Wednesday, December 29, 2004

[The Limit] Easy decision

Yesterday's decision turned out to simple. I've already had a holiday in the lead-up to Xmas and I really want to write, so I'm going with the flow. Restarting things on Thursday.

But I have figured out - after watching a whole bunch of mystery films - that one element of our current ending may be a bit cliche. I'll be trying out removing it (should be easy) and see if the result is a smarter film.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

[Film] The Limit: What next?

Finished The Limit’s rough outline.
Now I have a dilemma. I promised myself three days holiday after this - and by holiday I mean dabbling on some other writing projects - but I am keen to keep pushing on. So:

Do I keep my promise to myself or follow my current inclination?
Do I stick to the plan or stay in the moment?

I'm going to take my Big Walk today instead of tomorrow, and have a think about what's next.

Monday, December 27, 2004

[Film] The Limit, on to Act 3

Finished working through TP2 today - and it wasn't just transcribing notes. There was a lot of creative stuff going on. What's the upshot? The most emotional version of TP2 we've had so far. I really feel Trace's rage at our villain and we snap straight from that darkness to some unsuspected optimism when she finally meets Peter.

All in all, I'm really growing to appreciate the structure of our film. It's filled with inversions of good and bad, positive and negative. Makes for a rich story, worth re-watching.

[TV] lovebites - episode one (3)

Pretty much no version of the pilot played Clare as a central character. I'll undercut that statement in a moment, but in the meantime Clare (our life-of-the-party trauma nurse) was always an outsider to the original group. In the majority of later versions of episode one Clare would arrive in the last 30 seconds.

And maybe that's because we were caught in another bind. You see, lovebites was based on my movie, hopeless. But everyone - network, producers, writers - had different and changeable opinions as to how heavily we should structure the show as a direct continuation of the film. At first it seemed obvious that should be a '2 years later' follow-on from Phil leaving for Australia after confessing he was in love with Richard. This raised the question: how gay should we make Phil? And this was not question the networks wanted answered...or even asked.

In the search for an acceptable AND funny solution to the Phil-gayness algorithm, we went through an all-embracing pan-sexual Phil, hippie Phil, secretive Phil and left-a-pregnant-wife-in-Australia Phil.

Finally we settled on what turned out to be extremely-chauvinist Phil. The timeline for this decision is unclear to me. EC Phil was suggested early on at our roundtable with our first intake of writers, but we may have struggled against settling on it for up to a year. In the end, what we hoped is that we could write Phil as refreshingly blunt about the politics of sex and relationships, while having his sensitivity from the movie playing as a subtext.

Unfortunately, Phil turned out to be all text. In working to build a straight character with sex appeal - which is what the network wanted, seeing Scott as the sexiest of our actors - we helped create the exact opposite. It's all very Freudian.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

[TV] The 'lovebites' debrief

So, it's been three years since I helped write lovebites. Time to try and articulate what I learned. I expect it'll be half-rant, half-insight and all entirely subjective. However, I kept detailed files. Emails, scribbled notes, editing feedback. I have it all.

What was it like? ... Well, I suffered from paranoia that everyone was watching me and judging what I wrote. I was also the Head Writer, meaning everyone watched and judged what I wrote. In many ways, it was the best job I've ever had.

Here's a constantly updated Table of Contents that takes a crack at understanding what I actually did:

The Title


Episode 1 - Endless Revisions. Reverse-Engineering.
(1) Multiple Versions
(2) Taking Feedback. "What is 'Funny'?"
(3) Creating Phil
(3.1) Nothing says comedy like a pregnant dying wife
(4) The Big Ask

The Final Cut: "The Pilot" review

Episode 2 - Who is Clare?

[TV] lovebites - Episode 1 (2)

The thing: if what tipped us over the edge was this e-mail from TV3 that I'm looking at dated 18 January, then we over reacted. At least to the specific content of the e-mail. It's actually filled with pretty reasonable comments. However, after 13 months of ripping apart 20 versions of the pilot episode - none of which could live up to some idealised and indescribable goal that everyone in the team had different visions of - we had an excuse to throw tanties, have breakdowns and engage in some neat near-shouting matches.

So bear in mind that we weren't strictly sane by this point. We had a network that wasn't happy, $4.5 million of controversially awarded taxpayers money and some other pressures that I can't recall right now but - I'm sure - as I continue to read through these old files they'll induce a screaming, plane's-going-down-it's-all-turning-to-shit fugue state. Looking back over these old script pages, I see one-liners, character humour and some nice comic setups. These episodes, these early versions of Episode 1 are funny. The question we kept asking ourselves during pre-production, the comment that kept getting thrown back to the writing team, boiled down to, "Is this funny enough?"

First, way to make you doubt yourself.

Second (and I only had the sense to ask myself this with two years hindsight), what does 'enough' mean? Using it without definition, such as, "This episode isn't good enough," is initially a great way to avoid arguments. Everyone can nod sagely, agree we haven't reached and breached some unspecified limit...and then wander off, promising to do better. I mean, we had set ourselves the goal for this show of dealing with humour and believable characterisation. This is not fertile ground for strictly defined operational parameters.

The number of arguments we had about whether something was or wasn't 'lovebites' - that elusive quality that everyone agreed the show should possess but that we didn't even see a hint of until about halfway through shooting - is a testament to a dangerous team dynamic: thinking you're all on the same wavelength and therefore that spelling out exactly what you mean is an unnecessary step in the conversation.

Third, when someone asks you if it's funny enough, you need to know their sense of humour . This boils down to Steve's Three Laws of Humour:

1. If someone thinks it's funny and you don't, you're wrong.
2. If you think it is funny and they don't, you're wrong.
3. The opposite is also true ... for the exact same joke.

This is hard fought-for knowledge. You can NEVER convince someone they are wrong when it comes to what they think is funny. The sense of humour, your funnybone, is one of the most deeply held convictions any human possesses. Even the most timid of door-stopping Yes-droids will refuse to cave into their crippling insecurity if told to really really laugh at something they don't think is funny. Try writing a sit-com as part of a team some time; you'll probably realise the truth of this within a day.

So there's Lesson One: writing a comedy - writing anything collaboratively - make sure all of your team are on the same page. This is not a "Well, duh," conclusion. It is freakin' essential.

Later I'll address the controversial topic of who gets an opinion. But next time, I'll try to focus more on the pilot. Maybe even tidy up some of this paperwork and focus on it chronologically.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

[Film] Overviewing the 2nd half of The Limit

Having a couple of days off to rest and think is turning out to be an excellent idea. I read through the second half of Act 2 yesterday and figured out that there are really 2 sequences here:

a) a big 'hostage' section at Peter's beach-house that is ALL ABOUT introducing new suspects, possibilities and red herrings into the mystery; and
b) an Armed Offenders Squad callout that is three-quarters nailbiting tension and one-quarter tragedy.

Now I'm gunna take a look at Act 3 in overview. Aiming to finish this rough redraft by New Years.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Plan for Today

I'm going to kind of take today off, hang out at DIM's house - where I'm looking after their cat - and try and get reinspired. So that'll involve reading through the rest of The Limit in one burst so I can regain my sense of where I'm at with it. I'll rough out a write-up of the crazy-ass game of InSpectres we played last night and take some more notes on this book, Mindfulness by EM Langer that I'm researching.

Fun stuff from there: watching the Director's Commentary on ROTK:EE, a bath where I can stretch my feet out and reading Fermat's Last Theorem. I'm also feeling a bit sick, so I think resting with a blanket over me on a sofa might be involved.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

[Film] Networking note

Just had an intense interview with an industry professional. She suggested I focus on the following GOALS :

a) Developing a sustainable income.
b) Figuring out how 'the system' works - how funding decisions are made and who makes them.
c) Networking myself into the industry.
d) Knowing the Auckland world of film and television equally as well as Wellington's.

Her summary of the SITUATION was:

The Industry way of working is to network. "Networking" is making sure that people know who you are and what your track record is.

That means you have to (1) do things and (2) tell people what you have done.

That means joining industry organisations, going to their meetings and conferences, giving out my CONTACT CARD (name, occupation, cellphone, e-mail) and having an industry tailored CV.

I have to:

* research the industry and find out what areas I fit into.
* join and know people in SPADA, New Zealand Writers Guild & Screen Directors Guild. Be aware that Creative New Zealand's goal is to develop an artist's craft and that the New Zealand Film Commission's goal is to have a commercial outcome.
* systematically understand an organisation and then moving on to figuring out the next one.

Now I have had a lot of good experience with networking in the past - I got my job with Gibson Group because of it. But this'll move my efforts up 2 levels. Much to think about.

Monday, December 20, 2004

[Film] The Limit – First day back phenomenon repeats.

Just a note: after a day off, I am again finding it slow-going transcribing these notes for Outline E.

Spent yesterday working on a review of The Farm for and a write-up of the InSpectres session from 2 weeks ago.

Also reading Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell, which is slowly and effectively creeping me out. The great thing about Campbell is that he makes me project my paranoia onto the world around me, so that the empty streets in Aro Valley become freaky – and the houses become … not scary, but unsympathetic.

[sf] Reading a book – The Centauri Device.

I’ve identified 3 key moments for me when I’m reading a book:

Judgment call – After reading 10 to 20% of a book, I make a decision about committing to the whole thing based on whether anything has happened that interestes me.
Breaking the Back – it’s that point where I close the book to take a break and realise that I’m more than halfway through.
The final assault – where I sit down and finish the damn thing – could be 300 pages in one go, could be 40. Strangely, the larger the novel the more pages I tend to read in this final section.

Anyway, The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison.
Captain John Truck is a loser. We know this because the book tells us so, about 50 times in the space of 212 pages. Now there’s some good stuff going on here: a grim Thatcherite version of the 24th century, a bit of punk energy and the question of what exactly the Centauri Device does. The overall desperate vibe of the book has a touch of Firefly about it.

Captain John Truck is the only person in the galaxy who can activate the Centauri Device. That means two armies, a religion, a drug baron and interstellar anarchists all want to possess him. And that means that Captain John Truck is an extremely reactive character, who only really starts taking actions in the last 50 pages of the book.

For most of the story, he visits picturesque locations: the longest running party in the universe, an asteroid in the middle of interstellar space, a pretty cool space battle. Like The Stars My Destination, this is a travelogue where all the elements keep getting reincorporated, but unlike Bester’s book, the supporting characters here feel thin, unreal.

And what is the Centauri Device? The book provides some cool speculations but ultimately disappoints.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

[TV] lovebites - episode one (1)

Just going through one of the many boxes about the TV show. The pilot, if I remember correctly, went through about 20 different versions before we settled on 'Phil trying to score Maryann's flatmate' and 'Richard's bean-bag'. A lot of that was due to us having to settle on starting positions for these characters. We always wanted Phil to come back from Australia ... but in the first episode or the fourth? We always wanted him to have undergone some sort of character transformation, but that shifted from an omni-sexual to a male chauvinist. And was Clare already an established character as the series began or not?

One version of the show, written quite late on in the development process (August '00), had Richard running a horror video evening and becoming terrified (but only during the night). Meanwhile Ben assisted Maryann in breaking up with her boyfriend. This reminds me: we constantly had to make decisions between comedy and truthful character motivation. We nearly always decided to come down on the side of showing truthful things about the characters. This meant that the show, from its early days plotting it out on hundreds of index cards on my living room floor, went from having an absurdist tone to a much more grounded feel.

It might be worth expanding on how that decision-making process emerged over the two years of developing the show.

Another version of episode one was a massive Night on the Town sequence. It involved Phil coming back from Australia being incredibly generous with his money and Richard pushing him to the limits of his generosity. Looking at some of my notes and comments this episode, I find it is endearing how passionately we all tried to solve problems for versions of episodes that never made it to screen. Hopefully going through these boxes will give me some indication of when and why we decided to shift from one version of an episode to the next.

... Bear in mind that I'm writing these comments in real time as I'm reading through the box. So that's about 20 minutes since I started, and I just had a flashback to how much time pressure (and editorial pressure) we were under to come up with the final version of the pilot, the funniest episode of lovebites ever. In fact, I believe the pilot was the 12th episode to be shot? We reached this point where the entire production had to be shut down for an extended break - not a pleasant time - and according to these notes, the broadcast version of episode one started to get locked down in early January. It centred on the beanbag as a subplot - and moved Ben into a central role (finally!) by forcing him to choose between Phil and Maryann.

Ten days later, and we got some feedback that nearly blew up the writers' side of the production for good.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Mountain has been climbed

Bought 2 more books from that 100 Best SF Novels list today.
Nova - Samuel R. Delany - apparently about a guy in a funky indiginie space-opera universe attempting to collapse the capitalist system; and
The Embedding - Ian Watson - which was one of the ones I really wanted, a linguistic thriller. Looking forward.

In addition, I've located about 6 more that are on that list. Think I might buy them for myself for Xmas, now that Neil Diamond has sold out. Damn!

Went to see a HK kung-fu vampire movie with Svend on Wednesday night. Out at the movie theatre in Miramar. Funky stuff. To repeat my comments from Svend's blog:

[SVEND SAID:] The Twins Effect (which seems to have been renamed The Vampire Effect for the American market). All we knew was that it was a Hong Kong movie with western-style vampires with fight coreography by the same guy who worked on Hero, vampire hunters who are Cantopop stars in real life ("The Twins", Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi) and a Jackie Chan cameo .

[HIX SAYS:] I will state, here and now for the record, that the Jackie Chan cameo in this movie (The Twins Effect) is ESSENTIAL viewing for anyone interested in his work.

To take him, make him a bit part in someone else's movie, and then give him exactly the same storyline, skills and attitude as in any of his other films was: a) a stroke of genius, b) incredibly riotiously entertaining, c) the highpoint of the film for me, and d) great for giving me a new perspective on him as an entertainer.

Plus: hard-core action mixed with way goofy HK comedy. Rocks.

In all, if a Buffy TVS feature film could be that intense and funny, I'd be a happy happy fanboy.

As for The Limit, I decided that if I was going to build this confrontation scene up in my head as something big, tough to conquer, then I was going to approach it with rock-climbing-like determination. So at the start of today (yes, after my sleep-in), I set the goal of finishing the scene no matter what ... and set up base-camps at certain sections of the scene that I would reach, rest and then move on from.

It was fun. And I look forward to the coming tighten-up rewrite where I start to integrate Ainsley and my visions for how it plays out.

Hopefully it's all on track to giving to Andrew before Xmas. But I should know for sure in about 3 days.

[sf] Time Travel list

An acquaintence of mine is about to start working on a time-travel feature film. So it occured to me, what are the list of references you'd need for such a project:

By his Bootstraps, short story by Robert Heinlein. Essential.
Primer, low budget movie (2003)
Back to the Future trilogy.
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells.
The Time Ships, the sequel by Stephen Baxter.
Terminator 1 (for exposition).
Terminator 3 (for subtle time paradoxes).
Event 16, a local NZ T-T movie, as yet unreleased.
'The Man Who Folded Himself' by David Gerrold, for my money the best t-t book ever written.
Timescape, Gregory Benford - which is about how the scientific process might work behind an academic t-t project.
There's a short story by Ian Watson, either The Very Slow Time Machine or
The Very Long Time Machine, which is a weirdly different look at how t-t might work.
A Sound of Thunder (with Ben Affleck) is about to come out. Based on the Ray Bradbury short story and lampooned in the Simpsons with the t-t toaster Halloween episode.

* Just thought of an idea for a t-t - someone travels forward in time and discovers they've been murdered. Actually that's a situation. There's no structure or character there yet, but there would be a compulsion to act.

Time Cop (that Van Damme movie).

And some ideas from Amazon's lists:

12 Monkeys
Time after Time
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
Star Trek IV
There's a movie starring Jeff Daniels which I think is called Grand Tour, which is nice and low-key with a nasty nasty ending.
Lots and lots of Star Trek episodes, from this list.

Hmm, nothing else coming to mind. Will post this now, and get back to my real work.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

[Film] The Limit, tough scene.

So, back to my three days on after one day off. And yet again, I find that first day back goes a little slow. I thought it was only when I started a new phase of a project, but maybe it's after any type of break.

Anyway, I'm transcribing a massive rewrite/expansion of 'the first confrontation between the 2 fathers'. Lots of backstory spills and spews during this scene - and there's a chaotic spiral upwards into violence. 2 things make it an interesting problem: 1) After listening my sales pitch my producer friend, Ainsley, made an incredibly astute suggestion about how and when one of the father's should change his mind. That means I'm restructuring the whole scene on the fly; and 2) I'm treating this primarily dialogue-driven scene as an action scene.

You see, action scenes are easy to write. I'm not sure why I find that yet - but I build a clear visual image in my mind of what happens, and I find it easy to see where the gaps are and edit accordingly. I also find it easy to create and maintain the point of view (sympathy for the hero) in an action scene, and to increase tension and put the people I like under stress.*

Drama scenes lack that clarity for me. I feel they should build tension and maintain interest in the same way that action scenes do, but because the (opposing force?) is non-physical, that clear visual image is harder to create in my head.

How to represent an intangible (not physical or visual) form of jeopardy. What I'm trying is:

Clearly determine the main characters motivations.
Break the scene down into acts and turning points.
Visualise how the characters will move within those acts and turning points.
Use those movements to inspire deeper tensions and oppositions.

Boy, thinking along these lines may start me questioning exactly what a scene is.

* For me to write it effectively, an action scene has a person in jeopardy and something putting them in jeopardy. In the case of The Limit, that something is usually a person. Typically the person IN jeopardy as the hero or the person we have sympathy with in the scene. Because The Limit is a vigilante thriller, the person causing pain is the hero. So I'm constantly finding I have to tweak the scene to keep the hero sympthetic.

[TV] Joss Whedon - op/ed & news

Couple a noteworthies on the net today about my favourite show designer Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and - it turns out - a couple of scripts for Roseanne). First is Annalee Newitz's Techsploitation column lauding his genius ... here

And then we've got news on the Serenity front, that's the Firefly movie, from AICN. The hype is so good it almost stops me venting with frustration that I probably won't get to see it until 2006.
Check out the studio plants ... here. [As ever, spoilers are around.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

[sf] Inverted World, by Christopher Priest.

It’s a mathematical thriller … and at points, a mathematical action-movie. Inverted World has a twist, but really that’s just icing. What it does well is convey exactly what it would be like to live in a world where the geometry and physics are way out of whack with our own.

The story also neatly sets up a tension right at the beginning by letting us meet a character who doesn’t reappear for 150 pages – but the fact that she’s so prominent at the start gives her role in the book’s resolution a lot of significance.

Weirdly though, this is a book about an idea. The lead character doesn’t really have a character – he obeys orders, experiences weirdness and is generally reactive.

Svend was talking about sf novels that try to be literature. I think this book falls into that camp, but around the era this book was being published, you had the cosy-British-disaster novels (Triffids, Kraken Wakes) and the New Wave – of which this seems to be an example. Some of the New Wave, for instance J.G. Ballard by the time he’s hitting High Rise and Crash is definitely in the literature section of the tennis court … maybe because they’re moving sf into the realm of the contemporary world.

[Film] The Limit gets a day off.

The first 3 days of the rough redraft have gone fast and slow. Fast: I’ve already broken all the scenes, figured out what I want to do with them. Slow: even though it’s just transcribing for the most part, putting scenes on paper for the first time, I’m still tweaking them to make them play.

Other things I’ve noticed:
- My standard first day slowness where I get my head round the fact that I’m in a new phase of the project continues.
- My ‘enjoy myself’ philosophy seems to be working. I’m very comfortable writing until my body tenses up or my brain gets logjammed – and then just doing something else, relaxing until this signal in my head tells me it’s time to go back to the keyboard.
- I really like working on this film. If we (Andrew and I) can pull it off before anyone else does, it could end up being one of the definitive vigilante thrillers. It’s that sense of mission that gives me most of the drive to work on it. And more and more, it’s getting to be not work but play.

Monday, December 13, 2004

[RPG] InSpectres - Actual Play

I'm posting a write-up of our InSpectres game at the Forge, here. InSpectres is sort of a cross between Ghostbusters and, very funny and probably the game our group's been the most enthusiastic about over the last 2 years.

It firmly shoves power into the players' hands. When you roll to see what happens, the result doesn't determine success or failure but rather how much leeway you have to narrate what's going on. Couple that with the Confessional Chair (like a piece to camera in a reality TV show, it allows you to flash back and forwards in time, dropping other players in the poo) and you have a great introduction to role-playing and to theatre-sports/improvisation.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

[Film] The Limit - finished prepping for Outline E

Yesterday was a smooth ride through to the end of Act 3 - I was crying at some points, which I hope is a sign the climax'll hit people as hard as I hope.

My method is go through the previous outline scene by scene, brainstorming, critiquing - basically overhauling whatever needs it without committing to anything. Then I transcribe those notes (in a very loose order) into the PC. The draft after that is the keeper. Going through, I lock things down, get the language right ... making sure the emotional flow of the script feels 'right'.

Trust me, it's a lot easier than launching into a script waaaay too soon then rewriting dialogue 20 or 30 times without addressing fundamental problems in the story.*

So, I've been relaxing, on holiday from yesterday afternoon through today. Start the new outline tomorrow, 9am.

* Experience speaking. But my current approach does have its own risk: never being willing to say 'Right, it's done. Let's start writing.'

[Film] Mother's Day - Turning Point 1

So after thinking about the Mother's Day idea during the Big Move, I've decided to try an alternative structure, asking, "What if the first act ends differently to the-son-runs-away?" So my first replacement is:

13. The Son denies his mothers all access to his family.

So now I'm developing three possible structures for the film. The original road movie. This one, which is presumably set more in the city of origin. And an amalgam of the two.

But I'd still like to brainstorm more ideas - even though I think that this new way of playing the Turning Point represents a stronger failure for the mothers - ... while continuing to generate ideas for the son's job when he runs away.

Friday, December 10, 2004

K is for Kindred, S for Seward

The great thing about moving flat is that people are chucking out cool stuff you can liberate. So, I just finished reading my new copy of:

Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels, by David Pringle.
***1/2 (out of 5)
The novels span the period from post-WW2 to 1984, covering novels from (ironically) 1984 to Neuromancer. It’s always exciting to read an overview of a genre – it leaves me with a bunch of stuff that I havetoreadrightnow. In this case, I’m jonesing for …

Inverted World – a wheeled city in a mathematical universe.
The Left Hand of Darkness – I’ve kept hearing about it since 1991.
Pretty much all the Philip K. Dick novels I haven’t read
Nova Express by William S. Burroughs – a battle for reality between the mob and the cops (lead by Uncle Bill himself)
A Clockwork Orange – I didn’t know the title was a metaphor for the impossibility of a perfectly controllable human.
Bug Jack Barron – one media giant versus one corporate tyrant.
The Embedding – about the structure of language … and aliens.

Pringle’s main point is that sf novels lead us into conceptual breakthroughs – where we are shown a new world or our world in a new way.

There’s also a second layer to the book. As he writes his two page comments on each novel, Pringle’s voice is at first unnoticeable; just a critic talking about stuff he likes and doesn’t like. Then his tastes start to intrude onto the reviews. He begins to disparage the books he’s included, making snide comments about some aspects of them. At that point I began to despise David Pringle, whoever the hell he was.*

But slowly my opinion changed. I argued, then considered his points. Grew fond of his tendency to quote long passages devoted to the landscapes a novel’s characters are passing through. In the end, I felt like I’d been through an emotional journey just like I would have with a character in a novel.

Now to read those books.

* Turns out he’s the editor of Foundation, a British SF magazine in the 70’s and 80’s.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

[Film] My Writing Process, 2004

Lying in the bath yesterday trying to rest my sore back, I started thinking about how The Limit - even though it's about 2 fathers - would never be played on Father's Day. Too violent. But it'd be good to write a movie that was guaranteed to be played on a certain day every year. You had that Father's Day movie with Williams and Crystal a couple of years ago. What about a Mother's Day movie. So what follows is my ideas on how to write a movie to pitch for Hollywood - as of right now.

First thing, Father's Day had 2 dads. I want more mums. Okay, a twisted history. Woman who donated an egg, surrogate mum who carried it and gave birth, adoptive mother - because the baby was then given away for some reason, and a mother-in law ('cos whoever the guy - I think - is in this situation is married). That equals 4 mums.

Now: end of Act 1. I wanted to brainstorm 20 ideas for what could set this plot in motion - I think I reached about 12. Unfortunately the list existed in my head and has therefore disappeared this morning, but after going through initial stuff like "Son turns gay" and "Son wants sex change", I had the idea that whatever TP1 is, it should "Unite the mothers for the first time". So I went with "Son disappears".

I like my Act 1 turning points to represent an utter failure for the heroes, so this is okay - but I'd be prepared to brainstorm some more to come up with something more original.

Anyway, that's where I was by the time I went to sleep last night. Then I got up at 3am and watched the Spice Girls movie - how do you form an opinion about something like that? It's an artifact from outside of our space-time continuum. Back in bed I started to think about what would happen next. Well, the obvious question is "why did the Son run away?" And two ideas hit me at the same time - the Wife is pregnant AND Act 3 is about her giving birth.

Sweet, so now I have: set up the '4 mums' situation, son disappears, we find out it's because his wife's pregnant/he's running away from the responsibilities of being a father, the 4 mums bring him back, wife gives birth. But that's not what this movie is about, right? The Son isn't the main character - it's about the mums. The son disappearing is just an excuse to force them together, probably get them on the road, have some character development, have some laughs.

Right, well who are the mums? To start with, they're played by 4 great actresses: Susan Sarandon sort of territory. And we can play with their stereotypes - so Goldie Hawn could be the shy quiet one who finds her voice through the course of the movie. The important thing is that they don't get on, that there's friction between them. And we spend Act 1 setting that up - 1 scene with each mum making a single demand from the son (and show the son consistently depressed throughout this sequence - an emotion we don't understand at the start, but understand very well by the end) - then a scene showing they don't get on as a group.* They've got four different attitudes towards being a mother ... and in fact, that's the key question of the entire film: What does it mean to be a mother?

All of the comedy (ideally) should come out of - or revolve around - that key question : What does it mean to be a mother?

That brings me to the second time I woke up today: now. I have all that, now fill in the blanks of the structure: they're searching for the son, so one of the mum's is a detective. Maybe a cop - that could be funnier. Oooh, I want to cast Jane Curtin (Kate and Alley, 3rd Rock from the Sun). They need to find/get the clue to where the son is, they need to meet/find the son and realise why he won't come home, they need to have adventures whereever the son is, the son needs to tell them that they are terrible mothers (a confrontation) and they need to argue/lose their growing unity/doubt themselves. Throw in at least a couple of big comedy setpieces in each half of Act 2 and I think we've got a start here.

And I need to keep reminding myself - this is not a movie about the son. He only serves to throw and spin the 4 mum's plot around.

So that's that. Pretty much a raw thought process in as much chronological order as I can remember it coming to me. What's the value of it? I tend to make those sorts of judgments later ... but I'd be tempted to say what I have is a cookie-cutter Hollywood structure with some characters I'm really interested in. Oh, and I think I've got the killer ending - or at least the right one:

Wife gives birth, pan up - all the 4 mums are silent with happiness. CUT TO: 'one year later', son and wife are living an ideal life ... one of the 4 mums is dropping the baby off, the other 3 are arguing about whose turn it is to look after it next. Finally, their attention has been deflected away from the son and onto something else. Son is happy. His wife asks him to get her a drink, he says "Yes Mum" and he realises he's now in a world with five of them. Oh, and it's a baby girl.

Motherhood, birth, strong female character - remember to keep the focus on the mums as much as possible, give them strong motivations. Maybe one of them has a bad marriage, one of them has boyfriends all over the country ... ah, those aren't the motivations, just more details of traits they could have. I'd move that sentence into the 'Who are the Mums' para six up, but this is all first draft, right?

So, question to leave it with: what does the son do when he runs away? What does he run away to? It should be funny, and offer comic possibilities. If you're interested, number your ideas and leave 'em in the comments, start your numbering where the person above you left off. I want 20 to choose from. Here's 4 to get going:

1. He's a cowboy.
2. He's a hippie.
3. He's in Las Vegas, gambling ... maybe living the high life.
4. Film industry.

Catch you after I finish moving and reconnect the PC ...

* Act 1 also needs a scene with the son and his best friend, where the son sees how horrible it would be to be a parent - real nightmare kid stuff.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

[TV] Shock! Tru Calling, ... good?

Previously on Tru Calling, someone created a TV show that played nice variations on the premise that Elisa Dushku can groundhog-day to save dead people - but couldn't make me care.

Now Tru Calling has the elements of an interesting TV show: a relationship with sparks in it (Tru-Jack); a character I actually care about (Jack, played by a sombre Jason Priestly); subtext in the form of Tru's dad having arranged the murder of Tru's mum - and while we know this, Tru hasn't discovered it yet. And finally, the show has an ongoing tension: a nosy reporter who's on the road to nosing out Tru's secret - that she relives days to save people who have already died.

All of this happening (I think) around Episodes 13-14 - the midpoint of a 22 episode season, where usually you throw in something new to raise the overall tension of the situation. Buffy fans might recall previous mid-points such as: Faith meets the deputy mayor, Adam wakes up, and Willow realising she might have a teensy weensy problem with magic and driving and baby-sitting.

Plus, in last night's episode Jason Priestly's character revealed he had once been clinically dead. I thought this was cool because I was expecting him to reveal the even bigger secret he's keeping - which for once is showing up in the writing, forcing Dushku's Tru to display some of her personality.

So the question I'm interested in: why the show was cancelled before it screened any of the episodes it shot for season 2.

Also, I'm still in shock that not only was Smallville still pretty good last night (continuity, developing Pete, Chloe vs. Lionel!), but that Tru Calling was better. Inconceivable.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Blogger ate my last 2 updates.

I’m moving house this weekend - but much to my surprise, I’m also making good progress on the treatment for The Limit. After nearly a week of being frustrated by writer’s block (or writer’s stalling, anyway), I started to crack open the conversation the hero and villain would have as they waited outside a house – and that’s led to a smooth-ish ride towards the end of Act 2.

The revisions that Andrew suggested last month make this into a far more entertainingly complex movie. I really feel sorry for the main villain now – something I never expected.

At the writing level, I’m also getting a lot of experience treating drama scenes as action scenes – a little dodge I wanted to try out because action is easy for me to write and visualise, whereas drama and emotions, quieter stuff, is opaque. So far it seems to be working. The quieter moments dotted throughout the mega-action scene that is Act 2 feel more intense. I guess we’ll see when I start to consolidate these notes for the new treatment into a rewrite.

Script-writing at this level, the major concerns are ‘plausible character motivations’ and making sure you understand the cumulative ‘emotional effect’ each scene is having on the audience. The result feels very pure and abstracted – the opposite of writing paragraphs for public consumption.

I’m also trying to enjoy the process of writing, not just focusing on achieving a goal. So there’s lots of listening to Bach, taking breaks, sitting in the sun when it’s sunny – and dabbling in a few other things:

Submitted a synopsis for another film to Daybreak Pacific…
Mulling over the backstory for the computer game I’m designing…
Writing up the Who Framed Roger Rabbit game I ran two weeks ago…
Trying to frame responses to the comments in this blog…

Which all reminds me.… Later, I should write about my bugbear – attempting to focus on completing one idea while I’m continually coming up with new (fresher) ideas …

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Quick Update

Moving house this weekend (BOXXXXES!!!!) which has stalled work on a comprehensive treatment for The Limit - frustrating. OTOH, I sent in a feature film synopsis to a production company today - and continue to mull over the backstory for my computer game.

Joan of Arcadia - tonight, 7.30.
Thursday night is packed with a pilot (Between the Sheets), NYPD 24/7, the return of The Shield (awesome!) and The Practice.
Then on Friday, .... did I mention that I may be starting to like The Days? Tru Calling follows up its bloody obvious plot twist with a confrontation with Tru's mum's killer ... and I'm expecting Smallville to sink back to its normal self after the excellence of the last 2 weeks.

Monday, November 29, 2004

[Film] Sunset subtext

There are at least two types of subtext in Before Sunset. First, we have to guess how Jesse and Celine feel about each other from their conversation and body language. Second, they are withholding major pieces of personal information from each other. The script's Turning Points rely on significant pieces of backstory that the characters are aware of - but we are not.

To illustrate those Turning Points, I've broken Before Sunset into 3 Acts:

During Act 1, Jesse promotes his book and reunites with Celine. Turning Point 1 occurs when Celine asks Jesse if he showed up in Vienna.

Act 2 is the meat of their conversation and growing sexual attraction - with a Mid-point (possibly) when Celine reveals that she knows about Jesse's home life.

Turning Point 2 could start when Jesse reveals why he wrote his book or it could start in the car when Celine begins to break down, ... Anyway, it initiates a growing emotional intensity in Act 3.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

[Film] Comparing Sunrise and Sunset.

Shouldn’t Before Sunrise and Before Sunset have a similar feel? Both films have a couple strolling through a European city learning about each other’s thoughts, feelings, philosophies on life – and their attitudes towards love. Well, there are some fundamental differences between the two.

First, the first film can stand alone – while I only think about Before Sunset as a companion piece, to compare against Before Sunrise.

Secondly, Sunrise takes place over one night while Sunset is set in (basically) real time – about 70 minutes of their lives as they meet for the first time in 10 years.

A more important difference is that we come to Before Sunset with questions we want answered. What have Jesse and Celine been up to in the intervening 10 years? Did they keep their promise at the end of the movie? The characters have gone from being mysterious strangers we’re meeting for the first time to people with histories - they've transformed from archetypes into very specific people … people whose lives we care about.

Before Sunset is also a much more dramatically focused film than Before Sunrise. The first film is about getting to know the characters and settling in with them like you’d settle in with a good book. It’s also about the fun of watching a relationship emerge. In this second movie, Celine and Jesse are testing each other. As soon as it starts, we know they once made a commitment to each other and the rest of the film asks “How much does this person mean to me?” It’s not about introductions anymore, it’s about what’s going to happen in the rest of their lives.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

[Film] Before I talk about Before Sunset …

The tension I found in Before Sunrise was that even a single misstep in their conversation, one comment taken the wrong way could ruin their fragile developing romance.

In Before Sunset, the stakes are even higher. There’s a marriage, children, failed relationships and mutual blame. That scene in the rental car where Jesse and Celine just vent at each other about how holding on to their night in Vienna ruined their lives, … well, I was crying during it. *

But this time round, I didn’t focus on their conversation. I was more interested in the rising sexual tension. In this respect, the film shared a similar appeal to Lost in Translation; don’t watch on what they’re doing or saying, but how they’re acting round each other. It’s the subtext that’s fascinating.

And anyway, the film’s not about 2 strangers getting to know each other. At a dialogue level, it’s simply re-establishing that Jesse and Celine can talk this deeply with each other. What's really at stake is the conflict - between their growing attraction and the revelations about their lives since 'that night'.

Before Sunrise’s ambiguous ending kept me wondering for 8 years, but all it asks is: will they meet again? At the end of Before Sunset, there are 2 variables: Will they sleep together now? And after that, will they continue seeing each other? The script-writers (Ethan, Julie and Richard) are asking us whether we think these characters are willing to fundamentally change their lives.

So what do I think they do?

Well, I think it’s a given that they are in some sort of love. That they know what love feels like, they know it can damage you, and they know there’s a cost.

But I don’t know what they do. I don’t even think I want to know what I think about what they do, yet. … But I suspect they sleep together, and I hope they try and make a go of it … but I also hope that if there’s a sequel in 10 years time, it’s not about a tumultuous conversation centering around the day of their divorce. Maybe that’s why both these movies work. They suggest the possibility of how great the relationship could be without going into the day-to-day.

* I’ll give some more thought to why I loved the car scene – but the fact that I idealise Before Sunset the way they idealise their night together probably has something to do with it.

Friday, November 26, 2004

[RPG] The Farm ... One Last Look

In this final article about The Farm*, I’m interested in how the rules reveal a philosophy, a premise behind the game…

Right from the start, the focus is on the group. It's assumed that six people are playing this game. They get 48 points to divide between their mental and physical scores. So almost the first thing you do in this game is try to co-operate on allocating resources.

The rules seem designed to create questions about teamwork versus individualism. In my personal creepiest-sentence-of-the-entire-game, “The Leader is voted into office by the group during any of the three feeding times.” This Leader can be given the players’ dice when lots of them need to make a skill check. The Leader then rolls the dice and allocate each player the number they say need to succeed.

The Leader has no compulsion to keep their word. They can hand out a different (unwanted) number or keep good results for themselves. Carefully maneuvering yourself into the Leader position at a moment when it’s advantageous to you is always an option.

But the players also have a way of looking out for Number 1. After the Leader’s rolled dice for the group, a player can say (using these precise words), “I am a pig. Give me all the 4’s” if – for instance – they want 4s. Although it’s not clarified, I suspect that only one person can claim the role of Pig during any group roll.

The impression I’m getting from this game is that it’s a Prisoner’s Dilemma-type exercise in trust and co-operation.

Another neat wrinkle in the rules is that you can loan successes to someone else … but this puts you into “Skill Debt”, and until that Skill Debt is repaid, you can never succeed in the skill that uses that number. Other players can’t pay you back – so the only ways to regain your ability are to: a) rely on luck; or b) be the Pig.

That means helping other players is a conscious act of pure altruism …

So what’s the conclusion? Jared’s summary is: “The point of the game is to band together as a group and escape. But is that even possible? I don't know the answer to that question. But if I had to make a guess, I'd say no. No, it's not possible.

“But maybe one person can make it to freedom. … Maybe.”

The Farm is testing us. Is this a world where only an individual can survive? Where you have to act like an animal to escape an animal’s fate? And if you need the help of others to even get a chance of escaping, then at what point do you betray your friends?

*Previously I’ve asked: What’s The Farm about? Why is it such a creepy game? And how do you play it?

Monday, November 22, 2004

[TV] Love triangle explodes in Everwood!

EPHRAM the surly teenage genius loves AMY, the most popular girl in school, who’s obsessed with COLIN (who’s been in a coma for most of the last six months).

In flashbacks, Colin’s been cocky and almost unbearable. Now that he’s just gotten home from hospital, script and performance have turned him into a quiet tortured soul – showing how awful it’d be to have amnesia while being surrounded by loving friends.

It’s a great pay-off for a pivotal character who was mostly off-screen for the first half of Season 1, and a vivid demonstration of how Everwood’s writers do exactly what you expect and hope to see, but twist it in a way that makes it deeper, more human.

Coming soon: a Beginner’s Guide to Everwood.

[TV] How to Write a TV Series - The Pilot 3.6 (cont'd)

So the primary function of a pilot is to make you want to watch the show again. It does this by being as rewarding on as many different levels as possible: entertaining, engaging, raising curiosity. Let's call this "Indoctrination" [thanks Chris Gilman, for the term].

The secondary - and nearly as important - thing a pilot should do is introduce the audience to the situation the show is about. You know - this is a show about a man who's split between his family and the crime ring he runs; this is a show about a man who fights terrorism in real-time. Let's call this function, "Orientation".

How do you introduce the audience to a situation? You either create a new situation for them to watch or you throw them in the deep end of an existing story (in media res) - basically you ask if you want the viewers to have the same knowledge as the characters, or less.* Ways of doing this include: Change Status Quo (The Sopranos) or Insert a new character (Rachel arrives on Friends) or Rely on your Premise.

Status Quo changers are attention grabbing episodes. They have big plot points that may mislead you about what the tone of the show will be. See my review of The Days, below - and I found The O.C. particularly guilty of this.

Inserting a new character is almost a pilot cliche [along with setting up someone who looks like a main character and then killing them off in the first ep - The West Wing, Third Watch, Everwood, Six Feet Under]. The idea is that the "new guy" is our point of view character; we meet the rest of the cast along with them and make our judgements about how everyone fits together at the same pace they do. Obvious variations here include: the new guy is stupid and draws different conclusions to us; kill the new guy off; and make the new guy disrupt the status quo (a classic - look at The O.C. and the real pilot ep of Firefly).

In Media Res - or Rely on your Premise - pilots are rare. I'm doing that with the sit-com I'm working on. It requires a strong situation that's so interesting it hooks viewers in - and a creative decision that experiencing the final situation is more interesting than showing how the situation gets set up.

*Theoretically, you could create a situation where the audience have more knowledge than the characters (for example if you were dealing with a well-known legend like King Arthur - or more recently, the Superman mythos in Smallville). That's an extremely easy way to create an awesome amount of subtext. It also makes foreshadowing easy to see.

[TV] The Days - Pilot episode

Hey, it's another family drama. In fact it could be a piss-take of fam-drams. After all there's a genius in there (see also Everwood, Joan of Arcadia, Gilmore Girls and The O.C.). In fact there's 2 (see Everwood). The Dad is having a midlife crisis (see Everwood, ... hell, see every other fam-dram ever made) and the son-dad relationship seems like a watered down version of Everwood's 'Dad wants to get close to distant son'. I love the mother-daughter relationship (if it develops into something more complex, I will have to compare and contrast it to Gilmore Girls ). Finally, it's doing the knowy pop-culture dialogue thing ... badly.

Let's take a look at the structure and see what it teaches us about the type of thrills offers. The daughter is pregnant before the opening credits roll. This is okay but I don't care about any of the characters yet. My first laugh of the entire episode comes at Commercial Break 2 when the surly-teenage-writer-genius-son (a wish-fulfilment character on the part of the series creator?) decks the father of his sister's baby, which is how the Mum finds out her daughter is pregnant just as the daughter arrives home. At CB 3 the Mum finds out she is also pregnant just as the Dad reveals he is unemployed. So, the appeal of The Days is its hyped-up soapy plot twists - every family member having a big life changing moment that collides with everyone else.

Can it keep up this pace? Is this The Lakes and we will have moved on from pregnancy and unemployment by the next episode? Or has this pilot set up a season's worth of issues, will it have more than a pilot's worth of plot points as cool as CB 2 and 3?

This is why I try not to judge TV on the basis of one or three episodes. Give a show a decent stretch - 6 eps at least - to see how it handles story arcs and character development - all that 'invisible' stuff that keeps me interested until the characters have enough backstory - and they either start pro-actively generating their own plots or they don't. That's when I make my judgment about a show.

Unfortunately I didn't record of the last five minutes of the episode. That means there are some 'format' issues about the show I'll be interested to see. Did it end in a cliffhanger? Will the next day (each episode takes place over 24 hours) be a lot further on in time?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Comments Enabled!

All hail the benefits of beta-testing. You can now post comments to this blog. From what I've read, it looks like that'll only apply to entries made after this post.

[TV] Smallville 3.8

Lex, about to be chemically lobotomised by his reluctant father ... good.
The implication that the series will eventually portray Lex's evil as a by-product of mental illness rather than a choice ... bad.
The smaller details and much of the execution of this episode ... kind of lame.
But on the other hand, having a storyline based off the characters' own histories rather than a "Monster of the Week" is extremely satisfying.

Just one small part of why Smallville is a frustrating show. Later, lets vent about its genre and why it's bad for Clark Kent to be the centre of the universe.

The Death of Pop Culture

This is just a brain dump at this point, and it starts with the question: Are free-to-air networks angry at people downloading copies of their TV shows?

Let's say they are (they're losing advertising revenue because viewers who download watch the shows without ads). What's their response? How does the Network's business model change? 1) They could insert massive amounts of product placements INTO the shows. Therefore downloading them still creates benefits for the companies that are advertising. Or 2) Free-to-air networks become subscription-only networks.

Following model 1 means you limit the types of shows you produce (Lost might be a tough sell in this environment, for instance) and the advertised products are time-bound which may limit the repeatability of the series. I'm interested in the ramifications of model 1, but that's tangential to my main point.

Following model 2 means you create stratas of pop culture based on who can afford access to what material. At the very least, it'll create a rich and a poor pop-culture. ... And this is already happening. As soon as you create a divide based on economics, have you destroyed pop culture? Will there still be a broad enough base of free/cheap material to sustain it?

Is there a pop culture at the moment or do other non-economic differences (religion being the biggest one I can think of off-hand) mean that there's only broad special interest groups that only pay attention to their own thing. And if that's the case, then what does it mean for something to be "mainstream"?

Note: Pop Culture, for the purposes of this brain dump, is a shorthand ("Oh that show? It's like Buffy.") that can be used to create a sense of belonging and community.

[TV] Curb your Enthusiasm

Some thoughts after watching a full episode for the first time: The show looks and presents itself as boring, cheap and mundane. And then Larry David gets a massage from a ... hooker? Who offers to finish him off ... and from there the episode (which I found laugh-free up until that point) is hilarious*.

Why? Because suddenly the story is filled with sub-text ... Larry's fear of being discovered, his desire to keep it from his wife. The pressure of the situation lets me learn about his character - a need to please, selfishness, his sychophancy, his belief that most things will turn out bad. In fact, he's George from Seinfeld.

And seeing as (I think) Larry based George on himself, maybe he finds his artistic inspiration from pouring his self-loathing into public critiques of his own life.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is bitter, depraved - Seinfeld with the gloves off. I found it a tough watch in that 'cringe for the hero' The Office/Fawlty Towers kind of way. I won't be going too far out of my way to watch it again but I suspect there's some interesting stuff going on here.

* Hopefully I didn't find the early parts of the episode funny because I was missing the 'invisible laughs' - of character relationships that I don't know about yet.

[TV] How to Write a TV Series 3.6

3.6 The Pilot [... so this is an addition from that table of contents, yesterday]

The pilot episode of a TV series has quite a few functions, but its most important is:

It's the 1st time people will see your show, so make it a rewarding experience for them.*

Other functions include:
1) clearly introduce the most vital of the main characters (MCs).
2) clearly introduce key relationships.
3) orient the viewers to the tone of the show. What emotions will they experience watching it; what emotion will they be left with?
4) what's the Premise of the show - what's it saying (or asking) about the world?
5) make sure that events just before the 1st ad-break hooks the viewer into coming back and seeing what happens.
6) ... and this is last on the list 'cos it's also important ... what is the main unresolved Tension in this show? What exactly are we watching to see what happens? For instance, how will Buffy handle being a vampire slayer? Will Tony Soprano reconcile his family and his crime syndicate? Will Sydney bring down SD6? (Alias).

The Tension that drives an entire show has to be big (in terms of its ramifications). If the show has a main character - and that's another section to add in - then the Tension is intimately tied to them.

Also: a bit of common wisdom I heard from the Firefly writers and directors commentary: you should think of your first six episodes as pilot episodes. This gives people who are late-comers to the show a chance to catch up (... and it also reminds me of another section to add in, probably 3.1.1 Continuity - Loose or Tight).

*That's basic conditioning theory in psychology. Make it rewarding and they're more likely to return for a second viewing.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

[TV] How to Write a TV Series

A sketchy, first draft Table of Contents for a book on TV Series Design:

Update: I won't be indexing new entries for a while, so you can find a list of new posts on this page.

0. Introduction
..... 0.0.1 What's going on?
..... 0.0.2 The Goal
0.1 Three things to know
..... 0.1.1 The Situation
..... 0.1.2 The Situation is a Tube
..... 0.1.3 The Question
Some Starting Points
0.3 The 4 Essentials in action
0.4 What to expect

1. Creating the Vision
1.1 The Character of the Show
..... 1.1.1 Emotion
..... aka Mood or Tone
..... Scripts are Emotion
..... 1.1.2 Genre
..... 1.1.3 Continuity (Loose or Tight)
..... 1.1.4 Open or Closed Episodes
...... Advantages and Disadvantages of Open vs. Closed

1.2 The Characters in the Show

..... 1.2.1 Primetime Adventures - the game
..... 1.2.2 Issues
1.3 Tone

..... 1.3.1 Moments
1.4 Describing the Characters
..... 1.4.1 Principles

2. Assembling the Team
2.0 How I hire
..... 2.0.1 3 Levels of Power
2.1 Writers
..... 2.1.1 Two Leaders
2.2 Producers
2.3 Casting [and this will be a large section]
..... 2.3.1 'Freaks & Geeks' advice

3. Writing the Scripts

3.1 Series Arc
..... 3.1.1 Continuity

..... Easy Continuity
..... 3.1.2 Not getting cancelled
..... 3.1.3 How Do You Create Cool Long-Running Plot?

3.2 Learning about the characters
..... 3.2.1 3D Characters
..... 3.2.2 More about Backstory
..... Examples of Backstory
..... 'Oldboy' - Backstory = Plot Twist
..... 3.2.3
Interviewing the Actor

3.3 Character Arcs

3.4 Individual Episodes [This gets broken down further]
..... 3.4.1 The A-Plot
..... The Question
..... 3.4.2 Subtext
...... Using Family Dramas as an example
..... 3.4.3 Scenes
...... 3.4.1 Layering Scenes
...... 3.4.2 The Worst
3.5 Dealing with the Network
..... 3.5.1 The Goal with Executives
3.6 The Pilot
..... 3.6.1 Indoctrination
..... 3.6.2 Orientation

4. Pre-Production
4.1 Choosing Directors
..... 4.1.1 The Director's Bible
..... 4.1.2 The Test Episode
4.2 The Look of the Show

4.3 The Read-Through (and what comes after)

5. Ways to Improve Communication
5.1 6 Hat.
5.2 Sharing the vision.
5.3 Listening till you get to the bottom.
5.4 Gung-Ho.
5.5 Assignments based on passion.
5.6 Sharing an episode.

6. The Ideal Process
6.0 Introduction
..... 6.0.1 Saving Time
6.1 Overview of the Process
6.2 Phase 1
..... 6.2.1 More on Phase 1
..... 6.2.2 The Demo Script

7. How to Join a Team (Writing for someone else)
7.1 Introduction to writing for someone else
7.2 Knowing your place in the hierarchy
..... 7.2.1 Go into a meeting as the 'new guy'.
7.3 How to be a good team member

8. How to Build a Team
8.1 Peak Performers


That's the first half. Back soon with the second. And of course it'll be chock-full of lovebites anecdotes, examples from other shows and POVs from everyone involved in the process.

7,350/ 40,000 [10/7/05]
The Goal is to write 40,000 by 1 April 2006

Friday, November 19, 2004

[RPG] I'm not an Animal!... wait - I am!

Of course the subtext of The Farm is to place us in the position of the animals many of us consume every day. In this respect, it shares a philosophical outlook with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original and remake).

After re-reading the rules, I see 3 obvious types of stories (or at least, sub-plots): a) Personal relationships with members of other groups (including forbidden sexual liasons); b) relationships with the administrators of the Farm; and c) escape attempts.

There’s also the personal question of whether you will cave in to authority or defy it. The most direct way of making that choice meaningful? ... Enforce swift and severe punishments for transgressing the strict boundaries of ‘normal’ behaviour at the Farm. In actual play, I suspect a dominant factor would be an intense method-actor approach to your own psychological well-being and deteriorating state of mind.

There’s some interesting mechanical aspects to the rules that I’ll go into soon. As well as that, I’ll have to review the other game that I’ve played from designer Jared Sorenson: the cult favourite, InSpectres.

But before that review, there’ll be comments on 3 ‘must-read’ role-playing games for TV series designers - and anyone interested in creative collaborations: Prime Time Adventures, Universalis and Sorceror.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

[TV] The Apprentice 2.5

Maybe this show’s appeal is that everything’s big, grand, and expensive (and quite often garish) … but for me the wish fulfillment isn’t about the lifestyle. It’s the situations and problems that the two teams face every week.

I have never once wanted to be on the Survivor island. The great appeal of The Apprentice is that I constantly imagine what I would do in their situation.

Could I have convinced the Donald not to fire me if I were in Pamela’s shoes?
Could I have gotten the men’s lemonade stand up and running earlier in Season 1?
Or figured out that opening a second stand would be an easy extra source of revenue (which no one did, it’s just a solution I came up with while watching the show).

Last night Pamela was faced with an impossible situation – to turn around a self-destructive, imploding team. She talked hard, tried to break dysfunctional relationships and brought in a very close result (a $10 difference in sales, when both teams brought in nearly $18,000 in calls).

But Pamela’s team still lost.

No matter how she tried to paint it, Donald Trump and his advisors kept bringing Pamela back to that single point: success or failure is based on results. And a $10 difference is still a losing result.

She could have insisted that a member of her team (Marie) had misrepresented her skills. Or she could have demonstrated that she replaced Marie at the last minute – an obvious but good decision. Pamela could even have negotiated with the Donald – offering to be project manager next week and if her team lost, Pamela would be automatically dismissed. That’s the thing with business and script-writing: they are open ended situations. Use lateral thinking. Examine all the angles.

You know what? Trump irritates me. The show creates an artificial team situation, throws Pamela in the deep end, places enormous expectations on her – and then when she almost fulfills them (in an environment she’s completely unfamiliar with), Trump fires her.

Losing result or not, I don’t think that makes good business sense.

[RPG] More reasons to love The Farm

It’s locked into a sub-genre of horror, the “Being Eaten by Other People” thing … but at the same time it feels like it’s referring to an established work, some sort of ‘60s TV series like The Prisoner that was way too extreme and quickly cancelled. So the game creates that sense that it’s archetypal.

The details are schematic, forcing you to figure out how The Farm works yourself. Maybe that makes you complicit in its evil. If you can imagine how it runs, part of you can accept it. And running it like an institution, so that the process of preparing people to be eaten is so clinical, just amps the horror up.

Finally, the people who run the Farm, especially the Headmasters (the ones who eat you) scare me. They lack any empathy for the Farm’s residents, while at the same time being able to engage them in pleasant conversation. There’s something about this duality that’s inhuman, insane, fascinating. It’s the ‘nice evil’ of The Emperor from Star Wars I & II or (at a stretch) Tony Soprano.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

[TV] Coming Up Next ...

It's important to have passions in your life. One of mine is finding and analysing good (and bad) TV. Here are some of the shows I'll be talking about:

The Apprentice - vanity, dysfunctional teams and the occasional business lesson. It's Survivor with the petty and boring politics of alliances rendered completely unnecessary by the Donald.

Everybody Loves Raymond - a textbook example of story-telling through extended scenes. It's a pacing you don't often see on TV these days. It's also probably the closest we've come to a situation-horror.

Dr Phil - a talk show that's genuinely interested in solving problems - and revisiting people and issues ... because it knows there's no easy fix.

Kete Aronui - a Maori TV series profiling local artists.

Gilmore Girls - Possibly my favourite show on TV.

Smallville - so much potential, so much sub-text and story tension loaded into the premise ... and you can see it being squandered week by week. Possibly the show I find most irritating on TV.

Tru Calling - it has just been cancelled in the States before an episode of its second season has even aired. It's got a claustrophobic approach to mysteries and a very effective sledgehammer approach to running variations on its format.

Everwood - While there's no new Gilmore Girls on the box till '05, this show becomes my fix for the Qurky Small Town genre, and an object lesson in how to reveal powerful backstories.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? - Will I have much to say about this? Don't know, but it is fun.

Also shows that aren't currently screening shows like Firefly, Lost, Joan of Arcadia, 24, The Sopranos and The Shield will get a look in - along with reviews and analyses of NZ TV (man, I wish I'd gotten this blog up and running during the time Bro'Town and Serial Killers were on air).

As ever, many of my thoughts will be published in small fragments. When I feel like there's enough of them to reach a critical mass on a subject, I'll polish them into an essay or review.

To finish: TV1 is replaying Moonlighting - a classic (maybe, see for yourself) - weekdays TV1 at 1pm (opposite Gilmore Girls on 2). It defined the "Will they or won't they" plot for a decade; does it still hold up?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Transparent green - and evil

[OOS] Our X-box is called The Texas Rose out of Boston. Everett won her in the grand prize competition at the 24-hour Movie Marathon last weekend. She is transparent green, beautiful and evil.

Having an X-box in our living room is like having a never ending supply of chocolate silk cake sitting in front of a 300 kilo shut-in who wants to go on a diet. I may not want to have/play a little bit, but the idea is always in my mind. One slip and I find I've been on Halo 1 for an hour and the tendons in my forearms are beginning to pulse with the promise of pain tomorrow.

"Just one more checkpoint" is not the thought process of a man trying to practice moderation.

"One of the creepiest games I've read"

[RPG] If y're interested in checking out The Farm, be prepared. It's cold - one of the 2 ways I like my horror - and the idea of running it has borderline obsessed me for the last 2 weeks.

Premise: you wake up as a prisoner on the Farm. Each time the game is played, the players move from Group 6 to Group 5 to 4 ... and if the group survives to reach Group 1, they will be killed and served to the Headmasters as food at the end of the game.

The Object: ... is to escape.

Cookies enabled, ready to post

Well, it's taken a week and a half to figure out why I couldn't log in to this site, but 2 seconds of conversation last night with Isvara and his helpdesk-fu have sorted me out.

Now for the Mission Statement: I'm a script-writer and director, so this blog's gunna focus on my love of creating new worlds.

It'll consist of short opinions and comments on [Film], [TV], and roleplaying games [RPG]. There might also be a little NZ political commentary [POLS]. I'm trying to beat a pretty severe bout of [OOS] so I'll include brief updates on that too.

Anyway, welcome. Kick off yr shoes.