This past two weeks, I wrote a pirate into the pub, singing a sea shanty. I’ve always wanted to put “The Eddystone Light” into something or other. Yo ho ho, the wind blows free! O for the life of the rolling sea.
Oddly, some otherwise brilliant actors cannot sing a lick. Fortunately, Jay Simon, who voiced the Honey Troll and Johnny Bolton, Special Agent, can.
I also recorded our Arthur, Alex Wyndham, and She Who Must Not Be Named, and I’ve edited most of the new lines into the cinematic audio.
It’s an interesting challenge rewriting the scenes so they convey the new information without requiring new choreography. In a movie, where the camera is third person, it’s easy to expand a scene, because the camera keeps cutting. In first person cinematics, you would have to create animation that would take the characters from position A, to do new things, and then back to exactly position A. So I try to avoid changing the timing of the scene – I try to make the new words fit as closely as possible to where the old words lived, or at least take up the same amount of time, so I don’t bump other lines that are still working.
Shouldn’t we have made these changes before the animators went to work? Sure. But it’s very hard to read a script, and still fairly hard to evaluate an audio track. Sometimes people don’t spot things until they actually see them.
More importantly, when you spend three years working on a story, you spot weaknesses in it that were not immediately apparent. Hopefully, you’ve left some room in the budget for fixing them.
On the other hand, because it’s not a movie, it’s a game, we can keep making improvements. A while ago we added an epilog for the first few characters. This week G asked us to find a way to tie all the stories together thematically at the end, which makes the game more coherent narratively. It also gives a new mandate to the epilog. So, we are rewriting the epilog to incorporate some ideas.
Also, we continue to improve the ending of the playthrough for SWMNBN. I think we’re on version 5 or 6. The first one was good, but too short to convey the catharsis we need. So each time we’ve been going deeper while, I hope, keeping to the essentials of the story.
And ... I’ve just about got all the dialog written for this sprint, which leaves me some time to play the game! So yay for that.
Q. Lately I’ve heard that very few agents will take you seriously if you have less than 5 scripts, so before I even write the query, I wanted to know if I should do it one query per script? Or?
I have not heard anything about five scripts. Last I heard is that agents want one awesome spec (of a running show) and one awesome spec pilot (for your own show). One speaks to the ability to write in someone else’s voice, the other speaks to your own creativity and voice.
Of course my info could be out of date. I've had the same agency for ten years. Best way to get current info is to call up some agents and ask their assistants, "What do you guys want these days?" It's also a good idea to ask, "What are people speccing these days?" They'll tell you.
Generally you end up with five or more scripts as your writing gets better and as your specs age out. Your spec ages out when the show gets cancelled, or people get sick of reading specs from that show. Your spec pilot ages out when someone greenlights a show with something close to your show's premise.
When that happens, don't feel so bad. It means you were on the right track. You're in the Zeitgeist.
Also, take a look at the show that was greenlit. How was it different than yours? Was it more commercial? Sometimes it got greenlit just because the showrunner is a proven quantity, but often you can learn something.
So, if you’re looking for TV agent, it probably wouldn’t hurt to say “here’s my spec pilot with an awesome hook, and of course I also have a spec for .”
Anyone else with other info, please write in the comments!
I have an interesting relationship with the designers. They are instinctively concerned with “what does the player want to do?” As the narrative guy, however, it’s my job to ask, “Why does Arthur want to do this?”
For example, let’s suppose Arthur discovers that a delivery boy is late. The player gets an objective to find out why he is late.
However, why should Arthur care whether a delivery boy is late? “Because the player got an objective” is not an answer. Nor is “because it is going to set him off on an adventure”; he doesn’t know that. Most people Arthur knows are forgetful; aren’t people late all the time?
So, I’m the pain in the ass guy who complicates the job of designing levels by asking why the player character wants to do what the player wants to do.
So, first, I thought, maybe this delivery boy is never late. Okay, that’s helpful. But still, why should Arthur care?
I asked David. David said, “Maybe he knows him.”
So I thought, of course. The delivery boy was Arthur’s brother’s only real friend in school. Arthur’s goal in the game is to find Percy because he promised he’d take care of him. If he can help the delivery boy, he can accomplish a shadow of that goal.
Now the mission is personal. Note that it has not changed at all in design, only in meaning. And that changed meaning gave us an interesting way to resolve the encounter, which helps make the encounter even deeper and more personal. But you’ll have to play the encounter to find out how.
When I wrote sonnets back in university, I noticed that fitting a meter and rhyme scheme forced me to be more inventive with my language than writing in free verse did. Necessity is the mother of invention. Because our designers believe in our narrative, they don’t have total freedom. But in return, we discover new things about our world every time design crashes into narrative.
Or, as the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ad went, only not exactly:
“Hey, you got narrative on my design!” “Hey, you got design on my narrative!” “Hmmm, tastes pretty good.”
To expand just a little on that last little bit... you have to listen to your gut. When the actor is really inhabiting his character, I feel it. The studio disappears for a moment and the character is there. It's a thrilling moment. When the actor is not inhabiting the role, I don't feel it. Part of the skill of directing is learning not to pretend you feel it when you don't.
Hearing what you're actually hearing, as opposed to what you want to hear, or what you fear hearing, is something children and dogs do instinctively, and teenagers and adults unlearn, and artists have to learn again. You have to remember to ask yourself, sometimes, "Did I really believe that?"
The other side of directing is figuring out what words to give the actor to help him or her get from where he or she is to where I want them to go. Sometimes it's just calling shenanigans on the delivery. "I didn't really believe that."
Or, with a trained actor, you can often shorthand it. You can say, "More anguish," knowing they have the tools (the "method") to get there on their own.
But best practices is giving the actor an adjustment in the form of an imaginative circumstance. I don't think I ever say, "Louder." Instead I say, "Okay, now project it a bit more, as if the person you're talking to is on the other side of the street." Or, “You need help, and there’s no one around!”
"Okay, but now, as if you know the person you're talking to. You're not only betrayed, you've been betrayed by your best friend."
"As if" are the most important two words in the director's toolkit. (See John Badham’s book on directing, I’ll Be In My Trailer.)
I can give a line reading, but when the actor is mimicking my delivery, it almost always comes out sounding hollow. I then have to say, “Okay, now make it your own.” If I have to give a line reading, I’ll try to use a paraphrase of the line rather than the words of the line themselves, and I won’t use a British accent; I’m trying to convey the emotion, not the delivery.
A believable performance isn't the same as a "realistic" performance. It's the emotional truth that carries the line. A big, stagey but emotionally truthful performance is believable. (I believe it's often called "opera.") A performance that mimics what a real person does, but doesn't convey the emotion behind it, won't convince the audience.
When the actor inhabits the character, it's amazing. A line you wrote fifteen minutes ago can catch you off guard and make you laugh as if you just heard it for the first time. When I laugh, I know the line's a keeper.
I read Michael Lewis’s book The Undoing Project, about two scientists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who investigated just how irrational people are.
For example, “anchoring.” If you have people roll dice to get a random number between 1 and 100, and then you ask them to estimate the number of countries in the United Nations, or the number of languages spoken in India, or anything else they aren’t sure of, those who rolled higher numbers will guess higher than the ones who rolled lower numbers. They’ve been primed to think of higher numbers.
Which is sort of interesting, but one valuable takeaway had nothing to do with their research. When Tversky listened to scientific lectures he didn’t agree with, rather than figuring out how to shoot them down, he asked himself: what is this true of?
This parallels my acting teacher Joanne Baron, who said that when you get feedback, find the truth in it.
It’s easy to find something to disagree with. But if someone gives you feedback, or a scientist gives a lecture, then there is probably some truth to it. You will often get more benefit from figuring out in what way is this true or what part of this is true than in figuring out why it’s wrong.
We have a gal in our office who often disagrees with people. She has a habit of finding something in what they're saying that is easy to dispute, rather than finding the thing that makes sense, and then expanding on it.
Anyone who’s ever argued with a teenager knows that if the kid can find something, anything that’s wrong in anything you say, the kid will feel entitled to reject everything you’re saying.
A cardinal rule of improvisation goes: yes, and. In improv, you’re not allowed to disagree. If the actor you’re with says “I’m a pineapple,” then you can’t say, “No, you’re not.” That would kill the improv. You can say, “And I’m a grocer” or “and I’m an orange” or “and I’m a pineapple fetishist.”
As a corollary, when you are proposing a new idea, there is something to be said for couching it in terms that make it hard to pick apart.
See, I just did it. I didn’t say, “always couch it in terms....” I said, “there is something to be said for couching it in terms....” If I said "always," you might well be tempted to construct a scenario in which my advice would be wrong.
When arguing with our former teenager, I always made a point of phrasing criticism so broadly that he couldn’t pick holes in how I phrased it. Rather than saying, “You never clean up your room,” which would enable him to bring up the one time he did, I’d say, “You’re not exactly a neatnik, are you?” It conveys more or less the same message, but – being as he was not exactly a neatnik – he couldn’t fixate on the wording. He had to confront the message. Or to put it another way, I made it easier for him to absorb the truth in the message.
He never did clean his room, of course. But I got my message across, at least.
Using words “many of” rather than “most of” or “all of” changes the focus from “exactly what percentage are we talking about” to whatever the issue that is actually bothering you.
“Half the NPCs sound like zombies” invites a discussion of whether it’s half or some other number. “Many of the NPCs sound like zombies” focuses on the zombiness of the NPCs.
Even better, use sentences that begin with some form of “I.” “To me, a lot of these NPCs sound like zombies.” It is very hard for you to argue with me about how they sound to me. (Note that I didn’t say it’s impossible. That’s inviting an argument.)