Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie, Chapter 7 – Four Bad Things

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by Leesa Dean

This has been a crazy week.  A lot of ups and downs. Did four really awesome podcasts and radio shows (thank you Surfing AliensGeek Supremacy ProjectWide Open Radio After Dark and Comedy Girls!!)  Also have some potentially really exciting news that I’ll share sometime soon.  But one thing in particular stood out.  I was contacted by a large online network.  They said they loved my work and wanted me to drop what I was doing to animate (and help develop)  a series for one of their top stars.  Sounds exciting?  Not really.  What they offered in terms of compensation was, let’s just say this–I’d make more money being a Walmart greeter.  With that in mind, this week I decided to put together this list:

FOUR BAD THINGS YOU’LL PROBABLY EXPERIENCE WHILE LAUNCHING YOUR FIRST WEB SERIES:

1) You will hear from psychos. Case Study: The Satan Lady. I posted the latest Lele Episode, Pimp Logic, on Google +. A woman who apparently didn’t realize I was mocking pimp logic commented and called me “Satan!” But she misspelled it and wrote, “Go way, SATIN!!!” I considered responding, “Satan, Satin, Satan, Satin, let’s call the whole thing off” then realized hmmm, maybe she thought I *was* a pimp and “Satin” was my pimp name. #ThingsI’llNeverKnow.

2) You will have people enter (what I call) “The Vortex”, a metaphorical tunnel where everyone’s there to do just one simple thing: NOT RETURN YOUR CALLS. Sometimes it has to do with them being bombarded with a ton of stuff and you’re low on the food chain. Sometimes it’s cause they have bad time management skills. And sometimes it’s because they think your project sucks, you suck or a zesty melange of both!  FYI, you’ll ALWAYS think it’s the latter. Which brings me to:

3) You will start seeing the upside of being an alcoholic. Note: this applies even if you don’t drink.

And finally,

4) You will go through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, Web Series style:
• Denial (“All I have to do is put my show up on YouTube and it’ll instantly go viral!”)
• Anger (“When they said, ‘Just a dollar and a dream!’ I didn’t realize they were referring to what my actual compensation would be.”)
• Bargaining (“Yes, I will appear on your 30 minute podcast, Xylophones & Madrigals, and agree to a 45 minute phone ‘pre-interview’ where you grill me about what I’m gonna say on the show just so I can promote my hip-hop oriented web series to an audience of one: the host of Xylophones & Madrigals.”)
• Depression (“I was just on Xylophones & Madrigals.”)
• Acceptance (“Hi, I’m writing to book my second appearance on Xyophones & Madrigals.”)

Next week: more about Rollo and tales from the YouTube workshop!

Jared Reise: Game of Thrones: All-in-One and One for All

by Jared Reise

An HBO joint destined for its third season, and it hasn’t been cancelled?  It’s true!  Premiering March 31, the show succeeds not just because of stellar source material, an Emmy Award winning cast, and more good-looking folks getting naked than in Downton Abbey.  Plus, there’s some story happening there.  And a few dragons; they’re pretty good-looking too. 

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It’s an uncommon thing for me to actually catch the very first episode of a new television show when it first airs.  I think it has to do with the fear of falling in love too quickly, only to have my hopes dashed on the rocks when my beloved is cancelled mid-season.  When it came to Game of Thrones on HBO, it was an accident that I actually caught its debut almost two years ago.  Maybe it was slick marketing campaign promos that caught my eye, or word that the novels that it was based on kicked ass.  But probably more banal, it just happened to be on.

From the brilliant opening sequence to its heart-pounding ending in very episode, the collective fan base was hooked.  Based on George R.R. Martin’s novels (the first of which was written in 1996; A Song of Ice and Fire), HBO’s serialized Game of Thrones has apparently stayed as true to a best-selling and Hugo award winning book series as can be.  With the momentum it has, it’s hard to see a cancellation on the horizon.

If you haven’t seen it for whatever reason, it’s out there, and it’s not too late to catch up (the same could be said for Mad Men, and I have yet to see a full episode.  So that’s my homework; too many reruns of American Pickers and Finding Bigfoot getting in the way).  Thrones is one of the finest series crafted for television, with David Benioff (The Kite Runner) and D.B. Weiss (can this really be his only IMDB credit?) at the helm.   The logline is simple enough: “Seven families vie for control of the Iron Throne in order to rule the land of Westeros.”  What’s embedded within is a grounded fantasy element, political intrigue and solid characters delivering great lines.

Goblins and sorcery don’t pervade this world, but the magic exists on the periphery.  My Dungeons and Dragons sensibilities aren’t offended at this, even though there’s not an emporium in every citadel selling Fireball scrolls.  The lack of gratuity is a selling point, actually, allowing any fantastical reveal to be celebrated by the viewing audience (the end of the first season being a prime example, as there be dragons here).  I’m sure that HBO also appreciates the lack of a bloated special effects budget too; the remote locations are stunning enough in and of themselves (and probably costly enough).

Thrones is a steadfast reflection of the real world, where good is often punished and evil rewarded.   The amoral qualities that nearly the entire cast exhibits leave nobody’s hands clean.  Traditional ideas being turned on their ear is not exactly a new, but is able to navigate through some pretty gritty territory.  Taking sons and daughters hostage is par for the course in the pursuit of survival and that kickass throne.  The crafty Lannister clan practically has lies and deceit down to a science.  It helps that they’re the most dysfunctional in the Realm, and in more ways than one.  Just your typical “keeping it in the family”, if you know what I mean.  Oh, those Lannisters… the family we love to hate.

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Fan favorite Tyrion Lannister, played by Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, carries a full spectrum of brains, wit and a modest sense of decency.  He might have made a good field general, but there’s a limited market for the dwarf soldier.  Dinklage deserves all the accolades given thus far.  Instead of descending into a surface level quirky cynic, he embodies a weary character contending with a royal pain in the ass family.  His evolution continues in every episode we see him in.  The verbal sparring with sister Cersei (played by Lena Headey) offers up some of the best humor of the series (“You love your children. It’s your one redeeming quality. That and your cheekbones”).

As with most shows on paid programming, Game of Thrones offers up plenty of sex, violence and foul language.  These aren’t benevolent Tolkien elves we’re watching.  These people are killers, rapists and scoundrels.  However, there’s beauty in the grotesque.  I was reminded of this yesterday while watching a Season One marathon, as Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke) is used as a pawn by her brother Viserys, and given to Khal Drogo as a bride in exchange for promised soldiers to retake the Iron Throne (the family is reputedly descended from the dragons of old).  The apparently brutish Drogo mounts his new wife in a relatively loveless union, and her facial expression does not betray this fact.  Once she spies the valuable gift of petrified dragon eggs from the wedding, her demeanor changes, sensing something very special about them.  The burden is eased, for now, and there’s good reason to carry on.

So, at risk of sounding like a Zagat’s restaurant review, there’s something for everyone here.  I questioned keeping my HBO subscription after the recent loss of another fine show in Enlightened (no third season for that one), but dammit, I am a “Thronie”.    My voracious reading has come to a near standstill as of late, otherwise the book series itself might have sufficed.  But I feel that we are in another Golden Age of television, and there are some real diamonds in the rough (hiding behind Ted Nugent’s Hunting Show or Pimp My Whatever Something-Something).  Game of Thrones is one of them.

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Does AMC’s New Tag Line Mean “Story [Doesn’t] Matter” Anymore?

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AMC’s Former Logo

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AMC’s New Logo

So what’s the deal here? Does this mean story no longer matters? That AMC is going to be developing less scripted shows? Shows that are scripted, um, less well? Shows with more…more what, exactly?

The person responsible for approving, if not making, this change, is Linda Schupack, AMC’s Executive Vice President of Marketing, who told AdWeek.Com:

“It’s not a repositioning of our brand. It’s all meant to reflect a new, refined expression of what we are.”

She also put it another way:

“The idea is that we are ‘Something Innovative,’ ‘Something Engaging,’ ‘Something Immersive.’ All of which then rolls up to ‘Something More. Because the thing about this brand is, we are eclectic, we are not just one thing.”

In other words Ms. Schupack is clueless about what AMC is/does/stands for. Or so her imprecise, over-generalized, bullshit words seem to say.

We wonder if she’s the one who actually wrote the new slogan. Obviously, a writer didn’t come up with it. Because writers know how to use words to create phrases that, you know, mean something.

Which reminds us of an old LB television writing story. He was meeting with a producer of some show about a first draft he’d written for it. A producer who said he loved what LB had done. Except…

“Well, there’s just this one problem. Every scene here means something. We’ve got to change that, you know.”

Oh, well, like you (we’re sure), we can hardly wait for the new, innovative, immersive, engaging AMC.

Angelo Bell: Emergence of Imperfection in Storytelling

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by Angelo Bell

The beauty of telling a story with the written word is that you can always change it. You can improve upon the story if it lacks intrigue, you can make it more exciting, you can crank up the drama or ratchet down the sexiness. Whatever you want to do, you can do. A world of choices is available to you at the click of a keyboard key.

Most importantly — especially for the career-minded screenwriter — you can take this opportunity to fill in the plot holes. According to Wikipedia:

a plot hole, or plothole, is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot, or constitutes a blatant omission of relevant information regarding the plot.

Plot hole much? Sure you do. We all do. We’ve all done it. We’ve gone on a raging stream of consciousness writing frenzy with little regard for logic, sense, or the laws of physics. When we finally come up for air we look down at our magnum opus and realize that we never set the stage for our hero’s ability to fly, or shoot laser beams out of his eyes. We realize that we’ve never truly laid the proper foundation to reveal our hero is actually a woman in men’s clothing.

Give yourself a break. It’s impossible to think of everything at once, so what do we do? We scale down the possibilities, we reel in the net, we shorten the story. We may want to go big, but we end up going extra-large instead.

And it’s fine.

Screenwriting is a fluid and dynamic endeavor. Our stories evolve as we do. In March it’s a sci-fi fantasy, in June it’s a coming of age period drama, in December it’s an epic fantasy martial arts adventure.

In 2010 I cranked out two scripts in the month of October. The first one, Deterrence Theory has undergone many revolutions, evolutions, incarnations and SEAL incursions. I sit on it now, in its current state and I humbly call it, A Perfect Weapon. No, seriously. That’s the new title. For obvious and not so obvious reasons I changed it (see my blog post, “What’s in a name…“), and now with recent changes to the story and the filling in of plot holes, I believe it is a tighter, less imperfect story.

In fact, considering the recent option of one of my other screenplays (which shall be nameless) I’m happy to work day and night to get A Perfect Weapon ready for the first serious offer from Paramount, Universal, Focus Features or Revolution. Brooklyn Weaver? Call me, maybe?

John Ostrander: Written Connections

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by John Ostrander

Writing can be fun. Most of the time. Even writing for profit. Or writing for fun like I do here.

And some days, it’s not. You sit down with the best intentions and nothing happens or nothing good. Like this time. I’m in a bad mood, my cats are nagging me, I feel tired and everything I write seems like crap and probably is. However, the column is due and I’d better not go back to Casablancaagain. I told Mike I wouldn’t.

So I’m doing what I usually do. Sit down and type stuff and see if there’s anything useful in it.

I’m betting that, on some level, you know what I’m talking about. Doesn’t matter if it’s about writing. You’re trying to get something done and, for whatever reason, it’s just not working. It could be work, it could be a relationship, it could be just trying to fix something around the house – whatever, the fates are not aligned and it just doesn’t work and it’s frustrating as hell, isn’t it? We all know that feeling.

That’s what makes storytelling work, I think. We may not all have the exact same experiences but we know the feelings that come out of those experiences. Do I have to kill someone in order to know how a murderer might feel? Of course not. What I have to find in myself is how the murderer might feel in this given situation. Have you ever killed a fly? How did you feel about it? Most of us would feel nothing or might feel a bit of triumph or glee. It’s a pest that annoys you or it might be a threat that will bring some illness or lay eggs in your hamburger. (One of the reasons My Mary hates flies; that happened.) Different folks, different motivations.

Maybe that’s how the murderer feels about taking a human life. On the other hand, have you ever said or done something that you instantly regretted and knew you couldn’t take back? Hurt someone, perhaps ended a relationship beyond all possibility of revival? Maybe your murderer feels something like that.

As I write, I have to figure out what the character might feel and then find in myself some situation, some memory, some feeling that is similar and extrapolate from that. If I do that correctly, the reader will also – hopefully – find some feeling in themselves with which they can respond to the scene or the story and it will have greater impact.

It’s why so many men have the same reaction to the end of Field of Dreams that I get. It tears me up every time I watch it. (And, yes, I understand many women have the same reactions.) It’s about the complicated relationship between fathers and sons/daughters and what was, what might have been, what maybe could be.

Can you have stories without that? Sure. You can use a formula, you can connect the dots, and have something perfectly serviceable and even entertaining. You can make money doing that. The stories that stay with us, however, are the ones where we connect on some emotional level. I, as a writer, turn to the reader and ask, “Have you ever experienced something like this? Have you ever felt something like this?”

It’s the moments were that happens that a connection is made. It’s like flipping a light switch – the electricity flows, the connection is completed, and the lights come on. We share something together. We need that sharing – that empathy –to live with one another. We do that and we create something special – whether it’s a story or a civilization. One of my rules is that “Nothing that is human is alien to me” and when we deny that we deny our common humanity.

Huh. Look at that. Guess I found something to write about after all.