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



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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I read in today's Playback that Stratford, known for its theatre festival, is launching a digital media festival. Banff keeps sending me promo material about their digital media festival. Is anyone actually making money off digital media? I mean, aside from people in the festival business?

Part of the problem is, presumably, that people expect things on the Internet to be free. They'll tolerate banner ads, and even ads at the beginning of a video, if they have to. But advertising doesn't scale well. The really lucrative ads are corporate sponsorships, and you have to be a smash hit, à la Têtes à Claques or 30 Second Bunny Theater, to get it.

People also seem to want things on the Internet to be short. Anything longer than, say, 6 minutes feels interminable on the Net. I hate to watch TV shows on my computer, though I'll happily watch the same shows on my TV. On my computer, I keep wanting to go check the Wikipedia or read news articles about Miley Whatsername that I don't even really care about. It's like the computer actually hurts my attention span.

Lots of producers are out there trying to figure out the Internet. They rarely intend to pay you. Because it's a new business, they generally want you to "invest" your time in the project, so that at some later date you'll get a chunk of the huge windfall your little flash animation or whatever will generate.

Sometimes old school producers will try digital media just to show they're hip. The results are often Quarterlife.

There doesn't really seem to be a business model here, is there? Just wildcatting.

Anyone know anything different?

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Q. Do you have to write into phone) after every line of dialogue into a phone?

JOHN
(into phone)
I'm talking into the phone.


A professor of mine absolutely requires that I do that.
Well, I don't like to do that. However a showrunner friend of mine insists that it keeps things clear. So I actually do it even though I don't like to.

However, I put (INTO PHONE) on the character line so it doesn't take up space:

JOHN (INTO PHONE)
I'm talking into the phone.


If we hear the offscreen person's dialog, then her character name would be followed by (ON PHONE) or, old school, (FILTER):

JANE (ON PHONE)
Like, duh, yo.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

I could swear I'd written up a whole post about this, or possibly read one, but I can't find it, so...

JDC asks me how to format telephone dialog when you aren't meant to hear the offscreen character's voice.

Really, this is all about making sure the reader feels the amount of time your onscreen character isn't speaking. I'll usually go with something like this (and forgive the HTML):
Joe picks up the phone.

JOE
Yo.

He listens.

JOE
No, I don't think so.
(...)
I SAID I didn't THINK so!
He listens, pacing, getting progressively more nervous.

JOE
Can't you for once gimme a break???

He slams the phone down.
You can use a line of action just to delay ("he listens") or to characterize the delay ("getting progressively more nervous").

If you just want a little delay, use a parenthetical -- (beat) or even just an ellipsis (...) works fine.

Note that just embedding an ellipsis in the dialog itself doesn't work well:

JOE
No, I don't think so. (...) I said I
didn't THINK so.


It doesn't really hold the eye long enough to give the effect of someone else talking. One key to writing transparently is not requiring the reader to think too much. He should just be swept along in the read. So often you'll find yourself unpacking moments on the page just so that they take longer to read -- white space is your friend there. When it comes to dialog, don't be afraid to make pauses where you need them. The reader isn't acting the lines out for you in his head, he's just reading like you'd read a book. So you have to make the performance happen for him in the blacks.

UPDATE: Ahhh ... alert reader Jason Sanders points out that John August recently answered this very question. And with much better formatting than I, I must say.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Old Bailey, London's famous Central Criminal Court, has posted four centuries of trial records online, including transcripts. Want to read true stories of very, very bad people? Check it out.

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"Fast, cheap and good: pick two" runs the proverb. 

John Gaspard likes to focus on the fast and cheap, and he's written two books interviewing quick'n'dirty moviemakers. Now he's got a blog where he does more interviews. He's got Roger Corman, one of the Blair Witch guys, and some low-down filmmakers you may never have heard of ... but they make films.
Check it out!

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Friday, April 25, 2008

I just handed in about 60 pages of story: breakdowns for all ten episodes of my pay cable series (including the three I've already written), averaging about six pages each. That's four stories per episode (one for each of the core cast), so 24 fairly detailed story breakdowns. They're not technically breakdowns since I don't have everything split into acts -- which I would normally do even though there are no acts in pay cable. But if you are the network, and you want to know what the series is, it's all there.

(And if you are not the network, alas, I can't show it to you.)

This is not how shows are done in the States, of course, or even in Canadian broadcast. If you've been reading Rogers' blog, you know about shooting a pilot, getting a greenlight, then hiring yourself up a writing room. Our process started with a pitch bible. Then the network kindly commissioned a pilot script, then two more scripts. Then we had a three week writing room with two other writers and a writing assistant. Then I spent another month or so reworking the stories we'd come up with in the room. The point of this unorthodox system is to allow one writer to write all (or almost all) the episodes of a short season of television himself. I am constantly amazed at the networks' faith in me on this series. 

Now if you will all just kindly say a little prayer for me, or chat up Lady Fortune, or sacrifice a black lamb to the Joss... one day I may be turning these breakdowns into scripts. 

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mostly I'm stressing about Pennsylvania, but a reader writes in:
Q. How detailed do you have to be when describing small talk going on around your protagonist, but that he is not involved in?

For example, I have a character sitting at his desk, with co-workers talking just outside his cubicle about what they will be doing on the weekend. The character can overhear it all. The point I want to get across is that the character at his desk is not involved/included or sociable with anybody at work, and that he has nothing to do on the weekend.

Do I actually have to write out what each co-worker will be doing on the weekend, AND all their small talk to establish how well connected they all are? Or can I just write in the pros "they discuss their weekend"?
Really it depends whether you, the story teller, consider what they say to be important to your story.

If we're supposed to know what they're saying, then write it out. For example, if your character has just found out he has cancer, then we probably want to hear the co-workers talking about their summer vacation. You know, for irony. In your example, you're trying to build counterpoint between your hero and his co-workers, so you ought to write it out. 

If we don't need to know what they're saying, then it's fine to say, his co-workers babble on AD LIB about their vacations.

If they're talking on-screen, you probably need the former. If they're offscreen you have a choice: write out the dialogue (with (O.C.) after the character name, on the same line, thus: KERMIT (O.C.)); or write AD LIB.

If it's just background walla, then you don't need much at all: The crowd BUZZES in the b.g.

(Walla is the term for indistinct noise of people talking.)

Remember, in all these cases, make your choice according to what you want the reader to absorb. If you want them to hear what people are saying, you have to give them dialogue to read. If you just want them to know that people are talking, then just say that. 

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

We're seeing the grandparents Monday, on our way back up to Montreal from New York, crossing the George Washington Bridge on our way up to I-87.

Can anyone recommend a yummy family-friendly restaurant not too far from the Palisades Parkway, anywhere North of the GWB, or anything off the 17? Anything in Fort Lee, Teaneck, Paramus?

Spicy and non-chain is a plus.

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As you know, one of the Three Most Important Things I Teach is how to refine your story by simply telling it out loud.

I was mentioning that advice to someone I might story edit, and she mentioned recording it.

I think telling your story to someone is still probably the best way to do it. If you tell your story to a tape recorder, you may get hung up on how stupid you sound to yourself, or how you're phrasing things. It might be easier to simply tell it out loud to yourself without recording it.

But this is a blog about writing tools, and this is a variation on the tool. Try telling your story to people you know. Try telling it to yourself. And try telling it to a tape recorder and then listening to it. (No doubt there's some way you can use your computer, right, Hive Mind?) See which works best for you!

And then do it.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Q. How much time is there between the end of taping an episode of a single camera, half-hour comedy, and the point in which it airs?
I turned this question over to comedy maven Ken Levine, who writes:
A. The actual answer is it depends on the air schedule. Sometimes you have months, other times mere days (with people working double overtime). It's faster now because the editing is all done digitally but for a single camera comedy I'd say five days minimum from when it wraps. A multi-camera show -- three.
So there you go.
Q. Speaking of hiatus, do you think that most shows will cut into the start of their vacation time to finish episodes ordered by their network to complete the season?
Well, of course. In show business, "vacation time" just means "when they're not paying you to work." If the network orders more episodes to finish the season, you keep working on them, and if that means working straight through to next summer, then you won't be summering in San Miguel.
Q. I was curious about this because now that the strike is over, I'm trying to pinpoint the time a particular show's staff will go on summer hiatus.
You might try calling the production office. Call the studio that produces the show. Ask for the "OFFICE production office" if that's the show you want to talk to. The studio receptionist will direct you to the production office receptionist. He or she may very well know when the hiatus is. I don't think it's a big secret; he or she may very well tell you even without an explanation.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Q. I am a screen writing major currently writing cover letters to apply for internship positions on a few television shows. One of which is a very popular cable series, and I find myself cramming in the most cliche comments. How can I market myself with out boasting, how I can show I'm a fan with out totally kissing up to the produce?
I am not sure the produce minds being kissed up to. Vegetables so rarely get any respect.

(And there's a gay joke in there too but I'll leave it as an exercise.)

There are some departments I can't entirely help you on. For example, how to write a respectful, enthusiastic, stylish letter. If you know how to express yourself, express yourself. Commit some of your personality to the letter. Make sure there's a person in there. Put some thought into it. Saying "enthusiastic" is not nearly as impressive as showing your enthusiasm by crafting the perfect letter for each position and each production company.

Do your research. Google the recipient. Cater to their extra-curricular interests.

Shotgunning resumes is almost never effective. To break through the crowd of letters and emails, you need to find a way to set yourself apart without seeming goofy or sophomoric.

Remember, you are writing to a human being who is trying to find another human being to spend a great deal of time with. It ought to go without saying that coming across as sloppy (manual spell-checking is crucial) or annoying won't get you the job. But you can also fail by being too formal -- by treating your addressee as a potential employer, not as a human being, or by coming across like a job candidate rather than a human being.

Good luck!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Q. How do you deal with FLASHBACKS that are more then one scene? In the scene heading for the first scene, you would write FLASHBACK. But when it transitions to the next scene, would you write FLASHBACK in the scene heading again?
It's all about the clarity.

In some screenplays, where I have only one or two flashbacks, I might just use the FLASHBACK TO: transitional, and not mess with the slugline.

I have a screenplay with five timelines, where the timelines are critical and complex. So I use two devices. I use FLASHBACK TO: and BACK TO: as transitions between scenes in different timelines; and I put the year into the header, in bold, e.g.:

EXT. JACKIE'S STREET - FORT POLK, LOUISIANA - DAY (1971)

Note that like most people these days, I don't use CUT TO:'s. So any transitional stands out.

The rule of thumb as always is: what makes your story clearest without slowing down the read?

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm off to Toronto tomorrow morning, to attend the WGC Awards and have a few meetings. If you're going to the Awards Monday night (and if you're in Toronto, you really should), feel free to come up and say hi!

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Q. How should you handle characters who have been in the show before, but only briefly? Do you need to remind the reader how they fit into everything, ie:
Jake walks over to Ellen, the waitress/one-night stand who is now carrying his baby.
Should I try to find a way to fit it in the dialog?
No, actually, I think what you've done here is the Right Thing. It's concise, it doesn't derail the read or slow it down. Don't put exposition in dialog unless you think the audience won't remember her, either. Clarity and precision are good. Don't be afraid to do anything for clarity so long as it doesn't bounce the reader out of the read.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

A reader responds to my earlier post on how to ask your boss to read your script:
I think on the whole, you are right. Asking questions to pique someone's interest into reading your stuff is a good way of going.

But having worked on a TV network show and gotten a freelance script out of it, nothing beats being direct with the writers on staff that you have a good relationship with. The whole point of having a showrunner read your stuff isn't so he can give you notes - when he reads your stuff, you want him to have no notes, and you want him to like it so much that he will consider you for a freelance spot or staffing. There is no other point to a showrunner reading your stuff - because good notes can be had from other sources without the high stakes.

My advice to your reader would be to make sure the the script is in tip top shape, and then pass it along to whomever he gets along best with on staff (and if that's the showrunner, even better). Being direct and saying "I would like to be considered for the freelance spot" also helps people gauge where your interest lies. If the relationship is good and the boss is cool, they will not feel threatened and will want to give you an opportunity.

The key in all of this, however, is to be ready to show good material and ready to pitch.
I guess there's a difference between being a p.a. and being a writer's assistant. As a writers' assistant, you're entitled to ask someone to read a script of yours, so long as they're not too busy. Writers' assistants are supposed to be writers themselves. If you're a p.a., you're a step further away from the writing room, and it probably pays to be a little bit less in people's faces about getting them to read stuff.

Patrick is definitely right about getting having a great script ready to show. With most people, you get one read. One. It better be good.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Q. How do you make a character super-smart, supposing for the moment that you are not yourself super-smart?
Well, you have the advantage over him. You can take the time to think things through. Just have him do things instinctively that you would only think to do after some thought. Have him say things it would take you time to think of, and so forth.

You can also have him set up elaborate plans that most of us wouldn't have the confidence to try, and have them work. In real life, intelligent people usually try to make things as simple as possible. But a sure sign of high intelligence is elaborate plans that go off the way they are meant to. E.g. the D-Day deception, the maneuvers at Cannae, the landings at Inchon, the Great Train Robbery, the rescue at Entebbe.

You can also demonstrate high intelligence by having the character able to draw conclusions from his keen powers of observations, whether of forensic detail (see Holmes, Sherlock) or of personality (see "I did not have sex with that woman").

A great rabbi was once asked how he always had the perfect anecdote to illustrate his judgments. He said, "I went to visit a man who had targets painted on the walls of his barn. In the middle of each target was an arrow. I asked him how he became such a good archer. Simple, he said. I shoot the arrow, then I paint the target." You're telling the story, so just pick the situations in which he can shine.

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Q. Are there classes other than screenwriting that will help my screenwriting career?
I discuss this in my books, but the two most useful classes I ever took were:
  • An editing class with editing great Richard Marks; and
  • Acting training with the brilliant acting teacher Joanne Baron.
Editing teaches you what you really need in a scene. Acting teaches you to live the characters as you write them.

Generally, shooting your own short films is a good idea. You get a real sense of how your action and dialog translate from the page to the screen. You learn how a character sometimes needs to say in dialog; and conversely, you learn where you really need to make sure the audience is clear on what's going on.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Matthew Baldwin has a clever, thoughtful post on his blog DEFECTIVE YETI about the masochistic pleasures of LOST, with a neat digression on how you never really level up on WoW.

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Q. I recently got hired onto the staff of a scripted comedy TV show as an office production assistant.  I'm a fairly extroverted person and through the first few weeks of production I have become friendly with the writers and the executive producers.  The top executive producer is a firmly established and well connected industry guy, and he also seems to be more amiable than I would have imagined, given his status. I would love, at some point, to get him to read one of the spec scripts I've already completed.  What are the ground rules in this situation?
You're right, this is a sticky situation. As you've probably noticed, he is extremely busy, and already has a lot of scripts to read.

Here's what I would do. At some point when he is obviously procrastinating -- e.g. showing you a video of an elephant painting his self-portrait -- ask him a specific craft question about a script you are working on. The question should be something you can't answer yourself; don't ask him something you ought to be able to figure out on your own. It should be something that can be answered quickly, but only by someone with great experience. Since you are constantly working hard on your scripts at home (right?) you should have a few of these questions at any point.

Get his answer and thank him. 

A couple of weeks later, ask him another thoughtful question.

If your questions are interesting, they will show him that (a) you're a thoughtful writer and (b) you're writing an interesting script. If he has even the slightest willingness to read your script, he will ask. In fact, he won't even be able to keep himself from asking. (If he never asks, there's your answer.) 

Showrunners like to answer questions, especially when the answer can't screw them up later. And you didn't ask him to read your script, so you have not stepped over the line.

See what you're doing here? Instead of pushing story at your audience of one, you're hooking him in. You're making him want to know more. 

That's the essence of great storytelling, isn't it? Give the audience something that makes them want to hear more story. Hook them hard, and then reel them in. 

Don't be a pusher. Be a hooker. That's how you get ahead in Hollywood.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Referencing my post about things I'm tired of seeing in outlines:
Q. Just out of interest, how would you feel about a film that is about a man who goes back to his hometown for the funeral of a friend, after having been away for twenty years, but also takes place twenty years ago, when he last saw the friend. In other words, there are two different timelines in the film. You see everyone the summer after highschool, and then nearly twenty years later. Two different times and storylines, but are connected by themes. I do agree with you about your rule, but my feeling is that I haven't really seen my idea very much.
There's a reason for that. Two timelines can feel gimmicky and annoying. (And this from a guy one of whose best scripts has FIVE timelines.) Typically the past timeline is the key to the present timeline. So we're all waiting for the big cathartic moment where the guy realizes, damn, I should have married Sally Mae. It's hard not to be predictable.
It would be like a Superbad/Dazed and Confused crossed with Grosse Point Blank (but without all the killing).
The tone of each of those three movies is different. Superbad is a broad comedy with fat goofballs. Dazed and Confused is a surprisingly well written sweet, realistic character comedy that was advertised as a broad comedy about goofballs. Grosse Point Blank is a darkly comic thriller.

I think it is very hard to be FUNNY when you are going back and forth between two story lines. Going into the past requires taking things seriously. Taking things seriously makes it hard to laugh at them.

Are you sure you're clear what your movie is?

Look, you can always make a comedy about going back home (e.g. SWEET HOME ALABAMA, etc.) or small fishing villages (LA GRANDE SEDUCTION) or both. And being funny forgives a multitude of sins. I'm just saying, the moment I start reading about someone going back to their small fishing village, I'm sighing and thinking, I hope this is really terrible so that I don't have to read it all the way through. It has just become something that beginning writers, particularly in the Maritimes, seem to have been told they should write. I'm tired of it, along with screenplays by aspiring writers about how some aspiring writer writes a great screenplay, has a big success, and discovers that life is not all about success. As if. 

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Uwe Boll is the director of such cinematic masterpieces as BLOODRAYNE and RETURN OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE ADVENTURE. Last year he made news by challenging his critics to a boxing match. He clobbered all of them, which shows that for a director, he's a pretty good boxer. He has now apparently offered to quit making movies, but only if one million people sign a petition asking him to. I'm not sure he has reckoned with the awesome power of the interwebs...

Meanwhile, he's prepping BLOODRAYNE 3.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

I've been reading through a slew of feature film outlines for the seminar I'm teaching in PEI this summer. A few things that just don't work:
  • Don't write about successful Hollywood people if you are not one.
  • Don't put camera angles in an outline.
  • Don't tell me who the characters are up front, just tell them to me as they become relevant in the story. (In a TV pitch, of course, it's all about the characters.)
  • Don't write in the past tense. That's a short story.
  • Don't capitalize the name of every CHARACTER every time they show up. Just the first time.
  • Don't write the action. ("John comes in.") Tell the story. Only write dialog if it is shorthand for what's happening in the story. (Actually these days you probably wouldn't even waste time on John coming in in the script.)
  • Don't write about a group of friends who have gone their separate ways over the years, who return to their small fishing village for a funeral/wedding/reunion, rehash their past, and are somehow changed.
Just saying.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Q. Why would an agent ask me to sign a document stating that the script I am sending him is not under consideration at any other signatory agency and that I will not send it to any other signatory agency while it is under consideration at his agency?
Because he doesn't want to compete with other agents. He doesn't want to take the time to read your material if there's a chance he'll like it and you'll say, "You know what? I'm going with Innovative Artists." Then you've wasted his time.

It's not a terrifically enforceable contract, but it probably makes him feel more comfortable reading you. There should obviously be a time limit; he shouldn't hang you up for more than a couple weeks.
I just thought it seemed weird. This is a one-man agency, and the agent reps mostly actors - lots and lots of actors. Even the writers he represents seem to be writer/actors or writer/director/actors.
If you're not comfortable with the guy, tell him now and don't waste his time.

But bear in mind, any WGA signatory agent is better than no agent. And if he wants to rep you, you can still, by California law, back out of any agency contract after four months, if you don't have a bona fide offer. So unless there are other agents clamoring to rep you, there's little downside to giving the guy a shot.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The fabulous Jane recommended I read these posts, How Not to Get an Agent and Advice from a TV Lit Agent, by Amanda the Aspiring Writer. Amanda has done the Right Thing. Rather than, say, spend three years at film school, she has taken her 2007 BA and got a job answering phones at a Lit Agency. She is learning what gets bought and how it gets bought. If you are emerging or aspiring, you should get to know Amanda.

Meanwhile, Amanda the Aspiring Writer's blogroll includes Lisa Klink's What It's Like. Lisa Klink is a Very Accomplished TV Writer. Lisa Klink is answering your aspiring and emerging writer questions like crazy. You would be crazy not to get her perspective.

How the hell has she been writing for a year and I didn't run across her blog? Boy, it's getting to be like Grand Central in rush hour, here in the blogosphere.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tonight South Park aired a new episode where Canada goes on strike, I assume to create a parallel for how they viewed the writers' strike. I love South Park, and I don't always necassarily agree with their "point" when they make one, but tonight's episode had me thinking. Their basic point seemed to be that what was ultimately won wasn't that much, but those leading the strike acted like it was. And the cost of the strike may have outweighed the benefits.

So was the strike a big win for writers or not? I'm confused!
I think the big win for the writers was not losing the strike.

What the studios wanted to do was set in place rules that, as TV reruns move onto the Net, abolished residuals. I don't have the numbers in front of me but residuals are a hefty chunk of writers' income, let's say for the sake of argument 40%. Was it worth going without pay for less than three months in order to prevent an ultimate 40% pay cut? You bet.

Moreover, had the Guild rolled over and accepted a 40% pay cut, that would not have been the end of it. The studios will always push for concessions until they meet resistance. Why wouldn't they? If they got free Internet distribution, they'd be back in three years to cut pension contributions. Or script fees. Or demand that writers shine their shoes.

What the Guild got was a small payment on Internet distribution which is to increase as Internet distribution rises. The principle was essential. The numbers for year one and year two of the deal were not so important. The third year numbers are what's important, and the principle.

The details of the agreement probably don't make anyone terribly happy. That's in the nature of these negotiations. But the Guild proved it won't roll over, and that when it says it's going to strike, it will strike. Next time the MBA comes up for renewal, I'd be surprised if the studios try to ram rollbacks down the Guild's throat. Nobody wants another strike.

Trey and Matt are entitled to their own opinion. They moved from struggling animators to gagillionaires in one bolt of lightning. They have never had to rely on Guild-negotiated minimums. The Guild is not there to protect Trey and Matt. All their deals are way over scale, and no one at a studio wants to piss them off. The Guild is there to protect your average working writer who can be replaced and knows it.

You, in other words.

Was it worth it? You bet.

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If you want to learn more about how the whole pernicious director-as-auteur meme got started, there's a good article in this week's THE NEW YORKER about how François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. In the beginning they were learning how to be moviemakers together: 'Truffaut was a poor kid trying to break in; Godard was a rich kid trying to break out.' Later, Truffaut got tired of Godard being such a pain in the ass, and rejected him.

I remember watching Truffaut's lovely insider film DAY FOR NIGHT the first time when I was 20, and thinking, "If only I'd seen this movie when I was young; I'd have gone into the movies."

Later, I hung out in Paris after college, and saw boatloads of movies (the place was full of revival houses, before video killed them off), and a girl I had the hots for convinced me to go to film school anyway. I was in Paris in the first place because Lisa had convinced me to go there. I find that listening to women is often a good idea.

I find that most of Truffaut's films hold up pretty well. They're good stories with good characters. I never cared for Godard's films. I suspect they'd be even more irritating to me now.

An old friend of mine, David Kipen, came out with a clever book, too brief I thought, promoting the "schreiber theory": that the films of a particular screenwriter will have similar themes and styles. That some screenwriters, in other words, are worth as much study as "auteur" directors.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Q. We wrote a script, shot a pilot, and we're shopping our show now.
Congratulations!
In the mean, we want to write 12+ scripts so we're ready to rock when the big bag of money gets here.
Mmm, no, I wouldn't do that.

Television is about the most collaborative medium I know. Even the movies are less so. In the movies, you can shoot your indie film and sell it. The studio may ask for cuts, but they rarely ask for reshoots, and they wouldn't think of asking you to reshoot the whole thing.

In TV, if they like it, if they buy it, the network will now want to make the entire show theirs. They won't like some of the actors. They'll have a few people in mind. They might want that cute girl changed into a cute guy.

And they will want to have input on the script. I know, you already shot it and edited it. But now they want to put it on television. They want it to fit their network mandate. Since you didn't know what their network mandate is, you didn't shoot exactly the show they're looking for.

On the other hand they don't mind pouring money into the show. If the studio made you reshoot your feature film, it would double the cost. But if they make you reshoot your pilot -- well, they're thinking at least 13 episodes, maybe a full season of 22, and they are hoping you'll go 100 episodes. So reshooting your pilot is not a prohibitive expense.

They will want a lot of input on the scripts. They may want to add writers to your staff. If they let you run your own show, they may still want to put a veteran Supervising Producer on board to shadow you and make sure you don't blow their money through inexperience.

So it does not make sense to write 12 episodes. They'll get changed too much, and some will get thrown out. Moreover, no one at the network is going to read 12 episodes.

What you could do, reasonably, is write two more episodes. Now you have three scripts, one of which is shot. If you can show three really kickass scripts, they'll know whether or not it's a series they want.

That's what we're doing on my pay cable series. I've written three scripts. With network input, I'm writing two-page breakdowns for the remaining seven episodes of the first season. Between the three scripts and the breakdowns, anyone who's interested in buying the show for their territory has all the information they can reasonably use.

Once the series is greenlit, and you hire your staff, you'll probably want to get eight scripts finished before you start shooting; later scripts get written during production, and get to take advantage of things you learn during the show.
We thought all the springboards should be done at the beginning of the season, so we knocked out 12 springboards. But maybe this is done at the beginning of each writing week--rather than set the season, writers bring the idea they had *this week*, and it goes up against the other ideas this week. Perhaps that's more practical, given that the story editor or the showrunner may significantly re-write any particular episode, and a springboard created earlier may no longer make sense. Confirm or deny?
I would definitely write 12 springboards now. When I pitch a series, I try to have at least a dozen springboards ready, so I know there's a show there, and so they know what the show is.

To get 12 decent springboards, you might have to come up with a couple more dozen bad ones. There's a lot of carnage.

You will wind up throwing out many of your springboards as you get into the series. Many of the survivors will get rewritten out of all recognition. No worries. You don't owe them anything.
I read you to say the whole room works on [the story] until there is satisfaction. How much of the writer's meeting should that take?
How long is a piece of string?

You probably don't want to spend more than four hours a day in meetings or people will burn out. The rest of the time, people will be working on their scripts, or their beat sheets... or checking Facebook, or surfing the Net, or whatever it is they do behind the top of their laptops.

On CHARLIE JADE, we probably averaged 2-3 hours a day in meetings, with more in the beginning when we were trying to figure the show out, and much less later on when we were consumed with the writing.

On a comedy, people spend a great deal of time in meetings, first breaking story, and then punching up the gags.
Which reminds me, how many days are there writer's meetings, and how many hours in each meet? We can spend all day whipping out ideas and bits and getting nothing done.
You, the showrunner, have to figure out what a good mix is. There may be days with no meetings. There may be days chock full of meetings. But bear in mind that "whipping out ideas and bits and getting nothing done" is getting something done. That's how you put a show together.

I have it on good authority that a certain story room on a successful series spent a lot of time watching midget porn. They got their show written, though.

Seriously: you meet until people are sick of meeting. You write until you can write no more. Go home, write some more. Go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat.

In the meetings, you talk, you digress, you whine, you shoot the breeze, and then you talk some more. It's up to you, the showrunner, to manage your writers well. Too much focus and people get burned out. Not enough focus and nothing gets done. Reasonable focus, and a long digression triggers a useful idea that opens up a door you didn't even see before.

You have to ask the right questions in the meetings. You have to guide the discussion. You have to know when to talk about macro issues and when to beat up on a particularly revelatory detail. The reason people get paid so much money to supervise a writing room is because it is hard to herd cats.
I read it that when the treatment is final, that unit is given to someone to write a script from. At some point, that writer comes back to the room with a version of the story told this way and presents it. The room is NOT to re-write the story proper but to tighten the scenes, the humor, the language, etc. Just sharpen it up. Right?
The room doesn't rewrite. If the writer isn't nailing it, a higher level writer might take it to rewrite it, on up to the showrunner. On a drama, the room probably never sees the finished draft, though the writer might hand it to his buddies on the show to ask what they think.

On a comedy, there'll be a day of punch-up. But if the script is really not working, then the room might have to go back and rebreak the story.
I'm not clear on the difference between what's brought to the room and "the first draft".
There are several first drafts. There's the first complete draft that the writer writes. I usually call that a rough draft. He rewrites it until he hits his deadline or he feels he needs some feedback. He turns it into the showrunner; that's the first writer's draft. Showrunner reads that, maybe rewrites it. It might be sent to network for notes -- that's the first network draft. Somewhere along the line the script goes to production -- that becomes the Production White.

I wouldn't make too much of the name "first draft." Every draft is a first draft until it gets into the jaws of production, and further changes start to cost money.
Beats = outline in other media. It looks like you said a writer should find *someone* to check the beats with--not the room, and not necessarily the story editor.
I like to have someone read my stuff first, if there's time. Lisa reads my stuff, and I have an assistant, and I have a reading intern who's fantastic. If there's no time, as is typical on a production, I would show my beat sheet to whoever is supervising me: a story editor if I'm a free lancer, a showrunner if I'm higher up the food chain. They'll make notes and / or rewrite the beat sheet, and I'm off to writing pages.

Good luck!

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

According to this Playback article, Jim Shaw finally watched TRAILER PARK BOYS -- and liked it!
"I watched about five minutes of one show and it really turned me off. But my granddaughters made me sit down and watch a couple of episodes in a row, and now I'm hooked. Those boys are really funny!"
The cable mogul claims he's "seriously examining" putting more Canadian productions on his cable networks. "We really need to promote our uniquely Canadian perspective if we're going to compete in the global marketplace."

It's a surprising road-to-Damascus moment for Mr. Shaw, but it makes sense. With more and more programming available on the Net, it's going to be harder and harder to maintain the firewalls that protects Canadian networks from American programming. In the long run, focusing on the domestic market -- and using that as a jumping-off point into the truly global market -- is only good strategy. The only alternative would be to abolish all Canadian content requirements and selling out to the studios -- and not even Mr. Shaw wants that.

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