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


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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Americans have put up with a lot of security theatre in airports over the past decade. But theatre isn't free. According to a Cornell study, 520 people die every year because they drive so they don't have to have their junk groped.

The US government's reaction to 9/11 has never been rational. Bruce Schneier has been writing about this for some time. It is not a numbers-based approach. It is a story-based approach. Each time we hear a story about terrorists, we devise a security measure to respond to it.
A short history of airport security: We screen for guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We confiscate box cutters and corkscrews, so they put explosives in their sneakers. We screen footwear, so they try to use liquids. We confiscate liquids, so they put PETN bombs in their underwear. We roll out full-body scanners, even though they wouldn’t have caught the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer cartridge. We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces — the level of magical thinking here is amazing — and they’re going to do something else.

This is a stupid game, and we should stop playing it.

It’s not even a fair game. It’s not that the terrorist picks an attack and we pick a defense, and we see who wins. It’s that we pick a defense, and then the terrorists look at our defense and pick an attack designed to get around it. Our security measures only work if we happen to guess the plot correctly. If we get it wrong, we’ve wasted our money. This isn’t security; it’s security theater.

Understanding how stories work also means understanding where they don't work. Sitting around the campfire talking about how Og killed the tiger helps us all survive the next tiger. But not if the tiger is listening to the story.

I think that human beings are hardwired to understand the world through stories, just as we're hardwired to learn language. I think there is a part of our brain architecture that enables us to make stories out of what happens in the world.

But not everything should be boiled down into a story. What makes a story compelling does not also make it true. But we have a tendency as a species to prefer a compelling story to a boring (or frustrating, or fearsome) truth.

Stories are wonderful. They help us understand the world. You watch a movie about a relationship and maybe you take away an insight about your own relationship. But they are not a substitute for rational thought.



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Friday, November 26, 2010

Preparing for a meeting, Lisa came up with an interesting thought.

A TV show is, fundamentally, about the sort of things that happen to your characters every day. They may be extraordinary things, but then your characters are people to whom extraordinary things happen every day.

A movie is, fundamentally, about the most remarkable time in the character's life. The turning point, the moment they change, the time they face their greatest challenge.

When you're trying to figure out if your idea is a movie or a TV show, these criteria might be helpful.

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An opportunity is a problem to which you have applied enough imagination.

Just sayin.



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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We are very close to buying a Prius. We drove a nice 2008 just now.

But the acceleration is, well, not so much.

If you drive a Prius: do you have any problems merging on to the freeway / passing cars / going up hills? Please let me know!



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So, they want to remake BUFFY: THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, without input from Joss Whedon.

I think I know what they're thinking. "Let's dumb this idea down, so that more people can enjoy it." Joss is not really a mainstream taste. The original movie, which he wrote, was a niche success. The series went on for seven seasons but it was never a monster hit. Screw the hardcore fans, how many of them are there? Let's get rid of the creator, with all his difficult, complex ideas. They make the audience's brain hurt. Oh, and we have to hire a good-looking chick writer. Someone who can really reintroduce us to Buffy. Make her more approachable. Less dark. More like CHARMED.

And when I say, "hire a chick writer," let me clarify that I'm not against them hiring a woman. They could have hired Marti Noxon. But reading failed actress/professional hottie-turned-unproduced-screenwriter Whit Anderson going on about how she's going to do what Chris Nolan did for the Batman reboot, my gut tells me that they were looking for a chick writer to "bring something new to the franchise."

I tend to think it will flop badly. Thas all the earmarks of a cheesy, misconceived notion. Just for starters, how do you nail Buffyspeak fifteen years later, make it seem contemporary, and not sound like you're a bad mimic?

Joss's response is priceless:
This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths — just because they can’t think of an original idea of their own, like I did with my Avengers idea that I made up myself.

Obviously I have strong, mixed emotions about something like this. My first reaction upon hearing who was writing it was, “Whit Stillman AND Wes Anderson? This is gonna be the most sardonically adorable movie EVER.” Apparently I was misinformed. Then I thought, “I’ll make a mint! This is worth more than all my Toy Story residuals combined!” Apparently I am seldom informed of anything. And possibly a little slow. But seriously, are vampires even popular any more?

I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER…

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Q. I was wondering, five years later: is the "writing room" mentality still dead in Canada? Or has it picked up any steam since you last discussed it in your book?
I would say it has largely taken over. I can't think offhand of any prime time dramas or comedies that are still going with the old, bad system of one head writer and a lot of free lancers. So that's a bit of cheery news.



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Monday, November 15, 2010

Congratulations to Lisa for winning the Outstanding Award for Writing for YOU ARE SO UNDEAD at the Vampire Film Festival in New Orleans!



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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I spent Monday and Tuesday at the Montreal International Game Summit. It was fascinating. The game industry is the kid sister of the motion picture industry. But my, she has grown up. Commercial computer games have only existed since the mid '70's, but they're a much, much bigger business than showbiz.

For example, HALO: REACH sold $350,000,000 in its first 16 days of release. The latest CALL OF DUTY made $242 million in its opening weekend worldwide. The game industry grosses $50 billion a year.

That much, I knew. I also knew that Montreal is now an international hub of game design and production. Ubisoft Montreal has grown from 1000 employees to 2300 in the past five years. The Canada Media Fund has been pushing investment in digital media. Quebec has any number of CEGEPs and universities where you can study game design, game programming, art for games, etc. Warner Bros opened a studio in Montreal this year. I talked to an exec producer from Funcom who's just moved here from Oslo -- along with the whole Oslo operation.

Game production is truly international. The film industry is LA plus the various national industries. Peter Jackson may shoot in New Zealand, but his films are funded in LA. France makes movies, but almost all the tickets are sold in France; likewise Germany, India, etc.

But games are made all over the place, and then "localized." It helps that they're animated, so by definition, they're all dubbed. Games are made wherever the talent can be found, and the funding, and government support. (Quebec has a 37.5% tax credit for labour, but I heard one speaker say you can get up to an 80% tax credit for R&D. 80%! Calice!) And people move around. It's not at all uncommon to hear someone say they got a job offer to work in China, or they flew in from North Carolina, or they spent five years in Sydney.

The game industry is much more seriously corporate. it comes out of the software industry. In the game industry, people actually study the art of management. At an IGDA roundtable I heard people discussing the merits of "scrum management." Scrum is a reaction to the "waterfall" management people tried in the beginning of software development: define the objective, go write the code. "Waterfall" is what we do in showbiz: write the script, hire the staff, go shoot it, edit it, release. In software development, it turns out to work better if you prototype bits of your game, test them out, refine the software, test it some more, etc. It's called "iterative" or "agile" management. Scrum is a style where the whole team has regular meetings where everyone reports in what they've done. It gives a feeling of being on a team rather than in an army. Game companies send their managers off to learn how to do it.

There's a lot of training in the game biz. Showbiz folk rarely get any training once they're out of film school. We work on the apprenticeship system. Work as a p.a. until you can get a job as a production coordinator. Work as a coordinator until you can be a line producer.

I was impressed to see how much of the MIGS was actually people attending seminars. If you go to Banff, the seminars are packed, but so are the hallways. As many people are there to schmooze as to go hear people talk. At MIGS, the corridors were empty during sessions. They had professors there to talk about the latest in psychophysiological feedback studies, and game designers there to do post-mortems on their latest project.

Both of those were fascinating. Prof. Veronica Zammitto's research involves hooking gamers up to various sensors that track (a) eye movements (b) galvanic skin response and (c) smile and frown muscles. Eye movements reveal where the gamer is looking. In the case of an NBA sports game, when are they looking at their player? The player they want to pass to? Other players? Their coach? The other team's coach? The crowd? The electronic advertising banner on the side of the court? (You bet they sell ad space there.)

Galvanic skin response shows, millisecond to millisecond, how excited the gamer is. Tiny variations in the smile and frown responses show when the gamer is feeling happy or not-happy. Put it all together, and you can track, with extreme precision, whether a gamer is excited, frustrated, bored or just having fun. If part of the game is slow, you'll know. If part of the game is boring, you'll know.

I'd like to see someone apply this technology to screening films before release. We're still giving the preview audience little cards to fill out about what they think they liked and what they think they didn't like. Imagine being able to track exactly where the audience is looking, and when they're thrilled or when they're scared. That might clear up the conversation between studio execs and directors about what parts of the movie are sagging (though the fix, as always, might not be in trimming the scene that's sagging).

Post-mortems are a regular thing in the game biz. I've been to a couple. Game designers come before an audience of a couple hundred of their peers and talk about how the production of their latest game went. What were they trying to accomplish? How well did they succeed? What went wrong? What would they do better next time?

It's hard to imagine a film producer talking to a bunch of film producers, directors and techs about what went wrong or right on their movie. Partly that's because they have less control, and it might come out sounding like they were blaming the director or actor or studio. Partly because games attract analytical people. Gamers are naturally analytical. They have to solve problems in order to win games. Many game producers are former programmers. The head of BioWare, Yannick Roy, for example, is a former programmer. Programmers are extremely analytical people.

(And here I'd like to plug Jill Golick's Writers Watching TV group in Toronto, for doing the same thing for TV writers: post-partum analysis of what went wrong and what went right.)

Game production is still a sausagefest. 97% of teens may call themselves gamers of one kind or another, and gamers overall are 40% female, but the game industry looks to be about 90-95% male, most of them guys in their 20s and 30s. (If you are a gal, you'll have a huge leg up in the biz.) Oddly, aside from the facial hair, the game industry is not a geekfest. People are too serious about what they're doing to give off a geek vibe. They really want to design great games / write beautiful code / create compelling characters and worlds. There is as much passion for games in the game biz as there is passion for movies in the movie biz.

Games are still a new business. There was a lot of talk of "indie" vs. "commercial" games, much as in showbiz. But games are still in their Ediacaran fauna period. There are critters walking around with seven feet and fourteen eyes. There's a lot of room for exploration of the genre.

Fascinating, Captain.

(Incidentally, Jason Della Rocca of the IGDA and I are organizing a panel on game writing at McGill on January 19th. If there's any territory you'd like us to cover, please let me know, as we're still working on our list of panelists.)



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Saturday, November 06, 2010

If you happen to be in Fredericton, NB tonight, my short film, YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is playing at the midnight (well, 11:45 pm) screening of shorts -- "B Movies, Bad Behavior and Blood" at Tilley Hall on the UNB campus.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Q. I recently finished a film and I'm ready to put it out there. As it is a very specific niche film, I've done some research and I think there's a particular distributor that can best handle a project like this. I've acquired the contact information for their director of acquisitions and I'm ready to try and make contact.

The only problem is, reading through the distribution site's 'terms of use', it looks like they have a policy about not accepting outside materials (for fear of litigation for stealing ideas). I don't know if this is strictly for web submissions, or if it's the company rule throughout. Is this common? If I send an email should I not include any description for fear they'll simply delete it? How do I get them to look at my product if they're specifically saying the don't want a submission?
Generally companies that have policies about submissions mean they don't want you to wrap up your script or movie and send it to them. They don't mean you can't query them about submitting your script or movie. They are, after all, in the business of buying / optioning / licensing / repping scripts or movies.

You can't copyright an idea, only the execution of an idea. Therefore they can freely read your query (which is only long enough to contain an idea); they just don't want you to send them your script or movie (which is the execution of your idea).

Of course if you're unsure, you can always call them. I realize this is a shocking notion these days, but your phone can do so much more than text, give directions, and play music. You can actually use it to talk with your voice to another human being.



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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hunter and I were watching the trailer for the STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED II game. "That looks cool," he said. "And I know it's going to be a terrible game. It's going to have no story and all kinds of gameplay issues. Just like all the other ones*. And I'm going to buy it anyway. Because it looks cool."

In other news, if you want to see how dialogue and story really take the game play experience up a notch, check out FABLE III.

*KOTOR excepted.



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