Saturday, April 30, 2005

[How to: TV] How to Build a Team

These notes are from Peak Performers by Charles Garfield.

Team building/playing involves being able to start a project AND contribute to someone else's. Peak performers have a drive to stand in while they stand out; leading the teams they build and also joining them.

Read more!

3 essential skills for this: 1) Spirit - keeping the mission alive. 2) Peer Pressure - enforcing performance via reminders of the mission and its values (not via intimidation). 3) Communication - keeping the channels open and clear.

Leaders have a vision of the entire project. They keep communicating this vision around the team. Best way is to get everyone in a big room. Effective communication calls for: Empathy. Authenticity. Concreteness.

Rather than rewards and punishments, make certain each member understands the simple fact of teamwork: "If my end of the boat sinks, so does yours."

LEADERSHIP communicates the mission clearly to people who will catch fire from it and generate their own motivations and drive for results. It’s seeing possibilities before they become obvious: A leader gives power and responsibilities to others, " carrying water for his people so they can get on with their jobs."

Much of a peak performer’s impact is achieved by making sure other people perceive their goals as worthy (and of benefit to them). The real source of good results is the wholehearted personal commitment of everyone involved. Think longer and harder about building your people structure than anything else.

  • Delegate to empower. Releasing power in others, whether in co-workers or customers, benefits peak performers in the long run.
  • Stretch the abilities of others.
  • Encourage educated risk-taking.
  • Concentrate on solving problems rather than placing blame for them.
  • Persuade more than order. Listen to people, get them to align willingly with the team effort instead of merely obeying orders.
  • Seek input from others.
  • Show political sensitivity.
  • Share rewards and recognition willingly.
  • Assume people in the team have needs. For self esteem, belonging to an organisation one can be proud of, standing out while standing in, self-actualisation. Satisfy these needs by offering autonomy and responsibility at work. People want acceptance, recognition and to know their work matters.
  • Vigorously share information; have regular brainstorming sessions.
Draw a triangle of Team Goals, Methods for how each individual can contribute and Yardsticks.

Friday, April 29, 2005

[TV] 2005-06 Pilots

An amazingly detailed breakdown of the new comedies and dramas pilots coming up in 2005-06 in America. Also check out the dialogues at the side of the article, which are small interviews with network execs.

[TV] GG creators good to go

The creator behind Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband Daniel Palladino are developing another series for the WB. This means they'll be showrunning GG for another season, but are probably grooming replacements for themselves.

Their first post-GG series, the spin-off following the adventures of bad boy Jess, tanked tanked tanked.

[Film] Oldboy :: Spoilers ::

written by Jo-yun Hwang & Chun-hyeong Lim
*** ½ (out of 5)

Oldboy. It’s vile, hilarious and tragic. The pummelled feeling it leaves you with at the end is how I hope The Limit affects people. But …

Despite an amazing first act (*****), my reaction has ebbed over the last 24 hours. There are a couple of reasons for that.

Here's some light spoiler analysis ...

The protagonist is not the protagonist. It took Ed telling me that he saw Oldboy as a dark version of Amelie before I realised this. Oh Dae-su is definitely the main character. I always wanted to know why this had happened to him, why he’d been abducted for 15 years – and I was fully behind him getting revenge. At least until I found out what was going on.

Then it become clear that this is a revenge story – just not Oh Dae-su's. The villain is the protagonist. The one who causes everything to happen, who has a good reason for doing what he’s doing.

Now, I say ‘a good reason’, but actually I’m not so sure. People have told me that Oldboy has twists in it but technically it actually has two massive backstory revelations. The problem with the villain’s motivation is that the cause and effect of what happened to his sister seemed unclearly dealt with. I’m sure it’s all consistent, but as a first time viewer it didn’t make sense at a gut level to.

Another problem is that I guessed the absolutely central dark secret very early … but repressed it. That’s my own thing – I like trying to guess the secrets in movies, so that won’t weaken Oldboy for other viewers.

Biggest issue? One simple conversation betweeen Mido and Oh Dae-su could have cleared things up. Obviously that’s why they never had that conversation – but given both their histories, it’s a pretty massive issue. At least on a first viewing. I’m sure the writers and film-maker (Chan-wook Park) have addressed that somewhere. The degree of control the villain has had over Mido’s life suggests a possible answer.

Whether you laugh at Oh Dae-su’s final abasement at the foot of the man who’s destroyed his life depends on whether you see this as an exploitative gross-out flick or an intense Greek (by way of Korean) tragedy.

It worked for me. Just didn't fully grip me.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


OK, this feels like the start of something big. It's the framework for a massive online RPG hosted by a peer2peer network (like Kazaa or Napster).

The implications are staggering: provide your own content, shape the world and the events, hack it, stratify the society, create your own worlds for your own group of friends at low cost, ...

[Script] Scripts are emotion

A lot of money gets spent on famous actors and CG. Flashy things are supposed to keep our interest, our eyes glued to the screen (a pretty disgusting visual now I think about it). However, with a no-budget movie or Season 1 of a normal budget TV series, there’ll be no cash to spend on those things. In this case, emotions are your special effect.

Emotions can grip the audience. They can be complex and spectacular. You can find emotions that haven’t been tackled before. Best of all, they are cheap. And if they’re cool enough, maybe you’ll attract the funding to get those famous actors and flashy CG effects.

Some random thoughts on emotion

The first principle in the first book on screenwriting I ever read was that the primary goal of any screenplay is to elicit emotion from the audience.[1]

Scripts deal in emotions and motivations. As script-writers, those are our 2 basic tools. We can make characters behave in plausible and fascinating ways.
We can aim to make the reader (and hopefully the eventual viewer) feel a certain way.

An well-drawn action setpiece can illustrate these 2 things working together just as effectively as a moving on-screen declaration of love.

James Cameron says, “Audiences don’t think in scenes. They think in a continuously dynamic and evolving force field of emotions and ideas.” Sometimes when I’m considering the overall script, I don’t think in terms of plot or character; I just go through it feeling what the audience will feel at every stage. Then I ask myself, “Is this a good journey to go on?”

“Do we buy it?” was a question often asked in the latter stages of writing lovebites. Do we believe in what we’re reading. Maybe you don’t buy it because the script hasn’t made you care enough … or maybe you don’t buy it because you care so much that you think what the character’s doing is (a) wrong, (b) against type or (c) just something you don’t want to see them do …

I think it’s important to know the emotion you’re trying to produce with each scene. That’ll go on the checklist.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

[How to: TV] Saving time

This is from Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica production blog as they gear up for Season 2:

"In terms of writing, we have scripts in hand for the first seven shows, scripts underway for the next three and stories underway for the next three after that, so we're in excellent shape in terms of being prepared for production. The further ahead you can deliver scripts, the more time each department has to plan and allocate resources, which ends up saving substantial money by simply avoiding last-minute surprises like, "Oh, we need a freighter interior this week" which causes an enormous scramble as everyone has to run around and either find a location with virtually no lead time which must still be completely dressed for camera, or a set will have to be constructed from scratch virtually overnight with consequent overtime overages. The solution sounds simple -- just write the scripts faster -- but executing that idea turns out to be much more complex. Changes in storylines tend to domino backwards and forwards throughout the episodes, requiring more rewriting and a lot of ball juggling to keep it all straight."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

[How to: TV] Layering scenes

While talking to DBS last week, he mentioned that the biggest thing he’d learned from writing on Insiders’ Guide was to ‘layer scenes’. To have at least 2 (but more like 3 or 4) things going on. Part of this is to do with subtext, part of it’s about having stuff going on in the background and still more is about keeping the scene alive, filled with energy and keeping the viewer engaged.

The idea is to make scenes multi-dimensional as well.

So now we’ve got the starts of a checklist:
  • What’s the scene about: Stakes and Conflicts.
  • What’s the scene really about: Subtext.
  • What else is going on: background stories – and secondary characters.
  • Off-screen stories: (see the sound design commentary track on the Se7en DVD for many examples of this).
  • How should the scene make us feel: Emotion

Saturday, April 23, 2005

What's going on?

Maybe you’ve noticed a shift in this blog recently? A lot more articles on How to Write a TV Series?

Yeah, me too.

I’ve set myself the goal of writing 40,000 words about this before April 1 next year. And in the 10 days since I started, I’ve gotten 10% of the way. The reasons for this are selfish. First, I really want to get clear in my head my current understanding of the creative process and the elements I need to think about. That’s right: “I”. This How To is not going to be a definitive ‘you must do this’ article. It’s about the points I’ve noticed and – more importantly – tend to freak out about or forget.

So, Reason #1 is that I really, really want to create a first draft process of the steps I need to think about when creating good TV. Hopefully then I can redraft it by actually taking a couple of TV projects through the process and seeing whether my ideals stack up to reality.

#2 is that I was getting a bit bored with the scatter-shot approach I was taking with multi-dimensional. Focusing on something that excited me became a necessity. Hence the big How To splurge in recent days. If past behaviour is any indication of what will happen next (and Dr Phil thinks that it is), my post rate should settle down – and I’ll start to post more varied thoughts and links again.

To make my target I need to post about 120 words a day. Yesterday I posted 1047. I don’t think this mono-mania is interesting or possible to sustain but I’m giving you fair warning: it’ll be a major part of this blog for at least the next couple of months.

#3 … Writing about TV design feels positive to me. I’m being pro-active. I’m visualising what I need to do. The lovebites debrief was all about dwelling on the past. I was enjoying writing it, but at the same time it was negative.

So, there you go. A new direction. If you’ve got thoughts on what makes good TV (and the scope of that is wide, ranging from the idea to teamwork to project management), comment away. And – as ever – I’d love to try answering your questions.

Friday, April 22, 2005

[How to: TV] What to expect

Time pressure. Things need to be done quickly. Like, you may be asked to deliver a 44-page script within 48 hours (Joss Whedon & Tim Minear, Firefly). In TV there is always a deadline.

The very first thing Jo Randerson said when she joined our first intake of lovebites writers was, "What's the situation? Let me guess: there's not enough money and we're behind already." This is an accurate assessment of working in television.

[How to: TV] Go into a meeting as the 'new guy'.

Don't go in with piles of notes.
Have one page in front of you and on it make 2 simple lists.
The first is what you like about the show. Be sure to pitch this first.

During the friendly chatting - getting to know each other - sitting down to business phases, try to understand your place in the hierarchy, how much this team has worked together before (and therefore has pre-existing norms).

When in doubt, listen.
In this first meeting, it's not your job to be the person who says the most.
But you do want to get an idea of how locked down the elements of the show are - and maybe even what is their decision-making process for whether things need changing.

Your second list is no more than 10 points of suggested changes and things you don't like about the show.


Because you don't want to overwhelm them or come off as the nay-sayer. (And actually, now I think about it, maybe even a list of just 3 points would be even better. More focused.)
Rank them in order of importance, so you know which battles are worth fighting, to you.
And for every thing you don't like about the show, bring 2 possible solutions.

You also don't want to be the one who puts forward the things on your list one after another.
Take your time, take your turn, listen to everyone else. Try to stay flexible. Agree if someone hits a point on your list (and then cross that point off).

Anyone else got any tips for going into a meeting as the new guy?

[How to: TV] Be part of the team

The following is taken verbatim from Why teams don't work by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley.

It is everyone's responsibility to create a team. Here are the characteristics of effective team members:

Goals. Interest. Conflict. Listening. Decisions. Differences. Ideas. Feedback. Accomplishments.

Having a commitment to goals. It is difficult to work enthusiastically towards an outcome if you don't know what the outcome is. The first thing good team members to is clarify what they're after - what their team goals and objectives are. With this clarified, good team members commit themselves to the outcome; whatever it takes (within ethical boundaries), they are willing to do.

Showing a genuine interest in other team members. People don't have to like each other to work together. That may be true, in the short term. But good team members develop a genuine interest in the well-being of other team members. Not as a team survival mechanism, but as a human bond. It may sound like small talk, but it's more caring: "How was your weekend?" "Is your child still sick?" "Is there anything I can do?"

Confronting conflict. Good team members can tell the difference between confrontation and conflict - between directness and having a chip on one's shoulder. The only way to discover and resolve differences with the team is to open up, acknowledge the disagreement, and negotiate a solution. Avoid the plague, but own up to conflict. As a matter of fact, effective team members intercede when other team members are in conflict, to help resolve the disagreement. Bad or weak team members turn their back on conflict and either ignore it, and hope it will disappear, or let the other team members battle it out, squandering precious team time and goodwill.

Listening empathically. Empathic, active listening is important for anyone, whether you are on a team or not. It is particularly important for open communication between effective team members. Empathic listening means being sensitive to not just the content of the message the other person is sending but to the emotion behind the message. Good listening means more than shutting up and waiting for your turn - it means getting into the other person's head and heart.

Practising inclusive decision-making. Good team members run their "first draft" decision by other team members before they pool the trigger. One never knows what additional inputs you may acquire that may make your tentative decision even better. Not only may you get additional information this way, but you have a communication device online that lets people know where your thoughts are headed - thus minimising surprises later.

Valuing individual differences. Effective team members look at differences as positive. They respect the opinions of others and view others' perspectives as pluses, not minuses. They figure out how to use the natural differences to benefit the team's outcomes and not as excuses to avoid working with each other.

Contributing ideas freely. Good team members don't hold back their ideas. When they have an opinion about something, they express it, even if it's just to support someone else's opinion. If you have an idea about the topic being discussed and you keep your mouth shut (very typical for the Midwest, where we are), you're not being an effective team member.

Providing feedback on team performance. Good teams develop a method for providing continuous feedback on how the team is working, what's going right, what's going wrong, and what to do about it. Effective team members also solicit feedback from other team members ("How'm I doing?"). No matter what formal performance feedback system their organisations provide, good teams develop methods for more frequent, real-time, relevant feedback on people, processes, team support structures, and outcomes. [See also 'Gung Ho'.]

Celebrating accomplishments. One of the first questions Harvey asks when doing teaming within an organisation is, "When was the last time you folks had a party?" If you haven't had a party lately, you haven't had a formal excuse to celebrate. Maybe your goals are long-term ones; it's hard to break off in the middle and celebrate. So - do it anyway. Effective teams find excuses to celebrate, usually related to the accomplishment of some shorter term outcome. Look for ways to lift the morale through celebration, both personal and professional.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

[How to: TV] Writing for someone else

You get an offer to work on a TV show. The first thing you've got to do is make sure you 'get' it. The second, is ask whether you'll enjoy writing it.

How do you know if you've 'got' it? Well, the Producer or the Creator will talk to you about the show and probably give you a confidential proposal to take away. The proposal may have character and episode breakdowns in it, maybe even a sample script or two. You study it all and write up a one page document summarising your understanding of the Situation, Main Character, Main Relationship and Emotion.

What you want to know is how close you are to their vision. Do you get it? Will you fit in to the existing creative team?

Then, once you've 'got' it, is the just-as-important step of asking if you'll enjoy writing it. Because if you don't, the experience will probably not be a high point of your life.

[TV] Creating House

An article in the Washington Post on how they created House. The creator had a background in cop shows, so he approached medical drama from the POV of having the germs be the suspects in a who-dunnit.

[How to: TV] The Situation is a Tube

Thanks to Chris Gilman for this analogy ...

While the Situation defines the types of stories your series tells, it also defines the types of stories your series doesn't tell. For instance, Battlestar Galactica is going to seem odd if it blows up the Battlestar and strands everyone on a planet for the rest of the series. The Situation is like a tube and the boundaries of the tube dictate the sorts of stories you can tell. In the case of BSG, it's about the journey and the threats (within & without) faced on that journey.

Because Gilmore Girls is a family drama, we don't expect terrorists to show up in Stars Hollow and hold Emily hostage, forcing a rapprochement between mother and daughter.

The tube of Situation provides a boundary on the types of story it's permissible for your series to tell - but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It also tells your audience what to expect every week. If they like the Situation, then they'll keep tuning in.

Can you change the tube? Well, I'd like to hear your thoughts on that. The closest I can think of at the moment is Angel Season 5 which is changing the situation from 'heroes helping the helpless' through to 'heroes corrupted by absolute power' - or so it seems. It means that (at least in these early eps) stories with a different feel are being played out.

[How to: TV] The Situation

The Situation is the one sentence line you pitch to the network. "It's Castaway meets Fantasy Island."

It should be 'hooky', immediately suggesting a number of stories you could tell. The Situation is also about the broader social context the characters are in.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: a cheerleader defends her town against supernatural forces.
Boston Public: teachers struggle with students and their own personal lives.
Battlestar Galactica: the military protects a rag-tag fleet of survivors against the Cylons.

When you sit down to watch this week's episode of ... whatever, the Situation has primed your expections of what you're about to see. In some ways it defines what you want to see. After all, why would you be watching 24 if you didn't want to see Jack Bauer kicking ass on this season's stressful terrorist threat?

[How to: TV] The 4 Essentials in action

I had a long lunch and interesting conversation with David Brechin-Smith (Insiders Guide to Happiness) yesterday.

We were discussing an idea for a TV show and I asked him about the four things I need to understand in order to 'get' a show. Those are: Situation, Main Character, Main Relationship and Emotion. The checklist focused me on the conversation and helped me figure out what I was still drawing a blank on.

Additionally, I've found better ways of phrasing these things.

Situation = "What do the characters do every week?" It's not about who the characters are or how they know each other; that's the Set-up.

Emotion = "How do you want to the audience to come away from an episode feeling?" Related to this are issues of genre and themes. The Emotion is what I reckon you should produce once an act.

Main Character = "Is there a central character? Someone whose issues reflect the themes of the show?"

The Main Character and Main Relationship are who you would expect to see often in an episode.

[Film] The Wasps, 2nd readthrough

Had a good time reading through the script with some different actors. Notable changes in this new draft include toughening up Henry (someone who doesn't like my character) and a much more plausible ending between the two lead characters.

What I found interesting was the way you judge the effectiveness of a comedy screenplay. Conventional wisdom says, "If it makes you laugh then it's working." When you're reading the script aloud (or performing it in the theatre), it's only natural to put pauses in after your big jokes, to let the audience have a laugh. However, pausing like that on film would look unnatural. Comic beats have to be created through staging or editing. So last night, I found myself deciding not to play to the audience; to read the lines at a filmic pace. At times this meant I was actually cutting off laughter from the other actors. To try and be funny on-screen, I was removing the funny from the here and now.

Note to self: don't expect cold readings to be even close to perfect when it comes to performance and understanding of motivation. There were many times I lost track of how my character should be behaving - and I've read the script at least twice before.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

[RPG] Games for TV

I've started a thread over at the Universalis Forum about how I used the game to design episodes of TV shows.

[How to: TV] Using backstory to good effect.

Just thinking about a couple of examples of where backstory has been used to really good effect.

There’s the graphic novel, Preacher – where many of its more powerful story-arcs rely on things that happened to the characters over 20 years ago (and I feel like author Garth Ennis had this all planned out before he began writing). Halfway through Season 2 of Buffy there’s a revelation about Angel that not only explains his withdrawn mopiness but turns him into a character worthy of a spin-off series. And – although I haven’t watched much of it yet – backstory seems to be a defining feature of Lost; so much so that I wonder what they’re going to do with their format in Season 2 once they’ve played out most of the secrets about the characters’ pasts.

Monday, April 18, 2005

[How to: TV] How I hire

It’s pretty simple. I hire people if I can have a good conversation with them. Not an entertaining one. A good conversation is one where they actually listen and understand the points I’m making, I sense that, and in turn I’m really engaged in what they’re saying. It’s also important that – in the words of Dr Phil – they ‘get it’, what the show is.

During lovebites, out of [27] writers, I found 3 who fitted that criteria. Note that it’s not about talent – it’s about aligning with the team.

[How to: TV] 3 Levels of Power

I can think of three levels of power in a creative team.

  1. Deciders.
  2. Trusteds.
  3. Newbies.

Deciders are the people with the authority to determine the direction of the project. There’s at least 2 types. The Foot is the final decision maker; probably the person with the original idea but it could as easily be the producer. In lovebites, the Foot was sometimes me, Sean and Andrew – and sometimes it was Larry Parr. The other type is the Power Behind the Throne - the quiet, less public adviser.

Trusteds are people that you’ve worked with before, who you can rely on to get the job done. You trust them because you know how their minds works and how to communicate with them. You respect them. They’re like Senior Partners.

Newbies are anyone you’re working with for the first time. Junior Partners are experienced writers you’ve invited in based on reputation or recommendation. Fresh Meat is anyone who’s experiencing working in television for the first time (they may be friends or writers who’ve auditioned on spec or interns). These are the people who may or may not melt-down.

[How to: TV] More on Phase 1

I think this has some bearing on where Phase 1 was going yesterday. It’s from “Why Teams Don’t Work”:

Leaders not only involve others; we have often observed them sharing whatever power, influence and other resources they have with other team members. They want to empower others to get the job done willingly, rapidly and well.

Leaders appear unconcerned about losing control or sharing power; trading these slight risks for the improved motivation and performance flowing from their empowering efforts.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

[How to: TV] Phase 1

The overall goal of Phase 1 is to develop a series idea a production company will buy. The first step to that goal is to come up with an idea that gets other people really interested.

1. Find a premise.
At a minimum, you should have a solid idea about the Emotion of the show, who is the Main Character, what is the Main relationship and the show's Situation. The Situation should have a lot of material you can explore and it should hook peoples’ interest, make them want to see it.

2. Choose your 1st audience.
People whose input you want in fleshing out the idea.

3. Introduce the idea to the 1st audience.
Describe the Emotion, Main Character, Main relationship and Situation.

There are a few things you want out of this. I'll just write them down in no particular order now, and try to unbundle them later ...

  • Present any story ideas you might have.
  • Generate ideas.
  • Ask the 1st audience if they would watch this show.
  • Determine who is really enthused about working on the idea.
I imagine the trick is not to overload people with too much info. So you've got to strike a balance between the details you've come up with and keeping it open to change and contribution.

How do you present an idea of tone while opening it up to debate and development?
How do you decide which ideas stay and go?
How do you expand your vision for the show?

4. What's next?
Your goal from here is probably to build a Creation team. The people who'll work on developing the series from a concept into something saleable.

The Big question for next time: How much work do you need to do before trying to sell the idea?
At what point is it pitchable or sellable? Typically, don’t you want Bible / Script / Outlines for rest of episodes?

Maybe we should see what would happen if you just go with a 1 pager. And submit it to production companies to get an expression of interest. This work is going to be done – anyway – it’s just a matter of ‘at what stage?’

Scripts & Roleplaying

For me, this post starts to illustrate the links between script-writing and role-playing. The actual thread is about the relationship between computer game design and RPGs.

"Whether you make a kick ass story or not is not the point. The point is, for it to work, you and your fellow players are playfully playing as if this just gonna be great by the time its done: making choices, sifting through options, recalling patterns and motifs, creating new high and low points, forcing the characters into choices (that spark creative actions on the part of the players) and so on.

Draft, in short, is not a 'warm up.' "

Saturday, April 16, 2005

[How to: TV] Beginning the Process

So, I’m going to start outlining the first draft a process for creating a TV series. I expect there’ll be steps missing and lots of rhetorical questions. But this is also the most pro-active and forward thinking about this that I’ve been in a long time.

Feel free to ask questions at any stage.

Where do you start?

Let’s do the broad strokes first.

The Goal is to make money creating something you enjoy.

You do this by creating a world you’ll have fun writing in. One that you completely believe in and care about. Then you sell it - to a production company; to a network; to a funding agency.

In Tom Peter’s book, The Project50, he outlines the project life-cycle as being:
1) Create. 2) Sell. 3) Implement. That works for me – and it corresponds nicely to 1) Creating the show, 2) Preparing the show, 3) Producing the show. But also each of these phases will have their own create-sell-implement moments inside them.

Tomorrow: I’ll begin to outline the Creating the Show phase.

* Also, bear this quote in mind: "Know what the next three or four steps are. Set achievable milestones. Sell each incremental step. At each phase, bring people completed work (not just a concept)," from Peak Performers by Charles Garfield. I'm finding it very useful when it comes to thinking about how to tackle a project.

[The Limit] Layering.

Pretty much finished the scene. Just a few tidy-ups to go.

The trick was to go through it again and again. Whenever I hit a block (which was often), I either brainstormed about 20 options or moved on. Then I'd go back to the top and work through the scene again.

Very happy about it – and the fact that I’m enjoying the writing means I’m much more fun to live with.

Friday, April 15, 2005

[TV] Interviewing the Actor

If you've got an idea about who you'd like to cast as a character, talk to them.

There's a lot of reasons for doing this. I like to listen to their voice, the way they speak. Do they use little words or polysyllabic synonyms? Shorter or longer sentences? Are they direct or do they like speaking in a more circular fashion?

Get an idea of their natural mode of speaking and write to that. The idea is to create dialogue they'll be comfortable delivering - and therefore their performance is more natural (naturaler?).

[TV] Two leaders

The creative team for a TV show has two leadership positions. The CREATOR is the person with final responsiblity for the direction of the show (tone, ideas, character). The SHOW-RUNNER is a project manager. They concentrate on knocking down all the obstacles to getting the scripts completed on time.

Ideally the Creator and the Show-runner should be good friends and communicate easily with each other. They should share the same vision for the show. Oh, and I guess you don't need to separate the two functions out if you're a genius.

[TV] Bibliography

Here are links to synopses of books relevant to my "How to write a TV series" article.

Big Bucks! - prioritising goals

Gung Ho - team morale.

[TV] Big Bucks!

Big Bucks! by Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles outlines three highly controllable tests to pass in order to become rich.

Read the 1 page synopsis ...

The Test of Joy: You can't make money unless you're having FUN.

1. You need the exuberance of fun to sustain the hard work of making money.
2. Having fun turns work into play. I don't want anyone to work for me; I want them to play with me.
3. The fun has to come first. Then success follows. [See ‘The Test of Purpose’.]
4. Any business can make money if you know the secrets of making money.
5. People who know the secrets of making money naturally enjoy good luck.
6. If you don't love the business and you want to make big bucks, try Las Vegas.

Successful business means you love the customer using the product AND being a raving fan. It isn’t about great systems, but how they add to customer enjoyment.

FUN provides COMMITMENT and INTENSITY - which means FOCUS (a tunnel vision focus on the customer's enjoyment of the product or service) - which leads to SUCCESS - which means Making Money.

The Test of Purpose: Making money is MORE IMPORTANT than having fun.

If your main purpose is to have fun, the business will NEVER be successful. When making money bumps into having fun, then making money has to take top billing. We are talking about a lifetime dedication to putting money out of front as the priority of my business life. But the fun has to come first.

This doesn't mean you have to renounce everything else in life and do only business. There’s even room in your business life for lots of things aside from money making. I just need to become a peak performer, not a workaholic. How do I avoid burnout? By being intentional about it. Schedule down-time.

I need to know my motivation. “To make the world a better place.”

NB: The fun of making money is more important than the fun of doing business.

The Test of Creativity: Income LESS Expenses = Profit

Income limits how much money you can make. The Goal: decide how much I want to make and then make that amount the difference between my income and expenses.

Time is an essential part of this formula. There is a big difference between profits of $100,000 a month or $100,000 a year. You have to: 1) prioritise money making tasks first; and 2) have a mania about getting whatever you have to do done now and not one hour from now or even ten minutes from now. It’s often the difference between being a winner and an also-ran.

To make big money, create sales. Create new products. Find new uses or markets for existing products. Reach out to people and convince them they need products or services they are currently doing without. Show how you can help them. Cost-cutting is easy. Selling is tough.

Perpetual Prosperity comes to those who can help Others. When you help others realise their full potential, the result is a whole new pie of riches, … and some of the slices may come back to you.

[TV] Gung Ho

Gung Ho, by Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles is an interesting book about how to create a healthy team environment.

Read the 1 page synopsis ...

The Spirit of the Squirrel: WORTHWHILE WORK.

To create worthwhile work, 1 ) the work as to be understood as important. 2) it has to lead to a well understood and shared goal. 3) values must guide all plans, decisions, and actions.

If you want people to be Gung Ho, they must understand why their work makes the world a better place. This is a great way to create self-esteem.

You can't have worthwhile work unless everyone is working towards a well understood and shared goal. You can't order people to support the goals you set. All you can do is tell them how they will benefit and invite them to join you. Along with total honesty, you had to put the well-being of your team members first. These are the basics of building Trust.

It matters how you reach the goal. You have to be proud of the goal and how you get there. You must be guided by values. In a Gung Ho organisation values are the real boss. Leaders have to insist that everyone follow them. If people don't respect your values, then they work elsewhere. Values aren't worth squat until they're tested by both time and vigorous assault. If you can pass up doubling profit for three years in a row to uphold the value, then it's a value. Until then it's a nice idea.

Meet every day for one hour to ask: Why are we here? What are our goals? What values will guide us?


The Way of the Beaver requires: 1) a playing field with clearly marked territory. 2) thoughts, feelings, needs and dreams are respected, listened to and acted upon. 3) able but challenged.

The leader decide where the team is going and makes sure they share that goal. Then they let the the workers exercise their own judgment about how to achieve the goal. People will naturally work together .

People who are truly in control work for organisations that value them as people. Their thoughts, feelings, needs and dreams are respected, listened to and acted upon by every other beaver.

Give people work they are able to do. But stretch them – the work should demand their best and allow them to explore new territory. The challenge will make them happy.

The Gift of the Goose: CHEERING OTHERS ON.

In a Gung Ho workplace there is the constant flow of positive, happy results. Everyone cheers each other on. It’s how you make a mission come alive.

People are rewarded in two ways: cash and congratulations. Congratulations must be TRUE. Timely, Responsive, Unconditional, Enthusiastic. They are more effective when they are Spontaneous, Individual, Specific, and Unique. And cheer the progress, not just the result.

Gung Ho is not a quick fix. It's a way of life. It is something to dedicate five years to. But like most things that are hard fought for, it is well with the wait. Because human minds linked to a common purpose achieve infinitely more than they do acting alone.

The knowledge of how to be Gung Ho is important. But what counts is taking action. Now. Today.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Invest in farms & shotguns

Holy crap. This is the analysis I was looking for of a post-oil-peaked world.

[TV] Dualities

Joss Whedon likes to create backstories for characters that contradict how they currently appear.

Examples. Giles the librarian used to be a drug-taking upper-crust British wild child. In Firefly, Shepherd Book the mild mannered preacher is probably a recovering Bad Lieutenant type of ex-cop* and hired killer Jayne has a mother who likes to knit for him.

The point: if you want to dimensionalise a character, you can use their backstory to create dualities.

Why would you do that? Well, you’re creating story material to reveal and play with in later seasons if you want. One use for it is to easily change existing relationships between characters. That lets you introduce new tensions if you’ve played out tensions that originally drove the show.

* If anyone wants the evidence supporting that theory, I’ll be glad to expand.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

[TV] Angel 5.1

What do you do when your network tells you to completely reinvent your show and make it newcomer friendly if it wants to keep getting made? In the case of Angel, the creative team completely reinvented their show, made its newcomer friendly, achieved critical success and improved their ratings. That's when the network cancelled the series. And that inspired Joss Whedon and his team to take the gloves off for the last 13 episodes of this Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off.

At the end of last season, Angel and his band of do-gooders took over the villainous law firm of Wolfram & Hart. This inverted four years of storytelling from the Joss Whedon show. Now the good guys were running the bad guys.

The result introduces more moral ambivalence into this increasingly conflicted series. Fortunately it has also kicked up the potential for comedy a notch. Now we have irony, back-story jokes, smart characterisation and - as ever - the show keeps demonstrating that it is aware of its own ridiculousness. Plus it's apparently decided to introduce no-holds-barred fan service for the queer community. It's hard to interpret David Boreanaz saying lines like "I don't have a problem spanking men," and in response to being called a pathetic little fairy saying, "I'm not little," in any other way.

Things won't stay this light-hearted for long but before we see the grim fates of several main characters this season we will be treated to a Mexican wrestling episode and the sight of Boreanaz turned into a wooden puppet (which apparently improves his acting).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

[The Limit] Keep ‘em off balance.

Back to the good stuff after a couple of pretty blah days grinding out Facelift sketches and doing some notes on project-management (look for an update on that soon, it has relevance to the How to Write a TV Show article).

I’m really happy with where this in-the-car confrontation scene is going now. After doing all the prep work of looking at their motivations, I think I may have found a new technique to breathe life, shove energy into this (any?) scene.

The idea is to think of each character’s input into the scene as a Bang (I’ll provide a link to a fuller definition of this later), something that must provoke a reaction from at least one of the other characters. Obviously this is simplest when there’s only 2 people around. What I’m doing is drawing a step diagram down the page, taking it very methodically and asking “If Forster does this, what is Peter’s reaction? Okay, if Peter reacts like that, what would Forster say?”

Seems obvious. Except that the reactions have to be big and personalised and surprising. My intention is to keep all the characters in a scene off-balance. Force them to respond to things they’re not expecting. Trap them in a rapidly evolving situation that’s at least partly out of their control. Kind of like life.

So at a scene level, what I’m doing is:
1. Defining stakes and conflicts.
2. Building up motivations at a beat by beat level.
3. Reaching a point where those feel artificial, where I’m bored with them.
4. Building a Step Diagram and keeping the idea of Bangs in mind.

Monday, April 11, 2005

[SF] Nova

by Samuel R. Delaney

Dense, poetic, and took 2 attempts to finish. But it’s a vision of the future that hasn’t let go of me. Sailing spaceships that travel faster than light, mining at the heart of a sun, the economic fate of the universe determined by a fight between 2 eccentric playboys and a gypsy. Well worth it if you can get through the at-first seemingly unmotivated 90 page flashback halfway through the book.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

[VW] The Matrix Online

Wired reviews The Matrix Online (Mxo), here.

Terra Nova talks about using actors to play Neo, Morpheus and other characters from the movie in MxO, here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

[Astral] Playtest Cancelled


The submission date for the new season of Facelift is Monday 11 April, and the show goes into production the week after that. So, apologies. I'm going to have to focus on writing for that rather than for the game.

Monday, April 04, 2005

[The Limit] Dealing with Writer’s Block.

I wasted a week by coming up with reasons not to write.

Recovering from the party. It’s Easter - I’ve eaten too much chocolate. It’s Easter - everyone else is on holiday. The rest of my flat’s sick – so I feel unmotivated too. But these aren’t reasons, they’re excuses. The reason was I wasn’t inspired by what I was writing.

Murder, disillusionment and my new tattoo.

I’ve been working on a tense conversation between murderer and vigilante about their personal history. I want subtext to turn this not-so-idle chitchat into a continuation of their conflict

With our recent changes this whole sequence has to be reconsidered. 50% of what’s there has to be scrapped. It has to be rebuilt at a motivational level, starting with what Peter and Forster want. Then moving between their heads, asking “What do I think he should do if I were him?”. The goal is to make each reaction something that boggles the other character.

And then I got disillusioned because this all felt like a sterile, mechanical exercise. So, a week of avoidance.

Then I started trying to vividly visualise the scene. I remember I tried this before, with Trace outside Forster’s farm. And so far it’s working. The scene is fun to work on again.

The same lessons, learned over and over again. Hopefully this diary’ll help me boil them down into a couple of pithy meaningful phrases that I can have tattooed on the back of my hands.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

[Astral] Do you want to play a game?

I want to playtest Astral on 11 or 12 April (Monday or Tuesday the week after next). Chuck, Billy, you’ve said you’re interested. If you’re still in, just comment here. Anyone else who wants to play, feel free to do the same. At this stage, I’m looking for 3 players.

Read more about Astral, the game of out-of-body-experiences, here …

In Astral, you play a person who’s discovered they can travel outside their body.

The question you will try to answer as you play the game is, "Can you solve your character's real-life problems by going astral?"

The game is fast paced. You will be trying to solve your problems before the other players solve theirs - because that will earn you more end-of-game rewards.

Players have an unlimited supply of cool powers and lots of control over the direction of the story. The conflict in Astral is this massive power to determine the outcome versus time limits and the actions of other players.

Friday, April 01, 2005

[Western] Open Range

dir. Kevin Costner, scr. Craig Storper

A typical Western nightmare: Costner and Robert Duvall are cowboys who don’t know who to trust in a new town – a town filled with people who have more firepower and are trying to take their herd. A nice companion piece to My Darling Clementine.

The leads are great as men who’ve been together on the trail for a decade, yet know nothing about what makes each other tick. However, the film is over-long, the final gunfight lacks tension and the Costner / Annette Bening romance isn’t convincing.

There’s also too many cute puppy dogs. Watch it; you’ll see what I mean.