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



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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Aaron Klein proposes special tech to help Hollywood Execs understand why SOPA was bad:
  • Before you can do a Google search, you have to sit through five minutes of ads for Google Chrome, Chromebooks by Samsung, Android Phones by Motorola, and that amazing straight-to-video blockbuster, Google+. And oh yeah, don’t even think about trying to skip the ads. A cute little red “X” appears in the corner of your screen if you try to do that.
  • If you fly off to your vacation home in the south of France, your Mac won’t boot up at all. Remember, it’s your fault for traveling – just buy another one with the right “region code.”
  • It has always bothered me that I can't skip the screen that tells me it's against the law to pirate movies. After all, if I'm watching that screen, it means I bought or rented the movie legally. Why are you stealing precious minutes of my life? I bet I can skip that screen on pirated movies, hey?

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    I see that CRAFTY TV WRITING: THINKING INSIDE THE BOX is now available in a Kindle edition!

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    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    Diane Wild polls assorted Canadian writers, including Yours Truly, about what's up at the CBC. Check it out.

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    Friday, January 27, 2012

    Q. I have great ideas but it seems like others get these things done before me. For example, etc. etc.
    A couple of possibilities.

    One, maybe you're on the right track. You're writing scripts about the right sort of things. Personally, I wrote a Pretty Boy Floyd movie, and then Larry McMurtry wrote a Pretty Boy Floyd movie, and which do you think got into development? And I wrote a hacker movie and then that Sandra Bullock thing came out. I had an idea for a movie inspired by Paul Reubens, and then Paul Reubens put a biopic of himself into development. It tells me I'm in the right territory.

    Two, the odds of any movie getting made are low. I've written 36 feature scripts. About two dozen of them I was either paid to write, or I optioned to someone after writing. I have three feature credits, and a few uncredited rewrites. Most people consider me a fairly successful screenwriter. Most screenwriters' careers resemble icebergs: 9/10 of their work is unseen. Maybe you just need to get more material out there, and be patient.

    Three, are you sure your hooks are sharp enough? Are you mining territory that is too obvious, that other writers are bound to get to as well? Someone will probably beat you to the screen. Simon Beaufoy, who wrote THE FULL MONTY, was not on obvious territory. Maybe you should be thinking up the next JUNO or LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE or BEING JOHN MALKOVICH or ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.

    Four, are you sending your scripts out before they're as good as you can make them? Do they fall apart in the third act, or are they just goddamn brilliant all the way through. Maybe you need to raise your standards on your own work.

    I wouldn't say "don't give up," because if you're a real writer you won't give up regardless what I say. But without reading your stuff, my bet is one of these apply.

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    [POLITICAL THEATRE] This video has been circulating a lot on Facebook:



    I think this is exactly where I'd want the President's rhetoric. The President can't run on cutting taxes; everyone knows the Republicans will do more tax cutting than anyone else. He has to make the case for taxes. So he does.

    Notice how he jumps almost immediately to "strong military." In the past this has been a Republican talking point. Obama's stealing it. He makes the point that you can't cut taxes, cut the deficit, and have a strong military.

    At the end he makes the Elizabeth Warren argument. You're going to be hearing it a lot more this year. No one ever got rich on their own.
    You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.
    “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
    Unsuccessful Democratic candidates apologize for the social contract, I think; successful ones (Bill Clinton, Obama) embrace it.

    The smart money seems to be 50-50 on Obama getting another four years. Based on this speech, and the most recent economic numbers, I'd put it a bit higher.

    (But I wouldn't bet $10,000 on it.)

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    Wednesday, January 25, 2012


    Nicol Williamson has died. I'll remember him always as the brilliant, tricksy, wise Merlin in John Boorman's wonderful EXCALIBUR.

    I once visited Boorman at The Glebe, his place in Ireland. He told me that Williamson hadn't been able to make sense of his character until the costume designer made his odd little silver skullcap. Then the whole character came to him.

    And Laurence Olivier never felt he had a character until he'd designed the right nose.

    Goodbye, old wizard. May She treat you well in the Summerlands.

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    I'm auditioning actors tomorrow in Montreal for my cheese videos. I'm looking for someone who might have three hours tomorrow to volunteer to read with the auditioning actors... know anyone?

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    Tuesday, January 24, 2012


    Howard Suber was one of my professors when I was at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; for years he team-taught alongside studio head Peter Guber in the Producers Program. His 2006 book, THE POWER OF FILM, talked about what makes a film great. He's just come out with a new book, LETTERS TO YOUNG FILMMAKERS, which is a sort of FAQ from his years of giving wise advice to people coming through the UCLA film program. The book is a series of brief letters answering questions about topics like inspiration, pitching, developing your writing, optioning your material, and why, if the screenplay is so important, Hollywood treats screenwriters like crap ... many of the same topics you may be interested in. Maybe he's got a letter for you.

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    Thursday, January 19, 2012


    According to Steve Jobs, as quoted in Walter Isaacson's excellent book, Henry Ford once said, "If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they'd have told me, 'A faster horse!'" Jobs' point was that his goal at Apple was to give customers what they didn't know they wanted: a personal computer, a graphic user interface, an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad.

    This is essentially the job of the screenwriter. You have to give producers what they didn't know they wanted. Chasing what producers think they want is usually a waste of energy. What they say they want today, they won't want by the time you write a script. Likewise, when networks give you notes, they don't want to have to solve problems for you. You're supposed to solve the problem for them.

    You have to be aware of the market, but not chase the trends of the market. You have to write to please yourself, because if you don't please yourself, you'll write crap no one wants. Of course you can't sell something that no one wants. But sometimes your gamble that people don't know they want your crazy creative idea -- yet -- pays off better than the familiar thing that everyone else is working on.

    (I doubt the quote, because Ford wasn't the first to build a car. He was the first to build a modern assembly line.)

    Read the book, by the way, it's pretty cool.

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    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Q. I'm kind of confused by 4, 5, and 6 acts in TV nowadays. Do you know of any resources where I could study the act breakdowns of TV shows?
    Read produced TV scripts, and make notes about the act breaks. Watch TV, and stop the show at the act break, and write down what sort of act break it was. (On your digital video recorder. You do have one, right? It's a professional tool you must have.)

    I've never seen a crystallization of 5 or 6 act structure the way there was sort of a standard format for 4 acts. (Act One out: it's not going to be easy. Act Two out turns the story on its head. Act Three out: highest jeopardy.) Faithful Readers: have you?

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    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    We watched the "bitcoin" episode of THE GOOD WIFE. I'm about ready to give up on this show.

    When we started watching, THE GOOD WIFE was a sharply written character-based drama about a woman who'd been betrayed, torn between her untrustworthy husband and her boss. There was a procedural element, but we watched the show for the human drama. Which was was Alicia going to jump? Was she going to make it on her own? How would she raise her kids under all that pressure? Could she ever trust her husband again? Did she want to?

    Now it seems as if it's become almost a pure procedural. Most of the bitcoin episode was a series of investigations about who Mr. Bitcoin might be. Sure, Bitcoin is interesting territory. But I'm not watching the show to watch about cryptographic currency.

    The B story was an incredibly lame runner in which Alicia warns her son not to get too involved with his incredibly cute and polite girlfriend, because she heard him say "I love you." This was manufactured drama. Most parents know better than to tell their teenager not to date someone -- assuming you can affect the relationship at all, which is unlikely, you'll just drive your teenager into rebellion or deceit. ("Okay, fine, I won't bring her over. I'll just leave home and never come back!") And why would she object to the girlfriend, who's apparently a smart, hard-working, straight-A student? It rings false.

    Somewhere along the line, it seems that the writers of THE GOOD WIFE forgot what was interesting about their main character. They had her ditch her husband permanently, sleep with the boss, and then ditch him too. She has no stakes in the episodes any more. There is no real jeopardy for her. All she seems to want is "to be a good lawyer." All the interesting plotlines go to Kalinda, who has some tough choices to make.

    In general, they seem to have forgotten a lot about their characters. There was an episode where Diane Lockhart has to tell Eli Gold to make friends in the law firm. Eli Gold, of course, is a political fixer who knows everyone in Chicago. Nobody should need to tell him he needs allies.

    Ah, well. Let me know if it gets better, would you?

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    Monday, January 16, 2012

    From time to time, funding programs (Canada) and producers (the US) will ask you for a synopsis.

    A synopsis is "An outline of the plot of a play, film, or book," right? It recounts what happens.

    Technically, yeah. A secret that took me years to find out is: when they ask for a synopsis, always send a pitch.

    When you turn in a synopsis, you want the reader to get excited about your project. Your goal is to get them to read your script if they haven't. If they have, and they're going through a big pile of synopses, your goal is to remind them of why your script is the best one, and possibly even get them to think your script is more exciting than they did when they read it.

    A good pitch recounts your plot, yes. But more importantly, it hypes the elements of your story. It sells what your main character wants, why he or she can't get it, and why we care. It is long on the jeopardy, the stakes, the obstacles, the antagonist, and the personality of the main character. It is short on details. It contains details, yes, but primarily details that are revelatory of character, or clever, or funny, or thrilling, or fresh.

    Generally, the best way to write a pitch is to do it off the top of your head, as if you were writing a letter to a friend in the business, or a friendly producer. You will often reduce the amount of cutting back and forth between storylines that you do in the script. Sometimes you have to double back to mention something that wasn't worth mentioning earlier. You have no obligation to match the pitch story to the actual plot. Who cares if it doesn't match exactly? They'll only find out when they read the script, and that's all you wanted them to do in the first place.

    The worst way to write a synopsis for submission is to go through the script and write down what happens. That's how you get "an outline of the plot." You'll wind up with a series of events that lack a strong through line.

    It is very, very hard to read a real synopsis. They tend to lack nuance, gusto, and fun. A pitch should be fun to read. It should make us see the movie.

    In fact, as you write a pitch, you'll often feel inclined to change your story. Go for it. Changes you make when you're selling your concept are often changes in the direction of a stronger story.

    Of course, a beat sheet that you write for yourself is another beast entirely. Then you do want to go into detail about what happens. But a beat sheet doesn't have to communicate the story; it's just a reminder of what your story is.

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    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Lindsay Doran featured in a Times article about what makes movies successful:
    “Audiences don’t care about an accomplishment unless it’s shared with someone else. What makes an audience happy is not the moment of victory but the moment afterwards when the winners shares that victory with someone they love.” So she mentally rewound the concluding scenes of these “accomplishment” films. Ms. Grey leaps into the arms of Patrick Swayze at the end of “Dirty Dancing,” and after that she reconciles with her father. Jaden Smith performs that impossible kick at the end of “The Karate Kid,” but afterward makes peace with his opponent and shares the moment with his mother and trainer. Colin Firth conquers his stammer at the end of “The King’s Speech,” and then shares his victory with his wife, daughters and the crowds cheering outside the palace. The film closes with a title card that reads that the king and his speech therapist remained friends for the rest of their lives.
    Discuss.

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    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Faithful Readers Claude and Kimshum tip me off to this excellent post by John Rogers:
    Those types of shows are essentially shows about emotions. People in conflict, or breaking down. End of day -- as Wells et al have nimbly shown -- you can drop a conflicted group of humans into any high-stakes setting and reap the entertainment crop of angst. Breaking Bad is about temptation and sin -- Walter didn't have to make Meth. But the drug world is a great, high-conflict/high-risk crucible for an amazing staff of writers to use to show what happens, how a man breaks bad. Joss Whedon's shows are about identity, responsibility, family and failure -- it doesn't matter what setting he's in, it's just that sci-fi allows one to create extreme circumstances so to best draw out extreme choices and extreme consequences.

    And then there are shows about systems. Specifically, systems in conflict, or breaking down. Law & Order is the platonic example, although most mainstream crime procedurals live somewhere in here. Disorder has come, sickness has come, corruption has come, and we crave the system to be set right. We are there for the riddle, the puzzle, the "click" of the solve. "Ahh, that's the solution." "Ah, clever."
    Interesting, huh? Also, this:
    All criticisms are products of unmet expectations.
    Go and learn...

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    Q. So when you say, "First of all, ghostwriting is forbidden under the rules of the Writer's Guild of America, the WGC and probably every other screenwriting guild on the planet.. If the WGA finds out that someone put his name on someone else's writing, he's in trouble.” Are you referring to someone who steals a script and puts their name on it? The term “ghostwriting” by its very nature as far as I know means that the ghostwriter agrees not to make any claim on the property, so if him and I have a “write for hire” agreement ahead of time, the WGA won’t care who did most of the writing, would they? The person who hired the writer paid him for doing the writing.
    In publishing, it is considered okay for a celebrity, say, to hire someone else to write a book for them, and put his name on the book. (Though, usually, these days, the real writer's name goes somewhere, in an "As Told To" or "With" sort of byline.)

    In movies and TV, however, it is NOT okay for someone to put his name on something he did not write, EVEN IF he paid for the privilege. Otherwise every producer would do that all the time. The Writers Guild of America was founded to put a stop to producers and their nephews from getting credit for things that were written by hard-working screenwriters.

    If you take credit for someone eles's writing, you'll get an ugly reputation in show business when the word gets out, and it will. If you're in the WGA you might get kicked out permanently, and then you won't be able to work as a writer, or even pretend to work as a writer.

    If you ghostwrite for someone else, you are screwing your fellow writers, and screwing yourself. I'm not sure whether the WGA would ever let you in, but if you're a member already, they can fine you the entire amount you got paid. Also, you'll hate yourself. No one should do it, ever.

    "Writer for hire" just means that the writer doesn't get copyright, the company does. Thass different. The writer still gets credit.

    Credits are the most important thing in a writer's career. They are her reputation. She has them for the whole duration of her career, unlike the money. They are the hard-earned gift that keeps on giving. If you spend a year ghostwriting, you have lost a year of your life.

    Of course writers don't always get credit for rewriting a script. Carrie Fisher, for example (yes, that Carrie Fisher) is a big deal script doctor who comes in at the last minute to punch up scripts. However you generally don't get a credit for punching up dialog and characters. But that is a question of awarding the original, legitimate writer more credit than he possibly deserves. The WGA tends to lean in the direction of giving the original writer more credit, so if a highly paid script doctor doesn't demand all the credit she deserves, they're probably not going to fuss about that. But Carrie Fisher's contract gives her right to ask for a credit arbitration if she feels like it. Thass different, too.

    The only time ghostwriting was acceptable was during the McCarthy period, when banned screenwriters such as Dalton Trumbo had to write under pseudonyms, or use a "front," in order to stay alive.

    Seriously, why would you hire a ghost writer? If you want to produce, produce. No one cares if you hire a writer and then put your name on the script as its producer. But taking credit for someone else's script is -- well, the nicest thing I can say about is, don't ever do it.

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    I'm a young writer from India and don't really have any friends who write. I wanted to experiment with writing rooms, but I don't know where to start. Do you have any idea where creative people who'd be open to Skypeing flock to on the internet?
    Readers, what do you say?

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    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    At last on the small screen, my 2007 short "12 Ways to Say I'm Sorry," in which we examine what Canadians mean by the expression, "I'm sorry."

    Guess what it doesn't mean?

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    Monday, January 09, 2012

    [POLITICS] It's sort of fun to watch the kind of mistakes Mitt Romney makes. He makes very few of them; he knows his script really well. It's only when he really has no idea how people will react to what he's that he makes an error. Like the $10,000 bet. Like saying "I like to be able to fire people." And now this: "I started off actually at the entry level, coming out of graduate school in business."

    Yes, because, coming out of Harvard Business School, you really have to start at the bottom. I mean, a first year management consultant barely makes, what, six figures?

    It's sort of like watching a consummate actor of the old, pre-Method acting days. Laurence Olivier was quite impressive. He had no emotional connection to his material; once he came offstage, announced that he'd cried real tears, apologized, and promised he'd never do it again. An "indicating" actor can turn in quite a good performance; but their performance can also be utterly inconsistent. The "indicating" actor has to use an intellectual analysis of the text to replace the consistency that a strong emotional connection gives.

    Romney likewise seems to have no emotional connection. If he can prep enough, it's no problem. But in the cut-and-parry of a debate, he gets a bit lost, and says ridiculous things about how in his first office at Staples, poor thing, his chairs were only Naugahyde (and not, I suppose, artisanal leather).

    What's odd to me is how long this all took to come out. The invisible primary has been going on for, what, a year now? Why is it only now, when it's almost too late, that the other Republican candidates are hitting him for his obvious vulnerabilities? Did no one have a David Axelrod or a Karl Rove working for them?

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    Montréal, le 9 janvier 2012 - La Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) annonce la tenue d’une session d’information le mercredi 11 janvier 2012 à 16 h 30. Cette session est destinée à la clientèle intéressée à déposer en production, secteur Jeunes créateurs. La rencontre se tiendra dans les locaux de la SODEC, au 215, rue St-Jacques, 8e étage à Montréal.

    Cette séance, d’une durée approximative de 90 minutes, vise à préparer le dépôt des projets au programme d’aide en production des jeunes créateurs du 20 janvier prochain. Le délégué à l’accueil des projets à la direction du cinéma et de la production télévisuelle, M. Alain Rondeau, sera sur place afin d’informer la clientèle sur les exigences du programme, répondre aux questions et aider les demandeurs à la préparation d’une demande.

    Les personnes intéressées doivent s’inscrire auprès de madame Djina Victoria-Hall au 514 841-2296 ou par courriel à djina-victoria.hall@sodec.gouv.qc.ca. Pour plus d’information, veuillez consulter le site Internet de la SODEC au www.sodec.gouv.qc.ca

    If you're a "young creator" in Québec (ça veut dire under 36), whether franco or anglo, this is a terrific program for getting funding for your projects. Definitely check it out.

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    Sunday, January 08, 2012

    Watched the "3 Little Pigs" episode of GRIMM. Aside from the atrocious, leaden acting, the "push" storytelling, and the way the nominal main character never really had a difficult decision to make, what bothered me most was how little it mattered that the show is supernatural. There are possible perpetrators who turn into sort-of-werewolves and sort-of-werepigs, but the clues are fingerprints, license plates, photographs and blood typing.

    If you're writing a supernatural show, the story should really hang on the characters being supernatural, shouldn't it? LOST GIRL is also a procedural about humanoids from the realm of fairy tales; but aside from the distinctive characters, the compelling personal issues and the adorably perky sidekick, there's a whole mythology there, and she can't solve the case without understanding what sort of critter she's dealing with.

    Grr, I say. Grr.

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    Saturday, January 07, 2012

    We watched Richard Curtis's 2003 directorial debut LOVE, ACTUALLY again. It is really a lovely movie. There are quite a bunch of things that are incredible about the movie. It feels like an indie ensemble piece, but it has a cast of stars not just in the big roles -- Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson -- but all the way down to the cameos -- Billy Bob Thornton has about 5 minutes, and Denise Richards about 15 seconds of screen time, while Claudia Schiffer shows up in two scenes, once just in the background. And the music budget must have been killer. So it is sort of a big movie masquerading as a small movie.

    So it's partly a lesson in how you make your first movie: you pull in a million favors. Curtis wrote Hugh Grant's big break, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL. He wrote much of the Mr. Bean movies and TV, and there's Rowan Atkinson. The roles are all crisply written, a joy for an actor... and no doubt written for the actors in question.

    It's also a lesson in what you can get away with as a screenwriter. Look at some of the little plotholes. Colin Firth writes his novel on a typewriter, and doesn't have a copy. Half of it blows into a pond. Just about when you're thinking, "Who still writes on a typewriter? And doesn't make copies?" Colin Firth's Portuguese housekeeper is saying, "What kind of idiot doesn't make a copy?" And when, later, he proposes, although he's never even had a conversation with her -- well, Lisa was saying, "He's going to marry her? He barely knows her." And the first words out of his mouth are, "I know it's kind of crazy to propose but..." And then he explains why.

    Both of these are classic cases of "hanging a lantern" on a plothole. If you play up a plothole big enough, it becomes a character point. So long as it is the character and not the plot that is irrational, you're okay.

    Likewise, the movie is a good example of how elastic time can be when you're cutting between multiple stories. This is the first time I noticed that Liam Neeson's kid learns how to play drums in less than two weeks. But you see him play drums (actually you only hear him), and then you go see three or four other stories move forward, and then you come back and he's playing better. It feels like enough time has elapsed for a kid to learn to play drums -- so long as you don't think about it.

    Of course, it's mostly just a lovely movie, that always makes me happy when I watch it. But look at it closely, and you'll see quite a crafty screenwriter at work.

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    I'm moderating a panel discussion on contracts for features and TV in a month. If you've got questions, shoot'em to me, k?

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    Wednesday, January 04, 2012

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    Tuesday, January 03, 2012

    [POLITICS] The following has nothing to do with story telling or screenwriting, and I'm hardly a political expert. But it's my blog, and this is America. (Or Canada. Or both.)

    I'm struggling with how defective the Republican "invisible primary" has been so far. Iowa looks like it will split three ways. Romney, who almost no one believes has the principals he currently espouses. Ron Paul, a libertarian who really could go found his own party, so far are his views from the Republican and Democratic mainstream. And Rick Santorum, a movement conservative with no organization and no charisma that I can detect. Losers: a Texas governor who thinks that Canadian tar sands are good because they're not "foreign oil"; a far-right-wing congresswoman; and a smart, sensible, rather conservative former governor whom the Obama people suckered into being their ambassador to China and who sabotaged his own campaign by claiming to be moderate.

    Really? This is the best the Republican party can field?

    My feeling is Romney wins the nomination. Who can stop him? Perry, who had the deep pockets, is done for. (Weirdly, he's spent only about $3mil of the $17 mil he's raised. That's a lot of barbecue when he goes home.) Ron Paul isn't really a Republican. Santorum has no money and no organization. He could win South Carolina, but how is he going to take big states like Florida and Michigan?

    Enthusiasm seems to be down. Turnout in the Iowa Caucuses is seriously down from 2008.

    One big question is: will anyone run a third candidate from the right? That would kill Romney's chances, but the movement conservatives may not care. They may figure they have once again been snookered by Wall Street Republicans. Of course Trump will make noises about it, Sarah Palin-style, but I doubt he'll run, 'cause running is work.

    My guess is people make noises and there's a lot of talk, but no one runs against Romney from the right.

    So the other big question is: who will be more motivated to get out the vote? Democrats, who feel a bit burned that Obama did not deliver enough HOPE and CHANGE; or Republicans, who may not believe that Romney will really deliver on the Tea Party Revolution.

    In an election like this, there's no advantage to going positive. It is going to be an ugly, ugly election. Look forward to a mudfest.

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    Q. Do you think a producer can damage you and your spec script talking about it to people (e.g. other producers, tv and funding ceo and so on) before having actually bought it himself?
    I don't know why a producer would tell other producers about your script unless it wasn't for him. Why would he? He doesn't control it. If I were a producer, and I was interested in a script, I wouldn't do anything about it until I'd optioned it.

    The exception would be producers who have a relationship with a studio, who would take a script to their studio to get money to buy it. I suppose if they have a financier, same goes.

    You could be dealing with an "emerging" producer or someone who doesn't have the resources to option your script. They might take your script to bigger producers they know to get money to option it. But they would probably not do that without at least a shopping agreement that attaches them to the project in the event they get it set up somewhere.

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    Sunday, January 01, 2012

    [POLITICS] There's been the usual complaining here and there at the order of the US primaries. Why should 145,000 hard core Iowa voters get to decide who the Republican nominee should be?

    Fairness is not really the point in politics. But strategically, the order of primaries doesn't make much sense either. The objective of a political primary is to find the best candidate: the candidate who embodies the vision of the party who is most likely to win the general election.

    The crucial fact that the order of the various primaries ignores is that the candidate who is mostly likely to win the general is the candidate who is most likely to win the swing states. It doesn't really matter who pleases the voters of Iowa. Iowa is a fairly blue state. Iowa voted for Gore and Dukakis. By the time a Republican gets to Iowa, he's already riding a wave. A fortiori, South Carolina is completely irrelevant: it's a far-right-wing state that probably wouldn't go blue unless Anonymous hacked its voting machines. (Which, you know, they might.)

    The states that either party really needs to win are Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Win two out of three of these, and you're probably president. Win all three, and you're almost certainly president. Ohio and Florida were pretty close last time, even with Obama winning two out of three electoral votes.

    So it seems to me that the parties ought to make sure the primaries for these three states come early.

    I go back and forth whether the early states should be small ones. On the one hand, there's something to be said for a small number of voters really getting to see the candidates up close and personal. But up close and personal is not really how you win the general. A candidate that works in a living room may not close the sale on TV.

    I do, however, believe in having a few caucuses in there. Caucuses are less democratic than primaries. Caucus voters spend all evening caucusing. They're much more hardcore. But to win the general, you need your party's hard core. They're the people who go house to house and get out the vote. GOTV may not make more than 4% or 5% of a difference, but the most elections are won or lost by that much.

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