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


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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Roger Ebert explains why top editor Walter Murch thinks 3D will never work -- will always be a big headache.
The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point....

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time: difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.
Now you know. Studios, just cut it out, okay?



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Monday, January 24, 2011

Anne Michaud interviewed me for the Young Adult Fantasy Guide about THE CIRCLE CAST and why I've always been drawn to the King Arthur story.
It's always seemed to me that there was a secret story behind the King Arthur legend — the canonical legend as we think of it now. I always thought it was interesting that King Arthur never had any children, but no one ever says anything about that. After all, the main job of a queen is to provide an heir. Guinevere never does provide an heir, with disastrous consequences. But no one ever complains about it. Why?

Well, maybe they know Arthur's not sleeping with her. And so to say anything about it would be to embarrass the King, and everyone loves him so they don't say a peep.

Why won't Arthur sleep with Guinevere? ...

Check the rest of it out here.



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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Q. Does the Canadian writers guild require a writer to get something more than the purchase of rights to a screenplay? It looks like I'm on the verge of selling a script to a Canadian studio, and I'd like to know if I'll be getting a percentage of the budget, a percentage of box office receipts, etc... something more than just the purchase price of the script.
Yes. The WGC Independent Producer Agreement (IPA) requires that writers be paid a Production Fee, payable on production of the movie, of about 2.5% or so of the movie's budget. On a $10,000,000, it's $230,000, minus whatever else you've been paid so far. Also, you get a distribution royalty.

Are you a member of the WGC?
Q. I'm actually not a member of the Guild, although my script is registered there. Do I need to be an actual member of the guild in order to get the production fee?
Er, yes. Registering a script can be used as evidence that you wrote a script, but it doesn't entitle you to WGC minimums. (Copyrighting a script is much better than registering one, but that's another post.)

If a producer is signatory to the IPA, then you must get a WGC contract, and you are entitled to join the WGC. You can choose not to join the WGC on your first contract, but c'mon, don't be a putz. The WGC also protects writers' credits, and will talk to producers for you if the producer is not abiding by their agreement. That's handy since you don't want to sue producers if you can avoid it.

You can always try to negotiate WGC minimums whether or not you are a member of the Guild; just put the same payments in your contract. But producers will rarely give them to you when they don't have to.
The executive producer (who is also my agent) is in the States, but the studio who's financing the movie is in Canada.
Uh oh. Your producer is your agent? That's not good. That's a clear conflict of interest. Who's negotiating your deal with your producer? Your producer?

Under California law, an agent can't be a producer, for just this reason. (A manager can be a producer, but the law requires that your deal be negotiated by an agent or lawyer.)
Would you recommend I become a member of the Writers Guild of Canada in order to get the most money I can out of this deal? Or would that matter a whole lot?
I can tell you of at least one screenplay deal I signed, long ago before I joined the Guild, where I wound up having to accept $15,000 instead of $50,000 because I wasn't Guild yet.

I only know one busy writer who's not Guild. He's always doing low-pay gigs for overseas producers. I can see that he's concerned that he'll lose out on some gigs if he went Guild. And maybe he would. But I think he'd get at least as much money overall, and that would mean he could spend more time on fewer gigs and take more time with each screenplay. I think he'd be a better writer, and possibly a richer writer, if he went Guild.

So yeah, I recommend going Guild if you can. Also, get a real agent.

(Full disclosure: I'm the Quebec Delegate to the WGC National Forum, so I won't pretend to be neutral. But if I didn't fervently believe in the WGC, I wouldn't have run for the job.)

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Friday, January 21, 2011



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Jason Aaron posts about Darren Aronofsky's FOUNTAIN graphic novel and when you should and shouldn't take your unsold script to the land o' comix.
1. Does your screenplay contain anything, absolutely anything, that would be remotely interesting for someone to actually draw? If the answer is no, then just stop here and walk away.
Does it prominently feature a car chase or a meticulously choreographed John Woo-style shootout? Sorry, but we don’t do those very well. If you insist on proceeding, better first find yourself an amazing artist. But I’m afraid Steranko’s not returning your calls. Thanks but no thanks.
Worth a read.

(Via my buddy Kody Chamberlain, who also hath a blog.)



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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

If you are coming to our Storytelling in the Game Industry panel at 7 pm tonight, please be aware that I have 180 RSVP's (plus 70 maybes!) and the room has 120 seats. So please arrive early!

If you can't make it tonight, we will be recording and podcasting the panel.



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Some folks who are way too fascinated with guns have put together The Internet Movie Firearms Database. It's like the IMDb, but for guns.


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Monday, January 17, 2011

I may be possibly the only blog not to have received a cease-and-desist letter from somebody. Chilling Effects explains First Amendment law and why you can probably ignore most cease-and-desist laws.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also has a page on blogger's rights.



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Chino Kino has posted links to three dozen downloadable award-contending screenplays. Check'em out. The links may not last forever. Via.



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Sunday, January 16, 2011

We watched THE CAINE MUTINY after the Zip disc had been sitting around the house for more than a week. It took a while before Lisa and Hunter were willing to give it a shot.

I had entirely forgotten the tedious and irrelevant love story -- a subplot so irrelevant I think you could easily cut every last scene involving Ensign Keith ashore, with the possible exception of the dock scenes, and you'd have a tighter and stronger movie with nothing missing.

If I didn't know the movie was based on a Herman Wouk novel, I would have assumed that the Mae Wynn romance had been shoehorned into the movie because "women won't see a Navy movie if there isn't a love story" or something like that. In fact Lisa was just as itchy throughout those scenes as I was.

In the future, when everything is downloadable content, maybe we'll have options to watch re-edits of our movies. We can watch the Phantom Edit of THE PHANTOM MENACE, and THE CAINE MUTINY as a clean Navy story with no jaunts to Yosemite, and the full length cut of 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT COMMANDMENTS.

The movie's worth watching really for two performances: Bogart as Philip Francis Queeg, especially on the witness stand, and José Ferrer's explosion after the trial. Fred MacMurray turns in a crafty performance as the ship's comms officer. At first when you find out he's a novelist, you think, Oh, great, another stand-in for the author. Then it turns out that's not what he is.



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Friday, January 14, 2011

Matsuo Basho said,"“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought."

In screenwriting terms: don't try to write a screenplay mimicking the techniques of great screenwriters. Try to figure out what they were going after with those techniques -- emotions, great characters -- and invent your own techniques.

This isn't necessarily good advice, though it sure sounds good. When you're learning how to write, trying to copy the greats can strengthen your writing muscles. (And when aren't you learning how to write?) Every prose writer ought to write some faux Hemingway.

However, don't use a technique because a great writer uses it. Use it for the same reasons she uses it.



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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I was going through a script full of flashbacks the other day. The flashbacks seemed unmotivated to me. The scenes themselves were important to the story, but I didn't know why we were flashing back at that point.

I think the best rule is: Use a flashback when the audience has just asked the question that the flashback answers. Which means, of course, that you provoke the audience to ask the question, and then you provide the flashback that answers it.

This is actually a pretty good rule for any sort of cutting away from what the hero is doing right now, whether it's to the past or the future or to another character. When I'm telling a well-crafted screen story to my stepson, I find that he often asks a question just before I come to the part that answers that question. That's good story telling. Let the audience ask the question, and then answer it for them. When the audience asks the question, they pull themselves into the story.

By contrast, just pushing information at the audience tends to push the audience out of the story.

You can, especially in TV, cut to the B-story just to trim the A story -- it's always easier to jump from one time to another time when you jump to another story in the middle. But if you can relate the B story to what's happening in the A story, that's usually stronger.



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A brief blurb about our fourth panelist for the Storytelling in Games panel on the 19th:

Mary DeMarle has worked in the game industry as both a freelance contract writer and full-time narrative game designer for just under 15 years. Her work has crossed genres and play styles, and includes such titles as Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Homeworld II, Dungeon Siege: Broken Sword, and the Splinter Cell license. She is currently working as the Lead Writer and Narrative Game Designer on Edios Montreal's upcoming title, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Think about what you might want to ask her!

Incidentally, we're expecting a crowd, so please arrive early.



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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Celebrate the release of award-winning producer/writer/director and USC adjunct professor Pen Densham’s new book, Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (And Not Getting Eaten), at The Writers Store (3510 W Magnolia in Burbank) on Thursday January 13, 2011.

Pen will sign books and discuss creative philosophies and professional secrets, plus insights from his company, Trilogy Entertainment Group.

This event is FREE, but you must RSVP to attend, or call The Writers Store directly (310) 441-5151. Read more about Pen's book at


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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Anne Michaud posted a very cool review of THE CIRCLE CAST on the YA FANTASY GUIDE. Pull quote:
It's tough to see such a young Morgan going through this ordeal, but she becomes a warrior, a magician, making every Girl Power adept proud, one of our own. By the end of the book, Morgan's story is relatable - I know, even without any bathrooms or perfume – and we care for her, we understand the hard choices she makes, she feels like a friend. Epstein makes her come alive on the page, and with some great poetic prose, at times. One can hope for a sequel…

I give this book 4 Druids, kudos to the writer for turning such a distant story into a great read.
W00t! Thanks, Ms. Michaud!



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Yet another in a series of early, truly terrible, bad versions of THE STAR WARS, by George Lucas. This one is a treatment.

No robots. No Force. But it actually got sillier before STAR WARS [IV] got better.

As someone pointed out, you can see where the sequels came from.



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Jonas Kyratzes makes a very good point about the lost opportunity that is the "standard fantasy universe" in this week's Escapist. Applies mostly to games, but novelists beware too.



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Well, what do you know? Apparently CRAFTY SCREENWRITING was translated into Korean.

Pretty cool!

And in other news, I got an offer for Chinese rights!



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Monday, January 03, 2011

Here's the third of our fabulous panelists for the 19th:
Stephen Wark has been designing, writing and rewriting for games for seven years. He began with an underused degree in creative writing, training in technical writing, and an uncontrollable urge talk about the latest game discoveries and theories with his co-workers. But all that enthusiastic nattering paid off with a lead on a job opening with one of Montreal's many videogame start-ups.

Wark's first job was designing Kasparov Chessmate, a chess training game for casual players. Since he didn't play chess himself, he used himself as his target audience. He wrote everything from the design documents that helped the programmers and artists make the game, to the marketing documents that helped sell the game to distributors, to the tutorial exercises that taught players the basics, to the AI taunts and prompts that showed the players how much they'd learned.

From there, he worked on the design, scripts, in-game message and tutorials for casual PC and mobile games as both an in-house and freelance designer. The game have ranged from business simulators (Lemonade Tycoon 2: New York Edition), to casino games (Hard Rock Casino, MSN Zone casino), to movie adaptations (Monster House on DS and Game Boy Advance), preschool educational games (, boardgame adaptations (Yahztee Adventures, Clue), cartoon adaptations (The Amazing Spiez!, Grossology), and game-show adaptations (The Price is Right).

His most recent release is The Amazing Race on Wii, iPhone and iPad, where he worked on the script closely with the show's host, Phil Keoghan, to ensure that all the signature moments from the show were translated into gameplay and feedback.
Please note that I've fixed the link bug for the Facebook Event page. Hope you can make it!



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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Kevin Smith sez:
Nobody else can believe in you if you don’t believe in what you’re doing. I’ve willed almost all the stuff I’ve done into existence, and if I can do that, anybody can do that. So start your chatter: talk about what you’re going to do. Don’t pursue a role, LIVE that role. Like my sister told me, back when I confessed I wanted to be a filmmaker…

“Then BE a filmmaker,” she said.

“That’s what I’m saying: I wanna be.”

And that’s when she gave me the million dollar advice…

“No - BE a filmmaker. You say you wanna be; just BE a filmmaker. Think every thought AS a filmmaker. Don’t pine for it or pursue it; BE it. You ARE a filmmaker; you just haven’t made a film yet.”

And it sounded artsy-fartsy as f***, but it was CRAZY useful advice. A slacker hit the sheets that night, but the CLERKS-guy got out of bed the following morning.

... Remember that if an ass-hat like Kevin Smith can succeed at something like film or life, then what the f*** is stopping YOU from doing the same? ... This s*** was not manifest, nor was it ever offered.
I would add: being is doing. Doobeeboobeedoo.



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Saturday, January 01, 2011

I'm trying to learn about game design. But I also like to read books that are about creating things that are not screenplays; often they give me fresher insight than screenwriting books do. (As Ram Dass said, "When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru.")

Jesse Schell's ART OF GAME DESIGN: A BOOK OF LENSES presents a hundred ways to look at game design. It's about your process designing a game, seen from a multiplicity of angles. It's incidentally also about making movies, although it pretends not to be. It is also probably about fashion design, although I know nothing about fashion design.

For example, in dealing with dumb feedback, don't agree to the client's changes, or reject them. Instead, try to figure out what problem the client is trying to solve. Schell had a client ask for more chrome on the racing cars in a game. When Schell asked what problem the client was trying to solve, it turned out that the client thought the cars should go faster, but assumed they were going as fast as the game's computer processor could handle. He thought that more chrome would feel faster. Adding chrome probably wouldn't have fixed the problem. Lowering the virtual camera so it was closer to the ground did fix the problem.

Or, the "three layers of desire." What does the client say she wants? What does she think she wants? What does she really want? Your client may say she wants an educational game. But what she really wants is a space game; but she has money from an educational game publisher, so she has to deliver an educational game. That's why she's so hot on the spaceships in your educational game. What she really wants, though, is to become a game designer herself, a desire you must consider as you work with her.

Relating these ideas to the movie world is left as a fairly simple exercise.

I could go on, but then you might not go and read the book. It is really an extraordinarily smart book.

(Oh, and there's a deck of cards that goes with the book. They are available both physically and digitally.)

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