Thursday, August 31, 2006

How I Sold My First Screenplay...(or How NOT To Pitch A Movie)

This is another trip down memory lane, but I'm beginning to see a reoccurring theme of lucky incompetence rearing up in these stories, and am seriously questioning the value of recounting them.


Rewinding the tape, it's the late 80's and I was just finishing up film school. A writing class required an original idea so as to write a half hour script. The text book for the class was Syd Field's 'Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting'... probably one of three scriptwriting books on the market at the time.

I went home and scanned the book. And I mulled. Ideas are easy. Good ideas are not so easy. Great ideas are really few and far between. But who's to decide what constitutes a great idea for a story/film? Most times it's when someone else tells you it's great, but sometimes you actually know for yourself.

I remember jotting premises on napkins and in notebooks but nothing really leaping out. The day for presenting to prof arrives. I went for coffee prior to class. Panic setting in. Need. Something. Good. And then I came up with one that I could live with, and it was...

'24/7' - a small town deals with a twenty four hour convenience store opening up across the street from the old time general store.

I believe I had 'Local Hero' on the brain...that quirky Bill Forsythe dramedy about a small seaside town in Scotland dealing with a oil refinery from Texas wanting to open up shop there... and used it as 'inspiration'. So 24/7 - not bad – at least not embarrassing (my measuring stick for all things creative).

But still...

During the week, I'd also been noodling with notion of adapting or contemporizing an old play - something from Shakespeare...Moliere....and from that I moved to notion of contemporizing fairy tales or fables...Hansel & Gretel....Rapunzel....

And so, when I was walking to class, I can honestly say --- a lightbulb went off.

I stopped in the middle of the hallway and frantically scribbled on a sheet of paper:
...contemporary Pied Piper story...rock music...grasshoppers....

I went back and actually found what I pitched my prof that day:

A modern retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin set in a small prairie town where the rats are replaced with a plague of locusts and the Piper is now a mysterious rock n'roll guitarist. When the mayor refuses to 'pay the piper', the Guitarman takes the children of the town away with his music, leaving the townspeople alone and trying to rectify their horrible decision.

And the title? 'Guitarman'.

I pitched both ideas to the professor and they were well received but went with the Guitarman idea.

An interesting aside: a good friend/fellow student of mine asked if he could run with the other idea and he actually went on to write it and shoot it as a low budget feature entitled" 'The 24 Store".

But 'Guitarman'...there it was, all wrapped up in a neat little box with a bow on top. I guess it was a high concept idea, without me really knowing what high concept meant back then. But I can honestly say that, at the time, I knew I had hit a home run.
Knew it.

I wrote the script as pretty much a literal retelling of the fable - ends up around 30 pages - got a good grade - graduated film school - put script in a drawer --- moving on....

Then the next year, my graduating short film entitled 'Heartline' won several awards at some film festivals - including the best script prize at one which was sponsored by Superchannel at the time (now known in Canada as Movie Central). Very cool.

A few weeks later I got a call from the head of development at Superchannel...a wonderfully supportive woman named Gerri Cook. She congratulated me and then asked if I had any feature length story ideas kicking around. If so, would I be interested in pitching them to her to see if there was any she could put into development. I said I didn't have anything standing by, but would put something together and send to her.

And now we get to the 'what was I thinking?' lucky incompetence part of the post.

I handwrote two one page pitches on sheets of yellow foolscap (I can't even remember what the ideas were I think was about a mailman who discovers a Nazi war criminal living incognito on his route) - folded them up into a letter size envelope, and mailed them to her.

This was pre-computers(or at least I didn't have one), but for crying out loud Dix, you had a typewriter!

Oh yeah, I also included the first page of the Guitarman script and in my cover letter explained that it was from something I'd already written - a modern retelling of the Pied Piper - and here was a script page to show I knew what screenplay format looked like.

A week or so later I get a call from Gerri. She rips me a new one almost immediately... "Are you for real? What were you thinking? Sending pitches to the head of development at a pay television network hand-written on foolscap? And furthermore, the ideas aren't even that interesting!"

I choke and stammer: ", um...sorry, didn't realize...must go and hide..."

And then she chuckles and says " tell me more about this Guitarman - now THAT got my attention."


So I give her the thumbnail version of the story, she digs it but says she needs it to be expanded into a feature length...I say, sure....and within a couple of weeks a contract arrived at my little apartment in the middle of nowhere Western Canada commissioning me to write a script.

BIG fast forward here.

It's five years later, after many versions and drafts, a co-writer, deals with US distributors that came and went away, the CBC also coming on board, correspondence with managers of Sting and Angus Young from AC/DC, failed negotiations with Canuck rockers Kim Mitchell, Colin James...the financing came together and I directed the provinces first more or less indigenous feature length television movie. From a script I co-wrote. From a story that was mine.

With a poster and everything. Pretty cool.

Sidebar: A good clean high concept pitch is key, but realize it only gets you in the door. How those in greenlight positions turn around and pitch it to their higher ups is as important as your pitch. Most times more important. So it is crucial that the concept is clean. I remember being at a marketplace and listening to Gerri pitch it - and though the core elements were still there, her version...the version she saw in her head...had a very different focus. But her passion and the clarity of her vision was evident. And then I was there when I heard CBC pitch it to a potential US distributor, and their version was similar but they had their own unique vision/spin on it. They had taken the bare bones of the concept and run with it in their own heads/imagination. That's the power of a good logline - not just what it conveys quickly and efficiently, but what movie it creates in the mind of the reader/listener.

The turned out okay, not great, just okay. I was pretty green, crew was pretty green - and though it was co-written with one who's become a great in tv writing and was beautifully shot by good friend Barry the dp, I'd love to remake it again now (I do remember a scathing scathing review from John Doyle at the Globe & Mail that was like a punch in the gut...until I realized he beat up on most everything Canadian-made, at least back then. Meanwhile the Toronto Star gave it 3 stars and called it 'delightful'. Go figure).

We had some wicked music by local shit hot guitarist Jack Semple, and it starred Canadian acting stalwarts Nicholas Campbell and Donnelly Rhodes (Divinchi's Inquest) We also introduced world to Shawn Ashmore who has gone on to great success, notably the X Men trilogy. Here's a mention of Shawn at 'But it was Shawn that stole the hearts of many with his wonderful performance in "Guitarman" in which he played the main character at the age of 14, and was nominated for a Gemini Award. Since then, Shawn's career has skyrocketed.'

The story became much more character driven with a father son relationship that needed mending and a dying town that was willing to sell its future (including their children) for some present day glory - but the title and basic premise lived from day one.

And sadly, you can't find it anywhere. The little Canadian distribution company the won the very little bidding war over the picture went bankrupt shortly after its airing and it was seized and has been locked up in some vault somewhere ever since. Or so I've been told. So no video. No dvd. Nada.

But the script got bought and it got made. And I'll always be indebted to Gerri Cook. Sadly, she passed away last year - but her passion and commitment to my project and other independents on the prairies will never be forgotten.

I'm not sure what the point is, other than never underestimate the value of really knowing your story and being able to convey it clearly and succinctly and efficiently (read Denis McGrath post on knowing what you have)...

...and I don't know if there is a cooler feeling in the world than striking upon an idea for a movie or TV series, and knowing its a keeper.

SONG & ARTIST? - "The other nite, dear,
As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms.
When I awoke, dear,
I was mistaken
And I hung my head and cried."
(closing credits tune, done uptempo R&B style)

Note To Self...

...that in the future, when fully aware of how google searches can lead people to the blog --- Really. Think. Through. putting lines like 'I'm So Gay' into the post title.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

So, the Deal with MySpace... (Or Why I'm So Gay)

You know the scene from '40 Year Old Virgin'? The "you know why yer gay? - cuz you listen to Coldplay" scene? Well, I know I'm gay because I put out requests for comments on the whole MySpace topic...but boy - did it work!

Lots and lots of interesting comments.

I began integrating them into the original post to turn it into the mother of all Uninflected Images Juxaposed posts...but it got to be a bit much - so I tacked on a few more tasty tidbits and leave the rest for you to wade through if you are so inclined.

Thanks to everyone who played along...and if I didn't include a blurb from you please don't take offence - I just ran out of gas.

Plus I had to go check how many 'friends' I have now in MY MySpace

Tomorrow I'll attempt a summation of sorts - but all this input and interaction got me thinking...what about trying to write a movie a la the telephone in, someone pick a premise and some characters - one person writes the first scene, sends to next person to write next scene, and so on --- if each writes a 3 page scene x 30 people and...voila - a feature length script by the end of the day...?

Could happen. Could be fun.

Yeah I know, I'm so gay...



EDIT: way way more reader comments added below

Okay, I know I am always about a year or so (at least) behind the times --- geez I only discovered blogs in the past several months --- and so at the risk of sounding like the setup to a lame Seinfeld joke, can someone explain to me the MySpace attraction?

For me, this began with me signing up to read Terry Rossio's MySpace entries about 'Pirates II'...and then I begin receiving via email, several invites to 'Be My Friend' - from people I didn't know...strangers in fact - mostly strippers and webcam girls it seemed (not that there's anything wrong with it).

These two recent CNNMoney articles here and here talk about the phenomenon from a business standpoint. Interesting to know I suppose...

I do realize it can be like yet another advertisement...for actors, celebrities, bands, musicians, artists, models, strippers (LOTS of strippers apparently) - and like YouTube is also a venue for presenting a product or getting it out there....but most of these professional folks already have websites that have the same info that can achieve more or less the same thing.

And they are definitely in the minority.

There are a lot of peeps doing this sh*t...

So what ro make of the millions out there who aren't selling their wares...everyday people, mostly young 'uns - regular folk as we say out west...what's in it for them?

I suppose they are like blogs, personal 'magazines' of sorts...see me smile, hear me roar...but with MySpace, that doesn't seem to be the point.

The point seems to be...friends. Imaginary friends.
And then playing with them.

Or am I missing the point...and should just shut up and say:


Okay, keeping the dialogue flowing...Kelly J Compeau (funny I would've never figured you for enters the fray with her explanation:

It was Terry Rossio that lured me into MySpace just over a year ago as well, Will. Afterward, I kept getting 'Please Add Me' requests from all kinds of folks, 15 year old girls in Britain right on up to 50 year old men in Turkey who want to engage in online sex talk with me via MSN (I still get those almost daily. ugh!). At first, I refused all requests because I had no interest in MySpace, other than Terry's blog.

But, last winter, a few celebrity friends contacted me with 'Please Add Me' requests. Well, it would be pretty damn rude to refuse them. That would be like slamming the phone down when they call to say "Hey, wassup!"

Then I discovered MySpace Music and now I'm completely hooked. With just a click or two of my mouse I can hear everything from Goth rock, New Age and techno-punk electronica to pop, classic rock, pared down acoustic and heavy metal, all from famous musicians as well as struggling no-name artists with tremendous talent -- and still no recording contract.

Slowly, my list of friends got bigger and bigger and now I chat almost daily with these folks. Some of them showbiz newbies who want career advice, others showbiz veterans/stars who just want to shoot the shit with a comrade. Why, just this morning Dave Navarro and I were discussing our thoughts and opinions on who should win Rock Star: Supernova, and writer Lee Goldberg and I are in the midst of a debate about fan-fic. Last week I made preliminary arrangements with Gerard McMann, who wrote 'The Lost Boys' theme song Cry Little Sister, to lend me that song and others for my series when it finally goes into production. Same situation with 40s style crooner Matt Dusk. I also talk almost daily with the stars and writers of Blade: The Series. MySpace just seems to break down that wall and make things more intimate and friendly, like we're all members of a not-so-secret but very special community.

Will, if you're a member of MySpace, please contact me and ask to be added to my list of 'Friends'. I would consider it an honour, sir.


And Chloe pipes up:

i totally agree with you. i can't see the attraction. also i value layouts and nice templates too, and My Space is so ugly!

All interesting stuff - except there obviously is an attraction...what is it?


But wait, there's even more comments...

Good Dog shouts out:

Oh man, this was the first time browsing through MySpace...

And the first response is: My eyes! my beautiful eyes!

At least the various blog templates available were put together by actually designers who understand... well, design. What I saw looked like they were put together by manic kids who had raided the crayon box and used every one just because they can. I'm surprised - actually, glad - there wasn't glue and glitter. (Please don't tell me that somewhere there is).

Not to be the antisocial type but, just getting as many 'friends' out across the ether as you can... So what? I can understand that it can be beneficial. It seems to have worked for Kelly. Good on her. But from what I saw, all I could thing was, what is the point.

People can say the same about blogs. But a good number of blogs - at least the ones I regularly browse through - are informative. As a writer who doesn't always get a change to write, especially when we get a corporate filming assignment - writing my blog gives me the chance to flex the muscle. Even when I am writing, the blog allows me to write something different from what I had been assigned for the day.

Maybe blogs are the new 'Dear Diary...' while MySpace are the new penpals.

The problem is, most people don't have much to say. Instead they just want to be noticed.

Then Dante gets emotional (almost):

To be honest, I hate myspace, but I did sign up for it a week or two ago.

Why? Well, I figured just in case I need it for networking, I'd rather have it up there and established in the mean time.

Just a few minutes ago, I got my first friend invite from a total stranger/internet whore named Andrea. Very weird. Of course I turned it down, but a part of me felt bad. What if she really was just looking to make a friend?

You know, I found myself starting to wonder the same thing, and also feel bad?

But then Jutratest slams dunks it:

I used it for a while in my stripping days, but it didn't help either, thus my retirement.

You retired too soon, my friend. Retired too soon.


And I asked, and people kept chiming in...

Diane the Optimisic Reader endorses:

I didn't 'get' the MySpace attraction until very recently either. My sister sent me an invite, and as my several siblings are scattered all over the place, it seemed a good way of keeping in touch with them - usually by posting pictures, or making insulting comments on each others space it seems. From the networking point-of-view it is useful though - my artist brother uses it as another avenue to get work seen, and a screenwriter friend puts up script excerpts for feedback. But what I like most about MySpace is just randomly clicking on someone's profile reading about their interests, what they do, favourite films, all of that - I find these little snippets great for building/developing characters. And I'm nosy.

So that's the attraction for me. The downside is that something always seems to be broken and, as others have pointed out, it is brute ugly.

Chopped Nuts also seems to agree:

Well one benefit is catching up with people you haven't heard from in a long time. For example, it allows you to link your old schools (if they havea website), and that way I found an old buddy I haven't spoken to in years. And by doing a name search I found a friend from film school, another lost soul.

On the negative side, I think it's being used for the American Idol way to fame - going from 0 to 60 in the least amount of time possible, as opposed to studying your craft and skinning your knees along the way.

The lovely Maryan Batchellor gets tough:

Terry Rossio also lured me to MySpace. Seems like a lot of us headed there to read his blog -- which he rarely posts on but when he does, it's well worth any grief you get from horny teenagers. Other than that, the whole MySpace thing pretty much gives me the creeps and I monitor my sons' sites closely. In a lot of ways, MySpace is like an online high school bedroom wall or locker with everyone decorating with posters and music and smiley faces.

Kelly J returns for more:

Every person you've ever known, ever met, started out as a stranger. You knew nothing about them and it was only through conversation and the exchange of thoughts and ideas that you developed relationships or frienships with them. Some turned out to be jerks, others your best buddies. But it all starts with an introduction.

Four months ago Will Dixon was just a name I read on Alex Epstein's blog -- and I'm sure I was no more than that to him, also. But over time, our online exchanges became more frequent and friendlier, and now he's on the top of my list for a staff writing gig on my show. It may not have been MySpace that brought us together, but it's the same concept: online blogs.

System Addict pontificates:

Once you get through that mess of millions, unwanted and unloved youths, there are some decent groups/bands displaying their music for the world to hear...

But personally, from a beneficial standpoint- there is none, at least not
any I can see. Blogs are a lil different though- they're more about
observations and experiances that really need little to no contact to continue on. Many blogs I read for informative purposes and never leave a note- Sometimes there's an interesting debate- but you'll rarely find that with myspace.

Scott the Reader, Alex Epstein, and Denis McGrath sound off...

Scott: For a couple of months, I blogged the same blog both there and on blogspot, but myspace was just ugly and clunky to use. Plus I'm married and not a 15-year-old girl, or after one. So I've abandoned my myspace website.

Alex: Yeah, I don't get it either. I have a myspace page somewheres, but I don't use it.

Denis: There's no room for MySpace. There are lots of things that I like to do that I don't have time for. I'd love to be able to play Xbox or Playstation - but I haven't turned either one on in two years. I would love to read more. I'd like to see more movies. Myspace just doesn't hold any appeal to me. I don't understand the social attraction -- but then again, I also don't understand MSN chatting or stuff like that, either. Email to me is as fun and breezy as I get.

I get the feeling if I was 15 I'd feel different. but i'm not. so i don't.

Good Dog is back in the house...

I think Denis nailed it, bringing up the time issue. With all the things going on, I find it difficult enough keeping up with real friends, whether they are in the US, Australia, or here in England.

Having a bunch of virtual friends to do the rounds with would just do my head in.

Diane Kristine is wary...

I don't like the sort of false intimacy to them, with strangers seemingly randomly connecting with other strangers and creating instant friendships. But then I don't quite know how to distinguish it from the fact that I have enjoyed "meeting" interesting people through my blog (or, you know, through DMc's blog), except that we don't pretend to be best friends forever.

I guess it depends on someone's motivation for putting their thoughts out there in cyberspace - I've mostly seen MySpace-like places used more as online diaries and to make friends than for just having a place to sort out your own thoughts or exchange ideas with likeminded or interesting people. There are some interesting blogs on it, but a lot of crap to sort through to get to them.

As is Ellie Tee...

There are two specific things I don't like about MySpace, both of which I learned (by proxy) from the students at school.

1) It is a competition. (Who has the most friends? And which of your mutual friends leaves comments on YOUR MySpace most frequently?)

2) It is a wonderland for stalking people you either used to know or WANT to know. Eeesh.

As neither of these appeal to me, I'll stick with my Blog. Plus yeah, the design of it is big time ugly. ;)

Deep Structure states the reality...

This type of social site isn't anything new - it's just the aol version.

my biggest peeve with myspace? that the "so-and-so is in your extended network" feature is both the most potentially interesting and absolutely useless part of it.

there are currently 105,810,562 people in my network. as of August 9th, 2006, myspace had 100 million members. so essentially everyone on my space is in my network.


But then the Unknown Screenwriter points out the upside...

The MySpace phenom is the FRIENDS thingy... It's like that friend who hit you up at work that day and wanted to sponsor you into SCAMWAY -- I mean AMWAY...

Only one major difference... IT WORKS.

Take for instance, Kevin Smith and his recent use of MySpace for promoting CLERKS II.

It's exactly promotional gimmicks like these that are going to make MySpace even more popular... If you can somehow create a huge network of MySpace friends and KEEP THEM INTERESTED in your MySpace area, then you've got a real shot at promoting just about anything under the sun... Hence, the reason so many bands, musicians, and filmmakers are creating MySpace accounts.

How's this work for screenwriters?

I don't know... LOL.

If I had a few thousand MySpace friends, what do I do... Get them to read my screenplay?

On the other hand... If you sell a screenplay and it's coming out fairly soon... Think about the promotional tool this could be for getting those friends to go out and see your movie.

I see the whole thing as a sort of Reality Internet phenomenon... Like Reality TV.

Everybody wants their 15 minutes (or more) of fame and what better way to do it than through the internet somehow?

So now let me ask you a serious question...

Why aren't we trading links to each other's blogs?

Bill the Pulp Bastard also sees the possibilities...

I actually have friends who are using Myspace to screen their episodes of their tv show, that they will eventually edit into a feature version. It's called SOUP OF THE DAY and it's a romantic comedy.

I am not a big Myspacer, though I can see the possibilities through stringent weeding out of the undesirables who just want to "add me" or something. Do they give out prizes over there or what?

I belong to Tribe Hollywood and the new creative community that CREATIVE SCREENWRITING is launching. I will use them to network as I want to retire one day and be that 'fat old bastard drinking the umbrella drinks' instead of just the 'mad pulp bastard'.

Writing On Spec Dave feels the love...

As an artist, you're in a singular place. You see the world a particular way, you want to express your feelings through your art, but in our local lives, there typically, isn't that many folks who feel the same as you.

Myspace is a way for folks to reach out and find folks with familiar interests. I think it goes beyond just adding friends.

As a writer, all I need are the words. But as an artist or musician, myspace offers so much more.

Myspace allows people from all over the world to find each other. No doubt a bunch of it is worthless or abused or semi-harrassment. Anything that can be used that way, will be. That's just human nature.

But just as blogs have become a way for people to express themselves and vent frustrations, myspace is a place for like-minds to gather and support.

And Mystery Man closes the door...

I resisted MySpace like the frickin' plague because of all the bad press it was getting about the frauds and the scammers on the site. And ya know, I just refuse to allow myself to get sucked into some crazy marketing scheme.

I also prefer to limit my online friends to fellow-writers & like-minded cinephiles, and I try to keep all my other friends "real." Especially girls. I don't know why, but I'm always happier when they're real.

Of course, I eventually caved in like a loser and signed up not because of Terry Rossio (although I occasionally read his blog) or even because of my very dear friend, Anita Liberty, who's bitterness always brings warmth to my heart... No, I signed up just to view the profile of "The Carver" from Nip/Tuck.

Everyone's got their weaknesses.


I'll say.

Thanks again everyone.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I Wonder How It's Gonna End...

Some Friday Fun dedicated to those of us able to justify television viewing as "research".

Because it made me smile...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Net Ruffled Nationalistic Feathers... this aricle in today's Variety, the Canadian version of 'The One' is still on the CBC's (development) slate. I know, who knows for sure --- but still gotta love that Varietymagspeak...


It's Going To Get Ugly...

Two recent stories in Variety and LA Times - CBS announces free next day streaming of their hit tv shows - right on top of - Writing/Directing/Acting guilds not informed of network decision ...

Since compensation of artists for internet distibrution of tv shows/movies is already high on the priority list (along with revenue sharing for DVD sales) of the upcoming negotiations between U.S. studios/networks and the U.S. guilds, this move will definitely fuel the union (f)ire.

Loving Father? Or Sexual Predator!

An amusing (but true) story.

Recently took twins to nearby park. They play on swings and slides. I read a book. A local tv news crew arrives. They begin shooting b-roll of all the kids doing their park playin' thing. I wonder what news story is, but assume its a 'having fun in the summertime' piece. My son frantically runs around trying to get in background of the camera shots. For the most part, it's a losing battle.

My daughter comes over and sits beside me on the bench. Asks whether we will be on the news tonight. I know how tv works so direct her to pretend she and I are talking about something interesting as I see camera pan our way. We do some 'acting'. Camera rolls (flashing green light). Soon therafter, the reporter does her standup. Then crew wraps out and heads off. I find myself still wondering why they didn't come ask us if it was okay to film us, but whatever.

Its dinnertime. Everyone gathers around the tv for local newscast. And lead story is about a known sex offender who had abducted a couple of kids a few hundred miles north of us and was finally apprehended. Abducted kids seemed unharmed. A happy ending, all things considered.

And then the next story is about keeping children safe from sexual predators. And they go to footage of the park! And as the reporter talks about how danger lurks everywhere and kids need to be careful, we see shots of my children and other children frolicking around the playground...unattended. Hmmmm...

Now I'm sitting up straight...really beginning to worry where this news story is heading. And then they cut to me and my daughter sitting on the bench, the reporter voiceover says something along the lines of... "Sexual predators can be anyone and will prey on the innocence of children. It's up to us as parents to educate and inform our kids of the dangers out there and how to be safe."

Now, I know they were trying to portray us all in a positive light --- but depending on whether a viewer was paying attention or not, I could be perceived as the loving educating father...or the stalking sexual predator! I almost flipped a table and threatened to call the station to complain...but was talked down by my kids who were just so thrilled to be on tv, regardless of what was said.

Look, we all know that media plays with the pictures to tell the story they want to tell. Nevertheless, I still think they should have informed me what the report was about and asked permission to use us on camera.

Don't you?

Friday, August 18, 2006

"So Come On, And Tell Me I'm Your Own!...(Ribbet)"

Taking kids out to the lake again for a few days, but first some Friday fun from Looney Tunes and 'One Froggy Evening'...

Because it makes me smile.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Complete and Utter Confusion...

USA Today reports on desperate networks looking for the next big thing in tv comedy... networks that admit even themselves that they have no idea. Multi-camera studio show? Single camera dramedy? Laughtrack? No laughtrack? Nobody seems to know...

And to further complicate matters, networks must be too aware that the only tv comedies getting any buzz these days are series like 'Weeds', 'The Office', 'Curb Your Enthusiasm', 'My Name Is Earl', 'Family Guy', 'The Daily Show' and 'Colbert', 'Scrubs' (sort of), 'Arrested Development' (yes cancelled but there was buzz), 'Entourage' (if it's even considered a comedy), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'(barely a buzz)...

And look at that list --- not a conventional 'sit-com' in the bunch. And even with their perceived notoriety, none of these shows are doing big business in the ratings game. Which must make them fairly difficult to invest in from a network standpoint.

Sorry for not mentioning 'Two And a Half Men' and 'According to Jim' --- because even though I know they do respectable ratings, the other prerequisite was that the shows are actually funny...
Think about it:'Rosanne', 'Seinfeld', 'Cosby', 'Raymond', 'Cheers', 'Friends', 'Simpsons', even 'Frasier' and 'Home Improvement'...all did HUGE numbers each week once they hit their stride. And, by and large, they were all pretty funny.

If you asked me today to pick a direction in comedy television that would guarantee a network some sort of big hit, I'd be hard pressed for an answer. Not that any network is asking...but I'd still be hard pressed.

SONG & ARTIST? - "So no one told you life was going to be this way.
Your job's a joke, you're broke, you're love life's DOA.
It's like you're always stuck in second gear,
It hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year, but..."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

His Name Is Earle...

"Bruce Springsteen may have been the "consummate chronicler of welfare-line blues," writes Lauren St. John, "but Steve Earle lived the life."

Alt-country rock pioneer, hardcore troubadour, rebellious without a cause turned rebel with a cause...Steve Earle, in my opinion, is one of the finest songwriters America has ever produced. An artist in the truest sense of the word - a passionate performer and activist who not only stands up for what he believes....he makes damn fine music (even if he's on his seventh marriage).

This is admittedly a bit of a gush post. I was a moderate fan of his early albums - 'Guitartown', 'Exit O', 'The Hard Way' - but then Earle's addictions caught up with him and he was sent to jail. And like most people, I figured he was done and gone. And then he emerged from prison and rehab and latched his claws into me big-time with five straight cd's: 'Train A Coming', 'I Feel Alright', 'El Corazon' , 'The Mountain' and 'Transcendental Blues'. Those last three were recorded over both sides of a cassette I took down with me to LA when looking for a place to live. It never came out of the rental car tape deck for nearly two months.

"I have spent most of my life (like most people) avoiding transcendence at all costs, mainly because the shit hurts. Merely defining transcendence can sometimes be painful. I once heard that "Transcendence is the act of going through something". Ouch. I see plate glass windows and divorces. Someone else told me that it was "rising above whatever one encountered in one's path" but at this point in my life that smacks of avoidance as well as elitism of some sort. I am compelled to look back on years of going through, above, as well as around my life looking for loopholes to redefine everything including any and all of the ideas that I have held close to my heart along the way - Art - Freedom - Justice - Revolution - Love (a big one) - Growth - Passion - Parenting (a really big one) - and I find that for me, for now, transcendence is about being still enough long enough to know when it's time to move on. Fuck me." — Steve Earle (Chicago, January 2000)

Anyway, Earle played Buttkick this weekend - courtesy of the local folk festival.

In front of several thousand people, Earle (sans the Dukes) took the stage armed only with his six string and his harmonica...and immediately launched into three early hits - 'I Ain't Ever Satisfied', 'Someday', and 'My Old Friend The Blues' - with little more than a "thanks" uttered between each unplugged gem....I was so there, but a little confused.

Where was the angry opinionated man from 'Just An American Boy? The politically minded activist who, along with Neil Young, has been one of the most outspoken artists about America and the current administration. The man whose last cd was the provocative and powerful "The Revolution Starts Now'.

Well, he was just easing into it, as it were.

And as he plowed through song after song, eventually the stories began to flow freely, and his edgey opinions started to emerge. There were even some pokes at Canadian Prime Minister Harper - Earle knows his politics. I don't necessarily agree with everything he has to say, but I sure respect Earle for not being afraid to say it...either as between tune banter, or with songs like 'Billy Austin', 'John Walker's Blues', and his closer, 2002's 'Jerusalem'...

"I woke up this mornin'
And none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin'
'cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me
that it had always been that way
And there was nothin' anyone could do or say
And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find
That I believe that one fine day
all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem"

Even the drunk fan at the back constantly yelling " Copperhead Road!" finally shut up during this eeriely prophetic number --- capping off a truly memorable evening of appealing music with a message.

Kind of like an entertaining movie or tv show that is also able to make you important thing to always be striving for, no matter what you're creating.

SONG & ARTIST? - "I was born my papa's son
A wanderin' eye and a smokin' gun
Now some of you would live through me
Lock me up and throw away the key
Or just find a place to hide away
Hope that I'll just go away..."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Saigon...Sh*t....I'm Still Only In Saigon

Well, after numerous conference calls and a whack of research and untold revisions of pitch documents and proposals, the tv project that looked so promising for a fast track after the Banff festival still sits on some high up decision makers desk --- waiting for a green light...or a pass.

And to further complicate matters (or make one crazy mental) - was recently informed by network that another project almost identical to ours had managed to get in the door and onto same decision makers desk, and was being given equal consideration...even though it arrived long after ours first got presented.

Sometimes this business can make you feel like a snail, crawling along the edge of a straight razor...

SONG & ARTIST? - "Well, say that you'll be true,
Well, say that you'll be true,
Well, say that you'll be true,
and never leave me blue... "

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Cave From Whence They Came...

I'll admit it - sometimes You Tube can make posting way too easy...but some Friday fun with a young Eddie Murphy riffing on Ice Cream and Tub Tooting...

Because it makes me smile...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The (Revised) Attack of The Killer Spot...

EDIT: here is a link to the 2006 Cannes Lions winning commercials...check out the Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners for some serious procrastinating...including these very cool VW ads with animated rabbits that act out entire films like Pulp Fiction, Jaws, and Star Wars in less than thirty seconds.

I used to work a rep movie house back in my university know, the one that played the latest greatest foreign films or the cool independent releases - but my fav was always the yearly complilation of World's Best Commercials from Cannes.

Like telling a great joke or a powerful short story, commercials have to engage immediately and deliver the goods with punch and a way, almost seduce you. And even though ads are ultimately about selling a product, they can be as creative and funny and entertaining as any good episode of your favourite television show (albeit in shorter doses).

Here's a few interesting ones I found...

Did any work for you? What makes a good tv ad?

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Adverbs...

...Read A Lot, Write A Lot...Constantly Ask 'What If?'...Rewrite And Then Rewrite It Again...

Good bits of advice that all writers should take to heart...and a zillion people out there willing to teach it.

There's a lot of 'how to write' books. And some are really good, and some are so yesterday, and some were published yesterday but deserve to be Stephen King's 'On Writing'.

"Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

I've been a fan of Mr. King's work for most of my adult life. And only recently realized how much of a profound effect he had on me and my story arenas of choice...

Paranormal/horror/mysteries/creepy/supernatural/things are not as they seem...been there, done that...done it a lot.

"Imagery does not occur on the writer's page; it occurs in the reader's mind."

I remember first crossing paths with King after taking 'The Shining' on a road trip with several high school buddies, and was unable to put it down the entire long weekend.

"Dix, we're shotgunning beers!"
"Shut up I'm reading."
"Dix, there's more girls here than guys!"
"Shut up, I'm reading."
"And the girls are all really drunk!"
"Shut up..."

Anyway, you get the picture.

'The Shining' grabbed me right off the bat and then it drew me in. And it scared the hell out of me. Furthermore, it was written in a style I was not know, the ol' hearing/reading someone's thoughts written in italics trick...

The Daddy smiled down at his Son. little brat, I want to bash your stupid head in...

The Son looked up at his Daddy in alarm.

So creepy and yet so cool.

I loved the way he wrote...what he wrote he tended to entertain first and he always integrated music and quoted song lyrics constantly (another influence). I read pretty much everything King wrote up until 'Insomnia' - the mid-90's I think -and then my interest in him waned. Or perhaps, my interest in reading in general waned.

"Most of it's pretty good, just take the bad parts out."

So a few years ago, King put out his book on writing. And if you haven't perused it, you should. Simple yet not simplistic...clear and's a quick read - a nice combo of autobiography and scribe advice. Well worth the effort. I got way more out of it than I thought possible.
And before the book, he wrote a writing tips article for a magazine. Here are some of his key points edited by moi, but with film/television in mind...
"Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes" by Stephen King

1. Be talented

This, of course, is the killer. What is talent? We're not talking about good or bad here. People who are published/hired steadily and are paid for what they are writing may be either saints or trollops, but they are clearly reaching a great many someones who want what they have. Ergo, they are communicating. Ergo, they are talented. The biggest part of writing successfully is being talented, and in the context of marketing, the only bad writer is one who doesn't get paid. If you're not talented, you won't succeed. And if you're not succeeding, you should know when to quit.

2. Be neat and observe all rules for proper submission

Type. Format properly. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that erasable onion-skin stuff. If you've marked up your script at all, print another draft.

3. Be self-critical

If you haven't marked up your script a lot, you did a lazy job. Only God gets things right the first time.

4. Remove every extraneous word

You want to preach? Fine. Get a soapbox. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can't find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right - and breaking your train of thought and the writer's trance in the bargain - or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don't have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it ... but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don't do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

6. Know the markets

Only a dimwit would send a story/script about giant vampire bats surrounding a high school to 'Gilmore Girls'. Only a dimwit would send a tender story/script about a mother and daughter making up their differences on Christmas Eve to 'Masters of Horror'... but people do it all the time. If you write a good story/script, why send it out in an ignorant fashion?

7. Write to entertain

Does this mean you can't write "serious fiction"? It does not. But your serious ideas must always serve your story, not the other way around. I repeat: if you want to preach, get a soapbox.

8. Ask yourself frequently, "Am I having fun?"

The answer needn't always be yes. But if it's always no, it's time for a new project or a new career.

9. Evaluate criticism

Show your work to a number of people. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review what was said very carefully. If most of your critics are telling you the same thing about some facet of your story - a plot twist that doesn't work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or half a dozen other possibles - change that facet. It doesn't matter if you really liked that twist of that character; if a lot of people are telling you something is wrong with your script, it is. But if everyone - or even most everyone - is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.

10. If it's bad, kill it

When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction/screenwriting, it is the law.

(The above excerpts are copyright Stephen King, 1988. For the full article, go to Stephen King's Writing Tips . And here's another article from King over at Wordplay entitled 'Imagery and the Third Eye' which speaks more specifically to writing for film.)

I realize a lot of these tips are like " shit, Sherlock", but occasionally seeing them in point form helps them stick.

I have written or co-written a fair number of scripts over the past decade, but they all have been episodes for existing television shows. Or I've written tv series specs. Or I've created bibles and pilots for new tv series that never saw the light of a HMI. Or worked on co-writes of some movies and a mini-series...

But I haven't begun a solo original feature length screenplay in about ten years. Not until recently, that is...

The saying goes that the best laid plans of us mice and men often go intervenes. After he was nearly killed by a car as he took his morning stroll, Stephen King spent much of the last several years in surgery and rehab. I didn't get hit by a car exactly (or have an actual heart attack), but it sure felt like it. King retired, and then unretired...and he wrote:

"I don't believe writing is a way of life, but I do believe it can be a way back to life."

Another good bit of advice. Advice I'm finally starting to take to heart as well...

SONG & ARTIST? - "Doctor lawyer beggar man thief,
Philly Joe remarkable looks on in disbelief,
If you want a taste of madness, you'll have to wait in line,
You'll probably see someone you know on heartattack and vine."

SONG & ARTIST? - "And Romeo says hey man gimme a cigarette and they all reach for their pack

And Frankie lights it for him and pats him on the back, and throws a bottle at a milk truck and as it breaks he grabs his nuts

And they all know they could be just like Romeo if they only had the guts..."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Golf Is Sexy...

you look at it...

Friday, August 04, 2006

"It Gets Crazy On The Road...And Awful Lonely...

...that's why I love pornongraphy."

...more Friday fun as Ferrell does Diamond doing VH1 Storytellers...

Because it makes me smile...though we're all probably going someplace for enjoying it.

SONG & ARTIST? - "Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
Don't need reason, don't need rhyme
Ain't nothing I would rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too..."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Candy Store Kids...

TV critics in Pasadena previewing the upcoming fall season are complaining "there's too much 'good' tv..."

Funny thing for them to be complaining about, don't ya think?

So, a good omen...or the kiss of death. I guess we'll all know in a few months.

Let's Spend The Night Together...Again

So no worries, mate...due to overwhelming demand, another Rolling Stones show has been added here in Buttkick in October - two days earlier than the first (sold out) concert - meaning those who won the initial ticket lotto won't even have bragging rights to say they saw them first. And scalpers that were having a field day now best hope they aren't overstocked and left holding 'golds', as it were...

But it's all been quite amusing to observe. Controversy and chaos rule - nobody here seems to understand how Ticketmaster works or why band club members get first dibs on tix or why so many people want to go and the city can't just have the World's Greatest (old) Rock n'Roll Band to themselves or why it all costs so dang much but if you don't go you will miss the 'Concert Event of the Century' --- welcome to the "music big leagues", little town!

You pays your money and you takes your chances...

SONG & ARTIST? - "Always in a hurry, I never stop to worry,
Don't you see the time flashin' by.
Got no money...
I'm all sixes and sevens and nines.

Say now, baby, I'm the rank outsider,
You can be my partner in crime...
But baby...
I can't stay....
You got to ro-o-oll me... "

P.S. - if you care anything about Canadian television, check out what Denis McGrath is ranting about (in a good way) today...he deserves to be heard...