Sunday, July 31, 2005

[Film] Thomas Mapother IV

So I decided to look at Tom Cruise's CV. Just because I keep saying that it's rare that I like him in things. Turns out I like 18 of his performances, haven't seen another 8 and HATE 2 (Mission Impossible 2 and Days of Thunder). That's not bad. Try it yourself.

[The Limit] Anger Danger

One of the risks for me with writing is that I get sucked into the emotion I'm writing about. So, for instance, as I am working on The Limit (which is all about anger) then I shouldn't be surprised when I spend the last two days feeling angry.

Anger: it's a pretty interesting emotion. I don't normally give myself 'permission' to feel it. It gives me a lot of energy, makes me stressed and has me thinking the same thoughts that made me angry in the first place over and over again. Personally I'd rather just play a shitload of Doom.

[VW] 6 Indie Mistakes (in Game Design)

Found this post over at kuro5hin. It's got a lot of relevance for RPG designers too, I feel. Especially these points:

Believe it or not, Game developers don't make games. We don't slave away for 10 months so that a game can pop into existence. No, what game develoers make is milestones. The first milestone might just be some little code for a salmon swimming around in the water, the next milestone might add a player-controlled rod and reel, and the third milestone might have the fish biting the bait off the rod and reel if you wiggle the joystick just right.

You can tweak and adjust a game forever, slightly improving graphics and creating more gameplay, but at some point you really need to put whatever you have in a box and shove it out the door. You have to move onto other projects, and the only way you can do that is if you finish the one you're on, or salvage what you can of it.

Try not to design everything too early, or you will be left with a design that doesn't fit your game. Anything that is "Fun" (or whatever emotion you're attempting to evoke) gets attention and expanded upon. Anthing that isn't gets cut.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


Good Scripts, Bad Scripts by Thomas Pope.

Friday, July 29, 2005

[The Limit] Irritationimation

My long, irritating OOS-inducing analysis of the script is almost complete. I can tell it's going to lead to a really irritating, hard, mechanical rewrite – and the script will be much better for it.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

[Film] Sky High

I admit, I had no idea what this film was about. And once I learned it focused on superhero teenagers at high school? ... Well, I've been burned by Volcano High before. But, damn, this hyperbolic Harry Knowles review (some of you may think those 2 adjectives* are equivalent) makes it sound like just my sort of thing.

* Can a proper noun also be an adjective?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

[TV] Gilmore Girls 5.19

In a succession of deceptively slow-moving subplots the show has now:

  • brought Lane's rock lifestyle into a nice internal conflict with her Mum's Christian Korean values;
  • given Paris a boyfriend;
  • set up a second nuclear explosion between Lorelei and her mum in the form of a tell-all interview;
  • sexually matured all three of the show's younger generation of women; and
  • established that Luke's willing to marry Lorelei AND that Lorelei probably wants more that Luke can offer her (promising a painful choice in the latest season).

Finally, the show-runners have reversed the class choice I thought was coming for Rory. She's found out she lacks sufficiently good breeding to date a Huntzberger. Not only does this put her in the position of Dean, her ex-boyfriend, but it's a consequence of forcing her current boyfriend Logan to be faithful (which goes completely against his character and seems set to end badly). And out of all that, Rory has just been given the option of starting down the road to become a journalist - which is going to have to be a real good offer, given how hard she's worked to get into university.

One of the ways you can judge show is by the quality of its complications. The things that Gilmore Girls is setting up blow The O. C. and Desperate Housewives out of the water (but only in terms of attention to character, theme and originality). Should be a real interesting season finale in four episodes time.

[Film] The Island

*** (out of 5)

A really nice opening 30 minutes, completely ruined by the idiots at Dreamworks who cut the trailer. Then we have about an hour of top-notch, state-of-the-art action sequences as the movie morphs from science fiction to a really entertaining chase film.

But it all falls apart at the end, as the scriptwriters and Michael Bay replace smarts with spectacle, turn Sean Bean into an action villain and lose all of the ironic humour that was running through the rest of the film. However I did like the very last two minutes.

Conclusion: The Island totally had the audience for three-quarters of its running time. Then it didn't. Amazing score and production design, though.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

[TV] Desperate Housewives 1.2

Nah. It’s a soap opera. Sure, 5% of it’s a suburban gothic mystery that I really respond to, but that’s just a tease. Most of the time DH operates in a range between ‘kooky’ and ‘inviting you to rubberneck at an embarrassing traffic accident’. Plus it had that drop in quality, in sharpness that I associate with going from the pilot to the second ep.

So I’m out. You guys who are watching it, let me know if it a) gets more involving or b) starts delivering on the mystery.

Monday, July 25, 2005

[The Limit] Clarity

It’s amazing what a re-read can do. Now I see Act 2 is all about bringing Trace to the point of empathising with Peter. And while I haven't solved Act 3, I've certainly figured out a way to beef it up with a natural action sequence.

[How to:TV] Character Secrets

I propose that characters should have at least one of the following:

a) a secret ability – something about them that isn’t obvious on a first impression (for example, that Xander is so intuitive in Buffy); or
b) a backstory secret – a little ticking timebomb to detonate later in the series.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

CBIP: Mystery, by Peter Straub

[TV] Desperate Housewives 1.1

It's a show that's quite funny, filled with beautiful details - and up until two minutes to the end I was sure I would never watch another episode. Each housewife had at least one act of desperation and it turns out I don't like that emotion. Desperation makes people do cringy things (and at points this approached levels of The Office and Fawlty Towers). I try to be very selective about when I expose myself to that feeling.

There are four desperate housewives and their issues are clearly illustrated via the food they bring to the funeral of their friend, Mary Anne, and a key scene in the first 10 minutes. Lynette made a choice between kids and her career, Gabrielle has a loveless marriage, Bree is too controlled (think Annette Bening in American Beauty) and Susan is single.

After setting up these a) funny, b) conventional or c) archetypal issues, the show uses Act Two to introduce a significant conflict into each housewife's subplot. Susan battles the town slut for the love of a man. Gabrielle has an affair. Bree’s family rebel, leading to her husband asking for a divorce, and Lynette compares herself unfavourably to a friend who decided not to have kids and stayed in her career.

During Act Three the show hit its stride:

"Let's risk it."
"Yes, well I feel badly about it."
"I'm sick of the bizarre way your hair doesn't move."

It also made Susan do something dumb and contrived solely for the purpose of setting up a criminal subplot for her. To be fair, the writers did try to solve this problem by establishing that Susan does dumb and contrived things but it still felt weak.

I wouldn't have decided to watch the next episode on Monday if the ending hadn’t promised to explore an ongoing plot about Mary Ann's suicide. Now, I've heard the series doesn't deliver on that promise but I'm willing to give it 2 more eps to see for myself.

[The Limit] Attack on Act 3

Just finished reading Draft 2B. Overall, the quality massively lifted from the previous draft but it feels like there's less high points - especially in the second half.

Act 3 is the biggest problem. In its early stages there is a lack of coherence in the emotions and drama of the scenes. And then the finale doesn't pay off (oops). Not at the level it needs to. So a big reworking, worth the aim of making me give a shit while I'm reading it.

On the plus side, I understand Trace’s character better, how her impatience leads her into trouble. That's good; I thought it was going to take a lot of time to figure Trace out - but apparently I've already embedded the ground work for her character into her scenes. Thanks, Previous Steve.

So I'll give the script a solid B. Room for improvement.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

[The Limit] Beating the first-day-back syndrome

Started back on The Limit today and I think I've found a way to overcome my first-day-back syndrome. It's a 5-step process: First I ask myself why I'm writing it, then what the absolute best case scenario for when I've finished it could be. After that I brainstorm a whole bunch of ideas, organise them and figure out what I have to do next.

Took less than an hour to
do that and at the end I felt inspired to start work. Next step: read the script through and take notes.

To Do:

Read and analyze, collect the feedback and solve the biggest problems.
Then a really deep re-edit of the script and, while it's away at the proof readers, finish up my submission letters and send them off.
Then I reread the new draft, hoped that it's finished, do the final proof and send it off.
Followed by which I celebrate, fall on the floor and sleep for four days.

Friday, July 22, 2005

[TV] Gilmore Girls 5.18

*** (out of 5)

Although I'd probably rate it a lot lower if I'd never watched the show before and didn't love the characters. While I found the 2nd half hilarious, the first half was silly and out of character. Luke, describing a journalist as using "too many adverbs"? No Rory till halfway through?

This show is starting to run the risk of being about comic characters in a comic universe. Previously, its strength has been that the leads were dramatic characters in a quirky-small-town comic universe. Let's hope it pulls its shit together.

[The Limit] Nearly back in business

So, I made good progress, handed Draft 2B out to the readers and I'm getting some good initial comments back. But I've also slacked off while I've been rearranging my room and life.

Time to reassess - it's the 22nd. I have 17 days left.

I have to get feedback from the readers, do Draft 2C, send it out for proofing (and while doing that, write submission letters) and then do a final proof myself - which might (horrific thought!) be followed by a Draft 2D ... and then send the damn thing.

[TV] Lost - social vs. survival

I was thinking that Jack's discovery of fresh water in the caves leads to an interesting moment in the series design of Lost. That's the point where the survivors factionalise into 2 groups. The first stay on the beach, refusing to give up hope that they'll be discovered. The second group follow Jack; they want to focus on the necessities of survival.

I talked earlier about the survival plot. That where I imagine the writers figured out, "In this episode they'll have to deal with finding water. In this ep, they'll have to find food." There's also been the social plot - which asks how group dynamics work. When you meet 40 strangers, how do you establish leadership? Resolve conflicts?

The discovery of water away from the beach marks the first point where survival impacts on social. I certainly wouldn't have expected the group to factionalise that early. In a way, this marks a moment where the show goes from being about just anybody being on the island to the choices that this very specific group of survivors have to make.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Filing continues

The hard part has been taking everything in my life, piling it on to my bed and then deciding "What is the next action?" for each item. And I mean everything in my life. Unfinished TV shows, the desire to get a set of songs together to play at a party, my long-range plan to mine an asteroid.

But once that's done, the filing has proceeded really easily. And awesome things have come out of it. I am now brimming with ideas for a TV show that seems to amalgamate every 'not quite there' idea for science-fiction movies I've ever had into one cohesive whole.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I was attacked by a filing cabinet

Light posting for the next couple of days. I’m refilling EVERYTHING in my room so chaos dominates my life – to hopefully be slapped into submission by the forces of order. Here’s the article that inspired me.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

[Script] How to revise

This is an older post from Chris over at the Forge which provides a methodical system for revising your work. It's more applicable to prose rather than scripts, but it's so useful I thought it would be worth mentioning.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

[TV] Grey's Anatomy 1.1

**1/2 (out of 5)

The show is about first year surgical residents coming to grips with being a doctor. Setting the first episode over one gruelling 48 hour shift provided an energetic framing device.

The characters are okay. Interestingly, each one seems to have a flaw or chip on their shoulder. One's mother is a famous surgeon, another kills patients, the model may end up feeling disrespected and Sandra Oh (from Sideways) may be feeling pressure from being in a minority group.

Weirdly though, I don't like these characters as much as the ones in Outrageous Fortune last night. The lead in particular seems to be very good but to suffer from that American casting decision of always having to make the woman beautiful.

Very nice reveal of the central character's mother having Alzheimer's at the end but milked for a little too long.

The latest from Stephen King

There's a small snippet from the first chapter of King's latest novel, here. To me the best stuff in it is in the first paragraph, but I wonder how it will differentiate itself from The Stand.

[Script] Index of my posts

These are all my posts about scriptwriting.

A writers life
My writing process, 2004
Mother's Day - Turning Point 1
Time travel list
The Centauri device

A scanner darkly
Do androids dream of Electric sheep?
Illicit adaptation
Enthusiasm versus pragmatism
Time to ease back
sendoff, the sequel

The last line
Manifesto ‘05
Lessons from pitching, so far
Cosmonaut Keep


Stakes and Conflicts
The dreams our stuff is made of
The Embedding
Mamet’s advice
My Darling Clementine

Open Range
Scripts & Roleplaying
Scripts are Emotion


Where Neil Gaimen gets ideas
Writing Passionately
Kung Fu Monkey
My Next Feature

When’s a script finished?
How to revise
Beating First-Day-Back Syndrome

How to do characters
Brainstorming characters
Pulp to True
The Drive In 2

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

[TV] Outrageous Fortune 1.1

**1/2 (out of 5)

It's a new New Zealand drama. Well, I'll call it a drama series (even though it has at least 3 clearly comic characters). The show's Situation is clear: can the Wests, a family
of lifelong criminals, go straight? I'm withholding judgment for the moment, but with perfs that range from wavery to delightful and quite a few fun moments, Outrageous Fortune looks like it's got potential.

The Wests are likeable crims - they don't deal in drugs, they don't home invade on purpose. They are - and I'm sure the series designers will hate me saying this - cuddly PC criminals. Anthony Starr is the standout so far - playing twins that define the split between crime and going straight. One's a munter burglar who gets all the funny dumb lines and the other's a clean-cut lawyer with a secret.

Robyn Malcolm plays the hard-put-upon mum who - despite being in almost every scene - has a character I can't define any clearer than "the hard-put-upon mum who's in almost every scene". However, her performance is solid and charismatic, a real pleasure to watch.

The show's conflict is simple. Being a criminal is all the Wests know. How easy it will it be for them to go straight when they face the temptation to bend the rules in almost every situation? However, it's important to note that only the mum wants them to go straight. Every other member of the family is being forced into it.

Overall the show works pretty well. I can forgive the odd wavery perf and scene because most of the time I was entertained. And the ending is interesting - a montage of West family members trying to go straight. However, only Starr's twins seem to be in situations that have the potential to force characters to make choices between a life of crime and the straight-&-narrow. That could be a mistake - this is clearly an ensemble, so each plotline needs to have the potential to fire.

What do I mean by 'fire'? Well, Robyn's mum, Cheryl West, is the one who's issued the ultimatum so she's the one who has to interfere in peoples' lives in order to enforce it. However, if there's nothing to enforce (no temptation to be criminal or break the rules) then there's no drama. And then the show will fall apart. I'm fascinated to see what sort of conflict the writers can get out of a character working at a fish & chip shop.

The next few episodes should be interesting. Will Outrageous Fortune be a show where they juggle crises from all the characters every week or will it be a spotlight episode for each character? Does the show have interesting places to go? The prison term for the father (which upsets the status quo) suggests a 4-year arc but do the characters (who at times seem disturbingly 1-D) have enough potential in them to sustain that?

We have 13 eps this season to find out.

[TV] Index of all my posts

These are all the posts I've made about television.

Freaks & Geeks
The Lovebites Debrief

Coming up next
The Apprentice 2.5
How to write a TV series
Curb your enthusiasm
The death of pop culture
Smallville 3 .8
The Days
A love triangle explodes in Everwood
Quick update

Shock! Tru Calling, good
Joss Whedon news

Is downloading TV illegal?

High-pressure laughs
Are TV downloads illegal (part two)
Angel lives

Gilmore Girls 5.2

Angel 5.1
Creating House
What's going on?
Gilmore Girls creators good to go
Next year's pilots

Kindred spirit
Some writing tips from Joss

Next Season
No more ads
Smile time comic
Watch Gilmore Girls this Sunday
Global Frequency
Analysing Firefly and Buffy
Writing for Facelift

Some viewing
More viewing
Gilmore Girls 5.17
Outrageous Fortune 1.1
Grey’s Anatomy 1.1
Gilmore Girls 5.18
Desperate Housewives 1.1
Desperate Housewives 1.2
Gilmore Girls 5.19

Gilmore Girls 5.20
Gilmore Girls 5.21
Gilmore Girls 5.22
Family Guy blog


24 4.1 & 4.2
24 4.3
Veronica Mars 1.1

Veronica Mars 1.2
Veronica Mars 1.4 & 1.5
Veronica Mars 1.6

Veronica Mars 1.8

Veronica Mars 1.9, 1.10. 1.11

Is Veronica losing it? (1.12 & 1.13)

24 4.4 & 4.5


Monday, July 11, 2005

[TV] Lost review

This is where I'll compile all my posts about Lost.

1.3 (Kate 1)
1.4 (Locke 1)
1.5 (Jack 1)
1.6 &1.7 (Sun & Charlie 1)
1.8 (Sawyer 1)
1.9 (Sayid 1)
1.10 & 1.11 (Claire & Jack 2)
1.12 & 1.13 (Kate 2 & Boone)
1.14 & 1.15 (Michael & Charlie 2)

Series Design:
Social vs. Survival

Funny Sh!t

Speculations about Season 2

[TV] Lost 1.14 & 1.15

**** 1/2 (1.14)

Really enjoyed Micheal’s episode – and for the first time, I was so engrossed in the flashbacks that it felt like the stuff on the island was the secondary story.

*** 1/2 (1.15)

I’ve now caught up to where I started watching on TV. Rewatching Charlie’s second episode, what’s great is how the characters seem deeper now I’ve been through this journey with them.

[TV] Lost 1.12 & 1.13

**** (1.12)

Because I’ve seen the last Kate ep, I knew what was in the briefcase – and therefore this episode didn’t have the sense of surprise about it that it should’ve. However, I was still as involved as it’s possible to be when you know what’s going on.

As for Kate herself, she seems to be the Queen Bee or Alpha Female or something on the island. I’m not of the word for the position she occupies in the group’s social hierarchy. Her relationship with Jack is all about trust. Can he trust her? Can she let her guard down and trust him? That – more than anything else – is the reason their relationship hasn’t exploded into more UST.

Watching this, I realised that I enjoyed the previous two eps so much because they were action-adventure oriented. So their 5-star ratings weren’t really fair in the sense that they worked for me, but I’m not sure yet if they represent a 5-star episode of Lost.

****1/2 (1.13)

Liked the Boone ep more than I thought. His backstory with Shannon is good; I look forward to seeing her side of thing. Their dirty little secret knocked the rating up ½ a star and the fact there was a good explanation for Boone’s hallucination meant I didn’t knock it down by 2.

Looking back, I think the Sayid episode felt weak to me because it dealt only with him & Rousseau. To work and not feel one-dimensional, maybe the focus character needs to have subplots involving several other characters on the island. That let’s them show off different facets of their personality that demonstrate the problem that the flashback is illustrating.

Now my anticipation to see a Walt or Michael episode is really amped.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

[TV] Lost 1.10 & 1.11

***** (1.10) & ***** (1.11)

Awesome. Claire’s backstory was really nice and menacing but what was great was that her actions in the real world (nightmares) triggered off a whole bunch of related activity so the episode felt really fleshed out. Plus a great cliffhanger …

I’m going to watch the next ep right away.

... And 1.11 was even better. A strong A-plot (the pursuit of Claire and Charlie) leading to a lot of character development. Or at least character reveals which deepen our understanding of the characters.

Plus more confirmation of my theory of what’s happening comes from Sawyer.

The two strongest eps so far and yet another really interesting cliffhanger.

Character notes:
Jack feels guilty and needs to save everyone.
Locke respects people who are determined to do the right thing.
Claire provides a good energy to the cast – she’s very nurturing, light and emotional.
Michael needs to do things – and notice how they’re carefully establishing his credentials at being able to build things.

I’d expect the next episode to be about Walt. This is in line with my notes about Easy Continuity yesterday – in 1.11, Walt mentioned that his ‘other’ dad thought Walt was the luckiest person he knew.

[TV] Gilmore Girls 5.17

Some nice genuine moments of emotion here. A great confrontation between Lorelai and her mother Emily - once again, the 2 mother-daughter relationships in the show parallel each other in interesting ways. Finally, Michel gets a telling-off.

Plus Lauren Graham is hot. :)

Last week I had some pacing issues with how quickly Luke reconciled with Lorelai. These weren't addressed, so much as gleefully ignored. The series designers aren't interested in Luke's motivations so much as in creating a situation where Emily once again tries to bring her daughter back into the family. It's weird - I'm interested in the relationship, but the show is clearly focused around the 3 female leads - so that's where all its pacing and presentation decisions lean into.

[The Limit] Refill

Yeah, so I had some good intentions. Keep working while the script's away with the readers, write some submission letters. But I'm shattered. So I'm going to take a couple more days off, meet people, walk & watch Revenge of the Sith. It's all about balance.

Got some feedback from Sean tho', and he liked the script. He had problems and insights that are actually pretty exciting + the things he liked were the things I hoped I'd pulled off.

[TV] Lost 1.9

**1/2 (out of 5)

This is Sayid’s episode and it marks the first point where I think Lost isn't working as well as it should. I think that’s because what's happening to him (being tortured) and why it's happening to him (he tortured someone last week) are very obviously connected.

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite saying this. After all, I really really enjoyed the way they compare to Charlie's heroin withdrawal to a moth coming out of its chrysalis - even down to Charlie struggling to break through the ground as he digs his way out of a cave in. But I guess that was more metaphorical whereas this was an entirely literal presentation. When Sayid’s strapped to an electric rack, you don’t exactly have to puzzle out the deeper meaning.

You know, the episode was fun. It had golf in it – I like golf. But it wasn’t anything special. I already figured Sayid was a nice and honourable guy; his flashback didn’t really change my opinion of that. So … yeah, a flashback that didn’t deepen or twist my understanding of his character coupled with a story on the island that’s starting to make me think the show’s going back to the Obvious Well a few too many times.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

[TV] Lost 1.8

**** (out of 5)

No idea what I want to see here. Turns out it’s Sawyer’s episode. And that means a very icky torture+knifing sequence.

Sawyer has an interesting backstory. I mean, it’s noir. And most of the characters exist in a noir-universe but it plays a lot of reversals and inversions with what it’s about. In fact, Sawyer confounds our expectations.

It’s also about how long will civilisation last? How do you settle disputes without the coercive force of government backing you up?

Act Breaks:
1. “So how ‘bout that kiss? … Didn’t think so.”
2. “Is that a yes?”
3. “Can you make it stop?”
4. “Don’t you feel sorry for me. Get out!”

Basically this show seems to do the following: We need a jerk on the island who’s only out for himself. Someone we’ll love to hate. Okay, we’ve got Sawyer. Now, what’s a plausible reason he’d become that person – and more, what’s in that reason that’ll make us like him.

Take a stereotype and deepen it. Repeat the process with every character.

Cos’ that’s all the characters of Lost are. Sterotypes individuated by backstories. And that’s not a bad thing – I think the series designers gleefully indulged themselves in assembling a cast of sterotypes.

Another thing I find interesting. Americans make up the majority (that have been featured so far on the island). The show is creating conflictual relationships between Americans and Iraqis (and Americans and Koreans). Maybe it’s a metaphor for the US confronting the outside world

Things I’m wondering now:
Where’s the monster?
What’s Hurley’s story?
Did Lost suffer (in the same way as The O.C.) from having an order of 26 (?) episodes instead of the planned-for 22? Does this explain the slump I sensed in the middle order eps?

[TV] Lost 1.6 & 1.7

***1/2 (1.6) & **** (1.7)

This marked the point where I *had* to watch the next episode straight away.

1.6 has a fantastic opening, foregrounding the different issues that are developing between the survivors. It’s Sun’s episode – and shows the events surrounding her disintegrating marriage with Jin. Really nice ending with her choosing to go back to her husband in Sydney.

1.7 is Charlie’s episode. Lays on the symbolism thick and fast but I enjoyed it.

This also marks the point where I think the designers of Lost are smarter than me. I was talking about telling a linear story using non-linear means last time? Well, in Sun’s ep, we’re seeing her bad domestic life in Korea but the writers know that Jin has something equally nasty going on that will humanise him.

To come up with those 2 plot elements – presumably together – and then figure out how to present them so that we move through perceiving cultural differences to an abusive marriage to we’re not sure we want them to stay together to the split to they love each other … well, that’s more than an hour’s work sitting around the Table.

I mean, it might be that you start with the second point (how you want it to appear) and then design the backstories but even then, you’ve got to figure out how to present the flashbacks, make both sides consistent and then integrate revealing them into the ongoing plot on the Island.

That’s hard work.

In other news, there's a mystery someone who’s a bad guy on the island, stopping them from getting off.

[How to: TV] Easy Continuity

Everwood and Lost appear really good at giving us episodes dealing with issues we want to see, exactly when we want to see them. Here’s the trick, as far as I can tell:

Hint at it one episode before.

For instance, in Lost, Jack didn’t want to speak at the memorial service. It wasn’t a huge thing but it drew attention to how he didn’t want to adopt a leader role. Next ep? Foregrounded that issue.

[How to: TV] Not getting cancelled

I've been observing a trend in the U. S. to cancel shows that appear to be good after six to 13 episodes. So let's make a paranoid assumption: networks want to cancel your show (because they are freaked out about losing money) - therefore you have to hook people in fast.

For instance:
Episode 1, establish your strong unique Situation.
Episode 2, establish your cool long-running plot.

You have to make a strong case for why viewers should watch your show. And if it does get cancelled, then at least you'll have told (or set out) the story wanted to. This saves you from telling all your friends that the show would have gotten really good in Season 2.

The above suggestion is the paranoid (they'll cancel out show) approach. If you're more confident, go with Joss Whedon's "the first six episodes restate your show's premise," and after that you can develop the plot.

There are many many variations on this:
a) if you have a strong unique situation, maybe you don't need a long-running plot.
b) if you don't have a strong unique situation or a cool long-running plot, then why are we watching? There are many other joys you can get from TV - does your show deliver characters you want to hang out with, titilation, information or an unusual emotion?
c) if you don't have a strong unique situation, then lead with your cool long-running plot.

[How to: TV] How do you create a cool long-running plot?

You're trying to create a tension, something that seems impossible to resolve but means we'll keep watching to find out how does ...

Examples include:
a) a character with an impossible job to do.
b) an irreconcilable tension between two characters.
c) an overwhelming enemy or weird mystery.

[How to: TV] The Goal

The Goal is to get people to watch the next episode (whether that's next week or downloaded).

[The Limit] Trying to Understand Trace

Reading The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer today. Researching into Trace's personality. First question, from reading this and watching In the Cut a couple of nights ago, is "Why doesn't Trace feel more fear?"

"Female fearfulness may be, like the timorousness of rabbits or dear, adaptive. [snip] The truth is rather that female fearfulness is a cultural construct, instituted and maintained by both men and women in interest of the dominant, male group."

Here's something that validates an aspect of the script. "Daughters will develop more self-confidence if their fathers are encouraging and appreciative of their efforts." And the quote goes on, "but fathers seldom get such matters much tension and, if they do, usually demand objective verification of the daughters merit for giving encouragement."

There's quite a bit of information about being a woman in the police force here:
"Equality is cruel to women because it requires them to duplicate behaviours that they find profoundly alien and disturbing."

"As soon as a woman enters a male preserve [such as the police], she finds herself in an alien and repellent world which changes her fundamentally even as she is struggling to exert the smallest influence on it."

"Women who are inducted into masculinist hierarchies are exported tissue, in constant danger of provoking an inflammatory response and summary rejection."

"... the attempted integration of women in the police force was met by more or less covert insult, harassment and humiliation."

"'Either you try to be one of the boys, or you're on your own and you become a target.'"
QUESTION: what is the ratio of women to men in the New Zealand police force? At all levels?

And a couple of other bits I found interesting:

"The conversations between males; when women make a contribution the men ignore it and respond to the last utterance by a male." I've noticed this many times and really dislike it.

"A few men hate all women all of the time, some men hate some women all of the time, and all men hate some women some of the time." I know I've hated some people who happened to be women but I don't think I've hated anyone because they were a woman.

Friday, July 08, 2005

[TV] More stuff I've watched


The Simpsons
I've been an occasional watcher of the season but this Wednesday's episode is the most consistently funny I think The Simpsons have produced since Bart and Lisa ran afoul of the Patriot act. Homer believes the Rapture is coming. Homer goes to heaven.

The finale. I've written about this elsewhere but I'm pretty happy with what Lost is doing. I think it's setting itself up well for at least two more seasons of ideas.


Last episode ever. The Joey/Chandler plot is pants but the Ross/Rachel resolution is pretty much golden.

America's Next Top Supermodel
Eva gets smacked down by the sisterhood. Tyra teaches the models how to pose. There’s humourous music to hammer home the editorial points.

See, I gave up on this show 6 eps in because I thought it was just doing the same ol’ thing every week. However, came back to it about 3 jumps back and am just … entertained every time I watch it. That’s all. House doesn’t do anything special –just delivers an entertaining medical mystery with a good cast and 2 extra dollops of cynicism.

And tonight: Evil Nina Myers screaming in pain! A guest appearance by CHI MCBRIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A change to the basic situation – venture capitalist basically buys the hospital in order to engage in medical experimentations using unproven treatments. House, seeming to take an ethical stand. Oh yeah, the VC is in a real position to stand up to House, finally a credible threat.

And here’s where it gets interesting – although previous eps have pretty much run variations on the “we think we know what it is, oh no we’re wrong” act breaks, halfway through this one swerves off into an ethical dilemma, House deciding to lie just when the stakes are highest for his career. So, if the medical problem is identified by the halfway point, that means character stories have to come to the fore. That led to some doozies: the young female doctor expressing a romantic interest in House for instance.

(And BAM! Insight. A couple of days ago I posted about liking characters who were 'normal' not soap opera figures. I'm starting to realise that shows like CSI and early episodes of House are illustrations of what I mean. But the thing is I don't really respond to those shows. This is interesting because my theory doesn't fit my experience.)

And that’s 4 ‘ands’ starting paragraphs in a row so I’ll finish with the finish – House and the VC facing off, each immune from being fired by the other – but now with the VC implicitly threatening to remove all of House’s friends until he leaves the hospital. It’s was actually pretty well handled and it’ll be interesting to see how the show handles an ongoing dramatic subplot.

[How to: TV] Characters have Principles

Over at anyway, Vincent's making some good points about RPG settings and what we do when we're playing in a game like Buffy, which is based on someone else's creation and we are all familiar with and like.

Anyway, he has some comments about a game run by ... *cough*Ninja Hunter J*cough* ... that I think of such a lot of potential for writing a TV series Bible.

Last summer sometime Ninja J and I spent a whole afternoon walking all the heck over Northampton. Among many other things, we talked about a beloved old game he'd GMed; particularly, we talked about how rich and alive its setting was, how detailed. His players ate it up, he said, they'd go on and on about how compelling, complete, fully realized the setting was.

Then he told me how he'd done it. He'd taken three principles - I wish I could remember them in particular, J please step in here, but they were like "nobody thinks that they themselves are evil," "the Grand Galactic Empire is procedurally conservative," and "nobody really enjoys their job" - three principles something like those, and whenever any of his players asked him about anything in the setting, he'd simply apply those principles to create the answer.

"I duck into a broom closet." "Okay. There are a bunch of reg-77f portbrushes in there, but someone hasn't bothered to replace them yet, they're all slimy and they smell." All the details you'd need to bring the setting home, give it weight and momentum, and yet J didn't precreate the contents of a single broom closet.

There's lots more in the Comments section, but the basic idea I'd rip from this is to define characters via a series basic principles which you can communicate to your writers. For instance, Xander off Buffy would be ... let's say the one who makes pop culture jokes, the heart of the group and the one who no-one listens to but who always knows what's really going on.

[TV] Lost 1.5

****1/2 (out of 5)

After a disorientating opening (small boy in a schoolyard fight with a bully), it becomes obvious that this is Jack's episode. It's about building pressure on Jack to assume the role of leader - an episode I've wanted to see for a while. Aside from that, there is the growing pressure to find water and the appearance of the ghost/hallucination of Jack's dad.

Watching this, I noticed three distinct plots. The Real (Jack becomes leader), The Flashback (Jack as a young boy is told he doesn't have what it takes by his dad + Jack recovers his Dad's body from Australia) and The Island (Jack pursues the ghost of his Dad, dealing with unresolved issues that are stopping him from becoming leader).

What's neat is that they're using back story not only to answer questions about who these characters are, but each bit of information is also setting up new questions. It is also providing linear character development fire non-linear means. For instance, Charlie appears to be a playa in these early episodes (and the flashbacks reinforce this), even though on his journey to becoming committed to Claire the incident with the rich girl in England has already happened.

Act breaks:
1. "Dad?"
2. Dad causes Jack to take a fall. ¶
3. "A leader can't lead till he knows where he is going."
4. Jack smashes the coffin.

By the end of the episode when Jake gives his speech that it is time to organise, it feels right. In Series Design terms, we have established the premise. Now it's time to move on.

Cool stuff:
The first time we see Jack's dad, he's drinking.
Jack's last name is Shepherd. B'oh.
I'm looking forward to Charlie's withdrawal.
Locke saves Jack. "Okay, so it's an hallucination. But what it isn't?"
Kate as sheriff!
I was touched, concerned and interested by the end of this episode. At the moment the series is very good at making me think "What would I do?"

Just checking

Does the blog look all right in everyone's browsers? I'm getting some weird formatting issues between Explorer and Firefox.

[The Limit] Gone Public

Spent Wednesday procrastinating about writing the script. Spent yesterday finishing this draft of the script. The difference was that on Wednesday I felt like I had to do two things at once: come up with cool new stuff AND rigorously proof read the script.

I felt stressed out about it, so I had to take things back to basics. First I wrote Wednesday off and just used it to set up the new computer that Lee built me (Props, man! It's fantastic). Then I told myself to get a good night's sleep and try and settle back to my daily routine of exercise, writing and everything else. That took a lot of the pressure off and at some point I was able to just say to myself, "Don't proof read. Just write."

From there, finishing the script - which had seemed such a huge deal the day before - was over in a matter of three hours. My goal became to create something that was readable for others as opposed to getting it perfect right now. That took a lot of the pressure off and that meant I could do more constructive things than just stare at the screen and worry. So, the script's come in at 89 pages (dead on what I wanted). It's being read by four people at the moment - and while they are doing that, I'm going to talk to an actor and do send detective work on Trace's character, try and get more excited by her.

For the record, this was Draft 2B. A B-draft seems to be a quick hack-and-slash to tidy up any inconsistencies and make the story flow so you can get it out to other people. I'm now scheduled to finish on 24 July. 17 days left, 14 days in my safety buffer.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

[TV] Lost, Episode 4

**** (out of 5)

I’m starting to get a taste for the flavour of Lost. Can’t articulate it yet, but I’m beginning to know what I expect to see when I sit down and watch an episode.

Watching this fresh, I can imagine viewers starting to get excited, realising that all the characters are going to get flashbacks, waiting and wondering which one will be next.
And then a few episodes time the second level of anticipation – that there are subtle connections between some of the passengers.

Coupled with that is the growing understanding that each character has a reason to get off the island.

Act Breaks for this episode:
1. “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.”
2. The thing in the woods gets Locke.
3. Locke returns with the boar.

The episode export Locke’s back story plot – and firmly hammered home the conclusion that he has a destiny. This ties in to his conversation in the finale with Jack – destiny vs. rationalism – presumably leading to a big conflict between them in Season 2. In a way it’s red vs. blue state. Locke is the man of faith, certain in himself, competent. Jack, intellectual, rational, doubting himself but willing to lead. And the show isn't afraid to paint them as both heroes (although Locke is certainly cast in a sinister light).

There are other leadership dualities in the group of survivors:

Watching this episode, I had another thought on how I would have structured the season. I would have written a timeline on the whiteboard and said “Each ep is a day. How many days before they have to hunt for food? 4? Okay, then an episode 4 they have to hunt. How many before there’s a fight that needs justice? How many before factions form?” Then you have your metaplot which is about human society. However, I'm not sure what I can generalise from this about series design.

Other random thoughts:
Wow. Setting up a Michael-Sun affair. That’s nice.
I like Boone and Shannon. Didn’t think that would happen.
The Michael-Walt tension is great – and completely justified by what we saw happened in the airport in the finale.
Shannon’s fishing plot allows us to see her M.O - – fishing for men to help her.
Jack, being asked to do things, starting to be considered a leader.
The reveal of Locke’s condition – even though I knew it was coming – fantastic. Shivers.
The thing in the woods is a constant presence in these first 4 eps.
The appearance of the man in the suit – awesome scary image. Could be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

[TV] Speculating on Lost Season 2

After watching the finale last night, I think Lost is in a good position for Season 2. Here are my speculations - some of them based off the Internet - so beware spoilers.

I have increasing confidence that Lost’s writers know exactly what they are doing.

That they’ve developed a secret for every element they introduce to the island, whether it be character or location. They certainly worked out the chronology of all the characters before they boarded the plane – before writing Episode 1.

:: SPOILERS :: (and speculation)

Michael seems to be the pro-active guy – he built the raft. I pick him to be the first of the crash survivors to really explore the island now his son’s missing. Meanwhile Charlie will have to confront his heroin addiction – which will bounce his relationship with Claire in interesting directions.

“They’re not the survivors they thought they were.”

There is another group of survivors on the island. The people from the tail section. That gives Jack a potential second love interest in the form of Michelle Rodriguez, Anna Lucia – the woman who comforted him at the airport bar. And with a second group of survivors comes the opportunity to introduce new characters, tensions, relationships, back stories and mystical links to the island. The second group will know information our main characters don’t – so that makes them a great source of (reasonably) trust-worthy information.

I've also developed my theory of what's going on which I shall acronymise here: ITTTCOFIBIAFITGR. Gino also has a theory which he's solid about ... so it should be fun to trade notes.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

[TV] Lost, Episode 3


Obviously this episode ("Tabula Rasa") is about fresh starts. It's the first ep to use extensive flashbacks from before the crash focusing on just one person (Kate); hence bringing up the baggage of her past. Meanwhile, on the island, the seriously injured Marshall represents someone who has a present day tie to Kate's past.

Act Breaks
1. Kate doesn't tell Jack about her past.
2. Jack confronts Kate with the fact he knows what she did. // Kate is caught (in backstory).
3. The Marshall wants to talk to Kate, thinks Jack has been compromised.
4. The Marshall leaves the A-plot of Lost.

Cool stuff: the way all the Kate-Jack UST is vapourised by her early lack of honesty. The focus of the episode is very much on their relationshipand about playing what seems to be a low-key but major twist in it. The way there's no clear leadership amongst the survivors.

Later eps of Lost feel like a TV show. This feels like just watching interesting stuff happening. It's not doling out too many plots twists or starting to over-dramatise more than a few characters by involving them in soap-opera issues. The show's just letting people be people.

[RPG] Last night's weirdness

Check out Jenni's write-up of last night's game. Three words: My Little Ponies.

[TV] Lost, Episode 2

***1/2 (out of 5)

I found this much more entertaining. Again, the back stories are very solid. Humour and dramatic subplots are starting to emerge.
"It's a polar bear."
"Bear village."
"It's been repeating for 16 years."
"Guys, ... where are we?"

For some reason the act breaks seem much more interesting here in the early part of the series than in the later eps that I've seen. Perhaps that's because the island (and the characters stranded on it) are even more of an unknown in the beginning. So even the tiniest piece of information seems huge. Also, they are dealing with the immediate aftermath of a crisis so there are lots of natural and dangerous steps they have to take - find shelter, explore the island. In contrast, by the middle of the season the survivors have almost settled into a routine.

[TV] Lost, Episode 1

*** (out of 5)

Just watched the pilot episode. Seems weirdly appropriate given that the finale is playing tonight. What impresses me most is that the key elements of the main characters' back stories were obviously firmly in place by the end of series design. However, watching it from this end, with the knowledge I already have, means that the mysteries of the crash and the characters ... aren't that mysterious.

Given that the pilot lacks that suspense for me - and that I've seen the one-hour summary of the first 20 episodes - I'm giving this ep a slightly lower grade than it deserves. Great first meeting between Kate and Jack though.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

[TV] A little bit of viewing

I actually watched some shows over the last couple of days:

Gilmore Girls:
I'm enjoying how GG is taking its time dealing with each character's subplots. This is one of the few shows I trust completely to be internally consistent. Highlight this week: Lane's reaction to an offer of sex. Lowlight: I'm not sure Luke would've reacted like that to Emily's apology. It feels a little forced. Still, I'll trust the Sherman-Pallindos. ... Oh yeah, other favourite: "You're loving this aren't you. You're the favourite."

Jamie Oliver's School Dinners:
It's got swearing, great characters, a social conscience and at least 3 levels of conflict. Jamie vs. the kids' taste for junk food, Jamie vs. Nora (wildkind vs. the Establishment) and Jamie vs. himself. It's great to see by the end of Episode 1, Jamie has utterly failed. The kids hate his stuff and he hasn't come up with an underbudget meal yet.

In the Wake of the Rainbow Warrior:
Things are clearer now.

[The Limit] Finished!

Just finished ... the gruntwork. Man, I almost lost it (tears) while working on the finale. And that was while editing, moving back and forward, working on it out of sequence. I hope hope hope it's as tear-jerking as I imagine it once it's out in the wild.

Not really thinking about what's next. I mean there's polishing and a little bit of new material to write for A1 but I think Draft 2B should be ready for the public tomorrow.

Now I'm gunna head back into town, hopefully watch War of the Worlds, roleplaying round at Jenni's tonight ... generally cut myself some slack.

[The Limit] Terrified

Re-working the climax - the section I thought I'd gotten right only two weeks ago - and there was much procrastination this morning. "IT'S TOO IMPORTANT!" screamed the editorial static in my head. "I'm scared of getting it wrong."

Eventually I plunged in (after working up bits and and pieces of ideas in layers over a couple of hours). Now I'm through 'the worst' and hopefully into the final stretch. Have a feeling that this is going to be like the argument scene in hopeless. Rewritten over and over. Good thing here is that there is a specific effect that needs to be accomplished - unlike the argument scene which could wander all over the place - and that should act like a map, helping me home in on an effective way of hitting all the emotions and beats I need to.

But, yeah, a very scary section this morning.

Monday, July 04, 2005

[The Limit] Bought it

It's critical that we really buy* the moment where Trace reaches her limit. It's all about the power of anger - an emotion I've been feeling (for personal reasons) today. After 6 hours, I think I buy what Trace does.

6 pages to go.

*believe, empathise with, don't challenge.

[Script] When is it finished?

Let's leave aside that I still re-edit hopeless and episodes of lovebites in my head 5+ years later. Eventually you have to send something you've written out into the wild. I guess I have three measures that let me know the time is right:

1) I can visualise how a scene needs to be shot.
2) I really want to film it.

And most importantly

3) When I read it from start to finish, I'm absorbed - taking hardly any notes.

What about you? Any rules of thumb for when something you've done is finished?

[Film] George Romero interview

Ook. Forgot to link to this yesterday. It's an interview over at about Land of the Dead, which really hammers home the thematic-sociological-satirical basis this one's operating on.
"As for the imagery, I don't know if people will pick up on all of it, but some of it is obvious to me -- the financial center being a high-rise, and a tank riding through a little village and mowing people down while we wonder why [the zombies] are pissed off at us." -- George Romero

[The Limit] Sculpting

Currently working on the end of Act 2, making it more human and emotionally connected between the two leads. There's a big flip between triumph to despair at this point of the script, and to get it working right I feel it needs to be less 'WAAAAH! PLOT!' in-your-face than it was in my first draft. So I'm layering the scene, going back over it a few times and making sure it builds in a way that feels natural to me.

I mentioned the "doing it right vs. getting it done fast" dilemma a few days ago. When I was first writing this draft, I laboured over each sequence until I felt it was working as good as I could get it. At the moment, my writing is nowhere that intensive.

However, I think it's like sculpting*. My first draft was like taking a lot of care to get the general shape correct. Now I've stepped back, assessed what it looks like and am making some of the quick, obvious hacks and cuts to get everything in proportion. It means my concern is I'll cut too much or that I'll stray from the heart of the piece, but - unlike sculpting - I can put material back into the script. I guess it's like sculpting with play-doh ... and I think I'll end the metaphor there cos I can sense it starting to collapse.

*I've never sculpted anything, so this is what I imagine it's like.

Anyway, enough writing about writing. Back to it. The update boils down to this: 1) the work's going slower than I thought, and 2) regardless of the final quality of this draft, I won't put it on the market till I'm happy with it. (This may lead to another post about why 'happy' and 'finished' are two completely different - and achievable - measures from 'good enough' and 'perfect'; the benchmarks I used to aim for.)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

[The Limit] Unhatched Chickens

Read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, played nine holes of golf with Dad yesterday. Watched Gilmore Girls and had roast chicken tonight. Sandwiched between that I've managed to slug through two action sequences and am nearly at the end of Act 2.

Haven't got my chart with me, but I budgeted 4 days for this rewrite and this is day 5. There's probably a day and a half of writing left, so that takes my safety down to 17 days. Biggest concern is that although I'm editing to address my biggest concerns with the script, I'm wondering whether the material I'm writing has enough quality in it.

Guess I'll find out in a couple of weeks after the readers have gone through it and I've re-read it too.

Friday, July 01, 2005

[Film] War of the Worlds

Share your thoughts about Spielberg's latest!

[The Limit] Stress Level 90% and falling

I'm tense - and figuring to take the next day or so off (or at least easier). However, I've been making good progress. The big rewrites have been straightforward

Comments and Revamp

Just overhauling the blog at the moment and thanks to bloggerhacks (via No Right Turn) I've added a 'Recent Comments' section at the bottom of the sidebar.