Friday, January 12, 2007

Blueglow Glows...and Seaton Rocked

A lot of the commenters here at Uninflected are funnier smarter people than I, and so amidst the mind-spinning events in the Canuck film/tv business over the past couple days (Shaw Communications threaten to withhold funds; Canwest Global to buy Alliance Atlantis), I felt compelled to post blueglow's recent comment/story about the 'good 'ol days' when there was an Alliance AND an Atlantis...

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.


Mef said...

Great post and great story from blueglow. I got into (series) writing after Alliance and Atlantis merged.

and how about blueglow hiring a bunch of newbies? Great stuff. More stories or I'll have to tell everyone (again) how my brother saved a guy in the subway.

And btw the people I know in the West have nothing but great things to say about blueglow. (at least I think it's blueglow)

Callaghan said...

I'm going to keep saying it until he finally gives in: Blueglow needs to get his blog up and running again.

Great story. I'd be interested to hear how the newbie writers fared in their careers after that excellent first big break.

I have obviously never crossed paths with Seaton. Where is he now? I noticed that he was the producer on The Good Thief...great flick.

Crashdummie said...

I'm starting to like the way Seaton thinks... Do you think he can pass over the "have fun while you're working" part to my managers?

blueglow said...

Couple of late nite drunken shout outs!

Mef thanks for the kind words but don't worry I've fucked over as many people as I've helped up so's I'm far from a saint.

as for you, callahan, obviously the film center (the home of the place that spews out the young eagers) didn't teach you guys much about deadlines or I'd be reading your promised update about life in the TV drama program -- you did promise this sometime before christmas and I'm already used to writing 2007 on my cheques -- so don't be demanding that i make my own blog.

thing about doing a blog is that i would be adding too much extra strress to my life and while I may love the sound of my own voicei do enjoy even more the private pleasure masturbation allows. I'd rather bounce in and out of this world much the way i've lived my real live -- as an uncommitted gadabout.

as fer the newbie writers two of them are still doing well. one -- not so much -- but is still surviving which today is kinda an accomplishment in itself. I am very proud and happy for all of them, they stepped up and did the gig.

Plus while it was a big break for them if it all went to hell in a handbasket i coulda blamed them and the idiots above me who let me hire them in the first place.

But seriously, these are trying times. And in these times one has to remember that goodness can be replicated and imitated. Every day allows us the opportunity to be a straight shooter or an asshole. I hope I've spent more times trying to live up to the ideals of the former rather than the latter.

that's all my initial post was about.

Anonymous said...

Seaton started me on this path. He believed in me and made me believe in myself. I would have given up a long time ago if not for him.

He's living the good life now as a vineyard owner. I wish he were still producing. I think that's all he wanted to do.

Unfortunately producing carries "risk" though, and shareholders don't like that. They like broadcasting because it's a cash cow, despite what they say.

The only audience a corporation is concerned with is the New York banker demographic.

Callaghan, I am waiting for an in depth novel on the CFC experience.

CAROLINE said...

Callaghan has been way negligent. I suggest you all go to his neglected blog and harrass him like DMc and I are doing.

Let's hear it for drunken shout outs. Blueglow is a righteous dude. I'd work for him in a nano second. Mark, too. I'd make coffee for Mark, I and I wouldn't do that for most people.

Jutra, we may have to break the blogland code and actually meet for lunch or a pint. I think we are on similar spirit quests right now.

Will, are you still alive out there? I hear it's colder than hell and your snow plowers are on strike.

blueglow said...


anyhow, after having to story edit "scripts" from husbands, wives, kids, pet iguanas related to various network execs, producers in the years previous taking a chance hiring some people who actually had put in some time trying to learn how to write a script didn't seem like that much of a deal. i mean, shit, someone, hired me, right and I didn't have much schooling in this

besides I had them on month to month contracts so if they had fucked up they would have been out of there.