the laugh, or they can't get a laugh, so they settle for the wince, or the bemused "wtf?" frown.
That's a quirky show.
One of my favorite quirky shows, because it only used quirk as a jumping off point, was NORTHERN EXPOSURE. The characters were indeed quirky. But the plotlines were also quirky. You weren't always sure if you were supposed to laugh or what. We saw the dramatic sides of comic characters, and vice versa. Sometimes it got philosophical. At least once it broke the fourth wall and got all meta. That's quirky.
When you don't know what the hell they're going for, but you're pretty sure the storytellers had something in mind, it's probably quirky. Does that make sense?
What kept coming up for me during the Tell Me You Love Me pilot -- which I struggled a bit to get through -- was Kay's question from a few posts ago: why are you telling this person's story? Here we have four couples, cleverly arranged into married couple with kids but not having sex, married couple having sex but not getting pregnant, elderly couple and young couple. And the only thing that feels new is the graphic sex. Which is supposed to be telling the story. That's the hook: the camera doesn't cut away when the couples start having sex.
Here's the thing. Sex can be pretty hard to watch. And you need very little of it to tell what it's contributing to the story. Husband is masturbating? You can get that across in ten seconds. Young couple having exciting sex? Ten seconds will do that, too.
When I think of great sex scenes, what actually come to mind are great seduction scenes. Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger and the ice.
Jill wrote me in an email: "I think writers should think about sex scenes like action scenes. They're boring if there's nothing at stake."
Or, to put it another way, John Rogers points out that a great action scene isn't about the action; it is a suspense scene the outcome of which is determined by action. (Call this the Rule of John Rogers.) To quote the Kung Fu Monkey Master:
Tossing aside all the bigger philosophy, here's my attack: make sure every action sequence has a separate goal within the sequence which might legitimately succeed or fail with derailing the movie. Slap a little suspense beat down as your seed, then let your action sequence arrive from the a.) circumstances surrounding the goal or b.) choices of the character.
You can stop reading now, if you just take this away: Don't write action sequences. Write suspense sequences that require action to resolve.
(The rest of the post, I realized once I looked it up, was in fact about sex scenes. Back in 2005.)
Likewise a great sex scene isn't about the sex. It's a dramatic scene the outcome of which is determined by sex.
For example, in the pilot, Young Guy implies to Young Woman that he's incapable of being faithful. They fight. Young Guy finally promises Young Woman that he will be faithful. They make love in a car.
The sex is the outcome. Boring.
How about this: Young Guy can't bring himself to promise to be faithful. He seduces Young Woman. The entire time they're having sex, she's looking in his eyes. Looking to see if he loves her or just wants her. And he looks at her with love in his eyes the whole time. And after the sex, she says, "You're never going to cheat on me, are you?" And he says, "Of course not."
Or, he doesn't look at her. And after the sex, she says, "I love you. But we're done."
Then the scene is dramatic. There's something hanging on the outcome. It's not merely an expression of where the characters are emotionally; it moves where they are emotionally from one state to another.
It seemed to me that the sex scenes in TMYLM were not dramatic. They indicated where the characters were emotionally, but that didn't change over the course of the scenes. They were the equivalent of the Jets singing about how great it is to be a Jet.
So that wasn't pulling me in. I was actually considering fast forward a few times: yes I can see that they're about to have sex, honestly, I can fill in the blanks myself.
For the rest of it, we're watching truthful, well crafted stories about fully realized characters. The husband calling his wife and asking to have a drink with her at night, implying they'll have sex. The death of romance when he comes home and he's forgotten all about it. And it's not discussed because they don't discuss these things. And then it is discussed, and they say truthful things.
But here's the thing. What's in it for me? Why do I want to see this story? Yes, the stories are true. There are many true stories. They're all around us. Go to any bar and listen to some. Ask your friends for some more. Read random blogs for more than you can possible absorb. What makes these special?
Or to put it another way: where's the fun?
What makes me need to throw my twenny bucks at TMN to see the rest of this series?
I can tell you what was special about ROME. I can tell you what pulls me into FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. I have October 5 marked on my calendar, with exclamation points.
Where's the fun?
What's surprising about what's going on. What's insightful? What makes me want to see how this sexless-but-loving marriage works?
What makes me wonder what's going to happen next week?
Amanda comments on the previous post, and points out this article about the effects of the DVR on ad watching:
Far from fast-forwarding through commercials, DVR viewers watch commercials – 40 percent watch them in real time. And even when the other 60 percent are fast-forwarding, they are still watching and absorbing the commercials. That's where "neurophysiological effects" of advertising come into play. See, NBC had a "bio-psychological" study done, and it turns out that even when fast-forwarding through commercials, viewers still actively scan and follow the main action of the commercials. As the Harvard-educated doctor who oversaw the study summarizes, "Viewers do not turn off their emotions while fast-forwarding through commercials."
I continue to be amazed by that 40 per cent number, which I've seen before (though it might be from the same study). I find the idea that viewers "actively scan" very suspect, too. There's a world of difference between what you can absorb fast forwarding and what you absorb watching. "Following the main action" is not the same as getting the joke, or the point.
Moreover, my DVR has a nifty "jump 30 seconds forward" button which is how I ditch commercials. I don't see them at all.
I don't suppose the fact that NBC commissioned the study has anything to do with the results, does it? Did they simultaneously check to see if the viewers who were "watching" the commercials also stayed in the room?
I'm sorta tempted to sign up for TMN to see if TELL ME YOU LOVE ME is any good. But reviews are mixed, and I don't feel like spending $20 to watch one TV show. (Unless it's Rome.) And it doesn't seem to be on iTunes.
As we struggle to come up with a post-broadcast model, it seems to me a couple of things will work.
a. iTunes. You can buy shows at a buck a pop. (iTunes charges two bucks but maybe that could come down for shows you'd otherwise be able to see on TV. Maybe two bucks for cable shows you'd have to subscribe for. And keep the season pass about a little above a buck a show, as it is now.)
b. Cable subscription. But why should we have to trust the brand? Not everything on HBO is equally scrumptious. So how about releasing the first episode on iTunes? That way I can see if I want to subscribe.
c. Which leads to the idea of subscription-driven shows. Networks already make pilots. Then they throw them away. What about putting them up on iTunes? See which get downloaded. Greenlight those shows.
That wouldn't necessarily work for the broadcast model. The kind of show that a bunch of people are willing to pay to see is not necessarily the kind of show that vast numbers of people will tune into, but only if it's free. But as the latter becomes less lucrative because people are TiVo'ing away the commercials, the former kind of show will be relatively more valuable.
I'm actually fairly sanguine about my job. More niche programming means more, cheaper episodes. Cheaper episodes will be more writer driven, because dialog is the cheapest special effect there is. Since my happiness depends on whether I'm writing, not whether I'm getting rich, I'm all for a future full of many subscription driven shows.
Watched the premier of K-Ville last night and was really annoyed by the frequency of character names used in the dialogue. It really stuck out and seemed unnatural. [...]
I recall watching Fight Club and being quite impressed at the end of the film when I realized the main character's name is never used. The characters didn't suffer for it, and neither did the film. And K-Ville's excessive use of traditional Louisiana names is also odd. We do actually have people in south Louisiana with non-French names.
What's your opinion on establishing character names through dialogue?
I'm against it when it's unnatural, cher.
You're right. Mostly people use each others' names only to literally call them. (Though I have also been known to summon my 12-year-old by yelling "Beast Boy! Feeding time!") And, of course, to refer to them when they're not there. And for comic effect: "Good night, Mr. King." "Good night, Mrs. King."
I try to remove character names in dialog the way I try to remove handles: "Well," "Look," "I mean." Unless really justified, they dilute the line.
(Many actors will put handles and hems and haws back in, in the mistaken belief that they sound better when they sound like they're from Southern California. But the actors who go with the words on the page almost always come through stronger. Assuming, of course, that the writer has troubled himself to read the words out loud to himself first.)
I think most audience members just accept the characters. Until the character names sink in, they're happy to follow the stories of "that young handsome cop," "the fat angry cop" and so on. Later on the Captain becomes Kirk, the geeky guy becomes Ross, and the guy with the ridiculous accent becomes Latka. No hurry. This is TV.
(Or they never do, and that's fine too. I can't remember Danny DeVito's character's name from Taxi. Can you? Okay, fine, good for you. But he's just as funny either way.)
And on film, almost no one cares. Quick, what was the name of Will Smith's character in INDEPENDENCE DAY? Was it Jack? Nick? Steve? Tom?
Who cares? It was Will Smith.
On the other side of the camera, I think names are really important. Names remind the writer, the director and the production team who the character is. Maggie is feisty. Kate is quick witted. Nick and Jack are trouble. Which is why 80% of heroes and heroines seem to be Nick, Jack, Maggie or Kate.
And of course names are important on Television without Pity forums, so you don't look like a boob when you refer to "Cybill Shepherd" or "Jennifer Beals" as if they actually are characters on THE L WORD.
Via Neil (Can anyone tell me what Brit show this is from? Stephen?)
Incidentally, if you are getting idiotic notes like this, it's possible you are dealing with an idiot. It is also possible that your story idea is not that compelling, either the way you pitched it, or intrinsically. All feedback is true for that viewer, even if their proposed solution is idiotic. And what the agent is saying is, "You're not grabbing me. Grab me."
I didn't watch the EMMYcast, so if you want your bitchy review, check out Ken Levine, and for less bitchy, check out Diane Kristine. (For some reason I care about the Oscars, but not the Emmies. Don't ask me why. More glamor? Fewer awards?)
Oh, and, while you're reading other people's blogs, check out The Futon Critic's 10 Things You Need to Know About Television posts. Interesting breakdowns and statistics on how many new shoes survive, whether Friday night really is the death slot, whether networks try to kill off shows they don't like, etc. (Via Diane's post quoted on DMc's Dead Things On Sticks.)
Kay mops up various thoughts from her inbox, but leaves on crucial question out there that you should be asking, whether you're writing a spec script, or (as seems increasingly popular) a spec pilot:
make sure that your lead character is special. Unique. Because otherwise, why are you telling their story?
That's a terribly good question. Why are you telling the hero's story?
And I'd turn it around to ask: in what way is your hero not special? In what way is his or her problem like yours, or mine? In what way is he or she confronting issues that illuminate the human condition?
It's the tension between the special and the ordinary that makes a series great. A science fiction show that gets too far out there won't work because it's not based in the viewers' reality. A cop show that's just like all the other cop shows won't work because who has time to watch another cop show?
I saw this I AM LEGEND trailer at THE SIMPSONS: I'm going to guess it's the teaser trailer because it doesn't show you why Will Smith is not alone, or who's with him, which is what I AM LEGEND is really about, at least the novel.
Looks good, eh?
I wonder if the same sort of critters are still his antagonists...
The second of Clint Eastwood’s two Iwo Jima pictures, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is far more somber. It has to be — it’s from the Japanese side, and they lost the island, the battle and the war, with appalling casualties.
LETTERS is not an action movie. It’s a meditation on war — and the things men say to each other in order to force each other to keep fighting. It’s about how men forbid each other from saying that the cause is lost, or the war is futile, even though the truth is apparent to anyone with eyes. It’s about how men who love their families and their lives at home are driven by words to run into bullets. It is about how it is easier to die than it is to live.
Eastwood isn’t talking about current events, he’s talking about the Japanese in 1944. The American assault on Iwo began shortly after US naval forces destroyed the Japanese fleet as a fighting force, in what became known as The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. The US was triumphant everywhere in the Pacific; the end was just a matter of time. The Japanese had inferior technology and less of it. As the movie shows, they were hampered by a warrior doctrine that held that retreating was dishonorable; suicide was more honorable. So a defeated force, rather than retreating, was expected to stage a suicide attack; alternately they could all blow themselves up with grenades.
Imagine being one of these guys? A baker, say, with a baby daughter you’ve never met? And the guy with the sword wants you all to kill yourselves because you can’t hold your position any more? Yeah, that’s what the movie’s about.
It’s not a date movie. Like its sister piece FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, it is a powerful indictment of war glory.
I don’t think I could make a movie like this. When I see some kid shot in a war movie, I think of my daughter, and all the trouble it’s been to raise her to three and a half years old. And how fast you can kill a kid, or a child. And I get angry at people who want to lead us into battle with words, but only as cheerleaders, from afar, from safe offices in Washington, DC.
Lincoln once said, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried out on him personally.” Who knows? Might be a good approach to war, too.
Walk up to random people and say "WHAT YEAR IS THIS?" and when they tell you, say with enormous relief, "Then there's still time!" and run off.
Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO!"
Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say "In thirty years dial this number. You'll know what to do after that." Then slip away.
Poor Kay is suffering down south. Apparently it's not fun to be a broadcast TV writer in LA at the moment, even if you're running (or were running) THE BIONIC WOMAN.
What she's experiencing, directly and vicariously? Picture the exact opposite. That's the meeting I had with my network. The notes were along the lines of, "yeah, we love it. Only here's some places you could go deeper. Oh, and this character is really interesting, we want to know more about her. When can we read the next script? And the one after that?"
I'm a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, but STARDUST is one of his lightest and fluffiest stories. It's just a big fairy tale romance with no dark undercurrents. Sure, there are cartoon baddies, and that's the fun of it. But unless I am missing something, there's nothing much going on under the surface. The book hit me and left.
I actually saw STARDUST a week or two ago, and it just occurred to me that I haven't thought about it much at all, either.
I did have one big structural thought...
I was shocked at what seemed to me a Screenwriting 101 mistake in the last act. All through Act Two we're in on the secret that Yvaine, the fallen star, is in love with Tristan. And she declares her love to him when he's a hamster. And naturally, he doesn't tell her when he becomes human again (without struggle) that he loves her too. Then off he goes to make his Big Third Act Mistake, to unnecessarily tell his ex-crush that he no longer wants her, putting Yvaine in grave danger when she's kidnapped.
Later on, midway through Tristan's battle for Lamia, Lamia claims that she's glad that Tristan is fighting for Yvain, because Yvaine is much more valuable to her as psychic energy if her heart is unbroken. Shortly after, Yvain blows Lamia away with the incandescence of her love, and then tells Tristan, "I could not have done that before," because stars can only shine when their heart is unbroken.
So here's the obvious mistake I'm seeing. Would it not have been an obviously better choice to have Tristan fail to mention that he loves Yvain before he abandons her (right after sleeping with her), thus breaking her heart?
Then we can have Yvaine wrongly assuming that he's only returned to fight Lamia because he wants, say, the throne. Yvain only realizes that he does actually love her midway through the battle, when he, say, ignores a good offer from Lamia in order to save his girl.
More suspense for Yvaine. More suspense for the audience. Lamia's statement makes more sense now, and it makes more sense that Yvaine's superpower (super shininess?) is only restored moments before she blows Lamia away.
By the way, if someone tries to get you to sign up to Quechup, a so-called social networking site, don't. It will spam your entire mailing list. Fortunately I read about this spam scam before I fell for it. (Now if someone can explain to me what LinkedIn is for...)
Instead of promoting the creation of better children’s programming or developing a series based on the icons and the elements of our country that make Canada great, they [the CTF] have pumped 2.5 billion dollars into shows about the dysfunctional residents of a mobile home park, shape shifting aliens with a grudge against the government and educational programming that offers instruction on the right and wrong way to host an S&M Bondage Party.
Jim Shaw would like you to write in to complain, so that Jim Shaw won't have to give a small chunk of his profits back to the CTF to support such shows. (Profits he gets, of course, because his stations get a share of the national airwaves for free, and are protected from American signal by government regulation.)
Obviously, he'd rather spend that money buying more American shows.
I love that some of the CTF money goes to TRAILER PARK BOYS, an outrageous comedy about a bunch of lowlifes in a trailer park. I thought parts of KINK were quite illuminating. I don't know what the shapeshifters show was, but I'm sorry I missed it.
Culture is culture. Does Jim Shaw really want shows about Mounties and voyageurs? Of course he does. Because no one will watch them. Then he can claim that "no one wants to see shows about Canadians" as he licenses another season of LOST for far more than he'd have to pay for a show of the caliber of, say, SLINGS AND ARROWS or CORNER GAS or DURHAM COUNTY. Right now that argument doesn't work because CORNER GAS is a hit, and TRAILER PARK BOYS has legions of diehard fans who'll stand in line for hours to see "the boys."
Culture is not high culture. Culture is just culture. Culture is whatever stories people want to see, whatever paintings people want to paint and other people want to look at, whatever music kids want to put on their iPods. The Montreal music scene did not become one of the hothouses of North American pop because The Arcade Fire is writing songs about snow and maple syrup. New York does not have a rich cultural heritage because Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani know how to pick cultural winners.
Cultural policy should, I think, support Canadian artists telling their stories, whatever those are, so long as they're pulling in an audience.
So, as you can imagine, I wrote in to the CTF and the CRTC and the Minister of Heritage:
I don't at all agree with Jim Shaw's self-serving ad in the paper today. Canadian culture needs to be protected, but not by a guy who's getting rich off having a protected share of Canada's airwaves. And I think TV shows like Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys are part of Canada's rich mix of high and low culture. Canada needs its own voices telling its own stories. Government -- and Jim Shaw -- shouldn't tell us what those voices are supposed to say. Yours,
Alex Epstein co-creator, NAKED JOSH co-writer, BON COP / BAD COP
Spent the afternoon at the CFC barbecue, the one party at the Toronto International Film Festival where I don't feel oddly out of place. At the CFC shindig, I know a few dozen writers and directors and producers and so on. But the film festival parties seem to be distributors and buyers ... and a lot of young women in slinky dresses that turn out to be the Assistant to the Associate Director of Legal Affairs at Alliance Atlantis. Or the Associate Director herself. Or something equally fun. The parties are their reward for the rest of the year. I'd rather be in a writing room breaking story.
I gather that quite a few people are in town to see films, and a number of stars are here to have their picture taken. It all seems quite glamorous! I'm basically here for two network meetings and two parties, and then I'm catching the first train for home.
Eleven pages of rough draft today. That's a good day's work any day. (Unless my staff and I have for some reason just been parachuted into a ongoing production and we need to rebreak the next episode and then write it from scratch for a production meeting tomorrow. Speaking hypothetically, of course.) In development, I like to get five good pages in a day, once I'm writing pages; a good day could bring anywhere up to fifteen, at which point I usually pack it in so I don't start writing gibberish.
Except the first day. Many days, the first page often seems to take me the entire first day. Go figure.
It's taken me a much longer time to get up to speed on this script. Various people liked the outline, and I didn't feel like there were holes in it. But writing the early scenes proved to be much harder than I thought. I had to rethink practically every scene in the first ten pages -- usually the mark of an outline where you've indulged in too much handwaving.
I don't think it's handwaving. I usually know when I'm handwaving. I think it's because the contemporary urban metaphysical I'm writing isn't really plot driven, although it pretends to be. It's really character driven, following the Rule of Joss I've mentioned elsewhere. So it is harder to gauge when I'm taking too long to get into the A story. On a broadcast hour, you really want your A story up and running in the first five pages if not in the teaser itself, and you ought to have your first plot twist at the first act break. Not on this show. On this show, the A story is merely the catalyst for the drama. So if the drama needs eight long pages before we meet the episodic character -- the Person With A Supernatural Issue -- it's going to get them.
(DON'T try this on broadcast. Who knows, it might not even work on cable. But I think it will.)
Still, since the pacing doesn't have to be the same as every other hour show, that means I have to figure out by my gut what the pacing has to be. Free verse, after all, is actually harder than poetic form, because it has to rediscover its own form with each stanza, and not just come off as wordburger. This is free verse TV.
However, as a general rule, if you're not writing to act breaks: keep the story interesting, and all will be forgiven, so long as you build to a climax and wrap it up in the end.
The networks will all be creating exciting, innovative new spin-offs of today’s shows. Approximately 67 percent of all television will be CSI, including CSI: Des Moines, CSI: New York but a Different Part than Gary Sinise Is In and NCSI: SVU WKRP, which covers every possible gruesome crime with a groovin’ ’70s beat. [...]
Lost has that one-of-a-kind alchemy that really can’t be copied. Therefore, look for the original series Misplaced, as well as Unfound; Not So Much with the Whereabouts; and Just Pull Over and Ask, Already!
... And what of me? My short-lived series Firefly was the basis for the epic action film Serenity (now available on DVD! I have little or no shame), and the future will see even more incarnations of this visionary work, as it returns to TV as Serenity: The Firefly Years, then back to film as Firefly: Serenity’s Sequel, back to TV as SereniFly, and finally end as the direct-to-eyeglasses series Choose a Damn Name Already. I promise it’ll be as heartwarming and exciting as the original Serenity, now available on DVD.
Should I try and write something that can be made on a low budget or should I aim high and write in everything I can imagine and would love to see in the show?
Nothing on TV is done on a "low" budget. Even an off-brand cable show has a reasonable budget. But you do need to write within a TV budget. That is, fifty percent of your show wants to be on standing sets of some kind, and be aware of how many speaking parts you're introducing. (I go into this in much greater depth in CRAFTY TV WRITING.)
In features, there are two schools of thought. There is the Mad Pulp Bastard school of thought: write something so clever and cheap that they'll have no reason NOT to produce it. (The Mad Pulp Bastard has posted exactly what rules to follow when writing a low budget feature. MPB: what's the link, agin?) And then there's my old agent Caren's school of thought: write a big splashy high concept movie that gets into a bidding war and so gets you on the List of studio approved writers.
Both of these schools of thought have been known to succeed for beginners. I knew a writer whose entire career happened after he sold a high concept spec involving, I think, a heist during a storm. He pretty much coasted from there.
The important thing, as always, is to write what you want to see. If you don't love what you're writing, the reader probably won't, either.
The other important thing is that it is the concept that determines the budget. If your screenplay involves the Fall of Troy, don't try and write it down to medium budget. You'll just gut the spectacle, which is a big part of the selling point. If you want to write low budget, find a fresh reason why a bunch of compelling characters are stuck at one location with an interesting problem. (Then, if they get an expensive cast, the budget can always be upgraded: THE BIG CHILL; MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS; PHONE BOOTH.)
I liked it too, but it was unrelentingly depressing on these issues. It was a film during which the lead female character realized her husband was a senseless brute who would always put his happiness before her own, and where her son realized the father was an abusive drunk who was continually denying him the emotional support and family environment he needed. And ... both characters recognized these truths fully, and abandoned [him] to begin new lives elsewhere. And shortly thereafter, both took him back, tossing away their opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment despite there being no evidence of an enduring change in their tormentor's psyche. It was a tremendous demonstration of the self-destructive mentality of the abused, and in that, quite unsettling.
He's talking, of course, about The Simpsons Movie.
That's the problem with comedy. If you connect with the characters -- they're in pain. Imagine being one of the Stooges. You'd be in NO EXIT. Stuck for eternity with two other guys who devote their lives to sticking their fingers in your eyes.
The Marx Brothers, on the other hand, generally torture other people, not each other.
As Aristotle said in the second book of his Poetics, comedy is tragedy that happens to your mother in law.
Filmaka has launched its Tenth contest 'The Clinic'. Submissions are accepted till 30th September 2007 at www.filmaka.com.
This month’s topic is "The Clinic" and all 1-3 minute films must be uploaded by midnight PST, 30st September, 2007. The annual grand prize is a feature film contract.
Filmaka.com is a new online competition, judged by award winning filmmakers including Werner Herzog, Neil LaBute, Paul Schrader and Wim Wenders, and founded by leading independent producers and financiers. Filmmakers have a new chance to enter each month, and submissions are accepted in 10 different languages.
Please visit www.filmaka.com to see past contest submissions, and for complete rules, terms and conditions. Membership is free for full time students: email firstname.lastname@example.org from your school issued email account for more information.
Apple is in an argument with NBC, which wants to charge $5 an episode to download its shows. Apple wants to sell all TV episodes for the same price on iTunes.
I think charging a sawbuck is a bit much. Personally I think they will have trouble selling episodes for that much. I got a season pass for MAD MEN for a little over a buck an episode; individual episodes are two bucks. That seems about right.
But I think it's good that NBC is fooling around with its pricing model.
It's clear to most people who worry about such things that the broadcast model is deteriorating with the advent of TiVo and DVDs. If the nets can't count on ad revenu, then they have to move either to a subscription model like HBO, or to some kind of per-episode payment model, or severe product placement, or something new people haven't thought of yet. Figuring out what the market will bear for premium broadcast shows (HEROES) is part of the process of inventing the new business model.
Fve bucks an episode is, for example, more or less what you pay for an HBO show, if that's the only series you're watching on HBO.
Another thing I like about the idea of variable pricing is, it raises the value of well-made shows. I am not sure that you could sell episodes of THE AMAZING RACE for as much as you could sell LOST or GRAY'S ANATOMY. ROME got me to sign up for TMN (our HBO). And if I had to pay per episode for FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, I would.
Per-episode pricing changes the medium. You won't have to worry about act outs, because once someone pays money for a show, they're likely to watch the whole thing; and if they don't, who cares? On the other hand it promotes serial shows: you want your audience shelling out for that season pass. A series like LAW & ORDER doesn't give you the strongest possible reason to watch the next episode over some other episode. LOST does.
A variable pricing model could also create economic efficiencies. You could sell a HEROES episode for $5 on the week it's released, then $3.50 the following week, and so on, till you get down to the Buck-a-Flix Cinema price. That gives the viewer options, and scoops up more money for the distributor. Why should I pay the same price for old LOST IN SPACE reruns and the next hour of MAD MEN? It's illogical, Captain.
So while I can understand Apple's point -- they want their pricing model simple, because Apple is all about simple. But NBC has an excellent point. I hope they get to try their experiment. We gotta figure out some way to pay for all these tv shows.
UPDATE: Tim W. makes the excellent point that people not only have the option not to buy an episode, or wait for the DVD, but also to download it illegally. So the online price really has to seem fair and reasonable. I'm happy to pay $25 for a season pass to MAD MEN -- and I did -- because I don't want to steal episodes via Bittorrent. But at $5 a pop, I might feel outraged enough to consider going through the hassle of pirating via torrentz.
Q. A spec pilot I wrote last year has been getting some good reactions from those producers kindly enough to read it. I've been in contact with one of them semi-regularly. He's an indie producer, and is currently trying to get a large TV production company, that he has a history with, to pick up a series he wants to develop. The guy who's written the pilot for the proposed series, an experienced TV scribe, has also read my writing sample, also likes it. Between them, they've insinuated that they'll recommend to the big TV company that I write an episode if said project gets picked up.
How much should I follow this up? Their meeting with the company was a little while ago now. Whilst I, being crazy insecure, want to know what's going on, at what point do "Hi, how are you, how'd the meeting go?" e-mails become tiresome for producers?
I wouldn't contact them at all about their show. If their show isn't a "go" show, you're just rubbing their noses in it. And most shows don't go to pilot, and most pilots don't get picked up.
What you should do is try to contact them every 2-3 months or so with new things. You have a new spec. Would they like to read it? Ask the TV writer if you can buy him a drink or take him to lunch when he's not too busy. (Writers are suckers for a free lunch.) Would the producer like to read your new spec pilot? Try to find a way to stay on their radar. Tell them any good news you have on other fronts. Stalking = needy; but everyone likes to hear good news, and I don't think anyone will mind hearing about your victories.
The first issue of the new online pulp magazine ASTONISHING ADVENTURES is up, with the very cool cover you can see here, and I have a small story in it about the King Who Sleeps.
I have to say, these guys are really cheap with the author copies. They only sent me one PDF! You'd think I could get at least a couple copies to show my folks. And the cover was all messed up! Look at it!
Anyway, it's a fun read for a Labor Day Monday! Full of monkeys, I am told.
Here's an opportunity for one of you out there to see your short film script produced:
I’m a first time producer/director looking for a short film script (under 10 min) in close to finished form. If you’re an unknown writer with a good short script you’d like to see to produced, this is your chance.
I’ll be spending the next couple of months producing this short, but won’t be taking it on much of a festival run – I’m mainly interested in building my reel.
Your script should be producible on a very low budget. I am looking for scripts with elements of action, thriller, sci-fi, or fantasy. I’m not looking for pure comedy or pure drama.
Please send your script to NimrodShorts@gmail.com by Friday, September 7.
Pay is a copy of the film and seeing your work onscreen.
The filmmaker is an ambitious 19-year-old who's been going to "self-created film school," which as you know I consider to be the best film school there is.
A pity about the "not looking for pure comedy or pure drama." Those are the cheapest to shoot. Then comes thriller. Action gets expensive. SF gets much more expensive. Fantasy is the most expensive of all, since anything unworldly has to be created in a computer or out of latex.
I’m not looking for something that’s just people at home, or work, or school. I don’t want to do a short about a mother dying of cancer. Unless, when she dies, she starts glowing. Or turns into a pony. Or something. I don’t want to rule anything out other than moody character sketches and comedies.
John Turman, a writer on projects including Hulk, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Iron Fist and the TV series The Crow has offered to "supervise, polish or co-write the 8-12 page script with whoever (well, almost whoever) wins."
This isn't just a great opportunity for me, but for whoever wins to work with an established screenwriter.
There are a few more guidelines than before, but not much. The details can be found here (http://artfulwriter.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3763), at the Artful Writer forum.