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



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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Q. What do you think about using contacts to get read by agents and managers now, tentatively before a writer's strike?
I wouldn't bother anyone right now. They're all in a tizzy.

If the strike happens (ayn kaynhoreh), then I would tend to think that agents, if they're not out of town skiing, will have more time on their hands. So why not give them a buzz then?

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lexx asks
Q. What if the networking events get in the way of writing?
Writing is more important than networking. There ought to be enough time in a week to do both. But if networking is getting in the way of the writing, cut down on the networking.

Go to hear pro monkeys talk in order to be inspired, and to meet writers at your own level who you can dragoon into a writing group.

I'd distinguish between talks at the WGA given on an evening by a pro monkey, which I'm favor of, and writing classes, which I'm not sure people need as much as they think. Skip the expensive classes, form a writing group, and spend the savings on good scotch for the aftermath of your writing group evenings.

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Q. I'm feeling really fatigued right now. After a year and a half dedicated to writing, there are still stories I want to write and shows that seem good to spec, but the lack of validation for my writing is taking a toll. Not that I'm getting zero, I've gotten some great encouragement by those who've read me, but writing out into a professional vacuum has become a bit much to handle. Am I just weak sauce? Will I be able to break into the professional rungs, where the frustration can be greater at times? In summary, do I have what it takes?
Who knows? My instinctive reaction is "If you're a writer, it doesn't matter, you'll keep writing anyway," and "if you can be happy doing something else, do it." But that's facile. There was a point I nearly went back into computer science.

A year and a half is way early to be disheartened, though. Consider your first three years to be film school. If you're supporting yourself by writing within 5 years of "film school," you're doing great.

No one can tell you if you'll succeed. It might take ten years to break in. Somewhere in there you probably want to have some paid gigs, but they might not be union gigs that support you, just dribs and drabs of jobs with sketchy producers.

Ask yourself if there's anything you could do to further your writing and your writing career that you're not doing. Are you putting writing before everything else? Are you waking up at 4 in the morning to get a couple of uninterrupted hours of writing? Have you moved to LA? Are you going to every showbiz party you can get invited to? Are you going to every talk given by a real writer? Are you in a writing group? Is making your writing brilliant your number one goal in life?

Are you taking absolutely every paid screenwriting gig no matter how embarrassing or lame?

Are you writing your way into the corners of your heart where you feel scared? Or are you writing what's easy for you?

Is your relationship getting in the way? Is your self-image getting in the way? Are alcohol or pot getting in the way?

Are you telling the beats of every screen story out loud to five friends and five strangers before you even think about committing it to writing?

Do you ever take your first draft, throw it out, and rewrite everything from what you can remember of it?

Sometimes what you need is to take everything up a notch. Write MORE. Write more BRAVELY. Write what you're NOT good at. Take all the criticism to HEART.

If you do all that, you'll succeed.

Eventually.

Unless, you know, you suck.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

As I deleted gobs of spam off my gmail account today, an actual person's email seemed to go by. If that was you, please let me know in the comments!

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OH MY GAWD what an awesome Redd Foxx impression Alec Baldwin did on last Thursday's 30 ROCK.

And his JJ was pretty dy-no-mite, too. (Who was the mom?)

I forgive him for anything he might have said to his 12-year-old daughter.

This is one of the beautiful things about TV -- you get to write for the actors. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that that entire episode came about from Tina Fey sittin' around drinkin' with Alec Baldwin as he suddenly let rip with his 70's TV impressions.

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A dear friend of mine is jonesing for ENTOURAGE and/or 30 ROCK scripts. Anyone know where to find'em?

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I have begun to wonder if I should be paying some attention to the Canadian market. Must one live in Canada to write there?
You have to be at least a permanent resident -- have the equivalent of a Green Card, be accepted as a potential immigrant -- or Canadian producers can't benefit from the various federal support programs when they produce your stuff. Practically that means you can't work in Canada.

However, it is much easier to immigrate to Canada than to get a Green Card in the States. Canadian immigration policy is based on the attitude that there's a lot of room here, and importing bright, successful, educated people is a good thing. And we lack the paranoia about furriners that currently infects the Department of Fatherland Security. Any talented, professional-minded TV or film person ought to be able to find or create work for themselves in Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal. You'll still have to break in, but it is a more nurturing environment; and you can still spend half the year in LA.

But the immigration application takes a year or two to process. And you'd need to spend some time making contacts up here. So don't try it unless you're willing to go for it.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Q. Is there a Canadian equivalent of the Hollywood Creative Directory? Any available lists of Canadian motion picture development executives?
Very few Canadian prodcos afford development execs. You can go direct to the producers. There's a useful list of production companies and their credits at the Telefilm site, though I'm not sure it's complete.

In Canada, you don't necessarily need an agent to approach producers. (I think it's unwise to negotiate on your own behalf, though; if someone wants to option or buy your stuff, it's not hard to get an agent on board.) On the other hand, I've noticed that Canadian producers are by and large terrible at meeting new talent -- or old talent for that matter -- and worse at reading material they don't generate themselves, whether it's represented or not.

UPDATE: A better bet might be to look at the CFTPA Guide. You can create a free account to consult it online. Note that the CFTPA only covers English Canada. You'd have to check out the APFTQ for Quebec francophone producers.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Q. I always thought a query was supposed to "entice" the potential agent with a small taste of what your spec script is about. Is it better to just state the facts - (I have spec of [show] called [title], can I send it to you?)
It can't hurt to include a phrase of hook. I've sent people a spec West Wing "about a new Cuban missile crisis," for example.
Q. How do you get their email? The WGC doesn't give it out.
You can try calling them. You can also sign up for online access to the Hollywood Creative Directory Online Costs a few bucks, but you can sign up for a trial period and it'll save you a lot of time. (Anybody know other ways to get an agent's email address?)

UPDATE: Josh asks:
Q. How useful is it to put contest placements and wins in a query letter?
I'm of two minds about this. It depends on the contest, for one thing; and there's a big difference between a win and a "placement." If you won the Nicholls, that's huge. If you're a semi-finalist at one of the many contests that seem to run amok on the Internet solely for the sake of having a contest and garnering entry fees, less so. I have skimmed some really bad scripts that got awards; and why should I be reading your semi-finalist script when I could be reading the script that won?

Still, if you got close to winning at some contest that people have heard of, it suggests you can at least tell a coherent story. So while I wouldn't recommend spending a lot of money entering contests, if you already have, you might as well mention it.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

I've been sick with a blasted flu. Today I'm coughing but substantially more conscious!
Q. Is there somewhere I can see examples of successful query letters for TV specs?I know it needs to be short and to the point, but examples would help.
Something like this, I imagine:

[date]

[address]

Dear Mr. Alpern:

I have just finished polishing my new spec HOUSE episode, "Haunted House," and I'm looking for representation. May I send it to you?

I also have a spec GRAY'S ANATOMY, "Anatomically Correct," and a spec comedy pilot about Egyptian mummies trying to make a living as garbagemen in New York, entitled GRAVE MATTERS. I'd be happy to send those along, too.

If you're interested, please let me know at desperatelyseekingrepresentation@gmail.com.

Thank you.

Best,


Foo J. Baz


If someone the agent knows, or knows of, recommended you contact the agent, mention that. If you've sold anything, or optioned anything, or are working as a writer's assistant somewhere -- anything that validates you in the biz -- mention that too.
Q. - also, if the agent's gender is unclear, is it OK to write "Dear [first name] [last name]"

- and if querying by mail, are postcards or envelopes preferred? Does that matter?
If the agent's gender is unclear, pick up the bloody phone and call the agency and ask!

I wouldn't bother querying by mail these days. If anyone has a different point of view, please let me know. Mail is expensive, especially when you have to enclose a SASE. If they're looking for new clients, they'll read your email, and if they're not, you just saved a buck or two. If you must query by mail, use a postcard. If they can't be bothered to compose an email to you on their Blackberry, they're certainly not going to read your script.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I'm down with a headache, cough, dizziness and the desire to sleep 16 hours out of 24. It's a good time to be sick because I'm waiting for the next step in all my projects. Waiting to hear from the network on the series I'm developing. Waiting for my director to come to town to work on the comedy I'm adapting from a novel. Waiting for the Greenberg Fund to thumbs-up or thumbs-down a project I want to rewrite. Waiting to hear back from a producer on a series he wants me to develop with him. I don't want to make any more commitments to that, so I've been going through my files looking for pitches that want to become treatments, treatments that need to become scripts, stories that need to be fixed, etc. Yesterday I was stuck between a romantic comedy idea I've fallen out of love with, but which would be commercial, and a probably unproducable historical horror idea, kind of a Heritage Moment with werewolves.

A fine time to get sick, if I have to get sick. I'm catching up on all my TiVo. MEADOWLANDS, anyone?

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Via Blork Blog's I Can Has Wasteland?; full text at Corprew.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Q. You've mentioned before that industry types are reading more originals in response to the increased serialization of shows that would otherwise be easy to spec. But would an industry type really throw out a good spec if it was only a few episodes out of sync with the show? For example The Office has been all over the place with who's dating who and where, rendering my wonderful spec useless week after week. Is Hollywood so uptight that no one would read my spec if I just wrote it and said "this episode takes place between such and such episode"?
No. Jane has lots of back and forth about this on her blog. But a good spec is really about the voices and the template, not the details of who's dating whom. If you nail the show at one point in its season, they can suppose you can nail the show at another point in its season.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Q. I've developed a kick-ass (aren't they all?) concept for a Spanish language non-fiction series.

Now my Hollywood lawyer is asking me to cough up a bible so she can shop it around a bit.
So:
A. I'm not sure she's right about that. I thought a simple treatment sufficed at this stage.
B. Not only have I never seen a bible, but can't seem to find an example online.
In non-fiction, I tend to think 6 pages ought to do it. A page or two for the hook. A page or two about who you are and what you're doing. A page or two of sample episodes. The longer things are, the slower they get read. And after 6 pages, they either like your idea or they don't. They're going to want to have their input at that point, I would think, to shape it in the direction they want to go.

In fiction, you pretty much always need at least a spec pilot in the States. (In Canada, I know some "emerging" writers who've got development deals off 6-8 page pitches.)

I'm not sure there are that many bibles online. Does anyone know of any? (Just try Googling "online bible" and see what you get, Punky.) I suspect most people don't want to put theirs up.

The basic format I use for a pitch is:

a. The show in a nutshell -- a page of salesmanship

b. Format -- what happens every episode?

c. Who's the show for?

d. Who's producing the show? Why are they qualified?

e. A whack of episode ideas.

This basic structure works for both fiction and non-fiction, except that in non-fiction "Format" is more literal -- "every episode, we interview a humorous ethnic person, then teach him a circus trick" -- and in fiction it's more story oriented -- "every episode, Earl tries to make it up to someone."

UPDATE: As Book of Don points out in his helpful and insightful comment below, a pitch is not a bible. (Sometimes if you keep tinkering with it, the pitch gets long and becomes sort of a pitch-bible.) The bible is really a document created by the production as researchers bring in research, writers create scripts, etc. You wouldn't really write a bible in advance of setting the show up with a network because you don't know how they'll see your show. Six to eight pages should sink the hook if it's going to be sunk; more can just give them reasons to say "no," while eating up your time.

UPDATE: Piers has a great roundup of online bibles here. Thanks Piers!

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This post from a NY Times blog says people are still watching commercials, even though they have DVRs.

Does this mean that most people are passively, not actively, watching TV? I know I want to get to the next act. In any event my tolerance for hearing more about the Swiffer is pretty small. But I'm not the audience, am I?

I wonder if that's what's going on with FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: someone, somewhere -- possibly showrunner Jason Katims -- has made the decision that to really grab the audience, they need the threat of someone going to jail for murder. Maybe they feel that last season was too subtle to grab a big enough audience. For every me they lose, maybe they pick up five guys who sit through commercials.

If the biggest chunk of the audience is willing to sit through recorded commercials, then the TV business model we know isn't dead after all. Those cats aren't going to be illegally downloading shows. (And frankly, I never thought that the mass audience would put up with any TV distribution technology, illegal or not, that was harder to use than a DVR. Most people never used their VCR to record, after all.) And as soon as the strike is settled, everyone can get back to business.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Is it just me, or does this lovely piece of Orientalism by Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950) (seen at my favorite site for affordable, almost-museum-quality Japanese prints, Carolyn Staley Prints) remind you too of P. Craig Russell's amazing work in Sandman #50, "Ramadan"?

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These apply to all modern life, but as with everything in showbiz, your social weaknesses will hurt not only your friendships, but your career.

a. Email is not a substitute for calling people.

A lot of people these days will email when they should be calling, I guess out of shyness. In most cases, email is not really the best way to talk to people one on one.

I send emails when I want something on the record, or I want to present all my thinking in one coherent package, or to remind people, or to tell them something totally non-time-sensitive.

I call people when I want to work something out with them, and especially when I want something from them.

Someone I know was recently interviewing child-care workers by email. That's crazy. You want to hear tone of voice. You want to be able to ask follow-up questions. Calling people also takes less time, and people are more likely to bring up new things you might not have thought of, and they will feel they spent time with you, rather than considering you one of the many chores they had to deal with today.

If you want a "yes," ask your question in a face-to-face meeting. People find it much easier to say "no" over the phone; a fortiori by email. If you want to work something out, ask in person or over the phone. Only use email for follow up and to set up phone conversations, and occasionally to lay out an in-depth proposal or argument.

b. Friending is not a substitute for creating a relationship.

What is it with these Facebook friend requests from people I have to look up in my rolodex? What is it with the friend requests from people I can't find in my rolodex? I'm fond of Neil Gaiman, and we even have mutual friends, and he's one of my two writer gods (Joss being the other), but I wouldn't dream of friending him, 'cause we've never met, not even on the phone.

If you just met someone for five minutes and consider yourself their new best friend forever, it would be common courtesy, at a minimum, to include an actual note with your friend request. But the Right Thing to do would be to drop them an email about something you're both interested in, and see if you can strike up a conversation. Or invite them to something. If you're not doing that, then all you've got is a bigger number on your profile.

On the other hand, if you're not on Facebook, you probably should be. An epidemic of Facebook swept through my neck of showbiz about five months ago, and about half of everybody signed on. We got another outbreak a few weeks ago that picked up, oh, another ten percent. You should use all the networking skillz and toolz you can to stay in touch with people. Just, you know, do it like you care.

Oh, and please -- if someone you know tangentially accepts your friend request, and you haven't had any personal contact with them since, do not attack them with your Stealth Zombie. Why this is not obvious to people is beyond me.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN YEARS was pretty much of a mess, I'm sorry to say. It was sort-of a love story, but as a love story it wasn't particularly fresh -- the Queen is in love with a pirate, but she can't have him, and she's jealous of the woman he's fooling around with, while for his part, he's in love with the Queen, but fools around with the woman he can have.

Meanwhile there's some political intrigue that is strongly reminiscent of the first movie, but less convincing, because Good Queen Bess is now clearly in charge (as well she should be, 27 years into her reign). And there's creepy, bandy-legged Philip of Spain, the most powerful man in the Western world, who wants to crush Elizabeth so he can root out Protestant heresy and free thinking across England -- all very Dark Lord. Will his ships reach the Duke of Parma's troops in the Netherlands? Or will English pirates stop them?

But it's not clear what Elizabeth does to alter the outcome. We have none of the real Elizabeth's clever alternation between temporization and diplomacy, mild aggression (her pirates stealing Spanish gold to fund her defense against Spain) and the occasional brilliant attack -- as the famous Drake raid on Cadiz destroyed most of Philip's original Armada, forcing him to take time to build a second one. (Not included.)

And what does Elizabeth do about her romance, except toy with Raleigh, wax jealous (and petty) and then forgive him?

And what does Elizabeth do about the threats to her throne? Not much. Her spymaster has long ago infiltrated Mary Queen of Scots' network, so he's able to get her dead to right for treason. All Lizzie has to do is sign her death warrant. (The excellent if nerdy story of how Walsingham's cryptologists broke Mary's code doesn't make it into the movie.)

Kapur even botches the Armada's famous day-long battle with the English fleet, turning it into the single incident of the fireships, which are now made out to be effective weapons, as opposed to the effective scare tactics they really were. (The fireships set practically no Spanish ships on fire, but did get the fleet to cut its anchors, leaving it hopelessly out of formation in the morning. I know too much about this stuff.)

And where is the kamikaze, the divine storm that actually sank the Armada? Merely suggested. You have to know the story to make any sense of the movie at all.

ELIZABETH worked because it was a good story: How Bess Got Her Reign On. THE GOLDEN YEARS fell apart because it's not even several good stories -- it is just a bunch of different events tracked along parallel paths.

Oh, what a disappointment!

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

We discussed whether it would make sense to watch another episode of FNL, given the two ridiculous story lines it was pursuing. (As you'll recall, these were (a) Tami struggling to take care of a baby while, for no apparently reason, living in another city than her husband, and (b) Tyra and Landry stressing about having hidden the body of the guy that Landry killed totally righteously.) We thought we'd give it another shot...

... nope. The first act opens with Landry worrying that he might have lost his watch where they dumped the body. His watch, which is engraved with his name.

OH COME ON.

Lisa refused to watch any further. "I want to remember it for what it once was," she said. We all agreed, and went on to check out REAPER. (Which was yet another normal-person-with-one-supernatural-issue show, but nothing spectacular. Think JOAN OF ARCADIA but more procedural and therefore less rich.)

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I hear that BON COP won a bunch of Canadian Comedy Awards, including one for writing..

Thanks for the heads up, Deej!

PS: Here's exactly what the article says about the movie:
Bon Cop Bad Cop topped the film category, capturing three of the four awards in that section: best direction for Eric Canuel, male performance for Patrick Huard and a writing nod.
Notice anything?

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So after chatting with Carol Whitehead, who's organizing Feature It!, it looks like I'm going to teach part of the workshop. Quebeckers, I hope you got your application in!

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

I read that sing-along screenings of the BUFFY episode "Once More With Feeling" have been cancelled along with theatrical screenings of FIREFLY and such.

Um. There have been sing-along screenings of "Once More With Feeling"? And theatrical airings of FIREFLY?

I guess this is just more proof that TV is getting to be a lot more fun and interesting than the movies.

And here I just finished a rough draft of my 31st feature script...

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DMc has a long post dividing Canadian showbiz into Faux-Wannabe-Americans and Quirky Artsy Canadians and the blessed few pursuing a middle path... I wonder where he puts me?

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

SPOILER CITY

I'm going to try to make this more than a rant, and draw some useful craft advice out at the end, but right now I'm thinking, "What the hell?"

The season premiere of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS hung up for me on two bits of story logic that I found unconvincing.

The big one -- unavoidable with last year's finale -- is that Coach Taylor and his family wouldn't have moved to Austin when he got the job. His wife is on maternity leave, so her excuse that she has to stay in Dillon for "the kids" makes no sense. Julie Taylor is bored with Matt Saracen because, well, he's a hick. She dreams of something more. Hey, kid, how about Austin?

The reason they can't move to Austin is they're half the series. Obviously Coach Taylor will have to come back to coach Panther football because he's the star of a show about Panther football.

Now I knew going into Season Two that the writers would have to send Coach Taylor back to Dillon pretty fast. So I'll suffer through some unconvincing plot logic to get him back. Though I'll wonder if the writers were assuming they were going to be canceled, and wrote themselves into a corner.

But now we've got a story line where some creep is stalking Tyra -- tailgating her car, etc. And she doesn't go to the police. Okay, maybe she's had a few run-ins with the cops. Maybe she's not anxious to call them. (Woulda been nice to know why she wasn't calling them, but I can imagine.)

Then Stalker Boy tries to rape her -- again -- and Nerd Boy Landry comes to her rescue. The guy walks off making threats, and Nerd Boy lays him out with a pipe. He's dead.

Do he and Tyra:

a. Call the police, and tell them, "He was trying to rape my girlfriend, so I hit him with a pipe. Looks like I mighta killed him." The police run the creep's record, realize Landry's done society a favor, pin a medal on his chest and tell Tyra she really ought to do something nice for him when they go home together; or

b. Panic, and dump the body in a shallow stream, while crying out of guilt/fear/shame.

If you guessed (b), you need to get out of the writing room and spend some actual time in Texas.

Here's where I start to worry that the show has jumped the shark. Are we going to have to suffer through episodes where Tyra and Landry suffer pangs of guilt, Landry starts drinking, Tyra falls apart, the police start investigating, etc. etc.? 'Cause it's too big a story to just dump like the body.

Okay, so craft. The moral of the story is that not all logic is story logic. You can't expect the audience to follow you down a path just because you think you can get an fresh story out of it; at least not outside of daytime soaps. I may like the characters ever so much, but if your story just doesn't make any damn sense in the world as I am familiar with it, you're gonna lose me.

Now when I say "the world as I am familiar with it," really we're talking about the world of the show. What's troubling me is that the world of FNL in Season One was beautifully realistic and small. The stories were about the kinds of disasters that regularly do happen in small town Texas. Someone is crippled in a sports accident. Someone cheats. Someone punches someone out. I remember where a bunch of Jason's friends smash up Riggins's car because Riggins slept with Lila. What was lovely about that is the calibration. They don't beat up Riggins, because he's the team's star fullback. Everyone would hate them if they injured the team's star fullback. So they just beat up his car. With him in it.

In real life, creeps do sometimes stalk pretty girls. But the pretty girl's boyfriend rarely kills them. And I don't believe there's a whole lot of body-hiding going on in small Texas towns. And so on. The idea that you hit someone twice and they're dead is straight out of TV -- it would probably take a lot more blows to kill the guy, and he'd be shouting, and there would be blood.

And in real life, when a small town high school coach gets a promotion to quarterback coach at a Big Ten school, he grabs his family and takes the job, and his guidance counselor wife easily gets a guidance counselor job at the Big Ten School. Case closed.

Now you could fill in these plotholes, or at least address them. For example, if Tyra and Landry had pulled out the guy's wallet to see who he was, and it turned out he's the Sheriff's son... then I can believe that they wouldn't want to call the cops.

And if Coach Taylor got in an argument with the wrong person at TMU and got fired and had to come back to Dillon; or if he hit a player; or if a rival at work found out about Smash's drug use and blackmailed him... I can believe he's back coaching Panther football.

But give me something. Throw me a bone here, people.

Bridget, you know my eddress...

UPDATE: Polly points out in Strong Female Lead that Tyra, who was willing to bean her mother's abusive boyfriend with a fireplace poker last season, utterly fails to protect herself from Stalker Boy in any way.

Any particular reason why? 'Cause otherwise Landry wouldn't need to protect poor helpless Tyra...

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Friend-Through-The-Blog, tv writer (THE ELEVENTH HOUR starring Patrick Stewart) and novelist (THE KINGDOM OF BONES) Stephen Gallagher has succumbed to the temptation of blogging. You can read his musings at Brooligan.

I don't know what a brooligan is, but it sounds rowdy.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007


This shot doesn't begin to do justice to the Boathouse Restaurant in the middle of Central Park tonight. Lisa and I were walking back from the Met through the park, marveling at the not being killed (we grew up here in the '70's), when we came upon a beautiful restaurant upon the placid waters of The Lake, its lights reflected in the waters, the laughter and clink and hubbub filtering out. We got a couple of glasses of wine at the very fine bar, and watched a gondolier make his way out onto the Lake with a family. Inside it's a cross between the New Orleans French Quarter and, say, East Hampton Point. Outside, you are transported somewhere entirely else, and yet you can see the skyscrapers of Central Park West over the tops of the trees.

A perfect summer night.

I bet it's lovely by day, but by night, it's magical.

And if I could figure out how to get the pictures off my Z500a, I could post them...

They have a spectacular collection of single malts, I might add. Denis, next time you're here, you really want to sip some whisky by the side of the Lake at night.

UPDATE: Oh, here's the picture off my phone. Thanks, Webs!

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I bought myself one of the PostSecret books. They're books (and a website) of postcard art projects that anonymous people wrote in telling their secret, whatever it is. They're really quite moving at times; other times, sweetly ridiculous.

What if you gave each of your minor characters a secret from PostSecret? And what if everything they said or did in a scene were in some way colored by that secret? A cop who hates the way he looks. A shop clerk who wishes someone would kiss her. An elderly witness who doesn't want to talk about the killing, but badly needs to talk about the woman he never had the guts to ask out forty years ago. Etc. The secret can surface in the scene, or stay under the surface. But it's there.

Bear in mind it's not enough to decide that the character has the secret. (This is the big pitfall to writing out in-depth character descriptions: you think you've created a character, but you may have only done so in your head.) You have to painstakingly make sure that some of the lines of dialog specifically reflect the secret in some way, tacit or explicit.

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Here's an arcane formatting question. We all know that (V.O.) indicates voice over -- any situation where the dialog we're hearing doesn't belong to the current scene, whether it's narration, or overlapping or prelapping dialog from a connected scene, or an audio recall from another scene, or whatever.

(O.S.) on the other hand suggests a character who is offscreen. Someone who, for example, is behind the point of view character and as yet unscene, or who is off to the right or left of the camera.

You can also used (FILTER) to indicate a character on the other end of the phone line.

But what about a character who is inside a car which is onscreen? The character is technically O.S. since we can't see him. But O.S. feels odd to me because we can see exactly where the voice is supposed to be coming from.

Pro monkeys: what would you use in a situation like this? (INSIDE THE CAR), while it couldn't be clearer, seems obtrusive.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

I have an animated property that I'm trying to sell. I made a 12-minute demo that was written and performed by some of the writers/performers from "Mystery Science Theater 3000." I produced and directed the cartoon.

It's good, and people in the business like it, but I'm just not a salesman. Can I ask you if you have any ideas as to how I could find a home for it?
There's not a huge direct market for short films. There are pay-per-click film sites like Moviola that show your film on the Internet; you get a small payment every time someone watches, unlike on Youtube where all you get is notoriety.

There are also short film distributors that sell shorts internationally. Ouat Media is good. Flow Distribution (associated with the CFC) might be good if you're Canadian. The Omni Media website seems a bit dated. I've also heard of Big Film Shorts and Apollo Cinema.

They'll take a big whack of any payments, but they might get your film out there, and you might get a bit of money for it.

If what you're looking for is to sell a TV show or feature based on your short film, well then, you simply need an agent or manager who deals with animators, e.g. Metropolis.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Stephen Fry has a long, erudite, witty and insightful post about being famous.

Nice to know he sounds the same in person, on the page, as he does in character.

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I watched about half an hour of 28 DAYS LATER, which was all I can take. Ironically, I had to stop watching because it is so effective a movie. Most horror movies are barely tongue in cheek. You're not really supposed to be horrified. Just have your scary bone tickled.

28 DAYS LATER is horrifying. Scary as all get out. And it's the quiet moments, where the dread sinks in, that are the worst. You start getting to like people, while knowing that probably one of them, at most, will make it to the end of the movie.

If you like horror, this one is just as good or even more powerful than DESCENT.

But I'm not going to watch any more of it, because I don't have to.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

We've been watching last season's 30 ROCK episodes -- I bailed out too early, after a shakey pilot. Gosh that show is funny. (I know: duh.)

30 ROCK seems particularly brilliant at plussing: adding additional funny material to a scene that's already funny. (As I understand it, plussing is a term from animation, where the staff try to come up with other funny things that could be going on in the frame.) Tina Fey's writing staff for 30 ROCK are constantly adding sight gags to other scenes. E.g., when they need to start a scene with Tracey Jordan alone in his personal office, he's not watching TV -- he's stepping on a giant sheet of bubblewrap. Because he can. Another scene starts with stress-eater Jack Donaghy putting cream cheese on his brownies; in the same episode, he has a whole conversation with Kenneth while absently eating Kenneth's lunch.

This is the sort of thing I found entirely absent from BACK TO YOU. The characters don't seem to have any existence when they're not mouthing setups and payoffs. They're not doing anything until they pop up, whack-a-mole style, for their jokes.

If you have a dialog scene, ask yourself what your character can be doing simultaneously that counterpoints the dialog or illuminates the character or both.

Plussing isn't just for comedy, either. You should do exactly the same for your drama scripts. Try to figure out what the character is doing that can illuminate who he or she is, and that can counterpoint what is being said in dialog.

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Q. I wanted to know your thoughts on this article.... For Canadian writers, could a WGA strike actually be beneficial?
I asked my manager in LA, and he said:
I strongly disagree with this one. Yes, everybody is rushing into production, but it's not for Canuck scripts. What I am seeing is buyers trying to cast up their movies. They are not looking for new projects as they won't get done in time for the strike. They are looking for actors and directors. Not much for writers.
So there you go. I'm not sure I'd be crazy about taking advantage of our brethren going out on the picket line to score a few gigs, anyway.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Quebec Writer's Federation has a mentorship program for fiction writers, poets, and aspiring screenwriters:
For the sixth year in a row, QWF is proud to offer the only English-language writing mentorship program in the province of Quebec. This four-month program pairs experienced, professional writers with emerging writers who are deemed ready by an independent jury to benefit concretely from one-on-one, intensive mentoring.
There's an application form (PDF) for both mentors and mentees. (There's a different one for mentats or Mentos, but what the deadline for those is.)

I'll be on the jury for screenwriters.

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Q. I have a whole scene at the end of an episode (very important to the story) where the character is doing something along with the words to a particular song. There is no dialogue or singing, just action. How would I write that in script format? - just write the lyrics and under each sentence where there is specific action briefly describe it?

EXAMPLE: " I could just cry..." = Character is slumped in a chair with tears slowly trickling down his flushed cheeks.
Technically, what I do if I need to put song lyrics into a scene is to adapt the dialog style, put it in italics, and make sure the line breaks come where they're supposed to.

I wouldn't try to micromanage the choice of song, though. There may be rights issues. There may be budget issues. Your reader may not relate to or know the song you're putting in the scene. In fact, they may hate it.

Also, don't micromanage the action. That's really going to annoy your director and your editor. What works on the page may fail utterly onscreen. You can't really tell till you have the edited sequence in the computer and you can try different songs up against it.

I also think it's really rare that a song expresses something so precise that no other song could do it. Certainly you don't need to have someone singing "I could just cry" when a character is crying. If you're going to go to the trouble of putting a specific song on, it should bring new information to the scene. E.g. when Joe Gideon is zipped up into his body bag, dead after his failed bypass, the soundtrack has Ethel Merman belting out cheerily, "There's No Business Like Show Business!" That's counterpoint. That might be worth mentioning.

Otherwise, I would just describe the tone of the music and let it go at that. "A sad song plays as..." Or forget it. Just describe the scene and let the editor throw on a CD for ya later.

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Q. I read in Crafty Screenwriting that trying to sell a screenplay for an existing film series is essentially a waste of time for a novice screenwriter because production companies already have writers to provide them with material.

Does the same idea apply for a title which is currently stuck in development hell? Logic seems to tell me that if a project has been halted, those involved might be more willing to explore new material, but I also have gathered that logic doesn't always have anything to do with what goes on in the film industry.
What I wrote in 2002 about spec pilots is a bit out of date now. These days, with the profusion of serial dramas, which are hard to spec, a lot of beginning writers are writing spec pilots. They are unlikely to actually sell them as pilots, but they are the writing samples people are reading these days.

However, it is almost always a waste of time to work on anything stuck in development hell. A project may be dead for any number of reasons. It may be burdened with all sorts of names the studio no longer likes -- producers, stars, directors, or writers they have contractual obligations to but now hate, etc. They may just think the concept is a dumb one now. There may be conflicting projects. If a project is dead in the water at a studio, there is rarely anything to do about it even if it's your show; a fortiori if it's not and they don't know you.

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