Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lightning In A Bottle

In the course of my work, I'm sometimes able to attend advance screenings of unreleased films, or view screening copies of TV pilots before they are.  It's a great luxury to see some of the new pilots over the summer, because it alleviates some of the pressure in the fall to View All The Shows -- wth luck, you already know which ones you don't like and don't need to TiVo.

(And even after years in this business, I still get a little thrill from the validation that comes with any "insider" invitation.)

I recently sat down to view a selection of pilots for shows that are either not picked up, or not picked up until midseason.  2 of them Canadian-made, so I was interested in checking out the look and feel in the likelihood that I run in to cast and crew around town -- it's always nice to be familiar with people's recent work.  During production, of course, there's very little time to keep up with current releases, much less advance releases, so it's nice over hiatus to catch up on favorite shows, friends' shows, and upcoming trends.

The thing that struck me in viewing a selection of this year's crop was how cinematic 3 out of the 4 selections were.  Not just in the camerawork and acting style, but in the premises -- I kept seeing stories that seemed perfect fodder for a gripping 2-hour feature, but was hard-pressed to imagine how they were planning to continue for 13 or 22 weeks, much less 5 years  

Of course *every* year's crop of pilots serve as a stark reminder of how hard it is to make good television, and how easy a few missteps can make what must have seemed like a good idea at the time into an unwatchable mess.  No one sets out to make lame or cheesy shows, and people work just as hard -- and are likely just as excited about -- the losers as the winners

What makes the difference?  What's the ligtning in a bottle that makes one show grab you from the first week and make you eager to shout "More show!  More show!"  ?  I'm convinced that one key element is casting -- the wrong leads will tank a clever idea, and the right leads will put butts in seats.  But that's only one of so many elements.  Messing up even one can drag all the rest down.

Can this things be solved by analysis?  Or is this a case where you need to get zen and do the best you can, and then see where the cards land?

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not very good at just watching TV with my feet up.  Even when it's not supposed o be work, it turns into grist for the mill.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Whole New World

Twitter.  You may have heard of it.  Me, I'm too verbose to be an early adopter of anything requiring concision.  140 characters?  Is that even enough room for a haiku?  I've got ThingsTo Say, people!

But if you want to get better at stuff, you've gotta do things that aren't a natural fit.  People use a phrase around here, "in his wheelhouse," meaning that a task plays to a person's known strengths, and thus they are the perfect choice, sure to succeed.

To a point.  On Season 3 of Sanctuary, I was fortunate to write a couple of episodes that were right down my alley, containing the sort of stories that I'm drawn to and known for writing.  In fact the second of my two Season 3 episodes, "Awakening," is one that I actively pursued being assigned to because I was so fond of its premise. 

In the course of writing Season 4, through the vagaries of scheduling and the needs of the ongoing story, the two scripts I wrote were well outside my usual specialty -- each in a different way.  For 403, "Untouchable," in particular, I had to tap into a style and structure that did not come naturally to me.  (More about the details of that after it airs. Spoilers, Sweetie!)  And you know what?  I am more proud of those two scripts than of anything I've done in a long time.  I had to really wake up and dig down to get 'em done, and the results are something I am very proud of.

So, lesson re-learned: Don't fall back on old tricks when you can embrace new challenges.

And so, finally, Twitter.  With ComiCon looming large in my sights, shiny new Smartphone in hand, I figured I'd jump in the deep end.  I quickly found myself tweeting from any place I was standing still -- and cursing when I couldn't get a wireless connection from inside the press room while I waited for the Sanctuary Cast to make their rounds.  No signal!  Unthinkable!

Yesterday I participated in an event organized by some of our Sanctuary publicity gurus, in honor of the release of our Season 3 DVD sets.  A number of cast and crew with Twitter Handles were recruited to play #SanctuaryTwitterTag for the day, passing a virtual baton around cyberspace by tagging one another with questions.  Of course it didn't go to plan -- which I soon realized was all for the best.  It would have been less fum and less memorable if it had all gone off without a hitch!  (This is another of those important life lessons, I assure you.)

At the end of the day, I saw tweets from fans that resonated with me, saying that they had found and were now following one another thanks to participating in the event.  I was reminded of the times when I was in frequent attendance at Highlander Conventions, realizing that while the panels with cast and crew are the initial reason for coming, after the first time the fans are gathering to see one another as much as to see us.  That they could have (and sometimes do have) awesome conventions without us showing up at all.  Their shared love is the glue to their community, online or off.  We are mere facilitators. 

And I figured out the secret to keeping it short on Twitter, too.  It's a conversation, not a lecture.  Characters on TV aren't supposed to make speeches longer than five lines, why would I? 

Except over here, of course.  Still got Things To Say.