Q. How much did you have with the pilot script? How detailed a series arc did you have?
A. Great question. It really depends on the kind of people you’re selling to. With the people I was pitching, I didn’t have to give them anything but the pilot.
A lot of people did say, this is a great pilot, but I don’t get where it goes after the first episode. I told them, it's Mr. Chips turns into Scarface. I've said that 100 times.
But I'd give a few highlight moments. Most of them in fact never happened. Like, Jesse Pinkman dies. I always assumed he'd die in a big season ender at the end of Season One, in a drug deal instigated by Walt. That would be a terrible burden of guilt for Walt to carry, and guilt and rage are great fuel for further drama.
But I so enjoyed working with Aaron Paul from the pilot onwards… it must have been very early, I realized, there's no way in hell I’m going to kill this guy off. By episode 2 or 3 I sat him down and told him, "Hey, by the way, I was going to kill you off." And he really freaked out. I said, "No, this is a compliment to you that I’m not going to kill you off."
For a long time after that, every time Bryan Cranston (playing Walter White) would get the script first, he'd tell Aaron, "Ohhh, buddy, it was nice working with you!"
Anyway, when I was pitching, I’d pitch these crazy moments -- what Stanley Kubrick calls non-submergible moments, moments that don't submerge into memory -- that we have never done in 3 years on the show. But for Sony/AMC I didn’t need those.
Still, it’s good to be as prepared as you can, even if it’s only a sales too that you’ll never use later. Once they’re pregnant, they’re pregnant.
I don’t know how you figure out something 100 hours in advance. It has to be a free flowing story telling process. There are so many realities that you can’t foresee. Like, Jesse Pinkman's house was sold out from under us. The owners of the house sold it. So we needed new plot elements to explain why he’s no longer in the house. So we had his mom and dad find the meth lab in his basement, and his name isn't on the lease.
The important thing is to believe in it. If you're selling something you don't believe in, that if you're successful you're going to have to live with for years … there's easier ways of making money.
Q. Is Walter White a good guy who’s made horrible decisions? Or is he a bad guy who’s finally fulfilling himself?
A. I don’t know. The franchise of this show is transformation. We are transforming our main character -- we’re turning Mr Chips into Scarface. I don’t know for sure if this is a dark world corrupting an innocent man, or all this stuff is within him and it’s now coming out. A man who previously lived so bottled up due to fear is now free of fear. Without the cancer diagnosis he would have lived a life of quiet desperation."
Q: What do you find admirable about him?
Gilligan: There’s not a lot. I love Walt. He loves his family. He never gives up. He’s dogged. He has a passion for something in life. Has a passion for chemistry. People who have passion are interesting. But he is not the character I like the best on the show, although he is endlessly interesting to write about. Jesse is kind of the moral center of the show -- at least he is the moral center of his and White's little thing that they've got going. He's the voice of reason. 'How much money do we need?' He's trying to live up to being the bad guy, but he can’t really be the bad guy.
Q. Do you know how the series will end?
A. I’m impressed that Damon Lindelof knew the ending of LOST after the end of Season One. As to where BREAKING BAD ends … I have hopes and dreams for the characters...
Q. Do you see going two more years?
A. I like setting an end date. When the LOST guys went to ABC they had a huge hit show and they said to their bosses: let’s put a clock on this thing. My hat is off to them. Every serialized show should think about doing that.
But the business doesn’t do that. I would love to put a clock on BREAKING BAD. Does that mean the end of Season 4? Season 5? I can’t imagine anything past season 5. I love a countdown – you’re working towards a very concrete definitive end. It allows you to come up to a more satisfying ending. And I always had a continuum: he goes from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Well, he’s got pretty bad. How more bad can he get? There’s no finite limts on his continuum.
But you want to keep working. And thinking as a showrunner, my show employs 150-200 people, and I want to keep them working.
But you want to leave the party a little too early and have people miss you. It’s tough. It’s the thing I ask myself all the thing.
Q. And of course internationally it makes a lot of money.
A. Our show is a tough sell. I’m amazed it’s on the air. It’s like a bumblebee. Scientists it’s supposed to be impossible for it to fly. There’s no reason why this should work. But it does.
Vince Gilligan is the creator and showrunner of BREAKING BAD, which AMC has just renewed for a fourth seasons. I attended his master class at the Banff Worldwide Television Festival. Here are my notes from the session.
Gilligan “hadn’t had a paying gig in a while" even though he'd worked on the hit long-running show THE X-FILES. He and a friend in a similar predicament were on the phone discussing what they could possibly do to feed their families, and (if my notes are right), his friend talked about "buying an old RV and building a crystal meth lab. So during this phone conversation this character named Walter White came into my head, which is very unusual for something to hit me like that.
[The question nobody asked in the session was: whatever happened to the friend? Normally if you're in a phone conversation with a fellow writer trying to figure out shows to write, and one of you gets an idea, both of you should work on the idea, since it came out of "the room." On the other hand if they were just shooting the breeze about being out of work, Gilligan was free and clear to write up his idea on his own.]
"The first question when you get an idea is of course: is it a movie or a tv show? Is it two hours or 100 hours of story? I don't know if we can get to a hundred, but…"
Gilligan had a "pre-existing relationship with Sony TV. I had a blind TV commitment -- I'd done an ill-fated CBS pilot for them. They read BREAKING BAD and kind of looked at me oddly, 'what the hell is this?' But they bought it"
(I thought it was interesting and rather inspiring that of five master-classes, two were from writers who were wondering where their next paycheck was coming from immediately prior to setting up their hit show.)
"Once the studio bought the idea, they were my partners. We went around town to different networks. I knew what AMC was, but AMC never entered the equation. We thought there were three possibilities: HBO, Showtime, and FX. We approached all three. FX was interested for a while and then passed. So I tried to turn this into a movie."
(Lisa and I have done this a number of times. I have a movie under option that I'm attached to direct that started out as a TV pitch I couldn't set up; and we just got a grant to write another movie that started out as a TV pitch. A TV series and a movie are very different animals, but when you have a great character and a compelling situation, why waste it?"
"My wonderful agent Mark Gordon was at the time assistant to my other agent, and unbeknownst to me, he sent the pilot script to AMC, which he knew at that point was interested in making the jump into scripted programming and was about to open MAD MEN. So I got a call: 'AMC is very interested in your pilot script, would you like to meet with them?'"
"I'm eternally grateful that nobody asked me to make the characters more likable. You go to a lot of these meetings where people have read the material and you get glad handed to death and then the death by 1000 cuts begins. 'Does he have to be a meth dealer? Does he have to be 50 years old? Our research shows that 50 year olds are not interesting to our audience.' You have to be willing to walk the heck out the door. But Sony and AMC were courageous. And AMC had the courage of their ignorance because they’d never done scripted TV before."
"They only called once, when we had Walter White give Jesse's girlfriend extra heroin so she'd OD. They called, “are you sure you want to go that dark? Let's talk about this.”
"Now, executive notes are not always wrong. And when people tell you you're drunk, maybe you'd better sit down. If something scares you and excites you at the same time you really want to examine it from all angles. You want to hear what people have to say. Not polling them. But it was such a scary thing we felt a need to do a gut check with a bunch of people and see if we’re going too far too fast. So we thought about it, and we decided to let Walter just watch Jesse’s girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit."
GLEE is a rare bird among writing rooms. It’s just Brennan and Ryan and Brad. “We don’t have a writing staff, which is not typical. I know on OVER THERE it was Bochco and one other guy. But I don’t understand how you do it differently. We co-write everything. We’re credited sort of randomly on the show. But we all do passes. Ryan has a really good sense of what plays in Peoria. If I wrote it, one million people would really f***ing love it.” [Note to Canadian readers: that’s a very small number of viewers.]
“Now that we’re picked up for season three, hiring writing staff would probably actually slow us down. There would be almost a learning curve – how would someone come in to write for us? Anyway, writing the show is getting easier. The show tells you what it wants. And now that people like it, you don’t think ‘I’m writing a turd.’”
One of the audience members asked if the characters were going to write original music, but Brennan didn’t think so. “The secret to how our show works is two things for me. First, people singing for no reason. I don’t, ironically, like musicals. Unless I’m in them. My sister and I when we were very young were watching THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and we were, like, ‘how do they know all the words?’ With our show, it makes more sense that people are singing. And it’s music you know, so there’s an endorphin rush from the moment you know what song it is, you’re already going there. I mean, now we can stretch the boundaries a bit, but don’t just have people just burst into song.”
A reporter asked about a NEWSWEEK article about whether gay actors can play straight people. “I don’t feel I have that much to contribute. I guess we are still obsessed with where people put their genitals
We still all giggle at that. The generation behind us is officially not going to care. They already kind of don’t care. You’re going to have to apologize to your children or grandchildren, ‘Yeah, it used to be bad, gay people couldn’t marry and all this stuff.’ I mean, are we really talking about this?”
“The tour beat all expectations. We just wondered, could we do a live tour? Would it be good? We threw out a trial balloon — and all the venues sold out in 30 seconds or something insane.”
“We get calls all the time from people who want to be on our show, but you don’t want it to be THE LOVE BOAT. I mean, ‘Who would you be?’”
“I keep hearing that there are budget cuts in high schools everywhere, but because of the show, now they don’t dare cut Glee Club. So the show is a snake eating its own tail. But I hope it isn’t reserved for music. I wouldn’t be here if not for the theater department. I’m 100% a product of American public school system; this is the logical endpoint of my arts education. Public education works – it did for me. Don’t cut all that arts stuff. If not for that, I’d be a veterinarian in Chicago.”
“I can only make sense of the world through making fun of things. For me the show is always funny, but the humor has to cut against something. A grounded foundation of story and character and heart. Oddly enough we kind of learned early on that the episodes that read the funniest on the page aren’t that funny. It’s the sad episodes, the ones that key into that sanguine earnest soft feeling that you had when you first fell in love... those are the ones that really make you laugh.”
I don't think bean counters are the problem. The problem is the Conservative government. They are not incompetent. They are actively hostile to the idea that government should support and pay for the arts. Basically, the arts are either popular or not popular. If they're popular, they should be able to support themselves. If they're not popular (opera, ballet), let people who like them donate to them. Why should the taxpayer have to support them.?
Which is a perfectly legitimate, Republican point of view.
I disagree with it. I don't want Canada to become a cultural backwater. Every civilized country supports its own arts, with the exception of the US, which has a 300 million member audience and is the location of the international film industry (which is what the US film industry really is). I think culture is a public good akin to roads, defense, police, environmental regulation, safety inspectors and fire departments: it gives more value to society than individuals are willing to pay for. We tax everyone to create roads that some people drive on and other people don't, so what's wrong with the government taxing everyone to support a vibrant arts culture?
But the Conservatives disagree. And complaining to them is not going to be very fruitful, because their political philosophy is that government should not protect or support the arts.
The way you protect Canadian culture is you get a government of the left. In my province, Québec, for example, elections are run between the left-wing Liberals and the even-more-left-wing PQ. Culture (even English culture) is very well supported in Québec.
The way you get a government of the left is you convince the egomaniacs in charge of the parties of the left to form an electoral coalition. An electoral coalition is an agreement that if, say, the New Liberal Party candidate is ahead in one riding, the Democratical candidate will bow out and throw his support to his brother; and if the Democratical candidate is ahead, the New Liberal candidate will drop out and support him. An electoral coalition increases the representation of both parties after the election. You don't even have to agree to form a coalition afterwards; you just increase the number of MPs that both parties have.
The only reason the NDP and Liberals won't do it is because their leaders, want to destroy each other more than they want to govern Canada.
The egos of a dozen people are preventing the 67% of Canadians who vote left from having a majority left government.
Ian Brennan has had one of the most shocking and hope-inspiring trajectories I have ever heard of. Today, he’s one of the creators of the massive hit show GLEE. But if you’d talked to him two or three years ago, he wouldn’t even have told you he was a writer. “Writing had been my hobby. I was an actor.” A theater actor. He had been trying to write important plays. “But once you stop trying to write something ‘important,’ it frees you up to write what you really love.”
Then he wrote the script to GLEE, based on his fairly miserable experience as member of the Prospect High School show choir in Mount Prospect, Illinois. The draft he wrote wasn’t the peppy, arch, fluffy show that’s provoked a nationwide road show. It was a darker story, “more like JUNO or ELECTION.”
Fortunately, Mike Novick, a guy he knew at his gym, knew Ryan Murphy, one of the guys who’d created NIP/TUCK. (This is why you want to live in LA.) NIP/TUCK was just winding up its last season. Murphy was looking for a new show to do.
Murphy and his partner Brad Falchuck loved the script. Murphy had been in a glee club, too. More accurately, they loved their take on Brennan’s script. So they called him in and pitched him their version of the show. It was a TV series, and it was much lighter.
“So I sat down and wrote the first draft of the pilot.”
The pilot was picked up amazingly fast. The only note from Fox was “I think you need a nemesis inside the school. I can’t believe we missed that. And Ryan just sat back and said, ‘Yeah, I think it’s a cheerleader named Sue Sylvester.’ And now I get to write her.”
“So we were like the dog that actually catches a car: what do I do now?”
“Not that I wasn’t working hard as an actor for 12 years in the theater, but then for this to randomly happen. It’s like you’re panning for gold and — hey, remember that lottery ticket you bought?”
In other words, campers: this is one of those crazy true stories that make people move to Hollyweird and hope they'll luck into a hit show of their own. because if you have something great, and you write from your heart, and people like you, and you hit some incredible luck and sacrifice a virgin to Joss Whedon, it can actually happen.
The movie TRAILER PARK BOYS: COUNTDOWN TO LIQUOR DAY just won Telefilm's Golden Box Office Award for most English box office of any Canadian film last year, coming in at $2.9 million.
Since Denis has gone off the air (and effed off to browner pastures down South), it falls upon me to point out that TRAILER PARK BOYS is the show that Jim Shaw doesn't think should be funded by the CMF, because it's dumb, ignorant, and obscene. (Although once he buys Global, he'll probably want that money, anyway.)
(Continuing my notes from the James Manos master class at the Banff Worldwide Television Festival...)
Manos stressed that he never writes with an actor in mind. “I can’t write with Bobby DeNiro in mind. I know the person, but it’s an amorphous vision.”
That makes sense to me. Producers sometimes ask me if I have cast in mind. I find it a bit dangerous to write for a star. If you’re writing for Jack Nicholson, for example, who invests so much personality in his delivery, you might tend to underwrite the lines. Underwriting the lines is exactly what you want to do if you actually have Jack Nicholson, or Clint Eastwood, or even Dennis Leary. But if you’re trying to create a character in the reader’s mind, you have to write dialog that is as distinctive as possible — not just only lines that that character would say, but lines that only that character would say.
If you get to write for a star, of course, it’s a joy. When I wrote lines for Colm Feore for BON COP / BAD COP, I knew what he’d be able to do with them.
Manos’s first choice for DEXTER, in fact, was Greg Kinnear; he thought Michael Hall was too nice a guy to play a cold serial killer.
(Actors run into this all the time. Even though we all know they’re actors and that they play characters, we sometimes assume they’re best basically playing themselves. Some actors can only play themselves, more or less. But I know one actress who was rejected because “we’re looking for a blonde.” And a francophone casting director told Lisa a funny story about a francophone actor whom she refused to ever cast in English projects because he was so Québecois. The guy had to call back pretending to be an American actor who’d just moved to Montreal; only at the end of the phone call did he admit he was the guy she knew.)
Manos stressed how important it is for actors to have solid theatrical craft. He basically feels you shouldn’t show up in Hollywood until you’ve spent years in New York doing theater. (Theater in LA tends to be second rate because the actors are only doing it in order to be seen by casting directors, and they quit the shows as soon as they get a gig.) “Michael Hall was singing cabaret in New York when we cast him.”
Manos doesn’t read spec episodic scripts. He’s only interested in reading “a script that shows your voice ... that shows your anger. Be committed to what the story is. You can tell when a writer doesn’t really care. Is this really what happened to you? Is this what your really felt? You can tell when someone’s really lived through it.”
He also finds that a major flaw in scripts he reads is “geography. ... I’m reading a script and I’m thinking, where am I? A moment ago I was in an alley. Make sure the reader sees what you see. You are writing pictures. Stop, now and then, and look at the imaginary screen. Where is he? Where is she? It’s a lost art. If a character shows up in the middle of the scene and he wasn’t there before, I stop reading, because I know the writer isn’t really seeing the scene.”
In the ‘whatever works for you’ department, Manos doesn’t like outlines. “Outlines are deadly for me. I know the beginning, middle and end, but then I like to write. Too many drafts and pieces get overdeveloped. I’m also not a fan of telling people what I’m working on. I do believe the more you talk about something the less chance it’s going to get done. You lose the inspiration to finish the piece. I think writing a very specific outline is killing yourself.”
(Yeah, that’s a direct contradiction to my “pitch your project over and over” advice. And if pitching your project makes it lose its juice for you, don’t do it. On the other hand, having read literally thousands of scripts, I would say that 90% to 95% of them would have benefited from being pitched at least a few times out loud.)
“And executives make you stick to the outline. You become a slave to your own outline. Let me find my way through it. I knew where I’ll end up.”
Manos agrees with Hemingway: don’t end your day’s work by finishing a scene. If you know how the scene will end, leave it for the next morning. That way you’ll start the day finishing something and feel good and have momentum, instead of starting with a problem you don’t know how to solve.
Manos does another thing I don’t do and don’t recommend. He starts every day rereading from page one, and rewriting and polishing anything he doesn’t like.
Personally, I don’t reread anything while I’m writing it. I find it slows me down. The only time I’ll look at something from a previous day is if I need to put in a setup for a payoff I just invented.
Manos’s technique results in fairly polished first drafts. Mine results in very fast first drafts that I can start tinkering with. For inexperienced writers, rewriting from page one is dangerous, I think. I think it’s really important to finish things before you start criticizing them. Reading your first draft can be demoralizing. But also, endlessly polishing your first draft can feel more rewarding than writing new pages; but it doesn’t get you to the end.
Manos doesn’t write on index cards. He hangs butcher paper on all his walls, and then writes on his walls. “Until you actually see the whole movie, you can’t write it. I write down character stuff, scenes, all around the office in different color inks. You wouldn’t be able to read it, but I can. When I can see the entire movie on the wall, I can write it.”
Manos says “You can learn more watching a bad movie than a good one. You can watch THE GODFATHER for two hours and never know what happened to you. But a bad movie, you’ll watch and think, don’t do that, that didn’t work, I could fix that...”
Here's an interesting article about ZT Online, a massively multiplayer game crafted to take your money as fast as possible. Unlike WoW, which exists to take your $15 monthly, ZT caters to gamers who have more money than time, and players are spending hundreds or even thousands of bucks for the best equipment.
I have no desire to play the game, but it sounds like they have created a devastatingly effective business model. But is it moral?
Yes, it’s possible to finance short films in Canada, and this panel of experts will give insights and advice on just how to do it. Of course, it’s not easy, but if auteur filmmaking is the passion that drives you then this is a presentation you’re not going to want to miss! Our experts include the hugely successful animation short filmmaker Malcolm Sutherland (Bird Calls, Forming Game, Astronomer’s Dream), Tim Dallett from the pan-Canadian Independent Media Arts Alliance (umbrella group for Canadian media arts centres and co-ops), and funders Judy Gladstone (CTVglobemedia’s Bravo!FACT) and Felipe Diaz, program officer from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Financing Your Short Film! panel
Wednesday, June 30, 1pm to 2:30pm
Please join us with your questions, concerns and curiosity and take the chance to speak directly to those who’ve done it, are doing it and who make those decisions so crucial to your creative livelihood. Hosted by NFB animation producer Michael Fukushima.
If you’re able, please stay afterwards for some light refreshments and for the launch screening of our brand-new batch of Hothouse films, Hothouse 6: Inside Out, screened in glorious stereoscopic 3D!
Hothouse 6: Inside Out screening
Wednesday, June 30, 3pm to 3:30pm
National Film Board of Canada
3155 chemin cote-de-Liesse
St-Laurent, Quebec (H4N 2N4)
Courtesy of Telefilm I'm in a seminar full of idealicious goodies, one of which was getting to hear a slew of distribution execs talk about what makes movies work. The consensus seems to be that THE TROTSKY is a funny movie with lovely performances, beautifully directed, which should attract kids ... and the title hurt it in the market. Kids, the natural audience, don't hear "THE TROTSKY" and think, "I should go see that!" or even "I wonder what that's about?"
As opposed to, say, KNOCKED UP or THE HANGOVER. Or even GET HIM TO THE GREEK.
Your title is the most important few words in your entire script or movie. It can make a movie -- YOUNG PEOPLE F***ING practically sold itself. ("Everyone thought it was porn. We should put the word "f***ing" in every title," said the panel.) It can hold a great movie back -- think of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, which is possibly the worst title ever given to a feel-good movie. And it can sink a small release.
Unless you have an absolutely awesome title already, spend a few days doing nothing but coming up with titles. You won't regret it.
So a while back Hunter's Xbox 360 did a face plant. So I called up Microsoft. Much as I hate to say a kind word about Microsoft, they checked the serial number and said, yep, your unit is under warranty.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my Macbook into the shop to get the fan fixed. The tech called back to say, by the way, your case is cracked, and that's under warranty, so I'm ordering you a new case. Because according to Apple, that unit, with that serial number, is under warranty.
A month ago, Hunter's PS3 got the Red Screen of Death. Safe Mode does not recover. So I call up SONY, and they say they are "unable to populate a date of purchase," which is SONY for, "If you don't have the receipt, it's $156."
Gee, thanks a lot, SONY. It's nice that your unit is a Blu-Ray player and has wireless, except right now it isn't and it doesn't because it is broken. And even though it's under a year old, you won't fix it, because it's a gift, and it didn't come with a receipt.
It certainly would be very easy for SONY to have a database of serial numbers and when those units shipped. They probably do have one. They just don't care enough about their consumers -- or they care too much about their repair profit centers -- to use it.
Manos got to write DEXTER because he was one of a few lucky writers asked to read the underlying book, DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER, and give Showtime his “take.” He’d never adapted someone else’s material before – and he swears he never will again. But he thinks he was the writer the network wanted in the first place, because he’d written black comedy called “The Slow and Complete Decompensation of Jim Manos” which was about a writer named James Manos and his terrible marriage. (Moral: write something close to your heart, and even if it doesn’t get made, it may get you the job. Lisa has a strangely compelling pilot about growing up in California in the 70’s. Hard to set up, particularly in Canada, but close to her heart.)
His questions were: how do you give a serial killer series legs? How do you make it not predictable? He was interested in Dexter’s efforts to try to be a “real boy” – the Pinocchio story if you will. He liked Dexter’s relationship with his stepfather, who knew he was a psychopath but chose not to separate him from the world. He “taught his kid how to live with the way he’s broken.” Manos calls that “a Christian act,” even if he was teaching his son how to get away with murder:
Because who wouldn’t kill a pedophile, a rapist, a murder? Because I do believe in violence. Look at IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Jimmy Stewart is pissed off throughout the movie. He can’t do what he wants to do. And Jesus was angry. Anger initiates some very positive things. I have a friend who’s a Buddhist, and I told him: name me a Buddhist who’s invented something.
Anger is a great fuel for writing scripts. If you can tap into that, it will give you something to write about.
Q. Members of the Writers Guild of America's West and East branches strongly approved an overhaul to the way in which adapted screenplay credits are awarded, the union announced Friday.
Under the new rules, producers or directors who co-write a film have to make a 33 percent contribution to receive credit on an adapted screenplay. Previously, they had to make a 50 percent contribution to earn credit.
As far as I know, this term means two things. The term "one-sheet" means a 27" by 40" movie poster, the kind you see in a movie theater. Billboards have things like 20-sheets and 40-sheets.
But I've also heard "one sheet" used to mean an 8 1/2" x 11" glossy with the promotional art for the movie (i.e. a mockup of the poster art), with a synopsis on the flip side, with the bankable elements (director, stars) prominently displayed.
If someone is asking you for a "one-sheet" of a film, that's probably what they mean.
PS Writeups of my Banff master classes are coming. Really, they are.
Q. What should I do, if I'm a young Russian screenwriter? How could I move to Hollywood or Canada at least? My screenwriting skills are sharp, but I can write only in Russian.
I would think the best choice is to tough it out in the Russian film industry.
Second best choice, turn yourself into a Russian director or editor. They are entirely different jobs but they are all storytellers.
You could also team up with an American co-writer. You could be the story and structure guy, she could be the dialogue gal.
It is not impossible to turn yourself into an American screenwriter yourself, but you have to spend a few years developing flawless fluent American. It is rare, and it is hard, but it is not impossible. Vladimir Nabokov wrote a couple of pretty good books in English. And Billy Wilder grew up speaking German, and he wrote a few good lines of dialogue.
If you are a young or youngish Quebec-based screenwriter, whether you write in English or French, check out SODEC's "Cours Après Ton Court" aka "Sprint for Your Script." It's a program for writers 18-35 who are "pursuing a professional writing career," that is, no currently enrolled students. There's mentorship, and nifty prizes. Deadline is August 9. Check it out at the official SODEC site.
I sat in on James Manos’s “master class” at the Banff Worldwide Television Festival. Manos, the creator of DEXTER, talks a mile a minute, but I was able to scribble down some of the most important points.
Manos avoided a career in pro basketball when he realized that at 5’ 10” he was going to have to work too hard to keep up with the other players. He went into acting, did summer stock, and wound up at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
He says he “wasn’t intending to be an actor,” but “it’s imperative to know what you’re asking someone to do.” (I found the same thing: one of the most useful writing and directing classes I took was two years at the Joanne Baron Studio studying Meisner Technique acting. I didn’t want to act either, but it taught me a lot about how scenes work, and it helps me listen to my characters.)
I would not necessarily be surprised if he was eliding a few fits and starts here – no one likes to talk about things that didn’t work – but soon he read about a Texas mom who allegedly tried to help her daughter get on the cheerleading squad by hiring a hit man to kill her daughter’s rival’s mom. Figuring he was never going to get into Hollywood unless he had something that everyone else wanted, he “borrowed $150,000 from a friend” and went down to Channelview Texas, wondering if there was something in the air that made everyone down there nuts. He was surprised to discover the town flooded with limousines – Hollywood producers who were also down there to buy the story. But he got the rights.
If I scribbled this down correctly, he wrote up a 20 page treatment and took it to Bob Cooper at HBO, who immediately optioned it, and they hired a writer, and Manos was off to the races – as a producer.
It's about time an agent wrote a screenwriting book. In her book MIND YOUR BUSINESS, veteran lit agent Michele Wallerstein gives you a perspective another writer won't. What is an agent looking for in a script? How do you score in a meeting? How do you handle your side of a negotiation? How can you tell when your agent isn't into you any more?
Many good writers put all their efforts into their scripts. But a brilliant writer can screw up his own career by what he does or doesn't do. Minding your business -- and agenting your agent -- is almost as important as your screenwriting craft.
When I was starting out, Ms. Wallerstein was one of the agents people recommended I contact. She really knows her stuff. Her book is a tad slim, with a lot of sample contracts, but it's worth a read. Check it out.
Oh, and, here's another thing I'd like to see in RPG's: flaws.
In Role Playing Games, you get to portion out your character's various virtues. Strength, dex, intelligence, etc. All the stuff you used to allocate your character in paper-and-dice D&D.
White Wolf's RP game systems also asked you to choose character flaws. In VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE, you might have been sired while still wounded, so every morning you have to use blood to heal yourself. Or you could be crazy. Or haunted by a memory. The point was you were role playing a character, not just trying to max out stats.
Flaws make the man.
It would be interesting to put flaws into a console RPG. Make the player choose a flaw for his character. For example, your character panics. Faced with combat he might run away. Or run into combat prematurely.
Or, your character literally can't walk past an opportunity to gamble. You'd have to keep him away from gambling houses or he would find himself in a game until he lost his money. If he's within 50 feet of a poker game, he is drawn to it and can't do anything else until he's run out of money, or taken all the money. So he would have to avoid places that have poker games. (And there would of course be a mission in a gambling house.)
A character might have a phobia. He can take on monsters, but runs from animals. Or refuses to hurt animals no matter how dangerous or violent they are. Or goes into a berserk rage whenever he runs across a certain monster class.
Would that be fun to play? I would find it interesting -- it would put me more in the character.
I used to LARP. I wrote a one-night LARP called Camlann Eve where every player had a taboo, and if they broke it, there were serious consequences. And quite a few of them broke their taboos. (Hint: if you are forbidden to drink blueberry juice, check what the DM pours into your glass at the feast?)
On the other hand, players might just find it annoying, I guess, if they're trying to "beat the game" rather than enjoy it.
I guess you could offer it as an option -- either you must take a flaw if you're playing in hardcore mode; or, if you take a flaw, you get a few extra points in stats.
Would you be interested in a game that made your role-play your character more?
Hunter urged me to check out DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS, but it didn't grab me. The combat system seemed a little passive. It was weird that other characters' voices are recorded, but your character doesn't have a voice. The enemy AIs are pretty dumb. (Why don't the walking corpses go after the mage instead of the warriors?) Characters move awkwardly. NPCs are pretty generic with stilted, insipid things to say. The sound design is ... okay, I don't think there is a sound design. There are some sounds here and there, but overall it's a bare soundtrack.
A little bored, I started selecting only the most obnoxious dialog options. (E.g. "Go soak your head.") But that never produced any interesting results. The other character would respond accordingly, but there were never any consequences past the next line of dialogue. What's the point?
Some game studios are putting a lot of work into dialog trees these days. At least, for some games they're recording all sorts of different dialog options. There are big fat scripts and my actor friends spend days in the studio. But the dialog rarely seems to have any effect on the story. It's just there for ambience.
It would be possible to rig up a basic "conversational combat" system where you can only achieve your goal using the right dialog options and not others, just as you need to use fire against undead but not against, say, balrogs. It would take a bit of programming. But all that hard work recording all those voices would actually have some gameplay and story value.
Or, you can just skip dialog trees altogether. I know some script writers hate dialogue trees and just don't put them in. I don't miss not having any dialog options in RED DEAD REDEMPTION or ASSASSIN'S CREED. But when properly used, as in, say, HEAVY RAIN, a real branching dialog tree can really "put you in the movie."
I'm glad to read this. The conversation minigame is something I'd like to see more of - either inspired by LSL Magna Cum Laude (minus the sperm as you mention), or to pick an in my opinion better example, Fahrenheit ("Indigo Prophecy" in the censored version). You have to juggle the right stick to get a specific dialogue option, and time to choose is limited. The "best" topics (i.e. the ones that are the most intelligent) are hardest to do. Other options are easier, and if time runs out, the easiest one is automatically chosen.
Thus you can easily coast through a conversation, or choose to make it go a specific way by "using your mind".
Another good example of conversation done right is in Culpa Innata. There is no minigame, but the number of topics to be picked is limited by time of day, a set (but hidden) predefined conversation length, and any topic chosen hides and opens other topics.
All of these are much better than the Talking Heads mechanic just about all other games use.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun posts about a very bad game called Hey, Baby. In the game you are a woman walking on the street, and guys come up to you and say complimentary things like, "Hey, baby, I like the way you walk." And you kill them and they get a tombstone with whatever phrase they pissed you off with.
Prompting Leigh Alexander among others, to write about what it's like to be a woman walking around and having utter strangers accost her. With compliments, technically, but with invasive, violating compliments she's not allowed to respond to with the mayhem she feels.
Videogames are starting to become a handy medium for social commentary. Films and TV shows have long been places for a bit of social commentary, Sam Goldwyn's dictum notwithstanding. (He said, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union.") Now it's easy enough to write a little game just to explain how you feel about something that irks you. People may not play it for very long if it sucks, but they might download it and play it long enough to talk about it.
There's also yards of social commentary in triple-A games, from the Ayn-Rand-gone-berserk satire of the BIOSHOCK games to the political rhetoric of the various warlords in FALLOUT 3. But this game was created expressly for the purposes of making a point, and I find that sort of cool.
I've been working for the past few days with a very fine composer named Darren Fung, who scored my 2007 short, 12 WAYS TO SAY I'M SORRY, and has now been kind enough to score my new short, YOU ARE SO UNDEAD.
It's sort of terrifying to work on the score. A great score can raise your movie to a whole 'nother level. The wrong score can ruin it -- even if it's lovely music, if the emotions of the score and the emotions onscreen don't complement each other, the film is kaput.
It's a truism that films are made multiple times. The writer makes the film in his head. The director puts it on screen. The editor remakes it. The composer makes it all over again. "I can make people cry," Stephen Spielberg says, "but John Williams can make them weep."
I find that with so many creative collaborations, having enough time for a back and forth is crucial. I didn't like Darren's first cue, and asked him to write something else. Weirdly, the second cue made me like the first cue better, maybe because it managed to get me away from my fixation on the temp music. Then Darren changed the orchestral strings arrangement to a smokey Miles Davis trumpet thing, and the whole thing felt right.
It isn't what I asked for. I think it's better -- it does the same thing as what I wanted, but in a fresher and cooler way. I'm sure I couldn't have asked for the cue I got right off the bat; we had to struggle back and forth to arrive at it. I had to struggle for the right words, and to figure out what I didn't like about the earlier cues; Darren had to struggle to figure out what the hell I was looking for.
Well, thanks, Darren, for the terrific score, and for bearing with me...
One of my procrastination sites is Ask Metafilter. Today someone was asking another question about dating. I haven't had to date in a very long time, thank God, but it occurred to me that "show, don't tell" applies to online dating too.
A long time ago, I tried online dating. You'd email back and forth a bit, then meet up. The emailing back and forth tended to be about who you are and how you got that way. Then you'd meet in person and tell more of your life story over drinks. Soon you'd run out of life story. Awkward.
When you meet someone "in real life," you don't tell your story. You show who you are by what you do and how you do it. And if someone is interested in you, she finds out in bits and pieces about your backstory as you go along actually doing things. That's more like a good movie, which is 95% about what your hero is doing, and only 5% about how the hero got to be that way.
So my advice, if you are dating, is not to tell your story. Instead, go to the zoo. Talk about the animals. (Or go on a hike, or go to a used bookstore, or go to yard sales, or whatever.) Be fun. Show who you are, don't tell who you are. That will pull your audience of one into your story more than any amount of telling will.