Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Screenwriting, TV and Game Writing Blog


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Monday, July 31, 2006

According to Alex Mindlin in The New York Times
...adults in households that have digital video recorders watch less TV than adults in the general population, according to a recent analysis by Mediamark Research, an audience-measurement firm
Well, duh.

The research contradicts earlier network-funded research that claimed that DVR ownership boosts viewership.

As Mindlin fails to point out (learn some sociology!) this study fails to compare people's viewership before and after they get a DVR. Instead, it compares people who buy DVR's to people who don't buy them. The study is meaningless because they're different groups.

People buy DVR's because they are busy people and they are not always around the house in time to watch their favorite shows, and they can't be bothered to program their VCR. I think it's safe to make the assumption that busy people watch TV more selectively, which means less. Therefore, DVR owners will tend to watch less TV. But they were probably watching less TV than average before they got their DVRs, too.

Also, people who buy DVR's tend to be better off than the average TV watcher. DVRs are expensive gadgets, y'know. I bet you richer folks watch less TV than poorer folks, because money opens up other entertainment options: movies, restaurants, anything involving babysitters.

This study could have been meaningful if it measured TV watching among people of the same income and employment levels, some of whom have DVR's, some of whom do not.

I do think the networks are talking out of their hats when they claim that DVR ownership will boost viewership enough to compensate for many people not watching the ads. I gather some people do watch the ads, but I find that unfathomable. I'll sometimes stop and view what looks like it might be a clever ad -- and I'll almost always stop to watch a trailer for a movie I'm interested in -- but usually I'm hitting the "forward 30 seconds" button too fast to notice what I'm skipping. When DVR penetration reaches the same levels as VCR penetration, free TV paid for by ads is done for.


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Q. One of my deepest fears is that I'm ripping something off without realizing it. Something buried deep in my subconscious that I saw in a movie 20 years ago--reborn as a "new" idea. My mind hates me.
This is called "culture." You're allowed to steal from your subconscious, regardless where you got it. Stuff from the late 80's feels and looks very little like stuff you'd make now; and you are a different person than whoever made the "something" (book? movie? TV show?), so you'll write a different story.

Used to be, bards all told the same stories, they just told them with slightly different words, changing minor plot points. It was called having a "tradition."

Don't stress about where you get your inspiration. The urge to tell an original story is overrated. What the audience mostly wants is an entertaining story and, sometimes, a truthful story. By making it your own, you'll make it original enough.

Look at Miami Vice. For some reason Michael Mann decided not to remake his series, but to make a modern action movie instead. No silk suits, I gather from the trailer, and no sense that the cops are torn and tempted by the vice they're fighting. Who needs it? If he'd just remade his TV series, I'd have gone to see the movie already.


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Saturday, July 29, 2006

From Kevin Arbouet:
So I'm sure everyone here knows about what's going on over at the CW & The Tyra Banks Show. After reading Friedman's blog, I got a little bit inspired and a whole lot pissed off. As someone who also produces reality television, we can't let this type of stuff go on any longer.

I'm pretty sure most of us have some sort of PR person in place and I'd love to start some kind of petition or something like that where we would all boycott the show until they got their act together. If Friedman can make a big stir about some snakes on an airplane, I hope we can all do the same for the writers of that show and any other show that tries to fuck over our fellow writers.

Is there any way we can take some time out from our schedules, organize, and make something happen? Maybe it's all futile but I think that we can probably embarrass them into doing something ESPECIALLY if we make this about Tyra Banks and not Ken Mok. Because at the end of the day...who the hel is Ken Mok? I'm guessing Tyra would rather die than hear that more than 2 people are mad at her.


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Friday, July 28, 2006

I ran a comics pitch o'mine past my comics artist friend-I've-never-met Kody Chamberlain, asking if I'd successfully adapted my thinking to the medium of comics. He had some really smart points to make about comics in general, which deserve reprinting:
The usual conversion problems from film scripts I've seen adapted for comics is the subtle stuff and the times a screenwriter might rely on acting or direction to bring something new to the words. For the most part, subtle things don't work well, unless it's a still image. A photograph of a moment instead of a subtle motion. An easy example that comes to mind is something like a head nod. It just doesn't translate to comics well. So instead of a head nod, it might be a wink, because a wink doesn't require motion. We can just show one eye closed in the panel with a little bit of a smile. Stuff like that.

But on the writing end, I'd say try to avoid leaving anything up to the acting to tell the story. Depending on the artist, some can do acting and some can't. Most are able to do talking heads and maybe a hint of emotion in the faces and body language. I do try and pride myself on being able to do some acting in the comics since I try and use photo reference of myself whenever I can. I get up in front of the camera and act out the scene when I shoot the reference. Body language, facial expression, etc. I think it helps a bit in the final product.

I also try and control lighting and color for mood when I can. As a safe bet, it's probably smart to assume your art may come in as nothing more than stick figures with no faces. As long as your dialogue and panel descriptions hold up (and your artist actually follows those) you're in a pretty good spot. You've covered the story and it works. Hopefully your artist will bring in some new things, that's his job, fill in the blanks and pull that reality that directors and actors and sountrack bring to a film or TV, or add some unexpected angle to a panel that makes it come alive.

But they may not. Your artist may see something different in the panel, or miss some emotional beat you expected. Most things are open to interpretation. A lot of the Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore stuff has incredibly well written dialogue and pacing. I imagine they mostly write for the balloons and detailed settings instead of putting too much guesswork in the hands of the artist. They could probably use stick figures in their comics and the stories would still work great. Not as well, but they'd still work.

In your books you talk about how we have the internal in novels that we don't have in film. We have to see or hear everything, or it's not there. I suppose this is the equivalent in comics. From what I've seen working with writers like Niles and Giffen, they put the important stuff in the balloons and the setting. When they get the art, and I've done my job and made it come to life or hit the emotional beat they intended, they'll sometimes remove that part of the dialogue in the final rewrite of the page. If I suck, they might leave it in.

But the advantages of comics make up for a lot of that. We can be very personal, very direct, and not have to rely on a committee, egos, and the whole set of problems that come with that. The storytelling vision is very direct, and can usually be presented in the exact form you intended it to be without creative limitations or bullying from outside forces. That's really one of my favorite things about comics. It's very direct from the creator to the reader. But we can also hold a moment in time longer since the page turn controls the pace, not the projector. We can hide a million clues in a single panel and hold the reader's attention for as long as we'd like. We can show them something on page 9 that makes them flip back and study page 2 again. Something they missed and we point it out later on. It can be interactive. An often overlooked storytelling device in comics.

Alan Moore and Warren Ellis write a lot about these sorts of things and have some amazing insights into the storytelling advantages in comics.


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Thursday, July 27, 2006

I sent my script as a query to an agency in New York City, and they have accepted it and want to work with me.... However, they are putting into effect a "critique," sort of a legal evaluation of my work for a fee I have to pay up front for a discount rate of $95.00.
Discount? Heh.

I've said it before, but it's worth saying every few months or so: if an agency asks for money for anything but photocopying and postage, don't work with them. If you want the details, look in Crafty Screenwriting, but that's all you really need to know about it.


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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Here's a nice review of Bon Cop / Bad Cop, the bilingual buddy cop comedy I did the production rewrite on. Can't wait to see it at the official premiere on Monday!

Courtesy of Martine...



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I'm in Toronto fighting the good fight -- meetings with execs and producers. I just got the very good news from home that Telefilm Canada's given me a grant to write a feature. The Writers First program pays you to write a feature, which you own. If you sell it, you give the money back. How's that for friendly?

Since no one's picked up my comedy series The Alternative, I decided it would make a fine low budget romantic comedy. And so, apparently does Telefilm.

Nice to have a bit of good news to relate to the people I'm meeting today and tomorrow.



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The spec I'm writing has a guest character (the Patient of the Week) who, from what I've heard, is very much like Tony's mother from The Sopranos. Should I take the time to sit down and watch all the episodes that she was in to make sure I'm not ripping them off?
I don't see why you would. Tony's mom is a type. We may not have seen that type so forcefully portrayed on TV, but she's a type. David Chase doesn't own the mom-as-martyr type any more than Joss Whedon owns Teens With Snappy Banter.

If you haven't seen Sopranos, you probably won't seem to be ripping off Sopranos. It's usually the other way around. If you've been immersing yourself in a show, be careful you're not ripping it off too blatantly. I have a very Neil Gaimanesque TV pitch. I had a homeless angel character who was very close to a character from one of his short stories, and I didn't notice. Fortunately my crafty assistant noticed my character was a go-to. I changed the character to something less derivative, and much edgier, and much more original.

Don't worry about influences too much. So long as you're putting a lot of yourself into a script, you won't steal too much from other people. It's when you write too much from other writers, and not enough from yourself, that you get into trouble.


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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Q. My partner Brad and I are a couple of USC film school grads who have created a collaborative screenwriting webapp/site called Plotbot, and we're inviting fellow film fans & screenwriters such as yourself to take a look.

Plotbot is a collaborative screenwriting site where you can write a screenplay with as many or as few people as you like. Plotbot is completely free - we're really interested in seeing if we can get a group of people to collaborate. Our goal is to create a tool that can be used well for writing screenplays in general, and for fostering collaborative screenplays in particular.

To that end, Plotbot's all buzzwordalicious Ajax magic, with Creative Commons built in and fully accessible RTF and XML of anything written in it. We've created a framework for both private projects and public projects, with means of controlling access levels for editing and comments, and everything else. The screenplay tool itself formats elements in the screenplay standard, and allows for full wiki-style reversioning and commenting.

Anyhow, I'm hoping you'll be interested in taking a look yourself. If you find it to your liking, you have the ability to invite others!

Thanks, and feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Signing up is quick and easy! Just use this URL:
Invite Code: binderclip
This feels to me like a solution in search of a problem. It's exhausting enough working with a writing partner. The last thing I want is to make it easy for other people (director, producer, execs) to fuss with my screenplay. Collaborative screenplays? Sounds like writing by committee.

But your mileage may vary. Anybody want to check this out and report back?


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Saturday, July 22, 2006

I just published my novel, The Circle Cast, on

On the Lulu site you can check out the prologue and the first chapter.

The book is about a girl growing up with tremendous rage -- her father's been murdered and her mother seduced. Her rage keeps her alive. But she also has a gift -- a talent for magic. Her rage fuels the magic, and it makes her powerful. But when she is offered grace, and then passion, she faces a choice between giving up her rage and becoming someone else, or keeping it and giving up what she loves.

I've long felt that Morgan le Fay has been poorly done by. In Malory she's a vengeful witch, a nemesis, but we don't get her side. In The Mists of Avalon, she's re-imagined as an entirely reasonable, misunderstood woman. I don't believe Morgan was reasonable. I think she was an angry woman whose talent and rage made her great, and then allowed her to destroy her world.

Why did I perpetrate a novel? This is not a good story for a movie. The magic puts it in the historical fantasy genre, but the protagonist is a girl -- a very angry girl. And in the story, she's 8, and then 13, and then 17, and then 20: too far apart for a single actress, to close for different actresses. More importantly, the story is as internal as it is external. There are wars and slave raids and spells, and Dark Ages Britain. But an important part of the story is internal: how does she discover magic, what does it feel like to her?

Lulu is a nifty company that really does desktop publishing: your desktop, their publishing. You upload your camera-ready cover art and your properly-formatted text, and they make the book available on demand. For $13 -- the cover price of a book published in mass quantities -- you get a beautifully printed and bound trade paperback.

So, as William Mulholland said when the engineers opened the sluices of the Owens Valley Aqueduct before he'd had a chance to deliver his speech: There it is, take it!


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Friday, July 21, 2006

According to Playback, Bon Cop / Bad Cop is rolling out big time here starting August 4. Should be fun. Nice they mention the screenwriters in the article!



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Thursday, July 20, 2006

I'm working on a comics idea, and I'm wondering if a thought I'm having holds up. Let me know your thoughts.

It seems to me that movie heroes generally start out ordinary. Comics heroes generally start out odd.

Your basic movie hero starts as a common guy with some sort of problem, who rises to extraordinary because he's put in extraordinary circumstances.

Your basic comics hero starts as a hero, and once we're interested in him, we find out his human side. By "starts," I mean, we first see him beating the crap out of bad guys, and many issues later, we might find out his origin story. There, we find out, he wasn't always a crimefighter.

Comics seem better at plunging you into an alien society. If you make a movie about elves, or Martians, you are practically obliged to have the central character be human, so we have someone to identify with. If you were to make a comic about elves, or Martians, or demons, or the Endless, or vampires, or people from the planet Krypton, you can start with an elf, or J'onn J'onzz, or Hellboy, or Dream, or a vamp, or Kal-El.

When you look at adaptation of comics into movies, they seem to me to reinforce this theory. Superman comics started out with Superman in a cape, flying around. Superman Returns starts with Lois and Earth; the 1978 Superman starts (I think) with Superman landing on Earth. Batman Begins, as well as the first Batman movie, both include the origin story. The origin story starts with an ordinary person and turns him into a hero. A History of Violence starts with someone you think is an ordinary guy until you find out his past.

1. Am I talking out of my hat, or does my theory strike a chord? Do comics heroes tend to be fundamentally odder than movie heroes?

2. If you agree, you think this is a function of the audience? Or of the medium? That is, are comics heroes odd because comics readers identify with them, feeling odd themselves, while movie heroes are normal because moviegoers are mainstream? Or does it have something to do with how comics tell stories? Or is it just that until recently it was prohibitive to animate a non-human or post-human character such as Hellboy or the Hulk convincingly, and therefore really odd characters stayed in the realm of comics not movies?

(Silly, I know, to ask this question during Comic-Con, but I'm sure you comics boys will read this some day.)


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Q. In an NYPD BLUE script I read:
Meanwhile MICHAEL WOLFF, 28, in sport coat and slacks, has entered the Squad. He's carrying a manila file folder.
I have two questions about this.
1. When do you give a character's age? As far as I can tell, this man's
age is completely irrelevant to the story. And if it were, would it
really matter that is was 28 and not, say, 27 or 29?
I always give a character's age right away. Age is crucial to what we see. It may not always be crucial to the story. But if I don't know how old a character is, I can't create a mental picture. You always want the audience to have a mental picture.

You can say "late 20's" but why be vague when you can be specific in fewer words? No one on the show will take the age too literally. They'll probably cast a 35 year old actor who looks late 20's.
2.On the next page it's revealed in the dialogue that this man has a black eye. Wouldn't that be something that you would describe when introducing the character?
Usually, yes. But if the scene is written so that the guy is probably in a wide shot, we might not notice it. If you want the black eye to score, you might not mention it until other characters notice it, and then have someone actually remark, "Hey, is that a black eye?"


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Q. After reading your book I went back and re-read the NYPD Blue script samples that Pamela Douglas includes in her book Writing the TV Drama Series. They seem to be full of things that you say we shouldn't do.

In your book you discuss how much to put of what the character is thinking, the dividing line being whether or not the sentiment is actable. i.e., if it's a feeling, not a thought. Here is some "action" from this NYPD Blue script:
Though Russell has tried to sound as if she's dealing with a minor irritation, in fact she's growingly, irrationally afraid that if they don't leave soon they're not going to be able to leave at all.
This sentence is not well wraught, I feel. What's actable is:
Russell is trying to stay cool, but she's getting increasingly anxious to get them gone.
Why she's anxious (she's afraid they'll never leave) is not really actable, and "irrationally" is a value judgment. Don't judge your characters. Just reveal them and let the audience judge them.
Q. You also say that in movie writing, you shouldn't put a character's backstory in the action. Case in point:
She winces as she always did when he would shout or slam his hand down.
Would you have written it this way?
This is, I feel, sheer overwriting. (It's also a really ugly sentence.) All the actress is going to get out of it is, "She winces." I don't believe the backstory is actable. On a show, you might be able to get away with this sort of writing because no one is editing you for style. Everyone's in a big hurry and so long as what you've written in the action doesn't get in the way, it can stay, like junk DNA. But a sentence like that in a spec would throw up a flag.

If I had to communicate the same information, I'd take out the history and dissect the moment:
She winces. But she doesn't seem surprised. As if she's used to having to wince around him.

I try hard to keep my action restricted to what can be seen or heard. Sometimes there's a fine line between showing an expression and interpreting it. Sometimes it's just more economical to interpret it. But there's a point past which you're just writing sloppy. There can be sloppy writing on TV shows, especially in the details of the action, which the actors will mostly ignore anyway. After all, the writers already have a job. You won't be able to get away with it in a spec script, though, where the "read" is so much more important, and your professionalism is not yet established.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

At an art school where I once studied, the students wanted most of all to develop a personal style. But if you just try to make good things, you'll inevitably do it in a distinctive way, just as each person walks in a distinctive way. Michelangelo was not trying to paint like Michelangelo. He was just trying to paint well; he couldn't help painting like Michelangelo.
"Taste for Makers" by Paul Graham
Even when you find genuinely good things to copy, there's another pitfall to be avoided. Be careful to copy what makes them good, rather than their flaws. It's easy to be drawn into imitating flaws, because they're easier to see, and of course easier to copy too. For example, most painters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used brownish colors. They were imitating the great painters of the Renaissance, whose paintings by that time were brown with dirt. Those paintings have since been cleaned, revealing brilliant colors; their imitators are of course still brown.
"Copy What You Like" by Paul Graham
Via How to Buy Art.


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Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d'être violent et original dans vos oeuvres.
Be orderly in your life, and ordinary like a bourgeois, in order to be violent and original in your works.

I'm going to take the dog for a walk now.


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What are your thoughts on querying production companies with a spec script without having an agent? Is it a complete waste of time? Should the approach be different than an agent query?
I've covered this in my book Crafty Screenwriting, but the headline is: it's not a waste of time. Back when I was a development exec, I read stuff based on query letters, and I'm sure I wasn't the only development exec who did. (I am not sure I optioned any, but that's a function of how few scripts we optioned.) There's no real difference between a query addressed to a development exec and one addressed to an agent, except that you're looking for a sale or option, not representation.

However, you should try your damnedest to get an agent first.

What I don't know much about is whether most queries are done by email now. The last time I worked in feature development was, oh, seven years ago. Back then queries were mostly by mail, and scripts were mostly sent by paper. Would those readers of this blog who work at production companies and agencies kindly comment about whether they'd rather get a query by email now? And whether they're okay with people sending in scripts by email?

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I've recently been taking acting and voice classes, and have been greatly enjoying myself. Though I realize from reading your books and from what others have told me that breaking into film is next to impossible without having been born into it, being a part of a film has been a goal of mine for many years. To decide if the filmmaking process is something I really want to risk years of my life to persue I want to see if I can be cast in a major motion picture, even if only as an extra.

I recently saw that Marvel Comic's Iron Man is in pre-production. I was wondering what you think would be the best way to find possible casting calls or audition oppertunities (of any kind) for a film this large. Iron Man is a character I have always been interested in, and while I have virtually no chance at nabbing a large role I would like to be involved in this film if at all possible.
If you really want to be part of the movie, learn computer graphics. That's where the magic is happening on a film like Iron Man. It is also a highly paid field where you will not want for work any time in the next 20 years. Check out any copy of Cinefex for more info.

If you were to get a job as an extra, you would walk across a street over which there is no Iron Man flying -- he'll be added in post production. Being an extra is boooooorrrrrring. And even there, you're competing against professional extras. (Can you imagine?)

Being an extra, moreover, has nothing to do with acting. As an extra, you are not supposed to stand out in the crowd. Extras are called "atmosphere" on the call sheet. What does that tell you? They are wrangled not by the director, but by second assistant AD's.

As for getting a speaking role on the movie, forget it. Unless you have a serious talent agent already, and you're on the lists, it's not going to happen.

If you need to be cast in a major motion picture in order to decide if the filmmaking process is something you really want to risk years of your life to pursue ... then you don't want it badly enough. The people who make it are the people who want it so badly they don't care what the odds are, they just have to do it. (And most of those don't make it, either.)



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Q. I want to get intensive, hands-on training in filmmaking for a month or maybe two. From what I can see on-line, it looks as if the only serious places to do this in New York are the Digital Film Academy and the New York Film Academy. DFA is an Apple-licensed training site for Final Cut and various related applications. NYFA doesn't seem to be. Both are accredited by New York State. Do you have any idea how to gauge these two schools and decide which would be better for me?

It looks as though the NYFA has better connections — they have a Wikipedia entry and seem to have connections to a number of Hollywood names, as well as a Hollywood "campus". I'm a little uncomfortable with the glitziness of their website (and glossy brochure!), though. DFA has a 4-year old "Best of New York" recommendation from the Village Voice, but what exactly does the Voice know about film-making? And some of the things they say are unique to DFA seem also to be true of NYFA. NYFA tells its date of founding, which DFA doesn't. NYFA seems to work both with film and digital movies, while DFA seems to be purely digital, which I imagine is all I'd ever work in.

NYFA does have two things that I like: separate classes for people in different age groups, and a kind of modular system under which you can start with a 4-week course and then continue on into the 8-week course if you like, and after that into the 1-semester course and after that (if you still have money in the bank) into the 1-year course. But I really dislike glitziness, and NYFA definitely looks the glitzier of the two. So how do I decide between these places?
Well, campers? Anyone know about these places?



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Monday, July 17, 2006

The conventional wisdom is that free downloading kills sales, whether of music, books or episodes. Some claim that downloading (piracy) has little effect because a lot of what people download they would not have paid for anyway, so there is no loss of a sale. This science fiction author shows that giving away free electronic copies of his books has actually boosted sales of his physical editions. He believes it's because people want a hardcopy edition, but they like to use the free e-text as a sampler to see if it's worth buying the book. The logic seems counterintuitive but the numbers are pretty clear.

Some readers have argued that so long as networks are willing to sell high-quality recordings of their episodes for a reasonable price (one or two bucks), people would much rather pay than steal. (After all, many people are paying $60+ a month for cable, which pays for a lot of appointment TV.) In this case, TV series "as we know it" won't have to change so much.

Via Webs.



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A lot of comments on my earlier post and on Whedonesque claim that Serenity underperformed because of bad marketing.

I have to disagree. $25M box office means the film got out there. There were enough people who saw it for it to have great word of mouth, had they felt like telling their friends. Much as I am a huge fan of Joss, and the Jossverse, and Firefly, the movie did not work that well for the mainstream audience. Or it would have been a sleeper hit.

You can say (and some do), "Anecdotally, non-Browncoats liked the movie." But either they did not like it enough to recommend it to other Firefly non-fans; or when they told you they liked it, they were just being nice.

Great marketing gets you a great opening weekend. It cannot make a flop into a hit. (Film marketers like to point to a great opening weekend, followed by a severe drop-off, as evidence that they successfully sold a piece of crap. Any fool can market a good movie.)

To a certain extent, bad marketing on a good movie means that the theaters will bump the movie, and it can get squeezed out of the marketplace. But exhibitors make a much higher percentage of box office the longer a movie runs. If I remember correctly, the movie theater gives the studio 50% of the opening weekend's take, but eventually the percentage works its way down to as low as 10%. That gives theater owners a huge incentive to support a sleeper. Serenity was out there for at least a month; certainly long enough for word of mouth to reverse any failure to get the cast on Leno, or any weaknesses in the trailer, or what have you.

Everyone likes to blame weak marketing when their film flops. But 20th Century Fox famously "dumped" a little movie called Star Wars, and it was not until the overwhelming audience reaction in a few college towns (like Cambridge, MA) that they mounted a decent ad campaign. (I knew a guy who managed a theater in Harvard Square. Fox had so little faith in the movie they refused to let him hold the movie over after the preview screenings. He mortgaged his house and bought Fox stock. He knew. They didn't.) If a half million people see your film opening weekend, you can't blame marketing for its subsequent failure. How many people saw The Full Monty on opening weekend? Was it even a hundred thousand? It went on to make a hundred million dollars.

Whether Serenity is a good movie or not is a matter of taste; probably it has a lot to do with your tolerance of, or love for, space opera. It's also a matter of perspective. Blade Runner flopped but has become a classic, casting a spell on two decades worth of dystopian futures. If Serenity winds up influencing science fiction movies to come, then we can say that it was a great movie even if it didn't blow the roof off the box office. However, if you believe that it "ought to have been" a popular movie, and failed only because the studio didn't back Joss, then you are misunderstanding the relationship between the filmmaker and the audience. Writers (and their fans) are not entitled to say "They ought to have liked it." Or, if they do, it's just not useful. It's like a comedian who says, "Well, I was just over their heads." If they don't laugh, it's not funny.


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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lots of new visitors over the past few days, thanks to kind mentions on Blogger Buzz, Dusk Til Dawn and Whedonesque -- the latter from my post on second-guessing Serenity's supposed failure, and from Diane Kristine's terrific review of my book, Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box. Diane points out that the book isn't just for writers:
Crafty TV Writing will also appeal to the television fan keeners who want to take a peek at the wizardry behind the curtain, to discover how television shows are put together from the writers' perspective.
And so is this blog. It's about writing TV and movies, focusing on the craft of the writer: how we think and the tools we use. But it's not just for writers; it's about thinking about TV and movies, for anyone who's interested in how they're invented by writers.

On the right sidebar there's a link to a few of my favorite posts: there you'll find the best entries from the past few years. Other sidebar links will take you to information about my two books, about my career as a screenwriter and producer, and a radio interview I did recently, as well as the usual blogroll. Happy reading!


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Continued from this post.
Q. Interesting, I never thought of doing that way. Splitting up the B story "beginning" would be tough the way it's written though -- over a four page span the intensity builds from minor mystery to apprehension to tense action, and concludes all in its own little container, and I'd hate to lose the moment unless I could come *right* back to it quickly. [...]I was so enthralled by how fast and solid that first act was written (3-4 hours for 14 pages) that it just never occurred to me to slow down for this.
First of all, get over how easily it came to you. Sometimes it comes easy. Sometimes it comes hard. Easy doesn't mean good. Hard doesn't mean good, either.

The reason you're uncomfortable splitting up your A story is that you feel each scene builds on the previous one. So does the B.

That's great. Except that you've got it exactly backwards. Movies flow, TV pulses. Each time you build to a mini-climax in one story, that's where you want to cut away to the other story line. You want to hold the audience. Cutting away at the moment of decision keeps the audience in suspense. By cutting away to the B, you're actually raising the tension on the A story. The hero opens his dresser, pulls out a gun and-- CUT TO: the B story. The audience has to wait to find out what's going to happen in the A.

Having got into the habit of writing multiple story lines, I find writing single storyline movie scripts actually a bit tedious. I like bouncing between story lines -- the end of each scene or sequence propelling me into the other story line.

Also, interweaving gives you the opportunity to cut out more flab. It's easier to skip explanations that are necessary for the characters but not for the audience -- you just cut away from the story line, and when you come back, the characters have given each other all the info they need, and you just show the tail end of the conversation so we know everyone's up to speed.

Don't look at cutting away as losing steam. Done properly, it increases tension, pacing and rhythm.


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Saturday, July 15, 2006

This article in the New York Times talks about how the only people still going to record stores are old fogeys who can remember the Disco v. Punk Wars. Downloading has killed off the record store. It has also taken a big whack out of the music industry in general.

Bandwidth hasn't yet caught up with TV shows, and not that many people want to watch a BitTorrented show on their computer, anyway. Not yet. But in five years, as Tom Fontana said in my interview with him: "I think in the next five to ten years, television, as we know it, will have ceased to exist."

It's sort of depressing to think that, hard as it is to stay afloat in TV, not to mention to break in, and crowded as the ranks of screenwriters feel after the reality-show onslaught of the past decade, it could get worse.

People will always want to be told stories. The problem isn't lack of a market for stories. It's the risk that the audience will, by refusing to pay for what they think they can get for free, do itself out of its storytellers. And no one has come up with a solution for the music industry. The software suppliers tried to enforce encryption and copy-protection, and the hardware manufacturers nixed it.

At the same time, it's hard to argue that pop music isn't a vibrant art form. Oh, you may claim it is a little less rich than ten years ago, but people have been saying that in every decade, because no one plays the crap oldies, they only play the ones with staying power. On the other hand, as a musician, you're better off if your style happens to be something you can record in a garage rather than something that requires a Phil Spector Wall of Sound treatment. On the other other hand, with a Mac and a decent synthesizer these days, you could probably recreate anything Phil Spector did for the Beatles inside a month, if you knew what you were doing.

So expensive glamour shows may take a hit, while mockumentaries may rise.

And more screenwriters may be buying houses in Highland Park and fewer in Brentwood.

No one really knows.

How will we all make a living?

What do you think? Will the TV industry collapse in the next decade? Or will it just have to be nimble on its toes? Will there be carnage? Or evolution?


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Q. I didn't start my B-story until the top of the second act in my spec, and I'm curious what your thoughts are on just how late you can start the B-story.
The standard is that something happens in every act in every story. Usually more things happen in the A story, fewer in the B, fewest in the C; but you have to serve each story in each act.

So by that standard: top of the second act is too late to start a B story. There may be counterexamples out there, but it's not going to make you look good if you do it. The point of a spec is to show you can work creatively within the form, not that you can get away with breaking it. And while with enough genius and time, you might be able to start a story successfully in the second act, on staff you are not going to be able to do that reliably when you have only week to beat the thing out.


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Friday, July 14, 2006

Q. Why do you think SERENITY failed at the box office?
I'm going to say: because it was episodic. There were something like four self-contained episodes in the story. Each resolved almost completely, leaving just enough plot to ignite the next episode. So the movie didn't feel like a coherent story. It felt like a bunch of television episodes rammed together.

Fun, inventive television episodes, of course. Brilliantly written and convincingly acted. But episodes. A movie can't be a four-episode arc, it has to be a single story.

Also, Joss's cast of TV actors didn't exactly light the screen on fire. They just didn't feel larger than life. Possibly that has something to do with the way he shot them.

That's why I think it failed.

Now, a couple of caveats: did SERENITY fail? After all the DVD sales are in? And the foreign sales? I don't know. It cost about $40M. Made about $25M box office and $15M overseas. Those are box office numbers so the studio gets, say, half. But then it probably made another $20M easy on DVD sales and TV, not to mention any merchandising. I doubt anyone on the show was entitled to gross points, so the studio got to keep more of the money than it would have on a $150M Harrison Ford picture. I would bet the studio's internal accounting shows a slight profit.

More importantly: I don't know why the hell it failed. Movies with terrible scripts hit. Why did My Big Fat Greek Wedding make $100M at the box office instead of oh, say, $5M? Was it twenty times better than the next charming indie romance? My memory was it had almost no plot, and was stunningly short on obstacles. I'm sure I could have fixed the script, made it a better movie, and turned it into much less of a hit. Was Blair Witch actually a good picture? Would it have made $100M the summer before? Or the summer after? Or would it have disappeared into the cut-rate DVD bins?

People watch for stories, but they also watch for characters and spectacle, and because other people are watching. And movies with good scripts fail. As a writer you have to believe that a good script is better than a bad script. But there are other factors at work, so don't get too big a head on behalf of us writers...

UPDATE: Discussion continues in this post.


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Thursday, July 13, 2006

As a medical mystery show, House gets into some pretty arcane medical knowledge.
a) From what I've heard, shows like House have medical consultants to help them get things right. On a procedural like House, where the details of the medical mystery are a key part of the show, the medical consultants must be right in the writing room, or the writers must have an awful lot of medical knowledge. How is this dealt with? How much do they just write "medical medical medical" and let the consultants fill in? When a freelancer is hired, does the showrunner provide them with all the medical info they need to write the story?
b) How do you deal with this when you're writing a spec? I'm quite certain I can't just write "Insert snarkily delivered medical jargon here." I'm assuming this means that I have to go out and do enough medical research to write something that would convince the average reader (i.e., not a medical professional). Yes? Which brings me to my last question:
c) I have a friend in med school who has offered to come up with fun medical stuff for my writing, as long as she gets credit. I have explained that since this is just an exercise for me, very few people are likely to read this script, but of course she can have credit. If I do, however, end up (after much revision) using this as an actual spec, how do I credit her input? Put a note at the end saying, "Medical Consultant: Jane Doe"?
Sounds like you're on top of all of this. Yes, on a show, there's a medical consultant (or several) on staff, who can provide details. Look at Jane Espenson's blog or better, Doris Egan's LiveJournal. (See the left sidebar for URL's.) Doris actually writes on House.

The more important thing to know is that your spec will live or die on the characters and what the medical stuff means to them. Why is House driven to make this particular diagnosis? What kind of trouble does it get him in? It's important to get the medical stuff right, which means more research than you'd have to do if you worked on the show. But if you're not telling a human story, your spec will not impress.

I'd put the credit on the title page ("With thanks to Dr. Jane Doe" or "Medical consultant: Dr. Jane Doe"). It shouldn't bother people much there, and they might even appreciate that you found a doctor to talk to.



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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This Wired article discusses the work of economist David Galenson, who's discovered two kinds of artistic geniuses. He's plotted the artist's age when he made each work, whether painting, book or something else, versus its artistic value. Value can be its price in the case of fine art where prices are available, or it can be measured by the number of times the work is cited in standard textbooks.

So, for example, Picasso created his iconic Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at 27; but Twain didn't write Huckleberry Finn till he was 50. At 27, Twain hadn't even written "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and wouldn't for another five years. At 31, Pollack was a terrible painter; he'd do his best work later. At 40, Ezra Pound had said everything interesting he had to say. All that was left for him was to collaborate with the Fascists.

The idea is that some artists are conceptualists. They come up with an interesting way to reimagine their form. They may refine it as they get older, but unless they can reimagine the form more than once (as Picasso did), we're going to remember them by their early work. Experimentalists don't think things through, they work things through. That can take a lifetime.

Mozart vs. Beethoven. Alexander the Great vs. Churchill. Rimbaud vs. Robert Frost.

So, if you feel left behind by all those bastards who got their movie produced at 25... there's still time. And hope.


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The spec I'm writing is for House, which makes great use of songs, having a montage in almost every episode. Even when there is no montage, the lyrics and/or tone of the music playing in a scene are clearly chosen very carefully.
a) Who on the staff chooses the music? Are the writers involved with this at all? The showrunner? Do they just give direction ("Something jazzy"... "Something about unrequited love"), or do they ask for a specific song?
The showrunner will usually tell the music editor what he's looking for. If he has something in mind, and a big budget, he might get a specific song. Usually though, any song you've heard of is too expensive. Currently they're pondering releasing The Wonder Years without its period music because the rights are too expensive. As a writer below showrunner, the music isn't really in your department, unless it's source music. ("A record player starts up. It hits the grooves on a drippy '70's song.")
b) How is this different when you're writing a spec? I'm assuming that when writing a spec for a show that almost always has a montage, you have to write in a montage. Do you specify the song, or just the type of song? If you specify the song, should you quote a few lyrics so that the reader knows what you're trying to get across?
With a spec, you stay away from music as much as possible. If there's always a montage, you specify the events in the montage using the format that's standard for the show, but you don't really talk about the music.



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Monday, July 10, 2006

Today I came on board a new agency. Vanguarde Artists Management is Tina Horwitz and Amy Stulberg; Amy will be my responsible, repping me everywhere outside of Quebec.

I was really, really impressed with Amy and Tina. We met at Banff, where they were working the festival hard, talking with producers and network execs. So first of all, major points for shelling out to fly to Alberta whenall the producers and network execs were there, rather than spending the week catching up on their reading at home in Toronto. I only noticed one other agent at the festival (though there may have been others; not like I know them all on sight). We had a meeting Sunday afternoon at the Rundle Lounge (a hotel bar everyone hangs out at) and then, because we didn't get all our talking done, again at breakfast the next day. Points for being willing to meet early in the morning. Points for meeting twice because a producer dropped into the first meeting and it stopped being a meeting about representation.

And good meetings, too. Showing their knowledge of the market and the industry. I particularly liked that when we were talking about my show Fallen, they didn't just run through the five Canuck networks, they also mentioned Lifetime. I like the idea of agents that have a sense of the US market.

But what impressed me most was that when I talked with Amy, she had a game plan. She took the trouble to read most of my stuff, and she'd thought about who to pitch it to and how to pitch it. I didn't know half the companies she was naming, which is part of my frustration with previous reps: after six years in the Canadian TV industry, I oughta know these people, right? Ought to have met them, ought to have been read by them.

I liked that she was on top of which shows are hiring, which shows are looking for someone with my type of credits (i.e. ready to step up to showrunner), which shows might have some free lance scripts. Because hey, not too proud to do free lance scripts.

I loved that she thought of sending out a press release. I've never been the subject of an agent's press release. It makes perfect sense -- it's an excuse to remind people that you're alive. You always want to be in the forefront of people's brains when they're thinking of whom to hire or whom to read.

I liked that she'd checked me out -- talked to people I've worked with, to see if I'm the kind of client they want. It means they're discriminating agents and won't take just anybody with an eye to collecting as much commission as possible. Many agents coast on their clients' connections; they're really just negotiating agents. You get the work, they negotiate the deal. They're still better than no agent. But they're only doing half the job.

I liked that she talked about branding. If you want to be the go-to guy for X and Y, then you need to focus on X and Y, which means not doing Z and U and W. My dream job is running a live action show for a mainstream audience. Could be comedy. Could be drama. Depends on the characters and the show. That's my focus then. Not animation for 4-8 year olds, for example.

The thing I liked best was that Amy spent time with me before I became her client. She knew I was talking seriously with at least one other agent -- a guy with a very go-getting style, very hard worker, starting his own agency, which means hungry, which means motivated. She could have tried to see which way I was going to jump before spending the time. Instead, she invested time in reading and thinking. And her thoughts were smart and informed.

So, Amy's repping me now. If you have projects for me, she's not hard to find. Thanks for having me on board, Amy!



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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Q. You mention a few times about fansites, seeing what fans think. What's your take on fanfiction? I know showrunners have mixed feelings about it. I don't write any myself, and I don't know if you've ever done a show that had a lot of fanfiction made about it; I'm just curious.
I'm not like Lee Goldberg; fanfic doesn't bother me.

I think our copyright laws are a little too strong. Disney has got Congress to extend copyright well beyond the point where society benefits. Is any author going to not write something because their copyright stops in 56 years (the previous standard)? Copyright protection that extends to author's life + 50 years is really about protecting corporate brands. It gets in the way of the culture's ongoing development.

I think fanfic is harmless. It's a huge time waster, but it's time, er, well wasted. As hobbies go, it costs nothing for the writer to create; as opposed to, say, building battlebots. On the consumer side, it gives the fans another way to enter the world of the show. I don't think it dilutes the brand. No one is buying fewer tickets to Revenge of the Sith because Troopers, or that extended light sabre battle on Youtube, is more compelling. I doubt George is selling fewer Young Jedi novelettes because of whatever fanfic's out there. And even if he is, honestly, who cares?

I think profit is a useful way to distinguish between copyright violation and fanfic. So long as you're giving it away, it's fine with me. Once you package it and sell it, you're stealing.

Ironically, aren't spec scripts essentially a specialized (and approved) form of fanfic?



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Saturday, July 08, 2006

I'd very much like to contact Joss Whedon, to get some quotes or even an e-mail interview, for a tribute to Buffy which we are preparing for the next issue of a Greek science fiction magazine. I have tried to get in touch with people who have worked with Whedon, such as Jane Espenson and Doris Egan, but no luck there.
The correct process for contacting any of these guys is: call the WGA and find out who their agent is. Call the agent and find out who the publicist is, or who handles publicity. Call the publicist and explain your deal.

You may or may not get a response. Joss is, I am sure, deluged by requests for publicity. You might be better off hitting one of his writers, such as Jane herself. If you're a Lostie, Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Supervising Producer on the show) is semi-reachable for publicity purposes; he's got a blog, hasn't he? J. J. Abrams is likely to be way too busy.

Also, Joss really gets no benefit from a Buffy tribute. He's probably moved on. If you wanted to ask him about his next project, he'd probably be more interested.

People in TV tend to be really busy all the time. They only promote stuff when it's what they're doing: when a show is coming out.

And as I write this, I'm looking down at the pool from the tower room where I'm working, and watching a brown-and-orange box turtle sitting perfectly still looking at some impatiens, pondering his plan for the rest of the day.


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Friday, July 07, 2006

The good people at Syracuse University Press were kind enough to send me a review copy of Starting Your Television Writing Career.

The book consists of: 51 pages of overview of how you write a good spec script and what you do with it (in other words, how you start your TV writing career); 49 pages of a comedy outline and script; 90 pages of a drama outline and script; and 27 pages of interviews with established TV writers.

I found the overview frustrating. Granted I'm not the best audience for this book, because it's written for nonprofessionals who want to get into the business, and I've written my own book. But I have read TV writing books that taught me stuff, particularly the brief but superb pamphlet the WGA has on its site, Writing for Episodic TV. The overview says more or less the same things I say in my book; which means I agree with what it says. The problem is it says them briefly instead of in depth; generally instead of specifically. It felt like it was written by someone who sat in on meetings with experienced writers and then wrote down -- quickly -- what they said.

This may not be true. The authors each have one television credit on the IMDb, and run the Warner Bros TV Workshop. Which is not to say that they are professional TV writers. But pro or not, who can say in 57 pages what you need to know to write TV? You can say more or less what you need to do, but you can't really explain yourself, or say how to do what you need to do. They say what some of the things you shouldn't do in a spec script are, but they don't really get into how you come up with a great one.

The interviews were similarly more directed at end results than processes. Not, "How do you come up with...?" and "How do you deal with...?" but "What was your first sample script and how did you get someone to read it?" I found them less compelling than the yards of interviews the WGA has up on its site. Because the interviewers there are pro writers asking on behalf of other pro writers, the interviewers contain more meat. More anecdote, too, but you can comb through them, as I did when I was writing my book.

I would also have found it more interesting if each interviewee had been answering different questions.

The bulk of the book, though, is the scripts. And I gotta ask: what's the point of putting one comedy script and one drama script into a book? You need to read dozens of TV scripts, not one each of drama and comedy. And there are dozens to read on the Net -- see my right sidebar, "Links to downloadable scripts." You have to read scripts from current hit shows so you can watch the shows. Who cares about "The George Lopez Show"?

So, in all, I was disappointed. I'm so sorry, Syracuse University Press. I really wanted to like this book.

One interesting point though: I did notice that this book uses some different terminology than I've heard. For example, it says a typical scene will have three or four "story beats." That's a different use of the word "beat" than I've run across. What I would consider a beat, usually you'd have one in a scene, or two in a long scene. The book defines "act break" as "the place in the script where the action reaches its highest point." I've only heard "act break" used as a synonym for "act out," a term the book leaves undefined. And I'd never heard of a "clam," which apparently refers to an overused trendy phrase (e.g. "Talk to the hand"). It may be helpful to know these usages, so it might be worth checking out the glossary.

Also, they mention Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee, which I'd forgotten about. It's a video store in North Hollywood that has tons of recordings of shows (though it's a little more haphazard than the Museum of Television and Radio). You can rent tapes from them by mail.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

A "hip pocket" client is a client that the agency has not accepted as a client, but which an individual agent (or even agent's assistant) has agreed to take on as a personal client. The client is sort of probationary: if a sale results, then he has someone to rep him in the negotiations, but the agency doesn't find itself with an inflated roster of clients without buzz. I'm not sure what, if any, legal or fiduciary ramifications there are. Basically it means that the agent doesn't have the passion to sell you to the Monday morning meeting -- or you aren't hot enough to be sold there -- but they think that under the right circumstances they might be able to do something with you.
Q. What if you are a hip-pocket client to your agent, and you sell a script, a b-film, but a legitimate script to a legitimate film company. You get paid a fairly decent amount. Most importantly, so does your agent. And then you ask your agent to read a script of yours that an "in" you have at a huge studio wants to take a look at. She doesn't. She finally asks you to send in the script, she will call the "in" in a few days. She doesn't. But being nothing more than a hip pocket client, what do you do? Kill off this relationship and risk no representation or; continue with her (she does have a decent reputation in the biz)?
First of all, start looking for a new agent who will actually rep you fully. Right now. If you've sold a script, you should be able to find a real agent. As I've said in my books, the value of an agent is "enthusiasm x enthusiasm x clout": clout is important, but not nearly as important as passion. If you're a hip pocket client, your agent or your agency lacks faith in you.

Second, ask your agent if she's willing to have her assistant send the script in on her behalf. If she's unwilling to make an actual call. It should be no bother for her to have her assistant send in a script with a cover letter that says, "Per your conversation with my client, here is his brilliant script ______" etc.

If she hasn't either sent the script in or made the call within a week, then tell her you'll have to find someone else to submit the script.

If she wishes you good luck and godspeed, then she doesn't really want to be your agent, and you're better off without her.

If she says, "No, no, look! I'll send it!" then give her another chance. Until you find a real agent, that is.

Sometimes you don't get any action until you show that you've got other options. (And if you really have an "in," they'll read your script with just a release form.)

If your agent isn't willing to make specific submissions when you've already done the groundwork, then she doesn't care about you, and it's time for a new agent.

I don't think it's strictly necessary that your agent read your work provided that they're willing to rep it without reading it, based on your very clever and sizzly description of it. Legendary agent Swifty Lazar (he was responsible for much of his own legend, it is true) never read any of his clients' work. After all, what if he didn't like it?

Some agents don't really like to read. They like to make calls. If you have one of those agents, don't nag them to read, urge them to make calls. I think the best agents do read, but it is not, strictly speaking, a necessary part of the job. You can get script notes from people who like to read.

Loyalty to your agent is good, but it's a two way street. You're not obliged to be loyal to someone who isn't working it on your behalf. And you should always be chatting with agents you might like to represent you in the future, so that if your agency relationship goes South, you have people you can call up.


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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Many have blogged about this NY Times article about how "Nobody's Watching" may "return from the dead" because 300,000 people have watched the pilot on Youtube.

It could happen. They said the same thing about Global Frequency, and that was before YouTube.

What struck me more, though, was creator Bill Lawrence's comment that "This is a much better way to tell" if a show should go on the air or not. Air the sucker on YouTube. Check out if it catches fire.

Now granted, the YouTube audience is not the same as the US television audience, and a show that gets 300,000 hard-core fans can still flop massively on TV, where 300,000 fans is a rounding error. (On Canadian TV, it's called a "hit.") But it does seem that net execs should make a habit of releasing their pilots on the Net if they're not sure whether to greenlight or not.

Or, hell, they could actually air the pilots and then do the American Idol thing and see how many people are willing to call a 900 number to vote which shows to keep on the air....


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My book party wound up in Gawker:
Spotted Dr. Ruth at Alex Epstein's book party on June 28th. She guaranteed that the first three people to buy books will have "great sex for the rest of your lives."
I need to clarify that Ruthie promised that anyone who bought a book would have great sex for the rest of their lives. That probably explains why I sold out, huh?


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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The WalkingDude has posted a list of tv shows on Youtube. Digg it.


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Q. How many agents can one writer have at a time? Do you send them the same material to pitch? Do you negotiate separate agreements based on the type of work you've written i.e. one agent for features and another for television or is it based on region and reach?
You can negotiate any sort of arrangement if people want you badly enough. The simplest way to split jurisdiction is by material. You might have one agent for showbiz and another for books. That's common; the world of publishing operates on different principles and at a completely different pace than showbiz.

Generally you'll have one agent rep you for showbiz everywhere. That's simpler for everyone. You might have one agent who handles you for TV and another for movies, but at the same agency; if you live in New York you might have an agent in New York who belongs to a bicoastal agency, such as Gersh. This works because the commissions all come home to the same agency (though I'm sure the individual agents fight about it).

My situation is idiosyncratic because I live in Montreal, which is a small but functional market for material, and I need to raise my profile in the rest of Canada. I've found that Toronto agents really can't grok Montreal -- what with the French language, and the French culture, and French producers' attitude towards contracts (they're a good basis for further negotiation). And likewise it is hard for Montreal agents to cover Toronto effectively. They won't bump into producers at the Spoke Club, or Starbucks, or the film festival, or the WGC awards. And calling isn't the same as meeting.

Agents don't like split jurisdiction; they're worried they'll do a lot of work to sell a piece of material and the other agent will sell it out from under them. I talked to a couple of agents who wouldn't let me carve off Montreal. So I didn't sign with them.

Another way to get more attention is to sign with a good manager, if you can find one that wants you. Then both the manager and the agent are looking for work for you. You're paying much more commission (managers take 15% on top of the agent's 10%) but 75% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Just make sure that if you've got both, they're both actively repping you and not just booking the commission.



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Monday, July 03, 2006

The unaired Buffy pilot is up at YouTube, all 25 minutes of it. Interesting to see what they kept and what they changed for the actual pilot. For example, Willow is overweight and decidedly not Alyson Hannigan. Thus breaking a rule of Hollywood: the Ordinary Looking Chick is actually a Gorgeous Chick playing ordinary looking.

I haven't watched the whole thing -- was this supposed to be a half hour show?


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I've uploaded the full recording of Darren Levy interviewing me on WNYU; if you haven't caught it yet, you can listen to it here. Or download it, for that matter.


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Sunday, July 02, 2006

I found your FAQ at and was intrigued to find that you had indeed answered a question on what a high schooler should do if they are interested in filmmaking. To my dismay, I noticed you recommended against starting screenplays at a young age. After having immersed myself in thoughts of my story and images and pre-maturely made directorial decisions, I found myself losing interest and passion in continuing with this story as I have lately found it difficult to write short stories without them snowballing into screenplays. I am afraid that by the time I am of age to write full length scripts I will have long forgotten this tiny spark of an idea and I'll never get the chance to see it realized. Do you have any suggestions for a young person like me on how to break free of this current disheartened state which I'm sure comes to every aspiring filmmaker after bad news?
You're asking two questions. One is, what do I do when I'm disheartened? And the answer to that is, of course: perservere, and find a way to turn your experience into art. The more important question is: what do I do when I get advice that doesn't make sense to me. And the answer to that is: ignore it. If it makes sense, use it. If it doesn't make sense, don't use it. I could be wrong about not writing screenplays. Actually, I probably am wrong. At the time it seemed like good advice. Since then I've read one young writer's screenplay that is probably at least as good as my first one was when I went to film school. If you think in screenplay, write in screenplay.

The reason I said don't write screenplays was that it seemed to me that it's harder to get intelligent feedback on a screenplay than it is on a story. But that may no longer be true. Maybe your friends are just as clear on how to read a screenplay as they are on how to read a short story; or clearer. My stepson doesn't read much; he plays video games a lot. Maybe he'll be more visual than verbal.

So ignore that bit of advice if it seems wrong to you.

On the other hand do the other stuff: read, learn about style, watch lots of great movies and dissect them.

Also, don't worry about your tiny little spark of an idea. If it's that meaningful to you, you won't forget it. I'm pitching a TV drama series right now based on a play I had a reading of maybe 8 years ago, which was based in turn on a feature script, which was in turn based on a character in my thesis film back in 1990. And the first version of something is rarely the best.

Ultimately, there are a million different paths to becoming the person, and the craftsman, and the artist, that you ought to be. The straightest route is not always the best; the best paved route is not always the best; but the one that seems to you the best probably is the best, if you have the courage to pursue it. I could not have told you 20 years ago, when I was applying to film school, how this was ultimately going to work out. And I didn't stress about it much either. I just figured it was the thing to do. And it was.

[NOTE: I'm updating the section in my FAQ accordingly.]



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I'm reading, and loving, King of the Vagabonds, which is dubbed "The Baroque Cycle #2." For those of you who haven't read any of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, it is an entertaining picaresque set all over Europe in 1683 or so, a time when Amsterdam is the wonder of the world, quicksilver is the key to mining silver, and the Thirty Years War is raging (or has raged) all over Europe torching villages. Stephenson is a science fiction writer, so he makes science fiction of it -- that is, he is as interested in the science as he is in the fiction. For some reason I find throway lines about "the cheap fabric just now coming out of Calico, in India" thrilling, as I do the knowledge that Amsterdam is where they dammed the Amstel River.

I am a font of useless knowledge.

The plot, for what it's worth, is an oddly diffident love story about a rogue who calls himself Half Cocked Jack for unfortunate clinical reasons having to do with a failed attempt to cure the pox, and a British girl he's rescued from the Turks, who has an eye for high finance, the smelting of silver, and obscure Hindoo sexual techniques.

For those of you who have read it: this book seems to be a repackaging of the middle part of the first hardcover book. Since I never got through Quicksilver, which lacked the love story and the Hindoo sexual techniques, I never got to King of the Vagabonds. Could someone kindly explain which of the paperbacks belong to which of the hardcovers, so I don't have to buy all of them or worse, go to a bookstore?


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Saturday, July 01, 2006

It would be crazy to buy a brand new Intel Core Duo-sporting 2GHz+ MacBook entirely so I can waste time playing Civilization 4. Wouldn't it? Spend money to be able to waste huge amounts of time playing an addictive game? That's like buying a brand new car so you can drive to the pusher. Isn't it?


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[GEEKFEST] Hmmm. Now that Apple is making dual-boot-ready notebooks with the Intel Duo processor... in other words there's a version of Mac OS X that runs on the Intel Core Duo processor ... then maybe some clever person will configure a Dell or Toshiba running the Intel Core Duo processor to dual boot with Mac OS X?


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