Friday, June 30, 2006

Superhero Video Games and Tentpole Movies We Will Be Spared

Cringe before The Tumbler! Boggle at Matter-Eater Lad! Salivate over King Kandy (and his Licorice Lariat)!

These losers join fellow third-string heroes and villains The Fantastic Fireworks Master, Stiltman (precariously balanced but lethal, apparently), and my favorite, The Hoopster, the Villain with 1000 Hoops, over at Stupor Powers.

Also making guest appearances in lameness are heroes we know and love, including Batman attempting to block bullets with his head and Supes himself, who among his lesser-known abilities has super-weaving, super-ventriloquism, and super-landscaping.

Super. Landscaping.

Check out Superdickery's other image galleries for more delights, including damning proof of Superman acting contrary to his boy scout PR.

The pages load pretty slow thanks to the graphics, but are so so worth it. Be sure to read the commentary.

In other news, I went to a fascinating WGA event last night, sort of speed-dating with TV development execs (but emphatically NOT a pitch festival). I'll write more on it soon, but will leave you with a brief tease that original material, especially spec pilots, are confirmed to be hot samples now. Fun stuff!

Have a great weekend! I'm off with a few folks from the scribosphere to do some super-moviegoing (to see guess who), and maybe will indulge in a little super-napping and super-martini-imbibing. And yes, I'll be writing. You too, 'kay?

Edit: Not to quell any celebration, but Alex over at Complications Ensue posted a serious and thoughtful reminder on what this weekend's about. No foolin'. Worth a bit of thought between beers.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel at the Writers Guild Foundation

The final installment of this year's WGF's Spring Storytellers series featured Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, longtime writing partners with something like 18 produced scripts to their credit, among them SPLASH, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, NIGHT SHIFT, and FEVER PITCH.

A congenial pair, funny as you might imagine, with a wealth of experience, they made for another inspiring night at the WGF. My random notes:

As an introductory remark, Ganz made the point that he and Mandel are writers. Not aspiring directors or producers. Writing's what they've always and only wanted to do, and it's a fine occupation for an adult (YMMV with friends and loved ones!).

The other introductory point they made was a nod toward the collaborative nature of making movies, and that the success or failure of their films was not theirs alone but the product of many individuals.

While Mandel always wanted to write movies, both got their start in TV. The lessons of writing for TV and how those helped them in features turned into a common thread throughout the evening's discussion. Writing for shows, they learned "disposability" (to divorce yourself from the material), "fear" (how and how not to pitch), and the "fine line between flexibility and hackiness." A TV mentor told them, "Love nothing, boys," meaning to not ever get too precious about your own words.

These lessons have served them well, both in getting jobs and executing on them. They've never really had a disagreement. Their process is to throw out ideas not like "I GOT IT!", shouted while leaping across the table, but more like "What if..." or "This isn't it, but..." or "Is this anything...?"

They write about a script and a half a year these days, and admitted to have cut way back from their previous productivity. Check out that resume -- sheesh, they've earned it, in more ways than one.

They don't write on spec. Ideas are brought to them. They feed off the shared energy and enthusiasm of ideas that originate elsewhere: "cowardice," joked Mandel, is why they don't generate original scripts that have only themselves as champions.

They start each day by reading the paper and woolgathering for a bit, then review the previous day's pages, which have been typed by their assistant from their original longhand draft. Then come the new pages.

Character is king with Ganz and Mandel. They start every project by finding the character through whose eyes the story will be told.

It's the inability to "go deep" on character, they said, that was behind the failure of many hotshot 1980's Saturday Night Live writers to transition to movies. These folks were used to writing characters superficially, focusing on situation, as you might expect from sketch writers.

The leads in their movies are the writers themselves, even in a movie where that seems like a stretch, say, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN which is about sisters from Oregon playing baseball during WWII. But the trip to Chicago the girls take, to pursue their dream-- that's Ganz and Mandel, moving to Hollywood from New York to chase (and ultimately catch) their own dreams of being writers.

They're open to serendipity (again being flexible without being hacky), citing the example of a scene from PARENTHOOD that was jotted as notes on the way to the set one morning after Ron Howard identified a missing moment. The actors, Jason Robards and Tom Hulce, riffed off those notes and the scene was filmed, eventually to become a fan favorite of the film.

Arthur Miller had a similar scene in DEATH OF A SALESMAN, they grinned, but theirs "was funnier."

They used to outline but now don't. Personally, I wouldn't take this (or Milch's non-outlining either, to reference another recent WGF speaker) as a blank check to not outline yourself. These are masters who've no doubt internalized structure to the point that they probably don't need an explicit roadmap.

They've never sought arbitration on their numerous "funny for money" script doctor jobs.

And this business, it is a business. They came off as consummate, lifelong professionals for whom writing is a joy but also a job.

One aspect of their success, they surmised, was their ability to feel the audience, to shift between thinking about a script internally (as writer) and externally (as watcher).

Going back to their TV roots, Jack Klugman gave Ganz his first boot camp in writing full characters, when he roared "What do I want?!" after reading a script.

This is the chief failing of newer writers, they said, who look at a script and think, "I need to get my guy into that tank of eels," not "Why does my guy want to go into the tank of eels?"

Ganz's definitive "good character" is Jack Lemmon from THE APARTMENT, because he's complicated. Unlikable in many ways but never unsympathetic.

They pride themselves on being "the best-behaved writers in show business" and routinely are not only on set but in the editing room. Where, they were quick to say, they are the most merciless of anyone on the movie, cutting what doesn't play.

Free rewrites. They do them. Ganz acknowledged that this is a hot button issue, but given the situations they've been in and the people they've worked with -- people they trust, respect, and like -- they do free rewrites.

On taking notes. Garry Marshall advised them to listen to the solution, not the problem. Find what's behind the note -- a note which may in itself be a terrible idea -- and fix that.

Michael Keaton was almost fired off NIGHT SHIFT by the studio. "Too weird." Ron Howard went to bat for him.

They wrote Jon Lovitz' role in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN specifically for him, to capture that 1930's character-actor look and feel, and as a favor to Penny Marshall to get him out of living in her house.

Wrote BL's moisies for him. (WTF? That's what my scribble looks like to me but I have no idea what it means now. Anyone in my writing classes or groups can testify how appalling my handwriting is.)

Wait, I got it. They wrote Billy Crystal's roles mostly for him. Meaning, they had him explicitly in mind when creating those roles. No moisies.

CITY SLICKERS was written as a sort of comedic murder mystery. They knew they needed to end up with the three guys taking the cattle in on their own, so they had to figure out how to "bump off" the other characters to leave our heroes alone on the cattle drive.

Personal interjection from me. What is wrong with the people who ask questions at these things that they can't remember, even after it's repeated multiple times, to wait for the frakking mic to ask the damn question? You may think you're loud but a) you're not and 2) you're not loud enough to make it onto the recording, Einstein. Lordy.

Parting advice for writers: "Be interesting quickly." The moderator, Ed Solomon (MEN IN BLACK), no slouch in the comedic writing department his own self, followed up with an encouragement to make sure the audience (or reader) feels that they're in good hands from the very start.

Lots of good checks here for scripts in progress: are you interesting early? Is the audience with you, supported, or stranded and confused by page 10? Does the action arise from character? Or are you just maneuvering your guy into that tank of eels?

Gracious, articulate, talented guys. And I need to load up my Netflix queue now with their movies that I need to see again (SPLASH) or never saw (NIGHT SHIFT).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Electronic Arts Buys Mythic

Pretty big news item for the game industry's traditionally slow summer months: EA went shopping for a studio full o' successful MMORPG goodness. Key management is staying aboard.

Cynics may point to the acquired-and-dismantled notches on EA's bedpost -- Kesmai, Westwood, Origin -- but a lot of the news and PR coming out of gaming's 800 lb. gorilla points toward new strategies and policies. Innovation, new IP, and smaller, more agile teams leading feature development are just a few.

Mythic knows what they're doing. Here's hoping EA will just, y'know, let them do it.

THQ was in the press a bit ago stating that it's "misguided" to build an MMO to compete with World of Warcraft. I agree that coming out now with a fantasy MMO sans killer, marquee IP is a dicey proposition at best (if I was working on Vanguard, I'd have my resume in good shape), but for Lord British's sake, do we need more fantasy MMOs?

Other genres and themes are woefully underrepresented, as are completely different takes on virtual worlds. Habbo Hotel is a rampaging success. Second Life is growing like gangbusters. Maple Story and other "lite" MMOs with business models beyond the mass market-offputting $15/month money suck are snagging customers by the bushel.

I also agree with Damion at Zen of Design that progress is the bete noire of all MMOs, and who's to say WoW will still be teh shiney by the time it takes a next-gen MMO to come out?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The TV Season is Dead, Long Live the TV Season

In days gone by, summer was the time for reruns. Movies. Baseball. Maybe even going outside. TV returned in the fall with cool weather and back-to-school shopping.

Now, all kinds of TV debuts in the sunny months! What's that about? No sooner have we cleared out the TiVo of season finales than new shows come streaming in!

Okay, I kind of love it, especially when some of the shows are top shelf offerings such as DEADWOOD, ENTOURAGE, and RESCUE ME. I'm also watching THE CLOSER to balance out the guy-itude and get my procedural fix.

And you? What's keeping you indoors these balmy summer nights?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Network Is Not Just a Paddy Chayefsky Film

BooM at Wannabetvwriter describes the care and feeding of industry relationships, something that may not come easy to introverted writerly types.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Okay, I love that they get homes out of this, but really. This must be, like, indicator #26 that the End Time is near.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pod People

Finally, I have a miniature device with which to consume audio while mobile!

Stop yawning. This is news for a gadget late adopter like myself. My MP3 player is replacing a Panasonic walkman thingie. Cassette tapes. Not pretty.

In addition to music, there some great podcasts out there, and now that I have my new toy, I can really take advantage. Yeah, yeah, I know you don't need a mobile player for these, but sitting at my computer just listening to something feels weird, and I can't multitask when intelligible voices are involved (I listen to instrumental music while writing for the same reason).

So, all this may be ancient news to those who didn't carry around a 5-year-old bricklike Nokia phone until finally shamed into upgrading, but here are some writing-related podcasts worth checking out.

  • Creative Screenwriting Q&A Series - Creative Screenwriting magazine arranges some fun screenings, and these podcasts are recordings of the Q&A sessions with the movies' writers. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (MI:III, THE ISLAND, ALIAS) share some fascinating insights on the MI:III podcast, including how writing for TV prepared them for features and how they went from being assistants on HERCULES to spitballing dialogue with Tom Cruise in his trailer.

    They also describe an interesting outlining method, one J.J. Abrams uses, in which action is jotted down in a circle, the face of a conceptual clock that represents an hour of screen time. 6 o'clock is 30 minutes in, 12 is one hour, etc. It apparently is an effective visual way of seeing how the story unspools. Something to try out.

  • Martini Shot - Rob Long's a TV vet with a whole mess o' credits, and Martini Shot is his weekly commentary that appears simultaneously on KCRW (for LA area types) and online. Funny, sometimes snarky, occasionally moving peeks behind the Hollywood writer curtain.

  • Sam and Jim Go to Hollywood - I love these guys. Sam and Jim started off as restauranteurs in Minneapolis, and moved their lives and families out here to be TV writers. A writing team, they've sold a pilot and several feature scripts, taken dozens of meetings, and use this podcast to document their writerly euphoria and heartbreak as it unfolds.

  • Battlestar Galactica Writers' Meeting - Holy cats, this is gold. Ever wonder what it's like to be a fly on the wall (or a Diet Coke on the table) in a real writers' room? How about the writers' room for one of the best TV shows out there? Load up this series and bask. Fun extra tidbits include Ronald D. Moore narrating his way around the Universal lot (he confesses to sneaking in the back entrance to the theme park, to ride Jurassic Park as a break).
  • Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    More on Milch

    Shawn's got his recap up.

    He's spot on about the food, btw. Little cups of guac and chips, and some kind of meat taquito things that got picked up as soon as they were put down, so I never knew exactly what they were.

    Of course, this being a gathering of mostly writers, the line was longer at the bar...