Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ten Years Ahead

How did two weeks go by?? This work thing... I dunno. Takes up a lot of time. I have not been able to take my cat to the vet. He turns into a freakin' tiger when I try to put him in the carrier. I'll probably try the valium at some point. It's just for his check-up, but he HAS to be able to get into that carrier!

A shout-out to AJ and Michael. It was so great to meet you guys!! And Michael, interesting stuff about Greg Maddux. Although at this point, I don't know if it's gonna matter that he can beat the Giants if the Dodgers can't beat any of the other teams. Augh.

So a somewhat quick one today. I still have, hopefully, a post about showrunning coming up at some point. But being on a show after not being on one for a coupla years has been rather illuminating. And this show's got a different background than most, since there was source material but there wasn't a pilot. So the show has to be created from the ground up without a real foundation. This has to happen at the same time that the writers are figuring out how the showrunner likes to break and tell stories. So it's a different kind of challenge.

The source material, for those who don't know, is Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth books. The show WAS called "Wizard's First Rule," after the first book, but since we're going beyond the first book and also telling our own stories, the title had to change. We also have to look at source material in a different way. Goodkind creates a very recognizable fantasy world but rules and stories that work in the books just don't work on TeeVee. So there's a lot of adaptation going on. Obviously, books are much more internal than TeeVee, and an author can deal with senses and imagery that a television writer can't. On TeeVee, you HAVE to be able to tell stories visually. I do like the challenge of adapting source material because if you have the time (we don't have as much as we would like), you can take the book's mythology and really expand on it, shaping it into arcs and seasons. But then I really, really love mythology, and TeeVee is still trying to move completely away from that. But really, don't you think that one of the things people like about reality shows is the serialization? I think people are getting that fix from reality. If drama got back to that, maybe people would stop watching as much reality. NOTHING is more serialized than a reality show.

Onto some comments!

Zack sez,

Kay, I wonder if the increasing penetration of DVR/Tivo into the marketplace will help usher in a resurgence of original syndicated programming. Even if the show is on at a weird day or hour, you can capture it on a hard drive to watch at your leisure.

I sure hope so. I don't know why the hell the networks won't look at data from ALL DVRs. It's certainly something the technology can do. So why don't they get more than a half-assed Nielsen sampling? I'm sure that it has something to do with money somewhere, I just don't know specifically where.

Of course, the downside of the Tivo revolution is exactly what you're complaining about. A tv director told me that Tivo is driving the push toward the six act structure with long first act and steadily shortening acts in the back half of the show. According to the networks' research, people are less likely to fast forward through commercials if there's a superlong first act-- don't ask me why. Supposedly the CSI shows are under pressure to ditch their short teaser followed by long acts structure, but Carol Mendelson is holding the line. Who knew the CSI franchise was a standard bearer for creative integrity?

Not me!! The six-act structure is ass. It isn't at all organic, because you still have to build to those act-outs, which means you have to have five "natural" climaxes. To me, TeeVee isn't crafted structurally anymore. There's no sense of rhythm to it. That's one of the reasons I adored the season finale of Sarah Connor. That was an old-fashioned episode, man. And I miss what TeeVee used to be able to do. Now, you have fucking TAGS, which I loathe, and nobody can do a real teaser anymore. This removes all elegance and suspense from a show. There's just no artistry. Blech.

Horace goes,
I see that the teaser/trailer for "Legend of the Seeker" is now online.
Beautiful actors, Middle Earth scenery, swords, magical gestures, and slo-mo action -- what more could you want? Who needs writers?

Heh. Not us!! We do NOT know why he stabs a mountain with his sword. Seriously.

The short-attention span acts are really beginning to bother me. There was once a time when two characters could just spend a couple of minutes chatting, developing a relationship that added to the depth of a show. Now, those two minutes are devoted to rapid sequences of scenes that last four sentences.

Totally irritating. It's impossible to write a scene where there's anything going on beyond the obvious action. So any little moments you used to be able to have with the characters are gone. The other thing that's happened is, you have to write SO much to time, because you can't afford to shoot more. You used to be able to cut to time, but now you have to write to it. This means that you don't even get to write those nice moments, or craft a suspenseful scene. TeeVee is becoming less about craft and more about commerce. I wonder how long it'll take for it to just be a mechanical enterprise.

Anonymous says,
The bifurcation in television production costs during the past several years has been fascinating to watch. The high end network shows, especially the ones with genre overtones have gotten absurdly expensive. Terminator is the cheap one at a little more than 3 mil an episode (small, cheap cast and lots of filming on the Warner lot), Fringe is supposedly 3.5 (and that's with New York kicking them back a chunk for filming there), and Lost and Heroes with their huge expensive casts, tons of setups and loads of opticals and location shooting come in at a jaw-dropping 5 million each.

Yup. That's a ridiculous amount of money. As for Fringe, the word I've been hearing is that 3.5 is far less than what they're actually spending. And the problem with shooting on a lot like WB has to do with how much they charge the shows to shoot there. You would think you might be able to save some money, but it's a total racket.

Things like high end talent (unless you cut them in with points or they owe you favors), location shooting, and practical action scenes will always be expensive, so it's to Joss' great credit that he chose a storytelling format that played to the Internet's strengths and didn't depend on big ticket stuff.

That's what I appreciated about it, too. Joss certainly could have done TeeVee on the internet, but he didn't. He took the format in mind and that, I think, is what makes Dr. Horrible so important.

Brent Friedman!!!!! says,
Kay - Brent Friedman here... We worked together on "Twilight Zone." Just found your blog thru a series of links... nice work. Wanted to let you know that I've been making a very, very good living on webvideo the last two years. My digital media company, Electric Farm Entertainment, has produced "Afterworld" and "Gemini Division" (which rolls out Aug. 18th on and the upcoming "Woke Up Dead." If you Google any of the above names you'll get the whole history. But you're absolutely right about the bottom line: ownership. Everything I've done with EFE we now own the copyright - this is the true power of New Media from a creator standpoint. A close second on the list has to be getting zero notes... ;)

Hey, Brent!!! Congrats on the web stuff, and thanks SO much for saying something because the conventional wisdom seems to be that it's just not worth it. But given the way TeeVee's going, it's getting increasingly harder to get that creative satisfaction. I think too many people are wanting to transfer the structure of TeeVee -- from the method of storytelling to the pay structure -- to the internet. They won't see that it really IS a different medium. And that sometimes, it's okay to trade a huge payday for peace of mind and creative control. I'm really glad you're making a living AND doing what you want. Totally envious here!

I liked Afterworld a lot and I've seen the first two eps of Gemini Division. I love how different the shows are -- more different than two TeeVee shows can be from each other. And to me, it seems that you have to REALLY focus on storytelling to work the medium. I'm loving it so far!!

I'm hoping to go to the Breeder's Cup (which is at Santa Anita). Since we shoot in New Zealand, no danger of me having to be out of town!

np -- the copy machine across the hall. But I did just acquire the new Verve album and can't wait to listen to it!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Song Remains the Same

For the second Sunday in a row, I've been unable to take my cat to the vet. Last week, I couldn't even get him into the carrier. I got him in today, but he flipped and started destroying his claws, so I had to let him out.


Anyway. I was going to do a post about showrunners and all that, but it's gotten too involved so I have to wait and do it later. Instead, onto Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. The general consensus of the nay-sayers is that it's cute enough, but nothing special, and that it doesn't mean anything to the (most hated term ever) rank-and-file. Since said rank-and-file is essentially at the mercy of the giant apes, I heartily disagree. And I think Dr. Horrible will prove to be more significant than people think.

Joss Whedon made a splash with Dr. Horrible. And yeah, he did it because he's got the money to be able to, he can call on this terrific actors who will do anything for him, and he's JOSS WHEDON, so he has built-in publicity. But isn't that the kind of person you need to show that internet programming is viable? Don't you need someone like Whedon, who understands innovation, to go there first? QuarterLife was not the greatest success when it went to TeeVee, but that's because everyone was still thinking traditionally. Just as comic books should exist on their own whether they are optioned as movies, TeeVee shouldn't the goal if you're developing an internet series. Dr. Horrible was written and shot specifically for the internet, and that's the only way a show like that is going to work. Whedon didn't transform a TeeVee show to the internet. That's really significant.

The biggest issue is that he owns it. Like, OWNS ALL OF IT. So if there are others who want it to be a TeeVee show, a Broadway musical or a comic book, they're gonna have to deal directly with him. That is the ultimate goal of scripted drama on the internet, and I think we're trying too hard to fit the internet into the TeeVee paradigm. Anyone can buy a really nice DV camera. Given enough innovation, anyone can make their own version of Dr. Horrible, especially now that the first one exists. This is going to be the standard-bearer for the internet for now. And I think it's a pretty high bar to start with. Let's face it, most people in TeeVee aren't very happy. There are very few personal visions that are actually being realized here. Even though the internet isn't a money-maker yet, I think more people like Whedon will gravitate there during hiatuses. If you can't get creative satisfaction in TeeVee, you certainly can on the internet.

So what does this have to do with the rest of us?

Well, what if a well-known internet show leads to, say, someone like Whedon deciding to create an internet studio, where he produces shorts and shows by other writers? Wouldn't it be fantastic to have a creatively-driven studio like that? Forget about the money for a minute. How fabulous would it be to have creative control? And to be working with someone who isn't as concerned about the business side as he is about the creative side?

Pretty fucking great, if you ask me.

It's interesting to me that TeeVee budgets have skyrocketed just as the technology is getting affordable. It's almost as if there's been an unspoken pact among the studios, that they want us to keep thinking that we need them. I'd like to see people inspired by Dr. Horrible. Let's get more innovation onto the interwebs and see if the creative people can find a corner of the universe to play in. There's only one show on TeeVee with that kind of innovation anyway. Nothing can touch Mad Men. And no studio or network would let you get away with the type of storytelling there is on that show, which proves that a minimum of interference has its rewards. Mad Men is what happens when someone is allowed to express their pure point of view.

Speaking of point of view, did The Dark Knight have one, or what??? I'm stunned that a movie with that much internal character work has made a gazillion dollars. But then I suppose some people only care about the gadgets and the effects. Which I can kind of suss out because there were people who weren't happy that Two-Face wasn't just set up to be the villain in the next movie. But isn't that what's been sucking about superhero movies anyway? They all follow a formula. We get pissed about that but then when the formula changes, we miss the formula.


I loved that the whole movie was the fight between Batman and the Joker over the soul of Gotham, and that the soul took the form of Harvey Dent. Batman and the Joker literally split the guy in half. Since superhero movies are by their nature dualistic, and since Two-Face is the most obvious dualistic character, the movie is dualistic, too. The choices the Joker offers people are all devil's bargains: one bad choice weighed against another. Neither choice is going to fix the situation. And I think that's the Joker's ultimate goal -- to drive people insane when they realize that. He is an agent of chaos, but the chaos is internal, not external. He creates chaos in Dent and in Batman. As for Batman/Bruce Wayne, he changes places with Dent throughout the movie. And his ultimate sacrifice is to take on Two-Face's villainy. It's a pretty astonishing movie, and what's really fun is how different it is from Iron Man. Two great superhero movies, totally different.

I have not seen the X-Files movie, because people said it was worse than the first one. I don't think that's physically possible, but on the off-chance that I'm wrong, I just need to preserve my sanity and stay away.

I think I'll have a better chance of posting on a somewhat regular basis if I shorten my posts, so that's all for this one. Just one final sports note -- I don't care what anyone says, I still don't think Big Brown's Haskell was a good race. I know he got a high Beyer for it, but the drifting out REALLY bothers me, especially since Desormeaux just lets him to do. I know he's probably got only two more races before he retires (ludicrous), but all you have to do is watch Swain in the Breeder's Cup to know how much drifting can cost you. I'm sad we won't see Curlin in the Classic, but I think no matter what Big Brown does, Curlin's horse of the year. So suck it, Dutrow.

The last, but certainly not least, thing is a big congrats to John Scalzi for yet another Hugo win. Yee haw!!! And don't impale yourself on that thing.

np -- Cajun Dance Party, "The Next Untouchable"