Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What a week!

So... wow, yeah, it's been almost a week since my last update.

To say that it's been crazy around here is a bit of an understatement - for the most part it's been horribly mundane stuff, basically had to run my department all week when most of it took off on vacation or sick leave. The good news is that, well, in a pinch I can do a pretty decent chunk of everyone's job - the bad news is that I'm still one of the lowest paid out of all of 'em and I'm pretty sure a raise is nowhere near in the cards.

The rest of my week was spent in kind of a geeked-out haze (no, not biting heads off chickens...) as Ms. Jennica Harper (over on Ink) was so kind as to point us in the direction of www.zeros2heroes.com and her new comic book Abigail's War (which I highly recommend you take a read through).

To break it down quite simply: The website is like a social network for people who want to MAKE comics - artists, writers, fans and more all coming together. Of all the cool things about the site, probably the best is their 'pitch doctor' where you can follow the process they've put together and have at the end a pretty solid comic book pitch.

It's quite an interesting idea and it wasn't long before I found myself digging through my ol' idea bin.

You see, many many years ago - before I fell in love with wanting to become a TV writer - I had mad, mad love for comic books of all kinds; Even taught myself how to draw with them, back when I thought I was going to be an 'artiste'. I had so many cool ideas for characters and stories that I couldn't possibly draw them all - so I wrote them down and have been doing it ever since.

Now, some of them haven't aged all that well but there were a few that got me thinking.

The one I ended up posting was one that came to me back at Sheridan, in my first year of college. It was dark and moody and was something I knew I could have a field day with: A Horror story. And so, after reworking it a tad, I posted my pitch online - and was shocked by the positive feedback I received!



Soon I couldn't stop thinking about it, the characters coming to life inside my head. By Friday night I realized there was no way I was going to be able to settle down to my spec script work until this bug was worked out of my system. And so I woke up Saturday morning and began writing, refusing to leave my computer until something came to life.

Page 1 took shape and then another - over half my day had passed and I was now 10 pages deep but utterly exhausted. I found myself in bed and out of it by 5pm. A simple nap turning into a full blown slumber. Don't think my brain was prepared for that kind of abuse.

This morning I awoke with a renewed fervour - 10 pages in and only 12 to go I sat down, determined to get the 1st draft done today. And so I've spent most of my day - with a small exception, hopping down to the Silver Snail (summer sale!!) - writing once more.

Until now.

In a matter of two solid days of writing, with little to no distraction, I managed to pump out a full script (22 pages) for my Comic book! Holy crap!! Yes, it's a first draft, I'm sure there's still a lot to go. But the raw materials are there and have been assembled (however rickety). It's a script. My first comic script.

And now - hopefully - it's out of my system. For now at least. You see, now I'm going to put it away and return my focus to where it should be:

This next week is all about my spec. Using all that I've learned thus far in an attempt to craft something better that what I've written before. A story in a genre I've never explored; no space ships, no monsters (well, no non-human monsters), no horror. Well... maybe a touch of horror.

The cool thing about my spec script is that I've already got all my 'outs' figured, well, out. They're my favourite part of this and a major part of my excitement for telling this tale. Actually, I've found it's been quite helpful for me to start at those outs and work backwards. Kind of a 'how did we get here' approach. I find it makes me think of the problem from another angle - be less cause and effect, more "finding-the-true-'root'-of-the-problem-and-planting-it-in-the-right-place".

Thanks to this approach my outline is already about half done and that - if all works out right - should be finished tomorrow. I'm hoping that on Tuesday (the first 'official' day of my vacation) I'll be ready to sit down and try writing this thing out. Will I have as much success? Who knows?

Either way, no matter what, I have to say that I'm really encouraged at how much I've been able to accomplish by shutting my door, turning off my cell and just getting down to it. I'm not sure what the average benchmark is for a comic book script, but if I can keep the story rolling out of me like this one did then I'll really have something to cheer about.

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Next Big Experiment

Things've been buzzing around in my head for a while now, trying to figure out what I'm gonna do with all the stuff I've been learning - let alone when I'm going to have the time to try and use it.

So I said 'screw it'.

As of now, I've officially booked the entirety of Labour Day week off from work (only costing me 4 days due to the holiday... I don't know why I'm proud of that, but hey, I am).

My Goal: To treat that week as if I was already employed as a writer and doing the job I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

8 hours a day at a minimum, no excuses. Off with the cell phone, off with the email (well, maybe on break time...), I'm gonna do me some WORK.

Now with that kind of time on my hands I'd love to have a first draft of a spec script banged out by then, but as it'll be my first attempt at doing this - well, I'll just be happy if I have something positive to show for it all. A finished 1st draft would be icing on the cake.

I'll be hunkering down and trying to make this all come together somehow, trying to make a cogent line of thought out of it all. I ended up scrapping my original Border spec script idea (and by 'scrapping' I mean 'shelving until I can find a way to make it fit on another show') and am trying to come up with something less... well... epic.

That, I think, is one of the hard things for me - I got into TV, what drew me to it, is that I LOVE the idea of telling big, long stories. I love developing characters and plotlines that grow. Essentially, I've learned that I love writing 'serialized' stories.

I've also learned that apparently they're the black sheep of Canadian Television.

Right. Well then. This should be fun.

And by 'fun' I mean 'pulling-out-my-own-teeth-with-pliers-and-a-blowtorch'.

In case breaking in wasn't hard enough, now I'm trying to do it telling stories that most Canadian Broadcasters wouldn't touch even if you paid them (and I'd probably have to...).

Oh well, I guess it just falls back on me to make sure I'm telling a story so good they'd be idiots to pass up on it. And even then... Well, you know, let's worry about telling the stories first and then worrying about who wants to broadcast them - there'll always be a market for a good tale.

In the mean time, I'm going to learn how to tell 'hangnail' stories.

'Hangnail' stories are - apparently - little stories where you have to find a way to make it interesting. I've been told that 'anyone' can tell the 'big' tale where things blow up and chaos ensues - the hard ones, the ones where real craft and such show through are where very little happens but they still feel important. That's also where good structure and plotting make the most difference.

Essentially, it'll be a great test for me.

In the meantime I'm trying to prepare for this coming week off, building a stockpile of ideas and challenging myself by asking 'what is it really going to be about?'. I'm thinking for something like The Border, in order to do that, I should learn what I can from the people's backstories, find something that won't be used yet. Big stuff, like Gray's ex-wife showing up, seem bound to happen. The smaller stuff, the little details, the crumbs might give me something I can work with that'll be untouched.

If I can tell a small tale that fits right in with the show, that could be any episode in the season, then I'll feel proud.

Hell, just being able to say that I did it (even if it's not the best thing ever) will definitely help my confidence when I try the next one...

Here's hoping.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ugh.

I seem to have hit upon a pensive sort of phase this week and while it's normally a good thing, I just can't seem to get the words that I want to get out of my head (and I'm second-guessing the ones that do manage to sneak through).

On the bright side, I got a package in the mail today, it seems my books have arrived (yay Internet!). I'm not expecting them to solve all my problems, but its a good excuse for me to hunker down and ask myself what I'm really trying to accomplish with my spec - I'm thinking something along the lines of getting myself a job as a Junior Writer in a writing room right now. And, yes, I'm quite happy working my way up the ladder - there's a few holes I've still got to fill in to make up for my rather... uh... informal training (or lack thereof).

What I find interesting though is that there's been quite a large amount of talk about how a lot of Showrunners prefer to read Spec Pilots as opposed to spec scripts - to see about what a writer is capable of when given free reign. Of course, I love that idea, but I've also got to challenge myself to learn about format and other technical details. Sure the 'technical' side of things may not be as much fun for me, but knowing how to re-attach a limb (let alone knowing where the limb goes) is going to be integral to me as things press forward.

Now, not that I'm incompetent or anything, but understanding the system, understanding why something works the way it does seems to help me absorb things (one of the reasons I was never all that great at math, my teachers always pointed to the textbooks rather than taking an interest and showing us 'why' a+b=c... but I digress...).

Once I have a fundamental understanding of how and why 2+2=4 then I don't have to think about it anymore, I just do it. It becomes engrained. Right now, I've got a bunch of information stored up here but I haven't quite figured out how to make the pieces fit.

Most of the stuff that I've written, that people have enjoyed, have 'felt' right to me. I've got a good sense of when something's off, but don't ask me why or to identify it. And that's what I'm working to fix right now (and have been over the last while). Some of the process is boring me to tears - breaking things down into individual beats and writing outlines - but I know it's an essential part of the process and one that I have to learn.

The hardest thing about it, changing the WAY you write, is that it introduces rules and such when you're used to well... doing whatever it is that you do. The rules help to explain things and I know that they're all made to be broken, but I'm at that weird point right now where they seem to be looming over me. And the funny thing is it's not even the individual 'rules' themselves, just the actual concept - that I must try and stay within them - that's making me second-guess decisions that I'd normally never think about.

Of course this is entirely self-inflicted on my part, I'm putting myself through this voluntarily and it's my own fear of the unknown that's holding me back. I know, like pretty much any other 'rule' that governs my life, that once I make my peace with them they'll fade away. But, still, my brain is fighting hard to reject the 'limitations' and, heh, I'm barely even started (in the grand scheme of things).

I have to thank Cherelle for making me blush with her fantastic cheerleading and insight - she's contributed a great little mantra that I'm going to use to help me keep on track:

"Imagine when you can understand HOW you do what you do, and how you can MAKE yourself write well on command. There is no Muse. There is only you!"

Thanks all, I'm being borderline neurotic today and you're taking it like a champ.

Cheers!
Brandon

Monday, August 18, 2008

You Can't Screw That On Television!

Oh how far we've come.

Just think folks, less than a year ago some of the top writers in Canada put on their shit-kickers and marched up to Hull to have a tête-à-tête with the CRTC.

Their goal?

To save the Canadian Film and TV industry from those who would carve up public funding for private interests. (Sound familiar? Yes folks, before Bill C-10, there was the CTF Taskforce).

They stood and they argued, were eloquent and vivacious. They made sense and spoke with passion. And in the end the CRTC went 'meh'.

If only we knew then what we know now:

What they should've done was show up naked.

THEN they'd be representing the interests of the masses in this country (while boosting the ratings of CPAC, natch!).

See, TV is nice and all - Drama? Great stuff. But anyone who's anyone knows that the real money is in the people who're paying $8 pop to watch people knock boots on their TV screen.

And that's all well and good and all - you know, if you're a broadcaster getting a pretty nice cut - however, as our own 'real' (yeah, I squirmed too) TV and Film Industy crumbles around us, I find myself asking: do we really need another Pay-Per-View (Canadian-Branded, no less) pornography channel?

My answer is No - but probably not for the reasons you're thinking.

I'm sorry - and I know this is going to piss off a whole lot of enterprising young pornographers - but there is no more current definition of the word 'sucker' than "he/she who pays for Porn in the Internet Age" (yes CRTC, women like porn too! *gasp*).

Gawd, I can remember being a kid and seeing the first hint of a boob on the cover of my friend's dad's Playboy. Now, I have to make sure to educate my mom on how to surf the web without stumbling across a barely-legal gangbang.

Forget about protecting the kids, there is no moment more terrifying than watching your mother do a web search and find herself deep in 'dark' territory. Where, before you can interject, she accidently clicks on 'that' popup.

You know the one.

The one that brings... other... pop ups.

I'm pretty lucky, my mom's really chill about that kind of stuff but I'm sure you've all heard a tale or two.

And that's what doesn't make sense.

Porn is everywhere on the web. It's like a grimier, muskier, digital oxygen.

So, why the hell are you paying for it?

Seriously, go to Google, turn off Safe-search and do an image search for 'Snow White' or something innocuous like 'giggle'.

We're not even trying to get into the 'bad' words yet -- and that's just images, not even the scads of free video you can find online. People who post their stuff up, getting off on the idea that there's other people getting off to them.

Forget pirating, there are people out there giving it away by the handful like those shitty little candies you get on Halloween.

Sure, it's amateur - you're not getting the same quality writing as the Pro videos; the urbane, witty banter meant to lead you from beach house to poolside - but you know, it seems like lots of people are making do (on a cursory search I found a few hundred youtube-like sites for porn).

Apparently 'making do' isn't enough for our connoisseurs up here.

What this new channel says to me - and what I find somewhat frustrating - is that there's not only a market for this stuff, it's growing. Growing while the rest of the market dries up around it.

Well, that and there's a whole lot o' suckers up North of the 49th Parallel.

You know, now that we've got a hint on how to get their attention, maybe it's time for us to re-visit a few issues with the CRTC.

And, as we march up them stairs, maybe our Banners won't be the only things flapping in the breeze.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, August 15, 2008

It was bound to happen eventually...

In my wonderful search to learn structure I've been scouring high and low for information.

Some of that information has come in the form of people pointing me to websites or audio books (really?) or essays. But a good chunk of it has come from being pointed to certain books that I absolutely 'must' read.

And so I went out yesterday onto the inter-tubes, did a bunch of research and made a few purchases for my ever-growing library. I liked what I saw for the most part and ordered a few choice books, namely: "Making a Good Script Great", "Save the Cat" and "Developing Story Ideas".

It was when I was looking into some other books that I stumbled across another one in the "You might also like this" category. The author sounded somewhat familiar and so I clicked the link and jumped to this praise-filled page. Wow, it seemed to have been pretty well-received and I have to say that I was initially quite impressed by how much love this book seemed to be getting (86 5-Star reviews!).

Except for a few dissenters.

And they were the ones I read first.

See, when I shop for something, I usually read the 1 and 2-star ratings first. Why? Because, well, it's always the people that 'love' something that take the time to kiss it all over. The people that hate it, well, okay they can be just as vocal... but sometimes - just sometimes - they actually have incredibly valid reasons for their disdain. They haven't been enough for me to avoid a purchase, but some have enlightened me to things like 'crappy battery life' and 'poorly constructed at best'.

All-in-all, I like to consider it reconnaissance in my quest to becoming an 'informed' buyer; learning what I'm getting myself into before spending my hard-earned cash.

Now, I've read some interesting reviews of things online but I don't think I've ever read a review that actually stopped me from purchasing something that I had intended to.

Until now.

Anyways, I'm posting the review here and we'll go from there:

CHARLATAN MCKEE
By C. Hunter Coates "Book Addict" (Los Angeles)

"I attended Roberth Mckee's the I've-Never-Written-A-Screenplay-In-My-Life-But-Here's-How-In-Three-Hours "workshop". We all sat back and watched the glory and splendor of a few well-lit scenes from Casblanca as McHack droned on and on about their cinematic significance. I found myself occassionally embarrassed at having to wipe the sleep drool from my face. (Luckily I was smart enough to sneak in and not pay $450 for it). The book was worse. The class reminded me more of a cinematography class back at ole USC film school than ANYTHING related to literary theory. I have had one screenplay optioned and directed a short which was at Sundance and gone through developement hell and worked with a good script consultant (Ann Zald - Schindler's List) on my recent script, etc., etc. I'm no Larry Gelbart, but I've been a working, represented writer in this town. McKee's text is more of a rambling, seething mass of amateur exploration than anything resembling the intricacies and time tested princibles of narrative theory and execution. You'll be more confused and stupid reading this text than any other from my estimation. He's a hack. Actually he's not up to the title of hack because he hasn't written anything. Therefore he's a charlatan. For more correct information in my humble opinion and experience, get your feet wet with: Seger's How To Make A Good Script Great, Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing; Howard and Mabley's The Tools Of Screeenwriting, Iglesias' 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters; THEN get more serious with Michael Rabiger's Developing Story Ideas and Gerard Genette's Narrative Discourse Revisited. Of course even better than all that, read the few greats of all time (w/o Cliff Notes, or anybody else's interpratations/footnotes/opinions, etc.): ALL the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, ALL the plays of Shakespeare, ALL of Moliere's comedies, ALL of Tolstoy, Shaw, Twain, Ibsen, Dickens, Austen, Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller. I also found How To Read A Book by Mortimer Adler/ Charles Van Doren useful- originally published in 1940 (get the revised and updated edition). Great Writers are Great Readers- Great Comprehenders. I have a lot to learn and read from many geniuses. McKee is not one of them. "There's a sucker born every minute and some people love to be snookered." - PT Barnum"

Now, being a newbie, I don't really have much of an idea of 'who' Mr. McKee is, I do get the feeling that he's a kind of a Big Deal (more than a few people I've met are big fans, and, frankly, some of the 5-star reviews border on fellatio...) but I don't know one way or the other. I have yet to really form an opinion either way. Certainly, more than a few people recommended that I pick up 'Story' and even the few that I've talked to since have been saying 'it's still worth a peek'.

But something about what this guy wrote, bilious and grammatically incorrect and horribly misspelled as it was, stuck with me in that moment and made me say "Hrmmm... maybe I'll see if I can pick it up at the library".

Huh. Guess there's a first time for everything.

Cheers,
Brandon

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Hidden Face of an Angel

It took maybe two full days before the news came out.

And another 30 minutes for me to tire of all the umbrage.

If you haven't heard the news, Lin Miaoke - that cute little girl from the opening ceremonies - was not really singing (well, she was but you couldn't hear her). That privilege went to Yang Peiyi, the winner of a national contest, who was being boomed over the loud speaker and drowning out Ms. Lin's tiny voice. Ms. Yang, unfortunately, had the misfortune of being the winner but not being 'pretty' enough to represent her country. So they recorded her voice and put a prettier little girl out there in her place.

And, frankly, that doesn't surprise me.

What has raised my eyebrows though is the weak-kneed, slack-jawed, 'holier-than-thou' reaction from the media.

Here in North America, we live in a society where almost every magazine cover we see is a lie, where the news itself has been shown (repeatedly) to be a carefully selected window into what someone else thinks is worthy of air time.

And yet when someone else follows in our footsteps, well don't them knees get all knobbly.

China, like any country who has the eye of the world entirely on them, wanted to show you the best side of themselves. Like any man or woman on a first date or any person out there looking for a job, you're going to put the best of 'you' out there. Granted, China's got a lot to try and hide - Human rights abuses, horrible pollution record, etc. - but it's not like they're the only one, just the most noticible example (see 'eyes of the world' comment above).

And it's not like we're exactly innocent ourselves *cough* Oil Sands (Canada), Yucca Mountain (US) *cough*.

Now, I'm not defending China - I'm laughing at all of us who're pointing crooked fingers at them with disdain.

To hear some of the comments, the righteous indignation that these newscasters have (let alone the General Public... ugh) THAT's something to be ashamed of.

Since we're on the subject, while everyone is currently fawning all over Michael Phelps (and his eating habits), can I just say that no, he's not the fastest swimmer in the world.

He's a fast swimmer in a great suit, a suit which some have called "technological doping".

How would he fare without it? Well, let's just say there's a reason them World Records are dropping like flies. And that's the trick: The human body, shorn hairless and trained to perfection can only go so fast. No matter how good you are, the water itself holds you back. That's what makes swimming hard.

So, how do you fix that problem?

You take away the water.

Here's my favourite bit from the LZR Razor press release:

"Speedo has harnessed the expertise of the United States space agency NASA amongst a number of international research institutes to create a faster suit which has 10% less passive drag* than Speedo’s FASTSKIN FSII launched in 2004 and 5% less passive drag* than Speedo FS-PRO, which was launched in March 2007 and has seen swimmers break 21 World records as a result.

The LZR RACER’s unique design also provides swimmers with up to 5% more efficiency** in terms of their Oxygen intake, enabling them to swim stronger for longer. “It makes it easier to swim faster,” says Rick Sharp, Exercise Physiologist, Iowa State University"

Great.

So, instantly, any country that can't afford a LZR (you know, most of them) is out of the running. And then add in the fact that anyone who emptied the piggybank for an earlier version is still fighting 15% harder against things like passive drag, AND isn't getting the benefit of having their lungs being held in an 'optimal' position. That's 5% less air you're able to suck down while competing in the one event you've been training the last 18 - 20 years of your life for.

And that's the thing. If it was 'just a race' it wouldn't be a problem, but these athletes have spent, in some cases, decades preparing for this. They (yes, all of them) have sacrificed and put themselves through insane schedules and dieting routines that you or I would never even consider. They've trained and been injured and endured; they've worked and struggled and suffered - for YEARS. All so they can run or jump or race against the rest of the world and LOSE by .01 of a second.

Which, again, would be fine if you were REALLY racing that person and not their corset.

Bringing it back to square one: I just want to say that I love how the media loses it's shit because China put on its best face for it's visitors while glorifying a man who, as far as we can reasonably tell, only won because he didn't have to swim as hard to get the same result.

Here's a deal: Let's take the final 8, throw'em in a pool naked, blur out their naughty bits and let them race. If he still wins, then hey, good on him - at least he can honestly say he is the fastest swimmer in the world.

Tho' between you and me, that Frenchman and that Chinese guy looked like they were pretty hot on his heels.

Just sayin'.

Cheers,
Brandon

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tripping over Act Two

It was going so great, things were flowing, the energy was high and then it hit me full on - a sack of bricks to the chest.

Act Two.

The change in lead characters means a change in perspective and making the story relevant to the new main character means changing a rather massive plot point. Ugh. And it's not that I can't change it - on the contrary, that delete key is right there - but for the first time I'm finding myself fighting, well, myself.

I don't want to.

It's a great scene and an important plot point but now it belongs to a secondary character. So, now I've got a decision to make. I can try and re-write the scene with the main character involved (highly unlikely) or make something equally good for the main character to be doing while this scene is playing out - somehow intertwine them if I can.

I don't think I've had this kind of dilemma before - I know I've got the old file right there, I can revert to it any time, but still, I find myself fighting this scene. I've tried writing around it, working on other parts, but that one scene leads into so much.

You know what? Screw it. It's backed up, just do it. Cut it, make something new and run with it, see where it takes me. I'm not ecstatic about it, but I owe it to myself to explore every possible option. It's all in service to the story - and if the pilot's not good then you don't get to tell the rest of the story... so I guess this is a note to myself to quit bitching and get back to it.

Even if I don't like it.

In other news, this weekend has officially become my 'The Border' watching weekend. I've made sure to have no plans and no one around. I'm going to watch the whole season in one go, take copious amounts of notes and see how well my original story idea holds up.

Yes, that's a lot of bandwidth (I'll be watching them streaming from the CBC's website) and a lot of popcorn... but hey, I've got a comfy chair. On the bright side, those of you who're getting a cut when people like myself watch the eps online, well, you can probably expect a nice fat royalty cheque.

Cheers,
Brandon

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Brandon Trowel-hands

Digging deep.

That's what I've been doing for the last lil' bit.

It's an odd thing to have to try and re-break a story you thought you knew inside out.

Savage Knights has been my love-project for a while now, it was one that I submitted to the CFC and ended up getting a big reaction for. Their biggest complaint was that it had too many ideas in it, that I should pull it back from the 2-hour backdoor pilot I had written and make it a strong 1-hour.

So that's what I've been trying to do. Of course, when you've already got the season plotted out (and about 3000 years of backstory) it can be tricky. Though, I'm pretty proud of myself - I looked through my notes and somehow managed to give myself a lot of room to move. I'm not sure it that was foresight or not, but it ended up working out pretty well.

I damn near cried when I hit the 'delete' key on the entire first scene - probably would've too if I didn't know that I've got the original backed up somewhere safe. It's a great scene (one of my favourites in the whole pilot) and a great setup, but it sets up the wrong character. Jack is the main character now - the stronger choice, even if he is a bit of a dick.

I've been debating for a long time whether or not to kill off Darien (the best-friend/side-kick character). His death would be a fantastic push for Jack but there's a chemistry between them that I don't want to lose (and don't think Ben or Maggie could replace), so for now, he lives on. I think that losing Darien would push the show into far, far darker territory than I'm planning on treading into for the first season. Yes, the show's pretty dark overall, but the sense of family is really key to what I'm trying to accomplish.

But damn... imagining what would happen to Jack if Darien kicked it... whoa.

That's a movie in itself.

Looking back at what I'd done, what I'd managed to fit into the original pilot, so much of it was paced to set up for a 2 hour movie - it's been painful to tear entire concepts out at the roots, dice them up and try to re-fit them. Most of the time, it doesn't work.

I think I'm getting an idea of what they mean when they call it a 'page one re-write'. I can keep a few concepts, some dialogue, but not a whole hell of a lot.

On the bright side, I wrote an utterly wicked scene in place of that first scene. It sets up the story better, speaks volumes about the characters, has a great conflict to it AND is absolutely centered on Jack.

Of course, my excitement is short-lived. I give the Teaser an entire read-through and it's now too long. Like 9 pages for a 1 hour pilot (I'm aiming for around 55 pages total... I like to be descriptive...). So then I have to go back and edit my language.

Am I being to 'prose-y'?

Yep.

So then I start rephrasing, same meanings, less 'talk'. Try and drop the page count. I get it down to 6 pages, of which 4-and-a-half are actual 'stuff' you'll see on screen. I trim the character descriptions, trying to put as much power into as few words as I can.

Jack goes from a veritable paragraph and a half to: "He's 23, broad-shouldered and dark haired. Attractive, though his scarred knuckles and tired eyes betray a man who's survived the worst the world has to offer."

I hope that the words coming out of his mouth and the reactions to the world and from the other characters will help to fill in the blanks. "Leave room for the actor" - a piece of advice I got many moons ago.

I know his backstory cold - could recite it in my sleep - but gotta leave the questions intact. More will come out as the episodes move forward. TV is all about the questions.

Delving into the first Act, I whimper as I unsheathe my machete.

Gone is one entire subplot. Just like that, Maggie is going to be introduced in episode 2. She gets a brief cameo in the pilot, brief - but that's it. I try not to look back as I slash through it like thick vegetation.

Moving on, scene after scene falls before my blade - flaying meat from bone, right down to the sun-bleached skeleton.

Hanging it over my bubbling cauldron, I begin the incantations anew.

ACT ONE.

And a new story takes shape - the same story, the same meaning, but different. The same beast in a different body, a slimmer body.

Svelte.

But it's 2am and the eyes are blurry - just as things were really getting good. Grumbling and fighting sleep, I save my work into a temp file and shut it down for now.

It's a fitful sleep at best, with dreams of demons and beasties and all sorts of wonderful plot twists. I awake, exuberant. The first hour and a half of my morning is lost, writing again - making myself late for work.

Dammit. Stupid work.

Sigh.

It would appear that the new angle has awoken old passions and new perspectives.

And I can't wait to get back to it tonight.

Cheers,
Brandon

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The CBC 'meh's Olympic Opening Ceremony

Okay, this is going to suck but as a patriot sometimes the hardest thing to do is show tough love.

I, like many Canadians, am a proud owner of a PVR and though I know there are a lot of broadcasters who're pissed at us (you know, for not watching TV when it's on) nothing has justified my purchase like what transpired last night.

Being unable to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics I cleared the harddrive and set the thing to catch everything that I could (in HD no less). I sat down today to watch the CBC's coverage and I thought it was good though a tad dry (and Peter Mansbridge came off like a total douche... I'm sorry, but telling us what we can already see on the screen adds nothing and makes you seem really annoying).

Then I watched the whole thing again, but from NBC's coverage.

Now, I understand we don't have a lot of money and we don't have the number of cameras and we don't even have the number of techs to properly cover something of this scale, so I'm not going to rag on the CBC for that.

I'm not even going to rag on the directing - which I wasn't a huge fan of, but I understand that you do the best you can with what you got.

I can also understand that simple things like bumping up the contrast to help clear the haze and make the colours 'pop' more in HD may not be something for everyone.

And understand that (constantly) choosing to focus on one single person in a crowd of thousands - thus missing the massive production going on around them - might seem like an okay idea.

But what I don't understand is the complete lack of meaningful research. It's the ONE thing that we could've really gone out of our way on, the one thing that costs so little to do, that would've made up for our lack of raw cash and cameras.

It's inexcusable.

Watching NBC's coverage after CBC's was like watching the ceremonies for the first damn time.

First off, they had 3 announcers - at least one of which actually seemed to know what the hell was going on. Unlike the CBC's, they knew when to shut up and when to expound upon what we were seeing.

One of the biggest gripes I have - and a perfect example of the problem - was during this little cinematic clip where the Chinese were showing the traditional way to make paper. In the CBC's coverage almost 3/4 of the clip's length was exposition telling us that this is a one-minute clip about Chinese paper-making. Then, later on, we've got a little Chinese girl singing a pretty song while Chinese Minorities bring the flag out to the waiting soldiers. In NBC's coverage we learn that she's singing "A Hymn to My Country". In CBC's coverage we learn "Thousands of little girls applied to get this part. And she got it."

Thanks CBC, very insightful.

Throughout the entire ceremony, NBC continually worked to inform us of little things like WHY the Apsaras (the flying Buddhist 'fairies') where an important part of Chinese culture. In CBC's coverage, they barely prounounced 'Apsara' properly and completely forgot to mention what the hell they were or why we should care.

It's about the details.

During the Parade of Nations, I damn near fell asleep in the CBC's coverage. There was a lot of talking about who people were, but I didn't know who the hell they were talking about.

In NBC's coverage, their keys not only told you where each country was, they showed you on a globe the actual island/landmass. They told you the country's population and total number of athletes. When they focused on the flag-bearer, they showed not only their name BUT ALSO what they were competing in. And, all the while, the commentators were sharing relevant and interesting anecdotes and facts about each country as they came by - including a cute little story about people from the Caymen Islands emailing in, asking them not to cut to commercial after Canada because they wanted to see their own athletes in the parade.

Fun Fact: It turned out not to matter because the countries entered in the order of the Chinese Alphabet (order determined by how many strokes are involved in making the first character of their name) thus putting the Caymen Islands ahead of Canada.

Overall, NBC's announcers were personable and knowledgeable, they seemed to have done extensive research and used it to bring a fun and interesting air to something that the CBC made seem REALLY long and boring in comparison.

Frankly, it seemed to me that the announcers for the CBC were winging it, glancing down at notes given to them by someone else. The NBC announcers KNEW THEIR STUFF COLD and were able to play off of it - hell, they even nailed most of their attempts at speaking Chinese (according to my girlfriend... I had no idea either way...).

I'm sorry, and it hurts me to say it, but the CBC just didn't measure up.

I knew we couldn't kill it with the raw coverage (our placement of cameras was passable but boring).

I knew not to expect the flashiness of what the Americans would bring (I'm sorry but our keys were flat and boring, straight out of the 1980s).

But the one thing that could've made our version better - or at least more interesting - was really working the Details; taking the time to research everything, to polish the edges and have it perfect. Making it interesting and funny and RELEVANT to the CANADIANS who were watching.

Unfortunately, that just didn't happen - something that's both frustrating and sad.

I hope it gets better, I really do - most of my weekend will be eaten up by watching as things unfold - but so far my socks are far from blown off.

And that's what's killing me: The CBC is NOT kicking ass out there, they're not bringing their 'A' game. It's the little touches like this that make things stand out, that make them memorable.

Just because it's the Olympics and you know everyone's going to watch DOES NOT mean you can just toss lackluster footage and a tickertape on the screen and call it 'coverage'.

Wake up, dammit!

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, August 08, 2008

Off the hook!

Okay, so I meant to update this yesterday but life jumped in and, well, yeah.

I got the call at just after 4pm and it was a lot better than I expected. Essentially, from what I can gather, I got beat out by people with more experience.

One of the points they made was that this year had more applications than ever before.

And having more applications raised the bar for quality entries.

Sure, I get that.

Of all the things they mentioned, the one that stuck with me was that they loved my interview. They said that they were all impressed by my passion and excitement - especially how I took off with Graeme's idea.

W-W-What?!

And half my cerebellum blew out the side of my head.

Of all the things that happened, everything single thing that happened in that room, I thought that's the one place where I really faltered. Wow, Mr. Manson's a hard one to read, I would've had no idea that he dug it. I mean, I took the idea that they gave me and I ran with it but thought that maybe I'd screwed up because he stopped me and steered me in another direction (a pretty far turn from where I ended up running to).

As it turns out, well, they loved it and my enthusiasm to boot.

Wow. Talk about a load off my mind in that respect. I realize now that I spent far too many brainwaves analyzing those moments - I did quite well, and that's good to know. We can put that skipping record back in its sleeve.

As for what was actually 'wrong' with my scripts, there wasn't a lot said in specifics only that I should look into getting some story editing to help propel me to the next level.

I'm not exactly sure what 'story-editing' means, but okay. I'm game. Hopefully that translates into 'you need to master your structure' - 'cause if it does then, well, I've already set myself on the right path and just need to keep beating away at it.

Overall, they were really happy with my application and they said that as someone without any formal training I should feel really proud that I managed to get an interview (I do!) and that I shouldn't give up (I'm not). They expressed an interest in seeing me apply again next year and wished me the best of luck.

It kind of sucks that I didn't get in, but you know, that's okay. That's life. You learn to roll with the punches, and - as some people have told me - there's a lot of punches to take in this business.

Hell, in a way, it may even be better for me - I tend to learn things the hard way anyway. It hurts like the dickens in the moment, but I usually don't make that mistake again.

Anywho, it's done, pound a nail in it and ship it off to Transylvania.

I'm gonna go break me some story.

Cheers,
Brandon

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Waiting for the phone to ring (Part Deux)

Well, today's the day that the CFC calls to do a follow-up with me.

At 4pm I'll be getting a call that should - hopefully - shed some light on what kept me from making the cut in the end.

It's kind of weird to be sitting here, anticipating a phone call that's supposed to explain why I failed... but you know, I kind of am - anticipating, I mean. I want to know what it was that they saw (or didn't see) in me that made the decision come out the way it did.

Now, I mean, I've moved on so this isn't about me ripping off band-aids - quite the contrary.

More than finding some sort of 'closure', more than getting that last bit of clarification, what I'm looking for is to see if I was right; If my own analysis was correct. I mean, in the end the ability to be self-correcting is far more important to me than almost anything else.

Learning how to self-edit, how to be my own best critic, is definitely something that'll be essential to me as I work on my next scripts, 'cause there's a lot of time spent alone at that computer of mine.

And being able to catch those things fast and nip them in the bud early should (hopefully) save me a lot of headaches.

Guess I'll find out soon what I should be focusing on.

In other news, I've been in contact with Karen and we've been hashing out some really wicked ideas on what can be done over on Ink Canada. Without giving too much away, the first big venture is going to have something to do with learning how to break story properly. Still working on the the details and how it's all going to play out but I'm getting really excited to see what kind of reaction this is going to get.

Hopefully we'll have a lot of interested parties getting involved.

More to come... until then, my phone is securely by my side.

Cheers!
Brandon

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Onto The Next Step (aka Starting Fresh)

"When the universe closes a door, it opens a window".

On my way up to the campsite on Saturday I checked out my email to discover that Karen Walton had written to me with an absolutely amazing proposal.

Long story, short:

I'm now the first-ever 'intern' over at Ink Canada!!

What does that mean and how will it play out? Well, I'm not entirely sure just yet, Karen's still working on all the hardcore details, but I think a part of it will be me helping to find, get and collate information relevant to us newbs (and hopefully all TV writers). I'm sure it's more complex than that, but for now I think that's where it's headed.

And, well, I'm still gobsmacked about it - though I've been putting the ol' noggin' into overdrive and I've got a few cool ideas for what I can do to contribute. Once I have a clearer picture of what Karen's looking for then I'll see if I can pop the ideas out into the open.

Hopefully, while helping others I'll learn the ropes myself and break my way into the industry. Will it work? Who knows. However it plays out it doesn't matter, on a personal level, I love the idea behind what Karen's got in mind. The idea of having an active community of writers (of all levels), looking out for one another while teaching and inspiring each other.

Her idea's already in practice and it's been working well. There's been such an amazing array of fantastic writers (and Actors and Directors and...) who've come out to share their stories or offer advice and insights. Between the notices of events, well-wishes and even get-togethers, this community is growing and growing strong thanks to wonderful people who see the value in making sure we're all connected.

As a newbie fighting to get into the industry I appreciate the open environment that Karen encourages. The opportunity she has provided, to interact with so many amazing writers, has not only taught me perspective and respect but has helped to keep me grounded. (Oh how easy it was to say 'I'm going to be a showrunner in a year'...) The combined patience and kindness of the community has already helped to shape me as I continue my fight to get out there and tell kick-ass stories on your TV box.

Hopefully as I work to add to the site others will come and we'll all continue to ask questions (of all kinds, dumb or not) and learn from one another.

More to come as it's figured out!

In other news:

14.

That's how many mosquito bites I've managed to find on my lower legs alone. I don't care what the bottle says, 'OFF' is not what happens when you spray that crap. Here is how it plays out in real life:

1. mosquito bites you.
2. you spray bug repellant on self.
3. mosquito hovers for a few minutes, casing the joint.
4. lands on the 1x1 micrometer patch of unprotected skin.
5. laughs at you while gorging itself on your blood.

The trip itself was great fun: swimming and sunbathing by day, sitting around the campfire, drinking and telling tall tales by night.

Perhaps one of the best things about camping is the opportunity to sit back and watch other people in a natural environment. As a writer, I'm constantly looking for ways to make my characters feel 'fresh' and to have a spark in them as they speak. Sitting around and just listening to how people talk, how they interact - where conflicts arise, how the group works to douse them before they get out of hand - is quite a trip in itself.
And the slang! Oh my God, I had no idea how out of date my slang-o-nary was.

Of course, most of it'll never get used in an actual script (can you say dated...? :P) but it helps to get into the mind of the kind of people who actually talk like that.

I managed to get down a few solid ideas to incorporate into my Border spec and I've got a few interesting lines that probably won't fit into that show but might work well in Shears or one of my other pilots.

Also, Mr. McGrath was kind enough to point me to a post he made some time ago about Breaking Story - it's quite a good read, so hopefully you'll all pop on by.

Anyways, things are moving - not really where I expected but it seems like it could be something better than I'd ever hoped for.

Here's to something new and exciting!

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Long weekend beckons.

I'm going camping. Off in the wilderness-es-es' of Sudbury.

Somewhere out there I'll run and play and jump off impossibly high cliffs into shadow-y waters.

It'll be nice - a nice chance to enjoy me some summer.

And with 3+ hours of driving each way I've decided to bring a pad of paper and a few pens.

You know, that's one of the things I LOVE about writing: No overhead. You have a napkin and a ketchup packet? Go nuts. Crayon and Tile floor? Yup. Loofa and a dirty shower wall? Absolutely.

Hell, if worst comes to worst all you need is a safety pin and a high pain threshold.

And, while I doubt I'll be carving character descriptions into my arms any time soon (might bring on the wrong kind of attention when swimming in the deeper waters... Country CHUDs anyone??), I have to admit that it's just really cool to have the ability function in two different worlds at once. Let alone the ability to merge them together with the stroke of a pen (or a well co-ordinated loofa).

Anywho - Karen recommended that I pick up a book called "Making a Good Script Great" by one Linda Seger, apparently it's got all sorts of wonderful notes on structure and such (which is exactly what I need).

I also managed to find my copy of "Crafty TV Writing" by Alex Epstein while attempting to pack for my adventure. I'd read through it during the holidays when I was working on Savage Knights but I'm finding even more relevance in it now as I pour over it again with a different mindset. He's got a whole chapter (and more) on 'Breaking Story' and it's got some good meat to it, so I'll probably toss that into the duffel bag as well.

Other than that, I've got 3 days of rest and/or relaxation to look forward to. I'm going to try fleshing out a few ideas - I've decided that I'm going to work on my "The Border" spec script idea (the one I submitted it to the CFC) and see what kind of goodness I can muster.

Should be good times.

Have a great one!
Cheers,
Brandon