Thursday, December 31, 2009
The television biz in Canada has just gots to start loosening up and happening again next year, right? New TV policy changes perhaps? Value for signal gets turfed and we see a return to pre-1999 Cancon rules? Too optimistic ya think? Probably.
I know I slacked off on the blog this year, whatever...it's become an ebb and flow kind of thing now I've decided. But along with Twitter (follow me at wcdixon), Uninflected Images remains a great place to make contact...not to mention share and sound off and sneer and smile with other like minds.
Thanks to McGrath, Henshaw, Walton, Epstein, Diane, Weinman, and all the other Canadian Writermafia types (see sidebar) for yet another year of entertaining and inspiring and provoking as you all continue to blaze the TV In Canada blogging/social networking trail.
And as for 2010 - what's going to happen? Something wonderful?
I wouldn't hold my breath - I always thought 2001: A Space Odyssey was kinda overrated and 2010: The Year We Make Contact a seriously dull turd. But what do I know, really...and hey, I'm always happy to be pleasantly surprised. So surprise me 2010.
Happy New Year.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Denis McGrath hits a home run HERE with "A Visit From von Finckenstein", a hilarious riff on T'was The Night Before Christmas....and Jim Henshaw delivers some seasonal music cheer with "Christmas Concert 2009" at his place HERE.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
So...on with the shows.
Arrested Development - the Bluth's
30 Rock - I like to go to there
Curb Your Enthusiasm - What? What?!
The Office UK - mock doc rock
South Park - ample parking day or night
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Whedon
Veronica Mars - Thomas
House - Laurie
Six Feet Under - death entertaining
Breaking Bad - meth entertaining
Lost - flashbacks and flash forwards
The Sopranos - The Chosen One
Law & Order or Law & Order: Criminal Intent - anytime comfort food
Jekyll and Life On Mars...brilliant but limited. Dexter burned bright but faded too fast for me. Firefly was great but didn't last long enough to count in my opinion. Really enjoy Mad Men, but not blinded by the love. I haven't yet got through all of Deadwood, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, or The Wire - all are excellent but I can't in good faith include though they certainly deserve mention. And if live NFL football, Leafs hockey, and PGA golf can be considered shows or programs...well, I watched a lot of that too. I'd also add The Daily Show and The Colbert Report but this didn't turn out to be that kind of list.
Doh! I said it: List!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Part One is here:
Parts 2 - 7 can be found in the related videos to the above clip. Enjoy.
H/T Trevor Cunningham
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Because it makes me smile.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
This Hitler clip has been used a zillion times, but you gotta love it being used as the setting for the final production meeting of the TV series Cra$h & Burn's first season.
And if you play in the Canadian TV series sandbox, there's the added bonus of recognizing some of the names involved with the show. Big tip of hat to writers J. May and J. Beasley and editors G. Tucker and T. Seaborn...bang on good.
Also should mention clip was found on a new Facebook Group 'Overheard On Set'. Check it out. Funny!
Monday, December 14, 2009
...but some were of the epic fail variety.
I'm glad this campaign wasn't 'my idea'. Lucky for Microsoft they're already popular.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
H/T Trevor Cunningham
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
A thousand short films could've been made with the budget of this 90 second spot...how's that for a fantasy!
Friday, December 04, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Crazy busy week continues...but into home stretch.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
And when you're starting out, you do need to take on some of those freebies. Because you need to get noticed. Because you need to show what you've got. Because you need to start building professional relationships. But the problem so many of us face is that even after doing it successfully for years, decades even, you'll still get the "We've got no money, but could you whip something up?" calls.
The following are two Friday Fun examples of what you wish you could say instead of "Sure thing. I'll get right on it." They're from the worlds of advertising and graphic design, but they absolutely apply to screenwriting or making TV.
The first is a hilarious e-mail exchange between David Thorne and a prospective client. It's from Thorne's website 27b/6 .
From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 4.10pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design
Anyone else would be able to see the opportunity I am presenting but not you. You have to be a f*cking smart arse about it. All I was asking for was a logo and a few pie charts which would have taken you a few f*cking hours.
From: David Thorne
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 4.25pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design
Actually, you were asking me to design a logotype which would have taken me a few hours and fifteen years experience. For free. With pie charts. Usually when people don't ask me to design them a logo, pie charts or website, I, in return, do not ask them to paint my apartment, drive me to the airport, represent me in court or whatever it is they do for a living. Unfortunately though, as your business model consists entirely of "Facebook is cool, I am going to make a website just like that", this non exchange of free services has no foundation as you offer nothing of which I wont ask for.
Go read the rest of the transcript HERE, with pie charts and everything. Simply brilliant.
The other example is in the same vein and pretty self explanatory. And pretty funny.
Because they make me smile.
H/T Matt MacLennan H/T Jay Robertson
Thursday, November 26, 2009
"I kinda don't think my career is going to keep going up. I think it's going to start declining."
H/T Rob Sheridan
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Going in, I had some preconceptions of shooting in television. I had heard that TV moves much faster than feature productions. And since I came from the indie world, I thought I’d be used to it. But the reality is that TV is like shooting an indie film on steroids but with a studio and network right there with you. Forget Jenny Craig, if you want to really lose weight go shoot a TV show. Not only is time money, you better go in knowing what you want because things will shift and if you don’t know the core of what you’re trying to achieve, you’re in trouble because you’ll have no time to figure it out.
Before we go on I want to make sure I don’t overstate the position of the episodic director. In feature land the director is like Magic Johnson (and for you kids Lebron James). But in TV land the episodic director is like Michael Cooper (or Anderson Varejao). The creator and the writers are what drive the engine. The director of the pilot establishes a visual style and tone for the show. The actors are responsible for crafting and honing their characters as they grow from episode to episode. The job of the episodic director is to come in, learn as fast as possible the essence of various aspects of the show and deliver them within the confines of the specific episode without hopefully missing a beat.
Lin then goes onto say something very interesting.
The other thing I learned is that television is the one lone standing medium where one has to earn their way. This might sound obvious but we do live in an era now where anyone can pick up a camera and proclaim themselves a “filmmaker”. They can’t do that in TV.
In feature world as long as one can get their hands on funding or equipment they can set out to tell a story. There’s no way a person can come in and be a writer or create a show without some body of work to back them up. A feature film production can average two to three pages (about two to three screen minutes) a day but in TV it’s doubled most of the time. In feature world filmmakers spend usually at least a year to complete two hours of film but in TV they have to produce eleven hours of quality content for a half hour show in about 25 weeks. There is independent cinema but there’s no such thing as independent television.
In Canadian TV try triple the page count a day!
Speaking from experience, I couldn't agree more. It was a serious 'holy crap' slap in the face moment moving from independent movie/one-off production to the careening almost out of control train that is series TV...first as a director then as a writer/producer. The 'reality' vs. the preconception was almost overwhelming. Note I say 'almost' - you either embrace it or avoid it. I embraced it.
But when I teach film and TV production or screenwriting, I always feel like the students leave class never really grasping much less appreciating how massive an undertaking it is to write, produce, shoot, edit, and get to air a season of a TV series. The crew and cast may be the same size, but the fact that production goes on and on for the better part of a year while delivering the equivalent of ten or twenty quality feature films, it's near impossible to execute and deliver without an experienced leader and qualified team who have battled through the gauntlet time and time again. Not to negate the work involved in producing a feature film, but Lin speaks the truth...getting a feature made doesn't ever really prepare you for the making of a TV series.
Though there's many in the feature world that would like you to believe otherwise.
Read the rest of Lin's post HERE.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
A reprint, from May earlier this year, but in light of the CRTC hearings going on this week in Gatineau it seemed apropos to post again. And my story shouldn't be seen as support for the cablers or a direct attack on CTV...it's just a specific example against the argument being put forth by all OTA broadcasters now. And yes, this was written before the cabler/broadcaster battle devolved into an all out media war...but after watching a couple of days of the hearings, fee for carriage (oops, I mean value for signal) to save local TV and regional TV stations remains at the center of the storm.
On Saturday afternoon I stopped by the open house held at the CTV station in Regina which was part of the network's recent nationwide campaign to Help Save Local Television...a campaign that has seen more advertisements air on your TV set than for the promotion of any Canadian homegrown program that I can think of.
Below are the key talking points highlighted on the front page of the pamphlet they were distributing to the (unsuspecting) public:
Local television impacts everyone
Now is the time to hold the cable and satellite companies accountable
Current regulations in Canada allow cable and satellite companies to take CTV programming without paying for it. These companies then charge you, the consumer, for the programming they take from us for free. The satellite and cable companies that deliver the TV signal to your house are reaping huge profits at the direct expense of local Canadian TV stations.
Now YOUR local television station is in financial trouble, and we need YOUR help!
Local television stations should receive compensation from cable and satellite companies that carry our local programming.
First let it be said that I don't have a lot of love for the Shaw's, Rogers, and other cable and satellite companies across Canada (you can watch Shaw Cable's Ken Stein debate the issue with CTV's Jacqueline Milczarek HERE), but so much of the information in this CTV pamphlet is just dead wrong.
1) Cable and satellite companies don't take CTV programming without paying for it. Like Global and CBC, CTV is an Over The Air (OTA) network, which means you can receive it in your home with an antennae. For free. Cable, however, delivers a cleaner, clearer signal, and thus CTV chooses to have its signal/programming delivered via this mechanism because it reaches more eyeballs in a better quality form = higher ad revenue. Furthermore, because their signals are available freely over the air as per a priority carriage mandate means the OTA channels must be made available to and distributed by all cable/satellite subscribers.
2) Cable and satellite companies don't charge you, the consumer, for CTV's programming...they charge you for the pipe - the delivery mechanism for the TV signal. They built and implemented a television signal delivery system (cable or satellite) that they can provide you, the consumer, if you choose to subscribe, and that's what they are charging you for (thus, they are called 'cable providers').
3)Finally, your 'local' television station isn't in trouble, the CTV (or all OTA broadcasters for that matter) business model is in trouble. Like Global, CTV doesn't really offer much in the way of programming that consumers couldn't get if we could just choose U.S. networks on their own. It seemed only fitting this 'Save Local TV' open house took place the same time as Canadian network programmers landed in L.A. to spend spend spend on American shows for the new fall season.
There are four 'local CTV stations' in Saskatchewan, same as Alberta...whereas there is only one, CTV Winnipeg, in Manitoba and one, CTV British Columbia (essentially Vancouver) in B.C..
Regina's CTV station, CKCK, really only produces local newcasts. And between the four Saskatchewan stations they produce two news magazine-style series: the Prairie Farm Report and Farmgate, and Indigenous Circle, a weekly program dealing with Aboriginal issues at home and beyond.
How do I know this? Because I asked some of the helpful and smiling CKCK employees only too eager to Save Local TV: "What local programs are we trying to save?"
A woman mentioned the three above programs, though went on to add: "But we're just an affiliate - we just put on what the network says we have to put on. But there is the news!" I asked if the carriage fee (oops, value for signal) requested by the campaign would ensure the production of more 'local' programming. I got a lot of blank stares.
Then I asked when the Regina station was going to go HD, because even though I can view CKCK in analog on channel 6 on my cable channel dial (or channel 2 over the air), I tend to only watch my HD channels from my cable package...and in my cable package those signals come from either CTV Toronto(channel 509) or CTV British Columbia(channel 519) (...unless of course the U.S. scheduling of said program has messed with CTV's schedule and I receive the Lost or Law And Order simsub transmission from one of CTV's other 'A' Channel eastern affiliates like Barrie or Windsor or London or from Victoria in the west, complete with local commercials!).
So I asked: would my 50 cent per month carriage fee that the network is requesting of the CRTC going to support/save Regina's local station? Or Vancouver or Toronto or Windsor's local station? I again received blank stares, and some humming and hawing that they weren't sure about the HD going local but were sure that at least some of the money would come back to the Regina station.
Then I mentioned that most of the information in the pamphlets they were handing out was flat out wrong: that cable providers provide a delivery mechanism to consumers willing to pay for it...that's why they are called cable providers. And that's what we are paying for, the cable pipe, not the programming that CTV either produces or buys from the U.S. to simultaneously substitute their ads into.
I got some rather surprised looks and a lot of looking around. Then someone then asked if I was going to sign the petition (I said no). Then a hand was gently placed on my elbow and I swear someone whispered: "Look, we don't want any trouble here."
Trouble? For just asking a few questions? Anyway, I was getting some pretty cold looks so I edged my way out the door and beat a hasty retreat.
That's when I noticed yet another chartered bus arriving with another load of what appeared to be mostly senior citizens. Starstruck, they disembarked and tottered into the station gushing about how much they loved their local station. Not surprisingly, they didn't bat an eye when pressed to sign the petition. Sigh.
And I missed the balloon in the sky, Uncle Jim...but I did see them putting it back in the truck.
It was all smiles and hugs but frankly, smelled a little...funky, best exemplified IN THIS CLIP of CTV's Vice President, Corporate Affairs Paul Sparkes at the open house in Toronto answering questions from a CP24 reporter...lots of: "Oh let's not get bogged down by the details and clog our heads up with facts and truisms and regulatory lingo...isn't local TV great!"
Look, we know Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal will probably always have their own local news and some locally produced programs, but for the rest of us spread across the great land of ours, 'local TV' doesn't really exist anymore.
I get my U.S. signals from Detroit and/or Seattle. I get my Global signal primarily from Toronto and Vancouver, same for my CTV signal. CBC's feed also originates primarily from Toronto, but at least they adjust the times to fit the time zones so every show on the network comes on at the same time in each region. But I can't say the same for the U.S. feeds or Global and CTV feeds. In my neck of the woods, prime time begins either at 6pm (8pm EST) or 9pm (8pm PST).
Now it doesn't seem that long ago when our local CTV would produce daily talk shows and documentary series and even kids/drama programs. But today, other than the odd informational or newsmagazine show and a couple of newscasts a day I don't really have a local station anymore, and haven't for some time. And I would say the same goes for most of the other outlying regions in Canada.
So, the wrongness of the CTV campaign aside, whose 'local TV' would we be saving exactly?
Monday, November 16, 2009
According to today's Toronto Star, "Today CRTC hearings are a battlefield again. It's the private broadcasters versus the cable and satellite providers. You, the consumer, are somewhere in the middle."
Read the rest of Iain Marlow's article HERE for the results of the weigh in.
And then at 8:30 am EST head over to CPAC and watch Round One HERE.
The hearing lasts ten days. There should be plenty of quick jabs followed by some low blows, but at end of the fight it's doubtful anyone will be smelling victory.
DAY ONE recap by Globe and Mail HERE and Toronto Star HERE.
And I will add that though not surprising, it was rather annoying to hear today the problems and issues facing the broadcasters/cablers and our industry while primarily using examples from Toronto and the Greater Toronto area...oh, and Ottawa and Brandon, briefly. This after a half a year national campaign to support 'local television'.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I'm really not sure what else can be said that hasn't been said ad nauseam already about the topic...though an insider did tell me that the BDU's or the Broadcasters have been known to pull a new proposal out of their pants at a hearing. I'm holding my breath. Seriously!
But if you feel like you need a primer that goes beyond the battling ads/PSA's/Influencing Heritage Minutes? (WTF would you call them?) that you can't avoid on your TV sets because they air ALL. THE. TIME., then watch this decent debate of the issues that was on TV Ontario last night HERE (A Pox On Both Their Houses) or podcast HERE....and then check out this video put together by the Writers Guild of Canada.
And with that as the last word, for now, we'll see you Monday.
So in tribute to the then and now, Friday Fun is a few of my favourite 'just a taste' trailers...
And the original theatrical trailer for ALIEN here.
"I'm screaming but no one can hear me!!!!!"
And a few of my favourite "show everything including some of the plot but it still looks so awesome I need to see it' trailers:
Because they make me smile.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Canada's television shows - news and non-fiction programs excluded - are terrible compared to their American counterparts. And it's not only in one genre: we fail in every category imaginable. In response to American comedies like 'The Office' and '30 Rock', we come back with 'Little Mosque on the Prairie'. For their action dramas 'NCIS' and 'Prison Break', we come up with 'Flashpoint'. Animated shows like 'Family Guy' and 'South Park' are met with 'Bob & Doug' and 'Chilly Beach'. They created 'Saturday Night Live', we came up with 'The Royal Canadian Air Farce'. 'The Daily Show'? 'The Rick Mercer Report'. Seriously, we couldn't even get 'Sesame Street' right - we had to create a monster named 'Sesame Park'.
It's not that every Canadian show is completely awful, but in relative terms the best we can do is create shows that are equal to a reasonably bad American one. If you don't believe me, let's look at the main offenders. One of the most popular Canadian shows of the past decade was 'Corner Gas', a sitcom set in rural Alberta based on unfunny banter and Canadian stereotypes - kind of like those episodes of 'Malcolm in the Middle' where the oldest brother was living in Alaska. It ran for six seasons and averaged about one million viewers per episode.
Another popular show, 'Heartland', is like watching an episode of 'The O.C.' but with less characters, less jokes, less drama, and if everything they did had to do with farm animals. Again set in rural Alberta, 'Heartland' focuses on a teenage girl with a loosely explained ability to communicate well with horses. You might be thinking that only shows set in rural Canada aren't that funny or interesting, but that wouldn't be fair. Last year marked the end of several failed urban Canadian shows including 'Instant Star' and 'Robson Arms', which might make you sad if you ever heard of them. It's true: much of Canadian television is so bad that you forget it was ever on the air.
Okay, Corner Gas was actually set in rural Saskatchewan and SCTV does still make me laugh, but that's not really the point...the author, Kyle Carpenter writing for the McGill Tribune, doesn't stop there. And he concludes by saying: "So far, I've not been able to find one Canadian TV show that I am proud to say is from my country."
Just one young guy's opinion, sure...but I hear the same sentiment all the time from the 20 year-old's I teach each semester at the University. In fact, most struggle to name a Canadian TV series, much less one they like or are proud of. So again, you work in Canadian TV, and you go read the rest of the piece HERE, and then tell me...how does it feel?
Friday, November 06, 2009
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Anyhow this all led me to cross paths with series writer and co-creator Cheryl Heuton on Twitter, who then pointed me toward one of the series' regular directors Stephen Gyllenhaal also on Twitter, which led me to a series of behind the scenes 'making of' videos produced by Mr. Gyllenhaal that he's been POSTING HERE on his blog.
They're just snippets, moving snapshots if you will, of the process of prepping and directing a one hour of network television, but well worth watching.
Creating the Show
Rehearsing A Scene
Producing the Episode
"My job is to keep you on schedule."
Very true. Because at the end of the day yes it is about the show and making a good episode, but it's also about the numb3rs.
Lots more to watch HERE, go check them out.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Mary Sue’s successful pitch: “Griff and Angela [the series leads] must mind-link with K’Vax [their sentient, female, wisecracking spaceship] after a radioactive nebula erases K’Vax’s memories.”
There was more to her pitch – such as the mind-link forcing the aloof Griff and Angela to confront their true feelings about one another – but Mary Sue never got that far; Sam had interrupted. “Good hook, but amnesia’s soft. Needs more jeopardy. Hey! What if the nebula turns K’Vax evil? And she tries to kill everybody on board! So it’s dangerous for Griff and Angela to go into her mind; they might never come out. Terrific pitch! Sold!”
Mary Sue was ecstatic. “Great! I’ll write up an outline –”
“We don’t do outlines. We – me and the writing staff – break all our stories in the room. Once we get the structure down, you go off and write the script. Come in Tuesday at nine. Bring in a beat sheet. Not an outline, just the big moves. Some rough act breaks. Keep it simple. One page, tops, just to get things started.”
And so it begins…
9:00 am Tuesday. A punctual Mary Sue happily looks around her first Writers’ Room. Cheap, mismatched “executive” chairs surround a coffee-stained table strewn with old magazines, food wrappers, a Slinky, a broken water pistol, various Rubik’s-type puzzles, and other toys. The walls are a crazy quilt of actors’ headshots, set blueprints, costume design sketches, test photos of alien prosthetics… and three large whiteboards.
Two are covered with multicolored scrawls, circles, arrows, renumbering, and crossouts – the story beats for Episodes 5 and 6, in impenetrable shorthand: “5. BRIDGE: G + A expo. K ng 10 min no Froonium. H/L payoff? AB: J zapped.” The third is frighteningly blank – a naked canvas awaiting a plot.
I've been there. It's confusing, terrifying, intimidating, and exhilarating all at the same time.
Read THE ENTIRE POST HERE.
Friday, October 30, 2009
(Also very entertaining is THIS SCENE from 'Friends' without the laugh track...awk-ward)
Because it makes me smile.
H/T Matt MacLennan
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Paranormal Activity scared up over 20 million at the box office last weekend, proving once again that public appetite for 'horrific' fare still reigns supreme, especially when All Hallows Eve approaches. Also in the spirit of Halloween, my tweenage son and I watched Will Smith's I Am Legend on Friday night.
Now I am old and jaded, so it didn't do much for me (not to mention an abundance of CGI which, however well it's done, always tends to push me out of a movie as opposed to draw me in), but it freaked my son out. A lot. He's since woken up from nightmares, and when awake hasn't stopped talking about it - ("...what if world got wiped out by virus?" "...what if a virus turned us into flesh-hungry zombie-like creatures?"). What if. What if. Gak.
I will admit I feel a little guilty for subjecting him to it (even though he was the one who said: "Let's watch something scary!")
"I Am Legend", like most contemporary horror films, isn't 'original'. The story is adapted from a 1954 sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, which has been filmed twice before, as "The Last Man on Earth" (1964), and "The Omega Man" (1971) starring Charlton Heston.
And I do remember "The Omega Man". Oh yes. It freaked me out when I first saw it...probably around the same age as my son is now. And like him, I didn't even see it in a theatre but on late-night television, and it still freaked. Of course, checking it out now, it seems pretty cheesy...but way back when...Omega Man...."shiver".
Sticking with 'when I was younger', the two movies constantly referenced as well-made pictures that also managed to scare the crap out of the audience were "The Exorcist" and "Psycho".
No argument here...but when I eventually saw them, I'd either heard too much already or my expectations were too high, and I felt let down. I wasn't 'fugged up'.
"Jaws", on the other hand, freaked me out quite a bit, but most wouldn't really categorize it as a horror movie. The first "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" all had their moments, but they were just good candy-coated popcorn...tasty in the moment, but generating very little of the residual 'wake up screaming covered in sweat later that night' factor.
No, the two that really did it for me it were John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982)...
...and Ridley Scott's "Alien" (1979).
I suppose one could debate whether they are 'horror movies' in the classic sense as well, but I would say so. At their core they're 'trapped in the house with a monster' movies...relentlessly suspenseful and tension-filled...and they succeeded in achieving horror's highest score - they scared the bejesus out of me.
Now, onto some soundtracks that helped make those movies even scarier...and not surprisingly, a lot of the most hauntingly memorable scores are from a lot of the same films.
First rule seems to be LOTS of minor keys...major notes or chords, not so much.
Next, refrain from resonance...add plenty of dissonance.
Then bring on the cacophony...leave the harmony on the shelf.
And finally, a LOT of repetition...drilling it into your head over and over...this is scary...this is scary...this is scary...
As for classic horror movie soundtracks, there's the obvious ones..John William's Jaws... the theme from The Shining... Bernard Herrmann's score from Psycho...Mike Oldfield's theme from The Exorcist... Krzysztof Komeda's score from Rosemary's Baby ...Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen ...
But even though clearly influenced by Oldfield (in the case of Halloween) and Berrmann (in the case of Friday the 13th), for me the two most memorable have to be from the 'original' modern slasher films...
John Carpenter's theme for 'Halloween':
...and Harry Manfredini's theme for 'Friday the 13th':
Ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma
Ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
So, the real question is whether the manipulation positively serves the story, whether it positively serves the audience. If said manipulation acts in service to the filmmaker’s intentions, and they are artistically reasonable and ethical as evidenced by a generally satisfactory result, then such manipulation is valid and acceptable. Notice that I did not say the result had to achieve its ends through honesty. Deception is an axiom in art. The question, rather, is, “Does it serve the work effectively and to the benefit of a satisfactory audience experience?” So, while there is bad audience manipulation, all audience manipulation isn’t bad. As we’ve said, all communication is manipulation. The operative term, then, is “mutually-positive”—for the story, and for the audience—manipulation.
Scary movies succeed for the same reasons all movies succeed: they satisfy their audiences. Audiences aren’t satisfied by ever-larger explosions, ever-more diabolical torture devices. They are satisfied by having their expectations exceeded, by being happily or thrillingly surprised, by being entertained, not shown new technology. They’re satisfied not by the quantity of blood, but instead by the quality of the experience.
So, how to achieve said quality? It’s a well-known principle that fear is far worse before the fearful event than it is during. That implies that what goes on in the audience’s mind is far more powerful than what goes on before its eyes.
The piece is primarily about the making of scary movies as opposed to the writing of them (I'm still trying to come up with that magic tip list that assures us when a screenplay reads scary it will also play scary on the screen, as opposed to always being dependent on 'the execution'), but is still an entertaining and educational post.
Read the rest HERE.
First, decide whether your mystery is "open" (meaning the viewer knows whodunit from the start), or whether it is "closed" (meaning we the viewer find out what or who the killer is the same time that the hero does).
Paraphrasing Lee Goldberg from the Mystery Readers Journal:
An open mystery works when both the murderer, and the viewer, think the perfect crime has been committed. The pleasure is watching the hero unravel the crime, and find the flaws you didn't see. A closed mystery works when the murder seems impossible to solve, and the clues that are found don't seem to point to any one person, but the hero sees the connection you don't and unmasks the killer with it.
According to Goldberg, 'Columbo' mysteries were always open. In more recent television shows, we see open mysteries on 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent', even 'Heroes' and 'Dexter' are open to some degree, and a lot of the 'X Files' were open mysteries (as in we usually knew 'who' or 'what' was up to no good, we just didn't know 'how' they were doing it)....but just about everything else on network TV these days are closed mysteries or a mix of the two (as in they start closed, and then open up). The CSI's, the Law and Order's, Medium, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, Bones...even more dramatic shows like House and Lie To Me are all structured around a closed mystery.
Some shows (like House) will hold off solving the mystery and revealing the killer (or disease) until almost the very end (Act 5, or is it Act 6 these days?), but most shows reveal the killer/'monster either at the mid point or by the end of act 3 so the hero can 'catch' whoever or whatever the bad guy is. (I say whatever because I'm primarily experienced in genre mysteries (sci fi, paranormal, etc.) where the bad guy can be a bad 'thing'.).
And when it comes to constructing the plot for good genre mysteries (like X Files; Buffy; Angel; Firefly...and today you've got Supernatural; Smallville; Warehouse 13; Sanctuary; even Chuck, etc.), there is one question always be asked:
What is it...what is it really.
(In the case of procedurals and investigative mystery programs like 'Veronica Mars' or 'Castle' or 'Bones', the mantra becomes: Who is it...who is it really.)
Take that tip to the bank, baby.
We put this principle into practice constantly on 'The Outer Limits', 'Earth: Final Conflict', and 'Psi Factor' (as in, if it looked like a werewolf wreaking havoc, it damn well better not turn out to be a werewolf). And we studied and learned from the master, Joss Whedon.
Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) and his disciples execute this principle to perfection in their shows. It was always a closed mystery, and would usually remain that way until the mid point or end of the third act. If you thought Buffy was losing her powers and Giles was out to harm her, it would turn out that Giles was preparing his Slayer for a rite of passage test set for her 18th birthday. Or if Buffy thought swamp creatures were eviscerating members of the school swim team, the reveal would be that the swimmers were actually turning into creatures themselves because of all of the steroids the coach was feeding them.
What is it...what is it really.
Of course, this is just one aspect to telling a good mystery story. To take it to the next level, you also need to pick an overall theme to flesh out the episode. Whedon would take something dramatic like 'honesty is best policy' or 'believe in yourself' and let the character conflict drive the drama in conjunction with the unfolding mystery. Yet he always kept you on your toes, and tended to not only play the 'what is it...what is it really' card in the overall story, but even within individual scenes.
Here's the opening from his pilot for the 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' TV series...
EXT. BERRYMAN HIGHSCHOOL – NIGHT
The buildings of the affluent Southern California school gleam darkly in the moonlight. We TRACK about the campus – it's deserted.
INT. HALL – CONTINUOUS
TRACK through the halls. Nothing.
INT. CLASSROOMS – CONTINUOUS
We track along the wall, past the maps and drawings tacked up on it, past the window, which SHATTERS in our faces!
It's just a single pane, knocked in by someone's hand. It unlocks the window and slides it up.
EXT. OUTSIDE THE BUILDING – CONTINUOUS
The intruder is a college age BOY, a timid GIRL beside him. She looks about nervously.
Are you sure this is a good idea?
It's a great idea! Come on.
INT. CLASSROOM – CONTINUOUS
As they climb in. She peers around some more as he shuts the window behind them.
You go to school here?
It gets better. Come on.
INT. BACKSTAGE – A BIT LATER
He leads her through the back of the school theater and
ANGLE: ON STAGE
which is lavishly dressed as an over-sized alley set: a huge wooden fence, trash cans, etc. It looks suspiciously like the set of CATS. She wanders through it a bit.
Suddenly the curtains open, revealing the empty auditorium, and the foot lights come up. The boy has worked all this from the side of the stage. He comes up to her.
I'm sure we're not supposed to be here…
He moves to kiss her, but she turns suddenly, real fear crossing her face.
What was that?
What was what?
I heard a noise.
Maybe it's something…
Maybe it's some Thing…
That's not funny.
He looks about them. The place is dark shadowy. She cowers behind him.
There's nobody here.
Are you sure?
She bares HORRIBLE FANGS and BURIES them in his neck.
Simple. Clean. Effective. And with a Twist. A nervous girl is led into a school by a horny boy. It's late at night. It's a little creepy. He's a little creepy. We're nervous. We're concerned for her well-being. And it turns out he's the one we should have been concerned for. A perfect example of good 'what is it...what is it really' mystery story-telling, from the man who had Buffy the vampire slayer fall in love for the first time with...a vampire, of course (albeit one with a soul).
Monday, October 26, 2009
On writing “safe”: “Nobody knows what safe is,” Lindelof said. “If anybody knew, there would be no pilots and no failures. People are always asking me, ‘Do you have another “Lost” in you?’ That completely ignores that (‘Lost’) was a fluke. People are always saying something is the the next ‘blank’ to create an illusion of safety.
“The public and television executives all say ‘we want something new,’ but (the executives) anesthetize it — make it the same,” he added. “If you can get your pilot made without compromise you’re good.”
“Really be original, don’t be beholden,” Feig said. “Don’t mute your voice; write what you’re passionate about. If they love the idea, it blasts through. (TV executives) are not ultimately creative people, but they know what they want, and they want good content.”
On casting: “We did not have a script when we started casting (‘Lost’); we just had an outline. Yunjin Kim came in to read for the character of Kate … we just had to create a character for her. We made a suit tailored to the body. That’s entirely different than pulling suit off the rack and trying to find most perfect fit. If I ever do another TV show I’d do it the same way.
Feig talks about a youngster coming in for an audition. “Smart show runners go, ‘this kid is so great, there’s nothing in the script that’s so good that we can’t change it’. It makes it easier to write the show. You need the blueprint, but then you need to be open to the human beings who are bringing it to life. There’s nothing worse than the inflexibility of saying, ‘well, this is how I heard it in my head’.”
On opportunity: “Every great success story has 2 things in common: right place, right time — also called luck, which you have no control over; and you knew somebody — that you do have control over,” Lindelof explained. “I was in LA for 5 years building up my network of somebodies. Talented is the other important part, of course.”
Be original. Be flexible. Be passionate. Be adaptable. Be talented. Be lucky. Easy peasy.
Good Monday morning TV stuff. Go. Read. Now.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The Los Angeles leg of Christopher Nolan's none-more-secret sci-fi Inception is underway and Sir Michael Caine, one of the esteemed names on the call-sheet, has defied the omerta to reveal a snippet or two on his role in the movie.
"I play a professor who's teaching a guy science," Sir Michael told of us of his fourth Nolan collaboration. "It's Leonardo diCaprio. He's going off to do a science project and he speaks to me before he goes."
While the great man wouldn't elaborate on exactly what that project involves (and we're not expecting frog dissection) he had warm words for his co-star's performance. "Leo is great. I've had a day with him [in London], he's wonderful."
Veiling proceedings in a covertness not seen since the heyday of Secret Squirrel, Nolan is keeping even his cast members in the dark on how the plot, set "within the architecture of the mind", will play out. Say Caine: "They wouldn't let me read the script. I only got my pages. They're all very secretive!"
Wouldn't let the cast read the script? Puh-leaze. I know film making is ultimately just the editing together of a series of out of sequence shots/scenes, and the whole should be greater than the sum of those individual parts, but that shouldn't mean you don't let your actors see how their part fits into the whole, as it were.
Is this because we now live in a time where too many people live to spoil? Or a successful writer/director taking the adage "Just trust me" a little too far...
Trailer looks cool though.
Friday, October 23, 2009
And yes I'm on there, but still not sure why yet. Twitter is a great place to pick up breaking news or links to interesting articles...or read a funny quip or exchange jabs with colleagues....but the information overload can be somewhat overwhelming. And it can be a little intimidating knowing what to 'tweet' exactly if you're not particularly clever or amusing or don't have a show to promote. But you know me...always willing to try something new, even if just to figure out its pros and cons, or learn that it's not for me.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Bill Glisky from the Belleville Intelligencer has a nice article on the topic:
That's because the funniest thing on television right now is a commercial. Two of them actually. And neither is intended to be funny; they just are.
The commercials in question are those pitting big cable companies against big television stations. Some stations have taken to regularly running them back to back, which adds to the amusement value.
The ads in question are based on the claim by Canadian television stations that cable stations should be forced to pay for "local" programming since they charge viewers a fee to provide cable service but don't pay anything for the programming itself.
The cable networks counter they shouldn't be forced to pay the television stations anything, in part because those stations already make lots of money through advertising, and that the television stations are simply seeking a government bailout.
Basically its two groups who between them make more money than anyone watching the commercials will see in their lifetime trying to win public support so they can either make more money or spend less.
Read the rest of Glisky's take HERE.
I'm not posting these ads with the intention of picking a side or a winner...there are no winners here, just losers.
First you have the Cable Companies fake 'man in the street' ad:
Then you have the Broadcaster's 'ominous highlighted words' ad:
Funny too! What's also amusing is they ask you to "Join the conversation" at their website, yet they recently disabled comments on all of their 'articles' since the majority of them were critical of the campaign so there's not really much of a conversation going on.
They both play like those cheesy cheap smear ads you see during an election campaign. Butcept we, the consumer, don't actually get to elect 'the candidate' we believe in or support, as in there is no 'vote'...the casters and cablers are really just lobbying for CRTC sympathy for when they all gather for a hearing next month to try to hash out a solution...again.
Nope, we just have to watch and bear it. But hopefully we can also muster up a grin, because when you stop and look and listen and think about it all, it is pretty funny.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
When you first walk onto the floor of a film set, your ears can get assaulted by a barrage of unique jargon and bizarre turns of phrase. And if you do ever get the opportunity to watch and observe, take advantage of your perch to listen...and learn.
It could save you a lot of embarrassment down the road.
First, there are many names for shots: a dolly shot (also known as a moving shot or if following two actors conversing, a 'walk and talk'); zoom shot (also known as squeezing or feathering in); a high and wide shot (also known as the 'big and funny'); a low and tight shot (also known as 'up their noses' or 'an X Files shot'); a medium shot (also known as a waister or 'cowboys'); and a loose close up (also known as a single or 2 T's or 'tits up')...
There are obviously many more but for the purpose of this post we'll stop there.
Here's an example of a single...
...and a 'dirty single'.
A dirty single (also known as an 'over the shoulder') is when your shot focused on a character but the edge of frame is 'dirtied' by the back of the other actor.
When I walked onto my first real location to direct with an actual experienced crew and 1st A.D. (First Assistant Director) at my side, it was trial by fire. I'd made some student and short films, but had very little professional set experience. I nervously described to the crew what shots I had in mind, but sensed I wasn't communicating them very well. People were staring back at me, blankly. I looked to the 1st A.D. for help.
He stepped up and loudly announced something like: "Alright everyone, listen up. We're looking this way. First up we got a two-hander here at the desk with a little move into a dirty single...since it's free maybe squeeze off one more in tighter...then roundy roundy and get complimentaries on the other side with a quick pop on the computer after the talent goes for lunch. Two set ups...five shots...and we're done."
And then he turned to me and nodded. I feigned a smile but was thinking....what the hell did he just say? What the hell are we supposed to be doing? And why is everyone else nodding like they understood him?
The crew began to work and I quietly pulled the 1st A.D. aside to ask for a translation.
As he explained it, when you have a scene with just a couple of characters, it's generally described as a two-hander. If it's on a dolly, it's moving...and from what he'd heard me describe, it sounded like the shot moved from a wider establishing angle to an over the shoulder of one of the characters - in effect, becoming a dirty single. While we're there and the angle is already lit (and therefore free), we should zoom in tighter and cover scene again. Then we tear down the lights and dolly track and move around (roundy roundy) behind the character we focused on in the first set up, and shoot 'complimentary' sizes on the other character. Lastly, I wanted a closeup of info on the computer screen on the desk, so we'd get a quick insert (pop) on that once we'd finished with the talent (actors). Simple, eh?
I remember telling a girlfriend about the scene I was shooting the next day wherein "...I had to get a two-hander with some dirty singles." She thought I was making porn, perhaps even performing in it myself.
There are also many names for things: flags (black cloth in a rectangular frame used to block or shape light); C-stands (flexible stands that hold flags); HMI's (lights that use an arc lamp rather than an incandescent bulb); a peewee (a small 'doorway' dolly); marks (spots on the floor where actors need to stand); and apple boxes (boxes of varying sizes used for leveling, propping, and mounting)...
Again, that's just the tip of the iceberg (here's an excellent Film Industry Terms Dictionary should you wish to know more), but again, for the the purpose of this post...
Here's what apple boxes look like and how they are labeled. Full apple, half apple, quarter apple, and a pancake (1/8 apple).
You probably can see where this is heading, but I forge onward.
Right after I graduated film school, I moved to Toronto just to hang out for a while. After a few weeks, I went around to all the commercial houses and dropped off a resume looking to get some P.A. (production assistant) work. And a few days later I was hired onto a big car ad. It was a three day prep and three day shoot. I think it paid $50.00 a day.
As a P.A., you are at the bottom of the food chain. You are first in and last to leave. In prep you're a helper and a gopher - you photocopy and distribute paperwork, get coffees and lunches, go pick stuff up... I'd been in Toronto less than a month and was asked to drive from Adelaide and Church up to an equipment house in North York to pick up some camera lenses or something. I grabbed a map and left the office. It was my first time driving in the 'big' city. According to the map, Yonge Street seemed to be the straightest cleanest route, so off I went.
Now anyone who knows Toronto knows Yonge St. is like the longest street in the world. And they know about the Don Valley Parkway. I did not. Over an HOUR later I finally arrived, and found two angry messages waiting for me (this was a pre-cell phone world) from the PM (Production Manager) wanting to know 'where the hell I was' and 'to pick up lunch for everyone at a deli back down on Front Street, pronto!'
Welcome to P.A. Land.
Anyway, first day of production arrives. We all travel up to a rural area around Orangeville to begin shooting. I felt kind of beat up after my stint in the office and was determined to make a good impression and become an asset rather than a liability.
I pushed my way into the circle gathered around the Director, who was also the DOP (Director of Photography), as the first shot was discussed. It was a drive by of the 'hero' or picture vehicle on a country road. They were talking about 'looking this way' or 'looking that way'...then they decided upon one but wanted the shot to be low to the ground so I heard the Director call for 'two half apples and a pancake.'
Not needing to be told twice, I turned and raced over to the craft service (food and snack) table. Without hesitation I asked the cook if there were any pancakes left over from breakfast as I grabbed an apple from the fruit basket and promptly cut it in half. The cook was still staring at me confused when I asked her again for a pancake. I made an exasperated sound and turned to run back to the camera.
The crew was still gathered around as I pushed my way through to the Director and proudly held out my sliced pomme: "Here you go, sir. Two half apples, just like you asked for."
You could've heard a pin drop.
Then the Production Manager (my nemesis from the office) finally starts to snigger: "Geez...he thought you meant real apples...oh my friggin' god."
As it slowly dawned on everyone else, they started to laugh, and point, and laugh some more.
I spent the next two days out in a field raking up bags of leaves to spread on a road for the car to drive through and send them sexily flying into the air.
I never P.A.'d again in my life...not so much from being unable to live down the humiliation, but because it showed me that if I wanted to write and direct television, picking up lunches or raking leaves wasn't the highway to that destination...or my highway at any rate.