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



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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I have reviewed your site and could not find a way to purchase an online or PDF version of "Crafty TV Writing". I don't have a Kindle or iPad. I'm looking for something that I can download to my Mac or PC.
You can download a free Kindle app to your Mac or PC.

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I am looking for a structure outline by minutes of how a pilot should be written. I am also interested in act structures that account for commercials and arc of story by episode and for season bible.


Act structure is not locked down by minute, not even in TV; it can drift a few minutes either way. The best way to get a handle on act structure is to look at multiple scripts of a show like the one you want to write, and see where they make the act breaks.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I had a nice chat with some game designers, some of whom may have been from Bioware, about the controversy about the MASS EFFECT 3 ending.

SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:SPOILERS:





So, the hero, Shepherd, does what Buffy does at the end of seasons 1 and 5: sacrifice herself for the good of everyone else. And some players object to that. Even though, y'know, Shep has been dead at least once in the series already.

And the whole 39 hours of gameplay are all about loss and sacrifice.

But maybe the issue players are having isn't that Shep dies. It's that you have no choice about Shep dying. You are given up to three endings at the end of the game, but in each of them, Shep has to sacrifice her life for the good of all, at the end of a long sequence of cut-scene after cut-scene in which you have barely any choices to make or even anything to do.

I think the problem is that the player doesn't own Shep's sacrifice. He doesn't choose to sacrifice his life for the good of all. He has the controller taken out of his hands by the designers.

Sid Meier famously says that there are games where the computer is having all the fun, games where the designer has all the fun, and games where the player gets to have the fun. At the end of ME3, the designers are having the fun.

What if there had been an option for Shepherd not to sacrifice himself? But in that ending, only Earth survived, not the whole galaxy? Or there would have been some other sort of qualified victory? Then most of the players would have chosen to sacrifice Shep, but they would have chosen it. And then they would have owned the sacrifice. They would have got to have the fun.

I had the same issue at the end of RED DEAD REDEMPTION. Marston sacrifices himself to save his family, but the player doesn't get a choice. Suppose the player could choose to send his family to safety, or fight it out with his enemies, his son at his side. If he brings his son, his son dies. And then, bitter, sad, he goes to take revenge for his family. Most players would choose to save the family, if the game made it clear that there were real risks for the son. But they would own that decision. They would feel the redemption mentioned in the title.

I think it would also have helped ME3 if there were a bit more of an epilog. Bioware really saved a lot of money on the alternate endings. They're all about Joker and the Normandy racing to outrun the shock front of Shep's decision. If I choose to control the Reapers, I want to see a hideous giant fleet of Reapers heading out from Earth, with "United Federation of Earth" painted on their sides, so I can wonder if I've given humanity too much power. If I choose to destroy all synthetic life, I want to see the Geth die. Otherwise each winning choice doesn't really feel different. Either way the Reapers stop fighting and Joker fails to outrun the shock wave, and crashlands on a planet with some crew members on board.

It seems a shame that the ending of such a well-crafted game comes up so short. I can see why Bioware made its choice. The end-game cut-scenes are already expensive. It's a game; they wanted to maximize their efforts on levels and gameplay. But if you want your game to tell a story, a weak ending can really spoil an otherwise successful story.

(See all my Mass Effect posts.)

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

You know you have a problem with your game's ending when phishing web sites appear promising a new ending in order to scam unwary surfers.

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We're continuing to enjoy THE GOOD WIFE. I continue to marvel at the opaque quality of Alicia Florrick. Most TV shows go to great lengths to show us the inner life of the main character. She has someone she tells her inner feelings to, whether it's a best friend, a lover, a dog, or the audience via voice over. Not Alicia Florrick. She keeps it mostly bottled up. We can guess at her feelings, but we can't know which way she'll jump or even how she feels about people. How does she feel about Will now? About Peter? About Kalinda? We can only watch from the outside.

Come to think of it, Kalinda's another character who never lets the audience in. And, to some extent, Will.

Obviously, that works, or people wouldn't be watching the show. I would imagine that the audience enjoys trying to figure these people out. After all, in real life we rarely know for sure what the other people in our life are thinking.

It's a risky way to write, of course. And you'll get a lot of flak from readers who feel that your writing is murky. They'll complain that they need to know more. They don't actually need to know more, of course. They just want to know more. And you don't necessarily have to give it to them -- sometimes the sizzle is better than the steak.

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I was talking with a videogame producer I'm working with about our story, and we wound up talking about the mechanics of why the main character has her special power, on which the game is based. We talked backstory and we talked mythology. Ultimately my feeling was that she gets her special power from a Magic Hat.

A Magic Hat is a special power that you don't explain. Because the explanation wouldn't actually resolve anything. The point of magic is that it's magic. You can create a mythology behind a magic hat, if that's what your audience is into (e.g. the One Ring, Excalibur). But it's still a magic hat.

What you definitely don't need is a pseudo-scientific explanation of your magic hat. The classic example is from the Star Wars universe:
Midi-chlorians were intelligent microscopic life forms that lived symbiotically inside the cells of all living things. When present in sufficient numbers, they could allow their symbiont to detect the pervasive energy field known as the Force. Midi-chlorian counts were linked to potential in the Force, ranging from normal Human levels of 2,500 per cell to the much higher levels of Jedi. The highest known midi-chlorian count belonged to the Jedi Anakin Skywalker (over 20,000 per cell), who was believed to have been conceived by the midi-chlorians.
Of course that doesn't explain how midi-chlorians convey power in the Force, so you're just kicking the can down the road.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Here's an interesting how-to for funding a movie through Kickstarter... by the guys who are trying to fund a movie called Fal$e Profit. And here's their Kickstarter - they're trying to raise $50K. And here's Jane Espenson trying to raise $50,000 for Season Two of Husbands.

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If you missed the WGC Contracts Panel we did at McGill last month, you now have audio and video options. We have the original recording with the Powerpoint I used, and we have an edited, cleaned-up audio recording. (Anyone who wants to edit the video to match the improved audio is welcome!)

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

So, I'm running for a second term as Quebec's Delegate to the WGC National Forum. If you're a member, and have any questions, either about the election or about the upcoming National Forum, please don't hesitate to drop me a line.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I've been having a weird bug where Final Draft makes all my PDF's backwards. After twenty minutes chatting with a FD tech support guy (who was perfectly nice and competent, Denis), it turns out that I had my Standard print preset checked for Back to Front. But I don't use it, I use a custom preset ("draft"). And FD uses the Standard preset to make PDF's, not your custom one.

So if you're having wonky PDF issues, check your Standard preset.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Q. Is there anything like a Canadian "Black List" of the best unproduced screenplays?
Not that I'm aware of; although the WGC does from time to time award the Jim Burt Prize to the best unproduced screenplay that hasn't been optioned.

I would call development people at the finer production houses around town and ask what scripts they loved that they were unable to option, say because the material didn't fit their mandate, or their boss didn't love it. They'd probably be happy to tell you. No one wants to see a good script go unmade.

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Q. Do you know where I could get my hands on a copy of the script to [snip], for an assignment? I've searched everywhere on the internet, but I can't find a thing.
What I would do is: see who got the screenwriting credit for the script; call the WGA to find out who their current agent is; call their agent and explain that you're a student and you'd like to read the script.

If you're in LA, you could also check out the Writers Guild Foundation Shavelson-Webb Library at 7000 W. Third St. They've got a honking lot of scripts.

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In February I moderated a WGC panel discussion on What Do I Want In My Contract? at McGill. It covered contract terms that aren't in the WGC Independent Production Agreement (the equivalent of the WGA's Minimum Basic Agreement).

The streaming audio is now available. We should be posting a downloadable MP3 pretty soon.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

You can't "win" Mass Effect 3 without playing an online game. Either you have to play many, many bouts of ME3 multiplayer, or play many, many bouts of Infiltrator, or play Datapad. Datapad is the free iPhone/iPad app that Bioware is releasing so no one can say you have to pay extra in order to win ME3.

Datapad is a Farmville-style app, where you send space fleets on "missions" to raise galactic readiness. You quickly find out that in any of the five quadrants there are 3 missions that never change. Yep, same star systems, same description, same rewards. You have to send your fleets to do those missions over and over to get galactic readiness points. And when I say over and over, I mean literally dozens and dozens of times to get your galactic readiness to where you can get the best ME3 ending.

Which means, of course, that you have to check your iPad or iPhone constantly in order to make sure fleets aren't sitting still. Just like Farmville, the game intrudes into daily life. It will take days of playing Datapad constantly to get your readiness up. I've been playing constantly for two days and I've improved my galactic readiness by 5%.

This is not a game. No one would actually play Datapad if they weren't trying to avoid having to play Infiltrator or ME3 multiplayer. Datapad is a chore.

It could have been given a little flavor with trivial effort. Just write different missions for different star systems. And with a tiny bit more effort, there could have been jeopardy. (Your starfleets can be "crippled" but they fix themselves in an hour, which is tedious but hardly alarming.) But they didn't want to. Bioware/EA don't really want you to play Datapad. They want you to buy Infiltrator for $7, or play ME3 multiplayer (which requires an Xbox LIVE Gold membership). But they want to pretend that they're not forcing you to buy something.

So Datapad is free. And it's worth every penny you pay.

PS Aside from the Galaxy at War "game" on Datapad, you can also access the game's codex, in case you didn't read it in-game, and you can check a Mass Effect twitter feed.

PPS The programming itself is terrible. It keeps losing login information. It keeps claiming that my iPhone is not connected to the Internet. You have to hit the touchscreen repeatedly to get it to respond. No pinch-to-zoom. Incredibly slow to reload. It is a badly, badly made app. .

PPPS It's only free if you're playing the game on your first profile. You'll need to buy a second online pass if you're playing the game on a second profile.

PPPPS: Increasing "bonus readiness" seems to be the fastest way to increase readiness.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

I have now played through every mission available to me in Mass Effect 3, accumulating allies for the big fight against the deadly galaxy-obliterating Reapers.

Unfortunately, due to really cheesy marketing ploys by Bioware or EA, I haven't actually "won" the game. To get a semi-happy ending, I have to boost my "galactic readiness." This can only be accomplished by:

a. Playing lots of battles in multiplayer mode. This requires a Gold membership in Xbox LIVE. Also, you have to use the online access code you get in the game box, which means if you kid wants to play on his profile, he has to buy another access code. And, of course, you have to like multiplayer. I don't.

b. Buy an iPad game called Infiltrator and play it lots. This costs $7, plus you have to have an iPad. And it's a pure shooter. If I wanted a pure shooter, I'd play CALL OF DUTY.

c. Play an iPad game called Datapad. Datapad is free, but boring. You send out missions and they complete in real-time, hours and hours later. Not a lot of work, but not a lot of fun, either. I figure it will take at least 10 days of attending to Datapad to get my galactic readiness up.

All of these methods require you to invest hours in them in order to get your galactic readiness anywhere near where it needs to be.

Boo, I say. If I buy a single player game, I don't want to have to play multiplayer. I don't want to play online. Bioware/EA are basically selling a broken single player game that can only be repaired by playing online. I feel betrayed and angry. Boo.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Here's a little bit more about the game I've been working on... Incidentally, that's not a shadow of the player character running up a bridge. That's the player character, shifted into shadows, running across the shadow of a bridge.

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Q. Should I put "WGA registered" on my title page?
I don't think so. I've never seen a script from a professional writer that had that on the title page.

As I've mentioned before in my FAQ, I believe it is more important to copyright your script than to register it with the WGA. It costs the same, but the Library of Congress copyright carries statutory damages if your copyright is violated, while registration only provides some evidence that you're the original writer.

But if you must register the script, there is no need to put that on your script. It sort of says, "Hey, if you're planning to STEAL my VALUABLE SCRIPT, you CAN'T, because it's REGISTERED! You BASTARD!!!!"

It just looks amateurish.

(More posts about copyright here.)

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Friday, March 09, 2012

Q. I just wrote a spec coming-of-age film script based on an experience from my youth. As this is based on a true story, do I need to get releases signed by individuals portrayed in the script? How is this usually handled in scripts like 'Erin Brockovich,' etc.? Thanks for your thoughts!!
Depends on how faithful you are to what happened. If people and events are recognizable, and especially if you use real names, then you'll need releases. ERIN BROCKOVICH would have needed the rights from Erin Brockovich, and releases from the main characters in the film (the lawyer she worked for, etc.). They could also use anything that was in the trial record, as court documents are automatically public domain. (I think. I'm not a lawyer.)

If you are writing a story inspired by true events, you should be okay. I doubt Richard Linklater bought the rights from his high school stoner friends to put characters loosely based on them in SLACKERS.

Also, realistically, it depends on how pissed off people are going to be. If you're really ripping someone a new one, you might want to lawyer up. THE INSIDER probably had a lawyer or two closely vetting the script.

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Thursday, March 08, 2012


I'm about a ten hours into Mass Effect 3, the latest in the hit third-person RPG/shooter franchise from BioWare, and I'm a little frustrated. The shooting is fun. The story has twists and turns.

It's the characters that bug me. They're not a lot of fun.

Okay, granted, Earth has just been attacked by the Reapers, a race of superpowerful robots intent on destroying all organic life in the galaxy. That does tend to make everyone a tad sad, and a tad focused on fighting for survival.

But isn't there room for a few surprises?

Where's the guy who's just broken up with his girlfriend, and is crushed by that, even though she's still alive? And he knows his loss doesn't compare to the millions who are dead, but damn it, it still hurts?

Where's the girl who's inexplicably happy, because her massive Ponzi scheme was about to collapse, and now that everything's life or death, one con that got out of control doesn't matter any more?

Or the dude who is just a wee little bit happy that his ex-wife was incinerated along with New York?

Where's the character who really, really wants to get himself killed, because life is not worth living, and, if you take him on a mission, he does?

We care about characters because of their flaws, as I said in my MIGS talk. The people you spend most of the time with have no flaws.

Look, I love shooting evil spider cyborgs as much as the next guy. But BioWare is known as a game writer's (relative) paradise. Do all the conversations have to be this sad and grim? Couldn't they be a little less predictable and a little more, well, human?

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"The rehearsal is the work. The performance is the relaxation." -- Stanislavski, quoted by Michael Caine in the NPR Fresh Air podcast.

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Monday, March 05, 2012

Here's the teaser trailer for Contrast, the awesomely fun game I've been working on as Narrative Designer. It's a platformer where you travel places by shifting in and out of the world of the shadows on the wall. It's being announced at GDC in a couple of hours.



More about the game on 1UP.com.

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