Thursday, February 21, 2008

Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

Happy Oscars, all. Things are fervently going back to normal after the strike. We're doing our Moonlight script, which is very nice and much appreciated. Universal has just teamed with Hasbro to turn board games into movies. And Bruckheimer has hired a feature writer -- the dude who wrote The Invisible -- to "pen," as the trades like to say, the pilot for Eleventh Hour. At least Danny Cannon, who directed the pilot for CSI, is directing. But, erm... there's a reason Eleventh Hour ran only four episodes on the BBC, and as adroit as the writer of The Invisible may be at his craft, he doesn't have the necessary tools to solve the massive series problems this show has. No, that'll be up to whoever the showrunner will be. He'll get none of the credit if he manages to crack it, and all of the blame if he doesn't.

Yup, the strike changed nothing at all.

Thanks to everyone who tried with Blue Angels. While I'm still looking for the actual vinyl, Edouard managed to track down the mp3s, and I am eternally grateful.

I have over a month of comments that have gone unanswered. Welcome to my procrastination, and let's get to it!

StampnBead (love the name) is a big Millennium fan who wants to buy me a drink. Thanks!! I don't know what happened to Horace, but he pops up every now and then, so hold onto your hat. You never know.

Carlo C. had this to say:
I'm surprised nobody mentioned the threat reality TV has over the livlihood of scripted television.

Well, Carlo, because it hasn't yet. It's made inroads, sure, but at the end of the day, the pros of a hit drama outweigh the pros of a hit reality show. Unless it's American Idol, of which there is only one. And even in that case, it doesn't re-run on network TV, the DVDs don't sell all that well, it doesn't syndicate, and the music industry isn't too happy with it lately. Carlo also asks about comedies. They're not as cheap as you think they are, and there's something wrong with the comedy paradigm, in that it sucks. Comedies need to be fixed. Desperately. But the people who can do the fixing aren't being allowed to play the game.

Michael says:
Seems to me that for scripted programs to survive, writers and executives need to figure out how to make shows with cable-sized budgets appeal to network-sized audiences. I'm told that Burn Notice patterns at about $1.5 million, for instance. If you could put a show like Burn Notice on NBC and get a network-sized audience, that would be an amazing thing for the industry. But just cutting fat from POD deals, etc., doesn't seem like enough. The price differentiation between scripted and reality is just too great. And though I'd love to believe, as Jake Hollywood does, that this is just a cyclical phenomenon, I see no evidence to support this optimism.

The audience doesn't actually care how much Lost costs. All they know is, they like the characters and the stories keep them intrigued. When you're talking about the mass audience of people (the folks who aren't into their shows beyond turning the TV on once a week) their demands are rather small -- ENTERTAIN ME. The budgets and all that nonsense, that's about the networks. It's a sales tool. So it's rather easy to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, not enough POD fat was cut, and I fear the studios will use the PODs for development again this year. They'll try and cut from production, which is disastrous. They'll try and cut staffs even more (although at this point, that's next to impossible). They won't fire executives. They won't cut POD deals. They won't stop using feature directors for pilots. They'll continue to charge deals against shows. They'll micromanage every word and then wonder why they're not producing the next Mad Men.

I'm going to save the rest of this for my annual "Ten Things Wrong With TeeVee" post.

Brian McCabe beats this horse to death:
Kay says it's a good thing that Mazin shutting down comments is a good thing. Jake Hollywood says it's gutless to not allow people to reply.

Unity everywhere it seems.

Huh. You have an interesting idea of unity. I wasn't aware total agreement was a necessity. Freedom is slavery, I suppose...

Lemme know when you're going to be out here, man.

D says,
Are you fucking kidding? "Call To Your Heart?" I saw Giuffria open for the mighty Journey in 1983 and they fucking SUCKED in a way that only children who experienced the thrill of pairing a purple shirt with a pair of gray parachute pants can understand. I fucking love that shit. I also love "Big Country." Oh you minx you've opened a door now. How dare you, ma'm, how dare you? Oh, you are an evil mistress.

Hee. I'm glad Giuffria sucked, because... it just makes sense.

Jake says,
And as it pertains to "the deal" I'm voting against it because I don't believe it's the best deal we can get. A starting point, a road of improvement, a foothold into the future? Yes. The best deal? No.

But I'll live with whatever way the vote turns out.

And I'll do it with the knowledge that everyday of the strike I stood shoulder to shoulder with my brethren--together we stood up for our principles and our working lives. And except for those who were too cowardly to stand with us, I'm damn proud to say that I cannot think of a better group of people to be associated with.

Sadly, I think your sentiment is too complex for most people. But bravo.

And I still don't like (I'm not alone, see Blogging.LA to see what Harlan Ellison thinks--scroll past the Greg"My Name is Earl" Garcia thing to read it) it.

People lost their fucking minds when they read this. "Harlan Ellison called me a quisling? WTF???" But they read it without understanding it which, sadly, seems to be how most things are read these days. I blame the political punditry because, well... I just do. Let's break everything down into a black or white position, then let's break it down more, soak it in a salt solution to soften it, then let's masticate the holy crap out of it and spit it lovingly back into the baby bird's beak -- the American consumer brain. Harlan doesn't do that, and he has a fuckload more respect for the human condition than these other asshats.

Brian McCabe again:
I agree that writers are the primary source for what the town creates. I don't think embracing that fact is the problem of recognition though. I think writers need to not be so willing to canibalize each other. The re-write kills the uniqueness of the product and the uniqueness of the service. Directors are rarely replaced. And when they are that is usually the end of the project 9especially of one drops out). Ditto actors. But it is a fact in this town that any writer will do. Any writer not in the top tiers is going to eventually be replaced somewhere along the line (usually by one of those top tier guys).

I know you guys just want to write, but there is plenty of work that can be done within the guild to strengthen it for the next round of negotiations in 3 years.

You're right, Brian. Unfortunately, there's too much precedent, and there's also the issue of turning down work. But that's a trap we find ourselves in, and you're absolutely right. More on this in another blog post. I now have about five blog topics backing up against each other. God help me.

Crystal says,
But I have some questions. I understand that a negotiation means that nobody ever gets everything they want, but doesn't it concern you that these are among the things that you didn't get?

1. The cap on the percentage makes the percentage meaningless when everyone knows that the internet is going to be yielding a fortune in the future and history has shown that while the cap may or may not go up a small amount, it will be there forever.

2. The lack of favored nations, which has been there before and has been touted from the beginning as one of the reasons this is a fight for all unions, will mean that the writers won't share in any advances made by other unions on the sweat of the writers brow. I'm thinking, even the DGA, which did nothing to help writers, will benefit from whatever SAG might get and the writers won't.

3. The giveaway of leverage by allowing them a three and a half year contract to May 2011 so that the WGA will never again be able to hold their TV season or awards show season as hostage to negotiations, much like the granting of the year extension by SAG leadership last time meant that writers and actors weren't able to go out at the same time, unless the writers waited and let the studios stockpile for six months.

All a concern. Definitely. But my thinking was that the deal is acceptable. Not great, and there's some egregious stuff in it, but... it's okay. There's an assumption being made that the internet's gonna explode. It might, but it might not. And a percentage, even capped, is still favorable to the flat fee. Regarding MFN, I suppose we'll find out at some point if a handshake deal is worth anything to these weasels. And we DO have MFN for DVD, as some contract wonks have pointed out. I know exactly what you're saying about the contract expiration, and we could end up with another '88 season. But if TV starts to inch year-round before then, it's still going to be a problem. And there's something nice about not having to go out eight months before SAG. Something very nice. Also, the stockpiling simply isn't ever going to be an issue. You cannot stockpile in TV. It's not possible. And they could stockpile movie scripts but you're still going to have the same problem -- directors and big stars need to shoot fluid movies, and they will be reluctant to without the possibility of rewrites.

Greg Luce,
Thanks, man!

Most of us don't spend a lot of time on the internet. But you'd be amazed at how much anger people in this guild have for Craig Mazin and the so-called "dirty thirty" and other assholes who felt they were above the rest of us. Josh - and many other A list writers, and top showrunners were out there just like the rest of us ever day, balancing the record. They weren't trying to subvert the union, they weren't trying to shut down the strike, they weren't spreading false rumors about how badly it was all being run. They just did what everyone else did and supported their guild. If some of them think they're better writers than most of us, that's because the world's confirmed it. Art isn't democracy. But people like Josh have proven that just because you're an elite, top of the line writer, you can still be just another joe on the line.

Ditto that, and everything else you said. Great response.

On the Dirt Thirty, Michael says:
Kay, before you (or anyone else) villainizes the 'Dirty 30' (who comes up with these names anyway?) I'd recommend reading NegComm member Howard Gould's account posted on He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named's blog.

It provides a pretty different account of things than the LAT article-- and remember, Gould was one of the NegComm members who was at that pivotal meeting discussed in the piece, so I'm inclined to believe him. And it doesn't really sound like a bunch of rich assholes behaving recklessly or condescendingly. Not to me, at least. But mileage may vary.

Let me just point out one thing, Michael. You're assuming there's only one of these groups, and you're assuming that the Dirty Thirty tag John Bowman applied was meant for this group. I took great issue with the way the Times portrayed, well, ALL of us in that article. And they use the term "showrunner" incorrectly. But my ire for the Dirty Thirty has nothing to do with that particular group.

Michael Taylor says,
The more we understand each other, the better we'll all be when the producers once again try to cut us off at the knees -- and they will.

Congratulations to you and all WGA members on the strike, and for reaching the compromises necessary to bring it to a successful conclusion. And now - hopefully - we can all get back to work.

Thank you for that, and for your support. I'm linking your blog as well. The ATL/BTL fire seemed to be fed by outside forces, and a few disgruntled folks from both groups. Because I've always respected crews, and so have other writers and showrunners I've worked with. I know I couldn't do those jobs. I would totally get fired. I know you guys don't always get the respect you deserve. I know, because writers don't, either. So thanks to all the BTL people affected by the strike who hung tight and didn't blame us. I hope you've all gone back to work!

PS: Anybody who likes "All About Eve," "Rebel Without a Cause," Philp K. Dick, and Robert Crais is okay in my book.

Backatcha. And dude, there's a NEW Elvis Cole novel coming out in July. Bliss!!!

In response to my "Profit In Your Poetry" thread, Anonymous was astute enough to post this link to Butcher Boy's MySpace page. Go have a listen. They're fucking great. The album's gonna be one of my top for the year. No doubt about it.

np - Well, Butcher Boy, right???


Carlo Conda said...

Wow, I said that a long time ago, eh? I didn't even use 'Conda' as my last name. Hah

I'll be waiting for the post where you talk about the problems with TeeVee. :)

Also, what do you think is a better medium in terms of where it is right now - TV or Movies?
And which are better for writers? (Likely teevee, but that isn't exactly sunshine and marshmallows either).

AJ said...

Simply stated, I'm happy everyone is back to work. Here's to happier topics in the future!

P.S., re: the 'splosion' of the Internet, don't hold your breath. Infrastructure (not to mention the hardware sophistication of the general American public who live between the coasts) still has a loooong way to go.

Like you, I think the 'cap' concession wasn't nearly as bad as it might appear at face value.

Jake Hollywood said...

Somehow I missed meeting you on the line, Kay (I kept looking at name tags and didn't catch any that read, "Kay"), if you ever see me at Starbucks (I'm the homeless looking guy, with the bad attitude and friendly dog)...

Here's how I can tell the strike (or lock out as I prefer to look at it since the AMPTP walked out on negotiations) hasn't changed my life much:

1. My agent still doesn't return my calls (my bookie does, but not my agent).

2. My sometime writing partner is at the Oscars (I think he's sitting with either Julia Roberts or Marty Scorsese --he's worked with both) and I'm sitting at home and commenting on blogs.


3. My new business cards read: "Of course I'm still in the movie business. Why do you ask?"

Yeah, the strike is definitely over and here's SAG waiting in the wings.

Josh Olson said...

The rewrite thing is such a tricky question.

The problem is, there are gazillions of movies that need rewrites, and often from a new voice. It’s just the nature of the business. Obviously, nobody’s talking about smart, serious, personal movies. But hell, Coppola brought people in to tweak The Godfather script (and even thanked Robert Towne in his Oscar speech.) Is anyone really going to argue that rewrites fucked that movie up?

There are scripts that have, at their heart, tremendous cinematic ideas that are simply not fulfilled in the writing. Sometimes it takes a fresh eye to bring them out. I have a script at home that is probably my smartest “high concept,” but the script itself doesn’t live up to the concept. I’ve sat on it for years, because I know it needs another writer, and I’m egomaniacal enough to think I’m gonna turn into that guy eventually. But if I’d set the thing up and the studio wanted to bring someone else in, they’d be right. This happens.

There are, obviously, writers who live in the bloodiest waters, who thrive on coming in, adeptly changing enough to get a credit, and then put their best work into arbitration letters. Some of them are notorious, some are not. But they fuck it up for, literally, everyone. The end result is bland, voiceless movies, and they actively fuck their fellow writers. They fuck the writers they rewrite out of a credit, and they fuck the rest of us by tarnishing the work - when you think “rewriter,” you think about these hacks, and not, say, John Milius, who came onto Jaws to give some extra punch to Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis monologue.

A friend of mine explained his criteria for accepting rewrites, and they’re mine, as well. He only takes projects in which the whole things needs a page one do-over, or projects which clearly need a couple of new scenes to clarify and enhance what’s already there. The notion of taking something already written, then glazing everything with your own spittle, changing enough names and situations to earn a credit is anathema to many - hopefully most - of us.

But you know what? It’s a business that attracts sharks and snakes. Always has been. And sometimes, that combination of lizard and fish results in some great movies. It’s never gonna change. You’re not going to make those people go away. There’s too much money to be made here. The lovely news is that there are plenty of people doing this work who aren’t primarily motivated by financial greed (creative greed - whole different story, and I’ll cop to thinking that in that case, as Oliver Stone wrote, greed is good.).

The best you can do is the best you can do - write hard, write well, and do everything you can to decrease the chances of a royal fucking.

David Bishop said...

A minor factual correction: Eleventh Hour was first broadcast by ITV, not the BBC. Four episodes for a new drama series isn't unknown in the UK, though six eps is more common. As for why the British version didn't get picked up for a second run, that's another whole ball of wax better addressed by the show's creator Stephen Gallager. You can read his thoughts about the US version here:

Chris said...

I love that song by Elvis Costello. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Kay, in response to your response to my comment: Well, sure, the audience doesn't care how much 'Lost' costs per se. But there does seem to be an audience hunger for a type of story-telling style on network TV that just inherently costs a lot of money. I mean, take away the POD deals and feature directors and so forth (please!), and still, every show that's broken through in the past few years on network would still be really freaking expensive. Except maybe for Brothers & Sisters. I mean, suppose ABC plunked down a nice cheap basic cable show like 'Burn Notice' in the 'Lost' time slot and gave it the same promotional budget. Do you really think it could build the same size audience? Do you think it would have a shot at being a CSI-like franchise? I don't. At least not given where audience tastes are right now in February 2008.

So my point is, even though I agree with you completely about all the waste, even without it, scripted network TV is in trouble. Especially with stuff like this starting to happen:

And about reality show costs vs. scripted: if the standard for a successful show is 'a show that might generate enormous back end profits' then, yeah, scripted wins out. But if the standard for success is 'a show that will recoup its license fee and maybe make a solid profit on ad revenue in first run for its network,' reality has a huge advantage. And unfortunately, as big back end generating scripted hits get scarcer and scarcer, the thinking at networks is gravitating to the latter from the former.

The math goes something like this:
Say, $2.5 million license fee for a typical scripted network hour vs. about 750K for a high-end reality hour. That math might make sense if the network repeats the scripted hour drama (since reality shows basically can't repeat), but increasingly they aren't, because the repeats of even successful scripted shows are outperformed by even middling reality fare. (Lost, for instance, was getting a 1.5 before it was pulled.) So the demo for the scripted show has to be really significantly better than the reality demo for it to be worth the extra $. Which, sometimes it is, but increasingly it isn't. (Also, side note, a lot of reality shows do pretty well on DVD, particularly the celeb ones like Simple Life and Flavor of Love)

I hate to sound like a pessimist, because I'm an hour long writer too, and I hope you're right and I'm wrong. But I really do fear the financial problems in scripted are deeper than PODs and fancy directors.


Carlo Conda said...

See, Michael, that's what I was thinking about initially.
Heck, add in the viewerbase's decreasing attention span (even on something 'entertaining', I know), and reruns of scripted TV seem even more impractical and, well, 'risky'.

What about the potential optimism that the internet brings DIY writers?

Jake Hollywood said...

The answer to all of this will be, of course, a new business programing model for the studios...

Reality TV won't go away, but scripted Tv won't either. People want to be entertained, to be taken away from their ordinary day-to-day activities. And as it pertains to the medium of Tv they don't much care if the program they're watching is so-called reality or something obviously scripted.

Cost? That's for the studio bean-counters to worry about. TV watchers don't care about how much a show costs and their watch any particular show isn't tied to how expensive or inexpensive it is to produce.

What they do care about is watching something compelling. Reality or scripted, just make it interesting. Comedy, drama, variety, reality, just give me a reason to watch.

The drop off of TV watching can be directly tied to how studios think...or correctly how they used to think. If a show catches on, then surely 40 gazillion more shows with inter-changeable actors, scripts, themes, etc. etc. etc. can't be a bad thing. And since there are two seasons in TV , then we can plug in these shows until one catches on and we reap gazillions in ad money...

And this is why and how the TV business will change. No longer will there be two distinct seasons with shows being yanked off the air within two showings if it doesn't receive an overnight share of 40 gazillion watchers.

What's going to happen is maybe 4 distinct (10 - 13 weeks in duration) seasons, with quality shows being allowed to develop their audience -- not unlike what HBO does and re-runs will run on the internet in between network showings.

The shows will be more diverse in content--more experimental, quirky, and maybe they'll even keep some of more traditional Tv we all know and love on the air--and the quality of that content will rise because of it.

Cost? Maybe a little cheaper to start with, but depending on the show type, costs won't change all the much. But what will change is the opportunity for studios to make more advertising dollars because the shows will have developed a loyal audience, even if it's slightly smaller.

Core audiences watching quality programing with
shorter "seasons" will be the new industry model in the very near future.

For writers this will mean shorter work seasons on any one show, but more chances to develop new sand diverse hows because of the shorter seasons.

And that can't be all bad, can it?

Carlo Conda said...

I wrote a comment, but I had to make it a blog post cause it was getting way too long. Haha.

Anonymous said...

Kay, thank you for your kind words !

Although tracking down "Blue Angels" MP3's is nothing compared to what you and Erin gave me for about ten years now.



RMBurnett said...


Nice seeing you at Steve's. Out of curiosity, I decided to check out your blog's strike coverage. What started out as a cursory glance turned into three hours plus of wildly entertaining reading.

Regarding Mr. Mazin, well, l I worked with Craig at an ad agency in the mid-nineties and was a producer on a film he directed almost a decade ago (THE SPECIALS). Rather than listen to my advice, he had his agent ban me from the edit bay so I couldn't see what he was shooting. That's how he rolled then. That's how he rolls now. Leopards and their spots, I suppose.

Anyway, incredible blog. Destination reading. I drink it up.

Crystal said...


I just got back to your blog. Thanks for your straight answers to my questions. I finally understand better.


Not everybody is back to work yet. I'm currently looking for work as I got laid off in the final weeks of the strike. And one of my friends who happens to be in payroll for "Private Practice" is not back to work yet -- they have their pick-up for next year but the studio has not yet said what they plan to do about the rest of this year, leaving them all in limbo. Things are coming back slowly and some shows are already working, and some shows aren't -- and a lot of people are still out of work. I had one meeting with a producer in the darkened rooms of a show on the Paramount lot, just him and me in ghost town.

Crystal said...


I'm glad to hear that you do have MFN with DVDs because I'm hoping the actors are able to get a better deal on that. I didn't know if there were positive points we just weren't hearing of, so it's good to hear that's true.

As for the handshake deal -- I think the weasels will act like weasels and have the same memory lapses they've had during other things they promised, but only time will tell and it's best to stay hopeful.