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



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Sunday, April 29, 2012

You can now download the audio from our WGC-sponsored panel discussion on What Do I Want In My Contract?. It's an exploration of the terms that the WGC's Independent Production Agreement doesn't cover. Many of them apply whether you're in the US or Canada, and whether you have a Guild agreement or you're on your own.

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We went to see the Steins Collect exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's based on the stunning collections of modern art that Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo assembled in the first half of the 20th Century. There are the paintings they bought, and the paintings they looked at but couldn't afford, and paintings of them.

Gertrude Stein is famous as a modernist author; as Picasso's first champion and collector; as the gal who helped Hemingway develop his style; and as someone whose Saturday evenings gathered some of the most promising painters and art fiends in Paris in the 20's.

But what is striking about the exhibit are the many times you read about how she had to sell her art to support herself; or trade some old paintings she loved for a new painting she couldn't afford; or how she sold art to publish her books.

Gertrude Stein was a big self-promoter, writing to publishers that she was the first new thing in American literature since Henry James. But she must also have felt like a terrible failure. She must have felt frustrated that publishers wouldn't actually pay her for her books. She organized an exhibit for Picabia in Chicago that sold exactly one painting. She must have wondered how many of those people showing up at her dinners were coming for the food or to use her connections.

The thing is, when people look at you, they see your successes. They see the Gertrude Stein that was right about Picasso, and whose AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS brought Paris in the 20's back to life (and inspired Lisa and me to go to Paris and be writers). They see the Terry Gilliam of BRAZIL, not the director who couldn't get DON QUIXOTE off the ground.

So when you look at your own works, count your successes. Learn from your failures, but don't judge yourself by them. Anyone who's trying to do something new will have periods of failure. It's the peaks of your accomplishment that set you apart from the people who never risk anything.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hey, you know how y'all are always asking me what the hot shows are to spec? TV Calling has answered your question.

I've skimmed it, and it all seems like sensible advice.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My buddy Elisabeth Fies and her posse are holding a free staged reading of their half hour comedy specs at the iO West Theater in Ho'wood on Sunday.

Actors are always putting on showcases in LA to get casting directors to see them.

I'm intrigued by the idea of writers doing a staged reading to showcase their scripts. If you can get dev people to come out, then they'll have more fun hearing a good staged reading then they might have reading your spec at night in bed. Or at lunch. Even if they don't come, you get to hear how your jokes work in front of a real audience. And you can ask for feedback. Playwrights do that; why not TV comedy writers?

If you're in LA, you might wanna go to this to (a) scope out the competish (b) see if the idea works (c) meet a bunch of fun fellow writers.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012


Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis have written a fairly comprehensive guide to taking your film to festivals. "Complete Guide" is a fairly accurate description. They cover everything from choosing which festivals to target, to producer's reps and sales agents, to following up post-festival.

I think I would have appreciated the book more if they'd been a little more judgmental. For example, they have a whole chapter on producer's reps and sales agents. What I felt was missing is, "If you have this kind of film, don't bother with a sales agent, you need a producer's rep." Or vice versa. Is it worth making schwag? Is it a good idea to distribute your film on iTunes? They say how, but they don't say whether. Not all methods of marketing a book are equally useful. Which are best?

Still, if you've got a film you want to hawk around festivals, the book is probably worth its price. If it gives you some ideas, or clarifies something, it's worth the price of admission.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

After the serious cuts to the CBC and Telefilm, the National Film Board has had to announce it is closing its offices in Toronto and Ontario.

The National Film Board is responsible for funding quite a few short films that have gone to the Oscars. The NFB office on St. Denis and Maisonneuve includes the Ciné-Robothèque, where you can view any of thousands of films the NFB has funded over the years. Many of them are hard to see anywhere else. For example, when I was researching a comedy set among the Inuit, I was able to walk in and see documentaries from the 1950's about the traditional Inuit way of life, showing the dogsleds and the igloos.

Some of these films are available at the Bibliothèque Nationale, but most aren't. In other words, the NFB is the place in Montreal where Canada's audiovisual heritage lives. Er, lived.

I have no idea what they're going to do with all those video stations. I imagine they'll have to sell them off for nothing or junk them. So if a progressive government comes in after four or five years, it will cost a bundle to replace them.

The Conservatives seem to think that Canadian culture is overfunded. In a country that still subsidizes men to go out on the ice and bash seals to death, I'm not convinced that slashing film and television supports should be where the cuts are made. Culture attracts brainpower. Culture attracts tourists.

But let's set aside for a moment all the benefits that places like the NFB and Telefilm have brought Canada (e.g. Canadian movies at the Oscars, Jessica Paré). Strictly as a business proposition, cultural subsidies attract highly mobile entertainment investments which then ricochet around the economy. The seal hunters aren't going to transplant themselves to Brazil if the Canadian Navy doesn't take care of them. But filmmakers and game makers are in a global market. Canada's loss will be someone else's gain.

So this is a damn shame.

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Canadians: The illustrious DMc is doing another free CFC prime time TV writing workshop on the 21st.
Denis will walk participants through the process of getting an episode of the series on the air – from collaboration and brainstorming in the story room, to beatsheets, outlines and script drafts

Montrealers: SODEC is having another info session Wednesday the 18th at 4:30 pm at their offices at 215 rue St. Jacques, 8th Floor:
Cette séance, d’une durée approximative de deux heures, vise à préparer le dépôt des projets au programme d’aide en production des jeunes créateurs du 4 mai 2012. 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 monsieur Rondeau au 514 841-2291 ou par courriel à alain.c.rondeau@sodec.gouv.qc.ca.
Note that this session is about screenwriting support, for which the deadline is May 4.

I suspect the session may be in French only, but many anglos have gotten their start in this program.

Alain is a really great guy, too.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Here's the trailer from EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL, a fine black comedy I story edited. It's about a has-been artist, Lars, who starts taking care of a deaf-mute with a habit of killing and eating small animals while sleepwalking. Strangely, Lars finds himself inspired to paint for the first time in years.

So Lars pushes Eddie to go further.

It's pretty twisted. Sort of ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL with, you know, cannibalism.

It's fun working on a piece like this. Your job as story editor is sometimes to reassure the filmmaker that his most demented instincts are right on -- you're the voice going, "Yes, that is seriously effed up. Now go for it." Because no one wants a cannibalistic art satire that pulls its punches.

Lisa and I got a similar note a few months back on our dark drama ALICE FOUND ALIVE. It was a few too many things at once, and a wise producer suggested we carve it down to its freshest and scariest impulses. Once you cross certain lines, you can't look back.

Eddie is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's an early review.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I listened to an interesting Fresh Air interview with Francis Coppola. Among many interesting things he said, he encourages filmmakers to get married and have kids early. He says that yes, kids take up a lot of time. But when you have a family, you focus much harder on getting stuff done than when you're a carefree single guy going out on dates.

I will confirm that I did not get more written before I had kids. Having kids forces you to be serious about your work.

Technically, Coppola only urges male filmmakers to get married; he urges female filmmakers to stay single, so they don't have to take care of some guy and his kids. But he's from another generation. There is no reason that a female filmmaker can't marry someone who will take care of her and her kids.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

I started rewatching BAND OF BROTHERS because I've been rereading Churchill's history of World War II. ("History will not be kind to Neville Chamberlain," Churchill said. "I know, for I shall write the history.")

Just watched episode 3, "Carentan." And there's a particularly brilliant scene that sums up all the carnage that Easy Company has been through.

(Spoilers, obviously, though just regarding the scene.)

What's brilliant about it is that it doesn't come during any of the battles. It's not a moment after the battle, surveying all the men lying on the field. You expect that after a battle scene. No, it comes when Easy is back in England after being pulled off the line in Normandy. They're going back to the war, so Sgt. Malarkey goes up to pick up his laundry.

He pays the woman -- he doesn't know what to make of English money, so she just picks the coins out of his hand. And he's about to leave, when she asks if he knows a certain Lieutenant, who hasn't come by to pick up his laundry. And we can see from Sgt. Malarkey's face why the Lieutenant hasn't come by. But he pays for the laundry. And then the wash woman asks about a few more soldiers from Easy who haven't been in to pick up their laundry. And she calls off their names. And of course she's naming the dead. And there are a lot of them.

It hits you harder because you're not expecting it. You don't expect to meet death when you're safely picking up your laundry.

I've heard the phrase "the obligatory scene" a few times. It's the scene that goes with the territory. The scene that the audience knows it has to see or they won't have a complete experience. As a writer, you try to figure out how to write that scene so that it's fresh and convincing and surprising, not merely obligatory.

The all-time most amazing obligatory scene I've ever seen, I think, is in ROME. It comes after Caesar's murder. Marc Antony has to give a speech, you see.

The problem is, he's going to give a speech that another writer has written rather memorably. "Friends, Romans, countrymen," it begins. "Lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."

How do you rewrite Shakespeare?

You don't, of course. And what the screenwriter of that episode chose to do, instead, was to have a fellow come into a bar and tell everyone about Antony's speech. Of course he doesn't remember the words. He barely heard them. He talks about how Antony came out with Caesar's bloody toga, and kissed it, and how he played the crowd.

The writing fills in around the famous speech. It's like jazz: you don't hit the beat, you hit around the beat, trusting the audience knows where the beat is.

The audience of BAND OF BROTHERS knows where the beat is. It knows where the dead are. They're lying in the hedgerows of Normandy. So you don't talk about death there. You talk about fear, and fearlessness, and fatigue, and stupid mistakes, and cowardice, and hysterical blindness. You talk about everything except death.

And then after the beat, you play that note -- afterwards, you have your obligatory scene.

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Gavin Polone's piece about "Who Really Determines the Fates of Aspiring Screenwriters" is of course worth reading in its entirety, but I'll just draw attention to his comment that no one reads paper scripts any more. "Everyone reads on iPads and Kindles." So disregard anything you may read in old books (including my own) about how to send a script on paper. Thankfully, no one wants to read it on paper.

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Q. A producer wants to read my script. But he says he's got a similar project, and he wants me to sign a release form.

Normally I wouldn't worry about signing a release form. It's just something you have to do.

And normally I wouldn't stress if a producer said they had a similar project. Lots of people have similar projects. Most don't get made.

But I would not be particularly anxious to send my script to a producer who said he had a similar project, and wanted me to sign a release form. There's just too much temptation for him to steal whatever he likes from my script and apply it to his project. Indeed it would be hard not to. And the release form would in that case protect him against any claim you might have.

And if he's already got one project, he probably is not going to toss out the one he's worked on, and buy yours. So there isn't a lot of upside.

So I would "count to ten on that."

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1) When speaking to an actor off-camera, look into one eye and stick with it.

2) Film acting is, in large part, reacting and listening.

3) While rehearsing something with a fellow actor, if a crew member can come up and recognize you’re rehearsing vs. having a real conversation, then you aren’t doing it right.

4) An actor relaxes in front of the camera by concentrating, and knowing that you have no enemies on set, everyone’s on your side and doing their best to make you look your best for the movie.

5) The camera catches everything you do, so don’t be afraid to play things subtley.

6) If you’re going to smoke on-screen, you must plan it absolutely perfectly, don’t mess up the continuity.

7) All actors steal certain gestures and behaviors from other actors — but the best actors make these gestures their own. Steal from the best, and make it your own.

8) You can make four pictures as an actor in the time it takes a director to make one — so if you’re an actor planning on becoming a director, consider the financial aspect.

9) A majority of movie acting is relaxation. If you’re knocking yourself out, you’re doing it wrong.

10) Theater acting is an operation with a scalpel, movie acting is an operation with a laser.

From Nofilmschool

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Monday, April 02, 2012

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then -
  11. - that’s it. Don’t hang around.


Via The Uncool

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

"Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it" -- Mark Twain

Reader Eitan L helpfully writes in to give me a heads up that today is the last day to apply for the Weather Channel Writers Fellowship, which "is recognized as the premier diversity writers program in the television weather reporting industry."

If you're interested in creative writing about the weather, don't hesitate to apply to this highly prestigious program.

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