Monday, June 29, 2009

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

First, we write it.

Then we try to sell it, and we rewrite it again. Then they try to develop it, and we rewrite it again. Then they try to finance it, and we rewrite it again. Then they try to cast it, and we rewrite it again. Then they try to direct it, and we re write it again. Then they try to film it, and we rewrite it again. Then they try to edit it, and we rewrite it again.

It's what I call the circle of (writing a shows) life.

It may all start with your 'idea', but unless you're independently wealthy and incredibly multi-talented, producing movies and television is a collaborative medium. Beginning screenwriters may think they only have to write it well once, but developing and financing and directing and casting and shooting inevitably leads to rewriting and rewriting and rewriting some more.

Successfully navigating and ultimately appeasing the different masters and monsters at each stage of the 'making' of a film or television program...that's really the work and the job* of a screenwriter all wrapped up into one.

Hakuna Matata.

*not that I'd ever call John August or John Gatins 'wrong'...I just see it a little differently

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fur Burgers!

A day late but better late than never, Friday Fun is a wicked example of how a memorably bizarre cameo by Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle essentially resurrected his career...

Because it makes me smile.

Friday, June 26, 2009


There's a lot of things that tick me off about the Canadian TV biz, but Jim Henshaw has a post up that takes dead aim at one of them that pushes me to the edge...our specialty channels, their so-called 'genre specific' programming, and specifically, History Television (Canada's History Channel).

In fact, if you look at The History Channel's overall schedule, you're hard pressed to believe they're anywhere close to exhibiting Canadian programs "not less than 40% of the evening broadcast period".

And when barely any of those "Canadian" non-NCIS offerings deal with actual Canadian history, opting to explore urban legends, the T-Rex and Dracula, you begin to see that The History Channel has less interest in history than becoming yet another re-run platform for its corporate conglomerate's library.

As one of my visitors recently commented:

"Specialty channels are making rates of return of more than 20%.... Not hard to do when you regurgitate every property you've ever owned onto every channel it kinda almost maybe fits. Hey, we own 'Blue Murder'. It has women on it, so its a great fit for Showcase Diva AND it has people moving in it, so its a match for Showcase Action too! And its a cop show, so its PERFECT for Mystery as well."

Arguing that any of our Specialty Channels actually specialize within their genre is the current "Big Lie" in Canadian broadcasting, with The History Channel being perhaps the most hypocritical offender.

Jim goes on to say:

Despite getting slapped on the wrist for some of this by the CRTC, The History Channel just kept soldiering further from what it was licensed to do, simultaneously spitting in the faces of the CRTC Commissioners they knew were toothless and holding up the genre protection that regulator had granted them to prevent anybody else from delivering actual historical content.

Read the rest of what Jim has to say HERE.

I've also bitched about History Television in the past (back then it was owned by it's owned by CanWest Media), but now I've realized what's actually bugging me is the fact that the CRTC, our broadcasting regulatory commission, has no teeth. I mean, sure, the Commissioners can speak sternly or issue recommendations or even 'respectfully disagree', but that's just another way of saying they can do f*** all. They can't shut a BDU or broadcaster down, they can't suspend a license, they can't even impose fines for crying out loud...geez! And all the while we whine and moan about what the CRTC isn't doing, but what can they do, really?

You can't enforce when you've got no bat.

Recently, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued a report HERE (I know, another report) on the Issues and Challenges Related to Local Television...and while they had several worthwhile recommendations (I know, more recommendations), one in particular stood out for me.


The Committee calls on the Government of Canada to examine regulatory or legislative changes that would provide the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission with the ability to impose Administrative Monetary Penalties on broadcasters or broadcasting distribution undertakings deemed not in compliance of their licence.

Go for it, Government of Canada. Give 'em some teeth. And the road to implementing a provision that significant might make for a pretty interesting documentary that could air on, say, History Television, at some point in the future...between reruns of NCIS and Mash of course.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Just Watch...Just Watch....

Why are we taping my reaction?

Oh the internets can be such fun, but they can also be a sick weird frightening place. The first time I was convinced to play the "Just watch...just watch..." game was nearly fifteen years ago and involved farm animals...


Friday, June 19, 2009

Canada's First Movie Mogul

I'm successful because I 'know hip'.

Rick Moranis kills like Friday Fun should in this hilarious clip HERE that has to be 20+ years old yet still sounds like it could've been recorded today.

Bernie, get your robe on!

Because it makes me smile.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Musical Interlude

Trying to shake my head clear of some of the wonky Canadian TV Biz white noise that's become a recurrent theme round here of late...hopefully some quick and dirty musical notes on some of my preferred recent cd purchases will do the its now summertime (finally), and the living should be easier.

Life And Times - Bob Mould

Dark, edgy, electric...more Sugar than Solo...'Life And Times' isn't some brand new thing, but any Mould is better than no Mould in my opinion. SAMPLE.

LotusFlow3r - Prince

Two great cd's that could've been one brilliant one (isn't that always the case?), but still plenty worth grooving to, and lotsa lotsa guitar...that boy still can play. SAMPLE.

Townes - Steve Earle

Tribute album to late singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt, but Earle still makes the songs his own. Heart-wrenchingly beautiful. SAMPLE.

The Hazards of Love - The Decemberists

A folk rock concept album that tells a story...has a late 60's/early 70's feel, with every song flowing into the next one, which didn't seem like something I would like but I'm enjoying it...a lot. SAMPLE.

Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane - Elvis Costello

Reminiscent of country albums from early in Costello's career like 'Almost Blue' and 'King of America', it's like a nice lazy Sunday afternoon stroll. Nice. SAMPLE.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Losing Your Show Is Like...

Everyone says having your show cancelled is like a death but I've been dead before and at least when you're dead you don't get thrown off the Warner Bros. lot for haunting your old parking space. They probably mean it's like the death of a friend or a family member but that shit only hurts when it's YOUR friend or family member and even then it's mitigated by age, lifestyle and whether that person was a Hollywood friend or a real one and whether that family member left you money.

Losing your show is more like a surprise divorce where you get served papers in the morning and your (ex)wife is fucking Human Target by three in the afternoon using the same time slot your child was conceived in and also where she did that one thing that one time on your birthday.

I'm sure this has been everywhere already, but I just read it. And I howled...through the tears.

Josh Friedman posts the above and more about the final days of his TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Feel his pain HERE.

I've been lucky I in, knowing ahead of time it was going to be the final season for all five TV series I was involved with at the end. We weren't cancelled as much as stopped. It didn't feel great...but it wasn't a shock either. Getting cancelled, on the other hand, gots to be a pretty tough pill to swallow.

PS A note to newbies to the media blog circles --- if you've never visited I Find Your Lack Of Faith Disturbing... Go. Now. Find Friedman's archives, start at the beginning, and treat yourself to some of the funniest insider film/tv industry reading out there...from one of the 'original six'.

Craving Cola...

Or Coke addict.

Part of me likes this ad...a lot to discover in each viewing, and a splendid example of sound juxtaposed with image...but it also kinda creeps me out.

Not sure if that's a good thing for a commercial to do.

Monday, June 15, 2009

This Knob Wants Names!

I had a few more Banff posts I wanted to do, like notes from a couple of really wicked 'Making and Pitching Children's TV' panels I attended which I'll try to get up eventually. Instead I'm gong to relate a couple of introductory incidents from the festival that were seemingly insignificant...or were they?

One involved being introduced to a small group including some mid-level network execs, and one of them remarked: "Ah, Will of the bloggers." It was said with a small smile, but I felt like the subtext was: " of the crazies...or difficult ones...or one of the snobs even." Are we the snobs? God I hope not. We're just talking here on the blog circuit...trying to share and educate and discuss and kibitz...seriously, that's all.

But it took me back to the recent NY Times article where Flashpoint exec producer Anne Marie La Traverse (I know I swore I'd leave this one alone, but still...) was quoted as saying: “There's a snobbery about commercial shows here, among writers particularly,” La Traverse said. “Everyone dreams of doing a dark HBO series. There's a resistance. It took us a while to find writers who embraced this shape,” she added, “and wanted to be accessible, relatable, heroic, emotional, all the choices we really wanted to make.”

Really. Really?

TV writer Denis McGrath, another blogger, took exception, and then our friend John Doyle at Globe & Mail joined the fray and defended the Flashpoint exec's comments:

Thing is, La Traverse is correct, as I see it. Yes, many members of the tribe of Canadian TV writers take themselves very, very seriously indeed. They complain constantly. They complain about network executives and producers. They complain that their work is being diluted and diminished by people who are not, you know, artists. They complain about press coverage of their work. They complain about the lack of promotion for their work, often without reason. Most are decent, interesting people, devoted to creating really good television. But some of them make up the biggest chip-on-the-shoulder bunch in the entire arts and entertainment world. There are a few who sneer outright at those Canadian shows that are a commercial success. There are some who are, as La Traverse says, outright snobs.
Really John? Really?

I want names. Seriously. I want to know who the TV writer snobs are out there, because I sure don't know any.

I mean, I know what I am...I'm a mid-level TV writer/director/producer with some worthy credits on my resume, and some less than worthy credits (like the MAJORITY of anyone working in Canadian TV has). But I will say most of them are of the commercial variety...and snobbery hasn't really entered into the equation. During April's WGC Awards night in Toronto, I was pleasantly surprised to run into so many TV writers that I'd met, worked with, directed or written for, hired even, over the past fifteen years or so of what I'd like to call a career. And I'm pretty certain that, like me, none of them turned ever down a gig because they felt they were above the material.

In fact, yet another TV writer and blogger, Jim Henshaw, tells it like it is and more in his brilliant post Mexicans In Sweaters (MUST READ, HERE)

Now we’re “complainers” or we’re “difficult” or we’re “snobs”. Like the creeds and nationalities and races before us, it’s easier for some to snigger that somebody thinks they’re Hemingway or Shakespeare or Frank McCourt than to figure out if they, perhaps, just might be.

It’s always easier to be arrogantly dismissive than to engage those who don’t share your world view as possible equals.

I’ve run shows and hired writers in a half dozen countries over the last 25 years. Hundreds of writers. And unlike some of our current successes, many of the shows I ran were pure, unadulterated crap. ‘Cleavage and Dinosaurs’ as I’m wont to describe the formula.

But even if the shows I was working on demanded vivid decapitations, misogyny or ridiculous leaps of logic, I’ve never had a single writer turn me down because they thought they were better than the show.

They turned me down because they were busy, absolutely hated the show or didn’t think they could write a good script for it.

Not one ever gave the least impression the material was beneath them.

That’s because good writers know that nothing is an unworthy subject nor is there a title that might not come in handy on their resume someday.


Of course Denis fired back again at Doyle, and La Traverse and Doyle are certainly entitled to their opinion, but this sniping back and forth without naming names or citing examples is ultimately as fruitless and useless as CanWest Global's Barb Williams outlining how the Canadian TV biz really works to the CRTC during the recent in-camera meetings, and inferring that the creatives in this country just don't get it...and then having the entire passage WE WON'T KNOW WHAT SHE SAID! AND THEREFORE WON'T KNOW WHAT WE APPARENTLY DON'T GET!

(I hope you've saved your pdf copy of said transcripts, because not only were they redacted further after they were initially released, but now they've been taken down completely)


Anyway, the other Banff introductory incident I wanted to relate was a somewhat sheepish but excited CTV network exec sidling over to me and McGrath while we were at the Western BBQ and exclaiming: "Fanboy alert! Fanboy alert!" Denis and I kinda just looked at him as he introduced himself and continued: "I just have to shake the hands of two of my favourite bloggers, especially seeing the both of you live and in person and offline. Very cool."

We yakked with him for a while. Had a few laughs. That's not how snobs behave, is it?

Now if La Traverse or Doyle had said there are some Canadian TV writers that are outright knobs...well, I'd definitely be put in my place. Just sayin...maybe it was a typo.

I still want names though.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Spec Script Write-out?

Another NHL season is done...and there was some good hockey played this year I must say - congrats to the Pens. And as for the Infamous Writers Playoff Pool, it finished in a tie between Will Pascoe and Moviequill (aka Todd Gordon). Since a penalty shot shootout is impossible, we've decided they're both winners.

Jimmy has the final wrap up HERE...thanks to everyone for playing and see you all next year!

Friday, June 12, 2009


Basil Fawlty is one of the most memorable characters ever created for a sitcom...but as creator John Cleese reveals HERE, the character was based on a real hotelier, although Cleese acknowledges in the interview he had to play him much taller. Friday Fun goes all farcey when Basil flips out after discovering a con artist guest has been posing as a Lord.

Because it makes me smile.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Observing Directors

One of the first breaks I got after graduating film school was being accepted as a director observer on a teen drama limited series being shot out in Vancouver, and then again on a paranormal action series being shot in Toronto. I learned tons from both opportunities...from two very friendly and forthcoming directors who let me sit in on every part of the process, to a multitude of friendly and forthcoming crew members more than willing to share their on-the-set expertise with a newbie.

Last night I observed a couple of other directors doing their thing at the Banff TV Festival annual Western BBQ.

Hoser faces aside (and Winning leaning in trying to squeeze me out of the shot, like always), David Winning (l) and Grant Harvey (c) supplied me with lottsa laughs as we kibitzed and commiserated about the struggling state of the biz...what makes for a good/bad agent....the never ending hustle for the next gig...when the filming of TV movies in Canada was going to drop down to only 10 shooting days (frak!)...and which film was better, All The Presidents Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Deliverance.

Directors are a different breed than writers...generally a little more buoyant and outgoing rather than quiet and inward, but still have the more or less the same insecurities, fears, questions, complaints as scribes --- I feel comfortable in either camp. And I still learn tons from observing and listening to other directors...hearing them explain what makes for good storytelling may be different than hearing a writer explain the same, but no less valid.

As for the BBQ...t'was a pale imitation of its once wondrous self. Yes it was chilly, but attendance was poor to dismal...the beef mediocre...and with dj's and solo musicians instead of the usual full-piece bands performing in the tents, and most people heading back to their hotels after only a couple of hours, it was not particularly...memorable.

I've heard that Festival organizers really had to scramble to make the most of what they had this year considering the recession and a lower than expected turn-out...but it really feels like the event has lost something over the past couple years. I'm not sure what that something is exactly (one long-time attendee speculated that the fest has 'lost its soul')...certainly the international competition and 'awards' haven't got the same lustre and prestige...or perhaps the timing of the fest doesn't quite jive anymore with the Canadian network decision makers schedule (though interesting to note that like next to nobody was here from Rogers Media - busy with fall launch and announcement of their simulcast purchase of 16 weekly U.S. hours I suppose) ...but anyway, the festival needs some fixing.

Skins And Burn Notice...Effy(n) Super Shows

Watch a preview of Season 3 of super cool Brit series Skins HERE, coming in July to Super Channel here in Canada.

And tomorrow night catch the premiere of Season 3 of the super cool series Burn Notice, also only in Canada on Super Channel.

Some cool summer viewing. Sweet.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Banff Hump Day or Hump Banff Day...Your Call

Today marks the mid-point of the Banff TV Festival...about to head into another day of meetings, panels and seminars. It's definitely more subdued this year, lots of smiles and hugs tempered by a definite undercurrent of doom and gloom as pretty much everyone who buys or orders or commissions seems to be in some sort of spending-freeze mode. And it feels like attendance is how much I have no idea. But driving down Main St. and seeing the 'Vacancy' sign lit up out front of almost every hotel pretty much tells the tale.

And been slow on the updates as my shiny new computer I purchased about a year ago (note: 1 year warranty) with its fancy shmancy 3 hour long lasting battery has crapped out over the past week and dropped down to giving me about half an hour of battery life. Grr.

Took in several sessions yesterday, including the talented two-some of Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern joining CBS Development Exec Christina Davis to discuss the birth of Flashpoint; reps from Starz and HBO and CBS with Shaftsbury Films uber-producer Christina Jennings examining the recent success of Canadian-made shows making their way onto the U.S. prime time schedule; John Morayniss relating in a very entertaining and informative fashion the business of running the business of new 'big man on Canadian campus' E1 Entertainment. Oh, and yet another Digital Futures/New Media panel that made me want to pull my hair out.

As in, I'm so tired of attending these sessions and hearing that the digital online revolution is upon us and TV is dead, etc. etc...and we've got to integrate and cross platform and all kinds of other buzz words... then they predict monetization will be some sort of an online subscriber model...and then the example given is 'The Simpsons', and that in the future we will be financing programs and series like The Simpsons by subscribing to the actual show or a company that specializes in it and other like shows...but then NO ONE brings up or even talks about how these 'subscribers', or anyone for that matter, will ever hear about or know about or grow to like/love/want to pay for the 'new' The Simpsons if there is no television out there to introduce it to viewers and spread the love. The supposed far-reaching power of media critic reviews and viral videos is not gonna do it kids....seriously, frak!

Anyway, the Epstein has been hustling, like seriously hustling...the man doesn't stop. And great to see colleagues John Callaghan, Will Pascoe, Gordon Langlois, Rob De Lint, Josh Miller, Tobi Lampard, Michael some of the former students I've taught as well as a lot of the Ink Canadians...the CTF's Valerie Creighton and the WGC's Maureen Parker and Rebecca Schechter, and of course CanWest Showrunner School attendees Eriksen and the McGrath. Dude, YOU were inside the St. James Gate last night? (note to those wondering: someone laid a big projectile puke all over the entrance to the Gate late last evening...some were brave enough to make the leap and enter, I was not).

But whilst outside still got to reacquaint with Vancouver producer Cal Schumiatcher, see Steven DeNure again and meet the lovely Beth Stevenson, both from Decode Entertainment. And tip of the hat to Kevin Beggs and co. from Lionsgate and Maple Pictures for putting on a swell party at the Hoodoo Lounge last night.

Minor celeb sightings.

Sarah McLachlan is a serious stunner. Paul Gross is also a stunner, but was sporting some wild-ass hair-extension thingee for a role in the feature Gunless he is currently filming.

I wish I had a picture of him walking the corridors here with that 'do' and not in period wardrobe...quite the sight.

More random quotes:

"I got my skirt caught in a bathroom fan."

"It's still worth attending Banff...I think."

"The new model for branding and delivery will resemble the retail model."

Meanwhile, Jim Henshaw has been quietly suggesting ways to help rebuild homegrown Canadian TV, HERE and HERE and then HERE. Go read him now.

And to commemorate 20 years of in it was 1989 was when I first attended festival, here's a production still from Brian Stockton's The 24 Store of that same year when I portrayed the sleazy roommate in one of my few (very few, thankfully) attempts at acting.

And so it goes.

Monday, June 08, 2009

When It Doesn't Rain It Snows

So I'm HERE for a few days.

This is the KINDA STUFF that's going on.

The weather has been kinda COLD and RAINY.

But so far so good. Ink Canada's 'Rumble in the Rundle' last night was good fun.

Heritage Minister James Moore said HE WASN'T WORRIED about the future of Canada's culture, including its film and TV industries.

That said, continuing to crack the U.S. market seems to be the top order of EVERYONE'S BUSINESS.

Some memorable quotes:

"I dress down for meetings with agents"

"Neo Nazis hated my movie...shouldn't that be a good thing?"

"TV isn't dead...not by a long shot."

If you see me, come say hello. More as it happens.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

My Beautiful, My Beautiful Balloon

I don't have much else to say other than Disney/Pixar's Up took me up, up and away. Dazzling, stunning, moving, touching...a deft blend of whimsy and poignancy, heartache and life-affirming spirituality...if you're an adult you really don't need the 'just taking the kids' excuse to see this movie (though that was my excuse).

I was impressed by pretty much every aspect of Up, but what especially won me over was the score composed by Michael Giacchino. Listen to 'Married Life', an early piece that underscored a beautiful five minute 'silent sequence' sans dialogue, and established the recurrent musical medody that reverberates from beginning to end:

Later in the film, under another 'silent sequence', Giacchino performs a sparse, sad version of the above tune...which gave me the opportunity to explain variations on a theme in film scoring to my youngest daughter after she exclaimed: "Hey...that sounded the same as before, but different!"

The simple marriage of this melancholy melody with these two very different yet dramatic sequences was so emotionally pure in its aching sincerity, I was genuinely moved while a cartoon no less!

Oh, and in case I've got you thinking it was all drama all the time... the talking dog with the high squeaky voice killed.

Best film I've seen this year. Giddy Up and go.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Little Tongue N' Cheek(s)...

Friday Fun is a recent Budlight web-only ad depicting the wacky hi jinks that ensue when a guy tries to buy a porn magazine with his beer...

Funny-ish...but remarkably similar to this Woody Allen bit from Bananas I posted a couple months ago that was written in like, 1972!

Paying homage? Or a total rip...

Oh well...they both make me smile.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Writing Is Like Having A Poo...'s really hard if you don't want to go. But there comes a time when you have to go...and if you're ready, that's when it should be right (to write, as it were). Where some people falter is when they start writing too soon..."

"Finish it. It's not a script until it's finished. Let's be blunt, you're not a writer if its all in your head, or if you've only written two pages...shut up, stop wasting time, and finish it."

"Characters should be three people in one. I mean, most characters should be a good three people you know...and you don't literally pick, but, like Frank, is like four people from my family...both male and female, but they'll never know which bits are them."

"Good screenwriting means accepting it's better if the audience is confused for ten minutes than bored for five seconds."

"The thing about writing is that first draft is so's so hard you think, I don't ever want to do that again. And what people don't realize is that the difficulty of that first draft, it's only for the first draft....the second draft will become easier. And the third draft easier still..and by the fourth draft you'll be having such a good time because you've stripped away all the dead wood."

Hear these and other glorious nuggets of wisdom from several UK television writers being interviewed by Screenwipe's Charlie Brooker, Featuring: Russell T Davies, Paul Abbott, Tony Jordan, Graham Linehan, Jesse Armstrong, and Sam Bain.

Below is a sampling:

But just watch the entire episode. It's a great one hour of telly about writing for the telly (yeah, I know, an hour - who's got an hour these days...but it's really good!)






Charlie Brooker. When he's not taking the piss out of TV like HE DOES HERE, he's giving us gold like this episode on TV screenwriting. I love the guy.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

And Then There Were Two...

Two teams left in the playoffs and it looks like a two man race to the finish in our annual hockey pool. Moviequill sits only a couple points ahead of last years victor Will Pascoe, but Detroit is already two games up in the Stanley Cup final, and could wrap series up this week.

It all depends who scores however, as opposed to which team wins...oooo, the excitement!

1. Moviequill - 185
2. Will Pascoe - 183

3. Michael Foster - 174
4. Mark Wilson - 173
5. Allan Eastman - 164
6. Brian Stockton - 163
6. David Kinahan - 163
8. John Callaghan - 161
8. Peter Mitchell - 161
10. Larry Raskin - 154
10. Barry Keifl - 154
12. Scotty William - 133
13. Will Dixon - 127
14. Wil Zmak - 123
14. Jeff Martel - 123
16. Jim Henshaw - 122
17. Daryl Davis - 101
18. Denis McGrath - 71

Jim could be giving final wrap up this weekend if Pittsburgh doesn't get it together...check out his place then to find out.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Breaking Bad season two finale. Wow. Didn't see that coming. Take a bow Vince Gilligan....a little bit Crash, but still, a wicked conclusion to best written and most cinematic series on TV right now. Again, wow.