Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I don't care if it's pc or not, Merry Christmas to everyone out there in Grinderland.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In need of cool names, go to Montana

Okay, I know this is a weird segue, but I am just awful at coming up with new names. They always end up at Madison for a girl and Jimmy for a guy. It's idiotic. But, I found a fix in the weirdest place.

This year, I had several cross country flights. First, I went to visit a client in San Diego in February. Then, I flew into La to apartment scout in June. Finally, in June, we relocated to LA. During cross country flights, I like to view the map most airlines provide that tracks where the plane is over the country. And, during one of the trips, not sure which one, I realized that Montana, Nebraska, Idaho, and most of that area of the country have the most interesting names for towns. As many of those towns were named for the person who founded the town taking a map, or let's be serious mapquest, can provide you names you've never thought of. I used the system for all of my recent scripts.

Consider it my Holiday gift to you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why I'm not hating on Heroes

*** warning, season 3 Heroes spoilers ahead***

It seems to be the fad of the week, or the past two seasons to hate on Heroes. I, myself, have been driving that bus more than once. However, the thing that turned me around was watching season 1 on DVD.

See, if you actually sit down and watch it from the beginning, all of the idiosyncrasies that have ballooned up in the past two volumes were quite present from the beginning. The confusing shifts in time, the storylines that lead nowhere, the episodes where nothing happens, the people who are in one episode only to die in the next, the character who are inexplicably forced together. ALL of those things happened starting in episode 2 of the first season. What is the difference? In the first season, there was a purpose. A clear-cut purpose for all of the heroes to galvanize around. And that made all of the other idiocies...yes, idiot + idiosyncrasies, forgivable. I bet you don't remember that they saved the cheerleader in episode 8...that's right the biggest crux of season 1 happens 8 episodes in. Also, there are 2+ episodes where Hiro is lost in time. I mean, I've been through some of this, but if you bought it in the first season, it's hard to argue with it now.

I think that the episodes from the Eclipse on might be the great reboot of Heroes. Since that episode, the storylines have been strong, and the heroes have been fighting a common foe. Nathan has taken a strong stance, and Peter has taken the other stance. Yes, there have been some weak story-lines, but does anyone remember Nikki and Jessica the first season? Talk about groan. Everyone knew that Peter HAD to get powers back, he was the impedus for the entire show. And, on the flip side, Hiro had to LOSE his power because he was too powerful. Anything bad that happened, Hiro could just stop with his mind. It made everything else in the world unbelieveable.

I say, just enjoy the Heroes ride, even though the characters were...well, completely out of character, Matt Parkman helping Ted Sprague hold Claire's family hostage was pretty out of character...Then, having HRG team up with Ted and Matt immediately afterwards is even more out of character...oh, and all that was in the first season.

Next season looks like it's going to be filled with all of the heroes fighting for a common goal, which is what made season 1 so awesome. Just give me cool powers, semi-decent story telling, and a thinly veiled plot and I'm sold. And if you as the audience would watch the first season, I think your eyes would be open as well. The first season wasn't great, it was average, but it was also AWESOME!

Friday, December 12, 2008

100th post woohoo/NBC installing Leno at 10pm

First, this is my 100th post, so woohoo! Get the party poppers, hats, and cake and do a little dance.

Okay, now that's out of the way, I want to discuss NBC cutting original scripted programming at 10pm and replacing it with 5 days of JAY LENO! This has caused an uproar within the creative community because it means 5 less hours of programming for writers, directors, and producers. Instead, the less expensive tonight show will take it's place, much like the news on the CW and FOX.

I for one, agree with Steven Bochco's assessment of the situation. He believes that network drama is awful for the most part. As my mother would say, if you can't play nice, you don't deserve the toys. What I mean is, if showrunners can't put good shows on television, why should a network put on their half-assed dramas? They have a perfectly marketable commodity in Jay Leno, who is being pushed out of his slot, and would likely find a home at a rival network. So, instead of giving a golden goose to the competition, they keep it in house, cut down their programming, and bring in a rather inexpensive show to take it's place. After all, NBC is used to pull an 8 share, is down to a 3 share this season and needs to make drastic changes. 10 hours of programming is still a lot of hours to fill. Just ask CW and FOX.

I really do prefer the cable model. Most networks only program original programming 1-3 days a week, showing re-runs the rest of the week. The shows are good, fresh, and draw 5 shares, higher than gossip girl, for a new show like Leverage. While it's not as high as an NBC show, everyone needs to realize how television now works, and adapt to it. I would never consciously produce a show for networks. I would be more than happy to land on the Sundance channel with a quirky Slings and Arrows type show.

Now, as a wannabe tv producer, it kind of screws me over, but that is what adaptation is all about. We as producers now need to look towards foreign markets, online, direct to video distribution, and other outlets. Does it suck for jobs? Yes. Is it at an awful time in our economy? Yes. As Bochco said, good shows will always find an audience. Of course, Cupid, Arrested Development, Pushing Daisies, Freaks and Geeks, and so on down the line, would take exception to that. And yes, some of this is on the networks for putting on Cashmere Mafia, Lipstick Jungle, Valentine, and Easy Money, but if you are an aspiring producer, you should blame the executive producers who are putting on such awful shows in the first place. If they don't find an audience, what do you expect a network to do? Jay is a proven commodity...Hell, I'll gladly watch. In fact, I'm looking forward to it. Survival of the fittest, what are you willing to do to survive?

I hate research

Unfortunately, I'm good at it. That doesn't make me like it any more. But, since I have some expected time off, and I'm sans scripts to write, it's been two weeks of research: btwn NATPE, a new script research (right now I'm leaning to a shakespeare every other human on earth), and English language market research (Australia, Britain, Canada...sorry, Belize) it's been busy couple weeks. And I wanted to give you a few tidbits about what I've gleaned. I should mention, my research was only so complete because finding information about shows in other countries is rough, and watching those shows on youtube is sometimes impossible. So, if you live in these countries and want to add to the research, I'd be happy to update the findings.

Other English language countries aren't big fans of legal shows.

Outside of Billable Hours in Canada, I didn't find many successful legal shows anywhere in the English speaking world. And, since the name of our game is ability to source shows to multiple countries, developing a legal show is not advisable in the current climate.

Everyone loves crime/police shows.

For as much as I had trouble finding legal shows, crime shows were EVERYWHERE. However, unlike America which has "dramedy" cop shows like Monk and Psych, almost all, if not all, of foreign police dramas are straight drama, no comedy. It's a bummer, and there may be a niche to fill, but the good news is that crime dramas are alive and well anywhere. Of course, we all know Hustle IS a dramedy show about a group of con-men...however, not a police station, CoW show, and definitely not a show that I have seen in either Canada or Australia.

The "dialect" barrier is not as pronounced as one would assume.

Outside of a few british shows that utilized some cockney expressions, every show I researched used the same general dialect as we do in the states. Now, that doesn't mean you should make a show about a surfer dude, that just won't translate. But, if you are planning on marketing a show to multiple countries, and you use standard english, not slang, you should be able to market your show to a wide range of english speaking countries.

Though it goes against common sense, almost every sitcom is single camera.

One would assume that since multi-camera sitcoms are the most inexpensive shows to produce, a researcher would see them in places like Australia and Canada. However, the opposite is true. In fact, through my research I only saw a handful of multi-camera comedies, most of which were re-runs on BBC. This particular fact was the biggest surprise to me.

British shows is crazy!

If I'm going to create a show straight for a specific country, it's going to be Britain. Not only do they have a crazy show that's shot solely from the character's POV, but they also have a sitcom about a group of housewives who are in two rival gangs. Of all the countries I found, the most zany, fun, and overall creative shows were on British TV.

The next post, I'll put together some of my favorite specific shows from each country. Now, back to the grind!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Leverage Karma

So, after berating Leverage, calling it a poor man's hustle, guess who has an interview with the production company who produces the show today. That's right, THIS GUY. a bitch.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Correction : HUSTLE

Try as I might, I missed that hustle IS coming back for a fifth season. Thanks Spec Odyssey for the note. See the press release here. Get your DVRs ready.

In my defense, I read from several sources that the series was cancelled.

From Wiki, the all-knowing source of all things*

Following much media speculation, including reports of the programme being cancelled and a motion picture spin-off,[6] the BBC announced on 12 June 2008 that Hustle had been recommissioned for a fifth series. Adrian Lester will return, alongside Robert Glenister and Robert Vaughn,[7] although Marc Warren and Jaime Murray will not appear.[4]

The fifth series has been referred to as a "relaunch" by lead director James Strong[8] and will feature Matt Di Angelo,[9] Bill Bailey and Patrick Bergin[10] as guest stars.

Even futoncritic is confused, calling the show canceled.

Okay, enough defending. That's the most recent scoop.


John Rogers


I love you, and Kung Fu monkey is one of my favorites, AND leverage is a quality show shot on the Red, which I respect. I qualify those statements to say this.

Leverage is a poor man's Hustle. Hustle is a British show that aired on AMC for four seasons dealing with a group of "scrupulous" thieves who steal from degenerate human beings. Except instead of giving it back, they keep it to fund their operations. It's one of my favorite shows of all time, canceled before it's time. (*correction: Hustle will air a fifth season on AMC starting in January)

Here is my major concern. There's no real conflict except for the A story. If you look at shows that work about do-gooders, they always have a crux. In A Team, the team was always being chased, fearing for their lives...not that BA feared anything. In Hustle, the fear was not having enough money to continue. In Burn Notice, the fear is not being able to solve the case of who burned him.

However, there is not that conflict in Leverage. In the first episode, the "team" gets a windfall of money, enough to retire on. However, in the end, they decide helping the good guys was too much to fun to pass up on. They all want Nathan, Timothy Hutton, to lead them into helping the good guys.

They no longer have to worry about being caught, or needing money, or any of those things that drive other shows. Their initial conflict about who set them up in the pilot was resolved by the end of the pilot.

While it is easy to say the A story is compelling enough to watch, which it is, there is no urgency in the group for a bigger purpose. And, for me, that makes it a watered down Hustle. On a side note, Jaime Murray, we hardly knew ye on Valentine. I wanted to watch it just for you, but I couldn't do it.

As for John Rogers, I read the blog, I know what you've done, and I respect the hell out of it. As far as a show goes, I'll keep watching.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Slumdog, Repost

In another article from Living the Romantic Comedy, they analyze the structure of Slumdog Millionaire. After watching the movie, I commented to my buddy about how beautifully the story was structured, and this blog encapsulates why it works so well. See it in it's original form here.

Structure, Structure, Structure

If movies are story, and they are, then screenplays are structure. -- William Goldman

You may have heard by now that this year's indie sleeper Slumdog Millionaire is being considered a dark horse Oscar contender for Best Picture. You might think such buzz is due to the exotic factor (Bollywood-color drama and romance in the slums of India!), that it's a Danny Boyle movie (Trainspotting, 28 Days), or that it's got that ridiculously gorgeous woman in it (Freida Pinto). All of these elements do contribute to what makes the movie such a wild and satisfying ride, but -- please don't throw things at the story analyst -- I think the movie works on account of its structure.

Structure9 Structure is the biggest old bugaboo in screenwriting circles. Reams have been written about this aspect of the craft, which is as misunderstood and misused as it's slavishly adhered to. I'm presently teaching a screenwriting class where the students are busily banging their heads against the specter of structure, as they work out the big beats of their plot en route to a viable outline of their movie. And they'd be the first to tell you that this is the opposite of fun.

Often the cry of the newbie screenwriter, knee-deep in such a painful process, is why?! Why is it so infernally important that one have the structure of a story locked in, before one starts to write actual scenes in earnest? Why not just... y'know, have fun with the thing? Write and make discoveries, figuring out what works and doesn't work on the fly?

Structure4 I'm all for all of that. But Slumdog answers that"why" in a way that no amount of theorizing could. It's a vivid demonstration of why sooner than later, deciding on a structure and committing to it is the best thing a screenwriter can do.

Here's what you learn in the opening of the movie (what follows is no spoiler, since far more of the plot has already been spilled in Slumdog's glowing reviews):

Eighteen-year-old Dev Patel has reached the last stage of India's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? TV show. He's on the verge of hearing and answering the final question in front of millions of viewers. But Dev is merely a go-fer at a Mumbai telemarketing center, an uneducated "slumdog" who couldn't -- shouldn't -- be educated enough to have gotten this far. And so, suspected of cheating, he's imprisoned and interrogated, even tortured, by the local police. What Dev eventually explains is that each correct answer he's given on the show came from some fairly grim experience he had, growing up the hard way on the streets of Mumbai. Such as... And we're into our first flashback.

Structure_Flowchart How brilliant a construct? Let's see. As my writer-director friend Bob Dolman (Far and Away, How to Eat Fried Worms) puts it, any story is only as good as the predicament its protagonist is in. It's only when your character is between a powerful rock and an equally compelling hard place that an audience sits up and takes notice.

So: I'd like to tell you the story of what it's like to grow up dirt-poor in Mumbai. Here's where I was born, and here are my parents, and here's the kids I used to play with, and...


How about instead, I put you in the epicenter of perhaps the most important moment of my life -- when I'm poised on the brink of becoming a millionaire... or after coming all this way, losing the huge sum I've already won, and leaving as poor as I've always been?

Now you've got our attention.

And how about we add in the threat of my being strung up and having electrical wires attached to some sensitive body parts... and perhaps being locked in prison for the rest of my days, if I can't prove my innocence?

We're listening.

Now, wouldn't you like to know what I went through as a kid, to learn the answer to the first question I got right on this show? It was pretty awful.

Go on.

And how about, with each story-about-how-I-learned-an-answer, I tell you about my best friend and the girl I fell in love with, and how she came between us... and I spin that decades-spanning tale (it's got guns, betrayal and even the Taj Mahal in it) right up to the present moment, where friend and girl and I all hang in the balance of: what happens next?

Dude! Just tell us where's it playing and what time it goes on.

Since I'm not familiar with the source material, a novel called Q & A written by Vikas Swarup, I can't tell you how much of this concept is Swarup and how much is director Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaudroy (who also wrote an involving little pic called The Full Monty). But I would wager that Swarup didn't start out, first and foremost, with a burning desire to tell a story about a quiz show.

Structure_img01 No, he probably had a passionate investment in a story about two best friends growing up on the streets of Mumbai. In fact, judging by some on-screen evidence, he might've been interested in telling a modern-day version of The Three Musketeers (with a little Oliver Twist thrown in). But my point is, how did that story end up riveting millions of butts in their seats?


It helps that Boyle is a director of ceaseless energy and visual invention. But this time his considerable talents are brought to bear on a story that just -- keeps -- coming. Each flashback is a story in itself, with its own rising arc and tensions. And each time we come back to a present that's increasingly more meaningful and suspenseful.

Structure2005_e800 Plus you get an all-singing, all-dancing kickass Bollywood musical number.

As to the consummate why? of structure, here's my final answer: structure is the skeleton you hang your story on, and if you build it right, just about any image -- say, from a kid literally covered in outhouse manure to a haunted beauty caught alone in the monsoon rain -- will compel our attention.

Slumdog Millionaire even has a neat thematic subtext to play out, about how disparate, seemingly random events that felt like pure chaos when you lived them can actually sum up The Story of You. But it wouldn't have been such an indelibly memorable movie-to-see, if it wasn't told in such a canny, crafty manner.

Structure, structure, structure.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

I hate movies. I usually see about 10 movies a year, and of those maybe one is acceptable and another 1 is transcendent. The other 8 are garbage and make me want to gouge my own eyes out. Last night, I saw Slumdog Millionaire, and I loved it, except the last 10 minutes are kinda cheesy. As I was walking out of the theater, I realized why. It's because I didn't recognize ANYONE in the movie, and it was refreshing.

Why was it refreshing? Because the movie was about...the movie! It wasn't about the star, or the director, or some producer even. It was about the script. The words on the page carried the story, and the directing worked to complement that. The opposite of Slumdog is Valkyrie, which is Tom Cruise...not even attempting an accent, which really toads my wet sproket. It's self-serving, and instead of worrying about making a good movie, it became about marketing to the most people. News Flash: TOM CRUISE SHOULD NEVER BE IN A GERMAN WORLD WAR II MOVIE! And that is my diatribe about Hollywood movies. In my opinion, Hollywood movies are about actors and marketing, while the movies I like have either people you've never heard of, or Ellen Page pre-Juno.

About the movie, it was really excellent. There was action, adventure, love lost, excitement, feelings, thrills, and generally it functioned much like a hollywood film, not the "typical" independent movie. There were absolutely amazing effects, chase scenes that would have felt perfectly at home in a much larger film, and a generally enjoyable story arch, which is more than I can say for Get Smart, X Files, etc. It would make Blake Snyder and James Cameron proud. Most importantly, even though it took to December, it renewed my faith in making movies. If you haven't seen it yet, go!