Hank Isaac: It Takes a Village to Make a TV Series


Another Note from the World of Underfunded Overachievers
by Hank Isaac

We’re still in the midst of fleshing out “Lilac” for the remaining twelve episodes of Season One. As was mentioned elsewhere on the site, writing can be a lonely endeavor. Is a lonely endeavor.

That’s why I’ve assembled a varied and talented group of folks to help take the series into the future. Though I prefer to actually write alone, I feel the energy from weekly brainstorming sessions is essential, especially when dealing with an ensemble cast of ten characters and their numerous interwoven subplots.

Our group includes a pediatrician, an industrial designer, a newspaper publisher, a retired elementary school teacher, a former assistant to the executive producer of a couple of well-known TV series, and a fantasy writer. Oh, and I’m there, too.

We meet every Saturday in downtown Seattle for about three hours (including lunch). We’ve been spending one of those hours each week interviewing one cast member per session to get each of their impressions and goals for their particular character.

A number of excellent plot twists and character revelations have come out of the sessions thus far (we’ve had five). The goal is to set each character’s story in motion, understand how each individual story influences all the other stories, and ultimately to create twelve individual audience-worthy ten-minute series segments.

The sessions often turn into free-for-alls, but I believe the creative process should never be edited or controlled. There’s plenty of time later to sort stuff out. Let’s face it, a machine that makes bricks doesn’t really think about how the bricks are going to be used. It just makes bricks.

And yet, there’s no way of knowing how one seemingly silly idea may spark a more valuable one. So what may seem at first like wasted time turns out to be a kind of seed for the eventual great-idea flower. To try to approach it all in an “organized” way – everyone gets his turn to speak, ideas are evaluated on the spot, craziness is counterproductive… all of that only serves to stifle ideas and force the participants to pre-edit what they offer.

However, participation in this kind of activity requires that everyone involved have both a thick skin and boundless energy. We are – in our own small way – not unlike a traditional TV series “writers’ room.” Everyone is encouraged to defend his ideas with logic and story & character relevance.

As well, participants need to accept that every idea they come up with will not be included – many “ideas” really serve to encourage other ideas, and on and on, which eventually do lead to something worthwhile.

The (sort of) advantage of a Web series is: We don’t have a precise deadline. Sure, time marches on and all that, and yes, we need to get it done. But our particular time limit is really a concern over our young cast growing older.

Lilac is HERE

Next time: …?

Hank Isaac: Will Lightning Ever Strike Your Digital Series?

hankandlilacUnderfunded Overachievers #8
by Hank Isaac

I was going to write to the question: “Is it even worth it?” but, you know, it’s Spring (or Autumn if you’re down under) and, either way, it’s a time of change. So…

I’m a sailor. I’ve been one for well over half a century. And the fact I can boast that is frankly a bit disturbing. I was also a pilot. So weather is something that is not only interesting, knowledge of it is essential. In fact, ignoring the weather can quickly put lives in jeopardy.

So here’s where I pass on my little bit of knowledge – as a metaphor, because I’m supposed to be a writer.

Especially on spring & autumn days, when the air is cool and the Sun heats the ground, bubbles of moist air are released and stretch skyward. If conditions are right, when the air in the bubble gets high enough, where it’s cool enough, the water vapor condenses on stuff and we can see it. We call it a cloud. The cloud is actually the top of that rising column of air. Sometimes there aren’t any clouds visible. But the column of rising air is still there.

The up-moving air can come from a just-plowed farmer’s field, a hot shopping mall parking lot, or even an entire town. It can also come from a breeze running into hills or mountains which shove it skyward. A cold front, which is like a plow made out of air, can also do that. It’s like a moving hill.

Once the air cools, it stops rising and the cloud eventually evaporates back into vapor and disappears.

But sometimes, when everything is almost just right, the cloud will continue building. It won’t need the field or the hills anymore. It begins to pull in more moist air from around and beneath it. On days like that, the puffy clouds can get pretty tall. They’re often called “towering cumulus.” They’ve become little heat and water engines, producing giant castles in the sky.

But more often than not, those guys poop out eventually.

That’s why I said, “…almost right.”

Totally right is when the cloud’s engine keeps drawing in fuel from further and further away. It pulls air from what might have become their own clouds, sucks it up, then adds it to its growing resources. It even consumes its own “waste air” – air that rolls down the outside of the cloud.

We’ll never see the little clouds who gave themselves up to the ever-growing behemoth.

Inside this engine, water is cycling through various stages. There’s condensing and evaporating going on at a frenetic pace. Thousands of relatively tiny columns of air are racing every which way inside.

As the cloud grows and grows and gets taller and taller, its upper reaches start to tickle the bottom of the Stratosphere. Up there, it’s really cold. Damn icy, actually. So now snow begins to form. And when snow crystals form under these very unique circumstances, tiny electrical charges are generated and stored.

You already know where this is going.

So now, in addition to massive exchanges of heat energy and tons and tons of water changing from one state to another and back again, all this mess is storing more and more electrical charges.

Until… BLAM! A spark jumps. Sometimes from one part of the cloud to another. Sometimes to the ground if the charge is strong enough.

But this thing is just beginning to cook.

Keep in mind, it’s original source of energy is long gone. It probably can’t even remember where it first came from or even how it got started – as that little bubble of rising air. Drawing in more fuel from distances than can span many, many miles now, the top of the cloud wanders into a place of very little air pressure and temperatures colder than any place on the planet.

And even though we’re often afraid of such power, we’re still drawn to that very same power and marvel at the display of this incredible energy. A sort of majesty that we really can’t duplicate. We can only wonder.

Sure, all that marvelous power eventually dissipates. Maybe the storm soaked that farmer’s field as a thank you. Who knows.

So now, if you’ve read this far, are you wondering what the heck this has to do with creating a TV series?

If you got the metaphor, then I have an answer for you:

Not every little rising bubble of air will become a thunderstorm, but every thunderstorm began as a little rising bubble of air.

Lilac is HERE

Next time: Who knows, maybe something interesting…