Friday, February 29, 2008

Back burner is about to collapse

Wow. It's like Jane and I are simpatico...or at least one of her readers.

Sludge keeps piling on, burying me, but my arm stretches out...reaching...grasping...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Updated TV Watchlist

Shawna has updated her famous TV Watchlist. It's definitely worth a click if you're interested in the fate of any of your favorite TV shows.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Praising (and mourning) Lost's mutation

When Lost arrived in 2004, it was a revelation. The show promised action, excitement and mystery, but it also took the time to give us interesting, flawed, believable characters and strongly weave theme into every episode.

And there's the secret. People fell for the flashbacks and were wowed by the unusual-yet-somehow-working structure of the show, but the reason those flashbacks (and the structure as a whole) worked so well was due to how thematically connected everything was.

Take "Walkabout," the first season episode focusing on Locke. It works so amazingly not just because of the revelation at the end that he used to be in a wheelchair and now has somehow been given the ability to walk again, but because both stories--on the island and in the flashback--involve people telling Locke that certain things are beyond his ability; one ending with him being thwarted by his limitations, the other with him overcoming them. Even today, just thinking about it gives me chills.

Of course, I'm referencing what's possibly the best episode of Lost ever. The single episode that I believe is responsible for Locke continuing to be a favorite character of fans even with all the weird waffling and disservice done to him the past few years. As thematically impressive as "Walkabout" is, there are numerous examples of episodes where the thematic thread is so tenuous that it comes off feeling forced, and others where I'd be hard-pressed to even hazard an idea about what the writers were trying to say.

And there's a great reason for this: it's really, really hard to imbue something with meaning every single week. Even more so using the structure of Lost, where you're continually and very obviously mining the same characters' backstories over and over. Why do you think they've added new characters all four seasons?

So increasingly the last few seasons, the writers have been focusing more on the plot twists and turns and on the mystery of the island. The good part of this is that we've been getting some answers to many of the questions they've set up (not all of them, not by a long shot, but things do seem to be moving forward). The negative is that part of what made the show great--the thematic connections and revelations built in to each episode--mostly got the short shrift. We uncovered more and more of the mystery, but in certain ways it seemed to matter less and less.

And then came the third season finale. Unlike many others, I was not completely blown away by it, but I did think it was a good episode of Lost and an interesting twist on the show's premise. After seeing the first four episodes of the fourth season, though, I have to say the change to include both flash-forwards and flashbacks was a brilliant direction to take the show.

Keeping flashbacks around allows for those old-school Lost episodes that really focus on character and theme and once-in-a-great while deliver a sucker punch of unexpected emotion. Adding flash-forwards takes the onus off of the writers needing to do the above in every episode. With flash-forwards, somehow there isn't as much need for the two stories to fit neatly together. The writers are making us wonder how the current drama on the island leads our heroes to the places where they are in the flash-forwards, whereas in the flashbacks, I immediately expect to be shown what the connection is. I'm not sure why exactly, I just know that somehow it works better for me. It's not that my expectations are lowered; they're just altered. And I'm happier with the show than I've been in a while.

Still, while I do think the change makes the show better as a whole, I lament the loss of true thematic connection in every episode. For every "The Economist" gained, there's a potential "Walkabout" that falls by the wayside. And that is truly something:

Monday, February 25, 2008

For the love of god, don't embolden the audience

The Oscars were montage-ariffic.

Jon Stewart was great, as usual. But then I'm also one of the supposed few who liked his last outing as Oscar host, so what do I know?

Neither of these things apparently helped the ratings.

Because of this, since history shows that the only true way to get a larger audience is to nominate movies the audience is most familiar with (e.g. the movies that make the most money), here are my preliminary Best Picture nominations for 2009:

Iron Man
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Dark Knight
Wall-E
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

In fact, since many of these are movies with outsized heroes, they could even add a phone-in category: Which of these protagonists would win in an all-out brawl?

I'd have to say my vote goes to Batman, because he tends to find a way to neutralize his enemies' strengths, which pretty much takes out everyone but Indiana Jones. And while I love Indy, let's face it, Dr. Jones is no Bruce Wayne.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Break It Down - Gossip Girl

My secret shame: I watch Gossip Girl.

Actually, my secret shame is that I'm not really that ashamed because it's a pretty decent show. It does have the requisite teen show melodrama and a few times I've questioned the choices characters made (in terms of whether those choices were really in character, not whether they were good or bad), but overall it's relatively smart with fun, generally-not-too-cliche plots and snappy dialogue...Kristen Bell's voice overs notwithstanding. Could they please get rid of them already? I love the Bell as much as anyone, but those voice overs are absolutely the worst part about the show.

For our Extension class this week, part of our assignment was to read the Gossip Girl pilot, so I thought I'd have fun and break it down for all of you because I know you're dying to know how the show is structured.

If you'd like to catch up on other breakdowns I've done, look here, here and here.

But back to Gossip Girl. Interestingly, this is one of the more complicated shows I've broken down, which is not what I was expecting. This is due to the fact that it's more of an ensemble show, so there are more storylines going on at once. Fun!

This should be obvious, but there will be spoilers below.

Episode 101 - Pilot

Short Description

In the pilot, Serena returns home to her super-ritzy Upper East Side life after leaving suddenly about a year ago; much teenalicious scandal ensues. Dan deals with his mom leaving home and gets a surprise date with Serena, the girl of his dreams. Nate and Blair face problems in their relationship (hint: Serena just might be involved). Jenny, Dan's little sister, tries to climb the social ladder with her super calligraphy skills, only to discover that she's in over her head.

Story Threads

This is a fun one. I'm saying there are A-, B-, C-, and D-stories, but it could easily be argued that the Rufus relationship stuff is its own story. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, this is probably what I should have done, but I'm too lazy to go back now. Those beats are folded into Dan's story.

A - Serena comes home after leaving suddenly a year ago and faces social repercussions. She also has to deal with her suicidal brother; the fact that she betrayed her best friend Blair by sleeping with Nate, Blair's boyfriend; and goes out with and starts to fall for Dan.

B - Dan tries to be there for his dad when his mom leaves the family and helps out Jenny when Chuck Bass is an ass. He also gets a surprise date with the girl of his dreams, Serena.

C - Blair and Nate must face the problems in their relationship when Serena returns home and reopens old wounds. Also, Nate and Chuck smoke weed.

D - Jenny wants to be popular so much that she does calligraphy - that's dedication. Unfortunately she gains the attention of Chuck Bass who we learn is not just an ass, but a potential date rapist.

Length and Breakdown

Teaser - 10 pages, 11 scenes
Act I - 12 pages, 6 scenes
Act II - 8 pages, 6 scenes
Act III - 7 pages, 8 scenes
Act IV - 13 pages, 10 scenes
Act V - 9 pages, 12 scenes

54 scenes in 59 total pages, with a teaser and five acts. Pagewise, Act IV is the longest and Act III is shortest, though Acts I&II actually have fewer scenes than Act III. 10 pages is also a long teaser--it's longer than three of the Acts! You can also see--based on the number of pages vs. the number of scenes--that most of the Acts consist of short, quick scenes. The lone exception is Act I, which slows down and spends its time introducing us properly to the main characters.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-Story - Serena Comes Home (22 beats/scenes)
B-Story - Dan (19 beats/scenes)
C-Story - Nate & Blair (12 beats/scenes)
D-Story - Jenny (12 beats/scenes)

Teaser - A, A, C/A, A, B/A, C, A, C, A, B, A
Act I - A, B/D, A/C, A, B, A/D
Act II - B, A, C, D/B, C, A
Act III - D/B, A, C, A, A, C, A, B
Act IV - B, C, B, C, A, B, D/B, C, B/C/D, D
Act V - B, C, D, B, D, B, D, B, A, D, D/A/B, B, A

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm putting the story that the beat gives preference to as the first story. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A, B, C or D is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

It looks like A and C are preferenced heavily in the beginning and then largely disappear later on, but this is somewhat misleading for A, as it folds into and is absorbed by the B-story. Something interesting here is that the show doesn't hesitate to begin and end Acts on the B, C or even D storylines. Story beats also aren't as clumped together here as they are in many shows. They comfortably alternate between plotlines for a scene at a time without fear that the audience will lose track of where a story is. This also seems to reflect the quick, staccato pace of the show as a whole.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In honor of the Oscars this weekend

I don't feel like I've seen enough of the nominees to offer a valid opinion on most of the categories, but since that doesn't stop everyone, I bring you...

Lots of other people's opinions:

Chad Gervich
Moviefone
Ebert
Alternative Film Guide
Premiere
First Showing
Scene Stealers

But what do they know? Here are the nominees; who are your picks to win?

"You start out thinking you're the hero, but then..."

Do you watch the best TV show on right now? Yeah, that's right, I'm talking about The Wire.

Here's the thing: Don't read this unless you've been watching The Wire through HBO On Demand.

Seriously.

Stop right now.

Because some major shit happens on the latest episode, "Clarifications."

"The Body" kind of shit.

And if the last episode you've seen is the one that aired last Sunday ("Took"), you do not want to know this.

Really.

Bookmark this, but don't come back and read it until you see the next episode.

Please.

Have I used up enough space so that this doesn't just pop up in the RSS feed? I hope so. I'll add a few more line breaks.




Okay. It was painful enough when Marlo and crew took out Butchie, but at least that brought back Omar.


Marlo's murder of Prop Joe was more of a shock. This little punk who we know next to nothing about is taking out characters we've lived with for years like it's nothing. It's only right that we root for Omar as he terrorizes Marlo's organization, and since it's Omar we're talking about, we know it's only a matter of time before he gets medieval on Marlo's ass.

Except that this is The Wire we're watching.

A few weeks ago, the show did something that pulled me out and made me question it, which is really rare for The Wire. Omar, in full-on revenge mode against Marlo, jumps out of a fifth story window to escape gunmen. We see him fly out the window, but when they look for him, he's just gone. Disappeared.

Um...what?

Is Omar a frigging superhero now? This is something that might fly in your run-of-the-mill action movie, but not on my Wire. My Wire is too good for that. So the episode ended without an answer as to what happened to Omar and I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they would explain the following week in a way that didn't piss me off.

Not so much.

When Omar next appears he has a limp, and it's clear that he's in a world of pain, but... Five stories! I'm not saying it's impossible for someone to survive a fall like this. In fact, I'm positive if I researched I'd find a number of tales about people being just fine. But. This is like one of those things you get in a college writing workshop where everyone tells the writer that something about their story is unbelievable and the writer says, "Oh, yeah, well it really happened to my cousin." Yeah, and? The real world and the fictional world don't work under the same rules. If you're writing a story, you still have to make me believe it, and in this regard with the Omar-superhero thing, the Wire writers didn't.

Which is not to say that if wasn't fun watching Omar limping around and still terrorizing people. In an exaggerated, somewhat ridiculous way, he really had become a superhero. The man's on one leg and people run away in fear. The Legend of Omar. He had become an unstoppable mythical creature. Like I said: fun.

But not what I'd come to expect from The Wire. Then Dennis Lehane schooled me with "Clarifications."

And it wasn't because he had an 8-year-old hopper shoot Omar dead with a headshot while he was buying a pack of cigarettes. That part just left me shocked and a little cold. And, truth be told, annoyed. This is our payoff? You're kidding, right? Answer: No and no. Omar really is dead, but that most definitely isn't the payoff.

The payoff is the other hoppers all leaving little souvenirs with Omar's body. In tribute? In defiance? Who knows.



The payoff is Alma telling Gus about a 34-year-old African-American being shot dead by a little boy in a convenience store and Gus deciding the paper doesn't have enough room to print the story.

The payoff is the coroner looking at two dead bodies at the end of the episode and realizing someone switched the nametags -- Omar, our modern day Robin Hood and legendary ghetto hero, has so little importance in the real world that they almost bury him under the wrong name.

And the payoff is McNulty confessing his serial killer scheme to Beadie and seeming genuinely regretful and trapped by his own vices and devices: "You start out thinking you're the hero, but then..." And her response isn't sympathy, but to shut the door in his face and tell him, quite correctly, that he had no right to make that decision and put himself in that position. The implication being, "This is my life and my kids' lives you're screwing with here too."

How frakking brilliant.

They build Omar up as an unstoppable hero because they want to deconstruct that myth and show how the world we live in and the systems we've put in place to organize and run our lives don't allow for heroes. Not in the end. In the end, we'll still be at the mercy of people who know nothing about us. Newspaper editors who decide a fire is more important than our murder. Civil servants who see our death as just another body and pay so little attention that we get tagged with the wrong name.

In the end, isn't that what The Wire has always been about?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Q & A

Ryan posed some questions (a question and a desire, really) in his comment on my post yesterday.

At one point will the whole agency element come into play for you? Do you seek them out? Or will they find you?

As much as I'd like to believe agents will be beating down our door to sign Jul and I, generally that doesn't happen. There are only two ways I can imagine agents seeking us out. One, if we manage to get someone (a showrunner, studio, network) to buy one of our scripts and/or hire us for actual writing work. This isn't completely unheard of, but it is rare. The most reasonable version of this that I can think of is a writer's assistant on a TV show being promoted to staff writer. If the writer doesn't have representation yet, sometimes writers on the show will put them into contact with their agent/agency or agents that they know. Not quite the same as agents seeking you out, but I have a hard time imagining an agent turning down a writer who is already employed. Easy 10 percent, right? The second way I can think of to get the attention of agents is by creating something that becomes popular (like, say, a webcomic) where they see us as a marketable commodity. Again, though, in this situation it's probably more likely that if the project becomes really popular, network/studio/producer interest would come first. Once they are interested, agents will be interested in you because, again, you're marketable. Even more likely is that this popular project will simply end up being something that you, the writer, put on your query letter and talk about when meeting agents to make them more interested.

Which brings me to: How do I find an agent? Since I don't have an agent, clearly I'm the best person to ask about this. <*smirk*>

To me, this is kind of like how you get a writer's assistant position. While I've heard of writers getting agents just by sending out query letters, most anecdotal evidence says that's a slow trip to nowhere. Again, it comes back to who you know. Friends with an agent or two? Great. Know some writers? Awesome. Familiar with some assistants to agents? Okay now, might be great later. And it doesn't stop there; especially if you're in LA, you never know who knows who. Jul's dentist introduced her to a TV news producer and got her a tour of the station. Tales abound of random connections like this, so don't turn down any opportunities or ignore anyone because you think there's no point to talk to them. Obviously, all of this is just to get an agent to read your work. After that, it's (finally!) up to how good your script is.

Also, I think it'd be cool if you posted what you expect to happen after your work for this current film is finished. I know that's impossible to predict, but it would be interesting to compare your expectations and then the actual results later on.

I'm not sure I like experimenting on my hopes and dreams in a time capsule-like way, but what the heck. There's about two years left before the movie comes out. Best case scenario, Jul and I will be paid staff writers before that time is up (sorry, bosses, it's not that I don't love you and the movie). Worst case scenario, I figure I'll at least be able to parlay my experience here into a writer's assistant gig on a TV show.

Probably it will be somewhere in the middle. Maybe through my bosses we'll be able to meet with a few agents; maybe even get representation. They also have a lot of writer friends, so hopefully I'll make a few connections that way. Either way, I absolutely think I'll be better off from the experience I get and new doors will open.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

So Josh, how can I get your job?

Lately I've been getting fan letters. How cool is that?

(Hi Kayvan, Ryan...and I feel like there was someone else, but my organization leaves a little something to be desired, so, sorry if I missed you.)

Okay, okay. Technically they're emails, not letters, and "fan" might be pushing it a bit...but this is Hollywood. Aren't I supposed to build myself up a little bit?

Anyway.

Generally the focus of these emails is (as the title implies): How can I get a writer's assistant job?

Here's my short answer. In order of importance:

1) Know someone.
2) Get lucky.
3) Keep trying.
4) Be a good writer.

Usually it involves several of these things converging at once.

Two examples for you:

1) I know one current assistant who kept calling production offices asking if they were hiring. Eventually he started talking to the writer's assistant at one of those offices and formed a relationship. They kept in contact, weird stuff happened and eventually his script OF THAT SHOW got into the hands of one of the writers. You know, that thing everyone says never happens. When the old assistant got promoted to staff writer on the show, my friend already knew lots of people on the show and had an in, so getting the job was a piece of cake. Or at least that's how I like to tell the story.

Perseverence+who he knew+a little bit of luck. Plus, from his work I've read so far, he's a damn good writer.

2) My path to this job involved more twists and turns. About two years ago, I was working at a subtitling company and just trying to find some job in the entertainment industry. I spent a good 6 months in a hardcore job search (interviewing at my current company three different times for three different jobs) before landing at a desk assisting a VP. I worked for her for a year and it was a great learning experience, but I was ready to move on.

A month or two into that job search, I got really lucky. The writer's assistant on our next production quit and they needed someone to fill his position quick. After getting permission from the VP, I applied, submitting the pilot Jul and I had written as a sample. The writers liked the pilot, interviewed me, and about a month later I was officially a writer's assistant.

Luck+who I knew+talent+perseverance. The writers might not have even read our script if I wasn't coming from a reliable source, and I certainly wouldn't have known about the position if I wasn't already working in the company. But (to toot my own horn which isn't dirty but sounds that way) I wouldn't have gotten the job if they didn't like the script. I know this because there was another person who they were set to offer the position, but after they read that person's script the offer never went out.

So, how do you get a writer's assistant job? Keep trying, and be ready when the rare opportunity arises.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not Reaping what it has sown...

For class this week I read the Reaper pilot, and it brought back lots of fond memories.

See, I thought Reaper was one of the best pilots this past fall--possibly even the best. It gave me extremely high hopes for the series and the potential places it could go. After that first episode, I was totally psyched for the next one...

...and right here, before I bash certain things about the show, is probably where I should mention all the good things about it. Luckily, this is a really good show for the most part, so I don't feel like I have to reach for superlatives. The humor and dialogue is superb; the actors are uniformly engaging and fit well in their roles; almost all of the small geek-slacker moments work fantastically--basically, they get all of the little stuff completely right.

But back to that pilot, since I just read it and that was ostensibly the point of this post. Not only does it do the above stuff extremely well, it also sets a lot of cool things up that feel like they're going to be slowly explored over the course of the season and/or show. Including:

1. Sam's developing mental Devil powers/Sam sort of growing up and becoming responsible through his Reaping.
2. Sam lying to his mom about being free from the Devil.
3. Hints that the Devil isn't telling us the complete truth about things.
4. The relationship between Sam and his brother.

Now, I've definitely missed a few episodes, but I don't feel like the mythology or characters have really been advanced at all. With the sort of exception of the Sam-Andi relationship. And the Devil eventually mentioning that Sam has actually doomed his friends by involving them in Reaping. No real evolution in Sam's mind powers, no further exploration of the Devil's truthiness, no further mention whatsoever that I remember about Sam's brother...and the lie to his mom (which could have been an interesting source of tension for much longer) is resolved in the second episode.

Worse than this is Sam's continuing slacker whiny-ness and attempts to avoid his Reaping duties, which just gets old fast. That was the pilot, thank you very much. Please move on. BooM wrote about this much more eloquently than I can a few months ago.

Lastly (and if this didn't seem like it was hinted at in the pilot it would just be a personal disappointment), this is a show that seems designed to explore the grey areas of good and evil and feature way more ambiguity. So far, the escaped souls are all clearly evil and clearly need to be returned to hell. There really shouldn't be any question for Sam as to what he should do...and yet he does question it and try to avoid it. Annoying. How much more interesting would it be if in his "investigations" he learned that one of the souls wasn't so evil?...and then he had to make the decision between returning the innocent soul or damning his mom to hell.

Anyway, I know this is ending with more of a whimper than a bang, but I'm gonna be late for said class if I don't take off now, so...discuss or something. You'll figure it out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Yeah, but now how are we supposed to hang out with our favorite writers?

And, it's all over,
The war is over.
It's all over, war is over.
It's all over, baby!
All over, baby!
All, all over, yeah!
Aah, hah-hah.
All over, all over, babe!
Oh! Oh yeah!
All over, all over!
Ye-e-e-ah…

Congratulations, WGA. Congratulations, writers. Congratulations, fans. Congratulations, production crews and assistants and office staff and agencies and management companies and caterers and restaurants and dry cleaners and all of the many businesses that survive by supporting the varied needs of the entertainment industry. Congratulations, Los Angeles.

Oh, and writers...thanks.

From a (hopefully-not-too-distant-) future guild member.

Breaking Down (and Building Up) Chuck (2)

En route to writing my outline for a spec of the show, last Tuesday I posted my first pseudo-breakdown of a Chuck episode. Since then, I've managed to get my hands on a copy of the script of the Chuck pilot, so today I'm going to dissect that as best I can.

Please note that there are differences between this script and the pilot of Chuck that aired last fall.

This should be obvious, but there will be spoilers below.

Episode 101 - The Pilot

Short Description

In this episode, Chuck's old frenemy Bryce sends him an email that downloads every national secret ever into Chuck's head, which gives him super-spy knowledge, but not super-spy skills. Casey and Sarah battle over him and generally treat him like luggage (but really important luggage) until Chuck uses his new supercomputer brain to defuse a bomb and demands that let him keep living his normal-ish life.

Story Threads

For simplicity's sake, I'm gonna say that there are only A- and B-stories. However, it could be argued that the B-story can be split into two separate storylines--one focusing on Chuck applying for the management position and one focusing on Chuck's love life/getting over his old college girlfriend.

A - Chuck gets an email from Bryce that turns him into the Intersect and his normal life is turned upside-down as spies try to kill him, crazy image montages invade his brain, and he goes out on a date with someone way out of his league. Also, he learns to be a hero by defusing a bomb with porn. Like you do.

B - Super slacker Chuck finds enough courage to move on with his life by applying for a management position at work and (sort of) going for a hot girl he's been mooning after.

Length and Breakdown

Teaser - 8 pages, 7 scenes.
Act I - 17 pages, 15 scenes.
Act II - 10 pages, 11 scenes.
Act III - 11 pages, 7 scenes.
Act IV - 13 pages, 14 scenes.

54 scenes in 59 total pages, with a teaser and four acts. Pagewise, Act I is the longest and Act II is shortest, though Act III actually has fewer scenes than Act II.

(Note: my count probably isn't 100 percent accurate to what the script might consider "scenes" as I decided not to count every single slugline as a new scene, and a few scenes did not have sluglines.)

The stories are organized as follows:

A-story - 38 scenes/beats.
B-story - 20 scenes/beats.

Teaser - A, A, B/A, B, B, B, A.
Act I - A, A, A, A, A, A, A, A/B, B, B, B, B, A, A, A.
Act II - A, A, A, A, A, B, B, B, A, A, A.
Act III - B, B/A, B, A/B, A, A, A.
Act IV - A, A, A, A, A, A, A, A, B, B, A, B, B, A.

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm putting the story that the beat gives preference to as the first story. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A or B is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

Generally speaking, it's a B sandwich with lots of A breading surrounding it. The teaser and every Act except for III begins and ends on the A-story. Stories also tend to come in clumps; several A beats followed by several B beats.

Findings of Interest

Based on this and my previous breakdown of episode 113, here are some things that seem to be fairly typical structurally for Chuck:

Two stories, an A and a B, with elements of arguable C-stories.
A heavy focus on the A-story.
An A-story that focuses on the spy story of the week and a B-story that focuses more on character, but is generally still intertwined with the A-story (in theme, plot or both).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Whew...

From Shawna:

NBC:

* Chuck and Heroes will likely not produce any more episodes this season, but will return in the fall. No word on whether additional episodes will be tacked on to next season (this may happen to some shows being cut short this season).

I'd heard rumors Chuck might not be picked up, but this (and other assurances) makes me feel better. It would be just my luck to spec a show that goes belly-up.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Link-O-Rama!

See, Jill Golick, even though I'm not planning on writing a House anytime soon, this is why I love you...and steal your episode breakdown style.

Michael has his House spec up...I didn't realize this was going to be House-themed.

Kay has not one, but two new posts! Of course, one is technically Josh, but that's okay.

Shawna has newsy news about pickups!

I have lots of Chuck stuff that I want to post about my own script--err, outline-like thing--but my original plan was to put up some more research, so for now I'm gonna try to stick to that plan. Which unfortunately requires me to actually do said research. Hopefully soon.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cuddly Writer-Type Pictures With Blurbs!

WGA Strike: Sci Fi Channel Day at NBC Studios

By Juliana Weiss

Sci Fi Channel Day had a great turnout by the fans. Here’s a photo recap of the day’s events for those of you who missed it.

click here for full article at Pink Raygun

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Death of Final Draft?

Not quite. But Alex Epstein just posted about a pretty cool application, Scripped.

Basically, it's a free online script formatting program. Nothing to download. How cool is that? No more having to, um...purchase...new copies of Final Draft. No more being tied to a single computer since your work will be accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Walls are crumbling, my friends. Except...

I tried it out, and at least for now the program is a little raw. There's a function where you can tab through the script elements, but it seems to get stuck on dialogue, parenthetical or action. When I wanted to put in a new slug line, I had to move the mouse over and click--kind of annoying if you're doing that every few minutes.

Still, very interesting development...

Friday, February 8, 2008

(Joyous) Reinforcement Blues

I've always known that within our partnership, Jul and I have very specific strengths and weaknesses as writers. She's the organizer, the planner, the structure person. I'm the one who excels at creating little moments, breathing life into things and going off on crazy tangents that often are a waste of time, but sometimes become the best moments in our scripts.

This is not to say that our abilities don't overlap or that at times our strengths don't fail us and the other one has to pick up the slack. Of course that stuff happens. But it does mean that we've kind of created roles for ourselves without really meaning to. And, at least for me, that role has become so comfortable that it's difficult to step outside of it.

I didn't realize how difficult until we started our current Extension course on outlining a spec for a one hour drama. The first few weeks have been fun, but they've also been a constant reinforcement for me about how much I value my writing partner.

Starting with the show itself, then the general idea of the story we want to write, and now a beat outline, we've slowly gotten more and more specific as we move toward the actual outline...and so far each step along the way has been a struggle.

After coming up with a few ideas, I decided to spec Chuck, a show that I like quite a bit. I thought that I had come up with a great idea, but after talking it over with Jul realized there were significant flaws. We worked through those flaws together and seemed to fix them. Then I went off and worked on it some more myself and came up with some brilliant solutions and changes that I thought added a lot...until Jul and I talked about it again and more flaws became evident. Some of my changes made the idea better, but several of them created new problems that I hadn't even been thinking about. So (lather, rinse and repeat) this has now been going on for about a month. I come up with something amazing, get excited, show it to Jul (or sometimes just read it over again myself) and wonder how I could have gone so wrong. A month of vacillating between being excited about my idea and horrified about how much it sucks and how much I depend on Jul to keep me on track.

Last night, however, working in the class, I came to a realization: from a certain standpoint, Jul and I are probably ahead of the game, especially for TV. Yes we depend on each other a lot, and yes that creates a different kind of struggle when we're forced to write separately, but for the last two years we've been doing what TV writers do on a weekly basis--working with each other to beat out stories. Not only has this process made our stories better (often monumentally so), it's trained us to accept and even love working in that kind of environment.

Criticism and changes are never easy to take, but I think (and have seen) that they are usually even harder for new writers. You spend hours, days, weeks alone pouring your heart into something and then someone tears it down in a heartbeat. Not easy to accept.

Jul and I still get into fights, as two people who are passionate about something should do. But we do accept the other's opinions and changes. Every day. Sometimes begrudgingly, but always with the realization that our two voices joined have added more than one of us alone could have.

And as for me working alone? Well, there's a reason I have a partner, but that doesn't mean I'll stop trying. On the contrary, the only way to truly get better is to keep doing something over and over and over, so I'm gonna make like Sisyphus and keep my shoulder to the boulder and yes I just wrote that and yes I'm going to end on that awful, awful line. It's what I do.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Breaking Down (and Building Up) Chuck (1)


By now I've mentioned a couple of times that, through our Extension class, Jul and I are planning to outline episodes of Pushing Daisies (Jul) and Chuck (me). I've also mentioned that eventually I'll be posting a lot more about Chuck--and at least linking to some interesting stuff on Pushing Daisies--in the near future.

So you can expect a lot more, but here's the first step. I'm using a slightly different format for this Chuck breakdown than the one I used for Dexter a while back. This is due to the fact that I unfortunately did not jot down the act breaks or even how the scenes were organized (e.g. A, B, A, A, B, A, B, B, etc) while watching. But, again, it's a start.

This should be obvious, but there will be spoilers below.

Episode 113 - Chuck Versus the Marlin

Short description

This is the final episode that just aired a few weeks ago. In this episode Chuck finds a bug in the Buy More that wasn't put there by Casey or Sarah and is entrusted with the protection of Captain Awesome's engagement ring for Ellie.

Story threads

I could probably break this down further, but for now I'm just separating into A and B stories, since the smaller story threads that wind through the episode eventually fit into one of these two larger stories.

A - Chuck finds a bug in the Buy More and must find out who put it there.
B - Captain Awesome plans to propose to Ellie and entrusts Chuck with the engagement ring.

Beginning, Middle and End

Beginning:

A - Chuck finds the bug and takes it to Casey, thinking it’s one of his. Casey recognizes that it’s not his or Sarah’s and they speak to their superiors and learn that Chuck may need to be taken away from his life and into hiding.

B - Captain Awesome tells Chuck he's going to ask Ellie to marry him and entrusts Chuck with the ring. Chuck puts the ring in his work locker for safe-keeping.

Middle:

A - Thieves literally clean out everything from the Buy More and the entire staff is interrogated by the police. Chuck is sent to bring Casey to work and discovers that the feds are the “thieves.” They cleaned out the store to check for a receiver that's been collecting the information from the bug. A surveillance video shows Jeff and Lester stealing the receiver accidentally and Chuck and Casey interrogate them…and then others as they seek out the receiver. Chuck discovers the identity of the bad agent, but she still manages to trap Sarah, and before Chuck can rescue her, he’s taken by another agent to go into hiding.

B - Chuck discovers that his locker has been cleaned out along with the Buy More, and the ring is missing. When he realizes Casey and Sarah stole from the store, he asks for the ring, but they don't have it. Chuck's search for the receiver leads him to Morgan, who admits to taking the ring and hiding it in the Weinerlicious because he thought Chuck was going to propose to Sarah and he would lose his best friend. When Chuck goes to the Weinerlicious to get the ring, he finds that it has already been taken by the bad agent. Naturally, a few times throughout this middle section Awesome calls Chuck to get the ring from him and Chuck tries to stall him. By the end of this section, the jeopardy is such that Awesome is about to propose in the middle of a romantic evening, but can't because Chuck can't bring him the ring.

End:

A - Casey releases Sarah and she goes after Chuck while Casey goes after the bad agent. Everyone ends up in the same place and Sarah manages to save Chuck from the bad agent and let him stay free for a while longer.

B - After defeating the bad agent, Chuck and Sarah have to dig through the dumpster where the agent fell to find the ring. Once they do, the two of them rush back to Awesome and give him the ring. They spy from outside the apartment as Awesome pops the question, then Chuck goes in to celebrate with them. He invites Sarah in too, but she won't go because she doesn't feel like she belongs.

Scenes/Beats

In my quick breakdown while watching the episode, I counted 36 scenes/beats that amount to:

A - 24 beats
B - 12 beats

I'm not sure if this is a typical episode structure for Chuck since it's the first one I've broken down, but I just managed to get my hands on a copy of the pilot and I still have another episode saved on my DVR, so hopefully in the next week or so I'll be able to break down another episode or two (using the Dexter format, but with act breaks) and get a better sense of what's typical and what isn't.

Quick AAA Contest Heads Up

I've previously posted questions about what the heck was up with this contest here and here. In December (and again a few weeks ago) I emailed the coordinator to find out what the deal was. Last week, finally, they responded to my most recent email...and then a day later to my older email, which was just amusing.

Basically the person invoked Murphy's Law, etc, etc and said that they should have everything finished and posted by the second week of February. Probably anyone out there who cares (e.g. those who submitted entries) has already received an email to this effect. But just in case they missed anyone, now you know.

But, like anything in Hollywood, stay hopeful but don't count on it happening until after it actually happens. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Wannabe Etiquette

The idea for this began percolating while I was writing my last post. And when I discovered this shortly afterward, and then started thinking about Jul's last Pink Raygun column, I knew I couldn't fight writing it any longer. Signs & Portents, my friends. And yes (launch 2 percenter, Commander!), I have finally been watching season one of Babylon 5. (You'll have your DVDs back soon, Matt, I promise.)

Here's the deal: I want to tell you how you should act when meeting your heroes, various celebs, and the in-general cool and interesting people who will inevitably cross your path if you stay in LA for any length of time... Except that, after several years in Hollywoodland, I still don't really know how to act myself.

Though I'm definitely a geek, it's not that I geek out when I see my idols... Or maybe I do, but I sincerely doubt that's what they see. My real problem is that I believe that there are two kinds of interactions we as aspiring whatevers can have with those we idolize -- a fan interaction or a peer interaction. And I'm totally uninterested in having a fan interaction.

Besides the possibility that the person might actually remember and relegate you to the "fan zone" (an off-shoot of the dreaded Phantom Zone and even more dreaded Friend Zone), I have this desire to talk to these people on the level. As a peer. And I'm sure it makes me look like an ass sometimes.

A couple of years ago Jul and I went to a neighborhood comic store because Seth Green was signing Freshmen. However, because I couldn't bring myself to do the fan thing and didn't know what to say to him as a "peer," I mostly thumbed through comics while Jul chatted him up and got a signature and a picture. Lame.

And I've posted about my recent interaction with The Whedon on the picket line, but that wasn't the first time I spoke to him, oh no. The first time was at the 2006 Comic Con, where Jul and I waited for several hours to make sure that we could get him to sign a few things in his allotted hour. Again, I didn't want to do the fan thing (and yes I know that's idiotic considering I sat and waited several hours just to get his signature -- what's more fanboyish than that?), and again I felt like I had nothing valid in the "peer" realm to say, so I simply asked him to sign what I had and walked on.

Worse than that, I'm not sure that the interaction I linked to above was any better. Yes I talked to the man without gushing about how awesome he is, but in all of my attempts at professionalism and unintended name-dropping, I might have just, again, come off like an ass.

Yet I don't think I'm completely wrong about the not-coming-across-like-a-starstruck-fan thing, and Lisa Klink's post I linked to above--as well as the experience I've had working with my bosses--seems to confirm this. So the question then becomes: How do you toe that line?

Well, how do you toe that line?