Angelo Bell: First Impressions of the Lousy Kind

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by Angelo Bell, Writer, Producer

Like most writers, I am a lousy at proofing my own work. I am far too familiar with it to realize that I’ve skipped a letter, or a word. Often my brain finishes sentences that are incomplete on the page. Like the old saying goes, “I do my best proofing after I’ve hit the send button.” Oops.

I had a wake up call today. I’ve been working with an EP who has consistently shown interest in a project that is destined for a bigger budget. I tried to keep the budget in the low seven figures range in order to keep myself attached as director. However, she rightfully acknowledged and suggested that I put aside that pipe dream, step into the producer’s arena and pump up the budget to mid-eight figures. As someone who’s been working with budget in the micro- and low-budget range, I didn’t require a lot of convincing.

Like any smart producer, I suggested that my contact also take a look at a script for a possible made-for-TV project. Silly me. I knew that the script had undergone several major rewrites and hadn’t been given a take-no-prisoners proofing. My big budget feature film project had undergone rigorous critiques and spelling checks. I was 99% confident that it was flawless. I wasn’t so sure about the MOW. Still, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get two scripts into her hands.

I kicked myself when the EP responded within a day saying, “Good story but can see it’ll need another pass before it’s ready – typos, spellos, dropped sentences, etc.” Ugh! I was mortified. In the back of my mind I screamed, “Why didn’t she read the perfect script first?” But, I knew the truth. It was my fault. I blew my opportunity to make a powerful first impression with my writing. I was lazy. If I’d just gotten another pair of eyes on the script, it would have been ten times better. Now, I was looking at a rejection, a potential rewrite and a potentially unfavorable review of my feature film project.

A good first impression is as close to perfection as we’ll ever get. A poor first impression means you didn’t live up to your potential. It still sucks but it’s one step above offending the poor woman’s sensibilities, as happens during a bad first impression. Understanding this compelled me to make a vow. No work ever leaves my hands (or my sent email folder) without being 100% pristine.

There will be no more errors, no more regrets, no missed opportunities, no fright after realizing the first scene on the first page has three typos. I love writing, and I hate proofing. Unfortunately, proofing is a necessary evil in this business of writing for our supper.

Write good.

The Dresden Files & The Dresden Files…Oh & More Dresden Files

We love THE DRESDEN FILES. Which version? Oh no, that would be telling.

(Hint: Not the books. We find them predictable and lacking, um, the wow factor. Yeah, that’s it. No wow.)

Whitten Art 130219 Emily S. Whitten The Dresden Files and The Dresden Filesby Emily S. Whitten

For Christmas this year one of the books I got wasThe Dresden Files graphic novel, Welcome to the Jungle. By that point, I’d read all of the novels; but what got me into them was actually the TV show.

When the show came out back in 2007, I remember hearing vaguely about it via a friend’s blog or two, but I never actually saw it. Thanks to the wonder of Netflix, though, a couple of years ago I discovered and watched it on streaming video, and enjoyed it enough to want to see more – but sadly, it only ran for one short season of 12 episodes. Thus I went back to acquire and read all of the books as well; and now, of course, I want more.

The TV show adaptation wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot of positives, the first three being Paul Blackthorne as Harry, Valerie Cruz as Murphy, and Terrence Mann as Bob. All three actors did very well with the material they were given, and just as important, had excellent character chemistry with each other. Their acting made the friendships (and possibly more, in the case of Harry and Murphy) feel natural, and anchored the crazy storylines happening all around them.

Another thing it had going for it was that Paul Blackthorne has the acting chops to carry a humorous narrative voice-over without it getting tedious (and I am behind on the current episodes, but for an example of When Voice-overs Get Tedious, the first several episodes of Arrow unfortunately come to mind). Blackthorne (who is also on Arrow, funnily enough) kept the energy of the show going with his engaging portrayal of Harry Dresden, much of which felt like it came straight from the books. The writing was also fast-paced and fun.

One area where the show went wrong, I think (or, more accurately, didn’t go right far enough) was in whatever concessions it made to watering down the lore of the books for primetime. Granted, it seems that genre shows and movies have gained more mainstream acceptance in recent years (comic book movies and shows like The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, True Blood, etc.), and in 2007 maybe a genre show was a harder network sell and required some compromise (I don’t know), but I firmly believe that any time you tell a story well, and can draw the viewer in, the viewer will be able to handle and possibly embrace the complexity. And despite my dislike of some of Harry’s tiresome views on women, and the blatant male gaze readers are forced to sit through on occasion (particularly in the early books), The Dresden Files books are good, smart, complex stories, and should be adapted as such.

As I said, the TV show only lasted one season – and whether it was from creative choice or Firefly Syndrome (network meddling), it didn’t delve into or only briefly touched on a lot of the cool things that anchor and drive the direction of the books, like Harry’s past and progression in magic, or his place on the Council of wizards, or just how good he really is at magic and how that looks to outsiders.

I think one reason it just slightly missed sometimes was in this “not going far enough,” so to speak – because, for example, part of the charm of Harry is that he’s humble enough to know there are more powerful things than him out there and to be properly frightened of them 90% of the time; but whenever we see him through others’ eyes or whenever he really gets going with his magic…we the viewers get a glimpse of the discrepancy between Harry’s inner uncertainties and his bombastic power. And that can be a lot of fun, but was only shown rarely in the show.

For much the same reason that I enjoy, e.g. an episode of Supernatural where the FBI agent hunting the Winchesters because he thinks they’re nuts finally discovers that, in fact, demons and all manner of other creepy creatures are real, I enjoy stories that switch up characters’ points of view and give us different takes on the same situation, and particularly stories that shake up our, or a character’s, inaccurate assumptions. Reading about Harry dealing with Murph and trying to pay the bills and inner monologuing about how he’s not sure how he’ll make some spell work and all, and then e.g., going out and burning a house party full of vampires like it was no big thing, is that sort of story.

I say all of this to come back to the fact that last week I finally read Welcome to the Jungle, which is a visual adaptation that does well in this regard, and it reminded me of the times the show got it right, and of how much I’d really like to see more of The Dresden Files on television, or if not on TV, then in more graphic novels. Jim Butcher has said himself that he’s always imagined the series in graphic form. Despite the fact that I loved Blackthorne as Harry, I doubt a network would try to revive the old show. However, I could easily see a new adaptation being done; and I think if it, from the beginning, didn’t shy away from the more complex stuff, and embraced the big special effects as well as the small, it would be a truly awesome thing. I know that a new show is probably not likely to happen…but hey, a girl can dream, eh? So this is me, just dreaming a little dream at y’all. Anyone else think a new Dresden Files TV show would be cool?

Tell me if you do, and until next time, Servo Lectio!

Another Thing Being in the WGA is Good For

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Katherine Fugate! Josh Olson! Ooh, we feel like we know them (cuz, hey, LB does…which reminds us, why won’t you introduce us, Guv?)

Anyway, this looks like a very worthwhile activity. Looking forward to seeing you there.

RIP Gerry Day

Gerry Day was one of the greats of television writing, with a career that spanned almost the entire existence of the TV industry. Almost all of us writing and reading this have seen something she wrote – because she wrote a helluva lot and it was all good stuff.

Most television sites on the web have overlooked Gerry’s passing. Stephen Bowie’s Classic TV History Blog did not, and for that we should all be glad:

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Obituary: Gerry Day (1922-2013)
by Stephen Bowie

Her father played the organ to accompany the silent The Phantom of the Opera at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.  She watched Howard Hughes filming miniature dogfights for Hell’s Angels in a lot behind her house.  The “big sister” who showed her around campus when she started at Hollywood High was Lana Turner.  Orson Welles hypnotized her in his magic act at the Hollywood Canteen.  Gerry Day, native daughter of Los Angeles, child of Hollywood, and a fan who parlayed her love of the movies into a career as a radio and television writer,died on February 13 at the age of 91.

A 1944 UCLA graduate, Day got her start as a newspaper reporter, filing obits and reviewing plays for the Hollywood Citizen News.  A radio writing class led to spec scripts, and Day quickly became swamped with assignments for local Los Angeles programs: The First NighterSkippy Hollywood TheaterTheater of Famous Players.  The transition to television was natural, and Day became a regular contributor to the half-hour anthologies that tried, anemically, to ape the exciting dramatic work being done live in New York.  Frank Wisbar, the expatriate German director, taught her how to write teleplays for his Fireside Theater, and then Day moved over to Ford Theater at Screen Gems, working for producer Irving Starr.

A gap in her credits during the late fifties reflects a year knocking around Europe, drifting among movie folk.  Back in the States, Gerry’s mother was watching television, writing to her daughter that she’d like these new horse operas that had sprung up: RawhideHave Gun Will TravelWagon Train.  Ruthy Day meant that her daughter would enjoy watching them, but of course Gerry ended up writing them instead.

Read it all

John Ostrander: Telling Secrets

…Cuz that’s what good writers do.

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by John Ostrander

Everyone has secrets. The thing is, secrets want to be told. The level of intimacy we have with another person is reflected by the number of secrets we share with them.

There are many different levels of secrets. Some would seem mundane – your name, for example. Unless you’re wearing a name tag, a stranger won’t know it. You have to choose to share it and there are occasions when you wouldn’t or would only give your first name or maybe even a name that isn’t your own. In the latest Star Trek film, Uhura doesn’t give James T. Kirk her full name. In the same movie, a young and defiant James Tiberius Kirk gives a police officer (policebot?) his full name. Both are choices that say something of the character.

There are other levels of secrets, some mundane, some deeper. Boy meets girl. Boy wants girl’s phone number (or vice versa). At the moment the question is asked, the answer is a secret. A decision is made to share it or not. I have known many ladies not always eager to share that phone number with me and some with whom I did not want to share mine. Sometimes you can tell crazy pretty quick.

There are deeper levels of secrets. Your address, are you in a relationship, your social security number, your password on different sites. There are secrets you share with your friends but maybe not your family and vice versa. There are secrets you share only with your best friends or with that one special person. There are secrets you share with no one, keeping them to yourself. There are secrets, truths about you, that you keep even from yourself.

In writing, secrets can be powerful tools for creating and understanding a character. There are all kinds of secrets, great and small, that will help you define the character for yourself and your readers.

Secrets can also define the plot. Who does a character choose to tell what secret and when? Most important, was it as good idea? We have all chosen to share something with someone and it turned out to be a bad idea. If that’s true for you, it’s true for your character. Ever hear something that you labeled TMI – Too Much Information? The character being told the secret may have the same reaction. How do you feel when you’ve told a secret and turned out to be TMI for the person hearing it? Awkward? Embarrassed? Or were you oblivious to it?

The reverse can be true as well. Should a secret have been told at a given moment and wasn’t? What effect does that have on the characters and the plot? What opportunities may have been missed? We all know moments like that in our own lives; what is true for us should also be true for our characters.

Why was the secret told or not told? Why was that moment chosen to tell or not tell? What was the character trying to get or achieve by telling it? Why did they not choose to tell a secret at the right moment? Fear? Fear of what? These all define a character.

Was telling the secret to a given person/character a good idea? Again, think of your own life. Did you ever share something with someone and later wished you hadn’t? When reading a story or watching a movie or TV show or a play, did you even hear a character tell a secret to another character and wince, knowing it was a bad idea even if the character didn’t yet know it?

There’s also telling someone else’s secret. Sometimes it’s a betrayal; sometimes it’s necessity. Which is it and, again, why did the character choose to share that secret at that moment and with whom? Why would you?

In writing, in life, secrets tell us a lot about someone. Knowing them is powerful. We never, however, can or should know all the secrets of a person or a character. As writer, I often know more about the character than I share with a reader. There should always be a bit of mystery, a secret not yet shared hiding within us, within the character.

It comes down to trust. You have to trust in order to share. Sometimes that trust is misplaced and sometimes it’s not. All that drives story – our own or in the stories we create.

John Ostrander knows more about writing for just about every medium than anybody we know. We love being able to bring you his thoughts. (Okay, John? That work for you? Uh-oh, he’s going to critique our writing now, isn’t he? Damn.)