Thursday, March 23, 2017
We lost one of the best writers I know tonight. A writer, and a firebrand for writers. And a good friend. And a wit, and a style, and a voice. Damn it.
I met Denis McGrath on a plane to South Africa. We were parachuting in on a show where the previous writing team, who were on a plane going the other way, had not got along too well with the showrunner. When we got there, we had to retcon some sort of sense out of the episodes that had been shot, and then rewrite the next script literally over the course of 24 hours.
We got along like gangbusters. Denis was a New York native who'd moved to Toronto as a kid. He was big, and he was loud, and he was funny, and he was whip smart. He liked to complain. He was generous. He cared. He loved stories. We spent a lot of time breaking story above a nice restaurant, having them bring us takeout on actual plates, since we were right upstairs. We decided his talk show would be called, "Here's Why I Hate That."
A couple years later, Denis and I instigated the Writer Mafia Party At TIFF, which became an annual event for a decade. Starting at The Paddock and moving to Czehoski, it was the antidote to all the producer parties at the Toronto International Film Festival. No free drinks, but your friends were there. Like him, it was big, it was loud, it was fun, it was packed to the gills with brains and creativity.
He would hold court at the Writer Mafia Party. He did not get around easily, so friends would come to him, and bask in him. He always had a bunch of Ryerson kids around him who were starting to break in. He was one of the top television writers in Canada, but he also taught, because he didn't want to keep it all for himself. He said in every class there was one kid you knew was going to do it. That was my experience too. You really taught the class for that one kid that had it.
He had a million friends; he had a few bosom buddies who went back to his high school days. But he always made time for me when I showed up in town.
He was a hell of a writer. He was certainly one of the best television writers in Canada. When, as a juror for the WGC awards, I read a script that really popped, more than once it turned out to be Denis's. I remember an episode of The Border where every act out not only amped the story out, it made you have to rethink everything you'd seen up to then.
He blogged passionately. He got himself in trouble calling a certain very powerful individual a fatuous gasbag, someone who could easily reach out and discourage people from hiring him. He ranted about Canadian networks that refused to believe in Canadian shows, always trying to get permission to stop funding them, even though shows like Corner Gas and Durham County were successful and good. He was a permanent fixture in the Writer's Guild of Canada, a long time counsellor for Ontario, and a member of the negotiating committee. I'm glad I was not one of the producers on the other side. He was not afraid to call shenanigans when he saw them.
Like a rising tide, he lifted everyone around him.
Damn it, I miss him.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
I'm playing a couple of new games, and they have amazing gameplay. But something's missing for me with their characters.
Now, granted, you can have a pretty good game without strong characterization. A game can be superfun without it. But it can't make you care about the characters. It can't move you.
I have a long-running beef about many fantasy and SF and historical games. Characters are defined primarily by their situations.
Say, for example, you're an outcast. Members of the Tribe are mean to you. The character you play is, naturally, spunky, and doesn't let the meanies get her down.
But suppose you were a Jew in 1930s Germany, or a Muslim or a trans person in South Carolina now. You do not fit in; some people are mean to you.
But they are mean to different degrees and in different ways. Some will mock you. Some will hit you. Some will pretend you don't exist, because they're not fundamentally mean and they're embarrassed about it.
Some will be mean if other people are around, but nice to you if other people are not.
We expect characters from the 20th and 21st centuries to be people with personalities. Their attitudes are colored by their situation; they're taught to react to you a certain way. But some people are angry and just looking for someone to take it out on. For some, duty is important and they might hurt you but only because they think they're supposed to; it's not personal. People are different.
I miss that in a lot of fantasy and historical and sf games.
I can't wait for the cave man game where you meet a Neanderthal, and he's a bit of a joker, but actually, you realize, actually kind of an asshole.
People also have their own stories going on. I can't wait till I'm playing a game and I meet a member of the Other Tribe, and she's really upset about something that just happened (like she just broke up with her boyfriend) and meeting me is not the most important thing in her day, I'm just a weird happenstance.
In A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, the animals are people. When you meet Eeyore, he's a self-pitying mope. In fact, he is such a specific self-pitying mope that I feel positive that, if I'd gone to a garden party at A. A. Milne's house, I'd have been able to figure out which of his friends A. A. was making fun of.
So if there are three kids from the Tribe harassing the playing in a prehistoric or post-Apocalyptic game, then maybe one of them is really intent on hurting you, and obviously angry at your very existence. But a second kid is trying to pull him away because she was enjoying the game they were playing and you're nothing to her. And another is obvious upset at what the first one is doing, but doesn't want to rock the boat.
Just because you're writing historical or pre-historic characters doesn't mean you can't write people. Modern homo sapiens — meaning humans who you could dress up and put in the subway and they'd look completely normal — have been around for at least a hundred thousand years. A hundred thousand years ago they probably believed the mountain was a god and the stream was a god too and so forth. But don't tell me that some of them weren't really nice people, and some of them were jerks, and some of them you had to catch on a good day, and some of them were egotistical. Some of them wanted to be chief of the tribe, and some just wanted to get with the ladies or the men, and some were no use for anything but okay in a pinch, and some were smart and clever and useless in a fight.
And I guarantee you some would not listen to anybody, and some could make you feel good when you fell on your face, and some just made you feel stupid, and the kids didn't listen to their elders as much as the elders wanted, because people have been complaining about that at least since the invention of writing.
(Seriously, we have texts from the Romans and even the ancient Egyptians saying, basically, "Kids these days, amirite?")
When you're writing aliens, other species, people from other times and places, try writing them like specific people that you know. Write them so specifically that your friends will recognize them. Give them the flaws of the people you're basing them on.
And then, and only then, put on the pointy ears.
Then they'll really create a reality. Then I'll really care.
Monday, March 13, 2017
Would you be willing to read what I have done so far and, in addition, give me some advice about getting it in the hands of a producer?
I used to do that, for a fee, but I don't do that any more, except for friends.
Certainly, if you assist me, I would not mind at all sharing proceeds with you.
What you are looking for is an agent. An agent finds a producer to pay you, and takes 10%.
I am working to get the synopsis for my screenplay exactly right. It took me a month to get the perfect log line.
Good! Most people don't spend enough time on their hook. They just charge ahead and write the script. Then they write the query letter. I've critiqued query letters in the past, for a fee, and about half the time, as I'm trying to improve the query, I can easily think of a better concept. Of course by then the script is written and nobody wants to rip up their script and write a better one.
Professionals do it all the time. They don't want to, but they do.
You will see that I am an accomplished writer. In fact, my mantra is that I steadfastly refuse to start a sentence with 'the', a habit left over from the promise of at least a grade of 75% in English Literature if a student submitted material exclusively without ever starting a sentence with 'the'.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Q. I show a female cop near the beginning of my script, but she doesn't speak.
As I start Act II, I introduce an old women, who is really the cop, in makeup prosthetics to look like an old woman.
Do I tell the reader that the cop and the old woman are one and the same? Or do I let the reader know when everyone else finds out?
A friend of mine says “the director and the crew need to know right away.”
A. They will, but you’re not writing a shooting script. You’re writing a selling script. A selling script should read the way you want the audience to experience the movie.
Later on, should your script go into production, you’ll make everything clear; but in a selling script, secrets should remain secrets until they’re revealed.
You can, if you want, write something like “We’ll see her again,” to let us know to pay attention to this particular cop; it’s the equivalent of the camera dwelling on this particular cop for just long enough that we know we should remember her later.
Actually, why doesn't she speak? What's the point of introducing her at all if we're not going to notice her?
Another question: is she the main character? If so, maybe we should know she's in disguise. If the main character knows critical things we don't know, it alienates us from him or her. You can do it, but we won't identify with him or her as much.
Friday, March 03, 2017
We have now, finally, at the last minute, got everything recorded for this sprint, including at least seven little old ladies for Hoard House. Guess how many actors? Have a listen when the update comes and tell me how many you think there are.
As I mentioned last week, I did a massive casting session for a character named Ed MacMillan, affectionately known around the office as Meat Boy. (Obviously he is in no way an homage to anyone associated with the game Super Meat Boy.)
I found an amazing actor, Joe Sims, who has won all sorts of awards for his radio work.
(I didn’t know he’d won awards until we cast him. I generally ignore CVs when I’m casting voices. It takes much less time to listen to a voice reel and decide whether the actor is inhabiting the roles he plays.)
Joe will break your heart, I hope, as Meat Boy. He’s also assorted bookies, bobbies, lads and soldiers. We had fun.
In other news, affordances.
Affordances is a fancy word for “things look like you’re supposed to use them a certain way.” I read a great book by Don Norman called The Design of Everyday Things. It’s about doors that you can’t figure out whether to push or pull on them, and how to design things so they’re intuitive. It’s actually super helpful for game design. You might dig it.
Well, we put some phone booths in the game, because, you know, iconic. Can’t have Britain without red telephone boxes.
But then you guys said, “We want to pick up the phones and hear something.”
So we put some voices on the phone. And a baseball game between the Dublin Dukes and the New York Yankees.
But then you guys said, “There’s voices, but there’s no gameplay.” Gosh, you people are demanding.
So Lisa and I came up with a story and some gameplay for the phone booths. It won’t be in this update, but maybe it will be in the next. So I hope y’all feel the love.
Labels: We Happy Few