Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Blast of Art

The link was sent to me by a friend still living in New York, and this little video really captures the feel of the city for me -- it's the people on the street, reacting to the art, that feel like home. And the fact that I can viscerally imagine the experience of coming around a corner to find one of these in operation. Viewing this, I can feel the wind of those subway grates.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Founding Mother

Travel well, Committee Member Joan Winston.

Who'd have dreamed that a person's editorship of a Star Trek fanzine would be mentioned among their accomplishemts in a New York Times obituary.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Idea vs. Execution

And while you're on the Blink page at the BBC site, I recommend reading the original Steven Moffat Short Story the episode is based on. This is an excellent example of the extent to which an idea is changed and embellished as it goes through the TV episodic writing process. The original idea is still clearly recognizable, but it has been very much adjusted and in this case is sharing the episode with another, even larger idea. (Which illustrates another of my personal writing rules, which is that When You Think You Have Too Much Story, That's When You Have Enough Story. The original Sally Sparrow story by itself, though lovely, would have dragged dully if stretched out to an hour.)

Steven Moffat's Cat?

Blink and you're dead.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why We Fight

Jill Golick over at Running With Scissors posted a reminder of the underlying nature of the TV Business. The truth is somewhat grim, but enlightenment is always of value. She quotes Wade Rowland's very salient point that, while on a day to day basis we may think our job is to sell scripts to producers, or series to to networks, in fact it is not the shows that are the commodity of television -- it is the viewers. The entertainment value of our shows is not their purpose -- it is a means by which we obtain the attention of the audience, and that attention is what is then sold to advertisers.



One interesting this about this model is that it highlights the similarities between traditional broadcast TV and the Web -- both places where the goal is to lure viewer eyeballs in a certain direction by any means necessary, and then put ads in front of those eyeballs.

Considering how superficially similar film and television are, it's sobering to realize that they are built on vastly different models. Films have more in common with books -- in both cases, the goal is to get the viewer to pay their own money to experience the fictional world you have built. But in the TV/Web model, as Rowland points out, the viewer is neither the buyer nor the seller -- they are what is being bought and sold.

This doesn't necessarily change the process of writing, per se -- the immediate goal, Be Interesting, still applies -- but it could change the way we think about our customers, when we realize just what we're really selling them. It's not our stories, or our personal brilliance as storytellers. It's our ability to draw attention.

It explains a lot.

Buying Time

I just bought 120 hours.

Which is to say, the fine folks at WeaKnees.com just added an additional hard drive to my DirecTV Tivo, quadrupling its recording space. With the new season starting, I realized that I was going to have be vigilant about checking that particular machine, which with its dual tuners and small capacity would fill up fast. I would have to watch something, or at least burn it to DVD for later watching, almost constantly, to make room for incoming material. This is not a healthy relationship to have with a Now Playing list. Then I realized there was another way to alleviate my looming TiVo Debt -- I could just get a bigger drive, aka a bigger credit limit, and carry a larger balance.

If you have TiVo, I recommend being in business with the Weaknees guys. Their prices are reasonable, their speed impressive, and their customer service truly extraordinary. For instance, just this week, when I tried to order the add-on drive from them for self-installation, they took the initiative to query me about my specific setup, and when they discovered that the drive I'd ordered wouldn't work with my software without special installation, they offered to do the custom installation, free of charge. All this *before* I was even aware of a potential problem. And they did the work in less than 24 hours. If you live in LA, you can drop your machine off at the Culver City office in person, thereby avoiding both the cost of shipping and the horror of that empty space in the entertainment center where your friend TiVo belongs.

The other way that buying TiVo memory buys me time is less concrete, but of no less value to me. Before I had a TiVo, I had 4 VCRs on separate cable boxes, running almost constantly. I liked my shows to be sorted onto separate tapes, so even if two shows I was taping were on back to back on the same channel, I still needed to set 2 VCRs and 2 cable boxes to record them both. My roommate and friends were well-accustomed to a 15-minute wait before I could leave the house, heralded by the phrase, "I just need to set the VCRs."

(Oy. All this because early in my career, I had a meeting with an exec for a show I hadn't seen. I tried to fake it through , and failed -- and swore thereafter to tape everything in my field, so that if I had an unexpected meeting I had the material for a cram session. Today, of course, streaming video and online episode guides make such precautions unnecessary, but habits die hard. )

My first TiVo put that lost time back into my day. Plus the time I used to spend scanning the TV Guide each week with a highlighter in one hand. I will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Beyond the Frame

Here's my favorite fiction/reality blurring site of the moment:

Click on "Eagle Eye: Free Fall" to see what I mean.

Suddenly, I'm interested in seeing this movie.

The Future of Marketing Is The Future of Storytelling?

Last night at the "Breaking In Again" panel at the Writers Guild, a number of podcasters and webisode writers/producers/directors spoke about the future of what is now called "New Media" but will soon be known, we imagine, merely as "Media."

Mary Feuer, former head writer at lonelygirl15 and currently the writer/director of the "With The Angels" web series, premiering soon on Strike TV, talked about creating content that stretches beyond the video frame. Characters on lonelygirl15 had mySpace pages for their fictional selves. They created a website, rich with layered content, for a pharmaceutical company mentioned in the storyline.

Very recently, it was a groundbreaking idea to create an illusory reality online, reflecting the fictional world inhabited by TV Characters. Now, it's almost de rigeur to at the very least have a Barney's Blog, if not a whole Dunder Mifflin website. (Which I assume exists. Wait a sec.... Yep. It sure does.)

Which does create interesting creative challenges. Who blogs for the characters? Who vets those blogs to make sure they don't violate canon? The Official Network Website for a show I worked on recently had bonus content on it that was written by the PR department, using an old show bible and outdated pilot script -- the material was wildly off base.

Does the potentially infinite nature of this material create a barrier to entry at the same time as it creates an enhanced experience? Ideally, this additional material makes the story richer, and creates an interactive thrill for the participant who follows the trail and finds all the Easter eggs. But are there viewers who feel daunted by the mass of links they'd need to follow to become fully versed in a work of fiction, and back off?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Speaking of Which....

Further to the Tricks of the Trade post from earlier today, I'm very happy to pass on that the USA network is posting commentaries from the writers of each episode of Monk at monk.usanetwork.com.

Another great website is tvtropes.com. It's thoroughly entertaining and you can pick up useful terminology there, although I do caution the young professional to discriminate between fan tropes and tv tropes. Don't assume that web shorthand for a particular issue has reached Industry Jargon status, and definitely don't assume that your bosses in your new job will appreciate having story ideas -- their own or anyone else's -- dismissively classified.

Tricks of the Trade

I was up in the attic the other day, looking for things to donate to an upcoming charity auction. (Yes, Highlander fans, this is the same infamous magic attic from which I used to bring forth all those outtakes and behind-the-scenes clips that I showed at conventions, the ones that are now on the DVD sets as "Lost Footage.") I was momentarily confused to find in one of the boxes of Souvenirs/Auction gak a paperback copy of David Gerrold's book, "The Making of The Trouble with Tribbles."

But then I remembered that in my 5-cons-a-year period, I often told the story in my Breaking into Screenwriting or Script to Screen panels of how I, as a youngster, learned about the TV biz. And it was from David Gerrold. His columns in Starlog magazine, "Rumblings" and "Soarings," discussed contemporary movies from a writing standpoint, and it was from him that I learned about MacGuffins. I still remember a column he wrote about the disrespect to the viewer inherent in killing a beloved character, and then resurrecting them, thereby rendering the whole thing an emotional psych-out. And a column in which he took a film to task for its lack of a climax, causing me to examine my own nascent writing and realize I suffered from a similar problem. I had a chance to lavish this praise upon him one time when, at the age of 17, I stood in line for his autograph. Hearing my story, he nudged the fellow sitting next to him at the signing table (if memory serves, it was first-time-novelist David Brin) and teased, "Hey, she says I helped her reach climax!" I turned bright red and fled.

David Gerrold's Inside Star Trek and Making of the Trouble With Tribbles books were invaluable resources for me. The anecdotes he told gave a realistic glimpse into the process of being a TV writer and producing a TV show. He tells a story about having to cut 12 pages out of his Tribbles script after it went through the typing pool and got properly formatted. It was an eye-opening reminder about the realities of production -- the primary goal is to have a certain number of filmed minutes, ones that can be produced in the number of days you have, with the resources you have. Being clever or touching or downright effing brilliant is great, but first you have to have something you can make and show. You might think this is self-evident, but in fact many beginning writers -- and even many employed writers -- don't have that internal radar for how many sets, how many characters, how many pages you can really have. David Gerrold helped me develop mine, before he ever met me.

Today, there are hundreds of resources for getting a glimpse inside the industry. Instead of just a handful of Behind the Scenes memoirs, there are scores of detailed DVD commentaries and insider interviews. There are writers and showrunners that have their own avid fandoms. I've mentioned before my impression that many of today's emerging writers learned their impression of the Way Things Work from reading Buffy insider articles. Because of their ubiquity, the buzzwords that that writing staff used for certain things have become generally accepted terms. It gives newcomers a leg up, I think, when they come in already knowing the concepts of Hanging a Lantern on a problem (my early mentors used a different phrase for the same concept -- our watchword was, if you have a plot hole, Drive A Truck Through It) or using a Placeholder or House Number while searching for a cleverer solution that achieves the desired result.

If you love TV, you're probably reading this kind of article or listening to DVD commentaries for enjoyment. But if you want to make TV, don't underestimate the educational value. Listen to the stories about how an idea took form in the writers room, or about how something was changed at the last minute when a location was unavailable or an actor broke their arm. That's your future. That's the fun part of the job.

And don't forget to share your stories, like David Gerrold did, with a new bunch of kids looking for their own way to reach climax.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mitzvah Blog


I look forward to the day when everyone knows about this resource, so that memory cards from lost and stolen cameras can be reunited with the owners of the cherished photos.