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



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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wanna do some part-time on-site PR for a very cool Montreal indie game studio? Web stuff, shooting video, writing, social media? Lemme know.

UPDATE: Based some comments I got, I should explain some things.

This is a PR job. You must be able to spell my name correctly. (Someone did not; at his request I've deleted his comment.) You should be able to find out my email address. (Seriously. It should take less than 60 seconds.)

And then you send me your resume with a personable email explaining why you're the right person for the job. And, because you are SO GOOD, you already figured out which game company and which game. And for serious bonus points, your take on marketing the company. Because you want it that much.

For any job, you want to make sure that you create the best possible first impression. But a PR job, in particular, is about contacting strangers. You need to have a talent, or better, a skill, for contacting strangers. You need to know how to draw people into your story. For a PR job in particular, your self-presentation is the test. Your initial approach should knock my socks off. Otherwise the job will go to someone else who does.

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I was listening to one of Steven Dubner's Freakonomics podcasts, "Bring on the Pain" with Daniel Kahneman, an economist who studied pain vs. the memory of pain in colonoscopies.

Kahneman had people rate the pain of a procedure while they were undergoing it, minute by minute, and then asked them to rate it afterwards. Kahneman discovered two critical factors in how painful people remembered the procedure to be:
  • Peak pain: people remembered the procedure as being as painful as its worst moments; and
  • Final pain: to a lesser extent, people remembered the procedure as being as painful as the last few minutes. Doctors could reduce the memory of pain of the whole procedure simply by slowing down the last few minutes of the procedure to bring the probe out more gently.
I wonder if the same is true about a pitch session.

In theory a pitch is about selling a whole story; and if your pitchee is really on the ball, he or she should be able to gauge the story as a whole. But I think it's true that to a disproportionate extent your pitch will be rated by its peak moments? If you can sell one really amazing scene or spectacle or moment, what's the odds your pitchee will remember your pitch as really amazing? And conversely, if you have a gaping hole in your story, what are the odds she'll remember the hole?

I once heard that Jack Nicholson will do a movie if the script has "two great scenes and no bad ones." ("You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!")

So you better run your pitch up against some civilians to see what they're bumping on, before you go into a pitch meeting. You want to smooth out as many bumps as you can. You also want to make sure you can sell the hell out of at least one moment or scene or spectacle in your story.

Likewise, which will get more traction? A pitch meeting that starts out well but loses steam? Or a pitch that goes out with a bang, in spite of a rocky start? I think the second is more likely to close the sale.

So you should also not be afraid to close the meeting yourself. If you've made your best case, get out! Don't linger. If they're enthusiastic, and they have further questions, well, they'll call you, won't they?

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

If you are fortunate enough to be a recent grad of one of Canada's top 15 film programs, and have a script that you could shoot for $120,000 to 250,000, Telefilm's new program could give you $120,000. Check it out.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

I've been dipping into Peter Bart's INFAMOUS PLAYERS. It's the story of Peter Bart's tenure at Paramount. He was hired solely on the basis of being a smart New York Times reporter, at a time when all the old rules were being thrown out and no one seemed to know what audience wanted.

Bart, who later headed up Variety, is willing to own up to his mistakes -- fiascos he saw coming and didn't stop, or didn't see coming. He also takes some credit for some major good calls, like pushing LOVE STORY when no one wanted it.

It's a book of war stories. I don't know that anyone actually needs to know what Hollywood was like in the 1970's. But if you're in the biz, you're expected to be able to talk about the old days, even if you weren't there for them. It shows respect to the culture of the industry. It also reminds you that every movie legend has his share of flops and bad calls. And everyone in showbiz experiences ridiculous amounts of frustration over their career.

That last is worth dwelling on. I got a "no" from a funding agency this week, and went around in a blue funk for a day, even though it's been a banner year so far. I had to remind myself how many famous movies started by bouncing around unwanted from studio to studio. A book like this one helps you remember just how much of a mess everyone else's career was, if only you knew it from the inside.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

I watched a bit of Kevin Smith's Hulu series SPOILERS, 'cause I'm in the States (on St. Jean Baptiste!) and I can't watch it in Canada.

The first half of the show is Kevin Smith asking an audience of normal people (the "spoilers") what they thought of a movie. Then he has a guest on. In this one the show was PROMETHEUS. I dunno. Why do I want to watch a handful of random people talk about what they didn't like about a movie? I love the IMDB ratings, because after a couple of thousand people have rated a movie, you can get a pretty good idea of how well it pleased its audience. Between the IMDB and Rottentomatoes, I can get a pretty good idea whether I'm going to like a movie. But this is just a few people.

I think it might be a stronger first half if there were editing -- if Smith asked every member of his audience for their feedback, and then edited in the most insightful answers. But this is uncurated.

The second half is wayyyyyy more interesting. In the episode I watched, Smith had PROMETHEUS's writer Damon Lindelof on the hot seat (an intentionally ridiculously large throne with golden lions). Lindelof has interesting things to say, including the importance of wearing the right t-shirt to your interview with a showrunner, and how he pitched the rewrite on PROMETHEUS.

You can learn a lot from an interview with a guy like Damon Lindelof: how to think about movie stories, sure, but also how to present yourself, how to talk about the guy you're rewriting.

So I recommend the second half of each episode of SPOILERS, if you can get Hulu.

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I got a $50 coupon from Facebook for Facebook Ads, and I put together a little Facebook campaign for my novel THE CIRCLE CAST: THE LOST YEARS OF MORGAN LE FAY. One of the nice things about Facebook Ads is that you can target very specific demographics and groups. So I was able to target girls 13-18 in the US, UK and Canada who are interested in King Arthur, Wicca, historical fantasy, or any of the other books about Morgan le Fay.

A Facebook ad with my book cover did nothing for sales, but then we fooled with the tagline, and went back to my original homemade mockup cover, of a 16-year-old girl looking out at you, and that made a dent. Paperback sales perked up, and Kindle sales increased by a factor of 7.

You can pay Facebook per impression -- the number of times the ad showed up on someone's Facebook page. Or you can pay per click-through. Click-throughs are expensive. Facebook charges on the order of 75 cents for a click-through. However, someone who clicks through is a motivated consumer. They are intrigued by your ad and they want to know more.

And if you have a Kindle book, they can have the book right now.

It's interesting that I can see all these metrics from my desktop. I know every time someone clicks on my ad. And I know every time someone buys my book on Amazon.

(I'm assuming that's 99% of the business the ad is doing. Theoretically I imagine someone could see the ad, click through to the Amazon page, and then go buy a paper copy in a store. I guess people still sometimes do that.)

This gets me to thinking about how people are concerned that Facebook knows all about them. There are also advantages to Facebook knowing all about you. If Facebook can tell you about books that you would probably like, that's a win, isn't it? I'm a consumer. I like to buy good stuff. I just don't want to hear about stuff I don't care about. If I can get more ads about stuff that I might actually like or need, and get fewer solicitations for Viagra, that's a win for me.

(And anyway, I don't put anything on Facebook that would truly embarrass me if it got out. I gave up a long time ago on running for President.)

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dr. Atul Gawande is one of the most compelling popular writers about medicine. He likes to examine how medicine works, as a system; to diagnose, if you will, the corpus of medicine. One of the most effective ways to reduce complications and deaths from surgery, he's found, is simple: checklists. Pilots have checklists. Why not surgeons? His team found that instituting checklists reduced complications by 33% and deaths by 47%.

Surgeons are experts. They know what to do, but sometimes they forget to do it.

I wonder if we could come up with checklists for screenwriting. Items like these:

STORY PITCH
  • Do you have a compelling hook?
  • Have you checked your hook with civilians to make sure it's really attractive?
    Have you checked your hook with professionals to make sure it's viable in the marketplace?
  • Are the five elements of story all strong? (They are: a compelling main character; an opportunity, problem or goal; obstacles and / or an antagonist; jeopardy; stakes.)

  • Does the ending deliver the goods that the beginning promised?
  • Does the story deliver the right goods for the movie's genre?

    BEAT SHEET

  • Do all the characters come from your background, or, where appropriate, have you made them diverse?
  • Does the story take place in a fresh/entertaining/cinematic/fun/spectacular place? Given the budget you're writing for, could you move it to one?

    STEP OUTLINE

  • Does each scene take place in a fresh/entertaining/spectacular or character-revelatory location? Given the budget you're writing for, could you move it to one?
  • What is the conflict driving each scene?
  • How does each scene advance the story? (Note: story is not the same as plot. A scene can advance the story by revealing backstory that increases stakes or jeopardy.)
  • What does each scene (including action scenes) reveal about the characters?
  • Track the sequence of NIGHT and DAY scenes. Make sure they feel right.

    SCRIPT


  • Is every line of dialog in the character's voice?
  • As much as possible, is every line of dialog distinctive to the character, so that only he or she could say it?

    LOW BUDGET

  • Can you move any EXT. NIGHT scenes to indoors, or EXT. DAY?
  • For each scene, can you reduce the number of characters you'll need to cover (not just speaking but reacting parts)?
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    Tuesday, June 12, 2012

    22 Pixar rules for breaking story. Including some new ones:

  • #1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • #9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  • #12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
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    Friday, June 08, 2012

    A. No, I haven't.

    Periodically I get emails from people who are crowdfunding their movie and want me to post about it. And I know Jane Espenson has been raising money for her web series via Kickstarter.

    I haven't tried for a number of reasons. One, I don't like producing. I have produced or helped produce some of my shorts, but I much preferred the experience on YOU ARE SO UNDEAD, where I didn't have to worry my pretty little head about any of the details of the money. I'm the producer on the feature I want to direct, ALICE FOUND ALIVE, because the funding stream I'm trying to access requires that the director own the copyright; and because you don't make any real money producing a million dollar feature up here.

    (My producer friend Avi told a crowd of us at the CFC Short Film Festival that he produces million dollar features as a passion; and he works as a line producer in order to cover the money he doesn't make as a producer. Since then he's gone into distributing; vertical integration should give him more of an upside.)

    Two, I don't see that anyone's put together a serious amount of money via crowdfunding. Jane Espenson raised, I think, her goal of $60,000 through Kickstarter. A couple of observations.

    One, Jane is a showrunner. A lot of people want to get on her good side. I bet she has a $250,000 crew working for free.

    Two, Jane has a huge fan base thanks to her Buffy and Battlestar credits. I don't see anyone raising more than Jane, except Joss Himself.

    Three, Jane can make $60,000 writing a free lance TV script, which probably takes her a week. I think Jane is doing it because it's interesting and experimental and fun. When Joss wanted to make Dr. Horrible, he just wrote a bunch of checks. Faster that way.

    Four, I don't need $60,000 to make my film. I need a million bucks. That's just my appetite. I don't know anybody who knows how to produce a film for a hundred grand that looks and sounds good enough to get distribution.

    (Ask Bill Cunningham. He knows.)

    Everyone has an appetite. Michael Bay probably doesn't know how to make a film for under a hundred million, at least not one that he'd be willing to spend two years on.

    I think there are going to be people who put together a brilliant viral campaign to crowdfund a film that they make for $100,000. But they are going to need luck. And they are going to have to do a tremendous amount of work to get their project out there; and for every successful crowdfunded movie there are going to be forty five that don't get their funding.

    I'm fortunate to live in Quebec, where there is huge government support for the arts. So it makes more sense for me to government fund my stuff.

    On the other hand, we'll see what happens when the agencies come back with their answers. If there's a substantial hole in the financing, I may come back to y'all with my hand out...

    UPDATE: These guys are funding their $150,000 P&A through crowdfunding.

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    Thursday, June 07, 2012

    We watched the utterly preposterous and mostly adorable heist movie OCEAN'S TWELVE. The plot is borderline incoherent. Basically it's an excuse to watch big, big stars do their thing.

    And they do, adorably. There are scenes between Brad Pitt and George Clooney that you just want to loop over and over because they're so much fun to watch, even when they're barely doing anything -- especially when they're barely doing anything, because any actor can do something and look interesting, but it takes a star to do nothing and make it interesting.

    (I did a couple of seasons of Meisner Technique acting training in order to learn to direct and write better, and I got to watch some actors with star quality. There were actors who came in with the right interpretation of the scene. But two actors in particular, Mariska Hargitay and Clare Carey, could come in with completely the wrong interpretation of the scene and yet you couldn't take your eyes off them. They both went on to leads on TV shows)

    OCEAN'S TWELVE made $125 million bucks domestic. Not huge, considering the cast, but they made another one, so I doubt they lost any money. I suspect it did bigger numbers overseas. It's a spectacle movie. You're not really watching for a story. The story is there to support set pieces -- dramatic or comic scenes where the stars are on fire, and action sequences that are just huge fun to watch.

    I care a lot about story; I'm a writer after all. I have to remind myself from time to time that it's not just story that the audience is paying for. They will also gladly pay for spectacle. In fact, forced to choose between a great story and an amazing spectacle, a big chunk of the audience will choose spectacle. (See TRANSFORMERS and the STAR WARS prequels.)

    The spectacle movies will date themselves really fast, as the tech improves. Movies with great stories will last. But if you get a chance to write the next Transformers movie, you can watch the next Martin Scorsese on the 3D screen in your giant Hollywood mansion.

    Fortunately, you can write spectacle too. You don't have to wait for the director to add it. You can imagine the action sequences so they're spectacular. And I believe there is a way to write big parts for stars. I think it has something to do with letting the scenes breathe a little bit -- give the characters room to be stars.

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    Wednesday, June 06, 2012



    I need to list my cheese trilogy on the IMDB. Which title most makes you (a) laugh and (b) want to check it out?

    The one line synopsis is, "Pieces of cheese struggle with issues of politics, social class, and love."


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    Just signed a deal that should be CRAFTY SCREENWRITING into the Kindle store shortly. Thanks for all your support -- I've been forwarding all your letters to my publisher. Seems to have worked!

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    Monday, June 04, 2012



    8 Minutes of "You Don't Get It, Do You?"

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    Sunday, June 03, 2012

    Lisa and I watched EASY RIDER, which I hadn't seen in, well, a long time.

    I remembered the basic idea: a couple of longhairs on motorcycles ride through the South. They get a lot of flak from the inhabitants of Nixonland, who treat them like they're a couple of dope dealers out to corrupt America.

    Oddly, I'd forgotten the very beginning of the movie, where they make a bunch of money smuggling cocaine into the US. So, I realize, they are a couple of dope dealers. Which puts a different spin on the reaction of all the buzz cuts to these bikers that I remember so well. Yes, the buzz cuts are leaping to assumptions, sometimes with inhumane violence and prejudice. On the other hand, their assumptions are correct.

    I looked up Vincent Canby's review:
    Nicholson is so good, in fact, that "Easy Rider" never quite recovers from his loss, even though he has had the rather thankless job of spelling out what I take to be the film's statement (upper case). This has to do with the threat that people like the nonconforming Wyatt and Billy represent to the ordinary, self-righteous, inhibited folk that are the Real America. Wyatt and Billy, says the lawyer, represent freedom; ergo, says the film, they must be destroyed.
    Yep. No mention of their being serious criminals. Nor in Gene Moskowitz's Variety review.

    Is it that drugs don't seem quite as fluffy and adorable as they did when I grew up? Is it that I'm older and wiser, to the point where I can see the degree to which the bikers are being provocative wherever they go, even if the reaction they provoke is excessive?

    I guess it's a mark of honor that the film can read so differently at any age, while still feeling emotionally truthful. I remember reading that a man should read Don Quixote three times in order to understand it: as a young man, as a middle aged man, and as an old man. A more polemical movie might not hold up so well.

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