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



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Thursday, February 28, 2008

From the Globe and Mail today:
The Conservative government has drafted guidelines that would allow it to pull financial aid for any film or television show that it deems offensive or not in the public's best interest – even if government agencies have invested in them.

The proposed changes to the Income Tax Act would allow the Heritage Minister to deny tax credits to projects deemed offensive, effectively killing the productions. Representatives from Heritage and the Department of Justice will determine which shows or films pass the test.
The proposed Bill C-10 would be a devastating blow to Canadian culture.

The bill would allow the Government to pull financing after the money has been spent. You go and make your TV show, and then if a politician thinks he can make a name for himself by calling your show "degenerate," for example, you now owe the Government all the money they gave you. What producer is going to take a chance on bankruptcy by producing anything that might be the slightest bit offensive?

What shows could be considered "offensive" by a Conservative Heritage minister? Oh, JUNO, I imagine (teen sexuality and pregnancy). NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (violence). THERE WILL BE BLOOD (violence, inappropriate parenting). Um, what were the other Oscar nominated pictures again?

Could you guarantee to a bank that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN wouldn't get its financing pulled, what with the onscreen gaysex?

Realistically, the bill would mean almost no Canadian content will get made at all. No bank will cash flow a film or TV show if up to 25% of its financing can be yanked back. No bank is going to want to take a bet whether a given show will be made an example of by politicians.

The American stereotype of Canadians is "boring but nice." If any TV shows or movies get made under a Bill C-10 post-hoc censorship regime, they are guaranteed to be nice and boring.

Is that the kind of culture the Tories want? Not really. They watch violent and sexy movies too. They just don't want to pay for Canadian ones. They're happy to watch Bond movies from the US. And if Canada becomes a cultural backwater of the US, they're cool with that.

If you don't think that's a good idea, then write the Prime Minister. And the Minister of Heritage.

And the Leader of the Opposition.

And write your local Member of Parliament too; you can find him or her at http://canada.gc.ca/directories-repertoires/direct-eng.html.
He hinted then that the government was considering a “public policy” criterion for tax credit certification and a definition of what would be “contrary to public policy” that would make a production ineligible for film and TV tax incentives, as well as funds directed to sound recording and book publishing.
Awesome. So expect a lot more Céline Dion in your future, and a lot less Alanis Morissette.

More at Dead Things on Sticks here and here.

Oh, and here's a Facebook Group that Karen Walton started.

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Q. On the title page of the script I have the title, the by-line, and then the month/year and 'early draft'. Is it wise to put 'early draft' on there?
So not. I don't want to read your early draft. I want to read your best draft.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what draft it is. If it's good, it's good. If it's bad, it's bad. Don't put dates or number of draft on your script. That's for the production to do, if you get that far.
Q. Should I say anything of note in the e-mail besides, "I appreciate the response, here's the script."?
I'd say, "Thanks for asking to read my comedy GO POSTAL about a deranged postal worker who massacres his co-workers. I hope you like it. I look forward to your thoughts."

That's it. The script speaks for itself.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I am wondering about what I will do while I wait for my screenplay to sell. I love writing. ALL WRITING. It doesn't have to be glamorous or witty or dramatic for me to enjoy writing it.

So the question is this: Is it easier to break in by writing industrial videos? I would love writing that too. How does one go about getting that sort of work?
I don't think it's any easier. It is its own line of work. Most people who shoot industrial videos write their own scripts; there isn't really need or money for a writer. Nor will writing industrials teach you much about narrative fiction.

What you do while waiting for your screenplay to sell is to write ANOTHER screenplay. Keep writing. That way if they sort of like one script, and ask what else you have, you have something else to show them.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

I've been looking for a long time for somewhere online for people who have produced scripts to trade with each other for speccing purposes. I still haven't found one, so I just started one. It's Script Exchange. I hope it works!
Lemme know how that works out!

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Adrian Saker has a new blog about creativity. Household Name is about how to become one. He has a nice couple of thoughts about where ideas come from (and here's part 2).

Oh, and a very nice post about why you should buy my book. Thanks, Adrian!

I met Adrian when he hired me to story edit a very cool screenplay about a firehouse dog. If you're a producer, ask to read it.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Q. Do you see the value of doing a Masters in Business for someone who wants to end up in broadcasting and/or producing?
I know a couple of people who came out of UCLA's Anderson School of Management who went on to careers as studio execs, e.g. Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Presumably they got a leg up on the competition because of their MBA. My roommate from when I was in film school went to the ASM, and he's done a lot of serious number crunching for Fox, which is something he learned in his MBA program. I imagine there must be other jobs at networks -- e.g. in programming -- where number crunching comes in handy.

I also know some women who in those days, I suspect, got MBA's purely as a credential, so they wouldn't be perceived as "girls." I hope no one is doing that any more.

If you want to produce, then an MBA is probably useless. Not much statistical analysis in producing. The best thing you can do if you want to produce is go to work in the mailroom of a major agency, if you can get a job there. (The MBA might help you there, though the debt load probably won't help.) The second best thing would be to go work as a producer's assistant. If you absolutely must spend large sums of money, then you can go to the Stark Program at USC, or similar producing programs at NYU and UCLA.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Zhura.com is a brand new totally free Web-based, screenwriting tool that lets writers easily create ideas or complete scripts of all kinds, in a professional, industry-standard format, either privately, with invited friends of a group, or in a public forum. With Zhura, writers can collaborate and seek comments on their scripts, and finally say goodbye to expensive software and to the hassle of downloading uploading and backing up files. No more emailing colleagues for comments and edits, only to wonder which version of your script is the most recent.
Has anybody checked this out? What do you think?

How does it compare with Scripped?

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Playback synopsizes:
Heritage minister snatches [the decision of what to do with the CTF] away from the CRTC, telling Prime Time delegates that Ottawa, not Gatineau, will rework the troubled fund. Barrett to step down as chairman
In other words, the CRTC wasn't political enough, even though its commissioners obviously were not interested in the point of view of Canadian content creators. Now it is purely a Conservative Party decision.

Gee, I wonder, will they support Canadian content? Or tell Jim Shaw he can now have government protection for his business without having to give anything back?

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I got this question in the emailz:
Q. WHY BOTHER? SHOULD I TAKE THE RISK? As a mother of two little kids, I wonder if I should be spending my energy writing my screenplay. Maybe I should sleep at night instead. It feels like the odds are SO LOW that my screenplay will ever be produced.
I guess I'd have to say: if you're seriously asking that question, you should probably get some sleep. I don't write because I'm hoping it will get made. I write because I have to. I'm really a horrible person to be around when I'm not being creative. I take umbrage. I bark at dogs. Because my stuff sometimes gets made, people often pay me to write it, or buy it later on, and so I get to write all the time instead of just after work or when everyone is asleep. And for that, I consider myself blessed.

So, if all you really need is permission to skip the sleep -- if the question is really, "Why am I skipping sleep to write screenplays that may never get made," then consider yourself permitted.

But if you are skipping sleep, don't write something you think will get made. Write something you love. Then, at a minimum, you'll still have the love. The odds of a first-timer breaking in are bad, but they're much better for someone writing something new and fresh and unique than someone writing a spec blockbuster. My agents always used to be after me to write blockbusters, and they never got bought; and I was working in the industry, so I had a sense of what might get bought.

You know, another thought is that you might not want to write screenplays. If what you love is the writing, write a novel. You can publish those yourself. And it's probably easier to get a novel published than to get a script bought. And writing a novel is a heck of a lot of fun. And you have a finished product when you're done. Granted, fewer people read novels than see movies, but fewer people read scripts than read novels...

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

I spent the past 5 hours pitching two of my projects to about a dozen producers in the Telefilm "Grand Flirt" project.

Martine asked why I don't do leave-behinds. Partly it's because email leaves you with proof that you gave a project to someone, which a handout doesn't. And I hate schlepping paper. And paper is easier to lose. And paper looks raggedy after it's come home in a shoulder bag.

But the best reason is that after you've pitched your story out loud about twelve times, it's a better story. Before I send my projects off to the people I pitched it to, it's getting a little rewrite, you bet. I was pitching lots of stuff that doesn't happen in it. Yet.

You can even calibrate your story to a specific producer -- after you've heard what they're looking for.

PItch your stories! They'll get better!

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We've been watching Season Four of THE WEST WING.

It's not as good as Season Two. We watched THE WEST WING's Season Two opener, "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen," the other day. That is about as good as television gets.

When we started Season Four, we skipped the two part "20 Hours in America" and went to ep. 4.03, "College Kids." And we were shocked just how bad it was -- more like someone's weak WEST WING spec that had accidentally been filmed. Story lines going every which way, scene buttons that didn't have anything to button. The episode was all over the place.

Season Four was not Aaron Sorkin's best year. This is the One With the Drug Arrest. It's possible that coke does not actually help you concentrate.

What was striking last night was watching 4.10, "Arctic Radar," last night. From the get-go, you can see Sorkin's got his A game back. The stories have themes. There's a mix of comedy and seriousness. There are those little touches for political junkies:

SAM: The President is giving a speech, and Toby needs help writing it.
WILL: When's the speech?
SAM: January 20th.
WILL: Is the President giving two speeches on that day?
SAM. No. Just the Inauguration.

It's a lovely Sorkin trick: give the minimum information so the in-the-know audience can gasp, thinking, "Oh my God! That's the Inauguration." Then follow it up with the explanation so the rest of the audience doesn't get lost. He does the same thing with the 25th Amendment. He has four or five characters refer to invoking the 25th before explaining that it is the Amendment that allows the President to "devolve" his duties upon the Vice President, or in the absence of a VP, on the next person in the line of succession.

Having got his A game back, Sorkin ends the ep with Toby worrying to Will Bailey that he's lost it. The magic isn't coming into the writing. He doesn't know where to look for it, because he never knew where it came from. "I thought I was one of those guys." Bailey reassures him that he is one of those guys, he's just exhausted.

Seven episodes after writing a crap episode, Sorkin writes a writer character wondering if he's lost his touch. And he does it with his regular (but no longer inevitable) brilliance.

I've asserted that "TV is not a medium for personal expression." In one sense it isn't. You can only write what belongs in the show you're writing. But the best writers are always writing from their heart. Sorkin isn't afraid to put his own fears onscreen. It makes for a strong ending for the show.

Always write from the heart, whether you're writing about moms or cops or demons from the maw of Hell. Find what moves you. Write your own fears. Write your flaws. That's how you become a star.

I'm starting a three-week writing room on Monday, breaking story on eps 1.04-1.10 of my pay cable series. We'll be doing our best to put our hearts into it. It's a blessing to have the chance to do it.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Partly as fallout from the strike, NBC says it is ditching the September-to-May television season and going to an "endless season" where they put shows on when they're ready.

If the other networks follow suit, it means no more lavish "upfront" presentations of next year's shows to advertisers. It means no staffing season as such. Most importantly, it means no pilot season. Instead of every production company in town scrambling to grab the A list directors and cast for their pilots, they can cast and hire who's available now; and a couple of months later, if that pilot hasn't been picked up, another production company will have those guys available for their pilot.

It also means that shows will be coming on the air at different times of the year. Right now all the new shows come on in the Fall, and compete for viewers while they're finding their feet. In an "endless season," there will only be a few shows on at the same time, which means it's easier for viewers to check them out.

All of this is good news for the medium. The only people I can think of whom it does not benefit are B listers who previously got work because no one else was available during pilot crunch...

UPDATE: However, the other nets will continue with upfronts.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Paul Graham is a venture capitalist in the software industry. He often writes clever, informal essays about how to start companies, design useful software, etc.; and these essays often have good advice for screenwriters. (My degree is in Computer Science, and all that programming has turned out to be useful in writing a well-structured screenplay without a lot of wasted effort.) Here's an essay on what successful new ideas in software seem to have in common. Headline: good new ideas often look wrong.:
I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.
These point all apply to screenwriting, and if you've been reading this blog for a while, you can probably see how they apply. So actually drawing the corrolary moral for screenwriters is left as an exercise; I hope readers will post their solution in the comments.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Q. You mentioned before that getting a job at a literary agency is a good idea for a baby writer. A short while ago I applied to one and when they asked me why I wanted to work for them, I'd said I was a writer trying to learn as much as I could from the biz, by being involved in the biz and by reading as many scripts as I could. That seemed to scare the agent off, and the assistant that told me that I wasn't getting an interview was nice enough to call me and tell me that, though my resume looked good, it was because I seemed like I just wanted the job to break in as a writer. Well, isn't that why anyone wants a job? To make connections? Or is the problem that we should be saying that we want to be agents as well?

I now have some interviews coming up with other agencies and I don't want to scare them away too, but I also would prefer to be honest.

How do I phrase my intentions?
Um, how about: "I long to be an agent. I think I would love making a living reading great material and selling it to producers. I've loved negotiating ever since I was 4 years old. I haggle at Dollarama. I haggle at the Post Office. And I can't go to enough parties and meet enough new people."

I'd hesitate to say the agency is wrong. Someone who wants to be an agent probably makes the best agency assistant. They'll stay later and go beyond the call of duty more. I think a lot of employers in any field will be uncomfortable if you tell them that their position is a your waystation to something else that you actually want to do.

On the other hand, maybe you'd make a great agent and you just need exposure to the job. Maybe your writing skillz will help them find good material, and you'll be less antsy to get out of the assistant's chair and into a junior agent gig than an agent-wannabe would be. Maybe it would take you ten years to get your writing career going, and in the mean time you're the best assistant they ever had.

Whether you tell the naked truth or dress it up in a seductive narrative, of course, between you and your gods. But this is, ahem, show business...

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Q. When do you think would be a good time to start sending query letters to agents? I don't know whether to email queries now and risk getting lost in the the "back to work" frenzy, or send them out in a couple of weeks and risk bumping myself out of a possibly (probably) truncated TV staffing season.
I would wait at least a month for the post-strike frenzy to subside. I doubt any agents are reading potential new clients right now. They're trying to get their current clients back to work.

Generally you need to get your stuff to agents three months before you need representation. During staffing season you cannot get an agent, for example. You need to have your agent in place prior to staffing season so she's working on staffing you.

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Q. I feel like I know 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and would be best writing a spec for that particular show. But is it a good show to write a spec on? It's successful and a lot of people know the show, but the humor is pretty off-beat and unique. Will agents/producers be able to find the good writing in it and be confident that I could write for a more standard comedy, or should I just pick a show that uses the standard sit-com formula?
The standard wisdom is you write two spec episodes of hit shows that everyone's watching -- ideally shows that have survived their first year but haven't been overexposed. These days many people are asking to read spec pilots.

I just spent a couple of weeks reading about 40 writers for my writing room. I was looking for fresh thinking, so what most grabbed me were the good spec pilots.

The second thing that grabbed me were convincing episodes, spec or not. I read a dead-on ALIAS that could easily have been an episode of the show. I read a cop show script that really played with my sympathies and surprised me. And it had heart.

Most of the spec episodes I read did not impress me. They were plotty police procedurals, and lacked heart. The writers might have been able to do more with a pilot close to their heart. On the other hand, they could easily have failed worse. Nothing is harder to write than a pilot, except possibly a second episode I've done six or eight passes on my pilot for this pay cable show. Certainly if you haven't written much TV before, learn how to write an episode of something on the air before you attempt a pilot. If writing a spec episode is like flying a plane, then writing a spec pilot is like flying a plane you just built yourself from scratch.

So I think you're right to start with a spec episode. And right to spec something that's not a procedural. It's surprisingly hard to show off your special wonderfulness with a CSI.

Now, how about CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM? It's offbeat, it's semi-improvised, not everyone gets it... but it has distinctive voices. And you love it. Yeah, go for it.

Because ultimately what I or anyone else hiring is looking for is great writing. You can really show off your writing in a CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. So much of a police procedural is about procedure, the voices can get lost. (If you are writing a spec police procedural, make sure the voices don't get lost. And make sure the show has heart!)

Spec what you love to watch. You'll have a better sense if you're getting the characters and the template right; and you'll enjoy yourself. If you're not enjoying yourself writing, we probably won't enjoy reading you.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The WGA strike is over. Thank God.

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Lee Lofland, of POLICE PROCEDURE AND INVESTIGATION, A HANDBOOK FOR WRITERS, has a nifty blog about, you guessed it, police procedure. He also answers your questions. Drop him a line and tell him I sent ya.

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My third screenplay received mostly positive feedback from a
respected L.A script consultant, so I am encouraged.
I don't know what a "respected LA script consultant" really is. But I would beware of relying on the positive feedback from any script consultant.

A script consultant, a good one, can tell you what's not working in your script. But whether they give you encouragement probably has more to do with their personality than your script.

When I used to read scripts for a fee, I would talk about the parts of the script that worked, and the parts that didn't. I tried to avoid evaluating it as "good" or "bad," except in the really rare cases where I read something that I thought could be set up. And then my encouragement looked like this: "I'd like to send this to a couple people, if you don't mind." The rest of the time, my critique was neutral. Because I didn't want anyone quitting their day job because some guy in LA said their script was good. And because most of the scripts I was reading were not very good.

Other script consultants like to say something nice. Because, you know, they're nice.

When you hire someone, and then they say nice things about you, it's not clear whether you're paying for evaluation or encouragement. The only encouragement that really means something for sure is when people spend their own time and money on you. When an agent takes you on, that's meaningful, because she doesn't get paid until you do. When a producer asks to option your script, even for a nominal payment, he's spending his time on your project.
As Jane Espenson also said in her blog, if you look back on your old stuff and it is wooden and stilted, that means you're getting better- and this is a good thing.
See, that's the kind of encouragement that really means something: when you, yourself, know that you're getting better.

So long as you're getting better, at some point, you will get good enough to make a living at it. A guy wrote in who wanted to know if he should quit after a year and a half. I did not support myself solely from writing for my first ten years in showbiz. So you have to be willing to stay in it for the long haul. But if you keep working at it, with clear eyes and a full heart -- if you need to make it -- you'll make it.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Q. Where did you do your research for Bon Cop/ Bad Cop? Did you read books, go online, or did you hang out with real cops? I need to better understand police procedure and investigation (specifically in relation to how they go about identifying dead bodies...) and I do not have access to anyone who is a cop.
You think I did research???

In a big popcorn movie like BON COP BAD COP, police procedure is not really the point. I mean, we had the guys locking the Hockey Commissioner in the trunk. To the degree there was police procedure, it was straight out of LAW & ORDER. And it wasn't a very high degree.

If you're looking for accuracy, there are many, many books. I own a nice book on forensic entomology, for example, that tells you all about the different bugs that feed off corpses, and when they arrive.

A quick look at Amazon, googling for "police procedure," brings the fine book featured in this post: POLICE PROCEDURE AND INVESTIGATION, A GUIDE FOR WRITERS. Why, I think I might buy it myself.

Books! Yes, remember books? Useful things. Obtainable at libraries and online. Oh, and at stores.

You don't need a cop to organize a ride-along, by the way. Most police departments have public relations officers or information officers who will be happy to put you in a squad car. They want you to get it right, and they want you to understand what cops go through. Just call the (non-emergency) number for your local police officer and tell them you're a screenwriter working on a cop story, and who can you talk to about a ride-along.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Jason Sanders writes in:
While stumbling around the intertubes, I came across this site via Lifehacker.com: 10 Universities offering free writing courses and it looks fairly comprehensive. More specifically, they list Steve Barnes' free UCLA writing course as well and it looks like a great resource for spec-monkeys to study.
Thanks, Jason!

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Scripped is web-based beta software for formatting and writing your script. Like Google Applications, you can do your work from a whole mess of different computers, and it's always available to you on the internets. (Also, like Google Apps, if your internet is down, you're hosed.)

Has anyone tried this? Any catch to this apparent bargain?

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According to a letter from Patrick Verrone on United Hollywood today, the WGA leadership has reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP. If the membership approves it, and management doesn't renege in some way, the strike is over.

I'm in New York, where the sigh of relief is audible.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Video Games Live puts video games up on the big screen with live orchestral music... is that entertainment or culture? Yes.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

In the ongoing hearings about the Canadian Television Fund,
Cable giant Rogers broke silence on CTF, telling CRTC that distributors need a separate fund to turn out shows that will click with audiences...
I don't need to read the rest of the Playback article to know where that's headed. This is Jim Shaw's dumb idea that there should be one television fund supporting "entertainment" programming and one supporting "cultural" programming.

The hidden agenda here is that the "entertainment" subsidy will be media-giant-controlled rather than artist-driven, and will mean more fresh, original programming like CANADIAN IDOL, e.g. SURVIVOR: MUSKOKA and THE AMAZING CANADIAN RACE. Meanwhile the "cultural" subsidy will only go to "worthy programming" like ANNE OF GREEN GABLES remakes.

Five years down the road, they'll axe the cultural programming on the grounds that no one is watching the shows.

Let's get one thing straight. Culture = Entertainment. Entertainment = Culture.

Shakespeare was writing for the audience. Not for the Queen. (Ben Jonson was writing masques for the Queen, and none of them are still put on. Look what happens to "cultural" programming.) That's why you have the moments of high drama and the detours for silliness. He was writing for the groundlings and the box seats.

Aristophanes was simultaneously trying to win awards (yep, the Greeks had awards ceremonies) and pack the crowds in. Euripedes, same thing.

A cultural event is only cultural because it affects the culture of the place it occurs. That means people have to see it. If a play is not entertaining, no one sees it. If no one sees it, it does not have an impact on the culture. It neither preserves nor disturbs the culture.

SLINGS AND ARROWS is successful cable TV. It is also successful highbrow culture (which satirizes highbrow culture). TRAILER PARK BOYS is successful TV. It is also successful lowbrow culture. If you don't believe me, wait until "the boys" come round for a signing and see how many people are lining up in the cold. If people waiting in the cold to see actors isn't a sign of vibrant culture, you tell me what is.

The Academy Awards are a cultural event -- a cultural event explicitly intended to sell tickets in an otherwise dead part of the year. (Why do you think they hold them in February?)

All entertainment is cultural. What we see on TV and in the movies and hear on the radio affects how we perceive ourselves and the society we live in. Cop shows tell us what the laws are and what is supposed to happen when they are broken. Doctor shows help us deal with our fear of decrepitude.

Culture = Entertainment. Entertainment = Culture.

As soon as the cats in Ottawa get that straight, we'll have a better Canadian cultural policy.

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For research, I watched the first two episodes of BOOMTOWN a little while ago. It's another cop series set in LA, from a few years ago. It had an interesting hook, in theory. We see each story not only from the points of view of the cop and the prosecutor, but from the victim and the perp as well.

It was all well enough crafted -- your basic state of the art cop show. But it missed the obvious opportunity, I felt. It failed to deliver the goods on the hook. The reason why you'd tell a story from multiple perspectives is to see how things look different to different people. Akira Kurosawa's film RASHOMON is the "type fossil" for this kind of narrative. You see the same event, but in one version Joe is just defending himself, in another he's the aggressor, and so forth. You know, the way life is. There may be one actual reality, but everyone sees different things happen.

(The "Rashomon episode" is something you can pitch to almost any show. I pitched one on GALIDOR: DEFENDERS OF THE OUTER DIMENSION. We also did a "Two Kirks" episode, and I'm doing a "Two Kirks" on my current show in developement. Every sf show does "The Two Kirks". But I digress.)

I didn't see any of that in the first two episodes. Maybe they did it later. But I'm guessing that wasn't part of the template. They couldn't have failed to think of doing that. That must have been a decision made early on.

Boy, cop shows fail to pull me in these days... I am just very, very tired of serial killers, investigators, etc. They just are not part of my life in any way. (Whereas the heroes in HEROES do feel part of my life...)

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There are meetings Saturday for all WGA members, for the leadership to explain where the negotiations are. That sounds promising. Until now, there hasn't been anything to explain.

The game's not over, though, so here are your Wednesday picketing events.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What are the most interesting DVD commentary tracks from a writer or filmmaker's perspective? Joss Whedon's commentary is always insightful. I've heard very good things about anything by Robert Rodriguez, especially the El Mariachi/Desperado double edition, which includes his "10 Minute Film School". And,
The commentary track for Christopher Nolan's zero-budget debut film FOLLOWING offers some good insight into the zero-budget filmmaking process.

On a higher budget, John Frankenheimer tended to offer a little more nuts-and-bolts stuff than the average director commentary. I remember that Frankenheimer's commentary on RONIN was worth listening to.
What great DVD tracks have you sampled?

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Rumors have it that the WGA and the moguls have reached tentative agreement in their "informal negotiations." ("Informal" means "without Nick Counter getting in the way.") We'll see if this is another negotiating tactic or the real deal. But this from Nikki Finke suggests why it might be the real deal:
Some of New York City’s independent film companies reached interim agreements with the WGAE and WGAW. They resume business immediately. Agreements have been signed with GreeneStreet Films, Killer Films, Open City Films, and This Is That corporation. Other side deals have been signed with: The Film Department, Intermedia, RKO Productions Inc, Lionsgate, Marvel Studios, Yari Film Group, Anonymous Content/Overt Operations, The Weinstein Company, United Artists, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Spyglass Entertainment, MRC, Jackson Bites, Mandate Films, and Worldwide Pants.
These guys are making movies and TV now. Everybody else is sitting on their thumbs.

This shows what happens when creative people stick together and support each other. WGA members: stay strong, you're winning. Aspiring monkeys: this week may be your last chance to walk the picket line, make friends and ask for story advice from pro monkeys.

Maybe I'll get to go to an Oscar party after all.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Q. Would a successful writer ever consider working with someone like me, who has no experience but a lot of potential? If I had a great idea that you felt could attract attention and you could get made, would you go to bat for it?
I've occasionally optioned a script I wanted to rewrite. The second-to-last screenplay I worked on was something by a non-pro writer. I found it, then attached a producer, who got money to hire me to rewrite it.

But I don't partner with other writers unless I feel that the other writer is bringing the same amount of clout and experience and bankability. If I partner with another writer, I've just cut my payday in half -- for the run of the show. So now the show has to be twice as lucrative -- or half as much effort -- or at least twice as likely to go -- as a show I came up with myself. Otherwise I'm shortchanging myself.

While a great idea is certainly valuable, if the other writer is not a veteran, I could end up doing the heavy lifting making the idea into a TV show, and turning that into scripts and season arcs. Your idea might have taken you five minutes. The development could take a year or two. If I'm going to spend a year or two developing something, I'd rather it be something I own completely.

So I very rarely partner with other writers, and then only with other potential showrunners.

Producers do sometimes hire me as a story editor to advise a writer -- I give notes, he executes them. I'm not doing the heavy lifting, I'm just reading and critiquing.

Alternately, networks often ask senior writers to take over a show that a junior writer has created. The junior writer might stay on the show as a creative consultant and write a share of the scripts. The senior writer is doing the heavy lifting, but is compensated accordingly. (That happens surprisingly often in Canada.)

I don't know any pro monkeys who take submissions. The script I optioned came to me through a class I was teaching. When a producer sends me a script, I'll read it, because I know there's a professional producer who sees a commercial future for the concept. It's validated.

Your best bet for getting your stuff read is still to get an agent, or one of the back doors: writer's assistant, etc.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Seems that US nets are buying Canadian shows THE LISTENER, SOPHIE and THE BORDER. That's after the already-announced sale of FLASHPOINT, which raised a bit of a kerfuffle.

What does this mean? First of all, that the nets are not sure how long the strike will go on, and have realized that even if the strike ends tomorrow (Insha'Allah), it will be a while before they can get new stuff produced.

Second, that US nets have decided that at least some Canadian TV series are good enough to air in the US. At any rate, they're better than US reruns. I hope this opens the door to Canadian TV series continuing to air after the strike it over. THE BORDER is pretty good TV.

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