Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Black Celebration

So I guess the shows are gearing up, and the people on new shows are finding offices, getting production up, and starting to figure out what their shows are about and how to do 13 episodes. I think it'll be easier for some, harder for most. Actually... I'm trying to think if any new show looks like a slam dunk.

For ABC, "Life On Mars" shouldn't be a challenge, right? I mean, it's a straight remake of a British show, without the lovely Northern accents. But it's also frightfully expensive, AND it's period, and there seems to be some strife behind the scenes. ABC is also still shooting pilots, so expect more dramas from them later in the season.

Over at CBS, they've picked up procedurals, a romantic drama, and they're trying scary shit again. "The Mentalist" is probably the most straightforward show they have. But having been on an undefined procedural, I think they're gonna have trouble figuring out how to dramatize the main character's specific talent. As someone said, it's "Psych," but not funny. The show feels creaky and old, but then that's what CBS viewers seem to prefer. I didn't think anyone would watch "Criminal Minds," either. I think (I'm not entirely sure because I didn't pay attention to staffing this year) that the showrunner is not the creator, which I think is always cause for alarm. Not always in a creative sense, but in the way the network and studio deal with you.

Then there are the two remakes -- "The Ex-List" and "Eleventh Hour." "The Ex-List" doesn't sound one bit sustainable or interesting. I'll watch a few episodes, though, because I just have to see if the show has a chance of working. Maybe Diane Ruggiero is a genius. I don't know. "Eleventh Hour" is an expensive misfire, and I'm basing that on a couple of things. One, it's a remake of a British show that didn't work at all. Two, they are simply re-doing that pilot story, which was the only episode that even half-worked. Three, they hired an expensive feature writer to write the pilot, so the showrunner isn't the creator. If they'd hired some TV vet who was able to crack the premise, I'd feel more positive about it, but that's not what they did. So I think the writers are going to be spending a lot of time figuring out what the show is. They've also got the studio to deal with, which means a lot of fights about money. In my view, this show should have more of an "X-Files" feel, but it'll be a straight procedural. Maybe people will watch it. It IS CBS, after all.

Then they have a midseason show, "Harper's Island," which is being run by a great showrunner who is, unfortunately, not the creator. As this is a mystery show, that's a little worrying. It's CBS trying to go outside the box, and for this network to try and ape "Lost" is a huge mistake. Another misfire.

Fox picked up two genre shows -- "Fringe" and "Dollhouse." Obviously, "Dollhouse" is the most intriguing of the two because of the Joss Whedon connection. It sounds weird and zany, but Joss isn't really the type to come up with something he can't sustain. May have something to do with the fact that he's a TV veteran, hmm? I think midseason is a good spot for this show. After all, "Buffy" premiered midseason. I haven't read this one yet, but I'm gonna trust Joss a bit. "Fringe" is also created by TV veterans, three of them in fact, but they are all off to their feature careers, so "Fringe" will be run by someone else. They chose from within their camp, which is good, but does ANYONE know what this show is? What are the rules? What are the episodes? I have no idea. This is a very, very expensive show (the studio also has "Eleventh Hour," so look out) and it was all about JJ Abrams fulfilling his WB deal. So was his heart really in this one? I know it's an attempt to reboot "X-Files," but I don't think people who want to reboot that show watched it at all. Seriously, does NOBODY understand what made "X-Files" work? Of the two, "Dollhouse" should far outstrip "Fringe."

NBC picked up some totally weird shit. I don't know what they're doing. Speaking of brands, what is NBC's brand? Anyone?? I guess they'll just hope the Olympics brings them a ton of cash because their schedule is WEIRD. I'm intrigued by the Christian Slater show. I haven't read it yet, but that sucker's right up my alley. Actually, we pitched the exact same show a few years ago, but gender-flipped. "Kings" sounds like a bad idea. Will anyone watch that? Or "Merlin?" On NB-freaking-C? I will, however, check out "Crusoe" because of the beyond-awesome cast. "The Philanthropist" is another example of a show created by the person who isn't going to run it, so I know they're already struggling with what the show is. David Eick is running it, and my understanding is that he's going dark with it. That seems like a mistake to me. Shouldn't a show about a rich dude helping out the less fortunate be FUN? And then there's the reboot of "Knight Rider." Since the "Bionic Woman" remake worked so well for the same network, insanity seems to be coming into play here. Because if you do the same thing, but expect a different result... you know what they say.

The CW ordered some stuff, but so what? I would love to see them really stick the landing and make a decision about what they are. It's not like they lack smart, savvy execs over there.

So out of the entire schedule, here's what I'm intrigued by: Dollhouse, My Own Worst Enemy, Crusoe, erm... that's it, gentle readers. And really, I'm only actually looking forward to "Dollhouse." As far as returning shows go, "Sarah Connor" will definitely be on my watch list. I'm still watching "Lost," but I think that's midseason again. Um... hmmm... I'll probably catch up on "Reaper." And... um... there are going to be five episodes of "Torchwood" at some point...

I think that's it.

But enough about the legends of the fall. What about summer TeeVee? The cable networks are turning summer from a wasteland into a real television season. I mean, all I really have to say is "Mad Men," right? Summer's all about Sterling Cooper, baby! And a plug for a friend's show, "The Middleman" starts Monday on ABC Family. You can download the pilot for free from iTunes as we speak.

Carlo says,
I've been told before that original movies are hardly being made because there is a shortage of GOOD original creative material being written. I think it was Unk who told me that, but I could be mistaken.

Yeah. Blame it on the writers. That's why when a writer makes it, suddenly all their other scripts have interest. The problem is, there's a difference between what's good and what sells. It's a marketing issue. And everyone who tries the spec market knows that. They always clamor for an original voice but when you give it to them, they can't recognize it. It takes a lot of luck to get your script into exactly the right hands. I know people loved "Little Miss Sunshine" for some obtuse reason, but that's a perfect example of material making it to the right people. Same with "Juno." But do you really think that all unsold scripts are unmitigated crap? Really? Of course not.

I may take you up on that when it's done!

Thanks for mentioning Kimba the White Lion. Man, I loved that show!

On the branding topic, I have a fairly common name overall, and a really common first name.

Is it worth my while using a variation of my real name (based on middle names or initials) to differentiate myself? Or can it pay off to have the exact same name as a bunch of other writers? (One of whom in particular is quite famous.)

Obviously it's worked for Diablo Cody, but I'm not a former stripper.

Erm, yeah. I think her stripper backstory meant a little more than her porn name! Honestly, unless you really want to package and market yourself, don't worry about it. And who knows? Maybe someone will read you just because your name is a famous writer's name. Worse things have happened, and any way you can get in the door is a good way.

If you don't care about the Belmont, look away. I be ranting.

Although luck is a factor in horse racing, you don't luck into a classic win. Even if you have the best horse on paper, the race isn't run on paper. It's never a foregone conclusion. I think the Preakness spoiled a lot of people because so many horses had trouble in the Derby. The ease with which Big Brown won the Preakness made him look unbeatable. But really, there aren't that many horses that are unbeatable. Seattle Slew, the only unbeaten Triple Crown winner, was thrashed in his next race after the Belmont. Incidentally, the rider didn't pull the horse up when he was hopelessly beaten. Seattle Slew only ran three times at two, but was named champion two-year-old. At three, he had THREE preps for the Derby. So when he went into the Derby, he had already run six times. The Belmont was his ninth race. The Belmont was Big Brown's sixth race, and he only had one race at two. Like Slew he had not been tested, but he also didn't have the foundation Slew had going into the Belmont. And then Dutrow changed up the colt's training. When Secretariat went into the Belmont, he'd had three works between the Preakness and Belmont -- I think two were six furlong breezes and one was a half-mile blow-out. Big Brown had one very slow five furlong work, in THREE FUCKING WEEKS. And then Dutrow didn't blow him out on Belmont morning, which he had done for the Derby and the Preakness.

I'd love for someone who knows a lot about this sport and conditioning racehorses how resting a horse gets him fit and battle-ready for the longest race an American three-year-old will attempt. These horses are being babied and pampered, and if you think that doesn't have a lot to do with what's happening here, you're crazy.

Beyond the fitness issue, my fury is directed at the ride by Kent Desormeaux. Kent's now lost two Triple Crowns. Everyone, Kent included, knows he moved too early ten years ago, which led to the close loss by Real Quiet. But this... this was just appalling on so many levels. People are saying Big Brown finished last, but he didn't. He didn't finish at all. He was pulled up. Not eased, not allowed to finish under his own power, not under wraps. PULLED FUCKING UP. You want to terrify 94,000 people? DO THAT. When Big Brown went by, though, what you saw was a horse saying, "HEY, you fucker, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? LET ME GO. ASSHOLE!" The horse was pissed, and apparently he continued being pissed for the rest of the day.

See, one thing a jockey is supposed to do with an inexperienced horse -- and let's face it, Big Brown IS inexperienced -- is teach him. Teach him how to break, how to relax, how to respond to commands, how to focus, how to move, how to run down inside horses, how to finish. YOU DON'T TEACH A PERFECTLY HEALTHY HORSE TO PULL UP. Shit, even the HORSE knew that! And then Desormeaux gets a pat on the back from Gary Stevens (who incidentally WORKS for the owners) for protecting the horse.

Bullshit. Kent Desormeaux fucked up. He choked. To blame the horse for that is unforgivable. As someone said, his humans let him down. Although he's a classless idiot, Rick Dutrow was right to call Desormeaux out on this one. But he was also wrong for not taking half the blame himself, and for not keeping that within the circle of the trainer, the jockey and the owners. Dutrow said he'd talk to Desormeaux about it, which meant they hadn't discussed it, which means that Dutrow was a jackass for talking shit about the rider to the press FIRST.

There's a reason Triple Crown veteran Nick Zito won the fucking race, people. Because he KNOWS how to win it. Hell, I'd rather see this horse with Zito, Baffert or Lukas. It's not the breed that isn't tough enough. It's the Goddam people.

Seattle Slew, incidentally, is the only Belmont winner to sire a Belmont winner. Or he was, until his son AP Indy sired last year's winner, Rags To Riches. Slew had heart and grit and class, and he passed that along. If Big Brown retires now, what will he pass along? Why isn't he getting the opportunity to show what he has? Why aren't his people letting him be tested? How can Kent Desormeaux whine about how the horse isn't resilient enough, when it's all about Desormeaux throwing a fit because things didn't go perfectly? You know what? Most of the time, things don't go your way. Hey Kent, do you teach your kids to give up?

Speaking of heart and class, this year's winner, Da'Tara, is by Cal-bred Tiznow, certainly one of California's greatest racehorses, and the only horse to win two Breeder's Cup Classics. He won both by a nose, defeating the best Europe had to offer, on two different tracks that were not his home tracks. Obviously, Tiznow, who has two of the top three-year-olds of 2008 (Da'Tara and Colonel John), is passing along that toughness to his runners.

Okay, so that was rantier and longer than I wanted it to be. Sue me.

Hank Hollyweird,
Dead last for Big Brown--guess steroids have their place after all. I had a tough time rooting for a slimbag like Rick Dutrow Jr, but that horse is a beautiful animal. Too bad he had the wrong trainer...Now the inevitable will be asked: how bad was the hoof and how much did the steroids aid in Big Brown's talent?

My understanding is that Dutrow's had Big Brown off the Winstrol since April. So if the steroids were going to factor in, they would have factored in for the Derby. I think it's bizarre that he suddenly decided to take the horse off the Winstrol and believe it has something to do with the stupid interview he gave where he admitted he used it but didn't know what it did. Moronic.

The hoof had, I believe, nothing to do with how he actually ran. You know, horses have bad days. And Big Brown, thanks to the fuck-up by Desormeaux, probably did learn a lot in the Belmont. Look, when you have a Derby-Preakness winner getting rank because he's down inside horses, that's a problem, man. And you as the rider and you as the trainer, are responsible for that. Desormeaux was thinking about how Real Quiet got to the lead too soon in '98, so he strangled this horse, then the horse got mad and Desormeaux had to abruptly move out. I don't think the horse knew where he was in the race, which is something you see in the Derby all the time. Horses with tactical speed get buried ten lengths off the lead and they can't relax because it's an unfamiliar position. Same deal here.

I am spending far too much time on Facebook. Stupid social networking nonsense.

np - Coldplay, "Viva La Vida." Maybe I'm nuts, but Eno's a good fit for them.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Twisted Logic

I've been trying to get work done (feh) so this'll be brief. Well. brief for me. I did start a Facebook page, and that thing is pretty evil, lemme tell ya.

So I finally saw Speed Racer. A marketing failure, a disaster at the box office, but it's creatively pretty stunning. Why didn't people go see it? For one thing, the trailer made the movie look like a typical effects mash-up, with quick cuts and glitter and bright neon colors and no story. The failure of Speed Racer proves two things to me -- one, that in this era marketing DOES, more often than not, make the movie. And two, that Americans are so used to being marketed to, they were confused about the movie and not curious enough to go see if they could make sense of what it actually was.

But I can't blame America. Not really. Movie tickets are horribly expensive, and they'll get more expensive in the next few months. And they're usually, if not bad, then just average. I don't mind seeing average things but I know I can't afford those kinds of prices just for average. For fifteen bucks a ticket, the movie had better be great. It's just disturbing that the marketing execs have formed audiences to respond to only them. Audiences don't get to make up their minds anymore, because audiences don't greenlight the movies. The marketing departments do.

The audience is stuck with these choices. And when you see more remakes and movies made from video games being released, the apathy is understandable. Especially since video game movies and remakes of movies that weren't all that special the first time around aren't just the purview of folks like Uwe Boll. No, now the big guys are getting involved. All that's being announced anymore are remakes and PlayStation movies. The WB marketing department obviously relied on the familiarity of Speed Racer but either not a lot of people gave a shit, or not enough people were actually that familiar with the show.

As someone who was more of a Battle of the Planets/Gatchaman person, I can relate. But you don't have to know a thing about Speed Racer to be able to appreciate the movie. And it's got levels, too; it's not just about the effects. At its deepest, the movie's about what is happening in the world today. It really is. And it's about art, and the dedication to that above all else except for family. This is all handled with a light, deft touch. Sure, the racing scenes are fun and spectacular, but it's the quieter moments that give the movie its heart. Particularly the scenes with Racer X, and the lovely speech Speed's mom gives him about why he does this and what it means. Regardless of what else Speed's mother does or doesn't do, the very fact that she understands his soul proves her worth in his life.

If you work in a creative industry that's being swallowed up by corporate interests and you don't relate to any of this, there's something very wrong with you. Iron Man is still my favorite movie of the summer so far, but Speed Racer's not far behind.

So what IS going on with the shit that's being greenlit? There was a rant a few weeks ago in Entertainment Weekly about superhero movies and how much they suck but at this point, superhero movies look like a breath of fresh air. Sure, you can complain about their prevalence but the Resident Evil movies bother me a lot more. Superhero movies, when done well, are iconic. I haven't seen a great video game movie yet. I'd rather the movie marketing people trended towards adapting books rather than games and toys, but I don't always get what I want.

So how can you navigate that if you're trying to break into features?

No, I'm really asking the question. The days of original work making an impact are all but gone. Do not, for example, write a superhero movie that isn't either a parody of superhero movies, or an adaptation of a comic book. People will look at you funny. And if you do manage to break into the feature side of things, you'll be relegated to pitching assignments that are based on video games and toys and other movies and, if you're very lucky, books.

But enough of that. Pilot development season is slowly gearing up, and Mad Men starts again next month. We've had a few development meetings already and we're very happy with the reaction so far. Really happy, actually. We think a lot of our ideas this year and we haven't even pitched all of them yet. Honestly, I think a studio would be lucky to have us on a deal, because most people struggle to come up with one idea a year. SO not our problem. Hopefully, we're working on enough diverse material to get there someday. Deals are tricky to get though. Mostly, studios hand out deals to people who've created shows for them, or people who've been fortunate enough to work their way up on a long-running show. Deals are not given out to people who just sell pilots year after year. It would be nice to have the steady income of being on a show. Wonderful, in fact. But on the other hand, this is a speculative business. If you're going to gamble, why not REALLY gamble? So we're giving the gambling a shot this year.

And I've also finished the first draft of a new book. It's YA, which I want to talk about in another blog post. A very interesting field right now.

Onto a few comments...

Nadia says:
Up to fairly recently, one of the JERICHO Exec producers was showing up on message boards and claiming that they (the producers) were still shopping the show around. And encouraging the campaigning. So it may be stupid false hope, but it's not false hope instigated purely by insane fans who don't understand how the industry works.

Most fans don't know how the industry works, and that's a fact. And the producers don't really shop the show because they don't own it. The studio does. And if it was an exec producer who wasn't also a creator on the show, well... that's just stupid.

Anonymous says:
I have an actor friend who just landed a series (with a 13 week commitment no less), which is set in a hospital in Santa Monica. Sop where do you think they're filming this fine piece of television? Toronto? Vancouver? Maybe Iowa (you know, for the cheap labor and tax breaks)?


Bogata. That's right, Freaking Bogata. Home to Columbian drug warlords and other assorted criminals.

FoxTv (of course) hired actors and crew willing to relocate to Bogata for the next five months, just so they could save a few dollars.

And that pretty much sums up where this industry is heading. Not the demise of pilot or staffing season. Not the phasing out of mid-level writers who don't come cheap. Not the ending of traditional Tv filming seasons.

No, it's filming outside the realm where the WGA and SAG and the DGA have some control over where and how their careers mesh with the realities of their respective unions.

And this is how the business is going to kill us all. and I gotta tell ya, it depresses the hell of me.

Even if a show shoots elsewhere, it's still signatory. I don't know which studio you're talking about either. Is it 20th TV, or Fox TV Studios? They're two different animals. And if a studio feels strongly enough about a show to make it without a network attached, well... I can't fault them for that. I'll bet you, though, that the staff's based here.

Gwen sniffs,
There a difference between CBS Television (the broadcaster) and CBS Paramount (the production company). CBS Paramount IS shopping Jericho and the actors are under contract until next month.


Now let me correct YOUR terminology -- CBSP is the studio, and the actors aren't under contract. The studio would have a hold on them.

I won't mention Jericho again, okay? So get off my fucking back.

Another anonymous says,
Oh, also, here's a quick way for a mid-level writer to rebrand him/herself, obviously not always feasible: switch agencies. Remember, the people buying you and your skills mostly know about you via their interactions with your reps. So, new reps = new branding. Worked for me...

This is a good point but it's also something you don't want to do too often. If, say, you switch agents every few years and still nothing happens for you, then maybe the agent isn't the problem. We did switch agents but we didn't do it only because we weren't getting work. And we also didn't expect an instant fix. If you do expect that, then you're going to be disappointed. One thing we learned is that we need to be more on top of things. You can't depend on your agent to do all the work, especially if you're coming off an agent situation where the agent kinda fucked you. It takes a long time to fix what's broken. We still haven't fixed it, but we're working on it. It's not about the work, or how we are on a show, or how we deliver on a pilot. We've always gotten great feedback. We've worked well on shows, and we've never been fired. More often than not, we will work with the same people again. This is something we can control. MAKE SURE YOU'RE DOING THIS! And make sure your agent gets that feedback for you. There's nothing worse than NOT having your agent check in, and finding out too late that somebody's unhappy with you.

Unfortunately, just hitting it out of the park every time doesn't mean you'll get a job. It's the nebulous second part of the equation that can be problematic. You shouldn't automatically assume that your agent's following up, or submitting you for things. You have to put yourself in the position of hearing about jobs, and you have to make contacts and develop relationships so you can hear about things. Agents like it when you call them about possibilities. We still, BTW, haven't been able to stump our agent with this stuff. He's always heard about it when we call, which is terrific, and exactly what you want.

If you are continually surprising your agent with job openings, you should probably start looking for another agent. We learned this one too late. One last thing about agents -- if you have an agent who is freaking you out or depressing you, move on. You have to feel confident in your representation. If you feel that your agent's letting things fall through the cracks and isn't following through, he isn't going to do you any good. Then you'll end up in a situation where your heat has dissipated and you'll have to make that uphill climb again.

Michael Taylor wonders,
Given the creative freedom enjoyed by cable shows -- and the resulting high quality of so many of those shows -- I can understand why writers would aim towards cable rather than the networks.

But I wonder -- do cable jobs pay writers significantly less than the networks? We who work below-the-line get hammered by cable, thanks to the many sweetheart "sidebar" deals negotiated by the Grand and Glorious IATSE Leader, Mr. Tom "Sell the Membership" Short.

Writers do take less money, but less money is infinitely better than no money. And network money's disappearing, too. People are taking far less than their quotes. So why not get on a cable show, where you're assured of 13 episodes? Cable networks are far less likely to cancel a show a few episodes in. This is notorious on network shows. This has happened on three network shows I've been on. One show shot only two episodes, one had a back 9 reduced to a back 7 (we didn't get a script there), and the other had a 13 order reduced to 11 (didn't get the script there, either). Sure, you take the network job if you can get it, but cable, right now, is better off.

So Big Brown tries to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner on Saturday. It's been THIRTY FUCKING YEARS, people!! The foot is good, and the work was great. The post isn't ideal, but he's quick enough to break well and take outside a few paths if that's what Desormeaux wants. I'd love to see him sitting just outside the speed (whoever that will be). Hopefully, Desormeaux won't make the Real Quiet mistake and make the lead turning for home. He's been real good about sitting on this horse and delaying that move. II loved how well he protected Big Brown in the Preakness. No horse in the race can match his move. So if he pushes the button at the right time, Big Brown should be in front at the wire, regardless of how well others close behind him. The only real concern is the weather. He hasn't handled a sloppy track yet. I'm hoping for a fast track because you never know, although he did break his maiden on turf, so he should be able to handle the mud. And really, unless a horse like Casino Drive freaks, he shouldn't be touched.

Good luck, Big Brown!

Lastly, a political note. With all that's wrong and fucked up and depressing about this country right now, it's pretty remarkable that Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee for President. I know the ironically named Straight Talk Express will try and steal the election and given what's happened in the past they probably will, but right now, America doesn't suck quite as hard as it did before Obama's spectacular victory. I hope Hillary proves she really does give a shit about this country and works with Obama to unite the party. I honestly don't understand how anyone who's not incredibly wealthy can in good conscience vote for McCain. Americans voted against their own self-interests twice but it's just so much more obvious now. With the gas prices so high people can't drive down the street, a looming corn shortage, independent truckers being put out of business, astronomical food prices, veterans not being taken care of, Americans being blown up along with innocent Iraqis, the dollar being worse than the Canadian dollar, me having to know shit about economics... Reagan started this bullshit with deregulation and Bush continued it with his invasion of a sovereign nation and rampant cronyism. These people don't care about you. They only care about the stock market. Their religion isn't Christianity. It's lining their own pockets. It's creating an even wider gulf between the haves and, well, us. They consider Obama elitist because the man uses his fucking brain. But really, isn't it more elitist to rape the middle class out of existence just so you and your buddies can make more money? Will people really vote to continue this policy?

Stay tuned in November.

np - Pure Reason Revolution, "The Dark Third"