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



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Thursday, May 31, 2012

I enjoyed the Fresh Air interview with Hugh Laurie. I was struck by his story that he spent three days in a hotel in LA prepping for his audition for HOUSE.

Obviously Laurie knew that this was an important audition. But surely, after the first day of going over what can't have been more than a couple of scenes, he might have felt he had it all down pat. Instead he kept going.

I personally have a tendency to spread myself a little too thin. I like to finish things. Lots of things. I tend to be an ninety-five-percenter. My impulse is to get a script to where I'm pretty happy with it, and then write something else while I send the first one around.

And yet I know there's another level. I spent a year and a half polishing and reworking my comedy KIKI WILDER, because a producer kept asking me to rework it. And Lisa and I have spent a year and a half polishing and reworking our drama ALICE FOUND ALIVE, because I'm attached to direct.

And even there I know that once we have all our cast, there will be changes that suggest themselves.

Writing is rewriting.

I'm not saying rewrite endlessly. There is a point at which you've brought a script to the point where you are making things different without making them better; there's a point where you can legitimately say, "That's the best I can do right now." Only great notes or six months away can give you a better perspective. If you don't have a vision for how the script needs to be, then further rewriting will just cause the script to drift.

But still, there it is: three days in a hotel room for a couple of scenes. It paid off for him, dinnit?

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Q. What podcasts & blogs would you recommend following for continuing education? Especially about:

  • Film history including watershed films, writers, and directors
  • Staying current on who is who and doing what
  • Interviews with Writers and Directors

Personally, I'm fond of NPR's Fresh Air program, and they often interview directors and showrunners, especially when they are Matthew Weiner.

Hey, class, what are your favorite podcasts?

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

A producer asked me for some names for a comedy script of mine that he's interested in. Aside from, y'know, Eric Canuel, who are the best Canadian feature comedy directors, do you think?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I was most pleased to get my royalty statement for my books. CRAFTY TV has sold 11,500 copies. CRAFTY SCREENWRITING has sold 15,500. But what really tickled me is that the deal has gone through for the Chinese rights. Nice to think that there will be a Chinese translation of my first book.

Especially on a day when I got an email from a German publisher contemplating translating my novel!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I rather enjoyed Dan Harmon's blog post about being fired by press release as COMMUNITY's showrunner.

Goes to show, no matter what level you're at, there's mishegas.

UPDATE: Fixed link. Thanks, Blitzen!

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

[Politics]

I apologize in advance for an apparently political post, but it is really about story telling.

People use stories to understand their world -- to boil it down to things they understand. No one can truly understand the global economy, though maybe some nobel prize winners get the gist of it. So people, and politicians in particular, tend to use paradigms they can understand. I think that human beings are in fact hard-wired to understand the world through stories, just as we're hard-wired to learn language. Otherwise the world is just too big.

But if you understand the world through the wrong story, you can get into trouble.

I read a piece yesterday about the "belt-tightening" paradigm. In a recession, there's less money. If a family has less money, they need to spend less until they can make more money. Simple. Right? To spend more than you have is irresponsible.

The problem is, what if we're not a family? What if we're a village.

If a village is in a recession, what happens if everyone spends less money? The cobbler spends less money. He decides not to buy as many nails for his shoes. So now the blacksmith has less money. So he doesn't buy a pig to eat. So now the farmer has less money. So he doesn't buy new shoes. So now the cobbler has even less money...

And you get caught in a recessionary death spiral. Money doesn't circulate.

What happens if the government comes along and taxes everyone, and then spends their money for them, let's say by hiring everyone to fix the bridge over the creek? It takes money from the farmer, the cobbler and the blacksmith, and then it gives it back to them. Now they're all working full time, and spending full time.

Aha, but no one has enough money to pay their taxes, because they're in a recession? Okay, so the government borrows money from the Chinese village across the river. And pays everyone to fix the bridge. Soon, everyone is working and earning, and not in a recession any more. And now there are enough taxes to pay back the Chinese.

This is a slightly more complicated story than "when the family doesn't make enough money, everyone has to spend less." But there is a danger in boiling down the world to a story that is too simple. Because the world is not actually that simple.

For example, money. Money seems simple but it's not. The non-intuitive thing about money is that it isn't just the amount of dollar bills flowing around, it's how fast they flow. If I give you a dollar and then you give Joe a dollar and then he gives Delia a dollar, everyone gets to buy a dollar's worth of stuff. There's essentially three dollars in the economy. If I hold onto my dollar because I'm tightening my belt, I essentially take three dollars out of the economy.

At least that's what I remember from freshman economics.

Obviously, I am not someone you should consult about economics. Many smart people in the German government and the Tea Party are convinced that "belt-tightening" is just the thing.

But I do know that you have to be careful which stories you use to interpret the world. If you pick the wrong one, you'll do the wrong thing.

So maybe what this post is really about is the failure of the people in favor of spending more money to come up with a good story. It is not intuitive that you should tax and spend in the middle of a recession. It is not intuitive, to say the least, that the thing you should do when you have less money is spend more.

So let's suppose your in-depth understanding of the complexities of markets leads you to the conclusion that you must spend in a recession and cut the deficit only in a boom. Then you had better come up with a good story. It is no use saying, as Paul Krugman has been doing in The New York Times for years, that mainstream economists have agreed about this since the Great Depression, and have a great deal of data to prove it, including the current American recovery and the continuing European economic death spiral. "Experts agree" just doesn't cut it with people. People need a story they can understand.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012



I'm really enjoying THE WITCHER 2. The story is well crafted. The characters are well drawn and acted. Dialog has consequences -- and you can make a decision in the middle of a conversation -- or a battle -- that puts you on an entirely different narrative path. There are even consequences to whom you sleep with. So you have to really consider how you want to play.

I really, really like the combat system. In WITCHER 2, your opponents will do a number of things that your enemies would do in real life. If you have multiple opponents, they rush you, try to surround you, and the guys behind you stab you in the back, causing much more damage than the ones in front of you. You really, really do not want to let even some sword-wielding mooks get behind you, unless you have developed superlative sword fu.

This all seems obvious, but even in recent AAA games like the ASSASSIN'S CREED games, enemies will hang around you in a circle while only one guy goes in for the kill. You can sit in a circle of half a dozen baddies in AC, wait for one to attack, and then counterattack him and kill him. Rinse, repeat. It's like watching a kung fu film. Everyone is so gallant.

Also, you cannot take potions while in combat. Again, this seems obvious. Who has the time to go into your pouch and sort through your little glass vials, pick the right one and quaff it, while someone is actively trying to stab you to death? And yet in, e.g. SKYRIM, you can down five or six potions right in the middle of one moment of combat.

And, all the potions will immediately take effect, possibly curing you from near-death to perfect health, or restoring all your magical mana.

Of course these are fantasy games, but I feel games lose credibility when you can do this sort of thing. Magic should feel real. In WITCHER 2, you can only down a potion so long as you're not in combat. You can only take a handful of potions at the time -- each has toxicity. And while a potion can make you heal faster, it only changes the rate at which you heal. You still have to stay alive long enough to heal.

So instead of stopping combat to go into your inventory and down 5 healing potions, now you have to dodge and parry and roll. A lot. And if you're surrounded, get the hell out of the middle of all those bad guys.

That feels real.

I guess I want a game that feels more like a movie. I can see someone preparing for combat -- putting a rune on his blade, coating it with deadly oil, quaffing a potion that allows him to survive the dragon's breath. There is a narrative logic to that. It feels "realistic" even if it's not literally real.

So I am really enjoying the game. How cool is it that it comes from a Polish game studio, CD PROJEKT? The game world is truly international in a way that the film world really isn't.

Now, maybe in WITCHER 3 they'll get rid of the silly looting that afflicts most fantasy games. At least you don't find boxes full of gold every 50 paces in a dungeon. But you still can go into random people's houses and steal from them while they're right in front of you, without in any way annoying them. That seems absurd in a game where you don't play a sneak thief.

And I wouldn't mind if enemies broke and ran after you killed a bunch of their comrades, leaving you the choice whether to pursue or let them run for it. Even a wolf pack will run for it once you've killed a bunch of them.

More about the combat system:

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Friday, May 18, 2012

We watched MAN SOM HATAR KVINNOR, the Swedish original film of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. (The Swedish title translates as "Men who hate women," which is pretty accurate, if not as racy.)

This is going to be one of those posts where I appear to bitch about someone else's enormously commercially successful plot, so HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD, of course.

Dramatically, it is quite an odd picture. The main character is a mild-mannered, somewhat schlumpy journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who's just been suckered by an industrialist he was trying to expose. He's hired to get to the bottom of a 40 year old murder involving a rich and rather nasty family.

And so he investigates, and gets Not Very Far. Fortunately, though, he has a fairy godmother, in the form of a 24-year-old bisexual punk hacker with problems of her own. Lisbeth has hacked into his computer and is monitoring his investigation, for reasons that don't seem clear in the movie.

She emails him the solution to the not very difficult code that has stumped him for months. (Lisa got there in about 5 seconds.) Then she saves him from being murdered after he manages to get himself kidnapped by the murderer . Then she hands him everything he needs to convict the industrialist.

Which kind of begs the question ... why is he the hero of the story? He's essentially ineffectual. He accomplishes almost nothing himself. He's merely the socially acceptable face of the investigation -- the Man Who Does Not Have A Tattoo.

It's a dictum, particularly in screenwriting, that the hero is supposed to be the prime mover of the plot. And indeed, most screenplays where the hero isn't the prime mover of the plot (in opposition to the antagonist of course), fail.

But there are some fairly consequential hit films where the main character is barely more than a witness to the events of the screenplay. TWILIGHT is another example. Bella does nothing to attract Edward. And then she's caught up in all sorts of shenanigans because she's with Edward. And she does nothing to save herself. Edward does all the work, along with the guy who takes his shirt off all the time.

There are event some fairly consequential novels where the main character is along for the ride. Ishmael is the narrator of MOBY DICK. Ahab is arguably the villain. Though perhaps you could call him the anti-hero.

What's going on here? Why do these stories work? Usually it really is bad to have a passive hero. But here it works.

Or, is Lisbeth really the eponymous hero of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, even though the film seems to be from Mikael's point of view, and starts with him (and is a story about a journalist written by a journalist)?

I wonder if in all of these cases the storyteller is using an ordinary character, a foil, to tell a story about a character who is so far out hard to get into their head. Lisbeth is severely damaged. Edward is a vampire. Ahab is twisted by vengeance. Maybe the storytellers have decided it is more interesting to watch them from the outside and try to guess what is going on with them, rather than looking out at the world with their eyes, and missing what is going on with them?

(You could theoretically tell the story from their point of view but then you get into untrustworthy narrators, which might be too subtle for a movie.)

You don't have to do it that way. TAXI DRIVER manages without a foil, and Travis Bickle is pretty far out. But it seems like an interesting way to tell a story. And it seems to work.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just working on a horror feature script, and I'm really getting antsy for something horrible to happen. Too much of this drama stuff. The drama stuff is important to the story, but c'mon, already.

Trust your feelings. If you're bored, the audience will be. If you're impatient, the audience will be. And if you're jumping up and down, with luck, your audience will be, too.

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Anyone have a copy of Joss Whedon's AVENGERS script?

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Monday, May 07, 2012



This is a new Obama ad airing in Virginia. I think it's a remarkable ad because it ties together a whole raft of talking points (or claims, if you're on the other side), and really powerful visuals, into one narrative.

This is just about a perfect campaign ad for Obama, I think.

There's been talk about how Obama can't run on "Hope" and "Change" this time. It seems he's running on "Forward."

One thing I think is remarkable is how the Democrats have dug themselves out of the rhetorical hole they were in. Post-1964, Democrats were afraid to run on patriotism. Even Bill Clinton wasn't a big flag-waver. Obama is very willing to wave the flag.

I'm wondering what positive message Romney's going to bring. The negative message is obvious: the economy is in the toilet, and it's Obama's fault it's still there. It's not quite as strong as Reagan's "are you better off now than you were four years ago"; that formula doesn't work when four years ago, markets were panicking and banks were going bust. But if Obama's running, essentially, on "I have faith in America," it puts Romney in the position of saying, "Obama's going to blow up the country!" The American national religion is optimism; fear doesn't sell as well as hope and faith.

We'll see how Obama's messaging transforms (or doesn't) the current tight race.

[Remember, kids: on this blog we talk about political theater and the effectiveness of narratives. There are plenty of other venues for actual politics.]

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

So I'm told there's a Scandinavian TV show called THE BRIDGE about a Danish cop and a Swedish cop who have to work together when a body is found straddling the border between the two countries. And they have very different personalities, see, and speak different languages...

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

I'm back at my desk after a week of WGC National Forum, a trip to Winnipeg to rebreak a script with a director, and a trip to New York to see my folks. Next week, off I go to Kuujjuarapik. (Any of you up there?)

The first thing I do for a serious rewrite is take the old script back down to index cards. That's the best way to see, feel, and reshape the structure.

(I do this even if it's my own script. Not that it should matter: I try to approach any script the same whether I wrote it or not. The good parts are good no matter who wrote them; the bad parts need fixing. The only real difference is it's easier to see the flaws in someone else's work.)

Then I'm going to write up the scenes I think need to happen (we talked about them at length) and start to fool around with the cards to see how they fit together...

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