Friday, July 31, 2009

Small PeePee? Nope, Big VaJayjay

The Friday Fun collection just wouldn't be complete without Larry David curbing our enthusiasm for all things good, bad, and men and women's' preoccupation with 'size' and such.

Because it makes me smile.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rockford Reboot?

The revival madness continues...

It was reported in yesterday's Variety that "House" creator-exec producer David Shore has been hired to shepherd a redo of the classic 1974-80 detective drama TV series that starred James Garner.

"It's one of the shows that made me want to become a writer," Shore said. "I had no interest in adapting any old stuff, but this was the one exception."

Shore's just starting to think about an approach to bring "The Rockford Files" into the present day, but he intends to stick with the basic foundation of a private eye in L.A. just trying to make a living.

"What makes 'Rockford' timeless is that he's vulnerable, he's flawed. He's used to hustling and getting hustled," Shore said. "Sometimes he's a hero and sometimes he runs away."

Yeah yeah was a great show and well written, but for most part the plots/cases were 'open mysteries', and it was leisurely paced, and it had at least one 'driving around' sequence and one car chase sequence (both also somewhat leisurely paced) slotted into every episode {let's face it...Jimbo's 'Firebird' was an important a sidekick as the characters of Angel, Rocky, and Becker}, and next to none of these story-telling devices are prevalent anywhere on television today. Not to mention they didn't have cell phones or computers or the Internet then, and you'd have to integrate those elements now which completely changes the nature of the original Rockfords' detective what are you gonna be 'redoing' exactly?

I suppose you are redoing the character, because the bottom line is, on paper, The Rockford Files concept wasn't that special. It was a light-ish detective/mystery drama starring an ex-con non-confrontational cynic with a heart of gold type character. Kinda like today's Life or Burn Notice. But it was Garner's chops and charm and his chemistry with an interesting array of secondary characters, plus a killer theme song/title sequence, that made it special.

So it will come down to casting (perhaps Bones David Boreanaz will be ready for a change?)...but still, I just don't get it.

And this is no slag on Shore...good guy, talented writer, wish him the best of luck...but why can't it just be announced that Shore is working on a new light detective drama in the vein of Rockford Files? But today, the pre-sold 'brand' seems to trump all, even though the brand of Rockford means next to nothing to the kids today, and means everything in an 'all-time fav show that I don't want you to ruin way' to old folks like me.

I admit it...I have a problem with all the remakes, redo's, reboots tripping over each other these days to get out of Hollywood. I know they're an easier sell, but since most don't click with audiences when they arrive, I really don't see the point. Not to mention we're training a new generation of writers and viewers that nothing original is worth writing/watching/ has to have been made before.

And I think that's sad (although Weinman may now be able to sell his quick and spiffy and slick updated version of the Rockford Files opening:

A Rockford Files redo. Agree? Disagree? Care? At the tone leave your name and number and I'll get back to you.

UPDATE: turns out Jaime Weinman had already written this post on his blog a few hours before me...oh well, at least we kinda sorta seem to agree, though I'll always be a poor man's Angel Martin to his Jimmy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where The Hell Is MGF?

First there was the simple solitary beauty of Where The Hell Was Matt?

Last year the epic and moving sequel Where The Hell Is Matt? went viral.

Then College Humor just went for the cheap laugh...or did they?

Ah, the internets...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Easy To Say, Hard To Write

Over the weekend, Macleans TV critic and friend of the blog Jaime Weinman wrote a great post at his other digs Something Old Nothing New. Inspired by the words of music critic Conrad L. Osborne regarding an opera, Weinman spun it all into some inspired observations on the difference between great and merely effective dramatic writing.

Almost all commercial theatre, television, film, novels, use certain tried-and-true devices. And nearly all of them space out the use of these devices to the moments when they will be most dramatically effective. Musicals need spots for comedy songs, ballads, an "11 o'clock" number; movies and plays need certain set-pieces or types of scenes depending on the genre; TV episodes need to incorporate certain tricks to keep the audience's attention through the episode and especially during breaks.

The distinction between first-rate works and merely good or effective ones is not that the former doesn't use those proven, familiar devices. It's that the former tries to make those devices seem like an organic part of the story. It wants to convince us that a certain thing happens not because convention requires it, not because this is the moment in the evening when a certain type of response needs to be obtained from the audience, but because the characters would logically do this at this point. Of course they're also doing it because convention requires it, because the actor/singer needs a showpiece, and many other reasons. But the writer is trying to hide this and make everything seem natural.

If the writer does not succeed in making the events seem like they are driven by the story, and instead makes it too obvious that the story is constructed around the set-pieces and tricks, then the result may still be something entertaining and good. But it's probably not going to work on the highest level.

Read the rest of this very interesting piece HERE.

You work in or even watch enough TV and you know exactly what Jaime's getting at. All dramatic story-telling, but especially episodic television story-telling, is guided by certain rules and expectations. I'll take a drubbing here but I'm just now finally getting around to watching the Battlestar Galactica series. Watched several eps of Season 1 on DVD this weekend actually. Saw "Bastille Day" remember...the prison uprising, all hell breaks loose episode. And it was a fine hour of TV, but it was still a 'prisoners revolt and take one of our heroes hostage' story, even if set in space. That 'plot' device has been used sooooo many times in sooooo many network television series over the years, you could almost call each beat just before it happened. In fact you not only expected one of the heroes get taken hostage...the story demands it!

And that's the constant struggle one has when writing conventional network television (premium pay cable series not so much, though they now have their own rules and devices and conventions even sans commercial breaks). Whether it's a procedural or a medical drama or a crime drama or a soap drama or sci fi drama, there are 'industry standard' devices and conventions for every plot line you devise, and audience and story expectations for each story for each series. And yet you don't want to seem like an 'obvious' writer...frak! What to do?

Of course, the knee jerk reaction is to not give the audience exactly what they 'want' or tell the story people 'expect', so you throw some twists into the plotting. But sometimes those twists or turns won't feel organic to the plot or the series even, and you're back to executing the Fail Jaime describes above: that the story is being constructed around the twists (hello, Dollhouse anyone?) as opposed to the twists and turns being driven by the story.

Take what I'm sure many feel was as good an hour of network TV over the past five years, David Shore's "Three Stories" for House at the end of Season 1. It twisted and turned, it broke rules, it played with perspective...but it was only able to do so effectively because the majority of episodes written to that point in the season did have a predictable (but well-executed) pattern of devices used and conventions established. Same for many of the brilliant Darin Morgan's episodes of The X Files and Millennium...he appeared original, but only because he had a mold to break.

However, those episodes stand out for being different from the norm...and the 'norm' is what most of us watch or most of us get paid to write. So back to Weinman's post, he's absolutely right...a good sign of great TV writing is when the scribe can make those predictable and expected devices seem natural and organic within the established conventions of a series. But it's difficult to do and takes more talent than you'd simple as it sounds, it's waaayyyyy easier said than done.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Then Why Is He So Upset?

The clip below begins at almost the exact point when I first encountered The Larry Sanders Show. It was the mid-nineties and I'd never actually seen any of the comedy series up here in Canada, but was 'flipping' around late night and came across it on the CBC. I thought I'd found a new talk, was I wrong.

(unfortunately the clip cuts off the killer punchline...
Norm MacDonald: Hey... have you seen Hank's tape? Man, it's unbelievable. The guy's got a huge c*ck on him.
Henry Winkler: [pause] Then why is he so upset?)

I remember sitting straight up in bed when the camera went behind the scenes and Norm MacDonald starts talking to Larry about the size of Hank's 'equipment', and thinking...what just happened? What the heck am I watching? But keep watching...boy, did I ever. I mean, Larry, Hank, Artie, Paula, Beverly, Phil, Darlene, Brian...c'mon, who could resist?

Nothing beats that moment when you feel like you 'discover' something...something special...something genius. That night was one of those nights. And it was a Friday night, and therefore qualifies as Friday Fun.

Because it makes me smile.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Character Would Never Write That

I hate just linking somewhere, but I have a headache and some pressing matters to attend to...still, this Ken Levine post on actors giving notes to writers was too good to not recognize.

So it’s just a matter of communicating your concerns in a way that will make us receptive to you and here’s the key – WANT to make those changes.

Quite simply, it’s all about showing us respect.

When we come down to the stage don’t glare at us like we killed your puppy. If the script doesn’t work it, we didn’t do it on purpose. Try to remain positive. Give us the impression that you’re not overly concerned, that you have every faith that we can fix it. Is that hard to do sometime? Yes, of course. But you’re ACTORS. Act!

One trick is to start by praising something. You love “this” but just have some issues with “that”. We know you’re bullshitting We do the same thing when giving notes to other writers. But we appreciate the gesture.

If you want us to shut you off completely just say, “My character would never say that!” Whether it would or not, you say those words and we hate you.

We didn't do it on purpose...seriously. Read all of Ken's great advice HERE.

The best thing about the post is that it applies to execs giving notes to writers, producers giving notes to writers, directors giving notes to writers, writers giving notes to writers...hell, pretty much anyone giving anyone notes on anything. I've worked for or with great note givers, and for or with lousy screaming 'It just sucks' or 'My character wouldn't say that' note givers. The former are a pleasure and a privilege...the latter are teeth-gritting get-ones-back-up flinch-inducers, and great restraint must be used.

Try to be the former.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

When It's Okay To Show Your Tell

No, I'm not talking about poker...I'm talking about writing.

Show don't tell. We've all heard that mantra's Screenwriting Advice 101. Showing brings your characters to life. It lets your reader see and discover your story instead of simply being told or explained it. Well-made engaging films advance through action...lessor films describe or tell the film to the viewer. But when it comes to your first draft and especially if you are just starting out writing screenplays, I've decided it's okay to tell it once first before you get around to the showing.

I just finished story editing two newbie feature scripts that showed their tell in a big way. And I was initially very critical of the work...frustrated by bland description like: Joe walked into the room. He was a skinny man. Or screen direction that explained what the characters were thinking like: Beth looked over at the man who bumped her. It was obvious she didn't like him and wanted to get back at him. Or dialogue that stated the obvious: "We need to get out of here. Hey! There's some stairs, let's go up them." followed by the screen direction - Joe and Beth walked over to the stairs and proceeded to go up them.

I found myself getting more and more annoyed, constantly rewriting in the margins...until I remembered that this was their first draft, and the writers were simply trying to get a story with a beginning middle and end onto the page...poop it out as it were, without getting bogged down figuring out how to show it effectively and efficiently.

I relaxed. And my notes became more about guiding the rewrites instead of just criticizing their tell. Now it's back in their court...hopefully they'll show me a winning hand with the next pass.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Road Tripping

Just back from some camping and cabining and music concert enjoying, so no energy for more than a quick Friday Fun clip from the underrated Road Trip movie that proves the old adage...Tom Green + snakes = funny...

Because it makes me smile.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How To Grow A Movie

Making a film or television show is such a monster like, really have to have to fall in love with your story or your subject matter in order to survive the years of toil it will take to actually get it made.

I recently fell hard for the Punch Brothers band and vocalist/mandolinist extraordinaire Chris Thile. And I decided I was going to look into making a documentary about this remarkable band and the ground-breaking music they are creating.

Too late. Someone was already on it.

Oh well.

Discouraging yes, but How To Grow A Band looks exactly like the movie I would've wanted to make...check out the trailer HERE...and I enjoyed experiencing the buzz and excitement again one feels when they're onto something they really want to see get made.

It's rarely we make movies or TV in Canada for the fame or the's gotta be for love.

Note to self: Feel the love...then make the show.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Skins Me Alive Again, Please

Season 3 of the brilliant UK series Skins continues tonight with episode two...airing in Canada only on Super Channel. Any show that begins with Motorhead's Ace Of Spades gots to be worth watching, no?

Sample a taste HERE.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Punch It Out, Punch It Up, Punch The Clock Even, Brothers

I can now die a slightly happier man having caught Elvis Costello and the Impostors give one of the best live shows I've ever seen (this review from the night before is more in line with what I witnessed). The evening consisted of the Lovell Sisters joining Costello onstage for a wickedly sublime alt folk/country mid-section which he brilliantly bookended with more than a dozen of his old classics:


But the road trip also blessed me with the discovery of a new to me and now all-time fav band...The Punch Brothers featuring mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile (formerly of Nickel Creek):

Thile just sparkles fun and charisma, and doing some kind of pop/blues alt-country chamber new grass thingee, this boy...sorry, these boys, like, played their asses off. Took bluegrass to a whole new should hear them do Radiohead. Seriously.

And I'm saying it...masterpiece.

Thank you Winnipeg Folk Festival...Costello smacked me around the ring but Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers knocked me out.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Save Local....'needle scratch'....Roadtrip!

From, the big announcement today from the CRTC included the following:

In an effort to preserve local TV programming, Canada's broadcast regulator has increased a fund for small TV stations to more than $100 million.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says it is a temporary measure for the 2009-10 broadcast year and will be reviewed in the fall.

The cable and satellite companies have been ordered to contribute 1.5 per cent of their gross broadcasting revenues to the local programming fund, an increase of 0.5 per cent.

Phil Lind, vice-chairman of Rogers Communications Inc., responded to the announcement with a statement that the consumer would end up paying the extra cost, which he estimated at $50 to $100 a year per consumer.

Thanks Rogers, for not beating around the bush at least...of course it will cost us all more to, as Bill Brioux points out, watch local stations produce even less than they already do:

One shocking little detail buried in the fine print in today's CRTC funding announcement: after all that whining from broadcasters--yes, those same "Save Local TV" guys--about how all those local news costs are breaking their business models, the CRTC has lowered the minimum local programming levels to 14 hours a week in big cities and just seven hours a week in "non-metropolitan markets." That is an hour a day. So here is more money--go out and do less.

The money is meant for broadcasters in markets of less than a million people to "to maintain their spending on local news and other types of local programming." Seven hours a week in my non-metropolitan' market amounts to two half hour newcasts a day...I really doubt there will be any other types of programming if the news alone will satisfy the networks' minimum programming requirements. Seriously...nada.

Meanwhile, I write this as I watch The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien on NBC, channel 8 on my dial, but it's being simulcast via the A Channel...but not the 'Regina' A Channel (cuz there ain't one), but the Barrie/Toronto feed of the A Channel. So I'm getting to see commercials for Casinorama, Lavalife (promoting 905 and 416 area codes), Oliver Jewelry on Eglinton, the Shaw Festival, Lastman's Bad Boy..."Noooo-body!"...and promos for their local news.

So, whose local TV will I be supporting or saving again when my cable bill goes up...again?

It's all depressing enough to make one wanna take a I am. Seeing Elvis Costello and the Imposters, and doing some camping.

Catch you in a week or so...enjoy the sun everyone.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

What Is And What Could Never Be...Again?

Former busy blogger and present-day busy UK TV writer James Moran is in today's Telegraph talking about his role in the upcoming 5 part series Torchwood: Children of Earth.

Moran offers some insight into the writing process and what it was like working with the wicked Russell T Davies, but what really struck a chord for me was the following:

When I started out in 2003, nobody here was making science fiction TV. Doctor Who was in limbo, and whenever you mentioned science fiction, people would sadly proclaim, “Ah, but you see, it doesn’t work.” So I wrote a horror movie called Severance. I spent a year writing it, then it sold to a production company, who made it into a successful film. It was only later I discovered getting things made is a rarity in the UK film industry. But by then, UK science fiction TV was thriving.

I wrote more scripts, and got a meeting with the Torchwood producer and script editor, for series two. I was already a fan of the show, and pitched several ideas of my own. They picked one, and I wrote an outline (about three to five pages). I did several more versions, getting notes and feedback at every stage from the script ed, the producers, and Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner, the executive producers.

I then wrote a draft of the script. Again, I’d get notes, feedback, then do the next draft. This continued until it was time to shoot, about five months altogether.

It’s a strange job. You work alone, writing, for weeks, occasionally meeting the team for feedback. So you’re on your own, but constantly supported. Once my episode (Sleeper, the one with the stabby-arm aliens) was finished, they offered me the Doctor Who job. Obviously I had to think it over carefully for 0.3 nanoseconds. It was a dream come true, and I’d love to do more if they’ll have me. After that, I worked on Spooks, Primeval, Spooks Code 9, and Crusoe, in what became the busiest two years of my life.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Moran's recap took me back to a time that doesn't seem that ancient but is in fact approaching ten years ago here in Canada. Everyone it seemed was making sci fi/paranormal/fantasy television (primarily for foreign and US syndicated television markets), and over a four year period I worked on (writing and/or directing) Psi Factor, The Outer Limits, Earth: Final Conflict, The Immortal, Beastmaster, The Lost World...not to mention meetings for Stargate, First Wave, Mysterious Ways, and Dark Angel.

And then, it all mostly kinda went away...those kinds of TV shows I mean. The rules for making Cancon drama changed, and reality television and procedural dramas have ruled the airwaves for the better part of the last decade. I know forms of popular entertainment go in cycles, and we'll never go back to the way things were, but I know I'm ready for semi-return to those days at least.

I've watched Severance, and it was a great calling card. And the 'how things unfolded' that Moran describes is pretty much bang on for anyone who's experienced the same sort of meteoric rise up the ladder. But so much of the key to his or anyone in a similar boat's success is that sci fi came back in a big way in the UK (though, as Warren Ellis points out HERE, that phase seems on its way out). You need the talent, that's for certain, but you also need the genre that you specialize in to be popular at the time when the planets align. Otherwise, won't matter if you're good at something if nobody is making it.

But if your genre is 'in' and you're in the loop, then Moran is dead right when he says it's the best job in the world.

Cheers James...enjoy the ride.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Was It Over When...

...the Germans bombed Pearl Harbour?

Bluto's inspirational speech from Animal House is some mmm good Friday Fun. And I know you might be down and would rather not hear it, but you should, cuz when the going gets tough...




...the tough get going.

Because it makes me smile.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Superhero? Super Channel? Or Super Depressing...

Can good taste alone sustain a nation?

Good question...and the answer is, probably not.

A few years ago, Canadian filmmaker Michael Sparaga and director Blake Van de Graaf made Sidekick, a low budget but fun and clever take on the mythos of the superhero. But faced with the distribution and exhibition issues we all have to deal with here in Canada, Sparaga took his feature on the road, trying to drum up some grassroots interest. The result of that road trip is the documentary Maple Flavour Films.

Kate Taylor reviewed the doc in todays Globe & Mail.

Sparaga has tidily summarized the embarrassing plight of the Canadian film here and, as one of his subjects comments, it is now time for those in the industry to stop talking and start reviewing the possible solutions and either reject or implement them. There are lots of people in this doc ready to say they don't like Canadian movies, but my reaction is always: How would you know you don't like them if you can't ever find them at your local theatre?

Of course, this being the Canadian film industry, Sparaga's story does not have a fairy-tale ending. The point of his tour was to get enough word of mouth going that Sidekick would get a further theatrical release; it didn't. And now his doc is airing on a financially struggling pay channel that is largely eclipsed by its competitors. Oh well, you can also download Maple Flavour Films at iTunes Canada, and it will show up on free TV eventually. You want to be a Canadian superhero, you have to be long on patience.

MFM airs tonight at 8pm on Super Channel, you know, the other movie network you can't easily find on your local dial because of indifferent or biased cable providers. Maple Flavour Films might not be the feel good Canada Day movie you want to see today, but it's certainly worth watching.

Go Celebrate...Buy A TV Station Or Something...

Later Tuesday, a deal that CTV had in place to sell three money-losing stations to cable company Shaw Communications Inc. fell apart. After CTV said in March that it would shut the outlets – in Brandon, Man., and Windsor and Wingham, Ont. – if a buyer could not be found, Shaw stepped up to buy them for the bargain-basement price of $1 each.

For both CTV and CanWest, the discount price was less important than removing the financial losses the small-market stations were causing on their books. Both networks have told regulators they must trim their conventional TV operations, which have become less profitable than owning specialty channels on cable.

CTV issued a brief statement saying that the Shaw deal had been cancelled. CTV is owned by CTVglobemedia Inc., also the parent company of The Globe and Mail.

Executives from Shaw could not be reached for comment, but a source close to the deal said the company did not like the financial state of the small stations, whose operations and books Shaw officials examined closely in recent weeks.

Full article HERE.

So Jim Shaw was all talk and no rock...sigh. Not a big shocker really...the game between local TV guys vs. big Media conglomerates continues. You gotta feel for the employees working at these stations is all I can say.

And even though it seems weird having it on a Wednesday, enjoy your Canada Day...