Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On the Scene of THE WIRE

Courtesy of Running With My Eyes Closed comes a tip about a fantastic New Yorker article on THE WIRE.

If you watch the show, you'll get insight into how the production's run, how the actors work with the writers, how the show's creators met and what their backgrounds are, and what they envisioned when embarking on THE WIRE.

If you haven't seen the show, OH FOR GOD'S SAKE. Rent it on DVD now and get watching.

THE WIRE is unforgettable, epic television. Sound boring? Hells no. It somehow manages to be funny, damning, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Authentic to the human condition, in other words, providing a literal city's worth of stories with surprising twists and unvarnished endings -- no network cop show, this. It really watches like a novel, so start from season 1. You'll have plenty of time to get caught up before the final season airs in January.

Oh, and David Simon's next project? A series about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans. I am so there.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tools o' the Trade

I'm always interested to find out the different ways writers work, particularly the outline process.

One writer friend has a suh-weet office setup with a big freestanding whiteboard, which I covet (I'm looking at you, BooM). Other friends swear by index cards, which don't really work for me as I have no place to put them.

I don't have an office at home, just a corner of the living room, so my system could not be lower-tech: Post-It stickies on a wall. But it works great.

They're super-easy to rearrange when nailing down the flow of scenes, and for me psychologically easier to discard than index cards -- just crumple, toss (into the recycling bin), and rewrite. The small size forces economy and clarity, which admittedly doesn't stop me from cramming more detail than I really need for a preliminary outline into those little paper squares. But I try to limit myself to the location, a quick few words on the content and purpose of the scene, who's in it, maybe a shred of dialogue.

Once I have the outline settled, I take the stickies over to my computer and turn them into sluglines and outliney paragraphs in Final Draft or Screenwriter, then put them back up on the wall to map any changes as stuff shifts around. Which it inevitably does. I haven't yet played much with using different colored stickies to track A, B, and C stories, but I think it'd work well.

The one downside is that the stickies are not particularly transportable, and I haven't found a good digital system. I know a writer who uses cells in a spreadsheet like index cards or my stickie notes -- I may try that next.

The card view in screenwriting programs doesn't work for me because I want to see the whole episode at a glance. It's easy to tell an act is running long when the stickies are close enough to the floor that the cat can pull one off to chew. And outlining programs (or even just Word docs) give a too-linear view and for me suggest too much detail too early.

At work, we use a mix of whiteboarding and corkboard-and-index-cards when breaking a story. The initial ideas, arc beats, etc. go on the whiteboard, and when the scenes are a little more baked we make cards for them and pin them up on the corkboard in act order.

What system the room uses seems to reflect the preference of the showrunner -- we had a change in leadership, and went from all-whiteboard to the whiteboard-then-cards mix.

What's your system?