Tuesday, January 30, 2007
But let's get real...it's too tough to pick just one. Hart categorized them last week, and I kinda liked how he did it. So we're stealing that format and crashing ahead (and since I've already gushed about Steve Earle and Tom Waits, I'm considering them exempt)...
Funnest Concert... have to go with Iggy Pop at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver in '84...you see, they have rubber tires installed under the entire dance floor, so the whole room 'bounced' for over two hours...'No Fun?' Fun!
Honourable Mention goes to Barenaked Ladies in '98 or '99 at Molson Amphitheatre... those boys know how to put on a great show and have a ball doing it...so did I.
Coolest Concert... Canadian indie band Grapes of Wrath in '84 or '85 - why? I dunno, it was a small club and the band played a stellar set...but then when the encore concluded, they didn't stop....and started taking cover requests...and hearing the Grapes doing songs like The Cars 'Just What I Needed'; The Police's 'Message in a Bottle'; and closing with a mashup of BTO's 'Taking Care of Business' blended with U2's 'I Will Follow' made it truly memorably cool...
But can't go without mentioning seeing early Black Crowes in 1990 before they broke big, and early Elvis Costello and early Police (like in 1979 on their first N. American tours promoting their first albums)...didn't really know who they were at time but knew they were worth checking out...and they were all good shows, however it's looking back on them that makes them cool as opposed to seeming really cool at the time.
Best Funk Fest... had to be Prince in Buttkick, Saskatchewan in 2003...the little man formerly known as The Artist took the stage and blazed through more than two hours of gospel/soul/jazz-inspired funk a la James Brown interspersed with maybe only half a dozen of his hits, but it didn't matter! (though 'Nothing Compares 2 U', 'How Come U Don't Call Me' and 'Snows in April' done unplugged on the piano was 'voice as instrument' magic)...the Purple One reigned supreme that night...(and if I had to pick just one show, this would probably be it)
Craziest Concert... in a hockey arena around 1980, following opening act The Greg Kihn Band, Ted Nugent swings over the crowd on a vine wearing only a loincloth to the strains of 'Cat Scratch Fever'... a show of which I remember very little having been numbed by some herb that led to me blacking out and tumbling into the row of people below me, totally freaking out two PYT's that accompanied me...I found out later it was black hash laced with opium - kids...don't do drugs!
Coolest Alt-Country Concert... without question, Dwight Yoakam in 1999 at Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto...I dig Dwight...
Biggest Concerts... Rolling Stones in '81 (85,000 in Boulder Stadium, Colorado)...David Bowie (in Bomber Stadium in Winnipeg - around 30,000)...and Phil Collins (35,000 in Skydome Toronto) - I think it was '94...took place the same night as the OJ Simpson freeway chase.
Biggest Small Concert... Bryan Adams when he was on top of the world in '90 or '91 at a tiny club in Vancouver as part of some charity benefit. Wasn't the biggest Adams fan but he put on a heck of a show and was right there in front of me!
Earliest Concert... the first live show I ever saw was The Stampeders in '78 I think, but my first 'real' concert - like with strobe lights and smoke bombs and screaming girls - was Cheap Trick in early '79 riding the wave of their hits 'Surrender' and 'I Want You To Want Me'..."squeal"
Most Disappointing Concert.... unfortunately (cuz I'm a huge fan) it was Van Morrison - 1997 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto - where the back up singer was called upon by the Big Man to sing lead vocals on over 50% of his songs...including 'Domino'?...and 'Moondance'??? as Van stood off to the side or just plain left the stage. People were booing. And the sound was muddy. And it was hot and stuffy. Yeah, it sucked.
Still Hope To See... U2, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen, ACDC, Bob Mould...
Wish I'd Seen... The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, Stevie Ray Vaughn...
I'm going to close with Best Concert Moment Ever...and that goes to Muddy Waters. I've seen a lot of the old bluesmen live... Howlin' Wolf, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, James Cotton...but it was the Mudman who made the biggest impression.
When I saw him it was 1982, in a small college auditorium classroom...he was quite old...had to be helped out onto the stage and spent the show sitting on a stool, just picking his guitar and playing the blues...
Further setting the scene, Mississippi had no help here. The acoustics were okay, but there weren't any special effects or sexy background singers, no flashy lightshow (I can't remember if it was just fluorescents overhead, but for the purpose of this story, let's say there was). The man had nothing to carry him but his voice, his guitar, his band, and his reputation. But I was mesmerized for an hour and a half: "Blow Wind Blow', 'Hoochie Coochie Man', 'Baby Please Don't Go', 'Mojo Working'....wow.
And then he launches into 'Mannish Boy'...and the mostly white buttoned-down college crowd perks up, recognizing that familiar chord riff...duh duh duh duh..."When I was a young boy"... Duh duh duh duh... "At the age of five"...Duh duh duh duh... and I felt myself rising up out of my seat, but look around nervously...there was security everywhere - this was supposed to be a 'sit and listen' show - but then Waters growls: "I spell it 'M' ..."... the crowd begins to clap along ... " Aaaaa child!"... 'N!'..."That rabble spell MAN!"...
Then he gets to the part where he wails 'Ain't that a man'... and slowly he stands up from the stool and grabs the mike..."I said ain't that a man!" He's literally quivering...spitting out the words as the band continues to play behind him. I can't help myself. Start jumping up and down and screaming 'Wooohooo!!!' I wasn't alone. The room just lost it.
Security starts scrambling to keep order...but Waters ignores them and makes his way down the steps at the front of the stage and joins the now standing front row of the crowd (I was about 4 rows back). The man could barely walk, but lo and behold he was grooving. And perhaps it was what he did every show...you know, showbiz theatrics, but for those few minutes I honestly believed that the music had somehow flowed through his veins and made him rise up and dance...Halleluiah!
Muddy Waters - Mannish Boy
Best. Concert. Moment. Ever.
Muddy Waters passed away the following year. I felt blessed to see him and experience him, live and in concert.
Let's hear some of your concert stories...
Monday, January 29, 2007
But Henshaw's writing up another storm today...with some very good observations about issues facing not only the Canadian entertainment industry, but the entire tv and entertainment industry. He concludes:
The problems in our business and elsewhere come down to the same thing.
We elect politicians who promise to make our lives better.
We buy products from companies who tell us they're reliable.
We make movies for producers who promise to share the profits.
And now the growing availability of information and shared experience is revealing just how deep those past deceptions have been. Actors and writers who've been royally screwed on residuals and DVD income for years aren't going to license any new media without a system in place that provides them with a fair share of the profits and accountability for the numbers.
The same new media that is causing this revolution is bridging the gap between artists and their audience, providing new ways to connect without the need for the corporate middle men who now sit between them and control both.
Author Primo Levi once said, "There is only one crime and that is undeserved privilege."
So guys, if you want to stay in charge, it's time to stop feeling entitled and start being part of finding a solution.
Me still worried...but for some reason, Jim laying it out and calling it as he sees it somehow makes it all a little easier to bear.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Went and saw 'Babel' (alright I guess...a little too disparate for my liking) and 'Pan's Labrinth' (very cool...like being back in film school and it was Fellini night)...
Tended to a sick cat...
Helped put up some living room curtains...
Watched the first half of Season 8 of the 'X Files' on dvd...and actually enjoyed it a lot. I was so into the series during it's first 5/6 seasons, but slowly began to lose interest (like most of the world) as the conspiracy story started to drive in circles...and Mulder and Scully fell back to play second fiddle to Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) and then Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish). But it had been long enough that this was sort of like watching Season 8 for the first time. I remembered the eps, but barely. They were recycling stories for certain, but there still was some memorable scenes and a decent creep factor.
I read once Chris Carter describing how they built a lot of the stories around a cool or scary moment or image (most often it would occur in the teaser) - like a car barreling down a street late at night and coming face to face with a man standing in the middle of the road...and the car hits the man full speed...but instead of sending the man flying, the car wraps itself around the man like it was hitting a steel pole...(Episode 9 'Salvage')
'X FIles' did have some of the best teasers in television. And not one but two great taglines to boot (Trust No One).
That's what I relearned this past couple days...
Saturday, January 27, 2007
You see, my oldest daughter just took her first step of striking out on her own. A high school friend of hers had spent the past four months working at a bed and breakfast in a small mountain resort town, and called to say there was room at the inn, as it were, and asked my daughter to come join her. To work and to play. My daughter discussed it and mulled it and then agreed to go. It was quick and dirty...she basically had less than a week to get organized and packed and say her goodbyes and get out there. That was last weekend.
There are many memorable milestones for parents and our children...their first steps, their first words, their first day of school, their first game or play or concert. And then they get a little older and the milestones are represented by more adult-like events... their day of high school, their first boyfriend/girlfriend and subsequent heartbreak, their first job, and their high school graduation.
Before you know it, you're not seeing a child anymore, but a young adult...and then an adult. Your role and importance as a parent slowly becomes diminished and the opinions and attitudes of their friends takes priority. Their world doesn't revolve around you anymore, and in smaller ways, vice versa.
But the reality really hits you when they move out on their own for the first time. They may come back home for a bit, but they have arrived at that place called adulthood. And in many ways, your job as a parent is finished. One of the most important jobs we have in our lives has come to a close. And there's no fanfare or party or gold watch...it just happens and you're done. They're letting go, and it's time for you to let them go.
I find myself saying...when did this happen? And how did it happen so fast? But though you might look at your adult children and still see a kid taking their first steps or uttering their first words or scoring their first goal, they have in fact 'growed up'. All you can do is hope you raised them well and armed them with the tools to make good decisions and act and behave appropriately so they can be the best they can be.
They don't hand out a playbook with this game. I probably could've done better, but I did my best.
Be the best you can be, hon.
SONG&ARTIST? - "I stood stone-like at midnight
suspended in my masquerade
I combed my hair till it was just right
and commanded the night brigade
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain
and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a fallout zone
and came out with my soul untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd
but when they said "Sit down" I stood up.
Ooh-ooh growin' up..."
Friday, January 26, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Just trying to figure out how these internet tubes work. There have been literally dozens of links made to the Hart interview posts (and the Vultures post as well) from different 'Bones' Live Journals, Forums, Message Boards (like televisionwithoutpity, stumbleupon, whedonesque, rottentomatoes, etc) and even Blogs...but none of them appear when you click the 'links to this post' at the bottom of the interview parts. The only ones that appear are to members of our little cul de sac, Denis and Lee.
Anyone have an explanation for this anomoly? I'm just curious, that's all.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
It's sorta how I feel right now.
First, I kinda feel like I've shot my wad with the blog. Yeah it's been fun posting, and commenting...participating in the small but entertaining circle of like minds. All good. And I feel like I can take some credit for inspiring Henshaw to join the fray. I even was happy to provide the Bones fans with fodder to chew me out on numerous live journals and fanzites? and forums over at televisionwithoutpity and rottontomatoes and tv.com and stumbleupon.com --- e.g. 'Hart Hanson Interviewer Bitches About Having An Audience' (I guess wondering aloud about how the fast the fans found the interview and the pictures and questioning non-crediting of the source of the material (though most of that was corrected eventually) was out of line. Or perhaps using the words 'vultures' was a bit harsh...I stand down.), but after the Hart interview...where to go from here?
I have no encore.
Then you compound it with the mess that is the Canadian tv industry these days. I have been seriously thinking about moving back to Toronto of late, but with the eviction notice served to the Cinescape studios, ACTRA strike and the producers rebuttal, craftspeople losing their houses, Jim Shaw withholding CTF funds, followed by analysis of Shaw's threat by Toronto Star's Zerbisias, ...it all can make one seriously think about heading south instead. Except...
That would be a bad idea right now.
You think it's looking dire up here? Well, it is. But the U.S. entertainment industry is also heading into a labour negotiation year with the WGA. Variety thinks the odds of a writers strike is high, and so do the studios and networks. Stockpiling is underway. Reality or non-scripted programming is a high priority once again. And with SAG's contract expiring in 2008, everyone's getting very nervous in L.A.. Some telltale signs...
--Networks will be ordering fewer drama and comedy pilots and more reality.Deja vu.
--There won't be the usual late-spring hiatus in production.
--Continuing shows will get renewed earlier, with more backup scripts ordered so production can continue past Halloween if the writers walk out.
--Shows on the bubble between renewal and cancellation will become more likely candidates for renewal because they represent a smaller gamble than betting on a new show.
--Talkshows, news and gameshows will be more likely to migrate to primetime.
--Producers will take a long, hard look at shooting non-union and outside the U.S.
I've been here before....'cept I wasn't paying as much attention back then.
See, I packed up and moved down in late 2000...just as Hollywood was heading into a labour negotiation year with the Writers Guild and Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild. When it looked grim, stockpiling took place and reality tv took off. And it was all accomplished with those already firmly established within the Hollywood family. Newbie's were more or less shut out. Did I mention I'd just made the move down there?
So I struggled along, working mostly on reality shows or flying back to Canada to direct episodic. And then the strikes were averted. Yay! But things remained quiet because the networks and studios had already spent most of their money for the year. Stockpiling remember. Then, as the summer wound down, development money started to trickle out. Yay! I got into development with a couple of tween/family shows. And then... 9/11.
Everything shut down again...for months and months...as everyone tried to figure out what happened and how the industry should move forward.
Presuming talent, timing and luck play such a huge role in surviving this game. So was it bad luck or bad timing? I've concluded it was a bit of both. You've got to have a lot going your way in order to make it, and as little as possible working against you. This was a 'working against you' perfect storm of sorts.
It's was brutal for a newbie. Even an experienced newbie.
So as for 2007, I'm not forecasting another 9/11. Or assuming there will be any strike. But I'm thinking it's not a good time to be considering that jump from Canada to Hollywood.
Not if you want to try to break into film and television at any rate.
Your mileage may vary.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Will: You mentioned you loved writing for Stephen Fry? When did this happen?
Hart: On 'Bones'. Booth does something he shouldn't have done and the FBI has him evaluated by an in-house shrink ... it's Stephen Fry. He's a very large presence, a brilliant scholar, a great novelist, and he's writing Peter Jackson's next film. Tell me that ain't daunting!
Will: Speaking of Booth, you and Boreanaz seem to get along (at least in pictures) - what's he like and the story behind this one?
Hart: We were winning a Diversity Award, which is a fairly big deal. This was the holding room backstage. The whole cast showed up for the awards show and they know how nervous I am about making speeches etc. David started saying how great my speech was going to be to embarrass me. It worked. He made people take pictures. By the way, the speech wasn't that great but it was a lovely evening once that was finished.
The cast photo (in the previous post) was taken during our "gallery shoot" last year on a weekend. That's why I'm in short pants. I really just went in to be supportive because the cast was there doing promotional work on the weekend. Small anecdote: I was talking to David Boreanaz and he asked if Barry (Josephson) was coming. I said I didn't think so. I see him tip-tapping into his Blackberry and he said, "Barry will be here in a few minutes."
Knowing that Barry and David have a very practical-joking kind of relationship, I asked why. David couldn't stop laughing. He said, "I texted him that you were here and the photographer was about to start taking your picture with the cast." NOBODY likes to have their picture taken more than Barry and he was there within minutes looking BEAUTIFUL. He insisted that wardrobe come up with the black shirt I was wearing so we'd all be in black. (I was wearing a white Led Zeppelin t-shirt...) And even though DB had been joking and there was no intention of taking our pictures, Barry made it happen. I am forever grateful! I don't know why David kissed me. I think I smelled pretty good that day.
Will: Lucky you. Back to music for a second...the best concert you’ve ever seen?
Hart: Well, hell, that's tough. Most fun was ZZ Top at Molson Park back at the eighties, most amazing was Zep, most surprising was old fart fat Pink Floyd guys playing BRILLIANTLY. Crystal Method does our theme song and invited me to their birthday concert at a cool club in Hollywood -- that's the coolest I've ever been to. I saw Massive Attack at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of months ago and was completely blown away. And, I'm not kidding, Dwight Yoakam is killer great. I could go on.
Will: Yoakam rocks live. Okay, I’ve always considered you a goldenboy (even up here in Canada)...you know, a tv dude who is smart, funny, a great AND fast writer, someone who can do it all (I know, I’m choking on your dick here)...but who are some goldenboys you’ve worked with (writers/directors/actors) and why were they goldenboys (or girls) to you?
Hart: Everybody's so damn SMART. In Canada, and down here. Most of the time I'm the slowest person in the room. I LOVE this job because I get to hang with smart, funny people. I'm the dimwit in the corner with drool coming out of my mouth. My best pal down here is Dave Thomas from SCTV. THAT'S smart. I can barely keep up with him in conversation. We have a standing Sunday morning coffee date. It's the world's smallest men's group.
Will: Jumping back to the first time we met, you described yourself as someone who works in television. You still describe yourself that way (or is just showrunner, or Mr. Showrunner now)?
Hart: I'm a showrunner now. I hire people and fire them. I talk a lot to directors and actors and I argue with network and studio heads. I'm one of those guys. But the truth is that I'd rather sit at my house and chunk out scripts for somebody else. It just didn't work out that way.
Will: But I generally think of you as Mr. Organized or Mr. All Over It regarding the work (a la running a tv series). That said, how did you spend your last week/weekend? Hearing you say you'd just broke a story last Thursday that you needed to write a draft for Tuesday because it began prep this week sounds INSANE! Why does it always seem to come to that on tv series?
Hart: The train of production is coming at you faster than you can write. It will ever be thus. I got a script on Friday that did not work at all. I had to rebreak the story that Friday night and have a script ready for prep on Tuesday morning. I'm almost 50 years old and still doing that kind of shit. Especially toward the end of the run. (It was ep18 of Season II and we had absolutely no hiatus.)
Will: So I know you’re primarily a 'creative’...ever dabble in the business side of things? Or have you had to more as you became great and powerful?
Hart: I run a business. I look at contracts and budgets and all that stuff. And I'm a salesman. At the end of last season, our first of 'Bones', I had to go in to the network and tell them what my intentions were for the following year. They said "Okay" and picked up the show. Someone later told me, "You just went over and persuaded those people to give you $60 million dollars. You convinced them that it was a good investment."
Will: 60 million...shit. Okay, according to IMDB you directed an episode of ‘The Odyssey’, yet I distinctly remember you’ve told me you’d never direct...it was too hard or something. Any change of heart?
Hart: I've never directed anything. I never will. I don't have the desire. I definitely don't have the skills. I'm one of those people who if you say the same word five times in a row, I don't know what it means anymore. To me, that's directing. Being able to say a word over and over without losing the meaning. Can't do it. Bless those of you who do. I always wondered why you wanted to write when you had that excellent skill of directing. You're nuts, Will.
Will: Just trying to survive, my friend. Okay, your fav tv shows these days (assuming you have any time to watch anything)?
Hart: "The Wire", "The Office", "Extras" ... and bits and pieces of everything else.
Will: Who’s funnier, you or David Shore? Okay, who’s cooler? Do you and Shore ever have a good laugh over 'Traders'?
Hart: "House" shoots on this lot. We see a lot of each other. We're friends. I would say that David's ratings show that he is indeed funnier and cooler than I am. David's success is absolutely deserved. I am personally a huge fan of his writing. I can, however, outrun him.
Will: I know you can’t speak for Shore, but do you ever have any regrets about leaving Canada? Or better question, are there any shows you like to make or stories you’d like to tell that you can’t do in LA, but if you were back in Canada you could?
Hart: I don't know! It sounds so dire up there these days! Do I miss the country? Yes, I absolutely do. It's so LOUD down here. I get raving homesick from time to time. It's not like there's any less pressure running a Canadian show. It's the same process. Here, the marks of success are very, very clear. It's ratings. I never quite knew what a success was up in Canada. I miss the culture and the people and the weather every single day. It's WEIRD in this city.
Will: What's the most important qualities you look for, personality wise, when considering a new writer. Assume talent. Do you "cast" for a personality too?
Hart: David Shore and I were talking about this the other day. David does cast for a good personality. I do not. I want everything in the script. I don't care if a writer is good in the room or charming or any of that. I just want the script. That being said, the writers on "Bones" are one of the nicest most centred groups of people I've ever worked with. I look for brains. I look for experience. I love hiring people who have children because they have lives and lives are crucial to writing well. But it's all in the script for me. If I like a script, I'll hire the person.
I do have one anecdote: I have worked with one of the best writers in town. Emmy award winning, very, very good writer. Awesome. However, at a certain level, you need producers on a show to either rewrite another writer or help an less experienced or talented writer. This guy would NOT do that. He had no interest in writing anything that didn't have his name on it. That didn't work for me. Sadly, I let him go because I could get just as much work out of him as a freelance writer at a small fraction of the cost.
Will: Why do you think 'Joan of Arcadia' flamed out? It was another Barb Hall series (who did 'Judging Amy')… how involved were you with the show?
Hart: Barbara Hall is a good friend of mine and an absolutely excellent writer. She asked me to come work with her to help launch "Joan". Launching a series is difficult and time consuming and arduous and impossible so she wanted someone with her who she knew and whose work she knew. I was only there for the first 13 episodes. (20th kindly loaned me out to Sony, which I've mentioned before...but there was no way they were going to lose me for a full season.) So I helped get the show on its feet and then headed back to the 20th lot. It was very, very hard to do. I was invested in the season by then.
We all have theories as to why Joan faltered in its second year. I think the show should never have considered the possibility, from Joan's point of view, that she was nuts or hallucinating. It would be all right for the audience to think that or other characters, but I think Joan should have known in her heart that she was speaking to God. Interestingly, on "Cupid", Rob Thomas always thought that Trevor Hale (played by Jeremy Piven) was deluded in thinking he was actually Cupid. I always wrote toward that show with the idea that he just might be right.
Will: How different is it dealing with doing a show for Fox than for the other networks. Is there really a Fox sensibility? What do you know about BONES the show and how it works now that you didn't know when you started?
Hart: Fox is a network that is still searching for an identity -- just like the other networks in this rapidly changing world. There are certain parametres ... "Bones" could have gone to either CBS or Fox. It went to Fox. That immediately had ramifications both on the tone of the show and, most obviously, on the age of the protagonists. All series evolve and "Bones" is no exception. Each of the actors has strengths and we write to them. I'd have to say that both the studio and the network have come over to thinking of "Bones" more as a child of "Moonlighting" than of "CSI". That was not true in the beginning and led to most of the strife in my life. I know they've started to think of it that way because the promos are all chemistry and humour rather than scientific eurekas.
Will: I remember one of the most interesting things you showed me once was this synopsis of some sorts from the US networks summer brainstorm retreats or something. It listed the types of shows they were looking for as pilots for the following year/season, and that list went to just select showrunners or something - in effect giving y'all a jump or headstart on everyone else. Do I have this correct? Does that still go on?
Hart: You misremember the story slightly, my friend. The studio went on a "retreat" and came back with a list of things they thought make good television. The one I remember first is: "Cool guy, cool car." I, personally, found that completely unhelpful. Another was "town with a secret". Yikes. If that's insider knowledge then you can have it. They might as well have said, "something that people will watch on TV and will sell lots of DVD product." That list made me want to kill myself. You'll notice that none of their suggestions became hits in the following years.
Will: Some of my all time best laughs ever have been in your presence listening to you spin a tale...who cracks you up?
Hart: My right hand man on "Bones" is Stephen Nathan. He was the original Jesus in "Godspell" on Broadway. I DETEST musical theater. We have nothing at all in common and he is more fun to be around than any human being has a right to be. My friend Dave Thomas is not only a professional comic, he's one of the greats. I can't breathe sometimes. Again, most of the people I work with are amusing and intelligent and fun to be around. Actors, in particular, all have little bizarre "things" they can do that crack me up. Also, I have two teenaged sons so there's a lot of laughs there.
Will: Do you have any cool 'Street Legal' stories?
Hart: Did I write more than one? I can't remember! Do you have any cool Street Legal stories?
Will: Nope. Bad seque, but I do tell the story of your pitch for the ‘Horsemen’ series at Banff TV fest as one of the most painfully deadly pitches I’ve ever witnessed (though not your fault)...what’s your version?
(Some backstory - every year at Banff they pick 3-5 participants to go up on a stage and pitch their project to 'the room' (like Epstein did last year)...usually to 600 to 800 people. 'Horsemen' was a gritty cop show set in the world of undercover RCMP officers, but the producer put together a video of clips of the RCMP Musical Parade to lead things off. The clip intro ended..."crickets"...then confused scattered applause...and Hart and his undercover cop writing partner sat staring at the floor as the producer tried to pitch a gritty Canuck version of The Wire while the crowd was thinking it was a documentary or something).
Hart: Oh, Christ Almighty! You were there! That's right. That's when we first met. Why did you even speak to me? My version of the story is this: I really, really, really had to urinate right from the beginning of the pitch. Second, I promised myself that from that moment on, I would do my own pitches and I would do whatever I had to do to become a good pitcher. Now, I'm pretty good. It took YEARS. It's still not my natural forte. But I'll do it.
Will: How does your (lovely but not in the biz) wife put up with you and deal with 'the biz'?
Hart: Brigitte has been completely centered and possessed her entire life. She laughs at the weirdnesses and enjoys life. She's the mother of sons.
Will: In conclusion, and borrowing from '40 Year Old Virgin': "...you know why you're so gay? You like kayaking and dancing around your house to songs by Buckcherry." Why am I so gay?
Hart: Will, you are so gay because you masturbate to pictures of naked men. Is that how you play the game?
Hart: I almost sent you a picture of my naked ass, but I'm afraid you'd put it up on your blog.
Hart: Later. xxoo Hart.
SONG&ARTIST? - "Give it to me straight from the heart
Tell me we can make another start
You know I'll never go
As long as I know
It's coming straight from the heart..."
Saturday, January 20, 2007
And it's mostly about the pictures. They loves da pictures. That Bones cast photo with everyone laughing is already turning up everywhere. And the fans are groovin'... OMG! ROFLMAO!!!
But your material can end up at a site like this...or like this...or here at tv.com - and in some cases your words or pics cut and paste in so as to almost appear as if it's their post. WTF? Oh yeah, in little tiny letters at the bottom of the page, it says 'source'. Source? Hell...I feel guilty when I lift even a little part of someone else's article and plink it into a post of mine (credited of course). But not the die hard fans...
E.g. a recent comment on another site...
I realized I didn't post the link to the interview (here), because it doesn't say anything interesting about Bones (it´s a Hart Hanson interview but is more about his career). Here is what the the interviewer had to said about the pic and I think it summarizes the reaction to the pic very well:
"Here you are pictured with the cast of Bones (and getting a smooch from David Boreanaz...the ladies are swooning)"
The die hards these days seem to know everything about a show, I will give them that. I always get surprised when I check out some of the forums or threads for shows like 'Bones' and yes, most of the posters are saying 'I LOVE David Boreanaz' or 'Emily Deschanel is HOT', but you'll see writer names pop up occasionally. You'll actually read 'I ADORE Hart Hanson. He's a doll.'
Seriously... (although Hart could've written it himself posing as 'Bonelover', ya never know. He he he...I said 'bone')
I was on the scifi/paranormal show 'Psi Factor' for several years when the internet tubes were really just getting going. And near the end of the first season, I was stunned to discover that there were fansites devoted to the show. With pictures. And cast/crew profiles. And episode summaries. And comments. Lots of comments. ESPECIALLY after an episode aired. Wow.
I can't tell you how much it floored me when I first saw all those sites. Because as writers and directors and makers of television, you spend so much time more or less alone with the material, and then you release it out upon the world...whereby hundreds of thousands or even millions of people may watch it. But you didn't really hear what people thought about it, except for the ratings numbers (and that didn't help because even if 2 million watched it, for all you knew they all thought it sucked). Unlike the movie theatre experience, where you can 'hear' and 'feel' feedback from the room...in tv, for the most part, you were out of luck.
Until the internets came along...
And if you thought I was floored to find fansites devoted to a show I worked on and helped create, imagine reading someone comment that an episode I wrote 'sucked ass and writer Will Dixon should quit the biz'. Or conversely, to read a comment stating that 'series regular Will Dixon wrote last nights episode about giant fleas and it was AWESOME!! He's a great writer!"
Or you'd read three or four commenters get in a raging debate thread about who was the better writer - you, or two of your colleagues...who were sitting across from you...at that moment. Or find fanfic about your show that was really really good...or better yet, hardcore gay fanfic starring your two male leads that was better written than most of your scripts with some cool plot twists to boot.
Surreal...seriously scarily surreal...
The internets made some stars of the unseen stars...Joss Whedon fer sure...and opened the door for us tv writers to get some feedback. How seriously to take that feedback, however, is another story for another time...
The rest of the Hart Hanson chit chat tomorrow...with more new pics! Woohoo!
"Caw"..."caw"... say the vultures (do vultures even "caw"?)
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Hart: First, I'll paint you a little picture of where and when I am answering your questions. It's Thursday morning, freezing cold for LA (around 50degrees F), it snowed yesterday in Malibu. I'm sitting in my office in "The Old Writer's Building" on the Fox lot. It looks sort of like a Bavarian/Tudor/Disney Chateau. It used to house Shirley Temple. F.Scott Fitzgerald had an office upstairs. My office is huge but decrepit. Rumor has it that it used to be the M*A*S*H writer's room. I think that's a lie. I have it on good authority that it was another office upstairs.
I will tell you that every day I drive on this lot and show my ID and they just wave me on, I am amazed and a little thrilled. I distinctly remember coming onto this lot as a visitor for interviews and looking at great envy at the people who simply drove on and looked bored facing another day of work.
An aside...that's Hart in a nutshell. As smart and talented and funny as he is, he is genuinely real and down to earth and all those nice mushy things. I remember he was down in L.A. taking meetings just prior to him getting hired on 'Cupid' at the same time I was down there working on 'Outer Limits'. We'd meet up when we could for a drink or movie, but there was one night we were starving and wandered down the Santa Monica pier and found ourselves in some small, empty Chinese restaurant. And as we sat there nibbling on dry ribs and staring over at the amusement park ferris wheel, he turns to me and like a little kid says: "What the hell are we doing? We're in L.A. man...this is crazy. I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I don't belong here and to get back to Canada. It's nuts." And I remember just nodding and agreeing because I felt kinda the same way. But he clearly did belong there. Tip of the hat.
Will: Okay, most important question first: best guitarist ever...Jimmy Page, Angus Young, or Steve Zai?
Hart: Will, you know the answer to this question. Jimmy Page rules. Do I still think he's the best ever? Let me put it this way: I still listen and I'm very, very old and now I love jazz. I saw at the British Hall of Fame that Jimmy stopped dying his hair jet black and let it go gray and I was pleased.
Will: I know that music has always been a big part of your life...what do you listen to when you write – any specific bands for specific stories?
Hart: One of the best things about having your own show is that you have last say on music. That's slightly different from your question. Let me say that I have a playlist called "Bones" of music that I use when I'm writing or rewriting scripts. I also have a "Writing" playlist -- lots of jazz, lots of new weird stuff. I like aural backup let's say.
Ages ago, me trying to explain something to Nick Campbell on 'Guitarman' set with Hart looking on, probably thinking: "...what is Dixon saying?"
Will: Way back when, I remember us working on 'Guitarman' and I kept wandering around the room or flipping on the TV to check hockey scores, but you never moved from the computer. And whenever I’d ask you to take a break, you’d say: ’Bum to chair...bum to chair...that’s the only way this stuff ever gets done.” I’ve used BTC as advice to other writers numerous times since, ever think about trademarking it? T-shirts?
Hart: Did I actually say "bum"? That is still my philosophy. I will put my ass in front of the computer and pull up the program. Generally, if I have the willpower to do that, I will get my work done. That applied more when I was writing specs. Now, deadlines are a great motivator. And you didn't really want "breaks" from writing; you smoked a lot. You were Jonesing, my friend.
Will: 'Traders'...generally considered a classic Canadian TV drama series. Who created it? I mean, I know you wrote the pilot or originating episode (and a bible?), but didn’t come out to Toronto from Vancouver run it when it started. David Shore did I believe?
Hart: Alyson Feltes and Seaton McLean came to me with the idea, which I thought was horrible. I did a ton of research on investment banking, etc., which made me think I might be a narcoleptic because I kept losing consciousness. I wrote the pilot and Global ordered, I think, 13 episodes. I got sick with a kidney ailment that stopped me from working for a few months and Seaton and Alyson approached David Shore to run the show in its first season. He did it brilliantly, then skedaddled to the States. I came in and ran it for 3 seasons. Who created Traders? I think the real answer is Seaton, Alyson, me, and Shore.
Will: 'Traders' was an Atlantis series and since we recently had a ‘Remembering Seaton’-fest at Uninflected, what’s your best/favourite Seaton story?
Hart: I didn't want to like Seaton. He had a goatee. His wife was going to star in the show. I was trained from youth that goatees made you a villain. Seaton turned out to be a really smart, amusing, fun guy. He had fabulous barbecues. Sonja was perfect. I think Seaton had a lot to do with me going to the States although he steadfastly encouraged me NOT to go. We had our ratings from "Traders" and they seemed dinky to me ... under a million viewers? And we'd won a bunch of Geminis and the disjunct was somehow depressing to me. I was sitting on Seaton's couch at Atlantis saying something along the lines of, "We need more viewers!" I think I was complaining about our timeslot, too, up against 'E.R.' at the top of its game. The great unspoken bugaboo of being an indigenous Canadian drama was that the networks always burned us off against whatever huge American competitor they were facing in the time slot. Seaton said, "That's the way it is. If you want to get a lot of Canadian viewers, you have to have access to those giant hits." I don't think me leaving was what Seaton had in mind but that conversation was definitely part of my decision process to go to LA.
Will: Do you follow/watch any shows now from up here in Canada?
Hart: Only what friends send me. I really see very little television regularly. I check in on series. I LOVE "The Wire" and watch it in chunks. I think "Friday Night Lights" is cool which is unfortunate because they just became our timeslot competitor. "Trailer Park Boys" was a huge favourite with my boys. I'm dying to see "Little Mosque". I saw the Trudeau flicks and enjoyed them. I'd like to see more.
Will: Who are your heroes or idols in the business (or not)? Have you met any of them? Or a mentor? Who gave you your start or big break (in Canada and then in LA)
Hart: I started on "Beachcombers", went to "Avonlea". "Traders" was my baptism by fire (thank you Seaton, Alyson ...). Then I went down to LA and Rob Thomas (creator of "Cupid" and "Veronica Mars") hired me for "Cupid". He was much younger than I ... and still is. I'm a big fan of his writing. I've met most of the famous writers now. The thing is, I like writers. TV writers are a very, very interesting bunch of people. It was GREAT to watch David Kelley's process. Working with Barbara Hall was great, great, great. It's a pool down here. It's a community.
Will: Your ‘Snoops’ story...I always tell it as you being the only guy who could quit a David Kelley show and get kudos for doing so (including from Kelley himself)...do I have it all wrong?
Hart: Who knows? It's a good cautionary tale. I read the pilot to "Snoops" and I didn't much care for it. However, it was written and produced by David Kelley. I jumped at the chance to work with David. He's amazing. At the time he was writing three network shows a week. I'm running a show now, I take a pass at all scripts, and I'm FAST. ("Fast" may be more important than "good" which is not good, if you get my drift.) I'm working at the top of my game. He was writing three excellent shows a week. He rewrote all the "Snoops" scripts as well, which is very demoralizing. I think if it had been "The Practice" or "Ally ..." I might have ridden it out, but I didn't care for "Snoops" and the honest to God truth is that I didn't feel I was bringing anything to the project. So I asked Kelley to release me from my contract. He's a great guy and he did so and I think he said nice things to 20th about me and I got the overall deal.
Will: You have and have had an overall deal with Fox for a number of years now. How did you get it and can you explain how such a deal works exactly? How much they ‘own’ you as it were (as in, what can or can’t you work on)?
Hart: An overall deal means that the studio owns all my television development. They buy you out of the market for two or three years with an option for a third or fourth. I wrote five pilots for 20th Century Fox, two of which were produced, one of which became the series "Bones". I also ran "Judging Amy" for them. They were very, very kind to loan me out to Sony for "Joan of Arcadia" for 13 episodes.
Will: Here you are pictured with the cast of Bones (and getting a smooch from David Boreanaz...the ladies are swooning) along with Barry Josephson (glasses/ballcap). Who is Barry and what is his relationship to you and the show? Do y'all get along?
Hart: Barry Josephson is an Executive Producer on 'Bones'. He has a production deal with the studio, 20th, with which I have an overall deal. He owned the rights to a documentary on Kathy Reichs which was the genesis of 'Bones'. The studio put me and him together and we made the pilot. His office is across the parking lot from mine. He is still involved in the show in the same way Bruckheimer is involved in HIS shows. Barry is producing movies and other tv shows as well. The studio owns the show and the network "rents" it for a production fee which is a large part of the budget. The studio makes profits on other platforms: ie, DVD. There are always different opinions and attitudes from the studio and the network. It's just part of the minefield the showrunner has to navigate.
Will: Talk a little bit about making that Toronto to L.A. transition when you're not 23. You went down not as a fresh young thing in a business where you're old at 30. And you were Canadian. How did you do it? Was it like starting all over again? Did your Canadian "mystery credits" mean anything at all? How did you make the leap?
Hart: I was old when I came down here. I was 38 and approaching 39 fast. My Canadian credits meant nothing. Luckily for me, Rob Thomas at "Cupid" liked a spec script I wrote for "Ally McBeal". The interview went great and I suspect he liked the idea of having someone on his staff who'd run a show but who didn't look like he intended to take his show away from him. It was a hard decision to leave Canada -- I was ensconced, working with people I really liked, we had a nice house in the Beaches part of Toronto (Toronto's not my favourite place to live, I'm from Vancouver Island, but it was literally the kindest place I've ever been. People really accepted me and my family.) But, when I asked Brigitte if she'd consider moving to LA to try to get work from scrap, she said, "I think we have at least one more adventure in us." The biggest worry was whether LA was a good place to raise kids. It's still our biggest worry and they are almost grown.
Will: Shifting gears, any favourite actors you can’t wait to give your dialogue to because they always take it to another level?
Hart: Tons! Right now, aside from my series regulars who I really, really like (I'm not blowing smoke ... they're good...), I LOVE writing for Stephen Fry. Ryan O'Neal is also a blast. Tyne Daly was a gift. Joe Mantegna was great. Mary Steenburgen. Back on Traders, I loved writing for Patrick McKenna.
TO BE CONTINUED...
McKenna was a treat. I did a 'Psi Factor' with him. Okay, that's enough for today. Thanks Hart, hope you enjoyed yourself...I know I did. And thanks to DMc for providing me a few of the more serious queries.
Straight From The Hart Part II to come in a day or two...stay tuned.
SONG&ARTIST? - "Spent my days with a woman unkind,
Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine.
Made up my mind to make a new start,
Going To California with an aching in my heart.
Someone told me there's a girl out there
with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.
Took my chances on a big jet plane,
never let them tell you that they're all the same.."
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I know it's only Wednesday, and shame about the amateur VO, but it still made me smile...
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
This little gathering is where television program buyers and sellers meet and greet to strike programming deals. Most of next fall's U.S. television programming will be purchased or launched here. For the most part, it's syndicated programs...either already produced series that have been stripped or talk shows/game shows and lower budget dramatic (usually action/adventure/scifi).
For a long time, a lot of the syndicated action series shot here in Canada were financed in part by the clearances gained at NATPE (clearances refers to how many stations have 'pre-bought' your show, as it were...you generally need 80% - 90% of the 212 (I think?) stations around the U.S.). It was the scenario Boghosian describes below where we were front ended in development and pilot and production costs through a joint venture between an independent producer and a program syndicator, like King World...or Tribune. And if you aren't already confused, some markets (Chicago, New York, L.A.) are more valuable than others. All all of this is factored in...or at least was.
But the times are a changin' and have been changin' for some time. Syndicators are sruggling big-time, and need some fixing.
Paul Boghosian writes...
Now, for the uninitiated, the annual NATPE conference is all about deal making. Essentially, there are two kinds of programs that are sold at NATPE: New, first run programming, specifically designed for syndication and these programs are often times front ended in development and pilot cost by a joint venture between an independent producer and a program syndicator, like KingWorld. Or these first run programs may be developed in house, by a network such as NBC, and then syndicated aka sold through their in house syndication arm. In the case of NBC, NBC Enterprises. Programs that you may be familiar with in this category include game shows such as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, political talk shows such as the Chris Matthews Show and. of course, the giant talker of all time, Oprah.
The most profitable type of sale is the off-network sale. These are programs that have already proven their success in the marketplace, have already had prime time network broadcast runs, have at least 100 episodes in the can and are now syndicated for sale to independent stations, network affiliates and are ready to be sold to international networks. Successful series in this category include Seinfeld, Friends, and most sitcoms that you see over and over again, after they have had their network run.
But this annual bazaar of program sellers and buyers, station owners and distributors, content providers and producers, has been going down hill in the last four or five years. As networks have consolidated their programming, as producers and syndicators are developing and selling programming all year round and as more modern means of communications have made less relevant and meaningful this annual confab of the buyers and sellers of television programming, NATPE needs to be revitalized.
Henshaw follows up yesterday's opus with this report from NATPE and the new technology rollout and its potential impact on Canadian tv. And Broadcasting & Cable magazine offers up some interesting solutions to the sydication dilemma in an informative article.
Tough out the reads. A lot of it will seem headache-inducing, but it's good stuff to know.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Join in the fray...please
Sunday, January 14, 2007
'24' kicked off a new season tonight....not much more to say than wow...though I wish Fox hadn't pulled back so much on their budget. I mean, spend some money guys! Sheesh...
And finishing putting together an interview/dialogue/discussion with one of my all time favourite people...ex-Canuck tv goldenboy now living-in-LA tv goldenboy, Hart Hanson. A most excellent writer/producer with extensive credits on 'Traders', 'Road To Avonlea', 'North of 60', 'Cupid', 'Snoops', showrunning 'Judging Amy' and 'Joan of Arcadia', and is presently creator and showrunner of the Fox hit 'Bones'...(not to mention like 7 Gemini's (Canada's Emmy) for tv writing). Hopefully, Hart's interesting, entertaining, and funny self will translate here to the blog (or it'll be a complete bust...if so, blame me).
Let's put it this way...you know you've achieved a 'cool factor' when Rob Thomas of 'Veronica Mars' fame names a character after you....
Here's a good interview Hart gave to Underground Online's Daniel Epstein back when Bones just getting going...and another he gave Diane at Unified Theory of Nothing Much around the same time. Read them to get some backstory...
And stay tuned...
p.s. - yes, it's frakin' cold...
Friday, January 12, 2007
Like you I have a hard time thinking about all this without my brain hurting. There is, of course, "a what does this mean to me" interest in all this consoladating etc., but right now I don't think anyone knows much past the fact that, as Canadians, our assumption is "this is gonna be bad". That assumption is largely correct if only becuase all this merging etc. increases the element of "facelessness" with regard to the people we (the content creators) have to deal with. Success in this business relies on "gut instinct" more than focus groups etc., and as the major players shrink to a handful, mavericks get squeezed out and replaced with drones who must, for their own self interest, do their best to have a career without ever making a decision that they can be held accountable for.
It's hard to pitch in this environment because the fear to "take a flyer" on something is so pervasive. There still are a few of those people left and I thank my lucky stars that I know some of them, without them my career would be over. I've had a number of breaks doing this gig and they have all been a result of someone making a call that took guts. This attribute is not one that corporate culture values highly, certainly not among the ranks of middle management the people who, for the most part, we have to initially deal with.
The tale for today goes back to the glorious times when there was both an "Alliance" and an "Atlantis" -- two fairly vigourous production houses who competed for projects -- I'd worked for one but not the other so when Atlantis called I thought, hey, this'll be fun. The show was, at the time, their flagship drama. it starred the bosses wife. It was the only drama on the Canadian network it aired on. It was, for this market, high profile. In short, if any show was going to be under a microscope, this was the one. If any show was going to be subject to focus groups and attention from people within the organization, this was the one. If any show was going to drive a writer/producer crazy this would be it. It didn't.
It didn't because the boss was a person you could talk to, a person who had the confidence within an organization to make decisions based only on gut instinct. That was, of course, Seaton McLean. If you had a problem you could talk to Seaton. If you needed something you could talk to Seaton. If you made a call, he'd be behind you, and if that call turned out to be wrong, he'd still be behind you. What happened for/to me on this show probably wouldn't happen today. They contacted me about doing the gig cause they'd seen some work I'd done on a half hour show. Offered me a showrunner credit. I was happy. Then I learned they were also going to hire another producer (I wasn't so happy) because the job I was being hired to do had always been done by two people. I knew I couldn't do what I wanted with another person so I turned down the gig -- more money than I'd ever been offered in my life, more exposure, more prestige etc -- and threw up in my mouth just a little.
And they came back to me. Okay, sport you got it. The other producer is off the table. Holy cow. Next they said it would be a good idea if you kept the story editor. I said sure. We were now gonna start shooting in about ten weeks so that made sense to me. But can I bring in another one? Sure. But then both of them became unavailable for various reasons and there was just me sitting in the office trying to figure out WTF I was gonna do. I'd gotten the biggest gig of my life, I knew absolutely nothing about the "world" of the series and I had no writers and now I gotta have a "production script" for the first episode in about six or seven weeks (and of course, twenty five more each week after that), as well as find replacement cast members for series regulars that had gone off to the greener pastures of the US. Gulp.
So the calls went out to the experienced writers. I talked to a bunch of them but soon realized that becuase of their experience I was actually gonna have to convince them that my ideas were right. And I didn't have either the time or the rhetorical skill to do that. So I interviewed newbies. One had never written a script, one had written half a script (the show intern the year previous) and the third had written a half hour show once. But I liked the cut of their jibs and I knew that they would sweat blood for me (the magnanimous provider of the "big break') so I figured these people were gonna be "my team". There was now only a production company and a network to convince. Seaton had a Springsteen poster in his office. That was my in.
I went in and made my pitch. there was some talk about the fact that I'd never run a show of this scale and my staff had a sum total of one hour of produced TV experience behind them and we were still shooting in six or seven weeks but, at this point, I figured what the fuck -- "if we succeed it'll be magnificent, if we fail the crash will be spectacular"...the "last chance power drive" ...the working metaphor in all of this. Seaton laughed and said "what the hell" and called the network and the deal was done.We made it through that season -- got a handful of Gemini nominations and got a bonus season after that. I don't know what the point is. I just know that we did something special that year. something that in the "check and double checks" and "caution" that is a natural condition of a big corporate machine would never happen again.
Thanks for that. I think most of us who've kicked around the trenches long enough have a 'Seaton's office' story. I know I have a several. One was incredibly life-changing...I'd just moved to Toronto and as we sat and shot the shit he suddenly interupted one of my rambles about regional production and simply asked me what did I want to do? I hummed and hawed and finally said...'I want to direct more often, and try to get on the staff of a tv series.' He just nodded and said 'Okay, good to know.' And six months later he was calling me on Boxing Day to ask me to take a run at the story of what ended up being the first script of a series called 'Psi Factor'...with the carrot being - "if this pans out, we'll get you on the staff of the series." And it did pan out, because he stood behind his word.
Another involved an enthusiastic reality television producer acting out a 'close encounter' scene between some farm kids and some 'aliens'...and then trying to convince us that with the right lighting and the appropriate 'shaking' of a VW Beetle, we could simulate 'the spaceship' for no money at all. And then proceeded to show us how he'd already done it (in a bug!) for the series 'Sightings'. I didn't know how to respond, but Seaton smiled and nodded and says: "Seems a little cheesy, but it just might work." (we never did stoop that low, but Seaton's enthusiasm was infectious).
That's what I loved about Seaton...for all the corporate reality and then the monolith that Atlantis and Atlantis Alliance became, he always seemed like a down to earth guy who just liked making tv shows or movies. And wanted us all to have fun doing it.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
More from Jenn Kuzmyk at C21 on the AAC aquisition...
The worst kept secret in the Canadian entertainment industry has been confirmed as Winnipeg media conglom CanWest Global officially acquires Alliance Atlantis as part of a C$2.3bn (US$1.95bn) takeover that will also see CBS pick up international distribution rights to the CSI franchise. The C$53-per-share deal, which is subject to shareholder approval and that of Canada's media regulator, the CRTC, was carried out by CanWest in partnership with New York-based investment bank Goldman Sachs.
The deal is expected to be completed by summer 2007 through a new subsidiary company owned by CanWest. Upon receipt of CRTC approval, Alliance Atlantis's speciality television business and CanWest's Canadian television operations will be managed on an integrated basis by CanWest, with a formal combination of the broadcast businesses slated to take place in 2011. The deal includes AAC's 13 speciality channels such as HGTV, Showcase and The History Channel, as well as its stake alongside CBS in the CSI crime drama franchise and a 51% interest in Canadian movie distribution outfit Motion Picture Distribution.
My brain hurts.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
I build the course around each student conceiving of a pitch for a movie or tv series, writing a short summary or synopsis, mapping out a development plan and schedule, formulating a financing plan and structure, creating a development budget, designing a one sheet, packaging all the materials, and then pitching it to a panel of local producers/network/funding agency people on the last day of class. I do try to focus on navigating the Canadian system, but tend to keep it more about the general 'process' of trying to produce something...anything...highlighting the important things you should always be thinking about as you go through the steps.
And now reading a new book I ordered for a text this semester, and boy...what a winner. It's called 'So You Want To Be A Producer' by Lawrence Turman (The Graduate, Short Citcuit, American History X). It's perfect for this kind of class. Other books I've used focused more on the legal and dealmaking and financing and, quite frankly, all that can be a real turn-off for film students in their early 20's. Not to mention totally overwhelming. So far, Turman's book steers clear of most of that stuff (though not short-changing its importance) and focuses on what producing is and what you need to do and be in order to produce movies and tv well. His model is the Peter Stark Producing Program course at USC - a Master's course he revamped and has run for the past dozen years or so.
Rather than review the book, I'm just going to post excerpts I find interesting or enlightening as I continue to read through it.
Other than that being a really big 'if', seems pretty simple, right?
Here's the good news: you already are a producer. Yes, really. Because producing is simply thinking ahead, planning, and getting a series of things done to accomplish a goal for yourself. You have to work backward: start by figuring out everything you're going to need for a specific time in the future, and then making sure it's ready when you need it to be ready. Much like inviting your friends to come to your place for a dinner party, you have to 'produce' it.
A film/tv producer is the person who decides an idea, a character, or a story is worth telling. He's the 'starter' and the 'finisher', and therefore involved in every aspect and most details of production. In all cases I arrange the financing, without which a project can't get off the ground. And as the producer, I put together all the necessary crative talent and then act as a guide and sounding board, hopefully enhancing their work and coalescing all into a unified whole.
So would you like a job where you're the one who decides what movie (or tv series) to make, and how it should be made? That's a producer. It's one of those rare professions where you can start at the top, if you control a super, terrific, dynamite script.
The pilot for "Little Mosque On The Prairie" aired last night....glad that's over with. And I'm sure the producers and and writers and cast probably feel the same way. The hype and attention the show was receiving was bound to put a ton of pressure on everyone involved...now, hopefully, they can learn from viewer feedback and get down to just making the show...and making it a little bit better.
And that's not saying it was bad...it was just, you know, the first show...the setup show...say it, the pilot. Go back and watch the pilot from just about any comedy series that you enjoyed and most will generally be pretty weak. Or average. Or safe. Or at least what you expect to see before a show finds itself and discovers who and what works and what doesn't.
Rory Boylen in TV Guide Magazine gave it an 'acceptable' review, and I tend to agree with most of what he said...
Hopefully Mosque will not rely solely on its 'hook', quickly use up all their play on words like Jihad and Allah, and focus on good quirky character comedy (with a Muslim spin of course) that isn't just a slightly different shade of 'Corner Gas'. But it's still real early in the game...
Where a show such as The Office makes you feel for characters and laugh at their downfalls, Little Mosque happily rolled the story along to a feel-good ending. So good, in fact, that the most accepting of the Muslim community turns out to
be, ironically, the Reverend!
Don’t get me wrong, Little Mosque deserves credit for bringing out this type of show in this day and age. There were times when you had to release a little chuckle, but overall it wasn't the laugh-out-loud comedy that would turn heads. It was, as my mom described, “precious.”
Maybe the hype and attention raised expectations too high for its own good. But as far as I’m concerned, one show about ignorant country bumpkins in the prairies is enough for Canadian TV.
And who knows, maybe down the road Mick Jagger could take a vacation from 'Knights Of Prosperity' and pay Mercy a visit before heading over to Dog River for a crossover episode event to cap this years Canuck tv season.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Here's the poster used to advertise the movie...
Pretty soft artwork for something starring Cruz and Hayek, two of the most beautiful woman working in film, but what do I know. So I checked out the trailer. There were a few different ones kicking around on Youtube, and this was the best of the lot...
Okay. Not bad. Certainly seemed sexier than the poster. And when I say sexier I don't mean 'sex'...I just mean more entertaining or eye-catching.
So it could be fun, no? 'Bandidas'...hmmmm...
Or should I say it's being released today on dvd in North America as 'Bandidas'. Because when checking it out, I found it has already been released on dvd overseas with the title 'Sexy Pistols'...
Very different title...that implies a different kind of movie, but still pretty conservative pictures. I did mention that it stars Penelope Cruz...
...and Salma Hayek, right?
From what I can gather, it was originally set for a wide US theatrical release in late 2005 and then early 2006; but the film was finally given a 22 September 2006 date and was an exclusive Cinema Latino Theatres chain release in US. It also garnished a limited theatrical release in Asia and Europe (under the title 'Bandidas'), was generally savaged by the critics, and made next to nothing at the box office.
They obviously struggled with the marketing and selling of this movie (though if it was in every way a turd, that certainly doesn't help)...but at least they've sexed it up a bit for the US dvd release...
'Bandidas'? Or 'Sexy Pistols'? How would've you sold it?
SONG&ARTIST? - "Don't ask us to attend 'cos we're not all there
Oh don't pretend 'cos I don't care
I don't believe illusions 'cos too much is real
So stop your cheap comments 'cos we know what we feel."
Monday, January 08, 2007
I remember when MTV hit the television airwaves in the early 80's. I found them fascinating. A chance to finally hear AND 'see' the bands and musicians I was into at the time. And for a kid living out in the middle of nowhere (with no real opportunity to see any of the bands in person, this was a big deal). I used to head down to the one bar in my town that had a satellite feed to sit from 4-7 and sip happy hour drinks and 'watch the vids'.
Sure there was a lot of crap. Or a lot of videos that were just 'commercials for songs'. But there were also some wicked mini movies set to music. And for a beginning film student, that was the biggest attraction.
Here's a list of VH1's 100 Greatest Music videos compiled in 2001 just to give you a frame of reference.
Most lists are topped by M Jackson's 'Thriller', and Madonna's 'Like A Prayer' or 'Express Yourself'... and P Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer always rank high. And they were all groundbreakingly original at the time, but it The Police's 'Every Breath You Take' and Don Henley's 'Boys Of Summer' that resonated for me the most way back when...
Jumping forward in time, Marilyn Manson messed with my mind with his video for 'Beautiful People'...
And REM's 'Everybody Hurts' was an instant classic...
But Radiohead wins hands down. Check out any of their vids like 'There There', 'Fake Plastic Trees', 'Knives Out', 'Street Spirit', 'No Surprises', 'High And Dry', 'Rabbit In Your Headlights', 'Paranoid Android', 'Karma Police', and you won't be disappointed. All brilliant.
If I had to pick just one, however, it's their classic video for the song 'Just'...
A story set to music with a beginning, middle, and a 'What da...?' ending, this work of art ultimately defined the 'music video' for me.
So what do you think the man lying on the ground said?
Saturday, January 06, 2007
As much as I'm a fan of Maria Del Mar, I found T City so difficult to watch. I know cancer isn't supposed to be fun or pretty, but when I turn on the tv most times, I want to be taken somewhere other than 'downerville'. Like a Victoria Secret's Xmas runway show for example...
The other news is from AMC...they're breaking into the original programming game in a big way with not just the previously mentioned edgey original series 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad', but now a remake of 'The Prisoner', a cowboy miniseries called 'Last Horseman', and from Walter Hill, a Western-themed one hour series.
Another stab at a Western...yeeesh. When's the last time there was a hit series in this genre...does 'Deadwood' count? Was 'Lonesome Dove' ever considered a hit?
It's intimidating to read the pilots generally going to the Abrams or the Kelley's or the Milch's or the Walter Hill's...makes the notion of breaking in with something on your own seem so unlikely. Somehow partnering up with one of these 'names' feels like a far more plausible and realistic way in.
The furthest I've ever gotten trying to develop a series in LA was done in partnership with Richard Donner and his company. And not that there was ever that much interaction with Mr. Donner (mostly his development execs), but his name opened some doors and got it looked at.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Because it makes me smile...
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
But hotel living has got me remembering…
Buddy Ackerman (Swimming With Sharks): "Because there are no story-book romances, no fairy-tale endings. So before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, "What do you really want?"The most relaxed I think I’ve ever been was when a TV series I was working on got renewed for another season before we even wrapped shooting the first season. Offers were made and accepted to come back and work another season…sweet. And to top it all off, this series was actually shooting in the city where I lived. Triple bonus! It meant all the pressure was off of when and where you’d be working next. It also meant the luxury of relaxing for six weeks, including squeezing in a quick golf holiday with some friends. Sweet. Sweet. Sweet.
But that’s only happened to me once in fifteen years...the 'show in the city where I was living' part.
In the U.S. you can live in Los Angeles and assume the majority of shows and movies will shoot there. But in Canada, even though the majority of work happens in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal…a lot of stuff shoots elsewhere. And if you want to keep writing/producing TV series in Canada, you’re going to have to ‘travel for work’.
Look at some of the players who stop by Uninflected…Mark Farrell lives in the Maritimes, but travels to Saskatchewan to work on ‘Corner Gas’. David Moses also lives in Maritimes, and travels to Vancouver to work on ‘Robson Arms’. Jim Henshaw has been pretty fortunate to stay put in Toronto over the years, but he had to travel to Australia to run ‘Beastmaster’. Alex Epstein, along with Denis McGrath, went to South Africa for 'Charlie Jade', and now McGrath is jetting from Toronto to work on something in Vancouver.
And then there’s some of the people I know…Tracey Forbes from LA to Toronto and Winnipeg for ‘Regenesis’ and ‘Falcon Beach’; Rick Drew from Vancouver to Toronto to work on Psi Factor; Peter Mohan from Toronto to Vancouver to work on ‘Blood Ties’; Jordan Wheeler from Winnipeg to Regina for Renegadepress.com; Sara Snow from Vancouver also for Renegade; Rob Cooper and Damien Kindler left Toronto to work on ‘Stargate: SG1’ in Vancouver; Hart Hanson went from Vancouver to Calgary for ‘North of 60’, and Toronto from Vancouver for his first season of ‘Traders’…there are countless more examples but that’s enough for now (Blueglow I know has traveled for work, but I’ll let him tell you himself).
As Stephen Bishop sang so well..."...on and on, on and on, on and on."
After I moved to Toronto, my first sizable chunk of work was up in Montreal. I also had to travel to back to Saskatchewan and to Vancouver for work on other gigs. And I’m not talking a few days of travel…I’m talking weeks, sometimes even months.
Then I moved to Los Angeles…and I spent the majority of my time there being sent back up to work on shows in Canada. Didn’t make a lot of sense after a while…especially when trying to live in L.A. but getting paid in Canadian dollars. The rate of exchange will kill you (less now than then, but still…). Plus it always felt temporary - like it was just another ‘travel for work’ scenario.
And more recently, while back on the prairies, I still had to travel to Edmonton for the better part of a year to run a show.
Working freelance TV series in Canada, more often than not, becomes about having to travel for the work. I often liken it to being in a band or a professional sports athelete...or even a standup comic.
But at what price?
It can be incredibly tough on a relationship, or on your family and your kids. Hell, even on you. Those first few days of hotel or apartment living with some per diem in your hands can seem pretty sweet, but after a week or so it becomes a pretty lonely existence. The show is your life. Your ‘real’ life is somewhere else, back where you left it. And because it never ‘for good’...there’s always a temporary feel to everything, and you tend to live tentatively...with rules like:
1) don’t become too attached to people/co-workers because you’re ‘outta here’ in a few weeks/months
2) don’t become too fond of the scenery or the restaurants or the shopping because eventually, you’ll be leaving it behind.
3) don't enjoy yourself too much because it's not going to last.
4) And don’t ever apologize…it shows weakness
(sorry for that last one, it's another from Swimming With Sharks...doh! I apologized...)
Not so glamorous, is it. Unfortunately, if you’re working TV in Canada, it’s a reality.
This all reminded me of a time about five years ago. I was living down in LA but directing a show up in Toronto. It was December…Xmas was just around the corner…I was prepping an episode and a director I’d known casually for quite some time was shooting the current one. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and so we hooked up for quick lunch.
Turns out we’d been following each other’s career with one eye. He knew I was in LA and some of the stuff I’d done recently. I knew he was directing episodic….all the time. First he tells me that he now owns condos in Calgary, Vancouver, and Los Angeles. Then he relates all the shows he was heading off to work on in the new year. And me, knowing I had nothing lined up, started to feel some gig envy creep over me. I must have expressed something to that effect, gushing to him about how nice it must be to have all this work and the three homes and boy o boy he sure was doing well. Anyway, at some point I look up and BED (Busy Episodic Director) is just staring at me with a pair of tired, empty eyes.
BED: “What are you talking about, Dixon? I’d take your situation anytime.”
ME: (surprised) “Really, why?”
BED: (struggles for words) ”I mean yeah, I keep working, but that’s really all I got. You, on the other hand, have a life. You have four kids. A family. One home. Me, I just got a bunch of TV credits.”
I didn’t know how to respond. But I’m sure I said something encouraging and we shook hands and went our separate ways. Why was he feeling that way? I dunno…maybe because it was Christmas…or maybe because he was now 4o years old and starting to take stock in his life and what he’d accomplished thus far.
At any rate, what he said hit me really hard. And it stuck with me. And I made a concerted effort from that point on to start appreciating what I already had…and to try to travel less for the work.
Whether it’s the job or the family or the relationships, when you travel for work, something or someone always suffers. Having that knowledge now doesn’t make it any easier to balance or manage, but at some point you'll find yourself wanting to choose your kids and family instead of taking another mediocre sci-fi series gig. Especially if it means traveling...yet again.
Buddy Ackerman: "This is the only way that you can hope to survive. Because life... is not a movie. Everyone lies. Good guys lose. And love... does not conquer all."Life happens when you’re busy making plans…or traveling for the TV work in Canada. This started out to be a post on gig envy, and turned into a post about being careful what you wish for.
Back to the waterslides....wheeee!
and I'm back on the road again."