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


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Sunday, October 31, 2010

I'm definitely digging the bullet time in Fable III -- adds that heroic movie feel to the sword play...



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Saturday, October 30, 2010

If I may grouch a bit about doubleplusungood programming in games ... MASS EFFECT was telling me that my Pinnacle Station downloadable content is corrupt and has to be deleted. Then when it's deleted, it tells me I can't play my game without it. I need to download it again. Then when I download it again, it only works when I'm signed into Xbox LIVe.

My Xbox LIVE connection is flakey. Unclear why. I thought it was an ethernet jack problem. (Q. How many programmers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A. That's a hardware problem.) But it wasn't, because if I use a workaround to connect my Xbox to Xbox LIVE through my computer via Ethernet cable, rather than directly to the router, it works fine, if slowly.

Point being, I can't play my game.

Here's why this is stupid: at no point has my character gone to Pinnacle Station. Pinnacle Station is utterly irrelevant to the game. If the game were cleverly programmed to take into account the possibility of corrupt content and flakey Xbox LIVE connections, it would simply wait to see if you tried to fly to Pinnacle Station, and then tell you to sod off. Instead of invalidating my ten hours of gameplay, which I can't access now.

But ultimately, I find out what I suspected all along: this is some idiotic evil Microsoft problem.

You see, this is not my original Xbox. It's a refurbished Xbox after the first one died under warranty.

It turns out that you can't use your downloadable content from your original Xbox. Not unless you manually transfer the DLC licenses.

WTF? The content is all on your hard drive, not the Xbox. Why should it matter what Xbox your content is on? It should only matter what hard drive it's on. I suppose this is some arcane way of making sure you can't pirate free DLC.

Why would you do that? Why do I feel like an abused wife every time I use a Microsoft product?

UPDATE: Good technical point, Greylocks. But then why doesn't MS transfer the DLC licenses automatically when they swap the consoles? Rather than requiring the owner to figure out what has gone wrong with his DLC when his game doesn't work? If I migrate from one Mac to another, iTunes simply says, "Hey, this is a new Mac, do you want me to transfer your iTunes account?"

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some friends of mine are throwing an "industry social" housewarming / cinq à sept at their new sound studio, La Hacienda, tomorrow night. If you're in Montreal tomorrow night, swing on by. I'm going to try to come, if I can trust Child One to keep an eye on Child Two while Lisa is in Nawlins for the Vampire Film Festival.



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Monday November 8th, 2010, at the Varsity Theatre, Toronto, the Canadian writer and creator will be discussing BONES and working in the US. Film critic Richard Crouse will moderate.

Doors open at 6:30PM. 7:00PM screening of an episode of BONES. Q&A to follow.
Wow, it's like an evening of Writers Watching TV, but with a budget!

UPDATED: This event does not require tickets. It is first come, first served, and has moved next door to the Price Family Cinema. Thanks to reader Scott for the info.



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I'm going to the Montreal International Game Summit. If any of you Fearless Readers are coming, too, give me a shout and let's have a coffee.

Incidentally, if you're a WGC member, you can get a discounted rate -- log in to the WGC site and check out the news feed for the code.



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If you're a student in the UK, the National Student Film Association, would like you to submit your short film script (up to 5 pages) to the National Student Screenwriting Competition. The competition is free. Deadline is the 7th November 2010.

I've juried short films, and the one thing they had in common is they were all too long. Five pages is just about perfect. Who doesn't have five minutes to watch a short?

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

We've been watching THE L WORD, Season 4, after a long hiatus -- we didn't feel like watching Dana's breast cancer spiral in Season 3, so that derailed our watching the show a few years back. I continue to be amazed at the high points of the writing. When THE L WORD is good, it's as good as anything on TV. I think part of the secret is that it has a core audience that can be counted on to watch it no matter what -- and that leaves the writers free to jettison any requirements of "likability" and just make their characters as compelling and human as they can.

Some of the characters are enormously likable. And then there's Jenny Schechter. Jenny is a narcissistic personality verging on a psychopath.


In Season 4, Jenny reacts badly to a bad book review, and, seeking revenge, concocts a plot that involves adopting a sick dog from an animal shelter so she can go to a vet to put him down , in order to seduce her reviewer's girlfriend, solely in order to prove a point.

Jenny is a dog-murderer.

Jenny is insane. But she is insane in a very human way. She is one of those people who is never, ever wrong, and it is always someone else's fault.

Jenny Schechter is one of the best villains on TV. None of us is very likely to meet Tony Soprano. But Jenny? I know Jenny Schecter. I have worked with Jenny Schechter.

The show isn't perfect. When the writing is bad, there are misfires. There is a tendency to present LA, outside of the lesbian circle, as if it's small-town Texas. Kit goes to an abortion clinic that turns out to be a Christian adoption clinic -- as if anyone in the 213/323/310 would have trouble finding Planned Parenthood. The girls go to Tina's party, and Tina's straight showbiz friends don't know what to say to them, and say stupid homo-uncomfortable things to them -- as if showbiz people don't already know a slew of gay and lesbian people. For heaven's sake, when Marlene Dietrich was dating a woman, everyone at the Brown Derby knew it. ("Women make better lovers," she said, "but you can't live with'em.") Tina's showbiz friends would be swarming around Bette asking her for advice on what art to buy.

But when it is good, it is very, very good. Hats off to THE L WORD.



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Friday, October 22, 2010

If you're a WGC member planning to go to the Montreal International Game Summit next month, we have an association discount ($695 instead of $795). The code should be going up on the WGC website shortly, or if you're a Quebec member, email me.



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For some reason, Zagat, the user-generated restaurant guide, has waded into the movies. Here's their list of the best movies of all time, in one handy press release.

Of course, the IMDB already rates and ranks movies, for free. And it's searchable, while a Zagat book is only leaf-through-able. I guess the idea is you can give a Zagat book as a present, where you can't wrap up the IMDb and give it to your niece.



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Q. I've been contacted by an agent in Agoura Hills in response to a script query letter that I sent and I'm pleased as usual, but this is the first time an agent has responded with a 2-year exclusive producer agreement instead of the standard submission release form. This agent operates as a producer and lit manager, but I don't know if contracts like this are industry standard. Do you have any experience with a situation like this? I'm still trying to break through, so I'm open to trying different avenues as long as I'm nit abused or cheated in the process.
First of all, Agoura Hills? Bzzzt. No.

There's some confusion of terms here. "Agent" is a job that is highly regulated by California law. Agents cannot produce. There would be too much conflict of interest. The producer's goal is to pay you as little as possible. The agent's goal is to get you paid as much as possible.

Moreover, a typical deal with a producer covers only one script. An agent is supposed to represent all your material, and also find you jobs.

Managers are unregulated, and can produce. There are major players who are manager/producers. However, if you are managed by, say, Echo Lake, you also have an agent, not at Echo Lake, who will be the person negotiating on your behalf. In fact, by law, technically, managers can't negotiate your deal, although practically, they discuss it a lot. You must be represented by an agent or a lawyer; your manager is only supposed to set up the deal.

Incidentally, if someone comes along claiming to be a producer, check out their credits on the IMDb. If they haven't produced a movie -- not Associate Produced, not Co-Produced -- then they're an aspiring producer. I tend to think there should only be one aspiring person in any one deal, if you want your picture to actually get made.

I don't think your first representative should be a producer. I would try to find a real agent first.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Phil Ferrière saw YOU ARE SO UNDEAD at Screamfest, and since I couldn't make it to the Q&A, sent me his Q&A via email. The interview is up on his cleverly title blog, Not For Us At This Time.



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One Friend of the Blog is a strong believer in screenplay competitions, has participated in many and won / placed / shown repeatedly. As you know, I don't believe in screenplay competitions, except for the network fellowships and the Nicholls. So I asked him what he gets out of them.
Screenplay competitions help me in four ways.

1) They impose a motivational deadline on my writing. And if I miss a deadline, no producer's gonna fire me and/or come after me because I've been found in breach of contract.

2) If I place or win, they provide validation. Some argue it's validation of a lesser kind than finding a producer willing to purchase your work or hire you on assignment. I'm not entirely convinced that's true. I think we can all agree that any low-level producer/creative exec with a modicum of business sense and a strong desire to climb up the Hollywood ladder will shy away from material that isn't likely to be easily marketable or won't get teenagers to giddily hand out their parents hard-earned money over two or three weekends. If you've been to the movies lately, you'll know that financial success and quality don't correlate. So, kudos to the screenplay contests that purposely reward financially doomed projects.

3) I can get notes on my work at a discounted rate. Granted, since you do not control who reads or judges your work, sometimes you receive inane notes from readers who are clearly less experienced than you are. Oftentimes though, well-respected screenplay contests do provide useful feedback notes. I would even argue that there's still more value in receiving notes from newbie readers than the classic "not for us at this time" (a.k.a. the title of my newborn blog) you get from producers who say they read your work. At least ridiculous notes you can laugh at and choose to ignore. A generic PASS letter from an established producer will only leave you confused and wondering.

4) If, like me, you're still at a stage of your career where your best marketing tool remains the (infamous?) query letter, a long list of placement and wins provides for a dense, awe-inspiring paragraph in the middle of your one-pager.

I'm curious to hear why you're down on contests in general EXCEPT the Nicholls. If you've read the winners of the Nicholl Fellowships, you know that they're often heavy dramas, war movies, period pieces, westerns - in other words - material that is highly unlikely to be produced. I got more requests for my work by making the quarter-finals of the Nicholl Fellowships than all my other win and placements COMBINED, but the vast majority of those requests came from managers and agents who aren't established yet. My impression is that most of them haven't understood yet that the reason why you did well in the competition is NOT because you've written the most marketable script ever. So why aren't you also down on the Nicholls, the Holy Grail of screenwriting competitions we all aspire to win, but a contest that does not even provide feedback? And yes, I know of a few notable exceptions (Allison Anders, Ehren Kruger...) who managed a post-Nicholl Fellowships career.
As you say, making the quarter-finals of the Nicholls got you real attention. Imagine what winning it gets you?

There are a slew of screenplay competitions out there. I can't help thinking that most of them are money farms for their owners. Say it costs fifty bucks to enter. I can probably get a recent college student to give notes for thirty bucks. Or free, if I can find one to intern. Hey, I just made twenty bucks? Now all I have to do is get a couple thousand people to submit, and I've got $40,000. Pay out $7500 in prizes, and I've made my nut for the next six months, with almost no effort except putting up a website and sending out some publicity.

That's why there are so many screenplay competitions, I feel. And if there are 2000 entrants, how many quarter-finalists are there? How many finalists?

Ooh, what if I can get 10,000 entrants? I've made over $350,000! Can anyone out there tell me how many entrants these screenwriting competitions get, or what percentage of their fees go to awards?

(Why do I keep running down competitions! I should open one! Ah, well, too late now.)

How does an agent know that a screenplay that gets into the finals is a truly commercial script with a great hook? As opposed to a "good" script, whatever that means?

The problem with screenplay competitions is that the economics means that the people evaluating your scripts are probably kids right out of Harvard or USC, who think they know everything, and don't. Industry veterans don't read scripts for Scriptapalooza, so far as I know; unless, like this notorious competition reader, they don't have to do notes, and they can knock off 75 scripts in 3 hours.

In the real world, pros read scripts because they are looking to make money from selling them (agents) or producing them (producers). And if they like something, they option it. That's the real prize. Sending a query email to an agent or producer is free, and if they like your hook, they will read your script for free too.

I take your point about cheap critiques. The problem is, you get what you pay for. You're getting a critique from someone who just started reading scripts and has no idea what gets a movie made except what she sees in the theaters. They'll tell you something they read in Syd Field, or possibly even Alex Epstein. But do they know what they're talking about?

You'll get far, far better feedback by telling your story out loud to someone, anyone, off the top of your head. If they stick with you to the end, you've made the quarter finals. If they say they would totally pay money to see that on a screen, you're in the finals.

The Nicholls is different because it's run by the Academy and people take it seriously. I bet the readers are professionals. The network fellowships, Sundance, etc., are different because you don't get a prize, you get a job, and the people reading you are professionals.

UPDATE: As Tommy points out in the comments, there are various goodies that Telefilm Canada hands out that are based on your screenwriting, and obviously those are worth competing for -- e.g. the currently defunct Writers First and Feature It! programs, the CFC, Screenwriter's Bootcamp, NSI and so forth. There's a world of difference between culture grants -- where a taxpayer-funded cultural agency already has a big basket of goodies and they hire professionals to decide whom to hand them to, and there is no fee to enter -- versus screenwriting competitions, where all the money is coming from the fees, and the ultimate objective for the competition is either profit or brand publicity.



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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My dear friend JC facebooks:
York University is presenting an evening with David Shore – Executive Producer/Creator of the hit TV series House, M.D., on Monday November 8. There will be a moderated talk followed by a Q and A. Everyone is welcome.



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... I just got an email from a publishing house in Paris asking about French rights for THE CIRCLE CAST. Now that is a nice way to start your morning...



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Lisa and I watched the MAD MEN finale last night. Quite an episode.


Lisa and I had an interesting conversation this morning about where the show is going to take Megan. Lisa interpreted the conversation with Betty Draper ("so you'll move again") to reflect back on Don. No marriage is perfect, and he'll pick this one apart, too.

But Lisa is a fretter, while I'm an optimist. I interpreted Don's comment to be a criticism, because Betty is a perfectionist control freak who'll never be happy. Don seems to have made the decision to finally be happy -- I think this episode is the first time I've ever actually seen him happy.

Of course TV shows rely on conflict, and characters not changing, so Lisa's probably right.

But that raises the Aidan issue. Aidan Shaw, you'll recall, was John Corbett's character on SEX AND THE CITY. He was pretty much Mr. Perfect. Low-key, loving, available, and he's a carpenter in New York. (Non-New Yorkers: it is almost impossible to find a carpenter in New York, let alone a craftsman. A carpenter in New York will never, ever, ever be out of work. Ever.)

So when Carrie dumped him, for me, some of the wind went out of the show. I stopped believing that Carrie Bradshaw was seriously looking for someone to be with, and it became apparent that what she really wanted was to keep dating.

And again, of course that's an artifact of it being a TV show, because the show is about Carrie wearing fabulous clothes and dating. It would have taken major lifting to morph the show into an equally satisfactory show about a writer in New York with a happy marriage. The show was never made for my demographic, and it's been hugely successful.

But creatively, when you create a Megan or an Aidan, you've created a challenge, I think. It never bothered me when Don cheated on Betty. First of all because I met the mistress before I met Betty -- she's the last character to show up in the pilot. And because Don's relationship with Betty is so shallow. For him, she's someone to raise the kids, and for her, he's someone to pay for the house. There are issues with all of Don's lovers. Even Faye, Ms. Almost Right, can't deal with kids, and that's a dealbreaker for Don, who lost his parents.

But Megan is pretty much perfect. Nurturing, loving, low-key ("It's just a milkshake"), smart, sexually liberated, and ambitious. (And played by the utterly adorable Jessica Paré, about whom you will, God and Telefilm willing, be reading more in these pages anon.)

So unless Season 5 is going to be about Don having a happy home life -- and what are the odds of that -- what does the show do? Joss Whedon would probably kill her, but I don't think this is that kind of show. Or Don starts to chafe at the bonds of happiness. But the price of that is we stop believing that he really wants to be happy.

The third way would be to slowly reveal that Megan's not so perfect after all. After all, when a girl throws herself at you, odds are there are going to be some surprises along the way. She could be bipolar. Or just plain nuts. Then we get to see something we've never seen in Don before: trying to hold onto a relationship that's falling apart for reasons that, for once, aren't his fault.

That's the way I'd go. But I'm an optimist.

Meanwhile, what to make of Matthew Weiner's portrayal of Betty Draper? A few months ago I began to feel that Betty is a portrayal of Weiner's mother. This is not based on any interviews or facts, it was just starting to get so intimately harsh, the way when you see a really harsh portayal of the Catholic church you know the writer must have been an altar boy. But then I found out that that creepy neighbor kid, Glen Bishop, is played by Marten Weiner, Matthew Weiner's son. Ooooohkay. I wonder where that portrayal came from.

Of course it could all just come out of Matthew Weiner's head. But creativity doesn't come from nowhere. Almost all of Lisa's main characters are trying to get over something they can't get over. A lot of my characters are trying to find a faith they can believe in.

What do you think?



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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We're revising the back cover copy to read:

The sorceress Morgan le Fay comes of age in a time when legends are born. After Uter Penndragon murders her father, Morgan is exiled to Ireland, where only her thirst for vengeance gives her the strength to survive. Secretly, she learns magic. But when she finds passion with a handsome young chieftain, she must choose between love and revenge.



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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Q. Should there be visible act outs in a feature script?
No. Only TV scripts have actual act outs. TV has real acts, broken up by commercials. Features only have nominal acts -- they're something for writers and development executives to talk about, but where the act ends is often arguable. Moreover "three act" screenplays often really have four acts, some screenplays seem to have seven or more, and many perfectly good movies don't really have meaningful acts.

Often when people talk about three act screenplays, they are talking about a 120 page beast where the first quarter is act one, the last quarter is act three, and the middle is about 60 pages. But of course there is some sort of turning point or flex point in the middle of act two. So arguably that is four act structure, except that messes up the nice correlation of act one with "beginning," act two with "middle" and act three with "end."

Meanwhile a movie like THE INCREDIBLES really breaks down much more neatly into seven acts than three. And you could probably find stories that really work in five acts. I don't think it's meaningful to talk about THE DARK KNIGHT in terms of three acts; there are clearly more than four identifiable sections.

And what about HARD DAYS NIGHT? And FORREST GUMP? What is even the point of talking about these movies in terms of three acts? Sure, you can make claims for the acts starting at various points, but how does that help you understand them?

How many acts does MEMENTO have? Isn't each progressive flashback essentially an act?

This is why I don't really hold with three act structure. I think it's more important to tell your story out loud and get rid of any parts that are boring. While TV really does need to have a certain number of acts -- ask your broadcaster how many -- movies don't.


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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Just a little reminder that our short YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is playing tonight at Screamfest LA at Grauman's Chinese during the shorts program, 7:30 to 9. Hope you like it!



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Q. I recently pitched a pilot about a father and son serving inside an American humanitarian rescue & relief team. The son is more right-wing than his father, and resents his dad for pulling strings to get him transferred out of the Army and onto the team against his will.

People bumped on that. But don’t almost all leads in one-hour dramas find themselves in transition / in a situation they no longer want to be in? Whether it’s the onset of cancer (Breaking Bad, the Big C), being under investigation (The Shield), or a Marshall being transferred out of sexy Miami to backwoods county Tennessee ( Justified), isn’t it the whole point to start off with your character in a place that he doesn’t want to be?
Sure. The problem isn't the son's not wanting to be there. The problem is he doesn't want to be doing something we consider a Good Thing. That makes him a bit of a prick. (Most of us don't devote our lives to other people, but TV is more sentimental.)

On pay cable, your main character can be a prick (CALL ME FITZ, SOPRANOS) or a psychopath (DEXTER, arguably BREAKING BAD). But on broadcast, he can only pretend to be a bastard (LIE TO ME, HOUSE) but is really secretly A Good Guy.

Broadcast can show horrible things. But the good guys have to be Good Guys, and we have to want to wholeheartedly root for them. So you can have torture porn shows like CRIMINAL MINDS, but the cops are pure and good. Meanwhile on pay cable your main character has to be messed up in some way, and preferably despicable.

Needless to say the moral compartmentalization of the TV market is unfortunate for writers and viewers alike, because pay cable is also the natural home of serial narrative. I've got a bunch of serial narrative ideas, but unfortunately their protagonists have some good qualities. Meanwhile when I come up with procedurals, the main character is sometimes a bit of a prick. Neither of these combinations seems to work. It's either despicable people in serial narrative, or pure people in procedurals.

I'm exaggerating to make a point, of course. But not as much as you might think.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

A couple of interesting comments on this thread in Reddit, for those of you wondering whether to move to LA or not:

kleinbl00 7 points 1 day ago[-]

I've optioned two scripts. I've made enough money at it to be ineligible for the Nicholl. I've seen some of my work show up on the big screen. I count among my friends some exceedingly pro screenwriters, a few struggling directors, a couple producers, and storyboard artists, makeup artists, art directors and concept designers whose work you have seen dozens of times. I'm hip-pocketed at one of the Big 5 and have, in the past, had offers of representation by managers you see prominently on the Black List.

I make ends meet by mixing sound.

If you're a screenwriter with a hope and a dream out there in Middle America, STAY THERE. The screenwriting-as-hobby sphere of influence (lookin' at you, Austin Film Festival) will have you believe that "if you write it, they will come." What they don't tell you is that USC, UCLA, Cal Arts, Loyola, AFI, Claremont and half a dozen smaller programs are turning out hundreds of grads a year, who already have the connections you need to make, who have already learnedthe lessons you need to learn, and are already going to the parties you wish you could attend.

And dollars to donuts, they write at least as well as you do.

The time to come to LA is when you absolutely positively can't make any more headway where you're at. And I can guarantee that unless you've shot an indie film that's doing well on the festival circuit, that's not you.

Little story. I grew up in New Mexico. Every fall, my mother would go batshit because the Canada Geese were migrating. And she'd whip out the binoculars and stare at these marvelous birds as they soared overhead. And my, but they were grand.

And then I moved to Seattle. And in Seattle, there are so many Canada Geese that just linger all summer that they close beaches and shores with their poop. They get aggressive and will attempt to steal the sandwich out of your goddamn hand while you're sitting on a park bench. The Parks department gets out trucks, gathers them up by the thousands and exterminates them because they create a public health menace.

I was a big deal in Seattle. A board member of one of the many film organizations up there. And you say "screenwriter" at a party and people think that's cool. I come down to LA and I've got a job on one of the lots... and CSI:NY is doing a casting call for extras. And there they are - hundreds of them, bright young faces, gripping their Macbooks, doing what they can to scrape by until they get that big break we're all looking for.

I wanted them all to die.

You see, they made it so I had to park on the 5th floor of the structure, not the 3rd floor. All they were was in the way. These people, whom I have more in common with than anyone else, whom I would gravitate towards at a party anywhere else, were suddenly nothing more than in my way.

What's it like being a struggling writer in LA? It's like being one goose in an unwanted sea of geese. When there's just a few of you you're magnificent, marvelous birds... but when there's as many of you as there are in LA, it's like being a public health menace and knowing it.

dabeetrus [S] 4 points 1 day ago* [-]

Wow, didn't expect such an insightful post. Thanks a lot.

How do you feel about MFA programs in screenwriting? If one can get into a UCLA/USC/AFI type of program (which is no small feat, but hypothetically) is it worth it to move out to LA or do you still recommended being one of those magnificent regional birds?

Also, would it be advantageous to live near regional hubs where a lot of filmmaking is done--Wilmington, NC is closest to me although there are others like Shreveport etc--and try to get a PA job or something, or would you be better off working a job to make ends meet somewhere and work on your craft in your off time until you have something you can sell?

kleinbl00 6 points 1 day ago[-]

I think they're expensive.

I think the spec market is dead.

I think that everyone is hiding from the economy in education right now.

My intent, when I made the move down to LA, was to get into the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. And I got a 1530 on my GREs, and I'd written 5 screenplays, and I had a letter of recommendation from one of the biggest screenwriters in modern Hollywood, and they told me to pound sand. I was good'n'pissed about that for a while.

But I came down and I started mixing and I landed on a pretty big show. And the guy who changed the coffee and made sure we had enough snacks in the breakroom and did whatever scut work the producers told him to do?

MFA, Peter Stark Producer's Program, USC.

It isn't all like that. One of my friends is a Starkie and he's produced like six movies so far. He does all right. But then, it didn't cost me $120k to make coffee for a bunch of below-the-line guys, some of whom didn't even graduate high school, for 18 hours a day for minimum wage. Me? $1900 a week after taxes.

Networking counts. Degrees don't. If you've got some way to increase your networking exponentially by coming to Hollywood, it's worth doing. If you're just some dude or dude-ette from Oklahoma with a dream of seeing your name in lights, know that you're one of millions.

KTLA did a stand-up at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in 2002. They sat there with a camera, a microphone and a reporter, and asked random passers-by "How's your screenplay coming?"

More than half of them had an answer.

There's more here.



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20% of online viewers ditch an online video within 10 seconds.

I mention this only to make the point that people can make choices ridiculously fast. When I say development people give your query letter less than ten seconds to grab them, I'm not exaggerating for effect. Once you've grabbed people, you've got some time to make your point, but start with the grabby.

That doesn't mean something has to blow up. That means something compelling has to happen.


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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I was rather jazzed to discover that my novel, THE CIRCLE CAST: THE LOST YEARS OF MORGAN LE FAY, is coming out next month (due to a type I thought it was coming out next year). You can already pre-order it at

Morgan le Fay, seducer of King Arthur, sorceress, destroyer of Britain, was a girl once. When Uter Penndragon uses Merlin's magic to seduce her mother and murder her father, Morgan flees to Ireland to avoid being killed herself. But Ireland is no refuge. She's captured in a slave raid and sold to a village witch. As Morgan comes of age, she discovers her own magical powers. She falls in love with a young Irish chieftain. But will her drive for revenge destroy her one chance for love and happiness?

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I was kinda jazzed to learn this morning that YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is also screening at Hallowscreen in Sarasota on Hallowe'en. That's five festivals we're screening at, and so far only one has rejected us. (NYFF. Snobs.)



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I was very pleased to see that Complications Ensue is #3 in a list of 60 Best Blogs for Aspiring Screenwriters!



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I have a novel coming out from Tradewinds next month about Morgan le Fay (THE CIRCLE CAST: THE LOST YEARS OF MORGAN LE FAY). I've been trying to figure out how to distribute review copies electronically. It costs a lot of time and effort to mail out review copies to reviewers and bloggers who may or may not actually read the book; and then you wind up with all your review copies migrating to used book stores and thence to Amazon where they sell for $2, undercutting your business.

I was jazzed to discover NetGalley. They do exactly what you'd expect. You upload a PDF to their site, and they give you links and widgets so that when you query reviewers and bloggers, they can immediately download a copy of your book onto their computer, iPad, Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader or other e-reader device.

They handle the DRM, in case you don't want your PDF spreading virally.
1. You build NetGalley title pages for all of your titles. Include marketing copy, photos, cover art, videos, audio--all of this plus the digital galley of your title. You can also list your title in NetGalley's Public Catalog, which will allow NetGalley users to find and request your galley. You can offer your contacts several different reading options for the galley—they can download a protected or open PDF, read on a reading device such as the Sony Reader or Kindle, and even request a printed galley if you choose.

2. Using our inviting tools, including a widget you can embed directly in your emails, invite your contacts to view your galley. Contacts can include reviewers, bloggers, media, librarians, booksellers, retailers, educators, etc. You can invite as many contacts as you like, and you can also search our member database to add new contacts to your list.

3. You will be able to see who has viewed your title and even receive reviews back through NetGalley if your contacts choose to post their comments.

There is no charge for professional readers to use the service; publishers pay a set-up fee plus a monthly cost depending on the number of titles you have on the site. How many titles were you thinking about listing (we have a minimum requirement of five)?
Pretty nifty, huh?

Meanwhile, for film festival submissions, there's Withoutabox.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Q. In today's feature film market, what is considered a "fair" amount for a one year option on a script? Is it based on the projected budget of the production? I've asked around, and even people I know in the business don't seem to know.
There's no such thing as fair. There's only what you negotiate, and what the "standard of the industry" is.

Under the Writer's Guild of American Minimum Basic Agreement, an option can be no less than 10% of the purchase price of the screenplay. If I understand the Schedule of Minimums correctly, the minimum for sale/purchase of an original screenplay is about $35,000 if it's a low budget screenplay, and $75,000 if it's high budget.

If you're dealing with studios or US production companies with studio or network deals, these numbers ought to hold.

Under the Writer's Guild of Canada IPA, an option must also be 10% of the purchase price, which is a minimum of just over $50,000.

In practice, Canadian producers and non-affiliated US producers rarely have any money lying around to option scripts. So people compromise.

In the US, producers often seek to option material for free, if they can get it, or for five hundred or a thousand buck, depending on how badly they want the script, how solvent they are, and how willing the writer is to walk away from the deal.

In Canada, there may be an "option to option." A WGC deal is struck, but not executed. The producer gets a cheap (free-$1500) option to take the script to funding agencies (Telefilm, provincial agencies like SODEC and OMDC), Greenberg and Corus Made With Pay. If the funding agencies cough up money for development, the WGC deal goes into effect and the producer pays the full option price.

This is not kosher by the Guild, of course, but good luck getting a producer to pay you $5,000 to option your script prior to Telefilm giving him the cash.

Likewise, in TV, it's not that common to get the full option payment before a network signs on. Then the network pays for the option.

In related news, Telefilm has taken to asking for an extremely detailed and long pitch before it funds the writing of a script. If a writer is called on to write up such a pitch based on a producer's idea, then he's probably not going to get more than a couple thousand bucks to write it, and the producer will try to get it for free. If Telefilm is willing to provide the dowry, then the producer makes an honest woman of the writer. This is really not kosher, because the writer's essentially writing a treatment at far below scale. This is something that the WGC is discussing with Telefilm.

UPDATE: BeingBrad asks:
Q. Holy crap. So do writers for the Canadian market actually make enough money to live?
Yep. However, nobody lives on option payments. The payday on features is when you get paid to rewrite your optioned script (about $20,000-$30,000). Telefilm puts a fair amount of money into developing scripts, so if you have a few good projects that the funding agencies spark to, you can put together a good year. You just won't get rich. The jackpot is if your feature actually gets made, and you get a production fee that can run into the low six figures on a decently budgeted film.

In practice, though, most pro feature writers also write TV, or they also direct.

Likewise in TV the options are small, but if the network picks up your show for development, they'll commission a pilot and perhaps a bible. Then you ought to be getting a few tens of thousands of bucks. And if your show goes into production, you ought to make a couple hundred thousand in the first year.

Comparable numbers in the US are, of course, much higher, and in revenge, everyone in LA considers themselves humiliatingly underpaid.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Tonight I am definitely checking out MOHAWK GIRLS, the pilot for a proposed new APTN series MOHAWK GIRLS starring the amazing Tiio Horn. It airs at 12:30 am, but that's what DVRs are for, right?

UPDATE:  It is a quite charming take on SEX AND THE CITY, the "city" being the Kahnawake rez. Tiio Horn sure 'nuff does radiate the star quality. Props to Cynthia Knight for her script. I hope this gets picked up!



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I had the misfortune to buy a certain number of points on Xbox LIVE in order to buy software. Imagine my surprise when I realized they were billing me $10.15 a month on top of the charge for the points! I pointed out to Microsoft, and then my bank, that I did not authorize a "subscription" of any kind. But I am told that somewhere in the fine print, there is a clause that says, "We can sign you up for anything we like, and if you dispute it, we will keep your money." Or something more or less to that effect.

If anyone out there wants an excuse to pirate Microsoft Office, I hereby give you my blessing.



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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

As I have taught you, Grasshopper, there are five elements of story:

a. a character we care about
b. who has an opportunity, problem or goal
c. who faces obstacles and/or an antagonist
d. who stands to win something (stakes)
e. but can lose something he cherishes (jeopardy).

It is possible for a story or screenplay or movie or episode to fail even with these five elements, but it is almost certain it will fail if a, b, c or (d or e) are not working right.

But there is a sixth element of any story, and it is as crucial as all the others:

who is the story being told to?

In TV, what network or channel you are aiming for is the crucial question. You can have the most awesome serial drama in the world, and CBS will probably reject it. On the other hand if you take your episodic procedural cop show to HBO, they will stare at you in bewilderment.

It's an important question for the movies, too. A movie can find its own ad hoc audience if it's marketed right, but some stories are hard to market because it's not clear what the audience would be. We had a horror comedy that took place on the set of a lifestyle home improvement show. The script was funny, but who was going to watch the movie? Horror comedy fans aren't interested in lifestyle shows. Reality show fans aren't particularly interested in horror comedy.

The five elements of story must be of interest to an audience.

The five elements of story aren't for just movies, they're for novels, short stories, videogame stories, and for that matter, stories told round a campfire. And the question of the audience is crucial for any of these.

My unsellable literary historical fantasy novel about Morgan le Fay found a publisher once I repositioned it as a Young Adult novel.

While I'm at it, I might consider adding a seventh element of story, and that is the medium: how are you getting your story across? The story must be appropriate for its medium. Movies are not good at telling internal stories.

They are also not particularly good at showing the passage of a lot of time (though there are movies that make a good effort). If you have a character at 5, and 10, and 15, and 20, you need a bunch of different actors. And no age makeup can give an actor sunken cheeks.

Movies struggle to show the great sweep of events involving many people, unless all those people are in the same place at once. A movie will struggle to show "the people becoming disillusioned with their government." A movie can show a handful of people becoming disillusioned with the government.

TV is good at showing what happens to a small family of people in a single place. It's not that good where the cast of characters keeps changing, or the venue keeps changing.

Novels can handle most anything, but if a lot of things are going "boom," your story probably wants to be a movie.

TL;DR: Story is character; opportunity/problem/goal; obstacles/antagonist; stakes; jeopardy. But also: who are you telling this to? And how?



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I've been asked to look at a script by a writer you've heard of, with an eye to possibly rewriting it for a producer. Producers often ask you for your "take" before hiring you to rewrite, to make sure your instincts line up with theirs. (It's always good to ask for a creative person's take before telling him yours; that way you get a clean, honest creative response. Also, while most crafty writers will execute your creative instructions, they'll do a better job if it's what they would do on their own.)

It occurred to me what I really want to do is talk to the original writer and say, "I've been asked to rewrite your script. As a courtesy, I thought you should know. And I'd also like to hear what you think the next pass on the script should do. What would you have done if you'd been hired? What did you see as the flaws in this draft?"

I have to admit I've never done that. I've rewritten a lot of scripts, but I've never asked the previous writer what they thought. And no one has ever asked me what I thought when they rewrote me.

Obviously we all have a lot of pride tangled up in our work, and it's hard to hear that someone else is mangling your baby. And when you read someone else's script, one supposes that the previous writer did what they were capable of, and if they didn't get it right it's because they didn't know any better.

But that's not necessarily true. I just turned in a rewrite on a script of mine. In each draft I've been working on clarifying the main character's motivations, which in the first draft were pretty murky. I always knew they were murky. It's taken several drafts to get them to the point where they're fairly clear. Usually when I turn in a pass, I can't tell you what's wrong with it, or I'd have attempted to fix it. But give me six months of perspective, and I can usually tell you what I'd do in the next pass.

On another script of mine that was taken off my hands, I knew the producers wanted something funnier, but I didn't know how to do that without betraying the characters as I saw them, and the tone I was going for. I gather the next writer just went funnier. A good friend of mine was kind enough to tell me he's rewriting that writer, and I suspect he'll nail it. He was even kind enough to ask to read my original draft.

If you knew you were being rewritten, would you appreciate a call from the new writer? Or would that be too painful?

If you are rewriting someone else, can you imagine contacting the original writer? Or would that be just too awkward?



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This new program is designed to help emerging and mid-level film and TV writers from diverse backgrounds develop and refine their original concepts for TV series. The CTV Diverse Screenwriters Program will reach out to offer emerging and mid-career writers from diverse backgrounds the chance to hone the skills they need to become successful professional screenwriters. And one writer will come out of the program with a paid internship in a CTV conventional television or specialty service series.
If you are a diverse Canadian screenwriter, check this out. I'm down on screenwriting competitions when they're not associated with networks or studios, but network fellowships are a great way to break in.



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Saturday, October 02, 2010

The teen vampire sex comedy short Lisa and I made this spring, You Are So Undead, will be screening at Screamfest Saturday, October 16, at 7:30 pm, I imagine with other horror shorts. It's at Grauman's Chinese Theatre!

We'll also be screening at the Vampire Film Festival in New Orleans during Hallowe'en Weekend, at the Silver Wave Film Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick in November, and at the Sitges Festival of Fantastic Cinema on October 14th.



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