Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Learning about the Engine

There's a CRTC Broadcasting policy review coming up.

And I've been reading up on my History, learning about that which came before me and the situations that lead us here.

Truth be told, the more I read, the more intrigued I am by the whole process - the system, if you will.

Now, I'm a tinkerer by nature; I like to see how things connect, how they work in tandem and what happens when it all goes wrong. How does it get put back together? Can it be put back together? Will it ever be the same again? Can it be remade better?

And that's why I keep finding myself asking this question:

How is the Canadian TV Industry supposed to work when everything's running as it should?

Because all I ever hear about is how 'broken' it is; How badly it needs to be torn down and rebuilt and such.

But... What does it do RIGHT in when everything's hunky dory? -- well, I guess TV gets made... but other than that, why do we even have this system in the first place?

And what about it most desperately needs to be changed and/or updated?

Because, from where I stand right now, I've really got no idea how I'm supposed to make sense of it all (Or... am I not supposed to do that?).

That said, maybe it's better if we take a Mechanic's perspective to this; Stepping back, looking at the engine as a whole: How does it all fit together? What connects where? Which way do the pumps go?

Maybe if we understand how it all works, then we can understand what's been broken... and, perhaps, how it can be fixed?

I'm sure there's someone out there who's already got a handle on this, already put it all together. But, well, I haven't met them yet. Most of the folks I ask these questions to kind of give me this look like 'uh, why are you asking me?'.

Personally, I'm all for it. But then again, I'm all about education; learning and understanding my part in the scheme of things. What can I say? It's one of my quirks... not really something I can turn off.

See, in my day job, I know exactly how what I'm doing effects every single step down the line - all the way to the moment it's put out to the world. I know the ramifications of pretty much any action I take before I take it because... well, because I've watched the snowball effect with crystal-horrifying-clarity.

And because I understand the process in its entirety, I understand what can be fixed, what can be improved and how to do it without disrupting the chain down the line. It's the kind of perspective that only really comes with experience (and massively fucking things up from time to time). Which is why it often falls upon those with experience to make sure the engine is running properly. They know what it sounds like. They can tell when it's knocking or leaking or... broken.

I've been training someone at my job, a newbie, trying to show them the intricacies of tasks that I've long ago mastered. And let me tell you, I've fought off my own moments of frustration when no matter what it seemed like they weren't 'getting' it.

But then I remembered what it was like for me entering into it all, being overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of a process that I can do now with my eyes closed; The time it took me to adjust and the many times I brought the whole thing to a screeching halt.

As a newbie writer I'm coming in to an engine even more complex than the one I know, one that rests upon a precipice held aloft by someone else's tired arms, barely shielded from the gale force winds that surround and buffet it.

Yet it's a system that I can't wait to learn, to be immersed in.

And so, for now, I'm reading up; Trying to learn about the engine.

Starting with an overview for now, getting into the guts of it all (hopefully) soon enough.

I want to thank Karen Walton, Denis McGrath, Jim Henshaw and Kelly Lynne Ashton for being so supportive and trying to answer my crazy questions. They've all pushed me on towards doing my own research, pointing me here and there, helping me to learn what I can about this crazy contraption.

I've got my ear to the hood and I'm listening.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Invitation ideas

Slow day today, been working away on various concepts for the wedding invitations I don't know if they're going to work out in the end... but hey, I like'm.

These are only potential backgrounds - the actual invitation layouts are still in the midst of being made - but at least I'm having some fun with the process n.

Feel free to take these and have fun with'em - if you'd like the .psd files, let me know ;)

In other news, has anyone else noticed that Toronto citizens seem pretty much okay so far with the whole 'overflowing-trash-bins' thing? I spent my lunch break walking around downtown and nary a glance or an overheard pissy comment about it.



P.S: In case you were wondering, that symbol on the pictures is the (apparently) the Chinese character for Marriage... or was it Wedding? I can't recall specifically...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series PITCH Bible

Aha! Sooo... yeah, first drafts and all being what they are - apparently I forgot there's a (massive) difference between a 'Series' bible and a 'Pitch' bible. (Thanks Tommy!)

So, after tackling that lil' oversight, I've been working away to fix a bunch of other problems that've been suggested while updating other sections wherever the inclination strikes me.

I've also taken Rich's advice and moved it over to Google Docs where it can be edited by, well, pretty much anyone. If you'd like to be a contributor to it, let me know in the comments section and I'll send you an invite.

For now, check out version 1.10 of

A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series Pitch Bible.

I'm going to work on keeping this document current (and free) for any and all who'd like to make use of it. Please, please any and all feedback is appreciated - my goal is to make this THE go-to document for people looking to make their first (or next) Pitch bible.

Hope you find it useful!

On a side note: anyone know how to make realistic pages show up in Google Docs? I know you can add your own Page breaks wherever you want, but I'd like it if I had the option to format it toward a standard 8 1/2 x 11 paper.

Also: What are my options for pretty-ing up this doc in Google Docs? The basic webpage it exports to is kinda... yeah, hard on the eyes. Suggestions are always welcome.

In other news, I'm working away on my wedding invitations - trying to come up with something fun and/or cute and/or 'special' enough for the wedding. It's really sort of slow going 'cause, well, it's kind of design by committee at the moment.

Originally, I had the idea to do it Godzilla-style - with us being represented by giant versions of our Chinese Zodiac characters (I'm a Monkey, she's a Snake) - Was going to have me climbing up Toronto's CN Tower on one side and her wrapped around Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Tower -- somehow finding love in the middle...

But that got shot down.

So I'm moving towards something softer, cuter, with more red and Chinese characters.

I'm still pulling for some giant monsters in the background tho'... ;)


Monday, June 15, 2009

A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series Bible

Well, I've gone and done it now - in my attempt to help out a friend, I ended up creating a 'guide'.

Specifically, a 'guide' to help newbie's write their first TV series bible.

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I'm qualified to write a 'guide'. I mean, I've written bibles before, none that've sold - been well-received - but not sold.

That said, I couldn't really help myself. The more I wrote the more I realized I needed to explain. The more I tried to explain the more I realized I needed to give just a bit more detail.

It all started 'cause one of my fellow Inkterns, Nathan, was wondering how the heck to make a series bible - if there was a template or something out there that he could run with. Google wasn't being much help and I kinda sensed he was getting a bit frustrated.

Funny thing is that I understood his pain. When I'd started writing my first bible it was torture. I had no idea what the hell I was trying to do, let alone what I needed to shoot for. And, really, that's kind of the key to it - at least for me: sometimes I just need to know what goes where and how long it all should be. I don't need specifics, just a place to start, just an idea of that I'm shooting for.

So that's what I tried to do.

Submitted for your approval:

A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series Bible.

Hopefully this'll be helpful to other writers wondering how it's all supposed to work. And by all means, feedback to improve the next version would be greatly appreciated. I'm not saying this is the be-all and end-all... but hopefully it's better than nothing.


Creative Commons License
A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series Bible by Brandon C. Laraby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License

Friday, June 12, 2009

That Un-scratchable Itch

There's been a lot of teeth-grinding and such about Mr. John Doyle's recent article where he basically calls a large chunk of Canadian writers 'snobs'.

And then there's this (from here - Page 2 of article):

“There's a snobbery about commercial shows here, among writers particularly,” La Traverse said. “Everyone dreams of doing a dark HBO series. There's a resistance."

Off the hop, this statement raises some interesting questions...

The first - and probably most naive - of them being: What's wrong with HBO-style series? I mean, I guess the biggest/most obvious problem would probably be money. I'm sure they're not cheap to make.

But I can't help but wonder: if there's so many Canadian writers out there chomping at the bit to make dark, HBO-style dramas (and I'm guessing here that it is dramas that she's referring to...?), maybe there's a real reason for it?

Maybe it's not just flat-out snobbery in the vein of "it's Dexter or nothing"...?

I mean, and hey, I may be totally off the mark here - I can accept that - but maybe it's some sort of 'repression' thing? 'Cause I can't help but wonder what we'd be saying if the opposite were true? What if we were flooding the Can-Con market with home-made, dark, HBO-style dramas? Would there be an outcry from writers for more situational comedies and police procedurals?

My gut instinct tells me that this seems to be along the lines of that itch that needs to be scratched. It suggests that Writers - professional or otherwise - are seeing a gap, a niche to be filled and are, themselves, filled with excitement and interest to make something along those lines.

I'm also thinking that the word 'snobbery' might be being confused with 'disinterest'.

Personally, I got into screenwriting because I love Horror and wanted to see more of it on TV (Savage Knights was definitely not for the young'uns). And, well, Horror is kind of like the red-headed stepchild of Drama.

Long and short of it: I like 'Dark', it's kind of in my DNA. That said, I've also learned that being a Horror TV Writer in Canada is about as useful a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

So, yeah, there's that.

I've also had to learn that being a (employable) Writer means that you should know how to write for other audiences, know how to connect with people who don't normally hang around your creepy woodland firepit.

The good thing about Horror is that it behooves me to know both Drama and Comedy - and learning how to incorporate both has made me a stronger writer overall. My recent Chuck spec has been making people laugh quite a bit... and yeah, I don't really consider myself that funny.

Basically, I can do 'commercial' (whatever that translates to in a given moment) and I'll enjoy it, but that said, if given the chance to tell a scary story - hell yeah, I'm going to jump at the chance.

And I think there might be a lot of that going around - but from more of the counter-culture stance of 'hey, lets do some of this for a change'.

'Cause I know I see something like Dexter or Carnivàle or Six Feet Under or Sopranos or Deadwood and I go 'DAMN', that was cool.

And who doesn't want to write something damn cool? How can anyone fault a writer for wanting to be a part of something like that? To make something like that here, at home, from our perspective?

To be clear: I'm not saying that 'commercial' can't be cool - and I'm not trying to rip on anyone here - I just think it flexes different muscles. Muscles that, maybe, some are feeling have atrophied a tad in Canadian TV?

What I am saying is that, hey, if there are THAT many Canadian writers itching to do dark, HBO-style dramas... maybe there's a reason.

And I don't think it's because we're all a bunch of snobs.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Keep Them Breathing.

Coming up for air again - I took a CPR/First-Aid course on Tuesday and man, that was an eye-opening experience.

There's a lot of information to digest but one thing I kind of noticed is that there are a lot of parallels to draw between First-Aid and being a Writer.

In First-Aid, the first and most important thing you can do is Take Charge. When a medical emergency goes down, someone's choking, someone's passed out, oftentimes people stand around watching, unsure of what to do. Being that person to stand up and say 'okay, I know First-Aid' - to be able to take charge of the situation and make people feel comfortable that you know what you're doing (even if you've never had to actually use your training) is paramount.

As a writer, especially as a freelance writer, there's no room to say 'yeah, I'm shaking in my boots here'. An opportunity comes up, you step up, shake hands and make everyone around you feel confident that you can do the job.

In First-Aid, much of the initial problem lies in figuring out what the heck happened. How did this person go unconscious? Why aren't they breathing?

In Writing, it's figuring out why your story isn't working, where your A-Plot went and why your characters all sound like you (but with better hair).

Yes, I know, it may seem like I'm reaching here -- Writing sure don't seem quite as 'Life and Death' as CPR and First-Aid, but you better believe that someone's life is on the line - most likely your own.

In production - as a few pro writers have been kind enough to share - once that train is rolling, it doesn't stop for anyone. Money is being spent every minute and if you're not ahead of it, you're under it.

The very basics of CPR and First-Aid are simple: Keep them breathing. Whatever it takes, keep the brain getting oxygen for as long as possible until help arrives.

In Writing it's just as simple: Tell a story. Whatever you do, where ever you take it, make sure it's got a beginning, a middle and an end. Usually in that order.

Of course, like so many things in life, the Devil's in the details.

In CPR and First-Aid, sometimes keeping someone alive is going to mean that you're going to feel someone's ribcage crack and break beneath your hands (believe me, they were quite explicit about this point). You're going to see those mouthfuls of oxygen you pushed into their lungs come out back at you... from both ends. Sometimes preceded by (or followed by) the contents of their stomach.

In Writing, sometimes meeting that looming deadline is going mean that your back will start to calcify into a hunchback position as the veins in your wrists wither and narrow - causing your hands to FREAK THE FUCK OUT in spasms for no apparent reason. Your sleep time will all but dissipate and any hope of maintaining a regular, healthy diet will be buried under the next 3am round of corn chips and Red Bull.

Finally: In First-Aid, once you've stepped up to help someone, you're there. You can't (legally) leave them until Paramedics arrive and give you the A-O.K. In short: Congrats! You've saved someone's life (or... not) -- hope you don't have to pee any time soon.

In Writing, once you're on a project you're there. You're there 'till it's done... or you're fired. So, yeah - as someone once told me: "If you don't like a project you better find something to like about it real quick".

All-in-all, the CPR/First-Aid course kinda freaked me the hell out. In a good way. I have to say that I have an absolute fuck-ton more respect for Paramedics and especially for the Volunteers at St. John Ambulance. The stories our teacher shared with us - true, unvarnished stuff... man - it's the kind of things that I really haven't seen on TV (and probably won't - tho' Nurse Jackie might go there...).

Stories about having to kneel over an unconscious patient and vomit behind them after having them throw up in your mouth. Or having to try and do CPR on a one-year-old kid who just slipped and fell off their dad's shoulders, landing head-first on the ground - trying to keep the dad (and themselves) calm but knowing that the kid's a goner.

Wow... yeah... it was a powerful day. I hope I never, ever have to use this training - but, all things considered, I'm really glad I took the time to learn it.

Also, really, really glad I had to be a writer... 'cause, well, I realized I'm not so much for the cradling/preservation of severed appendages/eyeballs, etc.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Posting YouTube Videos To Your Blog: A Primer

Posting YouTube videos into your Blogger/Blogspot posts these days tends to be more of an Art than a Science as the default values for the video size make our Blogger templates choke and gag in their attempts to contain it all.

So, what do we do? We get creative - see YouTube's actually done us all a favour in that we can actually specify the size of the video we want to embed.

Normally, what you end up getting is something like this:

Not very template friendly, right?

What we're looking for in the embed code is the two instances of this (easiest to edit if you switch over to 'Edit HTML' mode in the Create window):

Object width="450" height="344"

(you'll need to change both versions of height and width for this to work).

See, most of the blogger templates don't allow for objects much wider than 400 pixels - inserting something larger causes the object to bust out of the sides and generally make your blog look all awkward and crap-tastic.

So, easy fix: All you have to do is take the Width number and change it to 400 or less - making sure to compensate by lowering the Height by around 30-60 pixels. I've realized I like the look of Width = 400 and Height = 230... but that's my taste.

Here's what it looks like when optimized for your blog:

(Note: unfortunately this video didn't scale down all that well, but for most HD videos this works perfectly - to get rid of the extra black on the sides, reduce the total Width even more - probably for this video I'd put it closer to 350)


And Now For Some Positive Reinforcement

Mr. Will Dixon's got a great little post up on his blog, talking about the process of writing and the pain of the first draft and how it all comes together.

His piece de resistance, however, is a brilliant video clip from a U.K. show I'd never heard of called 'Screenwipe'. I'm going to swipe it a bit and post it here (with extra special thanks to Will for pointing it out - I've got a whole new series to look into!).

There's a little scene in the show, it starts around 6:01 or so, where Charlie Brooker says "One common thread that seems to connect all the writers we've spoken to so far is that, at various points, they felt like they were a fraud or that they were about to be found out."

He doesn't even get the question entirely out before Russell T. Davies jumps all over it. "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! Always and now. Exactly. But everyone feels like that, it's no secret".

But, you know, there's something re-assuring in that statement. Something about watching a writer I admire admit that he feels like a total fraud sometimes...

It's a weird thing, writing. We spend so much time sort of writing alone, in this bubble without anyone in the industry - even the people running the show - knowing what the hell we're doing.

William Goldman famously wrote "Nobody knows anything"... and really, the more time I spend learning about this industry, the more those words start to ring true. It leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging around the whole thing, creates an environment where people who've managed to break in and stay in are looked at as geniuses and modern magicians. All as we, on the outside, stare on, wondering how they did it. (No wonder the most common answer to that 'how'd you break in?' question is 'I dunno'.)

The one common thread that I've found is that no one really understands why or how it works for them. There's no scientific formula for a script detailing if it'll make a hit show (unlike music) and there are so many possible variables that it's really quite impossible to predict.

See, at least in building a house you've got Math. You've got the laws of Physics - tangible, predictable, real-world effects. You know that if you build an arch of such and such size, of a specific material then it can support a certain amount of weight. Every time. You can make allowances for the effects of decay and gravity and, hell, earthquakes.

In writing, the basic theory is that all you have to do is tell a story - and if that were true, there'd be a whole lot more happy writers out there, I'm sure. But the whole concept of what a 'story' is is subjective at best. Let alone if it's a 'good' story.

I mean, technically, as long as it has a beginning, middle and end you've got a story - just as 4 walls, a floor and a roof give you a house - but is it a 'good' house? Is it stable? Will it last? Will it warm you and protect you? Does it look like something you'd actually want to live in? Writing's very much the same - it's in the execution - is the dialogue wooden? Is the pacing shit? Is the whole thing a massive cliché? Is it funny/scary/dramatic enough? Will your intended audience like it? Will the network like it? Will you ever write anything ever again or slip into a depressive, drug-fuelled, neurotic morass?

No wonder the people who've managed to make a living in the business seem just happy to be there.

As for me, I think my next goal is to try and focus on finding that one grain of an idea that gets me excited for a story - no matter what the concept is. Because the closest thing I've found to a 'truth' in this whole shebang is that when you're writing about something you love, your end product just seems to glow. And since one of the hardest things to do is to find that grain - to uncover that unabashed sliver of child-like joy, no matter the circumstances - it seems like as good a place to start as any.

That said, I'm going to try dusting off an old feature from the early days of the blog: The Writing Challenge.

For those of you that don't remember (or weren't around when it started) the writing challenge was a neat little way of making sure I plunked my ass down and got to writing something every day - a self-imposed deadline on a self-imposed project. It was meant to help take the sting and self-flagellation out of writing and help to focus on the stuff you enjoy.

The idea was that you are encouraged to go anywhere you want with the idea, take it as far as you can and have FUN with it. There are no set themes or limits except those asked for by the challenge.

You don't have to share it with anyone but yourself (perhaps the one true freedom/joy of writing for you) but I'd hoped it would springboard us all into exploring new ideas or avenues or types of characters that we might not normally try.

Writing Challenge Reboot - Challenge #1:

Format: Screenplay
Deadline: 1 Week
Length: 5 pages
Challenge: Write a 5-page teaser intro for a show you really like but have never written. If the show doesn't have a teaser, write the last 5 pages leading up to the climax of the story.

Optional Bonus: Write the death scene of your favourite TV character.