18.12.07

You're still glowing, you're still crowing, you're still going strong

Some TV conventions are OK by me. Like, if a person doesn't say "Bye" when they hang up the phone. Or if Jack Bauer doesn't go to the bathroom for a full 24 hours. I mean, we don't really want to see that anyway, do we? Actually, I don't watch 24, so he might be in and out of the bog six times an episode for all I know. But I doubt it.

Anyway, I'm here to talk about a convention that is, in my humble opinion, completely unacceptable.

It just kills me when, say, a couple of characters go into a restaurant and sit down for lunch. A few minutes later, after they have their big emotional moment or whatever, or find out that juicy piece of info that's going to propel the story forward, they get up and leave. But wait! They didn't have lunch. They didn't even order water or anything. Arggh.

I watched High School Musical the other night and those kids have the shortest home room period ever. Seriously. It's in and out in under 30 seconds. That could just be how their East High principal likes it, I guess. But probably not. Oh and sex scenes are the worst. Great Sex in 12 Seconds. That could be a best seller if it wasn't so impossible. Unless it's a guy losing his virginity, 12-second sex is not going to happen. Especially when the woman has a huge satisfied look on her face, like "Man. That was the best 12 seconds I ever spent with a guy. Really." Dudes, either she's faking or there's some seriously sloppy writing going on!

Please, for my sanity, don't do it. Don't shortchange your scenes. Don't cheat your timelines. You're better than that. Seriously.

This is so so basic, why does it end up on TV so dang often? I hope it's usually a directorial decision, made in the heat of the shoot, to add action to a scene or whatever. Writers, make sure your script includes its own activity, so some actors or directors or that ilk don't have to think up their own lame-ass ideas while 50 crew members stand around getting paid overtime.

Aside from watching lots of HBO shows on DVD, I've been working on my pilot. I have an outline done and it's going out to my brand new writers' group for critiquing tomorrow. It's a weird feeling knowing that people who actually know what they're talking about will be looking at my writing. Kinda scary, kinda cool.

Things That Are Clogging My Arteries
At Christmas-time the list is endless. Mostly lots of eggnog and chips and raspberry chocolate rum cake from my neighbor, Trader Joe's Vegan chocolate chip cookies... and I'd be drinking Ghirardelli's Hot Chocolate non-stop if I could find somewhere to buy it. I swear they used to have it at Von's, but not anymore. Number one on my artery clogging list is Hello Dollies. It's pretty much the only thing my Mom ever bakes on a regular basis (once at year at Christmas). And now it's the only thing I bake, too.

11.12.07

Pencils (turned) down

My next blog was going to be on the power of TV – how it shapes our lives, gets us through rough spots, and means so much to so many.

But that idea has been usurped by this pretty pictorial presenting the Power of Pencils.
Half a million pencils doesn't look like that many when they're all just sitting in boxes on the sidewalk, but when you get in the line of people who are lifting each box from sidewalk to truck, all of a sudden you realize that a half million is a really really lot of pencils.

Joss Whedon jumped in line beside me, and though I totally hero-worship him, I was cool. We had a nice little chat - mostly about how best to lift a box of pencils without destroying your back. We tried to come up with less weighty campaign ideas for the future. In response to my Cotton Balls for Media Moguls idea, Joss suggested Meringues for Moguls, which I thought was a good use of alliteration and sugar.

I'm sure if we'd been delivering egg white cookies, the moguls would have accepted them gladly. Sadly, the pencils were unceremoniously rejected. I mean, they're writing implements, so I can see why the moguls wouldn't have any use for them.

Ron Moore, Jane Espenson, Danny Strong and quite a few fans came out to see the pencils not be delivered. There were also about a zillion camera crews and I guess that's really the point.

I had a very interesting morning marching up and down outside Disney (Alameda Gate). Two women from the WGA board came by to gauge morale on the line, and gather suggestions and comments.It's the first time I've heard anyone really talk about how they're feeling about the strike. While no one's resolve is waning, people are thinking ahead to January, trying to come up with some plans to keep the morale high
and the picketing attendance high. There were lots of interesting ideas being thrown around and I have high hopes that the writers can stick to it as long as it take to get the AMPTP to be reasonable.

A few writers were making plans to look for part time jobs to support their families come January. Double half-fat mochalattechino anyone?

There were still plenty of honks of support. Even a fire truck, sirens blaring as it raced to save the day, honked its horn in support as it flew by. There were a couple of grinchy types, complaining because they had no jobs and no money for Christmas. That is sad. Really, I feel for anyone who can't earn a living for whatever reason. Which is why I didn't tell that one total ass that maybe if tried to be a little nicer someone might want to hire him.

5.12.07

No boys allowed

As most of you know, I volunteer for Write Girl. I'm fairly new to it, but it seems like an excellent organization, so if you've ever thought you should be a little less self-involved and give something back to the community, now is the time. Here's a message from Write Girl:

WriteGirl, a creative writing and mentoring organization for teen girls, is seeking volunteers for our new season to help with everything from event planning to public relations to mentoring and more. With more than 30 events annually, and a membership of more than 200, joining WriteGirl means joining a dynamic community of women and girls. In addition to women writers, we welcome professionals in all fields to contribute talent and time to this vital program for girls. Deadline to apply is January 8th. Please visit our website for an application and more information:
www.writegirl.org


Go on. You'll be glad you did.

Things that are clogging my arteries
In Canada, we have this thing called Cheezies. They're like crunchy Cheetos, but a little less radioactive-looking. Whenever Canadians visit us, they brings us bags and bags of them. They're yummy. They're orange. And they're clogging my arteries.

4.12.07

I want my BSG

Oi, AMPTP, get off your (shiny porcelain) thrones and make the writers a decent offer. This kind of ripped TV goodness should not be delayed under any circumstances.

Do you hear me?
You can win a towel very like the one pictured here (life-sized Jamie not included). Find out more from Ron Moore.

1.12.07

Why waste time being all creative and stuff?

Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but I worked on a reality TV show once. It was way back in the day when the only reality on the UK tube was Big Brother (before BB hit the US) and all those British gardening shows which have been around since TV was radio.

I worked in the interactive department of a UK teen TV channel called Trouble. We developed Cruel Summer, which took 12 hapless teens and trapped them at a fancy private school (fun fact: in Britain they're called public schools) for 6 weeks while we made them eat disgusting things. Basic, right?

But our audience loved it. And I mean. They. LOVED. It. There were people just like them, with the same accents and the same haircuts, on TV. Which was a super-huge deal for our audience, because mostly our channel just showed That 70s Show and Fresh Prince over and over.

My job was to moderate the chat rooms, edit all the web cam footage for the 'soapy' bits of the broadcast show, and shoot little three-minute webisodes - back before the word even existed. Something I learned about teenage girls is that they're more than happy to get undressed in front of a web cam even though/because they know that adult males from the production company are watching everything they do. It was kind of creepy.

Other than inappropriate nudity, working on the show was pretty fun. Mostly because it meant that instead of doing my normal office job (with unreasonably annoying bosses looking over my shoulder every minute), I got to be on location, hanging out with my co-workers and being creative. Kind of.

Oh, and we got to swim in the school's outdoor pool at lunchtime.

After reflecting on Cruel Summer (and the sequels Cruel School, Cruel Winter and Cruel Summer 2), I've realized that being a TV writer is much too hard. Why go to all the trouble of writing those onerous script thingys when you can just audition a bunch of It Kid wannabes and torture them? Plus, if you create reality TV, you don't have to worry about residuals, because no one is ever going to pay to download that dreck.

The other night while I couldn't sleep, a few great reality ideas came to me in a dream. Here they are:

Kitchen Nightmares: Vermin Edition
Project Mop
Are You Smarter than a Marshmallow?
America's Next Top Mop.
America's Next Mop Top.
Are You Smarter than a Mop?

I'm not sure what the obsession is with mops. I guess my house needs cleaning.

I've also read a few reality ideas on other sites that really got me excited. My two favorites (can't remember where they came from):

America's Next Top Reality Show Idea
Are You Smarter Than a Sixth Grader?

C'mon everyone! With great ideas like this just hanging out in the ether for anyone to grab, why sweat it out trying to be a writer?

Things that are clogging my arteries
I've been volunteering for Write Girl, a super-cool organization that mentors teenage girls and encourages them to write and think and make the most of their writerly abilities. Today we had a potluck volunteer event. I was part of the clean-up committee, and as such, was forced to take home an entire box of left-over donuts and pastries. They'll be clogging my bloodstream and those of my friends for many many days to come.

28.11.07

Snag to peep ya my killer Chondrichthyes

If you're a newbie from Alex's blog, yo beatches, it's like way snag to peep ya! Dope, yo. Sorry, kidding. I don't really blog like that. Or talk like that. I read a blog once that employed some of that style. It was very distracting. I couldn't tell if the blogger was for realsies. Yeah. I'm about as hip as JD Scrubs.

Moving on...

I'm still working with Ellen Sandler and actually doing the exercises and everything like the good non-sinning girl I really am. My pilot is taking shape. In my head at least.

But I've hit the same wall I always hit when trying to break a story. Just as I'm about to sit down and really work out the beats, I start second-guessing my story. I fall into the trap of being just really not sure if this is the right story to tell, or if the way it pans out is the right way, or if I couldn't make it much more exciting with the addition of some top-hat wearing assassin sharks or something. Um, okay, probably not. But maybe? Uh, what do you think? Assassin sharks? It could work, right?

Where's my room full of writers when I need them?

I can't believe I've never really looked at Jill Golick's blog, Running With My Eyes Closed before. Maybe it's because I've never written a pilot before. Makes sense. You shouldn't run with your eyes closed. Unless you're somewhere really really soft. If you're writing a pilot, her discussion of what makes pilots tick really gets you thinking.

Warning. Thinking can be hazardous to productivity.

Things that are clogging my arteries
I'm totally over my Slacker Excuses segment and it doesn't look like I'm getting out to the strike this week (I'll buy extra Pencils to make up for it), so I've decided to start a new segment. I considered calling it Things That Are Making Me Fat, but I didn't want people to start thinking I was packing on the pounds Britney style (or is that a new baby?), so I chose to put the emphasis on health instead.

Yeah, so anyway. Clogged arteries.

Cold Stone Creamery. Love It size, Founder's Favorite flavor. The creamery is reasonably new to me. We don't have such a thing in Canada (it's too cold there. we don't eat ice cream. in our igloos). But I'm pretty hooked now. Thing is, totally expensive. Usually when we go there, we just make up our own flavors, but I had a coupon (2-4-1) for one of their standard combos. Hence, Founder's Favorite - now my favorite, too. There's still some in the freezer.

25.11.07

Rassling with major flaws

Seems like the happier I am with my writing, the less I feel the need to blog. My Bones spec is still giving me pains, so here I am.

My major struggle (since I solved the last major struggle) has been with theme. The other two specs I've written are for two shows that revolve tightly around theme – Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy. Hell, Grey's even goes so far as to state the theme upfront in Meredith's voice over, just in case you're too thick to notice it on your own.

But with Bones, the themes, such as they are, are usually added with a delicate hand, so as to be almost undetectable. In fact, sometimes they're so subtle, they're not there at all. Also, the theme doesn't always/often have much of an emotional impact on the characters.

Thing is, that's not good enough for me. I want to weave in a theme, kick my characters asses with it, have it be strongly linked to the A and B stories, and make it seem natural, like it completely belongs there.

Whoa. Now that I see that on-screen, I understand my own struggle a little better.

Turkey day notes
There are no strike shenanigans to report, so instead, let's talk about Thanksgiving. First, let me preface this by reminding you, I'm Canadian. In Canada, we do have Thanksgiving (it's in October), and it does celebrate the mass slaughter of native Americans by encouraging the mass slaughter of turkeys (I'm not sure I'm grasping the true nature of the holiday here), but as with everything in the US, Americans do Thanksgiving waaaay bigger.

I'm amazed by the lengths people will go to to be with their families on this day, sharing food and unearthing childhood rivalries. It's actually a pretty beautiful thing at its heart, despite annual turkey killings.

However, I'm equally dismayed by the lengths to which some people will go to save a few bucks on Black Friday. Really, camping out with the family in a Best Buy parking lot all day? I guess it's still family time, but isn't the commercialization of one annual holiday (namely Christmas) enough already? Then again, maybe a shiny new plasma TV is just the ticket for warding off those holiday family arguments.

19.11.07

Step 3: Become better sinner

The more books on TV writing I read, the more I become convinced that if you've read Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing and all of Jane Espenson's blog, you're golden.

But someone sent me a free copy of Ellen Sandler's The TV Writer's Workbook, so as a way of procrastinating and still accomplishing something (if you're accomplishing something, is it still procrastinating?) I started to give it a read. So far I've learned three valuable lessons.

1. I suck at workbooks.

Really. I'm good at reading. But when I get to the end of the chapter and they want you to do exercises, I'm all like, sure I'll do exercises, just after I peek into the next chapter to see what's going on there. Ten pages later, I figure the exercise from way back in chapter two can wait.

Which answers my question from two graphs ago. It definitely is procrastination.

2. Without theme, I'm nothing.

One of Sandler's exercises that I did attempt involved writing an episode premise line. Nothing new there. Still, in writing a fresh premise line for my struggling Bones spec, I realized my so-called theme was like microwaved marshmallows. Sweet, but no substance. That little premise line re-focused my mind and this morning's rewriting was a smashing success. For the first time, my Bones is starting to read like their Bones. And not the crappy Bones that pop up every once in a while. The really good ones.

3. I need to sin more

Sandler can come up with a whole page of purely glutinous acts in which she has actively engaged. Wait, that should be pure acts of gluttony. I wasn't trying to invoke Elmer's White Glue - which, incidentally, some sinful kids used to eat in school. Not me. Might have sniffed it a little, but that's it. Never was a sinner. Not even in grade two. Though there was that adorable Mark Sutherland who sparked a few lustful thoughts... couldn't help that. Mark said he liked my red hair. He was much more interesting than arithmetic.

Holy bats on ponies, where was I?

Oh yeah. Sandler and Sin.

Must become a lusty, wrathful, proud, envious, greedy, gluttony-filled, sloth-like creature. Bad for friendships. Great for my art.

So there you have it, folks. Three salient ways to improve my writing, in just six chapters. Thanks, Ellen.

Strike notes
I walked the line at Universal on Friday. It was fan day, but I'm pretty sure the only fans there were BSG nuts (I love the show, but not the way those guys love the show). I felt a little sad for the CSI, Friday Night Lights, and Law and Order people - their gates were all underpopulated and a bit lonely. I was feeling a bit lonely that day, too. Some days I'm a great meet-and-make-small-talk-er. Some days, like Friday, I'm just rubbish at it. I really could have used a strike buddy.

I only spent a couple of hours there and now I feel even more sorry for the writers. Walking up and back in an endless loop, waving at honking Prii (the plural of Prius, natch), and chanting "Union power!" is not nearly as exciting as it sounds, and I'm well aware that it sounds dead boring to begin with.

Managed to have a few little chats with Jane Espenson, who is obviously as lovely a human being as her blog would indicate. We mostly talked about House, and all the TV we'd watch if the strike goes on so long that I run out of new episodes of old favorites and she finds herself with time on her hands. On our mutual to-watch list: Six Feet Under, The Wire, and um, something else, I'm sure.

I also met a guy who won an Emmy in the early nineties for some kids show I admittedly had never heard of. He's now waiting tables to make ends meet. His advice was all along the "Steel yourself, kid. It's a tough business" line.

Also walking for a piece of the internet pie:
• Justine Bateman, very perky and cool. I would never have known it was her, except she kept shaking people's hands and saying "Hi, I'm Justine Bateman. You may remember me from such shows as TV's Family Ties." No. She didn't say that last bit. But I would have loved it if she had. She very cleverly had a strike buddy with her.
• Actor Adam Busch - better known (by me) as Warren from Buffy. Also with strike buddy.*
• Writer Harlan Ellison. Mr Sci-fi. Many buddies.
• Ron Moore, of course. Swamped with fan buddies.

So yeah. I wouldn't say striking is fun. But then, it's not supposed to be. I'm going to head out again tomorrow. Hopefully my inner extrovert will be awake.

*Update: Just discovered Adam Busch's buddy was Amber Benson, one of my Buffy favs. Here's a picture.

14.11.07

Battling obsession - and losing

I drink a glass of water, and I'm thinking about my pilot. I buy the groceries, thinking about which show to spec next. Stuck in traffic, I mull over the best ways to network. When I sweep the floors, I try to work out how to improve my Bones spec. While I'm watching TV, I'm thinking about story, character, and structure. I'm out running, thinking about the strike. At night, I dream that I meet Aaron Sorkin in an elevator, and he needs a new staff writer.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am obsessed.

The last time I was all-consumed in this manner was during my other life as bassist for The Lollies. The scary thing is, we never really got anywhere. Our dream never came true.

I don't want to spend the next decade being obsessed by writing, only to never get anywhere.

Believing in yourself is really hard. Sometimes.

Strike notes
This video is worthy of The Daily Show.



I went to the strike on Friday. I think 4,000 people is kind of a conservative estimate. For every writer hoisting their sign high in the air, there was a SAG member, a wannabe, or a fan to match them. If you weren't in the front third of the crowd, you didn't hear a word Jesse Jackson said. We got up there for Seth McFarland, though. He was awesome and inspiring. And also funny. Very funny.

I met Jane E briefly. In the thirty seconds I talked to her, she had four other people who wanted a piece of her. I took pity and made our encounter brief. Said hi to Jeff Garlin - I really liked his I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. Saw Judd Apatow, who my husband kind of knows through working on Walk Hard, but Judd was swamped as well, so the husband didn't interrupt. (Note to self: Must improve husband's networking skills.)

I'll be striking again this Friday, when I expect to meet lots of other TV fans walking in support of the writers. But I won't be getting there at six am. I'll reserve that pleasure for when I actually become a WGAer myself.

13.11.07

The dark blog

Just a blank page today, in solidarity with The Glowy Box et al who are standing in solidarity with the WGA.

xJ

7.11.07

I support the writers, the writers support me

In 1988 there were no blogs. In 1988, there were no YouTubes, no iTunes, no webisodes. In 1988, mobile content was the stuff hanging from that thing above your baby's crib. There was no wireless, no bittorrent, and no HDTV.

That was then.

Imagine how much things will change in the next 20 years. You can't. You simply can't imagine. No one can.

Which is why this strike is so thrilling. Thousands of people are coming together - writers, showrunners, actors, directors, teamsters, fans - to fight for the writers' right to a portion of the rewards that will come from something we can't yet imagine. They're also fighting for my right, as a future WGA member, to my portion of that ethereal future something.

Confused? Don't be. Watch this little video. Forward it to your friends. Writers wrote it, so it's pithy, it makes sense, and it's entertaining to boot.

Please make no mistake.

TV fans support the writers. Whedonesque sent pizza. Maggie is wearing red and spending her lunches on the line. We will not watch the reality replacement crap the studios are planning on shoveling into the schedule.

Tomorrow morning, Friday November 9, fans will come together with the writers, the actors, the showrunners, to lend our support.

Fox Studios, 10am. See you there.

If you're not in LA, you can show a bit of support by adding one of these great "Fans Support the Writers" icons to your website.

5.11.07

Point three percent? That's just an insult.

In a remarkable show of solidarity with the WGA writers, my computer is flat-out refusing to work. It worked fine all day Friday, then Saturday morning, no go.

The happy Apple people tell me I need a new hard drive. Which would make more sense to me if my computer was more than a few months old. But a brand new Mac book needing a brand new hard drive? That's so shoddy I'm almost tempted to switch to PC.

Almost.

Some of you loyal readers may remember this same thing happening to me only a few months ago. Is it me? Am I zapping the hard drive with my eccentric electrical charge?

I think this as a sign that I should go down to the picket lines and show my support. Writers like big boxes of donuts, don't they?

Those of you expecting an email from me regarding that scheme involving drinks and pens we've been dreaming up, hold tight. Things are looking very good. But I may not be able to get to it until my computer is returned to me. Oh, and my hard drive is on back order. So it'll be seven to ten days if I'm super lucky. Which obviously I'm not, or this wouldn't be happening in the first place.

Slacker excuses
Aside from the obvious, my in-laws are here, so I'll be visiting the Getty, Griffith Park, and all those other wonderful LA places. The in-rents want to take the Universal Tour - is it wrong to cross the picket line as a tourist?

29.10.07

Chocolatey delicious advice for wannabes

As promised, I'm back to share the best bits from the pinnacle, the zenith, the apogee, of the whole Screenwriting Expo 2007 experience. No, it wasn't the lunch. It wasn't the free Celtx USB key. It was, my virtual friends (and real Mom)...

...the extraordinarily peppy Bill Lawrence.

One would think that, after almost 15 years in the business, a writer might be a little cynical. But if there's cynicism brewing in Bill's breast, he kept it well hidden at Expo. He was funny, sincere, and brimming with chocolaty delicious advice for TV-writing babies everywhere.

Plus, after spending an hour-and-a-half on stage entertaining everyone, he exited, followed by at least 30 people (including me) who wanted to get some face time. Bill stayed in the hall for another 45 minutes, until he had shaken hands with all of us and answered all of our questions.

How sweet is that?

So here we go, reissued and repackaged, advice from Bill Lawrence filtered through me and delivered to you.

On career lows
Bill was fired from his first four writing gigs. That's right - four! Talk about discouraging. Instead of quitting to become an embittered New York cabbie, he went home, shed a few tears, and vowed to make some changes. Apparently, as a young writer, he'd had a bit of an attitude in the room. It led to three of the four firings (he deftly skimmed over the details of his departure from Friends). On his fifth job, Bill went in reformed, and he's been a mega-success ever since. So leave the attitude at home, in your closet, on that top shelf that never gets dusted – it will only kill your career if you bring it out to play.

On being a TV writer
It's clear the Bill loves loves loves being a TV writer. This pretty much sums it up:

"If you ever hear a TV writer complaining about their job, you have my permission to kick them in the face."

On working with his wife
Christa Miller, Bill's wife, plays the snarkodelic and irresistibly hilarious Jordan on Scrubs. He says he decided to cast her because "that's pretty much what she's like". Also, he's, like, the only guy in North America who gets to tell his wife where to stand, what to say, and what to wear. Of course, that only applies at work. She chose his outfit for Expo.

On directing TV
Bill says that the whole cast hates it whenever he directs an episode – and he hates it too. "You have to sit there while everyone does each line like seven times. It's so boring!" Every time he has to direct, he tries to go in with a good attitude – this time he'll work hard and do a great job. About 15 minutes in, he's lost interest completely and just wants to run back to the writers' room where everyone is having fun.

On writers' assistants
When my turn for face time came, this is what I asked: "Do you think that the only way into the business these days is by becoming an assistant and working your way up the ladder?"

"Absolutely not," says Bill. He told me that if he was getting into TV writing now, he'd take all that time he spent looking for an assistant gig and channel it into finding representation. Though he's heard of shows that promote their assistants to staff writer jobs, he doesn't really think it works, because in the eyes of the other writers, that person will always be an assistant, not an equal member of the writing staff.*

He also talked, during the event itself, about Scrubs' enviable writer training program. The show hires a new assistant each year. That person spends a year working as an assistant. The next year, they are given an episode to write. Once their episode has aired, the entire staff helps them find an agent, and they are sent out into the world, produced script in hand, blinking their wide brown eyes at the wonders they behold. Wait, he didn't say that last bit – I just got a little carried away marveling at the brilliance of it all.

Every show should adopt this policy. What could be better than getting a year of training in an actual writers' room, then being given a credit and the help of a gang of mentors? It's ideal. C'mon, all the other shows in the world, get with it. Adopt The Scrubs Method now!

Slacker excuses
Too much schmoozing, not enough writing. My Bones is a sad, lonely, and neglected creature. But now I'm ready to feed it the finest oats and curry comb until it shines with a virile glow.

*I discussed this with a fellow TV writer, who also works as an assistant on a real, live sitcom. He didn't agree at all. He knows a couple of assistants who have been transformed into fragile baby-writer butterflies, and they're getting along like ice in a freezer (FYI - that's good. Ice likes it cold).

So there you have it. There are no definitives in this business, but that's why we love it.

Fact: TV writers rule

You know, I do believe writers are the finest people in the world. And among those people, TV writers are the finest of the fine.

Upon what do I base this massive generalization, you ask?

Screenwriting Expo 6, I answer, quite emphatically. I'm not sure what the emphasis is for, it just sounded good, and since this isn't a script, I don't gotta cut it. So ha!

Sorry. My brain is fuzzy and smudgy from spending four days in an airport hotel.

OK, focus.

Even though I got free Expo admission because I was a finalist (no, I'm not done bragging about that yet), I'm so glad I decided to volunteer at the Expo. Not only do you get free lunch and free parking, even on the days you're not working, you also get to meet hundreds of writers, volunteers, guest speakers, hotel staff... I'm a bit of an introvert, but when everyone around shares a common interest and everyone is so darn nice, smiling, shaking hands, and having a bit of a chit chat is actually fun. I highly recommend volunteering for next year's Expo if you're in the area.

I ran into the winners of the competition in the TV category – in Drama Frederick Kim for Lost and in Comedy Brian Lubocki & Ryan Harris for Family Guy. Brian and Ryan also got into the finals with their Desperate Housewives and got into the finals last year with their screenplay. Frederick was telling me about other comps he's won in previous years with other specs. Talent coming out the yin yang, and all three were super-nice as well.

See? TV writers rule.

More proof, which I will detail in my next post, came in the shape of Bill Lawrence - possibly one of the most enthusiastic and generous writers on the planet.

But before we get to that, here are my Expo highlights and lowlights, including some nuggets of wisdom I'm sharing with all y'all.

Speaker highlights
Richard Walter – Attitude vs Gratitude: Strategies for Securing an Agent
I wouldn't say Mr Walter's workshop was particularly on topic (it should have been called: How Not To Be Your Own Worst Enemy), but it was damned entertaining. The mail bag portion, in which Mr Walter read letters written to him from rage-filled writers was hysterical and shocking in equal measure.

I managed to take away one sweet nugget of advice:

Write to a few writers you admire, tell them why you like their writing, and ask them a question. The theory is, as a writer, they won't be able to resist writing back, and before you know it, you have a connection.

My additional advice on this subject: Don't pick a "famous" writer, like Shonda Rhimes or Jane Espenson. Choose someone slightly more obscure who probably doesn't hear from their adoring public on a regular basis.

Heather Hale – Power Networking
Yes, another networking seminar. You see, I know a lot about writing, so the writing seminars all seemed to be a rehash of things I've heard 100 times already. Networking, on the other hand, is a topic I know ziggledy squat about. I used to think of networking as an inherently despicable yet unavoidable activity. After Ms Hale's workshop, I came away thinking networking might be kind of fun.

Her advice was all about follow-through. Meet someone nice at a conference? Send them a card the next day saying "Hey, it was great to meet you." Maybe ask them a question you simply must know the answer to, or send them something they might find interesting. Just like Richard Walter said, that person may be interested enough to write back. After a while, you have a connection.

Heather also emphasized the following: BE SINCERE. Don't write to someone just because they could help you, even though you found them to be an irritating ego-maniac. Write to them because you're truly grateful for their advice, or you want to share something you think they will find valuable. I used to think networking was all take, take, take - blech. Now that I understand that it can be about building a mutually beneficial relationship, I have renewed respect for the process.

Biggest disappointment
Tim Minear – Breaking the Story
He canceled. We were sad. Poor Tim, he had a nasty case of the flu, and while we wouldn't have minded him sneezing on the front rows, I guess it's probably better that he stayed home. Still, this class is supposed to be a blast, and as one of the few TV events at the Expo, the ticket-holders were most bummed. A few enterprising people suggested we stay and break the story anyway, so that we did. About 8 of us hung out, breaking the Firefly episode that would have taken place right after Serenity. I think Tim would be proud.

The one thing I really didn't like about Expo? TV Writers seem to be second-class citizens there. First, there are only a few workshops specifically designed for us. But most importantly, the winners of the TV Category got $1,000 each. That's it. Not bad, until you consider that the genre winners in movies each got $2,500 and the overall winner got $20,000.

We TV writers really need our own festival.

22.10.07

TV conventions that make you go arrrgh

You know what I hate?

Three characters are chatting alone in a room on any given TV show. One character moves off to the side, you know, about six feet away. The first two characters start talking about some deep secret that the third character doesn't know. For some reason, despite being JUST RIGHT THERE, that third character can't hear a word they're saying. They don't even seem to realize there's a conversation going on. Deep secret is contained. Third guy remains blissfully unaware. Audience is informed.

Arrrgh. Why oh why, do writers do it?

I know it saves you having to do a whole separate scene, and I know it helps with the practicalities of a shoot, but come on! There's no way in hell ever that could happen in real life. I'm usually pretty great at suspension of disbelief, but seriously, that three-in-a-room thing is one impossible convention that should be eradicated.

What's your TV pet peeve? As future TV writers of America, let's work together to stomp them out.

Slacker excuses
Did you know you can get the most delicious Bloody Mary's at the Cha Cha Lounge in Silverlake for a mere $2 on Sunday afternoon? Well you can. And that leads to needing a nap on Monday afternoon, thereby putting a halt to Monday's productivity.

20.10.07

Dime me up, dime me down

What are your characters doing just before they enter a scene? I find that my characters are usually doing something stereotypical - in my Grey's they'll be checking a chart, in my Bones, they're usually doing something kind of sciency. So basically, they're sitting around waiting for that other character to come and talk to them and move the story forward.

Bad.

What are your characters doing just before they enter a scene?

In House, the go-to actions for House are: watching TV; playing piano; bouncing his cane.

In Episode 23 of Season 3 of House ("The Jerk" written by Leonard Dick), this happens in one scene:

Cameron and Chase approach House at the nurse's station, all abluster with their news (they're all 'it's an infection!' or whatever). House is, inexplicably, on his knees behind the desk.

They start talking about the case, lots of doctory dialog. Then, a nurse reaches into frame and hands House a dime. He looks at her, says 'Thank you' and continues talking to Chase and Cameron.

A tiny look from Cameron shows that she's just figured out why House is on the floor. He was looking for a dime he dropped.


No one ever comments on it, nothing ever comes of it, it's just a lovely little character moment, so bleeding wonderful because it's totally believable that the miserly House, despite being crippled, would get down on the floor to look for a dime.

It's those moments that take an episode from great to grrrreat (to quote my favorite tiger).

Now I need to work on building a few more moments like that into my scripts.

Slacker excuses
Anybody who has been monitoring my progress through House Season 3 will have noticed I've watched at least three episodes a day for the last week. Only one more episode and I'll be all caught up. It's going to kinda be like running out of Vicodin. Man, will it hurt, but I'll be a lot more productive afterwards.

18.10.07

It's an honor just being nominated

Great news (for me)! My Ugly Betty spec made it to the finals in the 2007 Screenwriting Expo 6 Screenwriting Competition Television Category. Whew. That's a mouthful.

The list of all finalists and winners in all categories is here.

My script went Top 10, which means I get into the Expo for free. And, much more importantly, I get bragging rights. Now I just have to find the right people to brag to. To whom to brag? Oh, and I have to find my grammar skills.

I've also made the decision to make my specs available for public consumption. Click on the links right over there on the right hand side of this page to download them. Why don't more people do this? Is there some legal or moral issue I'm completely overlooking? I love reading other people's specs. Everyone should post them.

I've been thinking a lot about point of view lately (how's that for a subtle segue?). Yesterday I was watching a House somewhere in the middle of Season 3, and it jarred me to see Cuddy in a scene alone with a patient. I could be wrong, but I think that's the first time there's been a scene from Cuddy's point of view - sure, she's done lots of scenes without House, but Wilson, Cameron, Chase, or Foreman has always been there too. Not so coincidentally, Cuddy's first POV scene is in the episode where it's revealed that House might actually be in love with her. So now I know, big things for Cuddy are coming in the rest of Season 3. Of course, you've all seen it, so please don't tell me if I'm wrong!

I also watched an episode yesterday where Cameron recites a mnemonic for the bones of the wrist. Actually coincidentally, the title of my last post was a mnemonic for the bones of the wrist. Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetrum, Pisiform, Trapezoid, Trapezium, Capitate, Hamate, since you asked. And yes, I had to look it up.

Sorry about all this House talk. I think I'm addicted. I blame Jane E. She started it.

Slacker Excuses will not be seen in this edition. Instead I bring you:

Things I have dropped from my TiVo-like-device

Dropped
Private Practice (OK, I never added this one to begin with)
Big Shots
Bionic Woman
Reaper (My dream is that Reaper will do badly enough that they'll have to bring back Veronica Mars mid-season. What? It could happen.)

Hanging on by a Thread
Chuck
Dirty Sexy Money
Gossip Girl
Grey's Anatomy

There to Stay
Pushing Daisies
House
Bones
Heroes (though it has not been very good so far this season!)
ANTM (I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it)
The Office
My Name Is Earl
Ugly Betty

Doesn't say much for the quality of the new shows this season, does it? The weird thing is, there are lots of great actors and there's lots of great writing in so many of these shows - it just doesn't seem to be translating into great TV for some reason. Maybe I'm jaded.

10.10.07

Scottish Lads Take Prostitutes To The Caledonian Hotel

I want to be that cool girl who sits in a café all day, spiking on coffee and rattling off pages and pages of unbelievable scriptage, but...

...it's just, I have a big comfy chair in my office at home. And my iGroove. And no annoying half-fat-extra-hot-double-double- dry-with-an-extra-shot ordering ninnies interrupting my train of thought. I sat in Groundworks on Sunset yesterday for three hours and got. Nothing. Done. The only thing I got out of it was a sore gluteus maximus and an aching trapezius from their extremely non-writer-friendly chairs.


Speaking of which I found a double badass online resource that's a total lifesaver when writing medical or forensic jargon. It's The Visual Dictionary - like Wikipedia but with pictures, and a little more authority, I think.

Slacker excuses
Got my screeners for my AFI FEST articles today. Lots of movies to watch. But Mom, I wanna watch TV!

7.10.07

Caring for your introvert

First they build you up, then they knock you down.

Yep, I heard from Warner Bros. Nope, they don't want me. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pretty bummed. They're wrong of course. My mother said so. They do want me. They just don't know it. Can't really call up Mr Warner or his Bro, though, so I'll just have to concentrate on all the other swirling madness I've got going on right now.

I'm volunteering for the AFI FEST writing features for the Fest Daily. I've also just put my name in for volunteer work at the Screenwriting Expo. Once I'm done with those two things, there's the WriteGirl volunteering which I think should be pretty amazing.

And there's baby writers' group that I have yet to do anything about. But I will. I will.

Then there's the Bones spec. My goal is to get a decent first draft finished today. And my pilot is shaping up nicely.

So nyahh. Lots to keep me occupied while ten people that aren't me get to learn TV writing in what's bound to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Slacker excuses
Have been plowing through House Season 2. I could say I'm studying story structure and characterization, but really, I just want to know what happened with Chase and Cameron and Foreman before Season 4 gives it all away.

Oh, and I love this article: Caring for Your Introvert.

4.10.07

Shocked, stunned, and squealing like a little girl

Guess who's a quarterfinalist in the 2007 Screenwriting Expo Screenplay Competition Television Category??

I'll give you a hint. Me! It's me!

I'm not one to toot my own horn... but TOOOOT.

Sorry. I'll calm down in a minute. It's just, now I know I'm not a completely useless, talentless hack. Or at least I know someone out there doesn't think so. Yeehaw.

Thanks to everyone whose blog is listed to the right for the tips, tricks, and moral support you've provided through your writing. Oh, and thanks to The Academy, The Hollywood Foreign Press, God and all other deities who took a personal interest in my writing.

Here's the full list of quarterfinalists.

27.9.07

Like fine wine and cheddar cheese

I am so much better at character stuff than I am at mystery. It's just crazy. I love that I can be plowing through my first draft and all of a sudden a scene I'm writing makes me cry. Granted, I am feeling a bit fragile because of lack of sleep and too many Raspberry Lemon Drops last night. But still.

And then my final scene, the one where Bones and Booth are always just hanging out, bonding? Chills.

Still, I have a long way to go with weaving my story together. Right now, I think it's pretty obvious whodunnit from the start. But then, maybe that's because I already know. Totally tough to gauge. Guess that's what readers are for.

Anyway. Yay me! First draft is complete. It's a very rough first draft, but it's like, I've done the sketch, and now I'm free to sculpt. And I'm more Moore than Picasso, if you know what I mean.

The new season of Bones is so exciting. The premiere (written by Mr Hart Hanson himself) was such a great tease. There are big changes in store for the show with a case that arcs through the whole season, the potential for many more personal stories (and why not, with such fabulous characters?), and a whole thread where Bones and Booth go to couple's counseling, which has so much potential for hilarity, I can't wait.

Prediction. This is the season Bones will finally get the mass acclaim it so deserves.

The premiere of House was incredibly intriguing as well. Until Tuesday, I'd only seen about three quarters of the first season. I wasn't gripped by it to begin with, but it just gets better and better. And Jesus, are those really Hugh Laurie's actual eyes? That blue just can't be natural. Honestly, I don't remember him looking like that in Spice World. Some guys just get better with age.



Funny that of the two shows I'm most interested in this season, one stars Hugh Laurie and the other featured Stephen Fry last season. If you don't understand the connection, better learn something about British 80s and 90s TV. Ahh, Jeeves and Wooster, how you made me laugh.

Slacker excuses
Went to an AFI Fest volunteers' mixer last night. It's actually the husband that wants to volunteer, but I met the man who runs the AFI Fest newspaper and he's desperate for writers, so hey, might as well lend a hand. Tonight, I'll be seeing the wonderful Bodies of Water -- who hail from just down the street -- and Broken West -- who I saw open for Calexico once. They were pretty cool. Broken West, that is. Calexico were monumentally, incomparably wonderful.

My PVR is about to burst with all the TV I didn't watch yet this week. Maybe I'll watch ANTM at lunch. Dang, I'm supposed to be writing about some new digital camera right now. Gotta go.

25.9.07

Go go guild negotiating team 2007!

As if we needed any more proof that film and TV writers in America are overwhelmingly white and male, I bring you the Writers Guild of America Contract 2007 Negotiating Team.

Much luck to all of you. That's my future contract you're negotiating!

24.9.07

This gun's for hire

Writing a first draft, after weeks of breaking story and outlining and thinking, is such a blessed relief. It's such an easy step if you've done the hard graft in advance. It's funny, but actually sitting down and writing what will eventually become your script could be the least important step in the whole process.

I mean, if you've created a solid story, written a detailed outline, and are planning on thorough rewriting afterwards, doing the first draft is kind of like dancing in a dark bedroom. No one is ever going to see it, so you're free to try out whatever you want. And maybe later some of those moves you developed in the privacy of your own room will good enough to display at Miss Kitty's on a debauched Friday night. But most of them won't. And that's just fine.

So yeah, I'm pretty glad to be first drafting this week.

Went to the library on Saturday, and the husband found me a copy of Jeffrey Stepakoff's Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson's Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing. I spent most of the weekend obsessively reading it. It's a fascinating account of his career as a TV writer, with lots of scary but also enlightening revelations about the business. If you wanna be a TV writer, or if you are one, you should totally read it, right now.

Super excited about premiere week! Heroes, Ugly Betty, Bones, The Office, Grey's Anatomy, House, plus all those new shows... auugh. Can't wait, can't wait. It's been, well, literally forever since I've been this excited about a premiere week.

Oh, and I'm totally going to start that writer's group I blogged about last time. But it might take me a couple of weeks to start contacting everyone, so be patient people. If you live in LA, and you're interested, do get in touch!

20.9.07

The TV writer's Mobius Strip

I'm starting to realize that writing specs is the easy part. For that, you don't really need anyone else - except for a few great fellow bloggers to advise and cajole you.

But, as I get closer and closer to having all I need to 'break in', I'm getting increasingly depressed over the methods you need to use to make that happen.
1. Get someone important to read your script... when no one important wants to read anyone's scripts.
2. Get a job as a writer's assistant. To do that, you need to get some already overworked writers to a) be in a position to hire an assistant and b) read your work.
3. Be really lucky.
4. Get an agent. Without already having a job? Ha!
5. Bang your head against the wall repeatedly until somebody notices, takes pity on you, whereupon you can spring your spec on them, declaring "You saved my life, now I am beholden to you!"

Sigh. I know I sound whiny. I am trying to come up with clever solutions. I've been thinking about getting in touch with the other bloggers and fans of bloggers out there who are in the same position – with great, basically unread specs in hand – and starting a group. Not a writers' group, where you critique each other, but more a writers' group where you get together, drink coffee, eat cupcakes and chat about the industry, support each other, and come up with clever strategies for getting work. OK, written down that actually sounds like a great idea. Forming a lasting network of friendships now would mean we could all bolster each other in the years to come. . . of course none of us would let our egos or naturally competitive natures get in the way of a nurturing a positive networking experience. Perhaps we could turn it into a reality TV show. Each week we vote the most self-serving, un-bolstering writer out of the group.

Goals for today are:
1. Nail down the final details in my Bones outline.
2. Make it through another three hours of fasting so I can go get my blood tested for high cholesterol and other things I'm pretty sure I don't have.
3. Print out Grey's spec for final read-thru before deciding if I send it, or Ugly Betty, to the Acclaim TV competition.
4. Watch ANTM, Gossip Girl, Weeds, and Curb Your Enthusiasm I PVR'd earlier this week.

Slacker excuses
I ran 5 miles yesterday. I know, that's not really slack, but I'm very proud of it. Also went to see New Pornographers last night. That band is outrageously amazing. Oh, and Flight of the Conchords were there (in the audience, including their single fan, Mel. I wonder if they were jealous when she sang along to another band?). Clark (of Clark and Michael) was also there. I didn't talk to any of them. Damn! Should I have been networking?

14.9.07

A writer's fairie would be much more useful

Warning!! This installment rambles on forever, so quit while you're ahead. Or at least make a nice strong cup of coffee before you dive in.

If wishing (and hard work) made it so
First, I've been hearing whispered details on the internet that the Warner Bros. Television Writers Workshop is taking ten - only ten! - successful applicants. Yeeps. If I'm one of the top ten applicants, this is great news. Imagine all the things I could learn with only nine other people in my workshop. Then again, if I'm, say, number 12 on the list... no, will not think about that. I am going to get in. I am. Definitely. No question. Yessiree Mr Barker. I am.

You can read Jane Espenson for all the pertinent insider details. Not about me getting in. About the workshop.

Writing what I know
My Bones struggle has been long and arduous, but I'm getting there. Crime drama is kinda hard to write. Who knew? There are all those new characters to create, and the hard science that needs to be invented - I mean - researched, and little clues that need laying. Then, once you have all that, you're only half-way there, because you have to make it all emotionally significant to your investigators. If you can do that, then maybe, just maybe, you have something.

My previous storyline was all about people, places, and things I really knew nothing about. It had a great crime scene, a fascinating victim, and a really gruesome way of identifying the body... but that was all. So I am now relying on that old chestnut "Write what you know". No, I've never killed anyone. I've never even hit anyone. But there was that noisy neighbor who gave me severe sleep deprivation and fevered dreams of ways to dispose of her... in the end I just moved, but that's not how the character in my Bones is going to handle it.

Writers faires and panel discussions
One of the good things about living in LA is that there are lots of opportunities to hobnob with real working writers while they dispense their sage advice ("Be an accountant! Be a zoologist! Just don't be a writer!"). You also get to eavesdrop on your fellow struggling writers as they talk about their miserable lives, which can be lots of fun. Sometimes though, I find myself sitting at these events thinking "I should have just stayed home and spent the day writing".

The UCLA Writers Faire was one such event. Yes, there were plenty of pro writers there, who now spend most of their time teaching at UCLA. But they mostly only dispensed wisdom regarding paying hundreds of dollars to take their UCLA courses. I'm sure I'd learn a lot from them, but I'm also pretty sure I could learn most of that stuff from other sources, in a lot less time, for a lot less cash.

Then there was the Writers Guild Sublime Primetime event. The other WGA events I've been to have been great. The Evening with John Wells made me just ache to be in his room (his writers' room, doofus!). Sublime Primetime was entertaining, I suppose, but a good half hour was taken up by a clip reel - hey, I've already seen the shows, don't waste my precious time on clips! The rest of it just felt a bit jumbled and flat. Matthew Weiner was the least confounded by the set-up, and actually managed to scatter some wise pearls around. Matt Selman made a few hilariously inappropriate comments, which kept things lively. The other panelists just seemed a bit uncomfortable, and I really don't blame them, it was just that kind of evening.

Slacker excuses
I'm starting a new running regime. Four times a week, first thing in the morning. Plus two sessions of weights per week, and ultimate frisbee. How does this leave me time to do anything else you ask? The answer. Volume!

Proud to be a Canadian?

Totally off topic, but, Passport Canada is completely insane.

OK, here's where the personal ranting starts. I sent my passport to the great Canadian government to be renewed in June. As of last week, it still hadn't come back, so I called them. They were cheerily pleasant while telling me that they still hadn't opened a file for me, and could I call back in October sometime when they might have more info? Sure, I mean, I don't need any identification saying that I'm in the US legally or anything. Feel free to keep my passport for 5 or 6 months. Longer if you need it!

For a few days, I went merrily on with my life, confident that at least my passport was crawling its way up the queue. Thought I might be able to travel outside the US by Christmas or something. Then, yesterday, a DHL package came. Inside? My passport, birth certificate, application form, pictures. Everything but a new unexpired passport. Why did they send it back untouched? Because my picture has a shadow on it. Not a shadow obscuring my face, mind you. Not an eagle-shaped hand shadow soaring through the background. Just a pale almost indiscernible 2 millimeter shadow, just next to my head – you know, where a shadow would naturally fall if there was, say, a light on in the room.

Can anyone tell me why this should be a problem? Please, because I'm pretty much ready to renounce my Canadian citizenship and just go full Brit instead of trying to get a magically shadowless picture and spending another $50 sending my passport off to be lost in the bowels of Passport Canada for the rest of the year.

On further investigation, I found that, according to good 'ol Passport Canada's website, fully "47% of all passport applications received from Canadians living in the United States are rejected. The primary cause for rejection is the quality of passport photos being submitted." Guys, did you ever consider that if you're rejecting that many applications based solely on picture quality, your regulations are way to frickin' harsh? My pictures were done by a pro passport picture taking person here in the US. Wanna bet they'd be perfectly fine for a US or European Union passport? I would. Arrggh!

6.9.07

Maybe I could use red tape to capture the ants?


My Bones script and I are in a fight to the death. The script is winning.

Or maybe we're just at an impasse. Same difference.

I keep trying, but I'm still struggling. I can't break the back of the story. I can't fill in the final pieces of the puzzle. And I keep changing my mind about who the killer is.

Why does this happen?

Is it because the idea, at its core, is just not right? Is it because I'm fundamentally no good at mystery? Or is it because I just haven't tried hard enough?

I don't know. And the problem is, my course of action depends entirely on the answer. Should I start again, with a new idea? Should I give up and write a half-hour comedy? Or should I just keep plugging away?

Slacker excuses
It's been a cra-appy week, involving the DMV, my lawyer, Passport Canada, the bank, and an infestation of little brown ants. No one can be expected to be creative with all that institutional red tape wrapped tight around them. Can they?

Ow, my head hurts.

4.9.07

It's hard to write in a bath full of peas

Traditionally, I've hated air conditioning. It dries out your eyes, it's environmentally unsound, and it means you have to wear a sweater in Vons, even if it is 100 degrees outside.

But now I understand air conditioning. And furthermore, I want some.

Hot weather melts your brain, taking away all creative impulse and replacing it with the impulse to eat ice cream while bathing in a tub of frozen peas. Which is fattening. And expensive.

I bet this week there was a record low in the number of pages written by struggling screenwriters and TV writers in the LA region. Our professional counterparts can all afford artificially cooled home offices or office offices, so they've been every bit as productive as normal. Which is good, otherwise we'd have an unscheduled week of dead air around Hallowe'en as all the TV shows that didn't get written this week grind to a halt.

So. Yeah. I'm hot.

And no, I'm not much farther down the road to finishing my Bones.*

Slacker excuses
ABC Evening News vans have been loitering outside my house all day, along with a brief appearance by five, count em', five, fire trucks. You see, except for my house, and one across the way, the power on our street has been out since Sunday afternoon. The news is covering that, while the fire trucks were rescuing my unfortunate neighbors from carbon monoxide poisoning after their generator leaked a bunch of nasty air into their house. So not good!

*Speaking of roads and bones, I heard recently that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman have just completed a new travelogue, called Long Way Down. In Long Way Round, their first series, they drove around the world on kick-ass motorbikes. One of the roads they took was the Road of Bones in Russia. If you haven't seen Long Way Round, you really should. It's even better, if a lot less educational, than the ridiculously wonderful Michael Palin stuff.

30.8.07

The Nines and why you should go see it - now

Update -- **tickets are now sold out for the 7.30 Q&A screening. Obviously my blog worked. You can still get tix for the 10pm show though.

------------------------

LA is so weird. Nothing ever seems to sell out here. For example, tomorrow night's special screening of The Nines, with post-movie Q&A from writer John August and wonderful actress Melissa McCarthy (who was Sookie on Gilmore Girls).

It's tomorrow night. I just bought tickets now. They're not sold out**, even though it's showing in Santa Monica, where three-quarters of the aspiring screenwriters in the greater US of A live*.

It's so stupid to only have a movie open in LA and New York in order to see if it's worth putting on wide release across the country. The people who live here can in no way be considered "normal".

Anyway, get out there, Friday night, Nuart Theatre, Santa Monica. Go and learn something people! Or just go and marvel at the all-encompassing wonderfulness that is Ryan Reynolds. I plan to do a bit of both.

OK, back to imagining grisly death scenarios now.

Slacker excuses
Went to see the wonderful Wilco last night. Ahhh, I love that band. I could do without Nels Cline though. (Sorry Nels, I know you're an awwwesome guitarist, but I just don't like your solos.)

*I made this up, but it seems about right.

28.8.07

Bodies in bathtubs and more, oh my!

I'm finally back to work. Yay me!

Since I'm writing Bones, I've been immersed in a world of grisly deaths, rotting corpses, and sterile labs for the last few days. It's fascinating.

It's also horrible. Just when I think I've read about so many unimaginable ways to die that I'm becoming immune to the whole thing, there's an even more stomach-turning case in front of me, and I have to take a little break, just to feel clean again. And these are the ones that actually happened in real life, not just on TV.

The great thing about Bones is that the investigations are always secondary to the characters and their emotions, so the real focus of any episode is on the living. You could probably make a great Bones episode with the most mundane set of human remains in the world.

There is quite a lot of tech talk in a typical Bones episode, though, so I'm taking a crash course in Forensic Anthropology, courtesy of a stack of books from the library. I've only read one so far, the super-useful and fascinating Forensic Detective by Robert Mann. I recommend it to anyone attempting to write a forensics procedural.

Meanwhile, I'm turning over a dozen or so possible murder scenarios in my head, trying to decide which one will work. I think I'll back off from that and do a bit of thinking on the characters, and decide what kind of victim, or type of death will affect one them most deeply.

Slacker Excuses
I've spent an inordinate amount of time on Craig's List, and then subsequently driving around LA, trying to find tickets for last night's Crowded House show at the Greek Theatre, and tonight's Wilco show. How come everyone with decent tickets lives in the West End, while I live in Eagle Rock?

Also, have been very distracted by the wonderful and incomparably hilarious Flight of the Conchords on HBO. Beg, borrow, or steal* a subscription to HBO now if you haven't already seen this show.

*I do not condone stealing, even if HBO is way too expensive.

24.8.07

Lazy lazy lazy lazy lazy lazy Jane

I know you're all waiting in deepest anxiety to see which spec I chose to write next. Bones, Weeds, or my own shiny pilot?

Can you keep a secret?

You can?

OK. I'll tell you.

None of the above. Nada. I've been a lazy good-for-nothing fool, whiling my hours away reading that Harry Potter book (btw, so not a fan, but this one was actually really good - looks like JK is finally learning to master her craft) and going to the gym. I did desperately need to work out, to repair the damage that two weeks as nurse to a collarbone-broken invalid has caused. But still. My writing!

Arrgh. Even though I know exactly what I'm avoiding (I really don't enjoy breaking story all by myself - that kind of thing should be done in a room, with other creative types, and coffee, and candy), I still haven't been able to boot my own backside quite enough to get me going. The other day in step class there was a surfeit of own-backside booting, too.

Anyway. Enough. I'm off to work on my Bones script. There, I've said it.

Just got a few chores to do first, and some real live paying work, and maybe a few blogs to read...

Slacker excuses
Notice the new colors on my blog? Betchya didn't think I could spend a whole galdarn afternoon doing that, did you?

Hence, the poem, by the wonderful Shel Silverstein running around and around in my head:
Lazy lazy lazy lazy lazy lazy Jane. She wants a drink of water so she waits and waits and waits and waits and waits for it to rain.

20.8.07

Um... so... what now then?

I've done it. Oh yes, I have. I've sent out my very first script to be perused, judged, applauded, and acclaimed (or derided and dissed, as the case may be) by complete strangers. It feels kinda, uh, anticlimactic.

I'm trying hard not to think about how much I really really want to be accepted to the Warner Bros. Writers Workshop. I'm relying heavily on the advice of my good friend Terry Rossio who says "Never Wait". I'll try not to, T.

In the interests of never waiting, as soon as I sent off my application, I leaped right into action, updating my professional portfolio. A girl's gotta eat, after all.

So, the question is, what do I work on next? Right now I'm wavering between a Bones, a spec pilot, and a Weeds. Each has its own appeal. Since I already have two character-driven specs, a Bones spec would be a good procedural to add to my samples. But, word on the street is that lots of show runners are only requesting spec pilots these days. The thing is, if I write a pilot, it's gotta be character-driven, since that's really what I'm into the most. I've got a kernel of a good idea, but I think the fear of diving into such a huge project right now is mostly what's keeping me from going down that road. Then, Weeds is just... it's so damn brilliant it would be really fun. Hmmm... I'll keep mulling until tomorrow, when I must decide.

What do all y'all think?

Slacker Excuses
The husband fell off a Moped and smashed his collarbone just a few days before the Warner deadline. Inconsiderate husband! We spent so much of the last week in the hospital, I could write an extremely realistic doctor drama. I've got all the lingo down. By the way, if you ever find yourself getting into an accident, do it close to Huntingdon Hospital in Pasadena. It's, like, super nice, and the staff are really efficient and friendly. So, so, so much better than the hospitals I saw when I was in England. The food still sucked, but c'mon, it's a hospital, not heaven.

Interestingly, I can't find a website for the Huntingdon. Do hospitals have websites? If not, they should get them.

1.8.07

Go McLovin'!

I've been writing my biography.

No, not a novel-length tell-all about the life and times of me. Just a one-pager to submit with my spec to various competitions, workshops, and other places where someone other than my immediate family will be forced to read my script.

I've learned two things from this exercise.

1. As it turns out, on paper, my life-so-far sounds pretty danged exciting.

2. I have no blinkin' idea how to write a decent bio.

Anyone? Anyone?

Slacker Excuses
I'm in the midst of getting Windows to run on my MacBook via Parallels software. You say: "What kind of crazy person would want to do that?" I say: "The kind of crazy person with a paying client who wants document delivery via the dread pirate Visio." Terrible terrible program. Excellent excellent payday.

I actually had to shell out for Windows XP today, but I don't mind giving cash to Microsoft so much now that it will eventually filter down into the Gates Foundation.

PS. Go see Superbad. I think I love Michael Cera. He's almost 20, so that's not so wrong. Right?

15.7.07

Would you rather be called Pappy or Harriet?

I just reread this sentence from Things I've Bought That I Love blog for like, the third time, and it still makes me laugh:

"I have to wear clothes when I sleep. Even if it's hot out. I wasn't raised by some French grad students or whatever."

Do go check out the whole post. That blog is so great for someone like me, who can only afford to shop at Loehmann's and Target - they have the best underwear though, so even if I was a tribillionaire I'd still go there. Anyway, Things I've Bought is like going on a hedonistic spending spree without the Everestic credit card debt and self-loathing to show for it.

I'm feeling good about writing right now. I left my Ugly Betty alone for a week to concentrate on fine-tuning my Grey's. Came back to Betty on Friday, and lo, it wasn't so bad after all. Some of the dialog even made me laugh out loud. Huzzah.

Slacker excuses
Total computer meltdown hard drive annihilation situation. Am now rocking a brand new Macbook (hello credit card debt!) and thanking God, Steve Jobs, and all else that's holy for a prophetic vision telling me to back up, like right now. I managed to save everything, right down to my calendar full of competition deadlines.

Oooh, I also went to the desert which was so hot and beautiful. I totally need to get those pictures online. Everyone should go visit Pappy and Harriet's Pioneer Town Palace - three buck beers and mesquite barbecued everything! Totally yum.

29.6.07

David Gilmour wuz here

I just hit the wall. No wait. That's a total lie. I hit the wall, like, three days ago, and I've been just running at it and bashing my head into it repeatedly ever since.

C'mon, you know this wall. It's that big ugly mother, dismal grey breezeblock. About thirty feet high and kinda scuzzy. Right next to the kilroy wuz here graffiti is a message for me, in ALL CAPS. And it goes something like this:

"You are the worst writer in the world ever and your current script stinks worse than those skunks that hang around your neighborhood at night. Why are you even trying? You should go find another job at once. Something menial. That doesn't require an ounce of creativity. You could start by cleaning this wall for one."

Hmph. Stupid wall. Like I said, it's been three days, and my head is all bloody and smashed to bits (metaphorically, c'mon I'm not that screwed up) and the wall still stands. Is it growing? I think it's growing.

Slacker excuses
There is no excuse for me this week.

22.6.07

Rewrite city, oh how it shines

Rewriting is so freakin' awesome. You've got this script in front of you, and it's kinda OK. Then you spend a couple hours and it's like, a zillion times better. Which totally rocks.

Slacker excuses
Been reading all the archives on Mindy Ephron's blog. Can you tell?

19.6.07

Rolling in dough

One side-effect of dedicating my time to screenwriting is that I've been feeling very broke lately. Instead of searching for lucrative freelance writing gigs, I've been searching for inspiration.

This made me feel a little better, even though I'm still late paying my rent each month...

I'm the 190,434,783 richest person on earth!


Discover how rich you are! >>


Slacker excuses
Finally watching Heroes. I know, I'm woefully behind, but it's nice not having to wait a whole week to watch the next episode.

14.6.07

To the extreme!

I was struggling there for a while, trying to come up with an Ugly Betty story that was actually interesting. Then I got an idea, but when I outlined it... lame alert.

Then last night, I decided to go through every story point and just brain dump 4 or 5 ways to take that point to the most melodramatic, off-the-wall, crazy ass extreme. No censoring, no thinking "that'd never happen". I just wrote.

Guess what, gentle readers?

You got it. I came up with a whole barrel full of really cool ideas that are going to help make this the best never-to-air Ugly Betty spec script I have ever written. Erm. Read. Uh, I mean... well we'll see.

Slacker excuses
Spent the weekend going to see professional sports. Trust me, the LA Sparks is a way more exciting experience than the Dodgers (especially when they lose like 3 trillion to 3 to the Blue Jays - go Canada!).

6.6.07

The backwards read

I've just discovered the most fabulous excellent rewriting tool ever. It's...

The Backwards Read

What you do, is you hold your script up to a mirror and... naah. Just kidding.

What you really do is go through your script scene-by-scene, starting with the last scene and moving towards the first.

This allows you to really view the scene as a separate entity, and make sure it contains all the drama, action, suspense, conflict, and character it needs, without any reliance on the other scenes.

Later, when you re-enter the forward world, you can check for flow and all those lovely forward-looking things.

Slacker excuses
Buying tickets to see Crowded House in Vancouver in September. They're playing at the first venue I ever saw them in, 20 years ago. Total blast from the past.

3.6.07

Which way's gravity, ma?

Still plugging away at my Grey's Anatomy. Seems like I will never be finished, though I only officially started it exactly one month ago. I'm reaching the point where I'll have to send it off to be read by my many TV addict friends, and my Mom. I just can't look at the words with any sort of objectivity any more.

I'm actually pretty excited about finishing it because then I get to write Ugly Betty, which has much more room to be kinda playful and fun, and the characters are much bigger (= easier to nail). I still haven't thought of a good story yet though. Not that I've really tried.

Finally, I'm rolling around spec pilot ideas in my head. I've got my setting and my main characters mostly worked out, but I want to come up with a unique style a la Betty/Battlestar/Ally McBeal (even though I didn't really like that show). Something that sets my script apart. Hmmmm. Mull.

Sorry to everyone, this blog was all me me me. Who cares right? You're just here because you're supposed to be writing but instead you're scouring the internet for various tidbits to keep you from thinking about your own less-than-satisfying life so far. Yikes, I think I just started channeling Douglas Coupland a little.

As my gift to you for getting this far in this post, let me recommend a little blog that I just heard about for the first time yesterday. Things I've Bought That I Love written by Mindy Kaling aka Kelly from The Office. How can you resist tidbits like this: "I find myself zoning out at work while people are diligently coming up with Jim-Pam storylines and thinking about my legs in these shorts."? Go there now and stop wasting your time on my boring blog!

Slacker excuses
Spent the day at Six Flags on Tuesday. Thought I might be too fraidy to go on the grown-up rides, but I did them all. Tatsu is pretty freakin' cool, but my favorite was Riddler's Revenge. Oooh, and X turned my world upside down - literally.

21.5.07

Real bad writing

Some days I write very very very badly. It's shocking actually. I'm having one of those days. Trying to plow through a rough draft of my Grey's but, well, it stinks so far. So what do I do? Write through it, hoping to get to a place where my writing improves? Or just quit for today and wait until tomorrow?

I think I'll go with plan B.

Also, news from Jane Espenson has thrown a wrench in my summer of writing. She reports that show runners are almost all demanding spec pilots or some other original writing sample for new hires.

I do have a screenplay of course, which counts. But I'm thinking an actual TV pilot might be a better way to go. So, do I abandon my summer of Ugly Betty and Bones (not to mention my half-written Grey's) in favor of a spec pilot?

Oh, the choices, the decisions, the drama!

I think I'll go watch TV.

Slacker excuses:
Watched "An Ice Cream Show" on PBS (hee, it's really called that: "An Ice Cream Show") and am now making plans to travel around the country getting fat on artisan ice cream. Yum.

16.5.07

Anatomy lessons

So, really no time to post these days. I'm immersed in the world of Grey's Anatomy. It follows me around, even when I'm not sitting at my desk plugging away. I was at a barbecue the other day and the conversation centered around Grey's for at least half an hour. And I did nothing to start it either.

Anyway, for a while there I was mired quite heavily in story breaking. That's always the hardest part of the process for me. Today I finished a first go at my outline - I'll sense-check every scene again, and make sure they all work in the order I've laid them out, then finally review each story to see if it works. Oh, and then make sure each story is squarely on theme - a huge part of Grey's.

But before I do that, I decided to come up for air. Deep breath, and back down I go.

My screenplay is taking a much-needed break from me for a few weeks. I'm pretty comfortable with the state it's in now - let's call it a second draft. Can't wait to get back to it, but I won't touch it again until I've got a solid Grey's draft under my belt.

Slacker excuses
I've been pretty darn good, but Ultimate Frisbee has kept me away from my desk a healthy amount the last few weeks.

PS. Can't wait. Am going to see Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio speak at the WGA next week!

20.4.07

Get me outta Chinatown

Time just slips by, doesn't it?

I now have completed my second first draft of my first ever screenplay.

Why a second first draft? Well, I don't feel like it's good enough to be called a second draft yet. That is, I wouldn't even let my Mom read it in the state it's in. But at least it makes more sense than the first first draft. I'm definitely moving towards something approximating good.

While I've been rewriting, I've also been doing a lot of reading. Or skimming anyway. You guessed it. Books about writing. Yay the library for being free!

While some books have been largely a waste of time (Mr Field, no disrespect because I know you practically invented filmic structure, but everyone else stole your ideas, and I've already read their books) others have been amazingly enlightening.

Especially the AFI affiliated Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV, by Dona Cooper. She eschews some of the more commercially friendly ideas (which I can't afford to ignore as a spec writer), but she also delivers more on theme and emotion than I've seen anywhere else. She's also one of the few author who doesn't rely solely on Action or Thriller flicks for her examples.

Start of mini-rant
Writers of How to books take note: Action examples are easy to think of because they're usually so flippin' obvious. Try to dig deeper and bring an example that has some complexity and depth to it. And if one more person quotes Chinatown at me I'm gonna skewer them with my chopsticks.
Mini-rant ends

So anyway, thanks Dona for sharpening my dramatic focus and offering a different viewpoint from your mostly male associates.

My other brilliant discovery is Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein, who's also the man behind the Complications Ensue blog. The book is so terrific on so many levels. I'm so sad that it has to go back to the library that I'm going to actually shell out the cash to own it.

Between Epstein and Espenson, I'm convinced. My destiny lies on the small screen.

They say you should write down your goals, so here they are.

1. Spit and polish my screenplay into second draft status by the end of April.
2. Write three shiny TV specs by the end of August.
3. Find an agent in the fall.
4. Get on staff next staffing season.

No problem. Right? Right?

Slacker excuses:
TV TV TV. It's my job now, so I guess catching up on three seasons of Battlestar and Grey's Anatomy doesn't really qualify as slacking anymore. Hooray! I love TV.

28.3.07

I'd rather fade out than burn away

Not 30 seconds ago I typed FADE OUT. Then I had to go check the proper formatting. It's the first time I've ever written it.

I just finished the first draft of my first-ever screenplay. I thought I'd feel triumphant, or proud, or at least relieved, but I just feel like it's any other day.

For a start, it's just not very good. Yet. My characters are weak. The story doesn't spin and crescendo the way it should. And I suspect there's a huge hole in the third act where my final big moment should be.

Yeah, I have some work to do. Good thing I'm the queen of rewrites. I actually like rewriting better than writing. When I write, I find I don't have the patience for crafting - I just want to get it all out onto paper. It's in the rewrite where my creativity comes alive.

At least that's how it is when I write other things - things for the man who magically fills my bank account with little ones and zeros (mostly zeros these days). I guess I'll see soon if I am also the queen of re-screenwrites.

I also have a zillion other ideas buzzing in my head. One in particular has been buzzing most insistently these past few weeks. It's going to take a lot of research and a huge amount of careful structuring to get it right.

If anything, I don't feel like I've finished something, I feel like I'm just getting started.

And that's gotta be good, right?

Slacker excuses:
I had a two-hour nap today. For research. I swear.

21.3.07

Like rap from Eminem

Ever worry that it all seems too easy?

I know, I know, I'm going to be universally hated (by the three people that read this - hi Mom!) if I start banging on about how easy screenwriting is. But some days, some weeks even, words are just not a problem.

Can it be any good if each word isn't pure sweet agony?

Surely even writers like Charlie Kaufman, who is sweaty and tortured (in Adaptation), must have days when words pour out of them like flies from compost – if flies from compost were an outrageously beautiful and desirable thing.

Those days when whole scenes appear on the page fully formed, I catch myself thinking I must be doing something wrong. And then I remember the section in my third act (almost upon me) that is little more than a light-sucking black hole into which my characters are being pulled, limb by limb, and I know that agony will return.

So I'm letting myself enjoy the unrestricted flow while I can and remembering that this writing thing can actually be fun. Plus, if it all turns out to be dross, I'll nail it in the dark days of angst-ridden rewrites.

Slacker excuses:
Free screenings courtesy of Creative Screenwriting Mag and others. I saw Super Bad last night. Super hilarious. Go Seth Rogen!

16.3.07

Dullest rollercoaster ever.

Why do so many screenwriters have blogs?

I mean, it's not exactly life or death stuff here.

You sit at a desk and think "I'm great" "I'm terrible" "I'm wonderful" "I'm hopeless" in a never-ending cycle of triumph and despair.

Oh, just like real life. Now I get it.

Slacker excuses:
God, the weather in LA is so beautiful, who can sit inside and type?

7.3.07

At the North Col, low on O2

It was all going so well. It really was. Then everything. Stopped.

My second act is gnawing at the inside of my brain, like tiny mice on a lump of moldy cheese. Is it really set up right? Will it capture the attention of an audience? Is anybody going to care what happens to these characters?

I know exactly what happened. The second scene of my second act was supposed to be a showstopper. Fun. Funny. Action-packed. An exciting harbinger of things to come.

Instead it's just flat. Dull. Boring. Lacklustre. Unshiny. Boooo.

So for the last week, instead of writing whatever comes next, I've been rolling this one scene over in my mind, trying to elevate it to the lofty place I imagined. I'm so far away from that goal... the scene is at base camp, I want it to summit. Damn, I'm gonna need more oxygen.

Of course this leads to all kinds of new questions. Like: Why should I bother? What's so great about being a screenwriter anyway? Do I even have what it takes? Maybe I should go watch TV instead?

Which is why I love the internet. What would I do without the other writers out there sharing their doubts and torments?

Mr Man Bytes Hollywood and his faithful commentors have given me a boost. As has Ms Bootstrap. So go have a look and then get back to work.

And all you bloggers out there, keep writing... so I can keep writing!

Slacker excuses:
My Mom came to visit. We ate, we shopped, we conquered. (I bought some new comfy writing clothes from Lululemon. Hurrah.)