Thursday, April 28, 2011
As part of the bizarre birther saga, this Daily Mail article
includes an interesting chart of different shows and how they skew on Red v. Blue. As you'd expect, football fans skew relatively Republican and 60 Minutes watchers skew Democratic. For some reason, Celebrity Apprentice fans are almost off the chart skewing Democratic.
I love that they have this information. I wonder how FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS skews?
(Personally I'm with the people who suspect the President of releasing his long-form birth certificate precisely to keep the birther meme alive, so it, and Donald Trump, can continue to suck the oxygen out of the Republican nomination race. The serious Republican candidates have to be going insane with frustration that a cartoon candidate, whose Republican bona fides are practically nonexistent, is grabbing all the headlines, just when they thought they'd hung up enough garlic to keep Sarah Palin out of the house. But that's another story.)
Just got word that YASU's been selected to screen at Just for Laughs Chicago:
Your film has been selected to screen as part of the Best of Just For Laughs Shorts Program #2 on Friday, June 17 at 6:00 pm. The screening will be presented as part of TWIX PRESENTS: TBS JUST FOR LAUGHS CHICAGO from June 14-18, 2011, at Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Which set us a-Googling, and we discovered that we also screened at the Night of Horrors
in Sydney, Australia, in April, in Dawson City last Friday
, and will be screening Thursday, May 5, at Dead by Dawn
in Edinburgh. Who knew?
Labels: You Are So Undead
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I wrote a free adaptation for a short story back in university and I'd like to rewrite it, in order to make something that would be all my own, beause I really like the story I ended up with. The fact is that I really didn't stick to the written text and invented many new details. I really liked the themes and setting, which I'd like to keep in a new story, and I am afraid that it might be seen as some form of copyright infringement. Would "Inspired by a story from..." or something like that be a possible course of action? Should I try to get the authorization from the rights owners instead?
Unless it's a selling point that you're adapting a specific book or property, I'd stay away from writing anything that requires rights. By the time you finish adapting most material into a movie, it's not the same material any more. If you haven't talked to the rights owner at that point, you're free and clear. If you have, you're in a bind, and if you have a contract, you're stuck.
The reason to get the rights would be that the property itself is a major selling point (e.g. GAME OF THRONES, a best-selling series of novels); or if the material is so unique and so cinematic that anything but a faithful adaptation would make a worse movie, not a better one. For example, John Grisham writes novels that are already so made-for-features that even if they weren't best-sellers, you'd be crazy to adapt one loosely.
I can't, of course, answer the question "is my adaptation loose enough that I can steal the idea?" That requires a copyright lawyer, and even there, the answer is probably "if you have to ask, then you can't." If someone reading your screenplay would say, "Hmm, this reminds me vaguely of X, did you ever read it?" then you're probably okay. But I am not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice...
In CRAFTY SCREENWRITING, I wrote:
Alien is a well-crafted story about a bunch of human beings in danger of being eaten by a monster. While we find out that an evil corporation put them in danger, the movie isn't really about the danger of evil corporations. It's about people trying not to get eaten by a giant bug. We come away from the film with just the adrenaline rush.
A Friend of the Blog writes in:
When I was a film student, Dan O'Bannon came to speak after a screening of that film, and he actually worked himself into a lather over this exact topic. "Everyone thinks this movie is about an alien, and it isn't. It isn't! It's about the evil corporations and how they only care about the bottom line, not human life!" He became so angry and vehement (without anyone provoking him) that I remember the scene rather well.
Okay, we're holding a fundraiser for Tyrone Benskin
on Thursday, 7-9, in the Old Port. RSVP...
Labels: Canadian politics
Monday, April 25, 2011
As some of you may know, Canada is in the throes of an election. I was delighted to see that Tyrone Benskin, VP of ACTRA and Artistic Director of Montreal's Black Theatre Workshop, is not only running for parliament in Jeanne-Le Ber, but is within 1.1% of winning it.
I had the pleasure to work with Tyrone on Charlie Jade (he played Karl Lubinsky), and he is a wise and thoughtful man, easy to work with yet passionate about the work, a rare combination.
I think it would be great to have a voice in Parliament who knows the concerns of the performing arts community firsthand. And with the NDP surging in Québec, it's suddenly possible. So I'm going to organize a little fundraiser this week. In the mean time, check out his site, http://tyronebenskin.ndp.ca, and if you feel like it, come to our fundraiser.
Labels: Canadian politics
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
My intrepid research assistant Jennifer chased down the details on Cancon requirements for co-productions. This sounds boring, but it is important if you're a Canadian writer, because if you have a co-production, you can do exactly what I was arguing for a little while ago, that is, set your Canadian show in European (or other) history. I asked "how exactly did The Tudors and The Borgias qualify for CMF funding, given that the co-production country is Ireland and neither is set there?" Here's the answer:
1. 3.2.TV.1.1 Official Treaty Co-Productions clause concerning Essential Requirements applies when submitting an application to access funding from the CMF.
2. Every co-production project is examined individually and assessed based on story content and the time period, and it's relevance to a Canadian audience, and that of the co-producing country. For example, the time period of "The Tudors" was deemed relevant to both Irish and Canadian history. For the "The Borgias", it was the cultural and historical significance of Catholicism to a Canadian (and the co-producing country) audience.
3. Telefilm has turned down co-production applications based on more modern stories, with no cultural, historical or other relevance for a Canadian audience.
The term "Canada" includes the co-producing country based on the Essential Requirements. If the content and time period are relevant to a Canadian audience, based on Telefilm's examination, then it doesn't have to be "set" in Canada.
I think I'll go polish up my historical ninja series now.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
And here's some news on the Warner Bros. Writers' Workshop:
From May 2 until June 1, 2011 we are once again taking submission for the Warner Bros. Writers' Workshop!
Things to remember:
1. There is NO golden ticket into the program- referrals should not call, send emails, or love grams- they will not help.
2. This is not a minority program- we welcome everyone from all backgrounds to apply.
3. Resumes are required to submit but they are divorced from their scripts during the first round of qualifications- you get into this program based on your writing skills.
4. The online application feature will launch on May 2nd, so no one is able to submit before then.
Labels: breaking in
Monday, April 18, 2011
The deadline to apply to the CFC’s CBC Prime Time Television Program this year is May 20. About 80% of Canadian TV writers and network execs have been to this highly selective program, so, yeah.
Writer, show creator, alumnus, man-about-town and bon vivant Denis McGrath will be holding two free writing workshops and info sessions in Toronto on behalf of the CFC:
Comedy: Tuesday, May 3, 6-10 PM
Drama: Thursday, May 5, 6-10 PM
If you want to attend a workshop, please tell RSVP to Valentina Puvtoska and say which one.
Labels: breaking in
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Q. A producer wants to option my script and send it to Téléfilm next week for script development financing. He’s offering a symbolic $1 fee for the option, and says that it is common for our industry (Québec and non WGC member). The production company is well known and has a good reputation, I’m not concerned with ill intent, I’d just like a confirmation that indeed it is common, especially for an up and comer without screen credits and not a member of any writing guild. I understand that as a member of a guild, it’s a hard thing to accept, but from my perspective, is it something I should expect?
Normally I'm against free options. An option fee is not only money in your pocket. It is also an indicator of how solid the producer is, and how serious he is about your project. A producer who can't scare up even a thousand bucks to option your script is either not very serious or not very solid.
Normally I would say that if a producer is balking at paying money, you can offer him a shopping agreement: he can take it around, and he's attached, but you won't actually negotiate your deal until it's set up somewhere. This naturally puts you in a much better negotiating position; but hey, if he wants to lock down your material, he's got to put out.
However, here in Canada, and especially in Québecistan, producers rarely have any cash lying around. All but the strongest have to take projects to funding agencies even to get you an option fee. So it's not unreasonable for a producer to ask for an essentially free option. The shopping agreement doesn't work in features, because the funding agencies require that the producer have an option.
So while an experienced writer might expect to get paid something for an option, a writer with few or not credits might have to sign a free option.
However, since it's free, you should expect a very, very good agreement. I would ask for the following, whether you're in the States or Canada:
- Once there's funding, you get an option fee equivalent to the WGC minimum (which is 10% of the script fee).
- All minimums should be equivalent to WGC minimums: script fee, production fee, royalties, etc. .
- Credit to be determined, in the event of dispute, by a mutually approved arbitrator, using the criteria of the WGA MBA or WGC IPA.
(Actually, if all possible, get a deal that says that once there's funding, the option deal becomes an actual WGC deal. (Technically you sign a short-term non-Guild "option to option" deal that grants the producer the right to execute a long-term, as-yet-unsigned WGA or WGC agreeement.) You really, really want to have the Guild behind you.)
- Right of first refusal to write the first rewrite at no less than WGA or WGC scale. If you don't have this, they can pay you the option payment, and then give the rewrites to a slew of fancy writers. Otherwise, the producer could spend $80,000 on rewrites, fail to make the movie, and you wind up with a couple of thousand bucks because he chose a fancier writer than you.
- It's a good idea to ask for a clause that says if the option expires, you get the rights to all your rewrites back, subject to a payment on the first day of principal photography of any amounts you were paid to write them. Otherwise after the option expires, the producer still owns your rewrites, and that amounts to having veto power of any future deal you might do with a third party. There's no good reason for a producer to refuse this, since if he doesn't have the option anymore, the rewrites are useless to him.
Once you have signed an option agreement, you lose all your leverage. So make sure it's a really robust agreement. If they're not paying you, they really have no right to nickel-and-dime you on on the option agreement. And if they're being sticky about the terms of the free option, then you really shouldn't feel bad about walking away.
I'm trying to track down this notion that co-productions are exempt from the CanCon requirement that the story be set in Canada. My intern's careful reading of the Performance Guidelines
3.2.TV.1.1 Official Treaty Co-Productions
With respect to the eligibility of official treaty co-productions to access the CMF, these Essential Requirements shall be
interpreted so as to treat the treaty co-production partner as “Canadian.”
Accordingly, the terms “Canadian” and “Canadians” in Essential Requirements 1 and 3, and the term “Canada” in
Essential Requirement 4 will be deemed to include the co-production country. The 10/10 points referenced in Essential
Requirement 2 must be attained by citizens of Canada or the co-producing country.
Now I have to find out how, exactly, Irish co-productions like The Tudors or The Borgias can be set in England or Italy and still count.
Labels: Cancon, Co-productions
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Q. Can a writing team that's half Canadian / half American qualify for all the Canadian goodies?
A. Sorry, no.
Ah, I found the answer via this CPTC PDF: http://www.pch.gc.ca/DAMAssetPub/DAM-flmVid-flmVid/STAGING/texte-text/cptc_guide_1272631234182_eng.pdf
To obtain the points for the position of screenwriter, a production must meet one of the following conditions:
a) Each individual involved in the preparation of the screenplay for the production must be Canadian. This means that all the individuals engaged in developing the screenplay, from the outline or treatment through the various drafts and dialogue polishes to the final shooting script, must be Canadian; or
b) The principal screenwriter must be Canadian and the screenplay for the production must be based on a work authored by a Canadian and published in Canada.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
I try to give positive, constructive notes. Insight is rare and crucial, of course, but simply how you phrase a note can make it easier for the writer to absorb it. Here are three things you can do to make your notes go down more smoothly:
1. Make every note positive.
By positive, I don't mean tell people things are good when they're not. I mean phrase the note in a positive way.
Every negative note can be phrased positively, using a few more words.
"I have no idea who this character is." -> "I'd like to see this character defined more clearly."
"This is confusing." -> "Can you clarify what is going on here?"
"This is a gaping plothole." -> "Can you come up with a more convincing way to get here?"
"I don't believe this twist." -> "I'd like you to work a bit harder at earning this plot point."
2. Note how some of these notes are phrased personally. "I feel..." "I'd like..." It helps to avoid the Voice of God in notes. They won't be any less authoritative. Anything you say will have exactly the same amount of authority whether you claim it's the facts or your opinion. But if you state it personally, it acknowledges that you could be wrong. And you could be.
3. Note how some of these notes are phrased as a question. "This is confusing" provokes the reaction, "No, it's not! You're just an idiot! Screw you! I'm going to throw myself out the window now." "Can you clarify this" provokes the reaction, "Yeah, sure, sorry 'bout that. I'll get right on it."
Obviously it's important to be clear, and smart, in your notes. But when you have a choice between phrasing a note as "this is bad" and "I'd like to see this improved," the latter is almost certainly going to allow your note-taker to focus more on your note, and less on that peculiar combination of anger, guilt, humiliation and nausea that is every writer's instinctive reaction to criticism.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Last night was the WGC Awards, one of the best parties in town. Getting an award from your peers is tremendously fulfilling, especially since it's based on your script, not just the movie that someone else made it into. Last night's winners were:
The Cat In The Hat Knows A Lot About That, “The Cat In The Hat Knows A Lot About Maps”
In Children & Youth
The Latest Buzz, “The Extreme Shakespeare Issue”
The Pig Farm
In TV Comedy
Less Than Kind, “Coming Home”
In TV Drama
Mark Ellis & Stephanie Morgenstern
Flashpoint, “Jumping at Shadows”
In Movies & Miniseries
In Shorts & Web Series
You Are So Undead
The WGC Showrunner Award – Tassie Cameron
The WGC Writers Block Award – Peter Grant
The Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize – Denise Blinn
Why yes, that is wife my Lisa Hunter winning for her script for our little teen vampire sex comedy!
Sunday, April 10, 2011
I can't report to you the fascinating discussions going on at the WGC Forum, 'cause it's a no-tweet zone. But I did run across this handy factoid (which, caveat, I need to confirm):
Any co-production qualifies as CanCon.
This can work against Canadian writers, as when a 20% Canadian show with no Canadian writers, like THE TUDORS, qualifies to the CMF as CanCon.
But it also works for us on majority co-productions, because it removes the "set in Canada" requirement. So if you had a show set in ancient Egypt or Rome or even in the United States, which would not normally qualify for CMF funding, it would qualify if you brought in a minority 20% European partner (and shot it in Canada with Canadian actors etc.).
I think this is good news for Canadian writers, if I can confirm it, because it opens up a raft of stories that Canadian audiences might be interested in that don't take place in Canada.
Or so I'm told. Now who can confirm this for me...?
On I Like Horror Movies:
Being bitten by a vampire has become the next big thing, and all of the kids are doing it! Mary finally lets a boy go all the way, but her mom is going to kill her when she finds those puncture marks on her neck! YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is a breath of fresh air in a genre that has been beaten to undeath. The sharp wit and clever metaphors found in Lisa Hunter's script equates sex and vampirism in the same way that GINGER SNAPS linked puberty with werewolves. Meaghan Rath and Erin Agostino are each fantastic, and play right into the brilliant humor. The short wraps up with a perfectly timed twist in the end. Hopefully this isn't the last we hear from newcomers Lisa Hunter and Alex Epstein, as YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is sure to become a huge sensation with Horror fans!
In other news. YASU won the screenwriting award at Bleedfest LA. Go Lisa!
Labels: You Are So Undead
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
A dear friend posted this Toronto Star
column about American broadcasters streaming content into Canada, commercials intact.
The key determinant will obviously be money. Once U.S. rights holders conclude that it is more profitable to retain the Internet rights so that they can stream their programs online to a global audience and capture the advertising or subscription revenues that come with it, Canadian broadcasters may find that they can only license broadcast rights with the U.S. rights holders competing directly with them via the Internet.
As content moves onto the Internet, this could present a huge problem for broadcasters that rely on a protected market. The response that we (content creators) hope they'd have is to produce more homegrown content that they could then stream into other markets. But the immediate temptation, once it really begins to hurt, will be to ask for some kind of government-enforced geoblocking. We'll see.
Labels: Cancon, distribution technology
Saturday, April 02, 2011
While we're on the subject of formatting: one space after a period, or two?
Back in the day of the typewriter, the standard was two spaces after a period. Then along came computers with proportionally spaced fonts, and the standard is now one.
But Screenwriter defaults to two spaces, and Courier is a monospaced font.
Do you use one space or two?Free Web Survey
UPDATE: A slight majority use a single space.