Sunday, August 31, 2008

Keeping the Joy

In 1986, I had my first Hollywood Internship. Administered by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (The Emmy People), it was an 8-week internship in Series Development at Universal Studios. I met some great people that summer, some of whom are still friends and valued colleagues. I still remember a thought I had as I parked my rented car (as a New York City native, I had only recently learned to drive, for the express purpose of moving to LA) in the old A Lot, next to the Technicolor Building. "If I ever stop being thrilled to drive onto the lot," I thought, "It's time to leave."

I was reminded of this over the weekend as I slogged through a mountain of financial and logistical paperwork that has accumulated on my dining room table during recent busy times. There were WGA dues forms in the pile. An offer to join the WGA Film Society for the season. And the first of what will be many announcements for free Award Consideration screenings for WGA members between now and the end of January.

Slitting open yellow quarterly income report envelopes from the WGA with a practiced flick, I was forcibly reminded of the day I qualified to join the Guild, when I sold my first script to Quantum Leap. How thrilled I was to write the check for my initiation fee and become Part Of It All. What a kick I got out of getting the WGA Journal in the mail, and the screening invitations. (Even though most years, my busiest months were right around the holidays, and I hardly ever got to take advantage of all those free screening. As Gary Trudeau says, Bravo for life's little ironies.)

Do we go into this business for the Guild card or the screenings? No. But don't forget to enjoy those things. When you have the things in your hand that you used to dream of, when you're on your tenth year of paying WGA dues or slogging through dailies, don't forget to look back and realize, you have what you always wanted.

Who could ask for anything more?

With Dad and the Datsun ZX I wanted then, May 1985.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Going, Going... Boldly Gone

I was sad to hear that Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton is closing on September 1st. Fortunately for me, I heard about the closing in time to plan a road trip to see the attraction one last time. I'm astonished to learn how many people -- SF Fans, even Trek fans -- had never been, or didn't even know it existed. On the other hand, I didn't know that there was a Trek CON at the Hilton each August, or I might have planned said Road Trip to include it.

In the end, though, heading for Vegas on a Tuesday two weeks before closing proved to be the ideal plan. We had the I-15, and the Experience, largely to ourselves. My companions on this adventure were my college pal Shadow (a game designer/recovering lawyer with one of those mimetic memories that comes in handy when playing Star Trek Trivia games) and my fellow TV writer Lisa Klink (whose years on Voyager make her the ideal companion for debating the sociological implications of replicator technology).

Colloquially known as "The Star Trek Experience" -- a subtle difference, I admit -- the attraction consists of two rides, the original motion-controlled Klingon Encounter that was installed in 1998 and the more recent Borg Invasion in 4-D. (The 4th Dimension apparently being "touch.") There is also a "museum" of props and a timeline of the Trek Universe, which were originally installed to entertain customers during an hour or so of standing in line for the rides. Now that a single ticket is 'ride all day' and the admissions don't cover the electricity costs, according to one employee, there's no line to speak of, but the museum portion is still fun to look at. It's not clear which of the props on display are real and which are replicas, but that doesn't take away from the fun of peering through a case at the "Stone Knives and Bearskins" vacuum-tube-and-tricorder array from City On The Edge of Forever, or at Jean Luc Picard's family scrapbook, fortunately spared from the fiery wreckage of the Enterprise D.

Shadow and I had each visited the attraction years earlier, but neither of us had seen the new Borg ride. Lisa, on the other hand, had written it, so she had her own reasons for indulging in a mid-week weekend to wish it farewell. I'll bet she got a kick out of watching our faces as SPOILER REDACTED and SPOILER REDACTED.

The food at Quark's Bar didn't live up to my memories from my first visit, but these days I don't eat Onion Rings (excuse me, Rings of Betazed) and HamBorgers (hee) as freely as I once did. Reading the silly punny menu was still fun, though. ("James Tea Kirk." Sounds refreshing!) Sadly, the shopping Promenade from DS9 was largely closed -- apparently, most of the merch had been bought out by the Convention two weeks earlier. No sign of the "I'm with Illogical" t-shirt I'd seen on the website. I was able to get the Phaser Water Pistol I wanted, though, so no complaints. It's actually pretty nicely made; it looks great on the shelf at home next to the Han Solo Water Blaster I've had for years. Finally, the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate can be settled -- with water!

By now, I'd guess they're selling out down to the bare walls -- when Shadow and I came back through Vegas on Friday after continuing our road trip to take in a Shakespeare Festival in the next state over, there was a price tag of $4300 (SOLD) on the Borg Queen statue, and the sort-of-life-sized maquette of the Gorn that had stood outside Quark's on Tuesday had disappeared -- presumably sold as well. I say sort-of-life-sized in that I hope the real Gorn was taller than me. I'm sorry that I failed to get a picture of our little troupe with old greenhead before he got sold. After all, I seem to be responsible for the fact that my friend Darla's 19-month-old daughter knows that the cow says moo, the dog says woof, and the Gorn says RAAR. (Thanks to Kerry for the Beanie Baby Gorn, which I'm now told also came from the ST: Experience shops!)

When we were there, the curving wall behind the shops was completely covered with hand-written letters from people, expressing their sadness that The Experience is closing. Some were from people young enough to have grown up there. Many had traced their hands on the paper in the iconic Vulcan salute. A number of the letter-writers mourned a tradition of visiting yearly with friends. Those touched me particularly, because it's not The Experience, but the experience of visiting The Experience, that those people grieve. It's my favorite aspect of Conventions, the constant reunion with other con-goers, birds of a feather forming lasting attachments for which the event is the excuse, not the reason. It's the same dynamic whether it's Trekkies at The Experience, Dead Heads on the road, Xena Fans coming to Los Angeles en masse this past January to join the WGA picket lines, or James Joyce Scholars spending Bloomsday in Dublin.

Vegas isn't that far from LA. Hotels there are cheap. I find myself wishing we'd taken advantage of The Experience while it stood, had planned yearly rendezvouses there with friends from near and far. I'm glad we at least got there for this farewell visit. Too often, "Hey, we should..." turns into "I wish we had..." It's always nice to actually find the time and motivation and come back saying "I'm glad we did." When it comes to road trip adventures with friends, I don't think I've ever come back saying I wished I hadn't.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Or is that YA ARG?

I recently heard about this new project from Scholastic books (hence the YA) called The 39 Clues, a sort of DaVinci Code for the under-16 set, that includes books, trading cards, and a real-time scavenger hunt that seems to spill out of the Internet into the real world (hence the ARG).

Although the attempt to create a Potter-esque phenomenon by design, as opposed to by catching lightning in a bottle, is fraught with pitfalls, they do seem to have a catchy premise, so I'll be watching with interest to see if it catches fire.

Does anyone else remember Masquerade?

TiVo for Blogs

By the way, if anyone out there hasn't yet seen Google Reader, I advise you to check it out. It's available on the iGoogle homepage or you can access it separately if you're not an iGoogle user. Basically, it allows you to enter the urls of all the blogs you like to read, organizing them into folders if you like. Then, the Google Reader lets you know when your fave bloggers have put up new posts, and you can click through to read and comment.

Like TiVo, this is a great time saver -- no longer do I spend my time clicking through my long list of Clever Blogs, looking to see who has something new. And since some of my favorite Clever Bloggers are sporadic (to put it kindly), this means I don't miss their new stuff when it does appear. When I'm looking to kill some time on the net get informed, the Google Reader serves as a "Now Playing" list from which to choose.

Somebody Wrote That!

Alex Epstein at the Crafty TV And Screenwriting Blog has had a brilliant series of posts recently, examining the writing skills at work in the current Presidential Campaign. Personal politics aside, I think he accurately frames this as a battle to control the story. Whichever candidate more successfully creates a plotline of which they are the hero, gets to triumph in Act Three.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Panda, Stiller, Iron Man

I've been hearing about the Parody Promo Video for Tropic Thunder, and so glad to have come across a link to the actual vid.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wisdom Of The Day

Alex Epstein at the Crafty Screenwriting Blog reminds us that conflict and resolution are hard. That's why drama requires them, and why we try to avoid them in our real lives. But sometimes you have to have those hard conversations to get what you want. Have them. Whatever the result, you'll have added import, and adrenalin, to your day.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


If you're lucky, you work on a project in your lifetime that outlasts you. As a young reader, I was moved to laughter and tears by Dorothy L. Sayers' descriptions of Lord Peter Wimsey's adventures. Feeling the catch in my gut as Harriet Vane gazed longingly at the curve of Wimsey's ear in "Gaudy Night," I was amazed at the realization that although the author was dead, and the character as well, had he been real, would have been long gone, the books could continue finding new readers to fall in love with him. He continued to exist on those pages.

When I became a writer, this was my highest goal: to create a character who would still be gaining admirers after I was gone. It is either my good fortune or my greatest obstacle that in my first staff job, before the age of 30, I was part of one of those rare shows that continues on in the imagination even when it's out of production. "Highlander: The Series" stands the test of time. It continues to find new viewers. As deeply proud and honored as I am to have been a part of the team that built those characters, it's also a hard act to follow. I could spend the rest of my life searching for another show as creatively fulfilling.

None of us left Highlander fully behind when it ended. Those of us who were part of it will always be a part if it, like alumni of a shared school. Or like Brothers in Arms. I left the staff in 1997, at the end of the 5th season, but remained a consultant on the ancillary merchandise for another few years. "Evening at Joe's," the compilation of short stories written by cast and crew that I spearheaded, was published in 2001 -- its very existence further proof of the staying power of the show. If you came to most crews and actors three years after a show had gone off the air, asking for stories set in that world, most of them would be hard-pressed to even remember it.

As recently as 2003 I was spending weeks reviewing videotapes and being interviewed for Highlander DVD extras. And at a Highlander Convention in October 2007, almost 10 years after we'd finished filming, the stories and characters were as fresh in our minds as ever.

Recently, Highlander's head writer David Abramowitz has been able to revisit our beloved characters, writing new scenes for the original cast. One of them was performed live at that Convention last October -- It was absolutely magical to have those characters we'd lived with for years come back to life once more. The actors transformed before our eyes from their casual panel-giving selves, into these characters that they owned, brilliantly recapturing their cadences and nuances. And of course, since they were written by the man who was the heart of the original, the lines were perfect, blending humor and heart.

Other brand new scenes have been filmed for a new DVD called "Reunion." You can see a clip at The bittersweet thing about new Highlander material is that it just makes me want more new Highlander material. "Reunion" isn't enough, but it's something.

My Time Machine moment: The beach house where this was filmed is also the corporate retreat where I had my first big story meeting after being promoted from Script Coordinator to Associate Creative Consultant on the show, at the beginning of Season Three. The episode "Samurai" was conceived that day.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wouldn't You Like To Be a Marvel Too?

I can't believe this is the first time I'ver come across the "I'm A Marvel.... and I'm a DC" vids on YouTube, parodies by It'sJustSomeRandomGuy of the "I'm a Mac... and I'm a PC" commercials. Here's the first one (there are more than 40 currently):

And here's my favorite of the ones I've seen, in which Hulk and The Batman compare cinematic misfires:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's All Written

Robert J. Elisberg at the Huffington Post has crafted a masterful synopsis of the indefensible Labor Violations going on in the the "reality" TV business. Whether or not you believe that these 'editors' and 'segment producers' are performing the function of writers (I personally believe many of them are, though defining which ones will be a complex process), the fact that they are working longer hours for lower wages than State Law requires is finally receiving the attention it deserves. As Elisberg points out:

If Fremantle wasn't making popular TV programs, but in some other business ignoring minimum wage laws, avoiding 40-hour workweek laws, coercing employees and underpaying taxes, we'd likely see arrests.
Read more here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Speaking of Gillian Anderson

Yesterday at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, I saw the Barbie & Ken X-Files Collector Set for sale. Okay, I'm proudbarassed to say I recognized Barbie as Scully at 30 yards. The friend I was with wondered what qualified the doll as "Barbie." He had a good point -- she has short red hair and really is more like a 12-inch-doll of Gillian Anderson as Scully, with Barbie branding.

The Barbie & Ken Classic Star Trek set, by contrast, consists of actual Ken and Barbie, in gold command shirt and red minidress respectively, along with a cardboard bridge and cardboard Kirk and Spock to scale. (And yes, the reason I know this is because I own one. What can I say, I have a fascination with clever licensing.)

Being the Marketing Geek that I am, this really has me wondering about the decision process behind these Collector's Editions. Are there different lines at the manufacturer, depending whether the release is a licensed doll or just props and outfits for the existing dolls? I think I personally prefer the latter -- Barbie in that case is a fan like us, with a Star Trek costume and an understanding boyfriend.

Because the "Baywatch" Barbie (and Ken) were in stores while I was working on Baywatch, I have quite a few of them, in their red bathing suits and lifeguard jackets. (As an aside, the Crew Jackets on Baywatch were identical to the wardrobe worn by the characters, with the addition of an embroidered logo on the back. As such, they are so similar to REAL LA County Lifeguard jackets that we were specifically asked NOT to wear them to the beach, to avoid being mistaken for Lifeguards in an emergency.)

My Baywatch Barbie lifeguards are out of their boxes and on display in my guest room, where they get played with frequently by my under-10 visitors. I have both the original and the African-American versions of Baywatch Barbie and Ken, and two beach jeeps for them to ride in. (I recently realized that the plastic jeeps include little plastic seatbelts. Safety first!) Since each doll came with different props, among them they have quite the assemblage of gak -- whistles, binoculars, cameras, sun visors, jetskis, a pith helmet, little tevas, a dolphin (?), and of course the iconic red 'rescue can.' On my trip to the Flea Market, I saw a NIB Baywatch Ken for sale, with a different collection of stuff! So my little lifeguard family is about to get a Frisbee, a boom box, and a wind up Waverunner with "Realistic Motor Sounds." Yeah Baby. Five Bucks well spent.

Ken's Tevas

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Slinkachu's Little Installations

Thanks to Neil Gaiman's journal for pointing me to this whimsical art:

Go to Slinkachu's blog for more context and to order the book.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Why Gillian?

People pronounce my name wrong a LOT. When I was a kid it really bugged me; now I don't even bother to correct it unless I'm going to spending a lot of time with that person. Of course when I was a kid it seemed like I was the only "Gillian" (or "Jillian") in the world. I could never get the cool keychains or stickers preprinted with my name unless my stepmother brought them back from the UK. Then Gillian Anderson -- she pronounces it with the soft 'G' -- got famous. The upside is that people can usually spell it now. The downside is that even when I introduce myself aloud, which you would think would be unambiguous, people seem to instantly convert the name in their head into its written form, and then return it with the other pronunciation. I'd love to see a functional MRI of that process.

So, how did I wind up with a name that is technically pronounced 'wrong'?

Kim Novak's character in Bell Book & Candle is named Gillian Holroyd. Gillian, not Jillian. My father heard the name and thought if it worked with "Holroyd" it would work with "Horvath," even though one is Irish and the other is Hungarian. He couldn't have known at the time that the name would turn out to be a Velcro one, a handy surprise in a business where anything about you that's memorable can only be a plus.

It's a fun film. Kim Novak's Gillian is modern-day witch. Jack Lemmon is adorable as her brother. The cat is a cat-shaped Familiar named Pyewacket, and I believe he's been a namesake orders of magnitude more often than his mistress. All in all, it's a fine origin from which to hail. Thanks to my Dad, I seem to have been destined from birth to wind up "In Pictures." If not an actual witch.

The Kudos Cascade

Athena TV is honored to have received a Brillante Weblog award from M.Christine Valada of Out Of The Darkroom. If you haven't read Chris's blog, look there for her commentary on pop culture and actual culture, office politics and actual poltics, horses and hand grenades. It is also ironically often a better place to find news about her husband, Comics Legend Len Wein, than his own Weinwords. I also enjoy her food blog, Into The Kitchen.

The award itself works like the old Breck Ad, "...and she told two friends." Each recipient is asked in turn to present the award to their seven favorite blogs. So here they are, my daily rounds of reading:

Lisa Klink's What It's Like tells it like it is from the perspective of a working TV writer. Nine times out of ten Lisa's blog tells it like I would tell it, but pithier. Not too surprising, since she and I have similar resumes in many ways. Once in a while, I have a differing take on an aspect on the business than hers, which I plan to use as launching points for future posts.

Jane Espenson's Jane in Progress focuses on advice for burgeoning writers working on their specs. And lunch. Jane's wit and wonder make the blog worth reading even if you're not in the target demo.

The Anonymous Production Assistant's Blog is not only fun to read, it's a great aggregator -- the A.P.A. is a treasure trove of links to other cool sites and articles. Just today, I followed the trail from there to David Bordwell's site for cineastes.

I can't choose between Eugene Sons's excellent blogs, so I'm going to give Brillante Awards to both his Eponymous Blog , which is an entertaining and enlightening look into the TV Biz from the Animation standpoint, and to his Crazy Dad's Guide to Family Travel, in which he drags his family around the world and shares tips for not killing or being killed in the process.

The Grub Report is the blogging home of Stephanie Vander Weide Lucianovic, a.k.a. Keckler from Television Without Pity, who wrote the TWOP recaps of food-based reality shows. Her Grub Report is an enticing melange of food blogging and pop culture musings. It is also the source of the incomparable roasted cauliflower recipe.

My seventh must-read blog is one that's written anonymously by a friend; since I can't compromise that person's anonymity by linking to it here, I'll close out my list at 6 and hopefully leave you wanting more. Not eligible for the Brillante, but currently at the top of my reading list, is the Hero Complex blog at the LA Times, a great round-up of the latest Geek News. Check out today's post about Zuda web comics, and Shock Effect in particular.

All you Brillante Winners, pick up the award by copying it from here, paste it to your blog, put a link back to this one, and pass on the award and instructions to seven of your favorite blogs by letting them know about it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Film School

My friend Marv Wolfman suggested that I tell some stories here about working in TV. I'll start by answering an email I got from Michelle in Indiana, a fan of my work on Highlander who found my previous web page and asked: "Did you go to film school especially to learn how to write scripts, or did you go to film school to learn to make films, and knowing how to put a script together was a bonus?"

I actually didn't go to film school at all. I went to a college that was all about the academics and not at all about the vocational training. I learned the semiotics of film as an undergraduate, but almost nothing about filmmaking. But I was interested in episodic storytelling from childhood, when I dreamed of growing up to write Hardy Boys books. By High School, I'd figured out that TV writing was my goal -- I credit the series Remington Steele for that realization. I wanted to write new adventures for the characters, and although I dabbled briefly in fanfic, I was blessed with the kind of parents who, when I said I'd decided to be a TV Writer, never doubted it as a possibility. My mother, who'd despaired of ever seeing me move out of her apartment when my ambition was to be a poet, took great comfort in my new plan, declaring that I would now be able to support her. There's really no substitute for that kind of unwavering confidence.

Most of what I knew about TV writing and production, I learned by reading David Gerrold's various "Making of" Star Trek books, and his column in Starlog magazine. During and after college, I worked as an intern and assistant at studios and on shows, read scripts voraciously, and watched TV with an analytical eye. That was my training -- that, and having the good fortune to write some of my first scripts under the excellent tutelage of Tommy Thompson (Quantum Leap), Jim Parriot (Forever Knight), and the unparallelled David Abramowitz (Highlander: The Series), in whose image I am formed.

(I think people underestimate the importance of your first staff job in forming your professional personality forevermore. If you work for someone who likes to stay focused, deliver documents ahead of deadline, distribute praise liberally to his staff, and go home for dinner, you will most likely grow into a similar person. If your first jobs are with bosses who prefer to demonstrate their power, play basketball in the afternoon and then keep everyone in the writing office until midnight, and alternate between rage and despair, you will come to accept this as normal or even necessary to the process.)

Speaking of Highlander: The Series, one of the most fun encounters I had in the wake of working there was when I flew up to Vancouver to be the on-set writer for an episode of Young Blades. This was in 2005, 7 years after HL went off the air. As I was escorted to the catering truck to grab lunch (an A.D. had spotted me at the end of the line and ushered me in front of the background extras, a perk that I appreciated even as I was embarrassed by it), the Catering Assistant (sous-chef? server?), a guy of about 20 at most, asked me, "Didn't you work on Highlander?" I was shocked to be recognized -- I'd visited Vancouver only three times during HL's run, for a few days each time, and was never well-known to the crew other than our beloved Producer Ken Gord, Post-Production Supervisor Tracy Hillman, who became a friend, and Swordmaster F. Braun McAsh, more due to spending time at conventions together than time on the set. Even if I'd been more of a presence then, this guy was far too young to have been on the crew. So WTF? Then he explained that he recognized me from the DVD Commentary I'd done for the show!!!

When I pulled my collection of Highlander Dailies and Outtakes out of the storage room for DVD Bonus Features, all I had in mind was relief that these treasures would finally be available for fans and for posterity. It never occurred to me that I was ensuring my own posterity, as well. But it's worth noting, as writers continue to struggle for recognition, that you never know when and where things will pay off, and doing publicity for your show may turn out to have unexpected benefits for yourself down the line.