Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I've Learned - A Year Later

I've been an 'official' writer now for about a year, maybe two, now. I mean 'official' in that even though I haven't sold anything or had anything made, I have started putting 10+ hours a week into my writing alone - let alone my accumulated time on Ink Canada. There's been a serious effort to jump into my chosen career.

Over on the boards, Karen's been trying to create a FAQ to help all the new members out (we're up to 635 as of this writing!) so I sat down to try and think of the questions I had a year ago. I started wondering what questions I could give solid answers to as someone who's never worked in the industry. Nevertheless I started writing anyway and came up with 5 that were burning in my mind back then and tried my best to answer them with the perspective I've gained.

Turns out, listening and learning has paid off quite well. And I think what I've come up with is something I feel really good about - even just in the realization that I did have answers to my questions. I'm re-printing my post from the site here. Please feel free to let me where I'm off base.
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If there's one thing I've learned as an unabashed newbie it's that the only true crime is not asking the questions that're on your mind.

There are more than a few people here willing and ready to answer your questions - and I'm sure we haven't answered every possible question just yet.

To try and get the ball rolling, here are some of the newbie questions I had when I first came into this (about a year or so ago):

1) When do I get to run my own show? (yes... I swing for the fences...lol)
2) How do I break into the Industry?
3) How do I get an agent?
4) Do I need an agent?
5) Will someone steal my idea / Is _____ a scam?

And this is what I've learned so far:

1) You get to run your own show once you can prove that you can run a multi-million dollar company. Writing a great idea is nice and all, but can you hire/fire/manage people on a daily basis while steering the ship and maintaining business relationships and attending meetings and re-writing everyone else's scripts? Can you prove to the people with the money that you can do this?

2) You break into the industry through tenacity. The one common thread in all the people I've talked to is that no one gave up. Every single person who broke in - and stayed in - the industry kept on kicking on doors long past the time they were slammed in their faces. If you want to have an idea of what breaking in is like, take a summer job as a door-to-door salesman. (I've done that and... yeah...) You have to be able to look rejection in the eye, nod, swallow your emotions and go to the next house. You are selling yourself. So A) make sure you have a quality product and B) don't be afraid to sell it. And I guess C) would be: Don't be a prick. The hard sell rarely works - 9 times out of 10 people will pick the less-experienced person they can work with over the asshat with the genius complex and a single wicked script in their pocket.

3) You get an agent in a lot of the same sort of fashion. A quality product and a quality sales pitch. You're hiring an agent (yes, they work for you - if you can convince them to get on board first) to help sell you. If they know that either A) you're making the job easy by having quality work or B) you can sell yourself (thus also making their job easier) then you're 2 steps ahead of the game. They get 10% of what you make so you have to convince them that they're going to be making a decent wage off of you (ie. you're worth the effort). It's all very symbiotic when it works well - so I'm told. I'm still agent-less myself - but I'm working on getting one so... we'll see.

4) Do you need an agent? In the States, yes. No one will look at your stuff unless you're represented. Simple as that. Too many people fighting for the same pie - and getting an agent is supposed to be the 'first rung' of the ladder. Getting an agent doesn't mean you necessarily 'get' work - it means you have someone out there selling you and expounding on your brilliance while you're doing the thing you do best: writing. They oversee your deals (especially in Canada) and help make sure you're not getting screwed. They also have an idea of what's 'in' right now and should be able to tell you - in no uncertain terms - what you should be speccing and which stations are looking for what. They're your eyes and ears - agents - in the industry.

5) a) Stealing an idea rarely happens in this day and age - or so I'm told. I'm not going to say it doesn't ever happen - I've talked to a few people who've made convincing arguments. But I will say this: Write it. Whatever idea you have floating around in your head is no good to you there. Put it on paper, get it on lock. Even then - depending on what it is - there are lots of people that will get their on their own. It happens. I wrote a spec for the Border dealing with the FLQ only to find out that season 2 they'd already come across that idea. It happens. It's a concept. It's also a reality of the business so you better learn to suck it up now. The number 1 rule I've learned do NOT be precious with your ideas. Especially in TV. If worried about losing the one you have then you're probably worried that you won't come up with anything else that's just as good. If you're worth your salt as a writer there will always be more ideas. From what I'm told, people rarely get hired for the ideas in their head so much as how they go about expressing them. Can you take that idea (or someone else's) and tell a damn good story with it? Yes? Good. Then prove it. Then prove it again. And again.

5) b)The classic case of 'if it seems too good to be true, it likely is' is so much more relevant when you become a writer. I don't know how many times I've been on Craigslist and seen 'looking for scripts!' followed by something mysterious like 'send loglines to' another non-informative hotmail address. Are they all scams? I can't say. I know I've heard the ol' 'friend-of-a-friend' tale about someone answering one of them and it turned out to be a jackpot (like MGM or something). But for the most part 99.9% of legit businesses are not going to post something on Craigslist. Especially not in that format. I may be wrong here, but in my limited experiences, whenever I've written to them (and I've answered a few of those calls) they're always shady. Always.

Anyways, hope that helps. I'm still learning a ton and a half - hell, I'm still trying to break in myself. But I'm coming at it from the perspective of going in eyes open - learning what I can, as much as I can.

In closing, my best advice - what I try to do every day: Get out there and knock on doors, meet people, learn about the business and the people who's lives are intrinsically tied to it. Look at situations through their eyes whenever you can. Gain perspective and understanding. Ask questions. Remember: Rejection is a speed bump not a brick wall.

Cheers to all my fellow newbies - lurkers or otherwise,
Brandon

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Agony of the First Draft

If there's one thing I'm learning it's that first drafts don't have a lot of subtlety.

A full day after finishing a draft that seemed to be dancing on the page, I'm finding myself re-reading it and feeling utterly heartbroken. I don't know how it seemed to play out so well in my head, how it seemed to work on the beat sheet and outline, but what I'm reading right now just feels so... guileless and sloppy.

I probably wouldn't feel so bad if I hadn't already sent it off to my writer's group. My newly-minted group of TV writers, all hungry to break into the industry.

Our next meeting is this coming Saturday (last Saturday being our first) with Monday being my first 'due date' for submitted material. Reading my script again since then - with the kind of perspective only given to those who realize it's too late to change things - I can't help but think to myself 'wow, what a great first impression'.

Ugh.

Alright, let's not sit here wallowing in my self-pity. Best to chalk it one up as one of those small personal horrors associated with showing a work in progress.

And that's okay. That part I'm mostly fine with. Mostly.

But I think the root of my frustration with the script - one that becomes clearer as I re-read it - is that I'm starting to feel like I'm losing sight of the story I wanted to tell in the first place. Like I'm starting to forget WHY I was so excited about this concept.

I'm looking at what I wrote and it might as well be in Mandarin or Gaelic. It's just not making sense to me anymore.

That's what's really getting under my skin: I'm losing sight of the forest and the trees. And I'm not sure why.

It's like a mist has rolled in off the lake and I'm walking around in the fog trying to find a contact lens.

In a way, it's worse than having writer's block. Worse than not being able to write at all. It's like I'm having this feeling that every word I write is taking me farther and farther from what I'm actually trying to say and the story I'm wanting to tell.

Does anyone out there ever feel like this? Is it normal?

I'm trying not to be a head case about it, but it's really bugging me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The New Star Trek Trailer

http://filmdrunk.uproxx.com/?p=6216

It's in HD.

Go. Watch.

This trailer is fantastically edited. In 2 minutes and 11 seconds you know that A) this is a movie about Kirk and Spock and B) this movie has serious potential for kicking ass.

So what'd J.J. Abrams do? He gave Star Trek back its edge. He brought back the uncertainty.

Star Trek, for me - at its best - was about exploration. Mastering your fear. Discovering the unknown.

Danger.

Fleshy, squishy, human beings sent out to the uncharted vastness with nothing but their wits and the pinnacle of their technology. The very best of what they could come up with together - as a human race. And how, often, the best they had just wasn't good enough.

And that's where the 'human' kicked in.

Because, in the end, as cool as the technology was it was ultimately useless without a Captain like Kirk or an Engineer like Scotty or a Doctor like Bones. It was the Human in us that allowed us to keep on living when the technology failed.

Allowed us to beat the cold, calculated odds and improvise our way out of certain death.

As much as I loved The Next Generation, it seemed far more like they were ambassadors than explorers. I rarely saw them get that rush of excitement or combating the fear that comes with facing these threats - these beings that could even be our allies - if we could only understand them. Enterprise touched on this, but somehow it fell short.

I think that's what Mr. Abrams has done. Taken us back before we had the infrastructure, before we were on our game and knew just what lurked beyond the edge of our galaxy.

That, to me, is exciting stuff.

I love this trailer, hands down. It tells me everything I need to know about this movie. It's got me sold. Now it's just a matter of the movie living up to the package they've presented.

Consider my fingers crossed.

Cheers,
Brandon

I blinked.

Okay, so... wow.

Yeah, that was a week. Talk about blowing on by.

I've been a weird mix of sequestered and social as of late - trying to finish my first draft of my new Savage Knights breakdown only to get halfway through and come up with a better idea... which means re-breaking and salvaging what I can. Frustrating, but cool - my opening 10 pages are rock solid, that much I know for sure.

The truly frustrating part for this draft is that I've got my opening nailed and I've got a REALLY strong ending planned. I know where it is, how it goes down, who does what. This thing's a bullet-train... except for the 3rd Act. Which is what's gumming up the rails right now. I've got an A story and a B story, both work towards a cool reveal but the reveal relies on letting out only the right bits of information at the right times. Let alone making sure the right people are in the right positions.

For a while there I thought I had the story broken, turns out I've only got Acts 1, 2, 4 and 5. And that one tiny piece of the puzzle is just driving me batty. I think the problem is an overabundance of ideas, there are so many cool things I could have happen here. I've written 4 different 3rd acts now, all good but none of them seeming 'right'. The first took us back to the scene of the crime and had a lot more character/back story stuff but I felt that going backwards - as cool as the scene was - was not what was needed. The second was just too ponderous. The third too... boring. And the most recent one's just jumped the rails entirely.

I think my problem is that my characters, so far, are aimless. Well, not aimless, they have solid goals, they just do not KNOW how to achieve them. They're overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation. A part of that is due to their design (they're not cops, they're not 'trained', they stumble into this and operate mostly on instinct) but another part is me figuring out how they would find out what they need to know.

So, yeah. Somehow I have a feeling that this is one of those problems that might've been easily solved in a writer's room.

On the bright side, it's only a first draft. And knowing that it's allowed to suck, well, that's a bonus.

Though... one thing's got me thinking. And now that I'm writing it out in my blog, I think I've figured out something I've been missing. There's an emotional connection between my two main characters, they both need something. And I think I've just realized that I've had one character's motivation all wrong.

Hrmmm...

Alright, back to it.

Cheers!
Brandon

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering

Remembrance Day is hard for me - and lots of people my age - who grew up, for the most part, in a time of peace. It's hard to understand, to articulate that magnitude of sacrifice when I've never experienced anything of the sort.

I've never fought in a war.

I've never had to fight and kill to protect that which I have, or sacrifice all that I have to ensure that others will thrive in my stead.

All I can do is honour those who were brave enough to fight for the futures of people they would never know.

All I can do is hope that neither I nor my children will never have to make that sacrifice.

But that, should the need arise, I would find within myself that kind of courage.


In Flanders Fields


It's Time To Say Goodbye

Collaboraaaation.

If there's one thing I'm learning it's that I'm not all that great at blogging 'about' events.

I mean, maybe I'm limited in my vocabulary but there's really only so many ways one can say 'We all had a great time'.

Basically, the goal was twofold: 1) To have all the Toronto Ink Canada Interns work together to get as many writers, directors, producers and more as possible crammed into a small downtown bar on a Sunday afternoon. 2) Have all the Toronto interns actually meet each other.

All said and done, I think it went down pretty well. There was much drinking and merriment, laughter and/or mirth. Conversations were had and - from what I've been told - everyone had a darn good time.

So much so that there's a movement to turn this into a monthly thing. (Which I'm so up for).

The really interesting thing to come out of it all (outside of the surprise visit from Ms. Karen Walton herself) was the amount of excitement there was for the idea of a Toronto Writer's Group. I'm working on getting that off the ground right now - pushing to get people involved of all levels 'cause I'm sure there's lots for us to learn from each other.

So, here's a question out to all you who are - or are looking to get involved - with a Writer's group:

What do you look for in/expect from a good Writer's Group?

Cheers!
Brandon

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

TV Par Excellence

A young man, born of two worlds, rises to challenge the status quo of a faltering empire.

On his quest he must face off against an aged Maverick with one last chance at power, a tenacious hockey mom with nothing to lose, a racial divide, an apathetic nation and an angry plumber.

With grit and determination he stumps across the country, bit by bit, slowly, evenly winning the hearts of the jaded and downtrodden; asking them to play an active part in the re-building of their nation -- filling the tired masses with a long-forgotten sensation: Hope.

And though the old money marshals their forces - calling down the lightning and the thunder, slashing with fear and division - he stands on the hilltop, in the rain. Unafraid.

Amongst the gathered faithful he calls forth the wrath of the pundits, bathing in their jeers and derision, weathering the tempest of lies and deceit, knowing that this will be the empire's last stand.

The land will be cleansed.

The people's voices will be heard.

A new day will dawn.

-----

I don't know about you, but that sounds like a damn good show to me.
All it needs is a title...

Suggestions?

Cheers,
Brandon

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

With that said...

congratulations to President-Elect Obama.

A Candle in the Dark

Tonight the eyes of the world will be focused on one place - one nation. A nation in the throes of a struggle, fighting to stand up and slough off the cloak of fear that has held them tight for far too long.

If you believe the polls, this'll be a historic moment, a potential landslide unlike any we've ever seen as millions and millions of voters - new voters - mobilize themselves to take part in the maintenance of their Country and their Government.

It's a beautiful thing for these tired eyes - a Democracy where its people are taking a chance, working together to try and help fix a system they know is broken. A beautiful thing. Though I have to admit it's a tad bittersweet watching all this from a Canadian perspective - having just been witness to our own election as it brought with it one of the lowest voter turnouts in history.

Sadly, I don't have the heart to blame'em - at least not for that. We know a leader when we see one and, frankly, we've been spoiled as of late; Watching as our own leaders paled in the shadow of a man on the flip-side of the 49th parallel, wishing that any one of them would bring that kind of fire.

You see, compared to the heartfelt, passionate speeches - compared to the exciting news coverage and constant stream of scandal - our leaders looked positively lifeless. Even when sitting across the table from one another, even when tempers flared - with all their umbrage (s)played out for us to see - it seemed like nothing more than a political tool (at best).

And maybe it's because we don't have the 2-year-long campaigns with their ability to gather steam and build interest, maybe it's because we don't have the money or the same combative news style that pushed this all to the forefront. Maybe we're simply not that dramatic.

Be that as it may - and it may be all those things - I can't help but ask:

Where's our Obama?

And why aren't more people pissed that we don't have a leader with that kind of passion?

Because, like I've said before, as much as I appreciate his politics - as much as I appreciate his message, he is not a Canadian and he will not be looking out for Canadian interests. (And don't even get me started on if McCain manages to squeak one out...).

Nothing against the man - I have to admit, I've heard his speeches and been moved, I've watched his interviews and laughed at the SNL spots - but when the chips are down, he'll be looking out for the Americans who elected him. Not us.

It's a hard thing hear after learning so much about him, after growing to like the man and his message; After wanting to see him triumph over the crotchety old goat and the kooky racists and the politics of Fear. It's great drama.

Heck, drama is what the American News Machine does best, it's their bread and butter -- and it's really tasty butter.

But it's not our butter.

Already today I've had 5 people I know, 5 people whom I know DID NOT VOTE in our recent election, ask me if I was for Obama; Ask me what I thought would happen if McCain managed to get in.

And while it's a scary thought, I'm finding that it's the least of my concerns. I'm concerned that we are fine with being apathetic in the face of leaders that don't inspire us; I'm concerned that we have no direct way of saying to the political parties - who supposedly represent us - "No, we don't like any of your choices for leader, go back and choose another" before our own tax dollars are on the line.

Tonight, as our closest ally goes to the polls in the biggest election of a generation, as they elect a leader that has inspired them and earned their votes. It's time for Canadians to look inward and ask why we allowed ourselves to be so limited in our choices. Why we allowed 300 million dollars of our money to be spent to elect leaders that we all gave a collective 'Meh' about.

And while we're at it, maybe we should ask ourselves 'why' we can't directly vote for the leader of our nation? Why it has to go through an intermediary? Why we're forced to link our vote - knowing that voting for a good leader at the local level may put a mediocre (or outright bad) leader into power as Prime Minister?

If there's one thing to take to heart from the, frankly, rousing campaign down South it's that if we want better leaders, we have to demand them - we have to search them out, we have to help make them and raise them up.

However, with that said, the people pushed before us at the end of the day are only the party's 'default settings'. They're the base-level factory models. We have to work to customize our leaders - tell them what's important to us, make our problems their problems. And if they can't or won't seem to 'get' it, send'em back and get another. These 'leaders' are our Public Servants. Patrons sent out to represent us - our hopes and our problems - on the world stage, people that we are to trust with our very well-being.

And if we can't feel like we trust them, if we can't feel like any one of them deserves our vote, then we send'em back and demand better.

Right now, as it stands, we can do that best by getting involved early, when the parties are picking their leaders. We can do our research and make our voices heard. We can demand that our media provide better, more in-depth coverage; Demand that our media work for us with the kind of unbiased journalism we expect. Helping to present us with the resources we need to make up our own minds.

I know it sounds like I'm talking crazy talk, but it's really not that hard. The change is really only as hard as we make it. We have to demand better - from everyone along the line - but we also have to put our money where our mouth is: We have to buy the papers that offer the best, most unbiased coverage. We have to watch the news broadcasts that earn our viewership by being non-partisan (not 'fair and balanced'), that go out of their way to keep us in the loop. We have to donate to the leaders we believe in and work as one to keep them on the level.

If we do this, if we get involved and put our hearts into the process of maintaining our Democracy, if we get out there and do it loud enough and long enough, I guarantee you, we'll get what we want:

A leader that's better than we deserve.

Cheers,
Brandon