Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nothing But the Sun

Loooorrrrrrd. It's been awhile, but I've upgraded from procrastination to dithering, so that's something.

Just collecting some thoughts from the past few weeks. I love when novel writers roll their eyes at movies. Sometimes I agree with them. Sometimes I don't, like when Monte Cook wrote this blog post about writer characters in movies. He calls it an overused cliche. And when you're talking about novice writers trying to identify with their main character, then yeah. It can be a painful cliche. But when you over-generalize, you forget about some stuff. Like the fact that one of the best movies ever (and my favorite movie of all time) features a screenwriter named Joe Gillis.

Anything can be a cliche if you suck at writing, and it's distressing to see a writer not get this.

This ties back to the MAMET MEMO as well. A lot of comments on this one, and I don't want to get into it too much because then I'm just yelling at people. Dithering does not brook yelling. So I'll just reiterate a little:

What Mamet wrote wasn't necessarily wrong, although I found his rules a little strict. What would have pissed ME off is that I am a fucking professional, and would have been hired as a fucking professional. I think this business has gone too far over to the point of not treating people like fucking professionals. Too many writers are having lousy experiences on staff and really, there's no need for it. I just saw Alan Ball speak at the Writer's Guild and his attitude was that at the end of the day, it's just television. It's not worth killing people for. You work hard but then you go have a life. There are too many people who have the opposite philosophy and I gotta say, the shows aren't better. Torturing writers doesn't make them work harder, and it definitely doesn't make their work better. I think a lot of people who have this philosophy are frankly afraid of being found to be frauds (whether they are or not). People who create and run shows SHOULD understand that the addition of "manager" to their title means something.

You know what this reminded me of? The harangues fans hurl at shows. You know the type. When they bitch about how this episode took place in a building, or that effect looked lousy, or their favorite character got killed or whatever. And it always comes down to the fan in question not understanding how TeeVee works. So I do wonder if Mamet knows how it works. If he did, I would think that the executives would have gotten screamed at instead of the writers. And for me, that's kinda the issue. If Mamet really DID want to yell at the executives, then he should have done that. But he didn't. He lectured professional writers instead.

There's another Philip K. Dick adaptation coming out this year -- Adjustment Bureau, with Matt Damon. The story's great, and this is a story that may actually lend itself to a movie. But then director, George Nolfi (whoever the fuck HE is), "insists" the movie isn't science fiction. He said this in Entertainment Weekly: "Sci-fi to me conjures up lasers and spaceships and time travel. This movie is told very realistically."

What a fucking idiot.

And once again, EW's summer movie preview issue decided not to list the writers. Fuck you, EW. You're a MAGAZINE written by WRITERS. What the ever lovin fuck?

Comment round-up!!

Little Miss Nomad:
I don't know how involved Mamet was in the show and yeah, Shawn Ryan ran it. Wonder how HE felt about the memo...

The book excerpt I put up is NOT from the YA book. I may put a few chapters up soon but nobody's read it yet. And your daughter's blog is adorable! I love that she's into all these genre shows.

Horace had a question about Haunted. Sadly, the 12th and 13th episodes were NOT shot. We wrote one of them. Sigh.

I MUST know what Arthur Miller said to you!

And yes, Zenyatta was glorious. I considered her other Apple Blossom win one of her best races. She didn't face much but it's the way she ran away from them that gave me goosebumps. She climbed a bit early (what's that shit in my face?) but when she made the lead, she just kept pulling away though she wasn't even running. Scary, and it should scare everyone else, too. I can't say enough about the Mosses and the sportsmanship they're showing by letting everyone see her. This just doesn't happen. The attitude they have and the way they enjoy her is the opposite of how this thing usually goes. Horses get retired the instant they reach a certain value. They could have retired her after 2008. They practically did retire her after 2009. But here she is again, tying one of racing's greatest records. Honestly, can anything beat her? She's not at the mercy of any pace. She can run down anyone and she's never been asked all that much.

I'm absolutely delighted that there are two horse racing channels so I can always see her. And I've been to the barn to see her, too. The thought of having this much access to a horse this great is mind-blowing. I really wish we had the great turf writers of old (ore yore, I suppose) to document her career. But instead we get Steve Haskin, and what a shitty writer he is. All he's done so far is complain about how Rachel Alexandra isn't getting any attention. I know that in this country, we are apparently now required to choose sides in pretty much everything -- Team This and Team That, Red or Blue, Right or Left. But geez... what Zenyatta has done over her career means SO much more than that. Can't these idiots just appreciate her? That is, after all, why the Mosses kept her in training. I feel like her accomplishments just aren't being given their due. Not just in racing, but in sports circles as well. And the reason people outside racing aren't getting it is because the people inside racing are squabbling about Rachel vs. Zenyatta. Once again, racing shoots itself in the foot. They should be taking advantage of this but instead, they have to do their boring old East-West thing.

Speaking of Rachel, she faces a pretty decent field on Oaks Day, in the La Troienne. She looked great schooling today and her last few works were more like it. She also faces Zardana again, so it'll be interesting to see how THAT turns out.

When I started this post, Eskendereya was still the Derby favorite. What a shame. He was Pletcher's first true 10F horse. But although Pletcher's down three, I think he's got a real shot in Super Saver. That colt's definitely bred to go the distance. The Derby will be interesting. Everyone's looking around for the 50-1 outsider who's going to win. I'm not counting out Lookin At Lucky, although I hope he gets home safe. Gomez hasn't exactly been the smartest rider of the year. Sorry, but I've got to throw out all those horses who jumped up and won big races after doing absolutely nothing. So no Ice Box or Stately Victor or Line of David. Although if Sadler wins with either Line of David or Sidney's Candy, I'm really fucking happy. Really frustrated that all these lousy horses are in the race when a real threat, Setsuko, didn't get in. Someone suggested that the graded earnings rule be changed to disallow two-year-old earnings. I love that. It would force these trainers to actually RUN their horses at three. And Setsuko would totally be in. Oh, well. He'll just win the Belmont.

I wonder how many of the "celebrities" attending the Derby will even see the race.

This post is all over the place. I'll try to get back on track soon. I'm just not feeling uber-witty now...

Friday, April 09, 2010

Late Last Night

Yes, it's been far too long for a new post! I had this almost written but then got kinda busy because apparently, we're going into staffing season. Who knew? Since we last spoke, Zenyatta added her sixteenth in a row and scared the shit out of four overmatched rivals, and the new Doctor Who premiered.

I hear your gasps of surprise. No, it didn't premiere HERE yet. It premiered in England. It won't officially start on BBC America until the 17th. I assume that's because they have to put that film on a boat and bring it over. No wait -- it already exists in DivX form. Fucking idiots. There's absolutely NO reason for the delay and acting like the show needs to be physically transported via tramp steamer is just fucking lying to the audience. Gee, why do people pirate television? Anyway, I won't talk about it until after its official airing. Spoilers!

Now. Try this for a scenario. You're a professional TeeVee writer, on staff on a big network show. You're in the room all the time, working your story off, eating Red Vines and chocolate because ONCE AGAIN, someone overruled CPK for Ribs USA or the skanky dollar Thai place. You've already started shooting and have to scale back all the scripts written so far to accommodate the budget. The network blew up a script and a story and the room HAS to produce SOMETHING so production doesn't grind to a halt. Weekends aren't yours. You're coming up with stories, rewriting, writing, breaking. Then Monday comes, and what do you find on your desk? A memo, in ALL CAPS, from the self-identified genius who also happens to be the creator of the show.

The memo is all about HOW TO WRITE. While the Genius does take some shots at executives, essentially the memo is him talking down to the writers. See, HE IS GENIUS. HE WILL TEACH. What the Genius has forgotten is that the writers who were hired to actually do all the WORK on his show are already professional writers. And the last thing they need is to be lectured about how to do their jobs.

I don't know how the writers on The Unit responded when they got this memo from David Mamet but I know how I would have reacted. There's enough bullshit in this business without getting a lecture from a playwright, especially when it's a memo with RULES in it. I mean, rules?? Seriously? Who are you, Syd Field? This bad boy hit the Internet a week or so ago and reactions have been wildly different. Most people seem to bow down to Mamet's LESSONS OF WRITING. How often do you get advice from a genius? But some people (I'd put myself in this category) are annoyed. If I'm already working my ass off on a show and the Genius in the Ivory Tower decides to LECTURE me about how to tell a story, I'm gonna be a little frosted. Look, either trust that you've hired professionals, or fuck off. I might've taken this bullshit from Arthur Miller or Clifford Odets, but even Odets has some horseshit on his resume.

So lemme ask -- how would people have responded if this was an anonymous screed? What if all you knew was that it was written by someone who'd created a show, but not who? Or suppose you did know who wrote it but it wasn't DAVID FUCKING MAMET. Instead, it was written by Joe Showrunner, a journeyman who hasn't had the foresight to work in other, more respected media? Would you want to slap him or her? Of course you would. And you would also want to murder him for screaming at you in all caps. "But that's just what Mamet does," people say admirably. Yeah? Well, David Caruso won't cross a threshold. Just because someone with a name does it doesn't mean it's acceptable. It's not.

Look, as far as I'm concerned, there's only one true rule of showrunning: PROTECT YOUR WRITING STAFF. But now I'm going to add another one: DON'T LECTURE TO PROFESSIONALS, OR DO IT ALL YOUR OWN DAMNED SELF. Trust and protect your staff. Keep the show running. Don't think you can control people by making them scared of you, and don't think that lecturing them is going to get their best work. And yes, I chose the caps because I am yelling at David Mamet.

Maybe this comes from having worked for some of the best people in the business. See, I know it's possible for a show to be run in a healthy way. And having spent time in a protective environment, I just think there's no excuse for behaving any other way.

In other news, ABC head Steve McPherson talked about trying to replace "Lost" in the latest Entertainment Weakly. He said this: "We're not focused on finding the next Lost. We're looking for the next great, groundbreaking, game-changing idea." This seems to be at odds with what ABC put on last fall -- "FlashForward" and "V," two shows the seemed like an obvious attempt to clone "Lost." The network seems to be more focused on premise-driven shows and the tricky thing about "Lost" is that at its heart, it's a character-driven show. Based on ABC's pilots for the fall, they're going back to the standard cop/lawyer/doctor shows. The one show that could be of interest to genre fans is "No Ordinary Family," from Jon Feldman, Greg Berlanti and David Semel, that's about a family who develops superpowers. I haven't read it yet, but this show could be the kind of marriage between character and premise that ABC's been searching for.

A few comments...

did you watch justified? i enjoyed it. for some odd reason it reminded me of the south as portrayed in True Blood (raw and real but without vamps).

I did watch it but I couldn't get into it. I know everybody says it's the best TeeVee show EVAR and I think it's well cast and well made, but I'm getting a little tired of shows with trashy, stupid women. Yes, that's a character choice but it's not one I make when I'm watching shows. And I like True Blood IN SPITE of the trashy, stupid women!!

I'm certainly not a snob about books vs. filmed media, and don't have much patience for people who are. I do, however, believe that each medium has its own distinct strengths, which is why I find the process of turning novels into movies baffling (short stories make much more sense as source material, in my opinion).

Except in the case of Philip K. Dick! the problem with his short stories is that there's just too much story to fill in and I don't think the writers who've adapted him and the directors who've directed those films, has gotten into the mind of PKD. The aforementioned Justified is based on an Elmore Leonard short story. A TeeVee series based on a short story? Well, it makes sense in this case. They saw the engine of the show. And most of the time I don't think the people who option material (mostly producers) see that engine, whether it be for TeeVee or film. The weirdest adaptation, for me, is I Robot, which isn't at all an adaptation of Asimov's short story collection. No, I Robot is a rip-off of his robot novels. But the producers didn't have the rights to those books so they kind of snuck around them.

I've heard from other tie-in writers that our experiences are more the norm than the exception. It seems to me that, more often than not, these TV tie-in novels are treated almost like freelance episode of the show by the showrunners.

I'm very happy to hear that. Especially in this era of multi-platforms. Why shouldn't the different platforms all work together? I'd like to see more of it, frankly. And thanks for posting that link to Tod's article. Very illuminating.

And doesn't Umberto Eco get some credit for the Knights Templar thrillers? Name of the Rose, and Foucault's Pendulum both count I think, though they were not nearly as shlocky as their successors.

I highly doubt that Steve Berry, Dan Brown and the rest of them read Eco and decided to do that. Eco's FAR too literary. I think it's more about the way Dan Brown ripped off Holy Blood Holy Grail than anything else. Because if you're shlocky and you're already ripping off shlock... well, I don't know the math behind it but I think it approaches uber-shlock.

And that's all she wrote for this week. Somewhat shorter, right?