Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 2/22/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are

  • George R.R. Martin (GAME OF THRONES) has signed an overall deal with HBO to continue on THRONES and also develop and produce new series. (We admit it. We love this guy. Everything he writes perfectly justifies our, you know, paranoia worldview.)
  • Want to write an animated TV series based on FarmVille? (We didn’t think so, but if you do, have your peeps get in touch with Brett Ratner’s peeps cuz he’s all gung-ho about such a project and doesn’t have a writer – or network – for it yet.)
  • Justin Herber & Adam Hoff (no credits, which is cool) are writing the pilot for THE EDGE, a thriller type drama about dark goings-on at a hot financial institution for USA. (Music legend John Legend looks like the guy who made the deal…but he doesn’t have any TV credits either, does he?)
  • Frank Spotnitz (THE X-FILES) is adapting Philip K. Dick’s muy heavy novel The Man in the High Castle into a Syfy TV film. (We know Frank’s a Big Writing Gun, but how do you get good science fiction past the Syfy Gateskeepers of Crap? Even with Ridley Scott on board to produce?)

LB: A Few Words from the Man Who Taught Me How to Write for TV

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I moved to L.A. in the spring of 1968. I was 23 years old, had had half a dozen short stories published in various science fiction and fantasy magazines, a deal with Ace Books for a science fiction novel, and so many hopes and dreams that my heart pounded excitedly all day and all night, no matter what my body was – or wasn’t – doing.

My first deal in L.A. was with a production company headquartered at MGM. The late and legendary Sam Katzman (he may not have been great, but he sure as hell was fascinating), read the only spec script I’ve ever written in my life and promptly optioned a TV series idea I’d written up. Even better, the same deal made me the co-writer of a feature film he was planning. I would be working with the writer-director,  Arthur Dreifuss, on the script.

I’d been in sunny Southern California for all of 3 months.

Arthur already had written a detailed outline. I did all the writing on the screenplay. It took 3 weeks, after which I joined the WGAw, sat back, and said, “Now what?”

“Now you go to work in television,” my agent, Silvia Hirsch (of the William Morris Agency) told me, and she set up a shitload of meetings with television people who never would have looked in my direction if I hadn’t already had the film under my belt.

The first of the TV people to hire me (although far from the first to meet with me) was Bill Blinn. Bill was 7 years older than I was and at the time was the entire writing staff of a series called HERE COME THE BRIDES. He wasn’t the only writer for the show, just the only one who got a weekly salary. Everyone else was freelance, chosen by the producers and Bill.

And, that summer, Bill and the producers chose me. My first assignment never made it into teleplay. I was cut off at story, for which I was paid 1/3 of the total fee. My second assignment went better. I wrote the story and 2 drafts, and it went on the air to great applause at the then quite small Brody household.

I stopped clapping pretty early on, though, and when the show was over I barely recognized it. The shape of the tale was the same, but not one line of dialog was mine. It was all Bill’s. If I said I despaired, I’d be lying. Larry Brody didn’t work that way in those days. Instead I was just plain pissed off. Hated the show. Hated my agent for putting me together with it.

Most of all I hated Bill Blinn. Hell, why not? He must have hated me too, right? Or my work, which to me in those days was the same thing. Why else would he have rewritten it?

For the next week I stayed awake nights engineering gruesome deaths for Mr. Blinn.

And then he called me and asked me to write another episode. Actually, he said, “you’ll be rewriting it. We bought it from our production supervisor. He’s a good production supervisor, but he’s not a writer. You are, though, so what do you say?”

What could I say? Bill was asking me to rewrite someone else because he didn’t have the time to himself. He loved my work after all! He loved me! Of course I took the gig…

And when I was done, Bill told me how much he liked the rewrite. And then instead of rewriting all of my version, he rewrote most of it and put it on the air.

Over the years, Bill went on to create, write, story edit, or produce a ton of television, including THE INTERNS, THE NEW LAND, THE ROOKIES, STARSKY AND HUTCH, EIGHT IS ENOUGH, FAME, and PENNSACOLA. He also wrote and supervised the writing of a little miniseries called ROOTS, and wrote the original version of BRIAN’S SONG. Oh, and the Prince film, PURPLE RAIN. Along the way, he won the Humanitas Prize for ROOTS, the Writers Guild Award for THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Emmys for BRIAN’S SONG and ROOTS, the Peabody Award for BRIAN’S SONG, and the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement for his whole damn career.

I worked on several of the above projects with my distinguished friend, but then I started getting my own story editor and producer gigs and moved on, to a place not quite as distinguished as his, but hell, I liked where I was…and knew I wouldn’t have been there without him.

See, the way Bill taught me was by not even trying to teach me. By treating me the way he would treat any other “good writer.” The way he saw it, he could fix mistake another good writer made, and as soon as I realized that I was able to learn from what he did. I’d see the changes he had made, character, dialog, and storywise, in my work, in each script. And I’d look closer and think and think and think until I figured out why he made those changes.

And the next time I wrote anything for him I’d make sure he wouldn’t have to make any of the same kinds of changes again. It became a kind of game (a death match, maybe, because he still pissed me off) for me to anticipate what Bill would do in any one scene and head him off by going that way by myself. After a few years, I didn’t have to deliberately second-guess him anymore. Thinking the way he did just became natural. It became the way I thought as well.

I really enjoyed working with him toward the end there, before I started producing. Because it felt so good to no longer be angry. To be able to relax and let what I’d learned flow out my fingers to the keys.

Which brings us to the main part of this post, all the above merely being an introduction to the following video interview in which a fine writer and even finer man gives us some insight into both those elements of his being.

PAPERMAN

An Oscar nominated short, available legally. Who’d a’thunk?

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This is the kind of animation that starts some people thinking, “What do we need writers for?” because there’s no real dialog.

But it took a writer to come up with the story, beat by beat, physically and emotionally moving moment by moment. So hat’s off to writers Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer.

And, yeah, director John Kahrs did a pretty damn fine job here too.

In Their Own Writ Dept – Writers on Writing 2/21/13

You have to write because you love to. If I’d put all the time and love and devotion I put into writing into being a plumbing contractor, I would have made a ton more money.

Calvin Clements, Jr.

(Check out Cal’s entry at IMDB)

Do Good Writing Skills = Good Writing?

Our friend Theresa Wiza has been writing about things other than writing recently (can you imagine that?), but we found this post of hers at WritingCreatively.Org that sings to us oh-so sweetly:

snoopy-good-writing-is-hard-work

by Theresa Wiza

Recently I was forced to ask myself this question: Do good writing skills equal good writing? What prompted the question was a blog I read from a writer who reached into my soul and tugged at my heart so completely, I found myself immersed in the spirit of her words. Because of her writing, I began to notice the emotional impact of other writers and of myself.

For so many years, I had been concentrating on perfecting the art of writing to the point where I had put myself on a pedestal of sorts, basking in the knowledge that I had the best instructors guide me along this path. Don’t get me wrong – I make mistakes – lots of them, but sometimes I think I depend so much on the technique of writing that I ignore the heart of writing.

I remember when the Beatles first came out. I was in grammar school when more than one teacher mentioned the improper English spoken by the Fab Four. Yes, I noticed. Ever the perfectionist even then, I noticed that their subjects and verbs didn’t always agree. But did it matter? Not in the least. The strong emotional connection I felt with the Beatles and their music was enough. It was more than enough. At the time it was nearly everything.

Several years ago I met a man whose life revolved around his guitar playing. He wanted me to write his biography and in it he wanted me to call him a “Guitar God.” I refused, and not because his guitar playing didn’t rival that of even the best guitarists – it did – the man was technically perfect.

But he was missing something. Though he could imitate Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, and other “guitar gods” with perfection, he somehow missed that soul connection with his audience. With mechanical perfection and timing, he wowed other guitarists and audiences with his technical precision. But he couldn’t pick the heartstrings of his listeners.

I see that same problem with writers. Technically perfect in their presentation, they concentrate so much on the mechanics of writing that they can’t connect with an audience. Maybe we have all been guilty of that practice at times. I know I have been.

Like the woman who wrote the blog that touched me in so many ways, writers want that kind of connection with their readers. We want to engage our audience in powerful ways. We want our readers (or viewers in the case of movies and television shows) to laugh, to cry, to FEEL.

As with any art form, the artist strives for perfection, but the perception of the recipient is what matters most. Maybe we don’t need that perfect voice, just the one that resonates with our readers and our viewers. Writers who manage to touch us in those ways have that magical quality of reaching right through us where they either tickle our funny bones, ignite us with passion, or pull on our hearts so hard they pull the tears right out of our eyes.

And that’s when the magic happens.