Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Shhhh...!

It's a surprise.

Just between you and me - on the down low.

Tonight's the night.

Nervous, excited. Want to sneak out of work and do it right now... but no - I have a plan.

Must stick to the plan.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Speaking of complex relationships...

Thanks to a very, very kind friend I've had the pleasure of getting to sit down and watch the movie "Let The Right One In".

All I can say is this: When ever you get the chance, go see this movie and tell others about it. You won't be disappointed. It's nothing like what you'll expect - and that's a good thing.



http://www.lettherightoneinmovie.com/

Of course I see this film just in time to hear the Americans are already hard at work at a remake.

Ugh.

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, December 29, 2008

Watching it all unfold

Relationships are complex.

Yes, I know, not a very mind-blowing statement in and of itself - but when standing before one as the 3rd party, watching said complexities unfold, that simple statement seems to take on fractal-like qualities.

Watching people interact - their back and forth, the way they talk and intuit what will or won't come next - has been something that's always intrigued me.

This past holiday I stood before my family and somehow managed to be the invisible person in the room, watching as each acted/reacted to the other; Carefully detailing how my brother's facial expressions change when turning from my sister to my mother. Watching how his facial expression alone directly impacts how my mother interacts with him. Not even a word said, no tone of voice - a look. A stare that says everything.

Then following my mother as she interacts with her husband - that look now on her face, transferred - and placed at his feet. This look IS Human interaction, hell, it's a whole conversation.

And somehow as this all happens around me, as the event plays itself out - my mind scratching along on my internal notepad - I can't help but wonder "how do I even begin to write this kind of stuff?"

I wrestle with feeling appalled that I would even consider drawing from this well to aid in my writing and yet, at the same time, this is the kind of 'real' that stories are built on. Emotional stakes and through-lines. Drama.

It's a strange feeling to find myself being aware of standing outside of it all, to be 'observing' and taking mental notes when normally I'd be in the thick of it with them.

More importantly, I'm not sure when or how I gained this sudden ability - is it some sort of 'writer' thing? I hope so because otherwise it just seems sort of creepy and weird. Useful, for sure, but definitely a tad creepy.

In other news, I cleaned my room yesterday. Again, nothing huge or revelatory yet at the same time symbolic.

As I sloughed my way through the debris that somehow managed to accumulate (where DID the floor go??) I found myself staring at old things. Papers, notes, scribbles. Drawings that I'd doodled, plots for stories never told.

I found my original notes for Savage Knights and laughed so hard I damn-near came to tears.

There, on my own - not knowing a damn thing about a damn thing - was an outline. Crude, but sure as shit, it was there. All my struggling of late with it, trying to wrap my head around it, fighting with myself to understand it - and there, in my hand, was this scrap of loose leaf lovingly entitled:

"Cool stuff I want to see in this episode".

Somehow, in my wide-eyed scribble of handwriting, I'd gone off and wrote all the neat things I'd wanted to see happen and then expounded on how best to do so; How I could go about realizing them. And this is back before I knew how to 'write' an episode, before I understood format or anything really. Just me with this head full of ideas writing 'Cool stuff' I wanted to see.

Heh.

I must've held that wilted little piece of congealed glamour for 10 minutes, caught up in the reverie, before I finally snapped out of it. Things've been... odd... lately, my life is changing and changing fast - this upcoming year is pretty much guaranteed to be the most stressful and exciting time, well, ever.

But this little piece of paper - I dunno, it pushed through all the anxiety and frustration and fear I've been having like a lazer beam. Parting the stormfront, obliterating the fog machine that seemed to take up residence in my subconcious as of late. A searing reminder of innocence and fun from that gleeful lil' kid in my head, the one who should be bouncing around and tossing out ideas faster than I can write them.

I think I'm going to have it laminated or something, maybe framed. Keep it near by - a reminder of simpler times as I slog it out into the deep waters ahead.

New Years is 2 days (and change) away. Stay tuned, something big is coming down the pipe.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, December 19, 2008

Get thee to the Christmas Tree

I'm going to be heading out to see the family today - off 'til the 29th to spend some warm-fuzzy time with the people I really only see once or twice a year.

Getting everyone together is tough and keeping them in the same room is tougher - we're definitely an interesting mix - but outside of all the bluster and drama that the holidays tend to bring, we always end up together. There's something special about that - though sometimes I think all the drama is just to set things up for the wonder that is our Christmas morning.

It begins with a stifled knock at my door - like clockwork, 5:55am rolls around and the tradition that has become our own begins to play out.

My brother, sneaking from his chamber, knocking on our doors with the 5 minute warning - in the hallowed position of the 'waker', he who prepares the forces for what is to come.

My sister, her door cracking, disappears down the stairs - slinking into the darkness - preparing the magical potion and foraging in the abyss for the hidden socks of treasure.

As the eldest I wake and prepare to enter direct confrontation with the slumbering one. Quietly at first, from the other side of the door I knock and call and pester - struggling to rouse her from her slumber. The first time will fail, this I know, but it is an important part of the process. Several attempts will be needed, but the slumbering one knows how this ritual plays out. First the grumbling, then groaning and eventually the sounds of stirring. But I do not relent - she's a cunning one and I've been tricked before.

My knocking and calls will continue until I hear the magic word, until I hear the two syllables that inform me my sacred task is complete:

"Coffee"

Only then do I abandon my post, fleeing down the stairs as the door creaks, careful to avoid the wrath that would befall me should I pause. Down into the room by the twinkling tree, there do we wait, holding the steaming mystical potion, there do we stand together as one.

Once our offering is accepted, we take our ordained positions around the dancing lights, preparing to receive our share of the hard-won spoils.

Yet we are careful to wait until everyone has gotten their portion before we tear into the colourful, protective skins - lest we invoke her wrath. She will not and we will rip and tear and bite, revealing our victorious plunder to each other before looking to her and awaiting our portion. This shall play out again and again, divvying up the treasures to the very last, tatters flying around us, littering the ground like paper snow.

With the treasure shares, we are freed to gorge ourselves on the sweet delights hidden in our socks as the now-wakened-one stumbles into the kitchen to prepare the golden bird for the feast to come.

Barring us from entrance until the maddening scent overwhelms us all and we begin to plot anew.

Truly it is a magical time of year.

Merry Christmas to ye all!
Brandon

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Briefly

More to come later - I promise! - but for now, Nate over on Ink Canada shared this interesting link about famous writer's and artist's writing habits.

http://dailyroutines.typepad.com/daily_routines/writers/

I'm not really sure where I fall in the spectrum - certainly not as organized or regimented as some of these - but I try to do at least 2 hours a day during the week.

It's a great collection, take a few minutes and see how Emily Dickinson got it done ;)

Cheers,
Brandon

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hunkering Down

It's cozy right now - even if a good chunk of my free time is being spent looking over my shoulder here at work. The heat's turned up, the four walls are keeping the weather far, far away and - with any luck - my paycheck will clear like clockwork and I'll get to spend far too much on Christmas presents.

I've been debating what to do for a while now with regards to my future and the answers haven't been coming all that easily. Luckily, I've managed to get a bit of insight from someone I respect a great deal and they helped me to see some of my options a tad more clearly.

This last weekend was our 2nd Ink Drinks event here in Toronto and a bunch of us TV and Film writers braved the blustering snowstorm to come out and share in some laughter and beer with Writer/Producer/Blogger Extraordinaire: Mr. Jim Henshaw.

First off, I just want to say that Jim is a real class-act all the way. He came out and chilled with us - had a few beers, a few laughs then jumped right in. He asked us all what our goals were then he listened and offered some real solid feedback about how we should best go about realizing them.

One thing Jim was up front about was that times are indeed tough and no one has a real solid idea of what's around the corner. It's a worrying time for pretty much all in involved, but that doesn't mean we're all SOL.

What he suggested was that now is the time for us to be out there on our own, to be making our own stuff, creating content and getting our names known. There's going to be a real hunger for original stuff for the next couple years as more and more people find themselves out of work. In short: write a script, grab a camera and some friends and get the heck out there.

The other suggestion of Jim's was that we just hunker down for a good 6 months and write our asses off. Come up with some quality, quality work that we can waft under people's noses once things start to normalize. Tho' with the potential of a SAG strike on the horizon and the AMPTP being... well... special... who knows when that will be?

I briefly had the opportunity to pitch Jim a couple of the projects I was working on and one of them got a really good response. He seemed to really like it and gave me a couple of pointers on how to make it stronger. I've taken his suggestions and it's really starting to hum now - definitely a good feeling to know that I'm on the right track.

And so, to that end, I've decided to split the difference. Well, sort of.

I'm writing away on a few projects - going to finish and polish some specs over the holidays and maybe, MAYBE work out a cool idea for a web series. Peter and I've been bandying a few ideas about and I feel like there's something solid there. Something solid that can be done with very little money (which would be nice because, well, yeah - money's tight).

Hopefully in the post-christmas, new-year world we can actually get around to shooting some stuff and getting it on the web.

Fingers are officially crossed on that one.

Anyways, a huge thank-you to Jim for being such a stand-up guy and a big thanks to everyone who came out. I'm taking suggestions on who to try and grab for next month's event so if you have any, feel free to let me know ;)

Cheers all!
Brandon

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Let's call a spade a spade here.

As PM Harper sulks his way out of the Governor General's office and hangs up the kumate gloves 'til after Ho-Ho arrives, I can't help but watch this fiasco through gritted teeth.

There are lots of ways we can slice this - and the various political parties are already digging in with their Ginsu blades - but the truth is that Stephen Harper failed.

He had everything in his hand, everything. The government was his, all he had to do was table a budget. A budget. The parties would've bitched and moaned but as long as he put out a simple, by-the-numbers plan, he would've been fine. Just stick to the program.

But he had to get tricksy.

Like a grumpier, hairier Gollum, our Prime Minister couldn't take his eyes off the prize long enough to save himself.

What really gets to me is how this kind of thing even makes it out the door. I mean, it's not like the budget was whipped together over a weekend.

How many drafts did they give this thing? And did no one read it over and say 'you know, I think the Opposition might be a tad pissed that we're trying to eliminate one of their major sources of funding'?

Yet it's only now that the hornet's nest has been kicked, after everyone's hackles are raised, that Harper's talking about how 'Canadians want us to get to work'.

Well, just a few quick questions for you here, sir - one concerned Canadian to another:

Why didn't you just get to work in the first place?

Why pick a fight you didn't need to?

Why drag Canadians through all this shit once again?

And that's what really pisses me off here. We've already caught him working the back channels before. We've caught him playing dirty pool several times. But here he is, caught flat-footed - in broad daylight - revealed.

Again.

Yet he's given the opportunity to slink away back into the shadows, allowed to do what he does best - make us forget about him.

He's allowed to sling attack ads and sow dis-information for the next 6 weeks.

Merry Christmas people, you get to watch the roaring Christmas Log on TV with a side order of Harper's spin on how badly the Coalition Government is going to screw you. Here's a side of bitter partisan hatred to go with your cranberries and stuffing.

Listen, I'm not a fan of any of these guys. Dion can't string together a thought in English let alone a sentence - if he can't even communicate with the majority of the population, how will he represent us on the world stage? I'm not a fan of Layton either - he's all too slippery in this, it's not the politics he cares about, it's the power, and that's becoming glaringly obvious.

But let's call a spade a spade here: Harper has been given every chance in the books, has gamed the system at almost every opportunity - hell, he even tricked the government into thinking he was allowed to act like he had a Majority; And yet when it's all FINALLY resting in the palm of his hands, when he has the chance to get to work making Canada work he chooses to go offside and start swinging at the other team.

These are our future's he's gambling with, leveraging in his continual bids for power.

It's bullshit.

And as tax-paying citizens we should not accept it.

Cheers,
Brandon

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Eggs. Not all in one Basket.

Going back to the drawing board is tough - especially after slaving over a first draft and thinking you had it nailed, only to realize that it's not at all what you wanted.

As Trevor Finn - from my TV Writer's group - so sagely put it "Maybe you needed to do that draft to figure out the story you really wanted to tell."

With the new-found gift of hindsight - seeing how I struggled with that draft - those words are really hitting home as I take a hard look at what the core of my story was about.

Peter's been an absolute kick-ass friend in encouraging me to dig deeper, to slough off my world's history and start fresh. He's gotten a glimpse of the bigger picture I was trying to paint - trying to fit into a pilot - and his jaw went a little slack. See, there's backstory and then there's backstory. And I made the newbie mistake of making the past of my world far more interesting than the world itself. By the time I was putting my characters in, all the really cool stuff had already happened.

It's really a hard thing to know when you're writing in a vacuum, to know how much is too much. To know when to say 'okay, that's enough'. Peter's been very cool in allowing me to bounce ideas off of him (even though he's insanely busy at the CFC - yes there will be many pints raised in his honour), helping me to figure out what had me so excited in the first place. Why I wanted to tell this story.

What I realized is that it's not about the external threats, the 'problem of the week' but the characters, and the world. The complexities of these people being diametrically opposed and on a collision course. It's about the intricacies of their personalities, their convictions, their needs - and the horrible lengths they're driven to in order to live.

So yeah, I've gone back to the drawing board, wrote some notes - well, a lot of notes... and now I'm putting it away. Letting it percolate. The ideas are flowing but I'm going to let the pot fill a bit, you know?

And that's where the 'not all in one basket' thing kicks in. While I've been pursuing this idea pretty strong over the last year, I have to be careful not to let myself fall into the category of becoming 'that guy who only works on one script'.

If I wanna work in TV I've gotta be able get ideas done, and not just my own. I gotta challenge myself to both learn my craft while coming up with new concepts and stories. I gotta prove my worth to someone who's going to sign my paycheque somewhere down the line.

So I'm getting to work. And levelling out my foundation - so to speak. I'm reading 'Writing the TV Drama Series' by Pamela Douglas right now and I have to say it's been - so far - exactly what I needed. Filling in the cracks of what I've learned on my own, the little nit-picky details that I'd kinda wrapped my head around. That's kind of the problem with being self-taught - I've only learned what I needed when I needed it so there's all these wonderful little potholes in my basic knowledge that everyone else I've talked to just seems to 'get'. Things like how to understand what a 'beat' is, how many you should have in a scene. What a scene is. These are things I 'kinda' understood but didn't really 'get'. (Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend for finding this gem for me!... and thanks to the Toronto Public Library... free books, who knew? :P)

Anyways, in the book, they say we should be doing about 4 scripts a year. Spec, work or otherwise. Just to keep us learning and in the game, to learn the craft. The other thing they explicitly state, one that they push forward hardcore, is that you've gotta be ready for the long haul, comparing it to learning an instrument.

John Wells - producer of ER, The West Wing and Third Watch - says "I wish I had more of a sense that is was much more like learning to play a musical instrument. After four or five years you start to not embarrass yourself. It takes 10 years before you can even begin to call yourself proficient. And that's very difficult for for students because they've been through 12 years of primary school, four years of college, and often a couple of years of graduate school and they think they've already done 16, 18 years of education, so they want to go do it right now, though they've actually just started."

I figure I'm maybe 2 years in now, maybe a year and a half since I started REALLY pushing myself to learn. Guess that means only 8 more to go, right?

Either way, the main message is that I can't be resting on my laurels. I've started coming up with log lines and concepts like crazy. Filling up my book with all the craziest stuff that will and will definitely not fly. I've also started pitching to my co-workers and strangers, finding out what the strongest concepts are. So far, I've got two. One's a drama, the other's a comedy. There's a third that's getting good reviews too, but it feels kinda derivative right now so I'm not sure.

I'm putting together pitch documents - little 2-5 pagers that summarize my show and it's concepts - before I try writing the script. I used to just have ideas and I'd start writing but I've learned that while that might be fine for film, TV you have to know your game inside and out. You have to be able to say 'this is my show:' and then make their eyes explode in gory fireworks displays. Okay, not so much with the gore, but you get the idea.

And that's the secret. If I can make their eyes light up, see that spark, I know I'm on the right track. The more sparks I see from the more people, the better the idea. Those are the ones I'm turning my thought processes to right now. I'm also looking at some recent shows to decide what to spec next. Since I've never done a Comedy (or even attempted, really), I'm thinking about doing a Chuck. Of course, everyone and their monkey will be doing one, but hey, that's fine. The challenge will be to tell a story that works and has my 'voice'... whatever that is.

Guess that's something I'll figure out over the next 8 years or so.

Until then... back to work.

Cheers all,
Brandon