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


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Friday, December 30, 2011

I got back a flip response to some feedback I gave someone. It boiled down to "I don't know why you would have that reaction to my script. I don't see that there's a problem where you say there is."

The general rule for feedback is: if someone tells you how to fix something, you aren't obliged to fix it that way. But if they tell you something is broken, you better fix it.

Your obligation is to figure out why your reader feels something is broken. You need to reread your own material through their perspective until you can see the flaw that they have spotted.

This takes emotional effort. Sometimes it takes a bit of time. It's not easy to shift out of your own perspective, from which your screenplay is just dandy.

But learning how to take criticism to heart is really one of the things that separates professionals from the perpetually aspiring.

It's a good idea not to respond to a critique at all until you can see the flaw. Otherwise you're just going to piss off your reader, who will wonder why you asked for feedback if you didn't want it. (For example, I'm kinda pissed off right now.)

When I get comment I disagree with on my own work, what I say is, "I'll take a look at that." And then I do. And, later, I usually realize the comment is right (if not the solution offered), I am wrong, and something is broken in the screenplay after all.

You can ask for a clarification -- "Are you saying that X is a problem, or do you mean that the problem is Y?"

But all feedback comes from somewhere. And that means that all feedback is true. Figuring out how it's true is the job of every good writer.



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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Q. Should I copyright my spec with the US Library of Congress, or register it with the WGA?
There is no reason to register or copyright a spec episode. You don't own the underlying rights. No one would steal your spec 30 ROCK from you because they can't sell it.

They could, I suppose, pretend they wrote it, but I've never heard of something like that happening.

It wouldn't hurt to copyright your spec pilot, but bear in mind that there are not so many legit places to send a spec pilot, and your agent is likely going to send your spec to most of them. So if someone stole your spec pilot, they would likely be sending it to the same exact people, who will then say, "WTF are you sending me someone else's script for?"

If you don't have an agent, then you're probably sending your spec to agents in order to get an agent. Agents don't steal ideas, they represent writers with ideas.

And you can't really send a spec pilot to production companies without an agent. It's possible, though very difficult, to break into features without an agent. But I am not sure it is at all plausible to break into TV without an agent.

So bottom line, copyright your script with the Library of Congress if it makes you feel better. You can even do it online, I believe. But for tv scripts, it's probably not necessary.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The publisher of my novel (THE CIRCLE CAST) wants to do a book trailer. 60-90 seconds. What would you want in a 90 second trailer for a young adult novel about Morgan le Fay?

I'm thinking magic and hotness. You?



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Friday, December 23, 2011

I find that some people say that to register a copyright with the U.S. office, as opposed to registering with the WGA, is frowned upon in the Hollywood industry, and that it makes you look like a paranoid amateur. They state that copyrighting is only something the production company does when they want to buy a script from a writer, and that having an already existing copyright can even sour a potential sale because the executives won't want to go through the hassle of having a lawyer do more work to transfer your copyright to the studio.
Writing "registered with the Library of Congress" might come off as a bit paranoid, but you don't have to tell anyone you've done so. At least not until you option your script. And at that point, should it come up, it's trivial (a one page document) to assign the copyright to a new owner.

Does anyone have contrary information?



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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I was also wondering if there's any particular university degree you would recommend for young people interested in writing for film and television?

I have a double major in Computer Science and English. I would say that my C.S. major helped me at least as much in showbiz as my English major. Computer Science taught me how to write a script "top down." Also, having a C.S. degree, and French, got me my first full-time job in the biz.

If you're a writer, you'll write. That's why when I was at Yale, there wasn't much of a creative writing track. I did more, and better, creative writing trying to get fiction and poems into Zirkus, and The Yale Lit, than I did taking John Hersey's creative writing class. I did even more, and better, when I took a term off to hang around Columbia and audit Kenneth Koch's creative writing class for no credit.

I also learned more about screenwriting from Funky Bob Thompson's class "The Afro-Atlantic Tradition" than I did in some screenwriting classes getting my MFA at UCLA. "Master T" taught about how in West African and Southern Black cultural traditions, syncopation isn't an esthetic exclusively for music; it applies to quilts, to dancing, to everything. I learned how not to write in 4/4 time.

(And when I say, "Master T," think of the whitest guy you ever met, in a button shirt and creased pants. He was the Master of Timothy Dwight residential college until last year.)

So I don't really care what you study in college. And neither will anyone else in LA. They are if you're smart. They care if you know stuff. Mostly they care if you can deliver a hot spec. Whatever gets you there is what you should study. If that's History, great. If that's Electrical Engineering, also great.

Remember, the point of university (as opposed to a graduate degree) isn't to teach you stuff. The world can teach you stuff. Working will teach you stuff. University is to teach you how to learn; and to teach you to attack a problem from multiple perspectives.

So, really, study what you love. If you're a writer, you'll write.

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When you sign a writing or option contract, you're asked to warrant (guarantee) that all your work is original. There is often a clause that says you are responsible for any "breach or alleged breach" of your warranty.

You need to get that "alleged breach" struck from the contract. You can't be responsible every time some idiot thinks you stole his idea. For example, some idiot is suing James Cameron because he thinks Cameron stole his story and made AVATAR:
Moore contends that he first came up with ideas that surfaced in “Avatar” in a pair of his own screenplays, “Aquatica” and “Descendants: The Pollination,” including “bioluminescent flora/plant life, unbreathable atmospheres, matriarch support of hero vs. heroine, spiritual connections to environment and reincarnation, appearance of mist in scene, sunlight to moonlight, crackling from gargantuan foliage, blue skin/green skin and battle scene on limbs/branches,” according to the gossip web site.
This is particularly stupid, as everybody knows that Avatar is heavily inspired by FERN GULLY.

You should be responsible if you actually breach the contract. But you can't be on the hook if somebody takes it into their head that your movie is based on their life, or that they invented Ewoks, or whatever. Even nuisance suits are expensive to get dismissed. Movies have that kind of money. You don't.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

As I don't live in the US, I was wondering to what extent the need to be in LA applies to writers based in other countries. Is it better to approach one's own country's agencies and production companies first, especially if the screenplay is something set in that country that might qualify for government arts funding if produced there?
Overseas, and Canadian, writers are in a different boat. If you qualify for government arts funding, use that first. Then, when you've made a smash-o picture, go to LA to see if LA cares. If LA doesn't care, go back and make another homebrew movie.

Every country has its own production hubs. In Canada, a TV writer must be in Toronto, a game writer probably should be in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver or Edmonton, and a feature writer can be in a number of cities. If the government is offering you money to create culture, stay where you are and take their money, until something you've made hits in LA. Then go to LA and say, "that movie everyone's talking about? I made that. Want to rep me?"



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Had kind of a depressing meeting where my producer was picking on some plot points in the script that have been there for many drafts. One is a coincidence that we've always felt was okay because it doesn't help the hero.

As I told him (which is why I don't mind putting it in the blog), when a plot point that has always been okay is suddenly no good, it could be just the first time someone has noticed it, but it's often a sign that something else is broken. For example, if you're bumping on the coincidence, maybe the emotional through line of the story isn't working at that point; and then people start to look for something to pick on to explain what's wrong.

So now we're trying to crystallize what really isn't working. My guess is it isn't the coincidence.



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Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'm really looking forward to catching BOMB GIRLS on January 4th on Global.

Here's your homework. Before you watch the pilot, figure out how you'd do it. It's a show about the women who made bombs for the war effort in WWII. Who's your core cast? What kinds of characters would you put in there? And what sort of things need to happen in the pilot?

Then watch it, and see how close you are, and what you think of what they did.



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Seth Godin:
A failure is a project that doesn't work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn't move you directly closer to your goal.

A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding.

We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don't kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won't work, while opening the door to things that might.

School confuses us, so do bosses and families. Go ahead, fail. Try to avoid mistakes, though.
A mistake is when, really, you know better, and do it that way anyway.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my creative writing professor, the poet Kenneth Koch, was that there's no downside to writing a lot. You don't have a limited number of words that you can write in your life.

The corrolary is that you shouldn't be afraid to try and fail. Just make sure you learn from the things you tried that failed. I can't remember which scientist was known for his cheery response to experiments with negative results: "Well, now we know that doesn't work!" Every failure gets you closer to success, assuming you don't repeat it.



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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One thing that happens when you take a story from pitch to a step outline is you notice all the places that you've shown passage of time. I'm reading a treatment that says "A and B drop by regularly," and my note to the writer is, "regularly doesn't happen in the movies." Regularly usually means once. Sometimes it means a montage, but usually it means one scene where it's clear that the same thing has been going on regularly.

Watch out for "regularly" and "over the course of the next few weeks" and other things you cannot shoot in a movie. It's okay to put them in your pitch, but be aware that they're hand-waving and they'll have to come out later.


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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My d.p. buddy Maarten Kroonenburg wants to direct a second short film. He's an accomplished d.p. with his own equipment company, and we're working together on a feature film, so there is a very good likelihood he'll shoot one early next year. Maybe yours.

The script should be no more than 7 pages long -- the film needs to be no more than 6 minutes long with credits. Small cast (two is ideal), no more than a few locations. Minimal special effects. Funny is good but not a requirement. The writer must be Canadian.

Check out a bunch of Bravo!FACT shorts for inspiration.

If you've got a script you'd like to see get made, email it to his intern, Patrick.



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The 2011 Blacklist is available for download here. Link said it was legit, but who knows if it's true, so download'em before they're gone.

The Blacklist is the year's best unproduced scripts, according to a select list of execs. Forget the Nicholls. This is a script competition you can't even get into unless someone loves your script already.



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Saturday, December 10, 2011

[Politics] Wow. Mitt Romney just offered to bet Rick Perry $10,000 that Perry was misrepresenting his book.

What this tells me is that Mitt Romney is a guy who thinks of $10,000 as pocket money.

I wonder if this will turn out to be as big a gaffe as when George H. B. Bush marvelled at the newfangled optical scanner technology at the supermarket, which gave everyone the impression that he had not been to a supermarket in decades.

Oh, I hope so.



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Can a “ghostwriter” sue someone he’s written a script for if the script sells? Even though there’s only one name on the script, the one who paid the ghostwriter to write it for him? I know an agent can probably sue a writer if the agent suggests all these changes to the script and the writer puts them in, and if he could prove through emails that he did in fact help “co-write” it (I heard it happens in Hollywood all the time), but could a ghostwriter sue? If it’s his job to ghostwrite, he can’t sue, can he?
First of all, ghostwriting is forbidden under the rules of the Writer's Guild of America. If the WGA finds out that someone put their name on someone else's writing, they're in trouble.

Second, no, a ghostwriter can't sue, because there's a ghostwriting contract.

An agent doesn't get credit for suggesting changes. Actually, no one gets writing credit for giving notes. You only get writing credit for actually writing pages.

It is an agent's job to give notes to her writing clients. She doesn't get credit. She gets a successful client. A writer needs writing credits. An agent needs successful clients. It's win-win.

Mostly people don't sue. It's not good business. It's bad for your reputation, and it's a huge time suck. Life is too short.

Ghostwriting is a very bad business, too. It damages the souls of both people involved, not to mention their reputations if it gets out.

Don't ghostwrite, and don't take credit for someone else's work.



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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Brits were clever handling their double agents during WWII
The British put their double agent network to work in support of Operation Fortitude, a plan to deceive the Germans about the location of the invasion of France. Allowing one of the double agents to claim to have stolen documents describing the closely guarded invasion plans might have aroused suspicion. Instead, agents were allowed to report minutiae such as insignia on soldiers' uniforms and unit markings on vehicles.
What you tell the audience, it doubts. But if you allow the audience to figure something out, they are invested in it, and tend to take it more to heart.



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I'm moderating a panel for the WGC in February at McGill on "What Do I Want In My Contract?"
What should you ask for when you option a feature film or a TV series? The Writers Guild’s basic contract (the Independent Producer Agreement) covers many basic terms, but others aren’t codified, including lots of ways veteran writers get paid on the back end, your right to write new material, and the crucial “Created by” credit in TV. Plus, what’s all this fine print?

We’ve invited an agent who reps writers to talk about what writers can and should ask for; a producer’s lawyer to talk about what’s easy for producers to give and what’s hard; and a representative of the Writers Guild of Canada to talk about what contract terms end up in disputes. The panel will be moderated by Alex Epstein, who’s worked both sides of the table. Audience members will be able to ask questions.

This event is aimed at professional, emerging and aspiring screenwriters, but filmmakers of all kinds may find it illuminating.

Check out the Facebook Event page.

Also, if you have questions you want me to bring up at the panel, please email me.

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

We recently watched THE COLLECTOR and ROSEMARY'S BABY, two movies in which women are victimized, and do a really horrible job of protecting themselves. They're gullible and passive, and panicky, and stupid. They do as they're told, even when they have every reason to suppose the people ordering them around are homicidal maniacs. I don't want to see them hurt, but I have a lot of trouble sympathizing with them.

I wonder, when these movies came out, in 1965 and 1968, were the female characters perceived as normal? Did women watch these movies and think, yes, that's what we're like? Or were the filmmakers making a point? I can't imagine any woman being this passive in a movie from the 1930's or 1940's.

On another note, it is remarkable how long it takes for ROSEMARY'S BABY to get off the ground. I literally fell asleep watching the first 20 minutes. (And then slept for 12 hours, so maybe it was the flu, not the movie.) It is not until about 40 minutes in that we have any reason to worry about poor Rosemary or her baby. The movie has a reputation as a classic, but it's because of the very alarming ending.

You couldn't do that these days. No one has that kind of patience any more.



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Friday, December 02, 2011

You can download a slew of Oscar scripts from Ropes of Silicon, including MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and BRIDESMAIDS. I wonder what was improv'd and what wasn't? I know what I'm reading this weekend.



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