Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm With Stupid...

...and like Denis, I also got nothin'. Not that I'm saying he's stupid, I'm just sayin'...

Swamped with a new project or two, so a quick link roundup. Fall TV is moving into the middle serious winners or losers, but everybody seems to agree that it's been pretty underwhelming. Yes, Pushing Daisies got a pickup (yeah...yeah), and in my opinion Chuck and Life (more on this show soon) are pretty solid, but I do find my attention wandering. This LA Times article (free registration) notes viewers overall are down another 11 percent from last year, thinks Heroes needs a lifeline, and sees general sluggishness in tee-vee land all around...while this MSN article is a little less kind.
Broadcasters have no one to blame but themselves, contends one analyst.

"The networks haven't delivered the compelling new shows that viewers get excited about," said Shari Anne Brill of ad-buyer Carat USA. She recalled instant, buzzed-about hits "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" from seasons past.

With the top networks delivering a combined 40 million weekly viewers to advertisers, broadcasting remains a potent platform, said Marc Berman, analyst for Media Week Online. But the medium is only as strong as its programming.

"Did the networks really put on anything that people said, 'Wow, I have to watch this?'" Berman said.

As far as new shows go, the answer is a resounding no.

That goes for the general public, but what everyone in the biz is watching are the WGA/AMPTP talks as the strike date rapidly approaches. And what you should be reading is The Artful Writer and Craig Mazin's insightful opins and timely updates.

Go for the posts, and stay for the comments.

That's all I got. Happy Halloween. Dress up and go play, but keep an eye out for the trick or treatin' kids on the road.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Henshaw takes on DMc and offers up a different perspective of the latest goings on with the CTF, Jim Shaw, and the WGC .

Cool. My money's on the bull.

This Hour Was 65 Minutes...

So the Geminis road show rolled through Regina this weekend. CBC Arts and The Globe & Mail and Playback all nicely summarize what was essentially a slick, quick, and relatively painless Gala awards ceremony.

All and all, it was not embarrassing...(my highest grade for most things we all do).

Taped over two hours but only one hour played live on the CBC, it was a Slings & Arrows and Corner Gas-fest, with the two programs snagging four and three trophies respectively.

Tip of the hat to friend of the blog Mark Farrell for his well deserved win for Best Writing in a Comedy Series...except he wasn't here to accept in person as he needed to be back in Halifax to keep running his other show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. That's okay Mark, we forgive.

SaskFILM threw a funtastic after party (David Moses, were you there?).

My only real bone to pick is with the Globe's John Doyle and his Friday editorial bitchfest about the Geminis as a whole:

Over its 22 years, The Geminis have become a joke, and the entire event is in serious need of an overhaul. It's actually smart of the CBC - to which the event returns after a couple of years on Global - to keep it to an hour. After an hour, along come the Desperate Housewives (ABC, CTV, 9 p.m.), and those ladies would just crush the Geminis.

The purpose of the Geminis is to celebrate excellence in Canadian English-language television. The problem is that their standards and methods have been questioned too often for the existing system to remain.

He goes on to criticize and criticize, and a lot of his points are valid...but I kept waiting for some solutions. Nada. And slamming something and saying it's broken without any suggestions for how to make it better is like trashing a screenplay without giving any notes on how to fix're just not helping.

But all in all, a good weekend. The biz was celebrated, saw a lot of friends and colleagues from in town and across the country, plus came away with a new gig...and what more do you want from an industry awards affair, really.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do You See? DO YOU SEE?! seriously, RUN and watch the first two installments of South Park's Imaginationland trilogy....for fans of every action/sci-fi/fantasy movie ever made.

"See...terrorists planned and executed an imaginary attack on Imaginationland, and are slowly but surely taking over our imagination, see? Before long, see, our imaginations will start running wild."

Part One

Part Two

Brilliant. Part Three will air next Wednesday. This dude can't wait.

And a tip of the hat no wag of the finger to the lovely folks at Verite Films and Corner Gas for throwing a heck of a good party to 'officially' kick off the Gemini's weekend in Regina. Nice to see Mark McKinney, Gabrielle Miller, and pretty near the entire cast/keys from Intelligence in attendance.

P.S. the pic from Pan's Labyrinth has nothing to do with anything in this just kinda freaks me out.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No Need To Go That Far, Just Have One For Lunch.

I got a little choked up when I found this clip recently. Those who read the blog with attention will remember I grew up without a television, and so my 'entertainment' generally came from sports, books, and playing lots of charades (don't ask). But it also came from listening to old comedy albums by the likes of Cosby and Woody Allen and Beyond The Fringe and Stan Freberg.

Stan Freberg presents 'The United States of America' is a true classic. What follows is just a small sample of his marvelous blend of political sketch comedy and musical parody.

Because it makes me smile (and takes me back)...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

For The Moment...

Last week I was enjoying Michael Clayton in the darkened comfort of the local Galaxy cinema, when I witnessed a '(movie) moment'.

It's dawn, and George Clooney (Clayton) drives quickly down a country lane when, without warning, he pulls over to the side of the road. On a nearby hillside he notices three unsaddled horses standing at attention. Clayton thinks a moment, then carefully exits his vehicle and walks across the field until he stands right before the three animals. The sun starts to rise...the misty fog starts to evaporate. Clayton's face is a twisted mess of guilt and remorse...for what's he's done with his life, and what he hasn't done. The music quietly builds and swells. The camera slowly circles him and the horses. And we feel his pain and sense his disconnect and despair. (Next, in the background, his car suddenly explodes...but it's merely the button to the moment I'm describing)

Why was all of this a moment? Because it was written and directed with a primary goal of invoking an emotional response in the viewer, and it took its time doing so. It 'breathed'. It also paid explicit attention to 'getting the details' of the scene, and, not surprisingly, would've taken a good chunk of a day (or two) to film.

EDIT: Just let me add this as I fear I may not have been clear. The explosion isn't the moment I'm trying to's simply the conclusion of the sequence of Clayton leaving his car to square off against the horses. That sequence is the moment...a series of shots, usually with no or little dialogue, that make you the viewer 'feel' something. I 'felt' whatever Clayton (Clooney) was going through at that 'moment', as it were.

Feature films, or at least the good ones, usually have several of these throughout the movie....and they can, because they have the time and budget to do so.

TV? Not so much.

When making television, shooting schedules are fast and furious, and you're fighting the clock every minute just to make your day, much less 'create' any movie magic. Not to mention there's expectation of a certain pace and energy to network television drama when it airs (I'm excluding cable and premium pay channels for now as they tend to have a movie/TV hybrid in their look, style, and execution) that demands you keep the story moving. The prevailing network exec notion seems to be if you try to slow it down and let the moments breathe, the viewer will just click away.

But why? Those moments are the ones that tend to stick and make an impact on the viewer, both intellectually and emotionally. They 'move' people...and are fun to make and watch because they're usually done by showing, not telling (as in, sans dialogue).

But TV's so much about the telling.

Still, today's shows have tried to manufacture their version of the moving movie know what I mean, the closing scenes set to some popular song where we generally see all the characters in some form of 'reflective' moment or situation. Except it's really more of a montage than a 'moment', and tend to feel manipulative instead of honest. And it may not necessarily go where it would be most effective dramatically (as in the ending's not always necessarily the best place). In a nutshell, it's not the same thing.

TV drama could use more 'moments' more often, in my opinion. And any TV director worth his or her salt should try to weasel in a few into every TV episode they work on. This even though the machine will fight you every step of the way (the shooting schedule will kick 'moments' out quicker than you can say Action!, with A.D.'s and line producers marching up to you waving your shotlist over their head: "Are you nuts? We don't have time for this?"). But fight back a bit and make some time, even if for just one short sequence...

...and maybe we'll see more (movie) moments, on TV.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fade To Black...Finally?

Sopranos creator David Chase reappears to give his take on the controversial series finale, and express his disbelief at how outraged so many fans seemed to be by the conclusion.
He strongly suggests that, no, Tony Soprano didn't get whacked moments later as he munched onion rings with his family at Holsten's. And mostly Chase wonders why so many viewers got so worked up over the series' non-finish.

"There WAS a war going on that week, and attempted terror attacks in London," says Chase. "But these people were talking about onion rings."

The interview, included in "`The Sopranos': The Complete Book," published this week, finds Chase exasperated by viewers who were upset that Tony didn't meet explicit doom.

He defends the bleak, seemingly inconclusive ending as appropriate - and even a little hopeful. A.J. will "probably be a low-level movie producer. But he's not going to be a killer like his father, is he? Meadow may not become a pediatrician or even a lawyer ... but she'll learn to operate in the world in ways that Carmela never did.

"It's not ideal. It's not what the parents dreamed of. But it's better than it was," Chase says.

And as for that notorious blackout in the middle of the Journey power ballad, "Don't Stop Believin'"? "Originally, I didn't want any credits at all," says Chase. "I just wanted the black screen to go the length of the credits - all the way to the HBO `whoosh' sound. But the Directors Guild wouldn't give us a waiver."

And while this unexpected finish left lots of viewers thinking their cable service was on the fritz, Chase insists it wasn't meant as a prank.

"Why would we want to do that?" he asks. "Why would we entertain people for eight years only to give them the finger?"

Why indeed. Let's put this one to bed.

They Choose...We Lose

Hobson's choice: a free choice in which only one option is offered. The choice is therefore between taking the option or not taking it. The phrase is said to originate from Thomas Hobson (1544–1630), a livery stable owner at Cambridge, England who, in order to rotate the use of his horses, offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door — or taking none at all.

As this Hollywood Reporter article outlines, the entertainment guilds in the U.S. are urging the FCC to require the major networks to set aside a quarter of their primetime schedule for independent programming in order to offset growing consolidation of the programming marketplace.

In a joint filing late Monday, SAG, DGA, Producers Guild of America, AFTRA, WGA West and East and the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers and Directors argued that one of the FCC's own studies showed that the consolidated media landscape was diminishing the number of independent programs on network TV.

That study, "Vertical Integration and the Market for Broadcast and Cable Television Programming" by University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, found that of the network shows in primetime only 18% were from independents and that the networks discriminate against independent programming by favoring their own shows over independent programming, even when the indies had higher ratings, the guilds said.

"The discriminatory practices of dominant broadcast networks have acted as an anti-competitive barrier to entry. The dominant networks constructed a Hobson's choice for any would-be independent producer whereby the networks take ownership or don't take at all," wrote Eric Huey, the attorney for the guilds. "The resulting contraction in the number of content providers, and consolidation of even more power in the hands of the already dominant broadcast networks, constitutes an evisceration of the commission's goal of viewpoint diversity and cannot be remedied absent regulatory intervention."

Any of this sound familiar? Guess us Canadian creatives aren't the only industry folk with an axe to grind when it comes to federal regulation in the TV business.

Yet what's making headlines up here are the cablers urging the CRTC to loosen up the rules and allow in more foreign (read: American) channels.

Rogers Communications has urged the CRTC to open the Canadian airwaves to more foreign channels, as the regulator gets set to write new rules for domestic cablecasters, satellite services and other content carriers.

"Any non-Canadian service that would not threaten the viability of a launched Canadian programming service should be allowed in," the cable giant said Friday in a written submission to the CRTC.

This after the CRTC recently denied a Shaw Communications bid to offer USA Network to it's customers.

Shaw Communications, which sponsored the bid by USA Network to enter Canada, rejected the CRTC decision as "anti-consumer" on grounds it denied Canadians choice in foreign TV services.

Yes, it's all about 'choice' isn't it. Well, how about fewer American or foreign channels as an option? Or in the case of our own networks and growing consolidation of the programming marketplace, how about more indigenous TV, say, 25% independently produced wholly Canadian dramatic programs (with appropriate license fees and foreign rights retention) to be aired in primetime?

Though the Canuck cablers and networks might say it's about choice, for them, it's more about making money.

Here's hoping the CRTC (and the FCC) recognize that.

Monday, October 22, 2007

We All Gotta Start Somewhere

Guess who?

Can you say "Buster"?

Try to make the most of every never know where it might lead. And even then, after you've 'made it', the first TV series or movie you do could end up being the best thing you're ever involved in.

So always enjoy yourself, it may never get any better.

Not To Be Naming Names...

...but some friends of the blog had to evacuate their houses in the Malibu and Topanga Canyon area yesterday due to the massive brush fire.

Fingers crossed here at Uninflected Images that the winds die down, fire fighters are successful, and everyone can return home soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weir Pulls Through And Daisies Push Back

Some have taken exception to my recent take on and subsequent comments about Pushing Daisies.

First, let me just say that I am generally not one to judge or criticize the opinions of others. If anything, I think I should be criticized for writing ineffective sarcasm and 'all-in-fun' digs. That's really what I was doing - taking some good natured jabs at some of my favourite readers and fellow bloggers. So...apologies and bygones?

But I will continue to 'dig my grave'.

Excessively repetitive narration aside, Daisies is a charmingly delightful premise...for a movie. And so it was with some pleasure I read this recent TV Guide article that revealed the premise of the show came from an unrealized storyline for creator Bryan Fuller's earlier series Dead Like Me.

Because that's exactly how it feels, like an episode (or movie) with it's own set of particular rules and regulations that can play out and get resolved over an hour or two. Kind of like Amélie (a film Daisies is oft compared to, and a film I liked a lot...but not sure I'd like to see it as a series). And my fear is Daisies the series is ultimately a convoluted one-trick pony that will continue to feel more and more circular and repetitive until it strangles on its own roots.

See..I'm not criticizing your taste...I'm simply trying to help you see some of the problems now so when you start to become bored and annoyed you won't be so surprised. I'm a helper, not a hater!

More examples you say? Well, one of the overriding arc questions of Pushing Daisies is: "What if you find the person of your dreams, the love of your life, and you can't touch them?" Well, Ned and Girl Chuck seem to be managing just fine if you ask me, even if they can't touch. Perhaps if Girl Chuck hadn't seemed so open to jump into Ned's life, the series might have the potential for legs. Like if she found him kind of annoying but they were forced to work as a team (kinda like Moonlighting) instead of being just so darn pleased to be together and holding hands with plastic wrap or hazmat gloves.

Furthermore, last week Girl Chuck finds out someone has to die if Ned doesn't put them back in Coffinville after one minute. Big dilemma and conflict, right?, because it's a fantasy show where dead people come to life and pie makers make pies in the Pie Hole. So Girl Chuck accepts it, and everything's okay. Next up plot-wise, we just know Girl Chuck will find out that her father was 'taken' when Ned didn't send his mother back to the Reaper in know, back when Ned was ten...and didn't understand how the rules worked...and all of the rest of it --- how can they play this for any sort of drama?

Ned had no idea what he was doing way back when...and if Girl Chuck's going to hold that against him and leave him, well, she'd be a b*tch and then there's no show anymore. So that won't happen. And if he ever should accidentally finger her (which already should've happened), Girl Chuck dies and the show is more or less over. Thus that's also not going to happen either. So say the rules of long running TV series.

And speaking of the rules, I'm still wrapping my head around them for Daisies. Ned touches someone/anyone? and they are toast? Or is it just if he touches dead people, they come back to life? Okay, let's say it's just dead people that are affected. So if he touches dead people, they come back to life for a minute. And then he can touch them again and life/death rights itself. But if he doesn't kill them again with his finger of death, someone else's life in close proximity gets taken, right? But then Ned can't touch them again or they die (and the taken person from before comes back to life again? I guess not, since Girl Chuck's dad didn't come back to life, but then there isn't balance again is there).

Confused yet? Well, you should be...this show just has way too many 'Hmmm, now wait a second...' moments. Like how flowers seem to die when Ned brings dead, rotten fruit back to life to make his wonderful pies...but how does he know it will be flowers? Why couldn't it be, say...customers? And didn't this 'gift' all start when young Ned's dog died and young Ned touched the dog and it came back to life...and we're supposed to believe young Ned never touched the dog again until the incident with his mother?

Bottom line...I'm having a hard time suspending disbelief, and I'm hard pressed to get invested in what might happen to the characters since I feel the show has already painted itself into a corner and really has nowhere to go.

So in answer to the haters...I get why you like this show and believe me, I do understand what's there to like (charm, whimsy, feelgoodiness) --- it's just I have a little bitty problem with Pushing Daisies being sold as a TV 'series'.

My other point was that this fall season has really been pretty underwhelming overall. And I feel that a lot of 'fans of TV', myself included, perhaps have been giving some shows more praise and kudo's than the shows actually deserve in an effort to find something they can swoon for.

But to each their own, that's how we roll. Hell, I'm not afraid to admit I like watching golf (Canada's Mike Weir won his first tourney in over 3 years today...yay!). Yes, I find enjoyment in viewing one of the most sleep-inducing pro sports ever to be televised.

Mileage, as we all know...does vary.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Laughin' At Laughlin (And Daisies Dying)

This isn't very funny Friday Fun, unless it's in the 'so bad it's good' way. I present, for your viewing displeasure, one of many dramatic karaoke moments from the new CBS series Viva Laughlin. You see, they break into song in this program...but not original tunes. Instead we have truncated (read: heavily edited) classics from Presley (Viva Las Vegas), Blondie (One Way Or Another), BTO (Let It Ride), and The Stones (Sympathy For The Devil).

Now it didn't help that Sympathy is one of my all time, I mean ALL TIME, fav songs. So to see it butchered with edits just so they could get to the line: "Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name..." sooner really turned me off. But the sing-a-longs aren't the only reason why this show SUCKS. It, like Pushing Daisies (there, I said it), has a long list of problems.

Highly hyped yet overrated, they're both limited mediocre feature or TV movie premises posing as tee-vee series with legs. Except they got no legs...they got gimmick. Hell, Daisies has shot its wadd already...episode 3 was practically a bottle show. Can you say 'repetitive'?

Both shows had big splashy pilots with spectacular sets and fantastically colourful feature-like sequences dazzled up with dollies and steadicams --- not to mention dancing and songs or wall to wall music and narrators (please, someone...SHUT HIM UP!).

It's all smoke and mirrors to cover up laughingly predictable mysteries and simplistic storytelling chock full of either incredibly lame or 'Look, aren't we clever!' dialogue. They're cutesy peanut brittle drivel posing as 'original' drama to mask superficial and insensitive looks at love and dreams, life and death.

I'm just getting started....but it's Friday, and this was supposed to be fun. I'll continue my rant another day.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mommy, Why Does That Director Keep Doing That Thing With His Hands?

You know, that thing.

It's called simulating the frame. Some directors use viewfinders, but most use their hands. And as pretentious as it might appear, it's a necessary evil...because at the end of the directing day - it's all about what's in the frame.

The Frame: the perimeter of a TV/film picture; a single photographic unit of film.

We're talking composition here. First there's the dramatic composition of your story, made up by the plot and basic structural elements of set up, complication, rising action, climax, and resolution. And next comes the visual composition of that story.

That's where the director and his hands come in.

Here's a great article by R. Berden entitled Composition and the Elements of Visual Design. It's geared toward photography, but a lot of the rules and principles can be applied to composing images for film and television.

Because frames become shots that become scenes that become acts that become films or TV shows. But there are no actual pictures on the screen, only moving (pictures) all happens in the mind of the viewer.

Sometimes when you walk on a set, you'll get choked because it's not how you imagined. And there's light stands and ladders and dollies and cranes and dozens of crew people milling around...and you freak because you think there's no way you'll be able to compose the shots you want in order to convey the drama of the story. It won't look right.

Not to worry.

Hold up your hands and find the frame. And then put only what you want to be seen inside that frame. Everything around it won't matter. One of the most important things a director has to realize is that the viewer will fill in the blanks and 'create' in their mind everything else outside that frame, based on what they see within the frame. They'll 'see' what they're supposed to see. What they won't see is the real world.

So don't be afraid to hold up your hands. It's a director's way of finding the frame.

And when on set, it all starts with the frame.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dexter And Baseball...Pitch Perfect

It's a tough time of year for some of us fans of new TV shows who also be sports enthusiasts. Hockey season is just beginning, and it's time once again to see if my beloved Maple Leafs have what it takes (not so much, so far)...and then there's the baseball playoffs.

I used to follow baseball fairly intensely whilst growing up, specifically the Montreal Expos (damn you '94 players strike and '81's Rick Monday!). But since my Spo's up and moved south to Washington, I've been more of a casual observer of the game...until October rolls around. Old habits die hard, and I find myself foregoing my new television show watching for whichever match is on that evening. And doesn't matter who's playing...cuz it's the playoffs, baby!

Now my post title would make more sense if someone had thrown a no hitter last night, but no such luck. Some home runs were hit though, notably by Dexter episode 3.

"An Inconvenient Lie" firmly and convincingly yanked me back onto the good ship Dexter Morgan. Because I was worried. The first two eps were kind of flat and very recappy...the show had gone down twice in my opinion and looked to be about to drown in its new-found celebrity and wheel-spinning machinations. But Sunday's episode had me gasping for air. (Okay Will, enough with the lame seafaring references).

What. A. Great. Episode.

It zipped along. It twisted and turned. It closed off some annoying throughlines (Sgt. Doakes following Dexter, enough already!) and started some intriguing new ones (not to mention Dex getting back on the killing horse again). And it managed to show us what darkness lurks deep within our hero without resorting to yet another flashback.

Very. Cool. Major kudo's to writer Melissa Rosenberg.

Which got me thinking, what was it that made this episode special --- the one that potentially turned Season Two around? Was it the script and only the script? That seems too simple, and kinda unfair to all the other creatives involved in the show. Was it the directing? Can't say that since the direction on the series has been pretty stellar right from day one (note to newbies: watch Dexter for some great TV directing). Were the performances better? Because they had more interesting material to play with, maybe, but tee-vee isn't anything but consistent, and the acting has always been pretty solid.

So maybe it was simply the natural result of all the pipe that was layed in the first two eps of the season, and I just wasn't patient enough. Who knows for sure, but I'm no longer muttering.

Oh yeah, one other thing. For a great lesson in how to give a character an entrance and then have them captivate your audience in just a few scenes...check out the ones with Lila at the 12 Step addiction meetings Dexter attends. Brilliant. Course it didn't hurt that she's played by Jaime Murray from 'Hustle' fame...

...but the scenes were so good I think it could've been darn near anyone.

Anyway, Dexter's back, three strikes and it's out. The ship seems on course again and I like the direction its heading.

Now, back to the ballgame.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gilroy Goes All Clayton On Us...

I hate it when a columnist crystallizes a thought I was mulling. I feel usurped or beaten to the punch somehow (though I have no reason's not like I'm blogging for a living). You see, last week I was pondering a lot of the fav suspense American films of my youth....movies like The French Connection; Klute; Chinatown; The Conversation; Three Days of the Condor; The Parallax View; Fingers; Taxi Driver; and my all-time faver...All The Presidents Men.

It probably had something to do with me recently finishing reading Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls...a wonderful overview and analysis of the American film renaissance of the 1970's. It's the kind of book that lets you come away with sound insight into how today's theaters have come to serve up such dumbed-down drek -- and nostalgia for an eternal Golden Age.

And all the while wondering...why doesn't Hollywood make movies like that anymore?

Then along comes Tony Gilroy and his latest, Michael Clayton, which manages to be very contemporary yet feels like it could be dropped seamlessly into the middle of the above mentioned classics. A character study and morality play neatly wrapped in the paranoia of a corporate conspiracy.

But before I could blog anything, the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday puts out a nice piece on Gilroy (Bourne Supremacy; Bourne Ultimatum) and his new film.

As subtle and unflashy as "Michael Clayton" is, it feels both nostalgic and incredibly fresh, reminding viewers that movies weren't always about fireballs, flatulence and merch-friendly franchises. Many viewers will no doubt walk out of "Michael Clayton" not just puzzling over its plot twists, but wondering why so many movies in the '70s were this good, and why so few today are. "The audience [then] was tuned up for that kind of movie," Gilroy says. "That's what people expected when they went to the movies."

Gilroy chalks the '70s heyday up to two forces dovetailing to fortuitous effect. "As you're coming out of the '60s, everything's up for grabs," he explains, referring to the cultural and political ferment that found expression in Hollywood in the 1970s, from the antiwar allegorical satire "M*A*S*H" to such laconic, often provocative urban thrillers as "The French Connection," "Klute," "All the President's Men" and "Taxi Driver."

Gilroy goes on to say how he had to change what he's known and gets paid very well for in order to write Michael Clayton:

For Gilroy's part, the desire to resuscitate the cinematic values of his youth meant changing habits he's honed over 20 years as a successful screenwriter, most notably of the "Bourne" movies starring Matt Damon. Out with the on-the-nose, direct and obvious, and in with the elliptical, implied and oblique.

"I had to fight a little bit against the things I'm most rewarded for doing," he explains, adding that as a screenwriter "you're really rewarded for buttoning up scenes, you're paid very well for having everything tidy. You don't even know how and why you learn the things you learn, it's sort of positive reinforcement. So a lot of the scenes in this film are the scenes that are exactly not the moments that you put in the other thriller. It's sort of like the bizarro-world thriller, in a way."

Good on him, though I do think he's selling himself and the Bourne movies short. Personally, I liked them a lot. Still, it's not like any of this means any new renaissance on the horizon. Too much money at stake. Hollywood is what it is now...and films like Michael Clayton and The Nines the upcoming We Own The Night will be the anomaly instead of the norm.

But go read the article anyway...and for what it's worth, I would've said the same thing.

EDIT: Here's a good Cinematical interview with Gilroy talking about his process.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reservoir Dwarfs...

Disney meets Tarantino in yet another Friday Fun mashup made by kids with their fandangled editing contraptions...NSFW to boot.

Because it makes me smile.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Gemini's, The Regina, And Those Heavenly Glory Days

The 2007 Gemini Awards (Canada's Emmy's) begin next week in Toronto. Starting Monday there are three (count 'em 3!) nights of ceremonies to award TV excellence in Sports and Documentary; Youth and Children's; and Variety and Comedy programming.

Then two weeks later the festivities pick up again for the Gala televised awards night (October 28) out here in lil ol' Buttkick. It's heady times for the small prairie city of Regina (Ree-gi-nah), and they're already promising "one hell of a party!"

That last part I don't doubt, but I am wondering how many celebs and nominees will actually be making the long and expensive cross-country trek to partake in the event. It's a bit of a hump, and if you've already had to shell out the serious coin for the Toronto nights...well, I do wonder.

But that said, if any readers are planning to attend, please comment or email me your coordinates and contact info and let's see if we can't put together a 'blogland' dinner or something.

Okay, post proper.

I won a Gemini once (or at least shared it with producing partner Stephen Onda) still sits on a shelf in my living room. It was in 1992 for Best Children's Program or Series - a one hour family drama I also directed entitled The Garden. Jan Rubes starred as an eccentric recluse with skeletons in his closet who befriends a young boy and together they put demons to rest while protecting the old man's fabulous garden from teenage hooligans.

As with most Canuck productions, it came and went with little fanfare - I believe it aired once as a Halloween special on CTV. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive the nomination. Actually, we received two nominations that year. The other was in the category of Best Short Drama Program for a CBC half hour dramedy entitled Home On The Range (which didn't win, but was probably the more solid effort). So Onda and I flew to Toronto with wives (now ex-wives) in tow for the awards weekend (back when it was only three nights). Exciting times, they were.

Both our categories were on the Saturday evening, and we were giggling like kids in a candy store as we teetered into the expansive ballroom: "Hey, there's Albert Schultz. And Lloyd Robertson. And Graham Green.

And Cynthia Dale!" (famous for Street Legal but worshiped for Heavenly Bodies )...

All good...until we found our table waaaaay at the very back. In the last row actually. Onda and I immediately looked at each other and said: "Well, let's enjoy this party cuz if this is where they seated us, there's no way we're winning." And we set about polishing off wine and bread baskets while chatting to whoever was sitting in the vicinity.

The night dragged on and on (as they are want to do) - the short drama winner was from one of the front tables, further confirming our expectations of being shut out. Finally it was time for our other category...Ernie Coombs (aka Mr. Dressup) was the presenter. Kewl.

I will admit some butterflies surfaced as they read the nominees, but still, seriously...what were the odds? And then they announced the winner (these were also the days of 'And the winner is..." as opposed to today's fair-minded 'And the award goes to...'): "The Garden!"

Spit take.



Onda and I finally realized we were supposed to get to the podium, and began the long and arduous journey through the maze of tables. Applause quieted down to nothing as people looked around for the recipients.

Mr. Coombs actually began to accept the award on our behalf when we were spotted, still not halfway to the stage. All waited patiently as we finally made it up the stairs. Obligatory half-hearted applause followed.

Onda got choked up and thanked his wife and newborn child. I believe I behaved more like a 'producer' and thanked the cast, crew, network, and financiers. Then we were whisked off stage right for photographs (which I have somewhere but can't locate). And then back to our table and the 'real' party began.

And even knowing how little winning a Gemini really means to your life or career (as in, it never translated to a gig or a job or even a meeting, best I can recollect), I will admit to experiencing a feeling not unlike 'floating' for the rest of that evening. It was, in the end, a gas...a thrill...a 'moment', no matter what others might say.

For Saskatchewan and Regina, it was the first nominations and trophy for what was essentially a baby film and TV industry. It made headlines and the local news for a week...people were proud. Heck, Onda and I were proud, even if deep down we knew the only reason anyone voted for us was that it had the most 'children's or family'-sounding title...'The Garden', as opposed to 'Take Off' or 'Join In' (the other two nominees). I'm sorry, but I asked people, and that's how it went down.

Nevertheless this was a long time ago, and Regina and the local production community have come a ways since then....(see Prairie Giant, Corner Gas, Little Mosque, etc.). The Gemini's, however, continue to struggle for respect and credibility.

Maybe this year is the one that turns it around.

And if you happen to win, try to savour it. I've attended plenty more ceremonies and been part of several nominations since, but there's been no more trophy hoisting. And let's face it, even if it's only a Gemini, 'moments' like that just don't come along very often.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Musical Mish Mash...

Still tending to the ill, but want to quickly comment on some recent music biz developments.

The past 24 hours saw the 'official' release of two recordings from superstar artists...Bruce Springsteen's Magic and Radiohead's In Rainbows.

Radiohead's effort arrived with the fanfare of being for download only, and with a unique purchasing scheme: they are charging what you feel it's worth or what you can pay.

Wow. That's different. And kinda cool...perhaps a harbinger of all media purchases to come. Read all the download details HERE.

I listened to parts of it this morning on the New Music Express Website. In Rainbows is The Bends or OK Computer (though what is or ever will be?) and more Kid A than Hail To The Chief, but still good.

You can also order 'physical media' or a hard copy (read: compact disc) for us old-timers, and I mostly likely will. I was intrigued and teased just enough to 'want it for myself.'

Springsteen's effort, on the other hand, arrived via the regular channels, more or less....a Tuesday morning CD release and available at all your favourite music outlets. Thing is though, Magic's been available to hear online for the past month or so. And I've sampled it a few times. It's good (I don't know if it's 5 star good (see Rolling Stone review) but whatever...) and worth a listen, but after a few spins?, I'm not sure I want to buy the disc now.

What's up with that?

I'll tell you what's what. I think it falls into the same category as all those pilot scripts and screeners and episodes from new TV series that found their way onto the internets this summer. I know they were 'leaked' to generate buzz and whet our appetites, but I swear by the time some of the series actually premiered this fall, I was already a little tired of them. It's like I'd been there, done that, and moved on.

It's almost like taking movie trailers that give away the plot and expanding them into free previews of the entire film. I can't quite explain it better than that, but I'm seriously starting to question the value of mass previewing as a marketing strategy in the music/TV biz.

Just my opinion, for what it's worth.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More Mish Mash...

Got some sick kids to care for, so it's 'Welcome To Linkville'...

If I Was Your 'Mipcom'Friend...

This C21 article by Caroline Beaton is a nice primer for newbies traveling to the markets...lots of good advice, like:

Don't underestimate the power of the cocktail hour. Each day there will be lots of parties to choose from, so beg and blag your way in. If you end up indulging in any Mipcom hanky panky, the market etiquette is:

Not to arrive late for work the next day.
Not to brag about it.
Once you've seen them without your champagne goggles on, probably not to do it again.

Read and learn...cuz though Mipcom in Cannes is on right now, there's AFM coming up at the end of the month.

Is Heroes 'Lost'?

The writers at Variety's Season Pass seem to think so, among other things...

Enough with the really bad product placement. Four words: "Oh, Dad! The Rogue?!" Right-- because a new crossover from Nissan is what every teen girl wants these days. And while we're on the promo soapbox, how 'bout you cut back on the constant on-screen promos for "Heroes" comicbooks, websites, cookbooks, plush toys.... One promo tells viewers to "discover more while you watch" by going to I'm sorry, NBC, but this season is confusing enough without surfing over to "Heroes" websites while I try to figure out this show.

I was on the fence by the end of last season (which was only Heroes first, remember)...and have found myself struggling to stay on that fence this season. Too much hype, too much characters and storylines, too 'meh' villains', too much pressure...say no more. These kinds of TV shows succeed when they are hovering on or under the radar of the masses. They stay cool that way. If everyone's paying attention, well...

'Intelligence' Is Everywhere!

Not only is the gritty CBC drama back on the air and sizzling up the small screen, McGrath recently related that the series is in development with the U.S. Fox Network. And now it seems there's a new a workplace comedy about an elite counter-intelligence unit hidden undercover as disgruntled civil servants in development at HBO guessed it, Intelligence.

And...just because.

We may have a challenger for Bloodgood's crown, Life's Sarah Shahi!

Moon says...'Bring it on!'

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sunday Mish Mash...

Happy Thanksgiving Oh Canadians. Much to clean and plenty to cook so lets cut to the chase...

A while back I posted Hart Hanson's old essay about how to deal with notes on your script and the personality archetypes that might give those notes. A commenter asked if there was a list of writer or writer's room archetypes. I bailed on the request, but today Ken Levine delivers a great partial list at least...including 'Dr. No' and 'Mr Back In A Second'.

And Jaime Weinman at Macleans offers up some nice analysis of why new dramas need to click right out of the gate whereas comedies need some time to grow.
Obviously there are many dramas that get better in the second season, but there are just as many that never live up to the promise of the first season (Desperate Housewives) or even the promise of their super-expensive pilots. Dramas often depend heavily on their basic premise or storyline, which means that the writers have more freedom in the first season, because the premise is still fresh and the story ideas are plentiful. As the series goes on, the premise has to be tweaked and stories are harder to come by, and that's why you wind up with Season 2 storylines like Elisha Cuthbert vs. a Cougar (24).In today's TV world, where there are more networks, more competition and less incentive for a network to stick with a show, a show has a tremendous advantage if it can be really, really good -- at its best, really -- in its first season.

I get what Jaime's saying, but I contest it wasn't always that way. I was thinking back on my fav one hour TV series of the past fifteen years or so and realized that I'd watched none of them right from the pilot. Northern Exposure, The X Files, Buffy, The West Wing, Sopranos, Veronica Mars, and even House I didn't really 'discover' until near the end of the first season or beginning of the second year. And though the first seasons of all those shows were okay, it was the 2nd and 3rd year that they really began to sing. Why? Because like a lot of the comedy programs Jaime references, these shows were also allowed to grow.

Gotta run....thanks to NYBro for visiting and Happy Birthday JP!

Friday, October 05, 2007

"I've Got A Golden Ticket!"

I know. I'm bad. But I can't help myself. You see, I never really paid South Park much mind over its ten years+ run, and now I'm a total fanboy. I was looking forward to the new season premiere this week with as much anticipation as most of my 'respectable' favs (see: Dexter; House; Bones; Friday Night Lights).

"Le Petit Tourette" delivers. It continues the SP tradition of managing to offend immensely while neatly skewering some of our social and cultural Tourette's case, Dateline To Catch A Predator's Chris Hansen takes the hit. And there's some very clever plot turns to boot. Oh yeah...most importantly, it's hilarious.

Here's a teaser scene:

South Park's new season starts tonight on Canada's Comedy Network.

What's Everybody Looking At?

They're extremely close in an ambiguous way...Friday Fun with Ace and Gary...

Because it makes me smile.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Directing TV...Where To Begin? or Yes, It's Our House But It's Mostly My House

Directing TV is like a doing a big need to separate each of the similar little pieces (shots) into groups, and then slowly but surely put those groups of pieces together (scenes), until you can eventually marry the groups together (acts) and end up with a finished puzzle picture (episode). Furthermore, each episode is part of a bigger puzzle (the season)...13-22 episodes that need to connect together in a coherent and cohesive way.

But where does solving a puzzle begin? Sometimes you start with the edges, other times you start with the prominent image in the middle, sometimes you start with the blue all depends on the board (schedule). So as a director, you not only need to be smart, creative, have a visual eye, be a good people person and have the ability to speak clearly and concisely in order to efficiently motivate and lead dozens and dozens of crew people and actors --- you also need to be able to think like an in non-linear. That's how you're able to deal with all the little puzzle pieces as individual entities, while still (hopefully) keeping in mind the picture on the puzzle box you’re trying to recreate.

It takes a special person to do this well, and yes, there's also vision involved (I can hear some of you muttering), but when it comes to TV series... its' the show or showrunner’s vision that matters most, not the directors.

One quick aside - let me say I'm questioning whether I'm the right person to try to discuss this directing topic. Why? Well, I've written as much television as I've directed, and I've produced more than those two disciplines combined. The man of many hats. So when I'm in the room, as much as I might try to just wear one cap, influence from all areas of experience tend to surface (or rear ugly head, depending on your prospective). What does that mean? In a nutshell, I can't or won't be the... 'I'm just the writer here and you producers or you directors frighten and confuse me, so whatever you say I'll just nod and go along with you"...guy.

And therefore there'll be times I'm discussing a story point with a director while mulling in my head that the schedule is really full the day that scene's supposed to be filmed...and might ask out of the blue if the director is planning to use a crane for the walk and talk, and if his answer is yes then suggest he to lose the crane to make time for some inserts on the newspaper headlines in order to address the story point issue that we were originally talking about.

Most times, people don't appreciate the writer also being a producer and director. They want to have the upper hand. But I'd argue that I'm only trying to help while juggling all the balls that are in the air when producing a TV series.

Anyway, kicking off with a question…Denis asks from the camp of TV writers: “Help us Obi Wan, how do we talk to you?”

Good question - how do writers, who primarily think linearly and in terms of a beginning, middle, and end...converse productively with directors who are basically thinking in a non-linear fashion? Writer will think in terms of story and character and arcs and beats, whereas most directors will think in terms of stunts and effects and shots and sequences (in and amongst all the 'story bullshit', as Josh Friedman once aptly described). Can we find a way to talk the same language, or is there some kind of middle ground to be found? Probably the latter, but let me first say that I don't think it's the writers who need to learn how to talk to the directors as much as it's the directors who need to learn how to listen to writers.

To set the table, here's a little anecdote from way back when I was on the writing staff of a series and producing for the first time a script I wrote. I'm in the middle of the 'first blush' meeting with the director of said ep --- he was a relative hotshot in the Canadian TV scene... been very busy shooting episodics for the better part of a year or so after having done a relatively successful low budget feature. And, well...let's just say it, he was sporting some ‘tude.

At some point during our discussion of talking through the script, I had to run down to see the story coordinator about something. Hotshot director happened to have a director observer tagging along with him (something the DGC/DGA will coordinate with productions to give newbie’s a chance to watch how the machine works - I did it a couple times right after film school), and so as I returned to my office I overheard the two of them talking...and it went something like this:

Hotshot Director: You read this teaser?
Observer: Uh huh.
Hotshot Director: Could you friggin' believe it?
Observer: What do you mean?
Hotshot Director: I mean, that opening scene. It doesn't even make sense...why has she even been hospitalized?
Observer (clearly confused): Um...yeah.
Hotshot Director: And the way it's written. (flipping pages) I mean...Hospital corridor. Find a patient in a private room. GRACE, an attractive African American woman (30). She's asleep. Slowly move in tighter as Grace begins to toss and turn, trapped in the throes of a terrible nightmare. Suddenly she sits up into a close-up and screams. (closes script) I mean, shit!
Observer: What?
Hotshot Director: He's telling me how to shoot it! I mean c'mon...who does he think he is? As if. I'll shoot it the way I friggin' feel like it.
Observer (having no idea what to say but wanting to bond with Hotshot): Oh yeah!
Hotshot Director: Man I hate TV.

I let them move onto another topic before reentering the room. But I knew what I needed know...this 'director' needed a serious talking to.

Why? Because he was full of two of the most detrimental attitudes a director can have when showing up to direct TV series: 1) he needed to 'fix' my stupid little script because it was a little loose and not the way 'he'd' tell the story, and 2) that he was above this and was simply slumming in television until his next 'feature' got a green light.

But let me first clarify something. I'm not advocating writing a lot of 'direction' into your screenplays. I'm a firm believer in the adage of writing the script to tell the story the best you can, but leaving the directing to the directors. However, I am not against splitting the difference and occasionally helping 'nudge' the director down a certain path. And if describing in some detail a way to approach a scene in an effort to clearly get across how you'd like to see the action unfold and achieve a desired result...especially if you're a writer/producer on a series...then I say it's okay.

One thing this particular director needed to understand is that scripts in episodic TV are almost always works in progress. Once you get past ep 1 or 2, they are being written fast and furious, and are never 'perfect' whenever the director arrives on the scene. I'm not saying this to make excuses for writers - they have to show up and play as hard as they can - but I heard the process best explained by Tommy Schlamme and Aaron Sorkin on one of The West Wing episode commentaries.

Sorkin (the writer/showrunner) made a comment that the particular episode they were talking about was in not the greatest shape when they began prep, and that Schlamme (the director) and the actors had "...hit some pretty bad pitches out of the park." Schlamme replied that "...the first draft was a mess...a brilliant and fascinating but not quite together mess." Then they both proceeded to talk about how they used the 'pre-production' phase to focus the story and essentially ‘write another draft’. But the key was that they were on the same page...they both understood what the goals and objectives of the episode were and found a way to best realize it by working together.

And ultimately they were realizing Aaron’s (the writers) vision, not the other way around.

John Rogers recently said that...filming a TV show is building a house in a week while crazy people run around inside the construction site. He’s absolutely right…but clarifying whose house it is can help make the craziness a little less crazy.

Because what also needed to be impressed on Hotshot Director was that he was just here for a visit.

I saw Tom Fontana speak once, and he told a great story about working on Homocide and some feature director that the network pushed on him came in to do an episode. And they started shooting and Fontana kept seeing dailies shot in a slightly different style, and then he saw a rough assembly edit of the first few scenes and it had a different feel to it.

So he pulled the director aside and tried to impress upon him what was working and what wasn't and things to change or do differently...and the director apparently said: 1) I don't roll that way, and 2) why'd you hire me if you weren't going to let me do my own thing? Fontana responded that he'd sit on set all day and direct over the director’s shoulder if the dude didn't change his tune. I can’t remember how it went from there, but Fontana's concluded by saying that when it's his series...his script...his family (the crew and actors)...the director damn well better behave like a guest in his house.

In feature films however, it's a whole different deal. For whatever reason it was once decided that the script is just a blueprint and the writer is just there to draft that blueprint or roadmap and then the director gets to take it away and interpret (read: change it) as he sees fit. TV and TV series don't work that way. Not that I'm saying there can't be some interpretation and revisualization going on, but in TV series, each director's episode is not's the show that is king.

Do we understand each other?

I think that's the way to try to look at improving the communication between writers and directors, as opposed to asking how do we talk to to each other. And this is just my take...I'm always open to discussion.

This post is too long already. And I didn't even begin to scratch the surface....

We'll pick it up another day.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Under The Radar...

Amidst the hoopla of all the fall seasons new and returning shows, a little gem of an HBO/BBC mystery miniseries entitled Five Days quietly premiered last night on Movie Central.

The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, including this from TV Guide's Matt Roush:
Five Days, an HBO-BBC collaboration airing over five Tuesdays, goes for the emotional jugular as it immerses us in the anguish of a family trapped in limbo after a young mother suddenly vanishes. As police suspicion and relentless media scrutiny take their toll, a blue-chip cast of British pros (David Oyelowo, Penelope Wilton, Patrick Malahide, Edward Woodward, Janet McTeer) elevate the melodrama. The suspenseful story jumps days or weeks between episodes, each hour focusing on a pivotal day in the investigation. I watched with an escalating sense of dread, but still was unprepared for the powerful twists along the way.

I found episode one riveting, and was reminded of the days of British mystery brilliance like Traffik, Cracker, and especially Prime Suspect. Writer and creator Gwenyth Hughes gives a good interview about her inspiration and her process HERE, nailing the importance of getting the ending right in these types of programs...
I think when you're doing anything that has any kind of whodunit element, the outcome of the whodunit is enormously important to the audience. But you've got to sort the whodunit part out and that's very difficult, especially over five hours. It's quite a lot of suspects to keep going. And you've got to reach a point in the end when you reveal whodunit, it's both enormously surprising and the only possible person who could have done it. But at the moment of the reveal, the audience goes oh, oh of course. It causes much lost sleep to get it right.

So far it's being played out as a closed mystery. And it's a hard enough to keep the audience guessing and the ending a surprise in a one hour episode, much less over five hours. I truly hope it's successful.

I know its a little pointless to single a show out after its already aired, but I believe you can still watch episode one at the HBO website. And hopefully Movie Central will repeat it again later in the week.

The First To Go?

I know its early in the game, but Variety already poses this question: which new TV series will be the first to suffer cancellation? Nashville was the numero uno reality show to bite the dust, so let's stick with drama and comedy. I'd say Moonlight if it hadn't held onto its Ghost Whisperer lead in numbers (...whaaaaa?), so will go with Cane or Big Shots instead.

What y'all think?

Course we can't play this game in Canada because you either get a full season, usually shot and in the can before one ep even airs...or you get nothing! That's just how we roll.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Vampire Show Sucks (Not In A Good Way), And 'Chuck' Doesn't

Why make Moonlight?

No, seriously...after Angel and Forever Night, why make a show about a good-hearted vampire turned private eye who patrols Los Angeles solving crimes and protecting humanoids from bad vampires? The comparisons are's a no-win premise. There's really isn't any cool and different spin you could do in the arena, so all it's going to seem is boring, unimaginative, and redundant to the genre fans who might tune in to this type of program.

And if the shows creators think a new spin is incorporating an 'interview with the vampire' faux documentary technique along with voiceover (what's up with this? some other new dramas this fall have also done this bit where our hero talks to an unseen interviewer in order to relate exposition and help us 'get to know the character' I guess...lazy lazy lazy tee-vee making), and then proceed to strip away most of the rules and mythology we've come to know and associate with vampires...WTF? Why even make him a vampire then?

Nuff said.

As for the other new 'genre' TV series this fall - Journeyman, Bionic Woman, Reaper, and Chuck - I'm leaning toward sticking with 'Chuck' for a bit.

I don't why I found it entertaining and engaging exactly, but I did (this despite actor Zachary Levi's startlingly annoying resemblance to Jimmy Fallon)...Bionic was too Dark Angel, Journeyman too Daybreak, Reaper too much like Chuck (right down to almost identical closing scenes where the nerdy everyman with powers hero not only starts to grow up but actually says it outloud) and I can only make time for one nerdy everyman with powers sue me.

Guess that leaves Sarah Connor Chronicles to pick up the slack...(though notice how the cast publicity stills from all these shows ALL seem to look the same...where's the imagination?)

That all said, these are opins based solely on the pilots...which is kinda unfortunate actually. When you go back on DVD and rewatch the pilot of your favourite series, a lot of times they're pretty lame. This is because they're primarily about meeting the characters, laying out the premise, establishing the know, setting the table. We usually don't fall in love with a series until we've had a chance to spend some time with the characters and become invested in them and their dilemmas.

But we live in the days of 'opening weekend box office numbers' trumps all - see the movie biz lately - and so how a show does right out of the gate seems to be all that really matters. I generally tend to go back and retry a show around ep 6 and see if its found its stride...but in these days of the 'quick hit', even that can be too late (but not for Moonlight).