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



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Thursday, April 30, 2009

[Cancon]
OTTAWA -- Heritage Minister James Moore on Wednesday offered support, but no new concrete initiatives, for the ailing over-the-air TV industry. [snip] "There is tremendous opportunity for Canadian broadcasters to harness these new trends in digital technology, to become more innovative and consequently more profitable," he said. "The efficiency of digital technologies and the dropping prices should leave room for effective solutions."
A lot of people keep throwing around the word "digital" like it's a wonder drug. I have yet to see much in the way of synergies between television and the Net. Yes, some people are streaming shows instead of watching them on TV. The only way that helps broadcasters is that on the Net you can prevent people from skipping commercials, which you can't do when they've recorded your TV show.

But the additional promotional content on the website, the additional minutes of the Jon Stewart interview, the Alternate Reality Game -- these are all "added value" for the consumer of TV that don't necessarily put more money in the pocket of the broadcaster.

It's disingenuous for the Conservatives to say, "Hey, you need less money now 'cause there's DIGITAL!" Prices aren't "dropping." Broadcasting TV is actually really cheap. Transmitters don't cost a lot, and the customers buy their own TVs. What costs is making quality programming that people want to watch. You don't save anything broadcasting a sitcom over the Net. It still needs to have decent production values, great acting, great directing and great writing.

Technology is actually a threat. For over the air (OTA) broadcasters, technology is a tsunami and they're the low-lying coastal areas. In the medium run, the advertising model for television is untenable. People are watching fewer and fewer commercials. Cable channels can laugh it up, 'cause they're paid for by subscription. But I think free broadcast is doomed within the next 10 years, and maybe in as little as 5. Product placement isn't going to fill the gap. Broadcasters are going to have to replace airing stuff for free with iTunes-style downloads, pay-per-view streaming, and more subscriptions.

Or explain to me how I'm wrong.

I have no idea how we're going to rework Cancon so it works in the new environment. The current model forces broadcasters to air a (pitiably small) number of hours of homemade programming. As more and more content shifts to other delivery systems, we'll need Cancon requirements for those, too.

Don't count on the Conservatives to provide them. But dollars to doughnuts there's an election in the Fall, and I think Michael Ignatieff gets it. (I know Justin Trudeau does 'cause I've had him over for lunch.)

Meanwhile, when some Minister says, "Hey, you don't need money, you just need to go all DIGITAL," just ask him how, exactly, "digital" is supposed to fix what's wrong with broadcasting.

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I throw an irregular get-together at Hurley's Irish Pub for all my friends, and future friends, in showbiz. We're getting together again on Thursday, May 14, from 7 to 10 pm. (That's when I leave. Some people never leave.) If you think you might be in Montreal then, save the date. Or even better, RSVP on Facebook.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Here's a pretty good, basic Screenwriting Collaboration Agreement. If you're considering co-writing with someone, you probably ought to sign one of these.

Or, if you have something else in mind, alter it accordingly. For example, we could draw up an agreement where you have a 50% stake, but I have control over the rights, and can decide to sell or option or not sell it as I choose. You could have a financial stake but I could retain final say over the creative form of the screenplay. And so on.

There are fewer things more frustrating for a writer than to have a good script tied up because your ex-partner no longer agrees with you about a screenplay. Get the main points in writing, even if you're writing with a friend. It will never be easier to make a fair deal than when neither of you has put any work into the project. Later on, people start to feel a sense of ownership, and things get sticky.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Crafty Screenwriting your advice, as I understand it, is to not write your story down, to mull it around in your head, and tell it out loud to people until you're sure it's a good story. Then write it. I'm trying to reconcile this method with the mantra of most creative writers: "Write every day." What do you write if you're not writing the story in your head? The obvious answer is "another story." But what if all your stories are in the embryonic stage?
Working out your story in your head or by telling it to other people is writing.

It's just not typing.

I have a creative jones, to the point where if I don't write something during a day, I get really cranky. My addiction is completely satisfied by talking through a story.

Writing pages is good, but most people spend far too little of their time working out their story before they start typing, and consequently spend much more time fixing their story once it's written down. You often hear of a writer and director spending a week or even a month talking through the movie. It's really hard to spend too much time talking through your story. When it stops changing, or you're starting to get bored (not just fidgety), you're good to start typing.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

I had an interesting back and forth over the weekend with a fellow whose query I was evaluating, whose script is about a Famous Historical Person. The first few drafts of his query were all about FHP's external struggle against the Powers That Be. But I kept plugging away at the question your movie should always answer: what is the hero's personal struggle? What drives him? What haunts him? Or to put it another way, Why him? What picked him to face these challenges?

Film and TV are personal media. They don't do sweeping stories well. They do stories about a small group of people well. You wouldn't write a script about the Siege of Malta. You'd write a script about Some Dude at the Siege of Malta.

If you have a historical event you want to put on screen, think about what sort of protagonist best tells the story. Do you want an outsider? An insider? Do you want an Achilles, who made the story happen? Or a Titus Pullo, who lived through the events and participated in them, but wasn't always in the thick of things?

How do you personalize the events?

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

BATMAN: Wealthy man assaults the mentally ill.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: Peasant girl develops Stockholm Syndrome.
BLADE: Obsessed loner stalks minority group.
CHINATOWN: Father desires closer relationship with his children.


More at PostModernBarney.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

I just read an article regarding the Stan Winston directed 'Pumpkinhead' where the producer states that he 'owned the title Pumpkinhead.'

Is it possible to own a film title?

ie, I have a cool title - how can I own it?
You can't copyright a word, and I'm pretty sure "pumpkinhead" was in the dictionary before the movie. Moreover, there are any number of movies with the same title, especially if it's a common word or phrase. I have a credit on a picture called WARRIORS, which is not the famous one.

The producer may have registered the title with the MPAA. I'm not actually sure what this does, but I imagine there are some restrictions on putting out similarly-titled movies at the same time; of course all the MPAA can really do is withhold their rating.

The producer may also have trademarked the title, at least as it applies to horror movies about big rangy ugly monsters. I'm not sure how much protection that gives; I think it just entitles you to threaten a lawsuit, not necessarily win one. But who wants to buy a lawsuit?

I don't think you can practically "own" a film title without producing a movie. Otherwise people would just get our their BREWER'S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE and squat on movie titles the way they squat on Internet domains.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where can I find the structure breakdown of a 2hr pilot?

Can I use a two hour spec pilot as a writing sample or is that too long for someone to read for a sample?
Why would you want to write a two hour pilot, spec or no spec?

A pilot is supposed to create the template for the show. It doesn't just set up the characters and the premise. It tells the audience what the show is.

A two hour pilot for a one hour show, by definition, fails to create the template for the show. It may set up the characters and the premise, but it's a movie, not an hour of television.

There are successful two hour pilots, but they're really two episodes that work well back to back. Later they can be shown separately. I think actual two hour pilots, conceived and aired as such, tend to make very bad pilots. They are self-indulgent and clunky. Give me the discipline of a pilot that tells a good hour-long story, and incidentally introduces the premise, characters and world.

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Monday, April 20, 2009


I'm reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It's an interesting analysis of why experts keep missing the big disasters -- Enron, the subprime mortgage crisis, the fall of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Shah. He argues that we are crap at predicting the future because we love narrative so much. We keep trying to fit the future into the story we've been living. The generals who fought Vietnam kept thinking they were still fighting the Korean War.

Think of a farmhouse turkey. According to his narrative, human beings are benevolent gods that provide an endless bounty of corn.

Then, one day, surprise!

(Until the 1700s, all swans known to the Western world were white. So bird experts knew that all swans are white. Then they discovered Australia, where there's an entire species of black swans. Surprise!)

We are so attracted to narrative because it provides a way to shrink the world's overflow of information into something that will fit inside our brains. We tell the story of how Og survived the tiger attack over and over, so that when we run into a tiger, we only have to remember the two or three things Og did.

I think human beings have evolved to appreciate narrative, in the same way that we have evolved to learn language. What is narrative, after all, but a kind of super-language, where stories, like words, are ways of encapsulating information? We are, I believe, hardwired to appreciate stories.

That's why I insist that you all know, instinctively, how to tell stories. And the more you tell a story, the better -- the more organic, the simpler -- it gets. What screws us all up is when we write a story down too soon, before we've had a chance to let our instinctive narrative talent work the material enough. If you tell your story over and over, you will naturally simplify it, to where the characters are the natural ones for the plot, and the ending is the most satisfying one for the premise, and every beat follows naturally from the one before. You have always had this muscle; you just need to exercise it.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not sure what to make of this...!
NBC Universal has partnered with the Canadian Film Center to launch a talent development and mentoring program designed to generate projects for NBC U-owned outlets from Canadian scribes. The creation of the NBC Universal Content Creator Program will be unveiled today at the CFC's 20th anniversary event held at L.A.'s London West Hollywood hotel.

The program will issue a call for script submissions from Canadian scribes, and then CFC and NBC U execs will select promising candidates to take part in the program, which will formally launch in the fall.

NBC U's TV production arm, Universal Media Studios, will appoint an exec to serve as the permanent liaison to the program, which will largely consist of forums and workshops at CFC's Toronto HQ. NBC Universal will have the option to further develop any scripts and concepts generated by participants in the program. The focus will initially be on TV programming, but the plan is to expand eventually into film.

NBC U's interest in Canada's talent pool comes after the Peacock, CBS and other nets have picked up Canadian-made series for their own skeds -- an idea that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Does anyone know any more about this? Some were wondering if this is only for emerging writers, or if it's for established writers too. Why through the CFC and not the WGC?

Anyone know any more about this?

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sometimes you have a great conversation with a producer or network exec, and you promise to send them something right away. Then you get a bunch of ideas. But you promised it right away!

Don't worry about being speedy. Unless you're in production, or the producer specifically mentioned wanting to read something before an important meeting with a potential buyer, the only deadline is in your head.

Make the piece as good as you can. If you like, shoot the producer an email saying, "I know I promised you this thing, but talking with you gave me some great new ideas, so I'll send it as soon as I'm done revising." 99% of the time the producer's reaction is: great.

They are probably not in a hurry to read your stuff. They may take two or three weeks to read it. So why rush to get it in?

It is not the speed of delivery, but the sheer quality of your work, that sets it apart from the vast pile of ordinary, unproduced material.

Everybody wants to read the best version of your pitch or spec, so take your time and make it as good as you possibly can. Even if that's just 5% better, it may be that last 5% that pushes it out of the "hmmm" pile into the "yes!" pile.

So take your time, get comments from your readers/friends/cronies, and send it in when it's ready. If you can make it better, you will lose nothing, and possibly gain everything, from the delay.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Q. Are you a fan of any software that helps organize and structure story elements before you go to script? I've heard of some (Power Structure, StoryView), but I don't know much about their reputations.
Nah. And I've never heard of anyone I know using them.

I tried out Dramatic, years and years ago. It didn't sing to me.

It's pretty rare to hear of writers using any system, frankly. A friend of mine was using the SAVE THE CAT formula on a MOW last year, but the most I do, usually, is try to write my features in seven acts, with acts outs.

My fear would be that I'd put so much energy into the story software that I'd feel that I was doing good work, without getting anything good on the page.

Has anyone used story software (as opposed to screenplay formatting software) to good effect?

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

[Canada] As Denis reminds, the WGC Awards are Monday, the 20th. You can buy tickets at the new WGC site.

The WGC Awards is the best schmooze in town. Imagine hundreds of drunken wallflowers. People fly in from Vancouver for it. Network execs will come, along with some of the cooler producers, and Telefilm people, but mostly it's every single Canadian screenwriter who can make it.

And the awards themselves are mercifully brief.

Tickets, if you're a non-member, are $75, which isn't cheap, but you get some awesome catering for that, plus an open bar, and it's a schmoozefest. (And schmoozing is your job.)

I'll be there. You should too.

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Q. What's the situation on moving to LA from Canada? Is it hard to get work permits
I haven't the slightest idea; I'm a native New Yorker.

Readers: how hard is it to get a work permit in LA?

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[Canada]
Q. You mentioned that a good way to get your foot in the door is to intern at an agency in LA or New York. Does the same hold true for Montreal or other parts of Canada? Or would I be better off trying to get an internship at a film production company? I tried contacting the National Film Board but they never got back to me.
The number one way to break into the Canadian side of the biz is to go to the CFC. But they only take 10 people a year.

The agencies in Montreal deal primarily with the French side of the biz. There are some good production companies that you could learn from in Montreal -- Muse, Galafilm, and if your French is excellent, Cirrus.

Toronto's better. Lots of good production companies and a few good agencies.

The NFB isn't really part of the entertainment industry. They focus on docs and art, as far as I can tell.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Onion AV Club has a whole slew of articles comparing the book and the film. Check'em out.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Filmmortal is trying to set itself up as a sort of auction / brokerage house to put filmmakers together with advertisers who want their products placed in films.

Remind me to call them when I, God willing, get something going. I really want a MacBook Air!

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

I have a little "cameo" on the Script Frenzy site. Check it out.

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Q. I received a request from a woman, asking me to read her script and let her know what I think via notes. Should I ask for some sort of credit on the script?
If you're consulting extensively on a script for a person with whom you have a purely professional relationship, it's okay to ask for a credit in the end credits. When I'm hired by a production company, or if critique a script through my service, I'll ask for a Story Consultant credit. There are hundreds of names in the end credits, so it doesn't "cost" the writer anything. But when I'm critiquing a friend's script, or doing a favor, then I don't ask for any sort of credit.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Apparently Konrad von Finckenstein has been listening. According to today's PLAYBACK, tough new proposed CRTC regulations will set an upper limit for each broadcaster on acquisitions of US programming, and it's quite simply the amount of Canadian programming exported.
For each hour of domestic programming exported by a Canadian network (such as FLASHPOINT or SOPHIE), a broadcaster can import one hour of US programming. "This will not only create a level playing field in terms of cultural exchange," asserted Mr. von Finckenstein, "but will help protect tens of thousands of jobs in the Canadian entertainment industry."
Ironically, this puts the CBC, which produces more Canadian programming than the two private networks put together, in the position of being entitled to broadcast more American shows. Naturally the private broadcasters are demanding some sort of tradeable credits, akin to carbon tax cap-and-trade schemes.
Asked for his comment at a White House press briefing, President Obama [I never get tired of reading that!] stated that his administration "respects Canada's right to support its popular culture" and quipped that he "really enjoyed TRAILER PARK BOYS," an episode of which he caught while campaigning in Detroit last year.
The rest of the article is here.

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