Monday, November 30, 2009

Really? Oh. I See.

I always thought this song was called "Cloudbursting".

Still like it though. The video too. And what's in a title, anyway.

Friday, November 27, 2009

This Is Not A Challenge, This Is An Opportunity

When you make your living as a creative freelancer, you're constantly getting asked to work on spec, as in: "Could you do this for us and if we get any traction there will be some work/money in it for you down the road." The future employment, that's always the carrot dangled in front of your nose.

And when you're starting out, you do need to take on some of those freebies. Because you need to get noticed. Because you need to show what you've got. Because you need to start building professional relationships. But the problem so many of us face is that even after doing it successfully for years, decades even, you'll still get the "We've got no money, but could you whip something up?" calls.

The following are two Friday Fun examples of what you wish you could say instead of "Sure thing. I'll get right on it." They're from the worlds of advertising and graphic design, but they absolutely apply to screenwriting or making TV.

The first is a hilarious e-mail exchange between David Thorne and a prospective client. It's from Thorne's website 27b/6 .

An excerpt:

From: Simon Edhouse
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 4.10pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Anyone else would be able to see the opportunity I am presenting but not you. You have to be a f*cking smart arse about it. All I was asking for was a logo and a few pie charts which would have taken you a few f*cking hours.

From: David Thorne
Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 4.25pm
To: Simon Edhouse
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Logo Design

Dear Simon

Actually, you were asking me to design a logotype which would have taken me a few hours and fifteen years experience. For free. With pie charts. Usually when people don't ask me to design them a logo, pie charts or website, I, in return, do not ask them to paint my apartment, drive me to the airport, represent me in court or whatever it is they do for a living. Unfortunately though, as your business model consists entirely of "Facebook is cool, I am going to make a website just like that", this non exchange of free services has no foundation as you offer nothing of which I wont ask for.

Regards, David.

Go read the rest of the transcript HERE, with pie charts and everything. Simply brilliant.

The other example is in the same vein and pretty self explanatory. And pretty funny.

Because they make me smile.

H/T Matt MacLennan H/T Jay Robertson

Thursday, November 26, 2009

There Are Two Things I Know Are Going To Sell. The Sexy, And The Awful

Seriously seriously NSFW, but Louis CK thinks about the future...funniest thing I've seen in ages.

"I kinda don't think my career is going to keep going up. I think it's going to start declining."

H/T Rob Sheridan


Still jammed up, but here's some short film awesomesauce from Norway.

Good visual storytelling trumps any language barriers. And like Bonnie Tyler, we all need a hero.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Keep An Eye Out For Ya, Stingray!

I'm jammed up with writing and story editing and teaching, so only have time to put up a clip that should give hope to emerging filmmakers everywhere. As in, if this got made, maybe your 'avenging your sisters death at hands of crazed martial arts rapist' movie will get made someday too.


Friday, November 20, 2009

We Need To Make The Logo Bigger, But Feel Smaller

Friday Fun has to be this hilarious look at an advertising agency pitch session starring: The Account Exec; The Clients; and The Creatives.

Because it makes me smile.

H/T Sean Embury

Film Director Gets Schooled In TV

The CRTC hearings are melting my brain, so it was a nice diversion to read this entry from director Justin Lin, mostly known for directing features (The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious), relating his first foray into directing television on the comedy series Community.

Going in, I had some preconceptions of shooting in television. I had heard that TV moves much faster than feature productions. And since I came from the indie world, I thought I’d be used to it. But the reality is that TV is like shooting an indie film on steroids but with a studio and network right there with you. Forget Jenny Craig, if you want to really lose weight go shoot a TV show. Not only is time money, you better go in knowing what you want because things will shift and if you don’t know the core of what you’re trying to achieve, you’re in trouble because you’ll have no time to figure it out.

Before we go on I want to make sure I don’t overstate the position of the episodic director. In feature land the director is like Magic Johnson (and for you kids Lebron James). But in TV land the episodic director is like Michael Cooper (or Anderson Varejao). The creator and the writers are what drive the engine. The director of the pilot establishes a visual style and tone for the show. The actors are responsible for crafting and honing their characters as they grow from episode to episode. The job of the episodic director is to come in, learn as fast as possible the essence of various aspects of the show and deliver them within the confines of the specific episode without hopefully missing a beat.

Lin then goes onto say something very interesting.

The other thing I learned is that television is the one lone standing medium where one has to earn their way. This might sound obvious but we do live in an era now where anyone can pick up a camera and proclaim themselves a “filmmaker”. They can’t do that in TV.

In feature world as long as one can get their hands on funding or equipment they can set out to tell a story. There’s no way a person can come in and be a writer or create a show without some body of work to back them up. A feature film production can average two to three pages (about two to three screen minutes) a day but in TV it’s doubled most of the time. In feature world filmmakers spend usually at least a year to complete two hours of film but in TV they have to produce eleven hours of quality content for a half hour show in about 25 weeks. There is independent cinema but there’s no such thing as independent television.

In Canadian TV try triple the page count a day!

Speaking from experience, I couldn't agree more. It was a serious 'holy crap' slap in the face moment moving from independent movie/one-off production to the careening almost out of control train that is series TV...first as a director then as a writer/producer. The 'reality' vs. the preconception was almost overwhelming. Note I say 'almost' - you either embrace it or avoid it. I embraced it.

But when I teach film and TV production or screenwriting, I always feel like the students leave class never really grasping much less appreciating how massive an undertaking it is to write, produce, shoot, edit, and get to air a season of a TV series. The crew and cast may be the same size, but the fact that production goes on and on for the better part of a year while delivering the equivalent of ten or twenty quality feature films, it's near impossible to execute and deliver without an experienced leader and qualified team who have battled through the gauntlet time and time again. Not to negate the work involved in producing a feature film, but Lin speaks the truth...getting a feature made doesn't ever really prepare you for the making of a TV series.

Though there's many in the feature world that would like you to believe otherwise.

Read the rest of Lin's post HERE.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Local TV: What Are We Saving Exactly...Again?

First, go read Uncle Jim's A Tale of Two Business's relevant to the following repost, and well worth reading. I'll wait.

A reprint, from May earlier this year, but in light of the CRTC hearings going on this week in Gatineau it seemed apropos to post again. And my story shouldn't be seen as support for the cablers or a direct attack on's just a specific example against the argument being put forth by all OTA broadcasters now. And yes, this was written before the cabler/broadcaster battle devolved into an all out media war...but after watching a couple of days of the hearings, fee for carriage (oops, I mean value for signal) to save local TV and regional TV stations remains at the center of the storm.

On Saturday afternoon I stopped by the open house held at the CTV station in Regina which was part of the network's recent nationwide campaign to Help Save Local Television...a campaign that has seen more advertisements air on your TV set than for the promotion of any Canadian homegrown program that I can think of.

Below are the key talking points highlighted on the front page of the pamphlet they were distributing to the (unsuspecting) public:

Local television impacts everyone

Now is the time to hold the cable and satellite companies accountable

Current regulations in Canada allow cable and satellite companies to take CTV programming without paying for it. These companies then charge you, the consumer, for the programming they take from us for free. The satellite and cable companies that deliver the TV signal to your house are reaping huge profits at the direct expense of local Canadian TV stations.

Now YOUR local television station is in financial trouble, and we need YOUR help!

Local television stations should receive compensation from cable and satellite companies that carry our local programming.

First let it be said that I don't have a lot of love for the Shaw's, Rogers, and other cable and satellite companies across Canada (you can watch Shaw Cable's Ken Stein debate the issue with CTV's Jacqueline Milczarek HERE), but so much of the information in this CTV pamphlet is just dead wrong.

1) Cable and satellite companies don't take CTV programming without paying for it. Like Global and CBC, CTV is an Over The Air (OTA) network, which means you can receive it in your home with an antennae. For free. Cable, however, delivers a cleaner, clearer signal, and thus CTV chooses to have its signal/programming delivered via this mechanism because it reaches more eyeballs in a better quality form = higher ad revenue. Furthermore, because their signals are available freely over the air as per a priority carriage mandate means the OTA channels must be made available to and distributed by all cable/satellite subscribers.

2) Cable and satellite companies don't charge you, the consumer, for CTV's programming...they charge you for the pipe - the delivery mechanism for the TV signal. They built and implemented a television signal delivery system (cable or satellite) that they can provide you, the consumer, if you choose to subscribe, and that's what they are charging you for (thus, they are called 'cable providers').

3)Finally, your 'local' television station isn't in trouble, the CTV (or all OTA broadcasters for that matter) business model is in trouble. Like Global, CTV doesn't really offer much in the way of programming that consumers couldn't get if we could just choose U.S. networks on their own. It seemed only fitting this 'Save Local TV' open house took place the same time as Canadian network programmers landed in L.A. to spend spend spend on American shows for the new fall season.

There are four 'local CTV stations' in Saskatchewan, same as Alberta...whereas there is only one, CTV Winnipeg, in Manitoba and one, CTV British Columbia (essentially Vancouver) in B.C..

Regina's CTV station, CKCK, really only produces local newcasts. And between the four Saskatchewan stations they produce two news magazine-style series: the Prairie Farm Report and Farmgate, and Indigenous Circle, a weekly program dealing with Aboriginal issues at home and beyond.

How do I know this? Because I asked some of the helpful and smiling CKCK employees only too eager to Save Local TV: "What local programs are we trying to save?"

A woman mentioned the three above programs, though went on to add: "But we're just an affiliate - we just put on what the network says we have to put on. But there is the news!" I asked if the carriage fee (oops, value for signal) requested by the campaign would ensure the production of more 'local' programming. I got a lot of blank stares.

Then I asked when the Regina station was going to go HD, because even though I can view CKCK in analog on channel 6 on my cable channel dial (or channel 2 over the air), I tend to only watch my HD channels from my cable package...and in my cable package those signals come from either CTV Toronto(channel 509) or CTV British Columbia(channel 519) (...unless of course the U.S. scheduling of said program has messed with CTV's schedule and I receive the Lost or Law And Order simsub transmission from one of CTV's other 'A' Channel eastern affiliates like Barrie or Windsor or London or from Victoria in the west, complete with local commercials!).

So I asked: would my 50 cent per month carriage fee that the network is requesting of the CRTC going to support/save Regina's local station? Or Vancouver or Toronto or Windsor's local station? I again received blank stares, and some humming and hawing that they weren't sure about the HD going local but were sure that at least some of the money would come back to the Regina station.

Then I mentioned that most of the information in the pamphlets they were handing out was flat out wrong: that cable providers provide a delivery mechanism to consumers willing to pay for it...that's why they are called cable providers. And that's what we are paying for, the cable pipe, not the programming that CTV either produces or buys from the U.S. to simultaneously substitute their ads into.

I got some rather surprised looks and a lot of looking around. Then someone then asked if I was going to sign the petition (I said no). Then a hand was gently placed on my elbow and I swear someone whispered: "Look, we don't want any trouble here."

Trouble? For just asking a few questions? Anyway, I was getting some pretty cold looks so I edged my way out the door and beat a hasty retreat.

That's when I noticed yet another chartered bus arriving with another load of what appeared to be mostly senior citizens. Starstruck, they disembarked and tottered into the station gushing about how much they loved their local station. Not surprisingly, they didn't bat an eye when pressed to sign the petition. Sigh.

And I missed the balloon in the sky, Uncle Jim...but I did see them putting it back in the truck.

It was all smiles and hugs but frankly, smelled a little...funky, best exemplified IN THIS CLIP of CTV's Vice President, Corporate Affairs Paul Sparkes at the open house in Toronto answering questions from a CP24 reporter...lots of: "Oh let's not get bogged down by the details and clog our heads up with facts and truisms and regulatory lingo...isn't local TV great!"

Look, we know Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal will probably always have their own local news and some locally produced programs, but for the rest of us spread across the great land of ours, 'local TV' doesn't really exist anymore.

I get my U.S. signals from Detroit and/or Seattle. I get my Global signal primarily from Toronto and Vancouver, same for my CTV signal. CBC's feed also originates primarily from Toronto, but at least they adjust the times to fit the time zones so every show on the network comes on at the same time in each region. But I can't say the same for the U.S. feeds or Global and CTV feeds. In my neck of the woods, prime time begins either at 6pm (8pm EST) or 9pm (8pm PST).

Now it doesn't seem that long ago when our local CTV would produce daily talk shows and documentary series and even kids/drama programs. But today, other than the odd informational or newsmagazine show and a couple of newscasts a day I don't really have a local station anymore, and haven't for some time. And I would say the same goes for most of the other outlying regions in Canada.

So, the wrongness of the CTV campaign aside, whose 'local TV' would we be saving exactly?

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Love The Smell Of CPAC In The Morning...

DING! And there's the bell!

According to today's Toronto Star, "Today CRTC hearings are a battlefield again. It's the private broadcasters versus the cable and satellite providers. You, the consumer, are somewhere in the middle."

Read the rest of Iain Marlow's article HERE for the results of the weigh in.

And then at 8:30 am EST head over to CPAC and watch Round One HERE.

The hearing lasts ten days. There should be plenty of quick jabs followed by some low blows, but at end of the fight it's doubtful anyone will be smelling victory.

DAY ONE recap by Globe and Mail HERE and Toronto Star HERE.

And I will add that though not surprising, it was rather annoying to hear today the problems and issues facing the broadcasters/cablers and our industry while primarily using examples from Toronto and the Greater Toronto area...oh, and Ottawa and Brandon, briefly. This after a half a year national campaign to support 'local television'.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pox News...And A Video Hankering To Go Viral

So, hearings begin Monday in Gatineau that will see Canadian broadcasters, cable companies, and a lot of those "creative" guilds parade in front of the CRTC to state their position and voice an opinion on fee-for-carriage/save-local-tv/stop-tv-tax for the third, yes the third, time.

I'm really not sure what else can be said that hasn't been said ad nauseam already about the topic...though an insider did tell me that the BDU's or the Broadcasters have been known to pull a new proposal out of their pants at a hearing. I'm holding my breath. Seriously!

But if you feel like you need a primer that goes beyond the battling ads/PSA's/Influencing Heritage Minutes? (WTF would you call them?) that you can't avoid on your TV sets because they air ALL. THE. TIME., then watch this decent debate of the issues that was on TV Ontario last night HERE (A Pox On Both Their Houses) or podcast HERE....and then check out this video put together by the Writers Guild of Canada.

And with that as the last word, for now, we'll see you Monday.

When Your Life Is No Longer Your Own

Movie trailers used to be cool. Most would tease you with a taste, trying to entice you to come see what the heck that was going to be. Nowadays because market research apparently informed studios that showing viewers everything gets a better turnout, most trailers leave little to the imagination. As in, mass audiences prefer knowing what they're in for even if the trailer shows parts of the last reel, and thus today we tend to get a synopsis of a movie instead.

So in tribute to the then and now, Friday Fun is a few of my favourite 'just a taste' trailers...

And the original theatrical trailer for ALIEN here.

"I'm screaming but no one can hear me!!!!!"

And a few of my favourite "show everything including some of the plot but it still looks so awesome I need to see it' trailers:


Because they make me smile.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Does It Make You Feel?

Maybe you're just starting out, or maybe you've been doing it for years, but you work in television...Canadian television primarily, and you read this (Via TV Eh):

Canada's television shows - news and non-fiction programs excluded - are terrible compared to their American counterparts. And it's not only in one genre: we fail in every category imaginable. In response to American comedies like 'The Office' and '30 Rock', we come back with 'Little Mosque on the Prairie'. For their action dramas 'NCIS' and 'Prison Break', we come up with 'Flashpoint'. Animated shows like 'Family Guy' and 'South Park' are met with 'Bob & Doug' and 'Chilly Beach'. They created 'Saturday Night Live', we came up with 'The Royal Canadian Air Farce'. 'The Daily Show'? 'The Rick Mercer Report'. Seriously, we couldn't even get 'Sesame Street' right - we had to create a monster named 'Sesame Park'.

It's not that every Canadian show is completely awful, but in relative terms the best we can do is create shows that are equal to a reasonably bad American one. If you don't believe me, let's look at the main offenders. One of the most popular Canadian shows of the past decade was 'Corner Gas', a sitcom set in rural Alberta based on unfunny banter and Canadian stereotypes - kind of like those episodes of 'Malcolm in the Middle' where the oldest brother was living in Alaska. It ran for six seasons and averaged about one million viewers per episode.

Another popular show, 'Heartland', is like watching an episode of 'The O.C.' but with less characters, less jokes, less drama, and if everything they did had to do with farm animals. Again set in rural Alberta, 'Heartland' focuses on a teenage girl with a loosely explained ability to communicate well with horses. You might be thinking that only shows set in rural Canada aren't that funny or interesting, but that wouldn't be fair. Last year marked the end of several failed urban Canadian shows including 'Instant Star' and 'Robson Arms', which might make you sad if you ever heard of them. It's true: much of Canadian television is so bad that you forget it was ever on the air.

Okay, Corner Gas was actually set in rural Saskatchewan and SCTV does still make me laugh, but that's not really the point...the author, Kyle Carpenter writing for the McGill Tribune, doesn't stop there. And he concludes by saying: "So far, I've not been able to find one Canadian TV show that I am proud to say is from my country."


Just one young guy's opinion, sure...but I hear the same sentiment all the time from the 20 year-old's I teach each semester at the University. In fact, most struggle to name a Canadian TV series, much less one they like or are proud of. So again, you work in Canadian TV, and you go read the rest of the piece HERE, and then tell does it feel?

Alrighty Then....

...moving on.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Dan! DAN!!

Vintage Friday Fun is Steve Coogan as Alan Patridge (Coogan in 24 Hour Party People is still one of my all-time fav roles)...this Dan! bit clearly inspired this Alan! bit.

Because it makes me smile.

H/T Mark Farrell

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Then They Put Me In A Truck...

This Canal+ commercial has been zipping around the internets for a few weeks now, but it's still pretty awesome.

... :p at first i was all srs faced but then i loled :3 ...

Never underestimate the power of a great story.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Directing TV...By The Numb3rs

Other than the pilot (I always try to view every pilot when they air), I'd never really watched the TV series Numb3rs...until about a month ago. I was flipping and an episode was just starting and I found myself pausing and then found myself watching and then still watching and then it was over. And it wasn't bad. Sure, I didn't get the major buzz 'must watch again' feeling I got when I first watched The Sopranos or Six Feet Under or Lost or Dexter or Breaking Bad...but I enjoyed it for what it was (in a CBS Friday night prime time mathematician detective procedural kinda way), and that's since prompted me to watch a few more episodes.

Anyhow this all led me to cross paths with series writer and co-creator Cheryl Heuton on Twitter, who then pointed me toward one of the series' regular directors Stephen Gyllenhaal also on Twitter, which led me to a series of behind the scenes 'making of' videos produced by Mr. Gyllenhaal that he's been POSTING HERE on his blog.

They're just snippets, moving snapshots if you will, of the process of prepping and directing a one hour of network television, but well worth watching.

A taste:

Creating the Show

The Script

Rehearsing A Scene

Producing the Episode

"My job is to keep you on schedule."

Very true. Because at the end of the day yes it is about the show and making a good episode, but it's also about the numb3rs.

Lots more to watch HERE, go check them out.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jump Right In...It's *Your* Story

Sure it's kinda spoofy and a little over the top, but this post from TV writer/producer Richard Manning still captures the essence of excitement/pain blend that a freelance screenwriter experiences when trying to successfully navigate a television series' Writer's Room.

Mary Sue’s successful pitch: “Griff and Angela [the series leads] must mind-link with K’Vax [their sentient, female, wisecracking spaceship] after a radioactive nebula erases K’Vax’s memories.”

There was more to her pitch – such as the mind-link forcing the aloof Griff and Angela to confront their true feelings about one another – but Mary Sue never got that far; Sam had interrupted. “Good hook, but amnesia’s soft. Needs more jeopardy. Hey! What if the nebula turns K’Vax evil? And she tries to kill everybody on board! So it’s dangerous for Griff and Angela to go into her mind; they might never come out. Terrific pitch! Sold!”

Mary Sue was ecstatic. “Great! I’ll write up an outline –”

“We don’t do outlines. We – me and the writing staff – break all our stories in the room. Once we get the structure down, you go off and write the script. Come in Tuesday at nine. Bring in a beat sheet. Not an outline, just the big moves. Some rough act breaks. Keep it simple. One page, tops, just to get things started.”

And so it begins…

9:00 am Tuesday. A punctual Mary Sue happily looks around her first Writers’ Room. Cheap, mismatched “executive” chairs surround a coffee-stained table strewn with old magazines, food wrappers, a Slinky, a broken water pistol, various Rubik’s-type puzzles, and other toys. The walls are a crazy quilt of actors’ headshots, set blueprints, costume design sketches, test photos of alien prosthetics… and three large whiteboards.

Two are covered with multicolored scrawls, circles, arrows, renumbering, and crossouts – the story beats for Episodes 5 and 6, in impenetrable shorthand: “5. BRIDGE: G + A expo. K ng 10 min no Froonium. H/L payoff? AB: J zapped.” The third is frighteningly blank – a naked canvas awaiting a plot.

I've been there. It's confusing, terrifying, intimidating, and exhilarating all at the same time.