LB: At Last! A Question I Can Answer!

Glad You Asked Department 8/17/16
by Larry Brody

question_ditkoRegular visitors to TVWriter™ may remember that once upon a time I promised to answer TV and film writing and production questions on a regular basis and that I tried but, well, erm…

My promise kinda fizzled out in the Summer of 2013.

That’s three years ago, I know. Three years of hanging my head and going, “Oy…oy…Oy…!

Three years of guilt!

Angst!

Despair!

Today, however, I’m filled with Q and A joy because last week I was asked a question about something that has bugged the hell out of me for years. To be more specific, what’s been bugging the hell out of me is the answer, which I’ve known and understood and have had no reason to ever tell anyone.

So it’s with a smile on my face, a song in my heart, and a new sense of old purpose, that I take advantage of the situation and share with you, the TVWriter™ Crew, the following email exchange:

First, the query, from JW:

Hi:

I’m writing a short article for Maclean’s magazine…about “Macgyver,” and I was wondering if you would be able to comment for it.

What I wanted to ask about is why you think the TV subgenre of the action show – as opposed to mystery shows that don’t have as much stunt work or chases – seemed to become less prevalent since the 1990s. Were there any reasons – in terms of the costs or who watched these shows – given as to why they were harder to sell?

Let me know if you can help or if you need more information about the article. I have to file it by Friday.

I’m proud to say that I responded well before Friday, and I encourage Maclean’s Magazine readers everywhere to keep an eye out for JM’s article (which may already be out. Dammit, why don’t I know?”).

Of course, after Friday had passed, I found myself thinking about the issue again and – of course – coming up with a much more complex reply, because that’s what people do, right? JW already has what I wrote. Here’s my revised draft, featuring what I should have written:

Thanks for contacting me, JW.

In a nutshell, the reason for fewer action shows is indeed financial. The various action shows I produced all had significant budget deficits and problems, mostly caused because all the action necessitated at least one and more often two days of second unit filming per episode, which means having a second film crew, a second director – usually the stunt coordinator – various stunt people and duplicate vehicles, extra insurance, permits, permissions, security, and more.

Add to that the fact that for some strange reason second unit filming always seemed to go into overtime, adding to the expense even more. The studio suits always thought it was the stunt crew taking advantage of the lack of supervision of most second unit shoots (because there simply was no one around to perform that task), but I’ve never bought into that POV. The way I see it, choreographing and shooting and reshooting and adjusting and re-reshooting are absolutely necessary as well as, yes, time-consuming as all hell.

In the ’80s, on THE FALL GUY, we estimated that the action sequences were adding another 20% to our total working budget for the series and started looking for less $$$-gobbling alternatives. One of them was to buy previously unseen stunt footage shot for major films (think various productions of James Bond) but cut out before the final release. We would put our stars into matching costumes and behind the steering wheels of matching vehicles, roll ’em out of frame, and let movie magic take its course.

It worked for awhile, but I felt like we were cheating the audience, and the stunt co-ordinator was inconsolable. Moping around, weeping a bit now and then, threatening my family, you know how men of action get when they don’t have enough to do, so the bought footage experiment didn’t last all that long and soon we were back on the ever-sharpening edge of fiscal disaster.

An edge that today is skirted by watching lab work and autopsies instead of careening vehicles and monstrous explosions. (Oh, and the stunt co-ordinator didn’t really threaten my family. But I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had.

And that’s it. This was fun for me to write, and I hope equally enjoyable (as well as informative) to read. Now let’s all send out good energy and clap our hands for Tinkerbelle – and for yours truly finding the time and space to address things like before another three years zoom by.

As this department used to say – and, I hope, will again, “My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. But I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!”

Do Ren and Stimpy Kick Mickey Mouse Butt?

Mike Gold, head honcho at ComicMix.Com, thinks so, and he’s concerned about it being a very unpopular opinion. But an informal poll of TVWriter™ minions showed that every single one of us was on Mr. Gold’s side.

Man, Big Old Media ain’t what it used to be, is it? Or has this always been The Truth No Body Dare Utter?

In other words – it’s a whole new world of creativity and criticism, boys and girls. And it’s giving us chills:

Mickey-Toon

Mike Gold, Mickey Mouse, and Ren & Stimpy’s DNA
by Mike Gold

Listen up. I’m going to tell you a horrible, horrible secret. And it’s about me!

I really don’t care for most Disney animation. The earliest black and white stuff is fun, and there are a few shorts here and there that I enjoy. The features? Not as many. Alice in Wonderland… that’s about it. As Craig Ferguson might ask, “how long have you been in ISIS?”

Disney comics is a totally different thing. Every time I’m forced to list my all-time favorite comics creators, Floyd Gotfriedson and Carl Barks are always on that list. Gotfriedson’s Mickey Mouse newspaper strip brought depth and characterization to the popular rodent. His adventures were trulyadventures, full of wit and charm, brilliant craftsmanship, on-the-button pacing, and heart. Lucky for us, our pals at Fantagraphics have been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.

Carl Barks was the master behind Disney’s Donald Duck family of comics, published by Dell and later Gold Key. You’ve probably heard of him: he’s one of the very, very few Disney comics creators who’s adapted work was screen-credited, in Duck Tales. Unca Carl created Uncle Scrooge, the Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell, and a great many other pillars of the Disneyverse. His comics are that good; even better. You will often hear geriatric baby boomers mentioning Barks in the same breath as Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. Here, too, Fantagraphics been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.

Read it all at Comic Mix

Empty Promises: My experience submitting scripts to Amazon Studios

LB’S UPDATE 4/15/18: Looks like Amazon has thrown in the towel on even pretending to be considering work from newbies. Here’s part of an email on the subject that I got yesterday:

Hi Larry,

As we have grown and evolved over the last several years, we are making changes to our website and closing our open call for script and concept submissions. As of April 13, 2018, we are no longer accepting submissions. Submissions received will continue to be reviewed and evaluated by Amazon Studios and will be available on our website until June 30, 2018. Thank you all for your contributions.

Amazon Studios Team

And now, on with the original post:


empty promises

by Lew Ritter

For those of you who have dreams of writing the great American screenplay, getting scripts into the hands of agents/managers can be a daunting challenge. Unless you win prominent screenwriting contests or get a referral from a known Hollywood contact, most agents or managers are simply not interested in reading your work.

The rise of the Internet has led to the creation of several websites where new and inexperienced writers can post their screenplays. Inspired by the success of Netflix, Amazon.com was looking to enter the movie business and established Amazon Studios to produce movies under the Amazon brand.

Imagine my excitement learning that newbies like myself could post scripts on the Amazon Studios website. They offered a forty five day evaluation period for your script. If they liked it, they claimed they would be willing to pay a fee to keep it posted on the site. It sounded like a good deal. Perhaps lightening would strike.

Enter John Brown

My first screenwriting project was a historical drama about the infamous 19th Century Abolitionist, John Brown. It was based on a book entitled “To Purge this Land with Blood.” written by Stephen B. Oates, a noted civil War Historian. Brown was the leader of the anti-slavery raid at Harper’s Ferry. It ignited the American Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history.

When I contacted Professor Oates, he was delighted that someone was interested in trying to make a movie about Brown and the Abolitionist movement. In the past, he had received overtures for a movie about Clara Barton, a Civil War nurse, but nothing ever materialized.

I thought that it might be the subject of a very provocative feature film. In the late 90’s, I had watched several historical movies on the TNT Network about Teddy Roosevelt and San Juan Hill and the San Patricio battalion. a group of Irishmen who fought for Mexico during the Mexican War of 1846. I hoped that television or movies might be receptive for this material.

Not surprisingly, I discovered later that wasn’t the case. Hollywood considered historical movies too expensive and the market for them too limited. Lincoln was a rare exception because director Stephen Spielberg was the driving creative force. The average movie goer is fourteen to thirty years old and wants to see the latest version of a comic book character, not historical docudramas.

I decided to tempt fate by placing the script on the Amazon website, where Amazon provides a method for adding graphic images to help promote your script. It also gives you the option of keeping the script private or public. Making a script public allowed readers on the site to read and comment.

I had read a number of submissions on the site. Some of the ideas weren’t bad. One of them envisioned Ben Franklin as sort of a Revolutionary War James Bond fighting the British. Others lacked even the basics of screenwriting technique. I figured perhaps if my script made the cut, it might have a good chance of getting optioned or at least getting some money to be developed into a “Notable Project” or perhaps even land a spot on the “Development Slate.”

After forty five days, the evaluation period was over and I received a simple, terse email stating that they were not interested in the script. There was no reason given. Short and brutally to the point.

Disheartened, I submitted the script to another Internet website called Junto Box Films. It was a website run by veteran actor Forest Whittaker, who allegedly was looking for material. Again, there was no fee or charge to place the script on the site. You were allowed to have others follow your project. If a lot of people appeared to follow the script, it might generate interest in the project. I even received several emails from other writers there suggesting that if I supported their project, they would reciprocate and support my script. A sort of screenwriters Quid Pro Quo that struck me as ethically challenged.

I read some of the scripts on Junto Box. One was about kids living in a ghetto housing project. I read the first twenty or so pages. One of the characters was killed right at the beginning of the script. I sent the author a suggestion in an email. I suggested that it made sense that the murdered victim be a friend of the main character. I received a terse reply that the death had no relation to the main character. Why do that? No relation to the story? This was a mistake from Screenwriting 101.

At the end of the forty five days evaluation period, I received another Dear John email that the material did not match their current development needs. I realized that perhaps John Brown deserved to be put back in the filing cabinet for another day. The script needed more work to turn the script into a viable spec script.

Conclusion

My big disappointment isn’t that I haven’t scored on the sites, it is that none of the projects I’ve seen featured on them appeared to be the work of an amateur AKA unknown writer. And the TV series and features promoted prominently on Amazon all appear to be the work of established writers. Perhaps, as Amazon Studios expands and starts to produce major film releases, several of these amateur projects will be perceived as viable and become more visable.

I have the feeling that although there is always the possibility that lightning will strike, most Hollywood executives don’t have the time or energy to go diving into the shallow end of the script pool searching for the rare gem. Despite the lure of the Internet, what show business often refers to as “the money” seems dedicated to following the time-honored path of sticking with known creators, lovers, and friends of the family.

 


Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Is Self-Knowledge the Key to Becoming More Creative?

Why of course it is. Otherwise why would we ask?

personality types

by Adrienne Branson

Did you know that your personality might hold the key to your creative achievements?

A 2014 study published in The Journal of Creative Behavior looked into whether there were connections between personality, work process, and creativity.

The writers (Guillaume Furst, Paolo Ghisletta, and Todd Lubart) put forward that your personality predicts how you work, which predicts the level of your creative output and achievement.

So, how can you achieve more creatively?

Step One: What’s Your Personality Type?

The first step to boost your creative output (and achievement) is to identify your personality type according to these three ‘super factors’ identified in the study:

Plasticity defines the extrovert personality: marked by a drive to try new things, high levels of energy, and a constant stream of inspiration. Those who fall into this category seek new and exciting experiences. They can be highly creative because of their passion for exploration and risk taking.

Divergence defines the free thinkers and non-conformists. Those who fall into this category are impulsive and independent, hard to get along with at times, and uncaring of how others think of them. Divergence is strongly related to creativity because it creates in the person a drive to be different.

Convergence defines those who work persistently and precisely. They are ambitious, practical, good at evaluating ideas, and have high levels of energy.

So is your personality high on plasticity, divergence or convergence? You might not neatly fall into just one category, but one should be more dominant than the others.

Step Two: What’s Your Creative Work Process?

Step two in improving your creative output and your creative achievements is to identify your creative process, according to these two process types as identified in the study:

Generation, which involves coming up with new ideas (quantity — someone who has lots of ideas); and,

Selection, which involves narrowing down your ideas to their best version (quality — someone who has a few good ideas).

So, are you a generator or a selector?

The study found that those with high levels of plasticity and divergence, with their drive for new experiences, favor the generation process. They are very good at coming up with lots and lots of new ideas, but they might not all be the best ideas….

Read it all at Design School Canva Blog

Peggy Bechko’s World: “What do I need to Write?”

kneadingbread
Definitely not the kind of “need” Peggy’s talking about here, but we couldn’t resist!

by Peggy Bechko

What do I need to Write???

Hmm, an interesting question. One that needs a bit of context. Is that question on the literal, referring to the tools we need like pen and pencil or computer or is it more subjective as in atmosphere, surroundings or story elements?

For me, as a writer, the first impulse would be to say I need a good character to pop into my mind, someone who I can wrap a story around. So that would boil down to ideas. Ideas and characters that excite me and make ti so I can hardly wait to sit down at my desk and begin the process.

And along with those ideas I’d need to decide what my end game is. What medium would best suit those ideas? Will I focus on writing a novel? A screenplay? A Short story?

And, in what context do I want to present it? By that I mean does this idea and these characters lend themselves to Science Fiction? Romance? Comedy? Thriller? Paranormal? Some interesting combination?

Sometimes I contemplate these things separately and at other times they sort of congeal and come together all at once like jello with fruit setting up. (ack! I hate jello with fruit in it).

Whatever.

Once I’m there I can tell you the basic hardware/software kinds of tools I prefer.

First is my office. I love my office. It’s a place to relax, to create and it took me a number of years to be able to have the space I wanted, the privacy and the furnishings (i.e. desk, chair, etc.) that I wanted, the way I wanted them. Now it’s heaven.

Next is my computer. Yep, I just got a new one. It’s a PC. It has a nice large screen, is an all in one so I don’t have all the clutter on my desk and it works great. Figure I’m good for years now. And just as important is my portable hard drive I use to back up. I’m absolutely, insanely, passionate about backing up frequently while I write. It’s programmed with an automatic backup. And, I back up once more at the end of a writing session. I also unplug it and hide it away when I’m out of the house. We’ve had a couple of break-ins over the years and I’m not risking losing it. Folks tell me I should use the cloud, but that’s not where I place my trust. Don’t judge. Well, okay, you can judge, but I don’t want to hear about it.

I’d like to have a voice recorder and I keep intending to get myself one but I keep forgetting. Maybe that means I don’t need one?

Software is next. Basic Word does it for my novel writing and prep when I want to self-publish something. Formatting works well. Again, I have people telling me I should check out Scrivener and I might if I ever get enough time between projects for a learning curve and to download the free test version. For now. No.

For Screenwriting I use Movie Magic Screenwriter most of the time and as a back-up I have an account with Adobe Story https://story.adobe.com/en-us/index.html I’ve used it to change formats a few times. Don’t get there very often so I hope they remember me.

I do have some software I use when creating illustrations for kids books and comic books, but we’re talking about sheer writing here, so let your imagination run wild.

My dogs. Yep, my dogs. When I settle in to write for a few hours my three dogs are scattered around the room. Briget the very insecure heeler/whippet mix usually tucks herself in a corner and tries to pretend she’s invisible. Buddy, tender little soul, snuggles into a bed at my feet and Hans kid of spills out of a bed behind my chair. I’m surrounded by doggie love and I’d miss that comforting presence if it wasn’t there.

Only other thing I might need is a Krispy Kreme donut, but unfortunately though a store opened here locally not too long ago, it’s all the way across town and I’m not about to get out of my comfy writing clothes to jump in the car and drive across town to get one. So that’s not happening. Probably for the best.

In conclusion I’d love to hear about what you need (or think you need) to write. It’s amazing how little we can get by with actually, but there are some things we just can’t do without. Spill it, fellow writers, what do you NEED to write?


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and don’t forget Peggy’s wonderful blog. Whew! Busy woman!