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



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Thursday, September 29, 2011

We were very disappointed by Terra Nova; we got through the first hour but bailed shortly after. It bothered me that I didn't actually like any of the charactes. It bothered me more that the main character looks like he's going to be a cop; of course, it's a TV show, every TV show has to be about someone who solves crimes. It bothered me most that they're sending a colony of people from a ruined Earth to a pristine, Cretaceous Earth... and the script made that seem banal, ugly and tedious. I was not once surprised by something that happened. None of the characters were interesting, or seemed like they'd reward further watching. Nothing about the Terra Novan society surprised me. Nothing about the science surprised me. There was just nothing new in the show, after an hour.

I want my SF to surprise me. Wah.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

I'm working on my MIGS talk, N+1 Screenwriting Tips for Game Writers. The part I'm working on is about allowing players to make choices that have consequences, particularly to the ending of the game.

The obvious recent example here is HEAVY RAIN, where your success or failure on missions leads you to a bunch of different possible outcomes. But I'm not a huge fan of HEAVY RAIN, which, as I am not the only person to have remarked, can seem more like a "choose your own adventure" than a game with excellent gameplay.

In DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION you can save or fail to save certain characters, and you can decide how to play (stealthy, non-stealthy pacifist, typically homicidal game hero). But the story really doesn't change except at the very end when you can choose one of four buttons to press to decide your values.

What are some emotionally powerful choices that you've been able to make in games that affected the outcome?

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Friday, September 23, 2011


Looks like I'm going to be giving a reading of my novel THE CIRCLE CAST: THE LOST YEARS OF MORGAN LE FAY, at the Chapters Bayview Village, in Toronto (well, North York, really), on Saturday, October 22, at 2 pm. That should be fun! If you're in Toronto, come hear me read!

(I'm also screening my five minute teen vampire sex comedy, YOU ARE SO UNDEAD, at Toronto After Dark, that night at 9:30 pm!)

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What network premieres are you most looking forward to?

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

As I observed to a young colleague just now: when you ask your boss a question, try to always include a plausible answer. If your boss gets in the habit of saying, "Yes, do that," you will find yourself in a position of responsibility, and possibly even authority, that much faster.

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If you have not seen YOU ARE SO UNDEAD yet, we're screening at the Toronto After Dark Festival, at 9:45, Saturday, October 22nd.

We will also be at the New York International Children's Film Festival. Which kinda troubles me...

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We finally got our DVDs of THE GOOD WIFE and we've been watching steadily. Just finished S1 disk 3 last night. What a deftly written show. You almost wouldn't think it was on broadcast. I love a TV show that's written for an audience who's ready to pay attention. Nothing is said twice, and many things aren't completely said.

Of course, it's inevitable that it's essentially a detective show. These days, you can have any kind of hero on TV, so long as they solve crimes. You can have a lawyer show or a doctor show, so long as they solve mysteries.

There's almost a template for a high quality broadcast show. A TV show wants to delve into its characters, and that means story arcs. But viewers want to be able to tune into any one episode and get 45 minutes of entertainment. How do you square the circle? The way VERONICA MARS did. Every episode has an episodic A story that entirely begins and ends over the course of the episode. It has an interpersonal B story that gets resolved by the end of the episode, too, but is part of a longer dramatic arc. And there are a few beats allocated to the show's uberplot -- in this case, the political and legal battles of Alicia's husband.

Within that template, the show is subtle. Alicia Florrick is intentionally hard to read. Does she want her husband back? She doesn't seem too sure. She'll defend him against an outsider but will barely give him a smile when they're alone. What Alicia and the other characters leave unsaid is at least as important as what they say.

Nice work.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Weird. My first time playing through DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION, it felt too hard, especially the bosses. It took me five hours (!) to beat the first boss on easy, and I didn't even try on the second. I turned her over to Hunter. I kept getting into shooting matches with squads of guards, and I'm a terrible shot.

Now on my second playthrough, on hard, it's almost too easy. I've learned how the guards' AI's work. They never look around corners. My character has 7 seconds of invisibility, which is enough to go almost anywhere safely, and with a few candy bars he can stretch that to 21 seconds. So now I never get into shooting matches. My character has learned the Importance of Not Being Seen. And that means the nasty shooty robots never even come out of their closets. Playing as a stealthy pacifist is so easy, I'm almost considering stopping playing.

(If I were designing a Give Me Deus Ex hardness setting, I'd just have the guards walk around a little more randomly. Or walk past the corner instead of just short of the corner. As is, the setting only makes guards harder to kill. Which, if you're never killing them, is irrelevant.)

Now here's the weird thing. Even though the game isn't, strictly, a challenge, I still have the urge to keep playing. It feels mildly rewarding to keep beating the guards, even though it's not hard. I like winning the little hacking minigame. Partly it's that I'm enjoying the world more -- actually reading all the e-books scattered everywhere, and paying attention to all the corporate politics. But most of it is, I think, just my lizard brain enjoying all the random rewards.

So I'm torn between quitting the game, and playing right now, in the middle of the day.

I recognize that as addictive behavior, so instead of procrastinating by playing a video game, I am procrastinating in a slightly more productive (and much less time-consuming) way by blogging. The thing about addictions is that the feel more like need than fun. Am I really enjoying DE3 right now, or do I just hunger to play it? I can't actually tell how much I'm looking forward to it, versus how much easier it would be to fall into the game than try to get my 5-10 pages today.

At least I'm not this guy...

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Friday, September 16, 2011

A young writer friend of mine has someone who's offering to manage him. She wants a 2 year contract. Various friends of his (including lit managers) are shocked by that -- they don't sign contracts with their clients. I find this very odd. I can't imagine a manager not wanting a contract. How else do you ensure you get paid when your client breaks in?

The only odd thing about the contract to my mind was that there was no escape clause if he doesn't get a bona fide offer over a period of 4 months.

Anyone want to comment?

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

What exactly does a game pitch look like when someone's bringing a game idea to a company? Does anyone have one I could look at?

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I've written various posts on how to agent your agent. But I was having a chat with a dear friend of mine who was complaining that his boss waltzes into the office, riffles through everything on his desk, and quizzes him on what he's doing. He feels disrespected. In previous jobs, he had some autonomy and people assumed he knew what he's doing.

I told him that his boss probably doesn't know what he's doing. That may be his boss's fault -- his boss never takes time for a sit-down meeting -- but what he really needs to do is manage his manager.

I suggested he bombard his boss with information on what he's doing. Send lots of memos. Keep his boss constantly updated. Eventually his boss will say, "Fine, I get it, you know what you're doing, enough with the emails." But til then the boss will feel like she is being kept informed.

You have to manage the information flow with your boss. The less time they have to think about managing you, the better. For example, if you have a question or a problem, try to present it along with your best guess at the solution. That way, if you guessed right, they can say, "Yep, do that," and you're done.

Some bosses like an email with 15 points that they can go through and respond to. Some guys are prone to latch on to item 3b, give an in-depth response to that, and ignore everything else. For those guys, one question per email.

Make it as easy as possible for your boss to delegate responsibility and authority to you, and they will.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On February 6, I'll be moderating a panel discussion at the McGill Faculty of Law on How to Read a Contract. Basically, what are the sorts of contracts screenwriters have to deal with, what do the different clauses mean, what terms should you make sure are included, what should you ask for, and what should you not bother asking for 'cause you won't get it.

Mark the date!

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Saturday, September 10, 2011


I beat Deus Ex: Human Revolution for the first time last night. "The first time," because I immediately started replaying it on the highest difficulty level. It is that good.

The first way through, I was still mastering the game, which is my first stealth game. One of the beauties of DE3 is that you don't have to play it as a stealth game. It plays perfectly well as a MASS EFFECT-style crouch-and-shoot game. But for me it's a lot more fun sneaking around and knocking out enemies without being seen.

(And I feel better, too. I don't like killing security guards just because they're working for an evil corporation. Don't mooks have families too?)

(Oh, and you get lots of XP for Not Being Seen. And if you can get through the whole game without killing anyone, you get an Achievement. So I sort of feel the game is meant to be played that way. Hunter, however, prefers shooting mooks in the head with his silenced pistol. To each his own.)

One reason Deus Ex is such a lovely game is there are multiple ways to do missions. To get into that room, you might be able to sneak past the guards if you time it right. Or, discover the vent that takes you past them. Or, stack boxes so you can get over the fence on the other side. Or, get that enhancement that turns you momentarily invisible.

Another reason is there are consequences. At the beginning of the game, you're told there's been a break-in at a manufacturing facility; you're needed to resolve the situation before Detroit SWAT charges in. In most games, that situation will wait while you explore the world, do side-quests, etc. In DE3, you have 15 minutes to get on the helicopter. After that, there's no mission. The hostages are dead and your boss is not happy with you. Needless to say this adds a great deal to a feeling of verisimilitude

Another reason is that dialogue is gameplay. In most games, dialogue is only part of story. There may be dialogue options, but no matter what you say, if you need information, you can keep clicking on the Non Player Character until you get all of it. In DE3, you can talk your way past a guard, or you can fail to, in which case you may have to go through the sewer.

Clausewitz said "war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means." In DE3, dialogue is a continuation of combat by other means.

All of this takes a great deal of work in development and production. The story has to make sense whether you save the hostages or not. It takes much longer to playtest scenarios in which the hero can shoot, sneak, jump or talk his way somewhere. Kudos to Lead Game Writer Mary DeMarle for her awesome work, and to Eidos for giving her the authority to do it right.

But everything about the game is first class. Programming (I've only run across two glitches), rendering, the richness and density of the world... I think I'll hang out here for another little while.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I was about to have my hero find his brother's old photos, and then I realized, his brother's under 30, he probably doesn't have photos. Not a bunch of printed out ones. I haven't printed out a photo in a few years.

Lisa pointed out that the entire ending of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS would have been pretty short if Jodie Foster had a smart phone.

On the other hand, thank goodness for cell phones. Your hero doesn't have to sit still when he calls, he can be running around somewhere calling. And thanks to Caller ID, we no longer have to hear, "Hello?" "Hi, it's Joe."

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011


I went to Le Reliquaire, Dann Godin's monthly (francophone) gathering of game designers on the top floor of L'Amère A Boire, a brewpub on St. Denis. As a show business guy, I'm fascinated by the game industry. It's in a ferment. Sure, companies are hiring and the business is expanding like mad. But it is also a very young industry where people are still trying to figure out what games can do. (Who could have predicted Farmville would have 60 million users?)

So they give talks. In the game industry, it seems like your Powerpoint skillz are pretty crucial. I'm giving a talk in November at the Montreal International Game Summit; it'll be the first time I've ever given a Powerpoint presentation. (In showbiz, we're still doing dry erase.) That's an actual professional people pay money for. But even for this monthly drink-a-thon, a guy got up and gave a 15 minute powerpoint about virtual worlds and criteria for evaluating them. And then people asked questions, and responded. And then some more people got up and gave their 5 minute powerpoints on how certain virtual worlds needed improvement.

I'm impressed with the seriousness of the game community. I can get showbiz people out to drink together, but presentations?

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Q. I sent my script out to a bunch of agencies ten days ago. Now, after meeting me, one wants to represent me. What about the other agencies? Should I tell the first agent I'm waiting to hear from the other agents? This agent ad the other are all legit agents, though one I'm waiting to hear from is a bigshot.
One of the rarest things to have in Hollywood is a champion. And almost nothing gets done without one. Projects don't get set up without a champion, and writers don't get jobs without champions.

Your agent is your personal champion.

And what that means is, the most important thing in choosing an agent is her enthusiasm for you. If I had to reduce it to a formula, I'd say the value of your agent is enthusiasm x enthusiasm x clout.

You have someone who read your script inside ten days, which is fast, met you right away, and offered to represent you. That's enthusiasm.

Here's the surprising thing: agents are people with feelings. You think they're cold-hearted professionals? That's a role they play when negotiating for you. But agents are people who feel about their relationships with their clients the way you feel about your stories, the way a tightrope walker feels about being on the wire: it's what they get up in the morning for. At least, the ones who are any good.

And it's easy to kill their enthusiasm. If you tell this agent you're waiting to hear from the others, what she's going to hear is that you're just not that into her, but she'll do in a pinch. She's going to feel rejected. Maybe even hurt. And there goes the enthusiasm. She might, conceivably, still rep you? But her heart won't be in it.

I know it's hard to tell other people "no" before they've said anything, especially Mr. Bigshot. But Mr. Bigshot hasn't read your script yet, and didn't call you to meet.

And, actually, your stock will go up with all those other agents. Even Mr. Bigshot. Call and thank them, of course. Next time, maybe they'll read your script faster.

I think as much as possible, you go with the enthusiasm.

So-- congratulations! You've got a champion.

UPDATE:

DMc responds in the comments:
.You're mostly right here, Alex. But a couple of caveats. You never go into enthusiasm blind. Your research should be done first. Due diligence should not be considered an insult; if it is then that should be a red flag.

If I was the person in question, I'd signal genuine thanks for the enthusiasm, say that you had set a couple meetings already and will let them know in a few days when you've followed through.

Take your swing at others for contrast but don't keep that person on the hook. Let them know you will get back to them in, say, 5 days once you've fulfilled your other responsibilities.

Part of that relationship is being able to commit to that person fully because you know they're the best for you. To do that one must erase doubt. Asking for a few days to do that is an investment in your future relationship, and if they didn't see it that way, I'd be concerned about how the business relationship would progress.
Well, that's the conundrum. In principle, sure, get back to them in 5 days. But in my experience, that's risky. A director friend of mine did that with an agency, and lost the agency. The agents' feeling was basically, "Don't ask me out on a date if you're not sure you want to sleep with me." Which is unreasonable, sure, and even in dating you ought to be allowed a few dates before you fall into bed. But in real life, there's a risk to tell a girl who's hot for you, "I'm not sure I want to go out with you yet, I'm dating some other girls and they might be better." Your girl who's hot for you may just dump you, and your early doubts will always be part of the relationship and make her doubt your commitment to it. All my best relationships started with fireworks.

So sure, I think you can delay on the grounds of you want to get to know them better first. But I don't think you can on the basis of you're checking out other agencies. I think that will kill the buzz.

Basically, I think you have to do the due diligence before you send in your material. Make sure any agency you're applying to is an agency you'd want to get with. And then if they're interested, have a meeting or two and ask questions. Feel free to go back and ask for another meeting, to get to know them better. Or lunch. Lunch is always good. But no, DMc, I'd be very careful about asking for 5 days. I'd ask for lunch, but not 5 days.

Note also that I'm talking about enthusiasm. If they're not jumping all over themselves to sign you -- if their "yes" is qualified -- you are entitled to be equally cautious.

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Discuss.

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Friday, September 02, 2011

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Thursday, September 01, 2011


If I've been a bit quiet, I've fallen into DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION.

I think this may be the best video game I've ever played.

It's a game you can play like Call of Duty, and kill everything that comes against you. Or, you can play stealth, and not kill anyone (which is how I try to play it). There are multiple ways to play each mission. Some of them involve social engineering.

A while ago I blogged about "conversational combat." (Posts are here and here.) Too many games treat dialog as exposition, but not gameplay. Just keep clicking on the NPC, and he'll tell you everything you need to know.

In DX:HR, there's quite a bit of information that you only get if you say the right things -- browbeating some characters, placating others. You can even upgrade your character so he's better at saying the right things.

I'm having a lot of fun.

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