Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Risks and trends

Yep, Lonestar is officially cancelled. It's not a shock, but it does disappoint me a little, since Fox had taken a chance on something different. Creator Kyle Killen told New York Magazine, "Fox was looking for a cable show to try on network television, I had a cable pitch that felt like it could work, and I think everyone was very excited."

Lonestar was a risk that didn't work out. But wasn't mega-hit Glee also a risk? And look at the low numbers for more traditional procedurals Outlaw and The Whole Truth. Playing it safe doesn't always work either. As for remakes, Hawaii Five-0 is a big hit, while last year's Melrose Place reboot tanked. I'm not sure there's really any lesson to be taken here, except maybe that networks should stop trying to cram a million premieres into the same week, especially since they're competing against an increasing number of cable programs, video games, internet downloads, etc.

On the positive side, has anybody been watching Fox's Raising Hope? It's a fun blend of wackiness and heart.


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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is it FUN?

Two years ago, I watched HOME ALONE on my flight back to Buffalo for Christmas, and I was shocked at how funny it still was. That movie really holds up. Why? It's fun. It's clever. It's something you actually want to watch.

I'm working on another draft of a comedy feature I've been writing for a long time, and I recently got the note: "Think about why people would actually want to watch this movie." It sounds silly and elementary, but it was something I had forgotten about amidst multiple drafts, new characters, social commentary, arcs and themes. Why is this an interesting premise? Why should people pay fifteen bucks to sit in a dark room with strangers and watch this? What adventure are we going on? What is FUN about it? Not all scripts are comedies, but the good ones in all genres generally have some element of excitement, fun, wish fulfillment, etc. It's walking past a cop, wearing a nun mask and holding an automatic weapon in THE TOWN. It's fast-forwarding through the boring parts of your life in CLICK. It's outsmarting robbers with Hot Wheels and marbles in HOME ALONE. Stuff you can't do in real life, but kind of wish you could. Wouldn't it be cool if... ?

Sometimes I read or hear loglines and think, really? Why would anyone want to see that? It seems crazy that a writer would spend weeks, months, even years working on that idea. But I understand that there's always something that draws you to your project. Maybe it's a social phenomenon, or a complex character, or something you've always feared. There are lots of reasons you might be attracted to a story - but how can you attract readers (and audiences) to it? Are you really milking your premise? Is it fun?

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Personal connections and other frustrations

Vic writes: Do you hang out with writers? If so, what do you talk about that frustrates you all the most?

Yep, I have plenty of writer friends, and they all have plenty of frustrations! First off, writing is hard. Why don't my scripts write themselves?

I hear a lot of newer writers complain that they feel like they don't have the personal connections they need to succeed in their careers. They hate the stories of people with important parents, friends, spouses, etc. Those people have it so much easier! It's just not fair. But honestly, it's a waste of time to worry about stuff like that. Nobody ever said Hollywood was fair. You can't control other people and their advantages; the only thing you can control is your writing. A wise writer friend of mine recently reminded me that when the industry starts to frustrate you, the only cure is to throw yourself into your writing and come out with a fantastic script. Also, every writer will get help from their own personal connections at some point. You'll have a friend or old coworker or someone who will do you a favor - and then I bet you won't be complaining about how some people get special treatment.

I think writers also feel frustrated that studios and networks aren't buying the kinds of things that writers want to be writing, whether it's TV cop procedurals or feature remakes and adaptations (John August wrote a great post about board game movies here). It's good to be aware of what's selling and what's being made (after all, movies and TV shows need to make money, and we don't want to waste our time), but I think sometimes writers get too obsessed with the idea of commercial viability. Early in his career, one of my screenwriting professors kept trying to write a feature he thought would sell, and nothing worked. He got so frustrated that he finally wrote a super un-commercial character drama and period piece about his childhood, almost as an FU to Hollywood...and that was his first sale. I love that story - it proves that people respond to passion!

I don't want to complain too much on here, but I do admit that I get frustrated when fantastic movies are flops, and when my favorite TV shows get canceled...like Scott Pilgrim! It makes me sad that there might be people sitting a room going "what a mistake," when it was a great movie. But I get it. Money is money.

What frustrates you guys?


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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Inside the DEXTER Writers Room

Joel wrote in to share this cool video, which features the writers of DEXTER talking about last year's finale and how it impacted the development of season five. Check it out:



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Thursday, September 9, 2010

How I got a manager

A few people have asked how I got a manager. I've been kind of scared to post any specifics of what's happening in my writing life, because I'm afraid I might jinx it or look like an idiot or something. So let's hope neither of those things will happen.

When I was working at the agency, I made friends with an assistant at a management company. When you're an assistant, you'll spend most of your day talking with other assistants via phone and email. Sometimes you'll talk to the same person over and over if you're trying to set a meeting that keeps getting rescheduled, and that can lead to small talk and maybe even drinks or friendship. A lot of studio, network and production company assistants find agency assistants to be annoying, since agents and their assistants are constantly bothering these other people to give out information and buy things. (Many agency assistants are also aggressive 22 year-old whipper snappers who haven't really learned how things work yet, so I think that's another part of it.) But management assistants are generally nice to agency assistants, since they're both in the same boat, dealing with the same kind of stuff. And if your boss shares clients with the management assistant's boss, you'll probably talk ALL the time. You'll need to CC each other on every meeting set and submission sent, and your bosses will frequently need to talk strategy.

So this one management company assistant was a master of writing hilarious emails, which is the kind of thing that impresses me. I asked him to drinks, and by drinks I mean going to Baskin Robbins 31-Cent Scoop Night and waiting outside for an hour with the other cheapskates. We finally got our cones and sat on the only free chairs, these tiny plastic things clearly meant for children, talking about our grandiose dreams of not answering phones for a living. He actually wanted to be a lit manager and wasn't another aspiring writer. Crazy! (Keep in mind I wasn't trying to get a manager out of this meeting. I was trying to make friends with funny email guy, and eat some unusually cheap ice cream. Done and done.) He asked to read my stuff, so I sent him all my scripts. Over the next few months he kept checking in with me to see if I had anything new, so that made me feel good. (I've posted before about how you don't want to have to pester someone into being your manager or agent.)

After I left the agency, I found a producer who was interested in a feature script of mine, and it seemed like a good time to secure representation. My management assistant friend had gotten promoted, and he found another manager (with a bit more experience) at the company who liked my work too. Now they're both on my team.

So like I always say, personal connections will get you farther than query letters - and getting a job as an assistant can be a great way to make personal connections.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life by Kristen McGuiness

Remember that blog I featured, 51/50 by Kristen McGuiness? Kristen is an author who started putting chapters of her book online in the hopes of finding a publisher.

It worked! Her book, 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life was published by Soft Skull Press.

From Amazon:
At times heart-breaking and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Kristen McGuiness’s witty, brutally honest writing gives a valuable true-life spin on Bridget Jones and Sex and the City51/50 is a gripping read that will inspire others to follow her courageous search for love.

Congrats Kristen!