Monday, August 29, 2005

[The Limit] Now

Now I’ve brainstormed options for all the problems that were raised … man, that was kinda exhausting and fun.

Maybe I *should* re-read it next but I feel like continuing to work with the ideal, abstracted script in my head rather than the real thing. So I might do something different.

Take a couple of big bits of paper – maybe one to draw a mind-map on & two or three for notes about each Act. Work my way from the start of the movie towards the finish, taking notes for the restructure – and as I run into a problem for the first time, look at my brainstormed options and choose the one that feels best right at that moment.

(And if I’m not satisfied, then it’s time for more brainstorming …)

Also, I should cross-reference this Scribbled Chart of Restructuring with my brainstorming notes – to refer to them during the slog of the rewrite …

Saturday, August 27, 2005

[The Limit] Procasticulous

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. In between checking in on the (now-wrapped-up) Forge thread about the Star Wars game and grooving on my new Sage extension for reading blogs in Firefox, I have been getting less than an hour of work done on The Limit every day.

So multi-dimensional's on hiatus until I finish solving the last of the readers' problems and make a decent start on the restructure. I may even just not use the internet at all - after all it is the timesuck of doom for me.

In the meantime, consider this an open thread. Comment on whatever you and I'll see you in a while ...

[RPG] Cthulu stumbles

Call of Cthulu is the grand-daddy of horror RPGs. Based on the writings of HP Lovecraft, players take the role of trying to defend the world against an invasion of ancient slimy gods while maintaining a grip on their sanity. It is often impossible to achieve both goals.

Some of my scariest scares have come from playing it, but in this series of essays Bryan Bankhead explains his issues with the game.

Drifting to R’lyeh Introduces his problems

Cthulu’s Clues talks about the need to give players the solutions to the mystery even if they’ve failed to find the clues.

Hot Lead and Hypocrisy discusses why solving problems with violence usually turns out to be the best option in a game of psychological horror.

Friday, August 26, 2005

[Film] Advance Screenings of Serenity in Wellington!

I just found out tickets will be on sale September 1st!!!!!!!!

Any Browncoats out there who can give me more information from the official site?

Update: It's at Reading on the 19th of September. You can buy your tickets from the main counter on the 1st. I - Am - There.

[RPG] Why I play

The conversation over at the Forge had me wondering whether I was over-thinking the issue of my frustrating night. It's just a freakin' game, right? Why make a big deal out of it?

Well, here are some of the reasons I think it's important to make a big deal out of having fun while roleplaying:

1. It's a great social activity - at its heart, it's about having a conversation with people you like.
2. It's emotional - the best games are ones where I have felt, deeply - as deeply as when I've watched a good movie or read a good book.
3. It's creative - not only do you add things into the mix, but you experience in realtime everyone else's contribution.
4. It's unpredictable - you never know what someone will do.
5. It's funny - riffing of imaginary ideas is what I laugh at and can be funny with the most.
6. It's educational - I've learned a heck of a lot about storytelling from hanging out at the Forge, designing my own games & adventures and by trying to entertain other people.
7. It's liberating - I can pretend to be someone else, trying and figure out how they would react to situations.
8. It provides many different forms of fun - from just hanging out with friends, through method acting through to literally winning a competition against another smarter player.
9. Dollar for dollar, I think it's one of the best value-for-money forms of entertainment out there.
10. It's accessible - gone are the days of four year campaigns with unwieldy 700 page rule books. My Tuesday night group has a smorgasboard approach: one-shots and mini-series, dabbling in the best and newest that roleplaying has to offer.

So, yeah, gaming's something I'm passionate about. And I guess my things are a) I want to play with my friends and b) I want it to be fun. Given that I'm only playing for about 3 hours every fortnight, I think it seems reasonable that if I spent 1.5 hours not having fun, I should work out why and try and stop it from happening again.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

[Comics] Serenity #1

The best thing about reading this sequel to the Firefly TV series (and prequel to the movie) is the thrill of recognition I got from re-meeting each new member of the crew. The plot's pretty simple: a heist goes wrong (shocking!) and the Blue Hands show up again. In terms of pacing, the whole thing plays like the first act and a half of an episode of the TV show.

In other words, two thirds cool and one third filler.

The characterisation is solid, there's a one-page scene between River, Mal and Inara that's almost worth the price of admission - and I think I’m falling a little bit in love with Zoe.

Comics still remain the worst value for all my entertainment dollars, though. $8.15 for eight minutes of enjoyment. Even an arcade game is better value than that (sorry Wayne!).

[RPG] Legends of Alyria

Another free RPG (and the thing that got me into this whole indie scene in the first place) is Legends of Alyria. The whole rules-set is available here.

It's a dark world (think of it as the Silent Hill version of Dragonriders of Pern), with a lot of player collaboration and an easy-to-use character creation / conflict resolution system. Legends also has the best game fiction I've come across; readable and entertaining.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Open House

Maybe you have questions about TV show design or film-making? I'm also heavily into the theories behind both script-writing & role-playing (and how they can intersect). Ask about any of this stuff in the Comments* and I'll try to answer. I'll also hotlink this post into the 'About' section at top-right, so it's always easy to access.

* Feel free to make suggestions in the Comments here, too.

[RPG] Star Wars - A Frustrating Puzzle

I've started an AP thread about our group's latest game at the Forge. It's all about why I lost my temper (something I've never done during a game before) at a puzzle that had to be solved. What I've found interesting, talking with other players afterwards, is that no-one seemed to notice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


... indecision.

I've started The Pool of Fire, Book 3 in The Tripod trilogy by John Christopher. But I'm not into it; it's a little too familiar.

Last night I had a dream where Chris shoved Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card in my face and insisted I read it. A little later on, Dracula took over my pirate ship and then our bio-lab was infected by a deadly plague. In between, I played tennis.

Plus Legends of Indian Buddhism which is short and looks good also appeals.

[How to: TV] How character change

Okay, the obvious: characters change as a result of things happening to them.

The not-obvious (and bear with me, I'm still working this out ...)

I've talked before about my new approach of not pre-planning plot twists or cool things that could happen in a story. The idea is to just start with an opening situation (a What-If), introduce characters as needed and then see what they do.

"Seeing what they do," involves brainstorming possibility after possibility until I come up with something surprising, satisfying and that forces other characters to react. After getting the answer to "What would this character do?" I propose you ask "Why did they do that?" either straight away or in an extensive post-draft analysis.

The point: deepen your understanding of the character at every point.

Now here's where the character change kicks in (and this especially applies to a TV series):

... When you've gotten to the point where you know what your characters will do (their actions are consistent, even predictable), when you understand the limits they're bound within, when they're no longer surprising you with their decisions, then it's time to consider changing a character's Situation.

To take an example and reverse-engineer it, let's look at Buffy:

** Massive Spoilers **

Start of Season 1: Buffy's job is to slay vampires. She doesn't enjoy it.
S1, Ep 7: Her boyfriend is a vampire.
S1, Finale: She dies, kills the Master and saves the world.

Start of S2: Buffy is emotionally disconnected from the world and cynical, as a result of killing the Master.
S2, Ep 13: Her boyfriend becomes an evil vampire.
S2, Finale: Buffy kills her boyfriend, quits & runs away.

I could go on (Faith, graduating from high school, what happens to Joyce) but hopefully you begin to see my point - whenever we're just getting a handle on Buffy and the show, Whedon and his team change something fundamental, something that strikes at Buffy's core.

Whedon likes to think of it as being cruel to his characters. My approach is to think of something that puts your characters off-balance, because when their lives are out of control then they start making interesting (and possibly bad) decisions.

Monday, August 22, 2005

[TV] Sliders

For at least some of your Sliders needs, try this fansite ...

[RPG] 4 Free RPGs

The Pool is about 3 pages long, lots of fun. Damn simple. Quite a bit of player empowerment in the rules, which is really neat.

Fate is 90 pages long. It's comprehensive, well presented rules system has won a heck of a lot of awards. Fate is a FUDGE variant (so you need special FUDGE dice)

Pace - a 19 page diceless RPG created for the 24 Hour RPG contest and since revised. Character creation in under a minute. The rules have a nice writing style and good graphic design. Pretty well reviewed.

The Shadow of Yesterday is my pick of the bunch. TSoY is great; a neat conflict system and a really crowd-pleasing concept called the Gift of Dice which effortlessly creates teamwork. It’s a fantasy game, but our group adapted it to modern times with no trouble.

[The Limit] Next

I think I've finished with The Plan and its ramifications. Now to write the one-page summary for Andrew, so he can bounce ideas off it.

And then it's time to sort out the rest of the problems. First I should see how dealing with this fundamental one has altered the script - and whether dealing with it has eliminated any other outstanding issues. After that, I should choose the next most fundamental issue and analyse it.

[How to: TV] Stop-start

In my head, the ideal process for analysing a story seems simple: start watching (or reading), take a note of any problem I see & keep watching. In practice it's one of the hardest skills to master.

For me (and, it seems, most groups) it's easy to forget about keeping my eye on the big picture, and instead get bogged down in details.* Instead of discriminating between big problems and little ones, I treat everything equally and try to solve them as soon as they come into view. The upshot is that I spend lots of energy on fixing inconsequential issues - and then my brain isn't fresh at the point I need it most; when I run into the big problems that always seem to lurk towards the end of a piece.

The solution: nominate someone to be the Note-taker. Your team starts analysing the script, working their way from A to Z. If you find yourself getting bogged down in detailed problem-solving, it's the Note-taker's responsibility to identify that. They should force you to move on (while making a clear note of the issue that needs to be resolved).**

*This problem has hit me in script assessments, readthroughs and (especially) in the editing room.

** In other words, it's a pretty clear application of the Blue Hat phase of de Bono's 6 Hat process.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

[How to: TV] The Character's Top 3

After all the issues about a character have been brainstormed, debated and locked in ... you do up a page for them in the show's bible. At the top of the page I suggest you put the Top 3 points that give your writers the key to writing that character consistently. This is similar to what I wrote about in Principles.

[Script] Agents

Allow me to parasitise off Kung Fu Monkey and direct your attention to this post by John Rodgers wherein he illustrates the advantages of having both an agent AND a manager. As he says (in a long and extremely informative article):

My definition, when sober: "An agent helps your CAREER. A manager helps YOUR career."

My definition, when drunk: "You call your agent when you need work. You call your manager when you have a dead hooker in the bathtub of your Kentucky motel room."


In the Night Room, by Peter Straub. Another short (under 350 pages) Tim Underhill novel.

lost boy lost girl was really frickin' scary and has a neat flashback structure that creates suspense simply by existing.

[Script] Ending The Drive In 2

Hopped up on chocolate and Coke, I couldn't get to sleep last night. So I dealt with my frustrations by outlining a new (non-anti-climactic) ending for The Drive In 2.

Murder, multiple simultaneous mutant pregnancies, violent telekinesis, a 12 year old movie inspired serial killer, tornados, dinosaurs, a confrontation with every film villain and Big Bad we can afford the rights to and finally a ride INTO the sunset to confront the aliens behind it all.

After doing all that, I really want to make this movie.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

[The Limit] All emotional

2 things ...

I mentioned a 'breakthrough' a couple of days ago? Yesterday I realised the ramifications of it meant a HUGE rewrite of the script. First I was angry, then panicky ... then, slowly, I calmed down and am now gunna look through it methodically, seeing exactly what would need to be changed.

Also, my progress on problem-solving is slower than I'd hoped. Going slow & devising solutions that convince me is a good goal, but I think I'm starting to feel the lack of that obsessive quality, the need to get it finished by a certain goal. Maybe before I go house-sitting at Viv & Gino's in a month'd be an appropriate new goal.


lost boy, lost girl, by Peter Straub.

I'm gunna continue my Straub reading - I've gotten out 2 sequels to the Blue Rose trilogy from the library; just to see how his writing's developed in the last few years.

The Drive In 2 was on a par with the original in terms of humour and yuck but the ending was anti-climactic. It felt like it need more confrontation and interference from the Diabolus Ex Machina behind the whole thing.

Librarian Jenni

Just wanted to congratulate Jenni on some sterling librarianism. A while ago, a mother came into her work with a request – you can read the heartrending details here – but the upshot was that there didn’t seem to be any books for 6 – 13 year old girls with strong female leads.

Jenni went out and did the research, and
her list of books has been published here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

[TV] Huh?

Uh, so all the links on the sidebar seem to have disappeared. Hopefully that'll sort itself out by tomorrow.

Meantime, here's a link to the Family Guy blog - filled with info from the writing and production staff. Oh yeah, and this here's Post 400.


The Drive In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels, by Joe R. Lansdale.

The original The Drive In is about the only book I've ever had to stop reading cos' I was afraid I'd throw up. I've been looking forward to this one for about 5 years.

Tip o' the hat to Pearce, for pointing out a copy.

[Script] Pulp to True

Really, this is just a note to myself: I think that most of the ideas I write start off as pulp, genre stories where I'm jazzed about the set-pieces I can come up with and the cool twists I can write in.

It's only through revision and digging deeper that I start to care about the characters and stay engaged the whole way through the story when I read it.

The point: is to maybe get through the pulp phase into the real as fast as possible.

[How to: TV] Brainstorming Characters

We had another brainstorming session last night in which - due to lack of sleep - I was Mr. Grumpy. However, we roughed out another good idea for a TV series and in the process I thought of several things it'd be worth brainstorming when you are designing characters.

Career, Character Traits and Secrets.
Trajectory (or Destiny). Chris suggested this; it's where a character appears they're going to end up, at the start of a show.

Then I think you should brainstorm 20 Facts everyone's sure of about the character, 20 Ideas or wild possibilities for them, and 20 Questions that nobody's sure of the answer to about the character.

After that brainstorming, choose the issues that seem most fundamental and go through brainstorm possibilities and solutions to those.

The point is: You don't want to settle for the easy option. You have to go deep so that you're convinced by the answers.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

[Film] Sin City - take 2

Thought I'd take another crack at a review that reflected my real-time experiences watching Sin City. Here goes (beware spoilers):

Josh Hartnett is a real man.
That girl he’s with is a hell of a dame.

Bruce Willis is a real man.
Michael Madsen is a complete asshole.

Nick Stahl is a complete asshole.
That girl who’s gunna grow up to be Jessica Alba is gunna grow up to be a hell of a dame.
Those two goons are complete assholes.

Mickey Rourke is a real man.
Goldie’s a hell of a dame.
Elijah Wood’s a complete asshole.
Those cops are complete assholes.

That parole officer’s a hell of a dame.
Jessica Alba’s a hell of a dame.
That priest’s a complete asshole.
Blasphemous bang.

Elijah Wood’s wolf is a complete asshole.
Mickey Rourke is a real man.
Elijah Wood’s a complete asshole.

Those whores are hells of dames.
Rutger Hauer’s a complete asshole.
Mickey Rourke's a real man.

Clive Owen’s a real man.
Brittany Murphy’s a hell of a dame.
Benecio del Toro’s a complete asshole.

Those whores are hells of dames.
That Miho’s one hell of a dame.
Gail’s a hell of a dame.
Clive Owen’s a real man.


Bruce Willis is a real man.
Jessica Alba’s a hell of a dame.
Nick Stahl’s a complete asshole.

The End.

Tech & VW Index

Listing all my posts about tech, virtual worlds (computer games, MMORPGs) and science-fiction reviews ...

The Death of Pop Culture

100 Great SF Novels
Inverted World (review)
Time Travel Movies
The Centauri Device (review)

A Scanner Darkly (review)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (review)
Future Sum Zero
Puppet Tech
[VW] Real World Issues
[VW] Adults only
DRM: Downloading TV

[VW] Protests
Future of film
Downloading TV (2)
Jim Clark (1)
Jim Clark (2)
Cosmonaut Keep (review)
[VW] Reviewing Games
[VW] Ads

[VW] Budding game designers
[VW] Hapland
SF: A History (review)
The Embedding (review)
[VW] Design that game!
[VW] Indie game design
Undead (review)
VALIS (review)

[VW] The Matrix: Online
Nova (review)
Post Peak-Oil
Solipsis (P2P MMORPG)

Hapland 2
Film Pre-vis tech

[VW] Online SF Worlds
[VW] Massive Online Riddle: Not-pron
DRM: No more ads

Steve King’s latest
[VW] 6 Mistakes in Game Design

DRM: 4th Gen Media
VW: Downsides of Cyberspace
DRM: Legacies


Berserker, by Fred Saberhagen.

The Throat was nice; a real labyrinth of character motivations and histories that overlapped between multiple books. A couple of really good reveals towards the end but (and this is starting to seem typical for Straub) the actual climax felt a little ... flat.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

[The Limit] Maybe a breakthrough

I’ve been procrastinating a little the last couple of days. Working on a dialogue scene, trying to find Taine's voice. But I may have just had a break-through with how the parents find out Taine's gone missing - I can visualise it very clearly, so that immediately puts it at the top of the list of all the ideas I've had.

[Film] 48 article

Turns out Maggie’s article about my and Andrew's experiences in the 48 hour film competition has been published. Thanks, Jenni, for pointing that out (and Rachel for finding it).

DRM: The ‘Legacy’

Here's another problem with DRM, the issue of leaving a legacy to future generations.

[VW] The downside of cyberspace

Two links for ya:

1) Murder and the lack of a justice system in cyberspace

2) Social culture in MMORPGs

That one's got some killer quotes towards the end, including, “Because time is precious and finite, it is quite impossible to succeed in real-life and also succeed in the game. Some players will inevitably notice that their new hobby is causing them to neglect the rest of their life, and they choose to give the game up. These are the lucky ones.”

Gilmore Girls 5.22

The season finale – Lorelai’s watching her daughter throw her life away (with a bad boyfriend, a criminal record and the decision to quit college). Unfortunately, Rory’s starting to realise the life she thought she wanted may not be right for her.

It’s great that the show’s really foregrounding Lorelai's conflict. She finally has an opportunity to have a great, independent life (now that Rory’s moved out), and she may be giving all that up by marrying Luke. That means both mother and daughter subplots are really working for me.

But the mother-daughter relationship at the heart of the show is going all soap-opera. Rory’s motivations for moving in with her grandparents seem artificial, simply there to create conflict.

Can Gilmore Girls last another 2 seasons? I fear it’ll meander and sprawl too much. Me, I’d prefer to compress – cram everything that needs resolving into one more season. I think that would kick arse. You wouldn’t need to introduce any new characters or sub-plots; just focus on resolving what’s already there. Of course, my solution could be ignoring practical realities like ratings and contractual obligations with the netlet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

[Film] Sin City

*** (out of 5)

Bad acting. Worse acting. Ridiculous voiceover.

And then, all of a sudden, awesome voiceover and AWESOME action.
Man dragged from car.
Creepy Elijah.

Okay, it’s a cool movie. I'm supposed to sit back and have fun.

(Can Brittany act?)

Blah, blah, blah. Grenades. Bang.
Okay, Bruce Willis and Michael Madsen can act after all.
Whoa. Jessica Alba is hot!

More violence.
Jessica Alba is really hot.

Ooh, I hate that yellow bastard.
Uh-huh, … nup, don’t buy it.

Sin City: It’s fun but there’s nothing I can take home from it. There's no substance. But a beautiful digital film.

My RPG Posts

Here's everything I've written about role-playing - the games I'm playing and the games I'm designing ...

Designer Quotes

Upcoming Projects


Future reviews

InSpectres in action

The Parasite
Introduction to the Forge
Achievement rocks!
How Jared writes games
My life with Goldfinger
Editing Astral
Sorceror freaked us out
Clinton’s guide to publishing your RPG
Still freaking out

Many threads
Reward Systems
Astral, going live
Astral, Topic 14425
My review of The Farm

Quick Updates
Astral’s Design Goals
Astral, the bare bones
Toon Town Confidential
Sorceror - Celebrities

Astral, playtest
Astral, playtest cancelled
Scripts & Roleplaying
Games for TV

The Shadow of Yesterday does Changeling

Better AP reports
Sabres of Paradise, the blurb
Who's your audience?
My first playtest
The Lucky Joneses, what did you think?

My Little Ponies vs. InSpectres
RPG Settings

Playtesters are great!
Free RPGs – The Pool, Pace, Fate and Shadow of Yesterday

A frustrating puzzle


Why I Play
Cthulu Stumbles

Monday, August 15, 2005

[Biz] How do you buy a website?

Hey, has anyone out there bought a domain name? I have a couple in mind (probably but I'm just wondering - are most domain names already bought and you just rent them off some third party?

Does that third party then control the ongoing price, and you can't switch to a host with a better deal?

Does anyone know any particularly good deals?


I'll probably google some articles tomorrow, but I thought I'd see who's got personal experience.

[TV] Gilmore Girls 5.21

Rory suffers her first major disillusionment in life & Kirk turns out to be a Bond villain. Both developments stem from character traits that have been established and reiterated many many times over the last 5 seasons – therefore they felt natural.

The episode structure for this show seems to be: start slow and funny - creating scenes that are almost episodic sketches. Then the writers gradually increase the drama, morphing most of the different strands into a single plot, paying off situations and setting up future eps.

4th Gen Media

Did I link to this already? John Rodgers, over at Kung Fu Monkey, speculates about 4th Generation media (possibly inspired by the reaction to his Global Frequency pilot). I'll summarise his thoughts later.

Adventures of a Wonderful Library

If you feel like reliving The 48, here’s the index of all my posts:

Cutting the script
Getting it together
Sleep Deprivation
Post Production
Ready for next year …

Maggie's '48 Hour Film' article

Jenni, Norman and I are planning to work on the Director's Cut this weekend. Mark and Norman have been finetuning sound and the colour-grade for quite a while now. Big ups to them!


The Throat, by Peter Straub. It's the final book in his ‘Blue Rose’ trilogy. And in the first 3 pages it’s effortlessly explained away the discrepancies between Koko and Mystery by introducing Straub as a character.

Should be interesting.*

* My prediction: Straub’s short story ‘Bunny is Good Bread’ (aka ‘Fee’) will play a major part in this book.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

My Film Posts

An index of all my posts about film ...

The 48 Film Competition

Before Sunset – Sexual Tension
Before Sunset – Comparing Sunrise & Sunset
Before Sunset – Subtext


Kill Bill 1 & 2 (review)
People, puppets, tech & art
Next-gen indie film-making
Other people's Oscar predictions
The Wasps

The Future of Film (1)
The Future of Film (2)

“Dark Forever”
Undead (review)
My Darling Clementine (review)

Open Range (review)
The Wasps (2nd readthrough)
Oldboy (review)

Article about War of the Worlds

In Good Company (review)
Primer (review)
Mean Girls (review)
Batman Begins (open thread)

War of the Worlds (open thread)
Interview with George Romero
The Island (review)
Sky High
Tom Cruise’s CV

Sin City (review, take 1)
Sin City (review, take 2)



[RPG] Playtesters are great!

We're in the middle of the The Lucky Joneses' second playtest. Gino misinterprets a rule - and everyone loves the misinterpretation.

I can see why. It's more intuitive, easier to use and makes the game more fun. Yoink. The rule changes & that change has stuck.

So, here's to everyone who's helped me playtest the game so far:


You guys rock!

[The Limit] Problem solving

There are fundamentals that need to be resolved before starting the next draft: Who is Taine, the Plan, how to make Act 3 emotional. I’m going to go hard on problem-solving till Friday - then try to get back into my original timeline.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

50 Essential Albums (Part 3)

This is the end …

Bob Dylan – Highway 51 Revisited
Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
Van Halen – Van Halen
Frank Zappa – Them & Us
Michael Jackson – Off the Wall
Prince – Sign o’ the Times
Mogwai – Come On Die Young
Nina Simone – Sings the Blues
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Santana – Abraxas
Jean Michele Jarre – Equinox

Wild Card:
Raiding the 20th Century.

50 Essential Albums (Part 2)

The Pixies – Surfer Rosa
Radiohead – The Bends
Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
Sly & the Family Stone – Stand!
Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express
Moby – Play
Nick Drake – Bryter Layter
Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
The Clash – The Clash
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
James Brown – Live at the Apollo
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
The Who – Tommy
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (soundtrack)
Easy Rider (soundtrack)
Bjork – Debut
Johnny Cash – Live at San Quentin
Grant Lee Buffalo – Fuzzy
Saturday Night Fever (soundtrack)

[The Limit] Sympathy for Taine

That’s what I feel now, which is a first.

By understanding his place in the family & why his life is so shitty, I’m that much closer to being able to pile pressure on him. Just like with all the other characters in the script, I want to try and make him crack.

50 Essential Albums (Part 1)

The rules are simple: The Beatles are the starting point. Each album has to represent 1/50th of the progress of popular music since then. No band except the Beatles gets more than one album and Best Of’s are discouraged (unless a majority vote agreed they were more than the sum of their parts).

It took 4 hours and a lot of beer, but here's the list (about a third of it):

Brain Eno – Music for Airports
Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
ABC – The Lexicon of Love
Bob Marley – Legend
Led Zepplin II
The Beatles – The White Album
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On?
Beck – Odelay
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Leftfield – Leftism
Nirvana – In Utero
Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
AC/DC – Highway to Hell
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
JJ Cale – Troubadour
Madonna – The Immaculate Collection
Straitjacket Fits - Melt

Friday, August 12, 2005

It turns out ...

You scored as Captain Malcolm Reynolds.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds


First Mate Zoe


Wash, the Pilot


Kaylee, the Mechanic


Shepherd Book


Inara, the "Companion"


Jayne Cobb, resident bad-ass


Simon, the Doctor




created with

Last night I had ...

... a lot of fun.

Me & a bunch of writer friends had a brainstorming session. People brought ideas, we chose Sean's, and then we jammed permutations, tangents and setpieces on it.

It was fun because it was playful. I felt a rapport with everybody. For the first time in ages working with a group felt easy.

Congrats to Sean for organising it. The idea is to make this ongoing; a different idea from a different person every week. It'll be great.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Just finished Koko, by Peter Straub (a novel connected to Mystery). Now I'm going to work my way through two related short stories, Blue Rose and The Ghost Village. Then (at some stage) onto The Throat, the third book in the series, apparently so big that it looks like a cube.

[The Limit] The fundamental problem seems to be ...

... "Who is Taine?". In other words, that I don't clearly understand one of the main characters. That's a problem because he is a character everyone else is willing to go to extremes for.

The big lesson: don't write the first draft till I get all the main characters:

-- historically
-- psychologically
-- emotionally
-- dramatically
-- as characters I'm dying want to write

The small lesson: each character should have a separate folder for the notes about them.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

[The Limit] Fleshing out Act 1

All comments from my readers are now in. They all did a great job - and from the many issues they identified, it looks like my major focus will have to be on reworking Act 1. Characters seem to be reacting appropriately; it's just setting up their motivations that's the trick. Things to address include:

- expanding on the custody arrangements;
- developing the father-son relationship; and
- answering the question, "Who is Taine?"

Revealing character motivations is also an issue, but I'm not so worried abut that; there's plenty of space in the script to slip that in.

Monday, August 08, 2005

What does this mean?

I wrote this down last night as I fell asleep:

Gan see: send away or intro someone who


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Why things are great

My friend Mia is carving out a successful acting career in Auckland. She's down here touring Bash, the Neil LaBute play, with Oliver Driver at Circa till the 21st.

My flatmate Chris just got accepted into the 1st Screenwriter's Initiative with his horror movie* (one of six writers chosen from - I think - 90).

I know of 4 film projects that are being developed just within my circle of friends that I think will make freakin' amazing NZ films (Wasps, Katherine, The Limit and Disintegration).

I'm starting to figure out how to solve the big problem with The Limit.

* Full disclosure: I contributed some script-editing notes to it.

Friday, August 05, 2005

[How to: TV] Mild Continuity

Continuity is going to be the subject of a later post, but for the moment I'll define it as "a quality your show needs to have if you want to see your characters change". If a show has no continuity, then episodes can be played in any order. Strong continuity means there's a specific order they should be played in.

In this post, I'd like to talk about mild continuity; an idea I came up with while thinking about different ways we could have approached lovebites. lovebites was an unproven concept by first-time creators that locked itself into a reasonably strong continuity that meant episodes had to be shown in a certain order. That meant we couldn't necessarily play our best episodes up front.

Perhaps a better way to have approached it would be to have no continuity in the first half of your show's first season, so that episodes can play in any order. Episodes in the first half focus on the show's Situation and starting relationships. There are 2 advantages to doing it this way:

*You get a chance to figure out the feel of your show.
*You have the flexibility to play stronger episodes at the beginning, which'll help win over your audience.

Mild continuity focuses on creating fun episodes with low stakes early on and then introduces a major Plot Point mid-season (such as, in lovebites, Mary Anne deciding to go overseas). If you want, you can tweak in another Plot Point at the three-quarter mark.

[How to: TV] More about Character Secrets

Secrets give us insights into existing characters and let us twist their plots around. More importantly, secrets are tools to create new dramatic situations for characters that may have grown a bit stale.

For main characters, I'd recommend giving them at least two secrets per season*. Incidental characters should get at least one secret.

As for what affects that number of secrets (and their importance), that'll have to be the subject of a later post. I think they can be adjusted according to personal taste but at the moment I don't have any ideas about the criteria you'd use to make those decisions.

* And to have at least a rough idea of what these secrets are 2 seasons in advance. So when you start out, plan for 3 seasons worth of stuff.

[Comics] Reinventing Comics IV

McCloud then addresses the three main reasons why public perception of comics matters:
  1. It affects the willingness with which readers will seek out new work*;
  2. It can encourage or discourage people from entering the industry; and
  3. It determines the effectiveness of attacks on comics as a medium.

For example, in the mid-1950s, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published a book (Seduction of the Innocent) that blamed comics for the rises in juvenile delinquency, sexual perversion and race hatred. The public outcry that this incited led to the burning of comics in the streets and the passing of a comics code of ethics.

This code removed references to gore, sex and sadistic behaviour. It also removed challenges to established authority, any hints of relationships outside of marriage, any references to physical afflictions or deformities and any allusions to sexual orientations other than hetero. And all of this was able to occur because of public perception; in this case the public perception that the entire audience for comics was children.

The chapter also details the importance of institutional scrutiny, especially academic attention. Courses in creating and analysing comics legitimise them as a career choice. This can be a crucial factor for artists on the brink of deciding which medium to pursue.

*McCloud describes two significant hurdles in this category: unpleasant or unhelpful retailers and a visual language within comics that has disappeared up its own butt - making them inaccessible to new readers.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

[Comics] Reinventing Comics III

The book then goes on to deal with the revolutions of Creators Rights and industry innovation or, as McCloud puts it, Reinventing the Business of Comics.

In 1986, a group of comics creators drafted a bill of the rights they felt creators should no longer sign away to publishers. These included the right to full ownership of their creations, control over creative execution of what they own, the right to employ legal counsel and prompt payment of a fair share of profits from their work. This frustration came out of longstanding disagreements with many publishers; one creator (Dave Sim, Cerebus) went so far as to say, "the only way to have a fair deal with a publisher was to be the publisher."

But a publisher only has control over a creator if the creator wants to be a part of that system. At its simplest, you could be a publisher if you drew something on a piece of paper and sold it to a friend for 25 cents.

However, if you wished to sell the same drawing/comic to more than just that friend, then at some stage of the expansion you would have to enter into an arrangement with a copy shop. You would also have to begin devoting energy to packing boxes, posting things and filling out invoices. Dealing with a publisher simplifies these issues but requires the trade-offs of (1) an increasingly complex system, (2) modification of the original drawing to meet printing specifications, (3) money siphoned off at every step in the system before it reaches the creator, and (4) possible creative changes required by the publisher.

Every step between the creator and the reader introduces an element of compromise, and in publishing there are many steps between the two. Editors, agents, couriers, accountants ... soon the system starts to try and please retailers and distributors - ignoring the fundamental purpose of making contact between the creator and the reader.

This second-guessing and focus on profit leads to the ignoring of most of the alternatives in mainstream comics publishing. Most of the population (those not interested in super heroes) have abandoned comics and seek enjoyment from other mediums.*

You see, McCloud postulates a Reader's Bill of Rights: the right to know what can be bought and why to buy it, to buy what they want and the right to a fair price. He finishes by saying that if the conventional comics industry can't provide these, then maybe it will be supplanted by the revolution of Digital Delivery.

* As far as I can tell, McCloud doesn't tackle why this problem is worse in comics than in mediums like TV & Film

[The Limit] Dealing with problems

Yesterday I quoted Joss Whedon saying, "... as a script doctor, the issue is always the same: “We want you to make the third act more exciting and cheaper.” And my response inevitably is, “The problem with the third act is the first two acts.” This response is never listened to."


Basic problem-solving theory: deal with the most important problem first (and in the process you’ll solve smaller related problems). Well, one problem stands out as a deal-breaker for 80% of my readers: “The Plan” that sets the events of the script in motion.

All The Limit’s gimmicks and cleverness don’t matter because the villains are coming across as implausible (in terms of what they do and how others react to them).

So, simultaneously brainstorming solutions to all the problems – like I was describing a couple of days ago, and which was beginning to feel overwhelming – isn’t the best approach. I need to focus. The Limit is a thriller, meaning ‘what’s going on’ has to be crystal clear by the end. Everything else gets subordinated to that; and the main way to achieve that clarity is by understanding and caring about every character.

But this feedback process has worked. Reading through other people's eyes has revealed the problems that were invisible to me.

[How to: TV] Publicity

This is from an interview with Tim Minear in iF about his cancelled show, The Inside. After they were forced to shoot 3 pilots:

MINEAR: The problem was, because the thing was supposed to be on the fall, then midseason and midseason had passed, and they were getting ready to order shows for the next fall, you have this free-floating project that doesn’t belong anywhere. It’s not part of the new fall schedule, it didn’t make it to the last fall schedule, it’s not going on midseason like we thought. If they had held it until next fall, it may have had a shot. They could have promoted it the way they’re promoting BONES and PRISON BREAK. Everyone has an awareness of these shows. Nobody had an awareness of THE INSIDE, because frankly, they decided to put it on two and half weeks before it started airing. That’s not enough time. You need months to launch a new show.

iF MAGAZINE: It makes it harder with print mags as well, because you don’t have enough time to let them know either so they can get their stories ready.

MINEAR: It’s not my job to bring the audience, it’s my job to keep the audience and build the audience.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

[How to: TV] Joss Whedon interview

This is from InFocus magazine, a big story about Serenity, Toy Story and the frustration of writing Alien:Resurrection among many other things. Some of the specific quotes I think are worth noting here:

... that’s the dream job for a script doctor: a great structure with a script that doesn’t work. A script that’s pretty good? Where you can’t really figure out what’s wrong, because there’s something structural that’s hard to put your finger on? Death. But a good structure that just needs a new body on it is the best.

... as a script doctor I’ve been called in more than a few times, and the issue is always the same: “We want you to make the third act more exciting and cheaper.” And my response inevitably is, “The problem with the third act is the first two acts.” This response is never listened to.

I don’t remember writing, “A withered, granny-lookin’ Pumkinhead-kinda-thing makes out with Ripley.” Pretty sure that stage direction never existed in any of my drafts.

The way I work, I’m like a vulture. I circle and circle and then I dive. I usually don’t actually write anything until I know exactly how it’s going to turn out. I don’t “let the computer take me away.” I’m an absolute Nazi about structure. I make outlines. I make charts and graphs with colors.

Being on set is important for the writing?
It really is. Just because once you’ve written something you have to make sure it’s actually shot the way it’s written. Because with TV directors there’s a lot of hit-and-miss. You can get a terrible hack or you can get a really great guy who just missed one really important point.

I had directors who I conflicted with and I just flat-out thought they were not getting it done. I’ve had conflict. No regime is without it. But good work on my show always stayed on screen. If somebody wrote something, and it was right, I’d never change it, because I am too lazy. There are producers who need to control everything and I needed to control exactly what needed controlling, and if somebody could get it done I would walk away faster than you could see me. Like I was Bugs Bunny. There would just be smoke in the shape of where I was. Because that’s not what it was about. It was about, “Is the work being serviced?”

[Comics] Reinventing Comics II

The next chapter's a history of the various ways comics have produced art and literature. It's a chapter subtly dominated by Maus, written by Art Spiegelman. It also attempts to resolve "Who is an artist?" and in the process creates the first of several profound moments in the book.

McCloud identifies a perceived split between literature and art in comics - that literature focuses on words and the text while art concentrates on pictures. In other words, a split between content and form. In McCloud's opinion, this split is "a bit hard edged for something so ethereal ". Art and literature both contribute to our understanding of ourselves, our world and our potential. Comics are a healthy way of providing that knowledge, given they can be created by individuals rather than by the "committee led, bottom-line driven feedback loop of a single popular form (TV and cinema)".

Literature possesses qualities like depth (subtext), density of ideas, scope and realism, social and political impact and it has emotional resonance. Art has a more problematic definition. Rather than ascribing it to objects, McCloud believes art is defined through motivation. If a person is creating something solely for the joy of realising "the work" (not for profit or appreciation), then they are an "Artist". However, McCloud thinks such devotion is rare.

Finally, his description of who is an artist. McCloud sees humanity as walking in a grand parade, millions of generations long and travelling a path set by basic evolutionary needs. An artist break steps with the parade, walks away from it and simultaneously looks at the world, inside themselves and at the parade. An artist, therefore, is someone who truly sees different possibilities. The imagery that goes with this (Reinventing Comics is itself a comic) is fantastically simple.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

[Comics] Reinventing Comics I

Scott McCloud’s aim with Reinventing Comics is to make comics a viable artistic and commercial option. He does this by describing 12 Revolutions – directions that comics can grow in.*

To start with, Reinventing Comics summarises the conclusions of McCloud’s previous book Understanding Comics**. It then describes the boom of the mid 80s to 90s followed by the slump as the speculator-driven market collapsed.

Finally, it suggests that to grow, comics need to appeal to “basic human needs and desires … To start with, that means tailoring them to a much broader audience, incorporating a more diverse spectrum of styles and subject matter.”

* I’ll go into more detail about each Revolution in later chapter summaries.

** Comics should be about more than just superheroes. The heart of comics is the juxtaposition of 2 images – and the space between them. Individuals have immense creative control over comics.

[TV] Gilmore Girls 5.20

What an elegantly structured episode. Lorelai’s been slightly estranged from her daughter Rory and wants to get back in. She’s been radioactively estranged from her mother and couldn’t care less about that. And that’s boring – if two characters hate each other and won’t see each other, where’s the conflict going to come from?

So the writers use getting to know Rory’s new boyfriend to trap Lorelai back into compulsory Friday dinners with her mother. Similarly, Lorelai’s magazine interview from 3 eps back led to a job offer which is simply a means of exposing Luke’s fear of losing Lorelai. Conflict, again!

The show also had a gripping reminder of how it plays for low stakes (family relationships rather than life & death), as recovering a stolen antique sewing box became a gripping thriller setpiece.

Filing – The Aftermath

It took another week to rebuild my filing system*. Easier at every step but for a while it felt like Xeno's paradox; every thing I filed generated ideas for two more things to file.

After finishing, I felt terrible. There are an intimidating number of outstanding projects in my life. All the ideas popping into my head gave me a near migraine.

Things are much better now. At first using the new system was like driving slightly too fast. Things were getting done quicker, moving at a faster pace than I'm used to. It took two or three days to acclimate to the new regime but now it’s like a simple, natural part of my life – and it is wicked cool being able to overview everything I have to do in under 5 minutes.

(previous posts are here and here.)


Reinventing Comics, by Scott McCloud

Ed, I'll get this back to you soon!

[The Limit] Methodical

The purpose of all this reading and thinking is to ID problems. Then choose which ones have to be solved. Some problems aren’t worth it; that temptation to make the script ‘perfect’ – that’s just be a way to avoid finishing. Next, each problem gets a page and I have to come up with 20 solutions for each one.


At the moment, the action scene I’m imagining for Act 3 feels fantastic (and could simultaneously solve 2 exposition problems).

Monday, August 01, 2005

[The Limit] On the other hand

Taking a break between drafts means ideas are popping into my head all the time –scribble down images & snippets that’ll flesh out scenes. Guess I’m refuelling.

And now there’s a clearer vision of the script. Like how Trace’s impatience is a character trait. How ‘The Plan’ needs to be more convincing. And – unconnected - when your busy friends agree to do you a favour and read your script for free, you should add a week to the schedule for each friend. Because they have lives.


The House with a Clock in its Walls, by John Bellairs.