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


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Friday, October 28, 2011

'sfunny how one little logic glitch can scotch a big emotional climax. We've been watching THE GOOD WIFE Season Two.

SPOILERS, of course...

It's an odd season because the nominal main character, Julianna Margulies's Alicia Florrick, barely has a story line. It's as if they've given up on her as, y'know, kinda boring and frigid and self-righteous. But now that she's taken Peter back, and Will has proven himself a romantic coward, what is there to do with her?

So the season has become about Kalinda and her secret former identity. We just watched S2E18 (or so), "Foreign Affairs" in which Alicia finally discovers that Amber Madison wasn't the only woman with whom Peter cheated on her -- her dear recent BFF Kalinda did, too. And she finds that out just Peter wins the election.

But Kalinda's secret, frequently alluded to, and something on which an inordinate amount of plot hinges, seems to be that she used to work for Peter in the States' Attorney's office, and he helped her change her identity.

We're supposed to believe that clever Kalinda would change her name and identity, quit the State's Attorney office, and then go to work at a high profile firm that regularly defends clients from the State's Attorney office. Almost every episode, she's appearing in a courtroom.

How has nobody from the State's Attorney Office already recognized her?

Any sensible person trying to flee their old identity immediately moves to a new city. Kalinda would be wise to move to LA and pass as a Latina. They can always use detectives in LA, from what I understand.

This is a pretty gaping plothole. And it's spoiling our enjoyment of what is otherwise a beautifully-written show.

The problem is, it's very easy for writers on a show to convince themselves they can get away with a logical hole. "No one will care about that," you tell yourself. But once you betray the audience like that, it's hard to get them to go with you on anything else.

Of course, Lisa and I could be the only two people in the world who noticed this, in which case THE GOOD WIFE folks got away with it. But I'm guessing we're not.

The shame of it is that it's unnecessary. I've got a simple fix. Peter Florrick could have met Kalinda in another city, gone to bed with her, and helped her forge a new identity in Chicago.

It's often not hard to fix something, if you are willing to go to the trouble. I'm still impressed with Brad Ideas's fix for the painful Battlestar Finale.

I'll be interested in seeing what the details are once we get the full reveal. Maybe it'll all make sense in the end...



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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stage 32 is "the social network for film, television and theatre creatives." They are free. They say they have "already hooked up dozens of struggling screenwriters with producers looking for good scripts." They have 15,000 members after two months; about 1/4th of those are screenwriters.

I don't know if anyone needs another social network -- I've got Facebook, Facebook fan pages for my books and novel, Google+, LinkedIn and the Twitter. And there have already been various versions of this idea. But it might be worth checking out if you're not already hooked in.



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Slate is running a series of podcasts on negotiation. Negotiation is a big part of any showbiz career, even if your agent is doing it for you. Playing poker is a useful way to learn some negotiation skills, but this podcast series is excellent too. They're talking about how to figure out your walkaway threshold, how to start by schmoozing, whether to propose a number first or wait for a proposal...



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Sunday, October 23, 2011

I went to Toronto for, among other things, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, run by the ebullient Adam Lopez. They were kind enough to screen You Are So Undead Saturday night. It was Zombie Appreciation Night -- two bucks off if you're a zombie! -- so a sizable chunk of the audience were duded up in the their dead best. And their best was very good indeed. A fair number of them wouldn't have looked out of a place in a zombie movie.

So our sexy little vamps were sandwiched between two zombie movies.

DEADHEADS is a goofy, fun zombie romantic comedy. Mike Kellerman returns to consciousness in a freezer three years after dying. There's a zombie outbreak going on, so it takes him a little time to realize that he, too, is dead. Just, he's a walking and talking zombie.

And he wants to get back to the girl he loves. He's just unsure how it will go, him being dead and all. Fortunately, he quickly attracts a wingman, also talking-dead Brent Guthrie, who won't let him let himself down. Soon they're driving across the country, with badass government agents in hot pursuit.

What makes this movie work is the characters. Sure, there's action and slapstick and snappy banter. But this movie has heart. Mike and Brent are a great odd couple. The government agents are all fun, from the convict who's trying to win his freedom, to the obnoxious macho killer with the most ridiculous sideburns anyone's seen since 1895, to the huge moaning zombie, "Cheese," that the guys have decided to bring along as a pet.

WAR OF THE DEAD is an exuberant mess. It's a World War Ii zombie war movie. There's a bunker where the Nazis did secret experiments on Russian soldiers, and now there are Nazi zombies running around. There's enough zombie shooting for any Call of Duty: Black Ops fan. It's impressive how much production value you can get for a million euros in Lithuania. Nice camera work, nice set design.

What there isn't is much of a story. There's a plot all right. It's 1941. Inexplicably, an American platoon (I thought we weren't at war till December 7?) is fighting alongside Finns (I thought they were German allies?) against Russians (I thought they were our allies?) to find and destroy a secret Nazi bunker in Karelia (Russian territory till September 1941). There's some sort of German scientist who's made these odd little mechanisms with gears, that ultimately turn out to be nothing more than odd little keys. There's a girl who may or may not have been involved with the experiments. There's a young Russian soldier, an American captain and a Finnish lieutenant who's not telling everything he knows, and never does.

And there are lots and lots of Nazis, especially undead ones.

It would have been nice to have a theme. Or a main character to root for. Maybe then I would have cared how it came out.

I'm not sure about the point of doing a zombie war movie. Zombies are among the least impressive of the undead. (Like, 2d6, tops.) They're scary if you're armed with a cricket bat. If you've got a tommygun and enough ammo, they're not nearly as dangerous as actual German soldiers, who were pretty deadly.

Nice music, though. And nice production values. And the audience seemed to enjoy it.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

I now seem to be on the Twitter as CraftyScreen, so now you know...



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How did I miss this? The awesome Jude Klassen's video of the 5th Annual Writers Mafia Party at TIFF last month:



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YOU ARE SO UNDEAD is opening for PROM NIGHT (the 1980 slasher film at Blue Sunshine, "Montreal's Psychotronic Film Centre," 3660 Blvd. St. Laurent, on Friday the 29th. I'll be there -- hope you will too!



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Thursday, October 20, 2011

I spent about five or six hours yesterday hacking through monsters on my iPad in Dark Meadow. For me it was a very frustrating experience. Dark Meadow is really two games. One is an interesting game in which you explore an abandoned hospital, trying to piece together mysteries -- who are you, how do you get out, and should you trust the creepy guy on the intercom? The other is a game where every two or three moves, a monster comes down the corridor. You shoot it with your crossbow, and then hack at it with your sword. As you level up, the monsters level up, and you get more gear. Because this is a video game, there are bags of gold lying around randomly. You need them to buy more gear.

It's not a terrific combat game. The combat is fairly elementary - just a lot of stabbing at the iPad with your finger, really, and a lot of dodging. I am not very good at twitch, so this was frustrating to me, but to, say, Hunter, it would be fairly trivial, not to say tedious, since the monsters' combo moves are programmed and telegraphed.

It might actually be a good mystery game. But I didn't get to find out, because every two or three moves, I had to fight a monster. This got tedious fast. The monsters have almost nothing to do with the story. You don't learn anything about the mystery from fighting the monsters. They're just an obstacle. When I wasn't fighting monsters, I was reduced to poking at cabinets for money (they replenish themselves) so I could buy better gear. I was longing for a "Tell Me a Story" setting, where I could skip the monsters and just follow the mystery.

In the end, I got so irritated at the game, I killed off my save game, so I wouldn't continue to play out of sheer need for closure. It stopped being fun. I was just playing to get to the end.

In a good story, the obstacle has something to do with the hero and his goal. The obstacles are reflections of the hero in some way; they mean something to him. The obstacles are inherent in the goal; they arise out of the goal in some way. Otherwise you're just hurling monsters down a corridor at the player in order to stretch out the gameplay.



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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Q. Do you recommend putting your phone number on title pages for scripts?
Only if you want people to call you after they read it. Also, only put your email address on your title page if you want people to email you.


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Friday, October 14, 2011

Bravo!FACT has released YOU ARE SO UNDEAD onto their site, so up it goes here. Enjoy!

Best seen in 720p HD video, fullscreen. The image quality really is superb.



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The WGC and Bell Media are calling on writers in eastern Canada to apply to the Bell Media Diverse Screenwriters Program. This session will run in Toronto in the Spring of 2012. The program is free-of-charge to selected writers, and offers 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 on a Bell Media TV series. The Deadline for eastern Canada applications is December 2, 2011. For more information and application materials, please visit and click on Bell Media Diverse Screenwriters Program. It's an amazing opportunity!



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Thursday, October 13, 2011

We blitzed through THE GOOD WIFE Season One, and we're deep into Season Two. It really is a beautifully written show, very subtle and nuanced and true.

At the beginning of Season Two, though, the show does something that is perilously close to a sitcom plot move.

(*Spoiler* for the end of Season One.)

At the end of Season One, Will declares his feelings for Alicia, our heroine. And she, beautifully, doesn't say "yes" or "no," but "I need a plan." At the beginning of Season Two, he calls back to leave a voice message, saying "You're right, I don't have a plan, forget it." Then he leaves another voice message, taking the first message back. He loves her. If she loves him, she should call him back.

Unfortunately, she's handed her cell phone off to her husband's campaign manager, who deletes the second message, because it will make the election harder to win.

So for something like 6 episodes, she assumes that Will's first call ("forget it") was his only call; and Will assumes that she is intentionally ignoring his call.

Okay, so why is this relatively lame plotting? Almost everywhere else, the characters of THE GOOD WIFE are really smart. It takes Peter Florrick moments to tell when someone's wearing a wire. Kalinda, the mysterious private eye, figures out that Alicia's had a moment with Will from just her tone of voice; and while she says nothing, we can read it in her face.

But this is not as smart. It is a little hard to imagine that someone as smart, and correct, and self-righteous as Alicia would hand her cell phone off to anyone, ever. Certainly not to her husband's campaign manager. Certainly not moments after getting an adulterous phone call.

And it is a bit lame of Will to leave two voice messages and then never follow up on them, not even to say, "Did you get both my voice messages?" Especially after a fervent declaration of love. I have made a few fervent declarations of love in my day. I did not leave them on voice mail, and if I had, I wouldn't have let them sit when the lady in question worked at my own office.

And how lame that, having left his fervent declaration, he ends it by saying "If you agree, call me," rather than, say, "I want to talk to you about this in person and I won't take no for an answer." Which, given her "I need a plan," he's entitled to say.

But how likely it is, is not really what bothers me. People do unlikely things all the time, especially under stress. No, what bothers me is that the plot is suddenly hanging, not on character, but on a misunderstanding. How THREE'S COMPANY is that?

I think the best dramatic plots hang entirely on character. You have the feeling that what happens, happens because of who the characters are. If it didn't happen today, it would happen tomorrow. There is surprise, but there is inevitability. You think, "Of course, that had to happen."

When the plot hangs on happenstance, to me it can't help feeling a bit convenient. The writers have decided that Alicia will never say, "I got your message," and Will will never say, "Both my messages?" in the four months it takes Alicia to figure out that she's been informationally shortchanged.

Why did they do it? Because they wanted to milk the Dave-and-Maddy mutually-unrequited-lust angle for all it was worth before moving on.

That's a natural desire for TV writers, especially when they're using the episodic-A-plot/long-arc-uberplot template that the best broadcast shows love so much. In TV, you don't want to get anywhere too fast in your uberplot because you'll run out of plot twists. Once Alicia knows Will's feelings she'll have to decide how she feels; and there is only so much back and forth the audience can take.

But how much better to hang the whole question on character? What if Will had indeed only left one message? What if the six episodes were about Will wishing that he could take it back, wishing he could declare his love, but knowing that, in fact, he has no plan, and he's asking Alicia to destroy her family when he himself isn't risking anything?

You'd get the same will-they-or-won't-they. But it would hang on character, not on the clever ministrations of Eli Gold, who is oh so handy with a cell phone.


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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Q. I'm a high school student who wants to pursue a career in TV writing. I've been working my way up to writing some specs, and also I've been doing a little bit of playwriting, as it's just easier to find youth classes devoted to that than any other media writing outlet. What do you recommend for a kid right out of High School

In Crafty TV Writing, you advise all prospective writers to get an internship/assistant position at a literary agency in L.A., or if you can on the staff of a TV show, but I felt this advice was given with "adults' in mind, and I wasn't sure if this was the optimal path right out of high school.

Would it be better to go through NYU's Dramatic Writing program (which I was not accepted to, though a friend of mine was) or to do as you say and get a job inside the business and save a degree for later? As you may have guessed, part of my hesitation stems from the whole stigma against not going to college--a stigma which I am ready to ignore in pursuit of a TV writer's position. But I just wanted your genuine opinion as to what a high school graduate should do to become a TV writer.
I would never tell anyone not to go to college. No one ever made much of himself without finishing university. Except, you know, Steve Jobs. And Steven Spielberg. And Bill Gates. And Thomas Edison. And Shakespeare.

I would still never tell anyone not to go to college. The facts you learn in college are rarely useful in themselves. No one is going to offer you $100 to compare Dante to Milton over the weekend. But you learn how to learn, and you learn how to think at a problem from different angles. And you learn to read deeply.

Also, you make a slew of friends who may be useful to you later. And if you're writing plays, it's a hundred times easier to get them produced at university than they would be out in the cold hard real world. It is a real pain in the ass getting a play produced at an Equity Waiver theatre. At college, they will produce your play for you, and offer you cake. (See "Sorkin, Aaron.")

I'm not sure you need a dramatic writing program in college. I was a computer science major; Yale didn't have creative writing, really, except one course with Harold Bloom. (I actually spent a semester hanging out in New York auditing classes at Columbia to circumvent this. I just did the work and no one seemed to mind I was just auditing.) I worked on a literary magazine at Yale (Zirkus) and founded another one (The Trumbull Review), and there was no shortage of poems and stories. A buddy of mine wrote plays which were performed at Yale. Neither the writing nor the performing were for credit. If you're a writer, you'll write. No writer ever needed a writing class. But you can't really study James Joyce on your own and expect to make anything out of Ulysses. And learning how to unpack some crazy Modernist's styles will develop your analytical muscles that you can then apply to figuring out the template to THE GOOD WIFE or 30 ROCK.

You can get part-time internships when you're a student. You can't come into an agency part time when you're 22, but you can when you're at UCLA. Everyone understands that you can't be full-time. So in some ways it's easier to break in as a promising student than as one of many underemployed adults. You could intern at an agency, but part-time, and without having to be a messenger. If you actually got offered a writer's assistant job, you could drop out of school, and then if it led nowhere, you would return to school.

Finally, there is nothing preventing you from writing TV specs while in university. I wrote lots of stories and poems at college when I wasn't debugging programs; and Computer Science was a ridiculously hard major compared to English. Your typical college student has a ton of time to write, if that's what he wants to do. Actual jobs are much more tiring. College gives you an excuse not to go get a job.

College gives you an excuse to be wet behind the ears. If you aren't in college, even if you're the same age as a college student, people expect you to be a grownup. People are much more forgiving of college students for tripping over things, or for offering their opinion when no one wants it.

I think it's great that you have a strong opinion about what you want to do. I wouldn't consider college an impediment, though. If you work it right, it can be a platform, or even a diving board.



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Friday, October 07, 2011

I was just interviewed by SLATE for an article about the origins of the word "showrunner." Google Books traces the word back to 1991, and my friend Lee Goldberg things it goes back to at least 1988. But it doesn't seem to go back any further than that. Nor does anyone seem to have consciously coined it.

It's a funny title, because it isn't a credit. You don't get a "showrunner" credit, you get an exec producer credit, and so do some other people who aren't the showrunner. That's like Head Writer, for which the actual credit can be anything from Exec Story Editor to Supervising Producer.

Does anyone know any lore about the origins of "showrunner"?

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I am proud to tell you that the Quebec Writer's Federation has shortlisted THE CIRCLE CAST for Best Children's and Young Adult Literature, along with my friend Alan Silberberg's MILO and Geneviève Côté's WITHOUT YOU.



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Thursday, October 06, 2011

In which I am interviewed by Ariel Esteban Cayer about YOU ARE SO UNDEAD for Spectacular Optical, the magazine of the Fantasia Film Festival.

Upcoming: YASU screens at Toronto After Dark on Saturday, October 22, at 9:45 PM, just before War of the Dead.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Just read the sad news that Steve Jobs is dead of cancer at 56.

Steve Jobs probably did more to make my life better than any stranger I can think of. I've been a Mac person since before there were Macs; I programmed on the Apple II+. I've had iPods and iPhones and now I even have an iPad.

It's worth remembering that Jobs and Wozniak made the first personal computer that really scored. There were personal computers before the Apple II, but you had to solder them together. There might have been others that you could buy off the shelf, but you didn't. And then, suddenly, there was a computer that you didn't need to have a computer science degree to use. (I actually did have a computer science degree, but I was never a hardcore hacker.)

It's worth remembering that before the Apple II, IBM didn't think anyone needed or wanted a personal computer. The Apple II forced them to go build the IBM PC, and license a crappy operating system called DOS from a guy named Bill Gates, who'd bought it from somebody else. It turned out everyone wanted a PC, of course, and the IBM name put an IBM, and not an Apple, in everybody's office. (No one ever got fired for buying IBM.) But before the Apple II, there was no IBM PC.

And then, the Mac. I remember the 1984 Olympics ad for the Mac, and then buying a Mac. Before the Mac, you had to know an awful lot of stuff to use a personal computer. Before, you had to know the exact name of a file in order to open it, and the exact name of the program you wanted to open it with; after, you just pointed at it on your desktop and double-clicked, and the Mac knew what program would open it. If you wanted to do something, you had to know the name of the command for what you wanted to do; after Mac, you had menus at the top of the screen. Jobs didn't invent the mouse, or drop-and-drag, or the trash bin, or the graphic user interface. Jobs and Wozniak more or less lifted that from Xerox PARC. But the boys at Xerox PARC weren't marketing it. Jobs and Woz put it in a computer anyone could buy.

Before the Mac, you had to print things out to see what they would look like printed out. Usually quite a few times. After Mac, you could see on the screen exactly what it looked like, and there was suddenly this thing called "desktop publishing."

Can you imagine?

A little later (after taking time out to found Pixar and redefine animated movies), Jobs and his company invented the iPod and iTunes, before which it was almost impossible to carry your entire music collection around in your pocket, and after which, it was a thing that every college student considers the bare minimum that her phone should do.

I don't think I have to tell you what the iPhone does. I'm not even sure anyone knows what the iPad will do.

Jobs didn't invent anything that couldn't have been invented sooner or later, maybe not as cleverly or as elegantly. (Windows is the proof of that: Gates took the Mac OS and had a version of it crafted that was less elegant and more user-abusive; he's now worth $56 billion.) What he did was shape the connectivity of our lives into something seamless and fun, by making electronics that were, in his famous phrase, "insanely great."

Every day, I sit in front of a Mac. If I go out, I carry my iPhone. There are so many things I don't have to think about; they just happen. My iPhone syncs with my computer. I can shoot a picture of someone I meet and attach it to their number and email in my address book, and somehow when they send me an email, I get that picture of them on the email. When I get in my car, it talks to my phone, so that if someone calls me, the car knows to kill the music I'm listening to (which is probably on my phone) and put the call through to the car's speakers.

Jobs didn't do all of that. But he pushed my world in that direction. He wanted everything to work smoothly and seemlessly. He had an esthetic that a hacker would enjoy. There's a story that, early in the design of the Apple II, Jobs spent a night redesigning the entire motherboard so that there would be half as many things to solder. It wasn't because soldering adds cost. It was because it would be more elegant to have fewer solder points.

Steve Jobs made technology cool. He brought the future to me, first in beige, then in black, then in polished aluminum, and finally on a glass touchscreen.

I love that man. I love his work. I'll miss him a little bit every time I flip my computer open to start my day.


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Sunday, October 02, 2011

On my other blog.

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Q. On page 239 you mentioned that writers usually get 5% of the net profits, which is sometimes called “points”, and that points are practically never worth anything, which is why they’re sometimes dubbed monkey points. Can you tell me what you mean by points not being worth anything? Are you saying that most movies don’t make profit at the box office and therefore there’s not extra money to pay the writer this bonus? That most movies made break even at best?
If you get a Net Profits definition in your contract, it is generally formulated so that you will never see a cent. Basically the studio takes a big overhead percentage, and then a big distribution fee, out of the film's revenues, and then set the remaining money against the film's cost, plus the marketing cost. (In other words, thanks to the distribution fee, they get paid twice for marketing the picture.) Many movies that obviously made money for the studio have never gone into net profit.
Q. Then what can I do?
Get something better than a Net Profits definition. We generally ask for an Adjusted Gross, which means the producer recoups the cost of the movie, and then we're entitled to start seeing money.

It's all about what contract language you negotiate, which is a function of how much clout you have (how much they want you), and how clever your agent or lawyer is.

WGC members also get a "distribution royalty" as part of the IPA. I have no idea what it is, but it can add up to a very nice chunk of change if your movie gets some decent play.



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