Wednesday, July 25, 2007

FESTivities

This article in the Hollywood Reporter discusses two TV festivals going on in LA right now: The LATV Fest and the ITV Fest. Both aim to give new talent a chance to pitch their ideas to studio execs and production companies. I'm a little too late for this year, but perhaps next time...they both seem pretty cool, especially since you hear about hundreds of film festivals but rarely TV festivals.

The Academy Is...not seeing the Lights.

(I could totally write headlines for Variety.)

The countdown is nearing...three days left in Ithaca. And I may actually be leaving Buffalo for LA sooner than planned; my friend Chris Cucci and his friend Kevin were looking for cross country companions/places to stay and so I may go with them. I guess they're trying to get there on $200, and are filming the whole thing. My car has 95,000 miles on it so I think it might be good to have some backup - and I'm always up for an adventure.

In an earlier post I mentioned that Weeds had been nominated for Emmys...more specifically, Mary Louise Parker was nominated for Lead Actress in a Comedy and Elizabeth Perkins was nominated for Supporting Actress in a Comedy. I'm happy about these noms, but the Academy and I are not on very good terms because of the lack of Friday Night Lights nominations. The show was only nominated for producing and casting...both of which are great, but come on. Acting? Writing? And How did Boston Legal get a nom for best drama and not FNL? Sigh. (You can view all the nominations here. At least FNL has been moved from Fridays to Tuesdays...maybe more people will jump on the bandwagon next season.

Meanwhile, I've made a little more headway on my pilot about college radio. I've quickly discovered, though, that plot and plot twists are my worst enemies. I find myself writing scenes with great character stuff and fun dialogue, but not much happens. This is the problem when you stick too close to real life.

AND - you need to go to ClarkandMichael.com Michael Cera (everyone's favorite cousin-lover from Arrested Development and one of the stars of the upcoming Superbad) has teamed up with Clark Duke (I admit I know nothing about him) for this little web video series that's quite funny. ICLA alumni will also notice the location of episode one - THE OAKWOODS! Oh, how I wish I would have run into Michael Cera on my way to the pool. I actually did once share an elevator with him at the Sony Lot...I really wanted to say something clever, but it was only after he got off that the right phrase came to me: "There's always money in the banana stand."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

high school + TV

My high school is turning out a lot of people who end up on TV...fellow chorale member Neil Haskell is blowing everyone away on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. I had my fifteen minutes on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The most famous Red Devil is Chad Michael Murray of One Tree Hill (I probably still have the casette tape of my phone interview with him for the Buffalo News tucked away in a drawer somewhere). But a little closer to my heart is fashionista Becky Shim. When she'd give you a fashion compliment, it meant more than when anyone else did...because when the student body was wearing matching American Eagle logos across their chests, she claimed her favorite store was Urban Outfitters (not that there was one nearby). She used to wear the coolest outfits, prompting all the girls to look on in awe and claim that she come to school in a barrel and pull it off. In high school, three friends and I used to call ourselves the Ya Ya Sisters. Most of us hadn't read the book, and none of us really liked the movie...but the point was, we were really close and hung out all the time. A Ya Ya herself, Becky has found her way to reality TV fame on the N's Star Stylist. You can check out her little webisode and vote for her here!

what I've seen lately

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - As my work buddies and I filed out of the brand new stadium seating Regal Cinemas in Ithaca, we all agreed that not much happened in the movie. It was fun, it was Harry, but it felt kind of like a mini-movie to hold you over before you get the real one. I quite enjoyed David Yates' directing...lots of great shots, cool nightmare flashes, really stylish newspaper headlines to show exposition and pass time, etc. But it was almost TOO smooth and stylish...the battle scenes weren't grim or gritty enough; it didn't really seem like the characters were in danger. Also, Emma Watson (Hermione) is a terrible actress. Overactress. She's constantly sighing and making alarmed exclamations and though it may have worked when they were all ten and adorable, now it's just distracting.
If you think of the movie as stand-alone and not part of a monstrous film or book franchise (difficult, I realize), it was kind of weak and too simple. We didn't really know until an hour into the movie what Harry was being so emo about this time, or why it was important. Within a simple three-act character-on-a-quest-despite-obstacles construction, it was a little murky. Plus, the Order was underdeveloped. Ron didn't even get a subplot. The amazing Emma Thomspon was underused. And I felt like there were missed emotional opportunities with Cho, the whole dementor craze, and Harry discovering his father was kind of a bully. I didn't hate it...I enjoyed it, to be sure. It just fell short of its potential.

Zodiac - it's out on DVD on Tuesday so I was able to see it a week early. It's extremely long - 157 minutes - and I definitely think half an hour should have been cut. But it was a great combination of interesting detective twists and character flaws. Mark Ruffalo is PERFECT, Robert Downey JR is great, and Jake Gyllenhall is pretty good too. I also enjoyed Anthony Edwards since I hadn't seen him in a while. I think the length problem came about because Jake seems to be the protagonist for the first part, then Mark takes over for about 90 minutes, and then it goes back to Jake. Perhaps sticking to the true timeline of the story was inhibiting, I don't know. I would have liked a bit more suspense, a bit more detail of the crimes. But it was nice to see some good character work amidst a crime story.

Weeds Season Two - Also out on Tuesday. OMG! Like I said in the last post, drug dealing creates automatic life-and-death, high-stakes situations in the characters' everyday lives. But
what I like best about Weeds is how perfectly it combines comedy and drama. The last few episodes are absolutely heartbreaking but still hilarious. There are also some great visuals, like all of the drug free signs and cameras in Silus' room. As for the character work...I loved Zooey Deschanel as the wacky ex. I also love that Peter is an asshole and Conrad is the softie. Another non-stereotype is Silus as the sentimental, dependent one and Meghan as the unromantic opposite. It's also refreshing that the kids aren't condescended to or treated like they're so cute and precious. They're real kids. They swear and manipulate and have real problems just like the adults. I'm excited about the Emmy nods and I hope they win. I watched all 12 episodes in 2 days and I probably will buy it on Tuesday.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Studio 60 Syndrome

I caught the series premiere of Mad Men on AMC last night. It's a stylish drama about 1950s/1960s Madison Avenue advertising tycoons (and the women who answer their phones). It definitely has potential...great historical details, witty dialogue, sex appeal, and a nice twist at the end of the pilot that sets up some major flaws for our protagonist. However, I found all the scenes dealing with advertising to be boring. I'm afraid it might have what I call Studio 60 Syndrome: no one gives a shit about what the characters do for a living.

When it comes to workplace comedies, the more mundane the better. Just look at The Office, Extras, Drew Carey, Just Shoot Me, etc. But when the show is a drama that takes itself as serious as Mad Men, the work had better be important. This is why we see so many cop/detective, medical and law shows. These people deal with life and death situations in their everyday work. (Screenwriting books and teachers will say there are HIGH STAKES.) More edgy examples would be The Sopranos or Weeds - the mafia and drug dealing - also life and death. The West Wing is another: when running a country is your job, you have a lot riding on whether you do it right. But on Studio 60 or Mad Men, what happens when the characters don't succeed in their job? Nothing, really. No one dies or goes to prison for life.

I don't mean to say that Mad Men is doomed to the fate of Studio 60. I think that its historical setting gives it a new dimenson, a new way to discuss gender, power and money. Also, previews show that the firm is going to get involved in politics, which could be very interesting and high-stakes (like I said, West Wing). We'll have to see how it goes.

Mad Men airs Thursdays at 10 (same time as Burn Notice...which sucks...but luckily cablers tend to re-air their original shows often) on AMC. You can also download it on itunes.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I'm Famous!

Okay, not really. But TV Writer Jane Espenson just answered my question (and mentioned my name) in her TV writing blog that I love to read so much. She gives the go-ahead to use my Friday Night Lights spec to apply for the Warner Brothers Writing Workshop. The deadline is August 15. The program isn't as cushy as the ABC one - no stipend, and it's just one night a week - but one of the Ithaca TV Writing candidates I had lunch with said she did it and found it helpful and ended up writing on a WB show, so it sounds worth entering. Also, there's no longer a fee for the program (just the application). So...more fingers crossed in the hopes that network folk like my stuff.

Meanwhile, I haven't been working too much on my pilot because I've been working relentless hours at Hollywood Video...plus I went to New York for the weekend. It was actually really great, since I got to see Josh (boyfriend), Maria (sister), Laura King (high school), Chris Kelley and Will Van Dyke (older WICB kids), Liz Staley (my old Assistant and good friend), Nick Fusco (many titles) and Jared Weinberg (0604 roommate). That's a lot, no? I'm totally ready for life as a jetsetter, seeing friends in varying cities.

Monday, July 9, 2007

WHEN to begin

You'll see that the blog has a new look. I thought it was kind of blah so I decided to pick a more dramatic template and keep the colors as is. Let me know what you think.

So, I'm writing an original pilot now, a half-hour dramedy about my experience working for a college radio station. Originally I wanted it to be a mockumentary a la The Office, but I think it would be kind of a pain to write it that way and also I'm not sure that using that style would be good for a pilot because it might make it seem like I am having my characters tell exposition to the camera rather than demonstrating that I can weave it in naturally.

Something I've been thinking about is the idea of WHEN to start my story. Generally there is an inciting incident or a REASON why a TV show starts when it does. On the OC, it's when Ryan meets Sandy, moves in and their two worlds collide. On Brothers & Sisters, it's when Kitty comes home and the father dies, causing the family to learn about past secrets. On Veronica Mars, there are two: Lily's death, and also Veronica's return to school as an outsider because of her father's reaction to Lily's death.

So WHEN should I jump into the story of college radio? At first I was tempted to use my friend Nick's experience...he became Assistant Program Director as a second-semester freshman and then when his boss suddenly quit he became Program Director, the #2 student position on the station. It's a pretty classic pilot setup. But I kinda wanted to make a female protagonist in this mostly-male world. I guess part of the problem is that it's totally autobiographical, and I'm feeling some loyalty to the truth. I know I should think of a theme and then start writing a step outline with plots based on the theme...but I tend to think in scenes, and I keep imagining all these great scenes...so I may just write all the scenes I think of and then arrange them and change them later.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

they say variety is the spice of life...

I just read an interesting article in Variety about the tendency of studios to opt for films based on video games, sequels, comic books & rides rather than sending original ideas through long and expensive development processes. There are mixed findings:
How to make box-office gold: Survey says spec scripts are key

Also in Variety, an article about network-controlled online TV:
Online TV takes a hit: Networks pulling the plug on broadband channels

And one more...you know all those great summer cable shows that I have been talking about? It looks like there may be so many that a lot of good ones don't get a chance. Yeesh. I have to admit, I haven't been able to keep up now that I don't have DVR.
Good series fight to get noticed: 'Grace,' "Order," 'Notice' worth second look

Monday, July 2, 2007

Mad Men




Though it is a pretty widespread belief that good TV disappears in the summer, I am finding it increasingly untrue. I just saw part of a special on AMC about their new series Mad Men, from writer and executive producer Matthew Weiner of the Sopranos. It's set in 1960s New York, and the team behind it has been very meticulous about getting all the historical details right. It premieres Thursday July 19 at 10 pm. There's more info about it here, including a streaming version of the behind-the-scenes special.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

the world of writer blogs

Hurray! It is cooler in Ithaca today, meaning that I can mooch wireless internet on the deck for more than a half hour without my laptop overheating. The insects are another issue entirely...

Anyway, I've been able to browse around the internet, and I've discovered that a lot of screenwriters have blogs. And they all link to other writers with blogs. At first it was overwhelming, but after checking out all the links I realized that a lot of them either haven't been updated in months or don't really have much to do with writing. Also, nearly all the blogs are about film as opposed to TV writing...and nobody seems to be as young as I am. So I feel okay with adding to the din, figuring that I will present something somewhat unique. As the summer rolls on I will be adding links of friends' blogs and writing blogs I find helpful. Recently added are blogs from Grey's Anatomy and Brothers & Sisters as well as a friend of mine who works on Last Call with Carson Daly. If you know of any cool blogs feel free to pass them my way.

Yeesh. I think I need to stop using italics and any variations of the word blog.