Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gratitude

David Gerrold turned 70 this week.  And because I couldn't be there in person to shower him with praise and chocolates, I want to take a moment here to honor him.  He's been a part of my life for 30 years, even when he didn't know it.

I've discussed before how David's columns in Starlog and his "Making of" books, particularly "The Making of the Trouble with Tribbles," taught me everything I knew about the realities of TV production before I got behind the curtain myself.  I learned about script formatting and timing and production rewrites long before I ever set foot in a writer's room or a production meeting -- thanks to David.  I didn't go to Film School, I learned on the job, and he gave me a head start.

Then, in 1993, when I was a very junior writer -- I'd sold 2 scripts and was still working full time as a script coordinator -- I sat on a panel at WorldCon with David Gerrold.  It was my first panel on the pro side of the podium.  He mentioned that he was teaching Screenwriting at Pepperdine, and I tracked him down after the panel and asked if I could take the course.  With his permission, I was able to enroll as an auditor. I made arrangements with my boss on Highlander to leave a little early on class nights to make the commute out to Pepperdine.  The same David Gerrold whose work I'd been following for years was now my teacher in a class of only 20 or students.  It was like having tickets to see Springsteen play the pub on the corner.  Every Tuesday.

When David asked us to introduce ourselves in class and say why were there, I told the story of how he'd already been my teacher for years, through his writings.  I remember him telling the class, "See, that's why she'll do well; she acknowledges her debts."

Which is what I'm doing again today.  For the record.

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Truth" and Gender

Primeval: New World’s mid-season gamechanger, “Truth,” airs on Syfy in the US this week.  In light of the major revelations the episode contains, one of my favorite things about the episode tends to get lost in the shuiffle:  its kick-ass women.

This is a show that was never in danger of failing the Bechdel Test* – the parent series had strong, smart women; the Executive Producers on the show are 50% female, as were the writing staff; the development executives at studio and Network, 100%.  Which is not to say that a gender breakdown of the creative team is any guarantee;  I’ve seen  amazing female characters created and developed by men, and I’m sure we could name sexist, reactionary storylines guided by women.

But beyond the minimum bar of Bechdel, one of the things I’m most proud of about the version of Primeval: New World we made is the number of times the female characters were put under threat of sexual violence: zero.  Look, I understand that violence against women is real and that ripped-from-the-headlines shows, cop shops and legal shows and medical shows, all have to address it.  But sometimes it feels like the “fate worse than death” card is being constantly played against female protagonists – and rarely against males. 

Primeval: New World is 50% women on-screen, as well.  No single character is asked to embody all of womanhood.  

In “Truth,” the women come together to save the day.  I absolutely adore the matter-of-fact way director Amanda Tapping staged the scene between Dylan, Toby and Ange in the Tank.  These are pros facing a crisis; supporting each other and kicking each other’s asses into line. They arm up, they gird their loins, they do what needs to be done, just like a thousand sequences  you’ve seen before – except  for the gender.  The closest thing to a “damsel in distress” in this episode is Mac. 

This is also the episode that walks a fine line with Ange -- her storyline here does hinge on her relationship with Evan, and it was important to us all that she not be diminished by that reality.  One of my favourite lines in the entire season is her last line in this episode: "I'm not angry.  And I'm not staying."  Because even as she's recognizing that this situation has become untenable for her, she's also acknowledging that it's no one's fault; relationships can become toxic even with the best of intentions on all sides. Two of the key songs on my playlist for writing Ange's arc were "Heaven Help My Heart" from Chess and "Fine Fine Line" from Avenue Q.  Give them a listen and you'll see why.


*For those not familiar with it, this is a litmus test for movies (and now TV) that poses the following questions: 1) Are there at least two named female characters, who 2) talk to each other, 3) about something other than men.   This isn’t a test of quality, but it does make for an interesting metric.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Weaving the Tapestry

Had dinner last night with a group of friends from a show I worked on a few years ago.  Being on a show is like Summer Camp, or like University, in that there are lots of circumstantial friendships -- you like each other, you're in the trenches together, you chat and you share meals, but then you don't see each other again until the next show.  But when you're lucky, there are a few people you stay friends with, and see on your own time.  If you're very lucky, someone in the group is an organized producer-type who makes the gatherings happen.

In discussing the challenges of writing serialized shows with a couple other writers/directors/showrunners around the table, we were talking about the changed expectations that have come about in the last decade or so.  We're all old enough to have begun our careers in a more episodic time, when the process was suited to the content: The writers would move one episode at a time along a conveyor belt, from concept to index cards ("beats") on the board to outline to first draft, then hand it off to production and turn their attention to the next script in the sequence.  This works great for episodes with standalone A-stories and minor internal histories to weave in along the road from ep 1 to ep 22 (because yes, 90% of the shows I have worked on had 22-episode seasons, not the now-standard 13).

But these days, the 13 episodes tend to tell not 13 stories (or 12 with big 2-part finale), but one story, broken across 13 hours. Instead of climax and revolution at the end of a given episode, false resolution of a single issue comes midway in the hour, followed by the set up of a new escalating problem, and episodes end on the kind of cliffhanger that used to be an Act Break. 

I don't think the underlying stories are that different, in terms of how the characters are tested and put through their paces.  But the structure is different.  The 25 or 30 index cards that would once have been the skeleton of, say, episode 5, are spread more thinly across the canvas of the season, with those beats stretching from episode 3 to episode 7, with maybe a foreshadowing card back in episode 2.  Meanwhile the cards from other stories, that in the old system might have been sequestered as episodes 6 and 8, are interspersed and overlapping and co-mingling.  It starts to look less like a grid of neat lines of cards, and more like a word cloud or like this image of  Verified Twitter Connections



Which all seems completely reasonable, if you have the luxury of breaking all 13 stories on 13 whiteboards, and then swirling the index cards around like marbleizing a batter.  But you don't.  You only have a few weeks of writing before filming begins.  You know the overall arc of your season-long story, but you only get to fill in the detailed beats of the first episodes before cameras start rolling.  That means that you're filming what would have been Act One of the old-school episode 5, which is now scattered throughout episode 3, without having written Act Three.  By the time you're wrapping up that story a few weeks later, you're already filming the beginning scenes of what would have once been a stand-alone season finale.  

As one of the dinner companions said, it's like weaving a tapestry from the bottom up, without any reference art.  You're making feet -- hopefully finely crafted feet -- without having mapped out the rest of the image. You know, or think you know, what the faces are supposed to look like, but you don't have a Weaver's Draft to keep all the threads on track.  And that doesn't even take into account the midstream course-corrections -- whether organic to the story, or arising from external forces -- that mean somebody's knees are going to take a weird-ass bend to get them where they need to be. 

This is when experience gets tested.  Because when you have to make your best guesses on incomplete information, it helps to have been through it before.  

This is also where a lot of TV veterans quit to go write novels, where you can have the unbelievable luxury of writing the last chapter before publishing the first.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

PRIZES!

These are the prizes for the little promotion I had this week on Twitter for people to spread the word about Primeval New World and then post their favorite quotes from Saturday's episode on Syfy.  The winners, chosen at random, will choose their prizes from this selection.  Thanks for playing, everyone, and we'll do it again soon!


ITEM 1: "I'm Fine" t-shirt from Bad Idea t-shirts, size XL -- the same t-shirt that was given as a gag gift to cast and key crew members, including Geoff Gustafson and Danny Rahim, pictured above, during the first weeks of filming. 


ITEM 2: Promotional postcards of the cast, printed by the SPACE Channel for Vancouver Fan Expo 2012.  Crystal Lowe and Geoff Gustafson have signed their cards. 
CLAIMED by Twitter fan @dweirs, whose favorite quote was  "seriously, you've never hotboxed?"


ITEM 3: Toy "Albertosaurus," signed on the tag by Executive Producers Gillian Horvath and Martin Wood.


ITEM 4: Primeval New World season one crew gift cap, extremely limited edition.  Size S/M. 


ITEM 5: Eyeglass case handrafted from material salvaged from the set of Sanctuary when the studio was closed.  This material was used as the "stunt double" curtains for Helen Magnus' office in the post-apocalyptic version of the Sanctuary in the episode Pavor Nocturnus.  Comes with a lenticular "Helen Magnus Business Card" that was a promotional item for the original Sanctuary webseries at ComicCon in 2007.
CLAIMED by Twitter fan @sam1helen, whose favorite quote was  "We are going to need a bigger box"


ITEM 6: "The Adjuster" prop hat used onscreen in the Sanctuary episode "Hero II: Broken Arrow." Comes with a lenticular "Helen Magnus Business Card" that was a promotional item for the original Sanctuary webseries at ComicCon in 2007. 



ITEM 7: Sanctuary pen and notepad that were promotional item for the original Sanctuary webseries.  Comes with a lenticular "Helen Magnus Business Card." 




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The New World

5 years ago I was watching this cool little show on BBC America as a break from work.

3 years ago I was having my first conversation with the production company that was bringing the show to Canada.  

1 year ago I was on my way to meetings in London, about to start my full-time show-runner gig.



Now it's about to hit the screen.

"Oh, it's not easy.  Not even a little bit."  

But it's worth it. 


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sanctuary Keepsake Campaign - Update 2

UPDATE: 
AS OF 9/26/2012, this round of the Sanctuary Keepsake Campaign is now 
CLOSED to new orders.  

Remaining items may be made available in a future offering, as time permits -- or may show up at a convention near you.  

Thank you to everyone who participated!

For items requested by September 25th:
Canadian and International requests will be mailed by October 5th.
US Items will be mailed by October 31st.

Recipient is responsible for all customs and duties. 

NOTE: As of Friday, 9/20, I am having additional swatches made from a second curtain.  Therefore, delivery of curtain swatches requested after this time may be slightly delayed to allow time for tailoring.  




The SANCTUARY KEEPSAKE CAMPAIGN to benefit the Sanctuary 4 Kids charity continues with new items, including a few little items from Primeval:New World, the new series for the SPACE Channel that has been home this year to a few Sanctuary alumni -- Martin Wood and I are Executive Producing, Amanda Tapping and Andy Mikita each directed multiple episodes, Robert Lawrenson made a guest appearance, and many of the behind-the-scenes crew joined us as well. 

What is the Sanctuary Keepsake Campaign?  In short, it's a chance to obtain small items from Sanctuary (and now other shows), as thank-you gifts in return for donating to the Sanctuary 4 Kids charity.  Since the campaign was inspired by the goal of making the keepsakes widely available, we've once again tried to include items for every budget level.  

Below is a roundup of ALL REMAINING ITEMS and a few NEW ITEMS. 

PENCIL (OR PEN) FROM HELEN MAGNUS' DESK - minimum $20 donation




There are more than two dozen of them here -- just regular pencils, mechanical pencils and ballpoint pens, nothing special about them at all EXCEPT THAT THEY SAT ON HELEN MAGNUS' DESK in Season 4 of Sanctuary.  They'll be distributed at random to the first 30 people to donate a minimum of $20 to Sanctuary 4 Kids and request them according the the rules below. ONE PER CUSTOMER, PLEASE. WHILE SUPPLIES LAST



One of these Sanctuary logo memo pads (promotional items from the original 2007 webseries) will now be included with every pen or pencil from Magnus' desk.  Also, additional promo items (such as promo postcards and Helen Magnus' lenticular business card from the webseries) will be included with all Thank-You items while supplies last.  

**UPDATE: As of 8 PM PST on Sunday, 9/23, 12 remain available.**  


SHARD OF AFINA'S TOMB - $45  minimum donation - 15 available




This amethyst-coloured "rubber glass" was created by the FX department for episode #316, "Awakening," to be used in the sequence where the Vampire Queen Afina breaks from her crystal tomb. Although the final on-screen tomb was a CGI creation, the purple rubber glass was crumbled and used on set as shattered pieces on the floor.

Each sculptural piece of "amethyst" retained from the discarded rubber glass is completely unique. Size is approximately 1 square inch. Each will come with a Certificate of Authenticity. WHILE SUPPLIES LAST



FABRIC SWATCH FROM HELEN MAGNUS' CURTAINS - minimum $40 donation, or $75 for 2 


"Were these drapes always this hideous shade?" - Nikola Tesla

"I saw it in the window and I just had to have it!" 

These familiar red and gold brocade curtains hung in Helen Magnus' office for the run of the series.  For the post-apocalyptic episode "Pavor Nocturnus" in Season 2, the curtains were replaced with these "stunt doubles" that were shredded and distressed for the scene in the destroyed Sanctuary.  This screen-used material has been professionally tailored into approximately 12-inch squares, each one unique.  Ideal as crying towels for mourning the loss of a beloved series!  Many of these are distinguished by unique rips and camera-friendly damage; others are intact and might be pressed into service as dinner napkins.  Please note in your email if you prefer an intact or a distressed swatch, and I will do my best to accomodate your request. Each one will come with a Certificate of Authenticity.  WHILE SUPPLIES LAST
**UPDATE: As of 6 PM on Friday, 9/20, I am having additional swatches made from a second curtain.  Therefore, delivery of swatches requested after this time may be delayed to allow time for tailoring  **  

"ADJUSTER" HAT -  $65 minimum donation - Donated by Martin Wood  - 2 Available



These props appeared onscreen in the 3rd season episode Hero 2: Electric Boogaloo.


Wii CONTROLLER LOADED WITH "SANCTAURY" Miis - $90 minimum donation - 2 Available

These "Mii" versions of the Sanctuary characters were created in February of 2011 and populate my home machine.

My and my virtual family.
(I'm the yellow one. The one in pink is my friend Melody.
You should recognize the rest....)

They have been transferred to a newly-purchased Nyko brand remote for the Wii. To transfer them to your own Wii, just sync the remote to your Wii, go to the Mii Plaza, and select "Transfer." Then choose the new remote and you will be able to drag and drop the characters into your own Mii Plaza, where they will interact with your own family and friends, join your muster, and even play Tennis with or against you. Look out for Tesla, though -- he cheats.


Guess Who


PUBLICITY POSTCARDS FROM PRIMEVAL: NEW WORLD - SET OF 6 - 3 sets available - minimum donation $100




A little something from our new "sister" show "Primeval: New World."  These limited-edition promotional postcards of the regular cast of the upcoming show were created by the SPACE Channel for signing at the Vancouver Fan Expo earlier this year.  Included: Niall Matter (Evan Cross) Sara Canning (Dylan Weir), Danny Rahim (Mac Rendell), Crystal Lowe (Toby Nance), Miranda Frigon (Ange Finch), and Geoff Gustafson (Ken Leeds). 

**UPDATE: Geoff Gustafson and Crystal Lowe have generously signed their postcards!**

TOY DINOSAURS FROM THE PRIMEVAL: NEW WORLD OFFICE - **SIGNED** - minimum donation $50 each

The set dec from P:NW is, I'm happy to say, not available for sale at this time.  But I do have a few of the toy dinosaurs that populated our office, generously signed by some of the cast:


Stegosaurus: Signed on the tag by Geoff Gustafson (Ken Leeds)
Triceratops: Signed on the tag **and on the dinosaur** by Crystal Lowe (Toby Nance) 

Apatosaurus (aka Brontosaurus' usurper): Signed on the tag by Executive Producer/Writer Gillian Horvath
Albertosaurus: Signed on the Tag by Executive Producer/Director Martin Wood

(Okay, it's probably a Tyrannosaurus Rex but I prefer to think of it as an Albertosaurus,
Rex's smaller, faster, meaner cousin.)


"I'M FINE" T-SHIRT - **SIGNED** - minimum donation $60 each


It's like your very own Raptor Attack! These t-shirts come from Bad Idea T-shirts.  I gave them to cast, writers and directors shortly after starting filming.  There are a few left over -- now they can be yours.

I have one Medium and one Large t-shirt, signed by cast members Crystal Lowe (Toby) and Geoff Gustafson (Ken) and by Executive Producers Martin Wood and Gillian Horvath

Geoff and Danny are fine.

"I WANT ONE! WHAT SHOULD I DO?"

Step 1: Go to the Sanctuary 4 Kids website.  Make your donation.  In the comment box, please put #sanctuarykeepsakecampaign.  NOTE: Please do not use the comment box to make your item requests.  These must go to the email below. 

Step 2: Email me at athena.tv (at) gmail.com to request your item.  Please help me out by putting "Sanctuary Keepsake" and the item you are requesting in the subject line.  Please put your mailing address and any further details about the item you are requesting in the body of the email.  Requests will be honored in the order they are received in the athena.tv inbox.  Please DO NOT make your requests via any other channel, you will lose your place in line.

All items are WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.  I will post updates here once each item is sold out, but please note, there may be a time lag in tracking the requests, therefore you may find that the item you requested is no longer available.  I am grateful for all donations made in the campaign but I can't guarantee that all donations will receive the "Thank You" items described.  

***For one-of-a-kind items, you may email to inquire about availability prior to making your donation.***

I will cover all mailing costs to anywhere in the world.

For items requested by September 25th:
Canadian and International requests will be mailed by October 5th.
US Items will be mailed by October 31st.

Recipient is responsible for all customs and duties. 

Please tell your friends!

Gillian

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sanctury Keepsake Campaign - Update


The SANCTUARY KEEPSAKE CAMPAIGN is going strong and even growing with new donations!  I'm overwhelmed by all the generosity -- from fans donating extra and offering their thank-you gifts to other fans in need, to colleagues providing additional items for the drive, it's been an awesome 24 hours.  Cinemaspy reported on us here and donations are over $1500 so far!

What is the Sanctuary Keepsake Campiagn?  In short, it's a chance to obtain small items from the set of Sanctuary, as thank-you gifts in return for donating to the Sanctuary 4 Kids charity.



A number of PENS AND PENCILS FROM MAGNUS' DESK and CURTAIN SWATCHES FROM MAGNUS' OFFICE remain available, as well as 3 WINE BOTTLES FROM MAGNUS' WINE CELLAR.

**Please see the original Sanctuary Keepsake Campaign post from yesterday for details. **

In addition, I've obtained a box of promotional items that were created for the original Sanctuary webseries back in 2007.  One of these Sanctuary logo memo pads will now be included with every pen or pencil from Magnus' desk.  Also, additional promo items (such as promo postcards and Helen Magnus' lenticular business card) will be included with all Thank-You items while supplies last.  

Below, are additional items that have been added to the campaign.  Since the campaign was inspired by the goal of making the keepsakes widely available, we've once again tried to include items for every budget level.  

*** Please read all the instructions at the bottom of the page if you wish to participate! You MUST make your requests via the special email address provided below. ***


And please spread the word wherever people may be interested.  Let's use the hashtag #sanctuarykeepsakecampaign and keep it going on Twitter!

SHARD OF AFINA'S TOMB - $45  minimum donation - 15 available





This amethyst-coloured "rubber glass" was created by the FX department for episode #316, "Awakening," to be used in the sequence where the Vampire Queen Afina breaks from her crystal tomb. Although the final on-screen tomb was a CGI creation, the purple rubber glass was crumbled and used on set as shattered pieces on the floor.

Each sculptural piece of "amethyst" retained from the discarded rubber glass is completely unique. Size is approximately 1 square inch. Each will come with a Certificate of Authenticity. WHILE SUPPLIES LAST



"ADJUSTER" HAT -  $65 minimum donation - Donated by Martin Wood  - 2 Available



These props appeared onscreen in the 3rd season episode Hero 2: Electric Boogaloo.


SANCTUARY LOGO CREW CAP -  BEST OFFER - ONE ONLY


This item is being SILENT AUCTIONED -- to participate, mail your maximum bid to athena.tv (at) gmail.com by MIDNIGHT (PST) on Sunday, September 23rd.  The highest bidder will be informed by email on Monday morning and will have 48 hours to complete their donation to Sanctuary 4 Kids.

Wii CONTROLLER LOADED WITH "SANCTAURY" Miis - $90 minimum donation - 2 Available

These "Mii" versions of the Sanctuary characters were created in February of 2011 and populate my home machine.

My and my virtual family.
(I'm the yellow one. The one in pink is my friend Melody.
You should recognize the rest....)

They have been transferred to a newly-purchased Nyko brand remote for the Wii. To transfer them to your own Wii, just sync the remote to your Wii, go to the Mii Plaza, and select "Transfer." Then choose the new remote and you will be able to drag and drop the characters into your own Mii Plaza, where they will interact with your own family and friends, join your muster, and even play Tennis with or against you. Look out for Tesla, though -- he cheats.


Guess Who

SIGNED BOOK FROM HELEN MAGNUS' LIBRARY - $300 donation - CLAIMED

**UPDATE: As of 11 PM PST Saturday 9/22, the signed book has been CLAIMED**

The Canada Book of Prose and Verse has been signed by Peter Wingfield (James Watson) and Jim Byrnes (Gregory Magnus).


BOOKS FROM HELEN MAGNUS' LIBRARY - $100 minimum donation - CLAIMED

**UPDATE: As of 10 AM PST Saturday 9/22, all 3 books have been CLAIMED**


The books in this photo came from the shelves of the Sanctuary library, hallways, or Magnus' office.  The titles seem chosen specifically to suit her!  Titles available in this campaign are: 


John Mortimer: Paradise Postponed
W.E.B Griffin: In Danger's Path
Pat Barker: Another World

The clock in this photo is also from the Sanctuary set decoration supplies, although how it was used on the show is unknown.   Could be fun to search every frame for it!

Peter Wingfield Keepsake Kit -  $35 minimum donation - 1 Available


If you're a Sanctuary viewer you know his as James Watson.  If you watched Highlander you know him as Methos.  This button, montage postcard, and keychain were made for a recent convention of the Peter Wingfield Fanclub.



SIGNED LIMITED-EDITION PUBLICITY POSTCARDS FROM PRIMEVAL (UK SERIES) -   - Donated by Mike Simpson - CLAIMED

**UPDATE: As of the morning of 9/22, THIS ITEM HAS BEEN CLAIMED***

A little something from our new "sister" show in the UK.  These 7 promotional postcards from Season 5 of Primeval UK were sent to journalists and have been generously donated by reporter Mike Simpson.  Each is signed by the cast member.  


"I WANT ONE! WHAT SHOULD I DO?"

Step 1: Go to the Sanctuary 4 Kids website.  Make your donation.  In the comment box, please put #sanctuarykeepsakecampaign.  NOTE: Please do not use the comment box to make your item requests.  These must go to the email below. 

Step 2: Email me at athena.tv (at) gmail.com to request your item.  Please help me out by putting "Sanctuary Keepsake" and the item you are requesting in the subject line.  Please put your mailing address and any further details about the item you are requesting in the body of the email.  Requests will be honored in the order they are received in the athena.tv inbox.  Please DO NOT make your requests via any other channel, you will lose your place in line.

All items are WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.  I will post updates here once each item is sold out, but please note, there may be a time lag in tracking the requests, therefore you may find that the item you requested is no longer available.  I am grateful for all donations made in the campaign but I can't guarantee that all donations will receive the "Thank You" items described.  

***For one-of-a-kind items, you may email to inquire about availability prior to making your donation.***

I will cover all mailing costs to anywhere in the world.

For items requested by September 27th:
Canadian and International requests will be mailed by October 5th.
US Items will be mailed by October 31st.

Recipient is responsible for all customs and duties. 

Please tell your friends!

Gillian