Writer-Creator of ‘The Wire,’ David Simon, Speaks Out About What’s Wrong with Agency Packaging

Yeppers, kids, this is another post derived from the current contretemps between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agencies.

We’re bringing it to you because you and all of us at TVWriter™ are writers with a huge stake in the outcome of this negotiation. Read and learn, and it’s okay with us if, while learning, you also get angry. David Simon sure as hell is:

“But I’m not a lawyer. I’m an agent.”
by David Simon

Just over a quarter century ago, when I was a young scribbler traipsing around the metro desk of the Baltimore Sun, I had an early opportunity to learn a lesson about money, about ethics, about capitalism and, in particular, about the American entertainment industry. And Dorothy Simon, she raised no fools. I only needed to learn it once.

I learned about something called “packaging.”

And now, finally, my apostasy from newspapering having delivered me from Baltimore realities to film-set make-believe, I am suprised and delighted that many of the fellow scribblers with whom I share a labor union have at last acquired the same hard, ugly lesson:

Packaging is a lie. It is theft. It is fraud. In the hands of the right U.S. Attorney, it might even be prima facie evidence of decades of racketeering. It’s that fucking ugly.

For those of you not in the film and television world, there is no shame in tuning out right now because at its core, the argument over packaging now ongoing between film and television writers and their agents is effectively an argument over an embarrassment of riches. The American entertainment industry is seemingly recession-proof and television writing, specifically, is such a growth industry nowadays that even good and great novelists must be ordered back to their prose manuscripts by book editors for whom the term “showrunner” has become an affront. A lot of people are making good money writing television drama. And so, this fresh argument is about who is making more of that money, and above all, where the greatest benefits accrue.  If you have no skin in the game, I think it reasonable, even prudent, to deliver a no-fucks-to-give exhale and proceed elsewhere.

If, on the other hand, you are my fellow brother or sister in the Writers Guild of America — East or West, it matters not when we stand in solidarity — or conversely, if you are a grasping, fuckfailing greedhead with the Association of Talent Agents, then you might wanna hang around for this:

Here is the story of how as a novice to this industry, I was grifted by my agents and how I learned everything I ever needed to know about packaging.  And here is why I am a solid yes-vote on anything my union puts before me that attacks the incredible ethical affront of this paradigm. Packaging is a racket. It’s corrupt. It is without any basis in either integrity or honor. This little narrative will make that clear. And because I still have a reportorial soul and a journalistic God resides in the details, I will name a name wherever I can.

*            *           *

To begin, I wrote a book. It was a non-fiction account of a year I spent with a shift of homicide detectives in Baltimore, a city ripe with violence and miscalculation. Published in 1991, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” was repped by my literary agent at the time, an independent attorney who I found because his other clients included some other ink-stained newspaper reporters. Late in 1987, the Baltimore Police Department agreed to let me into its homicide unit for a year beginning that January, so I needed to quicly acquire an agent to sell the project to a publishing house and secure an advance on which to live while I took a leave-of-absence from my newspaper. This agent — and damn, I wish I could name the goniff, but I later signed a cash settlement that said I wouldn’t — was the first name that came to me. I did not shop around; I was in a hurry.  My bad.

Three years later, with the book ready to publish, this shyster suggested to me that he was entirely capable of going to Hollywood with it for a sale of the dramatic rights. And me, knowing less than a bag of taters about Hollywood, was ready to agree until my book editor, the worthy John Sterling, then helming the Houghton Mifflin publishing house, told me in no uncertain terms that this was a mistake.

It was customary, John explained, for even the best literary agents to pair with a colleague at one of the bigger entertainment agencies and split the commission.  My literary agent would give up half of his 15 percent to the other agency, but he would gain the expertise of an organization with the connections to move the property around and find the right eyeballs in the film and television industry. So I called my agent back and insisted….

Read it all at DAVIDSIMON.COM

John Ostrander: World Making 101 for Writers

by John Ostrander

As a writer in fantastic fiction, I sometimes have to create a setting, an environment in which the action takes place – a world. GrimJack, for example, is mainly set in Cynosure, a pandimensional city where the multiverse meets. Cross the street and you may be in a different dimension. Guns work here, magic works there, a sword and a bad attitude works most everywhere. I didn’t create Cynosure; Peter B. Gillis did that in the first WARP special at First Comics. I did, however, use it extensively and defined it.

World making can be fun, frustrating, tedious, exhausting, and a host of other adjectives. Mostly fun. The setting winds up being a character itself in the story; Gotham City is an important supporting character in Batman stories. The Dark Knight really works best against it as a backdrop. When Anton Furst designed the set and look of Gotham for the first Michael Keaton-Tim Burton Batman movie, I remember one thing that was said about the design is that Furst created a Gotham against which a man dressed as a bat looked like he belonged. You can’t stick the Batman in Peoria and make it look right.

Even if it’s the so-called “real world”, you need to develop a version of it. Raymond Chandler’s seedy L.A. helped define not only his detective, Philip Marlowe, but a lot of the genre. Sherlock Holmes works best in the fog shrouded streets of London in the late 1800s. (Yes, I’ve seen the versions of Holmes set in modern day; clever but not the same IMO.) Star Wars is not set in one city but a whole galaxy and it has a certain look and feel. The places, the ships, the uniforms all have to look as if they belonged there. The Black Panther movie won as Oscar for the design and look of Wakanda.

That requires some thought and usually some research. One of my maxims is that the best fantasy is one that has one foot firmly set in reality. You want it to feel real to the reader/viewer. It requires thinking a concept through, looking at the details, thinking of the ramifications of a detail.

Let’s play with this a bit. For instance, as a premise let’s assume that climate change is real. I’m not saying that you have to accept that it is, in fact, real. Just as a premise for our fictional setting. For example, what has caused the world of Mad Max is never really specified but climate change could easily be the cause, IMO.

So let’s jump 10, 20, 100 years and try to imagine that future as a backdrop for whatever story it is that we want to tell.

For example, the ice caps are melting and the sea levels are rising. What are the ramifications of that? Certainly coastal flooding. How much? Depends on who you ask but it seems reasonable to assume that parts of Manhattan are gone. Lots of Florida –Disneyworld, for example. I wonder if Mickey floats. Or over at Universal theme parks – the Wizarding World of Harry Potter might get less magical under a few feet of seawater.

In the Mid Atlantic states – Washington D.C. would get real wet. It’s built on a swamp after all. (Some might argue that drowning Washington is not necessarily a bad idea). Norfolk VA is, at the moment, a major base for the U.S. fleet. If Norfolk goes under water, you lose not only the base but the housing for all the sailors and their dependents.

This rise in the levels of the ocean doesn’t happen all at once; it grows incrementally. It gives time for people to adapt. In theory. But there are other effects. We’ve seen how hurricanes have gotten stronger. We saw what happened to New York City, especially Manhattan, with Hurricane Sandy. The resultant storm surge flooded the area, drowning subways and tunnels. What if that wasn’t a one time event? What if it was every time a hurricane hit? Remember, this is all speculation, a possible premise for a setting against which to tell a story.

Salt water can invade aquifers, contaminating freshwater that humans, animals, and crops depend on. That’s gotta hurt. We have a lot of toxic dumps and garbage dumps and sewage plants; what happens when/if they are flooded?

Large groups of people from the East Coast become refugees to other parts of the country. Do the other states take them in? How many can they take in? What effect does that have the local economy? What effect does it have on the national economy?  There are three major airports in the NYC area; can they still operate? Are they abandoned? What effect does that have on the airline industry? Down in Texas, Houston is flooded. What effect does that have on oil production in the Gulf? Can the United States stay united or does it collapse and break into sectional countries, each with its own laws and customs?

This is just a sample of the sort of questions I wind up asking myself as a writer as I explore a concept and the consequences and ramifications of any given premise. There are many ways you can interpret the premise as well; there’s the Mad Max model we talked about before or you could be more hopeful; your story might be how mankind comes together and finds a way to delay and/or reverse the process, the start of terraforming. It could be the setting of a Walking Dead type scenario, where a group of survivors journey on, trying to find a haven. All these stories could come from the same basic background concept; it can be adapted to fit the story that you might want to tell. There’s no one right way to approach the premise.

What your story would need to be is consistent with itself and believable even if it seems outlandish. Most of all, you should have fun. If you don’t enjoy the process, the reader won’t enjoy the result.

So go on – make up a world. Your world.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared (before Christmas even, but we’ve been on a break so you get to relive the holiday now). You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE

Indie Video: The Return of ‘Sam and Pat’ – – @brisownworld

 by TVWriter™ Press Service

TVWriter™’s favorite web series creator, Bri Castellini and her partner, Chris Cherry are at it again!

Sam and Pat Are Depressed, the award-winning comedy mental health web series, is back for its second season, with the first episode premiering March 25th, 2019, on Stareable and SeekaTV.

As part of the marketing push for the much-anticipated new episodes, the stars and executive producers Bri Castellini and Chris Cherry have also launched a companion podcast called Bri and Chris Are Depressed, as well as added new Stareable Enrich tiers for fans of the series to get early access to both the web series and the podcast as well as exclusive bonus updates and content.

The web series Sam and Pat Are Depressed follows depressed roommates Sam (Castellini, also the series’ creator) and Pat (Cherry) who help each other navigate the inherent awkwardness of therapy through profanity, humor, and take out.

The second season will cover the complicated emotions that are part of such activities as going on medication, mansplaining to your therapist, and more. Watch on Stareable or SeekaTV.

The Bri and Chris Are Depressed podcast, hosted by Castellini and Cherry, recaps Sam and Pat episodes one by one while also delving into the hosts’ own connection to the various therapy and mental health topics and answering viewer and listener questions.

The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Radio Public, or your preferred podcasting app.

A Few Words About the Stareable Enrich tiers

Stareable Enrich empowers creators to offer freemium versions of their content so fans can support the shows they love. Sam and Pat have 2 monthly tiers available for fans, for $5 and $10 a month, each with
accompanying bonus content and early access. More information available at the link above.

John Ostrander Sees ‘Miracle Workers’

by John Ostrander

NOTE FROM JOHN: Miracle Workers is a limited series from TBS, and airs Tuesdays at 10 PM EST.

SPOILER ALERT FROM JOHN: I reveal some of the plot and a few jokes in the show so far. Read at your own risk.

So – in the second episode, Miracle Workers kill Bill Maher by blowing up his penis.

Now that’s comedy.

The show is set in a heaven that’s a corporate entity. Steve Buscemi plays God with longish lank gray hair, puttering around in a bathrobe, drinking beer, and more interested in Lazy Susans than the planet Earth. Bill Maher annoys him (hell, he sometimes annoys me) so God orders that Maher be killed off. The method devised is to blow up his penis which pleases God.

Also, because God has been challenged to exert himself and do something about the terrible state of Earth, announces that he is going to blow it up in two weeks.

You see? Wacky. 

Heaven is something like a business office (sort of an afterlife Dilbert) with angels as the workers and lots of different and odd Departments; Genitals, for example, which winds up being the Department responsible for blowing up Bill Maher’s penis.  Eliza, played by Geraldine Viswanathanbelongs in the Department of Dirt but wants something more challenging so she gets re-assigned to the Department of Answered Prayers. She’s thrilled until she gets there and finds only one other employee there, Craig, played by Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe) who is weird, quirky, and timid (okay, cowardly) and the Department only does about 7-8 (small) things a week and anything more difficult than finding lost car keys get kicked upstairs to God where it sits in an ever rising pile of Unanswered Prayers because God would rather experiment with Lazy Susans.

Eliza is appalled and tries to do something bigger only to discover there are consequences to miracles and those can be disastrous. Frustrated. Eliza goes and complains to God directly, saying that he really should do something given the sorry state of Creation. God thinks a moment, decides she’s right, and announces that in 12 days he’s going to destroy Earth. God then wanders off.

Now that’s comedy.

Eliza does make a deal with God – if she and Craig can get one impossible miracle done, God will spare Earth. Together, Craig and Eliza spot two shy humans who like each other and both pray that something good will happen. Craig says unrequited love prayers are among the most difficult to answer happily but Eliza points out the two (Laura and Sam) already are in love with each other, they’re just too shy to initiate anything. If Craig and Eliza can get them past their shyness, the two angels just might be able to pull off a miracle and save Earth.

Except that also proves to be more difficult than it might seem.

In the meantime, in a side plot, God tells his assistant Sanjay that Bill Maher annoys him. God says he’s okay with the disrespect and blasphemy but he just doesn’t think Maher is funny. Yeah, technically Maher will die when the Earth is destroyed but God doesn’t want to wait that long. He assigns Sanjay the job of killing Maher in an appropriate manner. Sanjay is made to understand that failure isn’t an option. All of which leads to the Department of Genitals and Maher’s death by exploding penis. See? It all makes sense.

Only two episodes have aired so far but I’m really enjoying the series. I laugh out loud at times and that’s rare with me. (Waking Ned Devine is a different story which I will tell at some point.) For starters, we have Steve Buscemi as God. I would watch paint dry on Steve Buscemi. Daniel Radcliffe is first rate, turning in a wonderfully comedic performance that is so far away from Harry Potter that you might not believe he’s the same actor. The rest of the cast is also first rate, as are the writers and directors. The show was dreamed up Simon Rich, adapting his book “What In God’s Name”. Quality stuff.

I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out; being a limited series, they could very well end with destroying Earth. Doesn’t set up a second season but I think it would be cool. Some others, I’ve heard, prefer “The Good Place” but I never got into that show and it may be a little late to start. And it doesn’t have Steve Buscemi. Okay, it’s got Ted Danson and that’s a point in its favor, IMO, but it hasn’t got Steve Buscemi.

Am I recommending you watch it? No. I learned long ago that’s a fool’s errand; different people have different tastes and what amuses me may leave you cold. The show isn’t even the most blasphemous thing I’ve watched; that would be Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter. I would have included Bill Maher’s Real Time but that show just hasn’t been the same since Bill got his penis blown off.

It was funny, though.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared (before Christmas even, but we’ve been on a break so you get to relive the holiday now). You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE

Bri Castellini: How To Send Great Emails That Actually Get A Response – @stareable

 by Bri Castellini

As many of you know firsthand, I send and receive a lot of emails. Over the past year and a half at Stareable, I’ve learned a lot about everything from how to phrase and structure unsolicited requests for advice or promotion as well as the appropriate boundaries to set when planning a call or video chat with a relative stranger. I’ve also learned that as a community we could all do with a set of common rules to follow.

First, though, some things to keep in mind when you’re sending emails to people you don’t know (at all or very well), especially if you want something from them. Stareable Founder/CEO Ajay Kishore, fellow All-Emailed-Out person, also contributed to this section.

  • Keep in mind that everyone else is just as busy as you probably are, if not more. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response right away, or if their schedule is seemingly always shifting. In my experience, if a person wants to blow you off they will, but if they keep trying to schedule with you they’re making an effort, so don’t take it personally.
  • Be specific about what you want, whether it’s a 30-minute call for advice about a topic or help scheduling extras for next weekend’s shoot. Don’t be vague- be direct. This allows busy people to easily determine if they’re able to say yes without having to go through five follow-up emails.
  • Don’t go for video-chat as a first request. Especially in a professional sense, it’s both far-too-intimate and almost certainly unnecessary. It also requires the invited party to consider background, webcam angle, and tethers them to their laptop on a day they might need to stay mobile.
  • The “why” is important. Why are you asking for this thing or reaching out? And why are you reaching out to this person in particular? I’m not saying you have to flatter everyone before you can ask a quick question, but especially if your message is unsolicited, the subject needs to feel like you’ve done some research and there’s a reason they’re the one getting the request.
  • Following up is completely acceptable, but use common sense. If your email isn’t on a timeline, following up the next day (or even the same day) isn’t a good look. But if it’s been a week and you haven’t heard anything, a quick reminder message is totally acceptable! Definitely don’t try following up via social media, especially the same day, unless it’s a literal emergency. Spoiler alert: it’s probably not.
  • Please copy edit before sending, especially if you want to impress the person on the other end (to write about your series, to collaborate you, to offer you advice as a colleague). Typos are sloppy and so easily fixable, so fix them.

Let’s break the rest of this down by type of email….

Read it all at STAREABLE.COM

Part 2 of this article is HERE