Joshua wants to know:
Which leads me to my question . . . my manager is looking at agencies and the like, 'cause he feels I'd do well in TeeVee (I work fast and I work well with others, it's true, I am user-friendly) and wants to get me set up with one of those guys . . . I've written an original pilot and a L&O SVU . . . but a friend or two have told me that short plays samples work just as well for consideration for gigs . . . in your experience, is this true?
I hope so because I have a boatload of short plays, many of which I'm probably too proud of . . . and it'd be a relief to know I can use those as samples as well.
I like your choice of samples, BTW... a procedural and an original pilot is a good one-two punch. Playwrights do well in TeeVee; several have created series, and there was a spate of playwrights being hired on staff. I think you have the advantage here, because you also have TeeVee material. You can definitely use your plays as samples. But more often than not, it'll be your second or even third sample sent. So make sure your TeeVee specs are totally solid! Also one more thing -- when writing specs, don't just write a Gossip Girl if you don't want to do that kind of show, or a CSI if that's not your bag. Write towards what you want to do.
Mr. David Rosiak, Esq, writes:
Anyway, are you saying I'm a cynical fucker? Guilty as charged. ;-)
Excellent blog as always. And I'm completely agreed on SARAH CONNOR. Jesus, if this show can turn Brian Austin Green into an absolute badass, it can anything!
Word. I love it when actors are loosed from their shackles. He is so fantastically authentic on the show... good for him. Hopefully the show will come back but if it doesn't, I hope it does good things for him.
It's been too long, Jaybyrde:
I'm with you on Diablo Cody, Kay. It's always a thrill for me to see a woman take that prize, and I imagine it always will be. It doesn't happen nearly enough. She could wear assless chaps and a rainbow-fro wig for all I care. When you consider that the last big high-profile screenplay win was the oh-so-precocious 20-something "writing" team of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon ... I can't help but admire the hell out of her for pulling it off.
Ugh. NOT a Good Will Hunting fan here, either. Although both Matt and Ben have won me over recently, for acting and directing and also seeming like just good people. The thing about Diablo Cody is, people bleat about how they want individual voices, unique personalities and points of view... and when they get one, they criticize it for being inauthentic. Whatevs, losers. Anyone who can turn screenwriting into something sexy and cool for the mass audience is jake in my book.
As a matter of fact, I think I'll go get my stripper make-over later.
Mad Men has just started here in the UK (ep3 tomorrow night) and I can vouch for its quality, too. I just hope it doesn't all become a bit too soapy, and I'm not *entirely* convinced the 60s were actually that bright, vibrant and gleaming, but...
I'm sure you've seen that it hasn't! It's funny you say that, because the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, has been adamant that the show not look perfect. What I love about it is how it shines on the surface but then, when you peek underneath that surface, you see the cracks and the mess. Which is exactly like the characters. They dutifully play their roles on the surface but the show is about exploring what lies beneath that surface.
Zack (who needs to tell more SCC stories), writes:
That Sarah Connor scene sprung full-grown from the head of Josh, who came in one day saying we ought to be making our action scenes more like the fires in "Rescue Me"-- mini-movies with a point of view and distinctive aesthetic. It's been fun to watch the reaction and the split between the people who got it and the people who screamed that they couldn't see what was going on and what's with the Johnny Cash and where's my sad symphonic music and choreographed bullet ballet, dammit?
Okay, people? Turn off the overblown procedural bullshit and see what REAL TeeVee has to offer. The viewing audience has been manhandled and manipulated within an inch of its life, and they're totally unaware of it. TeeVee has become layers upon layers, mash-ups of noise and promotional songs and slow-mo and camera tricks and impossible scenes shot through with effects.
I guess I didn't realize it was happening because I don't watch the really popular stuff (which is a flaw, because I work in TeeVee, but still). I mentioned in another post that I wanted to put together scenes of my favorite uses of music in TeeVee. I hope I can get around to that project, because it may be illuminating. I think it was the WB that started just stuffing episodes with music, without any sense to the choreography. Songs would blare, then suddenly stop when people started talking. Even the montage sequence, used to such great effect on "American Dreams," has been bludgeoned to death. I think the last great montage sequence I saw was in the pilot of "Grey's Anatomy." They used a fantastic Thirteen Senses song that was just absolutely perfect... because it wasn't absolutely perfect. Now, people use songs as shorthand for the drama but really, the songs need to enhance the drama. "American Dreams" understood this. The season finale for "Mad Men" nailed it. And so did the "Sarah Connor" sequence.
But shit, we used to do this stuff all the time. In three of our four Millennium episodes (one with Dean Winters, incidentally), music was integral to the plot and to the characters. Crafting a teaser with Patti Smith or The Nutcracker was just, well, what we did on Tuesday. I guess I just realized that those days are gone. Now, it's about music supervisors shoving songs into episodes, where the goal is to promote the music and not enhance the drama. That speaks to point of view, which is sadly missing in TeeVee at the moment. When I saw the Sarah Connor sequence, I knew the song was specifically chosen, which gives the sequence another level that just fucking resonates.
But people are afraid of it, aren't they? Nobody wants to take a fucking stand anymore. Be safe, not specific. This trickles down from the executive ranks. People are trying to keep their jobs, and the best way to do that is to not stand out. Don't defend a point of view or an idea, because someone who can fire you may not like it. I understand it, in a way, because of how unstable and uncertain everything is. The country's in a "slow down," or whatever pat disaster euphemism the Bushies are using this week. The world feels like the Johnny Cash song. Faith (not the organized religious type) has been lost. People are trying to figure out how to game the system, only in a world where the Canadian dollar outstrips the American dollar, we no longer even know what that system is.
What gets lost in there is inspiration and a unique, specific point of view. The audience for entertainment is simply a marketing experiment. They're not seen as people who need an escape or have a need to connect with something outside their lives. No, instead, it's the cynicism of advertising and marketing and product placement that means movies and pilots are created by executives who only think of money, and not by the creative folk. Back when Budd Schulberg wrote "What Makes Sammy Run?", he was talking about only one Sammy Glick. Now, it's a fucking sea of Sammys. But the rest of us are too deadened to see or care.
Then we get caught up in it, too. We think the way they want us to think. So we're already second-guessing the audience, dumbing things down for them, trying to manipulate them. And that's our ONLY reason for creating, which is sad. After Barack Obama gave what's known as the race speech, he was criticized by the pundits (the political equivalent of executives) for treating the American public like adults who didn't need to be manipulated or talked down to. It's one thing to say this to each other over a martini at some gin joint, but they said it on fucking television, which is watched by the very people they're damning. I mean, no fucking wonder, right?
It's heartening to see an audience reject that cynicism, which they do occasionally. But I wish it would make someone see that you don't have to only market to them, that you can create something you believe in or feel strongly about, and they'll grok what you're going for and feel the same way, too.
So when I see something like the SCC sequence, or the "Mad Men" episode, when I see or hear or read something with a strong point of view, or when I see an audience reject carefully marketed, cynical pablum, well... it's hopeful.
He had the vision for shooting the scene from the bottom of a pool and seeing a rain of bodies, and I had come into the office one day with the suggestion that we call the episode "The Man Comes Around," which Josh sparked to and incorporated into his vision for the scene. I had no idea Josh was the world's biggest Johnny Cash fan, I just liked the thematic resonances of the episode and the song and the apocalyptic subject matter. I suppose we could have used Bowie's "Five Years" instead, but that would have meant titling the episode "The Queer Threw Up," so I'm glad it worked out the way it did.
That's a season two episode, anyway. And it's nice to hear someone talking about resonance, because it's sorely lacking in our culture. I think there's also a bit about intent in there. Remember when people used to shoot for something? The notion of a noble failure had all that Don Quixote crap going for it. People tried things. Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they didn't, but at the end of the day, they could be proud of what they achieved. So what happens now is, they aim for the lowest common denominator. I guess they're happy when they succeed in putting one over on the public. But when they fail, they're left with absolutely nothing. It's better to try and say something, rather than being a cynical, hateful fuck. I want a fucking choice, you know? I want to be able to see a finely crafted creative enterprise. I also want to think better of the audience, but too many of these highly paid asshats don't seem to care as they crow about their bank accounts.
Regarding the excellently choreographed Johnny Cash moment in SCC - check out Supernatural. Their showrunner feels much the same way you do about current music-on-tv trends, and as a result they have more than a few wonderfully shot scenes set to amazing (read: non-cookie cutter) music - in particular the "Renegade" moment in season two. Really great stuff.
You know, that's a show I just haven't watched. I saw the pilot, which was exquisitely shot, and a few other episodes but for some reason (hmm... could it have to do with rejection?????), I haven't watched. I'll catch up, though, because I feel there's something sneaky good about the show that I've missed. I'm pretty sure I mentioned "One Tree Hill" before, but another shout-out -- their showrunner knows his shit. I mean, he names all the episodes after song titles and he's an enormous -- ENORMOUS -- Veils fan. He's the real deal and his love of music really permeates that show.
Recently I picked up a copy of Creative Screenwriting (is there some other kind? I digress) when I ran across an article/column titled "Why I Didn't Write" edited by Peter Clines.
It was...ummmmm... interesting.
The subtitle: Hint: It's Not About Me was a lesson in hubris written by the king of all working class heroes: Craig Mazin. Good writer, that boy is. He writes all about He, the savior of the working writer, fought hard in his his support of the strike. That he supported the goals of the WGA leadership and that he was stunned and disappointed by directors (himself excluded apparently) that started projects doing the strike...
Huh. That IS interesting. I'd be even more interested to know his reasoning behind it. Sounds to me like he's doing the "rewriting history" thing that's been so successful in government.
A question for Kay: You didn't happen to be at a Starbucks this morning (Weds) wearing a shirt that read: irony were you?
Sadly, that was not me. But I want the shirt!!!
Thanks for that link. Now I am depressed. I am not a black swan. I am not even an egret. But the theory is interesting, and it answers my biggest question about crap like Harry Potter -- why the fuck that and not something good that came before?
The black swan theory makes me think even more strongly that executives need to let shit happen. You can't create a hit using only marketing and cynicism. And even if you think you've managed it, you haven't. Look at things that have become surprise hits -- Harry Potter, "High School Musical," "Grey's Anatomy." None of these was supposed to be anything special but something happened in the zeitgeist that made them popular. Then, the studios and corporations swarmed and crowed about the success that THEIR marketing and advertising created. They then expect these people to create something equally popular. And as we've all seen, this rarely works. So instead of going, "Okay, these people did what they wanted, why don't we let other people do the same thing," they get all up in the creative folks' kitchen and try to manipulate creativity into success.
Some of this came out of the strike, I think. We've all got some form of post-traumatic strike disorder. We were forced to think about our careers on a macro level, which led to a loss of faith and perspective on a personal level. Coming back, it all just seemed so pointless. We fought for something bigger but came back to the same old cynical bullshit. I feel like I'm struggling with that. It's frightening to me that it's so easy to market before I create. I'm working on pilot ideas and I can see myself censoring. I don't want to be dishonest, but I want to make a living. Should I anticipate what I think is going to be wanted? In that case, can I criticize people who do that? I got the opportunity to be very proud of work I've done in TeeVee, but it's a different climate now.
Or is it? Am I in some wild, metaphysical Philip K. Dickian world where all I need to do is wake the fuck up and see that I've been selling myself out day after day? I really do see this as an eternal struggle. Most people I know don't. Some of them are very successful, and very happy with that. Sometimes I think it would be nice not to want more from this enterprise, to take it at face value. But everytime I try, it's sort of a complete fucking failure.
So the struggle continues. I might noodle around with the POV notion in the next post. Also, it's probably time for the "how to fix TeeVee" post, so maybe I'll finally get to that, since we're in something approximating pilot/staffing season and all.
If anyone's in the greater Los Angeles area and would like to see a little gem of a movie, Dan Waters' flick "Sex and Death 101" opens in three theaters this weekend. GO SEE IT. It'll make you happy.
np -- 78 Saab, "The Bells Line." I'm REALLY liking this one.