Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
"Do You Believe In Unlikelyhoods?!"
The other is 'Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle'...
Now by discovered I mean I had no interest in seeing them when they were released, and even upon hearing decent things still didn't rent them, but now find it difficult to not change the channel when they come on.
What is it that makes a great comedy? Or more specifically, a comedy that holds up under repeated viewings. One that you WANT to watch over and over again (this is probably more of a question for the kids...it's kind of a youth thing - 'Napoleon Dynamite' was a recent example).
In my younger days, it was the big three - 'Caddyshack', Animal House', and 'The Blues Brothers'. Except back then, pre-VHS video, it was about hoping for them to show up on the bill at the local drive-in (mommy, what's a drive-in? or vhs for that matter?). My buddies and I would sit through 'Staying Alive' with Travolta (ugh) if any of the above were the second flick. The piece de resistance was all three on a Labour Day weekend triple bill. Classic.
Other 'must see's' included Woody Allen's 'Play It Again Sam', 'Bananas', and 'Take The Money And Run' ("I have a gub.")...they'd show up occasionally on late night TV. But we'd stay up for them. No. Matter. What.
In fact, I had to wrangle sleepovers to watch them until I was almost 16 years old because we didn't have a television in our home. "Gape". I know, my parents were funny that way. Theatre folk. Old school. And I guess we did have a tv, but it was a 12 inch black&white with a coat hanger for an aerial and you turned to the other channel with pliers (yes, two channels), so it didn't really count. And it only came out (yes, it lived in the back of a closet) on special occasions like the first walk on the moon, the Oscars, and the Canada/Russia hockey series (or my dad and I would sneak it out and watch Rockford Files when my mom was out).
So, I slept over at friends houses a lot. That was my only way to stay somewhat connected to the other kids and what they were all talking about...TV-wise. I know...cry me a river.
Back to more recent comedies...I enjoyed 'Wedding Crashers' and '40 Year Old Virgin', but don't find myself getting drawn into watching them again when they show up on the Movie Channel. At least not in the same way I do with 'Dodgeball' and 'White Castle' (same thing happened with 'Old School')
Why is that? I already know the jokes. I know what happens. Know why it happens. So how come?
'White Castle' is basically a road movie with a stoner element - a simple quest (they must get to White Castle) constantly interrupted by a series of bad luck and wrong turns and unfortunate incidents. Sort of a Blues Brothers without the songs. In some ways, it's just a bunch of funny sketches strung together, but it still holds up remarkably well.
And all the characters they encounter along the way are memorable, especially Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Hauser) playing himself hitchhiking:
Neil Patrick Harris: It's a fucking sausage fest in here, bros. Let's get some poontang, then we'll go to White Castle.
Kumar: No, Neil, you don't understand. We've been craving these burgers all night.
Neil Patrick Harris: Yeah, I've been craving burgers, too. Furburgers.
'Dodgeball' is basically an underdog flick, 'Animal House' with some 'Rocky' thrown in, where the little guys at the loser gym take on the Globo-Gym Goliath and emerge victorious.
And all the characters are memorable as well, especially Ben Stiller as White Goodman (what a name) and Gary Cole as sportscaster Cotton McKnight:
McKnight: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have been to the Great Wall of China, I have seen the Pyramids of Egypt, I've even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel. But never in all my years as a sportscaster have I witnessed something as improbable, as impossible, as what we've witnessed here today!"
But what gives both films that repeat viewability factor? Why these movies and not others? Both are about average Joe's tired of being stepped on and pushed around and deciding to push back. The writing is tight, sharp, and very funny...everyone's motivations are clear and simple with constant reversals and logical obstacles...and the direction is impeccable (there's a real art to letting funny just be funny and not trying to 'make it or direct it' funny). Finally, at their core, both movies have a lot of heart.
Maybe it's wanting to feel that good feeling again felt when I first watched it. Maybe it's the neverending quest to want to laugh or to be made to laugh...because laughing makes us feel better. Maybe it's just a guy thing (though women do show a tendancy to repeat view certain romantic comedies). Or maybe it's a purely personal thing that can't be analyzed or figured out. My 'Old School' is your 'American Pie', or 'Duck Soup'. I don't know.
But 'Dodgeball' and 'Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle'? Who'd a thunk it.
SONG&ARTIST? - "Some day somebody's gonna make you
Want to turn around and say goodbye
Until then baby are you going to let them
Hold you down and make you cry
Don't you know?
Don't you know things can change
Things'll go your way
If you hold on for one more day..."
Friday, December 29, 2006
A Little Diddy For Yakkin' Diane...
Why? Because for all of our muttering and speculating and whining and kvetching about the entertainment business, she actually did something about it and created TV Eh? What's Up In Canadian Television - a website/blog and forum devoted to promoting our industry with program schedules, airdates, news, and reviews.
She just posted her New Year's resolutions, this was number 8...
8. Latch on to some random industry I know little about and launch a website to promote it.She should cross this one off the list, because she already did it. For that, she should be appreciated and aknowledged.
"It's All In How You Tell It, Dude...HeHeHeHe"
Then analyzing Nirvana's 'Heart Shaped Box' in the way only they can...
And closing with some Madonna 'Erotica'...
Because it makes me smile.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
More Year End Lists...
The stars and shows that shaped one what many are calling the best year of television ever.
Most improved actress: Kate Walsh, Grey’s Anatomy
Reminiscent of a young Rita Hayworth, Walsh finally got in the zone and made Addison a complex, vulnerable and shockingly cathartic human, who struggles each day with her sexual urges.
(I never really watched Grey's, but my eldest daughter is a big fan)
Best TV Show: The Wire
The Peabody Award-winning series has reached God-like status with critics and the viewers who are actually smart enough to be watching. Season 4 is a spectacular
unveiling of superior writing, gritty directing and bone-chilling acting.
(have seen enough of them to appreciate it, but need to go dvd and start from the beginning)
Worst TV show: Justice
As much as we adore Victor Garber, there is no justification for what a thespian of his calibre is doing on a horribly written, woodenly acted, over-produced and self-indulgently directed mess.
(watched one...moved on)
Best finale: Will & Grace
As Jack and Karen sang “Unforgettable” to each other, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally broke our hearts by breaking character and addressing the poetic lyrics to each other — and to us.
(didn't see it)
Most improved show: ER
Just when you thought NBC’s former No. 1 show was ready to check into the morgue, Dr. Delicious (John Stamos) comes along and saves the series from extinction.
(stopped watching years ago)
Best new show: Heroes
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a superhit! These spellbinding superheroes have us all believing they were blessed with superpowers in real life. Their mission? To save NBC.
(fair enough...but Dexter would win my vote)
Best newcomer: Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera Ferrera has captured North America’s imagination with her charm and beauty — and will certainly win a slew of awards in 2007.
(watched one...moved on)
Biggest miracle: Julia Louis Dreyfus breaks the Seinfeld curse, proving the Seinfeld curse may have been more propaganda than reality. Dreyfus not only hit one out of the ballpark, but she also took an Emmy home for The New Adventures of Old Christine.
(watched a few...cute)
Worst plot device: The hatch, Lost
Thank goodness they blew it up!
Best love story: Lyla and Jason, Friday Night Lights
Only this show could make the beautiful cheerleader and her quarterback boyfriend into tragic figures. Will Jason ever forgive Lyla for cheating on him with his best friend? Will Lyla ever accept the reality of Jason’s paralysis? Here’s hoping these two Texas teens can work it out in 2007.
(again, watched one...moved on)
Biggest coup d’état: Star Jones
Another fantastic coup d’état was Barbra Walters “firing” Star Jones from The View by making it look like she actually quit. Brilliant!
Sexiest TV star: Wentworth Miller, Prison Break
At the end of the day, we only watch the series for one reason and one reason only — to feast our eyes on the arresting hunk.
(I suppose..but what about Moon Bloodgood?)
Best couple: Dr. Will & Janelle, Big Brother
There’s a reason why there are hundreds video tributes on youtube.com in honour of this hot love story that never was.
Biggest controversy: Survivor: Cook Islands
Splitting up this season’s Survivor contestants into four distinct tribes separated by race ignited a firestorm of controversy, but after Episode 2 it became a non-issue. What’s more, once the series unraveled it turned out to be one of the best seasons in Survivor’s history.
Best chemistry: Pam and Jim, The Office
Soap operas would kill for the chemistry that John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer have.
Best season-ender: Grey’s Anatomy
It was the finale that would not stop giving — four hours to be exact!
Entertainer of 2006: Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Our favourite insomniac finally earned two Emmys and announced plans for a 24 movie. He also tackled a Christmas tree.
Best actor: Hugh Laurie, House
Laurie has taken TV acting a new level by creating a character so vivid he actually feels real to us.
(no argument here)
Performance of the year: Jean Smart, 24
As the beleaguered First Lady, Smart proved a former designing woman could still look fierce and act her designer duds out.
(not sure the diff between actor/actress and performance)
Best comedian: Steve Carrell, The Office
With critics bemoaning the death of the sitcom, the industry should take notes and at least try to mimic what this show does so well.
(sure, not a lot to choose from though)
More as they come in...
It's still important to like and get along with people you work with, but it shouldn't be the only reason you're working together. Problem is a lot of those who are doing the hiring might have very different criteria than yourself for who they want to work with and why. Makes for the kind of anecdotes he relates. So try to remember...
It's not just about who you know, it's also about the work, you know.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
"Come On You Reds...Come On You Reds..."
For the uninitiated, it ran as a series of movies from 1993-1995 (with a one-off special screened in 1996 and a further special in 2006) and starred Robbie Coltrane as Dr Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald, a troubled criminal psychologist brought in to assist the Manchester Police Force interview, profile, and catch killers. It ranks right up with the 'Prime Suspect' series as some of the best of British television.
Character-driven 'open mysteries' - not so much 'who done its' as 'why done its' - they were filled with nifty plot twists, usually in the personal stories as opposed to the mystery story. Just the fact they are introduced as the creator/writer Jimmy McGovern's 'Cracker' should tell you that there's something right about this series. And 'To Be A Somebody' is still one of the best stories ever committed to film.
A young Robert Carlyle is terrifying yet mesmerizing as the working class sod who snaps, pulls a Travis Bickle, and decides to avenge the tragic deaths of 96 footballer fans at the 1989 soccer match in Hillsborough. His soccer fan chant mantra's will haunt you long after the program is finished.
"L..I..V E..R..P DOUBLE O..L Liverpool Are We!"
Sarah K at the Unofficial Guide to Cracker puts it rather well...
Everything about 'To Be A Somebody' is classic Cracker - McGovern's powerful writing, the interview scenes between Fitz and Albie which are some of the best of the series, along with the general interaction between Fitz and the police (most notably the still lingering tension between Fitz and Bilborough). At the time of its screening, 'To Be A Somebody' may have received a lot of attention due to McGovern's tackling of the sensitive issue of the Hillsborough disaster, but it without doubt left its mark and will long be remembered as three hours of the finest British television ever made.
Hear hear...if you don't have a lot of time, follow that movie up with the sixth installment 'Men Don't Weep' and you can experience an abridged best of this series in all its brilliance.
It struck me while watching Cracker how much 'Fitz' and Dr. Greg House are alike.
Unlikeable in so many ways, yet they manage to engage and intrigue and fascinate us. We 'like' them against reason and better judgement. Much like Jim Rockford (going waaaay back here to the Rockford Files), the surly snarky Malibu based private investigator.
I loved Rockford Files when I was a kid. Or at least I knew my dad loved it, and it was something we watched together, so I loved it too. A mystery series with requisite action (and those car chases), it was something of a revisionist take on the genre, grounded more in character than crime, and neatly infused with humor and realistic relationships. And they still hold up today - I try to catch it on Superstation WGN each morning whenever I can - with the winning supporting cast (Becker, Beth, Rocky...Angel!), and those wacky answering machine messages that led off each episode...
"Hi, sonny, it's Rocky. I got the bill and I've been trying to figure what everybody owes on L.J.'s birthday party. Tell me, did you have the Pink Lady?"
And that theme song....mmm...so good,
Rockford, Fitz, House...they all give us so many reasons to change the channel, yet we don't. What is it about these kinds of characters that turn our notion of the hero upside down yet still manage to entertain us?
The leads all have unpleasant traits and vices, are generally sarcastic and bitter, seem unable to keep any sort of lasting relationship...yet we still want to watch them. Reluctant heroes or Anti-heroes?
I read somewhere that the Rockford series was pitched as 'a private eye who would rather be doing something else'. Fitz and House appear to be cut from the same cloth. A psychologist who'd rather be doing something else...a doctor who'd rather be doing something else. I suppose all of us would rather be doing something else, even if most excellent at one thing...maybe that's part of the attraction.
I'd love to see Fitz and House and Rockford in their prime go toe to toe. Three brilliant bastards at the top of their game, trying to outsmart and outshine each other.
That'd be sweet.
Reprint: My First Freelance Gig...(or How To Get Hired And Not Be Sure Why)
More from the recesses of the mind. When you work in the film/TV business but live far away from the centers of the universe, freelance work is much harder to come by. If you are a writer, you have the best shot at it…presuming you’re really good and have a great agent – but even still, series like for you to come in and meet them, pitch them, walk through the episode on the whiteboard, make sure you don’t have three heads. So if you are living outside of the major production centers, that’s next to impossible to do.
“We’d like to consider you to write an episode of ‘Major Network Series’. Can you come in this afternoon and talk it through? You need to check airline schedules? If you’re lucky you might be able to get here by end of day tomorrow? Uh, never mind.”
However, if you are a really talented scribe and recognized as such, you can work from home and with telephones/computers/email/etc., pull it off.
But if you are a director, it’s next to impossible.
Every major production center has dozens of really good directors just standing by to work. Why fly in and pay to put up an up and coming competent from the regions when you just need to look down the street? Why indeed…
So years ago, shortly after I got my first agent, I finished directing a TV movie that I co-wrote, and then packed me and my family’s bags and moved to Toronto. Nothing was waiting for me/us. But if I wanted to ‘do drama more often’, it was the next logical step.
Cut to six months later and I’d had a bunch of meet and greets around town, but no serious ‘work’ leads developing anywhere. And I remember being very confused as to why some producers and companies that used to meet with me every time I flew to Toronto now wouldn’t take a meeting. I cornered one of the execs at an industry party, and asked him why. His response: “Well, now that you live here – there’s no real reason to meet unless it’s for something specific. We know where to find you if we need to talk.”
The other thing that was going on was my lovely agent was pushing me on the handful of big drama series. Some meetings, but no ‘this is going to turn into something’ vibe.
Then my eldest daughter turned old enough to graduate from watching Treehouse channel all the time to watching YTV sometimes. And even though 3 of the 4 shows I’d directed and/or wrote were kids/family mystery/fantasy drama’s, I swear this was the first time in my life I’d seen YTV. And I see a show called ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Cool show, anthology series, scary tales for kids…much like three of my four credits.
I hastily got the agent on the phone – ask if she knows the show and has contacted them about me.
I'm sure she'd heard of the series because they filmed up in Montreal, Canada - but she appeared to have very little information about it. And she seemed a little confused as to why I would be interested in a ‘kids’ show. I said I needed some work, and it looked like an okay series (it was also on Nickelodeon in U.S.), so why not? She said she would look into it.
SIDEROAD #1: when starting out, help your cause and target shows that somewhat match your existing credits. It made no sense for me to be pushing to get on a legal or medical series when most of my credits were family/kids/comedy – blame it on ego, arrogance, ignorance, etc. Producers, execs, etc. are inundated with talent to work on their shows. And they are always looking for a reason to say ‘No’. Make it difficult for them to say no…don’t send a kids fantasy/mystery show as a sample of your work to an adult legal drama series --- or you can submit it to try to get your name in front of the decision-makers, but don’t expect to get hired.
SIDEROAD #2: although I muttered a bit about why it was me that found this series that seemed appropriate for me and my talents, and not my agent – it was my agent who tracked down the Showrunner in L.A., sent my samples in a professional package thus lending credibility to my name, and then followed up and badgered for a meeting. She earned every penny of her 10%.
Anyways, a month or so later there’s a call – agent has heard back that the executive producers will be in Toronto that week for some casting sessions and would like to meet me for breakfast at the Sutton Place Hotel. It’s to discuss directing an episode. Yeehaw.
I rewatch the episodes I’d taped in the previous month – learning my ABP’s…(always be prepping… to know the show you are trying to work on). I toss and turn until meeting day, wake up before dawn and race down to the hotel to beat rush hour traffic…and end up having to have a coffee up the street to kill 45 minutes I’m so early. Make my way in to the restaurant and am ushered to the table to meet: Showrunner (from L.A.) and Co-Executive Producer (also from L.A. but is bilingual and will be running the day to day of the show up in Montreal).
Nervous. Sweating. Not sure what they’ll ask…what to say or do…they don’t prep you for these meetings in film school. Can’t remember details other than trying real hard to not to embarrass myself. There was the obligatory chit chat and feeling out part --- then they begin to talk about the show and how it works and what they want…there were a few testing questions about how I worked with kids, how fast I was, could I roll with changes or unexpected disruptions. I answer to the best of my knowledge – nothing too opinionated – don’t embarrass myself I think.
Now I’m starting to get excited…they seem to be leaning toward hiring me…they are talking dates, and whether I’m available --- and all I’m interested in knowing is…why me? Which one of my shows did they watch and like? Or did they watch them all and like them all? Man I must be good – listen to them, they really sound like they are going to hire me!
Meeting starts to wrap up…they say thanks and then drop bombshell that they’ve already informed my agent that they’d like to hire me and will get back to her with details. What?! It’s already a done deal?! Man, I am awesome!
So I blurt out: “You must have watched my samples, the shows I did – what did you like about them?”
The Showrunner glances at the other exec, thinks a bit, and then says: “Actually, I haven’t watched them. But my assistant did and said they were okay. The truth of matter is that I directed that lead kid (the kid that starred in my one hour family mystery/drama) before on another show of mine, and he was nuts…a real handful (which the kid was). I figured if you could work with him, then you could work on anything with anyone.”
To say I was a little deflated was an understatement. But I smiled and we shook hands and parted ways. And three weeks later I was on a plane to direct an episode of ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ --- my first freelance gig (which led to more directing and writing for show as well - once in the door kind of stuff - but more on that another time).
So what’s my point…what you do and how you do it and how effective or successful it happens to be is ALL very important. But showrunner’s are busy busy people and most would rather ‘hear’ someone is good or worth working with than have to sit down and watch samples and make that difficult decision themselves.
SIDEROAD #3: I was once hired onto the staff of a big big show that shot in Vancouver based on a short, relatively rushed meeting in LA at the end of a frantic day while I literally followed the exec through the MGM building talking to him as he prepared to leave for the airport. I found out at a later date that just prior to my meeting, the same exec had happened to sit down on a plane beside a semi-famous actor that was starring in the series I was presently working on. What I heard was exec had told actor that he was considering me for their series, and asked the actor what he thought of me. Actor apparently replied: “Oh, he’s cool.”…and then went on to try to pitch something. I’m not saying that there weren’t a lot of other factors that came into play (there was apparently a first and second choice that both passed on the gig – I was number three), but I’m sure if semi-famous actor says: “Oh, he’s an idiot and an asshole.” – I don’t get hired.
Back to the ‘Dark’ freelance hiring – the people/relationships element is so important. The Showrunner might have seen all kinds of wonderful work in my samples, and perhaps been impressed – but there are also so many intangibles at play if you don’t have any first-hand experience/knowledge about the person you are thinking of hiring. Was the script brilliant and anybody could shoot it and it would work? Did the awesome assistant director in fact direct it for me? Was the cast brilliant and therefore made me, the director, look good?
But because there was a personal, first hand connection (the hyperactive child actor)…he felt comfortable enough to make the hire. And that’s something I could have no way of knowing. It isn’t something you plan for or can orchestrate…it just happens.
So do the best that you can, and treat people with courtesy and respect…the rest of it is really out of your hands.
SONG & ARTIST? - "You can't start a fire
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
My Second Agent...(Or Some Of The Truths About Representation )
First, in answer to the questions, an agent is in the business of helping you find you paying work so you can stay busy doing what you (hopefully) want to do and they can earn a living from their ten percent commisions. I've asked myself many times whether they are worth it, and of course there's a lot of things to factor in, but at the end of the day I'd say yes. I've got some more specific examples why in a repost set for tomorrow.
So what should you look for in an agent?
You'd think you wouldn't want an agent who's aggressive or a bully or irritating or brash or even deceitful and insincere...however those are also all qualities you'll want in your rep at the end of the day. Ironic isn't it. But that's okay, as long as you understand you don't have to be friends with your agent for them to do well by you. It helps if you get along, but it's not absolutely necessary. As long as you always remember they work for you...never forget that.
Here's a few things I've learned from playing in the land of agents...
One: agents don't get you work, you get you work. Agents can hear about projects before you do...they can hustle and get your name out there...they can even get you meetings - but ultimately it's you and your work that gets the offers. And you'll be a bored bitter client if you think otherwise. You have to be working in conjuction with your agent in terms of networking and socializing and shmoozing, not waiting for them to bring you the job. Sure some agents will be better hustlers or better negotiators or better connected than others, and they can prep you and hype you and help you - but it still will be up to you to take the meetings and land the jump.
Two: agents have their reputation, and their roster. It's smart to take a hard look at the other clients in an agent's or agency's stable. Whether you like it or not, you will become associated with them. If they're known as a bunch of hacks, you will be too. If your agent is reputed as an annoying goofball, you will be known as being repped by 'that dork'. Not a good thing. But if there are a lot of serious players at the agency or with your agent, that's a good thing. Why? Because your agent will be hearing about a lot of breaking gigs first since those players are sought after. And then as those players get jobs, your agent will be able sell you (and their other clients) to them first.
Three: agents should negotiate and badger, and be the middle man/woman during the awkward to and fro that occurs when the company/show/studio is offering you scale and you want scale and a half; or you want a cell phone as part of your deal and they want you to use your own and pay the bill; or you feel you should be getting a supervising producer credit and they are offering an executive story editor credit. And so on. And then make sure the checks are arriving when they should be. It takes the personal out of the picture (sort of) so if any disagreements happen or ugliness occurs...you don't have to walk into the office and try to work with the person you would've been haggling/arguing with with the day before.
Four: agents can hurt your feelings and even lie to you. When you are hot and busy they're your best friend and taking all your calls. When you're not so busy and a little cold it's next to impossible to get past the assistant. Expect it. And they'd like to believe they are the best and are tapped into the heartbeat of the industry and hearing about all the jobs out there, and will assure you of this. But the reality is they have their areas of expertise and their niches and are limited by that. And will be perceived in a certain way. Much like you will be if you've specialized in just childrens shows, or scifi shows, or worked only as a writer...or as a director.
I started writing as a means to direct. My first agent was a lovely woman with a small agency that could be described as a Canuck version of a 'boutique agency'. She was a good negotiator and had a good reputation. It was just herself and an assistant in a small yet tasteful three room office space in downtown Toronto. And she repped a short list of writer clients, and focused primarily on Canadian television. And she always was saying she was trying to find me directing work. But she wasn't tied into the network of line producers that do most of the hiring of directors on episodic television series. And the handful of series I got wind of and made some inroads to didn't seem to take my directing samples or reels coming from her as seriously as say, some other agents/agencies in town.
So as I cruised along getting more and more work writing/producing syndicated action/adventure television, I started to miss directing - the reason I got into this whole nutty business in the first place. I started to realize having an agent with those producer contacts and some knowledge of the U.S. scene would be an advantage (since most of these shows were Amercian-based shooting in Canada).
And there was something else going on. When you start to get gigs and become better known, other agents will try to get to you. And they will do so for two reasons...first, if they know you and you are running something, they can try to get one of their clients on board. And second, if they are aggressive (and ruthless), they will want to let you know what they might be able to do for you if you jump ship and came over to their house. I heard from a couple of those agents, and I didn't take any of them up on their promises, but it got me thinking.
I started asking around about Canadian agents who were more focused on directors AS WELL AS writers. There were really only a couple (small industry remember)...one in Toronto and the other in Los Angeles. I'd met the Toronto agent already because he repped a story editor I'd once hired. He was part of a much bigger agency - no CAA or ICM but as close as we get in Canada. They repped writers, directors, actors, etc. And he and I got along okay. Calling him up and broaching whether he'd take me on was relatively painless (as in, he took my call...and said he'd be very interested). We had several lunches talking through his client list and his contacts while I conveyed my desire to get back in front of people as a director again. He wholeheartedly agreed and said he'd make it happen...(but what else are they going to say).
It felt kinda covert and sneaky, but in the end, it was just business. I finished the gig I was on (switching agents mid job can get messy, as in who's entitled to the commision), called my first agent and told her I was moving on and why. She was very pleasant and understanding about it all. Just business. I had to write a letter officially severing the relationship, and that was that.
And as for my second agent, I was with him for 3 years and it was a pretty decent marriage...until I moved to Los Angeles and onto Agent Number Three. Unfortunately, that wasn't the best of relationships, but I'll relate that experience another time.
Get up, (get on up)
Stay on the scene, (get on up), like a sex machine, (get on up)
And then, shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker,
Shake your money maker
Monday, December 25, 2006
Reprint: My First Agent..(or How I got Representation and Didn't Even Know It)
...digging back into the recesses of the mind, thought this might be interesting post, especially to those living outside the major entertainment centers.
A long time ago, I was residing in the middle of nowhere in mid-west Canada - living the life of a filmmaker in a place I had no business trying to live that life...a place that didn't know what a grip or a dolly or what a call sheet was... hell, I barely knew what they were and I'd graduated film school. But I formed a small company with another local, mostly making educational documentaries for government agencies and then repackaging them as a limited/on-going series for a regional tv network - was making a living, sort of.
Then timing and good fortune shined down (as it always HAS to do) and we found ourselves near the top of list of companies capable of taking advantage of some regional incentives that needed to be spent by some of the federal film funding agencies we have in Canada. And it was us mostly because there was hardly anyone else around with more experience (I only had a few dramatic shorts to my name). And so with my 'drama expertise', and my partner's financing savvy, we managed to produce and I directed two half hour one off tv dramas, and then I co-wrote and directed a one off hour long family drama...all in the same year.
Lucky. Yes. But you still have to deliver when you get your chance. The shows weren't brilliant, but they weren't embarrassing either (one won a Gemini award..Canuck equivilent of Emmy).
What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, the first agent...
Where I was living and what I was doing, getting an agent wasn't even on my radar. And even if I did think about it, I was sure no agent was going to be interested in me or able to do anything for someone out in the middle of nowhere. So my next project was a tv movie I had in development with one of the pay tv channels in Canada. The writing had gone well and the script had been well received, but then it stalled - it needed something to push it over the top.
The year before, I'd met a very good writer from Vancouver (who's now doing very well in LA...see Bones) at the Banff tv festival, and we'd become friends and stayed in touch.
I'll never forget a cassette tape (yes, this was back in the day, kiddies) showing up in the mail (also the days pre-internet, file sharing, etc.) from this friend with Pearl Jam's 'Ten' on one side and Motherlovebone on the other...never heard of these Seattle bands before and they blew me away...so I think I introduced him to Nirvana and we were even.
Oh yeah, the first agent...
So around same time I was in charge of putting together workshops for the local film festival/awards...so I came up with idea of bringing in a couple writers (I also knew a fairly successful writer/friend living in Toronto and his agent), and do an Agent/Writer Relationship workshop. I'd been negotiating with the Vancouver friend's agent for the co-write on the movie, so she and him agreed to come out (she was based out of Toronto). And the Toronto friend and his agent agreed to come out. So it was a go. And we had a great weekend of a long late dinner, the workshop, the so-called awards, another dinner, and everyone went back to their respective homes.
Monday morning, my phone rings. It's my Vancouver friend's agent in Toronto. We exchange pleasantries and boom...she quickly asks if anyone is representing me. I think I laughed out loud. And then said no. And then asked why would she care (I had no clue). She gets very 'agenty' and says she will fax me an agreement and agree to rep me right now if I'm interested. Now keep in mind she had a good reputation and repped several writers I knew, so there wasn't any sort of issue of credibility. But I remember being a little flabbergasted and said something like..."Sure, whatever." An hour later the deal was done and I had an agent - a pretty decent agent by Canadian standards...and all I really did was answer the phone.
So what's my point. Well, I remember asking her some time later why she wanted to rep me, and she said she'd been hearing my name for a couple years, and she'd heard I did good work, and the Vancouver friend endorsed me...but mostly, she said that when she came out for the workshop, I DIDN'T ask her to rep me. It helped convince her that she 'wanted' me, as opposed to me (or anyone for that matter) 'wanting' her...or wanting her as an agent, at any rate.
And I've heard that sentiment echoed over the years from a lot of writers: that it's just so much easier if the agent can hear about you not from you, and begin to think about repping you not because you are telling them to...that it's the agent who makes the first move.
That isn't to put down cold calling agents and trying to get them to read your material to see if you're worth repping ... get in front of anyone you can ... but if you can have a friend or an agent's client to recommend you to that agent, it can only work to your advantage.
And as for my first agent, alas, she's no longer repping me, though we parted amicably for reasons that will be discussed another time.
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes, another chance he takes.
Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow.
Friday, December 22, 2006
I racked my brain for a good holiday story but came up empty, and didn't have the energy right now to just make one up. So keep writing, creating, producing entertaining stories for film and television...it all starts there, don't forget that.
And not to end the year guilty of not listening to the ladies in the hut, a little holiday present...
...so Moon Bloodgood can make one final appearance:
(Okay - so it's not really her but hey...it seemed appropriate. And it never hurts to wish, right?)
Wish? Did somebody say wish?!
Camelot Is A Silly Place...
Because it makes me smile.
And if you need something darker to make your day, try out Radiohead's 'Rabbit In Your Headlights'...
Because it made me grimace, and then cheer...cool video extreme.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
And here is a fascinating article about the ins and outs of Nielsen ratings from the Washington Post including the top rated 'time-shifted' programs from 2006, why 'Studio 60' is still on the air though it seems like nobody is watching, and 'I did not know that' info like:
"American Idol," meanwhile, had the most product placements on broadcast TV this year with -- you want to be sitting down -- 4,086 occurrences in calendar 2006, which in the case of "Idol," really means between January and May. "Idol" is the Mount Everest of product placement. Nothing else touches it. The No. 2 show on the 2006 Product Placement Top 10 is "The Amazing Race" with a mere 2,790 occurrences, followed closely by "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" with 2,701.
We're guessing about 3,346 "Idol" product placement occurrences come in the form of those three insidious red Coca-Cola cups prominently placed in front of judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. Every time the camera cuts to Paula sitting at the judges' desk drinking "whatever" out of that Coke cup, it counts as one "occurrence," a nice Nielsen spokeswoman explained to The TV Column.
Isn't that fascinating? I dunno...I thought so. Someone must really be raking in the dough with that show though.
And look, another cool video....
...Fatboy Slims 'Weapon of Choice' starring Christopher Walken.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Not Right Here Right Now (Forecasting Your TV Series)
Because nothing hits the air the minute after you come up with or even sell the idea.
Read and get up to speed. More after the jump as the cool blogs say.
A WEALTH OF OPTIONS
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/11/2006
In 2006, cable continued to solidify its reputation as a place for “edgier fare” and a nurturing environment for originals, an antidote to broadcast TV, where expensive laggards are quickly shuffled off to hiatus.
As the cable networks move into 2007 and look to build on breakout successes, star talent and interesting options abound, along with some hard decisions about what to greenlight.
“A couple of years ago, we had to convince people cable was a viable place to bring a series,” says Michael Wright, senior VP, original programming, for TNT/TBS. “In some ways, cable is a better place. We make an earnest effort to really support a show and give talent an environment where they want to work and play.”
Top female leads appear to be the most courted set for strong roles in the coming year. TNT is working on Grace, a pilot with Holly Hunter as an Oklahoma City detective whose sister was killed in the 1995 bombing; and Lifetime has ensemble drama Army Wives slated for March, starring Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell.
Next summer, USA will run limited series The Starter Wife, with Debra Messing, and could greenlight To Love and Die in L.A., a pilot with Shiri Appleby as a woman who discovers her father is a contract killer. And FX in January offers the new Courtney Cox gossip-mag drama Dirt; also in development is a pilot with Glenn Close as a New York litigator who mentors a younger lawyer.
“It's amazing to me, given where we were a few years ago: We can now field a group of talent that could rival any [broadcast] network in television,” says FX Network President John Landgraf. The network has also set a first-quarter premiere for The Riches, a drama starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard as a married pair of con artists.
The pay-cable networks will, as usual, lead the 2007 charge into boundary-pushing fare. HBO is working on David Milch's dark surf series John From Cincinnati and Gavin Polone's adult-themed relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me.
Meanwhile, Showtime is developing Darren Starr's Manchild, addiction-focused Insatiable, and David Duchovny's producer/star effort Californication, about a women-obsessed, self-destructive writer.
With the bigger entertainment networks having tested the waters for several seasons, 2007 will bring original scripted shows from new players. In the summer, AMC will debut its first original drama series, 1960s-set advertising drama Mad Men. The channel is also set to play way against type with Breaking Bad, a pilot about a terminally ill teacher who deals meth to support his family.
As A&E debuts its pricey acquired version of The Sopranos in January, it's seeking both a limited series and an original drama for 2008. Executives are looking at several self-contained choices as companions for both Sopranos and CSI: Miami.
Says A&E Executive VP/General Manager Bob DeBitetto, “A light musical dramedy romp is not a format we're going to be doing.”
Other networks are content to keep things lighter. Bonnie Hammer, president of USA and Sci Fi Channel, says USA will be doing just that, possibly greenlighting Burn Notice, which focuses on a blacklisted Special Ops agent. Sci Fi Channel, meanwhile, will develop shows in a more “earth-based” vein. "Nothing is dark or dysfunctional,” Hammer says. “The whole [USA] brand is looking to do interesting character-driven drama with a little twist of escapism.”
TNT, the “We Know Drama” network, is developing pilots on a heart-transplant surgeon (Heartland) and a police drama that moves in reverse time (The Line-Up). Meanwhile, corporate sibling TBS heads a list of networks targeting the funny bone. It will pump its money into developing both scripted and unscripted comedies for prime and late night.
And Comedy Central plans a slate of at least five new primetime series: January's The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show, February's Sarah Silverman-scripted series, and improv shows Halfway Home, American Body Shop and Lil' Bush. The network's success with The Colbert Report allows the aggressive plans. “Colbert has been nothing short of a gift to us in so many terms,” says Executive VP, Original Programming and Development, Lauren Corrao. “It's allowed us to focus our development on what we consider to be our prime, from 10 to 11 p.m.”
So there you have it, a wee bit of intel. And let's be honest, this is just the stuff they're super keen on or have already committed to. Simmering under the surface at all these networks and the companies/studios that provide to these nets are dozens and dozens and dozens more series in various stages of development.
And what does this have to do with you?
Well, I know I'm not the shit but every single time I've pitched a network an idea I have for a series that's even remotely inspired by a current trend in television, I've always heard back: "Oh, we've already got something like that in development." I've grown to count on it.And it's quite common to sit down with friends and writers and creatives and have them test a pitch they're working on that's trying to capatalize on a current trend. And it may be a great concept, but the reality is they'll be working it up for, let's say... 3-6 months - to come up with a bible and a pilot script. And let's say all goes well and get the interest of a studio/company and network and it gets put into development.
Now in Canada you can pretty much count on a year of working out the kinks (I know, I'm being polite here) of your show before getting any sort of greenlight to go to camera. In the U.S. your mileage may vary, but 9 months is the fastest anyone I know of coming up with the concept and pitching it and getting an order for a pilot script and then shooting that pilot and then eventually going into full production. This kind of speed is designated to the Sorkin's, Milch's, Hanson's, Kelley's, etc. of the tv universe.
And let's not forget the endless stories we've read and heard of series that finally got to air after getting turned down at every single network. It doesn't take much to realize that for something to get turned down that much, it had to be kicking around for a while.
Nevertheless, you get lucky and have a green light, but that process of crewing and staffing and casting can last 3-6 months. So now we're approaching two years from now. Say you shoot 13 episodes over a 100 to 140 days. In the States generally things will go to air about 3 months after you've started shooting (in my experience you'll be shooting episode 7-10 of a one hour series as the first one hits the airwaves). In Canada, you'll generally complete production of the entire series and it will air sometime within the following year. Sigh.
So that's anywhere from 2 1/2 to 3 years if you are really fortunate and all the pieces fall into place. Think about that a minute. And keep thinking about it as you start turning that cool notion into a series concept and so on... 'will this still interest and entertain and feel relevant three years from now?'
Not right here right now.
Cool video week continues - Van Halen...you know the title.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Some Top Tens and Blogging Peaks!
Stephen King's movie list and music list - worth pointing out his poke at the studios regarding the number of movies he chose NOT to see because he was busy being entertained while watching good television.
A preview aside, Coldplay is relatively new to the music video game, but 'The Scientist' was a revelation...
Chicago Tribune's ten top and runner-up ten television programs...don't worry, except for the exclusion of 'Heroes', they're all pretty much there - no real surprises.
And Gartner's Inc. researchers predict blogging will 'peak' in 2007, and we can all go back to living life again or onward to the next fad.
And 'poof', just like that...he's gone.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Man, my stock is soooo dropping already...as Henshaw, DMc, Alex, mef, and Blueglow all roll their eyes.
'Tis the season though...
Bond, Dexter, and Cuddly Kittens...
Finally got to the new Bond flick - enjoyed it a lot...Mr. Craig was great and the opening 'jump' chase was spectacular - but agree that it was too long (or at least naive to think the ten minute 'he's really in love and will drop everything for this woman to lie on a beach and smooch in the sand' sequence would fool anyone or at least be able to create any sadness in viewer when all went south) - perhaps the ladies in the audience bought in...
Managed to attend a few holiday get togethers...very nice. But got stuck twice...once trying to pull out of a parking spot, and once just trying to exit an alley. Too much unploughed snow, City!
Took the plunge and got a Xmas kitten for the kids - a 'unique' kitty with six toes on one paw. But spent way too much time placing ornaments higher on the tree and cleaning up messes and listening to meowing late into night (there's always a but). Still, its all good - the kids are thrilled and that's the point. (Support your local Animal Shelter)
Another cool music video teaser for your entertainment - REM's 'Imitation Of Life' from 2001.
This is the kind of video that me and my DOP (Director of Photography) pals would discuss for hours trying to figure out 'how they did it?'...but were never able to try any of the cool tricks ourselves in the land of tv series. Never enough time or money.
No 'but's' however for the season finale of 'Dexter'. Found it entertaining and exciting (nice reveals and no real idea which way it might go...guess you have that in your court when your hero is also a serial killer) and ultimately satisfying. And really interested now in reading the source book 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' to see how they grew it into a series as that's something I'm attempting to do now with a different novel.
But I'm betting it's all in the execution...
Sunday, December 17, 2006
'Tis The Season In A Mad World
So here's Jules' original video for the song, which still serves as a nice setup for a post I'm working up about cool music videos. Get your crossovers ready.
Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Because it makes me smile.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Battling Bullies (or Your Worst Work Day Everrr...)
Here's a few of my doozies....
One. A series about ten years ago. It was a strange hybrid of sci-fi paranormal drama and the supposed reality of an organization that investigated this spooky stuff. It's a long convoluted story how I got involved, but a series of fortunate, or unfortunate, events found me sitting in the room and being asked to help lead the charge of a show that had cleared 98% of the US syndicated marketplace, but didn't really know what it was yet.
We had several sit-downs in Los Angeles, followed by several more back in Toronto. But I was starting to get antsy. We had to figure out the series, but we also had a start date in a couple months. Decisions needed to be made. But it wasn't that simple. You had two camps. One consisting of the network and studio/company that wanted one kind of show (more of a mystery drama). And another camp consisting of the creators and star and 'real' organization that had provided the inspiration for the series. And for some bizarre reason, I became the guy that both sides felt they could talk to and try to sway the series in one direction or the other.
There was so much crazy talk. I mean, I barely knew what I was doing but I knew it was a bad thing that no one could agree. And a worse thing that the one thing everyone was agreeing on was the size and scale and scope of the visual effects desired...yet there was no way we could afford them all.
At some point, I was standing outside having a smoke with the Line Producer and one of the two exec producers from the second camp. I must have had my fill of bullshit for that day so I started to make a case for taking the show more in the direction the network and studio/company wanted because, after all, they were paying for it. A certain executive producer got in my face so fast. He insisted it couldn't change course. It was sold this way and that's the way it must remain. "Yeah but..." I start to say. His face got very red, veins were popping out everywhere...and he got this wild look in his eyes as he moved up inches from me and shrieked: "Do not fuck this up!! This is my retirement fund we're talking about here!!! And. You. Will. Not. Fuck. It. UPPPP!"
Of course I was just the middle man, and had no vested interest in how it did or the backend of any profits - other than keeping a gig. But I walked away from that little scene with that sick feeling of knowing I was caught between two opposing sides that weren't going to bend, and my next ten months was going to be absolute hell. I was right.
Two. I was on a big show in Vancouver. And I was there apprehensively. The writing room was made up of big hitters from 'Quincy', 'Northern Exposure', 'Quantum Leap', 'Lois And Clark', 'Tales From The Crypt', 'Star Trek Next Generation', and little ol' me. It was my own undoing I'm sure, but I spent most of my time on that gig never really feeling like I belonged or even deserved to even be there, and I let that get to me.
Anyway this show had a notorious screamer exec...the stories were legendary. But I'd yet to have any real contact with him, until I turned in the first draft of my first script. I remember being paged to get down to the head writers office..immediately. Walk in, and all I can hear is someone yelling through a speaker phone. It's this exec calling from LA. Head writer was a super nice soft-spoken man who was trying to placate and cajole, but he was fighting a losing battle. It was announced I was in the room and screamer exec just went off.
Screamer Exec: "What were you thinking? This story begins in a homeless shelter and the priest running it is a bitter, discouraged man. Are you out of you fuckin' mind? I got so pissed off I threw the script across the room by page 8!"
I stammer, look desperately at faces of other writers sitting in room, but most were staring at the floor. You see, I'd played the priest as a happy, enthusiastic caregiver in my initial pitch, and it had been the writers room that had suggested to change it a more jaded character because that was 'more interesting'. And kudos to the head writer for piping up at that moment and stating that the room, in fact, had asked me to change it (it was all so pointless in retrospect because this character disappeared from the story by the end of act one).
Screamer Exec: "I don't care if you told him to change it. He wrote this shit. He's responsible for this shit, and he is going to eat shit!"
The next hour was him yelling about every line of the first eight pages and how he wanted it changed. This without having even read the rest of the draft. Any attempt to explain that things were there to pay of story stuff later was met with he didn't care and ordered to change. Call finally ended with him addressing me personally and yelling (still!): "You're a fucking idiot and you don't write worth shit. I want this fixed and brilliant by tomorrow morning or you’re fired!" Click.
To say I was shell-shocked is an understatement. I'd heard the stories, hell, I'd even seen Kevin Spacey in 'Swimming with Sharks'...but until you're in the room and at the other end of that kind of attack, you have no idea. And I got a draft done and managed to muddle through rewrites until it went into production, but I never really recovered. He was gunning for me and I knew it (seeing how he went after my next outline), and I began to believe I didn't deserve or even want to be there anymore. I did my time and put in the effort, but when they decided not to extend my option to the next year, I wasn't broken up about it.
The upside to all that...there's an upside? A few years later I found myself deep in the muck on three TV movies with an aging Hollywood has-been screamer Exec. I was directing one and kind of co-producing the three. He ended up on my watch a lot of the time. And I endured more verbal abuse from him in three months than I'll receive in a lifetime. But the difference was I'd been there before.
We had an early story meeting with me and Aging Screamer and the director of the first movie in the room and the writer on speaker phone. And I'd remained pretty quiet as the director discussed changes or adjustments and was mostly rebutted. Finally, near the end of the call, the director turned to me and asked me to bring up a logic point that basically turfed the story but I did have a solution...and I explained my thought...and Aging Exec went apeshit.
Aging Screamer Exec: "Have you lost your fucking mind? Have you made moving pictures (that's what he called them) before? It's a fucking mystery. And mysteries have clues and red herrings. And that's a fucking red herring clue! Don't you know anything?! Get out! Get out of my sight now!"
Director gaped. But I just shrugged and stayed seated and said I thought it was a valid point and we should consider changing it. Aging Screamer's face was beet red and he was spitting and stammering, but then started to calm down and asked what my note was again. The reality was it was neither a clue or a red herring or a red herring clue (whatever that is)...and he didn't scare me. I'd been there, done that. I could be offended or insulted, but I wasn't going to be bullied.
There's a lot of good pleasant people in the TV/film business, but there's also a lot of assholes and bullies. Probably like that in every line of work. And I'm sure it's no coincidence these stories were with Hollywooders having to work with us lowly Canucks (Canadians tend to be a lot nicer). But if you want to swim in those waters, be ready for it. And the first time you run up against it will feel like a slap to the face. But you've got to go through it a few times in order to discover your way of dealing with it. And the toughest thing can be when what they are saying is actually a good point, but the way they are going about passing along that point or note is what is offensive.
So you learn to listen patiently, and try not to get angry or defensive, and then counter with words just as strong as theirs. If you make sense and don't make it personal, plus can incorporate some things they brought up into your counter attack, they will generally back down. Or not. In which case you either quit, or grin and bear it.
TV/Film stories like this is what I'm looking for, but anyone in any line of work with a similar tale to tell is more than welcome.
being rhythmically admired
and you can have anyone that
you have ever desired,
all you gotta tell me now is why, why, why, why.
Welcome to the workin' week.
Oh I know it don't thrill you, I hope it don't kill you.
Welcome to the workin' week."
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Medium...as in Average?
But there's one thing reviewer Meikeisha Toby states that I need to put to the floor.
'Medium' (10 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC)
Emmy winning actress Patricia Arquette is back as Allison the psychic on this often-overlooked drama. Ignore this no longer or you will have a future devoid of suspense.
I watched my first episode of this series last Wednesday as I've asked to develop something that runs in the same pack as 'Medium' and 'Ghost Whisperer', with a bit of 'Minority Report' thrown in. So doing the requisite checking out of what's similar.
'Medium' made my brain numb. Part family melodrama, part investigative mystery (sort of like 'Seventh Heaven' meets 'The Gift') - it was like being transported back in time to when television was simple and one note...and soooo boring. For starters, our heroine (Ms. Arquette) was the most passive I've ever seen.
The story short strokes....
- a woman gets shot from a bridge while driving on the freeway. City thinks mad sniper on the loose.
- Arquette buys video camera for her husbands birthday. Tests camera and 'sees' some footage shot on it previously by someone else (a woman talks into the lens), even though there's no disc or battery in camera. Not a short clip - couple minutes at least.
- brief B-line of cops investigation and interogation of husband of murdered woman as he's the prime suspect
- as Arquette's family celebrates birthday and live life around the house, once each act, the camera turns on by itself and Arquette watches each successive recording. It becomes quickly apparent that the woman subject and the videotaper are conspiring to shoot her husband off a bridge on the freeway. They attempt to do so, but shoot the wrong person in wrong car.
- last recording is of woman shooting and killing her videotaping lover because he's panicking. Arquette crosses paths with woman, gets her downtown, and they bust her.
One recording per act, each recording 3-4 minutes long at least, and all our hero did was basically watch them as the plot unfolded on tape and was more or less resolved. Turned out the woman had traded the camera in after killing her lover and the store sold it to Arquette.
That was it. Suspense? What suspense? There was more home/personal life than you usually see in most investigative mysteries on tv these days - is that its hook?
Who watches this show? Who likes this show? I am genuinely curious and will not mock (know thy potential competition). 'Medium' (and 'Ghost Whisperer' for that matter) seems to be doing decent ratings and is in its third season - someone's watching and I want to understand why.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Keeping TV Time...And The 80% Solution
"Doing a movie or a play is like running a marathon. Doing a television show is like running until you die." -- David MametI get what Mamet is saying here, but don’t agree with him a hundred percent. Doing a TV series can also be like running a marathon...if you adopt the 80% Solution.
As stated ad nauseam, story department on a TV series is one long monster grind of writing, rewriting, troubleshooting, and crisis management. For example, I came in last week to find the execs scrambling to try to replace an actor who'd suddenly become unavailable. They were having frantic calls with casting directors and agents. Absolute chaos. The other thing I was told that one of the episodes that was presently filming was coming in short. And how did they know? The timings.
A timing is the estimated length of the episode after the script is 'timed' by the script supervisor (who also does continuity). Simply put, he/she acts out each scene in the script with a stop watch - marks that time down beside each scene - and adds them all up to get the estimated length of that script.
In the case of a television half hour, there's one important number and that is the content time. In Canada and US it usually comes in at around 21:40 (a one hour episode content-wise is around 41:30). Content is the actual story. What makes up the rest of the half hour when it goes to air are titles, credits, bumpers, and commercials. So as a writer/producer, the number you are most concerned with is that content time.
In a half hour, ideally the script supervisors timing comes in around 25 minutes. That gives your producers and editors some flexibility to tighten scenes or take some scenes right out if they didn't work or are deemed unnecessary. Timings that come in much longer than that start to cause you grief of having to edit out too much from the show to get it down to time. Coming in under with your timings is a fairly self-evident problem - the episode won't be long enough.
Then, as the episode shoots, you constantly ask for updates on the timings. That means taking what the script supervisor estimated (say 45 seconds for a scene) and the actual time it took to shoot the scene (say the actors read it faster and it comes in at 30 seconds), and comparing these times to see if you are over or under. So when a call comes in that episode has been losing time and is now adding up to 21:00 - it's short.
That’s what I walked into - with just 4 scenes left to shoot in the episode, two later that day.
So it became my job to basically write a minute or so worth of new material into each remaining scene but not make it seem like filler. I couldn’t add new scenes because the shooting schedule was already packed full. It wasn’t that difficult, kinda fun actually. When the parameters are fixed and there’s little room to maneuver, I find it easier to address a problem and solve it. But first I talked to the production designer to find out how much more of a location was dressed and what we’d be able to see. And talked to props to make sure they had a cell phone I’d added to a scene was standing by. And I talked to wardrobe to make sure if actors took off their coats (as I had them doing) in one scene, they were wearing something underneath.
So I rewrote the scenes, and we published new pages (yes, coloured pages) for those scenes and got them quickly to set so the actors could learn the new lines and director could see what he now had to shoot. All before lunch! And they did shoot them. And by the middle of the next day, the episode's timing was up to 23:40 - two minutes over.
Not the best case scenario, but the 80% solution.
80% is a great target to aim for under those kinds of circumstances - a nice manageable target of accomplishment. If your goal is always a hundred percent perfection, you'll kill yourself, or kill the series, or both. And you'll always be unhappy or unsatisfied if you expect that much of yourself or your crew. Maybe you can expect more on a movie, because it's a one time deal, but a series isn't one show...it's a season of many shows. The series is king, not an episode.
Most series in Canada shoot 13 episodes a season (in the U.S. anywhere from 20-24 eps). If a half hour series, you usually have 8 days to shoot 2 episodes...and the total time commitment is around 50-55 days. If a one hour series, 6-7 days per episode is the going rate, and so the time commitment is usually around 80-90 days. And that's just when you're shooting. If you are on staff, you usually start six to eight weeks prior to shooting commencing. That will add another 50 days or so. So depending on what kind of series you're on, you'll be buried for 100-140 days (at least double that if a 22 episode season).
And I've worked on shows where execs did treat every episode as if it were the only show. And maybe that first episode turned out good (though usually it was a disappointment because expectations were too high or it was over-worked or over-written or over-produced), but it always came at a price. Other episodes suffered because everyone's attention and energy was being focused on that one episode. There needs to be a point in the development of or writing of or shooting of each episode when it is decided that it's good enough. Or as good as it will be under the circumstances. And move on.
Not that I'm suggesting you should settle for crap. Or to phone it in. But like a marathon, you can and should pace yourself. And rather than a single 100% episode and then three 50% episodes, you and your series will be better off to make them all 80% good.
Oh, and the execs replaced the actor. The replacement did a great job.
Crisis? What crisis?
SONG&ARTIST? - "Jackboots, hi-jacks
Ray guns and spray guns
We got them all for free
Look to the stars for consolation
It could be there lookin' at me
It could be there lookin' at me
Send me down a simple solution
Send me down a simple solution now."
The Power Of Words...
He slays me sometimes.
Don't you hate it when sleep comes, and then a bad dream takes it away from you almost immediately. When do nightmares cease? Aren't they just supposed to be an ugly sidebar of our youth and then stop when we grow up? That's what I was told. Liars. Do I have it all wrong? Or is it that we just never really grow up.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I Smell Bagels...
Smile I did.
Showtime No Show?
But when I click that incoming link, I get a page with this message...
Sorry. We at Showtime Online express our apologies; however, these pages are intended for access only from within the United States.What's up with that? What don't they want me to see? Don't the internet tubes flow both directions? I must have answers...now!
Selling Sleeper Cell
Yeah I know....MORE great tv to watch, as if we don't have enough to do. Tonight on Showtime (and Movie Central here in Canada), 'Sleeper Cell' begins it's second season (or maxi-series as I call them now - there were ten episodes in the first season, and eight I believe in the second). Cool, gripping 'must see' tv - and as far as I can tell, the entire second season plays this week with one episode a night.
Here's a second season teaser trailer.
Here's a longer second season preview.
Remember the series 'Wiseguy'? Stephen J.Cannell's groundbreaking late 80's crime drama series about a guy going undercover to infiltrate the mob? Sleeper Cell reminds me a little of that series. By giving us in depth looks at both sides of the picture (the federal agents and the cell terrorists) you find yourself relating to the characters, even members of the cell. And empathizing with them in some way -- seeing them as just humans. Like 'The Wire' or 'Traffic' or 'Syriana', this series is a tough watch, but ultimately a satisfying one.
And hats off to Showtime. Once HBO's bitch, with 'Weeds', 'Dexter', 'Brotherhood', and 'Sleeper Cell' - viewers are grooving to the new shows...exciting creative players are wanting to work with the network...they've turned their boat around.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
And The Role Of Howard Beale Will Be Played By Bill Brioux...
Brioux brings up the issue:
CanWest, CTV and CBC are boo-hooing that the good old days of English Canadian TV are over and the gravy train has jumped the rails. Costs are up and audiences and ad revenue are down. Broadcasters want more money and they think they know how to get it: They want in on the subscriber fee bonanza.
Then he points out a problem:
English broadcasters say they need extra revenue to produce more great Canadian programming. They should be laughed out of Gatineau. If you look at their track record, they will take every cent and spend it in the United States. CTV, the Yankees of TV, spend their way to a title every spring. They have more shelf space than IKEA.
According to one published report, Canadian broadcasters spent $401 million on U.S. shows and $86 million on Canadian, a 5-to-1 ratio. Any wonder, then, that 19 of the Top-20-rated shows in English Canada are American? That's the real crisis, not the broadcasters' bottom line.
Then he offers up a way to solve the problem:
There is a solution. It is bold, obvious and ridiculously simple. Listen up:
- Restrict Canadian broadcasters to just 10 prime-time hours of imported programming a week.
CTV, say, could keep all three CSIs, American Idol, Desperate Housewives, Criminal Minds, Amazing Race, Grey's Anatomy, ER and, okay, Ghost Whisperer. Global hangs on to House, Survivor, Deal Or No Deal, 24, Prison Break, Heroes, Simpsons/Family Guy, Shark, Numb3rs and Gilmore Girls.
CHUM keeps everything, including Ugly Betty, and picks up the Law & Order franchise and a few other goodies that new corporate daddy CTV can no longer schedule. Ditto Global Jr., CH, and its Two And A Half Men, NCIS keepers.
That leaves 12 hours for indigenous, made-in-Canada programming. I'd even settle for 11 hours of imported, 11 hours of Canadian per network in prime time -- 50/50.
You wouldn't need a drama quota, as the creative community is demanding -- English-language broadcasters would be forced to boost their Can-con to complete their schedules. You wouldn't need to pay more for your cable bill, or buy a grey-market satellite dish, or switch back to an antenna.
Call it the Cap, the import rule, the CFL solution.
Interesting. Does this make sense to people? Any merit to this solution?
I don't really have any arguments other than to wonder how something like this could get implimented when the industry up here seems to have a review or a hearing every year or so and then about a year later a report gets published and recommendations made...but by then the industry has changed so much that another review or hearing has to be called again to try to catch up.
Friday, December 08, 2006
CBC < = > BBC One?
BBC One is the mainstream channel offered by the BBC. It's publicly funded and has to draw a fine balance between content that wouldn't get on a commercial channel, and popular content. So it seems to me that we can and should compare BBC One to CBC.Thanks for that, Piers. I can try to answer your question shortly (I think the numbers are comparable) but if someone else wants to take a whack at it please do.
Anyway, let's do some math. BBC One budgets for popular mainstream drama come in at around the £630-700k/hour mark (source). As the BBC doesn't carry adverts (so an hour show is actually an hour of programming), that translates to £525k an hour at the top end. Plug that into an exchange calculater and you get somewhere between 1 to 1.2 million Canadian dollars per hour to put the same sort of money on-screen.
The top ten dramas in the UK on the week ending 5th November 2006 averaged 6.5 million viewers in a country of 61 million people (Source: Broadcast, 10 Nov 2006, and The CIA). Ignoring demographics for ease of calculation, that means a top ten drama across all UK channels has about one in ten of the population watching.
Now, we don't have the US Simulcast problem or two official languages to deal with, so I don't think we can compare the viewing figures directly, but one question does spring to mind: Is CBC spending the same sort of money as the BBC's mainstream publicly funded channel per hour of mainstream drama?
I'd still be interested in hearing about a similar network in the U.S. to the CBC, besides PBS.
Then Coffeecup offers up this tidbit:
Here is a direct link to a recent podcast by Paul Gross who talks about this exact thing for an hour - he's very forthright, and also offers some
And then Mef closes with:
I worry sometimes that every series produced in Canada has become a referendum on whether or not Canadian tv or the cbc should exist.Sometimes good shows don't catch on and you can't always point a finger and say, oh if there were more promotion, or if it were jazzier, or if the act outs were stronger, or the stakes were higher, or more heart, or more dynamic energy, or a talking horse lived next door...I hear ya...really I do. This 'what is good Canadian TV' and 'how do we get more people to watch Canadian TV' and 'what should the CBC be' and 'why don't more people watch the CBC' debate has raged on for freakin' years, trust me. Just trying to be helpful and constructive.
Back shortly, please talk amongst yourselves.
Travis Is Single In The City...
Because they made me smile...
P.S. check out the seriously serious comment-ary from the previous post. Well said everyone.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
All That Jazziness?
Intelligence is the story of Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey), third generation crime boss, and Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) Director of Vancouver's Organized Crime Unit, who made deals with the devil - that is, each other. Jimmy agreed to work with Mary as a star informant, and Mary made a deal to protect Reardon from prosecution. It is a cat and mouse game of exploitation and cover-up as each camp uses intelligence agents to build their enterprises.It's a very good series (I do enjoy it), well acted, well shot, plot keeps you guessing...so why aren't we posting sexy pix of its stars and discussing the virtues or shortcomings of the show? Is it because we are still aiming (even subconsciously) to please our neighbours to the south (or over in the U.K. for that matter) and even as bloggers not wanting to turn off those readers (all twenty of them) by gabbing about a series we know nobody there has seen or even heard of? Or is it because we like it and admire it but aren't really jazzed about it?
For the viewer, being jazzed about a series is what it's all about. And for creators, having fans jazzed about your show means they'll try to get others jazzed about it. And that's a good thing.
Now it may not work for 'Day Break' - even though in the past couple days we've witnessed a handful of people say they are putting it on their 'must see' list...people even posting Moon Bloodgood pics without having ever seen the show (I found that hysterical by the way) - but 'jazziness' has certainly worked for 'Dexter' and 'Heroes'.
So I tried to get jazzed, and I googled the show Intelligence for some sexy pix. But came up empty. Nothing. Not 'no sexy pics' nothing. No pics period. I finally found a link at a CBC site which led me to the Official site and then Chris Haddock's (the show creator) production company site. But I couldn't save the pix at the Official site to my desktop, until I went back later and found a few shots in the download section. But I was already getting annoyed. This was taking too much energy. I found myself saying...I like the show, but I don't like it that much.
And then to top it all off, Blogger wasn't letting me upload any pics tonight..aaarrrghhh! So this was the hottest shot I could find (none of the stars have posed in Maxim yet it seems).
Wait a sec, one finally uploaded.
And I know it's not just about 'sexy time' photo's but yeesh...I found these and a few reviews gushing praise, and that's about it. Now I'm starting to see what Diane says she's up against trying to promote Canuck television. Sigh.
Look, I know word of mouth and buzz and 'jazziness' comes from out there in viewerland...it's not something you can create or orchestrate. Or can you? Either way, your viewer has to be jazzed to want to jazz others.
I'm tempted to throw up one more Bloodgood photo but I think Caroline and Diane would barf...
What to do...what to do...
Just letting this swirl around my brain....let it swirl around your brain and tell me what you think.