Friday, February 29, 2008

C'mon Children...Don't Be Shy

You've read the news've read the outraged bloggers here and here and here do the right thing and follow McGrath's lead (all the directions HERE) and write your MP or the PM or someone in the government and tell them that Bill C10 can 'suck...your...balls'

Because if the South Park gang makes you smile like they make me smile, this is exactly the kind of programming that could be made by a Canadian producer but then be deemed 'offensive' and have it's tax credits/gov't funding retroactively retracted by the Heritage Minister via Bill C10.

And that's just wrong...wroooonng I tell you.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

There Better Be An Episode Two!

Two great TV writing primer posts out there right now:

John Rogers smartly speculates on how to get noticed with your specs...and Ken Levine (who never fails to make me smile almost every single post) throws down some tips about creating series and writing pilots.

From Ken:
Don't give the girls boys' names and the boys girl' names. It's confusing enough remembering who all the characters are without Sam being a girl and Jan being a guy. And every pilot seems to have a "Kevin". Even if it's set in ancient Rome.

The most common mistake most young pilot writers make is that they over-reach.

“It’s part romantic comedy, part workplace comedy, set in a foreign country with its own language and customs. Kinda like ENCHANTED meets THE WIRE”.

Trust me, by page five you're throwing yourself in front of buses.

Love it. Go read 'em both...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TV Trades And Deadlines

Anyone who follows hockey knows it's trade deadline day for the NHL...when teams try to make last minute additions or deletions to bolster their lineups and get ready for the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs. And it got me thinking: what if there was a trade deadline day for TV writer's and director's during the course of the television production season?

Of course, in many ways, working freelance in the film/TV business is a lot like being a sports athlete. You move from show to to city even, and you try to be a complimentary fit to the team that's already in place, and before you know it you're yesterday's news and it's time to go learn how to sell cars.

But if there was a trade deadline day for this year's post-writer's strike 'restarted' TV season, what shows do you think need help? Does House need to be defibbed ? Is Lost lost? Does Heroes need some new muscle? Is 24 running out of time? Is the The Border on the fence...?

And if you were the showrunner/general manager of any of these and the other shows...who would you trade away, and who would you want to bring in and why?

(I ask this knowing hardly anyone knows the actual names of any TV writers or directors or producers, so an analysis of what a show needs more of or could lose will suffice...)

And to help fuel this fire, McGrath and Weinmann both reference lame vampire show Moonlight's recent decision to finish their season without a showrunner. Yikes.


Friday, February 22, 2008

But I Got The Berkowitz's...

It's Friday. Classic Woody Allen standup and the 'Moose Story'...

Because it makes me smile...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Older...But No Wiser's?

Well, another 365 days have gone by and this old man is one year closer to the big Five-Oh.


And most days it feels like I still know next to nothing... especially about how to make quality entertaining TV in Canada without all the bullshit that seems to accompany that 'which shouldn't be so difficult and lofty but still is' goal here.

Double. Yikes.

So what I do know...I know that we need some new blood on this here TV/film blog circuit. Not only have the old guard been dropping like flies (my Technorati links to other blogs have dropped from 60 down to 25 in the past three months as a lot have just packed it in), but there's been hardly anyone new stepping up and joining the fray. C'mon peoples...we know you're reading, start blogging!

And I know it was inspiring to hear Denis talking smart on the Q yesterday...someone should give that boy a medal.

And it was also inspiring to hear Cunningham's talk with Kung Fu Monkey's John Rogers about all things bright and beautiful including John's new TV series Leverage. Nice one, Centaurians.

And I did buy a Blu-Ray back in November instead of a HD DVD player. After today's announcement by Toshiba, that was a smart call.

Little of the more interesting reasons I heard for the Blu-Ray triumph was that, to the average consumer, the name 'Blu-Ray' just sounded sexier and cooler and more attractive than HD DVD. Who'd have thunk it, but damn if that didn't sort of ring true for me.

And one of my students at the University nominated me for an 'Inspirational Sessional Instructor' award today...closing his/her letter with the line 'Will should be thanked for what is an utterly thankless job'. I smiled at that. Thanks mystery student.

So maybe I'm not so dumb, but still not as smart as I seem. Nevertheless, to the year gone by and to the one ahead...cheers. I'm sipping Wiser's Rye Whiskey...have a drink on me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

That Candy Colored Clown...

Been having some strange dreams lately...don't ask me why. You know, dreams that sear your brain, take root there, and then continue to fester and grow the next day. But sometimes those 'dreams' can serve as inpiration...which got me thinking about disturbing movie scenes and sequences.

A lot of my faves come from my youth...when one was relatively unscarred by all the horrors the real world had to offer so being exposed to a dark twisted movie sequence could really do a number on almost any scene from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, or Taxi Driver, or even Marathon Man's 'Is it safe?' scene...

But let's dig deeper, darker. Some standouts...Reservoir Dogs and the ear trimming set to 'Stuck In The Middle With You':

Or in Trainspotting...the toilet scene (or dead baby scene, take your pick):

But the master of the disturbing scene (but not necessarily effective film) is still, for me, David Lynch. From Elephant Man to Twin Peaks to Wild At Heart to Lost Highway, his movies have always been flawed but laden with memorably messed up moments (Fire Walk With Me...shiver). For example, Dennis Hopper's Frank in Blue Velvet and the "Mommy wants to f***!" scene made me shit...though for some reason, Dean Stockwell lip syncing 'In Dreams' disturbed me more:

Or who could deny the creep factor of Robert Blake's "I'm in your house right now. Call me." request of Bill Pullman in Lost Highway:

Or the diner scene and the man's recounting of his dream in Mulholland Drive:

Dreams are where Lynch really plays with our heads: all of his films have them...but the movie of Lynch's that remains to this day the only film I've ever walked out of (because it just creeped me out so) was Eraserhead. Essentially one long bad dream, it was an experiment in the juxtaposition of grating industrial noises and some horrific images (monster baby anyone?):

I've tried watching some of today's gore porn like the Hostel movies and Saw sequels, but they tend to either sicken or repulse or just bore with their blatent graphicness. It's all on the surface, and doesn't get under your skin. Unlike say, Donnie Darko and the rabbit skull. Or the General in Pan's Labyrinth having his cheek sliced open and then sewing it up himself. Or even the restrained threat of Anton the psychopath in the new Coen Brothers movie...that scene in the gas station with the old man and the coin that was disturbing.

I've written a lot of TV scripts, but the ones that remain 'memorable' in most people's minds have been the ones with unsettling yet relatable scenes. One was an Are You Afraid of the Dark? where two teens in a dingy ventured out onto a haunted swimming pool with something dangerous lurking beneath the water (Jaws in a pool was my pitch I believe). Another was a Psi Factor episode where a young man who we weren't sure if he was alive or dead began slowly decomposing and started peeling off his fingernails one by one. Both have earned me far more compliments than other episodes I was more proud of, because they had memorably disturbing sequences.

I've talked about this before...'movie moments' in the TV script. If you're writing horror or suspense television, try to go to that dark place of your nightmares and see what you find...sometimes one good creepy sequence is all you need to build your story around.

Friday, February 15, 2008


It's Stewie and Lois, so it should be absurd, but every parent's been there...

Because it makes me smile...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2 Down, 1 To Go...

Not quite moving on, but certainly turning around (SAG negotiations up next)...first the DGA, and now congrats to the members of the WGA for standing united and strong through difficult times to negotiate a decent contract.

Roll sound.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's All About The Rules And The Money, Juno?

Culture. Cancon. Gemini's. Genie's. Entertainment?

Swinging a little late on the pitch here, but the fact that Juno, the sharp delightful little dramedy that's all the buzz right now, wasn't eligible for Genie nominations is still nagging at me. As the Toronto Star's Peter Howell points out in this was shot in Canada, it was directed by a Canadian (Jason Reitman), and the two main leads (Ellen Page and Michael Cera) are Canadian. Yet because it was financed by Fox Searchlight out of the U.S., it didn't qualify. It wasn't Canadian enough.

More from Howell:

So why don't I just let the matter drop? The reason is that year after year, the Canadian movie industry moans about the lack of support for homegrown talent.

The Genies inspire so little passion in the frozen populace, only people directly involved care about who wins what prize. The viewing audience for the Genies' telecast is so low, our national taxpayer-funded broadcaster no longer carries it.

Then a movie comes along, directed by and starring Canadians and made in Canada, that people actually want to see. And what do we all do? We declare it can't possibly be Canuck.

Here's how weird it gets. U.S. actor Viggo Mortensen is nominated for a Genie for his strong acting in Eastern Promises, which was filmed in London. Julie Christie, a Briton, is nominated for her deeply moving performance in Away From Her. Yet Michael Cera, who actually is Canadian, isn't nominated for his sweetly innocent turn as the baby dad in Juno.

This does happen every year (last go around it was Cronenberg's A History of Violence), and I understand that the rules are in place to try to ensure homegrown indiginous projects get to be 'most' eligible...still...

It comes down to the money...and the rules. Money as in where the money came from - and rules as in the citizenship and residency of the producer(s) who manage that money to make the film. Is that the way it should work? If Juno had been actually set in the sleepy little town of White Rock, B.C., I still don't think it would've been eligible. Yet London-set Eastern Promises was. It's wacky.

Wacky like the culture/commercial entertainment debate going on at the CRTC hearings over the Canadian Television Fund....different arena, but it also comes down to rules and money (though in this case it's how much the Canadian broadcasters and cablers are earning because of 'the rules'). McGrath swings just right and hits a home run today with his monster post on the topic.

EDIT: And Henshaw wants to marry Jim Shaw...well, maybe not marry anymore, but he likes a lot of what Shaw's people had to say to the CRTC. About Canadian content.

Still I sigh. So much of what we make or try to make tv/film-wise (music seems to have worked out okay though) in this country is dictated by the well-intended objective but ultimately detrimental impact of the requirements to achieve that goal...Cancon.

It shouldn't be a dirty word, but Juno...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It Takes Two (To Bust A Move)

Looks like we might be very close to a deal and an end to the Writers Strike 2007/ usual, Nikki Finke has all the behind the scenes and play by play.

The last WGA strike was in 1988, almost twenty years ago. I remember first hearing reports that that strike was over as I was listening to the radio sitting outside the Connaught Library in my black VW Bug....probably days after it was actually settled. Today we have the internets and news channels and are hearing updates before the negotiators even finish their sentences. Not sure which way is better anymore.

At any rate, then the song of that summer came on: "It Takes Two" by Ron Base & DJ Easy Rock.

Okay, it ain't Bust A Move, but even as a newbie writer, it still made me wanna get out of my car and boogie...

Here's hoping the WGA and AMPTP have found an acceptable middle ground, and all our members and gonnabe members are dancing soon...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mmmmm...That's Good OJ...

Because a baby wants his money, man. Because it goes on for soooo long. And because it's's Friday Fun.

Because it makes me smile...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Why I'm The Beavis Of The Canuck TV Bloggers...

You've all probably read these posts already, but I still wanna tip my hat to McGrath and Epstein and Henshaw...

On the Canadian Television Fund hearings going on in front of the what Dead Things On Sticks and Complications Ensue have to say...and at the Legion of Decency, Jim's monster post about trying to make good TV in this country, against all odds...

It. Just. Shouldn't. Be This. Hard!

But it is...

And I'm at a loss to add anything new or that hasn't already been said, except to say I'm appalled that we still have to get up in airless lifeless rooms and restate the obvious.

Best I seem able to contibute these days is how a certain Canadian actress currently starring in MVP...erm...arouses me...

So when it comes to writing passionately and intelligently about the state of the industry in Canada, go read the other guys...they're the pro's.

Hehehe...I said hard.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I Hate Pens!

Things aren't going well for the AMPTP, and so we have Nick Counter as Adolf Hitler in this hilariously re-subtitled scene a la Woody Allen's 'What's Up Tiger Lily'...

"We need to build a time machine...go back in time...and un-invent the internet. Good-bye free porn."

Stick with's brilliant.

Thanks to Hart

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Planes, Trains, and Auto-TV Directors

When you're a TV director for hire, you're constantly getting parachuted in to work with a crew of 50-60 people who've been grinding it out together for months, sometimes even years.

They're tight. You're the outsider.

They're a family. You're the...boarder.

And like every family, most get along well. But some, not so much.

Director Ron Oliver has a lovely post up about the completion of his latest movie and dealing with the family factor of crews and fact he relates a similar tale about sound recordists to the one I'm about to recount...

It was a West Coast production and the first day of filming. I'd met some of the crew, but only briefly. When you're prepping, you spend most of your time with the Writers and 1st Assistant Director and Locations and Casting and the Line Producer --- while the bulk of rest of the crew are off somewhere shooting the present episode.

But then your episode starts to film, and you have to hit the floor running. And pretty much every show I've directed, the crew will call you 'Boss'.

"You want to use the blue cell phone or the red cell phone, boss?"

"Camera looking this way, boss? Or that way?"

It makes sense. One word says it all...'boss'. Except on TV series, it doesn't really say it all. I mean, you may be 'a' boss, but you're not 'the boss'. And once you get over the little inner glow you feel from being called "boss", it sinks in that what it really means they don't have to learn your name. Shows how interchangeable you really are (as the TV episodic director).

Anyway, my first day filming and we were out in a nice residential neighbourhood, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of train and plane noise. And as afternoon raced toward evening, the Director of Photography (DOP) was constantly having to add lights and flags to try to maintain a consistency to the scene we were filming. And he was getting more and more agitated....especially each time the Sound Recordist called out: "No good for sound."

The DOP started to pace. Finally he voiced his concerns to me: "This scene is going to look like shit." I thought he was doing a fine job and told him so, but he still shook his head: "No way, the lights changing too fast and the shadows are creeping in...shit shit shit. And all these retakes for sound aren't helping."

Now I didn't want to get on the DOP's bad side on the first day, but I also understood the importance of getting good clean sound. On the other hand, the scene wasn't a dealbreaker scene, so I went over to the Sound Recordist and quietly asked if we could relax a bit on the 'perfect sound' expectations because you know, we were losing the light and there were other more meaty scenes that night that I wanted to spend more time on.

Pick your battles, know your priorities.

But Sound Recordist crossed his arms and said no way...he wasn't going to be getting the gears from the producers later if they had to bring in a bunch of actors to rerecord their dialogue (ADR).


So I walked back to my 1st AD and quietly asked if he had a solution for this pseudo-standoff between departments. He just laughed and shook his head: "Get used it. These two are just getting started."

Turns out I'd walked into an ongoing feud between this particular DOP and the finicky Sound Recordist. That's where your 1st AD can be your friend: inform you ahead of time where the strengths and weaknesses and 'issues' of the crew and the cast are. This AD didn't. Grrrr.

Sidebar: besides the actors and the 1st AD and DOP, I tend to try to bond quickly with the Camera Operator. He/she can be a with your blocking and framing...figure out your coverage...not to mention make your shots appealing to the eye.

Lurve a good camera operator.

But I digress...

So I said we were going again. Sound Recordist smiled. DOP glowered.

We ran the scene and right near the end of the take, another plane flew overhead. And as I called 'Cut', Sound Recordist yelled "Sound needs another!" before I'd even finished my sentence.

DOP slowly stands up from his chair. Speaks very loudly.

DOP: "Why the hell do we keep waiting on sound? I'm being hurried to light every friggin' shot but I'm telling you right now...there'll be a hell of a lot more deaf people watching this show than blind people!

Then he looks directly at me: "So what's it gonna be...BOSS?"

Um. Yeah.

What do you say? How should you respond? Because as politically incorrect as it was to say, in many ways, he had a valid point.

So I made an executive decision and told Sound Recordist we were moving on. Something or someone had to win out...and I went with Picture. But not before explaining to Lead Actor we had all the pieces from different takes and he was brilliant.

Not to negate the invaluable contributions of the sound department or all the rest of crew and cast, but when you're a TV director dropped into a series....keep your enemies close, but keep your Lead Actor, 1st AD, DOP, and Camera Operator closer.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Jessie? Meet Craig (s) List...

Friday Fun returns with an internets party and all your fav (or not so fav) websites are there...

Because it makes me smile...

Thanks to Denis.