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



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Friday, February 25, 2011

Q. I'm currently working on a spec Cougar Town. Cougar Town has a ton of recurring jokes and bits (Penny Can, the Japanese restaurant greeting, etc.). I'm trying to figure out how to strike a balance between writing a really great Cougar Town, recurring jokes and all, and not alienating readers who don't watch the show. Which side would you err on?
This is a toughie.

My first answer would be never to spec a show that showrunners are likely to be unfamiliar with. I don't know if COUGAR TOWN is a show everyone watches. Call a couple of agents' assistants and ask if execs and showrunners are likely to be familiar with it.

My second answer would be: this is one way that writing a spec is harder than writing for the show. You can't usethe recurring jokes as a crutch. You have to write the recurring jokes in such a way that they score anyway. If you can twist the jokes, or top them, then you get points from any reader and bonus points from the COUGAR TOWN aficionado.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

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I don't know how many of you have been submitting to the various Telefilm Canada writer-only programs like Feature It! and Writers First and the Premier Writers Program, but I had an enlightening back-and-forth with a friend at Telefilm. You can only submit a project to Telefilm at a given level (e.g. outline, treatment, first draft, second draft) once.

This gets a bit dicey because the objectives of some of these programs are different. Feature It! was aimed at emerging writers doing low budget stories. Feature It! could have rejected a project for being too high budget or the writer not being "emerging" enough; but the project is then tainted at TFC unless you take it to the next level. (I.e. you turn your outline into a treatment, or your treatment into a draft.)

The requirements are a little looser when producers get involved. If Producer A is rejected with your outline, you can come in later with Producer B, so long as you've made serious changes to the material -- which, with a new producer, you probably have.

I'm passing all this along 'cause I was not aware of it! Careful what you send in and how -- you only get one shot.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just found out that one of our favorite shows, 18 TO LIFE, has definitely been cancelled -- I heard about it from one of the cast members.

Well, damn. This was a crisply written, funny, sweet, sexy show. And it was really hitting its stride. The cast is funny and adorable, and they have well-drawn characters to play. This year our family comedy viewing has been 30 ROCK, MODERN FAMILY and 18 TO LIFE.

Somehow or other, the series was controversial in the States. Apparently Americans took issue with the teen protagonists enjoying an offscreen sex life? Even though they are, you know, legally adults, and, uh, married? Maybe one day someone will explain that one to me.

What killed the series, though, was what kills any series: low ratings. Why didn't this show do better? Why do certain incredibly unfunny shows get renewed? You tell me. I'll miss it.

Well, I'm looking forward to whatever Derek Schreyer and Karen Troubetzkoy come up with next.

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Unlike Canadian TV, where Canadian networks have been able to finesse the Cancon regulations, the Canadian music industry has strong requirements for airing Canadian music. And look at the results:
According to The Atlantic magazine, Montreal has the third highest concentration of music business establishments in North America, after Nashville and LA. Canada has four cities in the North American top ten: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Quebec City.

It's no surprise that Québec has two cities in the top ten: Québec's support for its own culture is phenomenal. (That's one reason why yours truly lives here.) And it's no wonder that acts like Alanis Morissette and Arcade Fire come out of here.

I'm looking at you, CRTC!

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hey, congratulations to my many friends who are nominated for WGC Awards. Not least of whom, my beloved wife Lisa, nominated in Shorts and Web Series for her hilarious script for YOU ARE SO UNDEAD.

And the nominees are...

In Animation..

League of Super Evil “All You Can Eat”
Written by Edward Kay

League of Super Evil “Voltina”
Written by Philippe Ivanusic-Vallee & Davila LeBlanc

The Cat In The Hat Knows A Lot About That “The Cat…Knows A Lot About Maps”
Written by Karen Moonah

Total Drama World Tour “Broadway Baby”
Written by Alex Ganetakos

Zeke’s Pad “Fetch a Sketch”
Written by Hugh Duffy

In Children and Youth...

How To be Indie “How To Fight For Your Rights”
Written by Vera Santamaria

The Latest Buzz “The Extreme Shakespeare Issue”
Written by Barbara Haynes

Wingin’ It “She Blinded Me With Science”
Written by Ramona Barckert

Wingin’ It “The Spinner And The Saint”
Written by Conor Casey & Lyndon Casey

In Documentary...

How to Boil a Frog
Written by Jon Cooksey

Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague
Written by Jefferson Lewis

The Pig Farm
Written by Christine Nielsen

In Movies and Miniseries...

Barney’s Version
Written by Michael Konyves

Grown Up Movie Star
Written by Adriana Maggs

Life, Above All
Written by Dennis Foon


In Shorts and Web Series...

Hot Wheels Battle Force Five “Splashback”
Written by Cole Bastedo & Matt Huether

Ruby Skye P.I. “Caught Ruby Red Handed”
Written by Julie Strassman-Cohn & Jill Golick

You Are So Undead
Written by Lisa Hunter


In TV Comedy...

Kids in the Hall: Death Comes To Town “Cause of Death”
Written by Bruce McCulloch & Mark McKinney

Less Than Kind II “Coming Home”
Written by Chris Sheasgreen

Less Than Kind II “The Deluge”
Written by Garry Campbell & Jen Beasley

Less Than Kind II “Fasto Loves Lebso”
Written by Jenn Engels

In TV Drama...

Durham County “Distance, Hunting and Home”
Written by Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik

Flashpoint “Acceptable Risk”
Written by Pamela Davis

Flashpoint “Jumping at Shadows”
Written by Mark Ellis & Stephanie Morgenstern

Rookie Blue “Girlfriend of the Year”
Written by Tassie Cameron

Rookie Blue “Hot and Bothered”
Written by Russ Cochrane


It's a mystery to me how SPLICE failed to get nominated for Best Movie or Miniseries. Doug Taylor and Vincenzo Natali's script was brilliant and alarming and creepy as all get out. But everyone can't have prizes.

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Still searching for even a used Korean copy of Crafty Screenwriting (aka "Laws of Success: Scenario"), I found this enchanting review:
이 책은 선수용 실전 매뉴얼이다. 당신이 이제 막 시나리오를 쓰려고 마음먹었거나 초고를 막 완성한 사람이라면 이 책의 효용은 그리 크지않다. 만일 당신이 단막극 한 편이나 영화 한 편 정도를 써서 프로듀서의 평가를 받은 적이 있다면 이 책의 가치는 정말로 크다. 경험을 하지 않은 사람은 도저히 알 수 없는 실전적인 지침들이 가득하기 때문이다.

만약 당신이 현재 방송계, 영화계에서 이름이 통하는 프로페셔널이라면 이 책은 대단히 유용하다. 특히 경험에서 얻은 지혜이지만 그것이 과연 옳은 것인지 확신하지 못할 때 이 책은 아주 유용하다. 실무를 경험한 사람들만이 느낄 수 있는 등 뒤의 가려운 부분을 제대로 긁어주기 때문이다. 책을 덮은 다음 당신은 '내 생각이 옳았다.'이거나 '이런 생각도 있을 수 있구나'하고 고개를 주억거릴 것이다.
I have actually no idea what this says.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

I haven't had much new to say lately, and I've been juggling three projects, so I've been quiet here.

This is just to say that Lisa and I watched THE WEST WING Season 2 finale, "Two Cathedrals," for at least the fourth time. The show, and this episode, just gets better and better. That, kids, is how this is done. A brilliant writer on a brilliant show... if you haven't seen it, and you hope to write one hour drama, there's your homework.

I met with an emerging writer today, and struggled to crystallize a direction for him to take his script. I was a little surprised to see he hadn't done his homework. It was a script about two guys who don't want to commit, who meet and fall in love with two girls who don't want to commit. I assigned him WEDDING CRASHERS and HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 14 DAYS and THE WEDDING PLANNER and HAROLD AND MAUDE. I am pretty sure that when Shakespeare was writing revenge tragedies, he read tons of revenge tragedies, and when he was writing comedies, he went and saw comedies. "If I have seen farther," said Newton, "it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants."

Don't worry that you'll steal too much. It's a lot of work to steal too much. To write Hemingway pastiche you really have to rein in your sentences. If you just pursue your own feeling of emotional truth, you will be original enough. And if you find yourself stealing even half of what Aaron Sorkin did on "Two Cathedrals," you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

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Monday, February 14, 2011


Lisa and I live a couple of blocks from the Centaur Theatre, Montreal's premier English theatre, in the old Montreal Stock Market building. So when our dear friend Johanna raved about Möcshplat at my launch party, we thought we'd go. It's Macbeth, performed by clowns, in gibberish.

Yep.

I really can't think of any words to do justice to the antics of the clowns, except to say that they were really, really funny.

I'm not a big fan of theatre. Contemporary plays mostly leave me cold. Very often there is no "play" -- the characters aren't trying to get anything from each other by talking. Sometimes there is just no point. But of course, this isn't a contemporary play, it's Macbeth translated into a gibberish that is just comprehensible enough that you can follow what the characters are ranting about.

It does help a bit if you know the plot.

(There is an old theatrical tradition that you never say the name of "the Scottish play" in a theatre. And of course you never wish an actor "good luck." I've always wanted to have some idiot say "good luck playing Macbeth!" to an actor, in a theatre, but that's the sort of one percenter you have to cut...)

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Saturday, February 12, 2011


If you're in Montreal this evening, swing by my launch party for my novel, THE CIRCLE CAST and drink with us.

It's at Réservoir, 9 Duluth East, 7 to 9.

See you there!

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Monday, February 07, 2011

This weekend we rented BEVERLY HILLS COP, PORKY'S and THE BLUES BROTHERS. Not because we had a jones for leather jackets, but research for a comedy screenplay.

Boy, THE BLUES BROTHERS doesn't hold up. There's some funny stuff, but the pace is glacial. We found PORKY'S irksome. BEVERLY HILLS COP still worked, but boy was it slow slow slow between the funny bits.

If Ridley Scott can keep releasing longer and longer and more self-indulgent versions of BLADERUNNER, maybe editors could start releasing their shorter and shorter "editor's cut" of old movies? It's a rare 80's comedy that doesn't need a trim and a bit of a shave. (For the record, ANIMAL HOUSE totally holds up.)

Oh, and while we're at it, will someone trim all the episodes of MIAMI VICE down to half hours? I swear there's no more than 22 minutes of story in each, along with 22 minutes of hair.

UPDATE: A reader writes in:
I work for a network soap opera, and our show typically averages about 40 scenes per show (7 acts, 5-6 scenes per act on average). We recently reran an episode from fifteen years ago, and the entire show had 18 scenes total. Even since the mid-1990s, scenes on our show last half as long as they used to! Pretty wild how the pace of TV shows continues to accelerate.

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I was happy to find out that YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is selected for the 13th Mecal International Short Film Festival in Barcelona!

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Hunter showed me Survive the Outbreak, a video choose-your-own-adventure made to promote The Outbreak, another zombie movie. Basically there are cutscenes, then you choose one of two story options, and find out whether you die or survive.



While it was sort of interesting to fool around with the choices, I found it unfulfilling. Here's why. The seeds of a great ending start in thebeginning. A story that seems like it could go either way really can't. The beginning of a movie that has a sad ending foreshadows its tragedy, possibly in small ways. To be emotionally satisfying at the end, a movie that has a happy ending opens the door to the happy in the first ten minutes. (In my book I call that making a "contract" with the audience.)

You can't do that in a binary tree adventure. The beginning has to serve all possible endings.

In Survive The Outbreak, you'll note that in order to survive you have to be a good guy in one situation and a terrible guy in a similar situation. While life is like that, stories want a more consistent character. It's hard to get emotionally involved if we don't know who we're watching. Of course the tree could have been written more cleverly.

It is theoretically possible to write a binary tree adventure so that we reinterpret the beginning in different ways. The writers can create an ambiguous situation that resolves itself through later information; MEMENTO was all about that. But that is awfully hard to craft. There's a reason there's only been one MEMENTO.

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According to The Escapist, Red Dead Redemption and Mass Effect 2 aren't up for Writers Guild of America Awards, 'cause Bioware and Take Two refused to submit scripts. Said WGA President Micah Wright:
Why? We don't know. Maybe they hate unions, or maybe they just hate winning awards, or maybe they have enough statues on their mantle. No way to know. So another game gets what would likely have been their nomination. Are we happy about it? No... but rules are rules and our rules are clear and very fair."
This came up because,
In an interview with GamesIndustry yesterday, Deus Ex: Human Revolution lead writer Mary De Marle said she was "kind of mad" about the WGA game writing awards because of the requirement that nominees must be Guild members. "To tout themselves as, 'This is the award that you want to get if you write in games,' that is not true, because they're not recognizing all the games that exist," she said.
However apparently if you're not a WGA member you can still join the Videogame Writers Caucus for $60 and qualify that way.

(Mary, you will recall, was kind enough to talk to us at our panel last month.)

As videogames move towards fulfilling stories, I hope more companies acknowledge their lead writers. A videogame is a collaborative enterprise, but so is a movie. And no one in the movie industry is diminished by people knowing who wrote what. I don't know, maybe companies are afraid that writers will get too much status and power. But it hasn't happened in the movies yet, so where's the problem?

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I'm looking for a Korean copy of CRAFTY SCREENWRITING; my publisher neglected to send me one. If you're a reader in South Korea, would you be kind enough to tell me how I could buy one?

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Today I blazed through about eight pages of script and then stalled. I knew what the next scene is, but I couldn't figure out what to put there.

I realized: this is the point where it might be a good idea to check in with my main character. She's in practically every scene of the movie. But only now and then do we get some alone time with her, to see how she's really feeling. (She's not someone who shows her feelings easily.)

You don't always have to make a whole scene out of checking in with your main character. It might be a glance in the mirror at the beginning of a scene, or a closeup of her face as she walks away from a scene. Sometimes, you don't even need to put the scene in the movie -- you can write the scene but keep it to yourself. But checking in with your main character can allow your story to take a breath and gather its strength for the next push. And it helps make sure your story isn't going off the rails.

Also, actors love it.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

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