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



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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The WGA is hosting a series of writing craft lectures.
Writers taking part will include John August (Big Fish, Go), Robert Eisele (The Great Debaters), Diane English(Murphy Brown; The Women), Bruce Evans & Raynold Gideon (Stand by Me, Mr. Brooks), Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (3:10 To Yuma, Wanted), Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (Four Christmases; The Hangover), Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life, Wicked), Jack Epps, Jr. (Top Gun; Dick Tracy), Nick Kazan (Reversal of Fortune; Fallen), Jim Kouf (Rush Hour; National Treasure) Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek, The Human Stain, Elegy), Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter, Twilight), Thomas Rickman (Coal Miners Daughter, Tuesdays with Morrie), Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost; The Time Traveler’s Wife), Margaret Nagle (Warm Springs; Side Order of Life), Robin Swicord(Little Women; The Jane Austen Book Club), Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat; Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep) and more. Check here regularly for updates.

Held Tuesdays at the WGF/WGA offices - 7000 W 3rd St, LA 90048
7:30 pm to about 9:00 pm.

Via Go Into the Story.

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Can anyone direct me to some downloadable SPONGEBOB scripts? Thanks!

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I've seen various bloggers put up reprints of articles when they don't feel much like blogging. My assumption has always been that if you like the blog, and you haven't read the archives, and I'm not writing enough for you, you'll read into the archives. After all, this isn't a daily paper, you can access the whole thing any time you like. I generally try to avoid repeating myself, for the same reason.

What do you think? Do you guys want me to reprint stuff from time to time? Do you ever browse the now ridiculously deep archives?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Here's an interesting question, from NO PANTS ISLAND:
Q. You sell your first script (or series concept, in my case).

But what if it stagnates? What if nothing happens to Series A, and the option fee rolls in every year for the next four, and that's it? Today, as I mulled over other projects I've sketched out or brainstormed, I wondered: just how many other ideas should I be trying to get out there? How many other things should I be working on?
The moment I sell or option something, or finish something on commission, the moment it's off my plate, I start working on the next thing. Or the thing I was working on before.

(I get grumpy when I'm not working on something or other.)

I generally try to work on our most commercial idea, i.e. whatever idea will most quickly result in my getting a check, adjusted for how big that paycheck might be if it comes.

Assuming I'm not being paid to write something, the next project I write might be, in order.

a. write up a 3-5 page TV pitch or 6-10 TV pitch bible from an idea

This generally takes priority because it doesn't take much time, and because getting a TV series set up is a much bigger deal than getting an indie film set up. In my case, indie feature: $50-70K script fee against potential $80-250K payday. Series: $20K pilot script+bible up to $120K of development fees, against potential $300K+ per year income stream.

If Lisa has a good idea (it's almost always Lisa), we'll suspend other spec work for a week or so to bang out the pitch bible. Nail those concepts down before they flit out of your mind. Don't let them escape!

b. write up a feature pitch from an idea

The market is currently terrible for indie features, and it's hard to get producers excited about a pitch -- even though, in Canada, they can take the pitch to Telefilm and get most of the money to have me write it.

I can also submit a feature pitch to a few Canadian government programs that pay writers to spec their own scripts.

If the feature "writes itself," the pitch might take a week.

c. spec a TV pilot

In the US, you usually have to go out with a spec pilot if you want to option or sell your series concept.
In Canada I can option a pitch bible to producers, who will look for development money from a network. But if I have a pitch bible that didn't get set up, but I still believe in the show, or if I have a concept I think won't pitch well, I'll write a spec pilot. That's what I'm in the middle of now.

I'm going to spend a couple months on a pilot, so I try to write all the pitches and get them out there before I invest that kind of time.

d. spec a feature

In the US, you almost always have to spec a feature as a first step; pitches won't get you anywhere unless you're a major name as a writer. Also, if you want to get on the lists of studio approved rewriters, you probably have to make a big spec sale.

I try to avoid speccing a feature because producers in Canada are so spectacularly uninterested in spec features. They seem to want to develop their own ideas from scratch, perhaps because that way they can share in Telefilm's development largesse. But if I love a concept enough, I might spec a feature, and that has sometimes paid off.

Speccing a feature might take a couple of months from concept to first draft, but it probably will take more time, and more drafts, to get it where it needs to be.

If you spec a feature, you won't get paid for it until the movie actually shoots. But you might get an option fee plus a rewrite out of it.

e. spec a series script

If you're not a known TV writer, particularly in the States, you need to bang out spec scripts as often as you can. I'd spend a month on a spec, probably; you could reasonably spend one or two.

(See other blog posts for why you shouldn't just write spec pilots if you're an emerging writer.)

Personally, I haven't written a spec episode since Sorkin was writing WEST WING. But most of the people who could hire me in this country already know me, my writing or my rep, well enough that they'll take my various (spec or commissioned) pilots as samples.


I tend to write a project to whatever point I think it's good to go out to producers. If it's a TV series idea that really depends on the writing, I'll go out with a pilot. If it's a concept-driven series idea that, really, any network exec can make a decision on at the bible stage, I go out at the bible stage.

So: how many projects should you have circulating? As many as you can, so long as they're all as good as you can reasonably make them. It's better to have a superb 6 page pitch out than a half-assed pilot. It's better to have one superb TV pitch and a spec feature you've rewritten the hell out of than one great idea, two uninspiring ideas, and three first draft features.

The number of projects you have out there will depend on (a) how fast you come up with new, good ideas (b) how fast you can write them up and (c) how long it takes the market to reject them or pick them up.

The more credits you have, the higher level access you have, the quicker they can reject you. I can take shows straight to the network and get my rejections right away. That tends to reduce my number of free-floating projects.

(I often don't, because I want to develop relationships with producers; and let's be honest, I hate those quickie rejections.)

Getting shows set up also reduces the number of free-floating projects.

We went out with literally a dozen ideas in the first six months of the year. Currently, one is optioned, one I'm speccing a pilot for, two are waiting on feature-writing grants, and the others are pinin' for the fjords. Some got close, some no one sparked to, a couple we pulled after we got lukewarm reactions, because we decided we hadn't quite nailed them after all. We'll go out with them again if we can figure out what they're missing. The pilot was something I wasn't feeling the heat from at the bible stage, so I pulled it and decided to spec it.

So the answer to the question is: as many as you are capable of getting out there... but don't send anything out that you can't be really proud of.
Q. Additionally, should I be giving the company I'm now building a relationship with first crack at whatever tidbits come out of my brain? Or should I be saving tidbits, putting them aside, and working on building Series A and only Series A, until such time as it becomes clear that Series A ain't going anywhere?
I rarely give the same company two things at once.

First, I want to create lots of relationships. When companies are looking for writers, they start with writers they're already in business with. I've got two series because I had something else optioned to the company.

Second, if they like one better, they'll focus on that, and backburner the one they like less. I don't want anything backburnered.

Third, it makes them feel I haven't given them something special. It makes them take me for granted.

Spread the love, baby!

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

... this transcript from The Smoking Gun should make it clear. Warning: NSFW, graphic testimony from a thirteen-year-old who was raped. Polanski jumped bail after being convicted because he felt 42 days was quite enough for this particular offense.

I don't think being an artist entitles you to behave any worse than anyone else. Be a human being first. What's pernicious about Hollywood is it tells you that the rules don't apply in general, because many specific rules do have to be bent. And so a lot of people get lost along the way.

UPDATE: This Salon article demolishes the recent documentary that paints Polanski as some sort of victim.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Ever noticed how few college shows there are? Apparently a high school show is mainstream, but a college show is niche. Vampires go to high school, gossips go to high school, kids go to high school in the O.C., etc. But aside from FELICITY, I can't think of a successful college show.

(Shows can move to college, e.g. GILMORE GIRLS, BUFFY. But they rarely start there.)

Lisa tells me the reason for this is that very few Americans actually go to college. 17% graduate, apparently. And who knows how many go to sleepaway colleges -- lots of people stay at home and commute to college.

I did not know that. Because, gosh, everyone I hang out with went to college, except for maybe one or two actors who went to a conservatory instead. I would guess that your average screenwriter went to college, graduated, and liked their English classes. Which is not true of most of the audience.

Gotta watch that observer bias. I've blogged before about the standard setup of high school shows. There are the jocks who beat up on the nerds. There are the hot girls who put everybody down. There's a strict hierarchy.

This wasn't my personal experience, but I went to a fancy prep school in Manhattan, with the exception of one year in Palo Alto in the then-brilliant California public school system. But I believe that most people's experience of high school didn't include a strict hierarchy, and popular girls putting down the geeks. Mostly, I think, cliques ignore each other. It may, however, be many writers' impression of high school.

History, after all, isn't written by the winners so much as by historians working for the winners. And historians, and writers, have their own biases.

That's why you often get the movie about the hot girl falling in love with the socially awkward guy who needs her to take him out of his shell. That is every socially awkward guy writer's fantasy. In real life, you generally need to get your ass out of your shell first.

That's why it's good to run your stories by some non-writer friends. See if your take on the world matches anyone else's.

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Q. I wrote for a producer a while ago on an indie film. It was unorthodox, the idea being that a bunch of unknowns write it (5 of us in total) for no money. Shares would then be distributed to the writers for the film's company, thus profits going to them as well as other independent investors. The producer himself was principal writer.

Now this producer has become power-hungry. Bigger names have been brought in, rewrites have been done to the script etc. I'm now down on the script as an "associate writer". I wondered if you ever came across this term before and if you know exaclty what this means? I understand that I have no 'rights' as such but I'm considering requesting some form of payment (other than film shares) and wondered what your personal opinion was on the matter.
a. There's no such thing as an "associate writer." The WGA and WGC allow credits of "Written by," "Story by" and "Screenplay by". If you were involved in creating the original story, you would normally be entitled to a shared "Story by" credit at a minimum.

The exception would be if you guys served really as story consultants. Did you and the other guys actually produce written script materials? Or did you just kick ideas around? In that case you wouldn't necessarily be entitled to a story credit, just a script or story consultant credit.

b. It is not true that you have no rights. Did you sign a contract? If so, you have whatever rights your contract gives you.

If you did NOT sign a contract, then you still own the copyright to your work, and you can prevent its being used. The producers do not own your work unless they paid you something. You can potentially stop production or distribution of the picture if they use your work without your contractual agreement.

In your case, there seems to have been some vague kind of promise. Promises are an oral contract, but no bank or completion guarantor is going to accept a producer's word for it. If you kick up a fuss, then the producers will have to get something on paper with you, because they have to sign all kinds of documents saying they own all the rights to the script, and if they don't, in fact, own all the rights to the script, they'll be in trouble.

c. I wouldn't be too excited about receiving film "shares" in a script. Most films never go into profit, even if they make money for the production company and studio. Production companies have weird definitions of profit that mostly amount to "no profit." Net profits are commonly referred to as "monkey points."

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If you're in Canada, The Movie Network and Movie Central are streaming the season premiere episodes of DEXTER and CALIFORNICATION a day following their network debut.
Episode 1 of Dexter (Season 4) will be available online beginning Monday, September 28 on TMN and Movie Central, while the first episode of Californication (Season 3) will be available beginning Tuesday, September 29 on TMN and Movie Central.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lisa and I made it through episode 2 of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, the CW's attempt to duplicate the TWILIGHT magic without paying for the rights. (We missed the pilot.)

Personally, I was shocked at how badly done it was, considering Kevin Williamson (DAWSON'S CREEK) is at the helm. Of five outs, three of them were SCARY VAMPIRE BARES FANGS!!!!! The third act out was a pure cheat -- just a dream sequence. The fourth act out was a qualified cheat -- real vampire, but in the next act it turns out he didn't bite anyone. The tag out was just irrelevant -- a day player about to get bit.

Not to mention the act outs all related to what I have to assume is a B story, since they had nothing to do with the girl-who-isn't-Bella and the large-foreheaded-vamp-who-isn't-Edward-and-certainly-isn't-David-Boreanaz.

C'mon, guys. This is just sloppy writing. The episode was like watching a bad spec.

Of course, there's the issue of vampires who can go out in the sun with no ill effects whatsoever. Who decided that was clever? You're messing with canon. If you give them sunlight, are they really still vampires? If they don't have to kill, is there anything left of the metaphysics and the metaphor?

And can we please, please bury the cliche that a centuries-old vampire would haunt a high school girl because she looks like a girl he was hot for back in the Old Days? Are vampires really that shallow?

Not that anyone cared. I don't doubt that the CW called up Williamson and asked for "Twilight, the series, you know, with a vampire with with a large forehead, who looks just like a young David Boreanaz" and Williamson looked at the number on the check and said, "No problem babe, my daughter needs a better pony."

The one thing I would really, really like to see come back is the notion of a vampire as a predator. Not just violent and aggressive. But a being that regards human beings as food and/or playthings. The way that your cat would regard you if you suddenly shrunk to mouse size. I'd like to see what vampire culture is really like. I bet they don't play together nicely. They probably guard their hunting grounds. They probably have trouble getting within a few yards of each other without fighting. That's probably why they haven't wiped us out: they can't cooperate.

(To be fair, Ian Somerhalder has a bit of that going on, and is the only worthwhile thing in the show. And I am having trouble believing he is not Rob Lowe's love child.)

Oh, there's lots of unmined territory in the vamp story yet. These "vampire as sparkly pony" shows haven't even opened a vein.

But that's all food for another show... heh.

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I went to a SARTEC panel on screenwriting and heard my friends Ken Scott and Joanne Arseneau, among other top Quebecois screenwriters, talk at some length about their process. A few highlights...

Before Ken writes anything else, he writes a single sentence that sums up the movie and contains all its important elements. Something like what I call a hook, but more whatever is, for him, the movie. For LA GRANDE SEDUCTION, for example: "A village that used to make its living fishing must seduce a doctor into staying in order to survive." Interestingly, he said that for MAURICE RICHARD he didn't have a sentence when he wrote it, but he'd gone to the Montreal Forum for the last game ever played there. (It's now a movie theater.) All the captains of the Montreal Canadiens skated out, including Richard. Richard got a fifteen minute standing ovation. (Or as it's called in French, "un standing ovation.") For Ken, the driving question was: how did a guy who could barely talk become such a spokesman for his people that he got a standing ovation fifty years after he stopped playing hockey?

There was some mild producer bashing. (Q. Why don't producers take the Métro? A. Because you have to pay cash.) And a few warnings about making sure you have a good -- and clear -- relationship with your director. ("The moment a director sits down next to a screenwriter, he thinks he's screenwriting.")

They discussed research. Most of the panelists do lots of research. But Joanne admitted that doing too much can be a trap; and Pierre Szalowski said he only does research when he needs to know something specific; otherwise the research can take over the story. In Ken's case writing MAURICE RICHARD, there was a press conference announcing he was starting the project, so when he went to cafes to write on his laptop, he'd often get some friendly advice from random strangers about what historical event he definitely had to include in the script.

(Boy, a press conference announcing that a screenwriter has been hired to write a biopic. Imaginez-vous ça, vous autres canadiens!)

Joanne mentioned that she deals with notes by imagining the audience. If she's getting notes that don't sound right, she tries to figure out what her imaginary audience would think of the movie if she took the note. If the imaginary audience doesn't like the revised movie, she doesn't take the note.

Thanks for the neat seminar, SARTEC!

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dollhouse premieres Friday.

New shows, too. Eastwick premieres tonight.

What are you looking forward to? Dates and networks, please.

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The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted, it is for those who have travelled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lock-picking or forging shooting permits in countries not favouring their projects. In short: it is for those who have a sense for poetry. For those who are pilgrims. For those who can tell a story to four-year-old children and hold their attention. For those who have a fire burning within. For those who have a dream.
This sounds awesome.
6. The focus of the seminars will be a dialogue with Werner Herzog, in which the participants will have their voice with their projects, their questions, their aspirations.

7. Excerpts of films will be discussed, which could include your submitted films; they may be shown and discussed as well. Depending on the materials, the attention will revolve around essential questions: how does music function in film? How do you narrate a story? (This will certainly depart from the brainless teachings of three-act-screenplays). How do you sensitize an audience? How is space created and understood by an audience? How do you produce and edit a film? How do you create illumination and an ecstasy of truth?

8. Related, but more practical subjects, will be the art of lockpicking. Traveling on foot. The exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully. The athletic side of filmmaking. The creation of your own shooting permits. The neutralization of bureaucracy. Guerrilla tactics. Self reliance.

9. Censorship will be enforced. There will be no talk of shamans, of yoga classes, nutritional values, herbal teas, discovering your Boundaries, and Inner Growth.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How descriptive would you/should you/ do you have to be when describing a setting? The first scene of my script takes place in a Morgue. I have a 10-lined paragraph describing the room (autopsy table/sink/bio-hazard boxes, etc) that seems a bit long, but it does describe the room. The character in the scene isn't using anything in the room. And really only spends about a page in this room before leaving.
Ack!

My rule of thumb is: describe only what we need to know for the story or to set the scene. "A squalid morgue with one flickering flourescent." "A brightly-lit, state-of-the-art morgue." "Your basic down home back-country morgue. A variety of stuffed animals suggests it doubles as a taxidermist's workshop."

The production designer and set decorator will do the rest.

Thing is, we've seen dozens of morgues on TV, and we can fill them in with scales, steel gurneys, etc., for ourselves. Give us more details if it's something we can't fill in for ourselves -- a geomancer's workshop, for example. But even there, give us just enough to set the scene. One or two striking details are worth more than ten lines of description.

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I'm always interested in other media. Kody Chamberlain is documenting how his new comic gets made -- it's a production blog. Check it out!

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

From Indiewire: Indie Bloodbath
If nobody knew anything before, they know even less now. The one sure thing is that moviemakers will now PAY to get their films released. The few remaining distributors can sit back and wait for movies to drop in their laps, often with P & A funds attached. All hopes of a hot sale at a festivals were dashed this year.
Er, that's not good.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009






... if I can blog them properly ...



See you next year!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Old Is That Actor Playing a High School Student on TV?

Although really not fair about Zach Gilford playing Matt Saracen. I betcha there's some 20somethings playing QB in Texas high schools. Red shirt'em, y'all.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The 3rd Annual Writer Mafia party was a big hit on Monday night, with tipsy writers jamming the upstairs and rooftop of Czehoski, along with writer-friendly producers, actors and directors, and even one glam journalist interviewing away.

I'll post pictures as soon as I can download them off my camera.

The refrain of the night was, "Seen anything at the festival?" "Nah." I'm not sure why, but I'd guess that writers come in at the beginning of a movie; by the end of the movie they're on to something else. So why pay $20 (or whatever) to watch movies that don't have distribution yet? If they're good, they'll probably come out in theatres or DVD. And with four hundred movies at the festival (I'm told), there's a lot that don't necessarily deserve distribution.

Line of the evening was Jenn Cowan's, remarking on the plethora of cute young writer guys: "If I'm not in bed by eleven, I'm going home!"

Anyway, no one except my agents had seen any movies. My schedule is packed too full of meetings and parties; I'm here to sell my wares, reconnect with friends and colleagues, move my projects along, remind people I'm alive, and occasionally put friends together. Nothing very high profile, just "you don't schmooze, you lose."

Another day of this and I'm happily boarding a train home. I love visiting Toronto, Toronto really shows me the love, but Montreal is the best city in the world to live in, as far as I'm concerned.

Word is biz seems to be picking up. Thank goodness.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Q. Just been reading some of Aaron Sorkin's scripts from the West Wing. In the introductions he tells us that he wrote all the scripts himself, but then goes on to thank all the writers on his team. (and on the show itself, many writers are credited). How did they contribute if they didn't write?
As I understand it, he has a team of writers who come up with story ideas, and do research, and come up with rough outlines of the scenes, and then he goes through and "writes" it. In other words his team does the "bad" version and he does the "Sorkin" version.

I haven't ever seen this in action, so I can't tell if he's a legitimate master whose assistants are just saving him time, or if he's grabbing credit that belongs to other people. Mark McKinney could tell you...

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Friday, September 11, 2009

In Playback:
The CRTC has turned down a bid by Slice to reduce its annual Cancon requirements to 60% from the current 82.5%. The regulator also rejected the specialty channel's request to spend just 45% of the previous year's gross revenues on Canadian content, down from 71%.

Owner Canwest Communications argued that Slice's programming expenditures and its Canadian content requirements were the highest of all specialty channels, and that the channel had lost $5.5 million in operating income from 2005. The broadcaster's seven-year projections also showed an operating profit of between -8.3% and 2.2% beginning in 2010.

However, the CRTC ruled that Canwest was well aware of these commitments when it acquired the channel in 2007, and the requirements are a result of a competitive licensing process.
Awesome.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Forget updating THIRTYSOMETHING. Someone has to figure out how to rip off this excellent new Japanese drama THE ANCIENT DOGOO GIRL:



Or as my friend Matt said, "Seriously, Japan, WTF?"

(Via Wakkanew)

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A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson will not read your f***ing script.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Q. I've been writing for 20 years in the documentary / corporate world, and have just finished my first screenplay. I'm having a number of people give it a friendly feedback read, and one said that I was missing the 'character biographies'. Is there such a thing? My understanding was that the characters need to come alive in the screenplay so if it isn't on the page, it either isn't needed (a minor character) or it needs to be added (better dialogue or action).
Who would use a character biography?
Beats me. No one's ever asked me for one in the feature world.

There are two things wrong with the notion of a "character biography." First, as you say, if it's not in the screenplay, it won't help that somewhere in a computer is an explanation of the character.

Second, biography is overrated. When you write up characters for a TV series, you write up who they are, now, and how they behave, and what their relationships are with the other characters. You might mention if a character went to Harvard, but only in the context of him thinking the whole world revolves around him. You might mention if a character never finished high school, but only in the context of her having a chip on her shoulder and always having to prove she's smart.

I never write character biographies. I don't even write character descriptions if I'm writing a feature. I consider them dangerous: you might think you've created a character but you've only done it offscreen.

In TV, of course, you write character descriptions, because the characters come first, and they're expected to outlast any stories you may have thought up. But biographies? The only place a biography belongs is in a TV show bible, to keep track of what canon you have established for the characters -- you don't want to mention a sister if a previous episode established an only child.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

THE TUDORS (Wednesdays at 9 p.m., CBC; from September 30)
With 11 Gemini nominations and mixed critical responses, The Tudors returns for a third season. King Henry VIII rebounds from executing his wife Anne Boleyn by marrying Jane Seymour, hoping to finally gain a male heir.
I really enjoyed the first two seasons of this series; but not on the CBC. The BBC version clocks in at about 51 minutes, the CBC version had to be edited down to 44 or so. I found the CBC version to be quite choppy, if you'll pardon the expression, with odd priorities. So I watched Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD.

It may be that the later seasons were edited down more smoothly, or even written so that they could be edited down by cutting a D story. The drama itself is quite well written with lovely performances and characters. Check it out.

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Hey, Kids! Diane Wild's fabulous TV EH! blog is running its annual Fall Launch Giveaway. Twitter or blog about a current Canadian TV show, and you can win cool swag!

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Q. I wrote a spec of The Office and applied to different fellowships. Luckily, I made it as a semi finalist for the Nickelodeon Fellowship, and of course I'm hoping I get picked in the next few weeks.

Let's say I'm lucky enough to get my foot in the door at one of these programs. What writing samples should I work on next? Should I be writing more TV spec scripts? Should I be working on a pilot? Or a feature? Or should I be working on a web series?
"What do I write next?" is something I struggle with whenever I don't have a paid gig on my plate. For a straight TV writer, the answer is easy: another spec. Either a spec script or a spec pilot.

If you're into a TV fellowship, your problem is solved. The point of the fellowships is to get you some mentorship to go with your writing.

I'm a TV and feature writer, so, "What should I write next" is a conversation I'm often having with my agent. I try to diversify and spread my bets. So, for example, I just wrote a spec pilot. Before that I wrote up a pitch for a thriller feature. Before that I rewrote two spec features that producers have optioned, and cast a short film I hope to direct. Earlier in the summer, Lisa and I wrote a pilot for The N. In the middle there I've read various projects I'm "up for," which means doing the creative work of figuring out my "take."

I've never tried very hard to write a web series, because I don't know how you get paid for writing a web series. I don't even know anyone who's serious about producing one. But if you want to produce your own as a calling card, that might be a way to set yourself apart from the pack of TV writers who have spec scripts as good as yours.

I get very grumpy when I'm not writing, so I try to move to the next writing project ASAP. Which means I'll be pondering this very question shortly.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Laurie Finstad's dark thriller/drama DURHAM COUNTY has finally made it to the States, on the new Ion network, so it's finally got a New York Times review. And a nice one too. But I thought the lede was interesting:
Any lingering illusion that Canada is a milder, blander version of the United States is dispelled by “Durham County,” a Canadian-made crime series that begins on Monday on the Ion network.
Countries make culture in part to bind themselves together. Countries without a strong sense of themselves through culture will fall apart. But another reason for nations to fund their own culture is international relations. If you don't export movies and TV, no one will have any idea who you are. Other countries might know what you can make, and if you have guns they'll respect those. But at a basic level, exported popular culture is how we learn about each other.

So everybody has a very good idea who Americans are, if it's slightly distorted by a million crime dramas and all those reality shows. And Americans have a very good idea who the British are, if it's slightly distorted by highbrow fare like UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS and PRIME SUSPECT and THE TUDORS and ELIZABETH. Oh, and Ricky Gervais and Simon Cowell. And Americans know who the French are from Truffaut films. And Americans have a sense of the Australians from CROCODILE DUNDEE and Peter Weir films

But relatively few people outside of Canada have a clue what Canadians are like, because Canada exports a lot less popular culture than it ought to, given it's a nation of 22 million English speakers, roughly on par with Australia. Americans think that Canadians are milder, blander white people but otherwise just like them. And yes, life in Canada is milder, except for the weather, because Canada has a functioning health care system and America has madness, and Canadians don't shoot each other nearly so much in spite of owning just as many guns. But Canadians aren't particularly white anymore, and we're not bland, and we're just as capable of being atrocious to each other as Americans are.

When you don't know someone, you tend to make assumptions about them, and assumptions have consequences. How can Canada expect America to take it seriously as a nation -- over, say, the Northwest Passage, or softwoods, or border crossings -- if Americans have no idea who Canadians are as a people?

Shows like DURHAM COUNTY are worth making just because they're fun, scary, creepy detective shows; and if you like the dark, Laurie Finstad and director Adrian Mitchell ladle out darkness enough for any appetite. But, together with FLASHPOINT and CORNER GAS and the other exports, they go a little way towards giving the rest of the world a sense of who we've become. And that's a value in its own right. Okay, Steven Harper?

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

It's pretty well established by now that ALL CAPS IS SHOUTING.

So if you have a character shouting at someone, you use all caps.

But what about a party scene where everyone is bellowing over the sound of the music. Personally, I find writing all the dialog in ALL CAPS makes it feel more like a party. But I've had execs tell me not to do that.

What's your experience?

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Friday, September 04, 2009

1000th Wannabe Screenwriter Decides to "Break All the Rules".

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Jonathan writes
What would you suggest to a budding Canadian screenwriter who is looking for guidance and support? Are there any mentors one could approach? Perhaps organizations dedicated to helping out the scriptwriting comminity?
Being in Canada, you're in luck.

The Canadian Film Centre and the National Screen Institute both have a slew of programs for teaching cultural learnings. The CFC is the gold standard. If you can get into the Prime Time programme, you're several steps ahead in the TV world. The feature program is great too, except that then you're in the Canadian feature world, which I'm not entirely sure is a blessing. The NSI programs are outpatient clinics where you come in for a week, then work on your own for months, with access to a mentor, then come in for a week, etc.

All the festivals seem to have some sort of program for emerging writers. There are fellowships at Banff, and the Talent Lab at TIFF.

Telefilm runs quite a few programs for relative newbies. Spend some time on their website. In particular check out the Young Creators / Jeunes Créateurs program for funding films by creators under 35. Also the Sprint for Your Short. And Feature It! Many Telefilm programs include funding to hire a mentor or script editor to work with you. Some require credits. Some don't.

There are many Telefilm-funded workshops around the country. For example, there's the Screenwriters Bootcamp in PEI in June for Atlantic Canadians. I taught there a couple of summers, and some of the more promising guys there have gone on to agents, development deals and the CFC, like my boy Tommy Gushue.

There are various funding programs for making shorts, e.g. BravoFACT!, Telefilm and the regional development organizations (OMDC in Ontario, SODEC in Quebec, etc.).

For general support and community, there is Ink Canada, Karen Walton's community of screenwriters "and their sketchy friends." They hold irregular drinking sessions in most major cities. There's also the Montreal Film Group, if you're in Quebec.

Readers: I'm less familiar with the programs for aspiring writers. What am I missing?

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

"The one thing I never could stomach about living in Santa Carla ... all the damn vampires."

Hunter and I had fun watching THE LOST BOYS, Joel Schumacher's vampire comedy/thriller after Janice Fischer and James Jeremias's script. I had the odd thought after watching it that it's made for three audiences. There's a romance between Michael (Jason Patric) and Star (Jami Gertz). There's a low comedy/thriller involving Sam (Corey Haim) and the Fearless Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander). And there's some adult isn't-it-awkward-dating-when-you-have-kids with Dianne Wiest and Edward Hermann.

It's basically a co-viewing movie: something for everybody. Everybody except Lisa, really, who napped on the couch not eight feet from the TV without actually watching it.

Jeffrey Boam got a co-write on this; he was Donner's guy. I wonder what changes he made? Anyone know?

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Lisa and I cracked open THE NEWSROOM again. For our American readers, it's a 2004 CBC comedy series set behind the cameras at a news show. Creator Ken Finkleman plays George Findlay, the producer. He is smart, self-serving, self-aggrandizing, slightly racist, and cowardly when the stuff hits the fan. And he is very, very funny. But he is given a run for his money by Peter Keleghan, as the pompous, extremely stupid anchor, Jim Walcott.

So far, so THE OFFICE. But the humor feels dryer and cleverer, less in-your-face, more CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. You'll think a conversation is a throwaway, just there for humor and character, until it turns out to be a setup for the ultimate payoff in the last moments of the show.

Hilarious. Check it out, if you haven't already.

(THE NEWSROOM aired first in 1996, in an earlier incarnation. Canadian readers, fill me in: did the first run have the same style? In which case it was ahead of its time.)

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