Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Message In A Bottle

So who else watched the season premiere of Breaking Bad? All of you? Good. Then all of you saw Vince Gilligan at his very best, with the silently creepy Mexican cousins, Walter White's massive indecision, and the near-total flip of Jesse and Walter into good guy and bad guy. This show is perfect.

Season finale of Caprica this Friday. Hopefully it won't be the series finale. This show gives SciFi much-needed weight. A few comments:

So, OK, the dog got to me.
How does the dog know?

I loved that the dog knew. I think it's just that "other sense" thing. If humans hadn't made instincts irrelevant, than maybe Daniel would have known, too. Although he did know, but then used his randy version of the scientific method to prove himself wrong. Or something.

My favorite duality is Zoe as tender flesh and blood and Zoe as giant mecha with clompy feet. I love the way she switches back and forth as we watch and the expressions she has that none of the people around her know are there. It's poignant.

Yeah, I absolutely LOVE the match cuts. And I love how in the last episode, even though Daniel tried to scare the Zoe out of her, she actually seemed to draw strength from the Cylon. Scary.

Wow, great comments! Media tie-in books definitely don't get respect. TeeVee writer/producer Lee Goldberg has been writing Monk tie-ins for quite some time. Having read his original fiction -- "Beyond the Beyond," a mystery novel -- I would have to think that the Monk people are lucky to have such a good writer working on those books.

It is interesting, though, that pretty much anything coming out of filmed media is dismissed in print media. Tie-in novels are trash, movies and TeeVee consistently ruin books, etc. It's true that the majority of novels just shouldn't be adapted into film, but not because the books will be ruined. Rather, it's because the majority of books are simply impossible to adapt to a visual medium. Comics and graphic novels are easier, but it's not because they're made of pictures. It's because they're created as ongoing stories. Comic series, especially, have to have the same type of engine a TeeVee show needs. And since most comics that become films are supposed to be franchises, you need that engine for films, too. There's nothing more difficult than being handed a book for which you have to find an engine.

Comics writers seem much better suited to making the transition to film and TeeVee, and vice versa. TeeVee and film writers seem to move fairly easily to comics. They're certainly not the same and I wouldn't suggest that they are, but the thought process is similar enough that the learning curve is achievable.

Books into movies and TeeVee is different. And it seems to me that the assumption has more to do with the perceived quality of all books than with the differences between storytelling in novels and storytelling in film and TeeVee. You can tell in a print medium. You have to show in a filmed medium. You just can't do the same kind of internal storytelling on film that you can in a novel.

But there's something about handing a book to an executive that makes all of this moot. It's the same reason we have all these remakes. Because there's existing material, that means someone else deemed it worthy. And that means if the show/movie doesn't work, the finger pointing just goes back to the source material and not to the executive. I mean, who are they making The A-Team movie FOR? Not the people who watched the show the first time around. That's (gulp) an older demographic. So they're making the movie for people for whom the title means nothing. But it doesn't matter if it means anything to the audience. What matters is if it means anything to the people who shell out the cash to make the film.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of nuance in finding material. People aren't haunting dusty bookshops, looking for that neglected gem that would make a magnificent movie. Instead, pretty much everything gets optioned. If it's bound and has a pretty cover on it, it's got a shot. And if more than ten people have actually read it, well... it's a slam-dunk. When you look at the numbers, even the biggest bestseller doesn't sell that many books and most of the books that are being optioned aren't huge bestsellers. So the lowest-rated TeeVee show probably gets more viewers than the book upon which it's based. But that doesn't matter to the people whose job it is to sell.

What remains frustrating, though, is that they don't seem to stumble upon actual good books that would make wonderful movies.

Most notably on TeeVee, adaptations include Bones, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, FlashForward and the new series Justified (I'm sure I'm leaving something out). Justified takes the kernel of an Elmore Leonard short story. FlashForward takes the idea of a Robert Sawyer novel. The other three are based on book series, which makes a hell of a lot more sense for an adaptation than just a single book. Book series are not all adaptable but at least there's usually an engine there that has to exist to take the series from book to book.

I've been involved with shows that have been adapted from books and am working on a pitch to take out that's based on a book series. And no, America, we don't just change things for the sake of changing them. I like to use whatever works in the source material. I don't always get my way with that if we're talking about being on someone else's show. But with this pitch, yeah. I get to choose. There are specific challenges to adapting material but they're good challenges because they make you really think about what works on TeeVee and what doesn't.

As much as people bitch about TeeVee, go to your local bookstore (if you still have one) and flip through some fiction. My lord, there's a lot of shitty fiction out there. It seems like publishers will publish anything, although we know that isn't at all true. But for those who love the craft of writing, most fiction just isn't up to scratch. Because a distressing percentage of published novelists don't seem adept at the craft. But the rest of the population doesn't really care about writing. They care about being engaged with story, which is why they buy prose murderers like Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer.

What was the point? I can't remember. But I like books, so I don't want to bash novelists too much. I just hate the intimation that books are always better than movies and TeeVee. Although I'm pretty sure that the novel Precious, Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire, Curse Of The Black Pearl (I did not come up with that) is better than the movie.

In honor of this post and Ada Lovelace Day (which is on March 24th), I'm putting up a portion of my book on The Box. You'll find it at the Pilots link to the right...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

View From A Hill

Reverence -- a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.

An example of reverence -- watching Zenyatta come into the paddock on Saturday. Yeah, gentle readers, it's your bad luck that there was awesome racing on Saturday. But I'll be brief.

I wasn't around when Seabiscuit ran. I never saw Affirmed or Spectacular Bid in person. I've been lucky to see some super horses but nothing approached the scene at Santa Anita on Saturday, when Zenyatta went to the post for her fifteenth start, in search of her fifteenth win. Saturday was supposed to set the stage for a meeting between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. They were supposed to meet in April at Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom. And both prepped Saturday. Rachel ran first and along with practically every other human at Santa Anita, I was at the paddock waiting for Zenyatta when Rachel's race went off. There's been a lot of hot air from Rachel's owner, That Bastard Jess Jackson, since the Apple Blossom meeting was first mentioned as a possibility. The Mosses were all, "Yeah, that's where we're pointing Zenyatta anyway. Thanks for the five million dollar purse." But Jackson hemmed and hawed. He thought the race was too early, and said they'd go if it got pushed back a week, which would have put it on Arkansas Derby day. Maybe he thought Oaklawn wouldn't do that but seriously, why the fuck wouldn't they??? Meet-ups like this just don't happen anymore. They pushed it to the Friday before, which meant that Jackson kind of had to say Rachel would be there.

Then they needed a prep race, and Fair Grounds actually made up a race just for Rachel. So there just weren't any excuses anymore. Unfortunately for Rachel, Fair Grounds allowed other horses to enter. And one of those horses was Zardana, who's a stablemate of Zenyatta's. Zardana is also trained by John Shirreffs, the master whose Eclipse Award was stolen by Steve Asmussen (trainer, for four races, of Rachel Alexandra). See, Shirreffs doesn't have a McStable. So he didn't win all the races Asmussen won. And since the Eclipse Awards are just about quantity (specifically East Coast quantity), there was no way for Shirreffs to win.

Instead, he did something kinda cooler. He sent Zardana to the Fair Grounds and while he was saddling Zenyatta, Zardana beat Rachel Alexandra.

And then Zenyatta came out. Looking, I must say, even better than she's ever looked. And what happened to the people surrounding the paddock was something I've never experienced. There was truly reverence there, awe especially coming from the people who had never seen her in person before. People came from all over the country to see Zenyatta run. Zenyatta's a ham, and she loves her fans. A few races back when was led out into the paddock, she stopped and lifted her head and froze there, like a statue. And everybody around the paddock went "Ohhhhh..." That seemed to be the right response for her, so she's done it the same way ever since. She comes out and poses, everyone reacts, then she goes back to her business.

When she was led out onto the track, she got an enormous ovation. And when she somehow managed to win the race after having monstrous traffic trouble, every single person in every box was standing and the place went nuts.

Just like after her Breeder's Cup Classic win, the crowd became one. People came to see a champion and damn if they didn't. The Mosses and John Shirreffs were visibly thrilled and Ann Moss in particular marveled at how much fun Zenyatta has out there. And that's why they brought her back this year -- she wasn't ready to retire. According to her jockey, Mike Smith, she is even better this year.


So the crazy train surrounding Rachel Alexandra officially derailed the next day. There will be no clashing of titans in the Apple Blossom. Zenyatta's still scheduled to go but Rachel won't be. I wonder what would have happened if Zardana hadn't run in that race. Rachel was almost a dozen lengths clear of the third-place horse. Was it that she really won't be ready for the Apple Blossom, or that she got beat? I guess we'll never know. But Zenyatta carried sixteen pounds more than the horse who finished second Saturday and if she came out of the race well and prepares well, she'll go to the Apple Blossom either giving no weight, or very little weight to the competition. And then the people at Oaklawn will be able to experience that sense of reverence that we on the West Coast have been so lucky to have. Zenyatta is truly special. Enjoy her.

Something kinda ironic about Saturday was that the stars of David Milch's gambling pilot, "Luck," presented the trophy to the Mosses. Dennis Farina, Dustin Hoffman and John Ortiz were there in the paddock and in the winner's circle. They all looked kinda, well, dazed. I hope they went on a Thursday, too, so they could see how the track normally is, and not just a once-in-a-lifetime day like Saturday. I say "ironic," BTW, because Saturday was all about greatness and Milch's pilot is a much more cynical look at the sport. I hope that the actors' experience at the track on Saturday gives them insight into the magic that everyone involved in racing strives for. and I just wish that Milch's show would have more of that magic. Otherwise, it's hard to really understand why people give a shit.

Rather than ranting about this in the comments section of SF Signal, I'll pick and choose some choice bits here. You know what never happens? TeeVee and film writers talking about what books they'd like to see. But novelists, apparently, can use their deep knowledge of how TeeVee and film works to give us some pointers.

Awesome. Thanks.

There's the requisite "Hollywood will just ruin everything anyway," which is an enticing thought given the fact that all books are better than all TeeVee and movies and no bad books have ever been published.

There was, however, one person who made sense. It wasn't Chris Roberson, a writer I like quite a bit. No, Chris Roberson decided to blather about how movies and TeeVee suck. I still like your books, Chris, but REALLY. Damn the cliches and all that. Ironically, James Wallace Harris isn't a writer at all. He's a fan. But he says that Isaac Asimov's robot novels (in particular, "Caves of Steel" and "The Naked Sun") would make a fantastic TeeVee series. And he's absolutely right. I have an outline for this very show, from years ago. Doesn't a series based on the robot novels feel like a good fit for SciFi? After all, it would be a detective show, so there's your engine. And it would feel familiar, thanks to "Battlestar Galactica" and "Caprica," but it would also be different enough to be its own show.

Speaking of "Caprica," the last scene in Friday's episode was fucking AWESOME. SciFi's recently announced about thirty billion reality projects but they've also made some noise about staying in business with Ron Moore. "Caprica" isn't doing great, but it seems to be gathering viewers. This is what we need, people. A quality genre show of immense intelligence that actually does well. It'd be great to see the network stop chasing the funny and start chasing the smart.

This week, I decided to see how much work I can get done. So far, I've finished the first draft of a feature, read a book and wrote up some notes for another project, started breaking a spec pilot, and wrote up most of a pitch for another pilot. And it's only Tuesday! I was also supposed to do a blog post, so mission accomplished. Oh, and if you're at all inclined, I've gotten on the Twitter. I'm hilarious.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

From The Ritz To The Rubble

I can see I've alienated the majority of my gentle readers with my ice skating blatherings. You're terrified, aren't you? Lucky for you, the Olympics are over and the World Championships aren't even going to be televised on a real network. Although I have to say, the psychology behind skating is endlessly fascinating. And Amy, I couldn't be happier with the medals in Vancouver. And I hope that Mirai Nagasu keeps progressing because that girl has it, and it would be nice to see the American girls become prominent again!

My last word on skating, at least for the moment, will be to tell everyone to check out Johnny Weir's reality show on Sundance Channel. The documentary that spawned it is fantastic. It gives you a good idea of what goes into elite skating, and Johnny's amusing as well. His mindset is pretty much this: "I'm just an entertainer," "My federation hates me," I don't know what happened out there," "This year is my comeback and I'm going to show everyone." The last one happens every year, BTW. Johnny can't exist unless there's "me against the world" drama, even if he has to create it himself. Like I said: fascinating.

There. Now you are all safe from sports until the Zenyatta/Rachel Alexandra match-up that is theoretically going to happen in early April, unless That Bastard Jess Jackson kneecaps Zenyatta. I wouldn't put it past him. Tool.

But enough of that. Let's talk about my new favorite show --- "Caprica." Don't GROAN at me. Have you seen it? I talked about the look of it before. The world feels so real and authentic. And so does the V-world, especially once the show enters the New Cap City game. It's red-and-gray-drenched noir futurism. If Rick Deckard played a video game, it would be this one. A real bonus for geeks is the fantastically obvious "Tron" reference. The chip that enables Zoe's avatar to reside inside the Cylon is called a "meta-cognitive processor," which everyone refers to it as the MCP. So everytime they say it I think Master Control Program. In the New Cap City game, players de-res when their avatars get killed. And just like Flynn, there's a real-life person inside the game -- Joseph Adam's daughter, Tamara. She can't be killed and she can't de-res.

Beyond the look and "The Godfather" meets "Tron" storylines, I'm loving the duality of the show. This is the emergence of the "one true God" religion that makes the Cylons try to destroy humanity. The mother of all holy wars, I suppose. So you have the duality of the two religions but also the duality inside the one true God religion. Evil monk-like Barnabus wants to blow shit up. Sexy schoolteacher and randy polygamist Clarice sees everything slipping away. There's duality within the Adama family -- Sam is completely faithful to the Tauron race while Joseph finds himself torn between being Tauron and being Caprican. And in the latest episode, Daniel Graystone is confronted by Tomas Vergis, the Tauron who created the MCP chip that Graystone stole.

Zoe Graystone and Tamara Adama are opposites as well. Scared literally to death, Tamara is now a vengeance angel inside New Cap City. She's discovering abilities she has inside the game and she's convinced a poor hapless nerd to help her get word to her dad. Likewise, Zoe Graystone is going to use lovestruck Philo to do what she wants. I'm hoping this is going to lead to some kind of a confrontation between Zoe and Tamara. Is it going to be Tamara who rules the V-world, while Zoe finds herself drawn more and more to Philo and the real world while she's inside her Cylon body? The duality of metal and flesh is slowly developing.

If there was ever a show made just for me, "Caprica" is it.

It's pretty Goddam subtle, especially for the SciFi Channel. I hope they support it, but it's not exactly the laugh-riot SciFi seems to want.

Look at that. A short post. I achieve SO many wonderful goals.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Ice Cold War redux

The Olympics are over, which means that the blog can go back to normal.

In just a minute.

I'm not quite done with Plushenko yet.

Randy sez:
LOVE IT. Everything you say really should be self-evident to anyone with even a passing interest in the sport. But alas. Even before the "controversy" over the men's result, there were lots of articles lamenting the death of the sport, that the new scoring system had taken the artistry out of the sport. Um, no. It actually rewards artistry... spins, step sequences, all the difficulty and intricacy there, rather than Plushy's mincing. Lysacek does it SO WELL, and so do all my Canadian boys Patrick Chan and the now-retired Jeff Buttle and even Emanuel Sandhu.

Emanuel Sandhu chased the quad, too, which was a shame. The "skating" part of the sport was his metier, though. And really, I think a skater should be able to jump AND skate. If you can't (like Sandhu, sadly, couldn't always do), then you aren't at the top of the heap. When Jeff Buttle won Worlds, I remember someone (Joubert, I think, another jumping machine) grumble about how he did it without a quad. And that was a few years ago, before skaters like Lysacek and Chan began to really dig into this new system and maximize their point value. I am not a big fan of the new system but not because its heart isn't in the right place. I think it rewards some dumb things. The spiral sequence, for example, is ass. What the system rewards is EASIER than the spirals that someone like Michelle Kwan used to do. I wish the footwork sequences didn't have to be QUITE so frenetic, and that a skater with a well-centered scratch spin got more points for it.

But given what we saw this week, the purest all-around performed programs won all four disciplines. This hasn't always been the case but Vancouver got it right. I was delighted with all four winners. None of whom, BTW, were Russian. And the Russians usually win three of the four disciplines. The only winners who faltered a bit in the free program were Shen and Zhao, but that was mostly due to the amazing, break-out performance of Pang and Tong. Definitely the program of the night in pairs. But Shen and Zhao as Olympic champions? I honestly didn't think anything would have made me happier, until Evan Lysacek won. It's rare that so many skate so well but we had a clean top six in almost every discipline. The men and ladies were just phenomenal. Yu-Na Kim, of course, was as dominant as she virtually always has been for the past few years. Mao Asada got Russified, sadly. Joannie Rochette was a deserving medalist outside of her personal tragedy. And America got a lift from Mirai Nagasu, who finished a surprising fourth. Her coach is Frank Carroll, BTW. He sure had a good Olympics.

Recently, I heard that there were whispers about Plushenko before the long program. People were muttering that he hadn't done all the work he needed to do on that program, that his transitions were weak and he didn't have that complete mastery over the jumps that he used to. Given how scary his triple axel was (interesting that it got scarier, while Lysacek's got less scary), I see some truth in that. And based on the scores, Plushenko actually got a gift there in the program component score. At the end of the day, though, Evan Lysacek stepped up and WON the Olympic gold medal. Sorry, Evgeny. Good luck in Sochi, if you don't need to have more knee surgeries to land quads at the age of 31.

The media seems to just get so *scared* of numbers. "6.0" was very easy to explain, but I guess that since they can't explain the new system in 20 words or less it's too difficult. I see the same thing in other sports too -- people have the HARDEST time explaining the world rankings in tennis and golf, when they're really not that hard.

They're NUMBERS. And not ordinals, either. Just cold, hard numbers. You get a certain point value for a certain move, and then you either get additional points for doing the move well, or you get dinged for not doing it well. Then you add the numbers up. It's not calculus. Viewers can understand that but the media doesn't seem to think so. Now, when a network -- let's say NBC -- airs the ladies' free program but declines to show the skater who finished fourth in the long program and doesn't even MENTION her, well... that's a whole other issue with the coverage.

I will say that the downgrades on the jumps were pretty rampant and although I've always felt that skaters should be dinged if they can't bother to take off on the correct edge, the judges are being WAY too harsh on rotation. Super-slo mo? Really? If they want to get people to watch skating, then the results need to make sense to the audience. By all means, downgrade an egregiously under-rotated jump. But there should be a line there, and there should be some consistency. Johnny Weir's marks, for example, didn't make sense to the audience. And that's where the viewer frustration comes in. But if the viewer was better educated, then I think a lot of that would go away. I wish Johnny would have gotten a higher score. I think he was a touch under-scored. But I understand where the scores were coming from.

I did like the decent attempt to show the viewer a visual of what a fully rotated jump looks like. More of that, please.

What I think is interesting is that Plushenko consistently cultivates a super-villain image. Why? Why so sinister, Plushenko?

Since apparently his goal in life is to be universally despised, he takes every possible opportunity to be a jerk...so no, I wasn't surprised when he was a douchebag at every turn in this situation, too.

Yeah, he was douching it before he even skated. During practice, apparently, and to his loving Russian press afterwards. I don't blame Plushenko for thinking he'd win this thing the way he won Torino. He'd already creamed Lysacek, Joubert and the rest of the field. He could easily take out a Japanese kid and the Canadian. He'd won both of his competitions, although both were in Russia (that was stupid, Evgeny). So why should he think he had anything to worry about? As far as he was concerned, Lysacek's world champion status should have the "but he didn't beat Plushenko" asterisk next to it. Like I said in the other post, though, I do think he got a little spooked when he saw how close Lysacek and Takahashi were after the short. Lordy, how I hope he gets his ass beaten at Worlds. I don't think he will, though; now he has to prove himself. But if he gets beat WHILE he's actually taking the competition seriously... wow. Cool! Too bad Lysacek won't be there, but if Plushenko gets beat by someone else, that's even MORE embarrassing.

Honestly, I think HE thought it was 2002 again, when he had the perceived "rivalry" with Alexei Yagudin, who was miles better than Plushenko. And all the skaters now are looking at him in confusion, going, "Um, dude? We're not Russian. We have NO idea what you're talking about."

I agree with you about Oda and Takahashi but I do believe Takahashi has matured considerably. The level 4 footwork was invented for him. He's still a little inconsistent but when he's on, he's tough to beat. I wonder about the speed between him and Oda. I feel like Oda went backwards a little this year. I know he's had problems. Nobody lands a jump better but there's just something a little soft about him. I like the Chaplin program but when he skated last week, one of the commentators said that skating after Lysacek made him look like a junior skater. And it kinda did, which surprised me.

I can't even talk about Domnina and Shabalin. I think they're awful. But Belbin and Agosto let themselves be Russified and honestly, I think the judges couldn't tell the two teams apart. Top two were right, but I would have had B/A and Faiella and Scali ahead of them. Just horrible. I have friended Quit Whining Plushenko as well. Thanks for the tip!

Okay, gentle readers. That's IT for the Olympics, unless Plushenko does something else idiotic. I kind of hope he does. Next post, back to normal... or what passes for "normal" around here. I think next time, I'll talk about meetings. Because it's that time of year. Hello staffing season, you harsh mistress!!!