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



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Sunday, August 28, 2011

I understand your time is valuable so I will try to keep this short. My name is [name that starts with N], and I am a sophomore at [university you've heard of]. I have a rough TV script for a sit-com that I've worked on, about [snip]. I have read most of your website and I fully intend on buying your books, but I am writing to you to see if you could offer any additional advice that is specific to my situation. I've read online that the chances of a production company even acknowledging an unestablished writer are nonexistent, but I refuse to give up. I am confident that my concept has commercial potential, and I intend to see it through.

I don't have the money to pay you to read my script, and I don't have the money to find an agent. I truly value your feedback if you should find the time to respond.
Dear Name That Starts With N:

Here's one bit of specific advice: do your homework before you bug professionals for advice. Many people will give you one free conversation with them, but very few will give you two. You have just wasted your free conversation with me.

How have you wasted it? Well, you haven't bothered to get my books. What are the odds that my book CRAFTY TV WRITING: THINKING INSIDE THE BOX might contain some information about your spec pilot and your chances of getting it read? I'm pretty sure it's in the library at [university you've heard of].

Or how about my blog? In my six years of blog entries, there are quite a few tagged "spec pilot" and "breaking in." You obviously haven't read through my blog posts. Instead you just figured you'd dash off an email.

Your request comes off as lazy and over-entitled. You haven't even rewritten your script and you already want me to reassure you that you might be able to sell it. You haven't even cracked my books, and you want to assure me that you "refuse to give up." It's like you're yelling "I have not yet begun to fight!" after an evening at a bar talking about joining the Navy.

(You "don't have money to find an agent"? What does that even mean?)

When you contact people in the business, do your homework. Read their books or articles or blog posts if they have them. See their movies and TV shows if they've written or created them. People like answering educated questions. ("When you were developing THE OUTER LIMITS, how did you try to distinguish it from THE TWILIGHT ZONE?") They want a sense that you treasure their input, and you've put in at least as much effort into the question as they will have to put into the answer.

That way, you earn the right to a second conversation.

UPDATE:
I apologize if I insulted you or wasted your time, this was my first stab at this. While the truth stings a bit, I believe this is what I needed.
A willingness to embrace criticism is an extremely important virtue in any biz, but particularly this one. Bravo.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our plan was to go into New York tonight, grab the kid and head North, but now it seems unrealistic to drive into New York, and it looks like we wouldn't be able to grab the kid until too late.

So, we're riding it out in East Hampton, in a house made of wood and huge glass windows. Fortunately, we're on one of the few bits of really high ground in town.

At least, we hope we're riding it out; there may be mandatory evacuations. In which case we're riding it out in the high school. Which doesn't seem much fun at all.

However, "an adventure is an inconvenience properly considered."

We did watch L'AVVENTURA, Antonioni's 1960 masterpiece. It is a strange movie. Almost nothing happens. Some rich people go to an island. A girl disappears. They search for her, but then give up. Her boyfriend and her best friend hook up. Yet somehow, it holds your interest.

How does Antonioni do it? I don't know. And that's why the movie bears watching over and over.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Looks like CHARLIE JADE is now available on Hulu. (In the US at least.) Via Mad Pulp Bastard.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

I was in Burbank the other day, chatting with a network executive about the Telefilm program that brought me down to LA. She was surprised that so many of the other projects were being pitched by Canadian producers, with the writers not invited along. She thought it was odd that a producer would pitch a series, as if the network was buying a concept. They're not, of course. They're buying a concept to be written by a writer.

There are so few truly original series. A lot of what the networks buy are either old ideas rebuilt or ideas that are just out there. E.g. THE GLADES is about a city cop who moves to the country -- clever! -- while dozens of writers, including me, pitched shows set in the Kandahar combat hospital. What makes a show fresh is the writing, and that comes from the vision of the writer.

A fortiori, shows that truly are fresh. Who would have bought a show set in an ad agency in the 1960's? What they bought was Matt Weiner's vision of a time and a place and some characters and a style and a way of life. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES wasn't a great concept. It was a bravura pilot script that proved that Marc Cherry had a vision.

At any rate, that's how they think about it in LA.

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Huh. I'm trying to find Awkward and Teen Wolf on MTV on my Bell Satellite, but no go. Uh, is this some crappy, fake MTV that doesn't have the new MTV shows?

UPDATE: Seems so.

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Q. A friend and I are on page 93 of our first draft of a screen play about [snip]. We need advice on draft 2. The books we have read thus far have led us nearly to the end of draft 1. Does your book tell where to go after the first draft?
No book can give you specific advice about draft 2, because draft 2 depends entirely on draft 1. If the story is solid, you might work on fleshing out the characters. If it's too long, you're looking to cut. If it has unnecessary scenes, you're looking to cut. If the third act doesn't hold up, you're thinking about a new third act.

Generally there are two questions to ask yourself before going onto the second draft:

a. How well did the first draft deliver the goods on the pitch? Did you create the character you pitched? is the antagonist as scary as your hook suggested? Did you hold true to your story, or did your script go off the rails and become about something else?

b. How well did the pitch work? You might find that your stakes, which sounded good at the pitch stage, aren't convincing. You might need to raise the stakes. The main character might be less compelling than you'd hoped. What would make him or her more compelling?

You may also find on reading your script that your initial story wasn't as strong as you'd hoped. Somewhere in the first draft, you might have found a way to twist the story so it's better. The job of your second draft might be to fulfill the promise of your revised story. This is often hard to do, since one tends to cling to good scenes that don't belong in the new version. But if you endure a little carnage, you'll have a better script.

Ultimately, the question you ask about a first draft is: is this the best movie I can write in this territory? Or can I make it better, either by refining the characters, scenes and dialog, cutting junk, streamlining and punching up; or by revising the story foundation and rebuilding the whole structure?

You ask these same questions, in fact, in every subsequent draft. Creatively (as opposed to financially) there is no such thing as a second draft. Every draft is a first draft, until you shoot it. Because if there's a way to make the script better, you should make it better, no matter whether you're improving your first draft or the project is something you've been working on for years.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm finally done with my exciting week pitching series in LA. I was thrilled to see how open people are to a writer with Canadian credits pitching a Canadian series; they're ready to see a show set in Montreal. ("The audience is, do we like this person? Whether the police have square hats or not, who cares.")

When you get into the room, you instantly realize that some of your pitches are lame. They're the ones you wrote to be like what's on TV. The execs don't want that; they've already got'em. From you, they want the project that you're mad about, the project that takes 10 minutes to pitch instead of only 5 minutes. They want passion. They want something they haven't heard before. "What do you want to spend the next seven years writing?" the very gracious exec at Fox asked me.

That doesn't mean they want a big serial show with lots of mythology, necessarily. Episodic is always easier, so long as you can twist it in a way that makes it fresh.

You have to hear the mandates, of course. The CW no longer wants serials about high school students. They want procedurals about 20somethings. At least, right now they do. TNT wants shows for people from the heartland, ideally character-based procedurals. TeenNick wants your upbeat, big-idea show about a sixteen-year-old girl.

Now we'll see how the enthusiasm I felt in the room turns into followup. Of course, I won't be stressing about it. I will immediately put it out of my mind as I turn to the next thing I need to write. It is the only way to stay sane...

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

I'm down in LA for the week, pitching a series. The thing you have to watch out for is: the mandate is always on the move. We pitched one production company famous for its HBO and Showtime series. What do they want? An episodic procedural for broadcast. (Which is what we're pitching, which is why they wanted to see us down here.)

Talked to the CW. They don't want high school serials. They don't even want 20something serials, like all their new series. They want older and episodic. They want those 40 year old female eyeballs.

Just met an exec who tells me he can't do anything with a genre show. In other news, someone told me angels are the new zombies.

Always ask about the mandate before you start pitching. Until you find out what they're actually looking for now, this very moment, talk about the weather. (Which, by the way, is ridiculously brisk for summer. Low of 59F? Come on.)

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

You can find ebooks at your local library and download them, and you don't even have to go into the library!

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Paul William Tenny wrote in with some spectacular intel on Kindle Pricing. I've posted it on my book blog, if you're interested.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

I saw Paul Campion's DEVIL'S ROCK at Fantasia. Nazi occultist, brave Kiwi soldier, sexy demon, lotsa gore.

Now you've seen it, too.

To be fair, this was a cheapie that Roger Corman would have appreciated. One exterior location, one big interior location (abandoned bunker with tunnels). Three principals, one bit part, a lotta corpses. One creature design. Lotta talking and chain rattling. Decent music. It did not outreach itself -- it never felt cheesy because it never tried to do anything too big for its budget. And it was moderately scary with pretty good performances. So, a success if it was made for $100,000, a base hit if it was made for $500,000. Watch it yourself if you want to know what kind of feature can be made for almost nothing.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011


Watched COWBOYS AND ALIENS last night with my friend Doug. I was surprised how good it was because the critics have generally disliked it for being cliche-ridden: badmen, a sheriff, wise Indians, tough cattle rancher, etc.

That's not really a fair criticism because C & A is a mash-up. It is intended to have all that cheesy Western goodness ... and aliens! Of course it has Indians. What kind of Western would it be if it had aliens and no Indians.

But actually, it's much better than that. It has a story that holds up well. It has surprises and twists, some of which are nicely foreshadowed.

The complaints, I think, come out of not understanding what the movie is. It is a horse opera with aliens.

By "horse opera," I mean it is not intended to be a realistic portrayal of anything. It is bigger than life, just as STAR WARS, a space opera, was bigger than life. Daniel Craig's Jake Lonergan is a capital B Badman with a heart. The opening scene is as good an opening for a Western as I've ever seen. Jake wakes up in the dust; can't remember how he got there; finds out he's wounded; finds out he's got an alien doodad on his wrist; is surrounded by bounty hunters; takes care of the bounty hunters; and rides off with their dog.

Sure, the "I can't remember who I am or how I got here" opening is not realistic, but that's not the point. Jake is the kind of hero we go to the movies to see. There is a point to seeing him 40 feet tall.

And it has really good characters. I draw your attention to Harrison Ford's character, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde.

/* mild spoilers */

We first meet Dolarhyde through his awful son, a drunk who's shooting up the town. No one dares stop him because he's the son of Col. Dolarhyde, the rich local rancher. Then when Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) has a (very satisfactory) run-in with the punk, Dolarhyde comes to rescue his son and lynch Lonergan, who's stolen his gold.

We quickly get that Dolarhyde is dangerous. He's willing to torture his own people if he thinks they've betrayed him.

But Dolarhyde then embarks on a deftly scripted revelation of character. He is a badass. And he's mean. But we start to learn where he's coming from. He's seen towns slaughtered by Apache raids. He was an officer at Antietam where he lost 328 men in a day. He's mean because his world is mean. He takes care of an orphan in his own way -- giving the kid his own buck knife and giving him advice on how to use it. And later on we discover that his Indian scout, who he's so mean to, is in fact a boy he adopted after the boy's family was slaughtered.

It's not a transformation of character. He doesn't change as a person. But we discover that he has virtues. We realize that he's a man you don't want as an enemy, but who you do want next to you in a fight.

Harrison Ford does really a beautiful job with the role. Nobody's going to give him an Oscar for this part, because nobody gets an Oscar for a movie called Cowboys and Aliens. But this is the best acting I've ever seen him do.

I could go on about Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) and the nifty way the movie hints to us what her secret is (the minute she said "they took my people too," I knew). I could go on about the wide-eyed kid. I could mention the clever way the screenwriters get us over the bump of why aliens would come here looking for what they're looking for -- they hang a lantern on it and address it. But darn it, go see the damn movie. And to hell with the critics.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Supposedly, this is Stephen Spielberg's list of movies that you 'have to see before you work with him.' Citation definitely needed, but it's an interesting list.

(UPDATE: It probably isn't Spielberg's list. And some of these movies are terrible. YMMV.)


1. 12 Angry Men
2. 2001
3. 400 Blows
4. 8 1/2
5. Adam's Rib
6. Alfie
7. Al Capone
8. All About Eve
9. All That Jazz
10. American In Paris
11. And Justice For All
12. Annie Hall
13. Apartment, The
14. Apocalypse Now
15. All the Presidents Men
16. Baby Doll
17. Bang the Drum Slowly
18. Barefoot In the Park
19. Battleship Potemkin
20. Belle De Jour
21. The Best Years Our Lives
22. Big Sleep, The
23. Bicycle Thieves
24. Big Chill, The
25. Birds, The
26. Body Heat
27. Bonnie & Clyde
28. Breakfast at Tiffany's
29. Breathless
30. Bridge Over the River Kwai
31. Brief Encounter
32. Bringing Up Baby
33. Bullitt
34. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
35. Cape Fear
36. Casablanca
37. Celebration, The
38. Champ, The
39. Charade
40. Chase, The
41. Les Enfants du Paradis
42. Chinatown
43. Citizen Kane
44. Clockwork Orange
45. Close Encounters
46. Come Back Little Sheba
47. Cool Hand Luke
48. Conversation, The
49. The Day the Earth Stood Still
50. The Days of Wine & Roses
51. Deer Hunter, The
52. Dog Day Afternoon
53. Double Indemnity
54. Doctor Zhivago
55. East of Eden
56. Exorcist,The
57. Face In The Crowd
58. Five Easy Pieces
59. Fly, The
60. French Connection
61. French Conn. 2
62. From Here to Eternity
63. Fugitive Kind, The
64. Gaslight
65. General, The
66. Gntlmn’s Agrmnt
67. Giant
68. Gone With/Wind
69. Grand Illusion
70. Great Escape, The
71. Godfather, The
72. Godfatherr II, The
73. Godfather III, The
74. Graduate, The
75. Grapes Of Wrath
76. Great Santini, The
77. Guess Who's…
78. Guns Of Navaronne
79. Heiress, The
80. High Noon
81. Hud
82. Hunter, The
83. Hustler, The
84. His Girl Friday
85. Holiday
86. I Confess
87. Immigrant, The
88. In A Lonely Place
89. In the Heat of the Night
90. Indiscretion/Wife
91. It Happened/Night
92. It's A Wonderful Life
93. Jdgmnt/Nuremberg
94. Julius Caesar
95. Kramer Vs. Kramer
96. Last Detail, The
97. Last Picture Show
98. Last Tango In Paris
99. Lawrence Of Arabia
100. Little Foxes, The
101. Lolita
102. Lonelyhearts
103. A Long Day's Journey into Night
104. Long Hot Summer
105. Lost In America
106. Lost Weekend
107. Love Story
108. M
109. The Magnificent Ambersons
110. The Magnificent Seven
111. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
112. The Manchurian Candidate
113. Marathon Man
114. Marty
115. Mean Streets
116. Men, The
117. Metropolis
118. Midnight Cowboy
119. Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
120. Misfits, The
121. Mississippi Burning
122. Missouri Breaks
123. Modern Romance
124. Modern Times
125. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
126. Mutiny on the Bounty
127. My Fair Lady
128. Nashville
129. National Velvet
130. Network
131. North By Northwest
132. Notorious
133. No Way To Treat A Lady
134. Odd Couple, The
135. On the Waterfront
136. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
137. One-Eyed Jacks
138. Ordinary People
139. Panic in Needle Park
140. Papillion
141. Party, The
142. Parallax View
143. Patton
144. Pawnbroker, The
145. Philadelphia Story
146. Public Enemy, The
147. Psycho
148. Quiet Man, The
149. Raging Bull
150. Rain People, The
151. Raintree County
152. Ramblin' Rose
153. Real Life
154. Rear Window
155. Rebel Without a Cause
156. Red River
157. Reflections in a Golden Eye
158. Requiem for a Heavyweight
159. Rosemary's Baby
160. Runaway Train
161. Safety Last
162. Sand Pebbles
163. Saturday Night Fever
164. Sayonara
165. Scarecrow
166. Scarface
167. Scent Of A Woman
168. Searchers, The
169. Serpico
170. Seven Samurai
171. Seventh Seal
172. Signal 7
173. Singin' In the Rain
174. Smiles of a Summer Night
175. Soldier In The Rain
176. Some Like It Hot
177. Sound Of Music
178. Splendor in the Grass
179. Stagecoach
180. Star Is Born
181. Star Wars
182. Streetcar/Desire
183. Suddenly Last…
184. Sullivan's Travels
185. Sunset Boulevard
186. Sweet Bird of Youth
187. Taxi Driver
188. Teahouse of the Autumn Moon
189. Tender Mercies
190. Third Man, The
191. Three Days of the Condor
192. To Kill A Mockingbird
193. Tootsie
194. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
195. Trip To Bountiful, A
196. Two Rode Together
197. Verdict, The
198. Vertigo
199. Viva Zapata
200. Wait Until Dark
201. West Side Story
202. White Christmas
203. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
204. Wild One, The
205. Wild River
206. Young Lions, The

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