Monday, December 31, 2007


To you and yours in 2008....especially McGrath, Henshaw, Epstein, Cunningham, Caroline, Juniper, Diane, mef, Jaime, Don, Peter, the John(s), the UK crew, and all the writers, readers, and commenters that made this year and this blog worthwhile.

All the best!


Friday, December 28, 2007

Battling Bullies...(Or Your Worst Work Day Ever)...(Reprint)

Talking TV trash talk here, sort of your anti-Ken Levine post...your worst day ever whilst working on a television series (or a movie if that's your niche).

Here's a couple of doozies....

One. A series about ten years ago. It was a strange hybrid of sci-fi paranormal drama and the supposed reality of an organization that investigated this spooky stuff. It's a long convoluted story how I got involved, but a series of fortunate, or unfortunate, events found me sitting in the room and being asked to help lead the charge of a show that had cleared 98% of the US marketplace, but didn't really know what it was yet.

We had several sit-downs in Los Angeles, followed by several more back in Toronto. But I was starting to get antsy. We had to figure out the series, but we also had a start date in a couple months. Decisions needed to start being made. But it wasn't that simple. You had two camps. One consisting of the network and studio/company that wanted one kind of show (more of a mystery drama). And another camp consisting of the creators and star and 'real' organization that had provided the inspiration for the series. And for some bizarre reason, I became the guy that both sides felt they could talk to and try to sway the series in one direction or the other.

There was so much crazy talk. I mean, I barely knew what I was doing but I knew enough that it was a bad thing that no one could agree. And a worse thing that the one thing everyone was agreeing on was the size and scale and scope of the visual effects everyone wanted...yet there was no way we could afford it all.

At some point, I was standing outside having a smoke with the Line Producer and one of the two exec producers from the second camp. I must have had my fill of bullshit for that day so I started to make a case for taking the show more in the direction the network and studio/company desired because, after all, they were paying for it. This executive producer got in my face so fast. He insisted it couldn't change course. It was sold this way and that's the way it must remain. "Yeah but..." I start to say. His face got very red....veins were popping out everywhere...and he got this wild look in his eyes as he moved up inches from me and shrieked: "Do not fuck this up! Do not fuck this up!! This is my retirement fund we're talking about here!!! And. You. Will. Not. Fuck. It. Uppppp!"


Of course I was just the middle man, and had no vested interest in how it did or the backend of any profits - other than keeping a gig. But I walked away from that little scene with that sick feeling of knowing I was caught in the middle of two opposing sides they weren't going to bend, and my next ten months were going to be absolute hell. I was right.

Two. I was on a big show in Vancouver. And I was there apprehensively. The writing room was made up of big hitters from 'Quincy', 'Northern Exposure', 'Quantum Leap', 'Lois And Clark', 'Tales From The Crypt', 'Star Trek Next Generation', and little ol' me. It was my own undoing I'm sure, but I spent most of my time on that gig never really feeling like I belonged or even deserved to even be there. Everyone just seemed so out of my league, and I let that get to me.

Anyways this show had a notorious screamer exec...the stories were legendary. But I'd yet to have any real contact with him, until I turned in the first draft of my first script. I remember being called to immediately get down to the head writers office. Walk in, and all I can hear is someone yelling through a speaker phone. It's this exec calling from LA. Head writer was a super nice soft-spoken man who was trying to placate and cajole, but he was losing badly. It was announced I was in the room and screamer exec just went off.

Screamer Exec: "What were you thinking? This story begins in a homeless shelter and the priest running it is a bitter, discouraged man. Are you out of you fuckin' mind? People who work in homeless shelters don't act like that!"

I stammer, look desperately at faces of other writers sitting in room, but most were staring at the floor. See I'd played the priest as a happy, enthusiastic caregiver in my initial pitch, and it had been the writers room that had said to change it to this jaded character because that was 'more interesting'. And kudos to the head writer for piping up at that moment and stating that the room, in fact, had asked me to change it (it was all so pointless in retrospect because this character disappeared from the story by the end of act one).

Screamer Exec: "I don't care if you told him to change it. He wrote this shit. He's responsible for this shit, and he is going to eat shit!"

The next hour was him yelling about every line of the first eight pages and what he wanted it changed to. This without him having even read the rest of the draft. Any attempts to explain that things were there to pay of story stuff later was met with he didn't care and ordered to change. Call finally ended with him addressing me personally and yelling (still!): "You're a fucking idiot and you don't write worth shit. I want this fixed and brilliant by tomorrow morning or you’re fired!" Click.

To say I was shell-shocked is an understatement. I'd heard the stories, hell I'd seen Kevin Spacey in 'Swimming with Sharks'...but until you're in the room and at the other end of that kind of attack, you have no idea. And I got a draft done and managed to muddle through rewrites until it went into production, but I never really recovered. He was gunning for me and I knew it (seeing how he went after my next outline), and I began to believe I didn't deserve to be there or even want to be there anymore. I did my time and put in the effort, but when they decided not to extend my option to the next year, I wasn't broken up about it.

The upside? A few years later I found myself deep in the muck on three TV movies with an aging Hollywood has-been exec screamer. I was directing one and kind of creative producing the three. He ended up on my watch a lot of the time. And I endured more verbal abuse from him in three months than I'll receive in a lifetime. But the difference was I'd been there before.

We had an early story meeting with me and the director of the first movie and Aging Screamer in the room and the writer on speaker phone. And I'd remained pretty quiet as the director discussed changes or adjustments and was mostly rebutted. Finally, near the end of the call, the director turned to me and asked me to bring up a logic point that basically turfed the story but I did have a solution...and I brought it up...and Aging Exec lost it.

Aging Screamer Exec: "Have you lost your fucking mind? Have you made moving pictures (that's what he called them) before? It's a fucking mystery. And mysteries have clues and red herrings. And that's a fucking red herring clue! Don't you know anything?! Get out! Get out of my sight now!"

Director gaped. But I just shrugged and stayed seated and said I thought it was a valid point and we should consider changing it. Aging Screamer's face was beet red and he was spitting and stammering, but then started to calm down and asked what my note was again. We came to conclusion it was neither a clue or a red herring or a red herring clue (whatever that is)...and we got there because he didn't scare me. I'd been there, done that. I could be offended or insulted, but I wasn't going to be bullied.

There's a lot of good and decent people in the TV/film business, but there's also a lot of assholes and bullies. Probably like that in every line of work. And I'm sure it's no coincidence these stories were with Hollywooders having to work with us lowly Canucks (Canadians tend to be a lot nicer). But if you want to swim in those waters, be ready for it. And the first time you run up against it will feel like a slap to the face. But you've got to go through it a few times in order to discover your way of dealing with it. And the toughest thing can be when what they are saying is actually a good point, but the way they are going about passing along that point or note is what is offensive and wrong.

So you learn to listen patiently, and try not to get angry or defensive, and then counter with words just as strong as theirs. If you make sense and don't make it personal, plus can incorporate some things they brought up into your counter attack, they will generally back down. Or not. In which case you either quit, or grin and bear it.

SONG&ARTIST? - "Now that your picture's in the paper
being rhythmically admired
and you can have anyone that
you have ever desired,
all you gotta tell me now is why, why, why, why.
Welcome to the workin' week.
Oh I know it don't thrill you, I hope it don't kill you.
Welcome to the workin' week."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Moving Music Boxes....(Reprint)

"Could we try the piano over there, hun...?" Who hasn't heard a variation of that line one time or another...

My mother was terrific for it. I used to walk in after school and hear: "I'm getting tired of how this all looks...let's try the piano over there." Um...ex-weeze me? I'd launch into a logic counterstrike..."But mom, that means moving the sofa here, which means it won't face the fireplace, and the coffee table won't fit, and blah blah blah...." I'd even try to draw a picture to give an idea what it might look like - but she'd hear none of it.

"Nope. I need to see it."

So I'd sigh, then me and my brothers would hump the piano across the room, after taking the sofa and the coffee table into the dining room of course...and she'd look and think and look and think... and then we'd have to move the sofa and coffee table back in and put them where the piano was...sort of (it'd never quite fit afterward). And then we'd inevitably hear one of two things: either let's try it over here now OR let's put it back the way it was. But's perfect!

This is a friggin' piano remember! A big cumbersome heavy instrument with intricate parts and delicate keys all put together to make beautiful music when played well…

… sort of like the plot of a TV script.

Television series usually run at a breakneck pace once production begins, and the writing department has to work quickly and efficiently. As luck would have it, McGrath posted today about the glorious experience that can occur during the note giving process if everyone's on the same page. I don't dispute anything he says, but am coming at the process from a slightly different direction over here at Uninflected (besides, I've been tinkering with this post for about a week and didn't want to just ditch it). Because so often we're at the mercy of producers or exec producers or network executives who say it's just not quite working for them. ”Can you try this?” Wait a sec, let me rephrase - it's more like: "Here's what I want you to do."

And I’m not talking about a subtle dialogue tweak, I’m talking about changing it from the girl trying to make the volleyball team to her deciding to join an escort agency...MAJOR changes.

Now I'm a 'let's talk this through and see if it might work' kind of guy. And some might see that as a way of getting out of doing the work (let's face it, as a general rule, we're all lazy fucks (writers, men, etc.)), but I contest it's to see if the new suggestion will work...really be better, not just different. When redecorating a living room, different can be okay. But when running a writers’ room, and churning out stories and scripts in a timely fashion for an insane schedule, ”different” for its own sake is just cruel, especially at the last minute.

See, until you're deep into a season, you turn in a story pitch or an outline three months before it is scheduled to shoot. You get some general reactions and a few notes; everyone is pretty complimentary - all smiles and chuckles. You go away to write your first draft feeling pretty good. But when it gets late in a season and there's no time to play, if you get asked to move the piano during prep it can be like being punched in the gut.

But many times the suggestions comes with the caveat: "You’ve already done most of the groundwork, it should only take five minutes to rewrite it." NOTHING takes five minutes to rewrite. That’s like saying a shot will only take ten minutes to shoot!

Sidebar: You'll hear that all the time on set - can we just grab a shot of this; it'll only take ten minutes. NOTHING takes ten minutes. You got to talk about it. Get the actors in, discuss it...the director of photography needs to light it, the camera team need to move the camera and check the angle. Then you've got to rehearse it, sound has to get their levels, hair and makeup need to do touchups, wardrobe needs to check the clothes, and then you try to shoot it...but if it doesn't work just right - multiple takes. All in all, if it's a new setup, 20-30 can count on it. In a 10 or 11-hour workday...'grab a shot' a couple of times and you can eat up a lot of time.

But I digress...back to dealing with notes and executives and networks. Being 'not quite a hit' show can mean constantly battling the notes barrage. Here's a blurb from a LA Times article with our friend of the blog Hart Hanson talking about 'Bones':

"A show on the bubble is a bit like a high school romance," said Hart Hanson, one of the show's executive producers. "We're the girl going out with the quarterback, and he's always looking for the next cheerleader. We have to wonder how long he's going to go out with us. If we do everything he says, he won't respect us, and if we do nothing he says, he won't respect us either."

Today’s reality is most TV series are on the bubble. Why? Because there are very few bone fide hit TV series on the air, and the 'no touchy' showrunners (as in “no touchy my scripts”) are few and far between (though John August seems to think 'Heroes' has that privilege). Most shows are struggling...just trying to run far enough ahead of the bear to live another season.

Sidebar 2: Far too many networks and execs, in my opinion, cling to the numbers/ratings of several years ago as the benchmarks of 'where a show needs to be to be a hit.” As a result the Execs are unfairly down on a show after only a few airings. This goes for Canada as well. Not every show can have the freaky ratings like the Idol franchise. The bar needs to be lowered or adjusted somehow.

Back on the highway again. Since few shows are deemed 'hits', you constantly have execs and networks trying to make your show into a winner. I remember one network exec started off every big note session with..."Here I am to save the day!" Talk about a surefire line to put your story department on the defensive and/or feeling inadequate. But when you don’t have a hit, it's tough as a showrunner or head of the story department to defend or rebuff the exec’s notes.

"I need to see it."

Add to the equation the illusion in Exec land that a script/story isn't real until it's in prep and about to go to camera. I once heard a network exec ask when the draft in his hands started shooting...and when he was told 'next week,' he actually replied: "Okay...time to get serious with my notes." Whaaaa?! What were all the suggestions and comments on the outline and first draft? Him just goofing around?

Because believe me...if you write it, the notes will come.

Sidebar 3: I've worked with a few golden boys - Rob C Cooper (Stargate SG:1) is one of them. I remember after an hour long phone debate and haggle with the network over one scene and a couple of lines of dialogue (none of it was dealbreaker stuff, just choices...scene point of view, etc.), Rob said that he'd love to sit down all the company and network execs on a Saturday night as the show airs and show them how fast the scene flies by. How all the minutiae of what’s being debated ultimately don’t affect the characters or overall story. He said he hoped this little exercise would enlighten them enough to exclaim: “We spent an hour debating that? What were we thinking?!" Then he thought about it a second, sighed, and says: "Probably wouldn't matter. Fuckers."

But I don't want to give the impression that all company or studio or network execs are idiots, not at all. Most are very smart driven creative people with good ideas. And their schedules can get jammed up like ours in production can. And most times they don't really have as big a problem with the script/story as their notes would's just that they are being driven by this need to make it a hit (since its not). And hits must warrant drastic change, right? But unfortunately, when you combine the 'we need to get the numbers up' with the psychological aspect of the exec who only notes seriously when the episode is heading into prep or production, you can be faced with the task of moving music boxes. "Could we try the piano over there, hun...?"

Where am I going with all this? A while back, DMc asked:

Hey Will: you know the whole tendency that others have remarked upon that most scripts go one revision past where they were really great, and at their best. Have you encountered any way, tricks or tips to keep that from happening?
Well...yes, there are some ways to keep it from happening, at least somewhat.

1. Make them feel like you’ve made their changes. I've worked with smooth talking showrunners (Cooper was very good at this), those who had this remarkable ability to remain calm and positive, even when hearing the most inane, drastic changes, and somehow managed to cajole and manipulate and spin the boat around and eventually right the rudder with out too much damage to the boat. These guys could make the notegiver 'feel' like their notes were being addressed and changes were implemented without it actually happening (or at least to the extent they thought). And that was pretty cool to witness, and a definite skill to have in your arsenal...but not everyone can do that well. And it ultimately becomes a bullshit game instead of actually making something better. And extremely time consuming.

2. Give ‘em guts and glory. I've worked with hyper exec whose big plan was to 'swamp' the company and network with material. Write really fast (but not necessarily good) and 'we'll send them two outlines one day and two scripts the next day and two revised drafts the next day and we'd just bury them!'

(Personally, I always hated that plan, and spent a lot of energy trying to talk him out of it. It meant we (the writers) were killing ourselves to get stuff written only to have to go through the process all over again once the company/studio or network actually got around to looking at the material - generally when it went into prep.)

3. Bob and weave. I would always be diligent about getting pitches/simple story beatsheets sent over, talked through and signed off on...and then I hid out for as long as possible. Don't get me wrong, I'd spend a lot of time keeping the network/studio up to speed on the current work and what stage it’s at, while holding off actually submitting material for as long as possible. I would say, “It’s not quite there yet,” even if it was ready or nearly ready. All in an effort to keep the note 'give and take' time as short as possible.

Another blurb from that same LA Times article about nurturing middling TV shows echoes that strategy...

Like most second-year shows that didn't blow up the Nielsen ratings, "Supernatural" has undergone a creative back-and-forth with both the network and the studio in a bid to draw the largest possible audience. Eric Kripke, the show's creator and an executive producer, described the process last season with the now-defunct WB as "fairly amicable" but admits it was not without its tensions.

The show's creative team and the network clashed over scripts and story lines. Sometimes the creative team backed down, and other times they found even more "creative" ways around the impasse.

"The huge advantage any TV producer has on their side is the breakneck schedule, and I'll fully own up to taking great advantage of that a time or two," Kripke said. "If we pulled the script for the [network's] story suggestions, that means shutting down production. There's not any time for that, so we'd have to move forward."
I can only speak from my experience, and I'm not advocating this as being the way to go, but I know and understand of which Kripke speaks. And I fully endorse exploiting that advantage to its fullest.

I'm not sure if this is answering Denis' question, or if there even is a right answer. Keeping that script from going one draft too far I think directly relates to the power of the showrunner, and when s/he can say “no” without fear of getting fired.

Regardless of the strategy, extensive rewrite suggestions can come once the script is on the table. So get it solid in-house so you can defend it creatively and logically. Then use excuse of impending production to fob off any major changes. "Uh, we've already cast character as a him, so it'd be a big deal to make it a her. And we already started building the police precinct set, so it'd be a huge deal to change it to firehall."

Because when you've already done the roundy-round on an outline and again on the draft, you shouldn't be asked to try ‘moving music boxes’ when it goes to camera in a week. If you're going to be asked to move the piano, it should be when first entering the room, not after everything's been unpacked.

SONG&ARTIST? - "It's nine oclock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
Theres an old man sitting next to me
Makin love to his tonic and gin

He says, son, can you play me a memory?
Im not really sure how it goes
But its sad and its sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger mans clothes."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"The Indigent And The Haunted...(Reprint)

...cling to me."

That was a Jay Leno line he told to Letterman way back before Jay took over the Tonight Show (and was still funny). He was referring to being on the road doing standup and the types of characters and personalities that would corner him after a show.

I used to work at the local and on for about eight years from age 16 to age 24. I started out as a lowly Junior Page...primarily responsible for putting returned books, records, cassettes, etc. back out on the shelves - though I learned a lot about life whilst 'back in the 'stacks''. See, there were eight of us pages, seven teenage girls and me. The Magnicent Seven were highlighted by Glorious Gloria who was sweet and simple and liked long walk and talks...and Wicked Wanda, who was very well developed for her age and would say so - a young male library workers wet dream.

But I digress...

I was then promoted to Senior Page, and was able to check out items for patrons (and take overdue fines). Next I moved upstairs to the audio-visual dept., and as a Clerk 1 did the above as well as overseeing the records and audio cassettes, plus cleaning and lending the vast collection of 16mm films (before they slowly began to lose out to video cassettes). I ended up downstairs in the basement selling tickets and projecting movies for what was essentially the city's only rep film theatre.

Prior to working there I practically lived at my local building of books. Regular readers of Uninflected Images might recollect I grew up essentially without a television, and so I read like a fiend. They knew me by name as I would trudge, bike, bus each week over to the nearest library and take out at least 8-10 books. I was the kid the librarians would ask the opinion of a book to know whether to recommend it to another patron...cuz I'd read them all.

Good times, my library days. Good times...

And while I was there, either visiting or employed, there were always 'the regulars'. Usually loners, eccentrics, oddballs, kooks...most were homeless or suffering from schizophrenia or some mental illness...they were people that lived at the library more than I did. And they would park themselves in their usual chairs or corners around the library and wile away their days in the one place in town they were more or less left alone.

There was Doris, wigged and sporting too much lipstick and mascara... parading around in a fur coat all year long. And Zane, who paced and muttered loudly before spontaneously cussing and swinging wildly at an invisible assailant. And of course, Donny, who carried a large bag of rubber balls and would stack them around his chair and talk to each of them, sometimes even kissing one.

I remember being a bit freaked out by some of these people and their behavior when I first encountered them...but they were harmless and soon became familiar faces. I'd nod and say hello. And most times they'd acknowledge me. Some would take the nod as an invitation for conversation...oh my, some of the discussions I had.

"The indigent and the haunted cling to me..."

I still 'heart' my local library. These days, however, it's less for the books and more for the privilege of borrowing series TV dvd's. A couple weeks ago it was 'X Files - Season 8'. This past week it was 'L&O: Criminal Intent - Season 1' and 'The Complete Freaks and Geeks' (the latter to rewatch...swoon). And when I go I drag my kids along and insist they explore a bit and take out a couple of books. I try to impress upon them how much the library meant to me growing up, but it's a tough sell. They usually just grumble and ask 'When are we leaving?'.

See, times have changed. Nobody goes to their library like they used to...not with all yer computers and internets and video games and TV shows and movies. Seriously, I've gone and found the library near empty of late. Found it quiet...too quiet...and that's pretty sad if you ask me.

But a lot of the regulars are still there. I recently went through the interesting experience of seeing my son getting freaked out by a now gray-haired Donny kissing his rubber balls (yes, still!). I had to convince my son that Donny was 'okay' and to not be afraid and that I actually kinda liked seeing Donny still kicking around the joint. My son gave me a strange look. Then Donny glanced over and nodded at me. I smiled and waved back. But instead of responding, Donny looked around a little anxiously and then began quickly putting his balls back in his big netted bag.

And right then and there I wondered if Donny and all the other 'regulars' had been looking at me all these years and thinking:

"The indigent and the haunted cling to me..."

SONG&ARTIST? - "You were caught on the cross fire
of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter,
come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!"

Friday, December 21, 2007


Have a great holiday season everyone!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Rainbow Of Colours....(Reprint)

Golden Rod
Double White
Double Pink

As you go through preproduction or prep (the 5-7 days leading up to the shooting of a tv episode), changes come up that warrant a revision. A line of dialogue. A character name. All of act three. Some will be big changes. But most will be little. Whatever the extent of the damage, those revised pages are published with an asterix marked at the end of each changed line. They are then put out or distributed as coloured pages.

The order of those colours varies from tv series to tv series, but the list above is the one with which I am the most familar.

It all starts with the Shooting Script or White Script. Whatever it's titled, it generally means prep or preproduction is about to begin and the script is 'locked'. That means that from that point on all the pages and scene numbers stay the same. Scenes are numbered for easy reference, and page-locking allows everyone to keep the same copy of the script even if the script changes. For example, if you insert a new scene after scene 10, it becomes scene 10A. If scene 12 gets cut, it stays in the script but just says OMITTED beside it. If you add half a page to scene 8 that was on page 6, that extra half a page becomes page 6A. I'm sure it sounds retarded to an outsider but it's just the way it is.

Which brings me to Series TV Tip#5

The script is the map for the crew and cast. It's their guide...and bible. It's got all their notes in the margins. Once revisions start to come out, everyone has to go through their White or Locked Script in their master binder and take out all the pages that have been revised, and put in the pink page revisions. Then they (hair/makeup/costume/sound/camera/ director/actors, etc. etc.) have to transfer all their handwritten notes from the old white page to the new revised coloured page. If they have to do this over and over throughout a prep period, they begin to grumble...a lot...about the writing department.

I remember the first series I was on was with a hyperactive exec who would decide that the character Jake should say Hi instead of Hello and then make the change and order loudly: "Let's get that page out right away!"

So we would. And that one change would go to the story coordinator who would implement the change on a master script in their computer which would create pink version of that same page except the word Hi was changed to Hello and there was a little asterix beside it.

Then the office staff has to run at least a hundred copies of the pink (or whatever color we were up to) page for the crew and cast and then coordinate delivering that page to cast and crew in the production office or on set shooting the current episode, and then the crew and cast have to insert new page where old page was...hey, it was a big deal.

It didn't really register with me, but we were getting into double blue pages and double yellow pages for the first half a dozen episodes or so. Mostly due to HEP (hyper exec producer). This went along for about a month until my crafty line producer (LP) friend calls me into the office. Boots on the desk again. Waving around this one pink page.

LP: "Excuse me? We just published pinks to change Hi to Hello? Is this a joke?"

I look at my feet again (I did that a lot with him): "Uh yeah well HEP wanted to get it out right away."

LP: "What was he worried about? That nobody would understand the story if this wasn't changed? Is he nuts?" (I heard that a lot too)

Me: "Hey man, I'm just doing what I'm told."

He motions me over closer to his desk. I slowly inch forward.

LP: "Let me give you a bit of advice. Cuz you'll actually listen. Take each of these little changes and compile them in some kind of master - and then about halfway through prep (3-4 days in), put out a set of coloured revisions (i.e. Pinks). Then after the last production meeting, put out the next revised coloured draft (Blue). Do this and the crew and cast will start talking to you again, trust me."

Me: "Uh, yes sir."

As long as it's not a major change that affects story in a big way, or locations, or casting, or special effects, etc. - and the key personnel (1st A.D.'s, Director, Production Managers, Producers) are aware of the little bits and pieces, just keep track of them and then put them out in the middle of and then the end of prep. And generally the rule is if 50% or more of the pages have changes on them, you publish the entire script in the next colour. And everyone tends to prefer to see a 'Full Blue' script say, than individual pages. Again, it's just the way it is.

Your cast and crew will LOVE you for this one. (not to mention the save on paper)

SONG&ARTIST? - "She comes in colors everywhere;
She combs her hair
She's like a rainbow
Coming colors in the air
Oh, everywhere
She comes in colors..."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Keeping TV Time...And The 80% Solution (Reprint)

"Doing a movie or a play is like running a marathon. Doing a television show is like running until you die." -- David Mamet
I get what Mamet is saying here, but don’t agree with him a hundred percent. Doing a TV series can also be like running a marathon...if you adopt the 80% Solution.

As stated ad nauseam, story department on a TV series is one long monster grind of writing, rewriting, troubleshooting, and crisis management. For example, I came in last week to find the execs scrambling to try to replace an actor who'd suddenly become unavailable. They were having frantic calls with casting directors and agents. Absolute chaos. The other thing I was told that one of the episodes that was presently filming was coming in short. And how did they know? The timings.

A timing is the estimated length of the episode after the script is 'timed' by the script supervisor (who also does continuity). Simply put, he/she acts out each scene in the script with a stop watch - marks that time down beside each scene - and adds them all up to get the estimated length of that script.

In the case of a television half hour, there's one important number and that is the content time. In Canada and US it usually comes in at around 21:40 (a one hour episode content-wise is around 41:30). Content is the actual story. What makes up the rest of the half hour when it goes to air are titles, credits, bumpers, and commercials. So as a writer/producer, the number you are most concerned with is that content time.

In a half hour, ideally the script supervisors timing comes in around 25 minutes. That gives your producers and editors some flexibility to tighten scenes or take some scenes right out if they didn't work or are deemed unnecessary. Timings that come in much longer than that start to cause you grief of having to edit out too much from the show to get it down to time. Coming in under with your timings is a fairly self-evident problem - the episode won't be long enough.

Then, as the episode shoots, you constantly ask for updates on the timings. That means taking what the script supervisor estimated (say 45 seconds for a scene) and the actual time it took to shoot the scene (say the actors read it faster and it comes in at 30 seconds), and comparing these times to see if you are over or under. So when a call comes in that episode has been losing time and is now adding up to 21:00 - it's short.

That’s what I walked into - with just 4 scenes left to shoot in the episode, two later that day.

So it became my job to basically write a minute or so worth of new material into each remaining scene but not make it seem like filler. I couldn’t add new scenes because the shooting schedule was already packed full. It wasn’t that difficult, kinda fun actually. When the parameters are fixed and there’s little room to maneuver, I find it easier to address a problem and solve it. But first I talked to the production designer to find out how much more of a location was dressed and what we’d be able to see. And talked to props to make sure they had a cell phone I’d added to a scene was standing by. And I talked to wardrobe to make sure if actors took off their coats (as I had them doing) in one scene, they were wearing something underneath.

So I rewrote the scenes, and we published new pages (yes, coloured pages) for those scenes and got them quickly to set so the actors could learn the new lines and director could see what he now had to shoot. All before lunch! And they did shoot them. And by the middle of the next day, the episode's timing was up to 23:40 - two minutes over.

Not the best case scenario, but the 80% solution.

80% is a great target to aim for under those kinds of circumstances - a nice manageable target of accomplishment. If your goal is always a hundred percent perfection, you'll kill yourself, or kill the series, or both. And you'll always be unhappy or unsatisfied if you expect that much of yourself or your crew. Maybe you can expect more on a movie, because it's a one time deal, but a series isn't one's a season of many shows. The series is king, not an episode.

Most series in Canada shoot 13 episodes a season (in the U.S. anywhere from 20-24 eps). If a half hour series, you usually have 8 days to shoot 2 episodes...and the total time commitment is around 50-55 days. If a one hour series, 6-7 days per episode is the going rate, and so the time commitment is usually around 80-90 days. And that's just when you're shooting. If you are on staff, you usually start six to eight weeks prior to shooting commencing. That will add another 50 days or so. So depending on what kind of series you're on, you'll be buried for 100-140 days (at least double that if a 22 episode season).


And I've worked on shows where execs did treat every episode as if it were the only show. And maybe that first episode turned out good (though usually it was a disappointment because expectations were too high or it was over-worked or over-written or over-produced), but it always came at a price. Other episodes suffered because everyone's attention and energy was being focused on that one episode. There needs to be a point in the development of or writing of or shooting of each episode when it is decided that it's good enough. Or as good as it will be under the circumstances. And move on.

Not that I'm suggesting you should settle for crap. Or to phone it in. But like a marathon, you can and should pace yourself. And rather than a single 100% episode and then three 50% episodes, you and your series will be better off to make them all 80% good.

Oh, and the execs replaced the actor. The replacement did a great job.

Crisis? What crisis?

SONG&ARTIST? - "Jackboots, hi-jacks
Ray guns and spray guns
We got them all for free
Look to the stars for consolation
It could be there lookin' at me
It could be there lookin' at me
Send me down a simple solution
Send me down a simple solution now."

Monday, December 17, 2007

But You Told Me Before You Wanted It Edgier..

Giving and taking notes...always a negotiation.

Thanks K Walton.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bloggery Drudgery

You don't have to say it, yes, the blog has been sluggish of late.

And not really drudgery as much as a little distracted by life and getting ready for Xmas season - plus swept up with new job start up, finishing teaching screenwriting class, and still not watching much new TV or movies in support of the WGA strike (though I did break down and marathon watch Season 3 DVD set of Veronica Mars...not quite as good as Season 1 but still well worth watching - Rob Thomas is the new king of 'What is it? what is it really?').

And had a roughed out post about 'Why I Like Life', as in Life the TV show, but John Rogers just stole that headline.

Have a few more loooonnng directing TV posts in rough draft, and interested to see some of the new CBC shows, not to mention what Canuck nets will do in lieu of new U.S. programming...

So don't disappear...posts may be short and sweet for the next bit, but I'll be back.

It's Friday. Take us home, Spongebob.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


This kind of thing has been going on in commercials for a while know, editing them to classic music and pop songs. And as much as it grated to hear Led Zeppelin's 'Rock N' Roll' under a Cadillac spot, or Iggy Pop's 'Lust For Life' under a Royal Caribbean Cruise ad (and after Trainspotting too.."shudder"), it's never bothered me as much has it has hearing excerpts from Danny Elfman's brilliant score for Pee Wee's Big Adventure (specifically The Breakfast Machine) under this recent ad for the Visa Check Card.

That's film score...already set to images. It's crossing a line, and I've actually had to change the channel. In fact, it's made me want to cancel my Visa card.

That's not what a commercial is supposed to be accomplishing...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Older Yes...But The Song Remains The Same

"Does anybody remember laughter?"

First 'concert' movie I ever went to was The Song Remains The Same. Transfixed and enthralled is what I remember being and feeling. Regrettably I never saw the band in person.

Oh to be in London last night and experience the magic that was Led Zeppelin live again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Feel Alright...

...even though it's Monday.

Because on the other side of the world...Monday's already done.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

All Good Clean Fun...

I love it that the writers from the Letterman show can turn around and spoof the 'little too earnest sometimes' videos from the WGA/SAG/DGA "Speechless" campaign...

...and presumably nobody's underwear gets in a knot.

Cuz it's funny.

And we're all still on the same side.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Not A Big Shock, But Still...


Just released from the WGA negotiating committee:


Today, after three days of discussions, the AMPTP came back to us with a proposal that included a total rejection of our proposal on Internet streaming of December 3.

They are holding to their offer of a $250 fixed residual for unlimited one year streaming after a six-week window of free use. They still insist on the DVD rate for Internet downloads.

They refuse to cover original material made for new media.

This offer was accompanied by an ultimatum: the AMPTP demands we give up several of our proposals, including Fair Market Value (our protection against vertical integration and self-dealing), animation, reality, and, most crucially, any proposal that uses distributor’s gross as a basis for residuals. This would require us to concede most of our Internet proposal as a precondition for continued bargaining. The AMPTP insists we let them do to the Internet what they did to home video.

We received a similar ultimatum through back channels prior to the discussions of November 4. At that time, we were assured that if we took DVD’s off the table, we would get a fair offer on new media issues. That offer never materialized.

We reject the idea of an ultimatum. Although a number of items we have on the table are negotiable, we cannot be forced to bargain with ourselves. The AMPTP has many proposals on the table that are unacceptable to writers, but we have never delivered ultimatums.

As we prepared our counter-offer, at 6:05 p.m., Nick Counter came and said to us, in the mediator’s presence: “We are leaving. When you write us a letter saying you will take all these items off the table, we will reschedule negotiations with you.” Within minutes, the AMPTP had posted a lengthy statement announcing the breakdown of negotiations.

We remain ready and willing to negotiate, no matter how intransigent our bargaining partners are, because the stakes are simply too high. We were prepared to counter their proposal tonight, and when any of them are ready to return to the table, we’re here, ready to make a fair deal.

John F. Bowman
Chairman, WGA Negotiating Committee
Contract 2007

Nikki Finke shows and tells all from both sides, HERE and THEN HERE.

People who are serious about negotiating don’t walk away from the negotiating table. No two ways about it, the Big Boys want this strike to continue.

Why Not? Why?

Robert Elisberg has a very thought-provoking piece up at the Huffington Post where he wonders: Why is it the AMPTP who is negotiating with the Writers Guild of America?
In fact, why is the AMPTP negotiating with anyone? The Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild, any of the 80 industry-wide collective bargaining agreements it handles.

The issue is not that these AMPTP companies are part of multinational's that they are competitors with one another.

Before anyone tries to answer the question, hold off a moment as this is put into a larger perspective.

Imagine the auto industry for a moment.

The AMPTP is like if General Motors, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan all got together, decided the terms they would offer employees, and then negotiated as a single body against one isolated division of U.S. auto workers at a time. Divide and conquer. Take it or leave it.

It's not that it would be massively illegal. It's that it would be unconscionable. No one in the aghast free world would stand for it. Even Luddites who wished it wasn't illegal understand why it's unacceptable.

Competitors are not allowed to negotiate together, to even confer together. It's called collusion. When baseball owners merely created an "information bank" for offers being made to free agent players, they were fined $280 million. Two competitors cannot talk with one another if there's just a hint of agreement. Imagine ALL competitors in an industry getting together to set ALL wages and ALL labor conditions.

It doesn't happen. Anywhere. Not "anywhere in the U.S." Anywhere in the free world.

Except Hollywood.

Now perhaps there's a very simple explanation for this situation, but if not, why hasn't anyone asked the question before...and then challenged the arrangement?

Over on the other coast, Variety reports CBS is looking at taking shelved feature scripts and cutting and pasting them into potential TV series pilots.
With the strike squeezing off the pilot script pipeline, CBS is turning to feature film scripts in a bid to find potential material for new series.

Eye entertainment prexy Nina Tassler has been personally calling a number of film producers and asking them to dust off any unproduced scripts that could be turned into TV series, according to two people familiar with the situation. These projects are already fully written but have either been put into turnaround or simply never got off the ground.

Because most movies tend to run around two hours in length, Tassler isn't looking to produce the full scripts. Instead, she's asking producers to identify key scenes or passages that could be filmed and cobbled together into a pilot or shorter pilot

Tassler isn't calling any WGA members, since scribes are prohibited from pitching ideas or negotiating with struck companies.

This is just kooky, and stinks of either network desperation or Variety's on-going efforts to spin nearly every strike story into 'the writers are in the wrong' or 'writers are not really needed'.

Why would anyone think something decent could come out of this?

I suppose their response would be: Why not?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What Is....Pigs On The Wing?

Kill some time and test your pop/rock music knowledge with the on-line Almost Impossible Rock & Roll Quiz from Rolling Stone magazine HERE.

Fav question?

Q: After Pink Floyd split, Roger Waters maintained the rights to Algie, the band's giant inflatable pig. What did David Gilmour do to avoid paying royalties (when he toured)?

A: He altered the pig by attaching a pair of testicles.

Gotta love it...the music buisness.

I scored 39 out of 58. Not bad, and it's pretty tough. Can you do better?

(but no cheating)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Once You Go HD.... can never go...pee?

So I've taken the plunge, though it wasn't easy. Many years of begrudgingly upgrading (8 tracks to audio cassettes --- vinyl to cd's ---- VHS to DVD) had taken its toll and made me cautious of the 'next big thing', but I gave in and got me an HD television.


But not without some research. Weeks of looking at 8 bit vs. 10 bit video processors and 720p or 1080i vs. 1080p comparisons not to mention 60hz vs. 120hz frame rate analysis finally resulted in a purchase, and Sony won out again.

I can play with madness.

I remember when I made my first high end TV/media purchase. The year was 1990 and I dived in deep with a 27" Sony XBR and a 4 head Sony VCR. The two didn't come cheap. The TV cost $2,700.00. The VCR was $600.00. That's $3,300.00. Plus taxes. Gulp.

But what a sight to behold...they so put my 20" Citizen Television and top loading JVC VCR to shame.

That said, a similar-sized LCD High-Def Sony TV and a discounted Blu-Ray Player today...under a thousand bucks. Taxes in. Throw in the digital HD cable box with built-in PVR, and no hernia carrying the boxes from car to house...triple threat.

And the experience of viewing your favourite movie or TV show in sparkling 1080p? Sweet. Oh so sweet.

But will these new entertainment display units be dependable and last? One upside of my old Sony was that it made it through three cross country moves with several unintentional drops, bumps, and bashes, and was still ticking last year before some tube or circuit crapped out and I didn't bother repairing it. Better still was it's remote control. A tank of a hand unit, all the buttons still worked and numbers still visible, even after fifteen years of constant use. I know of two friends TV's bought in the past couple years that already have scotch tape over the battery holder and the number 3 is caput.

So we shall see.

And will I ever be able to watch analog or SD (Standard Def) channels again? My friends who'd already gone HD who warned me that they (and therefore I) can't go back. And I will admit throwing up a bit in my mouth on Saturday after flipping to the Golf Channel after just enjoying the Leafs beat the Penguins on CBC HD.

Come on 2009 (or is it 2010?)!

This article from MediaPost lists the U.S. channels actually available today, plus the hype (or lack thereof) of what's to come.

As for the future, can the images get any better, sharper, crisper? Oh, probably. But there's one thing we do know for sure....they will get cheaper. The price of the one I got has already dropped, just in time for Xmas.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Josh Vs. Joss

Nice to see Friedman blogging again. Last week he made a plea to the Whedon, who quickly responded. The result is some very entertaining yet astute commentary on the WGA strike, by two of the best and brightest writers we got...

And the message...together we (all) must stand.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Poorly Chosen Words...

Could either be some of the studio's insulting offers during the most recent round of WGA negotiations, or Arrested Development's Tobias and his inadvertent potty mouth.

I'll let you decide.

Because David Cross makes me smile, (the AMPTP, not so much)...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good On You...All Of You

Kudo's to all those Canadian writers and creatives (and others around the world) who took to the streets today in support of our WGA brothers and sisters south of the border.

From, whilst on the line in Toronto, McGrath speaks:

Canadian TV and film writers joined writers in Paris, London, Berlin and other entertainment centres around the world in a show of support for their U.S. colleagues.

"As Canadian writers, what happens in the U.S. desperately affects us," said Denis McGrath, a Canadian screenwriter picketing outside Toronto's Sony Centre.

"We already make a lot less money than American writers do, and we still have it better than writers in other countries," he said. "So all around the world today, in six, seven cities around the world, different members of their national writers guilds are marching in solidarity with the WGA for their deal on internet rights."

Jill Golick posts pics. And then, of course, DMc reports. It's all about the weather indeed.

Well done, everyone...

...even where it was cold.

Baby It's Cold Outside

Just like that, temps plummeted yesterday...and the six months of hell that is not spring, summer, or fall officially begins.

Minus 26 C.

Minus 39 C with the wind chill.

Frakin' freezing.

You know about wind chill, of course. That's the feels like in, it's 26 below zero, but it "feels like" 39 below.

Sorry...doesn't feel just is.

Plus more than two inches of snow. Saskatchewan in the winter...not so awesome.

Dreaming of warmer climes...y tu mamá también.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pick A Target

Some good posts last week from L. Klink and A Epstein about the art and craft of giving (and receiving) notes on your screenplay.

Alex focused on mechanics with some nice analogy:
Sometimes it's a matter of taking an event or a scene and moving it sooner, or later, or trimming it out. Move a single scene, and everything may fall into place.

All of these notes are really about the mechanics of the story: how the engine of the story works. It's the difference between a driver saying that the car tends to fishtail, and the engineer saying the center of mass of the car is too far forward.

These are the kinds of notes I most like to get because they make the fix easier. If you think the problem is that the car fishtails, your "reader" response is to drive the car more slowly around corners. Your "writer" response is to move the center of mass, or to throw on a spoiler to push the rear of the car down onto the road. Then your story corners nicely at high speed.

And Lisa pointed out that it's smart to determine the objective of the notes:
When someone asks you for feedback on a script, first ask what kind of feedback they want. Is this a very rough, early draft, and they’re still working on the structure? Or is is nearly finished, and they’re doing a last polish? This should guide, but not limit your note-giving.

If someone asks for small, final draft notes and you spot a huge plot hole, by all means, bring it up. But if they’re still working out story issues, don’t sweat the dialogue - it will probably change as the story does.

In many ways, they're both talking about 'targeting' your notes at specific problem areas. But once the story's working and the structure's sound, there's a new target to focus on...where you want to sell it.

I was recently story editing yet another Canadian feature...a good script with a nifty hook, but a mixed genre picture (e.g. like an action/comedy, or a historical/horror). We were down to the small points of the deal, as it were, in terms of character/story/structure/dialogue/ pacing/logic notes, but with a little nudge in one direction or another, this particular screenplay could be sold to either a Lionsgate or Maple Pictures, or to the CBC. Two very different animals to say the least. It seemed the script was trying to be appropriate for both, and thus ended up not quite right for either.

So my last big note was for the writer to pick a target destination - be it company, studio, or network. Decide where he wanted to sell it, and then hone every detail to appeal specifically to that particular entity.

Trying to be everything to everybody when taking it to the marketplace can spell a quick death for a promising screenplay.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Go, You Riders?

David Mamet's acerbic look at Hollywood descending on a small town in Waterford, Vermont was a sharp biting satire that's been circling around my brain of late. But I couldn't pinpoint why exactly I was thinking about this story of small-town residents initially all too ready to give up their values for showbiz glitz. Then it clicked. In the film, the townspeople greet each other with "Go, you Huskies!", in reference to an upcoming football game between their beloved Waterford Huskies and another team.

And everywhere I've gone this week...every coffee shop, every store checkout counter, even just walking down the street, all I've heard is: "Go Green Go!"

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are Regina's team (or depending on which ad campaign, Saskatchewan's team...or even Canada's team)...yes, the 'ol green and white.

"Green is the colour
And football is the game..."

Like Henshaw at the Legion, I was a huge fanboy of the team in my youth. And my heart was also broken when Tony Gabriel made that game-winning catch for Ottawa in '76. But then, as the era of Reed and Lancaster and McQuarters and Baker came to an end, my interest and enthusiasm started to wane. The Riders couldn't win to save their lives, and even with their small comeback and Grey Cup win of '89, they slid right back into doldrumville.

I moved away from Regina, and the Riders were dead to me.

Then, after spending a dozen or so years away from small city Saskatchewan, I returned....and was shocked when paying a visit to an old high school friend to have him (and his wife and his kids) greet me at the door with their faces painted green and white. And wearing Rider jerseys. Because you see, it was game day.

The town was still crazy about their team, and full of what's locally known as Rider Pride. Win or lose (and mostly lose), you'd still see pep rallies and tailgate parties and stadium sell-outs week after week after week. To the casual observer, this kind of devotion might seem kinda sweet, or quaint...but there's devotion, and then there's blind devotion.

This is a team that two weeks ago hosted their first home playoff game since 1988; who prior to this year was only able to put together one other season with a record above .500 record since 1994; who during that twelve year stretch missed the playoffs 6 times (in a division with only four teams and the top three make it into the post season).

And that was on the playing field. Off the field, it was even worse.
Marty Rosen (Producer): What's with you and 14 year old girls?
Bob Barrenger (Movie Star): Everybody needs a hobby.

Here is a publicly-known list of some of the more recent indiscretions (from Bruce Arthur's article in today's National Post entitled: 'Riders Now Worthy Of Fan's Love'.
In 1999, it was defensive back Terryl Ulmer, and cocaine trafficking. Defensive back Davin Bush was convicted of assault in an incident outside a nightclub in 2001; defensive lineman Shont'e Peoples was charged with marijuana possession in 2003; running back Saladin McCullough and receivers Jamel Richardson and Emery Beckles were charged with assault in 2004. And then came Smith.

That case was the storm, as the defensive lineman was charged and later convicted of having sex with two women despite knowing he was HIV positive. It turned out that the Riders had known Smith's medical status for more than a year, but had not only not disclosed it -- they were barred by medical privacy laws --but let him continue to play.

Smith was eventually sentenced to six years in prison. It was a betrayal of trust.

There were more incidents --a bar fight involving running back Kenton Keith, and an arrest for troubled running back Hakim Hill, who was released by the Riders last February.

Believe me, having done a little digging myself...this article is only scratching the surface of a big ugly scab.

It all added up to players and coaches with primarily selfish agenda's: play mediocre football, make a little money, and take advantage of the 'rock star' treatment they all received. And a town that year after disappointing year was willing to put up with it.

When I confronted my old high school mate (and many others) with this reality, the response was pretty universal: "Oh, it's not that bad. Just a few rotten apples, that's all...", or, "Well, let's see about next year...give 'em one more chance."

Bob Barrenger: Only second chance I know, is the chance to make the same mistake twice.
Marty Rossen: If your memory was as long as your dick, you'd be in good shape.

And I found myself wondering: what's worse...the players that took advantage of their undeserved 'celebrity'? Or the townspeople who let 'celebrity' rule the roost?

This year, under new management, the Riders find themselves in the Grey Cup against Winnipeg. So congrats seem to be in order for an 'on the field' turnaround. As for off the field, it appears somewhat cleaned up by all accounts. But what's interesting is the call for change didn't seem to come from the fans, or even from the community (who actually own shares in the team). Unlike the town in State And Main, who eventually rise up and fight back with principles and morals and values and integrity to shame and show up the big movie in town, Regina and its Rider fans seem instead to have adopted some sort of a 'good or bad...we'll take whatever we get' attitude. And as for the teams tawdry recent past? It seems already forgotten.

Now, a few of my more reasonable friends who aren't so quick to forget, still claim that a Grey Cup victory this weekend should erase the embarrassment of the past decade and provide redemption for the ol' green and white. And at least on paper, the Riders should win. The Bluebombers are a decent squad but not a powerhouse, not to mention they lost their starting quarterback to a broken arm last week. The Riders are also beat up, but not to the same extent.

Nevertheless, I'll be pulling for Winnipeg on Sunday. Rider redemption shouldn't come so quick. Or be so easy.

Go, you Bombers.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Jack Has To Say...

Jack Myers at MediaPost's Think Tank today provides some interesting strike-related info and some even more interesting commentary and forecasting.

First, the info:
Fifty three percent of 300 media, advertising and entertainment executives believe writers should continue to “hold out for everything they want,” with 47% voting for them to “pick up their pencils and get back to work.” According to the poll conducted by, a slight majority of a group that should be expected to be more sympathetic to the networks and studios express support for the Writers Guild of America.

This surprising result suggests underlying acknowledgement that digital assets represent an important and growing revenue stream for the industry and, although it is impossible to assess the long-term incremental value represented by digital, writers indeed deserve a slice of the pie.

Okay, not a landslide but fair enough. Now some commentary:
The ironic reality of the writers’ strike is its irrelevancy. Digital media is disrupting the economic models of an industry whose models have been broken for years. Today, fewer than one network television series in twelve breaks through to profitability. This one program in twelve has to support the enormous operating overhead of those who risk capital to develop and produce the programs. It is a business of failure, not success. The Writers Guild of America wants a piece of that American Dream — the ability to fail time and time and time again, and ultimately have a profitable business. Networks and studios prefer to hold onto their right to fail upward for as long as they can.

Writers are rewarded now for their failures; they want a bigger slice of the action in those rare instances they succeed. Whether the strike ends soon or continues into the new year, there’s a new business model in town.

Okay, interesting perspective, though not sure I exactly agree with writers being rewarded for failure...compensation for reuse or residuals is an artists right, regardless of how much is being made on the back end. And it's a mutually benefiting formula dependent on use and not necessarily success...the more it's 'used', the more compensation. If it ain't used, no compensation.

And finally, the forecast:
In the post-strike digital world, thousands of concepts will be cheaply produced and scattered across the digital landscape, much of it by members of the unionized Hollywood community who are being disenfranchised by the established economic models. Broadband and mobile video Web sites will eagerly offer distribution for this content, and ad sales networks such as Broadband Enterprises and Tremor Media will help fund it through advertiser support. A few will find their way to cable and broadcast series that make up the best of the Web, and ultimately networks and studios will acquire development rights to the best, in a reversal of current windows. Studios and networks will increase their production of online content and significantly reduce their investment in script and pilot development.

At the end of the strike, whenever that is, writers will need to become more entrepreneurial if they hope to benefit from digital income. I can’t envision any scenario where writers get to simply sit and write and expect to benefit financially whether or not their scripts are ever developed.

I don't know if anyone will disagree with this last one. And I hope the Canadian networks, companies, and creatives are taking notes...we always seem to be about three years behind the U.S. curve, and don't want to get left in the dust.

Start donning those different hats now.

Read the entire post HERE.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is That Coffee Or P*ss?!

More from the UK's Screenwipe series, hosted by the deliciously caustic Charlie Brooker.

Tonight's episodes: The Talent...

and The Log (as in making TV's so easy it's like falling off a log...or is it)

"I'm going to talk to you like this for an hour because that's what you deserve!"


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

But Instead You Nod Like A B*tch

Still continuing my WGA strike-inspired TV and Hollywood Movie fast...feeling a little 'peckish', but I'll be fine. Their fight is our fight. And so to to help us through these wafer thin days of entertainment, I'm going to be posting several segments from the UK's hi-larious Screenwipe series starring Charlie Brooker.

Tonight's episodes: The Idea! (this one should win an award)...

and So You Want A Career In Television?

One might ask if this is what most of us are working toward and even striking for, is it worth it...and the answer is still, sadly, yes.

Because that's exactly how TV works!

Tip of the hat to Stephen Hall

Monday, November 19, 2007

Brain Drain Pain

No, I don't mean anguish over the exodus of Canadian creative talent down to the Hollywood Hills...I mean brain drain pain as in how my head head feels whenever I think I'm pretty smart and on top of all that is possible in the brave new world of making movie and TV entertainment, and then I read this forward-thinking post by John Rogers, followed by this post by Bill Cunningham (both inspired in part by this post by Marc Andreessen).

Wow. Me not so sharp as these dudes.

Go and immerse yourselves now, especially the students and may experience brain drain pain, but if you are the future, and what they're discussing will be the future, then ultimately, the headache's well worth it.

Getting The Axe?

As the WGA writers strike heads into week three, but with the promising news that talks are scheduled to resume, some frivolous food for thought fun.


Men's body spray.

First launched in France in 1983 by Fabergé which was part of Unilever, it was created as a male version of one of Unilever's other brands, Impulse, which was a fragranced deodorant bodyspray for women that promised wearers male attention. Although Axe (apparently called Lynx in the UK? guys...pick one) launched as a deodorant bodyspray, it soon moved into the broader male grooming category by launching successful anti-perspirants, aftershaves and shower gels, as well as less successful shampoos, razors, and skin care products.

Consistently targeted at the male 18-24 age group, all products promise in one form or another to give guys the edge in the mating game.

"Boom Chicka Wah Wah"

Has there been a more annoying ad campaign this year? But subtle Axe is not, in ad after ad after ad. And by most accounts, the overall overtness seems to be working.

This USA Today article from earlier this year touts some pretty impressive sales numbers for Axe and it's products, and predicts them to only keep rising. And Ad Age had this to say:

The brand has risen remarkably with edgy creative and a marketing message to unleash your inner animal magnetism in a category where efficacy is normally the selling point. Axe has climbed the category by turning its back on other traditional tenets, eschewing sports tie-ins and programming; using online and content integration plays; and defining its competitive set not as deodorants but as PlayStation and Nike.

Now I for one can't imagine anyone falling for the hype, but what do I know...and I'm old.

So a question for any younger men in the house...does it work?

But more importantly, to the ladies in the house...does it work?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What Some Wrote This Week...

If the studios really believe they can't share a sliver of profits with the people who create what they sell, they'll be the losers. If you don't believe in the future, you shouldn't be in show business.
Patrick Goldstein at the LA Times trying to get to the bottom of the AMPTP's reluctance to negotiate and be reasonable leaves him cold and confused....

$204,000 dollars....this number was chosen specifically because CNBC and the studios on whose behalf they're arguing want you to believe that most writers are spoiled brats whining about their six-figure incomes.
Greg Saunders at the Huffington Post neatly explains the difference between 'average' salary (of WGA members) and 'median' salary, which is far more applicable...

If the writers' strike continues, and ultimately causes the collapse of the traditional TV development, pilot, upfront and fall season continuum, it would not necessarily be a bad thing for the industry.
And MediaPost's Jack Myers theorizes and speculates about the bad, and the good, that can come from the strike...

I didn't write much at all, read a lot instead...took some meetings...did some video-conferencing...watched more sports...marked some students screenplays...wondered aloud why the Victoria Secret Runway Christmas show, even with some Spice Girl spice, looked exactly the same as last year, and the year before (find some new looks, ladies)...

Maybe tonight I'll take in a play, as in theatre, or a foreign film.

And so it goes...

Friday, November 16, 2007


It's Friday, and fun has been kinda hard to come for the musicians in the house, here's little shredding action.

For the uninitiated or misinformed, shred guitar is a style of electric guitar playing in which rapid passages are performed using sweep-picking, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and other techniques. While shred guitar is mostly associated with hard rock and neo-classical metal, it is also used in some subgenres of fusion and bluegrass. Well-known shred-style guitar players include Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai.

So now some dude on the internets has overdubbed some rather lamish guitaring over Eddie and Steve. The clips go on a little long, but any wannabe lickster or even serious strummer should find them hilarious.

The Carlos Sanatana number tops them all though.

At the end of the day, however, it's still about supporting the WGA strike right now. We kind of knew it already, but the information that's come out this past two weeks has shown us all we're truly at a crossroads.

Their fight is our fight, and it's a showdown with the devil (of sorts).

And like the Crossroads movie, may the most deserving and honest and true to his self player come out on top.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

WGA Strike Still A Boon For Canada?

After enduring a couple of weeks of the press trying to spin the strike as a golden opportunity for Canuck producers and shows, this Globe & Mail article tells a slightly different tale.
British Columbia's television industry is in crisis as repercussions from the U.S. writers' strike make their way north. One show has already shut down and at least five more are expected to prematurely stop production in the coming months.

NBC's Bionic Woman, starring Michelle Ryan, was supposed to run through to Dec. 12, but it shut down last Friday, said veteran publicist Bill Vigars, whose Canadian production, Search and Rescue, is unaffected by the strike. Meanwhile, the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica is stopping production tomorrow, and will remain out of commission until further notice, because it ran out of scripts, a source close to the show said. At least 200 people will be laid off in the aftermath.

"It's a crisis," Mr. Vigars said. "Each one of those shows is probably [losing] 150 people," not including the ancillary industries that will be affected as a result.

And those Canadian writers in LA racing back to work on shows up here and show us all how it's done?
Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, said there have been a number of requests from Canadian writers living in the U.S. for a long time to come home to work on productions here.

But to do so, the Writers Guild of America requires Canadian writers to get a waiver of working rule No. 8, and they're not granting them at this time, Ms. Parker said.

Golden opportunity? Meh...not so much.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Name Of The Game Is Getting Paid...

For some mid-week smiles, watch this WGA strike-related clip but do understand what you're viewing is "NOT The Daily Show".

Ah, The Daily Show and its Moment of I miss thee.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fools Gold

First go read the Henshaw's post on ways you can help support the WGA. What I can say is all I've been watching is a lot of sports this past week.

Now, even though Denis has already been posting better and faster and more often, in fact, waaay more often than all of us north of the border combined, I still feel the need to chime in on the WGA strike as 'golden opportunity for Canadian writers or producers' topic.

I can't tell you how much these articles from Playback, Variety, and Canadian Press (which is now a dead link for some reason) about how the strike could mean a boon for Canuck producers/shows/etc. TOTALLY make me mental. It's just such bullshit.

First, any writer with a backbone won't even go there. Count on it. So I don't know what's more insulting...the reporters asking the questions in an effort to spin a story? Or the Canadian producers actually taking the time to answer the questions seriously. Perhaps the reporters don't know any better, but the producers should know better.
Canadian producers are quietly salivating at the prospect of U.S. networks buying their strike-proof shows during a prolonged WGA strike.

"The longer the [writers] strike lasts, the more likely that those kinds of shows will get picked up by U.S. broadcasters. The odds are good, and continue to grow in our favor -- if you develop a show outside the U.S.," says John Morayniss, chairman and CEO of Blueprint Entertainment.

Morayniss insists a producer with the right "strike-proof" property with the right talent can possibly entice a U.S. network to take a flyer on a Canadian show -- but only if it can air on either side of the border.

And then this:
Mary Darling, executive producer of Little Mosque on the Prairie, says a decision to delay a U.S. sale of her series, despite a host of offers from stateside broadcasters, will pay off "now that inventory of quality programming is sure to be in higher demand" in the wake of the U.S. writers strike.

"A prized location has always been our goal for the series," Darling said from New York, where she and fellow producers of Little Mosque on Tuesday night received a Common Ground award.

Sales of existing finished series are one thing (though you'd still be ultimately hurting the WGA's cause), but producing shows to fill the holes? C'mon.

The solidarity and the morality issues aside (though they're important too), anyone who's worked in North American TV for more than 5 minutes knows how seriously Hollywood takes their show business, and how little merit and credibility they give our industry.

It ain't gonna happen...not a chance in hell.

How do I know?

Well, I know I'm not a serious player, but I do have over ten years experience of trying to get major U.S. network execs to read my Canadian-made scripts, or watch my Canadian-made shows, or buy my Canadian-made pitches...and have always been met with indifference, disinterest, and even disdain.

So maybe it's just me. Fair enough. But I also know a lot of way more serious players who have experienced the exact same reaction. Players who went on to be showrunners on U.S. series, but not in any way based on their Canadian work.

For the most part, Hollywood thinks our shows and our industry are a joke.

And if history counts for anything, best I can recollect there's only been one, count 'em, ONE Canadian initiated and made TV series that's aired in prime time on a major U.S. network over the past twenty years. The company was Alliance. The network was CBS. And the show was Due 1994/95.

That's the reality.

But you want to know the real reason why the 'right' Canadian series (that generally take a year to a year and a half to finance) with the right mix of cast and writers (that don't want to offend and insult their striking brothers and sisters in the States) doesn't have a shot at making it onto any US channels in the near future?

They LURVE their own shows.

And they like to make them...lots of them. Take a look at this article from Variety about all the U.S. pilots written or already shooting....
But thanks to the recent trend toward year-round development, webheads aren’t completely lacking in material for 2008-09.

That’s because a few months ago, as a strike became more and more likely, pilot development kicked into overdrive. Nets started handing out put pilot commitments, and even series orders, like they were candy.

The result: All of the networks have completed scripts in hand for projects they put into motion before the scribes skedaddled.

That means the TV studios won’t be entirely quiet over the next few months. As scribes march the picket lines across Hollywood, writers rooms are dark, latenight talker sets are collecting dust, and several series sets have already shut down — with many more to come in the next few weeks.

But there may still be work for TV thesps, helmers and below-the-line crew during the writers strike, as some pilots are ready to be shot (and others already have been).

To be clear, most scripts in development haven’t been turned in yet, or aren’t polished enough to be filmed. But NBC’s Ben Silverman boasts that he’s got more than a half-dozen pilots ready to lens, with big-name helmers attached.

Fox has already started shooting one drama (“The Oaks”), while another (“Hackett”) is wrapped. ABC already has its Cedric the Entertainer sitcom in the can, and CBS has begun production on one of its big hopes, “The Kingdom.”

Other projects could begin shooting within weeks.

They list dozens of shows. DOZENS. And if there's any possible way the studios and networks can force even some of them through the machine, they will put them on air long before they consider getting involved with a 'Canadian' production...even if their shows are shit.

You want a more 'realistic' possibility? Aaron Barnhart at the Kansas City Star posts this fax he received last week for a new reality show pitch: Conjugal Prison Visits.

He jokes about it not having a chance in hell of getting on the air...maybe. Well, take it from me, it'll get on TV (God forbid) before any one of 'our' series makes its way to the American airwaves.