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


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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Q. In a TV script, how would you introduce a character that only has a very small part in one episode (possibly with even no dialogue) yet you know that character will be returning later in the season in a big role? Should you drop a line into the script letting readers know that this will be someone important later on in the series? Or do you just treat that character like every other back ground character in the scene and instead remind the reader later on (in whichever script the character shows up again) that it is the same person as way back when?
If I'm on staff, I'd do it like this:


Because I want to make sure casting knows to put a great actor in this role.

A craftier way to do is to give the character some truly memorable lines of dialog, so that the reader (the network exec) and the audience wants to see more of her. Write the part for a star. Give a sense that there's more to that character's story; we're just not seeing it yet.

Of course on staff you don't always know that a bit part is going to become a great part. On CHARLIE JADE, we had problems with some parts where the guy who was cast earlier wasn't up to where the story needed to go with his character.

If you are not on staff -- well, then it doesn't really matter, because you can't control whether that character is coming back.

But what about when the character is coming back later in the script? You can do it one of two ways. You can make clear up front that this is a bigger character than you'd expect to see in a small part like that. You can even flag the character as I did up top.

Or, if you're Joss Whedon, you probably don't give us any warning at all, and the character reveals his true crunchiness in Act Three.

There is no canonical way to do it, because it depends on the effect you want to create. If you want the audience to guess that we'll be seeing more of the character, then hint to the reader. If you don't want them to, don't hint.

Then, when STRUNG-OUT COP shows up again later, and you give him a name, give him both names for a while: STRUNG OUT COP / SGT. FALCO.



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Friday, February 26, 2010

THE DIALOGUE SERIES is a series of DVD interviews of famous screenwriters, focusing on their craft, instead of the usual war stories, hosted by New Line Cinema's former president, Mike de Luca. I checked out his interview with Sheldon Turner, recently nominated for the Oscar for UP IN THE AIR. Among the tidbits:

Sheldon Turner writes out every scene in prose before writing it in script format; that gives him a better feel for what's happening the scene.

He wrote a dozen screenplays before he sent any of them out.

He thinks you should never write more than two lines of action before skipping a line. Otherwise the eye just blips over the rest of the text.

He says directors often tell him they knew by page 12 they were going to do a project.

He finds that successful stars know how the audience wants to see them; if you can write to that, you're ahead of the game. In other words they generally do not want to play against type.

(I like to make a distinction between actors and stars. Actors play roles; stars play themselves in roles. Alec Guinness disappears into his roles. Marlon Brando could play a street thug or an upper class South African lawyer convincingly. Robert Redford plays Robert Redford really well. That said, even the greatest actors have their limitations. Robert De Niro can't play comedy. Dustin Hoffman can't play a leading man. And you generally play Robert De Niro to play threatening and Dustin Hoffman to play nervous.)

The Dialogue Series guys are offering you guys a 15% discount -- just use the discount code CRAFTY15.
THE DIALOGUE is a DVD series of 70-90 minute discussions in which more than two dozen top screenwriters share their work habits, methods and inspirations, secrets of the trade, business advice, and eye-opening stories from life in the trenches of the film industry. Each writer discusses his or her filmography in great detail and breaks down the mechanics of one favorite scene from their produced work.

Interview subjects include Oscar winners and industry veterans like Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise), Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco), Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Peter & Bobby Farrelly (There's Something About Mary, Stuck on You) and David S. Goyer (Dark City, Blade, Batman Begins). The series is hosted by Michael De Luca, film fanatic and former President of Production at New Line Cinema. In a climate where "industry" talk shows are mostly fluff pieces, Mike De Luca's probing and savvy style elevates this series to a true exploration of the craft and its masters.



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This is a little bit astray from this blog's territory, but since I'm hoping to direct another short in April, and hopefully a feature next year, I checked out Richard La Motte's COSTUME DESIGN 101, to get a handle on what costume designers do. It's a clear and (I believe) comprehensive book setting out what you, the costume designer, need to do on a show, from breaking down the script to creating characters through their clothes to dealing with budgets, and so on. If you're thinking of doing a short yourself, and you don't have an experience costume designer, check it out.



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Thursday, February 25, 2010

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the networks are boldly going where no network has gone before, ordering primarily dramas about cops:
Among broadcast dramas in development, Big Four networks have ordered a whopping 22 pilots about law enforcement agencies and individuals including the CIA, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Marshals Service, bounty hunters, police psychologists and rank-and-file cops.
In an exciting twist, "several of the pilots feature characters with special abilities. In ABC's "Body of Evidence," for example, the medical examiner protagonist is a former neurosurgeon, and an untitled CBS project spotlights a New York police detective who can remember everything she's ever learned."

There are also five legal dramas and two new medical dramas.

What's missing? Primarily serials. After all, who really wants to watch a show where not only the characters but the stories develop from episode to episode?

In a similar show of bravery, networks greenlit some half hours about cops and lawyers.

For the run down on all these shockingly original new shows, check out The Live Feed.

So... what does this mean for the shows you're developing? It's hard to say. A huge overbuy of cop shows could lead to a disastrous year for all the cop shows that get picked up, leading to a loss of appetite for cop shows.

A boy can dream, can't he?

More realistically, if you're trying to get a show on the air, and you can figure out a cop show that is slightly different in some way, mazel tov. If you're trying to sell a serial in this environment, on the other hand, good luck, buddy. Even if you are Joss Whedon. (That is why, I assume, DOLLHOUSE started so episodic, and only later got serial.)



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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jesse Schell of Schell Games has a few things to say about some of the shocking successes of the past year, including Farmville, Mafia Wars, Webkin, Gamerscore points and the online Flash-based penguin game that made $350 million last year. He thinks what no one realized is that people want their fantasy game experiences to tie into reality.

Definitely worth your 28 minutes.



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Congratulations to all the nominees of the WGC awards!

Grossology "New Recruits." Written by Richard Clark
Total Drama Action "Crouching Courtney, Hidden Owen." Written by Alex Ganetakos
League of Super Evil “Glory Hog." Written by Philippe Ivanusic-Vallee and Davila LeBlanc
Total Drama Action "The Sand Witch Project." Written by Shelley Scarrow

Children & Preschool
Max and Ruby "Max Says Goodbye." Written by Kate Barris
Max and Ruby "Ruby's Good Neighbor Report." Written by Shelley Hoffman & Robert Pincombe
Zigby "Zigby's Collection." Written by Louise Moon

Malls R Us (Feature Version). Written by Helene Klodawsky
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet - 40 Years of One Night Stands. Narration Written by Robert Lower
A Time There Was: Stories from the Last Days of Kenya Colony. Narration Written by Donald McWilliams

Episodic half-hour
Less Than Kind "The Daters." Written by Garry Campbell
Less Than Kind "Fun." Written by Jenn Engels
Less Than Kind "Happy Birthday Sheldon." Written by Marvin Kaye & Chris Sheasgreen
Less Than Kind "Careers Day." Written by Mark McKinney
Corner Gas "Shirt Disturber." Written by Kevin White & Norm Hiscock

MOW & Mini-Series

The Summit. Written by John Krizanc
Paradise City: Degrassi Goes Hollywood. Story by Vera Santamaria, Matt Huether, Sara Snow / Teleplay by Vera Santamaria, Matt Huether, Sarah Glinski, Sara Snow
Guns (part 1 and 2). Written by Sudz Sutherland & Jennifer Holness

Feature Film
High Life. Written by Lee MacDougall
A Shine of Rainbows. Written by Vic Sarin & Catherine Spear and Dennis Foon
The Trotsky. Written by Jacob Tierney
Love and Savagery. Written by Des Walsh
Crackie. Written by Sherry White

Episodic one hour
Stargate Universe "Time." Written by Robert C. Cooper
Flashpoint "One Wrong Move." Written by Mark Ellis & Stephanie Morgenstern & James Hurst
ZOS: Zone of Separation "Bred in the Bone." Written by John Krizanc
Cra$h & Burn "Trust." Written by Jackie May
Murdoch Mysteries "Mild Mild West." Written by Derek Schreyer
ZOS: Zone of Separation "Shallow Graves." Written by Jason Sherman

Radio Drama
Afghanada "Episode 65." Written by Alex Levine
Afghanada "Episode 61." Written by Barbara Samuels

Short Subject
Being Erica I "Webisodes." Written by Jessie Gabe
My Pal Satan "Cheaters Never Perspire." Written by Dennis Heaton
How People Got Fire. Written by Daniel Janke

This Hour Has 22 Minutes XVII “Episode 6.” Head Writer: Ed Macdonald / Written by Mark Critch, Gavin Crawford, Kyle Tingley, Albert Howell, Dean Jenkinson, Joanne O'Sullivan, Tara Doyle, Erik Van Wyck, Mike Allison, Joey Case
This Hour Has 22 Minutes XVII “Episode 8.” Head Writer: Ed Macdonald / Written by Mark Critch, Kyle Tingley, Albert Howell, Shaun Majumder, Dean Jenkinson, Geri Hall, Joanne O'Sullivan, Tara Doyle, Erik Van Wyck, Mike Allison, Stephen Patterson
The Ron James Show “Episode 7.” Written by Ron James, Garry Campbell, Brian Hartt, Mark De Angelis, Chris Finn, David MacKenzie, Paul Pogue, Gary Pearson, Jennifer Whalen
Rick Mercer Report VI “Episode 17.” Written by Rick Mercer, Irwin Barker, Greg Eckler, Chris Finn, Paul Mather, Tim Steeves

How to Be Indie "How to Be a Mehta." Written by Anita Kapila
The Latest Buzz "The Wonderful World of Buzz Issue." Written by Brent Piaskoski
Family Biz "Breakaway." Written by Sheila Prescott
The Latest Buzz "The Comeback Issue." Written by Darrin Rose
How to Be Indie "How to Strike a Balance." Written by Vera Santamaria

Winners of the WGC Screenwriting Awards will be announced at the Awards on Monday, April 19, 2010, at Maro in Toronto. See you there!


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Sunday, February 21, 2010

I'm working with a young woman who wants to direct, who admitted that when she plays GRAND THEFT AUTO, she spends a lot more time framing shots than mowing down pedestrians. Drive to the Hollywood sign! Do a 360 degree pan! Do a crane shot!

I wonder how many young directors are practicing their imaginations on their Xbox 360?



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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Q. I have an idea for a scripted TV show based on real life experiences I had. My characters are based on real people with some added characteristics, but I'm not using their real names. If the script made it to an actual tv show, would the 'real' people be able to sue me?
1. I am not a lawyer. I am especially not your lawyer. This is not legal advice.

2. As I understand it, it depends on how similar the characters are to the real people. If the characters are recognizably those people, then you could have a problem.

On the other hand, writers base characters on real people all the time. For example, Dr. Evil is based on SNL producer Lorne Michaels, complete with mannerisms and catchphrases. ("Throw me a bone, people.") Lots of people write thinly disguised autobiographies with negative portraits of the people they don't like. On the other hand, there have been lawsuits about just that, and even if you win a lawsuit, it can take a chunk of your life.

I think you can steal the essence of someone you know, so long as you don't steal the details of their lives. They probably don't see themselves the same way you do, so they may not recognize themselves, unless your character also went to Pomona College and majored in Archeology and had an unfortunate affair with the hot dog stand lady.



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Friday, February 19, 2010

I had an interesting chat the other day with Allan Hawco, showrunner/star/co-creator of REPUBLIC OF DOYLE. It's a fun, witty private eye series set in St. John's, Newfoundland. One of the many things I like about the show is that the characters all talk in various degrees of a Newfoundland accent -- it gives a real flavor you haven't got elsewhere. Imagine my surprise to hear from Hawco that none of that dialect is in the scripts.

Hawco explained that it's not just a question of mainlander writers not getting the dialect right. The danger, Hawco feels, is that writers work so hard to nail the dialect that they think they've created a character and a scene. But you can wind up with a lot of dialect and no good dialogue.

Thinking about it -- it's very easy to write a guy with a thick lower class accent and think you've created a character, when all you've done is create a stereotype. I can't tell you how many thug characters I've read who come off as cartoons; I wonder if that's partly because they're written entirely in Thug.

I've seen a few UK scripts where there's almost no dialect written out, which surprised me the first time, because there's a hell of a difference between "what the 'ell are you doin' 'ere guvnor" and "what the hell are you doing here, buddy?" I imagine at some point the dialect does have to go in; I can't imagine anyone wants actors translating Standard English into Cockney on the fly. Brit readers, feel free to weigh in.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was working with a guy who has a script with yards of hip-hop dialect. So far as I can tell, the dialect all rings true. But it only served to obscure the flaws in the dialogue. The characters weren't as clear as they could be. The scenes weren't as rich as they could be.

If you have a dialect-heavy project, consider not writing it in dialect until you really lock down what the characters want from each other and what they're saying to each other to get it. Then you can add the dialect later. Like the glaze on a donut.



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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

GQ has a blog where two guys rip the worst movie of the week. It's like watching MST3K while crashing from too much X. But reading it instead of watching it. Or something. Funny. And now I don't have to see LEGION. Or DAYBREAKERS.



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USA Today, of all places, has an article full of links to all the Oscar-nominated screenplays. Check'em out. What did you learn?



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Monday, February 15, 2010

Q. What about the fact that this is still largely a numbers game? Let's say for the sake of argument that for every movie that gets made for $25 million, there are a hundred movies that get made for $2.5 million. Wouldn't that imply that your odds of selling a script that can be made for the lesser amount are 100 times greater than the alternative?
There aren't 100 movies that get made for $2.5 mil for every $25+ mil movie, so, no. The point of my earlier post was that there's a reason for that. The surprise is that financing a $2.5 mil movie is just about as big a pain in the ass as financing a $25 mil movie. But there's only 1/10 the payoff for everyone working on it.

There are other reasons not to focus on writing low budget movies. To get paid on a low budget movie, you pretty much need to spec the movie and then hope it gets made. Otherwise you won't get paid. $25 mil movies support a lot more development. You might get paid to write it. Or paid to rewrite it. There will be a real option payment instead of option shenanigans.

Moreover, you may do well out of a $25 mil movie that never gets made. Studios, who make $25 mil movies, buy and commission way more scripts than indie producers, who are the guys who make $2.5 mil cheapies.

And, of course, you get paid a hell of a lot more on a $25 mil movie. The production fee for a $13 mil movie made in Canada is $300K. The production fee for a $2.5 mil movie doesn't even cover the scale payment, which is around $50K. I'm guessing in the US a $25 mil movie would carry a production bonus along the lines of $500K.

All this is really just intended as an antidote to the feeling writers get that they should write small. Don't write small. If your story is small, if it's all on the scale of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, or MOON, say, don't make it bigger than it needs to be. But if your story is an action adventure, don't cut down on the action for budget's sake. Let the producer tell you to do that -- after he signs an option/rewrite contract with you.



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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Q. Do TV shows toss unsolicited scripts because of company policies? Or just because showrunners strongly prefer to read work that has been referred by someone else?

In other words, is it a strict rule or a guideline they abide by?
Companies toss unsolicited scripts for legal reasons. They may be developing a script with a similar concept. They don't want to take a chance that you will sue them for "stealing your idea." Pro writers know how common it is for writers to think of the same ideas, entirely honestly, but aspiring writers don't.

For example, Lisa and I were partly put out, and partly pleased, to see that HBO is coming out with a show about groupies called I'M WITH THE BAND. Put out, because we had a pitch for a show about groupies called I'M WITH THE BAND, and now it's dead. Partly pleased, because it means we were on the right track. I've had that happen to a script about Pretty Boy Floyd and a show about teenage models. I have a script that's "Moby Dick in Space." I was in the library yesterday and happened to notice a graphic novel which is Moby Dick in Space. We were working on a show about peacekeepers till we heard about ZOS. And so forth.

When it comes to spec scripts of the show they're producing, it is practically guaranteed that whatever you are sending in, if it is at all in the ballpark for the show, it's an idea that the staff has kicked around.

Aspiring writers may not understand that. There's a guy who sued George Lucas because the guy was convinced that he had invented Ewoks. Yah. Teddy bears with spears. There's an idea that only comes once a millennium.

If you're going in to pitch a show, on a meeting set up by your agent, then you probably understand that your ideas may not be original. You hope they'll give you a script to write anyway if your take on the story is more interesting. But that's a different process. You go in with a pitch idea, and the showrunner has a chance to say, "We didn't want to go in this direction, but I'm interested in this aspect of your pitch," and develop it from there.

STAR TREK: TNG was famous for being a show that actually did read specs, and buying a few of them. But I've never heard of another franchise doing it.

It is also very hard for a showrunner to read a spec script of his show. It is going to read slightly off. Or very off. It just is. I can't read a NAKED JOSH spec; they just irritate me. I can read a spec MODERN FAMILY and not get bent out of shape; I have no stake in the show. But if it's a show I was in the room for, then it's going to feel very out of the room.

Generally no TV show is going to read unsolicited scripts in the first place. But at least, if your agent is submitting your LIE TO ME spec to Hart Hanson, he doesn't have to worry that you'll think you invented the BONES episode they've been talking about for years.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm trying to learn more about emergent multi-media -- the online content I keep hearing so much about (and which, in Canada, Telefilm is so anxious to fund). I've seen viral YouTubes of course. Hunter is very fond of online games like Mastermind World Conqueror. I've spent a fair few hours on physics games like Diver2 and the almost evil Fantastic Contraption.

There are the ARGs, like the one for REGENESIS and the one for LOST, and the seminal The Beast.

But I don't have a sense of what the parameters of the medium are. I don't know what the medium-defining examples are. What is the FRIENDS of multiplatform? What's the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT of emergent media? What's the SOPRANOS of online fictional content?

Oh, and double props to anyone who comes up with the names of seminal multiplatform content that actually made money. Or, for that matter, resulted in cost-effective promotion. (Spending who knows how many million bucks to reach, say, 40,000 fans for the movie A.I., does not seem as effective as a TV ad. The problem I see with most ARG's is they don't automatically scale.)

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

I was chatting with a smart young woman who had a terrific idea for a feature. She was going on about how it could be made for very little money.

There's a tendency to think that if you can make a movie for little enough money, it is more likely to get made. This is not entirely true.

For one thing, when you make a low budget movie, everyone gets paid less. The producer is more likely to have to defer his salary. There is no production bonus for the writer.

A low budget movie is less likely to get a decent marketing budget, because the studio hasn't invested as much in its success.

That means it's less worth it to you to write a low budget feature, and it's less worth it for the producer to spend two years of his life making your movie happen.

In some ways, it is just as hard to get a low budget movie made as a decently budgeted movie. You still have to find bankable cast, and a financing company, and a distribution deal. But at the lower budget levels, it is just not as worthwhile for other people to get involved in your movie, because they won't see as much return.

Sure, it's possible for a low budget movie to make a whack of money, and if so, it will go into profit a little faster. But the movie business doesn't run on profit. It runs on salaries. You get your salary whether the movie tanks or not. People buy houses and cars with their profits; they put their kids through school on their salaries.

While it's always nice for a movie to be doable at a lower budget, don't focus too much on that. Really, you want to make sure that your movie can be made at an appropriate budget for what it is. If it's an action movie, you want it made at a decent budget or the action will suck. A romantic comedy needs a good cast. A horror movie can be made for very little money (see BLAIR WITCH) and low production values. But most other genres don't do their best at the lowest budget levels. Science Fiction, obviously, needs a certain minimum or it's going to be styrofoam rocks and spaceship walls that shake when you bump into them.

Don't write carelessly. But also don't be overfocused on your budget. Focus on making the movie you're telling as commercial as possible. You would much rather be the writer of a $25 million movie than a $2.5 million movie.



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Friend of the blog Trevor Finn writes about how he just got an agent:
I figured the best way I can get an agent or a job is by becoming as good a writer as I could, and really all that meant was writing lots of spec scripts. So I did. And then I re-wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote and eventually some of those scripts were half decent. One of my friends read them (who also happens to be a screenwriter - this is why networking is key), and told Perry about me, and I was told to drop my scripts off at OAZ. And that's it. I didn't even send a query.
What Trevor stopped doing: entering writing competitions and sending endless rounds of queries.

Congratulations, Trevor!

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A friend of mine in the business doesn't have a TV. But these days that doesn't mean "I'm a snob, TV is beneath me." It means "Who watches anything on an actual TV any more?" You can watch more and more stuff on your computer. If it's broadcast you're after, you can get a TV capture card. If you want to see some HBO shows, but you don't necessarily want to be on the hook for the monthly fee, you can download shows from, say, Amazon On Demand:

iTunes works, too.

While the broadcast networks really haven't solved their big headache -- fewer people watching ads, which are what is supposed to pay for the broadcast -- big entrepreneurial companies like Amazon and Apple are stepping up with a simply pay-per-view model that works nicely.

Will it rescue TV? Who knows. I think so. People want to be told stories, and they'll pay for it if that's the only way to get it. We're used to getting the stories for free, but that may be a historical anomaly.



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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Steven Spielberg started his directing career when he was twelve by shooting a 9 minute Western on 8 mm film. He made films of crashing his train set, and sold tickets for 25 cents; his sister sold popcorn. I remember going to see DAY FOR NIGHT when I was 20, knowing this, and thinking, "If only I'd seen this when I was young, it would have got me started in the film business!"

Monkeying around with 8 mm was a pain in the ass. The film is 8mm wide, i.e. each frame is much smaller than your fingernail; imagine trying to splice a single frame into your edited work print in order to lengthen a shot. And then you have to synchronize that with your sound. But going up to 16mm meant you started burning money, fast, on each take.

Over the past decade or two it has got about a hundred times easier for any kid to make his or her own movie and show it to people. Consumer video cameras are quite good, and even near-pro-quality "prosumer" cameras are a couple of thousand bucks new. Digital editing is a breeze using Final Cut. And you can upload the whole schmeer to YouTube for free.

So why not start young? If there's one thing teenagers have a lot of, it's time.

Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols' FILMMAKING FOR TEENS: PULLING OFF YOUR SHORTS is a one-stop shop for how to make a short film with the resources your average teenager has: friends, a camera, no money and a long weekend. It covers everything from how to write a short script and how to edit it, to when to use handheld, to how to get people to see your minor opus. It has lots of ideas for how to mooch resources (who's not going to help a kid?) and what to watch out for (run your take back to make sure you got it) to what won't work (redubbing your audio because you didn't get it in the take).

I know there are kids out there making films, because I've heard from them from time to time. Buy this for your favorite budding filmmaker. Or, heck, see if this book can get your kid out of World of Warcraft.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

And it is effective every single time.


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Rewatching BLADE RUNNER this weekend I was struck by how in 2019 we're supposed to have off-world colonies, but Deckard still needs to use a payphone. (A video payphone, of course. Because in the future we'll all want to see each other's faces when we talk. Heh.)

One thing I've noticed occasionally in contemporary TV, scripts or on air, is sometimes writers use old technology because it makes the story easier to plot. For example, someone loses their precious handwritten notebook. Or someone is stranded somewhere because they don't have a cell phone.

Don't write with old tech. It's lame. No one loses a notebook anymore because everyone keeps their notes on their computer.

Sure, somebody could, as a character point, have a notebook. And not everyone has a cell phone. But if you hang a plot point on it, it stops being a character point and becomes a convenience.

Note that this is different from a convention. A convention is when someone knocks on someone's door instead of just calling. Everyone understands that while people don't really ever do this, it's usually more fun to twatch can be more two having a conversation in the same space than watching two people on their cell phones. Also, cheaper to shoot, since you don't need two locations. And no one really wants to watch two people texting each other.

The audience will tolerate conventions so long as the plot doesn't hang on them. The audience will get vaguely irritated when you use conveniences. Try to come up with a plot point that can survive both characters having cameraphones and laptops that they regularly back up.


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Monday, February 08, 2010

An audience wants a story to be over, an audience wants a happy ending, and an audience wants to relax. Those are all things that someone who’s purveying to a mass audience can’t possibly put up with. Can’t have that happen.
T. L. Reid went to the Future of Story conference in Edmonton last weekend, where Hart Hanson, showrunner of BONES, was the keynote speaker, and went to the trouble of transcribing Hart's fascinating talk. What I find most interesting about the talk was his thoughts on what makes a mass audience show, what the audience wants and what keeps them watching. (He loves THE WIRE, but his show gets twelve times as many viewers.)

Definitely check it out.



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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Part two of Lisa's foray into the oncoming wave of multiplatform content that Telefilm, at least, is insisting on.

1. “The television advertising model is broken.”

I got the impression that, as far as advertisers are concerned, a YouTube of a sock puppet yodeling is just as good as, say, the finale of THE SOPRANOS. Maybe even better. Kate Hanley at Digital Theory Media Consulting ( makes a convincing case (which I won’t re-create here because it’s proprietary, and as a writer, I care about things like that).

2. “Expensive-to-produce content is doomed.”

Really? I like LOLcats as much as the next guy, but it’s fun the way pork rinds are yummy. Don’t we still want the filet mignon of MAD MEN? I don’t believe people will stop wanting sophisticated stories that are well-acted and well-produced. But I’m an opera fan, so draw your own conclusions.

3. “Consumers won’t pay for content.”

If you believe that, try getting into AVATAR on Saturday night. People who spent their workday surfing YouTube mash-ups will still fork over $15 to see high-quality content.

Conventional wisdom once said viewers wouldn’t pay for cable TV either, because broadcast was free. But instead, pay cable channels are thriving; we’ll pay Showtime for DEXTER because we can’t get the same experience on ABC.

If you want more proof, look at the video game industry; it reportedly made about $20 billion last year. Every single one of their customers could have checked out library books for free instead, but they didn’t.

Consumers are driven by content, not price.

(And please don’t argue that the newspaper industry is “proof” consumers won’t pay. Yes, the New York Times failed miserably to get paid on-line subscribers, but that’s because the Washington Post, LA Times, etc., were giving away essentially the same content. )

So while the near future is challenging, I don’t think TV writers need to panic. Consumers might not pay for a lot of the crappy, dumbed-down content they now get free. But surely creative people can get behind not having to make crappy, dumbed-down content anymore, right?

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Hey, Final Draft mavens:

I've used ScriptCompare in Final Draft to compare two scripts. Then I cut the stuff I don't want to see in the script. But some of the script is in blue (new text) and some is in red/strikeout (old text). I can manually change these back to black and non-struck-out. But I'm concerned there's some formatting still embedded in there. Clear Revised does nothing. Revert Paragraph does nothing. The manual is, of course, useless.

Is there a way to Accept/Reject Changes as there is in Word? Or just clear the Script Compare formatting?



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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Think creating a TV show is hard? Starting March 1, Canadian TV series not only need to have a great hook, great characters, and a kick-ass pilot. Now they need to have a multiplatform business plan too.

Telefilm will now require all funded television series to have internet, iPhone, or social networking apps that go beyond mere marketing and are viable (ideally, profitable) projects in their own right.

To inspire panicked TV writers, Telefilm has been criss-crossing the country, hosting conferences about what all this means for the future of Canadian entertainment. Lisa Hunter (my wife and often writing partner) went to the Montreal conference, and I asked her to share what she learned. Lisa writes:

The Good News:

1. Multiplatform apps can be a creative opportunity. They’re a chance to tell stories that don’t fit into a conventional 22 minutes with commercial breaks. Writers can expand the “world” of a show, flesh out a story thread, or spend time with characters who don’t get a lot of screen time. 30 ROCK, for instance, has on-line webisodes starring some of the show’s most hilarious minor characters.

2. Multiplatform is a foot-in-the-door for newbie TV writers, because there aren’t many old timers in the field, and the demand for multiplatform content is going to explode on March 1.

3. There’s money falling out of the sky. If you’re Canadian and your multiplatform idea is any good, you should be able to get funding for it.

The Bad News (these are my personal observations, not the party line):

1. This is one more hoop that a Canadian TV series has to jump through to get a green light. They already need a US or foreign sale. And it could potentially slow down the development process of timely, in-the-zeitgeist series.

2. Viable TV shows don’t necessarily lend themselves to other platforms. Right now, most multiplatform/TV pairings are in animation and kids shows – the sort of programs that also lend themselves to Happy Meal toys. I can easily imagine a video game app for ANIMAL MECHANICALS, but how about for THE RON JAMES SHOW?

Demographically speaking, most multiplatform apps skew young (even though “old” people over 30 own computers and iPhones). That could make for some ridiculous adult drama apps (“Which WEST WING Character Should You Date?”) But more worrisome, the multiplatform requirement could unintentionally shift Canadian TV development more towards teen and youth programming. Those proposals are going to look a lot more viable than a nuanced adult drama. Network execs: please tell me I’m wrong.

3. Where is all the multiplatform development money coming from? I’ve heard it’s coming out of the TV development funds. If that’s true, then even fewer Canadian shows will go into development. We’ll find out on March 1.

4. What happens when the internet's entrepreneurial culture, where content providers cheerfully do all the work for free in the hopes of getting famous, mashes up with unionized television? Let’s say a TV show’s multiplatform proposal includes a series of webisodes. Since the show is required to have them to get funding, and the WGC doesn’t cover internet work, the creator is in a very bad negotiating position to get paid for that work. No doubt some producers will suggest that it’s “promotion” for the show and ought to be done for free, like giving promotional interviews. WGC negotiators ought to focus on this issue, before we set any bad precedents.

UPDATE: David Kinahan of the WGC writes:
Section F of the IPA provides for contracting for Digital Production. It states “the Guild, producer and producer association shall negotiate the applicable fee for each production.” This means all fees for digital writing are negotiable. (The other general terms of the IPA still apply, however, i.e. payment on delivery, I&R, copyright, grievance, etc.)

The guidelines (PDF), offer some suggested rates formulated by the WGC in consultation with members already working in digital formats for different types of digital writing. The rates and conditions offered are a guideline for writers and agents in their individual negotiations with producers. But we believe they are fair rates to ask.

Tomorrow, Lisa will talk about the "conventional wisdom" of multiplatform.

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A. Darren Naish, of the excellent science blog Tetrapod Zoology, informs me that Sid, of Ice Age fame...

is meant to be a Megalonyx.

Thank you, Darren!



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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

We watched STAR WARS IV, V and VI, which as you know are the first, second and third STAR WARS movies.

Weeellll, STAR WARS, the original, is still one of the best movies I've ever seen.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and, particularly, RETURN OF THE EWOKS JEDI, don't hold up so well. At least not in the aftermath of Mike from Milwaukee's devastating PHANTOM MENACE review. There are just so many things that do not make any sense.

/* SPOILERS */ [Like there are people reading this who haven't seen these movies? Okay, both of you, stop reading.]

For example, at the end of RETURN OF THE TEDDY BEARS, the second Death Star is destroyed, and the ragtag rebel fleet is then wiped out by the force of four or five Star Destroyers and their flotilla. Oh, no, wait, they're not. Because, I don't know why. The really big Star Dreadnought was taken out by a single hit from an A-wing crashing into the picture window in the bridge, but the others are still intact.

For example, what the hell was Luke's plan to spring Han Solo? "Let's get everyone taken prisoner by Jabba the Hutt. I'll go in without my light saber, because it wouldn't be fair to just jump on Jabba and hold it to his throat until he releases Han. Instead, No, I better go in helpless, so we can all get captured and nearly fed to the giant desert critter."

For example, Luke, a Jedi in training, who's just been scanning the Hoth planet surface for "life forms," can't tell that there's an Abominable Snowman four feet from him? And why is he looking for "life forms" anyway? And why on a tauntaun when they've got speeders?

What the two movies (V and VI) have that PHANTOM MENACE doesn't have is great, great characters. Yoda as an impish trickster, not a wise, flying kung fu master. Han Solo as a perfect scoundrel. Leia as the Feisty Good Girl who falls for the Bad Boy. You never get tired of watching them. The scenes are often wonderful. It's the connective tissue between them that doesn't always hold up.

And, of course, what all the movies have going for them is a wildly imaginative world full of crazy critters, and nonstop spectacle. So hey, they all made a ton of money, story or no.

But it's interesting to see how the passage of time changes them. The special effects distracted me more when they came out. I'm not sure if they are less distracting now because special effects are better or because I'm older. Or because I'm thinking about Mike from Milwaukee.

Of course a lot of things are clearer now. At the time, it was surprising to find out that Pee Wee Herman was gay. Watching PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE now, not so much.



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