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


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Thursday, March 28, 2013

... at least, post facto.

A grad student named Ben Schmidt (I think), has applied Bayesian statistics to film and tv transcripts, comparing them to books of various periods, to help determine which phrases are most likely anachronisms.

Spotting anachronisms can be fun if you're into that sort of thing, as when Downton Abbey's folks talk about a "steep learning curve." And it's fun to learn that "snipers" didn't exist in Lincoln's time; they were "sharpshooters."

It's also instructive, because when there weren't words for things, sometimes there weren't the ideas for them, either. Though sometimes, you discover that the ideas, and the words, are very old indeed. For example, "colonialism" seems like a modern, snippy word. But it is what the Romans practiced, and "colonia" is their word for a, well, colony of Romans they stuck in some patch of land they wanted to keep.

Anyway, go have some fun at Prochronism and see what a brute force linguistic approach can do for your appreciation of a period piece.

My rule in writing period dialog is to make the characters sound like they are talking in the modern era -- no "what hath thou" nonsense -- because everyone is modern when they're alive. The ancient Greeks didn't speak ancient Greek, they spoke the very latest up-to-date Greek of the time. And you can be earthy. "Son of a bitch" has to be at least ten thousand years old (depending on when you believe canis familiaris was domesticated). Just, keep modern slang out of it. Can't have those ancient Greeks saying, "I am so totes over him."


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Monday, March 18, 2013

Q. I graduated last year with an MFA in Screenwriting from Loyola Marymount University. I’m Canadian and my visa expires this summer (they give you 1 year to work “in your field” post-graduation and that’s it). So it looks like I’ll be returning to Canada. My career goal is to be a TV writer. Is it wiser for me to move to Toronto or to Vancouver? 
From reading your blog posts, Toronto seems to be the answer because the networks + guilds are headquartered there and most shows are staffed there. Does that still hold true in 2013? I know Toronto since I went to college there, but Vancouver appeals to me because of its milder winters and proximity to LA. 
According to the CMPA’s 2011 report, Ontario had 47% of domestic Canadian TV production whereas BC only had 11%. The opposite is true for foreign/American production in Canada. If I want to be a camera operator or key grip on a US-produced pilot or series, BC would be the best choice. If I want to be a writer in Canadian dramatic TV, Toronto is the place is to go. Am I understanding this right?
Yep. A few of my friends who are big deal TV writers have moved out of Vancouver to Toronto. I don't know anyone successful who has moved from Toronto to Vancouver. I think shows are more and more getting written out of Toronto. So enjoy the Big Smoke, and be sure to go to lots of Ink Canada and Writers Talking TV events when you get there.

UPDATE:  See DMc's excellent explanation in the comments below.


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Thursday, March 14, 2013

This blog post points out that a substantial part of Rob Thomas's Kickstarter for the Veronica Mars movie would go to making a slew of t-shirts for those who contributed $25 or more. Let's say, with labor costs, that it only costs $10 to make and ship a t-shirt -- Rob's only clearing $15.

The flip side of this, I should point out, is that cash has a multiplying effect in film financing. The hardest 10% of a film's financing is the last 10%; that's the rock so many independent films crash on. Rob doesn't have to make the movie only with Kickstarter funds. If Rob clears $2 million in his Kickstarter, he can probably get backing for another $3M, say, from people who will get paid out of the revenues of the picture -- which the Kickstarter gang won't. It's a pretty good gamble that a $5M picture will make them at least $3M, which, considering it's based on a TV show people have heard of, with a TV star, ought to be possible. (I'm making these numbers up. Maybe it's a $4M picture for $2M. Maybe it's a $10M picture for $8M.)

(Whether Warners will let him make it for only $5M, who knows. But let's assume they're sane, and see no drawback to having a creator take a dead series of theirs and turn it into the first in potentially many movies, or even another series, which they would own.)

And, of course, the Kickstarter money also proves the value of the franchise. There are rabid fans out there. If there are 45,000 people willing to pay $10 and up for schwag, how many would be willing to pay $15 to actually see the movie? How many will buy the DVD?

And, there's 45,000 people talking about the movie. There's your word of mouth campaign. 30,000 t-shirts is a lot of publicity. That's a lot of billboards that people are paying to walk around in.

So, sure, $3M in Kickstarter funds is not the same as $3M in the bank.

On the other hand, in many ways, it is substantially better.


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Here's a précis of the proposed JOBS Act. Title III would allow crowdfunding portals such as Kickstarter to allow crowdfunders (you) to actually invest. That's important, because right now, if you invest in the Veronica Mars movie, all Rob and Kristen can give you is schwag and perks. Under the new act, they can promise you a return on your money. If there are 32,000 people who'll pay for a PDF of the script, there must be a lot more people who'd gamble some of their spare cash that the new movie will be a hit.

The portal has to jump through some hoops, but nowhere near what companies now have to jump through in order to raise investment money through, say, a boiler room operation. Those are a colossal pain, and involve yards of expensive legal paperwork. The $1M funding limit is a bit low, but it's a start.


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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Q. What do you think of the VERONICA MARS movie Kickstarter campaign?
I think, wow, there is a fan who is willing to pay $10,000 to put on a waiter uniform and say a line to Kristen Bell in a movie. There are fans who are willing to pay thousands of bucks to travel at their own expense to a movie set in order to be an extra.

I think, dang, Rob Thomas raised $2,000,000 in less than one day.

I think, how the hell are they going to make a VERONICA MARS movie for two million bucks? (Not that there is, intrinsically, any reason VERONICA MARS couldn't be made for the budget of BRICK.)

I think, it is très cool that the creator and the star got together and bravely put themselves out there to get this thing going. This could have blown up in their faces. Kudos. Rob and Kristen for the win.

I think, this is going to make things interesting. What if all those STAR TREK fans in 1969 had been able to do more than bombard the network with letters, but could have actually funded another season of their favorite show? What if Joss asked the Browncoats for the money to make another season of FIREFLY? Or if he and Eliza Dushku decided to go rogue and make their version of DOLLHOUSE where, you know, we got to see what she did with that whip?

HBO changed the rules for greenlighting a series. For HBO, it's not about how many people you can get to watch your show every Monday at 9 pm. It's about how many people are so unwilling to go without THE SOPRANOS that they will pay $15 a month to keep it on their TV.

If Rob Thomas pulls this off, then there's going to be more room for series that fans are rabid about. More X-FILES, more LOST, more BUFFY. Maybe there will be an AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER live action series for grownups. Who knows?

It encourages creators to go smart and edgy. If Thomas had dumbed down VERONICA MARS, 32,000 fans wouldn't have fronted their own cash for, basically, a chance to see a movie, and get some schwag that says you're a part of it.

I keep wondering about Kickstarter. We're putting together a dark little million dollar drama/thriller called ALICE IS PERFECTLY FINE NOW. We'll go to funders, sure, of course. But could we seriously raise some additional funds to make it bigger and better?

Of course, I'm not Rob Thomas or Joss Whedon. I can reach, say, a few thousand Faithful Readers. This is more a model for proven geniuses to leverage their fan base. Aaron Sorkin should be thinking about this. Chris Carter. Ron Moore.

(Jane Espenson, obviously, is thinking about this, but I don't want to see a sitcom farce from her, I want to see badass science fiction. I'm thinking, where are the Cylons? She's thinking, what can I shoot on $60,000 with two dudes?)

I think it's awesome.


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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Thursday, I auditioned 39 people for six roles in my next short, which I'm shooting in the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres in two weeks.

I've always been amazed by dancers. They can look at someone do a bunch of moves, and then do those moves almost perfectly, bringing their own artistry and feelings to them, making them their own. I could never even manage the Hustle.

Actors come in the door with an idea how to play a scene, and then you change the meaning of the scene in the audition. They come in playing a scene straight, and you give them an adjustment: "Nope, you're completely insincere when you say that -- you're lying, covering up." And they reinterpret the whole thing, and bring it back to you with the new imaginary circumstance, filtered through their own instrument, their personality, their soul. Really crafted actors can turn a scene around on a dime, with precision and depth.

Actors are amazing people.

Editors have the amazing ability to carry all the footage in their heads and rearrange it in their minds, resculpting the whole structure.

Composers, good ones, have the ability to add an entirely new layer to your piece, made out of music.

For my part, I can feel a story. I can turn it around in my mind, look at it in three dimensions, feel where it's weak, where there's a crack in the structure.

Film is a collaborative medium. That's its challenge. It's hard to get everyone on board. It's hard to communicate what you want to people who work in entirely different media -- lights, or hair, or set design.

But the joy of it is that everyone brings an amazing specialty to it. They tell the story in different dimensions, and it all comes together as one experience for the audience.

E pluribus unum.


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Friday, March 08, 2013

Jeff Lin posts a very thoughtful essay on the six years in Ang Lee's life where he was an unemployed film school graduate working on scripts and hoping someone would let him direct one. 
From age 30 to 36, he’s living in an apartment in White Plains, NY trying to get something — anything — going, while his wife Jane supports the family of four (they also had two young children) on her modest salary as a microbiologist. He spends every day at home, working on scripts, raising the kids, doing the cooking. That’s a six-year span — six years! — filled with dashed hopes and disappointments. ... 
Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019.
Check it out.


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Sunday, March 03, 2013

As research for a cop comedy I'm writing, we rented Emile Gaudreault's DE PÈRE EN FLIC again. (It's called FATHER AND GUNS in English, but don't hold that against it. The French title is meant to be a play on "de père en fils," "like father, like son.")

Michel Côté is a tough cop; Jean-Louis Houde is his son, also a cop. The father thinks the son is a wuss. The son thinks the father is an overbearing jerk. To save a cop who's been kidnapped, they have to go on a fathers-and-sons group therapy canoe trip together.

It's really one of the best cop movies I've ever seen. It works on every level you'd want, really. It's a good cop story. It has heart. And it is terribly funny. It's all about fathers, and sons, and two generations, and it is so specific to Québec that any American will immediately get it. It is a cop movie, but only in the way that SEMI-TOUGH was a football movie. Really, it is a relationship movie with a few guns in it.

We had Jean-Louis Houde in BON COP/ BAD COP -- he was the mile-a-minute-talking coroner. I tend to watch Québecois movies with the French subtitles on. In the case of JL Houde, I suspect there are francophones who watch with the subtitles on. There were times he spoke too fast for me to read all the subtitles.

But anyway, rent the movie if you possibly can. It is just beautifully done. 


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I liked SKYFALL more than I thought I would. It is a truly gorgeous picture, from the very first shot where a blurry Bond approaches camera, steps briefly into the light, and then charges off into shadows. The things I remember Bond films for are all the spectacles -- a car doing a 360 twist as it vaults a canal, Bond's Union Jack parachute, the laser cuttings its slow way towards his crotch, the eject button in the Aston Martin, the spaceship-eating-spaceship. But I can't remember seeing a Bond movie before where I thought, wow, that is really a lovely shot.

Which goes to show:  the Oscars did their job in promoting a nominee.

It is still a funny hybrid, this new Bond. The Bond franchise had got really silly and preposterous -- basically the plots were trellises to hang stunts off.

I once heard an interview with Pierce Brosnan, where he said, "Some of us actors can play anyone. The rest of us have this one thing that we hone and hone. I, for example, can wear a suit."

With Daniel Craig the producers picked a guy who projected an inner toughness. They made him a little less invincible, and less cocky. They took away his exploding pens. They allow him to get beat, and not just at the end of the second act, where he was traditionally taken prisoner.

It's an interesting choice, and an interesting direction to take the series. (I guess we can start talking about it as you would a TV series. Lord knows there have been enough episodes.)

The challenge, of course, is that Bond is still a fundamentally silly franchise. Nobody's watching him for his existential crisis. We're watching a ninja.

(Possibility of SPOILERS up ahead, not that you wouldn't have guessed everything everything when you were watching the movie.)

So, you have this tougher new Bond, who isn't an elegant manbot. When he feels betrayed, he can abandon his duty and go on a bender. And you still get to see the beautiful spectacles -- the train crashing through the hole in the ceiling, the motorcycle chase along the rooftops.

They don't quite go together. The plot is full of silly. There's the bad guy who wants to punish M, but goes about it in the most roundabout, baroque way possible, rather than just, say, kidnapping her from her flat and torturing her, which could not have been harder to achieve than his actual plot. And of course the bad guy is apprehended with surprising ease, but then it turns out he planned being captured (or possibly just planned for being captured, I wasn't clear), and the head techie at MI6 is dumb enough to plug his laptop into MI6's computer network, and the room in which he's being held happens to have an escape hatch into the sewers.

And then Bond takes M to his Stately Manor House with the intention of having a confrontation with the bad guy, not bothering to pick up a single sniper rifle along the way, or notify the SAS.

And then Bond, who did all this in order to protect M, completely fails in his mission. It's a beautiful moment, but hey, Bond failed. And that's never brought up or dealt with.

But why am I trying to pick holes in a Bond plot? They're not meant to be taken seriously, are they? After AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY and THE INCREDIBLES, who needs to remark that there are easier and surer ways to kill a hero than lowering him slowly into a pool of mutant sea bass? I've got a gun, I'll just go get it. --Shhht!

Because they have opened up the franchise to be taken seriously. If Bond is drinking beer now, and growing stubble, and getting shot, then he is taking a few steps in the direction of being an actual human being, as opposed to a Savile Row suit that Pierce Brosnan puts on and wears oh so well.

I found myself enjoying the movie, but not really in an engaged way. I found myself going, Oh, that's a lovely shot. But I was torn between the two horns of the hybrid. On the one hand the movie asked me to treat it as a real story, not just a bucket of eye candy. But on the other hand the plot was still utterly preposterous in a way that really, it did not have to be. After all, half of the movie makes some kind of sense. You could make a spectacular Bond movie where Bond getting trapped in a safe house without artillery was a result of pressure from the bad guy, rather than a cinematically lovely choice that no eight year old Call of Duty veteran would ever make.

Or, you could just go back to the eye candy Bonds, where we're never asked to take anything seriously, ever. Those are fun, too.

Obviously this movie worked for a lot of people. Lots of people swallowed the contradictions without worrying about it. After all, if you do something fundamentally flawed well enough, it can still work on many levels. Daniel Craig has a tremendous presence on screen, the supporting cast was superb, the spectacles were terrific, and the cinematography was a delight.

But if you're planning a mashup of some kind, especially if you don't have Daniel Craig and $200 million, do look at the internal contradictions between the things you're mashing up. You can get a lot of hybrid vigor. But you can also wind up with a movie at odds with itself. 


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Friday, March 01, 2013

Les frères Poutine et un fromage artisanal du Vermont sont rivaux pour l'amour d'une toast.

(I think it's even funnier in French.)


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