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Friday, March 24, 2017

Fade To Black

"Fade To Black"

That was Kim's, his wife's, message to us on Facebook and it immediately sent shock-waves through the Canadian writing community.

Denis McGrath passed away last night.

It got me thinking about a lot of things, but, primarily, how much Denis cared about us - not just Writers, but Canadians.  In the moment, I wrote this as a tribute:

Denis was among the first "real" writers to stop and give me the time of day when I was but a baby writer. He'd sit and listen and converse and be generous with his time, considering, well, who the heck was I? He had a big voice and a big heart - and sometimes a big opinion that didn't mesh with your own, but there's not a person who'd met him who could say, honestly, that he didn't care.
And that was his thing, really. He cared. A lot.
He cared about stories and the people that wanted to tell them, and especially so if you were a Canadian trying to tell Canadian stories in this country (of all places). He fought for us and informed us and made us feel passionately about politics and about this industry. I'll never be able to thank him enough for that. If there's any fitting legacy, I hope that it's found in the spark, the passion that he first ignited (or re-ignited) within us; that we fight to make sure that The Best Idea Wins and that Canada becomes a place where our stories have value.
RIP Denis, thank you for caring about us.

And it says a lot of things but one thing it leaves out is, well, context.

Just how big of an impact Denis had made on our landscape.

Dead Things on Sticks shook up the industry at a time when people were still reading things like blogs (and had time to write them).  Denis built his platform and then worked hard to make sure that it was used for good. Consistently.

Yet one of the reasons that it'd gained such a following, in my humble opinion, was that Denis... Denis wasn't a guy to pull his punches.

And yet, even then, in those moments he'd have this way about him, this way of inviting us all in, explaining things -- unleashing hell on the Powers That Be -- that made you feel like it wasn't just possible, but plausible, for you to take part and get invested too.

His passions became our passions - and why the hell not?  Why were we so quiet and polite in the face of, well, sometimes less than savory practices? Why were there so many whispers instead of action?  He made us ask ourselves hard questions and expected answers.

That was just his way, I guess.

In finding my way back to the blogosphere today, looking back through the old posts -- I was going to reminisce about our meeting at the Canadian Writers Guild rally (in support of the writer's strike) and ended up finding another memory that I'd somehow lost along the way, from back when I was still finding my writer's legs:

He let me run his blog once, way back when, while he went off on vacation. He handed me the keys to the kingdom.

I look back on it now and I realize how hard it'd hit me then -- I'd never had anyone do something like that for me before: tell me that my voice mattered, let alone in such a tangible kind of way.

He'd trusted me with his soapbox.

I'd like to think that I didn't bugger things up too much (I probably did) but I'll never forget how he gave me a shot and made me feel valued and valid at a time when I was still figuring things out.

... so thank you, Denis, for that and so much more.

There's an Ink Drinks tonight, lots of us are going to be there. Please come by and raise a glass in his honour.


Monday, August 20, 2012

TV Related News

Hey all!

Just a quick note today - busy, busy and all that:

For those interested, it looks like I may be -- provided there is sufficient interest -- running a free 'Dramatic Screenwriting for TV 101' class over at the University of Reddit.

If that's something you're down for, pop on over here and express your interest.  I'm hoping to get at least 10 or so involved.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Bring On The Weekend!

Still knee-deep in re-writing, tying up loose ends, catching new ones as they're made.

Which is definitely one of the bigger things to keep an eye out for while in second-draft mode.

It's really easy, while in the thick of things, to snip things that don't necessarily need to be snipped and 'fix' things that don't need to be fixed.

I caught myself doing this just yesterday - there I was in the middle of re-writing a whole scene and I stopped myself and asked 'why am I re-writing this scene?  There wasn't anything wrong with it in the first place.'

I mean, don't get me wrong, it's nice to be riding that ol' wave of inspiration while it's there, but sometimes that wonderful wave can dash me off the rocks if I'm not careful -- and create a whole new mess of work for myself.

There are few better feelings than to figure out a stronger way to write a scene; something that says what I wanted to say but faster or smoother or cleaner.

But sometimes, in the joy of the moment, it's easy to forget the context of how that original piece fit into the next one.  If I keep trucking along and don't catch it, I've just left one hell of a hanging thread (that I might not even catch until much later).

So yes, as much as I love the rewriting process, it's also balanced with the idea that I'm really trying to not make any more unnecessary for myself.  Rewriting new scenes and such is cool and can be fun, but if I really feel the need to experiment like that, I'll try to save my draft and work on another version.

Anyways, things are coming along nicely - if I get a good couple of days in this weekend, I might actually be able to wrap this up.  *fingers crossed*

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The 'Meat and Potato' Scenes

Another one of the tricks of writing a spec script is knowing what the 'meat and potato' scenes of the show in question are.

These are the go-to scenes, things that happen every episode or bits that are so integral to the show that to NOT have them is going to start sending red flags to anyone who knows it.

It's like writing a CSI: Miami without without the dramatic shade pull and the bad pun that leads into the YEEEEAAAAAAH! of the opening credits.

Or the integral 'Barney' moment in every How I Met Your Mother.  It doesn't matter what he does, it'll always be some sort of outlandish plan/exclamation or dare.  A script without Barney being somehow Legen-- wait for it-- dary! is pretty much unheard of.

Well, in the case of Doctor Who the basic rule is that the Doctor should almost NEVER be left alone.  It can happen from time to time, but the Doctor works best when he's explaining the wonders of the universe to some poor mook who's in way over their head (sometimes that's even his own companions).

In the case of my current script, my original mook was Josie's father, William.  It was a great idea, in theory.  The man is in completely in over his head and he seemed like the perfect wall for the Doctor to babble at.  Except for the fact that it made two problems with my script.

1) He should be looking for his daughter.  He already lost his son down here - and believes he's dead - why would he be hanging around with this strange, babbling man?

2) The Doctor made William look stupid.  William is so uneducated that there's no way that he can reasonably respond to pretty much anything the Doctor says... except to nod along and look confused.

So, yeah.  What I thought would work in my head actually didn't work out in practice.

Though it did lead to the great note that it should be Josie in the room with the Doctor. (Thanks Deb and Priscilla).

It's a really good solution that, well, it does create ripples, but they're far more manageable.

The best thing about having Josie in the room is that she's a curious little girl.  You don't expect her to ask anything more than the kinds of questions a child would ask.  Better yet, maybe she can also use her child-like insights to help the Doctor in his quest (not sure if I'll actually do this yet...).

So I went to work on these scenes exclusively this morning, trying to see how it all would play out -- and so far, it's a great pairing.  So great that I wondered why I hadn't thought of this myself.  Which leads me to ripple effects.

The biggest ripple of this, so far, was that there are still 3 other people searching the catacombs for Josie (with a dragon stalking them).  To have them still out there looking for the little girl while the audience knows that she's safe and sound is okay for a short (short!) while, but the others need to find a new focus and fast.

What have I done so far?  Well, I managed to get them together into a group, which will help, and I set the dragon after them -- though, again, the ol' dragon chase is a card I can't play too often so I'm probably going to have to revisit this as well.

Other than that, there are also a couple of scenes that were integral to the plot that have to be reworked now that Josie's not in them, but I'm thinking that that's a bridge I'll cross once I get there (hopefully between now and then I'll find another, cooler, way to make the same general thing happen).

Right now it's all about trying to craft some really cool Doctor/Josie moments.

And the ripples?

Well, with any luck, they'll sort themselves out as I move forward.


Monday, February 20, 2012

And We're OFF!

So, Friday ended up being one of those special sorts of days where not a whole lot got accomplished.  On the bright side, Saturday was a fair shake better.

I sent off my completed vomit draft to my writing group for some quick feedback and man did that ever pay off in spades.

Remember how I managed to come up about 10 pages short (actually, looking at it again, it's more like 8)?  Yeah, it turns out that I omitted a whole major scene.  I'm not sure how I missed that but, essentially, one of the characters (Josie) goes missing for 13 pages.  I apparently glossed over the entire part where the Doctor and his team go looking for the little girl who got lost in the catacombs.

Yeah... not my finest moment, but, on the bright side, a quick fix this morning easily puts me in the 58 page range.  Excuse me whilst I smack my forehead while uttering 'duh' sounds.

The group also gave me some fantastic notes about my Dragon (not mean enough), my team (too freaking callous) and my Father character (too weak).

See, what I'd tried to do in the vomit draft was make it so that by the end of the episode, you really felt for the Dragon, that there was a sense that there were monsters down there but they didn't necessarily have scales.

Apparently I was far too effective in this.  See, about 3/4 through the script I've got a scene where these locals are being charged by the Dragon.  They're pretty much dead meat -- so in order to save their lives, one of the team starts smashing the Dragon's eggs to draw the Dragon's attention.  This works as advertised -- except for the fact that I set it up too well that this Dragon was the last of its kind.  The response I ended up eliciting from the reader was 'holy crap!  Stop it, you jerk!'.  I'd built up so much sympathy for the Dragon that this action was, well, pretty damned callous.

So now I'm working on my 2nd Draft, making changes which should help make the story stronger as well.

Some of the changes are minor - as in changing some dialogue to be less revealing; others are rather huge - like swapping a whole character out of a scene.

But the mantra here is 'stronger, better, faster' and so, as long as these changes contribute to that, then yeah, I'm more than happy to spill the sweat required to make it happen.

One of the bigger problems for me has been to try and decide if the script should have Act Breaks or not.  As I've mentioned before, the British version is very much like a cable script - 50-odd minutes straight-on through.  The BBC America version ended up having a teaser and 5 act breaks.  The version I've written so far has no act breaks, just straight-on-through story... What I think I'll end up doing is, once this is done, I'll go back through and make an 'Act Break' version.  It's actually not that hard to do, the raw materials for it were built into the Outline... and, maybe it'll be something worth hanging onto.  (An interesting exercise at the very least).

Anyways, this week I'm hitting full-on 2nd draft mode on this script so, with a bit of luck, I'll manage to finish up this draft by Sunday.  Fingers are officially crossed.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Okay, so, what next?

Sooo... the vomit draft is done, our teeth are brushed and we're all minty fresh once more.


Now what?

If you're anything like me - or, in the case of this writing, are me - then you've probably already snuck a few sideways longing glances at that script you promised not to touch for a week (that way you'd come back to with with the requisite 'fresh eyes').

You may have also, perhaps, snuck onto your laptop at 4 in the morning -- just to fix a particular spelling mistake that you remember not being all that happy with.  And by 'spelling mistake' I mean 'scene'.

Yes, sometimes, despite our best efforts, it's not so easy to just put our scripts down and forget about them.

Sometimes we have to do what I call a 'conscience pass' -- what it's supposed to amount to is a quick read-through looking for things like grammar and spelling.  Often what it amounts to is seeing how many 'things' you can 'fix' in a set amount of time.  Okay, a conscience pass basically amounts to giving yourself a second - brief - swing at bat to catch as many things that you can on a single read through.

Then, conscience appeased, you're able to put the script down for the required time necessary to get some perspective on the bloody thing.

Personally, I've found the best way to do this is to work on something else entirely.  Which, with only my webseries left on the table for the moment, seems to leave me with an easy choice.

The webseries itself is coming along swimmingly - we've just finished the most recent draft of the 6th and final episode... and now we're moving on to punch-ups and such.  With a bit of luck we'll be getting together next week to put the final-ish touches on this baby.   Then?  Pre-production.  I hope.

More to come!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Purge Complete!

What was that?  Oh... oh... oh!

Yes folks, the purge is done.  It was one of the longest first draft processes I've had in a while, but this weekend of bitter coldness ended up being an incredible boon for getting the writing out of me.

It's not perfect and I already know about 3 or 4 things that I want to change here... but the first, hardest part, is done.

Now comes the re-writing, the re-writing, the mild-to-moderate self-loathing and the re-writing.

I think the biggest obstacle this time around was mostly just finding a solid stretch of time where I could sit down and get into a groove.  Once I'm in the zone, the stuff just flows out of me... I can knock the pages out like I'm a Little Mac wannabe.  But therein lies the rub otherwise: finding those times where I'm not already doing a couple other things at once.

Despite my best efforts, this draft ended up about 10 pages light (I'm sitting at 50 right now, aiming for 60), though I think that's a pretty easy fix once I go back and do a dialogue pass.  A lot of the dialogue right now is pretty slim, just enough to get across the point I wanted to make in the scene; Enough for me to be able to go back and add banter and fun bits.  There are a few small moments that I could feel starting to blossom as I wrote it so I made a few notes and, hopefully, I'll be able to tease them out a bit more in the next pass or so.

Other than that, right now I'm just chilling out a tad, letting the script settle a bit, letting my mind clear of it so that when I start the next pass I'll have some semi-fresh eyes.

But, yes, for now: breathe. (and mouthwash.  Lots and lots of mouthwash).

Next Phase: The Re-Writing Process - Taking it to draft #2.