LB: “The New Republic” Gets Television All Wrong

…But the post below is still worth reading cuz arguing about this shit is always fun:

New republic on Showrunnersby Craig Fehrman

Our best TV shows may be more complex than ever, but our theory of their greatness has become utterly reductive: In this reputedly golden age of television, it all boils down to the showrunner, television’s own auteur.

According to this theory, the villain is a clueless suit, sending along absurd notes; the hero is the courageous iconoclast, ready to fight the tiniest battle. Here’s one example from the set of “Mad Men,” recounted in Alan Sepinwall’s recent book, The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever: A costume designer presented the perfect button-up dress for a love scene to showrunner Matthew Weiner. “Unzipping is sexier,” he replied—and off she went to find a new dress. Everyone seems to thrill at these stories of micromanaging prowess. It’s why novelists are trying to write cable pilots; why The Hollywood Reporterpublishes its annual “Top 50 Power Showrunners”; and why, in 2010, no less an outlet than Cahiers du Cinéma—the French publication that popularized the original film version of auteur theory—put “Mad Men” on its cover. This narrative has been reinforced by long magazine profiles of David Chase (showrunner for “The Sopranos”), David Simon (“The Wire”), David Milch (“Deadwood”), Shonda Rimes(“Scandal”), Lena Dunham (“Girls”), Liz Meriwether (“New Girl”), and others.

But this obsession with showrunners—what we might call the showrunner fallacy—has obscured what makes television so great. In his (otherwise excellent) forthcoming book, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Brett Martin emerges as the latest exponent of this fallacy. Martin credits the shows in his subtitle, which, together, he labels TV’s “Third Golden Age,” to the showrunners themselves, with their “immense powers of rejection and benediction.” (Martin’s showrunner metaphors tend to be deific). Yet this approach prevents Martin from exploring the people and pressures that are unique to television—exactly what the medium’s reporters and critics should be working to understand. Instead, they praise or blame the showrunner, succumbing to a kind of narrative simplicity that we would never accept in an Emmy-winning drama.

Even before the word showrunner entered our cultural vocabulary, television was a writer’s medium. In its first Golden Age (the experimental 1950s), in its second (the network-drama-powered 1980s), and in all the lesser programming in between, television has depended on its scribes. Bruce Helford, who served as a showrunner on “Roseanne,” once framed that dependence like this: “Television is really bad art. It’s like someone going into a museum and saying, ‘We have a lot of blank walls, let’s make some paintings to fill them up.’” The cheapest (and fastest) way to do this was through writers churning out dialogue-heavy scripts.

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I enjoyed this article and think that the book it seems to have started out as a review of, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, by Brett Martin, looks like a must-read. But I’ve been there and I know: The showrunner thing – in which we can credit or blame the showrunner/auteur for more or less everything considered to be creative about any given TV series is right on the money.

The only caveat I’d give to the overall “the showrunner did it” is that we always have to remember that the showrunners are working within the corporate strictures of the medium so that what the audience sees is a result not only of the showrunner’s talent and judgment but also of his or her intellectual (and practical) courage and political infighting ability.

Sorry, Craig, but I think modern day showrunners are Supermen and deserve all the acknowledgement they can get!

Stacy Porter: A Few Words About Write Vault

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Stacy Porter is managing director of the kind of site for which we have a soft spot in our hearts. It’s called Write Vault and is a place to register and protect intellectual property.

As the site puts it:

WRITE VAULT PROTECTS YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

We offer timestamped, trackable uploads of your most precious intellectual property. Our services add clout to your arsenal of evidence in cases of theft and misuse….

Write Vault stores and timestamps documents created by writers and artists for the sole purpose of providing proof of authorship when a copyright registration many not be prudent or affordable. Once a document is uploaded, the artist/writer receives a receipt and certificate showing the date when they uploaded their work and the document is subsequently registered for 10 years. The artist/writer is also privy to which users are downloading their projects when they set their documents to ‘public’ access….

Because this is the kind of thing we can get behind, we’ve invited Stacy to tell you more about it. Take it away, Stacy!

by Stacy Porter

the vault
Ooh, it’s the Vault!

I want to give a hearty thank you to Larry Brody of TVWriter™. He rolled out the red carpet for us and allowed Write Vault the opportunity to introduce our services to his readership.

Many people have asked how Write Vault came into being and why we exist when there are already other alternatives for a writer to protect their intellectual property.

We popped up on the web because of the demise of WriteSafe, my favorite registration service for placing shorts on InkTip. Surely everyone else who used the service missed it too?

That’s when my business partner and fellow writer/programmer, Devin Watson, stepped in to join forces and bring the service back as Write Vault. As Devin and I built Write Vault over the next 26 days, we aimed to satisfy the biggest concerns writers have when protecting their work.

The first consideration was setting a PRICE POINT.

We wanted to keep a low overhead without compromising security and set a price that writers and artists could afford without a second thought. That price point became $10.00 for a 10 year registration. We made it affordable so that writers could create a chain of title, proving ownership and register subsequent drafts without emptying their wallets.  No other digital registration service online can beat that price and our newsletter also includes coupons for those who receive it, further increasing the savings.

Our second consideration was SIMPLICITY. Make the site easy to use, with one singular purpose: Protect the intellectual property of artists, designers and writers. Serve the artist and writer with the strongest encryption, easiest user interface and not divert from what’s most important, which is keeping your work protected. 

We do allow writers to share their work, but Write Vault has added further protection to the writer in that regard. We only allow registered members to download scripts that are set to ‘public’ and in this way our writers can track which member is downloading which project and communicate with them.

Our third consideration was SERVICE.

We want our writers and artists to know their input is extremely valuable and we have already listened to their feedback to improve our services even more. Write Vault is open and eager to talk with you, so if you’re not sure about something, you can call us, text us, email us; we’re here for you.

The final consideration we took when building Write Vault was VALIDATION.

We wanted to make is easy for production companies and individuals to validate a Write Vault registration certificate number. No other company offers this service, and we think it’s very important. Many services such as the Creator’s Vault, ProtectRite and the WGA have no procedure for a company to validate the authenticity of a registration number.

In conclusion, we know what’s in the back of your mind because as creators of Write Vault we are not just programmers, we’re also writers and we ponder daily how we could sway fellow writers from other services to us.Anyone can visit our site and enter a registration number on the home page. Information connected to the registration number will be returned if it is an authentic Write Vault registration.

I mean, why Write Vault, right? We’re new, untested, and the WGA… we know, we know… the W-G-A. The oldest registration service on the planet. Registering with the WGA buys you no brownie points into the union, and while we respect them and still use them in various situations, they are dinosaurs in the document registration arena.

Let me bullet point what makes us different and you might change where you register your works in the future.

  • We’re an independent company. We aren’t in the hip pocket of any other organization. Our goal is to serve the artist/designer/writer and only them.
  • We aren’t selective. We don’t base our registration fees on your membership (or lack thereof) to a union. WGA, we’re looking at you.
  • We’re more affordable. Do you want to pay 10$ for 10 years of protection or 25$ for 5 years? Compare the other services against Write Vault.
  • We’re technologically superior. Your documents are encrypted, backed up daily and we improve our services when technology allows it. Don’t leave your documents with a company that refuses to upgrade and/or monitor their services.
  • We understand a Copyright is the most secure way to protect your work. But we also understand that applying for one can be costly and creating a chain of title helps a writer prove ownership in a court of law. We’re here to provide a service that allows the writer to create that chain by registering subsequent drafts before they’re ready for an official copyright application.
  • We’re in it for the long haul. We’ve already registered the domain for 10 years til 2023! You’ll be able to transmit your documents from your personal flying mobile office by then, we hope.

 

So what do you say, do you want to try Write Vault out?

As a further thank you to Larry and to the readers of TVWriter™, we’re offering the first 100 readers a 30% off coupon when you purchase one or more Write Vault credits. Simply sign up, purchase your credit(s) and enter TVWRTR13 in the coupon field when checking out. You don’t have to use your credits immediately, so don’t wait and use the coupon to stock up and save!

For more information about us, visit: http://www.writevault.com/faq

Everything We Need to Know About Failure

TVWriter™'s latest hero. And not just cuz he's standing by some drums.
TVWriter™’s latest hero. And not just cuz he’s standing by some drums.

…From a guy who definitely made this talk a success for us:

We used to be kinda proud of being aimless. Well, okay, not proud exactly, but definitely amused. Watching and listening to James Murphy, above, has caused us to re-examine our lives.

Now we’re merely…suicidal.

Kidding, just kidding. Ambitious, that’s what we are. Oh so ambitious. Look out, world, the TVWriter™ minions are on the move!

Peggy Bechko: The Absolute Basic Tenet of Writing

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO ME ON MY WAY TO THE GRAVE smWrite Now
by Peggy Bechko

Write What Now?

As writers, along the away at some time, we’ve all heard the admonition, Write What You Know.

Uh huh, right. Well I’ve always kind of wrestled with that, but now I’ve heard it put another way.

Author Stephen King says, “Write The Truth”. In other words, write about what you’ve experienced; love, rage, sadness, humor, and write it honestly. Put it across as real as you experienced it. He points out that if you get your reader to hear echoes of his or her own life, belief system, experiences, then that reader is more likely to really connect with what you’ve written, be drawn into it, want to read more.

What do you think?

I think he’s right and it applies to pretty much anything you choose to write. We humans like to connect and we do that best when we can relate with feelings and memories of our own to what another is telling us. It applies to novels, screen scripts and even that sales letter you got in the mail. Doesn’t matter what age you are when you’re writing. If you’re old enough to put words up on a screen or down on paper, you’ve already experienced a lot of what life offers, or kicks you in the teeth with.

Examples:

At age seven I stepped on a board with a nail sticking out and my big brother carried me home to have my mother pull the nail out of my foot and administer first aid (pain and fear and love for big brother)

At age nine my family moved away from Indiana to Florida. Just before we left my dog got killed on the street by a car (grief – I’d never lost something I loved). Moving day (loss, my friends were left behind). Arrival in Florida (joy at being reunited with grandparents I loved; fear and adjustment, new friends, new school).

At age ten parents got us a puppy from the shelter. Love the dog but she got car sick and barfed all over me in the back seat on a trip to see grandparents in nearby town (ewwwwww! – but memorable).

At age nineteen my beloved grandfather died (extreme grief – I’d lost a pet but never a loved one. Nausea – everyone knew about Grandpa’s death about 8 hours before I did as I was at work and they didn’t want to call me home ~ and they were ready to go out to have a subdued dinner as no one had cooked when I was told ~ thought I was going to throw up.)knowwhatyouknow

You get it. Life is throwing things at you from the day you’re born. You have accidents, trouble in school, trouble with parents, loss, funny times, snakes in the back yard, a dog that throws up on you. By the time you’re writing stories you have a treasure trove of ‘real’ stored up inside you. Feelings and experiences. Real feelings and experiences you can spill onto the page to allow you to hook up with your reader who’s had some of those experiences themselves along the line whether it’s an agent, a producer, a publisher or a fan who’s doing the reading.

Don’t think you have to be as magician and create a whole new experience bank when you have all you need inside you. Dig deep. Don’t be shy about spilling all that out onto the page. That’s where real writing comes from, where the great stuff abides. Drag it out and use it.

I think “write the truth” is some of the best advice I’ve heard in quite some time.

BIOSHOCK INFINITE is a Lesson in Video Game Writing

Nope, we don’t even pretend to know about video game writing. But this guys, and reading this article has taught us a hell of a lot (which can transfer right over to our TV writing obsession as well):

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The failure of BioShock Infinite: Writing games like movies
by Peter Bright

It’s high time game developers respected the medium they work with.

As is my unhealthy obsession, I waited impatiently for BioShock Infinite to unlock on Steam—then I played the game through in a single sitting. It took about 11 hours (on normal difficulty), though I didn’t “complete” the game in the sense of finding all the secrets it contains. I left some doors locked, and I didn’t find all the codes, but I did fully experience the game’s main draw: its story.

While many first-person shooters have a story that’s incidental at best, either because it’s barely developed and irrelevant (see early titles such as Doom and Quake) or because it’s badly written and still irrelevant (see the Call of Duty series), that’s not the case with BioShock Infinite.

You play Call of Duty to see the next spectacular special-effects-laden set piece lifted from one Hollywood blockbuster or another. BioShock Infinite doesn’t really have these set pieces. What it has is an interesting universe (a probabilistic multiverse in which you can leap between timelines), at least one compelling character (the mysterious Elizabeth who you’re sent to rescue/kidnap/protect), and a bunch of unanswered questions. The whole point of the game is to find out the answers to those questions, and that means playing it for the story.

Because of this, we don’t want to just dip into the game, get a few hours of generic play time, and then do something else. Instead, we want to press forward and find out what happens next. We’re drawn into a binge play session just as we might be drawn into binging on a DVD box set. And it worked. I binged.

But as with so many binges, I felt dissatisfied afterward. Had I truly played a “game” in the fullest sense of the word, or had I watched a movie-like meditation on violence and America sprinkled with some less-than-innovative interactive ultraviolence thrown in to break up the narrative? As I’ve reflected on the game for the past few weeks, I increasingly lean toward the latter—and I’ve concluded that it’s a weakness in the game’s design. Here’s why.

Pure gameplay

BioShock Infinite is not the first or only game to try to tell a compelling story, of course. LucasArts’ various SCUMM titles, for example, had strong narratives more than twenty years ago. Nonetheless, I think there has been an evolution and maturation of games, with stories becoming more important to major game titles.

Most old games were a celebration of the purely mechanical. We marveled at their technology—even as primitive as games like Wolfenstein 3D now look—and found their basic “find key, open door, shoot bad guys” gameplay cathartic.

Sometimes the gameplay alone is enough. It’s not like anybody really cares why those stupid birds are so angry at the pigs. Nobody plays Angry Birds just to resolve the story. And I’ll gladly stack up those Tetris blocks for hours on end. Minor, if inconsequential, achievements can further extend the draw of the gameplay: you’ll play longer just to get 3 stars on every Cut The Rope level or to finishDoom with 100 percent secrets, 100 percent kills (which, back in the day, I totally did for the shareware Doom).

The speedrun subculture takes this to an extreme, constructing a whole metagame of its own that’s then applied to a wide range of games, both old and new.

This kind of simplicity doesn’t make these games bad. They can provide plenty of enjoyment, and they can be carefully honed, stripped down experiences that perfectly showcase a particular kind of gameplay. Many still admire, for example, Quake III Arena as the crowning achievement in the development of twitch shooters.

It does, however, mark the games as being in some ways primitive. We criticize movies when they appear to have no greater purpose than showing off some piece of technology, often dismissing things like 3D or shooting at 48 frames per second as mere gimmicks rather than tools that can be used to help convey a story or deliver a message. Yet many games are still stuck at this level of development, offering little more depth than L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, and they tend to be allowed to get away with it.

Just as I don’t want every film to be as simplistic as a Jason Statham masterpiece (cruelly overlooked by the Academy though he may be) I don’t want every game to be Doom. I want games that offer me more than gawping at a fancy engine and running around blasting people. I want something more than a train pulling into a station.

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