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



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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

[Cancon] Elvira Lount has posted a Facebook Note objecting to the new proposed Telefilm requirements for development funding. According to her synopsis:
1. In order for Canadian producers to access Telefilm feature film development funds they will have to have produced a feature film in the past 5 years.
2. Producers will be graded using the new 3 point performance criteria of box office, festivals/awards and private funding as presented at the recent Telefilm public meeting. It seems that your grade will affect the amount of development funding you will be able to access -- in what seems to be a much expanded development performance envelope.
3. Telefilm won't be providing creative input. It will be up to the producers to handle the development.
4. Producers who aren't eligible - haven't produced a feature film in the past 5 years - will have to partner with a producer who is eligible. There is no info on which partner will control the funds, but most likely it will be the eligible producer since they'll be getting the money - I'm assuming. No info on whether they can be just an executive producer or have to be an actual co-producer with part ownership of your project. No info on whether your TV or service production credits will count, or whether if you've produced films without Telefilm involvement they will count or be assessed under the new performance criteria and render you eligible.
5. A producer can apparently apply for an exception exemption- for instance if you have feature film credits but not in the past 5 years -- you may be able to convince Telefilm that your should be eligible. But, that would be very limited - exceptional circumstances only.
6. There is likely to be a 1st & 2nd time producer development stream - but no indication of how much will be allocated, the assessment process etc. Given that most of the funds will go to the much expanded development "performance" envelope this stream is likely to be heavily oversubscribed.
Her main objection is that this will squeeze inexperienced producers out of development. Why would an experienced producer team up with an inexperienced when they have their own projects?

I'm not convinced the new regulations are a bad idea. Doesn't it make a whole lot of sense to evaluate a development money request not only on the strength of the script or story, but the producer's track record? If I bring a TV project to a network, they are certainly going to judge the project not only on its creative merits on paper, but on my ability to execute, and the producer's track record. Same goes if I bring a project to a studio. Why wouldn't the government be equally careful with taxpayer money?

I disagree that eligible producers will ignore ineligible producers. I spent about 8 years as a development exec before I made my living writing, so I have some experience in production companies. Bigger producers team up with little ones all the time. Why? Because it keeps their overhead low. If I'm E1, say, and a smart emerging producer brings in a project she's nurtured, then I've saved myself a lot of headaches. I don't have to sift through 1000 scripts to find one good one. I don't have to do a deal with the writer. I don't have to give the writer notes. And I have someone who will shepherd the project for me. All I have to do is leverage my relationships with distributors and beat up on talent agents, which is something I, E1, can do better than an indie producer.

Why do you think studios have producers on the lot? Because producers who have everything riding on the project are better at picking winners than employees are.
And, keep in mind that the 40% allowable producer fees/overhead on the development funds will have to be divided between the 2 producers/production companies (most likely 50/50) with the balance going to the writers and story editors. So, on a development budget of $25,000 that combined producer/overhead fee will be $7000 split 2 ways - $3500 per producer/production company - and with that you are expected to devote months or years of your life to developing the project that you no longer own or control and to run your office. Plus, of course you will need to pay a lawyer to draw up the co-producer contract -- so this is an additional expense that will eat into your $3500 share -- let's say it will cost you at least $1000 to make sure you don't get screwed by the other producer. So, now you're left with $2500 and you've given away half your project, or maybe even the whole project.

First, what eligible producer is going to be willing to take on someone else's project for that paltry sum of $2500 when they can keep the whole allowable 40% fee by developing their own projects?
Here's the thing. The development overhead is not supposed to be how you pay the rent as a producer. It's supposed to tide you over. You are supposed to make your living producing movies. I've heard it said too often that many producers make their living developing scripts. Meaning, that's all they do. The Telefilm development money is not supposed to be there to support people working in the industry. It is supposed to support movie making.

I've often noticed that many producers, particularly in Québec, do not seem very interested in reading my, and other writers', material. What they want to do is develop their own pet projects. An exec friend of mine recently tried to forward an interesting script to a producer I've worked with. He wrote back, "What makes you think I'm interested in reading other people's scripts?"

And frankly, if you're an emerging producer, you ought to be able to negotiate a reasonable deal for yourself with an established producer.

Of course, I worked in LA for 10 years. There was a year where I was exactly an emerging producer with no credits trying to sell my projects to established producers. So all of this seems extremely normal to me, except for the part where the government helps people fund their projects.

I think it makes sense to get Telefilm out of the business of giving notes. I have many friends who are Telefilm analysts, and they're pretty sharp folks. They've often helped me make my scripts better. But doesn't it make sense that the notes should come from the person who lives or dies by the critical and/or commercial success of the movie? No Telefilm analyst was ever fired because their notes made a movie less commercial or less of a festival winner. If Denise Robert wants to make another potential Oscar winner, shouldn't she have the final say on whether the script is perfect the way it is? If Muse wants to make the next big dumb comedy, you know the analyst is not going to say, "we need more fart jokes." But sometimes you just need more fart jokes.

I guess the only quibble I would have with the guidelines is that 5 years might be short. It takes a long time to develop and produce a feature. I think you could be a very good producer and not necessarily have a feature in the past 5 years for entirely legit reasons. I think 7 years might be more reasonable.

Look, I'm as scared of the big bad Conservatives as anybody. And I keep waiting for some terrible drastic change to the creative landscape. But these seem like entirely reasonable and fair new guidelines.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Intern Sushi is a site trying to put interns and companies together. Has anyone tried it?

(Terrible name, incidentally. Interns are not dead cold fish!)

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Q. If you are still an unknown writer, should you provide a synopsis along with your query letter - or is this too much for the agent to read?
No, for three reasons.

One, it is very, very hard to write a good synopsis. One tends to write the plot. Characters don't come through well. Tone barely comes through at all. Comedy dies in a synopsis.

Two, very few people can read a synopsis. A script can read like a movie, but to properly read a synopsis, you have to really think about how the sentences are going to be fleshed out in the script. Most people don't take the time or effort, or don't know how.

Three, the point of a query letter is to get someone to read your script. If they don't like the query, they won't read the synopsis. If they do like the query, and you've sent a synopsis, they'll read that, and they might not like it. Why put any friction between the query and the script?

Of course your query really has to rock. As part of my script critique service, I've read queries that really don't sell the concept that's in the synopsis. Spend some time honing your query and making sure it really sells your script.

Sometimes you have to write a synopsis, because someone is insisting on reading one. In that case, don't write a synopsis, write a pitch. Don't write a ten-page beat-by-beat recap of what happens in your script. Instead, off the top of your head, write the story of your script, as if you're telling it to someone in a bar. Feel free to put things out of order if that sounds better in the story. Often a subplot is better told on its own. Try to avoid cutting back and forth in a pitch. Feel free to be real detailed about the setup and real vague about the ending. I would never send more than a 3-5 page pitch unless it's a requirement for some kind of application. Keep the beat sheet to yourself.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Holy smoke and mirrors! Our little teen vampire sex comedy YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is going viral on YouTube!

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Anyone out there have an old, legit disc of Adobe CS for Mac that they're willing to donate (or sell me)? Hunter's art class badly needs one. (Really, they mostly need Photoshop.)

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Telefilm has changed its definition of a movie's "success." Instead of gauging it 100% on box office, it's now 60% box office, 30% festivals and awards, and 10% how much it was financed privately rather than purely out of the government's pockets.

Personally, this seems to me like a step in the right direction. If Canadians are supporting a Canadian cinema, winning Cannes ought to count. After all, Canadian movies are cultural ambassadors, as well as cultural touchstones.

DVD sales will count, as well, at least indirectly. That's good. Most of the time English Canadians watch their own movies, they're on DVD. After all, Canadian budgets are low, and most people watch low budget movies on DVD. No Canadian movie can compete head to head against TRANSFORMERS and other spectacles.

So I'm glad Telefilm is setting more holistic benchmarks.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Daniel Martin Eckhart links to the documentary "Malkovich's Mail" about the unsolicited scripts and queries that John Malkovich gets. They track down the writers of some of these very original ideas ("cyborg dinosaurs!" "climactic warthog attack leaves one dead!").

My takeaway from this is that the "odds" against you aren't numeric. It doesn't matter if only 1 out of 1000 scripts, or 10,000, or 100,000 gets optioned, bought, or made. It matters where you are, compared to the 1000, or 10,000, or 100,000. If you're a reader of this blog, you're far more clued in than most of these people. If you've been following my advice, I bet you're a far better writer, too. It is entirely possible that the "odds" against what you're trying to do are 10,000, but you're in the top 10. Still tough, but if you keep at it you'll hit pay dirt.

Anyway, if you're a writer, it doesn't really matter what the odds are, 'cause you have to do it.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

[POLITICS] The New York Times objects to Gingrich railing against cronyism and lobbying after making huge gobs of money being a lobbyist for the very companies (like Fannie Mae) that he despises.

Seems to me the logical tack for the Gingrich team to take is to own his past: yes, I got paid a whack of money as a lobbyist in a lousy system. In I know more about how lousy this system is than anyone else. Therefore I'm the guy to fix it. That seems like a stronger argument than his current "I just gave them advice, I never actually lobbied anyone" claim, which seems risky (someone could remember he lobbied them) and morally doubtful (really? you took their money but you didn't try to give them good value for it?).

After all, there are lots of rich liberals. Just because they don't think there should be tax breaks to the rich doesn't mean they won't take'em.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Q. When you do a pilot for a series, it seems only natural that you need to introduce all main characters, plus the most important recurring ones, but how much is too much?
I would try not to introduce the recurring characters. You want to focus the story on your core cast, so that you have time to introduce them properly, in action. Obviously if it's a procedural, you'll have episodic characters; and even if it's character-based, there may well need to be an episodic character to push them into motion. But the pilot is meant to show that your core cast have such interesting dynamics that you'll have no problem getting 100 stories out of them. If you need a bunch of recurring characters to get a good story, maybe you have the wrong core cast.

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As a screenwriting blogger, I get a whack of offers to review books from publishers and marketing people. As a book author, I've sent them out.

I've noticed I get much, much better results when I'm the one sending out my own publicity ("please help me get the word out") than when Lisa's sending it out as my publicist. (She actually is a former publicist.)

I also just noticed my own reaction when someone asked me to read their book. I liked the idea, and maybe I would have read it even if the email had come from a publisher. But I liked being emailed by the author more than I like being emailed by a publicist or a publisher.

So there you go.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011



Fox sued an aspiring screenwriter and part-time flower seller for $12 million for uploading 80 screenplays which were already available online.

They finally dropped the suit. But be careful out there, people. If they're going after the flower girls, no one is safe.

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[POLITICAL THEATRE] Herman Cain says his wife doesn't believe he's a sexual harasser, therefore no one else should.

I know this guy is toast anyway, but even supposing he could rememberc which side Obama took in the Libyan revolution, is this an argument that can possibly carry any weight? How would a wife have insight into whether her husband makes unwanted sexual advances? She obviously liked his sexual advances.

This is very different from the Clintons' defenses against Bill's "bimbo eruptions." When Hillary got up and said, "I'm not some little Tammy Wynette standing by her man," she basically told everyone, "I know he's a hound dog, I just don't care." By being a little snotty about it, she pulled the attention off Bill and whether he'd made unwanted advances to a job-seeking woman, and onto what a piece of work she is. (It helped that Gennifer Flowers claimed that Bill had propositioned her in a hotel that didn't exist at the time she claimed he'd done it.)

(Incidentally, if you need proof that the Tea Party is not fundamentally racist, you need go no further than the complete lack of racial undertones in a story about a black businessman making alleged propositions to white women.)

If I were looking for a good R nominee, I would stay the hell away from a guy who's had two harassment settlements against him. If Cain made it to the general election, I'm pretty sure those settlements would somehow escape from their confidentiality clauses.

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So I read this article about the Facebook "Other Messages" folder. Did you know there was an "Other Messages" folder on Facebook? Yeah, that's the one they don't forward to your email address. Facebook explains it in its users guide.

You have read the Facebook Users Guide? Yeah, me, too. I also read all the fine print the banks send me every time they change their rules, and, of course, the User Agreements every time I install software.

Okay, so when someone you don't know sends you a message on Facebook, it goes in your Other Messages folder. Profile spam, event invitatins and ... job offers? There was a job offer from August 18 there. Eff. Eff, eff, eff.

Holy smoke, folks, please do not send me job offers via Facebook messaging! My email address is not hard to find. It is, in fact, on my websites. It is also on my Facebook Info page. My phone number is in the freakin' book.

Thank you, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Q. Is it legal to re-enact and film scenes from major motion pictures and television shows and broadcast online?Could this be possible grounds for the "rights"owners to sue?
Legally, this is a violation of copyright. Realistically, people do this on YouTube all the time. My guess is that the most that could happen is they ask YouTube to take the video down.

(I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.)

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Monday, November 14, 2011

[POLITICS] I think I might start blogging about political theater again, as the race heats up.

Before you guys fill the comments with actual political arguments, I will stress that I am talking here about messaging, not who's actually right and who's wrong. I'm an Obama fan, but I'm going to write about how effective the two sides' campaigns are.

Herman Cain tries to remember why Obama's Libya policy was wrong and what he would do differently.

I'm not clear why the Republicans don't just give Obama the win on Libya. If I were running R messaging, that's what I'd do. It's going to be a tough sell that a policy that resulted in 0 American deaths, relatively minor expense, and the overthrow of a dictator, was the wrong policy, especially when overcommitment or undercommitment had such serious risks.

Instead, I think I'd push a message like, "It's great that Obama did such a great job on Libya. If only he'd spent that kind of attention on cutting taxes" etc. This election is going to be about the economy, so it's not giving up much.

When you attack your opponent for every last thing he does, it devalues your message.

I bet you the Dems aren't going to do that. I bet you Obama's going to be full of praise for Mitt Romney. Not just for Romneycare, which I'm sure he'll say all kinds of nice things about. But he'll probably say nice things about Romney's job running the Olympics. Because then when you follow that up with an attack, the attack sounds better.

It's been kind of shocking to see the Republican field implode. The Republicans seem doomed to settle on Mitt Romney, a candidate they don't actually seem to like very much -- a sort of Republican John Kerry. Why? Because all the loyalty oaths and pledges you have to sign seem to have chased off all the heavyweight candidates. They could still win it, of course, because the President is so unpopular. But an unpopular incumbent can win, if he can tear down the other candidate. That's why Harry Reid is still in office. (See Angle, Sharron.)

I'm kind of rooting for Newt Gingrich. For all his loose-cannon-ness, he's his own man. He's had original thoughts. He probably could name the President of Uzbekistan. And he wants three-hour Lincoln-Douglas-style debates. That would enrich our democracy, I think.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

We just saw Le Noël de Walter et Tandoori, a 3D animated kids' movie Lisa and I co-wrote. Weirdly they are releasing it first in French, mais c'est ça le marché Québecois.

Anyway, we loved it! What fun seeing our words turned into goofy moving pictures. Especially the Bollywood number. Catch it ce weekend in theatres in Québec.

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I’m working on a feature script. I got a bit of funding based on a 13 page pitch; now it’s on to draft.
But before I go to draft, there’s a small step to take: turning the pitch into a step outline. The different is just this: adding sluglines.

Surprisingly, adding sluglines provokes significant changes. In a pitch, you can write, “Suzie and Hans have been cocooning ever since they met two months ago.” But how do we know this? Is it a series of flashbacks? Is it a conversation? With whom?

Simply adding the time and place everything happens to a pitch makes you rethink how you’re telling the story. Should this argument take place at the airport? On the way to the airport? At home while packing?

The step outline is the last point you’re going to look at your story as a whole before you plunge into pages. So it’s good to look at each step and make sure you really need it, and that it’s as cinematic as you can make it. You can do that later, too, but it will cost you more work.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Q. In a query letter for a screenplay, the letter needs to include a description of the material. Does the same hold true for a query letter concerning a TV spec script? In other words, should the query letter contain the log line for the script? (In this case a “30 Rock” script.)
I think so. It encourages them to read your script if they know what the hook is (and if it's a good hook). "I would like to send you my 30 ROCK script, 'Lemon Tart,' in which Liz accidentally becomes a hooker." Also, it helps them remember which one's yours.

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Final Draft is cutting its price through its affiliates program, and since this blog is an affiliate, you can have FD8 for $50 off.

Some people swear by Screenwriter. I swear at Screenwriter, and prefer Final Draft. So there you go.

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Q. We wrote a pilot, found a production company who loves it and have a network biting at it, but they're not completely hooked yet. They seem to be responding to the writing and the humor and the characters, but they're resistant to the central set-up. It's slightly off of center. Truly not that far off, but they have this note of just changing the central set-up to something different, anything really. But changing the set-up will fundamentally shift the character dynamics. We're going to schedule more talks with our network contacts, before going in officially to pitch, to get a better sense of what they are thinking but in the end...
What? No. Don't go in until you've fixed it. Networks hate when you ask them to do your thinking for you.
WTF?! How do we convince them that this idea, as conceived, works the way it does because of the set-up.
No, it doesn't. Not for them. They just told you that.
Our production company is equally as baffled by these notes, so it's not just us. They want to figure out how to explain who she is and how it works in the story so that this idea can move forward to the next phase. Any tips of breaking this down for execs?

You don't CONVINCE a network of anything. You SHOW them the thing they want.

They have basically told you that they like the territory, but not the setup. You need to blow up your set up and start thinking in fresh ways. Take it in a new direction.

Blow it up. Make the girl a boy. Make the boy a girl. Make the dad a son. Make the rich guy poor. Add a character. Subtract a character.

Their note ("change this, we don't know how") may mean, "you don't really have a hook yet. Get one."

On a show we developed for TeenNick, we had a show without a hook, and the network note was "could she have an ability." Of course they didn't want the lead character to be Supergirl. What they meant was "you have no hook, get one."

On Naked Josh, we had a show about a geeky college freshman that they sort of liked, but not entirely. We made it a show about a geeky professor, and sold it. Basically we wrote the "sequel" to the series we were gonna do, and made Josh 8 years older. Instead of being a sexual loser, he was a sexual winner.

Never ask a network how to change something. They won't like it. You're supposed to make their job easier, not harder. You won't like it, either, because they'll tell you something that took 15 seconds to think of ("could she have an ability?") and you'll be stuck with it.

Instead, figure out what they're bumping on and then fix that thing. Radically. If you go too far, they can always reel you back in, but they'll feel you listened to them.

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My buddy Maarten Kroonenburg is a cinematographer who owns his own equipment company, and he's starting to direct. He just directed a comedy short we wrote together. He's going to direct another in the Spring. I'm writing a feature for him to direct.

Maarten needs some help with his projects, and is looking to bring on an intern to do things like research, promoting and submitting his shorts to festivals, helping to organize his next shoot, applying to funding agencies, finding scripts for Maarten to attach himself to -- all kinds of stuff that an emerging filmmaker would probably want to know how to do. The time commitment wouldn't be big except in a pinch.

The ideal candidate would be in Montreal, but it's entirely possible that he or she would be somewhere else. (Most of my own interns have been out of town.) The ideal candidate would be super-organized, with excellent communication skills.

Ideally, the candidate would be willing to do this as an unpaid internship, but it is possible that money could be found for the right person. Or access to his equipment truck to shoot your own stuff. College credit could also be arranged, I imagine.

If you're interested, please send your c.v. as a PDF, along with a personable e-mail introducing yourself, to Jennifer Mulligan.

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We really, really liked BRIDESMAIDS. We were prepared to hate it, actually. All we knew was it's supposed to be the male HANGOVER, and there's a scene where one of the girls takes a crap in the middle of the street. The only reason we watched it is because the director of one of my scripts asked me to.

It is actually a keenly observed comedy with heart, about how women deal with each other (and, occasionally, with men).

(It is also a very good advertisement for being born a man. No wonder orthodox Jewish men thank God every day that they were born male.)

I wrote earlier about director Paul Feig's Master Class and the "Bucket Brigade". YouTube's got an example of how Feig used improv in shooting the movie: it's a ten-minute bitchfest between Kirsten Wiig and thirteen-year-old Mia Rose Frampton (yes, that Frampton). Only half a minute made it into the movie, but what did was loose and convincing because it was impromptu. Feig and his colleagues (Steve Carell, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, etc.) do a lot of "plussing" on each other's scripts. Maybe that's why they're all on top of the charts.

Note to self: do not be afraid of improv. And leave enough time in the schedule for it.

(If this YouTube disappears, check it out on the Blu-Ray disc, or Google "longest argument Bridesmaids".)

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I'm about halfway through SHOW ME THE FUNNY, by Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis. It's an intriguing concept for a book: take a nondescript sitcom premise ("recently divorced mom moves in with her ambitious daughter") and throw it to a slew of top comedy writers and see how they struggle with it on the spot. Then print the unedited interview.

They get interesting results. They get some of the solutions that make for awful, typical sitcom porridge ("throw in some funny neighbors"). Some latch onto a detail and try to build it into something. A few of them try to turn it into a feature. One of them, Dennis Klein, berates the writers for bringing him such a crap premise.


It's fun to see how all these writers bring something of themselves into the story. You get to see their process a bit, THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO-style. It could inspire you to take your own ideas in several different directions rather than just in the first direction that comes to mind. There are a few nuggets of fresh information here and there.

I can't help wishing it were a bit more compelling and interesting. I can't help thinking that if you brought such a bland premise to my peeps, you'd get more surprising results. I keep having a funny feeling about these interviews. These are top tv writers, and they are used to working successfully with network execs. They have learned not to say, "This is a crap premise," or "there is nothing here for me to work with." They are so used to being polite about bad ideas from producers or execs that they wind up hemmed in creatively, even here where there is no job available for them. After all, this will be published in a book. They don't want to get a reputation for being "difficult." Even Dennis Klein, who spends the entire interview ripping the authors a new one, calls back afterwards to say he was "doing schtick," when clearly, he was having an honest reaction.

Still, it is an interesting book, for showing you what twenty different "takes" might look like. Just think about that the next time an exec or producer asks you for your take on a piece of material.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

What a strange movie RANGO is. The animation is for kids (and a lovely job, too). But the plot is a strange combination of an internal existential dilemma ("Who am I?" asks the chameleon) and a CHINATOWN-esque parable of water rights in the West. A lot of the dialog has gotta be way over kids' heads ("I once found a spinal column in my fecal material"). And yet it's made about $250 million, half domestic, half overseas. I think you have to call that a win.

If I had to draw a moral, I'd say, "Enough spectacle and it really doesn't matter what your story is," which explains the STAR WARS prequels and the over-one-billion box office take of the latest TRANSFORMERS movie. But maybe I'm just coming down with a cold.

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Friday, November 04, 2011

While I was giving my talk at MIGS, Funcom artist Joel Akerman did this lovely sketch. I feel like I'm halfway to being a video game character!

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

So I gave my talk at MIGS about screenwriting tools for game designers, and I thought it went pretty well. If you missed the talk, here are the headlines
  • We care about heroes when they have flaws; I proposed some mechanics and story telling approaches to giving a videogame hero a compelling flaw;
  • Storytelling should be "pull" and not "push" and how to do that;
  • Is there a way to give a player real choices with consequences without getting into the insane cost of binary storytelling?


I wonder if there's anywhere else I should give my talk?

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Just done with two very intense days at MIGS 2011, including my talk on Screenwriting Tools for Game Developers. Don't have a writeup yet, and I may never do, so I will tweet (@Craftyscreen) as my memories surface.

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