Thursday, October 28, 2010

Theories and the Reality.

I hate the way people in Jersey drive. It's not just the massive amount of people on the road. There's zero consideration for anyone else. Cutting people off and braking, drifting over from an exit only lane without a turn signal, ridiculously bright lights on fancy cars. I have mixed feelings about driving as it is, and being in Jersey doesn't highlight the good qualities.

Tomorrow I pack it up and head back to Michigan. Another ten hour drive. I don't think I anticipated doing this so much. Next time I'm flying.

I try to go over to see my niece and nephew as often as I can. I have to say, I think I want a big family, but trying to manage a toddler and a newborn with both parents at home seems like a challenge. The difficult thing, my sister explained to me, is that at this stage, both of your children need all of your attention all of the time. Perhaps the only time my sister can get to herself is if both children manage to nap at the same time.

I've mentioned to her before about how I plan to continue writing when I have a family, and her response was, "Don't overestimate the free time you'll have." And even if I do get the time--will I have the energy? Last year working at a school, I had zero energy for writing after wrangling 23 2nd graders all day long.

I know there are ways to manage, schedules you can get into and routines you can form that will get you at least a few minutes a day to write when you're also raising a family. But other times I wonder if I'm selfless enough to be able to make that compromise. While a family is something I theoretically think I want, I've been mostly on my own for the last five years, pursuing something I know I want.

For now I'll enjoy being an aunt, spoiling my niece and nephew, babysitting for a few hours, and then returning them to their parents at the end of the day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

TV again and Nieces.

Hello, I'm adorable.

That's my niece would say if she could talk. I know newborn babies are usually ugly, but she is decidedly not. And yes, I am biased.

Since we're now a good six weeks into the fall season, I thought I'd reflect back on my insane week of TV premieres. I watched a lot of TV that first week to get a good sample--here's what remained.


What I watched: Lone Star, The Event, Castle
What I still watch: Castle

Well, I really didn't have much of a choice with Lone Star. I think The Event will go the way of FlashForward. It's safe for the rest of this season, but I think it'll slowly continue to fade. On the other hand, even though I ditched it after the pilot, the previews have gotten more interesting and occasionally I consider catching up to see if it's improved at all. Then I remember the pilot and how most episodes are probably following the same format--little character development and a giant plot tease. If it really does end up becoming the next Lost [or even making it to a second season], I'm ok with playing catch up.


What I watched: Glee, Detroit 1-8-7, Running Wilde
What I still watch: Glee, Detroit 1-8-7

Running Wilde, another show that I did not make past the pilot. I'd rather watch reruns of Arrested Development.

Detroit 1-8-7 is the only true freshman show I'm picking up. Other than the two that got canceled. Maybe because so many of the new shows are cop/lawyer/US marshall shows. How many of those do you really want to watch? In truth, I probably wouldn't have even watched Detroit 1-8-7 if it was set in our fair city. I like it for reasons beyond that, especially the characters they've created, but I wouldn't have gone looking for a new cop show just because I like cop shows. The other freshman law enforcement shows--Chase, Outlaw, Blue Bloods, The Defenders, The Whole Truth, Law & Order:LA, to name a few--couldn't compel me to turn them on. Geez, guys, so many. Do you really think America wants to watch that many cop/law shows?

Glee I watch with my flatmate. Glee has me all confused about my feelings. On one hand, the story telling has improved vastly. This season they've actually started digging into the lives of their characters. And they've stopped threatening Glee Club every episode. That was my number one complaint last season--every episode the story was the same--Glee Club was going to be shut down. And, as an audience, we aren't stupid. We know it's not going to be. So stop giving us the same tired plot. This season the stories are new [if sometimes... odd. What was up with the Britney episode?] but the song integration sucks. At least half the songs are song just standing around in the classroom [in fact, ALL of them might have been sung there in the duet episode]. The beauty of musicals is that people break out in choreographed song and dance all over the place and it's treated as completely normal. If a good third of your show is going to be taken up by songs, make them actual performances. Otherwise you're just slowing down your story. One friend recently confessed that she's started fast forwarding through the songs. Yeah, because they're boring!

I forgot about The Good Wife for two weeks. Then when I tried to watch it on CBS' website the audio was messed up. That, combined with my guilt over how much TV I watch anyway, gives it a pass.


What I watched: Undercovers, Top Chef: Just Desserts
What I still watch: Top Chef: Just Desserts

Undercovers played it safe, both in plot and character relationships, and it was boring. It wasn't edgy enough to be the next Alias, and it's not fun enough to get me to keep watching.

Top Chef: Just Desserts is just brilliant.


What I watched: Community, 30 Rock, The Office, Bones, The League, Big Bang Theory, My Generation
What I still watch: Community, 30 Rock, The Office, Bones, The League

As these are all veterans for me, they were automatic go's [Big Bang Theory I tried and decided to forgo. Also it's nearly embarrassing how much TV I watch on Thursday nights]. My Generation was the only true freshman show, and that got canceled. I watched the first two episodes, and I might have stuck with it. Showrunner Noah Hawley did an interesting interview about blurring the lines of scripted TV and reality in My Generation, like including footage of one of his characters being on the Bachelor [I wish I could find the interview, but I can't], and I respect what he was attempting with My Generation. I'd like to see something that pushes the boundaries of entertainment work out. Except--since I've been thinking about it more--three of the four love stories they were building up would have involved infidelity. I mean, personally, that's not really the kind of love story I am inclined to root for. Didn't a lot of people cite that as the reason that Lone Star failed too? Too much moral ambiguity? People like innocent love stories.

[On a side, this is why I think Lone Star would have worked. Bob was such a poor morally deluded man, there was something very sweet and innocent about the way that he wanted to preserve his double life in order to do the best he could by both women. Maybe for Bob it worked because you had to realize a childhood of being raised by a con artist dad messes you up. For the characters on My Generation it didn't work because they had just gotten married without love and their boredom and lack of fulfillment in their marriage is what spurred them towards other options. Definitely not so innocent.]

And when it comes to comedy, 30 Rock is queen, Community is my favourite court jester, and The Office is that awkward but funny uncle who never knows when it's time to leave.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I'm an aunt twice over!

My sister [finally] had her second baby last night, this time a girl. [And this time, instead of a 36 hour labor, it lasted 2 hours. Nice.] We're going to go see her in just a few hours!

And yes, I've already bought her something.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Returns and Hobbitses.

Today I went back to the school where I worked last year. I hadn't seen any of my coworkers since I left last spring, so I met them for lunch. [I also stopped by to see the students. My Favourite Student offered me an invisible contract to come back and teach 3rd grade. I told him I'd have my lawyers look it over.]

The inevitable question came up--so what are you doing? [This came right after "Where are you?" with the answer of Michigan surprising some.] I realized very quickly there was no glamorous way to answer, "Nothing." I am literally doing nothing. I'm not even looking for a job right now. Granted, these two week "vacation" back to Jersey put a pretty definitely stop on any job searching.

If it was more than a passing conversation with the former coworker, I'd go into more detail, the probability that I'd be looking for a non film job soon, how I've been able to write obscene amounts since unemployed, my concerns with juggling a film career, a life, writing, and eventually, a family. However, I felt most conversations boiled down to one sentiment--Yes, remember when I worked here? Now I'm a bum.

I don't mind. Maybe because I watched a Scottish movie last night and am more persuaded than ever that what I really need to do right now is live in the UK. Also, I'd like to learn Italian.

The New Zealand actors union has lifted their ban on working for The Hobbit. Smooth move, but you might've waited too long. New Line is using the union's blacklist as leverage to say it's looking at different locations. Nikki Finke thinks Peter Jackson is too personally and professionally invested in New Zealand to make the move, but one Kiwi said on Scott Myers' blog that "it's nationwide panic."

Way to go, guys. You not only made a decision unpopular with your members, but you've also managed to upset an entire country.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trees and Nerds.

I finally caught up with the rest of the world. I finally saw The Social Network.

It was great. And it was great for a whole bunch of reasons, the actors, the directing, the writing [yes, I have a celebrity writer crush on Aaron Sorkin]. I didn't have a problem with the portrayal of women. Maybe that's because it's a true story, and if there weren't really any women involved, then there weren't any women involved. [I've noticed something about people who objectify women anyway. Usually they just have a problem with objectifying everyone. Everyone is reduced to what they can offer instead of being recognized and treated as real multi-faceted people--male and female alike.] Besides, Erica Albright was spunky and I liked her.

I think my favourite part of the movie, though, was this surprising mystery element. The film jumps between three different storylines--what happened and the two lawsuits that followed. And the entire time, as accustations were made and explanations were offered, I was trying to figure out what really happened, if Mark really stole Facebook or not. If I was on a jury, what would I conclude? It was like a who-dun-it. It was excellent mastery of story that completely engaged me.

If you haven't seen it, I completely and highly recommend it. I wish I had seen it before Aaron Sorkin's lecture. I'm going to see if I can get my hands on a copy of the script.

My dad put this sheet of metal around the trunk of our tree in the backyard. It's to prevent the squirrels from building nests in the tree and taking over our backyard. I feel kinda bad for the squirrels though. Can you imagine one day you're out at work, winning bread for your family, and you come back to find a sheet of metal preventing you from every returning to your comfy bed? Eviction without notice. I'm not sure if I'm cool with that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scripts and Rockstars.

The other day I managed to procure a copy of Gravity, a script by Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron, and Rodrigo Garcia that's trying to find a lead actress. I don't read enough scripts. Reading scripts helps set a standard for your own writing, for pacing, conflict, structure, beautiful but concise prose. The deterrent is that usually scripts come via my computer, and it's really no fun reading 90+ pages on a computer screen. However my alma mater has a fantastic script library that I'm going to be spending more time in.

Gravity was a great read. It has high stakes and fantastic constant tension. Anything that could go wrong, did. For that lesson along, Gravity's a fantastic read. Murphy's Law should be a constant in every script. There was no good place to take a break from reading. Something was always happening, and it was always bad.

Gravity is having difficulty finding a female lead, Dr. Stone. Stone is the main character and spends at least half the script as the only character. And while I'm usually all about casting unknowns, I think Gravity would work best with a star attached. Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman were approached but declined. Sandra Bullock's name has been floating around. But it's been difficulty to get a commitment. I think its because Dr. Stone isn't necessarily an actor's character. The great moments in the script aren't great character moments, they're great life or death suspense moments. It's a screenplay/directing Oscar nom, not an acting nom.

But it's a fantastic script. And a excellent standard to match before I assume I'm ready.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Distractions and Research.

Since the breaking of CBS' script order for Dear Girls Above Me, I've tried to get some reactions from the screenwriters or industry people I follow. When The Bitter Script Reader rolled his eyes at the screams of sexism, I asked him to read my blog post about it and respond to the concerns I had. [I told him I wasn't pandering, but I was. Whenever you ask someone to read your blog, you're pandering.] Anyway, he did read and respond, and here is an excerpt--

If DGAM was instead about a man writing letters to every woman he meets about all the various ways they are inferior THEN it would be sexist. Instead his ire is directed at two such individuals (and idiots of either gender tend to run in packs) who just happen to live above him. It's not Charlie vs. womankind - it's Charlie vs. the co-occupants of his dwelling, who just happen to be women.

If it is a show where EVERY female character in every setting is equally vapid, then those railing against it might have a charge. At this point, we don't know enough to make that call. But it wouldn't be the first time that a sitcom used an execptionally dumb set of characters (both men and women) for the purposes of humor...

It's just the way I see it. Shouldn't we at least wait until a pilot script is written before we tag it as sexist?

Amanda the Aspiring Writer's response was similar--let's wait and see. And to that I say--

Fair enough.

Fair enough, Amanda. Fair enough, Bitter Script Reader. I see your points.
And I don't really think McDowell is sexist--but I believe even less that we need this TV show. As Emily Blake said--"Oh, terrific. Girls everywhere get new role models."

I'm still not thrilled about this pilot. I still am unimpressed by the source material [which I think is my main issue--I don't find it funny. Not because of it's portrayals, but because I just don't think it's funny]. I still thinking making a TV show out of a Twitter account is pretty ridiculous. I still think that, if taken to series, DGAM is going to have a difficult time finding an audience. And I still feel bad for TV writers trying to sell TV ideas.

As for my ideas, I spent an hour researching World War II espionage the other day until to decide to set my story in the Cold War instead. Also I realized how suspicious it might appear to the people in the very public and diverse setting I was in that I was reading summaries of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Cold War it is.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nightmares and Hell.

I drove the 10 hours from Michigan to my parents' house yesterday. It was beautiful yesterday, and I made it in record time. I didn't tell anyone I was coming. It's nice to surprise people.

Unfortunately, all I dreamed about for the first half of the night was that I was driving through endless speed traps and past a plethora of police cars. Nothing like driving 600 miles only to dream about more driving when you finally get to sleep.

Deadline Hollywood broke a story about yet another Twitter to TV deal, "a comedy series based on Charlie McDowell's feed and Web site Dear Girls Above Me, about a single man who gains insight into the female mind by eavesdropping on his upstairs neighbors." This is CBS' third Twitter-based script order according to DH, along with Shh... Don't Tell Steve and $#*! My Dad Says. Dear Girls Above Me has gotten a script order to be cowritten by McDowell.

I hope this dies in development hell.

Look, I have no problem with web-based content being picked up for more traditional media, blogs turned to books, YouTube stars getting spots on talk shows, Twitters turned to TV shows [ok, that does sorta bug me]--if the content is any good. The $#*! My Dad Says feed is kinda funny. But I haven't bothered to watch the sitcom, so... Distribution is completely changing, and I'm not anti-progress. I think it's completely fair to "discover" talent online. And I wish McDowell continued success. But I do have some problems--

1. Just because you're internet popular doesn't mean you're Hollywood popular. McDowell may have a respectable following. I know if I ever broke a hundred followers I'd be thrilled, and he's near 35,000. Fine, I respect that. I respect that he's got a decent corner in the 140-characters of humor market. But if you make a TV show based on his Twitter feed and put it on network television--how are those 35,000 followers going to fair against competitors' programming? With Monday night football or The Big Bang Theory or Glee? How are you going to go from 35,000 to millions?

2. It's still a different format. A good writer is a good writer, true. I think all writing helps you improve your story craft. But the skills that go into making a Twitter feed funny are completely different than the ones that go into making a TV show funny. Networks do recognize that, I believe, which is why McDowell is only co-authoring the pilot and $#*! was mentored by sitcom veterans. However, just because something is funny in one format doesn't mean that it will translate effectively into another format.

3. Dear Girls Above Me isn't funny. I thought I'd check it out before I rail against it. It's not not funny. It's just not--anything special. And, I hate to be the humorless feminist in the room, but what a terrible portrayal of women. They are ignorant, self centered, and completely brainless. They're flat, one dimensional characters. Sometimes that works--Sue Sylvester from Glee was wonderful before they gave her the sister angle. But the way the Girls Above are depicted makes me cringe. Or, as one commenter at DH hypothesized, McDowell's going to inadvertently and unknowingly meet one of the Girls Above and fall in love with one of them. And that would just be tacky.

I don't think this is sexism on the part of the network because it works both ways. Shhh... Don't Tell Steve is about an idiot boy roommate. [I'd like to say people just being stupid isn't funny anyway, but the Jackass 3D box office proves me otherwise]. It still bothers me, and I think it's because men are continually drawn as fleshed out, full grown characters, but female characters regularly get slighted. Women are repeatedly depicted in TV and film not as characters but as plot points, foils, and objects of desire and ridicule. They do not exist except for how they are viewed and perceived by men. And that kind of characterization--not the one dimensionality--I strongly protest.

[EDIT: Elizabeth Banks posted this on her Twitter. I don't know where it came from, but it's fascinating. Not completely accurate, maybe--I'd argue some characters they don't list as being well developed as excellent examples of great characterization--but fascinating still. Female Character Flowchart.]

4. An audience? How many women do you think are going to be tuning into this show?

5. Really, CBS? All the material you get pitched and spec-ed and bombarded with and this is what you order? Now I just feel bad for all the talented television writers who just got screwed.

Speaking of people I feel pity for, as much as I love the Yankees, I feel kinda bad for the Rangers.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall and Road Trips.

Yesterday I was working on plots for the contest I mentioned a couple days ago. Even though you only have to write the first 15 pages, for those 15 pages to be killer you really need to know your whole story. Since Best Friend D. is a history nerd, I decided I'd float a few ideas past her.

Within two seconds she had pitched me the most beautifully twisted premise.

It's so unfair. But, I am blessed to be her friend and steal all her ideas from her since she has no designs on a story career. My dad also has this talent. I'll be pitching a story at the dinner table, and my dad will say, "What about..." It nearly sends me into a sulk. I mean, I'm the one who has a useless degree in story telling. I should be getting more mileage out of it.

Professional writers say that ideas are cheap and easily come by. I find them elusive and ethereal. However, I'm trying to be less aggravated by other people's genius and more inspired by it. Sometimes the best twist on a nearly perfect plot comes from a fresh perspective. Now I just have to learn how to have all those perspectives myself. This must be how writers go crazy.

My sister's about to pop with her second baby any day now. I've been waiting for the call to come home for the new little niece/nephew, but I'm thinking about forgoing the phone call and just heading home now. This is completely anxiety-inducing. I can't imagine being the pregnant one who has to deal with the waiting. I almost went today, but I had to spend time and money becoming a little bit more of a Michigander by surrendering my New Jersey driver's license to the DMV. Today would have been a perfect road trip day too. The weather was perfect and the leaves are beautiful [fall is my favourite]. I'm actually looking forward to the drive through Pennsylvania for once.

Also 30 Rock is live tonight and I didn't want to risk missing it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Motels and Surrender.

Specs versus pilots continues. Kyle Killen, writer of Mel Gibson pic The Beaver and showrunner of the late Lone Star, said that when hiring writers he prefers to see a pilot but has also hired candidates off of outstanding specs. And on the topic of TV shows, New York Magazine recently ran an article, This Platform Is Not Yet Rated, discussing the difficulties in tracking ratings with the rise of online and DVR viewing. Neilsen is making some changes to their tracking system, but not until next year. The second page of the article has a couple interesting charts breaking down audiences of various shows by which platform they consume content on.

As far as last night's TV--Glee, I like your stories so much better this season. They're actually different from episode to episode. I don't think the existence of the glee club has been threatened in two entire weeks! But--song integration has really gone down hill. Every single song was set in the classroom as students perform for other students. The beauty of musicals is that they're set in a world where spontaneous eruptions into song and dance are not only tolerated as normal but encouraged and choreographed. Get it out of the classroom--make the song performances just as interesting as the stories are becoming.

I also watched Detroit 1-8-7 last night--which everyone should--and I was excited to see a location we had shot at when I was working in July. They had changed the name, but you could still see the real name in a window reflection for a quick shot. It was pretty cool. Probably because that location was so sketchy. Detroit 1-8-7 kinda makes me want to be a detective, but maybe that's just because I'm about to open up my career options.

I moved back to Michigan with the hope of breaking into the budding industry here. It has not been so easy. I worked on one film in July, but unfortunately the important contacts I made all went back home to LA at the end of the month. Which is too bad, because getting jobs is all about contacts, and I know I'd be working if I was in LA. HW Guy was telling me the other day about how the Key PA from our July shoot was considering moving to LA for a while and how if I could get out there, he would take the two of us on every shoot as his 2nd and 2nd 2nd. We'd be the dream AD team. And that people would actually like the AD team for a change [ADs are usually obnoxious. In fact, I told HW Guy so. I told him I thought 1st ADs were all supposed to be tools and that I was surprised when he wasn't].

But the truth is I haven't been working here in Michigan. I have had two other jobs lined up since then, and they've both fallen through due to poor communication and, frankly speaking, unprofessionalism. And now winter's coming and productions are not. I'm thinking about shifting my focus, taking a low stress non industry job for the winter, and keeping up my high productivity on my writing. I don't want to, mostly because I'm kinda a proud person and there were people who didn't think I could get film jobs here and I don't want them to be right. But I need to get a job, if only because I'm turning into a writer recluse and feel pretty boring.

I am being insanely productive on the writing side. I finished the first draft of Places yesterday. It took me two weeks to write that draft. Granted, draft one of any script isn't the hardest. Usually it writes itself or it falters and flails and I give up. It's rewriting that takes more stamina. But if I can get a first draft banged out in two weeks, I should be able to get a pilot done from brainstorming to reader-ready in six to eight weeks. I wouldn't be able to do that if I was working 12+ hour days, 6 days a week on a set. Maybe it's worth it to take a non film job for the next six months if it means that I'll really be LA ready at the end of my year in Michigan.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Candy and Characters.

E. generously supplies our apartment with candy. It's wonderful, except that it sits right in front of my on our dining room table where I do my work. It's vaguely reminiscent of the opening pages of The Princess Bride [most amazing book ever] where the Duchess de Guiche tries to bring down Annette the scullery maid [the most beautiful woman in the world the year Buttercup was born] by filling their palace with chocolate. And it works. I try to ignore the mounds of candy before me. It's an excercise in self control.

Also, if you've never read The Princess Bride, put everything else on hold until you do.

In the never ending battle of TV specs versus pilot, Bones creator Hart Hanson has extended the tie, saying that when he's looking to staff, he wants to see both a spec and original material. A point for both teams, and maybe it's time I pull that spec off the bookshelf.

Except I'm knee deep in two pilots as it is. I have maybe two full days' work left on the first draft of Places. I know already that I have a lot of work left to do on it, mostly stemming from the characters. One doesn't get enough interaction with the rest of the crew, one just isn't likeable at all [which is weird--since I sorta based the character on a friend... Oh, and don't everyone get paranoid, geez], and overall, they just aren't distinctive enough. I believe that characters need to be more than people; they need to be personalities. And they need to shine in ways that make us compulsively drawn to watch them. This doesn't mean that characters have to be over the top. They just have to be able to pull an audience in, and I don't think my slate of characters can do that yet.

And then I have a pilot out to friendly readers. It's been out for a while, and I haven't heard anything yet back, which inspires this terrible dread, mostly a fear that it was so boring that everyone read the first five pages, got distracted, and never returned. I think I'll be miserable if I found out I bored people.

I'd be miserable, and then I'd try to fix it.

In the meantime, I'm mulling over this contest from the Writer's Store. I haven't done a contest in forever, but I'd love to dabble in the spy genre. Also, what better way to procrastinate writing the Western I have percolating than by writing 15 pages of material that is unsellable and unuseable except for this contest? Perfect, I think.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recovery and Subtext.

I had a great weekend [minus that really really horrible and embarrassing football game]. But it was not relaxing. Today it was a struggle to get back into productivity mode. But I did it! [I am very proud of work done on Mondays.] I wrote my 8 page quota in Places, a segment of another project, and had a lengthy phone call with my mother concerning my next trip home, relationships, and leftovers.

I watch less television than I could. That's what I would say if anyone ever asked me if I watch a lot of TV. Maybe, but less than I could. It's all research, anyway. I mean, it mostly is. Scott Myers' mantra is "Read scripts. Watch movies. Write pages." One thing I've been picking up on recently is the lack of subtext in television.

I feel like when I'm working on a film script, the biggest pitfall I want to avoid is to have my dialog be too on the nose. Characters shouldn't say exactly what they feel or mean because as people we don't do that very often. However, when I'm watching TV, that seems to be all they're ever doing. There are usually two extremes--either burying their emotions completely or just coming out with them. Scenes with subtext shine at a low percentage.

For instance, on Bones this season, nearly every single character has asked Brennan if she's
ok with Booth dating Hannah. Or Daisy and Sweets have real conversations about their relationship status instead of having scenes with subtext. On Grey's Anatomy last week [and this was the first time I ever watched Grey's], no one felt any inhibitions about stating their opinion on whether or not Cristina Yang was ready to work in the OR again. In Sex and the City, the girls go out for drinks or lunch for complete disclosure at least three times an episode. In Modern Family, Jay and Gloria fight about what's really bothering them as it is, not disguised as something else.

Does television get away with more on the nose dialog? Usually honest dialog comes up in scenes of strong conflict, which makes sense. Yeah, the stakes were there in Glee when Terri was trying to conceal her fake pregnancy from Will, but things got really good when he actually found out that she was lying. You can have characters dance around an issue to make it engaging, but when they start getting raw is when the emotional stakes jump to a different level.

Also, there seem to be way more confident characters in television. How many times an episode do Lorelei and Rory Gilmore rehash their problems and advise each other towards a solution? How many plans did the boys in The League come up with to get Rafi out? How many episodes of the
Undercovers will it take for the main characters to talk their way into a balance between being partners and being married? A character may be hesitant to broach a problem with the character they have it with, but they always have a friend who they can hash it out with, and the audience is always privy to that council.

Sometimes it's strange to write those on the nose scenes. But at the same time, they feel right. Because my heart doesn't pound when I'm dodging an issue with someone. It starts thumping right before I get terrifyingly honest with someone. And TV is drama, so it's going to capture those moments right as your emotions are exploding out of you, making a terrible mess of whatever you've been trying to be polite about.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Nine and 140.

Cell phones are a big problem in TV and movies. One, it just wrecks suspense when one character can get a hold of another immediately to warn them of impending doom, danger, or apocalypse. Two, having two characters just hanging out talking is boring enough--having them hanging out talking in different places, where they can't really interact with each other or their environment organically is beyond boring. Why don't you just go watch a play?

Not that I am saying anything bad about plays. They are just fundamentally different from TV and movies and can support dialog heavy scenes in a way that TV and media cannot.

One of the things I had to do for The Garden was separate the characters from their cell phones. It wasn't terribly difficult to do, but then it proposed an entirely new problem--

People don't know phone numbers anymore.

Even though my character had lost his cell phone, he still needed to call a friend. And then this was when I realized, I myself know about three phone numbers. Two of those are my parents' cell phones. I don't know my parents' house number, I don't know my sister's number, I don't know my best friends' phone numbers. So cell phones provide infinite frustration. Either they create excessive accessibility or they completely cut us off from contacting anyone.

I mostly stalk showrunners and bump industry news, but if you'd like to follow me on Twitter, you can find me at AmyRButler.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Planning and Babies.

You win, outlines.

I started writing Places one week ago, last Thursday. I'm now on page 39. The first day I moved from prewriting to real writing, I wrote 8 pages, and that became the standard. Every time I sit down to work on this pilot I have to write at least 8 pages. I skipped some days, but when I did work--it worked.

Tuesday I went hiking, and I didn't write. I try not to skip writing on weekdays, because when you skip it's harder to get back into the routine. And it's like the one productive thing I do. But I skipped Tuesday, and Wednesday I did not want to write. Not for any of my projects. I dragged my feet and procrastinated and watched the new Sherlock Holmes movie [which, PS., I liked]. Finally, at 9 PM, I knew I couldn't fight it anymore. I thought, this is going to be lame. Maybe I'll get four pages out, and then I'm going home to watch Top Chef: Just Desserts.

I swear, I don't think 8 pages has ever come easier. In under an hour and a half, I was on page 39. And I've noticed--it wasn't just yesterday. These pages have been a breeze. And I know it's because I have an outline. I'm just more efficient. There's just not as much staring into space.

Man, I hate outlining. Now I'm bitter. But a little contrite.

While I was at the coffee shop plinking away at the keyboard, the girl next to me was telling her friend how she had just seen The Social Network and she really liked it but now she's worried about people stealing her brilliant ideas. I think you're ok, girl.

My sister is having her second baby in the next week and a half. I didn't see my first nephew until he was two months old, so as soon as I get the call that she's gone into labor, I'm throwing a suitcase in my car and flooring it back to Jersey. The upside of being unemployed.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Cold Air and Asthma.

Today I went hiking. Some people love getting out in the spring when the weather turns warm. Spring weather just makes me want to take a nap. But when fall comes around I love getting out and hiking and going to cider mills and gallivanting about. Maybe I'm acting on my last chance to get out before winter comes.

I did this last year too, the day before I started working at the school. I went to a state park in New York. I was thinking about that as I started today, and I realized that it was exactly a year ago today that I went hiking in New York. Maybe I have a weird internal hiking clock.

I'm not a very hardcore hiker. I passed only one other group of people while I was out there [because it was a midweek October day]. They had windbreakers and backpacks and hiking boots. I'm more like, Woohoo, I've got my Converses and my messanger bag! And here's my water bottle and my OREOS!

I think this is the witch's house that Hansel and Gretel tried to eat--

And a snake!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Comedy and Error.

My mom and oldest younger brother came out to visit me a few weeks ago. They got to see my new apartment, go to the football opener against UConn, and eat our way through as much of Ann Arbor as we could fit into our stomachs. At the end of Sunday night, exhausted from our gallivanting and carousing, we went to this tiny hole in the wall ice cream place. I've gone on and hosted many a weekend visit, and by the last night, you kinda run out of things to say. So, as we sat there spoon-licking our ice cream, I did the only thing that came to mind. 
I made fun of our basketball team.

It's not that our basketball team is bad [though I think they probably are], it was just that there was a poster on the wall next to us. It had not only last year's schedule printed on it but also a picture of every single team member. These guys clearly were not used to standing still in front of a camera. They were easy targets. One of my favourite things to do is make my mom laugh, and luckily for me, she's pretty easily amused. I got at least fifteen minutes of material from that out dated poster, and yes, I do plan on repeating the routine.

There's a scene in Walk the Line where Reese Witherspoon as June Carter is talking about growing up in an all around talented family and finding her place there. She says, "My sister Anita's the one who really has the pipes... That's how come I learned to be funny. So I'd have something to offer." I don't try to write comedy. Whatever grace God gave to me when He gave me a sense of humor doesn't translate well to the page. But as I've been tracking the trends in television, box office, and online content, I've become more and more convinced that comedy is the future of the writing business.

Broadcast television--I'm convinced that it's just hard to find an audience for a drama. Television is not interactive entertainment. The viewer is completely passive [except when they're fast forwarding through commercials]. We don't come to television looking to be challenged--we come for entertainment and amusement. If you're going to relax after a long day, are you going to choose an hour long serialized emotional drama? Or a light-hearted comedy with a built-in laugh track? What gets easier than having someone else clue you in to when you're supposed to laugh? I personally follow way more comedies than dramas. And clearly it's not as finely split as serialized dramas versus sitcom comedies. There are plenty of successful episodic dramas such as Law and Order:Spinoff and CSI:Everywhere, as well as single camera comedies like The Office or Modern Family. And drama does a whole lot better on cable than on network television, ie Dexter, Mad Men, and Boardwalk Empire.

Perhaps this seems too subjective. How about this--there's no freshman break out show. Solid shows, yes, but there's no Glee or Modern Family [comedy breakouts from last year]. But the first two shows canceled--Lone Star and My Generation. Two serialized dramas. And the rumors floating around of what's on the chopping block next--dramas. There's been no talk of canceling any comedies, even those with disappointing ratings. 

But television is old news. New media is where it's at. Scott Smith over at Screenwriting from Iowa recently posted about new opportunities for writers penning advertisements as content. The writer's strike made an important point that online content and other new media does require an author [and therefore payment], opening up new possibilities ranging from web exclusives, such as The Office has on both their website and Hulu, to character Twitter accounts, like the promoting stunt Community performed before their premiere. Kurt Sutter has been promoting an iPhone app for Sons of Anarchy that will include a great amount of new content. I don't know who's writing all this extra material. I don't know if it comes from the writer's room or if they hire extra staff to create this content. But television is a whole lot more than a weekly half hour episode.

And then, as Scott describes, there's "branding entertainment." Advertisers, trying to adapt to a business model of new media and DVR, are creating content themselves. It's the step beyond product placement. He gives an excellent example of a five minute clip Orbit gum created. I watched it--

And promptly forwarded it to my friend.

1. Because it had Jason Bateman and Will Arnett in it. Automatic go. 2. Because it was funny.

There is so much stuff out on the internet. I believe that, if you're going to put content on the internet, the best way to get it seen is to affiliate it with an already established brand [which is why television based extra content is successful] or get it to go viral. And here's the honest truth--drama doesn't go viral. 

I've wanted to be one of the 2.6 million people trying to take advantage of the "democratic" nature of the internet. I've thought about developing a web series. Making another short. But I always run into the problem that whatever I brainstorm--it's drama. And comedy rules internet success.

Shawna at Shouting into the Wind is about to plunge into web series, and Scott Meyer at Go Into the Story recently wrote an update about web series. Internet content is going to be increasingly important to writers. 

Also, this my new favourite band, Mumford & Sons, an English folk band. But don't let that deter you--they're awesome. Check out their songs. Collect 'em all.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Writing and Routines.

Guys, I was excellently productive yesterday. I wrote 8 and 1/2 pages for Places. And it wasn't all bad. I mean, it is most definitely rough and most of the time I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing, but I have 8 and 1/2 pages down. And E. kinda snickered at one of the jokes, and it's not even a comedy! It was a good day.

I have a job next week, which I'm both excited and bummed about. I've gotten into a real routine here, being unemployed. I get up, check my email and stuff, write a blog post [I used to exercise during this time. I considering blogging the day's warm up for my fingers. Also I hate exercising], and then I move onto the day's writing project. Sometimes I watch TV. For research. Ok, I'm not Josh James. I'm not up at 5:30 and at my desk [which is the dining room table. I'm sure E. will appreciate when I finally make up my mind about which desk chair I want] by 6:00. That sounds worse than exercising. But during this past month or so I've finished a draft on The Garden, nailed down a TV pilot and sent it to readers, and plotted and started another pilot. I will never be that productive while working. I don't think I wrote a word when I was working on that feature in July.

Writing usually makes me very nervous. HW Guy thinks it's endearing. I think it's neurotic. It is, sometimes, stressful. But I cannot wait until this is something that I get to do for a living, and I'm determined to make it happen.

There are trade offs. I've been noticing more... writerly behaviors. I am typically a very social person, but writing requires being alone for several hours a day. There was one day last week where E. left early for work and didn't get back until I was in bed. Between a short phone call and a trip to the coffee shop, I think that day I had a grand total of ninety seconds of human interaction. Sometimes E. will get home while I'm thinking through a story, and I'm sure it appears that I'm distant and quiet while really I'm just still working. I'll find myself chatting up strangers at the RedBox. I'll fake distress at the self scanner in the grocery so an associate will come help me. I'll hug random people. [Ok, I made those last two up. And the RedBox one--she started talking to me first.] I'm just saying, this lifestyle. It changes you. I just hope it's changing me into a better writer.

I want to work--I need to work. But this past month reminded me of how every other career I ever planned for myself was always to support me while I was writing, whether it was nursing, education, or publishing, it was always just a day job until I could be a full time writer. And I discarded each one of those, because I didn't really want to be a nurse or a teacher or a publisher. I wanted to write. And I love working in the film industry, it's tons of fun and I can't imagine what else I would do, but at the end of the day, if I had to choose, all I want to do is write.